We decided not to leave David on his own for his birthday as originally planned, and we asked him to make an effort to be ready to move to our place the next weekend when all at our cottage would be driving back home. He agreed and during the week, when he wasn't working in the evenings or hanging out with our group at the cottage or at the lake, he was getting his belongings organized and the home he had lived in all his life secured. It would someday all be his, the old farmhouse and 25 acres of fields.
With the assistance of a deputy from the sheriff's office, we were able to get Evan's personal belongings from the small house he and his father had lived in. We told him he could take just about anything he wanted and with Carter's help the two 13-year-olds packed up six or seven boxes of clothing and outdoor gear and we shipped it home, keeping a suitcase of summer clothing for his use during the week we would still be up here. We called Ted and Ryan that night and prepared them for a house guest coming and explained David's situation. They were more than glad to help him out and to teach him all he needed to know about the barn routine with the horses and ponies. We also asked them to check for us on the availability of another horse and another pony and if it was possible to please prepare another couple of stalls for those new additions and for their delivery by the following weekend.
Evan seemed to be by Carter's side the next few days, but eventually, the boy in him relaxed and we soon saw him start to exert himself and take on some of the duties of watching over the younger boys, who were thrilled that another older boy was spending time with them. Max and Bill accepted him unconditionally and he was considered a member of their group right away. Evan seemed to be equally in awe of the twins as he had been with Carter at first, but Carter never let him out of his sight for more than a few minutes at a time either. The four boys were going to be in the same grade as we had filed for his school transcripts as soon as the deputy had delivered the signed and sealed custody papers to us on the Tuesday following that horrendous Friday afternoon when everything had happened to pull the carpet out from under Evan and David. Their mothers' ashes would be sent to them sometime after the holidays.
Beth and Ben helped a lot in getting Evan settled in with our family, lending a bit of normalcy and caring into the situation and treating him just like we did, as the newest member of our family. He was not used to a lot of give and take between adults and children, his father had been a very strict authoritarian whose rules had to be followed, no if's, and's, or but's, or expect a beating. He had only been exposed to normal life through school and it showed in his transcripts, he was a great student, well-read for someone his age and he was in awe of Riley when he found out he was a high school teacher. When he asked what I did for a living Carter was the one who answered that by telling Evan I wrote some pretty good stuff that a lot of people liked, and sometimes people said the stuff I wrote in movies, Evan thought that was pretty cool, but when he saw one of my books, the one Carter was reading about the adventures of a bunch of brothers and their dads, he was captivated. Mark had called while our last week in the mountains was playing out and told me that the new book, the one I had written for the boys, had been released and it was now at number five on the bestseller list, even though it was a YA book, it had made the regular fiction list, it was number two already on the YA list.
He told me the movie studio we had been doing business with was interested in the book for another movie, this one geared to families, and they had offered the same amount as the last "mature" book they had bought the rights to, but Mark had held them to their original option figure, and they had settled on a million and a half, now that was cool, not bad for writing "stuff" that I had enjoyed writing, something that I wanted the boys and their friends to be able to read, something that sparked their imaginations and entertained them at the same time. I felt validated that week. Riley and I were helping two other human beings out of intolerable circumstances and giving them a "leg up" or a "helping hand" to a new and much happier life.
Beth and I were having a brother and sister moment on the front deck of the cottage as Riley and Ben were getting dinner ready one night and she asked me what made us take on the challenges that David and Evan were bringing into our lives, and I told her that it started with seeing something that wasn't right, and we had to do something about the injustice of it, but once you put a face to the problem, well then it became a matter of love, wanting to make that person's life better in some way that matters. She hugged me and told me that's the response she expected, and that we made a good team, Riley and I, and that we had her, and Ben's complete support, and that they were proud of us, and proud to call us their brothers.
The packing up was easy, with everyone pitching in to clean up really good before we left, and the boys elected to all ride together in our bigger van and Beth and Ben rode home alone, experiencing peace and quiet for the first time all week! David had arrived with his loaded minivan, an older Kia Soul; loaded with the possessions he couldn't live without, ready to follow us home. Our caravan of three vehicles traveling safely back to Granby, making two stops along the way, once for lunch and another for a "pit" stop to use restrooms about an hour later, even though we were less than 35 miles from home.
The reactions by David and Evan to our home were different from both of them, Evan wanted to know how many apartments there were in the big house, and David wanted to go to the barn to see where he'd be working with Ted and Ryan, who were at the front drive when the three cars pulled in. Introductions were made to Ted and Ryan and soon they took off with David to show him the barn and the boys all took off to help Evan select a room for himself in the house, which left us with the task of unloading the van of all of our luggage. Riley went in the house and called to the boys to come grab their bags and we began to bring the luggage in and see which room Evan had selected. To no one's surprise, he had selected the one right next to Carter's. Once the luggage had been dropped in the proper bedroom, Beth and Ben called up to their boys and the four of them were soon on their way home, just a short drive down the road from ours.
The three young men returned from the barn, David enthused by the two guys he'd be living with and working with and Ted suggested they get David settled at their house on the other side of the pool terrace. Yes, the young couple seemed happy to have a new friend and Ryan and David looked enough alike they could pass as brothers. They took David over to the guesthouse and David was impressed, as I guess he was expecting a cottage or something small, not a full-blown two-story colonial that was bigger than the farmhouse he had grown up in.
We all met for dinner later in the afternoon and by the time the sun was setting everyone had enjoyed the meal and a swim in the pool. We were all sitting around as the four younger boys were showing Evan around the house, already having given him a tour of the barn, when another car pulled into the yard. Riley had jumped up when we heard the car arrive, but he knew who the caller was, he had told me he intended to get David and Jeff together tonight and he had invited Jeff, his former student, over to meet David. The two of them would be attending the same school in the fall, and he thought they would get along great. I admit, the two teens seemed to get along great as the evening wore on and when it was time for the young boys to hit the sack the boys got hugs from all the guys there before Riley and I went up to do our tuck-in routine, leaving the four older guys on the pool deck discussing school, work, and life.
Riley and I had explained our bedtime routine to Evan and he was propped up in bed waiting his turn after the two youngest were tucked in and wished sweet dreams. He wished us a good night and thanked us for letting him stay with us for a while. We both sat on his bedside and assured him we were in it for the long haul, this wasn't temporary in our eyes; it was permanent, just like the other three boys were permanent fixtures in our home and in our lives. His eyes grew big and he had the sweetest smile on his face as he threw himself into our arms and we shared a three-way hug, Evan asking if this was real, and not just a great dream he was having. We chuckled and tucked him in, telling him we were happy he was here with us, to get some sleep and have sweet dreams, he murmured, as he was tuckered out from such a dramatic day for him," I will Dads, I love you both", And he was out like a light, still smiling.
When we returned to the pool area, we were met by the four guys saying goodnight to each other, Jeff having to get going as he had work the next day. We said our goodnights to him and the others as they were going to get David settled in his room for the night and the three of them would finish that in the morning. David and Jeff exchanged cell numbers, and we were glad we had gotten him a new phone and put it on our plan while we were shopping one day up in Vermont. I told Riley it was up to them now; he had done his matchmaking, now we could offer him advice, or answer his questions, but no more fix-ups for David. Riley said the one was all David needed, Jeff and David would be a couple before the month was over, he just knew it.
Well, Riley was right. Just as Evan fitted in with the other boys, including Max and Bill (who visited for most of the day, every other day during that first summer Evan was with us), Jeff became a frequent visitor to our property, either riding with the boys, or swimming at the pool, David right by his side, yes, the two of them were in a committed relationship within the month. David had questions that he felt more comfortable asking Riley and me, at first, then he began to trust Ted and Ryan more and they became his confidants. Either way, by the time the Vermont State Police investigator and the prosecutor of David and Evan's fathers called at the end of July to give us updates on their investigations, it had been determined that the five bodies of the males were indeed the remains of the missing young men of the area and the female bodies were those of the boys' mothers.
They were being tried together, but with their own legal representation, and a trial date had been set for the first week in September. David worried about the start of his classes at the Springfield Technical College, where he had been accepted and would share rides to and from with Jeff, but he was told that since they were basic introductory classes, he'd be able to attend classes on a computer hook up the school would make available to him online. It wasn't the ideal way to start off at the school, but it was better than nothing, and he was very appreciative.
The new YA book had reached the number two spot on the regular fiction bestseller list and production had already started on the movie when we heard from the Vermont State Police again in August. It seems that due to overcrowding at the state prison the two accused murderers were moved into the general population. Newer inmates knew of the charges against the two men: murder, molestation, actions leading to the molestation of a minor, and concealing dead bodies, and the improper disposal of human remains among about a dozen others. Well, those charges were enough to get the two men severely beaten and raped in the showers one day, neither one survived more than a day after, but both gave deathbed confessions before they did die, there would no longer be a trial held. The Vermont DA moved to have the boys named the only recipients of their estates and it was suggested the properties both be sold. We had hired an attorney to represent both boys during the court proceedings and he listed the properties with a reputable Real Estate broker who gave us the estimated current value of both before we talked it over with the boys and both told us to go ahead and sell, neither one wanted to go back, ever.
The new school year started with Evan joining Carter and the twins in the seventh grade, something new for all 4 boys to experience together. Also starting at a new school was David, who was to share the driving commute to campus with Jeff. They had a few classes together and would often settle in with their books to study together after David's afternoon chores were completed. Those days they were home early enough, we would find them riding with the boys on one of the trails. Both were finding their first semester easy going, as it was mostly to fulfill the basic requirements for the Associate's Degree they would receive at the end of all their courses in two years, their second semesters were mostly their technical training in their chosen field, heating and air conditioning, both were also taking basic electrical wiring.
The mood around the whole property was a positive one and when our 90-day anniversary of having Evan with us was approaching, Riley and I talked it over with him, explaining that after the 90 days were up, we could file with the court to formally adopt him. This kid was smart, and he had a wicked sense of humor, shown when he asked if that meant we'd all have to wear tuxedos at the "formal" adoption hearing. I told him he could, but Riley and I had been there before, and we didn't want to scare everyone else there. What we wanted was for him to have the best possible home life he could have and the opportunity to go on to college or job training as David and Jeff were doing, or specialized training in the medical field, as Ted and Ryan were doing. Evan looked both of us in the eye and said what he was looking for right now was a pair of caring fathers who only wanted the best for him, a couple who showed how much they cared every day, and whom he loved, then scratching his chin, and with a devilish glint in his eyes, he said he thought their names were Riley and Mike, but he wanted to call them Dad and Daddy, like the other boys did. He then got up from his seat and hugged us both and asked how soon it could happen.
We had consulted a local lawyer as soon as we had returned from Vermont and he had told us there shouldn't be a problem adopting Evan after the initial 90-day period, as long as our home visits with the DCFS went well. So, the next day I called and told him to go ahead and file the adoption petition we had already had him prepare and we had signed a month ago. Mary and Helen had given their blessings and Helen said that she'd send a letter to the court, so they would know ahead of time that her department had no objections to our adoption of Evan.
The boys were all being read the YA book after dinner each night and it was in November that Mark let us know who the actors were that had been signed to play the characters in the book. The boys crowded around as I looked them up on the internet and there were a lot of comments on the looks of the actors, compared to our boys who the book was based on, but most all the comments were good. Of course, there was only three boys and their two cousins in the book, so I held Evan and told him I'd write another story with him in it and he said he totally understood, it was strange to feel left out when we didn't even know him when I wrote the book. But I told him we knew him now, and David, and I felt a story coming on, maybe just a bit based on fact, but mostly made up in my mind, he hugged me and told me I was a great dad, that everything Riley and I did seemed like the kind of things a real dad would do. I had a late tumble into bed that night, Riley understood, I had to get the general idea of my new YA adventure, including Evan and David this time, fleshed out on my master notepad and I even got a good start on the first chapter on my laptop.
With a new book started I once again had to start setting the alarm clock in my office, so I would be reminded of the boys coming home from school, which gave me a break, going riding with them, hopping into the pool after, and helping them with their homework. Most nights during the week I took care of the initial dinner prep, like starting a roast, peeling veggies, mashing potatoes, getting everything started that takes time away from us all spending time as a family, and Riley showed his appreciation every night.
As Thanksgiving lay ahead of us, we decided to have a big family do and invited all my siblings and their families for a buffet Thanksgiving dinner where we hoped to be able to introduce Evan as our newest son. Our hearing date had been set and the Friday before Thanksgiving was the date, timed for four in the afternoon, which was perfect, as it wouldn't interfere with Riley's afternoon classes, or having to pull Evan out of class. Carter desperately wanted to accompany his soon to be brother, so it all worked out fine, we just had to decide whether or not to include the younger boys as well, and when we went over the logistics of the whole thing, we decided to make it a family affair and everyone would wear good clothes to school and I would bring their suit coats and ties with me when I picked up the boys from their schools, which were right next to each other. Riley would meet me at the elementary school and help me get ties and suit coats on the younger ones.
We all rode together to the courthouse where after going through security (try that with two seven-year-olds fresh from school! Pencils, wrappers, clips, little notebooks with spiral bindings, coins, anything that would and did set off the metal detectors, and they did!). Riley was quickly emptying his pockets into a tray as I patted myself down, not wishing to delay us any longer than necessary (or embarrass myself by forgetting anything that would further delay us). Mary was waiting for us with our lawyer, the two were amicably chatting, waiting for us, and Mary hugged Evan, telling him everything was going to be alright, no objections to the adoption had been filed and everything should be fine. He visibly relaxed but clung to our hands as Riley and I walked him into the hearing room, while his soon to be brothers greeted Mary and escorted her into the room.
Soon the expected happened, the judge came out to get to see everyone and to invite Evan into the adjacent room to have their private talk. Allen ran up to the two of them before they left the room, and Allen told him not to worry, the questions might be embarrassing, but he was a good judge, so be nice to him, he then turned to the judge and reminded him that he was the one who changed his name for him, and he hoped he would do the same for his new brother. In what seemed like hours, but was probably only 20 minutes, they were back in the hearing room, both with big smiles on and Evan rushed to our sides, inserting himself between Riley and me as the judge took his seat. It didn't take long for him to make a comment about our increased financial statement, but in a very courteous and polite way, and he was assured by our attorney that another book and movie deal had been completed since the last time we had been before the court. The judge looked pleased and banged his gavel, proclaiming the adoption petition granted and also the name change Evan had requested, Evan Spencer Hampshire. A new birth certificate was on its way out to us from his assistant and the decree was being copied and printed out as well. He then suggested that a story about a family court judge would make a good read. I told him I'd already included one in the latest book.
Thanksgiving with my family went much better than any of us expected. It was good to see Wayne again, and he told me how good Ryan was for his son, Ted. He watched them helping to put out the food along with David and Jeff. He said he was thankful I had offered to help them get their Physicians Assistant degrees, and that he had told Ted this morning that since he had first mentioned them wanting to do that, Wayne himself, had been putting money aside to be able the help them both out, but now he would give them the money he had saved as a wedding present, he divulged that he thought by Christmas, and their graduation, they would be engaged.
My other brothers and sisters had stayed within their budgets and were all doing well for themselves, their young children seemed happy to have their older cousins take them to the barn and show them the ponies and keep them entertained for the afternoon. If we had lived closer together, I could see Carter and Evan being the family babysitters, they did a good job with Darryl and Evan and I would have trusted the two of them with their younger cousins. Max and Bill were no slouches either as they cavorted with their cousins as they all entertained the younger kids either at the barn or all bundled up and kicking a soccer ball around on the frost covered side lawn.
It was a good visit with my siblings and their families and there were a lot of good conversations all afternoon long. Our boys were tuckered out from all the play with their cousins, so with the next day off, we told them to sleep in, which for them was about 8 or 8:30 AM. That was late for Riley and me, so we had a lot to give thanks for at breakfast the next morning. We decided that a morning ride on a trail or two would be on the agenda for the morning, as there still had been no snow accumulating yet on the ground, so we all bundled up, went to the barn and we all pitched in to saddle up.
With the first of the three big holidays of the season out of the way we discussed what we would do for Christmas this year and the boys all voted for sun and sand, the day after Christmas, they wondered if one week was enough at the Key West house this year, maybe spending their spring vacation there as well this year. Riley and I agreed to the week after Christmas being spent in Florida, but we didn't commit to their spring break being spent there. We knew the new movie was scheduled to be released just before Easter and that would coincide with their spring break, and the studio had asked for all our family to be in Hollywood for it, on their dime. We would share that with them closer to the time we needed to be on the West Coast.
While the boys were in the pool house getting their swimsuits on, Riley and I talked on the phone to Bob and Leo to fill them in on our winter visit plans. They agreed to stock up again for our visit and I assured them it was only for one week, but the bunk beds would be full this year, we had a new son, Evan. They told us the boys would have a built-in group to play with, as one of the big houses on the lane had sold and the family had five boys, all about our kid's ages. That sounded promising, the neighborhood around us down there either had older teens or infants, some new blood would only liven up the place a bit.
The boys in our family were excited about Christmas day, but they were more excited about the day after when we would fly down to the house in Key West for a week of sun and fun at the beaches. Allen had been filled in about our other home and his brothers had shown him plenty of pictures of it on their new web-enabled netbooks. They were constantly sending him email with attached photos and he was saving them to look at. He had about a million questions and we spent a good part of the day answering his questions and going through all the luggage to make sure everyone had the right clothes packed to spend some time in down there, and to travel back in New Year's Eve day.
This trip was fun for all as this was Allen abd Evan's first time on an airplane. The other boys, who didn't have that much more experience traveling by air, were acting like they did stuff like this all the time. It really was funny and by the time Allen had figured out they were just as nervous as he was, we were already landing in Key West. Our rental van was waiting, and it didn't take long for us to load the van with our luggage and get to our house. Evan and David were amazed at all the palm trees and Jeff tried to be cool about being in a big Gay-friendly tropical town. David and Jeff were staying at the guesthouse up the street but they had about two hours to check in there, so they stayed with us and helped us all get settled in. When lunchtime rolled around Leo and Bob came over from the library to make sure we were getting settled and had arrived safely. They went into the backyard with David and Jeff and soon the four came to us with a proposition, the two couples would change places to sleep for the week, David and Jeff would stay here with us and the boys, where they felt more comfortable, and Leo and Bob would stay at the guesthouse and count it as their honeymoon, as they were off for most of the week because of the holidays.
With that all settled and everyone unpacked in their respective rooms we all gathered by the pool to plan out our activities for the week and when we would eat in and when we'd go out to eat. After a swim in the pool, we all went for a walk around the neighborhood so David and Jeff could get their bearings, as they were the most likely to be out and about by themselves. As the big group of us returned to our lane a few hours later, we noticed signs of life at the house we had rented for our wedding guests. It was not the type of life expected from a retired couple, this was the big house a family had moved into, and as we stood outside the picket fence in the lane, a couple of boys about Darryl and Allen's age tumbled down the front stairs to the gate and immediately started talking to our two youngest, as three boys about Carter and Evan's ages strolled down to the gate, Riley nudged me, but I had noticed already, those three were triplets!
The five boys were followed by their parents and Riley and I stepped forward to introduce ourselves, over the excited chatter of the nine boys as they did their own form of the introduction ritual.
The parents were Yvonne and HEM (short for Herbert Edward Morris). Their boys all looked like them in many ways, so it was pretty obvious who the parents of the boys were. They seemed to know a lot about us, but that didn't bother us, I mean, it was a small city and a smaller neighborhood, and they lived only two houses from our place and obviously knew Bob and Leo. What they didn't know was what I did for a living since I left the library, as they knew what Riley did, but I guess no one had told them about my books. Well, it wasn't a secret, so I told them I wrote under the name Mike Monroe. They appeared a bit wide-eyed at first and then they both gushed that they had read all my books and were reading the YA one to their boys after dinner every night and Riley told them we did too.
We chatted for only a few minutes more before Yvonne and HEM invited us in to sit on the back patio and share a pitcher of iced tea with them. That was all it took for the boys to all rush into the backyard, to all claim a seat at their large outdoor dining table, whereas we more mature adults each had a padded patio chair under the wide and deep veranda, David and Jeff included. We found out a bit about the Morris family, the two youngest were fraternal twins, Tom and Wayne, whereas the triplets were indeed identical, Nick, Bruce, and Scott. The parents had been married fifteen years and both had been teaching instructors at a prestigious private school and retired early when an inheritance from Yvonne's family made their early retirement possible.
We had a nice visit for an hour or more before we made our excuses and gathered our boys to return home. It was by now our dinnertime and we certainly didn't want to outstay our welcome. We did mention that we planned an excursion to Higgs Beach the next afternoon and we soon had agreed on a time when the Morris family would join us there.
The boys were all excited about having new friends and we reminded them we were only here for a week this time, so don't go trying to fit a whole month's activities into one week. They, of course, laughed at us for being so silly. The next day at the beach everyone met up within a half hour of arriving and the fun began when HEM challenged Riley and me to take on Yvonne and him in a beach volleyball match. Each team had their own rooting section, but for some odd reason Riley and I gathered more bystanders in our section than the Morris' did, and boy was I thankful Riley and I still had the stamina and agility to win. The Morris' were in pretty good shape for a couple in their early thirties, but the volleyball gods were with Riley and me that day. That beach is one of the few in town that has a restaurant right on the beach and it has covered, outside, seating so we went there for sodas during the afternoon and all the kids got a lot of attention from the staff and other patrons as we adults had a great time watching them, and David and Jeff as they joined a group that was playing a match on the beach in front of us.
We took the kids to the playground at the fringe of the beach and just before going home we all walked down to the end of the really long pier, so the kids could see the aquatic life swimming in the deeper water there. It was a good afternoon out with both families and we ended the day with a cookout at our cottage. We really clicked with Yvonne and HEM, and it seemed our kids all got along great too. The next day was a home day and we parents agreed to have the different ages spend part of their day together at each of our houses, so the pre-teens spent the morning at the Morris' and we had the four younger ones at our place. In the afternoon, after lunch, we swapped groups and Riley and I took the preteens over to the library for a craft period, where they made shadow boxes out of shoe boxes, we supplied to them. I must say, the triplets, Nick, Bruce, and Scott, made wonderful seascape ones and our boys made ones of boys on horseback riding a trail. (Riley and I still have those all these many years later).
The younger boys had spent their afternoon at the Morris' house and they too returned home with artwork, big finger-painted creations that were very colorful, if not totally identifiable without the "artist" right there to interpret it for you. They were about fifteen by twenty-five inches and after they were totally dry the boys were given the option of hanging them in their room but insisted, they were for Riley and me, so we hung them in our bedroom where we could see them every day we were here.
There were a lot of hugs when we departed, between the adults and our children, and I'm sure the boys all exchanged email addresses, as did the adults. David and Jeff filled us in on their last night in Key West as the couple had begged off a family style dinner with us and took themselves out for dinner and spent their night getting engaged! They didn't have an exact date, but thought around the Easter holiday would make a good time, otherwise, they might just elope. They wanted to be together, no more maintaining two residences, and Ted and Ryan had agreed to share the guest house with them, as long as Riley and I had no objections, after all, David was working for us, doing more as Ted and Ryan were done with their classes, they only had a graduation ceremony to go through after the first of the New Year, and they would be job interviewing and hopefully setting their date for their own wedding.
We had a more relaxed flight home, as Evan and David were more used to flying by now, and the flight steward had a treat for the boys, a bag full of new video games they could play all the way home. Our van had been pulled onto the tarmac, so loading it with our luggage was a lot easier and we were soon on our way home. Once the luggage was distributed to its proper bedrooms the boys were bundled up and out to the barn to visit their ponies, and Riley and I were at the kitchen counter having a catch-up meeting with Ted and Ryan.
They told us they wanted to marry on Easter weekend and had decided that they wished to marry here, at our property, at the arbor just below the pool, the beginning to the path to the guest house.
I love to hear from my readers and what they think of my stories Art West