The Little Pipsqueak

© 2012-2013 Matthew Templar
matemp1148@yahoo.com
Thanks again to RCN for his editing wizardry. It makes for a smoother read.

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-two


My head snapped up and my eyes opened!

I had evidently fallen asleep and was awakened when I heard one of the worst sounds in a house full of four young boys - nothing!

Silence!

One boy alone should have kept me awake. Two boys, insomnia for sure, at least during their waking hours.

But total silence was a different cacophony of the absence of sound, something that had never prevailed in the McGill household since the little pipsqueak came to live with me. It made their discordant sounds music to my ears.

It must have been the front door opening that jarred me enough to be a little more conscious. A few steps were taken, then the 'swoosh' of the hall table drawer opening. A second later the steps went out but failed to close the front door all the way.

"Okay, I got the keys so we can lock 'em if we need to, guys!"

That was the pipsqueak, quiet as ever. Not!

"Okay, but AJ, you can't prop Lewis up on the front of your seat like that. He won't stay and you can't hold him with your arm like that," instructed Elliot, my sensible boy.

"Yeah, besides, no one wants that seat point stickin' up their butt." Jeffy didn't stop at decorum when he could venture around it and make a statement of boy fact.

By now I was sitting up in my chair, looking around for the youngest member of our tribe.

"Maybe we could get a box and put it across this bar thing, then Lewis could sit in it." Pipsqueak, of course.

I do believe my heart rate was accelerating. Lewis' pile of toys was unattended.

"Let's get real, AJ. There's no way he's going without like a carrier strapped around one of us or something."

"Or maybe we need one of those trailer things that hook behind a bike," suggested Jeffy.

"What do we do then?"

"You put him back in the house and let's go. We'll be back in an hour, maybe a little more."

"Oh, okay. Lewis, I'm sorry, little guy, but you need to stay here with dad and keep him company." His voice was getting louder so I knew he was walking toward the front door.

I'm sure Lewis had no inkling of what was happening or might have happened, thank God.

I was simply lying back, looking like I was still resting, I suppose, when AJ brought the baby into the living room. He laid the baby boy on the couch and turned to leave.

"AJ?" I said.

"Yikes! Da-ad, you scared me. I thought you were sleepin.'"

"Well, I was before you left the door open and I heard you guys talking out there."

"Oh, sorry."

"No problem. But you can't leave the boy on the couch like that anymore. See?"

As we talked and Lewis heard my voice, he smiled at me and started to bump and roll every which way until he was almost off the edge of the couch.

"Oops! Look at him go, Dad. Wo-ow! He's fast."

By then, and just in time, AJ had scooped up Lewis and was handing him to me.

"Okay, so what's your plans out there, AJ? Where are you guys off to?"

"Oh, we just wanna ride up to the store and get like a push-up or ice cream. Zat okay?"

"Yes, I suppose so. It would be nice if you had asked me before you started making plans, especially when you wanted to strap Lewis to a box?"

AJ blushed and bowed his head. "Oh, that. We weren't really gonna do that but I just thought Lewis would like to go too. He'd like one of those yogurt push-ups, don'tcha think?"

"Yes, I'm sure he would, but it would probably give him a headache, it's so cold. AJ, you really need to check things out that are new to him like that. He's still a baby and can't have everything that you do yet."

"O-kay." He sounded a bit disappointed. I don't know if it was aimed at himself for not asking or at the fact that Lewis' age limited his adventures with his older boys.

"Ask the boys to come in, please."

"Huh? Really? Can't we go now?"

That was probably the closest thing to a whine that I heard out of AJ since the first week or two that we were together.

"I didn't say that. I just want them to check in with me before you all take off."

"Oh, 'kay," he said before he turned in his spot and yelled, "Guys, Dad wants ta talk to ya before we go!"

Lewis jumped in my lap at his uncle's bellowing and I just lowered my head and shook it.

"What?" asked AJ as I heard the boys running in.

"I could have yelled at them, you little pipsqueak," I laughed.

"Oops! Sorry."

"What's up, Pop?" asked Jeffy as the two older boys ran in.

"Sorry to be a nagging parent, guys, but can you guys check with me before you leave? I guess I'm a bit more cautious, especially after our excitement."

Both boys looked like they realized the impact of what I was asking when equated with the reason.

"Sorry, Pop. Do you mean every time we leave the house?" asked Jeffy.

"Yes, I do, at least for a while. Besides, what if I wanted something from the store?" I asked with a grin.

"You're not a nagging parent, Pop," said Elliot. "We should have come in and discussed it with you right away, before we got our bikes out."

"And before you tried to figure out how to take Lewis. I can't believe that you might have taken him with you without letting me know."

That was a little distressing for me. The boys, all three of them, showed that they understood by each of them lowering their heads.

"Sorry, Pop."

"In a year we'll be able to drive there. Then we could take Lewis in the car seat, huh?" asked Jeffy, smiling.

"Yes, but you won't be able to have friends in the car with you for at least 6 months. The laws have changed since I got my license."

"Yeah, like they let you ride in the buggy instead of on the horse?"

Elliot and AJ thought that was the funniest thing coming from Jeffy. Of course, Lewis had to join in as well, though he had no idea why, I'm sure.

"Alright, smart aleck."

"But, Pop, what's the fun of getting to drive if we can't give someone a ride? We might as well stay at home."

"That's up to you. You ride by yourself in the mornings, don't you?" I asked Elliot.

"Sure, but that's just for the exercise. And it's just so no one has to keep up with me."

"Is it? You don't ride with anyone in the mornings?" I asked the boy.

"Well, no. I just do it ... um, well, ..." Elliot stammered out.

"We can talk later, Elliot," I said smiling, trying to look more understanding than interrogating to the blushing boy.

"So, can we just go, Pop?" asked Jeffy.

"AJ, can you make it all the way there and back?"

"Da-a-a-ad, course I can. I'm almost as big as them."

"Right!" said Jeffy.

"Am so, almost," argued AJ, a stern look up at his brother supporting his vehemence.

"Okay, okay. You guys still need to look out for each other. Please don't separate and please take your phones with you."

We'd done plenty of bike rides around but they hadn't gone as far as the store, so I was concerned about AJ keeping up.

"Do you guys need money for anything? Treats or something?"

"We're good, Pop," said Elliot, just before Jeffy popped him in the shoulder. "Hey! What was that for?"

"We coulda had more if you'd keep your big trap shut," explained Jeffy.

"Oh, well, sorry but we don't need any more and I don't lie."

"Okay, guys, take it easy. Why don't you take this twenty and buy something for each of you and maybe some ice cream for dessert later?"

"Wo-ow! Thanks, Dad."

"Yeah, thanks, Pop. We won't be too long. Right, El?"

"Right. Let's get going."

Goodbyes were said and my littlest one wanted to go, it was plain to see. He always wanted to be with the boys when they were within sight or he thought he heard them. I also knew that his interest would change in minutes to something more suitable for the boy, like his toys.

Watching the baby play made me smile and reflect on the day before and the party we were thrown to celebrate my family's completion. It was so great to see everyone again. I was getting spoiled by all the attention, but mostly by having such wonderful friends and family so close by.

Then there were the added blessings of seeing Brad and meeting his father, Ted Pendergrass. He had certainly changed for the better and Brad was certainly enjoying that transformation. I was hopeful that the coach would be able to get back with his wife, especially for Brad's sake.

Joshua came to mind; our young vicar that had helped Elliot and Jeffy impress the judge so much. He was actually going to stay with Jeb until we could determine his next course of action and direction. There was no way we were going to let him go back to work at the church he'd defied. The trouble was, he was afraid his mentor and seminary professor would rebuke him for going against his church, but it only took several 'Are you serious?' looks from Jeb and me to convince him that his professor would be far more understanding of the situation than Joshua could imagine, given the circumstances.

Jeb was beaming with pride and delight that Joshua had agreed to stay at his house. He told the boy he'd have to help tidy up a room and air it out before he could sleep in it. Of course, all three boys were jumping up and down, eager to help. Well, that would be AJ and Jeffy jumping up and down while levelheaded Elliot stood by Joshua and pledged his aid forever.

To say all three boys were infatuated with Joshua was an understatement. He was very charismatic and didn't talk down to the boys at all. Even Lewis was enthralled, but then, when someone picks you up and spins you around at the age of seven months, everyone can be worshipped as the king of fun.

It just couldn't get any better than the day had been. The evening was quiet after we all had dinner from the leftover snacks and cake. Then all of us walked, oops, moseyed over to Jeb's to get Joshua settled. He was amazed at that, that we'd all want to come just to make up one bed and raise one window. Of course, we stayed until it was after dark and we were all yawning from the stress of that morning as well as the excitement of the rest of the day.

Lewis was conked out on a blanket on Jeb's floor. AJ was practically asleep on the couch while the rest of us were trying to keep from yawning. I wonder why yawning is so contagious.


As my thought process brought me closer to the present time, the phone rang.

"Hello?"

"Um, Pop, we kinda had an accident. Well, AJ did," said Jeffy.

"What? Is he alright? Did you call an ambulance, the police? What ... "

"Pop. Pop! It's just that he ran over some glass and his tire popped. We need you to come pick him up."

My heart made its way back into my chest as I digested his words.

"Okay, son. So, he didn't fall or anything, right? He isn't hurt? None of you are?"

"Pop, are you okay? We got all the way there and were just on our way back when his tire went flat. That's all."

"Jeffy, 'that's all' has been kidnappings, sicknesses, mob scenes; you name it, we've had it. There hasn't been a 'that's all' in weeks."

"Yeah, you're right on that. Well, we're just below the top of the hill closer to our place. Can you come get him at least? El and I can ride back after you get here."

"Tell you what, Jeffy, why don't I just bring him my bike and he can ride back with you too. I'll bring back the bike and we can have it fixed this afternoon."

"Wow! That's a great idea, Pop. I'll tell 'em."

"Okay, let me change Lewis, then we'll be there in a few minutes."

As I was hanging up, Jeb and Joshua knocked and walked into the house.

"Mornin', Tim. I see you survived yesterday well enough. How's my little punkin?" Jeb asked of Lewis.

Lewis reached for his great great grampa until Joshua swooped down and scooped up the baby and practically tossed him to Jeb. The screams from Lewis were a delight, even if the actions were a bit extreme.

"Oof! You are gettin' to be a handful, little chunk. You know that?"

Evidently, Lewis wasn't as concerned about his weight as he was about grabbing Jeb's ears and mouthing his nose. It was the closest he came to a well-aimed kiss.

"Tarnation! You are a mite. Now, what's the plan of action today, Tim? I say a nice restful time is the order of the day. But we need to help this young man as much as we can."

"You seem to have the day planned well enough. I just need to postpone it momentarily until I go take a bike to the boys. They're marooned on the side of the hill by the store, waiting for me because AJ's bike has a flat tire. I'm going to take my bike up to them and return with AJ's so they can continue their ride."

"Oh, um, Mr. McGill, may I go with you, sir? I could also take my bicycle and ride with them on the rest of their trip. I could use some activity."

"Ha! You need activity, young un? I've got plenty to do around the old place. Just say the word."

"Well, I'd be glad to help if I can, sir. You've certainly helped me so much already."

"Okay, we can talk about that when you get back. Put your bike in the back of the truck and let's go. Jeb, will you stay here and watch Lewis while we're gone?"

"'Course I can and will. We'll be fine, won't we little one?"

Lewis squirmed in Jeb's arms and gave a great belly laugh. He did love the man.

I changed Lewis, then Joshua and I got in the truck and headed up the road toward the little store at the top of the hill.

Back at the house, Jeb was playing horsey with Lewis on his knee.

"Let's see, punkin, how did that go? Oh, yeah,

"Ride a cock-horse to Banbury Cross,
To see a fine lady upon a white horse;
Rings on her fingers and bells on her toes,
And she shall have music wherever she goes."

Lewis started out in awe and ended up laughing merrily at his great great grampa's antics, as usual.

But Jeb began to have feelings that weren't quite right. He began to sweat and feel clammy, warm then cold then warm again. He pulled Lewis into his arms and sat quietly, hoping the feelings would go away. A rumbling in his chest didn't make him feel any better.

Meanwhile, Lewis was raring to go again and tried to pry himself from Jeb's arms. Jeb was careful and put Lewis on the floor, in front of some toys, so he could lie back and rest, hoping the feelings would go away.

That was how I found him when I returned about a half hour later.

"Jeb, you feeling okay? You look a little pale."

"Yes, well, I'm old. Sometimes I have these feelings that must be me agin'."

"Jeb, don't give me that crap about aging. We all do it. What I want to know if something is getting in the way of your aging. I don't like to think of the alternative." I did sound a bit intense.

"An alternative to ...? Oh, yeah, well, I certainly don't want to go that route any time soon."

"Then don't skirt the subject. You don't look like yourself right now and I want to know what gives."

"Alright, alright! You sound just like my wife, rest her soul. I felt a little cold and clammy is all. Well, and some heat too. No pain really but there was some grumblin' goin' on in the stomach department. Probably just hungry, don'tcha know."

"No, I don't know. Okay, let me fix some lunch for you and the boys so it's ready when they get back. Maybe that's all it is, but you have to promise to call the doctor Monday morning for a physical."

"Oh, tarnation! It can't be that ..."

"Jeb!"

"Humph. Do I have to?"

"Yes, you have to. We all want you around for a long time and I'm not letting you take any chances."

"Brother! Little mite, you think I ought to listen to his gibberish?" Jeb asked of Lewis, sitting at his feet, with a toy in his lap.

Lewis looked right at Jeb when he heard his name. That was in itself a pleasure to see. Then he reached up for Jeb until I walked over, picked up the little hunk and set him on Jeb's lap.

"Now, I could have done that. I'm not an invalid, yet."

"No, you're not. But I'm not taking any chances until you get checked out."

"Okay, okay."

It wasn't long before the boys showed up and we all ate together. Jeb was looking okay but I wasn't going to let up on his promise to make an appointment. In fact, I was concerned that I hadn't insisted we go into Immediate Care right then.


"You're gonna do what?" shouted Jeb at the interventional cardiologist in Immediate Care.

When he finally called that Monday, they insisted he come in right away. His age and his symptoms, though they hadn't come back, were not a good combination.

So when Joshua came knocking on the door that morning, he told me about the call and that they needed to get him to Immediate Care pronto. I asked Joshua to stay with the boys. Only Elliot was up and he was out riding, or whatever he did in the mornings anymore.

"It's called an angiogram. It's a test to show if you have any blockage in your arteries."

"And just how do you propose to do that?" asked Jeb. He did not like hospitals and he certainly did not like the 'tiny bit of cloth that ain't hardly covering up my toosh.'

"Well, I have news for you, Jeb. It doesn't cover it up at all," I told him.

"Great!"

"Mr. Harding, in about two hours we're going to take you down to a procedure room called a catheterization lab. It's actually an operating room, but that sounds a little drastic," said the cardiologist, looking at each of us as we listened to the process he was describing.

"What are ya plannin' on doin' in this here procedure room, then?" asked Jeb.

"Well, basically, we're, uh, going to operate. Now, now, it's not all that bad," said the doctor, holding out his hands to keep Jeb from crawling out of the bed. "You aren't even going to be out completely."

"Oh, good! First I'm havin' a procedure that's really an operation but you'll be nice enough to keep me awake throughout it?"

"Um, well, yes. You'll be sedated some, but you'll be awake. See, we numb the inside of your thigh near your groin. Then we make a small cut so we can insert a catheter, um, a kind of tube into the main artery to your heart. You may feel a little tugging down there, but you won't feel any pain, believe me."

"Oh my God!"

"No, no. We do these all the time. In fact, I'll be doing it. At the end of the tube we'll inject some dye that helps us to see if you have blockage. We can check all over to see what's happening. Then if we see something we can fix, we'll do it right then, pull out the tube and sew you up, good as new."

"Okay. So far so good, I suppose." Jeb didn't sound too sure of the procedure. He looked up at me and then at the doctor again. "Tell me, doctor, what if you see something up there that can't be fixed?"

"Well, if that happens, then we schedule you for another procedure, probably for tomorrow or the next day, depending on what we find."

He made it sound so easy.

"I see. What's that little procedure called?" asked my friend.

"Um, it's called open heart surgery. It could involve a bypass of one or two arteries if they're clogged beyond our ability to correct their flow by means of angioplasty."

"Open ...! You mean where you crack open my chest? My God, Tim, get me out of here!" he said, trying to get up from the bed.

"Now, Mr. Harding, I doubt that we'll find anything that problematic. I'm sure we'll be able to complete the whole procedure with nothing more than a stent or two."

"Jeb, it's a small wire spring kind of thing they put in your arteries to open them up again. And you may only have to stay overnight before they let you go home."

"Thank you, Mr. McGill. You're right. You might even get to go home later tonight, if you're good, Mr. Harding."

"Oh wonderful," said Jeb as he flopped back on the bed and stared at the ceiling. "What have you got me into now, Tim?"

"Maybe saving your life," said the doctor.

I called home to tell Joshua what was going on. The doctor told me that if they placed stents that they'd put him out for a few hours, then decide if he was able to go home. So, when the procedure started, I'd go home and make the boy's meal and stay until time for Jeb to wake up.

As it happened, they ended up placing two stents into what the doctor described as a remarkably strong, well maintained looking heart.

I showed up with AJ and Lewis to take Jeb home the next morning. I think the whole hospital was, once again, ready to let him go, either by means of the front door or, more conveniently, the window next to his bed.

"Very nice people, they are up there, Tim. A little overly sensitive to criticism but nice all the same."

The nurse that walked by his wheelchair simply rolled her eyes as we made our way to the elevator.

Lewis was in Jeb's arms and AJ walked with us, mildly upset that he was not allowed to push his great great grampa in the wheelchair.

"I'm sorry, young man," said the orderly, "But rules are rules and I'd like to keep my job."

"Two times in this god-awful place in as many months. I don't think I can take another visit."

"I'll agree with you on that one, Mr. Harding," said the nurse. "I don't think we can take another visit either."

I couldn't help it. I started laughing, which caused the orderly to laugh and soon the nurse joined in too. Jeb was in awe for only a few seconds before he started laughing too. Then, as if he had any idea about what was going on, Lewis scrunched up in his little ball and then exploded with his own unique laugh that had us all laughing even more.

I don't think AJ understood what was going on, but no one could resist the sight of Lewis laughing, so he joined in as well.

All in all, Jeb's recovery was fast and, after a day or two of rest, he even noticed a surge of energy due to much better circulation.


The next day, I figured, should have been the worst day of my life, so far, in an area known only to fathers and male mentors.

Through simple speculation I assumed that having a boy child from birth would make any daddy as proud as possible and in a different way than with a girl baby, who I had for far too short a time. Okay, I also contributed to Jarod, but I had no knowledge of his relationship to me until he was gone. I will look forward to the bonding that I hope Lewis and I continue to build upon, but it will take years to get to that point in time. No, I was about to experience just what it truly means to try to be a good father without the slightest idea of how to go about it.

That pride in creating a male whom you assume will look and act like you to some degree, must be a father's greatest achievement, at least in his eyes. To be able to watch him mature through so many stages of growth and change just completes those feelings of masculine pride in your creation. It doesn't really matter if the child ends up like you in many ways, from height and build to his talent or to his sexual preference. A good father will still be proud of his boy.

Until he has to give the 'talk'.

Then, all those years of investing in the makeup of the boy, come to a head, figuratively, for now. But knowing that you have a history of trust and love and downright devotion to your son, and he to you, is a wonderful enticement to make that 'talk' as fulfilling as possible, for the sake of the boy alone. And, no getting around it, for the embarrassment of the dad, most times, I'm sure.

Oh, the times of bonding and hugging and cuddling, inspiring the boy to always be as open as possible and the amount of openness in the mindset of the dad toward things sexual all have a factor in making the job less stressful.

So, imagine having, not one, but two fifteen-year-olds, plunked down in your life not even months before, allowing no experience of almost any kind, and get to have that 'talk' with them. Get to!

"Boys, we need to talk."

Now every boy knows those words when growing up at some point. I'm sure the same chill went up each of their backs when they heard it, just as it had in my youth, hearing those words from any number of sources, trusted or not. And generally, the response, whether out loud or in thought, was almost always the same.

"What'd we do, Pop?"

"No, Jeffy, it isn't what you did. It's more about what you will do, or expect to do. Believe me, it's nothing bad."

Well, that switched his thinking to a more positive angle, whether it did in Elliot's mind or not.

Elliot had a background of being called up for numerous things, no doubt. Just hearing about his parents and their church conjured up scenarios of Elliot getting wrung out on all sorts of imagined failures on his part. There hadn't been enough time, even given counseling, to straighten out all of that thinking.

It took a bit of doing to get AJ to go to bed early enough so I could have some alone time with the two boys. As luck would have it, he and the boys spent most of the day over at Jeb's, helping Justin with the remodeling tasks. It was Jeffy's project, but he had no problem being partners with his idol, Joshua, so more could get done.

As I heard later, Elliot helped Jeb whenever needed and, of course, AJ had blueberries to pick. But most of the time AJ was wielding a paintbrush, a broom or a clean rag to wipe down dust and such as it collected.

So, by the time we'd finished a late dinner, AJ was ready and willing to go to bed.

My two oldest boys sat together on the couch, looking at me in my recliner, wringing my hands together. That was not a comfort to them, of course. I figured that nothing was going to make this comfortable for me.

"Boys, this talk is a little late in your maturity."

"Talk?" asked Elliot.

"Um, yes. Why do you ask?"

"Well, at our age, if a father starts with the word 'talk', it usually means one thing," explained Elliot.

"Wait! Ya mean we get to learn to drive now?" asked Jeffy scooting toward me on the couch.

Elliot had trouble containing himself. I was just so endeared by the lack of any 'street smarts' that I thought Jeffy would have gleaned from his surroundings before he came to me. It seemed like he was able to lose all those negative issues since he'd been with us. I felt a little pride in that.

"Um, no, Jeffy. You will get to drive but this is the other 'talk'."

Elliot leaned over to whisper into Jeffy's ear. Jeffy immediately turned beet red and shoved back into the couch.

"Oh, that 'talk'."

"Okay, I want you to know that I am so proud of both of you in every way possible. You have both been the most excellent boys for any dad. And to have come to me so late in your lives and to have gone through all the shit that you have, to get out of your hell, just to survive, and still be such wonderful boys to me, is so amazing, I can't tell you enough."

"Pop, you swore," said Jeffy.

"Yes, Jeffy. But you know better than I do that it was shit and you were in hell, right?"

"Yes, sir."

"So, while that's eased up a bunch, and I hope stays that way for a long, long time, you are growing up, maturing, getting ready to become men, adult men."

"Hey, I am a man!"

"Oh brother. He means like going from childish things to grown up responsibilities, Jeffy. Remember, this 'talk' is about sex."

"Oh, yeah," said Jeffy, again through his red face.

Actually, I was more at ease right then than I thought I would be. I think Elliot was helping with that. I knew I could speak to him on an intellectual level. Jeffy, I wasn't so sure of, yet.

"One of the things that makes any relationship better, lasting, trusting, is to be able to say things to each other that you wouldn't normally want to, like sex talk. Isn't that right?"

"No duh!"

"Actually, to have someone you love enough and want to be a part of your life and that you need to trust, it's a real welcome to be able to not hold back anything at times, Pop." Elliot was way ahead of me.

"Uh, yeah. Me too, Pop." Jeffy would be up with us in no time, having tripped over the first few hurdles.

"So, I'm sure some of this will be embarrassing, but just remember, we're all boys here, physically, and I've been through what you guys are going through, or have just gone through, so it shouldn't be too hard to discuss it, should it?"

I got two shakes of two heads.

"You mean us going through puberty, Pop?"

"Yes, Elliot. I'm sure you've both noticed the changes in your bodies. I know this 'talk' comes late in that process, but it couldn't be any less important now than while you were experiencing those changes."

"Um, you mean growin' and stuff, um, down there?" asked Jeffy quickly glancing into his lap.

"Yes, and the desires, urges, and feelings that you hadn't had before. When a dad has this 'talk' with his boys before all this takes place he can help with ideas about processing those feelings and to understand what they mean."

"Huh?" said Jeffy.

Again, Elliot leaned over to Jeffy and whispered in his ear. Jeffy's head snapped to look at Elliot.

"Jerking ...?" Then he looked totally embarrassed after he'd blurted out that remark and turned to look at me.

"See, guys, that's what I'm talking about. I know from my life that I would never want to talk about anything so private as ..." I paused for effect. "... jerking off."

I think all three of us were red-faced then.

"Elliot, I don't want you to have to whisper the embarrassing stuff to Jeffy. Jeffy, I don't want you to have to be embarrassed to repeat it, or to discuss it. Oh, don't get me wrong. There are appropriate times to talk about these things, like probably not in church or in front of someone's grandmother. (Snickers) But if you can't talk about these things with me or trust me enough to be willing to seek my help and know full well that I will always be there for you and help you in any way I can, including being as completely honest and upfront with you as I can, than who else can you talk to and still be able to trust them with your lives?"

"Yeah, wow, that doesn't leave a whole lotta people, does it?" Jeffy asked, looking over at his brother.

"No, not really."

"Look, I want to make your transition into adulthood as easy for you as possible. If that means getting embarrassing things behind us, let's do it. And the sooner the better."

"So-o what did you have in mind?" asked Elliot.

"I want to explain a few things, be here for you for any questions you may have and establish a few rules as you, um, develop, um, urges."

"Oh, ya mean like for datin' and stuff?"

"Exactly, Jeffy. Very perceptive."

"Well, that might be because we've talked about it some, Pop," said Elliot. "You know, how to be careful and safe."

"Yeah," agreed Jeffy with a giggle.

"Well, that's very good," I added, giving Jeffy a stare.

"Pop, I think we understand what you're trying to say. We've had health classes that covered some sexuality, though they aren't expected to teach us about abstention or safe sex."

"Yeah, they didn't even mention stuff like condoms either," added Jeffy.

Elliot slowly shook his head and looked at me with a pathetic look. I could smile at him though.

"Well, that's not right. They need to take a bigger role in protecting our kids, you guys. Not teaching the fundamentals of maturing is just like letting you free to do what you want."

"Yeah," agreed Jeffy with a giggle.

"Jeffy!" shouted Elliot.

"Well?"

"Okay, fellows, this is where things take a slightly different course for each of you. Jeffy, you have a girlfriend now. Even if she isn't the one for you for all time, the love of your life, you need to set some boundaries for yourself and your partner."

Jeffy was blushing pretty well and looking into his lap. His hands automatically covered that area and he looked up.

"You have a responsibility to her and to yourself to use whatever means you can to keep from getting her pregnant."

"Po-op!" he said.

"It's true. I can't be around every time you decide to be intimate and need someone to remind you to be safe."

"Well, that's a good thing," he said, looking at Elliot for agreement.

"You know what I mean, young man."

"Yes, sir."

"Ultimately, it's your strength that will protect you and your partner. It's all about the good choices you make. Now, Elliot, I don't know if you are willing to talk about your role in all this just now," I said, motioning at Jeffy, to let Elliot know I didn't want to 'out' him in front of someone else.

"Thanks, Pop. It's okay. Jeffy knows my preference isn't girls, and I think he knows I have been talking to Enrique quite a bit lately."

"Yeah, it's okay with me that he's gay, Pop. I don't see anything wrong with him bein' able to love who he wants to, right?"

Elliot was beaming with pride. I was beaming with pride, at least inside. Who could have asked for a better answer and from my own son?

"Right, son, you couldn't have said it better."

Jeffy was soon smiling as well, not so much with pride, but just because, I believe, he'd pleased his brother.

"Thanks, Jeffy," said Elliot. Then he leaned over and kissed Jeffy's cheek. If that wasn't the cutest, yet funniest thing just then.

The look on Jeffy's face was priceless, his blush was the deepest maroon and his eyes were the size of Delaware for a fraction of a second.

"Good grief!"

We all laughed and Elliot reached over and hugged his brother.

"You guys are amazing. I love you both so much. Okay, Elliot, you're up."

"Yes, sir?"

"Well, I want you to know that, while it isn't as likely that you will get your partner pregnant ..."

Jeffy giggled into his hand. Elliot blushed.

"... You need to be aware that there can be even greater problems if you decided not to use your own discretion and safeguards when it comes to your intimacy."

"Huh?" said Jeffy, scrunching up his nose.

Elliot leaned over to whisper something to Jeffy, then looked at me. I might have looked a tad disappointed, but whatever he saw, he straightened up and said out loud, "He means I need to wear a condom."

"O-o-oh."

"Thanks, Elliot," I said with a smile. "But deciding to go through with the act, for both of you, is also something you need to consider. You need to weigh the importance of one or two acts of satisfying raging hormones against protecting what could be a wonderful relationship that has time to develop not just physically, but emotionally as well."

"Yeah, but what if the girl, or boy," said Jeffy, looking at Elliot, "Wants it as much as we do?"

"Good question, Jeffy. Like I said, if you want to develop a lasting relationship with someone, you need to spend a good amount of time asking each other if you want to rush ahead and act on your feelings or let time take its course and see if there will be something lasting that will come out of just being together, cuddling maybe, even kissing, but letting the more intimate acts wait for a while. I think you'll find that it will allow you to build trust in your partner and they in you."

While the two boys pondered my words, I wondered if my hypocrisy showed through. After all, it was my lack of caring about my partners in my youth that produced my son, Jarod. In fact, it was so casual and unexpected that I didn't even know he'd been conceived and born.

As I recovered from those thoughts I looked at my boys. Jeffy seemed to be receiving the message okay. There was no telling how much of it sank in or if it registered as the right thing to do. Time would tell.

When I looked at Elliot, I was a little shocked. Though his head was bowed a bit, looking at his hands in his lap, I could see the shimmer of a tear streak running from one eye. He was obviously upset at something I'd said.

"So, boys, the most important thing to know is that I'm here for you. I'd much rather have you talking about these intimate things with me than with the guys at school or even, really, each other. I don't mean don't talk to each other, but please don't do it instead of talking with me too. In the meantime, be careful, be sensitive to those around you, be nonjudgmental of others and be trustworthy."

"Pop, you didn't say not to have sex?" Jeffy informed me. Then, when he realized what he'd said, he blushed one last time.

"No, because you have to make that decision for yourself, you and your partner, Jeffy. I'd prefer you wait to make it the most beautiful experience with the one person you want to share such things with for the rest of your life. But ultimately, it's totally up to you."

Elliot still hadn't looked up.

"So, Jeffy, good night and sleep well. Elliot, could you please, um, go and make sure the bikes are in the garage? I'd appreciate knowing that."

"Pop, they were there this afternoon, I'm sure. I can go if you want," said Jeffy.

"Um, no, thanks, Jeffy. I'd just like Elliot to do it to make sure, please."

Jeffy was just about to say something again when he looked over at Elliot, whose head lifted enough for Jeffy to see the tear streak. Jeffy quickly looked back at me with concern in his eyes for his brother.

I barely nodded my head and then motioned with it toward the stairs. He got it. He smiled and got up and came over and hugged me.

"Pop, it wasn't all that embarrassin' to talk about all this stuff with you. I thought I'd be too scared to say anything but you made it real easy. Thanks for bein' my pop, Pop."

"And thank you for being the wonderful son you are, Jeffy. Now git!"

I swung at his rear end but he'd learned to anticipate and pulled away in time. Then he ran upstairs laughing.

Elliot was a lot slower to move. He finally got to his feet and began to shuffle toward the garage door in the kitchen.

"Elliot," I said as softly as I could, "You don't need to check on them. I checked earlier. The bikes are fine."

He turned and just looked at me with a blank stare.

"Please come and sit with me for a minute more."

I moved to the couch and patted the place next to me.

Silently, he moved toward me. It flashed in my head that Elliot's behavior reminded me of how AJ would move when he first came here. He wasn't too sure of anything at first. Everything had been so new to him, especially his trust in me.

I didn't know the reason for Elliot's tears, as he finally plopped down next to me; I just knew I wanted him to feel better than it looked like he did right then.

"Elliot, I just spent all this time telling you that you can tell me anything. That includes anything, everything, especially the things that are tearing at you."

"Oh Pop," he said, almost interrupting me. He leaned into me and I put my arm around him. "You've been so good to me. I don't deserve you or the guys. I'm different than you all are and I know it has to be hard for you to help me fit in."

"Well, thank you for saying all of that, son. But I've been good to you because I love you. I love who you are and who you are turning into. Your brothers do too and you know that. Elliot, if we weren't all different in our own ways, think how boring everything would be. Can you imagine doing something like ... oh, like remodeling this house? What if everyone the contractor hired only did one job and each one only did the same job as the other guy? We wouldn't get much work done, would we?"

I got a half smile out of Elliot when he lifted his head a little toward me. As he wiped more tears from his eyes, I continued.

"But since they all have something they're good at, something they know very well, we have painters and carpenters, plumbers and the foundation guys. There's all sorts of things going on because each one is different in their own special way.

"Elliot, we can't hold our differences against each other. Instead, we need to celebrate them. We need you here. I need you here. My God, Jeffy needs you here!" I said with some laughter in my voice.

I felt Elliot's chuckle before I heard it and before I heard a soft, "I'll say."

"So, you told me a bunch just now, but please tell me why. Please tell me what's bothering you, son."

"Oh. Well, here it goes. I think I've kind of been lying to you about something."

"Oh?"

"Yeah. See when I go out on my rides some mornings, I don't just ride for exercise. That's not every day, but a lot of them."

"I see. And should I ask what you do instead or should I just tell you what I think you're doing?"

"You ... What!? You know? How could you know?" Elliot was getting a little excited.

"Elliot, the Perkins were over just the other day at the party. Dan and I talked. He told me Enrique had taken up riding in the mornings. Then we looked over at you two sitting together, a little bit away from the other kids. Now, I'm no math wizard but things added up real quick for both Dan and me."

There was a big sigh from beside me.

"I'm sorry, Pop, that we didn't ask before we started meeting. We were afraid Dan wouldn't let Enrique meet with me if we asked."

"If he didn't allow you to meet he'd have a pretty good reason, don't you think? Maybe it would be to protect Enrique from going against a court order or something."

"Yeah, we thought of that. See, Enrique is cleared from the court telling him what he can and can't do. He's just waiting until his family can get settled and find a place for all of them to live. There's like seven of them altogether. So, that wasn't the reason. Doesn't make any difference really. It was still wrong not to tell you."

"Yes, but now you have."

"But there's more," said the boy, turning to me. "We, um, we touched some. We, um, we were intimate."

"You were ... You mean holding hands, kissing? There's nothing wrong with ..."

"No. There was more." His head went back down.

"More. Well, instead of me guessing, why don't you tell me? It isn't as bad as you think it is."

"As bad? But it's bad then, huh?"

"Okay, poor phrasing on my part. Do you want to tell me how you were intimate and please tell me you were safe."

"Oh, no, I mean, we didn't have to be safe. I mean, we didn't do ... it. Oh, what I mean is we didn't pass any fluids like they said in class. We just, um, kind of, um, helped each other out and only once. I promise!" He sounded desperate for me to believe him.

"Elliot, I will believe anything you tell me, because I don't think you have it in you to lie. Maybe stretch the truth or keep it from me for a while, evidently." I said the last part with a smile and held his head up and turned him to look at me. "That doesn't matter now that you've told me."

"It doesn't? You aren't mad at us, at me? I mean, you just got through telling us to behave and here we'd already ..."

"I didn't say that there isn't a bit of disappointment, but remember, Elliot, I was your age once too. I felt urges and, at times, I didn't choose to control them. That's how I came to be Jarod's father and Lewis' grandfather. Let's face it, I made some poor choices back then."

"Oh, yeah, right. But you didn't really have anyone to answer to like we do. Someone we can trust; someone we want to tell things to."

"No. that's true. I didn't have anyone that loved me enough to warn me about growing up, about life. I think that's partly why I want you guys to hear it from me."

"Well, it doesn't look like a child is in the cards for me."

"That's not true, son. There are plenty of gay men that have children, even plenty of gay couples that have them. And there certainly is a huge number of children that need a loving daddy or two.

"But remember, the mistakes you make now, the times you tell yourself, 'It can't happen to me,' could be deadly to you and even your lover if you aren't careful."

"Yeah. That's pretty scary. But I never even thought I'd be around this long to have to worry about any of that. What with my parents and that new church they glommed onto, I thought I'd be locked up for life. Then there's school and the bullying there. That's why ... Well, you know what happened when it got to me. You guys saved me from all that."

"And I wouldn't have had it any other way, my son. You are too precious to me, our family, hell, the world, to let go by the wayside. No, remember, Judge Harrington thinks you're going to be a judge someday. Even if that doesn't happen, it speaks volumes about how you appear to people when you have the confidence and self-esteem to be who you are."

Elliot snuggled into me and pushed his arm behind me so he could wrap it around me. I squeezed my arm around his shoulder a little tighter.

"It's because of you guys, Pop. I'm nobody without you."

"No, but I think it might have taken our loving for you to see the somebody you really are. Now, young man, you're grounded for five days from riding your bike or meeting with Enrique."

"WHAT? But you said ..." Elliot pushed away to look into my face with shock.

"I said it was okay that you told me. I never said there wouldn't be consequences for deceiving me and Dan. Oh, that's right. Maybe I should make it ten days because you also deceived ..."

"Wait! No, no, five days is fine. I'll, um, manage somehow."

"I'm sure you will. I guess you can still call him, if Dan hasn't nixed that too."

"Oh boy," he said, with some disgust in his young voice. He got up and did his impression of storming out of the room ... until he got to the open doorway.

Elliot turned and walked back to me. He sat down again and leaned into me, throwing his arms around me. It was only a second before I felt and heard his sobs.

"Elliot?"

"Oh, Pop, you are so good to me. Thank you for loving me enough to punish me for jerkin' off, I mean, meeting Enrique behind your back. Thanks for wanting to keep Jeffy and me safe."

"M-m-m-m." I kissed him on top of his head. "Love does wonderful things, Elliot. Sometimes it's so hard to do, to show, but with my boys, it's so easy to want to show my love for each of you."

"Yeah."

"No matter how hard it is on you!" I said, tickling him until he flopped on the floor, streaming more tears than ever, but from his wonderful laughter that time."

God, I was fortunate. And they're all mine.


The end of Chapter Fifty-two


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