The Little Pipsqueak

© 2012-2016 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-nine

I think it's time to take an inventory about how things are going. So much as happened in such a short period of time that it all seemed to be piling up on me. This wasn't an issue of anything other than people's lives, people for whom I cared dearly.

Of course, it all started with my last day in Iraq and coming home to meet Dan Perkins and adjust to the fact that I suddenly and tragically had no family. Ironically, and after Dan told me that would soon change, it was only a few days or so that I met the pipsqueak and Jarod and Jeffy. Wow! It's just overwhelming to think about where that one chance meeting in that alley would bring about so much in so little time. Fortunate for me and the others that survived, quite literally, it has all turned to good - okay, very, very good.

I can easily say that Dan became my steadfast and best friend throughout, well, all of it including the most recent happenings. He even took a bullet for me, albeit, and luckily, a very small one.

Meeting Jeb Harding just could not have been less than providential. The old coot turned from an old geezer to, not just a profound and wonderful blessing but our relative, well, at least AJ's. He has given AJ a double measure of the love and trust and even tenderness that the little guy has needed all his life and that I struggled to give him in the beginning. Plus, he accepted Jeffy and Elliot as his own from the start.

Then friends started to heap themselves onto and into our lives, from Dan's foster family to AJ's teacher, Mrs. Spear, and her introducing us to someone as wonderful as her sister, Linda Sue Cottington. She literally has made us a family. Oh, I can't forget to mention, with the help of Homer Davenport, our own private judge, almost, and friend.

Speaking of whom, he also helped us to bring a terrified and desperate young man into our midst, Daniel Jeffrey Connors, with the help of Cybill Hawthorne and, her sister, Lenore Dexter, and added him to our family. They also helped add quite a bit of wealth to the confused boy's bank account.

Then, we met Boy, a slave from the day he was kidnapped from his mother at about two years of age. Of course, after a hair-raising shoot out with Sheriff Jensen and some testing, we came to know Boy as Tyler Cottington. It was shortly after that action that Jeb became great great grampa to AJ and, subsequently to Jeffy and Elliot.

Elliot. We didn't just take kids into our home off the streets where they had no means of support or anything that could be called a real life.

Okay, we did!

Elliot was indeed the third. We almost lost him after a try at taking his own impossible life. But with everyone's help, we turned him around to be the proud, beautiful child that so complimented my other two beauties, and stole my heart.

Meeting Ray and family after the three amigos were kidnapped was one more checkmark in our exciting lives. Ridding Elliot of disgraceful parents was a blessing for all of us.

Almost losing AJ to a mystery ailment during all that excitement did little to keep my hair from turning gray before my time. Once again we were thankful for Jeb in our lives and his 'cure.'

I remember the car, mostly because I tried very hard to put Verna Willoughby and her cloud of smoke out of my mind. But the little mite that became ours and has added so much to our joy and well-being, our Lewis, was well worth the few minutes we had to put up with that lady . . . No, woman, maybe, but certainly no lady.

Well, the baby brought us Karen Spear to poor pathetic us with our newest McGill, Lewis.

Then getting through a second adoption scene in a courthouse filled with protesters that called themselves Christians brought another beautiful person into our lives, one Joshua Christiansen, someone who truly epitomized who a Christian should be.

Who would have thought that a simple camping trip could end up so exciting? But then, nothing was simple for our family and friends. That trip not only introduced us to many great friends and their kids, but also five little cuties that came to us all the way from Guatemala. Looking back, I'm kind of surprised that we don't have five more McGills in our midst. Just saying! Not asking for anymore!

And we began to ease up, and slow down a bit, to take time to deal with our young friend, Ray Carlton, and his life-threatening bout with the 'C' word. I hate it. But we're not giving up and, thankfully, we have help from some wonderful doctors and from Above and with our new church friends to help us through. That was when we met Pastor Gooding. It also put Joshua right where he should be - serving people and their needs. Who knew where this chapter of his life would take him and those around him?

Thinking about our history together, I'd lost my concentration on whatever I had been reading . . . Oh, the paper as usual. I looked out at my four boys and their friend in the new pool and knew that so many miracles had happened to get us all where we were at that minute that tears began to cascade from my eyes. I knew we weren't in Paradise but I also knew that we'd taken many trips that took us too close to Hell and were only saved by Divine Providence, Karma, a Higher Power. Call it what you choose; I choose miracles.

"I'm hungry, Dad!" shouted my youngest son, above the cacophony of the other four rambunctious youth.

I got three confirmations on his statement and quickly got up before I was drowned by an onslaught of wet, hungry swimmers.

I quickly slapped together a tower of bologna and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Wait! Not all that on the same sandwich! Good grief! Along with that plate, two bags of chips and a pitcher of lemonade, I was able to get it all onto the picnic table on the patio without being trampled. Staying dry wasn't going to happen as Lewis was literally tossed to me as Jeffy passed to the table for his fix. I took Lewis into the kitchen to see what delicacies we could conjure up for his feast. He was helping by grabbing everything I reached for until I finally set him in his high chair, which he wanted none of. As I set a jar into hot water, the doorbell rang.

"I'll get it," screamed Jeffy as he flew past me waving a PB&J.

"I'll have ta say, young man, you do have a fine set of vocal cords. I thought I might be hard of hearing," said Jeb, as he walked into the kitchen with his hand on a proud young man's wet shoulder, "But I won't rightly know 'til that there ringin' in my ears stops fer a spell."

"Sorry, Great Grampa. I was just excited that we had visitors, but it was only you."

"E-e-ew! So, deafen the old man then stab me with a knife. Ha! Whippersnappers!"

"Hey, Great Grampa, why don't you come out and swim with us?"

"Well, thank you, tadpole, but I'll be takin' a raincheck on that one."

"That won't work. See, we aren't allowed to go in the pool if it's raining," Jeffy informed him.

Jeb swung his head over to look at me, wide-eyed, not realizing the boy didn't know that term yet.

"Jeffy, a raincheck means you try to do something later," I explained. "It really doesn't have anything to do with rain anymore."

"Hmph! Pretty stupid saying. So, you'll do it later, Great Grampa?" he asked Jeb.

"We-e-ell, Jeffy, there was a time that I might'a dove right in, but that was right after water was invented, if'n I remember correctly. Not anymore though."


"Jeffy, he's pulling your leg."

"Now, that saying I know!" he said, walking back out to the pool, waving half of a PB&J.

We were both standing in the kitchen, admiring Jeffy as he walked back outside. He was a magnificent specimen of what a young man should look like and he was quickly growing into a man-sized body.

"Ha! Young'uns! They are something to behold, aren't they, neighbor?" said Jeb, breaking our concentration.

"Yes, sir. They do keep me on my toes most of the time."

"I can bet you tend ta look forward to your bed rest, don't cha?"

"Sometimes," I admitted.

After we both took turns feeding a wiggly baby and just as Jeb and I were settling our rear ends into the recliners in the living room, the doorbell rang again.

"I'll get it," screamed Jeffy from the outside deck, running through the house past us.

Behind him Elliot was running and screaming, "I'll get it!" mimicking Jeffy and over-acting out his silliness. Enrique went walking past us shaking his head like the only mature one in the group.

"Ha! They're both nuts!" laughed Jeb.

"You can say that again, Mr. Harding," agreed Enrique.

Jeffy stood at the door with his hand on the knob as he looked back at his brother. He just shook his head as though he was disgusted with his brother's behavior, while ignoring his own, of course.

Then he pulled open the door.

"Karen! M-m-mm," he exclaimed.

"And Joshua! M-m-mm," exclaimed Elliot. "Ow! Enrique!"

"Down, boy! And put your tongue back in your mouth," said his boyfriend. "Both of you, for that matter."

Both Karen and Joshua were still laughing when they entered the living room. Both were wearing casual beach clothes, which included their swim suits and covers and Joshua carried their towels.

Jeffy was following closely behind Karen, almost in a daze. Elliot walked in rubbing his arm and looking upset at Enrique, who just eased into the room casually.

"Tim, I told those two to get over here and continue their lessons with the boys, especially now that you've got a proper size classroom out there. Pool, I mean."

"Thank you, Jeb. Kids, you are always welcome and I'm sure that all the kids would love more lessons, if you're up to it," I said.

Just then AJ walked in with a wet Lewis. When Lewis saw Karen he squawked and lunged at Karen.

"Hey, what are you guys . . .? Lewis! Hey! I almost dropped you."

"I'll take him, AJ," offered Karen, as if she had a choice. "He's so cute," she added, taking the beaming, happy little boy from AJ.

"And he has great taste, if I may say so," added Joshua.

"M-m-mm. Yeah," drooled Jeffy.

Soon they were all in the pool, enjoying the water and each other's company. Jeb and I had moved to chaise lounges beside the pool.

"I shore am proud of that boy, Tim. He's a fine young man and will make a fine preacher for that church."

"I do believe you're right, Jeb. You could just see him glow with pride as he came out with Pastor Gooding. And he looked so right in his robe."

"Yup. Right as rain."

"Great Grampa, you gonna come in now? Something about rain," Jeffy told the others around him.

"Not gonna happen. You kids just enjoy being fish and we'll just enjoy watchin' y'all turn inta prunes right afore our very eyes. Guffaw!"

Lewis immediately looked up from Karen's arms and let out his own laugh, because his favorite person just did.

Soon enough, Ray was on his way back on a Friday from his second bout with cancer treatments. He was already settled in the living room when we arrived to greet him and his dad. It shocked my boys to see how this session had affected the young teen. He was pale and looked visibly weak. He still had his hair, but that would change shortly. The treatments were strong and were literally pounding the life out of the boy.

"The doctor said he was responding very well to the treatments," Ray Sr. told us.

Imogene Carlton clung to her husband and pushed into his arm every once in a while to wipe away the tears as she gazed upon her tired, pale son.

Still, Ray tried to keep up with my boys, laughing at their antics and enjoying their presence. But he tired easily and we took it upon ourselves to leave far too soon after we arrived. We did invite the whole family over to swim the next day, or just enjoy the sun on our patio.

Jennifer, Jeffy's friend, and Eva, Ray's girlfriend, came with the Carltons the next afternoon. My Jeffy was beside himself with joy that his girlfriend finally got to enjoy the pool too.

Eva was sure cute as she did everything possible to make Ray comfortable. Imogene was very impressed with the young lady as Eva cared for her only child. Ray seemed too weak to be embarrassed by all the commotion concerning him. He'd plunked himself down on one of the chaise lounges and dozed off almost immediately.

It seemed clear to me that Joshua and Karen Spear were hitting it off very well. They were both there, as well, involved in training each boy, though never quite leaving the other to venture off to teach another boy. Since the girls and Enrique were there, it was really only AJ and Little Lewis that had their lessons.

When Lewis went down for his nap, he was a bit perturbed because he wanted to stay with the action, especially if Karen was involved. But he couldn't keep his eyes open after a strenuous morning.

AJ was self-motivated to find pleasure in whatever he could, enjoying frolicking in the water, just to be near his family and friends. I should have invited someone over to play with him but it didn't seem to take away from his happiness.

So, Joshua and Karen had time to themselves. But, before that went too far, they were sweet enough to talk to the boys with crushes on them, to explain what was happening.

Joshua asked to speak to Elliot and Karen approached Jeffy, asking him to leave the pool for a moment so she could talk to him.

At first it looked like both Enrique and Jennifer were a bit miffed. It was actually Eva that began nodding, understanding what was going on. Sometimes, females are more perceptive about things like romantic situations. I know my Vivian was. So, Eva waded over to her friend and Elliot and began to explain what she thought was going on.

Jeb wasn't too long in getting what was going on, either. He knocked my elbow off the arm of the chaise lounge and nodded toward the two groupings at either end of the pool area, that is, Joshua and Elliot and Karen and Jeffy.

At first, being as dense as I could be, I thought they were teasing the boys. But that idea quickly turned into an understanding, when the boys blushed and looked at their wet toes on the concrete deck where they stood in front of their crushes.

It only took a few minutes before there was nodding and then hugs, followed by the boys being sent back to their friends in the pool. The boys were still blushing when they got back to their dates. They seemed to want to ignore any explanations, which really weren't necessary anyway after Eva explained the situation to her friends. Hugs were needed, then they all turned to see Joshua and Karen holding hands and walking over to where Jeb and I were sitting.

"You probably figured out what was going on, huh?" asked Joshua.

"That was a mighty fine thing you kids did for those two young'uns," answered Jeb.

"Well, we couldn't let it go and have the possibility of it hurting them. They needed to know that we were becoming closer and that they were free to concentrate on their friends," explained Karen.

Joshua was blushing by then. These things always seem to embarrass boys more than their female counterparts.

"Thank you for caring so much for the boys. I'm sure it not only helped them get over their infatuations, but saved them a lot of embarrassment in the near future, to say nothing of sore shoulders."

We all laughed at my statement.

"I think we'll head on back to your house, Mr. Harding, if you don't mind. I need to write a sermon for tomorrow and then practice it."

"Of course, Joshua. You kids behave yourselves over ta there, mind you," laughed Jeb.

This time both Karen and Joshua were blushing as their arms swung between each other, hand in hand. They were very cute together.

"Sir, nothing's . . . ," started Joshua.

"Aw, aw! You know I'm just a pullin' your leg, whippersnapper. You kids have fun."

That said, they gathered their covers and towels and headed out, but not before saying good bye to their friends in the pool, and to Ray, who was finally sitting up next to his parents.

"Nice to meet you again, Mr. and Mrs. Carlton. Please claim our prayers for Ray," said Joshua.

"And please come to church tomorrow to hear Joshua," asked Karen. "I know it will be an inspiring talk."

"Oh, great! No pressure there!" said Joshua.

They left as we all laughed with them. I knew we wouldn't miss tomorrow's service for the world.

The rest of the afternoon was pleasant. Ray finally got in the water. His mother insisted on him wearing a coat of sunscreen which, to his delight, Eva asked if she could apply. They were cute. It looked like Ray already had a sunburn, he was blushing so much. Of course, my two boys were giving him a bad time, but he didn't seem to care.

Too soon, the Carltons and friends left. Ray was exhausted, of course, and wanted to rest to be sure to come to church to hear Joshua. The girls agreed to come as well so Jeffy immediately grabbed Elliot and made him go to their room to find the perfect clothes for him to show off in. He really only had one pair of good trousers. But between Elliot and Enrique, they picked out a nice looking shirt and tie. We'd yet to get them sport coats.

"I can't wait to hear Joshua speak tomorrow," mentioned Elliot. "I think it was really nice of Pastor Gooding to let him speak so soon after joining their church."

He then asked Enrique to come with us.

"My family has been going to St. Matthews, the Catholic church. But I can ask my papa and see if he will let me. I'm sure he will."

"Maybe," said AJ with as much enthusiasm as he could muster, "Your whole family would come and help us pray for Ray. This will be the first time he's been able to be there when we prayed."

"Yeah," agreed Jeffy, "But it's really only been last week, huh?" he said, looking over at me.

I nodded.

"More the merrier, I say," bellowed Jeb. "Somethin' in the Good Book about where two or more are gathered. Yup. The more the merrier."

Lewis must have thought that was uncommonly profound because he immediately wanted on his favorite person's lap.

Thinking of that, I found it odd that AJ had Jeb for a blood great grampa and Jeffy and Elliot were sort of adopted into the clan. But Lewis wasn't related.

"Dad, what's Lewis to Great Grampa?"

"AJ, how do you do that? I was just thinking the same thing. Only I couldn't come up with an answer."

"Hm-m-m," thought Elliot, out loud. "He can't be his great grampa because Lewis is our nephew. Pop, you're not great grampa's son or grandson so he doesn't fit in there. Hm-m-m."

Both AJ and Lewis were turning back and forth like they were truly following the conversation. I'm sure AJ was. I just didn't know what Lewis was thinking, until I saw Lewis look at his young uncle to see where he was looking at any given time.

"I think we should let him think of me as his great grampa too. 'Course, it'll be up to the little mite what he decides to call me, don'tcha know."

We all looked at Lewis and he looked a little lost, then gave us all a great big smile. Then he turned to Jeb, grabbed his cheeks and pulled them into a smile. Of course, we all laughed, which delighted both of them.

It seemed like we filled half the church. The Fuentes family arrived with smiles, with Enrique quickly moving to Elliot's side. Enrique's grandmother gave them a side glance and slowly shook her head. It didn't seem to worry Elliot or Enrique as much as it did me. But then she broke into a smile and reached over and pinched Elliot's red blushing cheek.

Matias leaned into me and said that she only agreed to come because she attended early mass that day.

"Well, that was very thoughtful of her and your whole family. I'm sure your presence will be a blessing to the Carltons."

Dan and gang arrived to sit with us as well. Denver was in awe of the huge nave, with its tall columns holding up the curved ceiling, and the awe inspiring chancel area. AJ was quick to move toward him and begin to explain things to the youngster, since he, of course, was now an expert, having attended three or four times more than his peer.

But even Michael, Ralph and Dan were a little awestruck and not in their comfort zone. Mrs. Carlton was gracious and offered up some simple explanations to ease them to a semi-comfortable place.

Karen sat with us as well. She looked smart in a simple yet colorful dress. It was obvious that she was there for Joshua, not to show herself off, though that wouldn't have taken much. She was a beautiful girl.

Linda Sue and Tyler also attended. Tyler turned around several times to take in all that surrounded him.

"It's such a beautiful space, Mom. I can almost feel how it would make one want to pray and quietly think."

The Curtain family sat right behind us but Stewart was allowed to join AJ and Denver.

As the service progressed from a beautiful Prelude and Welcome through a simple liturgy to the sermon, we were all proud of our young man in front of us. While Pastor Gooding did most of the service up to the sermon, we knew that Joshua would soon be preaching his first from the pulpit.

"Good morning and God's richest blessings to all of you."

Joshua then read texts from several places where healings were made simply by touching Jesus' robe or someone asking in absentia for a loved one. Several times as he spoke he looked directly at Ray. It made his sermon all the more poignant for the whole congregation, especially us.

He continued to speak of the power of prayer in our lives, especially when we come together and agree in prayer.

"Then it's left in the hands of the Lord. Many people will tell you that it's all in vain, or tell you that your path, your destiny is already chosen and can't be changed. What they don't tell you is that your destiny may well be to unite in a prayer of healing in order to claim what the Lord knows lays ahead of you.

"I believe in miracles. So many happen around us each day without our even considering them. I don't mean moving mountains or making bushes flame without burning up, or changing water into wine. I'm talking about life and breath, love and beauty all around us. The things that make us rich, in our hearts. So, a specific prayer shouldn't be too hard to imagine. Join with us as we come together, united in our prayers to heal our brother and others that are ill or needy."

He ended with the traditional blessing.

After the offering, they served communion. The Carltons, the Curtains and Karen all went up. So did Elliot. The church had a tradition of young, pre-communion aged kids to come up for a blessing. AJ got a wave from Pastor Gooding, went up and knelt next to Elliot and received a blessing from both pastors. He came back to our pew just glowing with pride.

"Wow!" he said to me.

Elliot leaned over and whispered to him. AJ turned to look at him with huge eyes.

"Really, truly?" he asked his big brother.

And, with a nod and a smile, Elliot mouthed a 'Yes'.

I later found out that Elliot told him that he could take instruction and be confirmed so that he too could partake of the sacrament of communion. I kind of doubted that AJ knew the significance but he was young in that regard.

And we can't ever go to their church and not speak of the hymns. AJ and Elliot were wonderful as usual. Even Stewart carried his own. Dan's clan were in awe and Tyler and his mom both had tears in their eyes after the first hymn. I found out later that both the Curtain parents were in the choir.

Karen was impressed as well. She agreed when we told her that both boys were invited to be a part of the choir when it got back together after the summer break. She mentioned an interest for her as well.

Lewis was terrific. Oh, he would get a little antsy during the boring parts, but when there was singing, he was quick to perk up and listen attentively. He even patted AJ on his head after one of the hymns. But when Joshua started preaching his sermon, Lewis leaned out as if to try to get to Joshua. He was only a little miffed when I told him he had to stay with me.

When it came time for prayers, Pastor Gooding began them until he got to a prayer for healing which Joshua led. It wasn't just for Ray, but several people in the congregation and generally for those hurting from illness, accident or even abuse. That got my boys' attention. They all three looked over at me.

"Joshua can be our chaplain guy for the club at our schools," Jeffy suggested, after the service.

"What's this about? A chaplaincy so soon in his career," joked Pastor Gooding as he met us at the door.

"We'll have to explain our boys' idea to help fight bullying in schools, Pastor. I think it would be nice if you could come to dinner sometime this week. I'm sure the boys would love to tell you and Joshua about their ideas."

"I'd love to, Tim. Thank you."

Ray looked pretty wrung out. We'd just entered the parish hall for coffee and whatever treats they were serving when the three Carltons came up to us.

"Normally I'd ask you all over to the house but I think that yesterday and today so far have been quite a lot for Raymond to endure," said Imogene. "I hope you don't think us rude."

"Certainly not, Imogene," I said. "We want the boy to get as much rest as he can. Another session this week I assume?"

"Yes," said Ray's dad. "Another trip up north to put an end to what the boy is going through. I know it will all be worth it in the end."

The Carltons left right away but most of the rest of us stayed for coffee hour after the service. Of course, we praised Joshua for his role in the service and his kind words throughout the service, especially his sermon.

"Oh, it wasn't much. But I didn't want to just blubber on. I wanted to make my point and leave it at that."

"That is commendable, young man," voiced Pastor Gooding. "Simple and quick is a good way to keep your congregation on their toes. You did very well."

"I think it was perfect, but then, I may be a little prejudiced," said Karen, hanging onto Joshua's arm.

"I know the Carlton's appreciated your words, including the prayer. It was nice of you, pastor, to let Joshua have that part," I said.

"Yeah, and cuz of it, he's gonna get better even faster, huh?" asked AJ, hanging on my arm.

"We'll just believe in God's perfect timing, AJ," said Pastor Gooding, smiling at the boy. "But a little persuasion never hurt."

The adults chuckled. So did Lewis but I doubt he knew why.

"What was your favorite part of the service, boys?" asked Pastor Gooding.

"Oh, oh!" said AJ.

Ignoring him, Elliot proceeded, "My favorite part was singing. I enjoy the songs, um, hymns that you pick, pastor. Oh, not that your sermon wasn't great, Joshua, but I just thought we'd already covered that."

"Oh, oh!" said AJ a bit more enthusiastically.

But Jeffy, too, went ahead of him. "I liked this part in here. The stuff after everything in there."

"Oh, great!" said Joshua, smiling and shaking his head, as did the pastor, Jeb and I.

"Oh, oh, now?" asked AJ, stepping right up to Pastor Gooding.

"Yes, of course, AJ. We'd all like to hear what your favorite part was. I'm guessing it was the singing, since you sing so beautifully?"

"Um, nope. It's . . ."

"My guess would be the prayer we did for Ray and others. You are such a caring soul, AJ," said Joshua.

"Well . . . But no, my favorite part was when Joshua read the bible verses and we learned those two angels' names!" His face was one great smile, as he looked all around at us.

But to a man, well, and Karen, we all looked pretty confused.

"Now, wait," started Joshua. "There's Gabriel and Michael, I believe."

"Yes, there's actually three others named but they're all three of the evil kind. AJ, I don't remember Joshua reading about any others."

"Uh-huh, he did. I'm surprised I got it before all of you grownups. Ha!"

"AJ, I'm about to impress on your behind end unless you give out what you think you heard, Mr. Know-it-all!" said Jeb, frustrated.

"He said 'em. He said, 'Lo and Behold, the angels of the Lord appeared before him.'"

AJ stood there with a smug look on his face, even put his hands on his hips.

Once again we were confused but only for half a second. The laughter started with the two pastors and worked its way around to me, then Jeb, Karen and Elliot. But when it got to Jeffy, who had rarely, if ever attended church, much like AJ, until a few weeks before . . .

"Really?" he asked looking at Joshua.

End of Chapter sixty-nine.

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