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.

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Chapter Sixty-seven

There was a different aura in the air, well, around my boys. I don't think I'd ever seen them so down, even when they didn't know what had happened to Ray before they met him after church. Of course, since the rest of us, meaning Jeb and Joshua, too, had been a part of the reunion and knew where Ray was headed, it was hard to not fall into the despair that had gripped my boys.

I took them over the next day, Monday, to visit their friend. That seemed to bring them all around a bit. His friend, Eva, was there as well. That helped some. But knowing that the next day meant a long drive for Ray and Ray, Sr. kept the frivolity to a minimum.

After a few hours with Ray, I brought the boys home.

"If you'd like, I can bring you over tomorrow morning to see him off," I told the very quiet, solemn boys as I drove home.

"Oh, Pop, that would be great but he doesn't want us to come over tomorrow," said Elliot.

"Yeah, Pop. He thinks it'll make it all the worse if he sees us. Can't blame him that, I think," added Jeffy.

"Oh, well, you're probably right. Sorry, guys."

"Dad, can we get some puzzles, magazines and stuff, like we did for Elliot, and take 'em over tonight, maybe?" asked my youngest.

"I suppose. You guys see any harm in that?"

"It's just that he has all that stuff in a locker at the Ronald McDonald House that his dad is staying at," said Jeffy. "His dad collected a bunch of stuff and books that Ray likes."

"Still, Pop, it would help remind him that we care. It doesn't matter whether he uses the gift or not, just that we cared enough to give it to him."

"Very wise, Elliot. I think it would be helpful."

So, we were quickly off to look for something for Ray. It didn't need to be a magazine or puzzle book. It was certainly decided that a stuffed animal was out.

It was AJ that found the perfect gift. Simple, but profound.

We'd made our way to a small mall that was a little high end. It had a game store that catered to thinkers, not just computer games. There was also a very nice jewelry store and a popular clothing store that sold very nice quality.

But we ended up at an unusual gift store. Much of their inventory was natural, or made from natural things. Most of it was a little overboard for my kids to be giving to another young teen as a gift, but there were plenty of other choices.

I watched as my three wandered throughout the store, much like they'd done at two other stores in the mall before entering this one. Elliot and Jeffy moved around as though they were attached at the shoulder. That didn't surprise me much. They had both been as close as identical twins about everything concerning Ray and his recovery. This was just an extension of that.

AJ was with them for a few minutes until something grabbed his attention off somewhere. He always had a talent for disappearing and was still short enough that his head barely cleared many of the racks and mid-floor displays. That meant, I could still spot him as he moved about the store, mostly.

While the boys were at one end of the store, AJ had wandered over to the checkout counter and was fascinated with something in a large glass bowl.

"Wow!" he said to himself.

I had walked closer to him to watch him pick up something from the bowl which looked like someone had taken a plant out of it and all that was left were the river rocks that supported it. He looked at me, smiled, then walked over to the other guys.

He handed Elliot what he'd picked up. Elliot spent a few seconds examining what was placed in his hand. He finally smiled as he handed it to Jeffy to inspect. It wasn't even a handful.

"Wow. Pop, we got it. Perfect, AJ. Just perfect."

Jeffy held out his hand as I walked up to them and he dropped the token into mine.

I held a simple, round, smooth river rock that had etched into it one word: Courage.

Like I said, simple and to the point.

"You did well. I think it will be very meaningful to him. Now, do you want to get a card to go with it?"

"Naw. We'll be right there and he'll know it's from us. I think the rock is enough, huh, guys?"

Two "Yeahs".

Ray cried, of course, the boys quickly following him with their own tears. When Imogene saw their gift to her son she too cried and hugged each boy. Ray, Sr. had to go into the kitchen to get Ray a drink as soon as he saw it. It seemed to take him a long time getting that drink before he returned, the old softy.

One good thing was that the Carltons bought Ray a notebook, the electronic kind, so he could get and send email. It's a wonder what these kids have to work with. Things that we never knew possible were common place.

But the next day was hard. The boys mostly moped around the house. Their only comfort came from playing with their baby nephew, Lewis. I think he could tell something was going on with his big boys and desperately wanted to help them through in his own way. His own way was no less than three dirty diapers and whines until they pushed him around in his wheeled toy.

They went outside to play on their slip-n-slide until they remembered that it was gone, with a dry swimming pool in its place. You would have thought the world had come to an end to see them mope back into the house from the backyard, which was as dry as a drought.

As soon as I saw their sullen faces and realized the reason, I called the contractor for the pool to find out when we could use it. The next Monday they'd begin to fill. He told me it would be ready to fill on Saturday but they didn't work weekends.

I must have sounded pretty disappointed when the owner of the company told me. He chuckled, knowing everyone was disappointed to have to wait.

"Oh, I imagine you think I'm just impatient," I told Jim Fairbanks.

"It's okay, Tim. Everyone gets antsy to have it done. I understand. But . . ."

"No, I just wanted to distract the boys from what they're going through. See, their good friend just left for the university hospital to begin chemo therapy. He was recently diagnosed with cancer. He's thirteen like my oldest sons."

There was quite a pause. I think I heard a sniffle in the quiet.

"Um, Tim, my daughter is in remission from a bout with leukemia. It's been several years and she's in college now, well, she's actually my office girl this summer," he said, his pride bubbling over the phone. "But, believe me, we know what you're all going through."

"I didn't know, Jim. I'm so glad she recovered."

"Thanks. So this is what we're gonna do. I have two tanker trucks. It'll take two trips each but we'll start Saturday morning and it should be filled in several hours. How's that? I'd do it sooner but we really need it to cure as long as possible. I want it to last for you."

"You'd do that, Jim? Really? Thank you so much."

"Gotta keep the kids occupied, don't we? Now, remember, it'll be cold water. It'll take a while for it to warm up. And it may not be totally filled, but enough to enjoy it, I think."

"That's okay. You just made it that much sooner. And, knowing my kids, they won't wait for it to get heated."

"Sounds good, Tim. I hear my guys have a couple of pipe fittings to glue and it'll be done tomorrow. It just needs some wait time."

"No problem. Thanks, Jim."

"Um, Tim? Let me know how the boy makes out, will you? I, uh, I just need to know."

"Of course, Tim. I'll do that."

God! Did every family have someone with cancer history in it? I was beginning to believe it.

One of the drawbacks of our time with and concern for Ray was that we were barely able to appreciate the newly remodeled house. It was like we walked through without so much as seeing any of it, newly painted, stained and tiled. It wasn't until the Wednesday after Ray left that Jeffy and Elliot approached me.

"Pop, it's all done," said Jeffy, holding his hands out as he stood before me, where I was sitting in my recliner.

"It sure is, Jeffy. Um, what are we talking about?" I questioned, looking up from my paper.

"Pop," explained Elliot, "All of the plastic is down and we have two new bedrooms and two new bathrooms upstairs."

"Yeah, and the kitchen is neat. It's done too," finished Jeffy.

"I love you guys. You've been through so much this last week, caring for your good friend, that you didn't notice when we got home, except for the new pool, of course."

AJ came downstairs with Lewis in his arms.

"That was a stinky one, alright. What did he have for breakfast?"

Lewis reached out to me and I took him from his young uncle. Our baby was all smiles and happy to be clean once again.

"What are you guys talkin' about anyway?" asked AJ.

"The boys were commenting on the fact that the house was done. So, what do you guys think of it?"

"It's okay," offered Jeffy, shrugging his shoulders.

"I think it's terrific, Pop. We have so much more room everywhere." Elliot seemed almost excited, especially after all they'd just been through.

"I think it's great too, Dad. I didn't see it all yet but, yeah, wow."

"Well, maybe it's time to take a tour and see everything. Whaddya say, guys?"

That seemed like a good idea for everyone except Jeffy who didn't seem to care one way or the other, all of a sudden.

"Plus, we'll have to start moving into the new parts of the house, won't we? Let's see, there's a new nursery off the master bedroom for Lewis, two new bedrooms. There's . . . "

But I was stopped by a big sigh from Jeffy. He just looked down at his feet.

"What's with you, Jeffy?" asked AJ. "Don't you like all the new stuff?"

"'Course I do, pipsqueak," he answered, a harshness in his voice.

"Hey. That's not like you," I told Jeffy. "What's going on?"

"Pop, do Elliot and I have to change bedrooms? I just got to like hearing him snore and stuff."

"Hey!" said his brother, hands on his hips at the indignity of his brother's comment, though he had a hard time keeping from smiling. "Jeffy, you know Pop said we didn't have to move until we wanted to, remember?"

"Yeah, but I wasn't sure if . . ."

"We already went through this, Jeffy. You guys work it out. If one of you wants one of the new bedrooms, it's yours. If not, then you stay where you are. Got it?"

The change over Jeffy as I said that was quite profound. His radiant smile by the end of my spiel was contagious. He grabbed Elliot's arms and shook him.

"Alright! Right?"

"Of course, Jeffy," Elliot tried to say as he was bounced around by his brother. "Of course."

Then Lewis reached out to Jeffy and grunted so he could be jerked around too.

"I know, I know. I'm asking him. Good grief!"

The voice that I heard on the other end of the phone that I answered when it rang that morning was Dan Perkins'.

"Dan? What's going on?"

"Oh, Tim. I've got antsy kids here crying because they haven't had a McGill fix in some time. They, well, we were wondering if we could come visit sometime today."

Just then the doorbell rang and I saw a flash of at least two boys speeding to answer it.

"Please say yes. They're really getting on my nerves." This said amidst his laughter.

I was a little concerned that my boys might drag his kids down a bit until I heard,

"Enrique!" coming from two excited voices.

"Okay, Dan. Why don't you come as soon as you can and we'll do a lunch something? Probably barbeque hot dogs or something simple."

"Well, you certainly don't have to go to all that trouble but since you insist," he laughed.

"Oh, it'll be no trouble. You're helping me. I'll explain when you get here."

When we hung up, all three of my boys and Enrique were standing in the doorway to the kitchen.

"Pop, is it okay for Enrique to be here? We haven't seen him for forever," said Jeffy.

For some reason Elliot and Enrique were blushing and holding hands, though I knew there hadn't been a time in the last week when they could have been together except by phone. But they were cute.

"Fine with me, guys. By the way, that was Dan and he and the kids are on their way over and are going to have lunch with us."

"Oh, then, sir . . . ," started Enrique, looking nervous.

"No, it's okay, Enrique. You're all part of our extended family. Just plan to stay for lunch as well."

"Thank you, sir," he said. He was a very polite young man and his blush just added to his character.

"Oh, oh, Dad, we need to show Enrique all the new stuff in here, right?" asked my youngest son.

"Of course, but why don't you wait for a few minutes until the others get here and you can show all of them at once?"

He had to think about that. I believe he was looking forward to doing a tour for two or three groups, not just one. My shy one, you know.

"You can take him out and show him the hole in the backyard while we wait for the others. How does that sound?"

"Yeah, yeah," said Jeffy, pulling on Enrique's arm. "You won't believe it."

"Oh, you mean your new swimming pool?"

"Hey, how'd you know? It's all the way in our backyard," stated AJ, hands on hips.

"Honestly, it was hard to miss as they drove it in front of our house that day on the back of a huge truck. I couldn't believe it. We watched 'em when they used a crane to put it in the hole, too."

"Wow! I wish I coulda seen all that too," said AJ.

We'd been at Ray's when the pool was placed.

"We got some pictures but I forgot to bring them over."

I was so thankful for the distraction of the extra kids for my boys. They needed their spirits lifted and several extra boys seemed to pull it off.

I spent some time explaining to Dan what was going on with Ray and family while the guys wandered around the house with their tour guide, AJ, explaining everything to them.

"What's his prognosis, Tim? Do they know yet?" asked Dan.

"I honestly don't know, Dan. This is just the start of his treatment, really. They told his parents that they wanted to be aggressive to fight this thing as proactive as they could to get a handle on it quickly. But who really knows if that's just doctor talk to keep everyone's spirits high. Though, I hope not."

"Me too. Will you let me know if there's anything we can do for them? I don't know what it would be but I'd like to help if possible."

"I will, Dan. I don't quite know when they'll be back but Imogene Carlson is still in town so I can ask her."

I told Dan about meeting Imogene at church on Sunday to pray for Ray. He thought that was a great idea.

"I'm not sure if some of these guys have ever been in a church before. Well, maybe Enrique when he went home for the weekend."

"Maybe you should join us once at least. It was actually very satisfying and I know you'll like Pastor Gooding."

"Ha! Good name for a pastor."

I also explained that both Joshua and Pastor Gooding wanted to connect to see if Joshua might help out in the ministry there.

By then the boys were back and begging for something to drink. Dan saw to that with some help from the older boys while I began bringing meats out to grill.

I had my guys pull out some store-bought potato salad and chips and all the condiments. Within a half hour we were enjoying a simple lunch with good friends, out on the back deck.

"Well, don't that beat all," came a familiar voice from just inside the back gate. "What's a man gots ta do to get an invite to your parties these days, sidewinder?" Of course, he was practically laughing through his sobbing.

"Great Grampa!" yelled AJ, jumping up and running into his blood relative's arms.

Joshua was right behind Jeb, and within a few minutes we had them seated and stuffing themselves.

"We didn't mean to crash the party, sir, but Mr. Harding, well, and I were getting bored and hadn't seen you guys in a couple of days. He insisted we come over to liven things up. But it looks like you have plenty of help."

"Thanks, Jeb, Joshua. We did need it. These guys were pretty solemn until Enrique showed up and then Dan called and invited his gang and him over for the day."

"Hey," shouted Dan, then said, "Oh, okay. Ha! I did it and I'm glad."

"Dad, the guys are askin' when the pool will be ready to swim in," asked AJ, with half a hot dog in his mouth.

"I think you asked about the pool, AJ. I also think next time you should finish your bite before you spray it all over your friends."

I was chuckling with everyone else as AJ smiled, swallowed and blushed a bit.

"Okay, the exciting news is, Jim, the contractor and my friend, said that they don't work weekends so the pool couldn't be filled until Monday, earliest."

"Wait, Pop, how can that be exciting news if we have to wait like four days?" asked Jeffy.

"Because, then I told him that you guys were all pouty and upset because your good friend was undergoing cancer treatment and you missed him and worried about him. Anyway, long story short, he promised to have two trucks here this Saturday to fill the pool. It'll still be cold, but you can use it then if you want."

I explained my conversation with Jim to the other adults when the kids left to go see the empty pool.

"That was sure thoughtful of him," mentioned Jeb. "I've been worried about the whippersnapper myself. It's not right for a young'un, hell, anyone to have to go through all that."

"Yes, Jeb, but we sure are fortunate to live in a time where he has a very good chance at surviving such a horrible disease," added Joshua.

"Now, just a minute. Aren't you supposed to be a waitin' for the good Lord to whip him inta shape by some miracle or something?" asked Joshua's favorite benefactor.

"Think about the miracles that got us to this place, Mr. Harding. The knowledge and procedures the doctors have learned over the years, the testing machines and medicines that are available. I believe God can heal Ray with just a word, but I also believe He works through the gifts He's given us too."

"But we're still gonna keep prayin' for him, huh, guys?" said AJ, as the boys walked up.

"Right on, AJ! Keep praying unceasingly. I believe He answers our prayers."

"Yeah," said Elliot, smiling at his friend.

Saturday morning, my three boys and Enrique were standing beside the empty pool almost before it became light enough to see it. I was looking down at them from my balcony.

I checked my bedside clock before I called down to them.

"Good morning, Enrique. Boys, please come in. The trucks are still hours away from being here. We have at least a couple of hours of sleep left in us. I know I do. Please come back in and to your rooms. Enrique, you may come in too."

Well, I'm not sure how smart that last offer was to a young couple whose hormones were in their prime. Both boys stood up straighter and turned to look up at me with smiles gleaming brightly. They soon left Jeffy and AJ wondering where their company could have disappeared to so quickly.

When I heard the young lovers come up the steps I went to meet them by the door to Elliot's and Jeffy's bedroom.

While Enrique was fully dressed, Elliot had his robe on over what, I had no idea.

"Pop, what are you looking for," asked Elliot, watching me swing my head around.

"Oh, just a lock for Enrique's belt," I kidded.


Enrique gasped.

Both were so cute, strawberry-colored skin seemed to rise from their necklines to the top of their heads.

"You boys seem to forget that I was young once too and I can still remember my feelings when I was your age. Honestly, you two have a bit more freedom than most because your families trust you together."

"But Pop," whined my oldest boy.

"I didn't say you couldn't cuddle," I told them, then leaned down to whisper, "Even kiss."

Which turned them a deeper shade of red, if that were possible.

By then, Jeffy and AJ were with us.

"Could we make some hot chocolate, Pop? I'm awake enough. I don't wanna go back to bed."

Jeffy was dressed in his underwear and a t-shirt while AJ had his pajama top on. It was long enough that I couldn't tell if he actually had anything under it. Frankly, I was mildly surprised that he had that much on.

"That sounds like a plan. There's marshmallows out in the pantry as well."

Remembering that Enrique was at least a year younger than Elliot, it didn't surprise me too much when he followed Jeffy and AJ down to the kitchen. Elliot finally followed after a very dramatic sigh.

I went back to bed after checking on our tiniest family member, all snuggled up in his crib with not a care in the world.

I didn't wake up again until Lewis started to express his displeasure about being left in a wet diaper. But what made me sit up in bed was the fact that I'd lost track of my kids for two hours. I have to admit, I wasn't too worried about the whereabouts of Jeffy or AJ. AJ, for one, usually made his presence known with his flair for noise that seemed to follow him. Jeffy was too easy going, though sometimes a bit scatterbrained.

No, sadly, it was Elliot and, with him that day, Enrique, that I was a bit worried about. I should have known better.

I think I changed Lewis in record time. From the look of surprise on his face throughout the cleansing process I think he thought something must be going down as well. I just wanted to find out if everyone was okay.

I walked out of my bedroom with Lewis, then decided I needed more than my boxer briefs on, especially with a guest in the house. I put on some shorts and grabbed an outfit for my grandson. Lewis was giggling as I hurried to the living room, where I was hoping to find the boys playing a game or in the kitchen eating their breakfast cereal.

No one! Nada! Not in the living room, dining room or kitchen! There weren't even dirty mugs from having hot chocolate on the kitchen counter!

That's when I heard a laugh from out on the deck behind the house.

All four boys were on the deck, sitting in chaise lounges, mugs in hand and two empty bowls of what looked to have been microwave popcorn sitting on the deck between them. They were all dressed and laughing and talking.

Lewis made a lunge in that direction when he saw them laughing. He must have wanted some of that too.

As soon as I opened the door to the deck we all heard a blast of a horn coming from the front of the house.

Lewis and I were almost trampled by the herd of boys making their way to the front door and their promise of a pool full of water!

In line, and pointed toward the back of the house, were two huge tanker trucks. One had the logo and name of our pool man's company, but the other had another name and logo on it, a competitor, I'm sure.

Driving up behind them was the owner's pickup. He parked and approached me with a wide grin on and his hand waving toward the trucks, indicating the fulfillment of his promise to me and the boys.

"Here you go, boys! Each of you grab a bucket and we'll have this water in your pool in less than a week!" shouted Jim, our pool contractor.

"What?" shouted two of my boys, while Elliot and Enrique started to laugh at Jim's joke.

"Okay, maybe we should drive around and dump it right into the pool?" asked Jim, with some innocence in his voice.

"I should think so!" said Jeffy, hands on his hips, knowing, with obvious indignation, how these things should go.

Well, Elliot and Enrique were practically in hysterics at Jeffy's response. Of course, he didn't understand why.

Jim waved one of the trucks on and we followed it as it drove over some well-worn turf to get near the pool.

"Tim, as soon as we were done talking the other day, I had the guys fill our truck and the other one. It happened to be on loan to me from my brother-in-law, who owns a pool service as well. Anyway, that means the water has been heating up in metal tanks from being out in the sun since you called. It should make it quite pleasant, really. Now, let's go turn on the heater and pump to add a few degrees in the time it takes to fill the pool."

We'd invested in solar panels that actually had enough power to heat two water heaters in the house and could be diverted to the pool for just such an occasion. Jim made the necessary adjustments and we all stood back to see the water pouring into the pool.

Lewis must have seen it as his new bathtub because he just about jerked himself out of my arms to get into his tub.

"Tim, your capacity is about twice what these trucks hold so the boys will have to be careful while they play. But you should have it filled in several hours."

"That's fine, Jim. I appreciate your thoughtfulness. It will go a long way to making the boys forget about what Ray, their friend, is going through."

As we talked I saw Elliot wave to Enrique, who headed out the gate toward the front of the house. Then I blinked and three boys had disappeared, hopefully, to get their swim suits on. I was pretty sure that them wearing suits would only last a few times before they all figured it was ridiculous to get tiny swatches of cloth wet when they could stay quite dry by staying in their dressers, somewhere safe.

Now, I see my boys as virtuous in many ways, patience certainly not one of them. I had to tell them several times that they weren't allowed in the pool or near the trucks until the men were done with their task and had left the premises.

That's when I learned that there must have been such a thing as a pool dance, that is, the movement of three bodies as they waited for their pool to be filled. Even Lewis got into the act, adding his own grunts and kicks to get into his huge bath.

"Let's go in and have something to eat so you don't have to get out once you're allowed in."


"But, Pop, then we'll have to wait an eternity until our food settles before we can get in, right?"

"Elliot, first of all, a half hour is not an eternity. Second, that waiting thing is a myth. It's supposed to cause cramps if you go in too soon after eating. While you may be a bit uncomfortable to go swimming with a full stomach, it is unlikely to cause cramping, certainly not enough to drown. Third, if we eat now, we'll still have to wait a bit. It takes a while to unload that much water."

By then, Enrique was back with his swim suit-clad sister and brother, with hopeful eyes pleading with me as they walked through the gate.

I gave them a smile and invited them to eat with us as well.

The kids had little time to wait. Very soon after we finished a light meal the pool was ready for occupancy. After I reminded them that it wasn't full enough to do much diving or anything, they seemed to have a blast.

I made them wait long enough to add some chemicals to the water, enough to make up for the difference of all those bodies in the pool. But soon they were playing and laughing like monkeys.

Lewis was having none of it. When I started to go in to get his swim gear on him and me in my suit he had a tizzy-fit until I handed him to Elliot.

"Just take off his diaper and let him play a bit until I get him in another diaper and swim pants, Elliot. It might be too cold for him. If it is, will you sit with him until I get back?"

"Sure, Pop. Come on, little man. Unca Elliot has you now," he said, reaching for his nephew.

I stayed long enough to see Lewis' reaction to the water temperature. While it was certainly warmer than right out of the tap, it was a far cry from his bath water for now. He sucked in half the air in the backyard as his tummy met with the water, his eyes went as wide as the floating inner tubes. But then he seemed to relax and, though holding perfectly still, seemed to be getting used to the new experience.

I was soon back there in my suit and had Lewis' pants too. He fussed a bit when we got him in a diaper, then covered it with waterproof pants. I think he liked being naked. Somehow, I was afraid his blood line led back to AJ and his naturalist gene. But a baby that needs to wear diapers is not the best thing to have naked in a swimming pool.

I mostly stayed on the side and watched everyone playing. The water was only about three feet deep but rising slowly. Still the kids made the most of it and it was so good to see them enjoying themselves.

After a half hour I got out and sat in a chaise lounge until the telephone interrupted my rest.

"McGill residence," I said, answering the kitchen phone.

"Tim, this is Matias. I was wondering if my kids have plagued you long enough and if they should be sent home."

"Ha! Good to hear from you, my friend. Your kids are having a ball in the pool. I suppose you know that it was just filled this morning so they helped dedicate it."

"Oh. No, I didn't know. I was out when they left. Their mom told me they were at your house. I didn't know the pool was up and running. Congratulations."

"Thank you. You know your whole family is welcome to come over and swim. It would be so much more fun to share it with family."

"Family? Ha! Oh, you mean Enrique and Elliot. Yes, they sure are cute together. And thanks for the invite. Well, when you grow tired of them, send them all back this way. Have a great afternoon, amigo."

"Thank you, my friend," I said before we hung up.

I went back out and enjoyed the kids' fun for probably another hour, making them get out then, before they all dissolved in the pool. The trucks showed up right after with another two tank-loads. Lewis sat with me most of that time. He looked on with me but he was limp against me, tired from all the kids playing with him in his big 'bathtub'.

I had no trouble getting the rest out. I think they were grateful for the rest. I told the Fuentes kids that their dad asked me to send them home when they got out, but I let them shower before they changed clothes. With the new remodel, it was easy to divide up the kids to different showers, though Enrique and Elliot were a little upset when I said Enrique could shower with his brother, instead of his boyfriend.

We had a very nice, quiet afternoon, just the five of us.

The next morning I saw that the pool was filled to the top. I wasn't sure if it was warm, because solar panels don't tend to work all the well in the dark, which our scientist, Jeffy, was quick to point out. He seemed very proud of his new theory at our breakfast, but, luckily, he didn't see Elliot roll his eyes to the back of his head.

"Dad, when can we invite Denver and Melvin over?" asked AJ, through his orange mustache.

"Well, why don't I call and see what's convenient for them?" I answered.


"And 'thanks, Dad,'" corrected Elliot.

"Oh, yeah, thanks heaps, Dad."

"Perkins residence, Melvin speaking," said a very mature-sounding boy when he answered my call.

"Hi, Melvin. You almost sounded like Ralph. Your voice is getting deeper I think."

"Oh, hi, Mr. McGill. Wow! I sound like Ralph? Hey, did you know that Ralph might be my brother and Pop might be my real dad sometime?"

"You mean, he's going to adopt you, Melvin?"

"Yes sir. We've been talking. He really surprised me when he said that he . . . he wanted me for keeps."

I could tell that Melvin was still a bit choked up when he spoke of the decision.

"Melvin, I think that's about the best news I've heard all week. Maybe all month, even."

"Oh my gosh. Really?"

"Really, truly. But I have some other good news and I'd like to speak to your pop or Ralph, please."

I knew it was midday I didn't know the likelihood of Dan being home from work on a Sunday. I figured Ralph would be there, though.

"Yes sir. Ralph just finished making Denver and us lunch. He's right here."

I was trying to thank Melvin but he must have been handing off the phone. I could hear him tell Ralph it was me on the phone.

"Tim? Hey, hi. How are you?" answered Ralph.

"I'm just great, Ralph. I just heard the good news that you might be a brother soon?"

"Oh, yes. Isn't that great? I'll soon have two little brothers to pester unmercifully. I can't wait."

I heard Denver giggling as though he were next to the phone and being tickled or something. I also heard Melvin in the background.

"Hey, no difference. You pester us poor kids right now!" Then he started giggling after a scream that surely meant Ralph caught him too.

"Sorry, Tim. I had to discipline the boys, you know."

"Ha, ha. It sounded like they really hated the punishment too."

"So, what's up?"

"Oh, I called to say that our pool was filled yesterday and invite you all to enjoy it with us when it's convenient for you. If Dan lets you, you're welcome to bring the two over, Ralph."

"Man, that sounds so great! Yeah, I'll call the old ma . . . Oops! I mean Dad, and ask him. Can I call you back?"

"Sure thing. We'll be home most anytime, unless we go to the store or something. Then just call back in a few minutes if we don't answer."

"Sure thing, Tim. And thanks. Bye."

I soon had made two other phone calls. One to Linda Sue Cottington to invite Tyler and her over, then one to Karen to invite her over. That one ended with a discussion about swim lessons, especially a continuation of Lewis' lessons.

All in all, it was turning into a very nice summer for . . . most of us.

End of Chapter sixty-seven

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