There was laughter from us, as the door finally closed, in the stunned silence that marked her departure.
I looked around to notice Samantha and Derek, who had been back in the shadows, coming forward, and Eric finally realized that he was still holding on to me, and stepped back, releasing me, but feeling as if I wished he hadn't.
"I have never liked that woman," Millie muttered, before saying, "I'm sorry you all had to endure that."
Everyone reassured her it wasn't her fault, while I turned to my babies.
"You guys alright?" and had three kids throw their arms around me, as I got to the bed.
"I was really scared," Peter said, and "me too," came from Brian and Sam.
"I know babies, but I won't let anyone hurt you again." I said fiercely. So fiercely that Sam looked up at me and said, "she's gone daddy," while looking into my eyes.
I just held on tighter as I told him, "I know sweetheart, I know."
After a minute or so, Sam said, "Dad," and looked towards Chris and I noticed he was watching us.
I let my bunch go, and stepped away from the bed, to find Derek rushing into my arms.
"Hey it's ok baby, its ok now," I told him, while pulling him tightly to me.
He held on, as I walked over to Chris to find him crying silently.
"Hey, its alright, you're safe now, remember." I told him while pulling as much of him into me as I could.
That seemed to release the floodgates, in both of them, one under each arm as they broke down into tears, and I could have killed the bitch, if she had still been there.
Finally Chris said, "I don't want to go to jail."
"Chris honey, neither one of you are going anywhere but with your mom," I told him firmly.
"But she said..." he began,
"I know what she said, which is why she no longer has a job," I told them.
"You both remember what I told you, you didn't do anything wrong at all. What you were doing is perfectly normal and natural."
This was met with silence, so I added, "Also remember what your mother told you, you can play with each other any..."
"MIIIIKKKKEEE" both boys said turning such an adorable shade of red once again.
"What?" I asked innocently.
They just looked at me as I said, "Well, you can."
This got groans from the both of them, as their faces, which had begun to return to a more normal color, went back to red again.
I just smiled down at them.
It had the intended effect, and I could see that they had relaxed some.
I hadn't realized that Samantha had followed us over, until I heard her behind me cap it off with,
"He's right you know." I looked up to find a smile on her face as she watched them.
"Moooom." they cried, in unison.
Teasing your kids has to be one of the great pleasures in life.
"You ok now?" I asked Chris, who nodded his head, and about that time, Peter and Danny came up quietly, both of them very carefully crawling up, and snuggling into Chris's very surprised sides.
He may have been surprised, but I could also tell he loved it, what kid doesn't love cuddling, never met one yet.
I let him go, as they got settled in, with smiles of contentment on their faces, but especially on Chris's young face, and I stood up.
"Millie wants to speak to us, if you have a minute," Samantha told me.
"Sure," I said.
I walked back over to the others, with Derek glued to my side, after kissing all three boys, and stopped at Millie's side.
"You wanted to speak to us?" I asked.
"Yes, but lets take it outside." she said.
"Ok," but I had a little problem, as Derek had tightened his grip on me.
"I have to go out and talk to your mother and Millie for a while little one." I told him softly.
"Please," he said looking up at me, as I knelt down.
Then he threw his arms around me, with the rest of his body following, as I quickly stood up, so I wouldn't fall over.
I just hugged him, as he repeated "please can I stay with you?"
I was going to answer but Millie beat me to it.
"Sure you can honey, sure you can."
I looked over to my boys, to find Sammy looking back, with a smile on his face, and I knew he was telling me he was ok.
Eric sensing my mood said, "I'll stay here, don't worry."
"Thanks," I told him, as I turned towards the door, with Millie leading the way.
For some strange reason, I didn't want him out of my sight.
We went out, and Millie led us down the hall, to a door into a conference room, where she waited and shut the door behind us.
We all took seats, and Millie began,
"First of all, that woman won't trouble any of you again, and if she should try, she won't like what happens to her, in the slightest, I promise you," and I could tell that it would be best for her welfare if she didn't try anything.
The tone in Millie's voice held nothing but dire consequences for anyone who tried to cross her, at this point on this subject.
"I don't like her." Derek softly said.
We all laughed at that, as Millie said, "Well, I don't know too many people who do, child."
Derek just snuggled some more while I stroked his back, slowly, and softly.
"Well the reason I asked you in here with us Mike is because Samantha is faced with several problems, that are worrying her."
I looked at Samantha, who took over and said,
"Most of all, I am worried about Tom." And at my look of confusion she said, "my soon to be ex." as I said "ah," and nodded my head.
Somehow in all of this, I had never learned his name, not that I particularly wanted to know it
"Well he's in jail, and he shouldn't get out for a very long time." I told her and if he did, he better not even think of getting near these kids.
"Its not that...he has friends, not very nice friends." she said softly,
"and you don't feel safe at your home?"
I watched as she shook her head, and said, "They won't be happy."
"Ok, well we can fix that, don't worry." I told her.
"How?" she asked.
"Well, is there someplace you can go to where you'll be safe?" I asked her, but even as I finished, she was shaking her head, in the negative.
"Ok Samantha, don't worry, we'll take care of you." I told her, as I reached into my pocket and pulled out my wallet. It was rather difficult with a bundle of boy in my lap, but I managed it as I pulled out a credit card and put my wallet away, all under the table.
"You can get a hotel room for the time being, and we can look into something more permanent in the meantime." but once again she was shaking her head.
I could tell she seemed to be embarrassed, as she said, "I...its just...well we don't really..." I knew where she was going with that, so I put the card on the table, pushing it towards her.
"No, I couldn't..." she started to say but I quickly said "yes you can."
"I...don't know what to say." she replied.
"You don't say anything, you take it and get a suite, and whatever you and the boys need, and stay there until we get the rest straightened out." I told her emphatically.
"You're welcome, but I want all of you safe and sound, and you can have some breathing room to decide whether or not you want to sell the house and get another one some place or move out of here altogether."
"I just don't know, but its not my house, we just rent it," she said.
"Well, then if you want to move, I am sure we can get you into something else." I told her. "And before you say anything, don't worry about the money," I added as I saw her start to object again.
She closed her mouth, and I realized Derek had been looking back and forth between us, before saying, "I don't want to live there anymore mom."
She just looked at him and finally said, "I don't think I do either baby," as he snuggled back into my chest.
"Well then, all you have to do is decide whether or not you want to stay here, or move somewhere where you might feel safer." I told her.
"No I want to stay with you," Derek said, plaintively into the silence.
I could feel tears threatening, as I squeezed him to me.
Damn, this was going to be so hard, if they had to move.
"I know honey, I know." I told him softly.
As he pulled back and looked into my eyes, "Please," he said, with tears escaping his long lashes, to fall onto his sweet face.
"Please" he repeated, as I felt my own tears looking into those beautiful eyes,
"We won't go anywhere," Samantha said, startling us, as I looked up to find her with tears falling as well.
"Are you sure?" I asked.
"Yeah, I am." was her only reply, as she gazed at her son, then she said
"Chris feels the same way, they both seem to have really attached themselves to you, and I couldn't take them away, I think they need you."
Derek looked to his mother, and I could see a small smile there, as he said, "thanks mom," before burying his head back in my chest, as my hand resumed its ministrations.
"Samantha, I don't know what to say, except thank you, I'll do anything I can to help you, and them," I told her softly.
"I know that, don't ask me why, but I do." she replied.
Our eyes were locked, and so much passed between us, in the space of seconds, that it was almost frightening.
I knew she was placing her trust in me completely, with her children, and I could tell that she knew I was coming to love them, if I didn't already.
I didn't know how it had happened, but they had found their way into my heart, without me noticing, and now I found that I didn't want to ever have to try to get them out of it.
It seemed that was happening a lot lately.
I just gave a squeeze to the bundle I had in my arms, holding on, knowing that even though he wouldn't be my son, or living with us, that he had just became an important part of my life, and that of my family as well.
"It's too bad you went to Eric, I could have used you running one of my homes," Millie said, as I looked to find her wiping tears from her own eyes.
"I couldn't take it Millie," I told her plainly and simply, and could see she understood, as she replied,
"No, you probably couldn't," but then with a twinkle in her eyes she added, "but I probably would have found a home for a whole bunch of my kids."
I didn't doubt it after the last couple of days. If I had been working at one of those places, I probably would have fallen in love with all of them, and wanted to take them home with me.
Then again with the current climate, I probably wouldn't have lasted, I wouldn't be able to keep from hugging em which would upset the powers that be, no end.
"You probably would have at that." she said, with a small smile, and I could see 'what if' pass through her eyes, as she contemplated what might have been, but never was, or now, could be.
She shook her head, bringing herself back to the here and now, as she said,
"The problem is, Samantha is working two jobs, and can't be with the boys much, and Chris is scheduled to be released from the hospital tomorrow."
"Why don't you take some sick time or personal leave?" I asked her.
"Sick time, you've got to be kidding. I don't get any of that. I don't get any leave at all" she told me.
"If I call in sick, I might be able to get away with it for a day or two, but not much longer than that, before they would fire me." she added.
"Look, Samantha, why don't you just quit, if they can't understand your need right now. I was serious about you and the boys not worrying about anything."
"I just can't quit my jobs, and I cant...I won't live off of you either, Mike. I really appreciate everything you are offering, and I'll accept the help, because we need it, but I won't just sit back and sponge off you." she said strongly.
"Samantha, its not like that. Your kids need you, and I can help, just let me do it. You can go back to work when things get straightened out some. I am sure we can find you a good job that will allow you to be home with your kids a lot more, and offer you much better benefits." I told her.
She was shaking her head, while I had been speaking, and now said,
"Mike, I had to drop out of college, when I was 19, I have no degree what kind of 'good' job do you think I could get?" she asked.
"Well, Eric is always is looking for dispatchers, and if you want a little more fun in your life, join the department." I said grinning, "the pay is great either way, and there are full benefits, not to mention Eric is very understanding when it comes to kids, three of those in there are his." I told her, as I watched her mouth drop open in surprise, at what I was telling her.
"Me, a cop" she said, as she laughed slightly, "come on, I couldn't do that."
"Why not?" I asked.
"Yeah mom, why not?" Derek asked, lifting his head up and staring at his mother.
"Well...I mean...I'm....its just that...me a cop?" she ended, clearly flustered.
"You'd be great, mom" Derek said impishly.
"I..well...I..." she started again,
"Come on mom, you would kick ass." Derek said with all the confidence of a child.
"Derek, language," she snapped while trying not to laugh.
Millie and I weren't quite as controlled as Samantha was, and broke out in laughter, while Derek just beamed impudently.
"Well, we'll see what happens little one, maybe being a dispatcher wouldn't be a bad idea." she said.
"Awww, mom, then we wouldn't get to ride around in the police car with the siren on," Derek cried in simulated misery which broke us up in laughter again.
"I'll give you a siren young man." Samantha said affectionately to Derek, who still had that impish smile on his face, as he broke out in giggles.
"Ok mom." he said.
"That's not what I meant," Samantha retorted, but Derek just grinned at her.
"Well. I guess that's all settled, deputy," I kidded her, which got me a sharp dirty look from Samantha, and giggles from Derek.
"You two are incorrigible." she replied.
"Yep." I said.
"Millie, you're supposed to be helping me?" Samantha said, looking mock pleadingly towards Millie, who was trying to keep a grin off her face.
Millie couldn't do it as she said, "Well, it sounds like a wonderful idea to me."
"Thanks a bunch, they'll have me in a uniform before I get out of the hospital." Samantha mumbled, in a disgruntled voice.
I was smiling, but cracked up as Derek said, "cool, do ya think you can get one by the time we have to leave Mike?"
Samantha's mouth dropped open, before saying, "That was a joke, don't you dare."
We just laughed, and finally Samantha said, "Thanks, Mike, I'll give them both a two week notice tomorrow. I don't want to just quit, but what will I do with the boys in the meantime?"
"Oh I'm sure we can find something to do with them," which while I was not intending it, caused Derek to look up at me with uneasiness in his eyes, which in turn caused me to decide to tease him a little by saying, "you know, maybe hang 'em from the roof or something."
That got an indignant expression to come to the face of the young boy, as he loudly protested.
"You wouldn't do that to us, Mike, would you?" not quite certain.
"Well, probably not, maybe just the ceiling," I said, which caused his eyes to widen and quickly look to his mother, and then back at me, where I started laughing at the incredulous expression on his face.
"Got cha!" I told him.
I guess he liked being teased, as he just smiled, and cuddled back up as I told Samantha, "don't worry Samantha, the boys and I will keep an eye on them, either at your hotel, or my house, whichever you prefer."
"Ok, thank you so much, Mike, I don't know how I can ever repay you for everything," she told me.
"First off, you stop worrying about that, you don't have to repay anything, just take care of yourself, and these two." I said as I gave one of the two a squeeze.
"Ok, well, I'll try to get some time off in the morning, to get a room somewhere before going into work." Samantha said.
"How about if I go and get the room for you guys, and get it all set up for you, how does that sound?" I asked her.
"Well, ok, I guess." she said, "but nothing too fancy," she added.
"Of course not" I replied.
She was looking at me suspiciously, while Millie was snickering as she said, "Mike?"
"Yes?" I replied.
"I'm serious." Samantha told me.
"Look, Samantha, I will get you guys what you need for the time being, and nothing more," I told her completely serious now.
Samantha continued to look at me with suspicion, but didn't say anything further.
It wasn't my fault if she defined need differently than I did.
"Ok, well that's settled then, so now you will just have to decide what you want to do about long term living arrangements," Millie said.
I already had some ideas about that, but would wait to see what happened.
"I just don't know, Millie other than wanting to stay here for now." Samantha said.
"Well, I guess that's about it for now, unless there is anything else?" Millie said, looking at each of us, before starting to get up..
"Thank you so much for everything," Samantha said, as I walked around and pulled Millie into a hug, saying "Yeah, thanks Millie."
"Oh come now," she said, but I could tell she was touched by our thanks, so many people weren't happy to see her, and the ones that were often forgot that simple word for all her hard work.
Then Samantha surprised her by grabbing her, as I released her, and giving her a big hug as well.
Poor Derek had gotten squished between us, and was giggling, as we stood there, still in my arms.
We all exited the conference room, and headed back to the boy's room, and were surprised at the silence when we got there.
All the boys were spread out in various places, and it looked like they had wheeled several cots in too, they were all asleep as well.
I guess this day had taken a lot out of them, as it had me.
Peter and Danny were still cuddled up with Chris, in his bed, while Sam and Brian were in Sam's bed. Randy and Kevin were on a fold a way bed, with Eric, who looked out as well. It looked like the other beds weren't going to get used tonight.
I was actually surprised that more weren't trying to fit on the beds than were.
Millie quietly said good night to me, before handing me a packet from her briefcase, which I knew included the documentation for my new sons, then taking her leave, saying she would call tomorrow.
I went over and set Derek down on a bed, with Samantha following, giving him a kiss, and telling him good night.
"I love you Mike," he said, looking up at me, as I stood up and surprising me yet again, as I looked down into his eyes.
Yet even so, I knew my next words came from the heart, as I told him, "I love you too, kiddo." and I bent down, giving him another kiss on his forehead.
The smile that greeted me, as I stood up again, was worth more than any money in the world, as I ruffled his hair, causing him to giggle softly, as I told his mother good night, and headed back to my SamSam, and Brian.
I stopped at the edge of the bed, and just stood there for a few moments, looking down at them before taking off my gun belt, shoes and shirt and crawling into bed with them.
Sammy stirred, but Brian didn't seem to, as I got comfortable, with my arms around as much of my boys as I could, giving first Brian, and then Sammy, a kiss on their sleeping faces, as I whispered softly, "I love you guys."
I didn't expect an answer, so was pleasantly surprised when first Sammy, and then Brian said,
"I love you too dad," without ever opening their eyes.
I felt tears coming to my eyes, at what Brian had just said, in all innocence, while still asleep, as I just looked at them, and all my family, scattered around the room.
I had gained two more sons today, officially, and two more unofficial ones as well, but I had a feeling they wouldn't be any less my children, for that little oversight.
I had also lost a son, and then had him given back to me, and that experience had shown me, like nothing else could have, just how important that little life was to me, if I had ever had any doubts.
It had been quite a day, and as if my thoughts had awakened him, I found a sleepy pair of eyes looking up at me, as he said, "you're getting me wet, again," accompanied by a small giggle.
"Get used to it," I told him, which got another giggle, as he snuggled deeper into my embrace, slipping back into the sleep he had never fully awoken from, and all was right with the world, as I just lay back watching him sleep.
I wanted to introduce Sammy to my triple threat I was thinking as I hung up the phone heading back towards the living area to find my son
God, I found myself thinking I really love saying that, my son.
Sam was still ensconced watching something or another but quickly looked up as I came into the room.
Now it became a question of how to tell him we were going back to Dallas without freaking him out totally.
He suddenly stood up looking at me as I sat down and I immediately had an armful of boy.
I could definitely get used to that.
Rather quickly as well.
"Sammy I just spoke with my best friend, and he is going to be helping us straighten this whole situation out, ok?"
I felt his head nod, so I continued,
"Eric is a really good person, and he is going to get things straightened out, so I can keep you, I want you to know that," I told him, and felt his head nod again.
"I am going to protect you, and NO one is going to hurt you but..." and his head shot up looking at me, as I went on, "we are going to have to go back to Dallas," and I watched as the fear appeared again, in his eyes, as he sucked in a breath.
"I quickly told him, "you're going to be safe, and no one is going to hurt you, but we have to do this legally, so no one can take you away from me," I said, while never breaking my gaze from his.
He didn't say anything, so I forged ahead once again.
"Not only that. but we need to stop the man who was hurting you that way." which got his head shaking rapidly.
"Listen to me honey, you remember you told me about Adam, and Kelly, and the others?" I asked him.
He still wasn't saying anything, but he did grudgingly nod his head, ever so briefly, up and down.
"Well, they are still there aren't they?" I asked him, which got another nod.
"and the man is still probably hurting them, or others, right?"
I got another nod of his head, as I went on. "Well, we need to stop that, and that means doing something to stop it. It won't be easy, but you are going to have to tell your story to some people, and then he won't hurt others anymore." I told him.
"You'll stay with me?" he asked timidly.
"Yeah honey, I'll be right there with you." I told him, as he wrapped himself around me again.
I just held him for a while, before letting him go, and going up front and setting out for Dallas, leaving him to his television.
We finally got to the truck stop I was looking for, north of Dallas, and pulled in, finding a pull through spot, without much difficulty.
The Williams Travel Centers were a new chain, and fairly nice inside, unlike some of them, which left a bit to be desired, my favorite would be a Petro, but the closest one of those was west of Fort Worth, and kind of out of the way.
Eric had called a while ago, and told me that he had information for me, and to call him when we got in.
Sammy had taken to the coach, like he had been born there, coming up soon after we started out, and sitting in the passenger seat, looking avidly at everything, as we passed by, clearly enraptured with the sights, even if Oklahoma was a bit unappealing visually.
As we got into the truck stop, he was practically bouncing in his seat with the excitement which only a little child could have, and I knew he wanted to go inside and look at all the wonders contained therein, even if an adult wouldn't see anything of note.
I decided to take him around, before calling Eric back, or he would probably explode, the way it was going.
We got out, and wandered inside, and I felt like a kid again, as Sammy dragged me around, looking at a million different things, from CBs to cell phones, and everything in between. He was having a ball, and I was as well, just by being with him.
Finally, with repeated promises of returning, I managed to convince him the place would still be there when we returned, even if I didn't think he quite believed me, as I steered him back to the coach where he promptly went back to the television leaving me to call Eric.
I dialed the number, and was surprised when Eric was actually the one to answer the phone, instead of one of the terrors, but he didn't surprise me when he got right down to business.
"Mike, got some contacts for you, they want to meet with you and Sam, in the morning, it's a detective and social worker. Both of them are real good people, and the social worker is going to get temporary custody assigned to you immediately, and she'll have the papers for you in the morning," he told me without preamble.
"Well hello Eric," I said deadpan
"Yeah, hello, did you hear me?"
"Yes, and thanks, Eric. I don't know how but this little guy...I...its just..."
"He got to ya huh?"
"Yeah!" I said simply.
"Well I remember how you were with the trinity, and I can imagine, I can't wait to meet him," he told me.
"You'll love him Eric, he's so cute and..."
"Ok, ok I get the picture, after all, you think my nightmares are cute too, remember." he said, chuckling
"Well..." I started to say, but was interrupted,
"Don't say it," Eric told me.
"Name of the dick is Darryl Thomas, and he wants to know where you'll be. He says he'll meet up with you around 10 tomorrow."
"Ok, tell him I'm in the William's Travel Center, north of Dallas. You can, I'm sure, describe the beast accurately to him." I said.
"Oh yeah, can't miss that. I'll let him know then, expect him at 10."
"Ok, thanks again Eric, and tell my babies hi for me."
"Yeah I will, Mike, and if you like em so much they're all yours, when you get back," he said laughing.
"Ok, you got a deal," I told him quickly. I might tease him and them about it, but I had no objection to my terrors, none whatsoever. I loved them to death.
"Well that's good, cause they're all yours," he said laughing still.
"Ok, Eric, and thanks again, I'll let you know how it goes tomorrow." I told him, hanging up.
It should prove interesting, I thought, when I got Sammy and them together. I think they will really like each other.
I turned around to find Samuel standing there looking intently at me. I just opened my arms and found them filled with boy, as I picked him up and carried him back out to the living room.
"Well little one, it looks like tomorrow a police officer and social worker are going to meet with us, about 10 am, and she will have papers giving you to me, legally." I told him.
I could feel his body stiffen, at the word police, and then melt when I said the part about him being mine, and I was so glad.
"You mean I'll get to stay with you?" he asked, pulling back, and looking at me with those sweet brown pools of love, with what looked like flecks of gold sparkling deep within them.
"Yep, that's what I mean." I told him.
"Like forever and ever?" he asked shyly.
"Yeah honey, like forever and ever, and a million years past that," I told him, which elicited giggles from his small frame, as he said,
"Yep." I said, as I told him, "and now I'll make you silly too," as his eyes widened in shock, while my hands went to work,
I soon had a wildly giggling and frantically squirming 8 year old boy, in my lap, as I tickled him mercilessly, only stopping after repeated cries of "I'm gonna pee, I'm gonna pee!!!" that, and finally believing them, as I let him go, and watched him run for the bathroom, clutching himself but still giggling all the way.
As I watched him disappear down the hall to the bathroom I had only one thought running through my head, there goes my baby.
Those two words were absolutely amazing to me, and still hard to believe, but I knew them to be true.
"You gonna stare at us all night?" A voice asking, brought me back from my memories, as I shook my head and stared into the smiling countenance of that very same baby, who was looking at me with a big grin on his face.
"Maybe," I said, smiling right back.
"I gotta pee," he announced, and I realized that I had him trapped by my arm and he couldn't get away.
"I supposed you want me to let you go then?" I asked, chuckling softly,
"Well, unless you just want me to go here," he said, pushing up his gown, and taking a hold of himself, like he was going to do just that, while giggling all the while.
"That's ok, I'll let you go, this time." I said back.
"Good, it'd get kind of messy." he said, still giggling, as he got up and headed for the bathroom, rapidly.
Yep, all was right with the world, as I watched my world enter into the bathroom, and the door softly close behind him.
Then his head poked out, and with an impish grin on his face, he said,
"Take a picture it'll last longer," before disappearing back inside, to the echo of Sammy giggle.
I was laughing softly at his antics, as all I could think was, yeah that's my baby, alright.