A Nudge In The Right Direction

Chapter Two

The other two trunks the workers found in the attic were even more interesting than the one with the paintings and the silver serving pieces.

One of the trunks had books in it. Not just books, but BOOKS. A complete set of Lincoln's biography by Carl Sandburg, worth about six hundred dollars, and a complete set of dozens of Italian art history books valued on Amazon at around three hundred dollars, and a multi-volume set of illustrated French literature which was listed for six hundred also, so a trunk of books worth about fifteen hundred. The third trunk held hundreds of stamp collector's folders, with pages of old stamps affixed on each page and envelopes with hundreds of stamps from all over the world. Under all this were filled folders with old coinage from several different countries, including the USA.

I had no quick way to verify the value the contents of this trunk, so Joe and I would have to find a reputable appraiser to do that for us.

Joe was looking at the several paintings in the living room and said that he thought we ought to get those appraised as well, as  the other contents of these very old trunks were somewhat valuable, it stood to reason that the paintings would be also, and the silver we had already taken from its trunk should be looked at also.

There was a historic house museum in town, and we agreed that we would ask them to appraise the silver and coins and stamps, and Joe recommended we should ask someone from the Museum of Modern Art, which had a branch on the old town hall site in town. I seemed to recall that Ken's family had something to do with each of these museums, so I made it a point to ask his advice.

The time came in the reno projects for some decisions as to what finishes and fixtures were going to be used and we spent a pleasant two hours doing just that on a Saturday morning a week later and by the following week, three weeks from the start of all the projects, the kitchen was totally done and the hall wall removals had been finished, with only a few touch-ups to be done.

We spent a few days shopping after work and furnished the family room and picked out a few new beds for some of the empty bedrooms and 4 or 5 bureaus and sets of night stands. We got some great deals at a furniture store that was going out of business and even got rugs for the upstairs bedrooms and some window coverings.

We spent some time dithering over towels for the remodeled bathrooms but ended up with all white for every one of them, including the new master bath on the third floor. It just made sense, white can always be bleached, whereas colors were harder to clean and keep looking nice, we did that for all the bath mats and scatter rugs also.

By then, two weeks later, the new master suite was completed in the attic space and it looked fantastic. There were two walk-in closets, a sitting area, a large bed area and the master bath with a very big shower and a separate bath. There was a toilet and a urinal in there and out in the sitting area was access to a large walk-in storage room.

The new bedroom furniture I had bought to use in the bigger of the bedrooms wouldn't look right up here, but the bed itself would so we shopped at the 'about to close' furniture shop one more time and got a great deal on a bed for the big bedroom, and two dressers for our new master suite on the third floor.

The new stairs for this led off the second-floor hall, no door separating the staircase from the second floor, thus saving on having a new boiler installed, but we did have localized air conditioning units strategically installed through the outer walls on all three floors.

By the time all the new furnishings were in place and everything was as it should be, we had been invited to have dinner with Ken and his family, where once again the story of their family was told.

It was the first time, I think, that Joe heard from those involved, exactly how all the fostering and then adoptions had occurred in the Major/Sargent families.

After a very pleasant evening with them, we drove home and relaxed in the family room for a while before going to bed.

Joe asked me what I thought about the whole fostering/adoption business and I told him that both Brian and I had had opportunities to be adopted, but we had resolved to stay together, no matter what.

I was all for getting to know more about how it was all done here, as I only knew about North Carolina's system, and that I felt that we would make good parents someday, maybe after we went through the classes Ken had mentioned.

You'd have thought that Joe had won a lottery or something, he was so happy. He told me he had always wanted some children and had been afraid I wouldn't want to, having the upbringing I had.

I told him that in that case we should retire to our nest and try to get one of us pregnant, but I certainly was not opposed to helping out some children that were in need.

We had been invited to Joe's parent's house for dinner, but I told his mother, Kathy, that I had never experienced all the prep work that went into such a big traditional meal, only the eating of it.

She knew I was on a long weekend after Tuesday afternoon classes were out, so she invited me to spend Wednesday with her to help prepare for the next day's big meal. We had a great time in her big country kitchen preparing the veggies, the salads and the stuffing for the big bird that would be roasting most of the morning, because they had also invited three other couples, two of which were friends of theirs, the third was Joe's aunt and uncle on his father's side of the family.

Kathy and Charles (Joe's father) both instructed me in the fine art of vegetable peeling and boiling and in how to make their traditional meat stuffing for the turkey. We had a lot of fun doing all this together and Joe pitched in every so often, when he wasn't fussing with the dining room table or nibbling on the now peeled carrots.

We left them about 4:30 and told them we'd be by early the next day to help get everything put together and we left for home, where we played our own version of stuffing a turkey in our new master suite.

The next morning we cleaned up and made it to his folks' house about 11 am. By then the turkey had been roasting long enough that its aroma filled the whole downstairs of the house.

Kathy showed me how to baste the bird and said everything looked good for the 1 pm meal we were going to feast at. She had baked the pies we had started the day before and the veggies were all cooking on the stove top.

Joe made a few adjustments to the dining room table and we settled in to watch the Thanksgiving Day parade on TV with Charles, awaiting the arrival of the other invited guests.

The two couples who were friends and neighbors of Kathy and Charles were a lot of fun, both couples not having close relatives in the area but were good company.

Beth and Frank were both attorneys at the Major Law practice and Mary and Steven were both counselors and caseworkers at the DCFS, working for Helen Evans, the district manager of the Children and Family Services for the state, Helen being a somewhat Aunt to Ken Majors, my principal.

During our conversations, Joe brought up that we had discussed fostering and taking the classes DCFS offered online and both couples encouraged us to do so. Kathy and Chuck were thrilled we might have the start of our own family and offered their services as babysitters.

Just before 1:00, Chuck's brother and his wife arrived. It was apparent from the moment they entered the house that they didn't want to be here, at least the wife. She had a very haughty attitude for a farmer's wife, but really put her true self on display as I was handing out pre-dinner drinks and she said to me, "Boy, black fagot, bring me a napkin".

I stood there staring at her, unable to immediately respond, it had been many, many years since anything so bigoted had been directed to me personally, not since Brian and I were scrawny kids living at the orphanage. By the time we graduated from high school, we were big tough young footballers, and no one, even in North Carolina, would dare to speak as she had, to either of us. Down there we were black, even though we had both been of mixed race, but up here in the North it was assumed we had some Mediterranean or South American blood because we were so light in our skin tones.

Joe immediately stood, his hands clenched at his sides, and an audible gasp from the others was just dying out as Chuck told his brother to get her out of their house.

You could hear her sputtering as he led her away, "But they're fagots, you can call them that right to their faces, what the hell is wrong with what I said?"

He got her into their car and he ran back in, walked right up to Joe and me and apologized profusely for what his wife said to me, and then rushed back out to drive her away.

The mood had certainly changed and I guessed rightly that everyone felt my unease after that, so to ease the situation I asked if anyone else needed a napkin. That seemed to lighten the mood somewhat and soon we were enjoying each other's company as we had been before the arrival of Chuck's older brother and his bigoted wife.

The others kept urging Joe and me to take the online fostering classes, and Mary and Steven were the most vocal, saying that there were children that needed our mentoring in their lives, especially as we were a mixed race couple, as were a lot of the children at the home in Springfield. They did so in the most courteous way, almost making me feel that what we were musing about would do more to help the children than us.

Both Joe and I left early that evening feeling so much better than either one of us had felt while his aunt had still been in his parents' home.

The next day we received a call from the curator at the MOMA branch museum here in town. He wanted to meet with us and to return the paintings from the trunk that we had handed to him to have them appraised.

We drove over to the museum, barely a mile and a half from our home. We were ushered into his office and he greeted us warmly. He explained that he'd had three different appraisers look at the paintings and he was happy to tell us that they were all small studies by William Trost Richards and each of the twelve 10X12 paintings were valued at $35,000.00 each. He said that on a good day, these never seen landscapes and seascapes could bring a total of close to a million, if not more.

We were stunned, even at just the thirty-five thousand  dollar each appraisal it was close to a half million already.

It was a lot to take in and I asked Joe what he thought we ought to do as we were still sitting there and he asked the curator what he suggested.

He asked if we were prepared to increase the insurance of our property and if we were not, we'd be putting ourselves and whoever else was in our home in jeopardy. He, of course, had a vested interest in the matter, because he had two proposals for us he told us. # 1 was that we put the paintings on display at the museum, or #2, we let the museum host the auction of the paintings, for ten percent of the total for all 12 paintings, to be considered a lifetime gift to the museum and totally tax deductible.

We told him we would have to consult our lawyer before answering.

He said he totally understood and would hope to hear from us soon. He had a porter help us out to the car with the paintings and we were soon home, trying to set up an appointment with Beth and Frank, the lawyer friends of Joe's parents.

At their invitation, we arrived at their office, Major Law, where they worked with Noah's brother Rich and his wife Julia at their law firm in the professional buildings near Ken's home.

We were greeted warmly and we told them about the paintings and showed them the written appraisal by the curator and his recommendation to auction off the paintings or put them on a long-term loan to the museum. Unfortunately putting them on loan could attract attention to us whereas the curator had told us that the identity of the owner could be protected at the auction and that the museum would love the publicity from that.

Both Beth and Frank said they thought the auction option would be a safer way to go in the long run, unless we were prepared to pay the exorbitant insurance premiums we would undoubtedly be charged for as long as we owned the paintings, so that is how the paintings fetched us a cool one and a quarter million, after the auction fee was paid to the museum and all taxes were taken care of.

Joe thought it might be time to add a swimming pool to the yard, and a few children to enjoy it with us.

By the time the contractor for the pool house was finished, both Joe and I had passed the fostering classes and had our first introduction to a Friday night gathering at the boys' residence at the DCFS facility in Springfield.

We'd decided on a boy, or boys, because neither of us had much if any, experience around young girls. The two dozen boys we had met each had their own personalities, their own stories, but there was one Joe and I fell for right away.

He was in the group of near-teens, one of the biggest groups at the home, but standing a bit off to one side. He had a smile plastered on his face, one that was of course, patently false, the anxiety showing in his eyes. The anxiety and the fear of us unknown adults. There were 8 other couples and I thought we had met three singles as well.

Hamilton was forcing a smile, trying to look appealing to the adults gathered in the big sitting room.

As soon as we realized no one was going toward him, Joe and I walked over to him, one of us on each side and we kind of steered him to one of the many sofas in the room.

He kept looking up at us and the smile changed, to one of outward apprehension, trying to decide if we were dangerous or friendly. He must have seen the smirks on our faces as we successfully maneuvered him into a sitting position between us on the sofa.

He kept turning his head to look at each of us and the second time he did that I grinned at him and he turned and Joe did also this time.

I held my hand out to him and told him I was Bret Wolfe, and the good-looking guy he was sitting next to was my partner, Joe Landon.

He shook my hand and Joe extended his to him and they shook. We knew his name as he had a stick on name tag on his shirt, but then so did we.

He cleared his throat and said, "Hi guys, my name is Hamilton Berger, Ham for short".

I couldn't get that out of my mind, but I am told that I have a warped sense of humor, but his parents must have been a lot worse than me, naming the kid Ham Berger. 

I had about a million questions I wanted to ask him, and I could tell that Joe did also, but Ham started the ball rolling in the question department, wanting to know if we were a couple, were we married, what did we do for work, where did we live, was it a house or an apartment, did we have any other kids?

We answered his questions and he seemed surprised I was a teacher but he was really curious about what Joe did. It gave us all a chance to talk.

Finally, he asked why we had picked him to meet that night.

I couldn't help it, I told him that we were really hungry, and to us, he looked good enough to eat.

His laughter filled our end of the big room and others smiled over at us.

Helen Evans, the director of the facility, came over to us and asked how everyone was getting along and did we have any questions.

I asked her if Ham was available to spend the weekend with us.

She asked Ham if he was ready for a weekend away in the country.

He just lit up. He said he'd have to pack a bag, but he sure wanted to visit with us.

He told us on the way home that he couldn't remember ever having been out of the city before, and that he had been at "the home" for the last 4 years of his young life.

He was 9. He was a redhead. He had a scattering of freckles across the bridge of his nose that faded out under his eyes. His pale skin had sprinkles of more freckles on his arms and I'm sure in other areas as well.

He had innocently asked me if I was black, back at the home, and I told him I really didn't know for sure, as I was raised in an orphanage since infancy and had been an abandoned baby, but because of my European features a doctor had once told me that I was more than likely a blend of Mexican and American, or South American and American.

Joe told him his ancestors were from England, but that we could ask his folks because they also lived in the town we did.

It was past 8 when we arrived home that Friday night, but we had all had supper before the "meet and greet" at the home, but after giving Ham a tour of the house and letting him select a bedroom to use we settled in the family room for an episode of Planet Earth with some sliced cheese and crackers.

In the morning we took him on a tour of the property, starting with the pool house. We decided to go "whole hog" and build a house that had a pool in it. Nothing enormous or anything, but it was large enough for a 20 foot by 50-foot pool with a retractable roof over it and a changing room and two shower baths. There was a guest room and another room for our exercise equipment. The entire space was heated and air-conditioned and to save on these costs the builder had recommended putting the pool behind sliding glass doors and just heat the water in the winter and then open a few of the sliders so the heated air could circulate throughout the structure. This structure was connected to the house by an enclosed walkway that could be locked at either end.

Ham really liked the pool house and we promised him we'd get him a swimsuit before the day was over and we'd all have a swim after dinner, or just before.

He also liked the pond and pointed out some of the wildlife there we hadn't particularly noticed before, like the frogs and salamanders on the banks and the tadpoles in the water.

Joe excited him when we were in the bigger barn by telling him that we were going to be taking riding lessons and getting horses that would live in the barn and use the coral next to it.

At lunchtime, we had some company, Joe's mom, and dad had been invited and we wanted them to meet Ham. It was a bit of a festive lunch and after the prospective grandparents had returned home we three went to get Ham a swimsuit and when he told us he wasn't used to swimming we got a life vest for him too, just to be sure he would be safe.

We had a great time in the water before dinner. Ham indeed had lots of freckles and he could actually swim some before his arms gave out, but he would stop and rest and go at it again.

We took turns tossing him and letting him jump off our bent knees or cupped hands. His problem was stamina and after rinsing off the chlorinated water we all dressed in gym clothes.

He watched as Joe and I worked out a bit and then we gave him some really light weights to use and had him do some reps with them to help build up his puny arms, but nothing ridiculous or too much for his light frame or age.

Dinner we all worked on, Ham made his first salad and enjoyed the pork chops we had breaded and oven fried. We all talked over dinner at the big harvest table that now separated the kitchen counter from the big opening to the family room. It was a happy boy that we tucked in that night.

On Sunday we joined Joe's parents at the local MCC church and we took Ham out for breakfast after. We didn't have any chain restaurants in town, but Amherst was just over the mountain and there was a nice I HOP there and we all had waffles and sausages with different syrups so we could all try something different.

Back home Joe and I started doing our laundry in the mudroom and we told Ham to put his dirty clothes with ours so he'd have some clean clothes to start his week off with.

While we were all folding our cleaned and dried clothes after, I asked Ham if he was having a good time.

I almost shit when he deadpanned, "No, I'm not, I'm having a GREAT time, with two really nice guys who've paid me more attention in two days than I've ever had in my whole life, I'm not really looking forward to going back tonight". 

Joe and I exchanged a look and then I asked if it would be easier to handle if we asked him to spend the next weekend with us also.

He knew that that was going to be Christmas weekend, and he said sullenly that he didn't want to intrude on our holiday and I got down on my haunches to his eye level and told him that we wanted him here, because we liked him, and we didn't want him to be in that place for any longer than he had to be, but we were pretty sure, no, we were definitely sure, we wanted him to come live with us full time, but the state required three weekend visits before we could become his permanent foster dads.

The genuine smile broke through his downcast facade and lit up the mudroom like a thousand watt bulb had been turned on. He threw himself into my arms, almost knocking us over and after kissing my cheek he ran to Joe, only a foot or two away and hugged him also, crying out how lucky he was and he could hardly wait to be staying here full time.

Remembering what I had been taught at Kathy's kitchen I planned out a holiday meal for us all and when I called Kathy to invite her and Chuck for Christmas dinner she offered to bring the deserts and I thankfully accepted her generosity.

That week was a blur of activity for Joe and me. I was on Winter break from school and this week and next would be pretty idle at work for Joe, so we threw ourselves into decorating for the holidays and after purchasing a tree we realized we wanted Ham here with us to decorate it, in fact, we wanted him here with us for the whole week, and after.

We called Mary and Steven to see if it would be possible for us to have Ham with us for the whole holiday period, and after, as we knew already that he was meant for us, and we felt that Ham felt the same.

We had called and talked to them on Monday evening, and Tuesday morning Helen Evans stopped by on her way into her office and sat with us and we discussed Ham and how we were missing him and wanted to use this "off" time, the holidays, to get him settled in, to be doing family stuff with us and I pointed to the empty undecorated tree in the family room and told her it was for him, and he should be here to help us, as a family, decorate our first tree.

She was very compassionate and listened to us make our impassioned plea to have Ham home here with us.

As we wound down we realized she was sitting there grinning at us and asked if we could possibly wait until noon to storm the DCFS facility and carry our foster son away for at least two weeks, as it would take her that long to process all the paperwork necessary to accomplish this.

We were overjoyed by her statement and both Joe and I first hugged and then we gave Helen a three-way hug and sent her off to do what she had to do as we rushed to get Ham's new room ready for his extended visit.

We did that and piled all the tree decorations we had bought on the floor in the family room, ready for Ham to help us decorate the tree later in the day.

We had about three hours now before we drove to Springfield to gather him up, so we used that time to go over the mountain and we went to the mall in Hadley and shopped like demons for some secret Christmas gifts for him, just having enough time to stash them at home before driving into the city to pick him up.

When we arrived at the large building housing the boys' dorm, Ham was at the sign-out window, a packed bag at his feet as he signed where he was supposed to, and when he saw us come in, he rushed up to us and began the questions as well as hugging us both.

As we also went to sign him out, the clerk handed us a sheaf of papers that she told us Helen needed signed before we left.

It was then that a porter came out with about three boxes of stuff and Ham seemed very surprised by this as it appeared it was all his things from his dorm room.

I looked at the paperwork I had been blindly signing and it finally dawned on me that these were not the usual release papers; these were giving us permanent custody of Ham.

There was a note on the last page that said that when we were ready for the next step we should have a copy of our marriage certificate ready to submit with our request for adoption.

I quickly interrupted Joe and Ham and had Joe start signing where he needed to, pointing out the "permanent custody" section, and the 'post-it' on the last page.

The clerk took the forms and notarized our signatures and handed us a copy of the forms and wished Ham luck at his new home and all of us a happy holiday season.

With the porter's help, we got all the boxes out to the car and after thanking him for his help we shared another hug there before we all got in the car to go home, to our home.

Joe drove us straight home where we first brought all Ham's belongings up to his room before we all worked on getting dinner underway.

We did get the tree decorated, after Joe went through the rules for having a real tree in the house for any length of time, like making sure the tree had plenty of water, that it wasn't  placed too near a heat source, and that the cords for the lights were in good condition, especially since every other day or so it was a good idea to mist the whole tree so it didn't dry out, this being done well before the lights were even turned on for the night.

Ham had no memories about decorating a tree, other than the last few years at the home, but then there wasn't a chance to really do a good decorating job there, as there were so many children participating, but he showed just how much of a decorator's eye he had in decorating our tree.

Joe and I had the job of unpackaging the new lights which would be the first things installed on the tree. Whoever designed the packaging was indeed demonic, and we realized in short order that the lights had to be tested after removing them from their packaging, which seemed to be designed to damage the lights as they were removed from the plastic frames.

Once the lights were strung, Ham made a few adjustments and it was time to swag the rope garland and Ham had ideas about how this could be done, so as his helpers and aids, we draped it the way he wanted and when he had it just the way he wanted it, we stood back and saw just what he was trying to achieve. Instead of a swirl from top to bottom, by running another piece from top to bottom in the opposite direction it created sections on the tree, sections that would showcase the ornaments Joe and I had selected.

Some were old fashioned and depicted nativity and winter scenes, some were clear and had little miniature toys encased in the clear balls, and some were decorated colored balls. There were miniature trains and sleds, all decorated, and artificial and real candy canes, and wreaths. Ham had worked out a way to showcase all the ornaments in the sections he had us create, hanging a selection of the ornaments in each section.

Once he had run out of ornaments, I held him up to the tree top and he set in place a tree topper that represented a young male choir singer, with a carol book in one hand and a little candle in the other.

Once everything was plugged in we stood back, with Ham between us, under our arms and we admired the beauty that Ham had created, with our help of course.

Ham had tears of sheer joy streaming down his cheeks and he pulled us both down and kissed our cheeks, telling us that this was the happiest day of his life.

I think we were just as emotional and oh so thankful that Helen had granted us permanent foster parent status so soon, it certainly was going to make our lives, and Ham's, a lot more fulfilling and richer (in the non-monetary sense).

We spent the next few days helping Ham pick out gifts for Joe's parents and wrapping them (for some reason he was all thumbs at this, but eager to do a good job of it).

We took him out shopping separately a few times each so he could get one or the other of us gifts, while the one not accompanying him did their own shopping for presents. He was given a certain amount to spend, and we each had slipped him a couple of extra twenties as the days went on.

On Thursday morning we all had our first riding lesson over at the riding center near Ken's house. This was a family Christmas present from all of us, to all of us and we had so much fun learning from Terry and the instructors and after, as we were just riding around in the indoor rink, Terry herself rode up to us and asked how the whole experience had been.

We all enthused about it and Ham was just glowing he was so happy.

She then told us that the horses we were riding just happened to be slightly older and were about to be sold so newer ones could be brought into her stable for riding stock, and that she'd make us a really good deal for the three we were now riding, some feed and hay, and tack and saddles, and even instruction in the care of the horses and their maintenance, and the delivery.

Joe and I leaned together for a quick confab and I then asked her if there were three more horses we could purchase along with the three we were riding.

She told us a figure we would have expected to pay for one horse, and we shook on it and I told her to do us up a bill and we'd settle it before we left today.

Thursday afternoon we received a visit from one of the young instructors from the riding center. He evaluated our barn and pronounced it perfect for the horses and really clean. He called in to the center and told someone to start the delivery and as we waited he showed us how to muck out a stall and how to do the feeding for the animals. He told us we might want to get a few cats to live in the barn and a dog or two wouldn't hurt either as they could be a live alarm system for us out here in the barn.

Ham and Joe were really glad to hear that and although I had never had a chance to have a pet, here we were awaiting a delivery of 6 horses and the guys were talking about going to the SPCA tomorrow and getting dogs and cats too. Oh well, they'd be out in the barn, and maybe I could get familiar with them gradually, I just hoped they liked me.

Within the next hour not only did two horse vans arrive, but two pickups loaded with bales of hay and sacks of feed.

The horse vans were unloaded first and the wranglers led the horses, one at a time to the coral at the side of the big barn. That coral had wide opening doors into the barn so after the hay had been spread in their stalls the horses could be led into their new home.

We were all instructed in the feeding of the horses and we put feed in their stalls once the hay had been spread. In the two vans were also the tack and saddles for each horse, and as Terry had told us, each bundle of tack was labeled for a specific horse and the bridle on each horse had its name on it, so it was easy to match the correct tack to the correct horse.

We didn't have a separate tack room, but there was a walled off section in the back of the barn set up as one, with wooden storage bins lined up under sturdy wooden wall pegs.

There were several stacked saw horse like frames that were intended for the saddles and we separated 6 out and placed them by the storage bins, trying to keep each horse's gear together in one place.

Once this was accomplished it was time to bring in the hay and feed and all the drivers pitched in to help with this chore, but both Joe and I were quite fit and we certainly did our share, even remembering the two-wheeled dolly which certainly came in very handy.

I now found out what the metal lined bins in the barn were for. The metal lining prevented critters from getting to the feed I was informed.

Bringing the horses inside was fun. We each took the horse we had ridden that morning and led it to a stall, and then put its name on the front of the stall. The wranglers were right behind us with the other three horses and again each horse's name was put on the stall they would be calling home.

Ham took a horse treat to each horse and let it take the treat off his palm, just as he had been shown to do. He had a new group of 6 equine friends.

The drivers all returned to the riding center, but before our young instructor left he gave me a note which told me of a young college student who was looking for a part-time job, working with horses on a farm and gave me his name and phone number. He told me it was his younger brother, a freshman at UMASS Amherst in their equine studies school. I told him I'd call his brother tonight.

By Friday afternoon we had an employee. Nick James was a nineteen-year-old who lived only a quarter of a mile down Brian's Way with his parents, which we found out were our closest neighbors to our left.

He was definitely someone handy we could use around here. He explained he would come early to tend to the barn occupants, leave for his classes, and return in time for the evening feeding. He was happy to have gotten our call and even happier that we were so close to where he lived.

The next day, Saturday, was Christmas Eve that year and I formally proposed to Joe, as we were all currying our horses after a good ride in the corral.

Ham was putting his ride's accessories away and I walked right up to Joe as he was finishing his brushing and I just couldn't, not do it.

Every time I looked at him I felt something akin to a shiver from the back of my head down to the end of my spine. He made my pulse quicken, and there were times, even when I was in front of my classes, that just thinking about him made my cock twitch.

I know he wasn't as sentimental as I was, but I did know that he loved me. I took his left hand and slipped on a filigree gold band, asking him if he would wear it until I could put a wedding band on his finger, as soon as was possible, because I loved him deeply and wanted to be married to him for the rest of our lives.

He took me in his arms and told me he loved me too and had planned to propose to me that night, he told me that great minds did think alike. He reached up to kiss me and we were expressing a great deal of emotion in that kiss when Joe turned me around and there was Ham, looking up at us with happy tears running down his cheeks and he was quickly in our arms, celebrating with us.

Joe called his parents while dinner was cooking and they hollered their congratulations down the phone line and told us they loved us all and we'd see them around noon the next day for our Christmas dinner.

We all spent the rest of the evening preparing for our feast and I was able to follow the recipe for Joe's family's meat dressing for the turkey we would roast in the morning.

Once everything was prepped and ready for the next day we three cleaned up and made ourselves presentable for midnight mass at the MCC church in town.

Christmas was a splendid day, Joe and Ham took six apples down to the barn for a Holiday treat for the horses as I put the turkey into the oven and started doing the last prep work, baking the rolls for our dinner.

When they came back from the barn we all had a cup of hot chocolate and a few Danish and then the real fun began, we tackled the presents under our tree.

It was a very festive morning with Ham receiving everything from a small battery operated drone to a computer for his room. His wardrobe swelled tremendously.

He hadn't done too shabby in the gift buying department himself. He had bought Joe and I split heart pendants on a neck chain, and on mine was engraved "Bret" on one side and "Ham" on the reverse and Joe's had "Joe" on one side and "Ham" on the other. He had managed to find us each new wallets and inside were new small pictures of him in them, the kind of photos that come from one of those photo machines that spit out 4 pictures for a couple of bucks.

We had a proper breakfast after opening our presents and after cleaning up after that we set a festive holiday table for when Joe's parents joined us for a late lunch or an early dinner about 3 PM.

We had time for a long ride, and since there was no new snow we saddled up three of the horses and rode out on the farm road out to the gate at the end of the property and then back to the barn and rode around the corral several times before taking care of the horses and returning to the house.

On our ride we had checked the pond and determined that it hadn't totally frozen over as yet, so we each gathered up our new ice skates and drove to the town common where there was a skating rink set up for the residents to use.

We treated ourselves to hot chocolate again and it was there we met a bunch of kids from my classes and I introduced them all to Joe and Ham, luckily remembering all the student's names.

Once we had all managed a few turns around the oval rink without falling on our asses we decided it was time to go back and check on dinner so we bid our goodbyes to all the kids and we were off for home.

Joe's parents let Ham show them our new horses and then when they came back in the house we had another gift opening session as the veggies reheated in the kitchen and it was soon time to serve our first-holiday meal as a family.

It was a joy to see Joe's parents with Ham and him with them. There definitely was a bond forming and it would grow as the three of them decided on times on the weekends they would come over and ride with us, which became a regular thing as the weather got better and better in the Spring.

During the week between Christmas and New Year's Ham's school transcripts arrived and they showed that he was, if not an outstanding student, he was an excellent one, with only one or two B's, and the rest A's.

He would enter our town's elementary school after New Years as a third grader and the elementary school was just down the road from the middle school where I taught, and around the corner from the Realty Office, Joe worked out of.

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