Michael and Jacob were alone in the living room, lying in their fold-out bed.
"So, you think this guy's okay for us, huh?"
"Whaddya mean? Oh, yeah. I think he's the best. That's cuz, well, cuz he is," answered an enthusiastic Jacob, with the innocent logic of an eight-year-old.
The man had gone to Mrs. Cantrell's to talk about something, so there would be no one bothering them for a few minutes. Michael knew he could talk to the smaller boy and get some better idea of what had been going on.
"Don't know if I like what's goin' on, Lar. But most of all, I don't see you sayin' nuthin' about it. What's goin' on in your head, if anything?"
The three boys were lying in the man's big bed. Jeremy was in the middle of the two older boys, all three clad in their huge t-shirt/night shirts. The two older boys almost simultaneously put their hands behind their heads and stared at the ceiling, deep in thought. Jeremy swung his head back and forth to look at both boys, then lay back and put his hands behind his head too, waiting for Larry to tell them what he was thinking.
"I have ta say, Devon, I sure am tired of runnin' and scrapin' and skimmin' for junk ta eat, and savin' our hides every day. I think I'm 'bout to the point where I'd do just about anything ta stay here or at least see what our man's got up his sleeves. He ain't done nuthin' to us like every other adult has done to us or tried, but he sure has helped us a ton already."
Jeremy quietly smiled in agreement, thinking about how nice it was to be warm and cared for. He thought of how kind the man seemed in everything he said and did. He was just the kind of man he could picture as his grampa. He let out a satisfied sigh loud enough that caused both boys on either side of him to turn to look at him.
"But what if he just dumps us inta some place like that place we come from last year? I hated that. I'd sooner die 'n go back there."
"He done anything to us to say that's what he's gonna do?" asked Larry.
"Well, you know he hasn't but he's old; an adult. Hell, an old adult."
"So? Hey, you're the one crawled up on his lap."
If they could have seen the red glow of Devon's blush right then, Larry and Jeremy would have, well, been so happy for their friend, really; maybe even a bit jealous. They were both convinced of the man's honesty and integrity, though they may not have been able to say it that way.
"Okay, okay. Gee, ya get a little nice stuff on ya and everyone's atcha for it." Devon tried his best to sound tough.
Larry knew better. "You butt. You know I didn't say nuthin' but just what happened. No blame, no shame. Hey, you deserve some lovin' like anybody else. Honest, I kinda was jealous when he asked you up on his lap. It sure looked nice."
A silence floated around the room that carried with it the good feelings and desires of such to each of the three boys lying in that bed.
Jeremy was the first to yawn. You know yawns - they were all yawning within seconds of each other.
"Naw, he ain't who you think he is, little buddy. Sure nice ta dream anyway. Besides there ain't really any . . ." Michael started to say.
"Just wait, I bet. Just wait and see, I bet. You don't know yet, but I know in my heart of hearts who he is. I know. Maybe you don't want to tell the others, but I know."
Michael chuckled at Jacob's innocent ramblings about the man's identity. But after hearing the stories Jacob told him about all that they'd done before getting him, he didn't care who the man was. He was just glad to be alive and safe.
He heard Jacob yawn, causing him to yawn too, then he stretched and in so doing pulled the muscles around his sore bottom.
"Ow! Oh, man. That's really sore, still."
He heard a sniffle and looked over at his little friend.
"What is it, Jacob? You lonely or sumpthin'?"
"I, I just don't want you to hurt. I don't want anybody to hurt. You didn't do anything bad to have that happen to you. I want you to feel good like we do."
Michael turned slightly and gently touched Jacob, not pulling him over, 'cause that would have hurt, but like inviting him over. It didn't take much for Jacob to get the hint as he gingerly moved and cuddled up to his friend. It was like being in the same bed with his brother when he got frightened. It was almost like the last few horrible months were slowly dissipating from his mind. It felt wonderful. Most of all, he wasn't frightened.
As they both drifted to sleep, they could hear the quiet talking of someone coming from the bedroom. But they didn't hear it for long, because they drifted off into their own dreamland.
Two boys were just waiting for the third to return when the door opened.
"You young fellas look like you belong to that bed; like you belong here. I hope you feel the same way. But there's only two of you. Don't tell me I didn't feed you enough dinner and you ate Devon."
"Huh?" said Devon as he walked back in from the bathroom.
Jeremy was giggling softly.
Larry laughed and said, "Naw. He's too tough ta eat. Prob'ly taste like shi . . . uh, dirt, anyway."
"What are you guys talkin' about now?" Devon asked, plopping into the chair by the window.
"You boys are sure good boys. I would expect you two older boys to keep an eye on your three friends and make sure they're never alone and always safe as well as you can. And I would expect you boys to be gentlemen wherever we go and at whatever you are doing."
"You're just the same, mister. Ever' place we go they says the same thing and then pounds us for nuthin', like we're just good fer whippin' boys. So, you the same as them? This'll last a few more hours and WHAM, we'll be rubbin' our asses. You don't care neither?"
"Oh, yes I do, Devon. I care about all that you do. The only reason I said that was so you can hear just what wonderfully behaved boys you've been. You have no idea how glad I am that we met, despite the circumstances."
"HA! Ya got that right, mister."
"Come here, Devon. I've got something for you." His finger curled up to show Devon the way to get to him.
Devon got real shy all of a sudden. Both of the other boys stopped and looked to see what he was going to get. Devon stepped up to the man, looking down, starting to regret what had just burst from his untamed mouth.
The man pulled Devon into a huge hug. When he was done, Devon was sure that there were several bones that had either snapped or relocated. He was real careful when he moved and made a big deal about stretching his limbs. But he was also filled with the kindest, warmest feelings he'd felt since he'd been on the man's lap earlier in the day.
Michael had been given a pill for his pain and to let him sleep. Even so, he dreamt of a dark but warm place of wood walls and doors. He wandered through all the rooms. Soon he was in a massive bedroom with a huge four poster bed in the middle. He jumped on the bed and felt no pain. It was the biggest, softest, warmest bed he'd ever felt. He fell back, letting sleep continue to take him to amazing places.
Devon dreamt of being warm too. He had his eyes fixed on heaps of food; cookies and hot chocolate, just like you'd imagine a king or somebody gettin' anytime they wanted. He licked his lips and smiled at his dreamy thoughts.
Larry didn't dream that night. He went to sleep feeling very content that their luck had changed so drastically and so quickly. He'd never imagined anything so good. The smile on his face as he hugged Jeremy to him showed the depth of his rest that night. No dreams, but no nightmares, either. How could it get any better?
Jeremy slept so deeply that he couldn't remember when he'd slept so well before. Everything was good. He realized that part of his happiness was that his Jacob was being taken care of. As much as he loved him, it was nice to be with guys his age. He smiled to himself and thought about these two really mean kids that were really just as loving as he wanted to be from then on.
The man often rested in the recliner. If he wasn't feeling well, it was nice to be propped up a bit. So, it was no problem for him to sleep in it another night. One more night here and then they'd be going to his real home. His head was filled with all that had happened in the last 24 hours; especially Warren showing up. He knew the detective and Michael would make a good match. He was pleased for both of them. He did have to think about Warren's offer of his house. It sounded wonderful, but the man didn't know if he should come back at all, since all of his real work was up there. He gave a low chuckle at the pleasure he'd been enjoying these last two days as he too, drifted into a deep sleep.
Jacob, enjoying the warmth of his companion, scooted back to cuddle with his bedmate, and fell deeply asleep. Again he dreamt of a huge room with many couches.
Jacob felt the bed move when Michael got up. But by the time Michael returned, he was fast asleep again.
Michael looked down on his little partner and smiled. He looked over at his host, lying back in the recliner and thought about what Jacob had said. His head went to one side as he tried to line up the man's head with the picture in his mind. He finally just shook his head and lay down again.
"You awake, Michael?" asked Jacob, rubbing his eyes.
"Barely," answered the boy
"I know, Michael. Let's go into the bedroom and wake up the others. It'll be fun. You'll see."
When the man woke up, he was surprised to see the empty fold-out bed. But soon he heard the commotion from the bedroom and listened with delight at the sounds of young boys bantering back and forth like they'd been pals or even brothers always. But after a time his bladder was not going to let him rest any longer. He walked into the bathroom and went about his business. When he came out he stood at the door to his bedroom and saw the most beautiful scene. All five boys were sprawled out on the bed, the youngest laying up against an older boy. They would laugh about something then talk again, all adding to the conversation, talking about nothing in particular, or so it seemed to the man. He couldn't help but chuckle softly as he pulled the door closed to gain them a little privacy. But he felt privileged that they felt comfortable enough to just laze away and become even closer together.
It wasn't until they were called to breakfast that one of them realized that the door had been closed, and that neither of the five boys remembered doing it.
"My beautiful young friends, we have to talk."
"Uh-oh. Here comes the bomb. We make too much noise or sumpthin'?" asked a resigned Devon, ready to go pack a bag.
"Just listen to him, asshole. Quitcher judgin' him till he's finished, will ya?" argued Larry.
"Well, excu-u-u-se me, King Larry."
"Okay, now. Be still and listen please," said the man.
They had all enjoyed a breakfast of eggs and waffles and bacon; another feast that they could not get over. When they'd licked their plates clean, Devon literally, the man began his speech.
"I have been neglecting a commitment with my company, little friends. No, not you; a real company, with employees and a big building. I need to go back there and make things right, then tend to the duties I've shirked for almost two years. I had to get my head together and, quite honestly, you boys have been the biggest help to me in doing just that."
"Oh, great! We get all cozy and then getta go back out there? Well, least the old place is cleared outta scumbags, 'cept us, that is. OW!"
Larry couldn't take it anymore. The slap even hurt his hand.
"If you don't shut your damn mouth and just let him talk, it might not be so bad as you think. He hasn't let us down yet and he's made some purty big promises. So shuddup or I'll plug ya with somethin to shut ya up! Okay, go ahead, mister. I think you can finish now."
Larry sat there as calm as if nothing had happened. Except for Devon moving his hand to cover his slapped face, no one moved for a full minute. Then the man shook his head and continued. The first thing he did was lean over, remove Devon's hand and kiss his red cheek. Soon the rest of Devon's face was the same bright red.
"Devon, my darling, I make this promise to you: if we should ever become separated as a family it will be your doing, not mine."
He waited for a minute, handed Devon a tissue to wipe his watery eyes and continued.
"So, as I was saying, I need to leave. This is a cold place and can be extremely difficult to get to. But this is the thing: I don't want to go if you can't be with me."
Jaws dropped open.
"You mean we get to go with you to . . . ." Jacob could barely contain himself. He knew the answer already.
"Yes, little one. I want you all to accompany me to . . . Northern Canada."
"My company is in the north of Canada. It will take two planes and a long car ride to get there."
"Wow!" said Jeremy, eyes as big as saucers.
"Ouch!" said Larry, looking at Michael squirm on the chair. "You sure this little twerp can make it? That sounds real tough on a sore butt."
Michael's head dropped. He didn't want to be left out, but he knew it sounded pretty painful. He was exhausted and sore from just the time he'd been up. He also didn't want the boys to see his eyes tear up when he thought of not being able to go with them.
"Michael, come here, please."
"Uh oh. He's gonna crush ya a good one, Michael!" Devon said with a laugh in his voice. The others laughed as well; even Michael.
When he was in the man's lap and had received both his hug and a tissue, he nodded for the man to continue.
"Michael, while I've made some arrangements to have you stay with someone . . ." Gasps! "I think I've changed my mind. So, here it is. Tomorrow, the boys and I will leave for the north. You will stay with our new friend, Warren." Michael's eyes lit up at the name. "But, if you both decide that you are strong enough before Christmas, I'll send for you and you can spend the holiday with us."
A cheer went out just as loud as the man could endure. The four boys all ran up to Michael and shared their hopes that he would heal the fastest ever.
"Yes, well, remember, for his little bottom to heal completely, you boys need to be very careful when you are playing with him. He needs lots of rest and no rough-housing."
The five boys all heartily agreed, then they laughed crazily, all over each other, pawing and holding on like crazy kids can do.
"Warm coats, boots, gloves, long thermal UNDERWEAR! We need to do some shopping." He laughed when he said underwear, knowing two boys probably didn't like to wear it. "It will keep your privates from freezing and falling off."
"Really? Is it that cold up there?" Everyone laughed at Jacob's question except Devon who started sizing himself for his new thermal suit.
Michael finally got to meet the sweet Mrs. Cantrell. She was asked to stay with the young boy while the others went to do their shopping. Having taken careful inventory of the boys' specific needs, those that weren't furnished by the ladies' gifts of clothes, they made a list for each boy, verified Michael's sizes and left.
They returned after several hours, not only with huge bags of clothes, but also with huge bags of hamburgers and fries, milkshakes and drinks. Mrs. Cantrell tried to excuse herself, but the boys insisted that she stay and let them model all of their new clothes for her. That clinched it. Their beautiful bodies were her delight and she loved every minute of their presentation, especially when they showed her their new underwear.
She left an hour and a half later, quickly looking for her heart medicine. It was a delightful day for her, to be sure.
"Now, boys, as warm as these coats are, you'll be fitted with new ones when we arrive up north. Michael, we didn't buy you one. We'll have yours and Warren's over-nighted when we give my tailors your measurements. Then . . ."
"'Scuse me. Warren? Does Warren get to come, too?" Michael asked.
"Of course, he may, if at all possible, IF you are well enough to travel."
"Oh, yes, sir. I'm sure I will be. I'm just sure of it."
"Okay, then. Someone will help you pack, when each of us is packed. Let's get at it."
What havoc! What a free-for-all! What a noisy mess! The man stood back and watched four crazy boys flinging clothes everywhere. Just as Larry would take the time to fold something and lay it into his new suitcase, Devon would fling it out, across the room.
The two brothers were just as bad, but the man had to sit next to Michael and remind him of his need to get well. Still, Michael had fun watching his friends attack each other in mock wrestling holds and punches.
Just as they were sprawled out on the clothes, too exhausted to move, the doorbell rang.
"Come in!" shouted the man and Jacob, because he wanted to help the man, too.
In walked Warren, loaded down with the night's dinner.
"Well, well. It looks like the clothes won. Are any of those going to be any good by the time they make it into your suitcases?" he chuckled, looking at the four boys lying on the floor.
"We're goin' away on a trip, in a plane, Warren," said an excited Michael.
"You are? But I thought . . ."
"No! You too, silly. We all get to go up north."
"We'll talk, Warren. We'll talk." The man patted the confused man on the shoulder and they went into the kitchen to put away the food and confer.
After a while, Warren got serious, but first he looked to see if the kids were busy enough to not hear what he was about to say.
"Sir, we're not completely sure that the man we took out of the old county building yesterday was Buck."
'Hm-m-m, wouldn't admit it, huh?" asked the man.
"Uh, no, sir. You see he died in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. They weren't able to revive him."
"But we know that his beating, by the man we took in cuffs, was because he was bragging to the man that killed him that he'd gotten some mighty fine young . . . ." Warren looked over his shoulder, then back at the man and just mouthed the word, ‘ass’.
The man closed his eyes and let out a big sigh. He knew there was a strong chance that this was the man that had harmed his Michael, but he also knew that there were others out there looking for kids, with the same thing in mind.
"Warren, I thank you, for the boys too, for your fine work. I think seeing your men go into that building for Michael's sake put you and your compatriots on a high standard in these boys' eyes. It will be one of their most important memories, I'm sure."
The rest of the evening was pretty quiet, considering four rowdy boys and an active invalid. Their clothes were finally packed except what they left out to wear the next day on the first leg of their journey. Larry helped Michael pack, but all the boys had fun deciding what he should take. Then the man started to measure Michael for his new coat. It wasn't your run-of-the-mill coat. They didn't run S, M, L, XL. Precise measurements were needed.
"You're next, Warren. Stand over here." The man started measuring Warren for his new coat. He seemed to be sticking the tape in and around every imaginable place above the waist.
"Wow, copper! Yer just lucky they don't make no pants up there, huh?" Yes. It was Devon. You're right!
While Warren was busy pumping all the blood to his face, the rest of the crew had a great laugh at his expense.
"Warren," asked the man, as seriously as he could, "Isn't there such a thing as handcuffs, but for the mouth?"
Which, of course, turned the laughter towards Devon. But he wasn't fazed.
Sleep did not come easy for any of them. The boys, because of their excitement, and the man, because of his dread. But soon, they all settled into deep sleeps, dreaming of a land, far away.
Please read with pleasure, this has been my gift to you. I would like to hear/read your criticisms, good and bad. I'd love to talk about where this gets to you.