Ten Steps Down

Chapter Nineteen

"You're spending the night with us," Uncle Ryan insisted, when we arrived in Topeka.

"It isn't that far to drive on home," Dad halfheartedly protested.

"I've never got to spend the night with Uncle Jason and Uncle Ryan," Nicole spoke up.

"I guess that settles it, then," Dad laughed.

"Jason, if you'll go buy some steaks and salad fixings, I'll put some potatoes in the oven," Uncle Ryan said.

"Anyone want to go along for a ride?" Uncle Jason asked.

"I do," Nicole said.

"I'll go," James said.

"What about you, Craig?" Uncle Jason asked.

"Not me, I'm tired of riding."

"I'll help with those potatoes," Mom offered, as she followed Uncle Ryan into the kitchen.

"What can I do to help?" Grandma asked.

"You can make some iced tea," Uncle Ryan said. "Craig, would you mind starting the grill. You'll find the charcoal and what you need in the garage."

"Don't you have a gas grill?" I questioned.

"We do, but Jason prefers charcoal," Uncle Ryan said, as he continued the task of preparing the potatoes for baking. "Libby, I do my potatoes a little differently. After I oil them, I like to roll them in kosher salt. I think it adds a lot of flavor during the baking."

"I've never heard of that, but it sounds interesting."

"Trust me, you'll like the flavor," Uncle Ryan said, when he realized Mom still wasn't completely won over to the idea.

"Alright, what have you been up to?" Dad asked, when Uncle Jason returned with James and Nicole and saw the big grin on James' face.

"Uncle Jason let him drive back from the store," Nicole proclaimed.

"You're really brave, Jason," Dad asserted. "He's never driven in town before."

"He did fine," Uncle Jason said.

"At least he didn't wreck us," Nicole proudly announced.

"Craig, would you and James mind starting the grill while I get the steaks ready?" Uncle Jason asked.

"It's already done," I replied.

"Good deal," Uncle Jason said. "Thank you."

"These potatoes are wonderful," Mom said, when we were eating. "From now on I'll do mine this way."

"This is one of the best steaks I've ever eaten," Dan added.

"It's bison," Uncle Jason said.

"No kidding," Dan said. "I thought bison would be tough."

"That's what many think," Uncle Jason said. "But if butchered and prepared properly, bison is every bit as tender as a good beef steak."

"What's bison?" Nicole asked.

"Bison are what most western movies called buffalos," James began to explain. "There are two species of buffalos. In Africa they have the cape buffalo and in Asia they have the water buffalo. There are a few bison in parts of Europe, mostly in Poland. These are relatives of our bison."

"Is he a walking encyclopedia, or what?" Dan laughed.

"Pretty much so when it comes to science, and animals especially," Mom beamed. "He loves science programs on TV."

I awoke the next morning to the aroma of freshly brewed coffee. After using the bathroom and washing up, I went to the kitchen for my morning 'fix.' I took my coffee to the patio where I spotted my uncles enjoying their coffee.

"You're up early," Uncle Jason said, when I joined them.

"Yeah, the aroma of coffee was calling me, besides, I had to pee," I said. "You two are up early too."

"My cell phone woke us," Uncle Jason said. "People should make sure they have the right number before they dial, especially early in the morning."

"We'll have breakfast after everyone is awake," Uncle Ryan said. "I thought I'd make omelets since Nicole loves them so much."

"You two should have a kid," I smiled.

"In case you hadn't noticed, I don't think that is physically possible," Uncle Jason laughed. "What makes you think we should have a kid?"

"I know how great you've treated James and me, and Nicole too," I pointed out. "I also saw how much fun you were having with Dylan and Tyler. Have you thought about adopting?"

"Craig, get real," Uncle Jason said. "This is ultra conservative Kansas, they're not going to let a gay couple adopt."

"Well, maybe you could foster," I said. "Are there any laws against gays adopting or fostering here in Kansas?"

"There are none that I know of," Uncle Jason admitted. "But the system would find some way to prevent it."

"You're a good attorney," I pointed out. "You should fight for what's right."

"I see that the rest of the family is awake," Uncle Ryan said, ending the conversation. "I'll go start breakfast."

Home never looked so good - although we'd really enjoyed our vacation. As soon as we unloaded our bags, James and Nicole were begging me to drive them to pick up their dogs. It was difficult to tell if the dogs or their owners were happier to see each other. As soon as James opened the gate to their pen, Jake and Jude were showering James and Nicole with doggy kisses.

"How much do we owe?" I asked Rachel, as James and Nicole were ushering the dogs toward the vehicle.

"Dr. Schuler said there wouldn't be a charge since James works here and you provided the dogs' food," Rachel said.

By Monday morning the Turner household was back to normal. Dad and I went to the office and James rode his bicycle to the vet clinic. Mom was busy catching up with all of the laundry.

"Is Mr. Turner in?" I looked up from my book to see a gentleman who appeared to be in his mid forties.

"He went to the bank, but should be back any minute, if you'd like to wait for him."

"I'm Doug Schmidt," he said. "I'm the contractor that will be doing the remodeling of this building."

"I'm Craig, Dad said that you'd be coming by today," I said. "Could I get you something to drink?"

"No thank you, I'm fine."

"There's Dad now," I said, when I heard the back door being unlocked.

"Hello, Doug, I assume you've met my son Craig," Dad said.

"Yes, we've met," Doug said. "I thought we might do some preliminary planning for the remodeling."

"I'm ready to get started," Dad said. "We can work in my office if you like, or we can use the table here."

"This table would work just fine," Doug said, as he placed a laptop on the table. "I've already plugged the building dimensions into the computer program. All we have to do is design a floor plan that works for you. This building has been divided into equal sides. We'll work as quickly as possible., I know you're not looking forward to working in construction mess and noise."

"Not really," Dad said. "But this is something that needs to be done."

"Dad, since Irene has already moved out of the other side, why don't you have that side remodeled first," I said. "Since both sides are the same size, you could relocate your office to that side when it's finished. That way we wouldn't be in Doug's way during the remodeling."

"That sounds like a great idea," Dad said. "What do you think, Doug?"

"It would sure make my job easier," Doug said. "Let's go over some things that we have to do to meet the code. You'll need to keep the rear exit for a second fire exit and your restroom will have to be handicap accessible to meet the ADA requirements."

"Dad, would you like for me to go get something for lunch?" I asked, after Dad and Doug began swapping ideas about the job.

"I guess it is past lunch time," Dad said, as he looked at his watch.

"Doug, the restaurant in the next block has some decent sandwiches, if that would be okay with you," Dad said. "We can call in an order and Craig can go pick them up."

"That sounds good to me, but I'm buying," Doug said. "It's a business deduction. Craig, could you make sure that they give you a receipt?"

"Sure," I said.

"Craig, what do you think of this floor plan?" Dad asked, when I returned with the sandwiches.

"It looks good, but it looks like there is a lot of wasted space," I said.

"What would you do differently?" Dad asked.

"The restroom is really large," I pointed out. "Couldn't it be divided and have a men's and a women's restroom. You know how Mom gripes when one of us forgets to put the toilet seat down. She also said that men couldn't hit the side of the barn with a fire hose, much less the toilet."

"Good point," Doug said, as he laughed. "Let me see if it would still be large enough to be handicapped accessible."

"Let's eat first," Dad said. "I'm hungry."

"Craig, you're right, there is room for two restrooms and still be handicapped accessible," Doug said, after we'd finished eating and he'd resumed working. "Are there anymore recommendations?"

"I don't see a storage closet anywhere," I said. "We'd have supplies stacked on the floor otherwise. I'd put one on the opposite side of the room from the restrooms."

"Crap, I can't believe that I overlooked that," Doug said. "You're right, there needs to be a storage closet. Don, before I forget, do you have a tenant for the other half of the building?"

"None yet," Dad admitted.

"A representative of Pioneer Mortgage and Loan in Manhattan stopped at a construction job I was on and asked if the building would be for lease," Doug said. He said that they plan to open a branch office here. I told him that the one we were working on wasn't for lease, but I knew of one that would likely be available. I have his contact number if you want to contact him."

"I'd appreciate that very much," Dad said.

The next day, Dad brought home the printed floor plans that he and Doug had worked on. "I'm glad you decided on two restrooms," Mom said, when she looked over the plans.

"That's Craig's recommendation," Dad said.

"I don't see a kitchenette anywhere," Mom said. "You need a small kitchenette to make coffee and have a microwave. A small refrigerator would also be nice. Oh, you need a small sink for water for the coffee and to wash things."

"Where would you put it?" Dad asked.

"If you fill up that large closet, you're overstocking," Mom said. "I'd take a portion of the storage closet for a kitchenette."

A few days later, Mom announced that she would be going to the office since she might need to fill in for Tina after I went back to school. I think she just wanted to 'supervise' the remodeling job. The remodeling was progressing ahead of schedule. The mortgage company signed a lease for the space Dad's office occupied. They would move in as soon as we were in our new location and that portion could be remodeled.

"Hey, Hot Shot," Uncle Ryan began, when he called one evening. "Do you and James have plans for this Friday?"

"I have no plans, but I can't speak for James," I said. "Why do you ask?"

"Jason and I got four tickets for the off Broadway production of Cats," Uncle Ryan said. "We thought you and James might enjoy seeing it."

"I'd love to go," I eagerly agreed. "Dad is giving James one of his driving lessons, but I'll ask him when he gets home."

"Shoot, I have to work," James said, when I told him about the tickets.

"Why don't you trade days with Rachel?" I suggested.

"Rachel is going out of town," James said. "Why don't you take Nicole? I'll bet she would enjoy it."

"Where is Nicole?" I asked.

"She's in the kitchen with Mom where Mom is teaching her how to cook," James said.

"Nicole, do you want to go see the musical Cats?" I asked when I found her in the kitchen with Mom.

"Oh, yeah!" Nicole excitedly proclaimed. "When is it?"

"Friday," I said.

"I can't go Friday," Nicole frowned, unable to hide her disappointment. "I'm going to Kaylee's slumber party."

"Kaylee, is that Tina's daughter?" I asked.

"Her mother's name is Tina," Nicole said.

"Must be the same Tina," Mom said. "Craig, go and enjoy the show, there's is no need in all of you missing it."

"I think I'll go Thursday after work and shop for school clothes," I said. "It's a lot of fun to go shopping with Uncle Ryan."

"I can handle the office if you want to take the day off," Mom said. "I'll take Nicole and James shopping later. I'll put $500 in your account for your school clothes and supplies," Mom said, as she helped Nicole put a meatloaf in the oven. "If you need more, call me."

"Mom, I have money," I protested.

"It's our responsibility as parents to feed and clothe you and James," Mom said. "Your money is for your discretionary spending. Your Jeep is getting old and you'll need to start thinking about replacing it soon. Besides, James will get $500 too."

Uncle Ryan was so ready to go shopping and he hardly gave me time to use the bathroom before he was pushing me out the door, after I arrived Thursday. "Jason is meeting us in the food court at the mall for lunch," Uncle Ryan said. "Then we'll get started with some serious shopping."

Uncle Jason hugged me as though he hadn't seen me in years when he joined us for lunch. "It's too bad the squirt couldn't come with you," Uncle Jason said.

"Mom will be bringing him and Nicole to go shopping later," I said.

"Cool, I'll go with them and help," Uncle Ryan proclaimed.

"Imagine that," Uncle Jason said, as he squeezed Uncle Ryan's hand.

One thing I can say about Uncle Ryan, he's a bargain hound. I realized that I would have to get rid of some of my clothes to make room in my closet for the new ones. While I was paying for my purchases, Uncle Ryan said, "I'll meet you in the food court. I have something I need to take care of."

I finished paying for my items and then went to the food court and bought a Coke. I had finished most of my drink before Uncle Ryan finally arrived, toting a bag and said, "I'm ready if you are," not explaining the bag.

After putting my purchases in 'my' room, I went to find Uncle Ryan in the kitchen as he began to make plans for dinner. "I have something for you," he said, as he handed me a box containing a new Kindle E-reader.

"Thank you, Uncle Ryan," I said. "But I'm not sure I would use one."

"I didn't think I would either, but I love mine. I have one for James and one for Nicole also."

"This had to of cost you a lot of money."

"That's what nieces and nephews are for, to spend money on."

"Well, thank you. See what I mean about having a kid, have you and Uncle Jason applied to become foster parents yet?"

"We have, but haven't heard anything yet. The Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services did send someone to inspect the house and ask a few questions."

"At least they didn't tell you no."

"No, they didn't, but I have little hope. I have a chicken casserole ready for the oven. Get yourself something to drink and we'll visit while I prepare the rest of dinner."

"Uncle Ryan, may I ask you a personal question?"

"You may ask, but I may or may not give you an answer, depending on how personal."

"How did you know that you were in love with Uncle Jason?"

"I thought about him all the time. I'd get a warm feeling when I'd see him. I wanted to be near him, to hear his voice, and I had a warm feeling just holding his hand. Why do you ask?

"Seth has been calling asking me for a date. I've gone to movies with him, but he wants more, if you know what I mean. I'm not ready to go as far as he would like. I'm not even sure that I want to date him, especially after he accused me of trying to out him."

"If you feel that way, I don't think you love him. Do you like him?"

"Yeah, I guess. But I only like him as a friend."

"I think you'll know when you're really in love. Just don't confuse love with being horny."

After dinner, my uncles and I sat around and chatted. We talked mostly about my college plans, the family, and even books that we liked. The phone interrupted our chat, and Uncle Jason went to answer it.

"We're getting a foster kid," Uncle Jason said, when he returned. "They found a seven year old boy abandoned on I-70 at the rest stop. Ms. Lowery will be here with him in about 15 to 20 minutes."

"We're not approved yet," Uncle Ryan stated.

"Yes we are," Uncle Jason said. "They mailed the letter today. Ms. Lowery said that they had no home to place the boy in at this time except for us."

Ms. Lowery arrived with a dirty, skinny, malnourished little boy. His clothes were dirty and well-worn. He clung to Ms. Lowery's hand as though he knew he was about to be abandoned again. In spite of the dirt and clothes he appeared to be a cute kid.

"This is Derek Sears," Ms. Lowery said. "Derek, Ryan and Jason will be your foster dads."

"This is our nephew, Craig," Uncle Ryan said. "Derek, are you hungry?"

Derek nodded his head to the affirmative without answering.

"We stopped for a hamburger, but I was afraid to let him eat too much right off," Ms. Lowery said. "I was afraid that he might get sick."

"Come with me and we'll see if we can do something about that," Uncle Ryan said, as he took Derek's hand and led him to the kitchen.

"I brought a change of clothes for him, as well as new underwear, shoes, socks, and pajamas," Ms. Lowery said. "We didn't want him to put them on until after he's had a bath. I have a voucher for the purchases of more new clothes for him. Now, I understand that your partner is a teacher and will be home during the day until school starts back."

"That's correct," Uncle Jason said. "What do you know about Derek's parents?"

"He doesn't know who his father is," Ms. Lowery said. "I suspect that his mother is a prostitute. He said that she dates a lot of men. He said that they lived in California, but didn't know where they were going. His mother had told him that the man she was with was his new daddy, he didn't know the last name, but the man's first name is Bob. Derek said that Bob hit him a couple of times because he said he was hungry. When he said that he had to pee, Bob hit him again and stopped at the next rest stop. When Derek came out, they were gone. A Kansas state trooper happened to stop and saw him just sitting at a picnic table alone."

"Poor little kid," Uncle Jason said.

"It took us a while to get him to talk," Ms. Lowery said. "He seems to be intelligent, but we're not sure if he attended school regularly. He gave me the name of his school in California, and I'll contact them tomorrow for his school records. I'll also order a copy of his birth certificate. I'm sure you'll need all of that to get him enrolled in school."

"Are they looking for his mother?" Uncle Jason asked.

"Yes, but if you're worried that she will get Derek back, I'd say that it's highly unlikely," Ms. Lowery said. "Abandonment is pretty serious, that and the physical abuse. Since she may be a street walker it may be difficult to find her. In a way, I hope we don't find her for a while. The longer it takes, the less likely there will be a reunification. I know I'm not supposed to say that, but he's not had a very good home life."

"Derek was really hungry," Uncle Ryan said, when he and Derek returned.

"It was really good," Derek said. Apparently Uncle Ryan had gained his trust.

"Derek, I'm going now," Mrs. Lowery said. "I'll be in contact with you gentlemen Monday. We need to have him seen by a doctor and a dentist, and I'll bring the paperwork around for that. This envelope is the letter authorizing him to be under your care. If you need anything, my office and cell phone numbers are in there too."

"Derek, Ms. Lowery brought you some new pajamas," Uncle Jason said. "Let's get you in the bath, then you can put them on."

"I've never had pajamas before," Derek said.

"These are Batman pajamas," Uncle Jason said.

"Oh, boy!" Derek shrieked.

"It looks like we'll be going shopping again tomorrow," Uncle Ryan said, after Uncle Jason took Derek for his bath. "And he seriously needs a haircut too."

"I'm taking tomorrow off, I have no court cases," Uncle Jason said, after Derek was in bed. "I want to help shop for him. We need to ask Harley and Marlene next door who their pediatrician is. I noticed some bruises on Derek when he was bathing, both old and new. I want him seen by a doctor tomorrow if at all possible."

Derek seemed to genuinely enjoy his pancakes and bacon breakfast the next morning. He almost cried when he dropped some syrup on his new pajamas. "Don't worry about it," Uncle Ryan said, while giving him a hug. "We can wash them. Besides, we'll be buying you some more pajamas today."

"But I don't have any money," Derek said.

"Ms. Lowery left some money, and we'll make up the rest," Uncle Ryan said.

"Will I stay here by myself when you go?" Derek asked in a serious tone.

"No, you're going with us," Uncle Jason said. "You'll have to try on your new clothes to make sure they fit you."

"I get new one?" Derek asked. "Mommy always bought used ones from yard sales."

"Of course you get new ones," Uncle Ryan assured him. "Now why don't you go wash up and put on your new clothes."

"Do you want me to help you?" I asked.

"Uh-huh," Derek said.

"First, we need to wash the syrup off of your hands and face," I laughed. To which I got a smile through a syrup smeared face.

"He needs a belt," I said, when we returned from Derek's room. "His jeans are a little large. If you want, I can drive to Wal-Mart and get him one."

"That'd be great," Uncle Jason said. "On the other hand, maybe I should go with you. He's going to need a booster seat to legally ride in a car."

"What are you going to have Derek call you and Uncle Ryan," I asked, as we drove to Wal-Mart.

"You called Libby and Don Mom and Dad right off," Uncle Jason said. "What do you think?"

"That just seemed right to me," I admitted. "I think you should discuss it with him like Mom and Dad did with me, and I'd do it before we even go shopping. Remember he'll have two dads, so maybe it should be different for each of you. It could be that Derek would just like to call you Jason and Ryan, but I think you should let him decide though."

"You know you're pretty smart," Uncle Jason said, as he patted my shoulder.

When we returned, I helped Derek with his new belt while Uncle Jason talked to Uncle Ryan about our conversation. Derek giggled when I said, "Now maybe your jeans won't slide down and show your butt crack."

"Derek, you know that our names are Jason and Ryan, don't you?" Uncle Jason began.

"Uh-huh," Derek said.

"We both hope you get to live with us for a long, long time," Uncle Jason said. "We'll be your parents as long as you live with us."

"We want you to be comfortable in what you call us," Uncle Ryan picked up the conservation.

"Craig is my nephew because my sister and her husband adopted him," Uncle Jason said. "Craig calls them Mom and Dad. What do you want to call us?"

"Would I have two dads?" Derek asked.

"Yeah, I guess that would be a little confusing, wouldn't it?" Uncle Jason said.

"Maybe I could call you Daddy Jason and Daddy Ryan when it's both of you, and just Daddy when it's only one of you," Derek said, after some thinking.

"Then that's the way it will be," Uncle Ryan said. "Derek, we need to let you see Dr. Stratford. It won't take long and then we'll go shopping."

"Okay, Daddy," Derek giggled. This caused Uncle Ryan to beam.

The doctor's visit didn't take long and we were soon on our way to the mall. While Derek was getting a haircut, Uncle Jason divulged to me that the doctor said that Derek was in good health except for being underweight for his age, and that he'd documented the bruises.

"My you look handsome," Uncle Jason said, when Derek got down from the barber chair. Derek rewarded us with his cute little boy giggle.

After several bags of clothes, we went to the food court where we got lemonades and pretzels. I got the garlic pretzel, Derek got the cinnamon sugar pretzel, Uncle Ryan got the jalapeno pretzel, and Uncle Jason got the sour cream and onion pretzel. It became obvious that Derek had rarely received treats, as he savored the pretzel.

After our snacks, Uncle Ryan wanted to go to the bookstore and purchase some books for Derek. From there we went to a sandwich shop. Derek surprised us by consuming an entire sandwich. Following our lunch, we drove back to the house and dropped off the large amount of purchases before going to a Toys R Us to shop for toys.

It was likely that Derek'd never had many toys. I noticed Derek eyeing a bicycle as we walked by the bicycles. "Would you like to have a bicycle?" I asked.

"I've never had one and don't know how to ride," Derek said.

"Pick out one you like and I'll get it for you," I offered. "Uncle Jason and Uncle Ryan can teach you how to ride it."

"Keep your money," Uncle Jason said. "We'll get it for him."

"No, I want to do this," I insisted. "As you know, I can afford it. Derek, let's pick out one that fits you and that you like."

"Is this young man looking for a new bike?" A handsome young salesman, who was maybe a couple of years older than me, walked up and asked. "I'm Mark and I'd be pleased to help you."

"Yes, I'm getting him his first bike," I said.

"Let me guess, he's your nephew," Mark said.

"No, my cousin," I said.

"I knew you had to be related somehow, you have the same good looks," Mark smiled. "Now, which bike do you like?"

"That one," Derek said, pointing at a BMX Mongoose.

"Excellent choice," Mark said. "That one happens to be on sale. It's marked down from $179.99 to $139.99."

"Derek, I think that one is a little big for you," I said.

"Come over here Derek," Mark said. "I think the seat will adjust down to your size. This is a bike that can be adjusted so that he can use it for a few years. I can adjust it for you, let me get the tools and I'll be right back."

"I need to pee," Derek said, after Mark went to get the tools.

"I'll take you," Uncle Ryan said, as he took Derek's hand.

"Mark was flirting with you," Uncle Jason said, as we waited.

"He was not," I argued. "He was just trying to make a sale."

"Craig, you need to get your gaydar checked," Uncle Jason laughed. "He definitely was flirting with you."

"Derek, come and look at these helmets," I said, as soon as he and Uncle Ryan returned from the restroom. I wanted to purchase Derek a helmet, but I also wanted to change the subject. "Which one of these do you like?"

"I like that one." Derek pointed to a black helmet with red flames.

"That one will make you go really fast," I joshed. Derek again rewarded us with his cute giggle.

"We'll eat out tonight," Uncle Ryan said, as we drove back to the house. "Derek, you get to see Cats tonight."

"Could I see puppies instead?" Derek asked.

"Cats is a musical show," Uncle Ryan said, suppressing a laugh. "I think you'll like it."

"Would you like to have a puppy?" Uncle Jason asked.

"Uh-huh," Derek answered.

"I guess we'll have to see what we can do about that," Uncle Jason said.

"They're always getting puppies at the vet clinic," I said. "I'll bet James could get you a nice one."

"Ask him what he can get for Derek," Uncle Jason said. "If he has something, we'll drive there and let Derek pick it out."

"Do I really get a puppy?" Derek asked.

"Will you take good care of it?" Uncle Ryan asked.

"I will if you'll show me how?" Derek said.

"I'm glad that we left the doggy door in when we moved into the house," Uncle Jason said.

We all enjoyed the performance of Cats, especially Derek. However, he was sleepy when the show was over and asleep by the time we got back to the house. Uncle Jason carried him into the house and put him to bed without waking him up.

When I woke up the next morning and went to the kitchen, Derek was sitting at the table drinking apple juice; his helmet next to him. "I'm going to learn to ride my bike today," he informed me.

After a big breakfast, Uncle Jason decided to teach Derek to ride his bicycle in the back yard. Uncle Ryan and I took our coffee to the back patio to watch. "This morning Derek said that if his mom came to get him he was going to hide," Uncle Ryan said. "I told him that she wouldn't be allowed to take him unless a judge said that it was okay. He seemed to be happy about that."

"Since he may have missed a lot of school, do you think he will be behind?" I asked.

"It's likely," Uncle Ryan said. "I'll take him Monday to get him tested, and if needed, we'll get him in a tutoring program."

After about 30 minutes, Derek was able to ride his bike, although he was somewhat wobbly and had trouble operating the gears and brakes. During much of the time that Derek was riding, Uncle Ryan was busy taking pictures.

The family was delighted to learn that we had a new family member. They were all eager to meet him. James was elated that he would have the opportunity to help find a puppy for Derek.

On Wednesday, James came home excited with the news that he had found a puppy for Derek, a French bulldog. "Mrs. Ballard is selling him to me because he had to have hernia surgery," James said. "I'm getting him for $200."

"Two hundred dollars is really cheap for a French bulldog, they are at least $1200," Dad pointed out. "Why is he so cheap?"

"She can't sell him as a breeder, she originally wanted $500 for him," James said. "But she said that she would take $200 if I'd pay his vet bill. And Dr. Schuler wouldn't take any money for the vet bill. Dr. Schuler thought it'd be best if he stayed at the clinic until Friday. He's afraid that he might try to play with Jake and pop a stitch from his surgery."

"What if Derek doesn't like the puppy?" Mom asked.

"He's friendly and really cute," James said. "I'm sure Derek will like him, but if he doesn't, I'll keep him."

"How old is this pup?" Dad asked.

"He's two months old," James said. "And he's already house broken."

Uncle Jason, Uncle Ryan, and Derek arrived Friday evening with Derek clinging to them much as he had Ms. Lowery. Derek did let me hug him, but avoided everyone else. I could tell that Mom and Grandma wanted to give him hugs, but instead gave him some space.

"Why didn't Jake come to greet us?" Uncle Jason asked.

"I locked him in the garage for now," James said. "I wanted Derek to meet somebody in the back yard first."

"Derek, James has a surprise for you," Uncle Ryan said. "Do you want to go with him?"

"Do you want us to go with you?" Uncle Jason asked when Derek shook his head no.

"Uh-huh," Derek said.

A cute little fawn colored French bulldog ran to greet us as soon as we entered the back yard. He ran directly to Derek as if to say, "I'm your new friend."

It appeared to be love at first sight. "What's his name?" Derek asked, when he finally found his voice.

"He doesn't have one yet," James said. "He's waiting for you to give him one."

"Hi, Gus," Derek said, thus giving him his name.

"He heard that name when we went to see Cats," Uncle Ryan explained.

"Who does Gus belong to?" Derek asked.

"He belongs to a little boy who will love him and take really good care of him," Uncle Jason smiled.

"If I had a dog like him, I'd love and take really good care of him," Derek said.

"That's good, because he's your dog," James said.

"He's really mine?" Derek asked in disbelief.

"Don't you think you should give James a hug for getting him for you?" Uncle Ryan suggested. Derek quickly gave James a hug and then picked Gus up and hugged him.

"Don't you have a dog?" Derek asked James.

"I sure do," James said. "His name is Jake, and he's in the garage. I'll go get him and you can meet him. Gus has already met him and they've been playing."

"I have a dog too," Nicole said. "Her name is Jade, and she's Jake's sister."

Derek giggled as Jake and Gus played. First, they played tag and then tug of war with a rope that James gave them.

"Dinner is ready," Mom called out. "Derek, you can bring Gus in with you." Mom said, apparently noticing that Derek was hesitant to leave his pup.

"Derek, come with me and I'll show you where you can wash your hands," I said.

"I hope everybody likes schnitzels," Mom said. "I haven't made them in a long time."

"These taste just like the ones Mom and Grandma used to make," Uncle Jason said.

"It's Grandma's recipe," Mom said. "I also used her potato salad recipe, the one she brought from Austria."

"This is good," Derek said, as he finished off his schnitzel.

"Would you like another one?" Mom asked.

"You may want to save some room for Grandma's chocolate pie," I pointed out.

"We have horses," Nicole said, after she and Derek had finished off a large slice of pie. "Do you want to go see them?"

"Sure," Derek said, as he picked up Gus.

"Son, you probably should leave Gus here," Uncle Jason said. "He isn't used to horses and they may step on him."

"He has a leash," James said, when Derek appeared torn between seeing the horses and leaving Gus. "I had him on it when we brought him home and he did fine. I'll go with you to make sure he doesn't get crushed by a horse."

"We had him tested, and he is only slightly behind in school for his age," Uncle Ryan said, after the three had gone to see the horses. "We'll get a tutor for him until he's caught up."

"I hope you two don't get too attached to him," Mom said. "It would be a shame to have to give him up."

"Well, it's too late," Uncle Ryan said. "We already love him."

"Sis, you and Don took in James and Craig," Uncle Jason said. "It appears to me that worked out just fine."

"Yes, but you're a gay couple," Mom said. "This is Kansas, and not Vermont. I know those do-gooders will be looking for a chance to get him away from the influence of you bad, evil gay parents."

Please send your comments or suggestions to Owen Hudson