The Little Pipsqueak

© 2012-2013 Matthew Templar
Thank you, RCN, for your great editing.

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 Fifty-one

My family, all four of my very own children, were around me! Friends were gathering around to congratulate us. Even a judge who we thought was going to disappoint us was walking over to talk to us.

How could I not be the happiest man alive?

"Well, I am, without a doubt, the happiest man alive, family," said Jeb, who was still holding little Lewis.

I didn't look to see if everyone looked at me like I was a nut-case when I started laughing. I just know the man had impeccable timing.

"Jeb," I tried to say as I calmed down, "That is exactly what I was thinking a tiny second before you said the words out loud."

"My minor in psychology says your laughter was a great source of release, Sergeant McGill," said the judge as she approached.

"Your Honor, please call me Tim. I am so indebted to you. I was very worried, but I certainly understand your reticence after all you've been through."

"A long time ago, Tim. Water under the bridge, as they say. It was actually very good to be able to right a longstanding reputation that had so little substance."

"Dorothy, you did yourself proud up there. You made me proud to have suggested you to the chair I vacated," said Homer Davenport.

The Chief Judge of the county offered his kind words to her performance as well, followed by lots of handshakes from her colleagues before they left for their own courtrooms.

"But, Uncle Homer," started AJ, holding his honorary uncle's arm to get his attention. Instead of saying what was on his mind out loud he motioned for the man to bend an ear.

"Ha, ha! You are so right, young AJ. So right, indeed! AJ just informed me that the boys didn't hit the hammer like I encouraged him to do after his adoption hearing." Homer turned to a blushing boy to say, "AJ, while that event was no more wonderful than today, you have to realize that Judge Harrington is new to this chair, to adoptions. But I think she'll come around very soon, right, Dorothy?"

"Oh, you let the boy . . .? What a wonderful idea, Homer. Boys, are you up for it? It won't be quite the same as the court is officially adjourned but it will still be your experience."

I was impressed with how exuberant she was in making the offer. Yes, I really liked her.

"AJ, could you show them what they need to do, just like you did, no doubt."

"Yes, ma'am. Come on, guys. You have to come up there this way. I know." AJ was the pro and he had no trouble helping the amateurs.

Jeffy was already following him, probably excited to see where all the action took place. Elliot was more hesitant. He held back and looked at me.

"I, um, I don't think so. I'm happy just being your son, Pop. I don't think I need to do more."

"Elliot," said the judge, placing her hand on his shoulder as gently as she spoke, "If there is anyone in this room that deserves any extra experiences to have for a lifetime, son, it's got to be you and Daniel. You handled yourselves so well, I was about to hire you on the spot as my intern!"

Well, it was good to see a warm smile on both their faces, followed by a pink blush on Elliot's. He did walk away toward his brothers finally.

"I'll have to say, that boy was so angry when he went into my chambers. I could tell he was about to explode, but he handled himself with the decorum of a gentleman. I was certainly impressed, not only by his manner but also by the way they'd come prepared with data and information from case studies to support their case. I've never experienced someone so young to have been so able to defend their case before."

"Well, they can be fine gentlemen, in my opinion," mentioned Homer.

"Oh, how would you know? You probably would have discussed lunch with them had you been in there," stated Jeb in his brusque way.

"Which reminds me," said Homer, holding up a finger.

We all laughed at that. Then we heard some young voices.

"Yeah, ya gotta say it, Jeffy. Then ya hit it real hard right there," instructed AJ.

We barely heard Jeffy say, "This court's adjourned."

By then we had all turned to see and hear him crack the gavel down on the bench.

"Okay, you go, Elliot," said AJ.

"Elliot," called Judge Harrington, turning to take a few steps toward the boy who took the gavel from Jeffy, "Before you do it, I want you to close your eyes and think of yourself really having completed an adoption hearing as the judge, as Homer or I would do. Really see yourself in the robe and then do your deed, young man."

He stared at the judge for just a few seconds, then slowly closed his eyes. He had a worried or serious look on his face, but it quickly began to change into a huge smile. His eyes snapped open and he bellowed, "This case is closed and court is adjourned."


I think both of the other boys jumped back, they were so surprised. I know Lewis jumped in Jeb's arms and reached over to me, not quite knowing what was going on.

"Fine job, Judge McGill!" shouted Dorothy Harrington with a huge smile as well. "Fine job, indeed!"

Lewis began to get fidgety. It wasn't quite time for lunch but it would be by the time we got home. He'd been a very good boy throughout all the excitement and noise. Plus, I'm sure he was ready for a diaper change.

"I would like to invite you all over to our place. But I'm sorry that I never got my head past what was about to take place here enough to plan something. However . . ."

"However," interrupted Dan Perkins, "It just so happens that the McGills' many friends think nothing of invading his house and yard to take care of such matters when the family in question is consumed with other concerns. AJ, that means everyone is invited to your place for a great lunch and celebration."

"O-o-oh. Wo-ow!"

"Cancel all my appointments. I'll be at lunch," shouted Homer Davenport.

"But Uncle Homer, you don't have any 'pointments. You're retired!" AJ reminded him.

When we left the building, there was only a handful of the boisterous people from the church left. Some were still walking to their cars to leave. Justin Overby was waiting for his wife, of course. But the one person I thought I saw close by kept pulling away, to hide around the corner of the building across the street from us.

I motioned to Dan, then at the corner. At first he looked perplexed, until the young man showed himself once more, though only for a quick looksee. Dan got two other deputies and slowly sauntered over to that side of the street, realizing that Joshua Christiansen was probably not in the best favor right then with the church.

As luck would have it, Overby saw our exchange of glances and nods and followed the deputies with his eyes until he saw why they were headed across the street. Wow! You could see the red come up that man's neck and fill his head until I expected to see steam rise from the top!

He turned and started to walk directly toward the boy until he realized what a mistake that would be, since the deputies had moved between him and Joshua. About that time his wife came out of the building in a huff, followed by Linda Sue, who had a smile on her face. I could just imagine how that conversation went.

The Overby's walked over to their 4X4 and, as he got in he actually shook his fist at Joshua.

"Pop," said Elliot, grabbing my arm, "What are we going to do? We can't let him go back there. They'll string him up or something."

"We'll think of something. I think the first thing you two need to do is invite him over to the house for the shindig. If anyone deserves it, it certainly is him."

"Thanks, Pop," said my new son. "Thanks a lot."

He grabbed his new brother and together they ran over to the corner. Joshua came out after the last car with protagonists drove off and welcomed the boys with mutual hugs and nonstop excited talking. AJ ran over too and must have thanked Joshua because he held out his hand and they shook until AJ had to pull the older boy into a hug of his own.

Eventually they walked over to where Jeb and I were standing with Lewis in my arms. Lewis was getting squirmy and a little squishy.

"Um, Mr. McGill, I'm Joshua Christiansen," said the good-looking young man as he stopped in front of us.

"I told ya, Pop!" said Jeffy.

Elliot lowered his head and slowly shook it.


"Joshua," I said, clasping the young vicar's shoulder, "you have helped to make me the happiest, proudest parent in the world today. You should have heard the accolades laid on the boys by the judge, because of how prepared they were. Part of that praise goes to you, son. Thank you."

"Oh, sir, all the praise goes to the Lord. If He weren't in me, I never would have been able to help, I'm sure."

I couldn't help but notice Elliot nodding his approval and grinning the best grin I've ever seen on him to date.

"Well, I think we'll have time to thank the Man upstairs before the day is out, right Elliot?"

"Oh, yessir, Pop!" was his jubilant reply.

"But right now, if the boys haven't already, we'd like to invite you to our house for some refreshments and festivities. Now, there is no saying no, so we just need to decide how we're all going to get there."

"Um, I rode my bike here. How far is it?" asked Joshua.

"Way too far unless you're Elliot. But then you'll be all sweaty and tired," offered Jeffy.

Finally, it was decided that Jeffy, Elliot and Joshua would ride with the Connors. I would take his bike in my truck.

"'Kay, guys, but don't say anything really neat and stuff until you get to our house," said AJ. "I don't wanna miss anything."

It occurred to me that most kids his age would probably whine until they got to ride with the big boys. AJ knew they'd be together soon enough and I was blessed that he enjoyed the company of us old farts and his tiny nephew.

The blessings never quit. My friends must have anticipated a positive outcome from the day's events up to that time because, once again, the yard was filled with tents, food, color and the best people known to mankind as far as I was concerned.

Most of the people that attended our get-together after AJ's adoption were present. There were even some really great surprises.

After at least a half hour standing in line with my family to welcome guests, receive their congratulations and thank them for their support, I noticed a few people that I wanted to check up on.

One was Devin, AJ's ex-bully from school. He looked like he was having a good time and walked up to AJ and was given a big hug by my outgoing boy. Affection was on the cuff for AJ, no matter what the occasion or the deserving person. Of course, Devin made an effort to see if anyone he knew saw such a display before he casually returned the hug and then high fived his friend. Stewart was in on it too. He seemed anxious to meet up with Devin as well. They would be going to separate schools for one more year, then they'd meet up again in high school.

Since I knew that Devin was okay, I looked around for my main concern, Brad, Devin's partner in their past taunts. At first I didn't see him. About fifteen minutes into the fun, the back gate opened and in walked the boy, though he just stood there holding the gate open. He had a concerned look on his face that didn't please me. I was already anticipating the problems he may have been having at home.

Then he turned toward the opening and smiled, taking a step or two through the gate. In walked his dad, Coach Pendergrass, on crutches with a cast covering his entire right leg. Brad's concerned look was for his dad! Just the idea that they both came was enough to knock me on my butt.

If anything could have made the day better than it was, both Brad and his dad looked around until Brad saw me, pointed me out to his dad and they both started toward me. I walked over and Coach Pendergrass held out his hand . . . and smiled at me!

"Sergeant McGill, I hear congratulations are the order of the day for your family. You must be very pleased to have such fine boys as a part of your family."

I think I stood there for about a minute with my mouth hanging open in shock. It did not go unnoticed.

"Yes, I know. I have to apologize for my behavior up until today. Well, actually, about a week ago?" The question he asked, turning to his son for confirmation.

The gleam on Brad's face said a book's worth. He shone with pride as he nodded his head and stood closer to his father, who put his arm around his son's waist and squeezed.

"Wha . . .what happened, if I may ask?" I stammered and stuttered.

Both Pendergrass' laughed a bit at my shock but the coach continued.

"I don't blame you, Sergeant. I think I'm still in shock at how much I had to change to get to where we are today. Part of it was due to this leg bracelet I happened upon."

"Yes, I noticed, of course. Um, let's go find some chairs so we can be comfortable. I want to hear all about it," I suggested, motioning them to follow me to the deck chairs.

"But your other guests," he said.

"Well, they'll just have to find out on their own. I want to hear the stories now," I said with a laugh.

We went over to the chairs on the deck and Brad helped his dad get seated.

"Brad, it's okay if you go find your friends. You've been tied down to me for the last week and you deserve a break."

Brad couldn't have looked more proud. Upon seeing him shine, his dad puffed up a bit as well, showing his pride in his son. It was a sight that I'd seen often within our family and those around us lately, but it certainly wasn't what I expected from the Pendergrass'.

"Dad, I can stay if you need."

"Brad," I said, "I think the boys are over by the food tent. Your dad and I will be right here and I'll get him anything he needs, well, except for an exceptional son."

More glowing pride and off he ran. Had he risen off of the ground just then I wouldn't have been too surprised.

"Well, coach," I started.

"No, please call me Ted. My name is Theodore, and I've just about forgiven my parents for that one," he laughed.

I laughed too. But I'm sure mine sounded like it came out mixed with more surprise than humor.

"Again, Sergeant, I can't blame you for your looks. In some ways I'm in shock too."

"Please, call me Tim. I can't wait to hear about this conversion."

"I'm not sure how much you know about our background. I came from a hard-hitting family that was going to be on top no matter who they took down on the way. We were all big but I was the youngest and it felt like my two older brothers practiced on me daily, the hard-hitting part.

"It left me with an attitude of resentment and never giving in, like my father and brothers wanted me to be - just like them.

"My father was killed on a business trip, though we never really knew what business he was in. It left my mother devastated and my oldest brother to take on the mantel of raising us. Well, the middle brother quickly got out of there by joining the service, lying that he wasn't really only seventeen.

"That left me in the way to be the sole punching bag of my brother. But it only took a couple of years of putting up with that before I learned to defend myself. And when I was seventeen, I left as well. I stayed with our uncle until I was able to go to college, working my way through at anything I could find.

"It seemed like I fought with everyone I came into contact with. My whole demeanor was the bully that swung at you if you breathed wrong. You know the type?"

"Yes, I'm afraid I do," I answered, nodding my head.

"Yeah, well, I really had to put on a show to get any girl to go out with me. My reputation preceded me. Then I met Brad's mom and we seemed to hit it off. She wouldn't take too much guff from me. She'd stand up to me as well as she could for being a girl. But she was a fine woman with good morals, something I should have paid more attention to.

"When Brad was born, she coddled him, raised him just like an innocent little boy. But the first time he came home crying because of someone in his school teasing him, we went out to the garage and set up a gym. Hell, he was so young and I pretty much taught him everything he knows about being the bully he is, or was, thanks to your son."

He smiled at that, as did I. We both looked over to see what the boys were up to. Dan's clan, Tyler, Devin and Brad, Stewart and my kids were all gathered around a table talking a mile a minute. Oh, Elliot was to one side with Enrique, talking quietly.

"Well, you certainly trained him well, Ted."

Ted Pendergrass visibly tightened up, looking like he might come out of his chair, until he realized that I only told him the truth about who his son was back then.

"Of course, you're right. In fact, that's why the wife left us. She just couldn't deal with me and then Brad anymore. I guess I can't blame her. But all that's changed now. In fact, Brad will be spending a month with his mom at his grandparents' farm up state. It's one of many times that he's seen her, and he gets letters from her constantly. Oh, and they Skype some too."

He was smiling again; a good sign that things were on the mend for sure.

"But what caused the change in you? I know that the school had you going through training to be more tolerant of all of the students. Honestly, I also heard that you came to resent it in the beginning, at least."

He gave me a half smile that showed I was right and that he wasn't proud of the fact.

"Brad told you?"

I nodded.

"He had to have someone to talk to and I pretty much dug it out of him. I also threatened to do something about it if I ever heard that you laid a hand on him in anger, or for any reason."

Pendergrass was a big guy. I wasn't tiny, myself, so I figured if he really got angry at my butting in, I could defend myself for at least a few seconds, until the others noticed and were able to dig my bones out of the ground where he laid into me.

Instead, he just laughed a little.

"Brad never told me. I can ask him about it now, though. No, I can say I've never laid into the boy when I was angry. Oh, I'd slap him a little upside the head if he screwed up, probably too much, but I think I really only spanked him a few times when he was younger, and it wasn't out of anger but disappointment. Little did I know how disappointed he was in me. But that's how all this came about."

"This? This change in you?" I asked.

"Yup. I can't even remember what started the whole thing, but he did something one night a little over a week ago that set me off. I'd had a few beers, which I never do, and he said something that made me so mad I got up and started to chase him. He tore out of the house in a panic and ran toward the park a few blocks away. He's a fast little fart and, while I kept up, there was no way I'd catch him, which made me even angrier. Just about the time I was going to give up or have a heart attack, he tripped on something as he ran through the sawdust surrounding the playground. I knew I had him and was ready to pounce on him and beat the living hell out of him, when I met the same obstacle and fell right on him. It knocked the wind out of both of us but he just kept crying and yelling at me not to hit him, over and over."

Ted had to take a deep breath and it looked like it was hard on him, emotionally, to go on, but he did.

"Then he said how sorry he was that he wasn't good enough for me to love him. I'll never forget it. I think it was the first time either of us even said the word about each other. It was like I got hit with a smart stick and stabbed in the heart all at the same time. I can't tell you why it affected me so strongly that particular time, except it was unlike any other experience we'd had.

"I rolled over and pulled him on top of me and we both just laid there and cried. I swear the sun was going down before we were through. It was the very worst day and yet, the best day of my life, our lives."

Tears were streaming down his face. He tried to wipe them away but it was futile for a minute at least.

"We were both a mess and there was a crowd around us, though they stayed quite a ways away."

"They probably knew you and your reputation and weren't about to find out if it was true," I offered, pretty sure I was not only right, but safe by then.

"Huh? Ha, you're absolutely right! I never thought about it until you said that, Tim. Ha! What a fool I'd been all my life."

"So, how did you . . .?" I asked, pointing to his leg cast.

"Oh, that," he said, laughing as he readjusted it with his hands. "Well, when Brad fell he didn't even twist an ankle. Of course, me landing on him was no picnic, I'm sure. I think the soft sawdust helped distribute my weight. But evidently, when I fell I broke my leg below the knee. It was pretty clean they said and I should be out of this before school starts up again. But the strange thing is, I was so out of it during all that time that I didn't even know it until we started to get up.

"Brad was laughing as he tried to pull his old man up. I was so completely enthralled by the sound of my own son's laughter, I didn't feel anything until I tried to fold my leg under me to push up. I almost passed out, it hurt so bad.

"Brad took over, took my phone and called 9-1-1; he even asked if he should run home and get a jacket to keep me warm. He thought of everything. Instead of making him go home, I had the good sense to have the ambulance driver drive by the house so Brad could lock up. The front door was wide open. Ha, ha. We were a sorry mess, but he sat in the back with me the whole way, then by my side after they set my leg. He never left my side except to get us a drink."

It got a little quiet. His thoughts had taken him to another place and I wasn't about to interrupt them.

"So, what happens now?" I finally asked after a full minute.

"It's like a honeymoon, kind of. Remember after the big celebration and everything was so perfect. It's like we're in a fantasy world. Everything is changing for the better. We spend so much time together just talking or watching each other. And the best thing is, the word love is a constant part of our conversation."

His glow was contagious as was his constant smile. The transformation must have been so remarkable for Brad.

"It's funny really when you think about it. All this time it was up to me to be a good father to my son, to love him, nurture him and teach him to prosper and have fun."

"That's funny?" I asked.

"No. What's funny is that from day one of all this changing, he's had to practically be the dad, taking care of invalid me. I'm sure I'm not a very good patient, but he's such a great kid. He does everything without asking, unless he needs to know how, like the wash. I'm just getting to where I can stand for a few minutes to load the dishwasher or change the laundry or something. But he has to do the rest. He even has to help me with baths so I don't get this anchor wet," he said, pointing to his cast. "I guess it's been a blessing that he was on my football team and we're used to showering with the whole team, but it was funny to watch him the first two times. He was pretty embarrassed."

I thought about telling him that a couple of days around the McGill's Naturalist Camp would take the pink out of the boy's cheeks. But I was good - I didn't give away my boys.

"Dad, can I get you anything?" asked Brad, who came running up to stand behind my chair.

"Thanks, son. Um, if there's ice tea or lemonade, that'd be great. Hey, I could get it, Brad. I'm really okay to . . ."

"Yeah, sure, Dad," Brad laughed. "Just jump up and run over to the tent, will you?"

"Smart aleck!" said Ted trying to swing a crutch at his impertinent son.

As I looked to see Brad take off to get his dad a drink, I noticed that AJ had run up and had been standing next to Brad and heard all of their banter. His mouth was hanging open.

"AJ," said Ted, "I think apologies are in order."

"Um, really, Coach Pendergrass? What, what did I do now?"

"No, AJ. I need to apologize to you. I treated you and a lot of the students poorly at school. That will stop and I will stop anyone else from doing anything like that from here on out. Okay?"

"Wo-ow! Swell! Hey, maybe you could help us with the club we want to start so's kids have a place to talk about differences and stuff at school. We need a teacher to be our sponsor person. How about that?"

Leave it to shy AJ to beat around the bush.

"Um, well, I hadn't thought about something like that but I'll give it some thought. I'll let you know before we go back to school. Okay?"

"Wo-ow! Great! Thanks, coach." He turned to run off toward his friends. "Hey, guys. Guess what?" he said as he ran away.

"Uh-oh. You're asking for it now, coach," I said.

"Yeah, well, it's about time I righted some wrongs in my life. I have another goal too. I think I want to try to get my wife to come back. I couldn't blame her if she didn't, but it sure would be good for Brad."

"I think if you offered to get some counseling to go along with your enlightenment, it might be a possibility, my friend."

"Thanks, Tim. That is an idea. Another hurdle I'll have to concur."

"Announcements!" Dan bellowed, quieting the whole crowd.

I was soon surrounded by my boys and Jeb even handed me little Lewis. He seemed to be having a ball. We were all waiting to hear what Dan had to say.

"First, we'd like to thank Wang for providing the food for the party today. I know it was a rush for him but it was something he too had been waiting for. Thanks, Wang."

Wang waved and smiled at Dan from one of the food tents and went right back to his work.

"Thanks to all of you that participated in helping this party come about. It seemed like it was touch and go for a while but everything came off without too much of a hitch."

He was looking at me when he said that and I made the motion of wiping imaginary sweat off of my forehead. That got a laugh.

"And now we have a family that was made for each other and it is official. Congratulations to the McGill family. We really want to thank Judge Harrington for making the right decision, which also had the added bonus of ruining her supposed reputation concerning single men and adoption."

The judge wasn't there but she would hear about her being mentioned at this celebration from me and several others before the week was over.

After a few more minutes, who should arrive but Lenny, my partner in crime in the military, and his wife and daughter. We had quite a chat to catch up a bit since the last adoption when he showed up, quite dramatically. It was so great to see them again.

I'd been wandering around, getting a plate of food for Ted, then just going from one group of people to the other, enjoying their praises and congratulations. It was all very humbling, but, looking at my family, spread out in yard, I was too happy to be shy about it all.

I had been standing with Dan and Linda Sue, who were totally in love with each other. It was so nice to see. As I look back, I'm surprised that I wasn't envious of their relationship. They were so perfect for each other; it's all I could imagine for them. Then again, I just finished adopting my kids into my family for good and nothing could take me down from the high I was experiencing that day.

"Look at them," mentioned Linda Sue.

I followed her eyes to see where she meant. The group of boys were horsing around, laughing, then talking out loud, of course, then laughing again. I quickly realized who she was referring to when I counted heads and missed one of my boys and one of Dan's.

"Oh, I see," I said as my eyes swung over just a few feet to where Elliot and Enrique were sitting at the edge of the excitement, making eyes at each other, though somewhat shyly, and whispering, then smiling. I also noticed that hands were being held, somewhat discreetly but totally obvious to anyone who was really looking, like their fathers.

"Dan, um," I started to say.

"Yes, I see," he answered. "It's been going on like that. He and your Elliot are on the phone a lot. It's also interesting that Enrique has taken up going on long rides in the mornings for exercise. I figured it was so he could call Elliot with more privacy."

"Then you'd probably like to know that Elliot has been taking long rides in the morning as well. What's strange is, he has stopped waking up Jeffy to ask if he wants to go with him."

"Hmmm. Looks like it's time for a couple of one-on-ones with our boys, Tim."

"Now, guys," warned Linda Sue, "Don't be too hard on them. They're young and, well, it looks like love is in the air."

"That's all good and fine, Linda Sue, but they need to know that it can't happen covertly and they need to know to be safe and . . . well, protected in a number of ways," I told her.

"My other thought, Dan, was where this would end up if Enrique moves on or goes home or wherever the outcome of his stay with you will take him. That could crush both of them."

"Well, to begin with, Enrique knows that as soon as his family can get the room they need to house their five kids, including Enrique, he is going home. He's been doing so well, that is, up to now. But I can't get over the fact that they're probably seeing each other behind our backs."

I know from talks before that Dan had no qualms about who his boys or anyone, for that matter, chose to love, but to go on a date without permission was not within the guidelines he'd set up. Besides, Enrique could still have boundary limitations bestowed on him by the court system. I had to agree with him that they needed to be up front with everything, including their relationship.

"However, as concerned as I am too, can we wait until say, tomorrow, to talk to them? I don't want to spoil the day for them or for the rest of the party."

"Sounds like a plan to me," laughed Dan. "We just need to keep an eagle eye on them to make sure they don't leave together."

"DAN!" said Linda Sue, giggling as well.

So many people showed up. I don't think there was but a half dozen people I didn't know, probably friends of friends, or kids from the boys' school. The boys were pretty good about introducing their friends to the other boys, at least, as well as to me and Jeb.

I brought out a pad and blanket and some toys for Lewis to gum. He'd be interested in them for a few minutes until he heard something that caught his attention, or when he needed something, like changing. I was sitting with him with Jeb sitting in a lounger right above us. AJ, Stewart and Denver were over when they weren't at the food tent or running around crazy. Once they took Lewis with them to run around too, well, in the arms of AJ.

I noticed Jeb when they took him. He'd be looking at them, then hold out his arms like he was protecting little Lewis when AJ would trip or make a fast turn.

"That boy of yours is gonna cause me a heart attack, Tim. Look at him throwing poor Lewis around like he's a rag doll. What if he drops the baby?"

"Jeb, first of all, he's your boy too, well, both of them as far as I'm concerned."

That got a smile and blush from my good friend.

"And you know as well as I do that AJ will always do what is good and safe for Lewis, though I admit, he does take it to the limits at times."

"He shorely does. The little pipsqueak. He certainly has maintained his title, hasn't he?" Guffaw!"

At that laugh, Lewis turned to look at his great great grampa-elect and laughed as AJ tore off with him for another conquest at the end of the yard.

Festivities had been going on for more than an hour when I heard a cell phone ring. I looked over to see Jeffy looking at his, then at the group around him. He then appeared to answer it and walk away to talk to whoever was on the phone. He looked up at the gate that led to the front and walked toward it. As he reached it he hung up and opened the gate.

In walked two young ladies. They were dressed for a party in smart short summer dresses. One even had a ribbon in her hair. They both turned toward the open gate and waved, likely to whoever dropped them off.

For a second, enough time to do a double take, I thought that between the time Jeffy had hung up his cell phone and when he opened the gate that he'd gotten a bad sunburn on his cheeks. And it stayed for quite a while, as did his shy smile.

One of the girls was doing a little flirting while the other one looked on, showing only a hint of boredom. She was finally introduced to Jeffy, who politely shook her hand.

Jeffy then looked over to me and I smiled with one of those raised eyebrow smiles that asks a nonverbal question. In this case it was like, 'Well, who do we have here?'

So, he began to walk both girls in my direction. By the time they got to me the rest of the boys noticed what was going on and most made a few whistles, cat calls and other boyish noises indicating that they knew what they were seeing.

My boys were growing up.

"Pop, this is Jennifer Hudson and her friend Eva Montague." Jeffy was being very polite, though not very complete.

"Nice to meet you, Jennifer and Eva," I said. "Where do you know Jeff, um, Daniel from? School?"

"Yes, Mr. McGill. He was in two of my classes last year," Jennifer told me, grinning very sweetly.

"Yeah, Pop, and Eva was in one of those classes with us too."

Eva's smile wasn't as sweet. There was kind of a side glance at Jeffy as she smiled at me. I didn't get warm fuzzies from her look.

"So, Pop, is it okay if they stay for a while? Her dad is picking them up in two hours."

"Sounds good to me. Nice to meet you. Girls, there's food and drinks in those tents. Feel free to wander around. There might be other students you know from school here as well."

I got two nice 'thank you's and all three walked off toward the food. The funny thing was when I noticed that Ray was tagging along too, though he stayed a few feet away, at first.

Except for AJ and crew running over every once in a while to tell me what they were up to, I just enjoyed the company of my friends, mingling with them and nibbling, nibbling and mingling.

At one point the Curtains and Dan and Linda Sue were all standing together and Lewis and I walked over to them.

"I want to thank you four for putting on a wonderful party. I think you two (indicating Dan and Linda Sue) are getting to be regular party planners."

"Oh, Tim," said Linda Sue, "Kaye was a big help as well. She and I had everything ready to go and we actually had the caterers start as soon as you left for the courthouse this morning."

"How did you know . . .? Really? That was taking a chance, wasn't it?"

"Timothy McGill," said Kaye with a sweep of her hand, "We both had little doubt of the outcome. Let's face it, it would take a rock to not notice what a good dad you are to those boys, all four of them."

As she said that, my eyes wandered about, seeing AJ running by with his friends and Jeffy with the two ladies, along with Ray who had finally joined the threesome as well.

"It hasn't been that hard, Kaye. Sometimes I wonder when the other shoe will fall, but . . ."

"Well quit doing that!" George Curtain exclaimed with a laugh. "You all have had enough excitement for a lifetime. You deserve a break; some nice down time. No more adventures for at least a week!"

We all laughed at that. It was true; we didn't get a lot of rest between our adventures. I had come to love our quiet times, but also the rambunctious times when we were at home.

"Maybe you men need to take a vacation away from here for a bit," suggested Kaye.

I looked up again at my AJ, running around with his pals, then at Jeffy, following closely to his young female friend as they walked around the yard. My eyes moved over to see the gleam in Elliot's eyes as he and Enrique shared another thought together.

To have them all with me was vacation every day as far as I was concerned. To be in a different location, while it wouldn't be a bad thing, wasn't as necessary as someone in my shoes would believe. After all, I was in the unique situation where my kids were my only responsibility right then.

As if to add his two cents worth, Lewis reached over and grabbed my nose, pulling my head around to look into his big beaming orbs and then he pushed forward in my arms and laid a slobbery kiss right on my nasal protrusion. (That's a nose, AJ!)

Life was just where it should be right then, at that moment, on that day, in that year. I couldn't have asked for anything more. I looked forward to some time just enjoying the gifts God had flooded me with in such a short time. I was very, very fortunate indeed.

I turned to look in the direction of that sound, that voice that sang like music in my ears from my dearest one. Yes, it all started with the little pipsqueak.

End of Chapter Fifty-one

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