The Little Pipsqueak

© 2012-2015 Matthew Templar
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 Sixty-three

After Dan left, all the boys helped find something for each of the five boys to wear after their showers. They did pretty well, especially providing for the two older boys. All five boys were small for their age by our boys' standards. Still, they did find some shirts and shorts among Denver's clothes.

"Dad, if Denver gives all those clothes to the guys, what will he wear?" asked AJ, splaying out his hands in front of him.

Denver was standing next to him with a sweet smile on his face. He didn't really look too worried.

"Well, I guess he'll just have to spend the next couple of days naked, huh? Lucky it's so warm, huh?"

I expected them both to become anxious or embarrassed. I guess I really wasn't thinking too clearly.

"Okay. Thanks, Dad," AJ said before they both turned to skip away with big grins on their faces.

"Wait! I was kidding. Denver, you can even wear some of the clothes you've already worn this trip. Tell you what, let's go ask Wilbur if there are laundry machines around somewhere."

Two disappointed boys turned to me and mine answered with, "O-o-ka-a-ay. Sorry, Denver."

Two pipsqueaks?

Wilbur did have machines that were pretty clean after he took care of the far restrooms. They were housed in a side room of that building. So, the three young men, Tyler, Ralph and Joshua, volunteered to stand over the washing and drying of all six boys' clothes, which included some of Denver's.

While the wash was being done, the five boys went to the restrooms to take showers. They didn't seem too keen on going alone, so several boys offered to go with them to make them more comfortable.

"Are you all going to stand there and watch them or are you going to take showers as well," asked George.

"Well, what's the difference?" asked his older son.

"I just think it would be intimidating for them to have gawkers instead of helpers. Perhaps the littlest boys could use some help."

With very little prompting, the whole shower room was abuzz with all our boys taking their showers with our little guests. I guess the little ones were pleased because they were all smiles going in and had beautiful, clean, wide smiles as they came out all polished and sparkling clean. The littlest three were even hanging on to several of our boys. They were all very cute.

Actually, all five of the new boys were beautiful. Their golden skin and dark hair set off their very cute faces and their smiles only added to their beauty.

While our clean boys showed our clean new arrivals around, I got the men together for a powwow.

"Guys, Dan is making the call to the local authorities. If they respond, they could be here any minute. I think both Lenny and I've decided that we don't want them to take the boys. I'm not sure what we're going to do with them, but we need more time to think this through. Do you agree?"

All of the guys were in our court so we had to decide what to do with the boys and what we would tell the officers when they showed up.

As we were talking, Dan drove up. I expected him to run over and yell at us to hurry because we were going to be raided. But he calmly walked over and sat at a table amidst us.

"Relax, guys. They aren't even coming up here."

"What? How could they . . ." started Bill.

"Hold your horses, Bill. It's all good. They told me they had an idea which house it was and the people involved, that they'd been working on a way to find out if their suspicions were true. I guess the piece they really needed was the description of the van so they could follow it in and make the arrests. Unfortunately, they'd have to wait for another group of kids to come through the border and up here."

"How did you keep them from coming up here and seizing the boys, Dan?" asked Lenny.

"As far as they know, the boys ran away from the guys in the van to who knows where, after we heard the men threaten the boys. They didn't ask for details and I didn't come forward with any more information. We just need to decide the next step in these boys' future.

"Oh, I did make a few purchases in the town. I hope I got the right sizes."

With that, he walked back to his truck and pulled out three huge shopping bags full of socks, underwear, t-shirts and shorts for the boys to wear. He even bought flip flops until we could take them to buy good shoes. Another bag had toiletries in it, enough for each boy to have a toothbrush and tooth paste, a bar of soap and shampoo, a comb and even a pouch each to carry it all in.

"Very nice, Dan," said Bill. "They'll think it's Christmas."

Quickly, twenty dollar bills began to fly from wallets into Dan's hands. Soon, we'd all contributed our share of his purchases, even though he protested. We all just wanted to be involved too.

"I also called Linda Sue for advice about the boys. I figured she'd be a good source of resources and I was right. She'd heard of an organization that dealt with children that tried to pass into the country over the last several years. I guess this has been going on for some time. It's just gotten a lot worse lately. Anyway, I'll drive back into the city tomorrow and find out what she came up with. I hope that's alright with everyone."

I know I was relieved.

"We all just want what's best for the boys. I think we do need to talk to them about what they had in mind when they got here; like if they have relatives here or something."

"Good idea. I think we kind of forgot about what their needs are, even their desires."

About a minute after our discussion finished AJ walked up quickly with the youngest of the five boys in tow. Lica was favoring his left foot.

"Dad, Lica has a sore on his foot. I think it looks weird, like it's got water in it or somethin' and it's squishy. Ew-w-w. You need to look at it."

Lica, holding his pair of new flip flops, was a little apprehensive about getting too close to me, but, with AJ's urging, he stepped up to me. I wasn't sure if he was scared of me or scared that I might take away his new shoes. He was adorable in just a pair of shorts. The day was warm enough that most of the boys only wore shorts and shoes. I was also very thankful that AJ and Denver decided to wear that much!

I grabbed Lica around his waist and hefted him up onto the edge of the picnic table. His eyes went huge when I grabbed him and he let out a squeak when I lifted him, but he also gave me a great smile when I sat him down.

"Okay, let's look at that foot, little man," I said to the boy, forgetting that he probably had no idea what I was saying.

I lifted his bare foot and he immediately tried to pull it back.

"Ah, ah. It's okay, amigo. I need to look at your foot and see if we can make it better."

Okay, I also gave him a big smile and then a raspberry right on the sole of his foot. He was so cute. He gasped, then laughed and stuck his foot up so I could do it again. AJ was laughing at us, which made Lica look over at him in awe. For some reason those boys were fascinated by our boys and everything they did.

I finally looked at Lica's foot and saw a rather large 'squishy' blister on his heel. It must have been uncomfortable.

"AJ, please go and ask George for the first aid kit on the other table. He knows where it is."

"'Kay!" shouted my boy as he ran off.

Of course, Lica's attention was on AJ every step of the way.

I was having a hard time. I so much wanted to ask Lica so many questions, but I had very little Spanish in my repertoire. Heck, sometimes I felt like I was lucky to know English well enough to converse.

When AJ came running back, Jose was close behind carrying the rather large first aid kit. Jose's presence gave me a sense of relief. Lica seemed to relax a bit too, until I opened the case. On top was a booklet that gave advice on most first aid needs. But blisters were common among the men in the service, especially in boot camp where unfamiliar new clothes and boots wore into soft feet and skin. It wasn't the best remedy to drain a blister unless it was causing pain. In this case, Lica was favoring his foot, which made walking a challenge for him. Also, I was afraid it would burst when he was away from us, and proper care, unless we took care of it.

"First we need to clean your foot," I told Lica.

Jose was quick to translate for me and Lica nodded his head, though reluctantly.

I grabbed some cotton and antiseptic soap and turned his foot yellow as I cleaned it. Lica winced when I first touched his sore blister but was very brave. Next I searched through the kit for something to pierce the blister.

When I found a needle on the end of a plastic handle, Lica gasped. He started to squirm but I was quick to hug him and try to settle him down.

"Jose, please tell Lica that it won't hurt when I poke him because it's only skin with no feeling in it. He won't even know when I do it unless he looks."

"Um, okay," answered Jose, not sounding too sure of my diagnosis. But he turned to Lica and repeated my words to Lica in Spanish.

Lica didn't look too convinced either.

"AJ, you and Jose keep Lica's attention while I do this deed. It won't take long and it really will not hurt him."

"'Kay, Dad," said my son, smiling.

AJ began to point out all the great attributes of Lica's flip flops as Jose translated. He was being particularly funny, at least by the laughter he received from Lica.

Just as I pierced Lica's blister, he began to laugh again and didn't even realize I'd finished.

I applied some antiseptic, then layered some gauze on his heel and taped it. Little Lica barely knew it when I was done. He was having too much fun with my little goofball and Jose.

"Jose, you can tell Lica that we're done. He should wear some socks but that won't work with flip flops. He needs shoes. We don't want dirt to get into the wound and infect it."

Jose was busy translating and Lica slowly nodded his head through the whole conversation, trying his best to concentrate. By the end, he looked worried and a tear was running down his cheek. He finally said something to Jose but he was looking down at his new pair of flip flops then pointed to Jose's shoes.

"Oh. He says he is very sorry but he has no shoes like ours to protect his feet."

"Then we'll have to take care of that. We'll go into the city and buy them for each boy. Tell him not to worry, that they are all too important to us, just like our own boys, and that we'll take care of the problem."

When Jose was finished translating, Lica looked up at me confused and patted his chest as if to say, "Me?"

"Si, usted," I told him and reached out to offer him a hug.

His eyes got huge then but he leaned toward me and I gave him a nice squeeze. When I let him go he had a matching tear streak on his other cheek but he was smiling.

"Gracias," he said softly.

I left the boys to continue joking around and walked over to where the other men were sitting and drinking coffee.

"Guys, I need shoes for Lica and I'm sure that the others could use new ones as well. I want to take them into the city and get them. Lica had a nasty blister on his heel that I just popped and bandaged and I don't want it getting infected. We should also find out if they need to take something so they can stomach our water and food."

"I know we used to take Imodium when we went to Mexico but I don't think they have to when they come here. Well, we should know in a few hours," said George as he turned and looked at a couple of our new boys eating apples.

We decided to do our shopping the next day when Dan went to call Linda Sue again. But that meant that little Lica had to be careful on his feet until then. The other four boys quickly fell in with their counterparts and played whatever our boys had going. Frisbees and playing catch was big, but when it came to soccer, the little guys were really good, especially Paco and Cesar.

When it came time for a snack and some rest between activities, all the active boys piled up around Lica. He was very energetic and excited as he watched his brother and friends play but I could tell he wanted to be out there with them.

I noticed that it became very quiet for a few minutes at the crowded table of boys. Some of the guys and I were sitting at one table while the other boys were sitting or standing around a table close by us. I noticed Lica pointing to his foot, then to me with his eyes going big, like he was telling his story of the nasty ole blister and how I'd saved his life. Well, maybe not quite like that.

But the cutest part was when he got all shy and blushing and leaned in to tell the boys something very private. He looked over at me, then back at his amigos and explained something very important, it seemed. Then the other boys gasped and looked in awe at Lica, then at me. It piqued my curiosity.

Paco reached over and gently laid his hand on his little brother's shoulder, said something to Lica, then pointed to me and said something again. Lica looked at me, smiled and turned to nod at his brother and friends.

I turned to say something to the guys or hear what one of them was going on about. Soon, Bill tapped my shoulder and leaned in to say I had a visitor. Then he nodded his head to indicate that I should look to my other side.

When I turned to look, Paco was standing there, his hands in front of him and his head down.

"Señor, ¿Puedo tener un abrazo demasiado?"

Of course I was at a loss as were most of the men at the table. Matias, though, snickered and leaned over the table.

"Tim, he is asking if he can have a hug too. What a brave thing for one so young to ask."

I agreed. I turned to Paco and used my hand to gently lift his chin. He tried to look down but when he saw my smile he gave me one equally as good. Then I slowly nodded to him. As realization came over him his face shined like a beacon from his smile. As I reached out to him I saw four pairs of eyes staring at Paco and me in disbelief.

Paco took two steps into my arms and I squeezed him until he gasped for air. As I released him he almost fell on his rear end but I caught him and pulled him back to his feet. His glow was warm and he almost seemed to melt from a feeling of contentment.

For about three seconds, nothing else in the world mattered except Paco in front of me and me making him feel wanted. But when I finally looked up, I noticed a line of three other little boys standing at attention, patiently, as much as young boys can be patient, waiting for Paco to get out of their way!

I had a good laugh when I saw the lineup, but I also realized that Paco wasn't quite done with his treatment either when Bill tapped me on the shoulder again. That time, he nodded his way. For some reason that was a no-brainer for me and I handed off Paco to Bill to hug.

That left me free to hug the next needy child in Cesar, who also had a radiant smile when he realized he was next. As I hugged him the boys behind looked toward Bill so I turned and saw Bill finish a nice hug for Paco, then pat his behind to push him over to George, who had his arms out.

The parade took each of the boys around the whole table getting one hug after another. The last in line was Lica, of course, who already had a hug from me, but I had a lot of them left in my arsenal and freely shared another with the cutie, then passed him along the line of hugging machines.

"Wo-o-ow!" came a voice I knew so well.

Quickly I had two more boys in line in AJ and Denver, only they had trouble with giggling like little hyenas. I hugged AJ and sent him to Bill, poking him in the ribs as I did.

Well, by the time I did the same to Denver, and the rest of the group caught on to my tickling, they all started to end their hugs with a tickle or two until all the boys were laughing uproariously and trying very hard to stay on their feet.

Lunch was our next big event. Silly me, I thought the kids would be too full to want to eat, but . . .

When the dust settled and all of the boys sat back, satisfied, the men were pretty much in awe. The boys, all the way up to and including the three amigos, Tyler, Joshua and Ralph, had practically eaten us out of our food larder.

Jose and Enrique were talking with our new boys while some of the kids looked on. One of the boys would translate and even Matias got into the act.

"Matias, we need to ask them what their plans were when they got to the United States. Do they have family here? Those kinds of questions," I told him.

"That's right. I'd forgotten," answered Matias, then turned to his sons.

He quickly passed on my request and his boys got the kids to tell them their stories, beyond what we already knew.

"Okay, Paco says that Cesar has family, an older sister and her husband, that live not too far from here, like one state west of here. Humberto has an uncle east of here as does Cristian, whose aunt and uncle live there too. But Paco and Lica have no one here. They just knew that other kids were leaving the dangerous city they lived in and were coming to America. They thought they could make their fortune up here as they had heard so many people had done."

It was all Matias could do to finish translating. Enrique and Jose had similar, concerned looks on their faces, though the five boys all looked very positive, as though their adventures would lead them to everything they'd ever hoped for.

"Ask them if their relatives know that the boys are coming to them," said Dan.

Matias asked Cesar, Humberto and Cristian. All three boys got a worried look and admitted that their relatives had no idea that they were headed their way. I thought Cristian was about to cry but Matias reached for him, lifted him into his lap and talked for a minute, obviously reassuring him that all would work out. All the boys looked like they felt better and were satisfied with what Matias told them.

When I looked over at our boys, who were always close by when we talked to the kids, they all had slightly shocked looks on their faces, especially Elliot, Liam, and Jose. I could tell that Ralph and Joshua had concern too but were better about not letting it be too obvious to the little ones.

"Um, sirs, are these little boys going to be taken care of," asked Tyler, stepping forward.

Of course, all five little ones turned to look at the much bigger boy in awe.

Dan reassured him. "Tyler, we'll do everything we can to make their adventure a good experience. The organization that Linda Sue is contacting seems to be very good about finding the right places for kids like these."

"Oh, that's wonderful," said Tyler with a beautiful smile. Then he turned to Matias and asked, "May I say something to the boys, sir?"

"Um, yes, Tyler, but they only understand Spanish."

"Yes, I know. Thank you."

Tyler than turned toward the five boys.

"Espero que encuentre todo lo que busca y que va a estar a salvo de cualquier daño, mis pequeños amigos." (I hope you find everything you are looking for and you will be safe from harm, my little friends.)

To a person, except for the grinning little boys, we were all blown away that Tyler had just spoken to the boys in their native language and quite fluently.

"Um, Tyler . . .?" I started to ask.

"Books, Dad. Huh, Tyler?" spouted AJ before I could finish asking him where he learned Spanish.

"Oh, well, kind of," said Tyler, blushing. "I had two Spanish books in my boxes, but they didn't do much to teach it to me. I remembered how frustrating it was not to know how to read them so when I went to the library I picked up a text to learn from and tapes to hear how to pronounce the words correctly. Did I do okay, Matias?"

"Better than good, Tyler. You spoke very well and impressed our young friends and all of us here, as well."

It was later in the day, after the kids made the most of all that was at their disposal, running and laughing and playing at whatever caught their mood. Even Lica was able to be a part of most of what the other kids did. The three amigos, Joshua, Ralph and Tyler, contributed by organizing some fun games, taken from the repertoire of Joshua's training as a youth leader in the church, and Ralph's experience with his family of foster brothers. While Tyler didn't have that background, he looked like he was quickly absorbing their instruction for use at a later time, should he need it.

After several hours of being entertained by their antics, they dispersed and left us men to our own thoughts. Several minutes into our own banter a concern was brought forth.

"Guys, I, I mean, we have a concern," said Bill to the rest of the adults as we were starting to plan dinner. "Where are these guys gonna sleep and in what? I mean, we don't have any spare . . ."

"Sleeping bags!" roared Enrique, Elliot and Jose as they came running up to us, as excited as they could be. Their smiles glowed ahead of them as they approached us.

"Exactly!" said Bill. "What are we gonna do about sleeping bags?"

"No, no, sir," said Enrique. "We got the boys sleeping bags from Wilbur!"

"Yeah, Pop," added Elliot, walking up to me. "Of course, he's charging five dollars each for the last two nights, but the kids can be warm all night!"

Their enthusiasm was soon matched by five little boys holding bundles of sleeping bags as they came around the bushes that bordered our campsite. They looked like their load was bigger than they were, but their smiles bore witness to their joy at the prospect of them sleeping warmly, finally.

They were being corralled by Jeffy and Liam, who looked like they were both very pleased, as well. A trail of the rest of the boys followed them until they surrounded the men.

"And, Pop," said Elliot, "It was all Jeffy's idea. He said we should go find out if Wilbur had any extras and we did and he did!"

I looked over at Jeffy to see him blushing with a look of pride barely showing through. So I did a 'thumbs up' at my son and was answered by his head lifting up proudly and a great smile. Jeffy received a lot of praise from the other men, as well, for his thoughtfulness.

There was much laughing at the kids' table as we enjoyed a simple evening meal. I'm sure much was said that no one understood, but I also heard Enrique and Jose translating to both sets of boys and their native languages.

Afterwards, we made a huge bonfire at a site just off of the center ground surrounded by all the campsites. It was surrounded by a short stack of rocks and even had a circle of benches around it. Once again, Joshua was helpful, pulling several camp songs from his bag of tricks and teaching the kids. Even the little ones joined in as they tried to say the English words. We all had a great time, followed, of course, by s'mores, which the little ones thought was the best ever treat. Our boys certainly were quick to agree.

Bedtime was bedlam amidst laughing and craziness. While the five newest of our clan stood and watched wide-eyed, our boys fought over who got who to sleep in their tent. George suggested we all let the kids have the big tent and the adults, the three amigos and I, move into other spaces. Several of us decided against that. We knew no one would get any sleep that way.

So, it was worked out that the three unrelated boys would split up into others' tents and Paco and Lica would share our larger tent. It was pretty crowded by then, but we managed with the help of my three sons making room for them.

Finally, even though we anticipated a lot of talking, everyone was so exhausted that sleep fell upon us quickly and completely.

Sometime, during the night, I heard some fussing during the night and rose up on my arm to see Paco comforting his little brother, who was evidently having a bad dream. He was able to gently quiet the boy and snuggle with him until sleep came again to both of them.

I woke up first and tried to ease out of the tent, extricating myself from AJ, who had moved to lay on my arm as his pillow. I moved my pillow under him, pulled on some sweat pants, and left them all sleeping peacefully to find George already making coffee.

We talked quietly for a few minutes and poured our first cup as we heard some movement inside our tent. Soon, Paco appeared in his t-shirt and undies. He was obviously shivering in the morning cold so I held out my arms to him. He smiled and walked up to me. I turned him around and pulled him into a hug and ran my hands over him to warm him and transfer some of my body heat to him. He laid his head back against my shoulder and cooed.

"M-m-m-m, gracias, Senor Teem," he said. "No, no," he said, turning to look at me. "Tank you so mucho, um, much," he said with a beautiful smile that spoke of his pride in being able to speak in my language.

"You are so welcome, little one," I answered and grabbed him up in another hug to which I was awarded with more little boy cooing.

Soon all the men and then the boys, almost in perfect order by age, came grumbling out of their warm cocoons to stand in front of the campfire and enjoy a hot cup of coffee or cocoa.

We had to send most of the boys, including Tyler, back into their tents to pull on something more than t-shirts and undies, against the morning chill.

AJ was the last to appear. First we heard a "Huh? Hey!" Then a boy pop out of his tent wearing just his colorful briefs, to see the smiles on all of us.

"Oh, there you are," said a relieved boy.

It didn't faze him that everyone else was dressed. It was only because he was cold, I'm sure, that he went back in the tent and pulled on shorts and a sweatshirt.

Breakfast was simply cereal, though we had juice and a cut up banana if we wanted. Soon, hot biscuits were served, laden with lots of butter and honey or jam. Yes, George made them in his convenient little oven. I was much relieved.

The rest of our stay at the camp seemed to sail by. Most of us went into town, with the five boys and our boys, first, to call Linda Sue to pursue her inquiries for the boys' future, next, to get good shoes for each boy, especially little Lica, who had a popped blister to heal.

The little guys were fascinated and easily overwhelmed by what they saw. The town was very small but had enough American icons, which the boys were familiar with, to make it real to them that they were, really, truly, in the USA.

"McDonald's!" yelled all five boys at once as we turned onto the main street and came upon one of the world's most familiar icons.

All five boys immediately became shy and even a bit frightened-looking at their outburst. Matias was quick to assure them that they weren't out of line or rude, that it was perfectly okay to be excited about new things. He also promised the five amigos that we would stop there on our way out of town for lunch.

The awe in their faces was electric. Our boys were excited that something so trivial, that they would take for granted, even my boys anymore, could be so important to someone. That is, all except AJ, who looked at me with pure love in his eyes. He had a single tear in one eye and I would have watched while he wiped it away with his sleeve, but I was busy taking care of the tears in my own eyes. McDonald's had a significance to the two of us that few people would experience.

Everything we did from that point was a new experience for the little ones. Our boys were constantly in awe of the reaction of their friends at the littlest things. Every pair of shoes was fascinating, every piece of clothing was to drool over. As they felt each item they would, inevitably, look up at one of us with huge eyes, then break into a million dollar smile.

Occasionally, one of the boys would discover something that was worthy of sharing with the others. Levis were among that list, as was Nike and Adidas. Even some brands that I wasn't familiar with. As popular as those brand names were, my boys had few of them in their wardrobes. While they dressed with good taste, they had come from backgrounds where the expense of name brands was outweighed by being comfortable and warm.

Of course, the little ones hadn't had any such frivolous wardrobes either, was my guess. And they were only interested in the brands' popularity. They didn't seem to give them a second thought to actually want to have any. Still, one could drool when one saw such finery.

Of course, AJ was our dressing room expert. Jeffy was busy rolling his eyes and trying not to laugh. Elliot was made aware of AJ's help to Jeffy, including pulling back the curtain in time to see Jeffy's moon, though underwear covered.

I cautioned AJ to be a little more careful. He gave me and Jeffy a shy grin.

Each boy tried on a pair of jeans and shorts. They picked out two t-shirts each and a pack of underwear. The little ones held up the ones with cartoon characters on them with hopeful eyes. I nodded and they beamed as they placed them into the cart. The two older boys were more conservative in their tastes, but not much. They chose simple Y-front briefs, though in solid colors. They too smiled when they were given approval. We also got each a six pack of athletic socks and a warm sweat shirt.

I spent some time making sure that a pair of good fitting trainers went with each boy. They were excited about them as well and I could see the look of relief on little Lica's face as he donned his and walked around the store.

Our next stop was to McDonald's for lunch. As we approached the store, the little ones became speechless. They were so animated with Jose and Enrique about their new treasures until we came upon the restaurant.

I heard Jose ask them something followed by many no's and a few more sentences from Paco, then from Cesar.

"He asked them if they'd ever been to a McDonald's," said Enrique. "Then Paco told us that he and Lica never got to go to a restaurant. Cesar got to go once."

For all the new boys, it was an amazing experience. Our boys helped them order and they were amazed at the amount of food we put in front of them. Their excitement was contagious. Our boys were as happy as we were to experience what each little guy was enjoying. Each French fry was a delicacy, each burger had to be inspected to see what treasures were buried within it. What I assumed was their first taste of a milkshake looked like pure Nirvana as they swooned over each taste through their straws.

It was the one time, well, make that the whole trip, where my guys stared in awe of the little ones' reactions to their new world.

Many of the men took the opportunity to call home. Some only checked in while others spent considerable time talking to the loved ones they left at home.

Dan walked outside to make the phone call to Linda Sue. I could see him chatting away, laughing on occasion and looking dreamy-eyed some, missing his fiancée, no doubt. Then the conversation got serious. He'd look our way once in a while and looked like he was very concerned more than once. But after a few minutes of listening he seemed to calm down and finally closed his phone and walked back into the restaurant just as we were clearing off our tables.

"Is everything okay, Dan?" I asked. "I noticed some looks of concern a minute ago."

"Not to worry. Leave it to Linda Sue to do what's best for the children," he told us, smiling. "We should have some visitors later today, say, after dinner, to take the boys to their respective places. We were assured that every effort would be made to reunite the three boys with their relatives. They also have good plans for the two brothers. They even promise that they will not get separated."

"That's good to hear," said Bill.

"Well, there are no guarantees that they won't be sent back, but they didn't think that would happen to ones so young."

"Now we just need to reassure the boys that they will be well taken care of," said Matias.

"Yes, Linda Sue made them promise to give us contact information. This group isn't government-related so they will do what needs to be done to stay in business, so to speak, though they are all volunteers. The good work they're doing for these kids is overwhelming. They have placed dozens of children that have come to the United States in much the same way that our little ones have. So far, they've done very well to place the majority of them."

"Having Linda Sue for a contact person certainly can't do them any harm, either," I offered.

"I'm sure you're right. Let's get our clan back and let them enjoy each other's company for a little while longer," suggested Dan.

George Curtain approached the rest of us and said, "Men, I need to run an errand before I return. I won't be long. I'll meet you back at the camp."

Stewart wanted to go with him but George asked that he do the errand alone this time. He leaned down and whispered something to Stewart. The boy's eyes kept getting bigger as he began to smile. He was glowing as he gave his dad a hug before running back to stand by AJ, still smiling.

As we left the store each boy was enjoying a fruit turnover. The smiles on their contented faces made bigger by the line of fruit filling adorning their cute faces.

When we got back to camp it was all we could do to convince the littlest three to let go of their bags of clothes and go play. Finally, Paco and Cesar must have explained to them that their treasures were safe, that they were theirs forever. Soon, the screaming and laughing of all the boys echoed throughout the camp. Whether a Frisbee or a soccer ball, they played hard, but I could tell that there was a difference in their play. All the boys realized that their time together was coming to an end very quickly. I could see when it came into the mind of a boy, one at a time, as he stood and looked upon his friends, contemplating what the next hour would bring.

When George returned, he was carrying several plastic bags. He had bought the boys going away gifts. Of course, he admitted that he got the idea when he made his phone call to Kaye, his wife. He held out five bags, each one containing two coloring books and a set of 48 color crayons. Stewart and Liam proudly handed one to each boy whose eyes widened, not really believing there could be more gifts after their shopping spree.

Each boy beamed as he looked into his bag. The heads of the three little ones disappeared as they spread open the bag and peered into it to find what treasure was inside. When they came back up they each radiated their joy with beautiful smiles. Each of them walked up to George and gave him a warm hug, while still smiling.

Cesar was not much different. He seemed a little embarrassed to show how wonderful he thought the gift was, but when he saw the three boys' reaction, he also gave George a warm hug and a brilliant smile.

Paco, though, was overwhelmed. I guess the realization that his quest had finally come to an end and his huge responsibility of protecting his little brother throughout their long ordeal was over. He looked into his bag as did the other four, but when he looked up there were streaks of tears running down his cheeks. His legs seemed to turn to jelly and Liam and Bill actually had to grab him before he melted to the ground, he was so moved.

After regaining some strength, he slowly walked up to George and just let the man wrap his arms around him in a wonderful hug. He let his emotions take over as he cried on the man's shoulder.

"Muchas gracias, Senor George," said the little guy into his benefactor's shoulder.

"De nada, little amigo," said George, though with a shaking voice, obviously caught up in the same emotions that captured his clinging friend.

All too soon, a van with the name of the organization that would help our new friends, came driving up to our campsites. We all collectively breathed deeply as we realized we would be separated from our little boys. The man and woman that introduced themselves to us were very cordial and warm, especially to the five boys, whose eyes were big, not knowing what was in store for them. But the couple knelt down and spoke to the boys for some time while the rest of us moved away to give them some space.

Matias assured us that they were being very loving and kind to the boys, something that soon became evident in the way the boys warmed up to their new guardians.

I tried to imagine what they were feeling. Having traveled thousands of miles to a mysterious place, not knowing what was to become of them, they must have been so relieved to finally be able to really relax and feel protected and cared for.

Goodbyes were difficult for all of us. We would miss each other but we were happy that their trek was over and their hopes would be fulfilled. Hugs were the norm for all of us, from all of us. Tears also flowed easily and were no respecter of age. I was a good example of that, as were most of the men.

Between Stewart and AJ, having gone around to all our families, each of the five boys received a sheet of paper with the names and contact information of each of our boys. I didn't have much hope of them using them, but the thought on the part of Stewart and AJ was precious.

Eventually, the time had come and the boys, clutching their bags of riches, climbed into the van and soon were but a memory for those of us still standing there.

Withdrawal was setting in. What a horrible feeling. Most of us just moped around, missing the energy of the five additional boys, to say nothing of their charming smiles, their constant awe at new things, and their innocence. I was glad that they were going to be well cared for, probably much better than had they stayed in Guatemala, but it still felt like a loss for us.

Then there were the tasks of beginning to get the camp ready to break for our trip home the next day.

Silence was the norm until Lenny rebuked the men and told us that we owed it to the boys to maintain some semblance of joy in the remaining time we had with them as a group.

Our campfire started out rather solemn, but Joshua was having none of that. He put on a happy face and soon had all the kids singing the songs he'd shared each night. At times they sounded like an angelic choir, but most of the time they sounded like kids, goofing off when they could get away with it and making the rest of us laugh at their antics. It helped to make us appreciate such a special time together, in so many ways.

Still, when the next day came, we were all ready to return to our normal lives and shake out the pine needles and wash the smell of smoke from our clothes until the next time.

Actually, I missed Lewis so much I could almost feel him in my arms at times. I missed the squiggly little cherub and his silly deep laugh.

When we finally settled into the loaded truck, we all let out a sigh of relief. It was quiet for a while until the silence was broken by Tyler.

"Thank you, Tim, for such a wonderful time with all of you," mentioned Tyler. "I miss my mom but I will never forget all of the new experiences I had and so far away from my home."

"What was your favorite thing, Tyler?" asked Jeffy.

"Hm-m-m, I really enjoyed the marshmallow things, oh, s'mores. But I mostly enjoyed talking and laughing with all of you and my friends, Joshua and Ralph. I look forward to talking with you again," he told Joshua.

"I liked helping the little runaways," said Elliot, "And helping to make them safe."

Quickly, Jeffy and AJ agreed with him. Joshua and Tyler also agreed with Elliot.

"That doesn't surprise me," I told them. "You all have such giving hearts. It's part of what makes each of you such a special person. And do we all agree that we had a great time?" I asked them.

The truck was immediately filled with choruses of "Yes," "You bet," "Couldn't have been better," "When are we going again?" Things like that.

Quite a bit of the rest of our journey home was spent retelling their experiences with their new friends. Though there were some stories about the catch of the day.

The end of Chapter Sixty-three

Next Chapter
Story List