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.

* * * * *

Chapter Fifty-three

It had been a grueling week!

I don't think any of us had worked so hard. None of us had ever been through that kind of trauma and difficulty before, and for so long!

I don't think any of us could take another minute of it without the possibility of someone getting hurt, probably very hurt.

I know everyone's nerves were becoming frayed.

"Can I ple-ease?" he asked me. "It's been a week, but it seems like a year. Please can I go? I've been good."

"You're not even going to let me wake up enough to think this through, are you?"

"What's to think through, Pop? You said a week; seven days is a week and it's the seventh day. Ple-e-ease?"

"Yes, you may go."

I may have had the 'yes' out of my mouth before I said the rest of the sentence to Elliot's back as he ran out of my bedroom on that Saturday morning, when I released him from his weeklong grounding.

As I heard the front door slam closed I walked over and picked up Lewis, who had waited patiently for his uncle to quit whining and finally free us all from the oppression of his torment and punishment.

"Pop, don't ever do that one again." Jeffy was standing in the doorway in just his boxer-briefs, scratching, of course, and then yawning. "If you do, please just chain him outside somewhere. I was close to stranglin' him a few times."

AJ rounded the corner wearing one piece of clothing less than Jeffy, which was pretty normal. He too was yawning and rubbing his eyes, trying to wake up.

"I heard him leave. Wow, that was like the hardest thing I ever did. Dad, I thought he was the one bein' punished?"

I think the relief of having made it through the longest week in history made me laugh, mostly at each of the three boys' reactions to the whole exhausting development.

"Yeah, Pop, the worst part was when he ran out of books the other day and you wouldn't let him go to the lib'ary ... wait, library, until you got him some the next day."

"Yeah, that was like horrible, Dad."

"I agree with you, boys. I have to hand it to you, you both handled it very well, considering. I hope he's learned his lesson."

"Are you kiddin'? Pop, I think we ALL learned his lesson!"

We all laughed at that. Lewis did his tight scrunch in my arms and exploded to laugh out loud, which got us all to laugh even more before we went downstairs to enjoy our first peaceful meal in a year ... I mean, a week.

--- - - - - - - - - - ---

"Elliot, we have to stop meeting like this," said the boy as he looked into the eyes of his young lover.

The park near the store at the top of the hill made a nice place to rest after a long bike ride.

"What? You, you can't mean that, Enrique. I want nothing more than to spend my whole life with ..."

"Wait, wait, Elliot. I was kidding."

"You were kid ..."

"Yes, I heard that in a movie the other night on TV and I had to use it at least once. Cool, huh?"

"Enrique, don't do that, please. I was really upset. You were a very good actor just then."

Enrique held out his arms and Elliot turned and scooted closer and leaned into the boy. His body was wrapped in his favorite arms. The scent of his young man, a combination of soap. Maybe some hair gel and the effort he'd put into riding that far, drifted through his nostrils to his brain, sending waves of pleasure through his mind. He took in a deep breath and slowly exhaled, calming him once more.

Or at least as calm as a fifteen-year-old can be in the arms of the one he loves.

"But we do have to talk, Elliot, seriously."

"You're not kidding me again, are you?" asked Elliot, moving so he could look into Enrique's eyes.

"No, afraid not. It has to do with my family. See, my father lost his job and they can't afford the rent anymore. Mama works too but it isn't half enough to pay everything. Even with me gone, they can't afford anything."

"So you'll get to stay with Dan Perkins longer. Is that a bad thing?"

"Well, they're thinking of moving back to the South. Papa thinks he can get work where his brother has a auto repair place. If that happens, Dan said the court would probably release me to go with them."

A very quiet, "Oh," came out of a very disheartened boy.

"I know. But I don't know what we can do. I want to be with my family but I don't want to lose you either."

Elliot slumped back into Enrique's arms. The long, full limbs of the mighty old oak tree they lay against shaded the summer sun from them. The view from the hill at the top of the park was spectacular. Up until that moment they never failed to talk about how wonderful it was to come and just sit; maybe stealing an occasional kiss if they didn't see anyone around.

They hadn't been together in a very long week, when their grounding started. They knew their dads knew they were meeting. Elliot found out that Enrique had the same uncomfortable 'talk' that he'd had; the one that led to both of them being grounded. But during that 'talk' both had promised that nothing had happened that needed 'protection'. Enrique wasn't as forthcoming as Elliot and was mortified when he found out that Elliot told his dad about their helping hands that one time.

But they both understood how fortunate they were that both their dads had nothing against their seeing each other, even as a relationship developed between them, as long as they were careful. 'Abstinent' was the word Dan used. I think secretly they were both relieved, though it took some doing to quell their youthful hormones at times.

"What kind of work does your father do?"

"He worked for a man that owned apartments, so he did quite a few things. But his love is working on cars. I think he's a great mechanic but he's never been able to get into that work."

"That is unfortunate. I'll bet a good mechanic makes a good wage," said Elliot.

"Yes, that's why he may have to move us all, so he can work for his brother in his shop."

"Oh."

The gentle wind rustled the leaves above them. Some birds sounded like they were fighting, maybe over a berry or some other treasure, but they were too far away to see had either boy been looking. The sun was high enough that the morning was finally warming up.

But the warmth that Elliot felt, leaning against Enrique, was all encompassing. He didn't need anything else right then. He moved around and snuggled back a bit, fitting between Enrique's outstretched legs. It was one of his favorite positions.

Their thoughts wafted away as they sat quietly. Elliot was a bit down but just being with Enrique made it hard to be too upset. Enrique squeezed his boy in his arms, letting him know that this was where he wanted to be most of all that day.

"Enrique, something will come up. I just know it. Besides, it has to."

"Elliot, after all the crap you've been through in your life, how can you always be so positive?"

"It's easy, actually. I live in an environment that exudes positive reinforcement."

"Um, I think I know what you just said," said Enrique, with the same laughter in his voice that he used a lot when Elliot came up with similar observations about any number of things.

"Pop, Jeffy, AJ, even Lewis somehow, they all have a way of being up, being so positive that it makes it easy to go along with them, ever since I was in the hospital. I don't know how to explain it. But it makes me know that something good will come of all this. It will because we want ... No, we need it to work."

He felt Enrique's warm arms squeeze him tightly, then release again.

"Well, whatever it is, it had better happen soon. We haven't got much time."

--- - - - - - - - - - ---

"Tim, send your boy ... Now wait a minute. Ya got so many of them that ... humph. Oh, yeah, send that Jeffy over here. We got some business to talk about. You're welcome as can be if'n you wanta be bored outa your mind, son."

He was so full of it when he got a head on.

"Jeb, what are you going on about? You want me to come over and help with the remodeling?"

"No, no, no. Hell, boy, there's bigger fish to fry. No, we gotta talk about his investments. Now, I've had some people ... Wait, you boys come on over. Bring the whole brood if'n you've a mind to. S'okay with me. They can make poor Joshua relax some. I swear that boy would work himself into an early grave if I didn't put my foot down and make him quit in the afternoon."

"Okay, Jeb. I'll see what happens when I present the options to the other two boys. Then at least Jeffy, Lewis and I will be right over."

I turned my attention to the boys in the living room, moping around like they were waiting for the hangman to call on them. Well, mostly that was Jeffy and a little Elliot. He didn't seem to be getting into his newest book. AJ and Lewis were having a great time on the floor, playing with Lewis's toys.

"Boys, that was Jeb on the phone. He wanted to know if you'd all like to ... "

"Can we, Pop? Can we? It's so boring over here," started Jeffy.

"If you mean he invited us over, I'd like to go," said Elliot. "Um, is Joshua over there still?"

"Elliot, you know he is. He's been coming over here the last week almost every day."

Elliot was instantly a nice shade of pink.

"Sounds good to us, Dad. Huh, Lewis?" AJ poked Lewis in his baby fat and got a deep giggle.

"Okay, yes, he invited us over. Jeffy, it seems he wants to have a meeting about your investments."

"My ...? Oh, man, I'd almost forgot about that stuff. What does he want to do with them?"

"Well, I don't have a clue. Why don't we go over and ask him, silly?"

"Oh, yeah. 'Kay."

--- - - - - - - - - - ---

I'm very sure that Jeffy thought that his time at our 'boring' house was a carnival of fun compared to his business meeting with his great grampa. Oh, it was nice to hear about the sums of money that could be made available with the development of the property his father had been purchasing for so long. But Jeffy was always asking if people would have to be kicked out of their homes or if the homes that were planned would be simple enough to be afforded by less fortunate families.

At one point he almost literally put his foot down and said he just wanted to give the land away and forget about making him rich and giving other rich people a mansion and golf course.

"Woe, Jeffy, I have never heard of such a thing, my boy," said Jeb somewhat quietly and tentatively. He was doing his best to be gentle to a very over-wrought young man.

"Heard of what, Great Grampa?" asked AJ from where he was playing on the floor with Lewis and Elliot.

"I've never heard of anyone wanting to give away so much money without knowing about all the benefits it could offer."

That piqued pretty much everyone's interest, though maybe not Lewis'. Joshua had been sitting at the table, awed by the numbers he'd been hearing. I was there with Jeb and Jeffy as well, and awed, even though I'd heard the figures before.

It was estimated conservatively that, if the land was fully developed as the three men, now in custody, had planned it, the property would gross between fifty-five and sixty million dollars.

"But, Great Grampa, it all sounds like it's just going to be used to make rich people richer and poor people, well, they wouldn't change any, I suppose. Why can't we make that place into houses for people that can't afford a lot of money? Maybe they never had enough to really buy a nice house and have something of their own. Why do we have to make it just for rich people?"

I know I was smiling, as proud of my son as I've ever been. I know I've said that a lot about that time period in their lives but it was so amazing to see them react and show how much they thought of others.

I also know that Great Grampa was as proud of his 'adopted' great grandson as I was. You could easily tell by his smile and the warmth in his eyes as he concentrated on the burst of energy in front of him that was my son.

"Well, Jeffy, ya got a swell point there. Why can't we do that? Why can't we?"

He leaned over the dining room table where we sat, drawings and ledgers strewn all over, and stared hard at his young audience of one.

"I'll tell you why we can't, po-dunk!" he said, slapping the table.

It scared the bejesus out of all of us. We all jumped back in our seats.

"Great Grampa?" asked AJ, carrying Lewis over to stand behind Jeffy.

Elliot was soon beside his brother, wonder in his eyes as well.

"I'll tell you why we can't. Because if we develop the property as it is designed here, and if you do make even close to the amounts we've estimated here ..." He paused and looked around at each of us, coming back to stare at Jeffy once more. Then he slowly eased back in his chair and declared almost in a whisper, "Then we can do both."

For at least thirty seconds there wasn't a sound. The only movement I saw was Lewis grabbing AJ's nose to turn his head so the older boy would look at him.

"We ... we can?" Jeffy finally said.

"We-e-e-ell of course we can. See, I see no reason why those parcels won't be grabbed up in nothin' flat. As they're bought up, you could put some of your profit into, say, another piece of property and start building more reasonable homes for people like you described."

It was Jeffy that sat back and said, "Wo-o-ow!"

"Hey, I was gonna say that!" said AJ.

--- - - - - - - - - - ---

Dinner was wonderful!

Oh, the food was good, but the conversations and the animation and the ideas that came out of that meal, set us on a track that would lead us to endless possibilities.

"So, we could really help some people if Jeffy did that, huh, Great Grampa?"

"Yes, we could AJ. We could all help him too. If we did it right, we wouldn't make much of a return on our investment, but the satisfaction would be, well, substantial."

I barely noticed someone slide back and get up from the table. Elliot picked up his plate and AJ's and took them into the kitchen. Instead of coming back to the table where we were all chatting and offering ideas, he went into the living room and sat down by himself, on the couch.

"Joshua, my boy, would you please put the coffee on and can we all go into the living room? This chair is killin' my back."

The conversation died down as we moved into the bigger room. We all found comfortable places, but something wasn't quite right.

Leave it to the pipsqueak to figure it out.

"Elliot, what's wrong?" asked AJ, walking over to his brother.

"Huh, oh, it's nothing, nothing that anyone can do anything about. It would all be too late."

Elliot had a definite tear track down his right cheek. By the looks of his wet eyes, at least a few more were about to follow.

"Elliot," I said gently, "We're here for you. I don't think there is anything this family can't do when we put our minds to it. Please, come over here."

Jeb was, of course, sitting in his favorite recliner, a worn out leather monstrosity with worn out arms and a leg rest that couldn't quite get all the way up when he lay back in it. I was sitting in what must have been his wife's chair when she was alive. It was a more subdued affair, upholstered in a thick woven cloth of many deep colors. It reminded me of something I might see in an old home in England, not that I'd ever been there. At one time I'm sure it was very grand.

But the important thing was that it had arms that would hold my boy without him having to say he was actually sitting in my lap.

I held out my arms and was astonished when he came right into them and sat right on me. I was immediately so proud that, not only did he trust me completely, but he was beyond being embarrassed by what his brothers would think of something that could be perceived as such a childish act.

"Umph! You're a big guy," I said as I began to wrap my arms around him.

"I'm sorry! Do you want me to ..." asked Elliot, a little panicky.

"Oh, no, no! Please, stay here and tell me all about what's going on. No, you are right where you need to be. In fact, thank you for wanting to sit in my lap."

"Oh, okay. Well, it's just that ... Oh, what's the use? Nothing can happen in time, then he'll be gone and we'll both be miserable."

I think Jeffy, AJ and I all shuddered in fear a little bit when we heard those words. The memories of the last week still burned hot in our minds.

Everyone was so quiet. It showed me their respect for their brother and friend. I was very impressed, though not surprised.

"Well, you know we can't do anything unless we know what's going on, Elliot. Please tell us."

"Thanks, Pop. See, Enrique is going to have to move away with his family soon. There's just no way they can stay here because his father doesn't have a job anymore."

AJ sat up on his knees. "Dan Perkins lost his job? He isn't a sheriff anymore?" He looked right at me like I should have known.

"Yeah, what happened, El?" asked Jeffy.

"Oh, no. See, Enrique is through with all the court orders for the offences he was charged with when Dan took him in. He's passed all that behind him with flying colors, according to Dan. That means he can go back to his family; his real family. But he can't now because his real dad lost his job. That means his only option is to move his family somewhere south where his brother has an auto shop that does car repair. If that happens, and it's almost certain to, then Enrique will be released to go with them.

"He really wants to be with his family more than anything ... well, almost anything," Elliot said through his blushing cheeks.

Jeb was the first to speak up. "He's an auto mechanic?" he asked.

"Yes, sir. He worked for this guy that had apartments but I guess he sold them or something. I'm not sure. Anyway, Enrique said his dad really loves to work on cars and that he was very good at it."

"That so?" asked Jeb, rubbing his chin.

"So, they're going to lose their apartment if he doesn't find work. I think the guy he worked for owns his apartment too. So, he fires him then kicks him out? That doesn't seem fair."

"Well, in the man's defense, Elliot, things have been really bad lately, especially for the housing market. It's possible that he might be in a bind himself."

"Yeah, I suppose, Pop."

"Dean, Dean Vincent? Jeb Harding here. Say, partner, I have some news for you."

As Jeb spoke into the phone, all of us turned to look and listen. I don't think any of us realized he'd picked up the phone and dialed out.

"Yes, it's good news too. Ha! I have a young man that needs a job and you need a new mechanic. Yes, you do, didn't you know?"

He paused, listening to the co-owner of the automobile dealership where he'd bought our new truck.

"Well, you know me. We can at least try him out. If it doesn't work out ..." Jeb turned to look at Elliot as he said that.

Elliot looked a little shocked at the possibility of the job not lasting.

"Then I guess I'll have to set him up with his own shop."

The smile on the faces of both Jeb and Elliot were radiant in the room. Elliot mouthed a 'Thank you' to his great grampa-elect as tears once again sparkled on his cheeks.

"And that would mean competition for you, you old sidewinder! Ha! Okay. Well, I'm not sure when this will all take place, but soon. Thanks, Dean. I'm sure he will work out though. He comes highly recommended." Again, Jeb looked right at Elliot as he said those words.

As soon as the phone was hung up, Elliot jumped from my lap and landed on his knees at Jeb's feet.

"Thank you, oh, thank you, Great Grampa. You're the best."

"Well, I don't know how many times I've told you boys that," he said, followed by a mighty guffaw, which was, of course, echoed by my littlest one on the floor with AJ.

"But, El," said Jeffy.

We looked to where he'd been sitting on the couch next to Joshua but he wasn't there. Joshua caught on and pointed to the front window where we saw Jeffy looking out as the darkening night was slowly taking the color from the sky and the land around us.

"Yeah?"

"So, they need a place real soon, huh? I mean, even if we did what we talked about and all with that land, it wouldn't be quick enough to help Enrique's family with a place to live, would it? That's why you said it would all be too late, isn't it?" he said thoughtfully, slowly.

"Yeah, but ..."

"Great Grampa?" asked Jeffy, never turning from the window. He seemed intent on looking beyond Jeb's land, beyond the road and over to ...

"What is it and what are you up to, young man?" was the answer he got.

"Yeah, Jeffy. What's goin' on?" asked his little brother.

"I was just wonderin' somethin'. How much do you suppose it would cost to buy that piece of land over there, where they found Tyler, and how much do you think it would take to get it ready for a family of ...?"

With that, he turned to look at Elliot as though trying to draw out an answer.

"Um, Enrique, his mom and dad and like three or four brothers and sisters. Oh, and his grandma, too. She lives with them," answered Elliot, turning from in front of Jeb and walking on his knees toward his brother.

"Yeah, how much would it take to get it ready for, say, eight people to move into?"

--- - - - - - - - - - ---

It all seemed to go like clockwork. It seemed so perfect, almost natural to evolve from almost nothing into a project of such huge and important objectives.

The ground around our house, most of the garden on the back and one side of the house were destroyed by the work being done for the remodel, a regrettable but necessary evil. In the summer heat, the ground was quite dry but obviously abused by the constant moving of big equipment and the many workers applying their skills to our final goal of added space for my growing family.

But from what was the constant daily noise of pounding and sawing and assorted electrical equipment cutting and shaping lumber into perfect harmony with the expanding building, there was, within a day, complete silence.

The lack of noise, due to the lack of workers, wasn't because our project was completed, but because they had all, as one, moved to the property across from Jeb's house to begin a simple remodel of its primary basic structure, ensuring ample room for the eight soon to be new residents of the space acquired by Jeb and Jeffy.

To the boys, all three of them, it was all very exciting, to see something come together so quickly and completely. I, too, was impressed that Jeb was able to work out the financing in record time and prepare to pick up the deed, but have the permission to begin the property's overhaul before it all became final.

"Two weeks to complete what you have in mind, Jeb," said the contractor as he looked up from the sketches we'd collaborated on to make the dwelling livable for Enrique's family.

And Elliot wanted me to call Dan with the news as soon as enough parts were in place to confirm the safety of Enrique's family from expulsion to another state.

"Tim, that's amazing that your family has taken on such a great project. Enrique has been climbing up my arm until you called to confirm what he had the hardest time keeping from me."

"He really didn't mention anything about it?" I asked him.

"Well, unless you call dancing around the house with the silliest grins on his face for the last two days, and then say he couldn't say anything about it; if you call that not mentioning it, then, no, he didn't."

The laughter in Dan's voice was special. I knew how much it must have bothered him to see his foster son worry about the family's inevitable outcome. So the relief must have been huge.

"Tim, Enrique says he wants to know when he can tell his family, about the job, the house, everything."

"I can't imagine that his father hasn't received a call about his new job, but I'm sure it would be alright for him to let them come out and look at the property, say, as a possible place to stay. That way, if we had to come up with an alternative, which I doubt, it wouldn't be quite the letdown as it would be if we said it was theirs and something fell through.

"Hmmmm, you're right. Good idea. I'll let Enrique know."

"Sure. Tell him that they can come for a tour during any daylight hour. There's enough done now to see how it will be."

But something dawned on me the first time I went over to see the place.

The kidnappers had only rented the farm from the owner, but after all that had taken place there the owners wanted nothing more to do with it. So, it was in pretty poor condition after a few months of neglect, added to the near neglect from the old man's stay there.

The result was that we were able to negotiate a great deal for the house, the property and every piece of equipment, usable or, more likely, not. It meant quite a bit of hauling scrap away.

But it quickly began to concern me what one person would think about even venturing onto the property after all that had happened there - to him!

--- - - - - - - - - - ---

"Linda Sue, this is Tim."

"Tim, what a wonderful surprise. How are the members of my favorite, well, hee hee, second favorite family doing?"

"Oh, we're all just fine, Linda Sue. I'm still high on the knowledge that all the boys are finally really, truly mine. The reason I'm calling is that I need to pass something by you to see how it may effect Tyler."

"Oh! I can't imagine what that could possibly be. He's just so easy going. He's growing so much in maturity and self-assurance. I just love every minute with him."

"He is a wonderful young man, for sure, Linda Sue, and I really don't want to do anything that will spoil any of that."

"Now you've really piqued my curiosity, Tim. What could possibly set him back after all he's been through?"

So, I started to tell her about Enrique, not knowing if Dan had mentioned the situation or not.

"Yes, he did mention that the boy may have to move away with his parents and the reasons behind such a move. But ..."

"Well, Linda Sue, it was actually Jeffy's idea a couple of days ago when we were over at Jeb's and had just heard from Elliot about this whole debacle that Enrique's family was going through. It's his idea to remodel the house across from Jeb's and make it suitable for Enrique's family. Something that they would never be able to do in such a short period of time."

"Oh, what a marvelous idea! And how generous of you all to do that for his family. It's just like one of your boys to come up with a plan to help someone and ... Oh. Now I understand why you're concerned about Tyler. It's THE farm, isn't it?"

"Yes, Linda Sue, the very farm, indeed. Now you see why I was concerned for your boy."

"That was very thoughtful of you, Tim. Honestly, I don't know what he would say about it ever being used again for anyone. In some ways I couldn't imagine going back there if something like that happened to me, and for so long."

"One thing in our favor is that he and the whole operation were only using that site for about six months. That's what the owners said. They came from another part of the county after being there for several years. They evidently moved around for whatever reason that we'll probably never know now."

"I hadn't thought about that. You know, just bringing it up again makes me shudder at the thought of what that poor boy went through. I'm not sure how to broach the subject with him without setting him off, or just reliving it again. It's all been the farthest thing from any of our minds for, well, ever since."

"But he did have some counseling, didn't he?"

"Yes, but he was so simple a boy then that the doctor assumed he'd worked through most of the nightmare of his whole life. I'm just not sure if it was Tyler working it out or if he was just perceived in his simplicity as having worked through it. He was very accepting and, really, still is. I don't think he's holding anything in, but I can't be sure."

"He's a remarkable young man, Linda Sue, but still a boy in so many ways. I would find it hard to believe that he wouldn't have some reaction to it all."

"Hmmm, I think I'll call his doctor and pass it by him. Maybe he'll have a good idea about how to approach it."

"Great idea. Please, let me know as soon as you decide what to do or what he may need. If need be, we'll stop the remodel until he's worked it through."

"Thank you, Tim, and thank you for being sensitive enough to consider Tyler's feeling in your project. And, let me say again, what a wonderful gift you are giving to what sounds like a very deserving family in their desperation right now."

"Well, that is all Jeffy is doing. Each of them, in their own way, even after all they've been through, have such giving hearts. I'm constantly blessed by their selfless generosity."

--- - - - - - - - - - ---

At the home of Linda Sue and Tyler Cottington, she brought up the subject during dinner, on the rare occasion lately that they didn't eat with the Perkins' tribe.

"Honey, I wanted to tell you about something very exciting that is happening over at Tim McGill's."

"Okay. I like to hear exciting things if no one gets hurt, Mom."

"I know you do, sweetheart. You have a big heart just like Tim's boys do."

"Um, Jeffy, Elliot and AJ. Oh, and now there's little Lewis. He sure is cute, Mom. It's hard to believe that I, well, all of us were that small once. He is so beautiful, just like the other boys are."

While Tyler didn't show a lot of emotion when he expressed himself, Linda Sue had come to realize that he was truly telling her how he felt inside. He did smile more than ever. That in itself showed a major improvement over what he'd been through and where he'd come from not too long before. And his mom was joyfully aware that when he said someone was beautiful, he usually meant more than the outer surface. He meant their inner beauty, the kind that spread to other people and made other lives a little more special.

"They really are beautiful, Tyler. And that's what I wanted to tell you. You know that Elliot and Enrique are friends, very good friends, don't you?"

"Oh, yes, Mom. When we were all together at the last party in Tim's yard they were very good friends to each other. I think they are cute together too."

"I agree with you, son. Well, you may not know that Enrique's real father, not Dan, but the one that helped give him birth, is without a job and it was feared that he would have to move his whole family away from here in order to find work."

"Oh," Tyler replied. He was thoughtful for a minute, then his eyes showed that something troubled him.

"But Enrique was going to move back with them when they found another place to live. I remember Dan saying it one night at 'numbers'."

That was Tyler's way of saying the family gathering each evening when each person gave a number of how their day had been.

"Yes, that's exactly right. But if they move away, Enrique will move with them. I think that would make him very sad, as well as Elliot."

"Oh, my. That would be sad. Do you know what can be done then to help prevent that? I wouldn't want to see both boys faces if they could not be best friends anymore."

"No, that would be sad, alright. So, we know that Tim's family has big hearts that want to help people. Well, it was Jeffy's idea to but some property, fix it up and let Enrique's family rent it. Oh, and Jeb Harding, their great grampa, has found a job for Enrique's father. Isn't that wonderful?"

"That is so good. They really do love just about everyone they meet, don't they, Mom? I wish I was more like them."

"Oh, no, honey. You have a very big heart. You care so much for people, just like with Enrique and Elliot and Enrique's whole family. You want the best for them, don't you?"

"Oh, yes! That would be wonderful. I can't wait to see their faces. They'll be so happy together."

"Well, Tyler, I need to tell you something, but it may upset you just a bit. Are you ready to hear something that may hurt just a little?"

"Hurt? To hear something? Is it really loud; too many decibels?"

"No, honey, not that kind of hurt. It may hurt on the inside, when you think about what I'm going to say."

"Oh. Well, we just won't know until you say what that hurtful thing is."

"You are so right, Tyler, and very brave. Tyler, the property that Tim's family wants to purchase and rent to Enrique's family is the one across the road from Jeb Harding's house. It's actually the farm where you were found; where you were kept by that horrible old man for so many years."

Tyler made no move to indicate he understood, or even heard her. He looked at her with a blank expression. Just as Linda Sue was getting worried that it had gone on too long, Tyler looked down to his dinner plate. More time past and he finally looked up at his mother sitting across from him.

"Sometimes, Mom, all of the things around me and in my life, all the really great people I know and love, all the rich colors and sounds and smells and tastes of every day, allow me to forget what happened. While it's a wonderful feeling, when something draws my memory back to those times, it makes me sad.

"I thought and thought for a long time about that house and that barn. I thought about it being my whole world for that time. I thought about my animals and my books with great fondness. I thought about the men that were there and how they were very mean to me, without me even knowing that what they were doing was wrong and not my fault.

"But one day I decided that, yes, the men were mean and did very bad things to me and other children, I guess. They hurt people and were even bad to people and families that they didn't know. Some of it I didn't even know until after it was all over.

"That day that I decided that they were mean and not nice, I also decided that my friends, the animals were still nice. They were my friends after all. When I treated them nice, they were nice to me. One goat bit the old man. I remember. I never saw that goat after that."

By that time, tears were streaming down Linda Sue's face, but she tried to smile when the boy talked about the animals.

"Mom, I also decided on that day that the barn wasn't a bad place. It gave me a dry place to sleep and work. It held the animals and kept them safe. It got very cold sometimes but that wasn't the house's or the barn's fault. I liked the barn a lot. It kept my books dry and helped me hide them from the old man. I wasn't in the house all that much except to clean it up, and when I did, I liked the way it looked in certain places, places that the old man hadn't made his own; places that looked like they were nice places to be in, I suppose.

"I decided that the old man didn't like that house or barn like he didn't like me. So that made the house and barn my friends, too. That's why I took care of them, well, the house. I didn't do too much in the barn except sleep sometimes and keep the floor clean.

"Is it okay that I like the house and barn as if they were my friends too? It's just the way I thought about them, I guess. Is that okay, Mom?"

Linda Sue reached both hands across the table and held the boy's hands. It was a gesture that repeated itself on many occasions when such revelations came from her beloved son. And it seemed like it happened often. She was still constantly amazed at the way he processed things, such as right then.

"Tyler, you are remarkable. You know just how to think about the most important things. Sometimes you think about what doesn't seem so important but you point out something, like now, that makes it so special, I never would have thought of it the way you do. I love you so much."

"Oh, Mom, I love you so, so much too! But is it okay to like that house and barn?"

"Of course, honey. I think that, if the house and barn could talk, and they heard what you just said, they would be the proudest, happiest house and barn anywhere!"

"Ha, ha! That's funny, Mom, because they can't think like that. I have to do it for them."

"Yes, I suppose you do. Then they are very fortunate to have you doing their thinking for them."

"Mm-m-m-m, thank you, Mom."

"You're welcome. So, I have two things to ask you. How would you like to go visit your house and barn? That's one thing. Then, how would you like to be a part of giving it to Enrique's family to live in and keep them warm and dry for a long time."

"Oh! I would really enjoy doing both of those, Mom. It all sounds so, so great. I will get to say, 'Hi' to the house and barn and then get to see someone else enjoy them even more than I did."

For Tyler, he was pretty excited about the possibilities. For Linda Sue, she was so grateful for her son and all of the progress he'd made in dealing with his life up to the time he was finally free.

"Now, I have to tell you that the men that were working on Tim's house to make it bigger will be working on the house and barn to make them bright and happy places for a big family to live in. What do you think about that?"

"Then I think I really, really want to see them and see how much more beautiful they can become. I don't think they could be as special as my house here, though. I think that's because my house has all my love and your love kept in it. I think it makes our house so beautiful, like it had a heart too."

The end of Chapter Fifty-three


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