Our summer was going great! The boys were having a ball with the new pool and Lewis was having fun with Karen, and occasionally Joshua, learning yet another new skill, this time in the deep water of the three-foot pool.
But just about when I thought things couldn't be better, I got a very stressful sounding call.
"Tim, I'm in big trouble! You have to rescue me, please!"
Lennie, my buddy from the Marines, sounded pathetic. I couldn't imagine what he would need help with.
"Calm down, Lennie and tell me what gives."
"It's this house. I swear you can cut the estrogen with a knife. I have got to get out of here for a few days."
I was laughing at him. I hadn't been with two girls in the house long enough to experience what he'd been going through, but I could imagine.
"And what's worse, her sister is coming over for the whole week. Yikes! I'm too young to die from a female overdose. Save me, Tim!"
"Hah! So, you want to come over for part of your sister-in-law's stay, is that it?"
"Yeah, really I was thinking that maybe you and the boys would like to go camping or something. You know, real he-man stuff. Whaddya think?"
"Oh, man, Lennie, didn't we just spend a year in the desert doing just that? Camping?"
"Well, yeah, but I can almost guarantee that this time no one will want to shoot at us."
"Yeah, there is that. So, what did you have in mind? Oh, and I don't have a lick of equipment. I can get things like sleeping bags and even a tent. But . . ."
"Oh, don't worry about that. My family is really into camping. Between what my brother and I have I could outfit a small army."
"Okay, why don't you and the girls come over for dinner tonight or tomorrow and we can talk about the details. I'm sure the guys would love the experience. Oh, and I'll probably invite some of the guys you've met at one of the parties here."
"Sounds good. Hold on, Tim." Lennie covered the mouthpiece and I could hear him mumble something. Soon he was back talking to me. "Yes, if tomorrow is okay, we're there! The wife is all for getting rid of me too," he said with a laugh.
We made plans for them to come over early and bring suits, especially for the little princess. I was looking forward to their three-year-old meeting Lewis.
I decided not to get the boys riled up about going camping until it was certain. But I did start to sift through some issues that I knew would have to be addressed. One was Lewis. He was almost eight months old, and I thought he would be too young to go camping. One reason was that I wanted the boys to be free to do whatever and, for the most part, have kind of a rest from their duties as well. While I knew that Lewis's curiosity would be ignited by a trip into the woods, I also decided he was too young for us to deal with any problems that could arise. I knew that tons of families must take even newborns camping. I didn't want to take any chances. Call me a worry-wart but that's the decision I made.
"Hello? Um, this is the Cottington's phone and you're talking to Tyler Cottington."
I loved calling the Cottingtons.
"Hi, Tyler, this is Tim McGi . . . "
"Oh, Tim! What a wonderful surprise. I've found that answering the phone is so great because I never know who will be on the other end. It's almost like unwrapping a birthday gift each time the phone rings. And many times, as now, I'm excited to hear a friend's voice talking to me."
"Well, Tyler, that's a good way to look at it. How have you been doing?"
"I'm doing really well, thank you. I go to the library several times a week and get to read any book I choose. The nice thing is, I don't have to store them, um, memorize them because they'll always be in that wonderful old building. Isn't that, um, cool?"
Tyler was talking with more enthusiasm in his voice than I've heard in him, as though it just kept building day by day. He also seemed to be brimming with confidence. Gone was the shy one, at least with people he knew very well.
"Have you taken on any other projects, like, say, learning to drive or some classes or anything?"
"Um, well, now that you mention it, we have talked about me learning to drive an automobile, in fact, the same one that mom drives. But I think I'd like to wait for a while. There are just too many things that I can do without having that kind of responsibility so soon. Do you think that's a good decision, Tim?"
His language, while still a bit stiff and formal sounding, was taking on some casualness that was making him even more endearing to me. I caught myself having to shake my thoughts back to reality after he asked me his question; I was so caught up in listening to him.
"Tyler, I think you are a very smart young man and wise to come up with that decision. Does your mom agree with you?"
"Oh, yes. But she's so kind and loving. I think she'd agree to anything I asked that didn't hurt someone. Don't you think she's just the most generous person you know?"
"I know that she's a wonderful person, Tyler, and one of the proudest mothers I have ever known."
"Oh, um, well . . ."
I could just see the boy blushing with the phone up to his ear.
"But, um, well, I suppose that you'd like to talk to my mom now, is that right? I say that because most of the calls we receive are for her even though some people, like you and, oh, Dan, talk to me before you talk to her."
"Well, this time you're right, Tyler. But know that talking with you is always high on my list of my happy things to do."
"Oh, thank you, Tim. I really enjoy it when you call too because you always ask me interesting things that we can talk about. Some people are just too busy to talk, I suppose. They just want me to hand the phone to my mom. So . . . ."
"Wait, Tyler. I do have an important question to ask you."
"Oh, really? How wonderful! Okay."
"Tyler, I'm planning a camping trip that will include the men and boys in several families, like Dan's, and I was wondering if you'd like to be included. We haven't decided on a time frame yet, but it may be as soon as Monday and could last for three or four days."
I didn't hear anything for a moment and then,
"'Camping: A place where an army or other groups of persons or an individual is lodged in a tent or tents or other temporary means of shelter.'"
"Um, yes, but . . ."
"'Trip: To catch one's foot on something and stumble or fall.' Um, Tim, is it possible I'm not seeing the correct use of these words? I'm not sure I see the fun of us all falling down in a camping tent."
I couldn't help it. I burst out laughing and I'm sure it must have shocked the young man. I tried very hard to get control before I tried to explain.
"Oh, Tyler, forgive me, but it was just so perfect when I heard you use those definitions."
"Tim, there's no reason for forgiving you. I mean, I'm getting used to saying things that make people laugh. And while I don't usually understand why that might be, I do find great satisfaction in, as my mom tells me quite often, making your day."
"That sure is a positive way to look at it. Now, do me a favor and go back to the definition of camping. Maybe as a verb, like to camp."
"Oh, sir, maybe this is more like what you mean. It certainly sounds like quite an adventure. It says, 'to live temporarily in or as if in a camp or outdoors, usually for recreation (often followed by out): They camped by the stream for a week.'"
"Yes, that's more like it."
"Oh, good. Where is there such a stream? Is it close by?"
"Well, we don't have to be by a stream though we may find a place with several things to do, like swimming and hiking and even horseback riding."
"Oh my! I, um, I never could imagine something so . . . So . . . Well, I just don't know."
"Okay then, while you're thinking about that, use that smart brain of yours to find a noun under the word 'trip.'"
"Oh, how about this verse? 'An act of going to a place and returning; a journey or excursion, especially for pleasure: Sally's gone on a school trip."
"Yes, that's much better."
"But of course, you said only boys and men and I remember Sally being the name of the little sister of Dick and Jane in one of my first books. So, since she's a little girl, she won't be going. Right?"
"Right as usual, Tyler, and it won't be a school trip, it'll be a camping trip."
"O-o-oh, of course. Well, it's all very interesting."
"Tyler, do you know how to swim?"
"Um, no. I haven't tried. The only water I've been to that I didn't drink was in your yard and I believe it would have been very hard to swim in that cute little pool of water."
Tyler hadn't been over since we got the new, larger pool, though it still would have been too small for him to actually swim in.
"Yes, I can see your point. Maybe we can do something about that on our trip. Does it sound like something you'd like to experience, Tyler?"
"Sir, you mentioned your family, which would include everyone, since they're all boys, and Dan's family, since they are boys as well. I think I'd like to try anything that I can share with both of your families, Tim. I enjoy you all so, so much."
"Thank you, Tyler. I'm sure all the boys will be very excited to know that you would like to join us, though they don't know about it yet. Also, I don't think that Lewis is old enough to fully appreciate such a trip, and that's why I called to talk to your mom. May I?"
"Um, no, I'm afraid she isn't home right now. Oh, I wasn't supposed to say . . . But you aren't a stranger, Tim. Mom is afraid if I tell a stranger that she isn't home that someone may come here and hurt me."
"Yes, though I think it's a very remote possibility. She may be concerned that there still may be trouble resulting from the deaths of the old man and the Sheriff."
"Oh," I heard softly from the young man on the other end of the phone call.
"Tyler, could you have your mother call me when she gets home? I'd really appreciate that."
"Oh, yes, of course. Um, does she have your telephone number? Oh, of course, she does. I've been with her when she has called you. I think that's all I need to ask you, Tim."
"Son, it's been a nice experience talking to you as always. I really hope you're able to come with us. You're really the first one in our families that knows about it except me, of course."
"Oh, that's very exciting. I think I should like a camping trip, Tim," he said, emphasizing the words 'camping trip'. And I'll have mom call you soon."
We said our goodbyes, and I decided to call Dan. It was the middle of the week, so I called his cell phone.
"Deputy Sheriff Perkins."
"Dan, how is one of my favorite people?" I asked him.
"Finer 'n' frog's hair, my friend. What's up with you?" he answered, sounding as chipper as ever.
"Oh, nothing much except I have an adventure for you to consider."
"Hmmm, is this like a professional adventure, like kidnappings or domestic violence or some such thing?"
"Oh, no, no, no. Nothing like that. This is the fun, bring all the boys, kind of adventure."
"Now we're talkin'. I like that kind. What gives?"
"Well, Lenny, my friend from the Marines, called and pleaded with me to take the boys camping with him so he can get away from the estrogen as thick as custard in his house. Added to that, his sister-in-law is visiting for a week starting next Monday. So, I thought I'd invite your troops to romp the hills with us, blaze trails, search for wild game and otherwise do nothing except get pine needles in our shorts."
"Ha! It's a good thing you were never a salesman, Tim. You really suck at drumming up the interest."
"Yeah, well, I'm still not convinced I want to go back to living in tents again and eat sand every day, though, as Lenny pointed out, there'd be considerably less chance of someone shooting at us."
"Ha, ha, ha. I like Lenny more and more all the time. So, you think you want to go this... when... Monday?"
"Yeah, something like that. I know it's short notice, but the man is desperate. I also realize that I'm not confined to a job like you are, so getting away is a bit easier for me."
"Yeah, but now that I have a great boss and we pretty much cleared up a great investigation, it won't be too hard to get the time off."
"Okay, so it's boys only, except I'm trying to see if your Linda Sue will babysit Lewis for me. I'm just afraid he's still too young to be in the woods. I know I'm a worry-wart."
"I wouldn't say that. Knowing us, we'd probably misplace him or something. Try explaining that to Linda Sue when we get back without him. Oh, so are you inviting Tyler, too? And Jeb and Joshua?"
"Yes, and even Enrique, if that's alright with you."
"Yes, of course. It used to be better to have a clean break from former foster kids, but this last group is pretty unique. In fact, besides wanting to adopt Denver, I'm beginning to think about Melvin as well."
"Really? What brought that on, if I may ask?"
"Oh, I had a talk with his social worker, and he seems to think he really has no place to go. His family was pretty messed up, into drugs, and is now either incarcerated or in the hospital because of drug-related problems."
"Wow. I remember that you didn't know where he was coming from when you got him. I guess you're finding more about him as time goes on?"
"Yeah, kind of. Plus, he's been wanting to talk more and more. If it helps him grow, I'm certainly willing to listen. And he's been doing so well, especially since his heroic act, literally saving Denver from the kidnapping attempt."
"Such as it was, luckily for all of you. It was the best and the worst thing to have happen, but it sure cleared the way for putting an end to a lifetime of horrors caused by that group of men."
"Yes, I'll say. And with the help of the FBI, by the way, we've been able to find a few more kids. None of them are local anymore. It will be a long process of determining what happens to them now. Fortunately, the feds have people that specialize in that kind of thing."
The tone got a little bit somber and quiet for a minute. The subject wasn't high on either of our lists of happy thoughts.
"Okay, enough of that. On a more positive note, let me ask the boys, like I don't know what they'll say, while you ask who you're going to. We have some coolers and camping equipment and even sleeping bags. The boys have been a couple of times, like overnight. But they've also pitched the tent in the backyard and made the most of that setting last summer when it got scorchingly hot."
"Well, good. I'm guessing that Elliot has been to that church's camp, but I'm sure his parents never took him, well, anyplace, really. I'm also pretty sure AJ and Jeffy have never been, though Jeffy may have gone with his dad before he was, um, well, before he died."
"Okay, um, I think I'll ask my brother if he'd like to come, if that's okay. He has a boy and a girl, and I'll bet the two men would like to be a part of such a group outing. Cliff, his boy, is only a year or two younger than Ralph. It actually sounds like a lot of fun as we keep adding people."
"It does. And I can't wait to meet your brother. We all have a bit in common."
"We sure do. I'm just glad we can all concentrate on the good things that have happened in our lives after, well, after the other things."
We talked for a few more minutes and I decided to call Jeb.
"Tarnation, phone! Whatever happened to messenger pigeons? Hello?"
"Hello, Mr. Happy-go-lucky! I hear you're having trouble with your phone again," I teased him.
"I'm happ . . . How did you know I'm having . . . Oh, I guess I was a squawkin' as I picked up this here damned contraption to my ear. I could have been strangled by the damn curly cord. I may have marks on my neck for a while, ya know."
"Jeb, you are without a doubt the funniest old codger I know."
"Well, thank you, Tim. I . . . Wait! I'm likely the only old codger you know, you whippersnapper!"
"Well, there's that, yes," I answered, still laughing.
"Okay, I'm a guessin' you didn't call just to hear me whine and strangle myself. What's on your mind, boy?"
"Jeb, I sure love to talk to you. I just got off the phone with Tyler a few minutes ago and he's just as interesting no matter what the subject or situation. I love you both so much."
"You called to tell me that?"
"Hah! No, I called to invite both you and Joshua on a camping trip, probably for three or four days starting this coming Monday. What do you think about that?"
"Hmmm, sounds like a fine idea. I can bet that Joshua will go for it. But it's not for a man of my age to drag himself into the woods, lay down on the nice hard ground and then try to get up three times in three days. Hah! I can barely swing out of bed as it is. Honestly, son, I'll take a waiver until another life, if you don't mind. I do okay but I'm too old to take those kinds of chances."
"Oh, I don't know, Jeb. You seem to be getting younger every day."
"Thanks, son, but you should see me when I fall into bed at night, plum tuckered out. It's all I can do to wake up long enough so I can go to sleep, I swear. No, you take Joshua and have a great time. But, wait. I'll hang this cord around his neck, and you can talk to him about your plans. But promise me, if he starts talkin' nonsense about needin' to stay here to work on this old shack and earn his keep, you just tell him the what-for and make him take a much-needed break."
"I'll do that, Jeb."
There was a slight pause. The only thing I heard was Jeb cursing out the phone cord. It sounded like he was still trying to untangle himself when I heard another voice.
"Ha ha, Mr. Harding, how did you get that cord wrapped around you?"
"Joshua, it's out to get me, ta strangle me. Help get it off. There're scissors in the kitchen drawer. Now, hurry. I haven't got long ta go."
Jeb sounded like he was getting a bit riled up. Even so I could hear Joshua chuckling.
"We don't have to cut it, just get this part over . . . There you go. See you weren't even close to being strangled."
"Not that kinda not long ta go. I gotta pee like a fountain. Get out the way, young 'an! Oh, and talk to Tim. He's got a deal for you."
"A deal? Hello?"
"Joshua, that must have been some scene. You must be rolling on the floor all the time over there."
"I will say he keeps me in stitches quite a lot of the time. He is such a great man, you know. And I will be forever in his debt because of his generosity to me in just this short time."
"I know what you mean about his generosity and he does make for a wonderful friend, for a great variety of reasons beyond that. But listen, Joshua, I don't really have a deal. It's more like a threat."
"Okay, here's the deal. Oh, well, anyway, all the guys, men and boys that is, in several families are going on a camping trip beginning Monday and lasting for several days. I'm calling to invite you along. You already know most of the guys and all the boys would be really disappointed if you didn't go, so I'm already writing your name down."
"Um, you are? I mean, it sounds so cool and all, but what about Mr. Harding? I really have a ton of work to do and I'm not sure it's good to leave him alone for that long."
"Joshua, first of all, Jeb Harding has made it this far. He's lived on his own for decades and done pretty okay. I think he can make it for four days. Second, you need to relax and enjoy the beauty of our great state. We haven't picked our destination yet, but I know it will be spectacular."
"Wow, sir, you really make a compelling argument in favor of me enjoying myself and the rest of you. But I have a question."
"Sure, go ahead, Joshua."
"Um, you mentioned a threat. What's the threat?"
"Young man," I heard Jeb bellowing in the background, "The threat was to make you go or else. I hadn't really figured out all the particulars of the consequences had you said no, but they would have been agonizingly painful, I'm sure. Since I heard you say you'd go, you saved me the trouble of doing whatever I would have done, probably to your hide or something."
"Mr. Harding, if you will excuse my language, you are so full of it. But I love you just the same." Joshua was already laughing.
"See? You've got good taste too, young 'n."
I honestly believe that they were laughing and squawking at each other for so long that they forgot about me on the phone. I even thought about a way to wire up their house so I could record and listen to what goes on over there morning to night. Hah!
"Boys, have we ever talked about whether you've had any experience camping?"
"Ugh! If you mean camp, Pop, I've had my fill of them for a very long lifetime. I'd really rather not, if you don't mind," moaned Elliot.
"You mean you'd really rather not talk about it or you'd really rather not go camping, El," asked Jeffy of his brother.
"I mean I'd really rather not . . . Well, now that you mention it, I'd really rather not talk about my experience at camp or go there again."
"Elliot, I figured you must have had some experience at an organized camp setting and figured it was at your old church's campgrounds where you boys were taken," I told him.
"Exactly. I did have a few good moments when it was just the other kids and I, except for sometimes when they called me names when the pastor changed and so did the people in the last few years. I didn't have a good time when there were any of the adults leading things. It just wasn't what I thought a camp should be like. And it was all after our good pastor left, you know."
"Well, that is regretful, Elliot. But I was talking about going camping, like with all of us and go somewhere that we could put up some tents and go hiking, maybe find a pond or something to go swimming in."
"Wow, Dad, that'd be way cool. I've never been to that kinda thing before. I've never been on any trip before."
"I also figured that was what you'd say, AJ. Your experiences were few and far between, weren't they?"
We were all sitting in the living room. AJ was on the floor in front of me next to Lewis, who was in his walker batting at or grabbing various colorful toys in front of him. Elliot had been reading on the couch since his place by the back, double doors to the deck was boarded up during that phase of the remodeling. And Jeffy was on the floor in front of the couch, just vegging.
All the boys came to attention when I asked them about camping.
But, my beautiful young son smiled his answer to me when I asked him about his experiences.
"Yup, Dad," he told me, "My only real experiences started when you bought me that milkshake."
I think both he and I drifted into a place we'd been, weeks before, at a less comfortable time for both of us, but a time that started something that would forever be the beginning of a new life for both of us.
I came back to the living room when I felt AJ's hand on my knee and opened my eyes to see him smiling up at me. My hand fell onto his and I happily returned his smile.
"Jeffy, did you ever go camping with your dad?" I asked.
"Well, not camping really. But he took me fishing a few times. We even went out in a boat with a friend of my dad's. At least I think that's who he was. I was really young. And just being with my dad was the best."
"Okay, so, boys, my favorite thing is to take you guys to places where we can experience new things. Wait, that's not true."
"What I mean is, my favorite thing with each of you is you being right next to me or in my lap or every time we get to hug. That's my very favorite. Like tucking you in at night or taking care of your hurts or when you're sick. But experiences, like taking you to the steak house for lunch the other day, are so great, to see you all enjoy something like our meal."
"Oh, oh, and like the huge swimming pool you bought us, huh?" piped up AJ, scooting even closer to me.
Lewis tried to scoot too, but the walker was on the carpet and didn't move very well on that surface. So, he let out a grunt of frustration and AJ pulled him closer to both of us.
"Or like taking us to the fair, Pop?"
"Yes, Jeffy. I loved watching you all when I could. So, let me tell you what happened earlier today."
I then related my conversation with Lenny to them. They laughed at Lenny's talk about his women, after I explained estrogen to two of my boys.
"You know about that stuff, El?" asked Jeffy.
"Well, some of that we got in health and articles I've read in magazines, but only after I came here."
"So, guys, I think we'd have a great time. I think we may need a whole bus to cart all these guys to someplace, but it looks like we're going this Monday."
"Oh," said Elliot, quietly. "Um, do I have to go?"
"You don't wanna go with us, Elliot," asked his little brother.
"Well, yeah, it's not that I don't want to go," answered the boy with his head down, but not far enough down that I didn't notice him blushing. "It's that . . . "
"Elliot, excuse me for interrupting but if we go, would you be willing to ask Mr. Fuentes, Enrique and his brother to come with us?"
You'd think a searchlight went off in the room! Elliot lit up, sat a bit straighter and smiled a wonderful smile. I'm not sure where the book ended up.
"Really, Pop? Oh, wow, that would be so awesome. I'd go in a minute if he, I mean, if they could go. I could call right now if you want."
I couldn't hold in my laughter at the excited boy.
"Wow, Elliot. You'd do that for me? Call over to the Fuentes for me?"
"Po-op, that's not that funny." But he couldn't keep from laughing either.
"Oh, I should tell you that Joshua is planning on going too."
"Uh oh," said Jeffy.
I thought Elliot was sitting up as straight as he could, but I swear he rose up another few inches, then blushed a deeper red than before when he noticed us all staring at him with our collective mouths open.
"Okay, now the bad news," I said, looking at Lewis as he smiled back at me.
"Gee, Dad, what could be bad about getting to go camping with all our friends?"
"Yeah, you gonna make us the pack horses when we hike inta someplace?" asked Jeffy.
"Well, that's not a bad idea," I quipped.
Elliot reached over and bonked Jeffy on his head. "Good going, lamebrain, giving him ideas."
But we all laughed at their silliness. I loved my boys so much.
"No, guys, it's that I'm thinking that Lewis is still too young to go with us. He's . . . ."
"Now, hear me out. First, I don't want anything to happen to any of us, like spraining an ankle or getting cut. But I'm afraid if something like that happens to Lewis, I'd never forgive myself. He's much too small to put up with all that goes on at a camp. There's more to it than playing in the dirt."
"Oh, come on, Dad. He'd have a great time."
"Yes, I'm sure he would and the likelihood of anything happening to him is very remote, but I'm just not willing to take that chance with one so young and precious."
Wouldn't you know that, as we were talking about the baby, he looked around and did one of his deep, pulled in belly laughs, then burst forth hitting a few of his walker toys and scaring him and AJ. It was pretty funny, but very difficult at the same time. I loved him as much as my other three boys.
"I think it's a pretty wise decision, Pop," said my logical one. "I've seen parents bring babies to camp at least as young as Lewis and they usually did okay. But once in a while, they'd start crying or something and, often, the parents would have to pack up and leave."
"Exactly. And remember, our camp won't be as civilized as the church's campground. So, I'm trying to arrange for Linda Sue to babysit him. Remember, it's only for three nights at the most."
"I s'pose you're right, Pop." said Jeffy.
"I guess it's better to be safe than sorry," said AJ, poking Lewis in his tummy.
"Well said, AJ."
The numbers were mounting. We were going to be a small city. I was going to have to rent out a whole campground somewhere.
"Lenny," I told my friend, "I've created a monster! Do you know how many people want to go?
"Hey, you're a popular guy. Besides, they wouldn't have known about the trip if you hadn't called them all."
I think he was laughing at me!
"Well, you got me there. I just thought of different friends and couldn't imagine the trip without them."
"So," said Lenny, "What if we gather the adults together tomorrow night and make some decisions about where and what to bring, like food and whatever? You know, all those kinds of things."
"Sounds good to me. I'll call them all back," I answered, laughing.
"Tim, this is Linda Sue. My angel said you wanted me to call you. He had such a wonderful smile on his face. Then he had to tell me all about the source of that smile, your telephone conversation. I think you make him feel very special, Tim. Thank you for loving him so much."
"Linda Sue, He is a special young man in his own right. I may make him aware of who he already is, but I don't add to his attributes. I'm not sure he has any room for more."
"I never thought about it like that, Tim, but I think you're right. But you do allow him to enjoy the gifts he's been given by encouraging him so. Now, what's this about my getting to babysit little Lewis? Maybe I should say exchange Tyler for Lewis for several days."
Linda Sue heard me express my feelings of why I didn't want to take Lewis with us at his young age. She seemed to think that was fine, and she was thrilled to get to spend several days with the baby.
"I think I'll call Karen to help out, like if I have to leave for something work-related. I'm sure she'll be as excited as I am."
My boys continued to pester me about every little detail about the trip, information that hadn't been gathered yet, let alone decided on. Even as I told them to relax and wait until the meeting the following night, they were still so excited.
"Pop, we haven't got anything to camp with. What kind of Marine were you? Did you sleep outside over in Iraq?"
"Jeffy, I worked for an organization that took care of everything like that, right down to providing our underwear and feeding us. Maybe you've heard of them, the United States government? Oh, they also provided us with weapons to kill the enemy. However, except for the underwear, they didn't let us take any of the other stuff home."
He was being serious! I had to laugh.
"Jeffy, Pop and the other guys know what we need. Maybe we'll get to have an outing to Walmart on Saturday to buy you khaki underwear."
"Wow! Do I get some?" asked my youngest son.
"Prob'ly not, pipsqueak. They prob'ly don't make 'em in briefs with superhero soldiers on 'em."
"Okay, guys. My level-headed son has the right idea. We'll probably buy a few things at Walmart on Saturday or Sunday to fill in what the others don't come up with."
"Um, Pop, can I have my own tent, say, a two-man tent?" asked Elliot.
"Oh, sure. Like Pop's gonna let you and Enrique . . ."
"Okay, okay. Elliot, I think it would be good if we got a large tent that could hold us all and the baby, eventually. But to be isolated in a tent, um, by yourself, doesn't seem like the best way for all of us to experience such a trip, does it?"
"We-e-ell. Oh, alright. It's just that we never get much quality time together."
"Yeah, well, I doubt if Pop is gonna let that quality time happen when you should be sleepin'."
Elliot ignored Jeffy and looked over at me with hope in his eyes. I looked back at him with concern. He looked into his lap and slowly nodded, then looked up at me with a shy grin. I returned as loving a smile as I could. His smile brightened just a bit.
"I love you so much, Elliot. Please, it's only three nights or so. I would hope you can give up the opportunity of being alone with him at night in order to be with him all day long for three days or more."
"Yes. Pop, I'm sorry I whined. I should be counting my lucky stars that my boyfriend only lives across the street and not be so petty. Please forgive me."
"Oh, son, you're too young to know what's what in all things, even as smart as you are. And there's a whole chasm between knowledge and real life that some people can never jump over. You'll be just fine. But I do want a hug."
He got the greatest smile on his face and came right over. I stood up, and we grabbed each other. But that wasn't enough for me.
"I think we'd like more arms if you guys are up for it. That would make a nice eight-arm squeeze, guys."
My boys didn't fail me. They both jumped up and ganged up on Elliot and me until we twisted away and then we all stood shoulder to shoulder and hugged some more. That is, until we heard the plaintive cries of one so young at our feet that undoubtedly wanted to be up with us.
Elliot picked up the baby, and we all got close enough that Lewis got squeezed really good, and much to his delight.
"Okay, the meeting is for tomorrow night. It just may turn out to be a barbeque for half the county, but at least for Lenny and his family. Now, who is up for bathing the baby?"
Jeffy raised his hand. "I don't mind. Come on, AJ." Then he laughed.
"Hey! Dad, was that abuse?" But he was laughing too.
"It certainly would have been if it had gone any farther. Jeffy helped by laughing, probably because he knew you'd see right through his little joke."
"Yeah, Jeffy. I saw right through you."
"Well, good. Then follow the baby and me and we'll dunk him together."
Thanks again to RCN for his editing wizardry. It makes for a smoother read.
I would like to hear/read your criticisms, good and bad. I'd love to talk about where this gets to you. Matthew Templar