Lincoln, The Family I Never Expected

Lincoln-27, Birthday


!!Author's Notes!!
I highly recommend reading the books in parts. Read part 1 and take a break. Then read part 2 and take a break... you get what I am saying. The chapter is broken up, to be stopping points. However, if you want to read all the way through, go for it!! Also look for a link at the end of the chapter for my recent author interview by comicality. I was asked 10 brief questions, and it gives some background to the story. The link will be at the end of the chapter. 
Also, email me if you would like to be added to a email notification list for the story. If interested, you will receive an email when the chapter is available for reading. You'll also receive updates on story progress,  release dates,  and other early release details. To join, email me!
!!Author's Notes!!
***Just to help readers remember who is who***
Main Characters
Garret Hamel (Age 30) -- foster parent of the 4 boys. 
Lincoln Barnard (Age 11) -- The oldest out of Garret's foster children
Ryker Barnard (Age 9) -- The second oldest out of Garret's foster children
Jacob Barnard (Age 7) -- The second youngest out of Garret's foster children
Clayton Barnard (Age 5) -- The youngest out of Garret's foster children
Supporting Characters
Jordan O'Grady (Age 29) -- On Garret's legal team & Girlfriend
Rita Álvarez (Age early 60s) -- Housekeeper, but an essential part of the family
Gordon Hamel (Age 64) -- Father to Garret, Kelly, Calvin, & Lucas
Linda Hamel (Age 64) -- Mother to Garret, Kelly, Calvin, & Lucas
Kelly Schafer  (Age 42) -- Garret's older sister and oldest sibling, 3 kids
Tom Schafer (Age 43) -- Kelly's Husband, not around much because of work
Ashley Schafer (Age 17) -- Kelly and Tom's oldest child
Kimberly Schafer (Age 15) -- Kelly and Tom's middle child 
Christian Schafer (Age 13) -- Kelly and Tom's youngest child
Calvin Hamel (Age 39) -- Garret's oldest brother & 2nd oldest sibling, 4 kids
Charlotte Hamel (Age 41) -- Calvin's Wife
Giovanna Hamel (Age 16) -- Calvin and Charolette's oldest child
Derrick Hamel (Age 14) -- Calvin and Charolette's second oldest child
Savanna Hamel (Age 11) -- Calvin and Charolette's second youngest child
George Hamel (Age 8) -- Calvin and Charolette's youngest child 
Lucas Hamel (Age 34) -- Garret's older brother and 3rd oldest sibling, 3 kids
Katherine Hamel (Age 34) -- Lucas's Wife
(LJ) Lucas Jr. Hamel (Age 10) -- Lucas and Katherine's oldest child 
Ashton Hamel (Age 8) --  Lucas and Katherine's middle child 
Jackson Hamel (Age 6) --  Lucas and Katherine's youngest child 


Installment 27 (Birthday)

Part - 1

After being up at five in the morning, my eyes didn't want to open when the sunlight hit my face, as it peaked through my window shades. I probably could have shifted my body, and went back to sleep, but I heard a deep cough to the right of me. I turned to my side and saw poor little Clayton still asleep. He looked so fragile and pale, sleeping with the blanket pulled up to his chin. I ran my hand through his hair as I felt his forehead to see if he was still carrying a temperature. Unfortunately, he did feel warm, and I slowly brought my hand down to the side of his head, passing but his red cheeks and nose. He looked so sick just sleeping there, and I felt awful that I couldn't do anything to help him more.

The medicine must have been wearing off as Clayton let out three more coughs. Even though he was still asleep, I could tell they were painful as his small body jumped, which shook the whole bed. In between his coughing spells, I was trying my best not to wake him as I lifted Clayton's upper body to put another pillow underneath him. It wouldn't do much, but hopefully, sitting more upright would lessen any future coughing attacks he was experiencing.

Once I got him in a better position, I watched my sweet little boy sleep as I rubbed his bare chest. Not knowing the time, I glanced past him to the clock on the nightstand, which read 9:00am. I practically launched myself out from the covers to rush into the boys' room. My first stop was to Lincoln's bedroom, where I found an empty bed. Somewhat stumped, I checked Ryker's bedroom to find the same thing, so I began walking down the steps. Next thing I know, I hear Rita holler from the kitchen,

"They are all at school, Garret!"

"Huh?" I replied as I rounded the corner of the steps.

"I said," Rita chuckled, "the boys are at school! I took them in."

"Oh," I answered as I wasn't fully awake.

"Coffee is already made, would you like a cup?"

"Umm... yes, please," I stated as I sat down at the head of the table.

"How's Clayton?"

"Sleeping, thankfully. I think he needs more medicine... coughing a good bit."

"Yeah, I heard him early this morning when I was waking up the other three."

"Thank you, by the way."

"Oh, don't mention it," Rita chuckled as she poured my coffee over at the sink. "So, what are your plans for today?"

"Taking Clayton to the doctors is my number one priority, but I need to find a doctor first. Hopefully, they can see him today."

"Want me to ask any of my church friends if they know anyone good?"

"It wouldn't hurt," I answered. "I would like to find a doctor that will be able to see them until they go to college! It would make it easier for all the health history and physical checkups to be at one place with someone I trust."

"Makes sense! Let me send a text to some people, but why don't you ask your sister?"

"Oh, I will! I just want to wake up a bit. Clayton had me up at 5 in the morning."

"Did he throw up again?"


"Well, hopefully, it's a better day!" Rita answered as she brought me the coffee. "Don't mean to change topics, but for Ryker's party.... what are you planning?"

"I think he is going to have a sleepover with some friends, but it's gonna be nuts here. We have my parents and my brother plus his kids staying with us. I don't know where everyone is going to sleep."

'll have Katherine to help you out!"

"Yeah, I know, but doesn't mean it's not going to be nuts!"

"No... but I know you're going to love it!" Rita added, which brought a smile to my face.

"I know, I'm excited," I chuckled!

"You should be! Any idea what gift you're getting him?"

"Kind of! I want to get him a trampoline, but all the boys are going to use that. I've also thought about a soccer net for him too! So both should be fun and useful gifts, but I think I'm going to get Ryker a necklace. A nice meaningful one that he can wear!"

"Doesn't he wear the one your parents got him?"

"All the time! But I want to give him another one, just from me."

"That'll be nice, I'm sure he will love it," Rita stated. "But I know he is going to love the trampoline!"

"All the boys will," I laughed.

"I don't doubt that! So back to the party, I've gotten the food taken care of, but how are you going to entertain everyone?"

"I've been thinking about renting a bouncy house or a blow-up slide, or maybe both!"

"The pool won't be open, will it?"

"I don't think so."

"No boating activities planned?"

"Umm... maybe... I don't know, doubtful. Probably the next day, when not as many kids are there. Like I'll take out a small group, but I can't take everyone at once!"


"By the way, did you get to ask any of the parents on Ryker's soccer team?"

"Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you," Rita chuckled. "But yes, I did!

"How many people do you think are making it?"

"A good majority of the team should be there! Most parents said yes, a few said they will get back to us, and only two parents can't make it because of other plans."

"Gotcha ya... any idea who said they can't make it."

"No, not exactly, but it wasn't anyone like the Brumms or Bales."

"Oh awesome, well, thank you for doing that! I appreciate it."

"No problem... it was fun watching them practice."

"Yeah... I love watching them kick the ball around!"

"It's hysterical." Rita smiled, "Anyway, do you know who is staying the night?"

"No clue.... should we attempt to go through the list of people?" I laughed.

"Yeah, why not... we got nothing better to do."

"Alright! We can probably do a rough estimate of kids staying over.... let's see, umm... we have Christian possibly Adrian umm... LJ, Ashton, Jackson, George, Dylan, Max... maybe Logan. I'll probably let Lincoln invite Carter and Devin and count a few more from Ryker's soccer team! So we are looking like umm... I'd say, 18 boys possibly."

"Plus, another.... let's guess, 50 people at the party!"

"That's a lot of food to cook," I chuckled.

"Don't worry about the food," Rita assured me.

"I know, I know!"

"Speaking of food... I don't want to forget, but I have a small amount of scrambled eggs for Clayton. I put them in the fridge with foil over the top of the plate. Might be worth a shot to see if his stomach takes it... plus leftover soup."

"Oh, awesome... I should probably wake him up soon."

"I wouldn't... let the boy rest while he can. Go find a doctor first and then wake him up, so you don't have to deal with him potentially throwing up again."

"Yeah," I said as I thought through everything. "Probably a better idea," I added as I stood up from the table. "I'm going to head to the office to make some calls and check email."

"If you need me, just holler!"

"I will," I chuckled. "What are your plans for the day?"

"Be where ever you can't be! You've got enough to worry about!"

"Yeah, but you don't want to be running all around."

"Of course not!" Rita laughed. "But I want to help you out, and well.... it never hurts to get extra time with the boys!"

"I appreciate it. I might have you take Lincoln to therapy."

"Just let me know, I'll be ready to go!"

"I will," I stated and turned to go to the office.

Once seated behind my desk, I fired up my computer. While it was starting, I called Kelly to receive a list of doctors she would recommend in my area. Unfortunately, I didn't have many to choose from, as I was limited to four local doctor offices within a twenty-minute drive. Even worse, only two were for pediatrics, so I was extremely limited in my options. On the positive side, it was an easy choice after I found out from Kelly that one of the doctors is listed in the top 25 in Ohio for pediatrics. Ultimately, going with that doctor and their practice was a no brainer for me.

I quickly dialed their number and had an appointment set up today at 1:15. Apparently, we were lucky to be squeezed into their busy schedule, but I was grateful! Once that was all taken care of, I quickly scanned my email for anything important. Most of the unread messages weren't incredibly important and didn't need my attention. However, I did see a note from Ryker's teacher.

The email was labeled 'Ryker's upcoming evaluation, which of course, was in reference to the possibility that he may have dyslexia. We had nothing scheduled yet, however, the email gave some available time slots that worked for the speech-language pathologist. I was looking for something after Ryker's birthday week, but I believe his teacher wanted it done sooner than later. The earliest availability was this Friday afternoon, but that wasn't happening. Hell... I didn't even know if I wanted the assessment to be next week, either. I knew this was important, and I shouldn't have been putting it off, but I didn't want to find out. Truthfully, I didn't want to deal with negative information and the thought of telling Ryker. I desperately wanted a regular week without worrying about the boys or bringing in negativity. There is only so much a household can take before it becomes dangerous and snaps. So with a bit of selfishness and concern for the boys, specifically Ryker, I emailed his teacher for appointment times in two weeks. Plus, it would give me additional time to observe Ryker and see if these habits became noticeable. I personally believe that Ryker is just behind in the school system. He never had a strong support network that would help him, like he does now. Nevertheless, it was still essential to get him evaluated, so I did definitely want to get him scheduled.

Just as I sent the email, Clayton moaned, "Garret?" Which was followed by a cough.

"Just a moment," I hollered as I stood up from the desk and walked towards the steps. Clayton was standing at the top of the staircase as he rubbed his eyes and let out another cough, "morning kiddo! How are you feeling?"

"My tummy still hurts," Clayton replied as I made my way to him.

"I know I know, Lil Bear," I answered as I finally reached the top of the stairs. "We are going to a really really nice doctor today, and they will help us out," I said as I picked him up in my arms and kissed his cheek. "You hungry? Rita has scrambled eggs made."

"I... I don't know," Clayton softly spoke as he laid his head on my shoulder. "My head hurts too."

"Where, honey?"

"Here," Clayton said as he picked up his head and pointed to above his eyes.

"Alright... umm well, let's head downstairs. Maybe food will fix everything." I said as I rubbed his bareback and walked down the steps. He didn't say much in the short walk to the kitchen; however, he did notify Rita of our arrival as he let out two more deep coughs.

"Master Clay!" Rita stated and walked over to scoop Clayton out of my arms. "How are we feeling this morning?"

"Not so good, Miss Rita," Clayton answered as he wrapped his arms around her.

"Well, the doctor is gonna help you out, okay?"

"Uh-huh," Clayton mumbled as he leaned his head on Rita.

"Garret," Rita said, and she turned towards me as I was looking through the refrigerator.


"He's still really warm... I mean, his forehead is burning up."

"I know," I said as I looked up at her. "You think it's so serious that I need to take him to the hospital?"

"I don't know... umm, I have some home remedies that may work."

"Like what?" I inquired as I went and grabbed Clayton off her hands. "Come on, buddy."

"Well, a lukewarm bath would lower is overall body temperature."

"Wouldn't that increase it?"

"Oh heavens, no... it would help. Would you like me to go run one?"

"Umm... Clayton?" I asked, "would you like to get a bath, bud?"

"I don't know," Clayton answered and snuggled his head under my chin.

"It might make you feel better and wake you up!" I suggested as I kissed the top of his forehead. "Go ahead, Rita. I'm gonna get him some food in his stomach. Could you run the water in the big tub, please? I'll probably join him."

"Absolutely... we have scrambled eggs, or you can heat up the leftover soup."

"Which one you want, kiddo?" I asked and combed Clayton's hair to the side.

"Umm... soup, please."

"Alright, let's set you down in the chair," I stated and sat him down. I then went back to the refrigerator as Rita was on her way upstairs.

"What's the doctor gonna do?" Questioned Clayton as he placed his head on the edge of the table.

"Buddy, that can't be comfortable," I chuckled.

"It is."

"Alright," I answered as I poured a half of bowl of soup and placed it into the microwave. "The doctor umm... they are just going to evaluate your symptoms and diagnose what's wrong with you."

"He's gonna what?"

"They are... okay, simple way of putting it... hopefully, make you feel better!"


"They are experts and know all about kids being sick. They even went to school and learned how to make sick people feel better!"


"Yup, you'll-"

"Am I gonna feel better for hockey?"

"For tomorrow?"


"We will have to see kiddo."

"But I wanna play."

"I know you do," I said as the microwave chimed. "We will have to see what the doctor says, okay?"

"What if he says I can't?"

"Then we have to sit out this week."

"Nooo," Clayton quickly replied as he was getting emotional.

"Let's just wait and see what the doctor says, okay?"


"Buddy... come on! No one is saying you can't play tomorrow! Not yet, okay?" I stated as I brought over the soup and combed my fingers through his hair. "Plus, if you miss this week... you and I will go out and practice shooting into the net."


"I promise," I chuckled and kissed the top of his head. "Now try to eat a little okay? I think your bath will be ready soon."

"Okay," Clayton replied and let out a deep cough before taking a bite. Luckily he was able to finish the half bowl of soup and keep it down too. So I took that as a good sign that we might be on the tail end of this illness.

After we cleaned up the table, we went upstairs to go soak in the tub for a bit. Clayton and I were in there for about an hour as we played some games. His mood started to shift to the healthy Clayton that we all love. I don't know if it was food or lowering his body temperature, but he giggled and smiled as we played in the tub. The only thing that seems to be getting worse was his cough, so I was eager to get him to the doctors.

Once we were finished with the bath, we went back downstairs, where Clayton turned on the tv, and I talked to Rita. We discussed the rest of the day, which consisted of a therapy appointment for Lincoln, doing homework, and possibly taking the boys shopping for Ryker's birthday present. Similar to when George had his party, I would give all the boys a hundred dollars to spend. They could combine their money, they could buy smaller gifts, they could do anything they wanted for a present. It worked well the first time, so I didn't expect anything to go wrong.

Anyway, after Rita and I talked, it was time to take Clayton to the doctor. He wasn't too happy as we hopped in the SUV... but who really is when they have to go to the doctors? The drive took a bit longer than I expected, but we arrived on schedule. With it being his first time, I had to fill out a ton of paperwork, in which I didn't really have the answers too. Previous health problems, allergies, or past medical procedures were all left blank. I couldn't even ask Clayton because I don't believe he knows, but, worse, I don't think he's been to the doctors before. So this was a trial and error... luckily the staff understood and we were able to move forward.

Once the nurse called his name, we both stood up and went for the door where she introduced herself to greet us. I felt this put Clayton to ease, especially when she began talking about the hockey shirt he was wearing. As they usually do, they took his temperature... which was high... then blood pressure and finally asked Clayton to take off his shoes. He was a bit confused at first, but after she explained why, he obliged and stepped out. They got his height and weight, which read at 3'6 and 32 pounds. Still slightly underweight, but from where we were a few months ago when he came into my care, he has made significant progress. Once Clayton put his shoes back on, the nurse led us to our room, where she allowed Clayton to sit on my lap instead of the table as we waited for the doctor to arrive. Then she remarked how cute Clayton was before leaving us.

We were waiting for about ten minutes when we heard a knock on the door. Similar to the nurse, she eased Clayton's mind as she walked over and introduced herself. Her name is Doctor Li, and she is a middle-aged Asian female; however, she looked as young as could be. You could tell she was confident and experienced with kids as she immediately started to make small jokes to Clayton. I was still able to sit with him in my lap as she was primarily talking to him as they began to form a connection. The best part was that Doctor Li wasn't treating him like a child as she started her assessment. When she performed various tests, she explained everything she was doing to Clayton. It was very engaging and a learning experience for both of us.

Now the evaluation part didn't take too long, and what we heard wasn't the greatest, but hopefully shorter term. Doctor Li described his past days as the perfect storm. Clayton throwing up was a stomach bug that was probably on its way out of his system. Yet, his fever, cough, and headache are just the beginning of a sinus infection, which could have lingering effects up to a week or longer. To fight this illness, she prescribed an antibiotic.... penicillin to be exact. She also noted that rest and sleep was the best way to get over it quick. Once we were dismissed, it was off to RiteAid to pick up his prescription.

When everything was said and done, I arrived home as Lincoln and Rita jumped in her Lexus to leave for his therapy appointment. I think they might have been running a bit behind schedule, but it was okay. As Clayton and I walked through the door, we heard feet pounding the ground.

"Garret!" Ryker hollered as he ran over and wrapped his arms around my leg.

"Hi buddy," I chuckled as I tousled his hair and then set Clayton down.

"Hi Garret," Jacob said and gave me a half hug, but his attention was focused on his Nintendo DS.

"I missed you boys!"

"I missed you," Ryker said as he wanted to be picked up.

"Boy, you're getting heavy!"

"Nut-uh," Ryker giggled and kissed my cheek.

"I know," I laughed. "Let us get inside boys, I need to give Clay his medicine."

"What's wrong with Clay?" Jacob said as he peaked up from his device.

"I got umm a umm... a umm... infection in my nose," Clayton replied.

"A sinus infection," I corrected. "Nothing that can't be cured."

"Oh... good," Jacob answered.

"Yeah," I started as I set Ryker down on the counter. "What game are you playing there, Jacob?"

"He's not playing nothing," Ryker answered.

"What do you mean?"

"It's this math thing," Jacob said as he showed me the screen. "You have to get the right answer to unlock harder questions."

"Oh... well, that's good. So it's like math problems you have to solve?"


"Doesn't sound fun," Clayton chimed in as he walked to the family room.

"Yeah," giggled Ryker, and made Jacob question what he was doing.

"I think it's great!" I intervened, which brought a slight smile to Jacob's face.

"Lame if you ask me!" Ryker laughed.

"Nobody is asking you!" I said and quickly wanted to switch topics. "How was everybody's day in school?"

"Boring," Ryker answered as he jumped down from the counter to join his brother in the family room.


"It was okay... oh wait! I umm... I got Adam's number!"

"Oh great! After dinner, I'll give his parents a call!"

"Okay," Jacob answered as he turned his attention back to his device.

"Yeah," I said as I fixed Clayton's medicine. "Clay, come in here, please."

"Can Adam sleepover?"

"We will see, buddy! I'm okay with it, but Adam's parents may think he is too young... but we can set up a day for you guys to hang out!"

"Okay!" Jacob happily replied, "I hope he can sleepover."

"We will see! Now you boys have any homework?"

"Uh-huh," Jacob said, and he turned his attention back to his device as Clayton was walking towards us.

"Ryker?" I questioned and then handed him the medicine. With Clay being so young, the antibiotics were in liquid form, which made it easier for him to take. "Just squirt that into your mouth!"

"Okay!" Clayton said

"Ryker, you never answered!"

"I did!" He shouted back.

"I didn't hear you ."

"Oh... yeah, I have homework."

"Alright then, devices down and TV off! Clayton, I bet you have school work to get caught up on too."

"Can't we do it after dinner?" Whined Ryker.



"Umm... no," I chuckled as Clayton gave me the medicine shooter.

"That tastes yucky," Clayton spoke as he made a face.

"Hopefully, its short term bud," I said and ruffled his hair. "Join your brothers at the table... Ryker that goes for you too!"

"Fine," Ryker moaned in displeasure as he turned the TV off and started to march over.

"Thank you," I replied and sat down at the table as I waited for the boys to grab their school work. Once everyone was settled, I finally got the chance to watch Ryker do some of his work. I mean, really concentrate, not just glance and see what mistakes he made. Personally, I didn't see him struggle too much, but it was hard to judge if Ryker truly understood everything he was doing. Although, I did see what the teacher meant when I asked Ryker to read his homework questions to me. The process was slow and hard work for Ryker as he had trouble retrieving the words and often mispronounced simple and easy syllables. Luckily, both Jacob and Clayton were finished with their homework when we did this, or it could have embarrassed Ryker.

Anyhow, after a brief discussion with Ryker, we finished his homework. He was free to go and went upstairs while I ordered pizza. With Rita at Lincoln's therapy session, we weren't doing anything crazy for dinner, and I didn't plan on making anything. The only thing that worried me was Clayton's stomach. However, he hasn't complained about his stomach since this morning when he woke up. The poor boy just couldn't stop coughing, and his headache wouldn't go away either. So pizza would be a test for him to see if the stomach problems went away.

While we waited, I called Adam's parents and spoke to his mother about a play date this weekend. I didn't want to start with a sleepover, because I personally felt they were a year or two away from having them. Plus, his parents did not know me, so it would be better to start with a play date. After talking for a few minutes, Adam's mother agreed, and we had a time set for 2:00 pm on Saturday. It allowed the boys to come home from soccer and get cleaned up.

Anyway, by the time I was off the phone, the doorbell rang. Once I paid the delivery man, I saw Rita and Lincoln driving up to the house, so it was perfect timing. By the time I set the pizza down on the counter, Lincoln was running through the door to the garage.

"Hey, kiddo!"

"Hi!" Lincoln replied as he ran over and gave me a hug.

"How was therapy?" I asked as I kissed the top of his head.

"Good... where is everybody?"

"Should be coming down soon."

"Oh cool."

"So, what did y'all talk about?"

"Umm, a lot of stuff," Lincoln said as he went for a piece of pizza and took a bite. "We umm talked about... umm, you know what happened again."

"Bud, don't talk when you're chewing food."

"Oh sorry,"

"And grab a plate, ya goof," I chuckled.

"I'm starving, though!"

"I can tell!

"What's there to drink?"

"Water or juice?"

"Water, please," Lincoln stated as he sat in the chair.

"Alright," I said and hollered for the boys to come down for food. "Oh, but back to therapy... that's good, I'm glad you talked about it again."


"How do you feel, or I mean... umm, what are your thoughts?"

"I told Ruth that I umm forgive you and stuff."


"And umm, we talked about Frank too."

"Sounds like I missed a lot," I chuckled.

"Not really," Lincoln replied as he went for another bite. "Hi Clay!"

"Hi," Clayton coughed as he entered the kitchen, followed by his brothers.

"Hello everyone," Rita said as she finally entered into the mix.

"Come grab a slice," I instructed. "Plenty of pizza here."

"I will... let me set my stuff down," Rita replied. "What did the doctor say about Clayton?"

"I gots a nose infection."

"Eww gross," Lincoln quickly stated.

"A nose infection?" Rita asked.

"A sinus infection," I chuckled.

"Yeah, that," Clayton remarked, and I noticed he was starting to wheeze whenever he wasn't talking.

"Well, at least that's curable!" Rita laughed. "A few days on medicine, and you'll be feeling great."

"I hope so," I said.

"Me too," Clayton coughed.

"Buddy, cover your mouth when you cough, okay?"

"Yeah... I don't wanna get sick like you," Ryker informed everybody, which made Clayton stick out his tongue.

"Boys," I said before anything could escalate beyond a harmless facial expression.

"What kind of pizza do we have?" Rita asked and walked over to the table. "Clay? What's on your arm?"

"I don't know," Clayton stated as he took another bite of food.

"Where?" I questioned Rita.

"There... actually on both arms."

"Hey buddy, come over here," I commanded Clayton.


"I just wanna look at you."

"Okay," Clayton spoke and walked over to my chair with the pizza in his hands.

"Please set that on the table."

"But I'm hungry!"


Against his wishes, he complied after he took another small bite of the food.

"Thank you, Lil Bear, now let me see those arms!" I said, and Clayton gave me both of his hands to hold. On both arms, were numerous blemishes that were red and slightly elevated on his skin that had a blanched center. "I'm gonna lift up your shirt kiddo, turn around too," I stated and began to look at his body. Similar to his arms, these marks were on his back as well. In fact, they were all over him. I pulled down the back of his pants to see them on his bum as well as his legs. "I think... I think he is having an allergic reaction, Rita. Are these hives?"

"I think you're right, do you have any Benadryl?"

"Upstairs in one of the bathrooms."

"I'll get it."


"What's happening?" Lincoln inquired, as all the boys had stopped eating.

"I think your brother is having a reaction to the medicine."

"Is that bad?" Ryker asked.

"Umm," I stuttered as I didn't want to alarm any of them. "Right now... I don't think so."

"Does Clay have to go to the hospital?" Questioned Jacob.

"Umm, maybe."

"What?" Clayton worriedly responded as he coughed.

"We might have to bud... we will see."

"I don't wanna go."

"We won't go unless I think we have to."

"Got it," Rita called as she was walking down the hallway.

"Let's see if this helps, okay?"

"Uh-huh," Clayton answered. From here, it was a waiting game. We finished the pizza, and the good news was Clayton ate a piece and a half without throwing it back up. However, the rest of the night didn't really go as Clayton or anybody wanted. The hives were getting worse, but what was more concerning was his breathing. His wheezing kept getting louder, and I feared the antibiotics were causing his throat to close. So against Clayton's wishes, he and I left for the hospital around 7:30, about an hour after taking medicine. It was almost impossible to leave as his brothers didn't understand why they couldn't come and support him. Which meant Rita was going to have a tough time getting them three settled and asleep.

Anyway, we arrived at the hospital, and the staff immediately started going over Clayton. I guess it was a bit more severe than I initially thought when I noticed they started undressing Clayton as they rolled him to his room. Of course, I wasn't more than a step away from Clayton, but he became overwhelmed and started to struggle against the nurses. They almost had his shirt off when he began to fuss.

"Buddy," I said as I put my hand on his bare chest. "I'm right here."

"Why... why are they taking my shirt?"

"Because they have to look at you and see what's going wrong."

"Excuse me, sir," said the male nurse as he went for Clayton's shoes.

"I'll be right here, bud. I promise I won't let anything bad happen, okay."

"Pants next," I heard a voice call, and that sent Clayton into freakout mode as we made it to the room. This, of course, made everything ten times harder for the nurses to do anything to him. "Restrain him."

"What? Excuse me?" I said.

"Sir, we need to examine him. Nurses, restrain him."

"DO NOT," I hollered.

"Your son is flipping out. We can't do anything," stated the male nurse as he was beginning to pull down Clay's pants.

"Because you're stripping him naked and he is 5 years old... EVERYONE BACK AWAY FROM HIM."

"But, sir."

"No, don't... just-just give me a second. You don't need to scare the boy. It's a new experience for him and-and you're stripping him? You-you ugh... you could at least tell or explain to him why and what you are doing. He doesn't need or deserve to be treated like... like some Barbie doll getting de-robed." I protested as I went over to Clayton, and he practically jumped into my arms.

"Do you want us to help?"

"YES, just explain to him what you are doing. That's all I'm asking... It's not that hard! He is a smart boy, he'll be able to understand and comprehend what's happening if you speak to him,."

"We don't-"

"Stop... you won't change my mind... what's your name by the way?"

"My name is Zack."

"You have kids?"

"I do not."

"Then don't try to tell me what's right and wrong when handling my boy."

"You're absolutely right," said the doctor, who finally entered the room. He must have heard the tail end of my small rant. "Zack, go ahead and take a break, grab Marissa to help please, I'll take it from here."

"Okay," Zach replied in a harsh tone.

"Thank you," I stated. "And you are?"

"I'm Doctor Noll," He began as he walked over to greet us but primarily focused on Clayton, "what's your name?"

"I'm... I'm Clay," Clayton sniffled.

"Clay, do you mind if I take a look at you?"

"Can I... I stay with Garret?"

"Yes, you can, but can you stand up for me?"

"O-okay?" Clayton spoke as he slowly got to his feet and put his hand on my shoulder to steady himself.

"Any medication, food allergies?" The doctor asked as he started to examine Clayton's upper body.

"Penicillin for a sinus infection, but no food allergies."

"Has he been on penicillin before?"

"I don't know... he is my foster child. First time being sick since living with me."

"No past records?"

"He wasn't in the best environment, he-"

"Say no more," Doctor Noll said. "Ok, Clay, can I pull these pants down to look at your legs?"

"Can I keep my undies on?"

"For the moment!"

"Okay," Clayton replied.

"Atta boy," Doctor Noll spoke as he put his fingertips in the waistband and slipped his pants to his ankles. "Let's step out of these, okay?"


"There we go," the doctor said and handed it to me.

"What do you think it is?"

"It's definitely a reaction to the medicine, and it's pretty severe big by the looks of it. My main concern is if it's a type of reaction we call anaphylaxis. Umm, are you itchy at all, Clay?"

"Umm, a little."

"Is it hard to breathe?"

"He has been wheezing," I interrupted as Clayton was looking a bit weak.

"It's hard to swallow," Clayton answered.

"Slight swelling in the neck," Doctor Noll noted. "Nurse Abbie, get a mild sedative ready."

"Why?" I tried to say as calmly as I could.

"If he is going into anaphylactic shock, then we have to act fast. It's better to do this under a mild sedative as we start to check things over."

"Wait... umm, okay."

"Marissa, get a shot of epinephrine, an IV, and antihistamines... have you given Clayton anything else?"

"Umm... bena... Benadryl."


"About thirty minutes ago."

"Okay... Clay, can we take a look under these, please?"

"Do we have to?"

"It'll be real quick, and you can keep them on after, okay?"

"Umm... o-okay."

"We will make it quick," Doctor Noll assured as he quickly pulled Clayton's underwear down to his knees. "Turn please... got it, alright good job Clayton! Let's pull these up," he said and brought them back up to Clayton's waist. "By the way... I like Ironman more than Spider-Man. Ironman is better!"

"Nut-uh," Clayton giggled but then lightly coughed.

"Is too, but my son has the same underwear as you do. I keep on telling him Ironman is better," Doctor Noll chuckled.

"Spiderman is bestest!'

"Mmm nah," Doctor Noll spoke as he turned back to me. "Alright, we have hives all over his body. Clay, you can sit back down."

"Doc, how severe is this?"

"It's severe... nurse get a breathing tube prepared just in case."

"A-a... a breathing tube?" I inquired.

"Okay, Clayton, my friend over here," he was referring to the other nurse who was helping him out. "This is Abbie, and she is gonna give you a quick puff up this medicine, okay? It's going in your nose."

"Will it hurt?"



"Let's lay down first."

"You're not gonna leave, are you?" Clayton asked me.

"Not a chance," I said and ran my hand through his hair.

"Alright, ready. One, two, and three... there ya go, atta boy! Good job Clay... Now it might take a second to kick in, but he is under mild sedation. This type of medication will make him very drowsy and relaxed. He will probably fall asleep, which is a good thing. We might have to insert a breathing tube if we think his throat is closing too much, but we need to get some readings first... I think the sedative is working."

"Huh... oh... I'd say so," I spoke as I looked at Clayton. He looked all looped up or a better term... stoned.

"Good... Abbie, let's hook up the IVs and pulse oximetry."

"Doctor... here is the epinephrine too," Marisa said as she was preparing the shot.

"Thank you," Doctor Noll stated, "what's his blood pressure at?"

"Still getting everything hooked up," nurse Abbie fired back.

"Hurry up."

"I know."

"Call it when you're ready."

"I will!"


"Okay, we are reading," called the nurse. "76/52"

"Is that bad?" I inquired.

"Apply the epinephrine," commanded the Doctor, and Nurse Marissa gave the shot to his thigh.

"What's happening?"

"IV is connected... all systems check."

"Good," Doctor Noll stated as he began to look at the numbers. "Heart rate and blood pressure are elevating, which is good. Means the epinephrine is working right away... okay, everything is reading."

"Doc, can you explain what is happening, please?"

"Okay, give me a moment... your son... sorry I mean foster son had a severe allergic reaction to the penicillin. His blood pressure was getting low... dangerously low. So we gave him the epinephrine, which is like a shot of adrenaline. It brought his blood pressure back up. Like I said, we have him sedated and will keep him mildly sedated through the night as we continue to monitor him. We could see a second reaction, and it would be best to keep him under sedation just in case we need to insert a breathing tube. But it also keeps Clayton and us safe if he is calm and relaxed. I will say that I think he is asleep... part of that is from the sedative, so he can and will most likely wake up. We didn't put him on a strong sedative, so he could try to stand up. What I'm trying to say... just watch over Clayton, whenever he wakes up. You don't want him slipping out of bed or walking without some help."

"Okay? But like are we done?"

"Done? No, but all we can do is wait and see how he reacts to what we are doing. The good news is his blood pressure immediately increased, it's actually a bit high, but that is okay. We are also giving him some steroids and more antihistamines to fight the hives as well as his sinus infection."

"Gotcha ya... so we are staying here?"

"One night for sure, possibly two nights, maximum three nights. Especially with that sinus infection, it's best to watch over him whenever there is an allergic reaction.

"No more penicillin, right?"

"No," Doctor Noll stated. "Now don't worry though, we are keeping a close eye on him over the next hour or so. People react differently to epinephrine in terms of side effects. However, you can get him dressed in that gown, so he isn't laying so exposed. I'm sure he'd appreciate that."

"Does his underwear need to come off?"

"Umm no... he can keep those on, we will probably bring him something else though."

"Okay?" I said as I walked over and combed my hand through his hair. Clayton was definitely asleep as the sedative knocked him out. I almost wanted to cry as I continued to rub his head and look at all the machines connected to his small body. I guess the good thing was I knew not to give him any more penicillin and the other good news was he didn't need a breathing tube.... not yet at least.

"You know... he kinda looks like you," spoke the nurse as she was monitoring all the sensors. Luckily things were starting to calm down inside the room. "If you hadn't told us he was your foster child, I would have never known."

"Well, hopefully, I can drop that foster part and just call him my son," I stated as I began to put the gown on him.

"Do you need any help?"

"I should be good, thank you... what's your name again?"

"My name is Abigail, but you can call me Abbie."

"Okay, umm, I apologize for yelling earlier. I uhh... well... I umm get defensive of them, especially in that kind of situation. He and his brothers well... I'm getting off-topic, but please apologize to the other nurse for me."

"It's okay, I understand... no hurt feelings. Plus, I kind of agree with you, he was a bit pushy," Abbie spoke.

"Why thank you," I chuckled.

"Alright... I am going to do my rounds," Doctor Noll interrupted as he finished writing on the clipboard and inserted it by the end of Clayton's bed. "Nurse Abbie will primarily be in charge of Clayton. She has three other patients, but rest assured, she is one of the best."

"Thank you, doctor."

"Uh-huh... and I never caught your name, sir."

"It's Garret... Garret Hamel."

"Mr. Hamel, if you have any questions, please don't hesitate to ask. My shift ends soon, but I'll be back tomorrow. Another doctor will be on duty."

"Okay," I said as I took a deep breath. I finally tied the gown arms around Clayton and tucked him under the covers as we finished up the conversation.

"Abbie, a moment, please," Doctor Noll said as they stepped out of the room and left me to myself. I didn't really know what to think, because everything happened so quick. I mean we were rushed in here, they started doing all this... this... I don't even know what to call it, and then just left me here as if everything was okay. Although it didn't seem okay... Clayton was drugged up, attached to all this equipment, and they gave a shot in his leg to counteract the reaction. It all happened so quick it kinda left me dumbfounded.

Anyhow, it was no longer than 10 minutes when Nurse Abbie came back into the room. This time she had a list of papers for me to fill out to the best of my ability and also checked on Clayton before leaving. No joke it took me about 20 minutes to fill out everything, and probably would have been longer if I knew his past medical history. Once I finished, it scared me that Clayton and his brothers would be a trial and error type of deal, anytime they got sick. So finding out their past experiences would become a top priority for me after getting Clayton home.

With everything completed on my end, I decided to call some family to share what's going on. I dialed my parents first, and my mom stated she was coming up tomorrow to help up. I tried to protest and say it wasn't needed, but when do parents every listen to there kids? In all reality, she would really be useful in helping Rita with the boys, so Rita wouldn't be wearing herself out. My father would have come too, but he couldn't make it. However, he still planned on arriving on Tuesday for Ryker's Birthday Party.

In between phone conversations, I would text Jordan what was going on. Of course, she was supportive and helpful with suggestions. My next call was to Kelly and company. After I got off the phone with them, I immediately received a text from Christian asking if everything was okay, which was very kind of him. My mother must have told Katherine and Lucas as they called me, asking if they could help out. However, being in Pittsburgh limited their options, so I suggested a card from the boys to Clayton. It would cheer him up whenever he fully came out of sedation. I was going to call Calvin, but it was becoming late, so I sent a text instead and stated everything was under control. He didn't reply because he was either helping Derek or sleeping. If I were a betting man, it would probably be the first option.

My final call was to Rita and the boys. The three were just getting into the shower, so I told Rita everything that was happening. Of course, she never put up a single groan, but whenever I told her my mother would be coming, I could sense some relief in her voice. Anyhow, with the boys in the shower, I told Rita to kiss them goodnight for me, and I'd see them tomorrow... hopefully.

With everything calm, I started to map out my sleeping situation... it wasn't looking too great. Part of me wanted to cuddle up next to Clayton, but I didn't know if that would be allowed since he was hooked up to all these devices. Plus, the nurse was coming in every 20-30 minutes to examine him. The last time she came in, we checked over his body to see if any more hives appeared. The task was nearly impossible because every single body part had a hive on it. Although, she did hand me a diaper to put on Clayton after we pulled his underwear down to check his midsection. Her explanation was with him being sedated, sometimes body functions are relaxed. So a diaper would be easy, especially with him sleeping through the night. I didn't think it was a necessity. Nevertheless, the nurse strongly recommended it. So I caved and put a diaper on Clayton, which was something I didn't think I'd ever be doing.

Just as I finished pulling the side up, I heard my phone ring. I covered Clayton with a blanket and went for the chair where my belonging were. To no surprise, it was Lincoln face-timing me.

"Hey buddy," I answered and sat down.

"Are umm... are you coming home?" He asked as he was lying down on his bed and drying his hair.

"Not tonight, kiddo."

"But why?"

"I have to stay with Clayton, but..." I began as I noticed he was naked as the day he was born. "Buddy... remember what I said about being commando on screen?"

"Commando?" Lincoln questioned as he stood up to dry his body and gave a full frontal view.

"Bud... I mean naked. You can't do that!"

"But, I wanna talk to you, and I just got out of the shower."

"And we can talk, but Lincoln... all that's on my screen right now... is your private bits... can we at least get it pointed somewhere else?"

"Oh," Lincoln giggled as he flopped back onto the bed! "You've seen it before, why does it matter!"

As he flopped on the bed, it was comical to see, and I tried my best to not laugh, "We... we aren't having this conversation right now! Why aren't you sleeping yet?"

"Because I umm... had another attack thing."

"Oh okay... I'm sorry, bud. When did it happen?"

"When I umm... when I was in the shower."

"Did Rita come help you?"

"I don't think she knows."

"Why not?"

"She didn't hear it."

"Hmm, I'm sorry... You seem to be handling it pretty well... is everything good?"

"Yeah," Lincoln said as he started to tear up. "Wish you were here. You would have heard it."

"I know... I know, but you have to cut Rita some slack. She is handling a lot."

"Yeah, but still."

"I understand," I said.

"It's whatever."

"No, it's not whatever! It's important.""

"Not really."

"Hey Lincoln, talk to me, kiddo!"

"About what though?"

"About what happened."

"I... I... I don't know what happened this time. Like everything was the same when I had it, but I didn't feel it... it umm, coming like... like I usually do now."

"Sometimes it can happen at random, you know that... it's probably because you're worried about Clayton."

"Umm... yeah, maybe... is-is he okay?"

"He is gonna be alright," I quickly reassured.

"Can I see him? Like... like Is he awake?"

"Absolutely, you can see him! But Clay is not awake, and he does have some... some devices hooked up to him. I'm just warning you that it looks a bit worse than it is, but the devices are just here to monitor his vital signs."

"His what?"

"Umm, like his breathing and blood pressure, that kind of stuff."

"Oh... okay."

"You ready?"

"Umm yeah," Lincoln answered, and I stood up from the chair. I walked over and flipped the camera screen so Clayton would appear. "Are... are you sure Clay is gonna be alright?"

"Yes, I am."

"You promise?" Lincoln asked as his voice was a bit shaky, and he was on the verge of crying.

"I do kiddo, it's gonna be alright."

"He doesn't... doesn't look alright."

"I know, but he is."

"No, he isn't," Lincoln replied, and he started to sniffle.

"Buddy... hey, hey, listen to me. Clayton is gonna be just fine. He will be back home before you know it, and Clayton will be the same Clayton we all love," I said and didn't get a reply, so I flipped the screen back, so it showed my face, "Hey Lincoln."

"Yeah?" He answered as he moved the camera away from his face.

"Look at me, kiddo!"

"O... okay," he said as he reappeared, but I could tell he had just finished wiping his eyes dry.

"You know it's okay to be concerned and show emotion, buddy. You don't need to hide your face because you've cried. You haven't done it before, so don't start now! It's okay to cry and show emotion. To me, it means you care, and there is nothing wrong with that."

"O... o... okay, Lincoln stuttered as he began to choke up. "I... I umm just never seen Clayton like... like that... it's-its kinda scary."

"I know it is... it's scary for me too. Well, at least it was, he has uhh... been pretty good after they started checking him out. They got everything where they need to be, and we have a nurse checking on him every thirty minutes or so!"

"Uh-huh," Lincoln responded with a deep breath.

"So yeah... everything is gonna be alright, I promise."

"Okay," Lincoln answered again, but I wanted to get his mind off it.

"you wanna hear some uhh... good news. Grandma will be here tomorrow!"

"Wait, really?"

"Yup! She is coming to help out."

"Oh okay! When... when will she be here?"

"I'm not sure, but I bet she is leaving in the morning."

"So she will be here when I'm at school?"

"Most likely... but at least she will be here when school is over!"

"Yeah... guess so," Lincoln replied, and I could tell he was still thinking about his brother.

"Hey buddy, it's gonna be okay. I know you're concerned, but you have to get to sleep for school! Come on, go put some undies on. I'll talk until you fall asleep, okay?"

Lincoln took another deep breath, "fine," was all he responded, and I saw him get up from his bed as he carried his laptop to his desk.

"Now tell me when you're ready for bed, okay?"

"I'm almost ready."

"Did you put on underwear?"

"... maybe."



"I mean, I don't care, just remember Rita is waking you up."

"I'll be fine!"

"Alright," I chuckled. "You under the covers?"


"Good, how was school today?" I asked, and Lincoln went on to tell me about his day. We chatted for 20 minutes or so before I heard light snoring. It was just in time as Nurse Abbie had walked in to do another check. She also was kind enough to roll in a foldable bed cot for me to sleep on, which I was grateful for because the chairs weren't comfortable.

Anyway, throughout the night, Clayton didn't wake. He did have a few coughing spells, and his body temperature rose again. The medicine must have been wearing off, which wasn't a good thing as we couldn't give him any more medication. With the reaction to the antibiotic, what he could take would be limited. Luckily sinus infections can run their course, and Clayton could recover without antibiotics, but it would be a longer process.

For me, I did manage to get some sleep, but not much as the room was busy with people doing check-ups. Although that did slow down around midnight, which was a blessing. However, the bed wasn't the most comfortable, but it was better than two chairs combined. 

!!TAKE A BREAK!!       !!TAKE A BREAK!!        !!TAKE A BREAK!!        !!TAKE A BREAK!!

Part - 2 

Thursday Morning, April 14th, 2016

The morning was a bit difficult, at least for me. My back was aching, and it hurt to stand up as I climbed out of the cot. I looked over at Clayton to find him still sleeping, and it baffled me that they had him sedated still. Or at least that's what I thought until the nurse came in and told me they stopped after midnight, but people can carry the effects for a while. So it was just a matter of time before he would be awake. Unfortunately, the cough and fever did not go away, which was our biggest concern. The hives were still prominent, but I was told they would go away with some time.

Thankfully I listened to nurse Abbie, who wasn't on shift anymore when it came to the diaper. He didn't go number two, but the diaper was filled with urine. I didn't know how much longer he would be asleep, but I changed him into another just in case.

After changing Clayton, I went down to the cafeteria and grabbed myself some fruit and juice. Once I returned, I saw they delivered oatmeal, fruit, and milk on a movable tray for whenever Clayton woke up.

It was around 9:30 when he finally started to arise. Even though he slept for I don't know... eleven hours maybe twelve, he was still loopy from the sedative. However, he didn't stay awake for long, just enough to get some food in his stomach, which, by the way, was an experience. With him up and feeling the after-effects, when he wasn't seeking attention, Clayton was concentrated on the wires connected to him. A few times, I had to lightly hit his hand, which was followed by a giggle from him. The best part was he kept saying that he loved me, and would want a hug every twenty seconds. No joke. I gave him about fifty hugs in a matter of five minutes, all while telling me his love. Not saying I didn't enjoy it either, but it was funny to see

The next time Clayton woke up, was around 11:00 am. I was sitting in the chair going through some of my emails when Clayton called "Garret?"

"Hey, Lil Bear," I replied with excitement as I stood up and walked over to him. "How are you feeling?"

"I'm... I'm tired."

"What? Still... ya can't be," I joked as I ran my fingers through his hair. He didn't seem out of it compared to earlier in the morning.

"Uh-huh," Clayton mumbled as he snuggled himself under the blanket. "I'm cold."

"You're cold?""


"Alright, I will see if we can put your clothes back on, okay?"

"I don't got clothes on?" Clayton asked as he looked into the blanket.

"Well, you do, but not your normal clothes."

"What's this?"

"What's what, honey?"

"This!" Clayton asked as he noticed the diaper.

"Umm... we had to put on a different type of underwear, so yours won't get ruined."

"Is it... is it a diaper?" Clayton giggled.


"It's kinda-kinda comfy!"

"Is it?" I laughed.


"Do you want to continue wearing it?"

"No no no," Clayton quickly replied.

"But, I thought it was comfortable?"

"But I'm not a baby, silly!"

"No," I chuckled. "No, you are not. I'll see if we can get the okay to change you out of those!"

"What's this place got to drink?"

"What?" I laughed, "I don't know all the options, but I'm sure they have lemonade, juice, or milk!"

"What about a soda?"

"I don't think so!"

"Please! I never get them anymore!"

"Because they aren't healthy."

"But, I'm sick!" Clayton replied as he tried to do his cutest puppy dog face.

"Ohh don't you give me those eyes, Mister!"


"Clayton," I chuckled. "That's not gonna work!"

"Pretty pwease!" Clayton said as he let out a noticeable fake cough.

"Oh my! You're really digging deep, aren't you," I laughed.

"Uh-huh," Clayton fake coughed again.

"Alright, alright, cut the puppy dog act! If you promise not to say anything to your brothers, we will split a soda... BUT! You can't tell any of your brothers, ya got it! We don't want to be drinking that stuff, okay?"

"Yes! I won't say nothing!"

"Good morning, mister sleepy pants," entered the nurse. "I haven't had a chance to meet you yet, you've been snoozing all day!"

"But it's only... only umm 11:10!" Clayton giggled.

"And that's been all day!"

"Nut-uh," Clayton replied. "Not all day... just most of it!"

"We will go with that... anyway, my name is Stephen, and I'll be your Nurse until Miss Abbie comes back, Okay?"


"How are you feeling today?"

"Good... I'm cold, though," Clayton answered, but this time he let out a real cough.

"Still see you have that cough."

"Can I take these thingies off?"

"Not yet!" Nurse Stephen answered as Claytonvwas referring to the IV and the monitor on his fingertip. "He's fired up and ready to go, isn't he?"

"I warned ya," I laughed. "Quick question."

"Go for it."

"Clayton was wondering if he could switch back into normal clothes."

"Umm... that shouldn't be a problem, as long as we keep the shirt off and the gown on."


"Yeah?" He answered as he was fiddling with the tape by his IV.

"Hey, stop that!"

"What?" Clayton giggled.

"You know what! Now Nurse Stephen said you could get into your underwear and comfy shorts, but you need to keep the shirt off and gown on still."


"Great!" Nurse Stephen spoke. "We will have to take a quick look at you when the doctor comes around, though."

"I'm sure that'll be fine," I said.

"Great! I'll let you get changed in private, but before I do, what would you like for lunch, Clayton?"

"It's Clay!"

"Warned you about that too!" I joked!

"You weren't kidding!" Laughed Stephen. "But CLAY, your options are a turkey and cheese sandwich with chips and a drink, chicken tenders with fries and a drink, or tacos! Which one would you like?"

"Umm... chicken, please with a soda!"

"With a lemonade," I interrupted. "Any extra cup too."


"I'm getting both, don't worry. I just have to run down to the cafeteria after we get you changed."

"Oh... okay!"

"So, lemonade?" Nurse Stephen asked.

"Yes, please."

"Alright, I'll let you get changed. Lunch will be served around 12:30-1 o'clock."

"Gotcha ya, thanks," I responded as the nurse closed the door. "Alright, time to strip naked, boy! Down to your birthday suit, you go!"

"Okay!" Clayton giggled at my gesture, "you're silly!"

"Sometimes," I said as Clayton slowly stood up. Even though he wasn't sedated, he had some slight trouble gaining his balance. Although after a few seconds of support from me, he was good to go.

Once Clayton was out of the diaper and into his underwear and shorts, we put the gown back on and laid down to watch TV. We killed some time, but boredom was setting in. If Clayton weren't sick with a sinus infection or didn't have hives all over his body, this kid would have been ready to run a mile. Hell, I think he was prepared to run two miles, but no one was about to let that happen. The energy was definitely boiling up in his body from sitting around and not doing much. Minus a few coughs, he kept on sighing a deep breath.

"I'm not going to hockey, am I?"

"Unfortunately, you're not," I answered and started to rub his chest.

"This sucks!"

"I know it does, but once you get healthy, we will go outside and practice some shots, okay?"

"But I wanna skate!"

"Maybe we will go to the rink for a public skate."

"What's that?"

"Means anyone can ice skate if they pay."


"Knock knock," came a voice from the door.

"Jordan!" Clayton cheered.


"What are you doing here," I chuckled as I got up.

"Well, I had some free time, so I wanted to see you and check on Clayton."

"That's very kind of you," I responded as I walked over and gave her a kiss.

"Eww, Yuck," Clayton giggled!

"Glad to see he hasn't changed," Jordan laughed.

"Nope, not one bit," I responded. "What's in the bag?"

"A bunch of goodies!"

"Like what?" Clayton eagerly asked.

"Well," Jordan began as she walked over to his bed and took a seat on the side. "I heard from someone that you like animals!"

"Yeah!" Clayton quickly answered as I now sat beside Jordan.

"Soooooo, I'd like you to meet... SNOWBALL, THE POLAR BEAR!"

Clayton's eyes widen to the size of melons when he saw the stuffed animal, "do... do I get to keep him?"

"He is all yours!"



He hugged that stuffed animal so tight as he brought snowball to his chest. "Garret! Look! He is just like the one you got me."

"I know," I answered as I started to rub Jordan's thigh. "Thank you... you didn't have to do that."

"I know," she replied and gave me a quick kiss. "I wanted too, and it's the least I could do," Jordan said as she now ran her hand through Clayton's hair. "I was so nervous! I had to make sure I was choosing the right one! I didn't know if you liked polar bears!"

"I really really like it," Clay responded. "Thank-thank you!"

"You're so very welcome."

"Can-can I give you a hug?"

"Pshh... I was hoping for one!"

And Clayton smiled from ear to ear as he opened his arms up and they embraced one another, "thanks again."

"You're very welcome! But I got another surprise!"

"You do?" I asked.

"Yup! I stopped by your house before coming. I grabbed a few things, but I had some help picking out everything you would like.... so I have a couple pairs of fresh clothes for you two to wear-"

"Was-was it Rita?" Clayton interrupted. "That umm... helped you?"

"Maybe," Jordan chuckled as she pushed his hair to the side. "But, I also brought your Nintendo DS to play!"

"You did? Thank you thank you thank you!" Clayton happily answered. "I was so bored!"

"Was I not good company?" I jokingly asked.

"I mean, yeah, but I got my DS now!" Clayton replied as he flipped open the device and started playing the same game he previously saved.

"Before you get brainwashed into that game for hours, what do you say to Jordan?"

"Thank you!"

"You're welcome," Jordan chuckled as Clayton barely picked up his head.

"Well, thank you," I laughed. "I think that'll keep him entertained for a while."

"It was no problem at all, plus I grabbed us lunch."

"What? You know, you're awesome!"

"Yeah... yeah, I know!"

"What did you get us?" I asked as we made our way over to the window where the chairs were.

"Options were a bit limited, but someone suggested I try this Italian place. It's not too far from here, so I ordered a meatball sub for us to split, chicken parmigiana, and a plate of ravioli... I didn't know if Clay had food coming or not."

"He does, but that was nice of you to get him something! How much do I owe you?"

"Babe... you don't owe me anything, okay? It's my treat! You've got enough to worry about anyway!"

"You sure?"


"Next time we go out, dinner is on me then!"

"I figured," Jordan chuckled as we began to open the containers of food. "So, what's going on? What happened?"

"An allergic reaction to penicillin... a severe one... it was so crazy. One moment we are entering the room, and the doctors start checking him out. The next thing I know, nurses are rushing around to get a shot of this... this epinephrine stuff. I don't know, I guess his blood pressure was too low, and the shot brought it back up. It took seconds, and everyone calmed down. It was... was the wildest thing."

"Me smell something good," Clayton shouted as he didn't look up from his device.

"You getting hungry, Lil Bear?"


"Alright, well, your food should be here soon."


"So, is he getting released today?" Jordan inquired.

"I have no idea... they haven't told me much about that. I mean, he still has a sinus infection and hives all over him."

"His forehead did feel warm."

"Yeah, he has been battling a fever this whole time."

"It'll just take some time," Jordan stated as she took a bite of the ravioli. "Oh, that's delicious... so what's new? I feel like we haven't seen each other much."

"I know, and I apologize."

"Garret, don't apologize! I understand, trust me, I do!""

"I know but still," I said as I took a piece of ravioli too. "Oh... that is good, but nothing is new. My mother is on her way up to help Rita with the other three."

"That'll be nice, Rita looked tired when I picked everything up today."

"Yeah, I'm going to give her a few days off whenever everything settles down."

"I bet she will enjoy that."

"She deserves it," I said. "So, have you heard anything about Jacob's grandparents?"

"No, not really. Umm... we had some investigators come by and pick up the tapes we recorded... well copies of the tapes. We wanted to keep the originals with us."

"Oh... okay."

"But I think it will turn into a massive investigation. I don't know if we are going to know much for a while, but that doesn't matter. You've got Jacob, which was the end result we wanted."

"I'm so thankful you have no idea. It would've been so different without him."

"I'm so happy everything worked out!"

"So am I," I laughed. "Just never thought it would be like this."

"Neither did I, nor the office. We were all set and ready to go. When we got the news, it was like 'what... umm okay? What do we do now'"

"You're telling me!" I joked.

"Clay?" Said Nurse Stephen as he entered the room. "Oh... didn't know you had company. Is this... this still a good time for food?"

"Perfect time, we just began ourselves!" I stated. "Clay, you ready?"


"Alright," I said as I stood up and walked over to his bed. "Let's put this away while we eat, okay?"

"But, I was just about-"

"Clay! It'll save, and you can start from where you left off."

"Fine," Clayton responded as the nurse wheeled the food over. "What-what about the soda?"

"Oh, that's right... umm, Jordan, you mind helping him while I run down to the cafeteria?"

"Not at all!"

"Thank you!" I replied as I started to leave out the door. It took about five or so minutes before I returned to the room. Once he had his drink, Clayton was good to roll. The three of us ate lunch and enjoyed each other's company. Jordan was there for about an hour and a half before she had to leave for work. It meant a lot to me that she stopped by, especially since I had no idea she was coming. Although the best part was Clayton's polar bear and Clayton's reaction. Even as we ate, the stuffed animal did not leave his side. I was already having strong feelings for Jordan, but she earned more points in my book. I loved how she interacted with Clayton, not just the gift, but how she isn't afraid to give out a hug or run her hand through his hair. It's the little things that I started to notice, and it made me adore her personality even more.

Anyway, after she left, Doctor Noll was back on duty and came in to look Clayton over. The good news was Clayton didn't have a second reaction like some do whenever they get an epinephrine shot. The bad news was Clayton had to stay one more night, just to monitor him. The main concern was his fever and cough that still hadn't gone away, so just as a precautionary, they wanted to keep him. The hives slowly starting to disappear, but barely, as his body was covered with them still. The other good news was Clayton didn't need to be on IV anymore. So all the medicine they would be giving him would go through the liquid oral form. The steroids would be getting stopped, but the antihistamines would continue, just because the hives were still noticeable.

Once we got the update, Clayton returned to his video game while I updated the family. My mother just arrived at my place and was getting situated, which meant Rita could head home for the day. She planned on bringing the boys to the hospital after she grabbed them from school. From here, she would take Lincoln, Ryker, and Jacob to skating lessons and then head home to make dinner. Even though she had a lot of running around, she was excited to be here, as I could tell in her voice when we talked on the phone! Before she hung up, I reminded her to put their skating gear in the car before coming, or they would miss their lesson.

With our plans set in motion, everything became a bit less stressful. I was able to reply to emails and even got a response from Ryker's teacher. He didn't sound thrilled with me pushing the evaluation back, but he offered some dates after Ryker's birthday. I had to check my schedule, but if everything stood as it stands, we would be doing the evaluation on Wednesday, April 27th.

After I completed all the available tasks I could do in a hospital room. It was a waiting game until all the others showed up. I texted my mother to tell me when she arrived because I wanted to talk to the boys before they saw Clayton. Since they were going to skating lessons and he wasn't, I didn't want them talking about it in front of Clayton.

Anyway, after four o'clock, I received the message from my mother that they had just parked the car. I told Clayton I would be right back, and I went to the entrance of the building. As the doors automatically opened, I saw my mother holding Ryker's and Jacob's hands as they walked through the parking. Lincoln was walking with his hands in his jacket pockets as it was a brisk spring evening.

All three of them were talking my mother's ear off as I chuckled at the sight of them before I said, "boys!"

They all looked at the same time, but Ryker replied first as he ditched my mother and ran over, yelling, "Hi!" He looked so cute as his blonde hair flopped in the wind.

"Hey, buddy!" I replied as I kneeled, and he ran into my arms.

"Missed you!" Ryker answered and kissed my cheek.

"Ohh, I missed you so so much," I said and gave him a tight squeeze.

"Go ahead, I'll catch up, boys," I heard my mother say.

"Okay!" Jacob stated and started to run towards us, which wasn't that far.

"You sure?" I heard Lincoln inquire.

"I'll be fine, honey, thank you though,"

"Okay!" Lincoln answered as he started after his brother.

"Hey, Jacob!" I began as he just reached me.

"Hi!" Jacob answered with a smile and gave me a quick hug.

"Hey," Lincoln spoke as he finally reached us.

"Hi bud, I missed you boys."

"Missed you too," Lincoln answered as he was next for a hug.

"I hope so," I laughed and kissed his forehead. "Love you guys!"

"Is Clay gonna die?" Ryker eagerly asked.

"What? No not even close! Where'd you hear that?"

"I just wanted to make sure!" Ryker smiled.

"He is gonna be fine," I responded as my mother finally reached us. "Hey!"

"Hi, honey!"

"Thank you so much for coming up," I stated as I gave her a hug.

"You're welcome, honey.... and you know I couldn't pass on an opportunity to see these boys either!"

"She got us presents again!" Lincoln spoke.

"What did you get this time?"

"We all umm, we all got this," Ryker began as he grabbed my hand to hold, "lego type starship thingy to build."

"We haven't started it yet," Jacob added.

"But it's like 3000 pieces," said Ryker.

"3000! It will take forever to build!" I joked

"That's why we are gonna wait for you and Clayton to start," spoke Lincoln.

"Alright... it looks like I know how we will be spending some family time together... now did you guys thank grandma?"

"Oh, they did," my mom laughed.

"Yeah!" Lincoln said and gave her another half hug.

"Can we go see Clay?" Ryker inquired.

"Absolutely, but before you do, I need to talk to you all... so Clay is staying here tonight just so they can watch over him. He has no devices hooked up to him, nothing monitoring his heart or anything like that. If I forced the issue, he could be coming home tonight, but for his safety, he is staying. That being said, whenever you all go see him, try your best, not to mention hockey or skating practice. He still has the original illness, so he is coughing, and it's limiting what he can do. Clay will not be able to go to training, and I don't wanna make him feel bad about it. He's already been feeling down about not going with everyone, but he is okay now! I'm sure he will be happy to see you. So any questions?"

"Nut-uhh," Ryker answered, and Jacob shook his head no from behind his brother.

"Nope," Lincoln added. "What room is he in?"

"Room 125... it's on the left side. You can go ahead of grandma and me, but Lincoln, just make sure you get your brothers there, okay?"

"Where are you going?" Ryker asked.

"We will be behind you guys, but I didn't know if you all wanted to run ahead."

"Oh, okay!"

"Let's go," Lincoln instructed as he grabbed on to his brother's hands, and they started on there way, leaving my mother and me to talk.

"Any issues?" I asked as my mom wrapped her arm around mine, and we started walking as the boys ran ahead.

"No," chuckled my mom. "Never... at least never so far."


"They are just so lovable!"

"How so?"

"You know how so! Just the affection they show and how they care for others."

"I think they've never been shown true trust and love from people that look after them until now."

"I don't think either... all of them always give big hugs and make sure I'm okay. Although Jacob was a bit disappointed that Grandpa wasn't here yet."

"Those two," I chuckled.

"I know," my mom laughed. "So, how are you?"

"I'm good... l am tired, back hurts, but otherwise well! The cot they have for me isn't the most comfortable."

"Understandable... Would you want to switch roles, and I'll stay overnight?"

"Oh no, not at all. I need to be with Clayton anyway."

"Was just asking."

"I know, thank you, but how was Rita?"

"She looked tired, but in a positive mood! She's a wonderful woman."

"Oh trust me, I know!"

"I told her to take the day off, I hope you don't mind." My mother stated, " I mean I'm sure she would come over tomorrow if you wanted-"

"As long as you don't mind running around."


"Good, what car did you bring?"

"My Acura, why?"

"Just making sure you had enough room to take them all. I could give you the Mercedes SUV."

"Oh... thanks, but I like my little SUV! We had plenty of room!"

"Gotcha ya," I said as we got closer to the room and heard the four boys giggling.

"Listen to them," my mother stated.

"I know," I chuckled as we entered. When we pushed the door open, I saw Ryker climbing down from the bed and Lincoln giving his brother a hug.

"Grandma!" Clayton called out

"Hi Clay!" My mom replied as she walked over. "How are you feeling?"

"I got a nose infection still, or I could leave."

"A nose infection, huh?" My mom chuckled as she sat down on the side of the bed and gave him a hug.


"Well, you'll be out of here before you know it!"

"I hope... it's boring."

"You haven't been having fun with me?" I joked as I pulled a chair over for us to sit in.

"I have!" Clayton giggled

"I know," I chuckled as I took a seat.

"Can I sit with you?" Ryker asked.

"Of course you can."

"Thanks," Ryker replied as he plopped down in the middle of my lap and backed his body against mine.

"Love you," I said as I wrapped my arms around him and let them fall to his stomach as I kissed the back of his head.

"Scoot over, Clay," Lincoln began as he wanted to lay down next to him. Jacob was a bit more reserved than I'm used to seeing. It wasn't like he wasn't around us, but he was reserved as he stood next to Ryker and me.

As Lincoln, Clay, and my mother were chatting away, I started to rub Jacob's arm and asked, "you okay?"

"Yeah," he quickly replied.

"Come here, kiddo," I said as I moved Ryker to my right knee.

Jacob smiled and quickly took the open invitation as he sat down and got comfortable. I kissed the side of his cheek and whispered," He's gonna be okay, you don't need to worry, bud."

"I know," Jacob replied as he drifted his body deeper into mine.

"Who got you this?" Lincoln said as my attention shifted back to them. He was holding the polar bear that was given to Clayton earlier in the day.

"That's snowball!" Clayton began, "Jordan got me it!"

"Really?" Lincoln quickly asked.

"Uh-huh," Clayton cutely replied. "I really like it!"

"That's uhh really umm... nice of her."

"Guess what grandma got us!" Ryker loudly interjected.

"We got gifts?" Clayton perked up, but I didn't really listen to the responses of Ryker or Jacob. Instead, my attention was focused on Lincoln, who was still holding the polar bear as he stared at it. I was curious to know what was going through his mind at that moment, but I doubt I'd ever know. I was just hoping it was positive thoughts, which couldn't have been anything else, really. He kept looking at it for a few seconds before setting it next to Clayton and joining in on the conversation.

The boys were there for an hour or so before they had to leave for skating. Clayton knew they were going, but he tried his best to make it look like he was okay with staying. After his brothers were out of the room, he did have a mini-meltdown about not participating, although I understood where it was coming from. I tried my best to move past it, but it put a slight damper on the night.

Anyway, as the night went on, it was smooth sailing in terms of health-related stuff. His cough seemed to be going away, but he still had a few moments. The fever was still around but wasn't as high as it's been, and Clayton's headaches were disappearing. The nurses and doctor definitely gave the okay for him to leave tomorrow morning, which was great. Although he still had a sinus infection, the doctors believed the worst of it was over, and the illness was nothing we couldn't combat with over the counter medication. It might take a bit longer, but at least he could be at home. As for the hives, we didn't have much progress, but they were slowly disappearing.

!!TAKE A BREAK!!       !!TAKE A BREAK!!        !!TAKE A BREAK!!        !!TAKE A BREAK!!         

Part - 3

Friday morning, I woke up approximately at 6:30am as the bed, and my overall comfort levels were terribly off. I couldn't wait to be back in my home where I could shower and possibly take a nap. The worst part was trying to fall back asleep on that damn hospital cot, which was rather a far pitched idea. Meaning I was a bit grouchy, even though I wasn't interacting with anyone, I felt like I could flip out on anyone at any moment. It was like cabin fever, I couldn't do it anymore. It was only a few short hours left... well, at least hopefully.

With it being so early, and not much going on. I decided to take a walk to the cafeteria in hopes of coffee or any type of substance. Luckily, for my sanity, they were just beginning to brew coffee. I also took this time to make sure my mother was up for the boys, but more importantly, I typed out a text for Rita that read.

"As I sit here drinking my cup of coffee (which is not good, but it's coffee at least, right? LOL, I'm spoiled by yours... I know) in the cafeteria of the hospital. I just wanted to thank you for being here for the boys and me. I don't ever want you to think that it goes unnoticed because it doesn't. You are every bit as important to raising the four boys as I am. Without you, I wouldn't be able to be such an incredible father figure to them. I'm so excited to see where my future goes with them, and I can't picture it without the help of you. Just look how helpful you've been to me this week. I wouldn't be able to stay with Clayton. Even worse, I would have had to hire a babysitter that I wouldn't be able to trust, especially with the unique background of the boys. So PLEASE! PLEASE! PLEASE! Enjoy the Friday and the weekend. Relax or do something fun, but rest assured everything will be fine here! But thank you again, Rita. Honestly, it means so much having you around!


P.S. Clayton is supposed to be getting released in a few hours! YAY!"

After scanning it over, I sent the message and took my cup of coffee back to Clayton's hospital room. He wasn't awake yet, so I tried my best to be quiet. I wanted to collect his belongings into our bag so that when it was time to leave, all we had to do was change clothes and we could sign out. He didn't have much, and neither did I, which was made packing easy.

From here, it was a waiting game, as the nurses would come and go throughout the morning. Thankfully, Clayton was up around 9:30, and after one last look over from the doctor, we were good to go! Some limitations had to be set as they advised us to take it easy and limit Clayton's physical activities. Whether he liked that or not, it would be an easy-going couple of days for him. Although I hadn't told Clayton yet, that meant he would not be able to participate in soccer this Saturday. However, I didn't see a reason to say anything as I was trying to take it day by day with him.

Once we got in the car, we made a quick stop at McDonald's drive-thru for breakfast. Yeah, I know... great first meal out of the hospital, but he and I were both hungry. After we got our food, it was time to go home!

Anyway, we arrived, and the boys were obviously at school. Still, they decorated the kitchen with a welcome home sign for Clayton. It was so cute and adorable that I had to capture Clayton's reaction on my phone. He was so happy about the welcome home sign, but even more so when he saw the get well soon cards. Not only did my brother Lucas send one card, but so did his kids as they all sent individual handwritten notes for Clayton.

LJ's was so cute as he decorated it with a bunch of hockey items and said, "Get better soon. Love you and see you soon!" Ashton's was similar except instead of hockey stuff, he drew a picture of Clayton and him. It was a stick figure, but the names were above each person so we could tell who was who. Jackson's card, well, I couldn't really understand what he meant to draw, and the words were all over the page. However, it was the thought that counted, and I knew Clayton liked every single one. On top of those cards, Kelly and her crew also sent one card with handwritten messages from everyone, which was very thoughtful.

After reading the cards and putting them on the fireplace mantel, it was time for showers. Together we hopped in the big shower and washed off three nights of hospital smell/grime or as Clayton called it cooties! I don't know where he learned that word, but I'd be willing to bet it was from his brothers. Anyway, once we were clean, I got him dressed and sent him downstairs to be with my mother. I, on the other hand, jumped in my bed for a nap as I desperately needed one.

From here, the day kind of whizzed by. After I woke up from my nap, Clayton was on the couch, taking a snooze as he cuddled with my mother. It was close to picking up the boys from school, so after a quick snack, I left. Obviously, they were thrilled to see me back home, and they had a ton of questions about Clayton. Even though they already knew the answers.

Once we arrived home, the boys wasted little time getting out of their school clothes and playing video games or whatever they did. It was nice because they included Clayton in everything, which gave me some time with my mother. We chatted about all kinds of stuff like the birthday party, gifts, people coming, and even Jordan. Speaking of her, I sent another thank you message and invited her over for dinner tomorrow. However, she wasn't able to make it on such short notice, and I understood.

Going into the rest of the night, I wanted to spend it with family watching a movie. However, I wasn't sure if the boys wanted to, but regardless, my mother and I were planning on it. First, she had to get comfortable, which could take a bit, so I flicked on ESPN to catch up with all the sports. The NHL playoffs began a few weeks ago. Unfortunately, Columbus was knocked out by the Penguins, but I still had an interest in the game. As the highlights played, I made my way to the kitchen for a small glass of whiskey to sip on. Returning to the couch, I stopped to grab some blankets when I heard a pair of footsteps coming down the stairs.

"Hey, buddy!" I said as I closed the closet door back and walked back to the family room with Jacob in tow.


"Whatcha doing?"

"Nothing," Jacob replied.

"Seems boring," I joked. "Did Grandma tell you we were watching a movie after she got ready for bed?"

"No... what movie?"

"Don't know yet... we are waiting to see if everybody wanted to," I stated as I sat down and set my glass on the table.

"I will!"


"Can... can I sit on your lap?"

"Buddy, you know you don't have to ask me!" I replied, which brought a smile to Jacob's face.

"I know, just don't wanna make you mad."

"That won't happen," I chuckled, "but thanks for your concern."

"Huh?" Jacob asked as he sat down on me and laid his rump on my thighs.

"Nothing, it was a bad attempt at a joke," I spoke as I kissed the back of his head. "You wanna know what's not a joke?"


"That I love you!"

"Love you too," Jacob answered as he tilted his head upwards to look at me.

"Thanks," I laughed and quickly kissed his forehead this time.

"Can you rub my belly?"

"Thought you'd never ask.... over or under your shirt?"

"Under please!"

"You got it," I replied as I stuck my hand under his shirt. "You just wanna take this off?"

"Can I?"

"It's up to you!"

"Can I get in my PJs?"

"Umm... PJs as in a shirt with nothing else?"


"Maybe later kiddo, we have grandma here, remember?"


"But we can ditch the pants, and you can wear your undies."

"Umm," Jacob pondered. "Does grandma care about underwear?"

"Truthfully? Grandma probably wouldn't care if you had nothing on," I laughed. "But I think underwear is best when we have company. Or! Or you could get your robe."

"Umm... I'll just get comfy in my undies!"

"Alright," I chuckled. "Ready?"


"Off we go!" I playfully said as I slid my hands into the waistband and pulled them down. Jacob brought his knees to his chest as I got them to his ankles.

"More comfy already," Jacob giggled, which caused me to laugh.

"Good, shirt next. Can you do it yourself?"

"I can," Jacob stated and started to lift his shirt above his head. I hadn't planned on it, but he left his hairless armpits exposed, and I couldn't resist tickling the unsuspecting boy. I barely made contact, and Jacob knew he was in trouble as he flinched and started giggling up a storm. The best part was, the shirt trapped his arms so he couldn't free himself!

"Too easy," I called out as I tickled one of his armpits and then went over his stomach, chest, and newly exposed thighs. Jacob was howling with laughter as he couldn't contain himself.

"St... stop," he playfully giggled as he squirmed around on me. He eventually toppled over with his back on my lap, which left so much exposed for tickling. I could get his feet now, under the arms, belly, or his neck... it was all too easy.

So simple, that it wasn't even that joyful for me. Well... that's a lie because I was laughing at Jacob howling. However, I ceased my attack and finished pulling the shirt off for him, "that wasn't so bad, was it?"

"That," Jacob panted but smiled. "It... It was awful!" As he let out a giggle.

"Should we put your shirt back on?"

"NO-NO! Not doing that again," Jacob quickly fired back but laughed.

"Alright," I said as I began to scratch Jacob. Oddly enough, he managed to maneuver his body where his head was lying on the armrest of the couch, and his body was curled into a semi ball.

As he got his breathing under control and calmed down, I began scratching his upper body with one hand and his legs with my other. We were watching sports highlights waiting for my mother when Jacob asked, "so Adam is coming... right?"

"Yessir," I answered as I grabbed the blanket and unfolded it over us. "You excited?"

"Yeah!" Jacob yawned as I started to scratch again.

"It should be fun!"

"Yeah... so like what do you do?"

"What do you mean?"

"Like," Jacob said as he rolled over to look at me. "Like when you got a friend over?"

"I'm sorry, bud, I don't quite understand what you mean."

"Oh... umm, like what should I do with Adam?"

"Well... that depends. What do you like to do with your friends?" I asked I looked at him and placed my hand on his stomach close to his boxer brief line

"I... I don't know... I've never really had a friend come over... or a friend at all."

"Ahh," I said as I shifted and supported Jacob's rear so he wouldn't fall off. "Well, what do you and Adam like to talk about?"

"Minecraft!" Jacob quickly responded.

"Items on the list... one," I said and began rubbing his belly. "Hmm, what else?"

"I told him about the boat."

"TWO items now! Keep them coming!"

"Umm," Jacob giggled, which was infectious to hear. "I don't know."

"Alright, so what do you like to do?"

"Play with my brothers... like... like knee hockey! That's fun!"

"We got THREE!"

"What about like playing hide and seek, I never played it with a friend."

"You're rattling off things now!"

"Umm... umm.... should I keep going?"

"Nah, I don't think you need too, I know you've got it covered buddy."


"But you gotta promise me something."


"That you won't worry too much about it."

"But what if Adam doesn't have fun and doesn't want to play anymore?"

"I don't think that'll happen."


"Because you've got your brothers to help you come up with stuff, but I think you two will be laughing away on Minecraft or something crazy," I answered as I gave his butt a light pat. "You are gonna have so much fun! I know it!"

"I hope I do!" Jacob replied.

"You will!" I said and wanted to change topics. I could tell he was starting to worry too much about the play date. He was getting nervous, but it was a new and exciting experience. So I couldn't blame him for being anxious. "Why don't we go round up your brothers."


"Alright," I said and gave him one last pat on the bum. "Let's go."

"Can I sit here again?"

"You might have to share with one of your brothers, but yes."

"Okay," Jacob stated as he slowly rolled off my lap and on to his feet. "Can I bring the blanket, too?"

"Sure," I laughed as he had it draped over his shoulders, which covered his whole body except for his head.

"On we march," I directed as we made our way upstairs. We stopped in Lincoln's room first, and he was writing in his journal but giggled as Jacob entered the room. It didn't take much persuasion to get him to come down. Next, we went to Ryker's bedroom, where he and Clayton were playing a video game together. I think it was FIFA, which of course, reminded Clayton of his soccer game tomorrow. Thinking on my feet, I said we will talk about it tomorrow morning. Anyhow, they ended the game to come downstairs, but I didn't think it was too close. Ryker was soundly in control of the game before they quit. Once they turned off the Xbox, everyone got into pajamas. Ryker discarded everything and put on his robe. Clayton got into a onesie, but I checked over his hives to make sure nothing was getting worse. Luckily they still seemed to be disappearing from his body. Lincoln... well, I wasn't confident with him. He could walk out of his door buck naked, or he could be fully clothed. He was the wild card, but it wasn't a big deal either way.

We all walked back to the family room, where my mother was waiting for us. She must have snuck by when I was getting Clayton changed. Lincoln wasn't far behind, and similar to Ryker, he didn't have anything on but his robe. The robes on both of them did very little to hide the majority of their body, but it was better than nothing. Once everyone settled in, which was Jacob on my lap, with Ryker to my left. Lincoln was in his usual spot, but this time his legs were up over behind me. Of course, this left his boy bits exposed, but I was used to it by now. Plus, a blanket would cover everything too. The funny part was that he undid the strap and let the robe fall to his sides, so it was like he was naked. It didn't matter how his legs were positioned, the boy was letting everything hang free under the blanket. On the other side of the room, Clayton was all bundled up with grandma on the other couch. He looked happy as could be for someone with a sinus infection. Every so often, he would let out a cough or two, but he was definitely improving.

Once we got the movie started, Jacob shifted to lying next to Ryker, which freed up my lap for Lincoln to put his legs over my lap. Of course, he wanted them rubbed throughout the film. This put him to sleep at the midway point as I heard snoring coming from his direction. In fact, almost everyone was asleep except for Ryker. He almost made it to the end but fell to the sandman with fifteen minutes left. With the boys asleep, I started my nightly weekend routine of carrying them to their room. After everyone was tucked in their bed, I wasn't far behind as I went for my bedroom.

In the morning, I woke up Ryker and Jacob to get ready for soccer. Unfortunately, Clayton wasn't able to participate, but if you had asked him, he would have said he most certainly can. To prevent him from arguing, I thought it would be best to not even wake him up. Of course, I would have to deal with it once I came home, but I was willing to take that risk.

Just as we were about to leave, Lincoln had strolled down to the kitchen. He thought he had to come like last week, so he was all dressed and ready to go. To be honest, I was slightly impressed because I didn't even wake him up. Lincoln had done this all by himself without me telling him. However, I felt terrible because he didn't have to go since my mother was staying at home with Clayton. So I let him decide what he wanted to do. And surprisingly, Lincoln wanted to go, and I wasn't going to argue the additional company on the sidelines.

Once we arrived at the fields, Ryker and Jacob both went separate ways to join their teams, leaving Lincoln and me to set up. That was until Lincoln found Max, and I was ditched... go figures! Anyway, the morning went rather quick, Ryker's team lost again, but they were looking better. Jacobs's team won again as he played rather well. Then I saw that Clayton's team lost this time, and I'm sure Clay wouldn't be too happy to hear that. However, the wins or losses didn't really matter at this stage of competition.

After the last game, we hurried back home so Jacob could get cleaned up. Luckily my mother was keeping Clayton distracted, so he didn't even think about his soccer game. Anyway, I sent Jacob upstairs to go shower, but while he did that, I went to Ryker's room but stopped to grab Lincoln on the way. Ryker was just getting changed when we walked in, so I shut the door and began speaking,

"Boys, I just wanted to talk to you really quick."

"Everything okay?" Lincoln asked as Ryker had stripped off his shirt.

"Yeah, no issues at all."

"Oh... okay."

"Yeah," I laughed as I ruffled Lincoln's hair. "So boys, you know that Jacob has a friend coming over?"

"Uh-huh," Ryker answered as he was down to his underwear.

"Well, it's a big day for him. Umm, I don't believe he has had the opportunity to ever have a friend over."

"None of us really did," Lincoln remarked.

"I know, but Jacob is a little nervous."

"About what?" Ryker asked.

"That his friend won't have fun."

"Why?" Inquired Lincoln.

"Because it's a new experience for him! I bet he is nervous about losing his friend if it goes wrong."


"Look, I'm just telling you because if Jacob asks you to do something with Adam and him, don't turn it down."

"We won't," Lincoln giggled. "Is he gonna ask us to do something?"

"I have no idea, bud. Although I heard him talk about knee hockey, so maybe you could play a game of that."

"Okay!" Ryker agreed. "I love knee hockey!"

"Yeah, we can do that," Lincoln added.

"Thank you, boys. Love you."

"Love you too," Lincoln stated.

"Yeah, love ya!" Echoed Ryker.

"I know... but you guys are good to do what you want."

"I'm gonna get a shower," Ryker said.

"Yeah, you need one, you stink." Lincoln joked.

"Not as bad as you!"

"That doesn't even make sense! I didn't run around like you."

"Yeah, because... because," Ryker tried to come up with a witty counter. "Because you're bad at umm... I don't know I can't think of anything!"

"I was wondering where you were going with that," I laughed.

"I don't know," Ryker giggled.

"Well, it doesn't matter," I stated. "Hop in the shower, Ryker. Lincoln, let your brother shower in peace."

"Okay," Lincoln said as he and I left Ryker's room. Now I probably didn't need to tell the boys to play with Jacob because they would have done it anyway. However, I thought it would be best to at least warn them that Jacob was a bit nervous.

A few minutes before the clock read 2pm, Jacob began periodically checking outside to see if Adam had arrived. He had a brief moment when the front door opened, but it was my mother going out to meet Kelly. Jacob was getting more and more nervous when the clock past 2:00 but before we knew it. The doorbell was ringing, and I was confident as was Jacob, that Adam had arrived. I chuckled as I stood up from the couch, and I heard a loud thud. I don't know what happened, but it sounded like Jacob dropped a game controller or something as he came sprinting down the steps. We met at the door at the same time, and I turned the knob to open it.

"Hi!" Jacob eagerly greeted Adam as the door just started to crack open.

"Hey, Jacob," Adam quickly returned.

"Hi," I said as I reached out to shake Adam's hand and then his mother's. "I'm Garret, and I'm Jacobs foster father."

"Hello," Adam immediately responded.

"Hi, I'm Mary," Adams mother spoke. "Thank you so much for having Adam over for a play date."

"More than happy to have him," I replied. "Would you like to come in for a brief moment or two?"


"Great," I said as I waved them in and shut the door.

"Can we go upstairs," Jacob asked.

"Go for it, but walk up those steps," I answered as I tousled his hair. "And Adam, if you have any questions or need anything, just let me know! By the way, you can call me Garret, I don't really like the Mr stuff."

"Okay," Adam responded. Adam was definitely not into sports, or at least from his body type, I wouldn't have guessed if he was. The kid had some fat to his belly, face... well all over, to be honest. He had black curly hair that rested above his ears. His cheeks were puffy, and he had a small double chin. To add to it, Adam wore these glasses that should have been kept in the past decade. To top it off, he kind of waddled when he walked, but that didn't matter to me. Ask long as Jacob was happy with a friend. I could care less what he or she looked like.

"Have fun, guys," I stated. "Mary, would you like a coffee, soda, tea?"

"Oh... umm, I'm good, thank you, though," Mary responded as we walked to the kitchen and sat at the table. "Your house is amazing, and I didn't even know it was here. My husband's family has a dock at the other end of the lake, and we've been out on the water before. But you can't see this through the trees, can you?"

"Nope," I laughed. "I wanted privacy when I built the place, so I've got a barrier of trees at the end of my property and the backyard fence too."

"It's just amazing."

"Why, thank you!"

"Oh, before I forget, I wanted to thank you for inviting Adam over here. He's... he's had some trouble making friends due to his... well his weight. But ever since Jacob joined his class, Adam can't stop talking about him. It... means a lot to my husband and me."

"No problem, but seriously thank you for bringing him over. I wish I could have had this sooner, but I had some issues making sure Jacob wasn't going anywhere."

"Oh, I understand. I'm just happy it worked out."

"Me too. Jacob was pretty nervous about entertaining Adam."

"Oh my word," Mary laughed. "Adam was worrying too."

"That's funny," I chuckled. "Jacob and I had a list of activities to do. It was cute."

"Yes, it is... what time are you thinking till?"

"Depends if you want him for dinner or not? I'll probably order pizza, so he can stay here."

"If you're okay with it than I am too. Should we say 7ish?"


"Great! Oh, one more thing," Mary said. "Adam is severely allergic to peanuts and well any tree nuts. I just usually like to tell people that. He is normally pretty good about it too. He might even ask you if there is anything he can't eat in the pizza."

"Got it," I chuckled. "Anything else?"

"Umm, no, I don't think so."

"Okay, just among sure. I just recently dealt with an allergic reaction for my youngest, Clayton. He was hospitalized for three days."

"Oh, my word. Everything okay?"

"Oh yeah, he is back and just recovering."

"What was the reaction too?"


"Ohh, that's not good. My cousin is very similar. She can't take a lot of medicine."

"Yeah, that was the first antibiotic he's been on, so I'm hoping he isn't allergic to most of them."

"That would be a nightmare."

"Oh I know," I chuckled. "But now I just like to make sure no one is allergic to anything."

"I don't blame you."

"Yeah, anything else important?"

"Umm, not really!"

"Alrighty," I said as we stood up and started walking towards the front door. "Pleasure to meet you."

"Likewise," Mary replied. "See you at 7."

"Great," I stated and opened the door for her to leave. "Cya in a bit."

And Mary waved as she walked down the sidewalk. Now I didn't even bother checking on those two as I heard laughter coming from the room already. If I were a betting man, I don't think I'd see those two until the pizza arrived. In fact, my prediction wasn't far off at all. Between video games and them playing a game of knee hockey, Adam and Jacob were having a blast. I mean, we didn't even have time for a boat ride, but I'm glad we didn't. That could always be an option for next time. The best part, at least in my eyes, was whatever worries or concerns either one of them carried into the day had been quickly overcome.

Although great things have to come to an end as the saddest part of the day arrived. Mary came to take Adam home, and before he left, I offered to let Adam come back anytime he wanted. Jacob seemed okay with Adam going, even though those two had fun, I think exhaustion began to defeat Jacob, especially since he had soccer this morning.

All in all, it was an excellent day for Jacob, and I'm sure we'd be seeing Adam again. Once everyone settled down, the boys went their separate ways. I didn't really see them until it was time to tuck them in for bed. One by one, I stopped into each of their rooms to kiss them goodnight. With Lincoln being my last one, I made my way back to my room and collapsed on my bed. No joke. I was so tired that I had my eyes open for five minutes before I was out.

It was a rest and relaxation day for everybody. The biggest thing that happened was Clayton feeling better. As promised, we even went outside to practice passing and shooting. He, Ryker, and I were out there for almost two hours before they had enough and decided to head in.

In terms of Clayton's health. The cough was almost entirely gone until he laid down at night. Even then, it was very light compared to what we were going through. His hives he developed were still slightly noticeable on his thighs, groin, and bum area, but the itching and redness had subdued. It wasn't anything we couldn't cover up with shirts and pants. More importantly, I felt he was well enough to return to school tomorrow, especially since he was only going in for a half-day, unlike his brothers.

!!TAKE A BREAK!!       !!TAKE A BREAK!!        !!TAKE A BREAK!!        !!TAKE A BREAK!!

Part - 4

Monday, April 18th, 2016
Waking up, I knew this started the beginning of a busy week. I had family coming in for the party, starting with my Father on Tuesday. Then Lucas and company arrived on Friday afternoon. We had soccer on Saturday morning and then, of course, Ryker's birthday party. Speaking of that, somewhere amongst practices, therapy, family, and school work, I had to take the boys shopping. To top it off, I had to order my gifts for Ryker and order all the fun activities for the party. I decided to go with a 20ft high inflated slide, a bouncy house, and an inflatable obstacle course for everyone. My goal was to take everyone to the soccer game minus an adult. While we were at the soccer game, the company where I rented these from, would deliver and set everything up. If everything was done that way I wanted, none of the kids would know or see the inflatables until they entered the kitchen. I wanted everything to be concealed, so Ryker would have no idea that anything had changed.

Anyway, before I could set this plan in motion, I had to take the boys to school. Waking them up wasn't an issue, except for Clayton. He was a miserable little guy this morning, but at least the boy was healthier and able to go to school. After breakfast, I got them dressed, and off we went. It actually felt good getting into the routine as it brought back some element of normalcy for me.

Once they were dropped off, I went back home to begin the busy week. Of course, I stopped and spoke with my mother, who was having her coffee and breakfast. I was happy that I didn't have to worry about entertaining as she had made plans to go over to my brother's place and help with Derrick. After hearing that, I thanked her for coming up early and took off to my office.

My first call was to order the inflatables for the party, it took some calling around, but I was able to secure what I wanted. We set up the delivery and set up times, as well as the teardown time. My second call was to a bakery to have a special cake made for Ryker. Considering that he loved sports, I asked for a sports-themed cake. After a few minutes of chatting, we had an idea of what was supposed to be made. The cake would be split 50/50 from a soccer field and an ice-hockey rink with the designated sports equipment on the correct sides. In the middle, where the circle is, would be Ryker's age. Above it would be "HAPPY BIRTHDAY" and below the circle would his name. I thought it was very creative!

I was finished with the phone calls and went to amazon to search for Ryker's presents. Luckily I ordered the trampoline with a net around it. I've heard horror stories about kids getting injured because they've over jumped the side and fell. So the catch net was a must. That was due to be delivered by Thursday, which was perfect. The soccer goal was next, and I had trouble deciding what size to get. By the end of it, I went with the biggest one I could find which was 12ft by 6ft. It was probably way too big, but as the boys grew, I wouldn't have to purchase another one. If they wanted to practice on a smaller net, then I could fill in space with plywood boards. So I felt like it was a good purchase, which was set to be delivered Friday.

With most of my checklist complete, I was getting ready to take a break, when my phone rang. I looked at the caller ID and saw it was Berry.

"Oh! What do I owe the pleasure of this call?" I answered.

"Mr. Hamel! I feel like it's been too long."

"Tell me about it," I laughed.

"Yeah," chuckled Berry. "So I'm calling for two things. Number one, how would you like the bill for my services?"

"Well, it all depends on how you'd like to be paid? Do you accept checks?"

"I do!"

"Awesome, I'll take an invoice sent to my email. It's"

"Great, I'll get it over to you by tonight no later than tomorrow morning."

"I'll keep my eyes open for it."

"Good, so the second thing I wanted to do is give you an update."

"I'm all ears," I quickly replied.

"This is off the record, by the way."


"I'm just making sure you know that."

"Gotcha ya."

"It's not really a secret, but it's just one of those things, you get what I'm saying?"

"Yeah," I chuckled, "just tell me already!"

"Okay, so I went and spoke to our friend... you know who I'm talking about? Our friend in jail... Anyway, it was for sure the gang's doing that killed the grandparents. Like I said, it wasn't that big of a secret, and local authorities are already writing it off as gang violence. So what happens from here could be anything. But more importantly, the gang got what they wanted, well most of it. The grandparents were selling that shit off super cheap, or they spent some of the money. My guess would be it was a mixture of both, but I don't fucking care. The gang got what they wanted, and so did you, I'm just happy it worked out. Now for Gabriel Murphy, I'm afraid I've let you down, Garret. The FBI is catching wind and getting more involved, which is a good thing. I can't go across the country trying to track down information on Murphy's intentions. Hell, the FBI might not even be able to find out much... shit, it could take years to know what or who was involved. It sucks, though, and I'm sorry I couldn't find out more about Gabriel. Although If I were placing my motherfuckin' money on something, it would be child trafficking. The grandparents and their connection with Murphy and the birth parents, is fucking nuts. Something has to be there, I just don't have the time or resources to look into it, and for that, I apologize."

"Hey man, look... I don't honestly care. Would it have been helpful to find out more information so I could explain what happened to my oldest? Sure, but maybe it's best left to be unknown and push past it. Hell, I mean you already helped saved Jacob, so I'll take it. But, I do have a few questions, if you've got a moment."

"Go ahead."

"How did these people find out the grandparents had what they were looking for?"

"Word got out that some pretty good shit was being sold at that store location. People know their territories and who sells what. Up until a few weeks ago, that store was never a spot to find drugs. So word got out, the gang sent some people up to see what the deal was. They determined the product was theirs and wanted it back, so they took care of business."

"Hmm, how'd word get out?"

"Its drugs man... people who sell drugs know who and where other people sell shit."

"You didn't say anything?"

"No... I was still trying to figure out what the fuck was going on. They found out on their own."

"Gotcha ya, and are my boys safe?"

"Garret, they don't have any interest in your children. No interest at all, and if they did, they would have done something by now. They got what they deemed their property back and dished out what they considered fair justice to those that stole it."

"I just wanna make sure."

"I don't blame you, but they've got other things to worry about."

"Like what?"

"Garret," Berry laughed. "I don't fucking know! I'm not in any way associated with the gang. They don't even know my name, nor do I know any of their real names."

"Yeah... that was a stupid question."

"Just a small one."

"Yeah... so nothing on Gabriel Murphy or the grandparents?"

"Nothing new besides they knew each other. Time will tell what was supposed to happen, but it could be a while. With locals and state authorities having less and less control, I'm not sure if you have an answer at all. Or you may see an answer in ten years on the news, but have no way of knowing it all started with your boys in Ohio. It's a strange world, my friend, especially when dealing with criminals. Like I said, I'm washing my hands of it."

"What about Rory?"

"Rory? He got that promotion! He's due to start next month."

"Oh wow. That's uhh, that's awesome. I'll have to send him something.

"Yeah... he's going to be a fine detective."

"And what's next for you?"

"I'll take a short vacation and wait for my next opportunity."

"Ever consider a salary job with benefits?"

"Why, you offering?"

"I am."

"What? What's uhh... whats the Job?"

"A position at my charity organization. It's called the HLRJC foundation, and we need someone to run background checks on potential parents that may adopt a child out of our program. More importantly, you'd be responsible for looking into our workers and future employees to make sure they don't have anything to hide. It wouldn't be as exciting as what you do now, but you'd be in a similar field. You know, running background checks or investigating people and parties involved to make sure they don't have bad intentions."

"Why me?"

"Because you won't leave one stone unturned. Because I know you won't let a child go to a home where they are abused. Moreover, I know you won't let the company hire an employee that will abuse their power or take advantage of children."

"What's the money?"

"I could have an offer sent over to you by Monday with the details."

"Wouldn't hurt to look things over."

"Never," I stated. "Plus, there is room to grow. As the organization grows, so would your role. I could see you leading a team of like-minded people that you picked to help investigate."

"So, I'd be in charge of my own team if everything takes off?"


"Umm wasn't really expecting this. Could you give me a salary expectation?"

"I'd say anywhere from $75,000 to $95,000. The numbers just need to line up, and I would have to speak to my business partner. I just like what you bring to the table and what you have to offer. Don't make your mind up yet. Take some time to think about it, because this is a different role with less flexibility. When working with children, we need to stick to specific guidelines from state and federal laws and then some. The children we would be working with are kids that have had a rough time already. It's imperative that we find them a forever home but also a forever staff that makes a positive impact. It starts with the people we bring in, and the people will bring in would have to go through you. So it's a big role and an important one. I would take some time to think about it."

"I know. I fucking love what I do now with the freedom to work on whatever case I want to. I'll have to consider my options."

"Well, let me know next week. In the meantime, I can have a contract written and sent to you by next Monday."

"Is there a timeframe?"

"I'd like to know where you stand by the end of next week. If you need more time, we can talk about it on Monday. Sound good?"

"Got it."

"Awesome, looking forward to hearing from you. And Berry, thanks again."

"You're welcome, just doing what you hired me to do."

"I know. Talk later," I said and hung up the phone. I quickly dialed Keith and filled him in on the possibility of bringing in Berry. Keith trusted my word and said he would be okay with him in that position. We quickly switched topics as I got an update on the renovation process. Everything was coming together nicely, and projections had the building complete in July-August time frame, barring no setbacks. Which meant we could be opening our doors as early as September. Things were starting to come together; in fact, the office spaces were almost finished. That meant Kelly could move into her office and oversee all the work being done on the building. Switching topics again, we got into another money-raising trip. I knew it was coming as it was needed for the organization to grow, but it didn't mean I liked it. Keith mentioned going back to Chicago because it made the most sense. Numerous businesses were located there, so it made it easy to target multiple companies within a short time period. By the end of the conversation, we had tentative plans to fly on in two weekends, that is, if we had the meetings set up. Within those two weeks, were going to campaign in the Columbus area too. So more and more was piling up on my schedule. Anyway, the phone call ended, and I was able to move on to other things.

I was stuck in the office, and before I knew it, Clayton was ready to be picked up. Which was great because I needed some food, as Rita was out planning for the party. I did find out that she enlisted the help of some churchgoers. While waiting for Clayton, I called Jordan, and she confirmed she would be coming to the party. I decided to get ballsy and asked if she wanted to spend the night too. She didn't even blink as she said yes, so I was excited about that. Jordan, on the other hand, was probably a bit nervous because she was about to meet most of my family! However, I knew she would handle it great. Anyway, I picked up Clayton, and we went to lunch.

At this point, time passed by rather quick. I had Jacob and Lincoln at therapy sessions. Once that was over, we went back for dinner and some family time. This time, we started working on the Lego set my mother had gifted. The kids didn't lie when they said it was 3000 pieces. Between the four of us, we barely put a dent in it, but we had fun! After family time, we spent the rest of the night in our bedtime routine. We all crowded in my bed and read a few chapters of the book we've been reading. By the end of it, I was snuggling with all of them as they slept.

Nothing really happened besides running around for the boys and the arrival of my father! He didn't get here until 10 in the morning, so all the boys missed out on seeing him. However, they were thrilled when he picked them up with me! Jacob was first out of school and didn't spot us until he was twenty or so feet away. Once he saw grandpa getting out of the car, Jacob's face lit up with a smile from ear to ear. He sprinted over and nearly tackled his grandfather, as he gave him the biggest hug he could manage. The other two weren't far behind and also attacked my father with love. It was so adorable to see them, especially Jacob. The way he interacted with my father was special, and it all started that day at the funeral home. Anyway, after everybody had a chance to show their affection, we hopped in the car to head back to the house.

The boys ate and completed homework before taking off for soccer practice. Ryker, Jacob, and Clayton were ready to go today, as they wanted to show off their skills for my parents. This was great for me because I could mingle with some of the other parents who were coming to the party. One thing that I realized was we forgot to add in the siblings of Ryker's teammates. I'm sure some of them weren't coming, but it was safe to assume at least an additional fifteen or so kids running around. In all fairness, I didn't care, I just wanted Saturday to be so special for Ryker. It was his big day, and nothing was going to ruin it! After I mingled with the parents, I found my mom and dad as the practice was coming to an end. The boys all looked exhausted as they walked over and joined us.

Once we got home, we didn't have much time to do anything besides baths and bedtime. This time we didn't read any new chapters as the majority of the boys were so tired. Lincoln was the only one awake, but he was downstairs cuddling with my mother as they watched TV. I joined them, and my father wasn't far behind as he was dressed in his sleeping clothes. Luckily for us, Lincoln fell asleep on the couch, so I let him go until I was ready to head upstairs.

Wednesday, April 20th, 2016
Similar to yesterday, the day started as all weekday mornings do. The boys were up, eating breakfast, getting change, and then off to school. The only difference was my father drove them, which made the boys morning. Meanwhile, as the day continued to roll on, I was calling to confirm that everything I ordered on Monday for the party was still good to go. I guess you could say I was a little bit nervous because I wanted everything to be perfect. The good news was that the weather appeared to be great for the weekend. A high of 67 F and a low of 49 F, which meant everyone would be outside and enjoying the weather. Then as the sun went down, we could set a bonfire for all those that stayed.

After completing most of the morning checklist, I decided to go to the mall and look at necklaces for Ryker. I originally planned on doing it with the boys, but I thought otherwise because I wasn't sure if they could keep a secret. Plus, I wanted to take them to Walmart or a toy store, not the mall. Anyway, I was off and on my way as I jumped in the S Class.

It took me about twenty minutes to get there, and I went straight to the jewelry store. It didn't take long for me to find what I wanted. The staff directed me to two items, but the one stuck out to me so much more. The chain was this beautiful white gold that would really look good around him. I didn't want to add anything like his initials, at least not yet, because those would hopefully be changing in a few months. I also didn't want to risk getting him a heart charm or something similar because I didn't know if he would like it. However, the chain alone was gorgeous but, more importantly, adjustable. As he grew, so would the necklace, and he could continue to wear if he wanted too.

I had just swiped my card for the amount when I received a call from my sister. When I answered, it wasn't good news. Unfortunately, Christian was bullied to the point where he needed to be picked up again from school. With me being already half the distance to him, I quickly offered to go. Although this time, Kelly warned me that it wasn't good. So I didn't really know what to expect as she didn't have many details. I was just hoping no one hit him, but I feared that's what it would be.

Once I arrived at his school, I signed in and expected him to be sitting in the office like last time. However, he wasn't, I was instructed to go to the nurse's office to get him. As I was led in the right direction, I came to the door and opened it. I saw Christian sitting on the bed with his head in his hands. The boy was drenched from god knows what and had mud all over him. His backpack had an additional set of clothes, but they appeared to be dripping water as it sat in a bin. To make matters worse, he appeared to have some scrapes on his knee that the nurse was attending too. Nothing too concerning like he would need stitches, but still enough to require a quick cleansing and bandage. As I opened the door some more, I saw a gentleman sitting across come him.

"Hey bud," I said, which caused Christian to look up at me.

"Uncle G!" Christian replied as he immediately stood up and started to cry.

"What happened?" I asked as I walked over and wrapped him in a hug. The tears really started to flow.

"I... I," he stuttered. "Don-don't wanna talk about it."


"Uncle G... pl-please," Christian spoke as he looked up at me.

"Alright," I responded and wiped the tears from his cheek.

"Excuse me," interrupted the gentleman that was across from Christian. "I'm principal Edwin, can I have a word with you?"

"I think that'd be good," I quickly responded. "Christian, you good?"

"I just wanna leave."

"We will... just sit down and let the nurse finish cleaning you up."


"Speak in the Hall?"

"Yes," I answered, and we stepped out. Before we started talking, we walked a few feet away from the door.

"Okay, I'm assuming-"

"What the fuck is going on?" I cut him off. "Honestly, this is fucking ridiculous."

"Sir, please, watch your language."

"No, I will not. What are you doing to prevent this from happening a third fucking time?"

"I don't know what happened, okay? Christian is refusing to tell us who did what. Obviously, something happened, I'm not stupid. But I can't do anything because all he is claiming is he slipped and fell down the embankment and landed in the stream."

"No one saw? Not even the teacher or other students?"

"I don't know what happened. Whatever it was, occurred during his gym class."

"Where is the gym teacher?"

"He didn't see anything happen."

"I'd like to speak to him."

"He is in my office we can go, but I assure you he didn't see anything. Christian didn't even tell him what happened. In fact, he was helping Christian out of the stream."

"What happened to his other clothes?"

"I don't know. We don't have cameras in the boy's locker room, but I heard his bag was found in the shower."

"This is fucking ridiculous."

"I know your frustration."

"I don't think you do. I've had to come to pick my nephew up twice in the past two months for severe bullying-related incidents. Obviously, he is being targeted because of his sexual orientation, and don't try to tell me otherwise. You know as well as I do that this wouldn't be happening if Christian wasn't gay. I mean fuck sakes, everyone liked him before and everyone talked to him, but now... nothing-"

"Sir... what do you want me to do? Suspend every kid in gym class?"

"No... I want you to take charge and change the culture of your school. I want it to be a safe place for children in the LGBTQ community. Honestly, look at what it's doing for other students who haven't come out. They are witnessing this... this toxic environment, and it's probably set them back years. How are you okay with that?"

The principal took a deep breath, "sir, we are trying, but change doesn't happen immediately. We are attempting to roll out programs about inclusion and bullying, but it takes some time. It starts with me then roles down to my teachers and staff before making an impact on students."

"Whatever method you are trying.... isn't working," I shot back.

"It's a long process, and I'd be more than willing to help Christian, but he isn't telling me anything. I can't go about suspension without the slightest idea of what happened."

This time I deeply sighed, "I do understand that."

"Look... we are making changes, I promise you. We are discussing it every week with our staff, and everyone has to be on board, or they are out. This school and as a matter of fact, this district knows whats happening. It's not going unnoticed. I have a call with the superintendent this afternoon on ways to make our system more inclusive. We don't want outcasts, we don't want bullying, and we don't want people to feel like they can't talk to someone. See, I've had numerous conversations with Christian, but he isn't telling me anything. Not even from the first incident, the only reason I knew who to suspend is that teachers saw and heard it. So this time, maybe you can talk to him and figure out what's going on. Nothing will change if he doesn't, and my door is always open for any student to chat and give me an update on my school's environment. Now I don't want to continue speaking on this matter because it's not helpful. We will just end up going back and forth with one another. I know Christian just wants to leave."

"Yeah... I would too if I didn't feel safe in a building I spent more than seven hours of my day." I said and walked away before the principal could reply. I had opened the door just as the nurse finished cleaning the last scratch. I made my way over to him and picked up his soaked backpack. "Come on, Christian."

"Can you take me home?" Christian said as he wiped his eyes.

"That's our destination for now, and then we are grabbing some lunch after you get cleaned up."

"I'm not hungry."

"We will talk about it in the car," I replied and wrapped my arm around his shoulder.


"Thank you, nurse," I stated as we walked out of her office. Luckily we didn't have far to go, and we didn't pass anyone on our way to my car. Compared to the last time this happened, Christian wasn't even talking, which was odd for him. He didn't say one word to me, until I initiated the conversation with, "so you wanna tell me what happened?"


"Why not," I replied as I buckled my seat belt?

"I slipped."

"Okay... you going to tell me the truth?



"I just don't... it is the truth."

"Come on, bud."

"Can you just take me home."

"We are. You need to get a shower anyway," I said as I didn't want to push the topic any further. Most of the ride to his house was silent. When we arrived, I made him take off his shirt and pants before tracking mud all over the place. When he removed his shirt, I saw some minor bruises around his ribs and blemishes on his back. I almost asked what happened, but was going to wait until he wanted to talk. His lower body was in rough shape too. Once he removed his jeans, I was able to see how cut up his lower legs were. I couldn't see much around his thighs or butt as his underwear covered those regions. However, I was betting they were bruised like his ribs were.

After the jeans came off, Christian quickly made his way to the shower. I, on the other hand, cleaned up his clothes and put them in the wash. It didn't take too long, so I called Kelly to update her on what I knew. Plus, I wanted to tell her I was taking Christian out for food or really anything to get his mind off of what happened. Of course, she was okay with everything, but Kelly felt awful she couldn't be here for Christian. Unfortunately, she was at the construction site overseeing the work, but more importantly, she's meeting with potential employees. So she couldn't do much until all of her discussions were over. Anyway, it had been close to ten minutes, and the water hadn't shut off.

I began to slightly worry so, I strolled on upstairs to his room. Upon entering, I saw he had ditched his underwear by the door and was in the bathroom. Not wanting to be too nosey, I lightly knocked on the door and spoke, "Hey, you okay."

I heard him sniffle but didn't hear anything.

"Christian," I said as I turned the doorknob and peeked in. Christian hadn't even started to shower. Instead, he was sitting on the side of the tub, with his elbows on his knees and his head in his hands. "Buddy."

And he didn't say anything.

"Hey," I said as I walked over and kneeled in front of my nephew. I parted his arms and wrapped him in a hug. "Talk to me."

"Th-they," Christian stuttered and cried. "It's just bullies."

"Who's they?" I asked as I glanced down and saw his thighs were pretty bruised up.

"It's no one," Christian quickly replied.

"Okay, so what did these 'no ones' do to you?"

"Uncle G-"

"Christian... I'm concerned... I mean, look at you," I stated as I began to look around his thighs. "Stand up, please."

He did nothing...

"Christian... stand up," I demanded.


"Stand, Christian."

"Fine," Christian said and listened. I turned his body to see he if had any cuts on his bum or lower back. "You're not bleeding anywhere the nurse hadn't already cleaned. Just a bunch of bruises, I mean your left outer thigh and butt cheek have a mark the size of an apple. What-what happened?"

"I... I was pushed down this-this," Christian said as he began to cry again. "I... I don't under-understand why everything is happening to me."

"Buddy," I said as I wrapped his naked body in a big hug. "I am so so sorry about whatever happened."

"I-" was all Christian could manage to say as he bawled. He was crying so heavily that he nearly collapsed if I hadn't been holding on to him.

"Let it out," I stated, and I ran my fingers through the back of his hair as he continued to cry. This had gone on for a few minutes until he was able to get a grasp on his emotions. Not wanting to ask immediately after he calmed down, I guided him to the shower and pulled the curtain so he could at least get all the mud off him. "We will talk when you are all cleaned up."

"Can-can you st-stay in here."

"Absolutely kiddo."

A few seconds of silence set in, but it was broken with a light whisper from Christian as he still stuttered, "th-thanks." He had been in the shower for five minutes when he turned the water off and opened the curtain. I handed him the towel to dry off, and after a few wipes of his body, Christian stepped out.

"Come here," I said as I wrapped him in another hug and kissed his forehead. "I love you, kiddo, and no matter what happens to you, don't forget the support network you have. I know what you're going through sucks, but we will get through it."

"Yeah," Christian softly said.

"Go get dressed," I said as we released one another, and then Christian wrapped the towel around his waist.

As we made it to his bed, Christian spoke, "if... if I tell you what happened. You can't tell anyone."

"What will that solve?"

"You just can't! You promise?"


"UNCLE G," Christian stated as he pulled his underwear up. "Please."

"Alright," I agreed, and Christian sat down next to me.

"So.. so uhh... you can't say anything."

"Christian, I won't bud, not unless I think you will hurt yourself?"

The boys looked sick to his stomach but started speaking, "I-I was pushed down this hill after we finished playing a game. People started going back to the building except for this group of... this group... just a group. They umm-they umm hit me in my stomach, and I fell to the ground because-because I couldn't breathe," Christian said as he began to tear up. "It like knocked the wind out of me. I thought that was the worst of it because everybody was laughing, but.... but I guess they thought it'd be more funny to roll me down the-the hill. There were big rocks everywhere, Uncle G, and I couldn't stop myself before I hit the little stream at the bottom."

"So, the bruises came from the rocks?"

"Yeah," Christian replied as he looked at his legs.

I took a deep breath, "okay... umm, who did it?"

Apparently, that was the wrong question to ask because he started to cry again.


"I don-don't wanna say."

"I promised I wouldn't tell anybody."

"I know," Christian answered.

"Was it kids on your soccer team?"

Christian nodded his head no.

"The same bullies as last time?"

And again, Christian nodded no.

"Then who, bud? Please tell me."

"A group... group of kids on the baseball team," Christian shouted.

"The baseball team?"

"Yeah," Christian cried. "A-Adrian was there."

"Oh," I said as I wrapped my arm around his shoulder. "I'm... I'm sorry, Christian."

"Yeah," Christian sighed as he covered his face with his hands.

"Did he do anything to help them?"


"Was he laughing?"

"I don't think so."

"He say anything?"

"NO! He didn't do anything. He just stood and watched me get pummeled," Christian stated as he laid down on the bed. "We-we haven't even hung out in a few days."

"Have you two been talking?"

"Since this happened? No."

"I mean in the past few days,"

"A little not much, though."

"Maybe he's been busy."

"Yeah... I don't know." Christian sighed again. "I really liked him, Uncle G."

"I know you do-"

"He was- he was like... I don't know how to describe it but like so nice, and we could talk about anything."

"It's tough, bud, but you're not alone."

"Yes, I am."

"No, your not."

"In my school? Yes, I am! I don't have you there. I don't even have Lincoln to help... I sit by myself every day at lunch, Uncle G. EVERY DAY! It sucks, Uncle G. I've lost all my friends, and no one talks to me on the soccer team, I fucking hate my life. I have no one in my life outside of the family. Fucking hate being gay."

"Hey, don't say that, bud."

"You don't understand."

"Listen to me, kiddo," I began. "I know it sucks at this exact moment and your speaking from a reaction standpoint-"

"I do hate my life... like family is the only thing I have now, which is awesome, but I don't see everyone all the time. I just... I don't know... can you just leave, please. I love you, Uncle G, but-but I just wanna be alone."


"Uncle G, I just wanna be left alone," Christian replied as he started to cry again. He was probably crying for ten minutes, and I didn't even try to interfere. I knew he needed to cry, and I knew his heart was hurting. I mean hell, they've only been talking a short time, but it's his only friend now, so his emotions were all over the place. Anyway, after he finally settled down, he said. "I don't wanna be mean but can-can you, please leave me alone?"

"I'm afraid that's not gonna happen," I replied as I laid down next to him.


"You heard."

"Yeah but-but. Why?"

"Because we've got some things to do."

"Like what?"

"You'll see."

"I don't want to."

"Oh, I know, but you're coming. So either start getting ready, or I'll pick you up and carry you to the car in your underwear."

"I don't believe you."



"Alright," I said as I stood up from the bed and slide one arm under his legs and the other under his back.

"Wait, Uncle G... I believe you."

"Nope, you asked for it now. We are doing everything in your underwear. Hope no cute boys are at the mall, I mean bad choice to wear the tighty-whities, huh?"

"Wait-wait," Christian began to smile, and he tried to free himself.

"You're not getting away," I laughed as I was at the top of the steps.

"Seriously! Please, I'll go... just let me put on clothes or different underwear, at least."


"UNCLE G!" Christian giggled as I thought. "I don't need to be embarrassed twice in a day!"

"Alright, but if you go lay on that bed. I'm stripping the undies, and you're walking out there naked. Don't test me," I said as I set him to the ground.

"I won't!"

"Give me a hug."

Christian looked up at me and smiled before opening up his arms.

"Love you, bud. Meet me in the car in five minutes, okay?"

"Yeah," Christian quickly answered, and I let him go. I hadn't planned on taking him shopping, but that was on my list now. My goal was to distract him from whatever hell he went through and turn around the negative energy that circled him. We were going to go to lunch, then back to the mall, and then take him home. Hopefully, by the end of everything, Kelly would be around to keep him company.

Anyway, Christian hopped in the car, and we were off to go grab some food. We decided on Red Robin because it was in the mall, so we wouldn't have to go back to the car. After we ate, it was time to go shopping. I decided to give him some money to buy a personal gift for Ryker. We went store to store, trying to figure something out until we came to the shoe shop. Christian knew exactly what he wanted to get Ryker, which was a pair of shoes that they talked about a month or two ago. In fact, I remember Ryker desperately trying to convince me to go buy them, so it was going to be a great present.

Once the shoes were bought, I wanted to get something for Christian... nothing too crazy, but a nice little gift like clothes. The funny part was Christian thought he was shopping for another present for Ryker, as I had him trying on all different clothes. I asked which ones he liked because I said Ryker had similar tastes to him. So after a little while, Christian ended up loving two shirts and a pair of skinny jeans. He was a bit surprised when he realized they were for him, but Christian showed his appreciation with a hug.

After our little shopping spree was complete, I knew I had killed enough time for me to drop Christian off at home with Kelly. When we arrived, my sister couldn't stop thanking me. Similar to the first time this happened, I said it was no big deal because it truly wasn't. I was just happy to see Christian in a better mood than he was when we left. Plus, I knew it meant a lot to Christian because he gave me a long hug before I had left and said he loved me. To me, that's all that counted and made every penny spent, worth it.

Hopping into my car, I made the drive back home. I couldn't pick up any of my boys because of this, but I had my father and mother around to help. So as I arrived home, so did the boys. It was perfect timing as they all jumped out to give me hugs and kisses... something that brought pure enjoyment every time it happened.

From here, the night flew by, especially with Lincoln's therapy appointment. Nothing big was discussed this time; however, both Ruth and Lincoln felt they were getting close to his 'goodbye' ceremony with the poem. So I was happy to hear that we were making progress. Once therapy was finished, we returned home and started our evening routine. The boys did homework, we all put together more pieces of legos, and then it was time for bed.

Thursday morning
I woke up with Ryker cuddled next to me, and I chuckled as I tried to free myself from his tiny grasp. Having accomplished that, I could run to the bathroom and relieve my bladder.

With one task complete, I started planning my day out as I jumped in the shower. If I had everything lined up, then it was going to be an easy day and an easy day it was.

After waking the boys and getting them to school, I was able to spend more time with my parents. Plus, I was waiting for one of Ryker's gifts to be delivered. I was hoping it would happen while he was at school so I could hide. Thankfully it did, and I quickly had help moving it to the other side of the garage. I buried the present in the corner and put some blankets over the box for a disguise. The blankets were probably overkill because the package was next to the Ferrari, and Ryker never goes over there anyway, but an extra level of caution was never bad.

Once the school day was complete, the boys ate dinner before heading to skating practice. They were thrilled that my parents could see them practice, especially Clayton, as he was on a roll out there. He definitely had missed being there last week from being sick. In his eyes, I bet he was trying to make up for lost time. Anyway, after practice, we went home to get cleaned up. The next plan was to go buy presents and luckily I had my parents distract Ryker so I could take the other three shopping.

Lincoln, Jacob, and Clayton all hopped in the SUV as we went to Walmart. The boys had 50 bucks to decide what they wanted to buy their brother. Similar to George's birthday, they combined their money to buy him a present worth $105 leaving each of them $15 for a smaller gift... or that was the plan. It took longer than I had expected because they couldn't decide what to get him. However, when they saw the hoverboard by Razor, they were dead set on getting him that gift. The only issue... it was out of their price range. Of course, it didn't take much to convince me to throw in some extra money. By the end of it, all the boys were thrilled with the gift, and that's all that mattered to me.

The only blip in the day occurred after shopping when Lincoln's PTSD struck again. Luckily I heard him, and I was there help, so it wasn't anything too bad.

!!TAKE A BREAK!!       !!TAKE A BREAK!!        !!TAKE A BREAK!!        !!TAKE A BREAK!!

Part - 5

Friday morning, the day before Ryker's birthday. 
Similar to yesterday, I awoke with Ryker in my bed. Except for this time, he was happily jumping around in his underwear before flopping down next to me.
"Good morning!" 
"Good morning to you, too," I chuckled as I rubbed my eyes.
"Guess what?" 
"You grew ten feet tall?" 
"What?" Ryker giggled. "No." 
"Hmm... you're 900 pounds now?"
"No," Ryker continued to find amusement out of my silly comments. If you ever heard a boy chuckled at complete randomness but still find it hilarious, then that's how I would describe what was happening. 
Umm... we've been abducted by aliens, and you've come to save us?" 
"Well... I'm out of options." 
"My birthdays tomorrow! Duh!" Ryker laughed. 
"Ohh, yeah! I'm gonna need to seem some proof, like an identification card, kiddo," I joked as I lightly poked his naked stomach. 
"I don't gots any!" 
"Well... then I don't really have proof it'll be your birthday tomorrow! I'll have to send everything back, I guess." 
"Oh wait, I got!" 
"I'm gonna be right back," Ryker said as he rolled off the bed. "Don't move!" 
"I'm waiting!" I laughed as I saw him sprint to his room. I figured this gave me enough time to go brush my teeth and wash my face before I crawled back into the same spot on the bed. 
"Ok!" Ryker huffed. "Got it." 
"Let me see it," I said as he climbed up next to me. 
"Hmm," I began as I grabbed the folded piece of paper and looked at Ryker, who was on the verge of losing it from laughter. "Let's see what we got here." 
"It's legit... I promise" 
"Is it?" I laughed as I unfolded the paper to see a handwritten message that simply read, 'Ryker birthday is to morrow. Get lots and lots and lots of gifts.' 
"It's even signed." 
"On the back!" Ryker said in a high pitched voice.
"Uhh, I see... Well, it looks pretty legit to me. I guess this works." 
"Good!" Ryker giggled as he collapsed on to me and rested his head on my chest. 
"You excited?" I asked as I brought his legs over my body so that Ryker was completely lying on me.
"Yes!" Ryker answered as I kissed his forehead and started to rub his back. 
"Awesome! I can't wait... it's going to be so much fun!" 
"How many people are coming?" Ryker inquired as I occasionally went under his underwear to scratch his bum. 
"Tough to say, but a good amount. I know most of our family will be here." 
"When does... umm does Uncle Lucas come?" 
"They'll be getting here today!" 
"Can we go for a boat ride with everybody?" 
"You know, that sounds like a pretty good idea." 
"Yup! It'll be some good family time," I stated and kissed his forehead again. "I love you so much, buddy." 
"Love you too!" 
"Thanks," I chuckled. "Let's go get your brothers up for school." 
"Wait, can you scratch a bit longer? Please?" 
"Five minutes, okay?" 
"Under my undies, please," Ryker giggled.
"Yeah yeah," I quickly answered as we continued to talk about a bunch of random stuff. Once Ryker was satisfied, it was time to wake up the others and get them ready for school. 
At the table, Ryker was sure to remind everyone that it was his birthday tomorrow. Anytime someone sat down, he asked them the same question he asked me this morning. So it was cute to see him getting excited for his big day. 
After breakfast, I took them to school and on my way back, I found out that Lucas and company were on the verge of packing up and leaving. It was a bit earlier than I expected, but I was thrilled because I could spend some time with my nephews. Recently with the boys in my life, I felt some distance had grown between my nephews, specifically Lucas Jr. I used to talk to him once a week, but now I was lucky to talk to him once a month. Most of the responsibility falls on me, so I was anxious to catch up with my godson.
Once I returned, it became a waiting game until everyone got here. Luckily, Ryker's other present was delivered, and I set it by the others in the garage. To help pass time, I went down to the boat and began uncovering it. Plus, I wanted to take my parents out for a nice cruise. As we drove around the lake, I was baffled by how many people still haven't put their boats in yet. It was a bit early, but with the weather we've been having, it's perfect to start the season. Take tonight, it's supposed to be 55F and clear skies, so we'd definitely be going out once everyone arrived. 
We docked and made our way back to the house around 10:45 am, which happened to be perfect timing. My brother and company were pulling in and parking their vehicle. I opened the garage door and walked out to greet them.
"Uncle G!" LJ said as he hopped out of the SUV and ran over to me.
"Oh, buddy," I laughed as I wrapped him in a hug. "I'm so happy to see you!" 
"'Me too!" 
"Hi, Uncle G!" Ashton hollered as he made his way over.
"Where's Ryker and Jacob?" He asked as he gave me a hug. 
"They are at school still!"
"We got to skip today," LJ informed me as Jackson made his way over.
"What's up, dude!" I said and lifted Jackson up. "And LJ, you can't tell your cousins you skipped, or they'll be mad at me for not letting them!" 
"I won't," he giggled and gave me another hug. 
"Guess what we got for Ryker!" Ashton spoke. 
"Give me some options," I joked as I started to walk over to their car.
"Guess!" LJ stated. 
"Umm.... video game?" 
"No," Jackson giggled. 
"What then?" 
"Nerf guns!" LJ said
"What? He is gonna love that! Who picked it out?" 
"We all did," LJ continued speaking for everyone. 
"You guys gotta keep it a secret until he opens his gifts, though." 
"We know."
"Good," I chuckled as I met Katherine and Lucas at the trunk of their vehicle.
"Garret!" Katherine stated first as she gave me a hug.
"Thanks for driving up." 
"Wouldn't miss it," my brother stated and replaced Katherine. 
"I appreciate it, what can I help you with?" I inquired as I set Jackson on the ground.
"We got it, boys grab your bags, please," instructed Lucas. "I'm sure the boys will be sleeping all over the place, but what bedroom is ours?"
"You guys will be in Lincoln's room." 
"Gotcha ya, alright, boys, take your stuff in. Make sure you say hi to grandma and grandpa too." 
"So," Katherine began as we watched them. 
"Let me get that," I interrupted.
"Oh, thank you... so, is everything all planned out?" 
"Yeah, for the most part, I just need someone to stay back tomorrow morning and wait for the inflatables to be delivered and set up." 
"Lucas was telling me something like that," Katherine continued to speak as we walked towards the house. "The boys have soccer, right? I can say back and make sure everything goes smooth." 
"I was thinking of having Rita do it." 
"Don't add more pressure to her," Katherine laughed. 
"True, we will see." 
"Yeah absolutely. Oh, been meaning to ask, but has Lincoln been doing better with his PTSD stuff?" 
"Umm... yes and no. Attacks are way less frequent, which is a good thing, but it's still there. So when Clayton was in the hospital, he had one, and then we had a minor incident yesterday." 
"Sounds like it's getting better though!" 
"Thankfully," I laughed. 
"Therapy still a thing?"
"Two times a week for him." 
"Oh wow." 
"I know, but it's helping him. The process is slow, but it's paying off." 
"That's all that counts. When do they get off school?" 
"I'll leave to grab Clayton here shortly since he has a half-day, but the other three will go to their normal time," I said as I let her enter my house to see my parents waiting. 
"Katherine!" My mother said as she gave her a hug, and I stepped into a scene of miniature chaos. Everyone was giving each other hugs while my nephews all received small treats from Rita. Laughter filled the room, and we were still missing my four boys. So I knew it would be a good time when we were all here. 
Over the next hour or so, everybody got settled in while I went to go get Clayton. As usual, he was his happy, cheerful self as he hummed a tune while we walked to the car. Once we arrived home, the madness only grew. Clayton and his cousins were running around the house before settling down in the basement, playing some video games or knee hockey. I couldn't really tell you which one, but you could hear them giggling from up the kitchen. 
As the day went on, it was time to go grab the other three. To my surprise, as soon as I hopped in the car, Christian was calling. 
"Hey bud," I answered as I put the SUV into reverse.
"I told you not to tell anyone!" 
"About what happened. You weren't supposed to say anything." 
"What do you mean, Christian?" 
"Really Uncle G, you don't gotta play stupid. I'm not some dumb kid you can trick." 
"Christian... what in the hell are you talking about." 
"You told my principal about the kids in my gym class." 
"Umm... no, I didn't. I wouldn't betray your trust like that, and quite frankly, I'm a bit hurt that you thought I would." 
"Seriously, you didn't say anything?" 
"Christian, I haven't spoken to anyone about anything we've talked about this week. You're starting to make me angry, what's going on?" 
"Wait, I'm confused." 
"That makes two of us." 
"I... umm." 
"What's happening?" 
"Umm... kids on the baseball team got suspended and can't play on the team for the rest of the year. I guess the principal found out somehow." 
"Well, what goes around comes around, I guess. Was Adrian one of them?" 
"I don't know... I just heard about it because it just happened." 
"So it's all rumors then?" 
"I don't know, Uncle G! I just thought you said something, and I was going to be mad if you did." 
"Well, I didn't, and if I did, it would have been for a good reason."
"Yeah... I'm sorry." 
"It's okay, next time.... don't start a conversation accusing someone of something. It's usually not the best way to approach a topic. Just saying." 
"Moving on, how did yesterday and today go?" 
"Same stupid stuff. Sat by myself, haven't heard from Adrian, and didn't talk to anyone." 
"Well, I'm sorry, bud. You're more than welcome to come over here tonight." 
"I wish I could, but mom says I can't because I have soccer tomorrow. I don't even want to play anymore." 
"Bud, you know you do." 
"I don't... no one even talks to me on the team... it's stupid." 
"You don't play soccer to talk to people." 
"Uncle G." 
"I know... but I'm trying to be positive, buddy."
"Yeah..." Christian replied and a brief moment of silence occurred 
"You gonna be okay?" 
"Alright, I have to go. If you need me, give me a call. Or even if you just wanna talk, I'm here for you." 
"Yeah... sorry again, Uncle G."
"It's okay. Love you, bud." 
"Love you," Christian quickly replied and hung up. Luckily I didn't have too much time to think about everything since I was so close to the boys' school. Although, I was curious to find out what happened.
Parking the car, I waited for them to be dismissed as I stood outside in the warm sun. It was about five minutes later when I heard my name being hollered as I watched Lincoln and Ryker running over. Jacob wasn't too far behind, and we all loaded into the car. The ride home was filled with questions from the boys. They wanted to know if everyone was here, what everyone was doing, and what we had scheduled. Once I told them about the boat ride and dinner plans, they were all thrilled.
As we arrived home, all the kids came running out to give one another hugs. It was so adorable to see, it was like they hadn't missed a beat. LJ and Lincoln were talking like crazy, while Ryker, Jacob, and Ashton took off inside to the basement. Jackson and Clayton were soaking up the attention from my parents, and we didn't even make it inside yet. 
Herding everyone to the Kitchen was easier said than done, but we accomplished it. Stepping inside, I chuckled at Ryker's and Jacob's backpacks lying on the ground by the door. Whatever was in the basement must have been important, I'm guessing it was FIFA. 
Anyway, as everyone settled in, the adults began to drink some wine before dinner. It would be about a twenty-minute boat ride to the restaurant, and take another ten minutes to get everyone onto the boat. So after a glass of wine for me, maybe two for my brother and Katherine, we hollered for everyone to meet in the kitchen. 
Ryker, Jacob, and Ashton were last to arrive from the basement, but we were now set and ready to go. The boat was uncovered, and all the kids had life jackets on, so we were good to board the MasterCraft. 
Lincoln and LJ quickly took the front as they were first in. Clayton and Jackson decided to join them, which left a few empty seats upfront. Wanting an adult up there to tend to the littler ones, my father volunteered. Ryker, Jacob, and Ashton were next to me where the music controls were, and then everyone else filled in. I began lowering the boat as people sat down. 
"Lincoln," I said as I started the boat. "Watch your brother up there." 
"Okay... Clay, you want to sit on my lap?" 
"Lincoln, just put Clayton and Jackson in the middle of LJ and you. Then you can wrap your arm around him." 
"Yeah! That works." 
"Can I go up front too?" Ashton inquired. 
"Yup, just go before we start moving, okay?" 
"Ryker, you can take my phone up there and play music, remember?" 
"Oh yeah, come on Jake." 
"I'm gonna... I'm gonna stay back here." 
"There's room," hollered LJ.
"Umm," Jacob looked at me.
"Buddy, you don't have to!" 
"Does he not like to sit upfront?" My mother asked.
"He usually likes to help me drive," I said as I patted my lap for him.
"Yeah," Jacob smiled and quickly scampered over.
"And he keeps me warm," I laughed and kissed the back of his head as Jacob got comfortable. "Is everyone ready?" 
I received a mixture of responses from yes, yeah, and let's go. So with everyone situated, we started on our way to dinner. Realistically, I could have been there in five minutes if I wanted to go fast, but this was supposed to be relaxing and fun. The boys in the front were just happy to be on the water as they were looking at houses and people onshore. It was cute to see Clayton and Lincoln cuddling upfront and pointing out things. The way Clayton giggled in his brother's arms was amazing, and it really showed me how Clayton looks up to Lincoln. Ryker and Ashton were chatting my father's ear off, and then LJ and Jackson were looking out in front of us. 
Overall, the whole experience was tremendous! The atmosphere in the restaurant was good, the food was great, and the company was even better. Everyone was so happy to be around family and spending time with one another. Plus two or three bottles of wine for the table makes everything better too! Katherine and my mother were definitely feeling good, as they probably each drank a bottle since starting at home. My father wasn't drinking wine, but he sure was having his whiskey. And then my brother and I were taking it a bit slower since I had to drive back. 
Now the kids, when they weren't eating dinner, were in the mini arcade playing games. It was interesting to see them share the one or two games in the place, especially when another kid outside our family wanted to play. He appeared around seven or eight years old and walked in with his mother. See, I'm assuming it was difficult for him to go in by himself with a group of kids that all knew each other. Accompanied by his mother made it easier. However, the kid's worries seem to ease once, one of my boys offered that he plays next.
When the night was finished, we hopped back into the boat and set off for home. The temperature slightly dropped, so I brought out the blankets for everyone who sat in the front. Meanwhile, I checked my phone for the first time and saw a text from Christian that read, "Adrian told the principal. Sorry, I thought it was you." Now I wanted to call him and find out what the hell happened, but I would be seeing him tomorrow. So I decided to wait until I could speak with him in person.
Once back onshore, the women and my father took off to the house, leaving the boys, my brother, and I to clean up. 
"Can we go swimming?" Ryker asked.
"Yeah," echoed LJ and Ashton.
"Umm," I said as I looked towards my brother. "You know it's going to be cold and you don't have swimsuits on. By the time you would make it up to the house to put one on, it'd be too dark." 
"We can go nakey," Clayton giggled.
"Can we?" Ryker encouraged. 
"You know how cold it will be?" 
"We can go in the hot tub after," Lincoln added. 
"Lucas?" I asked my brother to see if he could come up with anything.
"My kids were going to need a shower anyway, might as well let them have some fun jumping in the lake. As long as you are okay with it." 
"Yeah," I laughed. "My boys have been in it before... you okay with the nudity?" 
"Have at it.... life jackets on though!" Lucas spoke
"So we can?" Lincoln asked.
"Go for it," I chuckled as I sat down on the bench and watched as the boys began stripping naked. In a matter of seconds, the boys had clothes everywhere and their life jackets on. Clayton and Jackson needed helped but didn't miss much as everyone was running around in the buck. Ryker was first to jump in and quickly popped up.
"It's freezing," he giggled. 
"Told, you," I laughed as I finished Clayton's jacket and patted his bum to say go.
Lincoln and LJ were next, followed by Jacob and Ashton. Clayton and Jackson decided to hold hands and jump in together. The whole scene was so adorable to observe, and my brother was even able to snap some photos for the memory books. The boys were probably in and out of the water fifty times before I sensed they were getting cold as their poor bodies were shaking from the raw water. 
"You wanna go open the hot tub?" I asked Lucas. 
"Yeah, sure, I'll get towels too." 
"Alright," I stated as Lucas began the walk-up. "Boys, last few jumps, okay." 
"We going in the hot tub?" LJ inquired. 
"Yup, your dad is going to open it now." 
"Good," he giggled as he sprinted and jumped off the dock again. 
"I... um think I'm done," Ryker said as he made his way over to me with his arms crossed, trying to stay warm.
"Come here," I said.
"Do-do you have a towel." 
"No, but let's get the life jacket off. And you can sit on my lap."
"But I'll get you wet." 
"I don't care," I answered and unbuckled his life jacket. 
"You sure?" 
I opened my arms and said, "I'm positive."
"Okay," Ryker giggled and quickly sat on my lap. I wrapped my arms around him and started brushing off some of the water. 
"You're slippery," I laughed as I got down to his thighs. 
"Thanks," he replied and pushed his body into me more. 
"No problem," I laughed and kissed his cheek. 
"Can we go to the hot tub?" Lincoln asked as he was now shivering.
"You all ready?" 
"Yes," I heard Jacob and Ashton say. 
"Alright, circle around, and put your life jackets in the middle. Then hurry up to the house." 
"O-okay," they shivered. 
"Why is Lincoln's peepee small?" Ryker asked. 
"Ryker, shut up." 
"I know what he said... Ryker, your brother's isn't small." I laughed. "look at yours.... looks at everybody else. They are all a bit smaller than usual." 
"Mine is," LJ giggled. 
"Me too," Ryker laughed as he yanked on it.
"My balls are too," Jacob giggled.
"It happens to everyone," I said. 
"Why?" Asked LJ as he was fiddling with his. 
"Yeah," Ryker added. 
"Well, cold water tends to shrink everything. So you don't have much protection to keep those parts warm. As a reaction to the cold water, they retract closer to your body. It's a way for them to stay warm and not lose as much heat. Whenever you get in the hot tub, they'll get bigger because it's the opposite effect." 
"Is that why mine wiener gets hard sometimes?" LJ asked. 
"Oh boy... that's... that's another lesson for another day," I said as I ruffled his hair. 
"Yeah... any other questions or we ready to go?" I chuckled 
"I just wanna get in the hot tub." 
"Head on up," I said. " Uncle Lucas will be waiting for everybody." 
"What about our clothes?" LJ asked as Clayton, Ryker, Lincoln, Ashton, and Jackson were already running up.
"I'll grab them, just go before your penis shrivels inside of you." 
"It can do that?" Jacob gasped as his eyes widened and he grabbed for his privates.
"Maybe... you might find out if you don't hurry." 
"Let's go," LJ insisted and grabbed ahold of Jacob's hand. I heard him shouting up the hill to the others, "guys, our peepees' will go inside of us if we don't hurry," 
"What!" I heard Lincoln reply as their voices faded away from a distance.
I shook my head and chuckled to myself as I began picking up all the clothes on the ground. It took me about fifteen minutes to put away the life jackets, cover the boat, and pick up anything left over. Once everything looked the way it did before the tornado of boys, I made my way back to the house. 
From here, the night moved by pretty quick. After the hot tub came showers and pajamas. With three out of four boys playing soccer in the morning, it was going to be an early wake-up. Plus everybody was pretty exhausted from their day, so getting everybody to bed was quite easy. In the spare room were my parents, Lucas and Katherine had Lincoln's room. Jacob shared his room with Clayton, while Ryker shared his room with LJ. That left Ashton and Jackson in Clayton's bed to share. Lincoln was the lucky one who got to sleep with me. 
"Ready for bed," I asked as I came from the bathroom. 
"Yeah," Lincoln yawned as he began taking off his clothes. "I can sleep naked, right?" 
"I preferred if you didn't, but that hasn't stopped you before." 
"So, yes?"
"Yes," I chuckled as I got down to my briefs. 
"What side you want tonight?" 
"Umm this side," Lincoln quickly answered and jumped on top of the sheets to lay in his full glory. 
"You are gorgeous, kid," I remarked as I pulled down the cover on my end.
"You actually mean that?" 
"Bud, just look at you. Your body is a piece of artwork, it's amazing," I said as I killed the lights on my side. 
I just think I'm small here... Ryker even said it." 
"We've been over this." 
"What if it doesn't grow?" 
"If it doesn't grow by the time you are 14, come talk to me about it. If that happens, then I would be slightly concerned." 
Lincoln sighed a deep breath.
"Buddy," I chuckled. "You will have a decent sized one."
"How do you know?"
"Will you trust me? I've never let you down, right?"
"I guess." 
"I don't believe I have! Now come under the covers, it's time to sleep." 
"Why are you worried about it?" I asked as he crawled under the blanket and began scooting his body closer to me. 
"Because it's one less thing I could be made fun of." 
"How do you know you'll get made fun of?" 
"Look at Christian! I'm just like him, and he's been picked on so much." 
"Well, what's happening to Christian and how people found out, hopefully, won't happen to you," I stated and wrapped my arm around his body as my hand came to a rest on his hip. 
"You don't know that," Lincoln rapidly replied as he snuggled closer to me. 
"You're right, I don't know for sure. However, I think you'll learn from Christian, and he will be able to guide you through anything that could potentially happen." 
"Yeah," Lincoln paused, "you know what's happening to him?" 
"Like the other day?" I said as I began small scratching motions on his hip and thigh. I could feel Lincoln's body shiver where ever I looped back around to his hip.
"I do know, and it's unfortunate." 
"I haven't been able to FaceTime him, so I don't know much besides being pushed into the stream." 
"I'm sure you'll find out more." 
"Yeah... can I get a cell phone?" 
"What?" I laughed as it was a completely random question. "No... not until you are in middle school." 
"But why?"
"Because you don't need one." 
"Yes, I do! I can text Christian and Max! LJ too!" 
"No, then I would never get to see you!"
"Let's not talk about this right now." 
"You always say that!" 
"Because we are trying to fall asleep!" 
"So," Lincoln giggled uncontrollably. 
"You're killing me," I joked. 
"I can talk all night." 
"Oh yeah?"
"Well, I was going to be nice and scratch your back for you, but you can forget it now!" 
"Wait what?" Lincoln reacted as I pulled my arm from under his body and turned on my side. "Garret." 
"I can't hear you!" I jokingly said. 
"Garret!" Lincoln giggled. "I'll jump on you."
I didn't say anything but let out a fake snore. 
"That's not real!"
And I did it again.
I could feel him starting to squirm on the bed, "if you scratch, I won't jump." 
Seeing an area of compromise, "if I scratch, you have to try and go to sleep. No talking about phones or anything." 
"Only if you scratch my back and booty!" 
I just chuckled as I shook my head, "deal." 
"Okay," Lincoln giggled as he rolled to his stomach. 
"Alright, try to fall asleep," I stated and began on his bum as I worked my way to the top of his neck and back down. Just as I had planned, Lincoln was out in ten minutes, and I wasn't too far behind him. Somewhere along the midnight to 1:00 range, Ryker had found his way into my room. I briefly woke when he backed his body into me as I was laying on my side. In a dazed state, I draped my arm over his bare-chested body and kissed the back of his head. I quickly fell back asleep with Ryker in my arms.
!!!Saturday, April 23rd, 2019 - Ryker's big day is finally here!!!
Since Ryker had come into my bed last night, it was a little bit difficult leaving without waking him up. However, I accomplished it... somehow... and set on my way downstairs where Katherine and Lucas where already enjoying coffee. My plan was to take breakfast up to him and have everybody sing happy birthday as he woke up. But I needed to wake all the other kids without Ryker noticing. Lincoln was going to be the most challenging, considering he was sleeping right next to his brother, so he was my first target. Plus, I needed him to at least put underwear on... I didn't want his naked butt in Ryker's birthday video. 
Anyway, as my family woke the others, I snuck into my room and very quietly shook Lincoln. After a few seconds, his eyes opened, and he noticed I was telling him to be quiet. Once he was at least semi-awake, I handed him his boxer briefs to slip on, and we were outside my door waiting for the others to join. Rita was the last one upstairs, but she was bringing the kazoos and confetti poppers and handed everyone at least one. The goal was to go in, flick on the lights, make as much noise as possible, and start singing. 
Giving the quiet sign to everybody behind me, I opened the door and slowly snuck to the bed with everyone following except my dad. He was in charge of turning on the lights. Once everyone was ready, I counted to three, and chaos erupted. Kazoos, confetti, and screams of happy birthday rocketed Ryker out of sleep. It took him a second to realize what was happening, but once he did, the biggest smile popped on his face. I mean, he was glowing as I sat down next to him as confetti was still falling. Ryker quickly crawled into my lap, and I kissed the back of his head as everybody started singing happy birthday. It was a great way to start his special day, and I knew he loved it. I wish I could describe the smile on his face, but words can't. 
When the commotion in the room came to an end, everybody had to give him his birthday hugs, which Ryker ate up. The next step was breakfast and the gifts from me, well at least the trampoline and the soccer net. I wanted to wait to give him the necklace because it was more important than the other two. The best part of the two gifts was none of the boys knew. So it added an extra level of excitement because the gifts were for everybody to use. In fact, Ryker wanted to set up the trampoline right away, but I was waiting until after the party. We already had too much stuff getting delivered anyway. 
The next part of the day was getting the boys ready for soccer. Clayton was all over the place, especially since he didn't play last week, and his team lost. To say he was fired up would be an understatement. He was the first one dressed and outside, passing the ball around to Lucas and LJ. Once everybody was ready to go, we jumped into the Mercedes and my brother's vehicle. The only people to stay back were Rita, Katherine, and my mother. My mom didn't plan on staying, but she thought it would be best to help out, and I didn't protest much because it was a madhouse trying to leave. Honestly, I didn't even think twice about it as we drove down the driveway. 
The ride to the fields seemed to take forever because we got stuck behind a slow-moving semi-truck, so we arrived a bit late. When we parked, the boys immediately took off to their teams, leaving my father, Lucas, Lincoln, LJ, Ashton, and Jackson on our own. Similar to the last couple of weeks, the games were at scattered times, which meant we are able to watch all of them. 
With Jacob's game up first, my father, Lucas, and I set up chairs for ourselves. We had a blanket for the boys to sit on, but they were all off playing and kicking the ball around on fields that weren't being used. 
Just as the game was about to start, someone came up from behind me and put their hands over my eyes, "guess who?" 
"Umm... I have no idea," I laughed. 
"How about now?" Came the voice as they removed their hands from my eyes. 
I was able to look up and see Jordan leaning down, "Hey, you!" 
"Hey," she replied and leaned down to give me a kiss. 
"I'm so happy to see you," I chuckled as I began to stand up. "What or how'd you know where to go?" 
"I've got my secret helper!" 
"Rita?" I laughed. 
"Maybe," she answered as I gave her a hug and another quick kiss. 
"Son?" My dad chuckled. 
"Oh my god, I forgot you've never met. Jordan," I said as I held her hand. "This is my father, Gordon, and my older brother, Lucas." 
"I've heard a lot of great things about both of you," Jordan spoke. "Pleasure to finally meet you!"
"Likewise," my father said as he and my brother up to shake her hand. "We heard a lot about you too." 
"Mostly from the kids," Lucas jokingly added. 
"Hopefully, all good," Jordan returned. 
"Umm, 50/50." 
"50/50?" Jordan laughed. 
"Nah, I'm just kidding," Lucas said. "Its been all good news!" 
"Phew," Jordan chuckled. "Speaking of the boys, where is everybody." 
"Well, Jacob's game is about to start, he's right there. Number 11." 
"Got it." 
"Ryker and Clayton are warming up with their team on different fields." 
"Will we see everybody play?" 
"We should!" 
"Awesome, where is Lincoln?" 
"Over there," I said and pointed. "He is with Lucas's kids." 
"You have four?" Jordan asked. 
"Not that I know of, only three," Lucas laughed. 
"The fourth?" I said as I used my hands as a sun visor. "Oh, that's Max, a good friend of Lincoln's. He should be at the party later." 
"Speaking of the party, will you be attending, Jordan?" My father asked. 
"I wouldn't miss it," Jordan quickly replied. 
"Great! My wife would be livid if she didn't get to meet you, and I did." 
"We don't want that," Lucas laughed. 
"No, not at all," I added. "Babe, you can sit in the seat. I'll use the blanket." 
"Oh no-" 
"Too late," I interrupted as I plopped down. 
"Alright," she laughed as the referee blew the whistle, and the game started. It was funny to see Jacob's reaction when he saw Jordan. The ball had just gone out of play as it passed us, and Jacob was tasked with throwing it in. As he ran over, he noticed her, and he got the biggest smile on his face as she waved to him. 
"Hi, Jordan!" Jacob cheerfully said in a high pitch voice.
"Hey, Jacob!"
"Buddy!" I chuckled. "You need to go get the ball." 
"I know!" He giggled as he passed us. 
"You see that smile," Lucas asked.
"Yeah, I did," I laughed. 
"I don't think he likes her very much," added my dad. 
"Neither do I," Jordan jokingly agreed. 
"Yeah, okay!" I said, and Jacob came back over as he threw the ball into play and ran back in. The pace of the game was pretty slow, as both teams were basically playing kickball. One team would boot it down to one side of the field, and then a defender would kick is back up. This went on until halftime whenever they switched sides, and thankfully the game opened up. Well, at least on Jacob's team, it did as they scored four goals. 
We were in the final few minutes of the game when Lincoln and his cousins walked over.
"Jordan?" Lincoln asked as he walked over. 
"Hi, Lincoln." 
"Why are you here?" 
"To cheer on your brothers!" 
"Oh," Lincoln replied as his cousins came running by him. "That's umm nice." 
"Can I sit here?" LJ panted as he playfully collapsed next to me. 
"All yours," I laughed as Jackson hopped on my father's lap, and Ashton took my brother's.
"So, who are these young men?" Jordan asked. 
"Wait, who are you?" Giggled LJ.
"This is Jordan," Lincoln answered as he sat down on my lap. "Remember, I told you about her." 
"Ohhh... okay," LJ responded. 
"What's that suppose to mean?" 
"Nothing," they both quickly replied. 
"Alright goofballs," I stated. "Anyway, Jordan, these are my nephews. This guy," I said as playfully hit LJ's belly. "Is my godson, Lucas Jr, or LJ... on my father's lap is Jackson, and the other is Ashton." 
"Oh, I love y'all's names," Jordan stated. 
"Are... are you, Uncle G's girlfriend?" Jackson asked.
"Umm," Jordan hesitated. "Yes?" 
"Guess its official now," I laughed.
"Yeah," Jordan chuckled. "We haven't put a real label on it yet." 
"What's that mean?" Inquired LJ.
"It means-" 
"It means don't worry about it!" I interrupted.
"But-" LJ giggled. 
"Junior... enough," Lucas quickly stated. 
"Who's winning?" 
"You mean won?" My dad said as the final whistle blew. 
"Jacob's team," I said. 
"Oh cool, good job Jacob!" Lincoln hollered as I smiled. 
"Alright, time for the next game," I said as I rubbed Lincoln's shoulder. "Time to stand up, kiddo." 
"Where we going?" 
"Field 10 for Clayton's game." 
"I gotta go pee," Announced Ashton. 
"Me too!" Jackson added. 
"I can take them," my father said. "I'm going to run to the concession stand anyway." 
"Can I get a drink?" LJ inquired. 
"Guess we are all going," Lucas said as we were folding up the chairs. 
"I'll meet you all at field 10, I need to get Jacob," I said. 
"Sounds good," my father spoke. "Lincoln, you coming?" 
"Umm, I'm gonna stay." 
"Alright... Jordan, you need anything?" 
"I'm good, thank you for asking though." 
"Can you grab me a water, dad?" 
"Sure thing," my dad answered as Jacob and the rest of the team were walking off the field to go talk to the coach. 
"Lincoln, can you help Jordan clean up the chairs? I'm going to run across the field and snag Jacob before he gets tangled up in other stuff." 
"oh-okay," Lincoln responded. 
"Thanks, buddy," I answered and started my way over. 
"So-" I heard Jordan speak, but I got out of range to hear anything else. I had made it to the other sideline and waited for Jacob's coach to stop talking. Once their little huddle was complete, Jacob grabbed his snacks, and we started our way back to Lincoln and Jordan. To my surprise, when I turned around, it looked as if Lincoln had just finished giving Jordan a hug. See, Jordan had kneeled to one knee as those two were physically close to another. So I was slightly confused because Lincoln has obviously shown... shown his lack of interest in Jordan. I was intrigued to find out what happened but didn't want to bring it up yet. 
About three-quarters of our way to the other side, Jacob started to run over and greet Jordan. He, of course, gave Jordan a big hug as I heard her congratulating him on the win. It was cute to see his excitement, and Jacob talked her ear off as he walked to Clayton's field. 
Similar to Jacob's game, we set up our stuff, and then the boys took off to go pass the ball around or do whatever they did. I had the opportunity to ask Jordan what happened, and she quickly smiled. 
"He gave me a hug!" She happily stated. "Well, a quick hug." 
"That's awesome, just randomly?" 
"No. it's actually funny." 
"Well... you know... if he wants to tell you, I'll let him!"
"But if he does, just tell him I really appreciated the gesture." 
"Come on, tell me!" 
"No way!" 
"Babe, please?" 
"Garret, it's nothing to worry about." 
"You sure?" 
"Alright," I chuckled as the game started. Compared to Jacob's game, Clayton's was very quick. It was almost pointless to even set up the chairs. Although I wasn't complaining and neither was Clayton as his team won 9-4. I think his team missed him last week because Clayton had five of the nine goals for his team, but without goalies, it was easy to do. 
After Clayton's game, we moved again to watch Ryker. This time nobody left to go do other stuff as I had Lincoln next to me on the blanket. LJ was next to Clayton as those two were picking clovers near the edge of the blanket. Jacob was sitting in Jordan's lap, and then the other two sat in my brother's and father's lap. Everybody cheered on Ryker, and by the end of it, his team got their first win. Ryker had three goals, and he played phenomenally. I'm not sure if it was the extra support we had or his birthday, but Ryker definitely played his best game this season. 
At the end of the game, it was difficult to get Ryker to come back to the car. Everybody wanted to wish him a happy birthday even though they'd be seeing him in a few hours for the party. I thought it was comical as most kids were just excited to tell him they were coming over. Anyway, after about ten minutes, I managed to snag him, and we walked over to everybody waiting with congratulations. To say he was having a great birthday so far would be an understatement. 
Anyway, we loaded into the cars and headed home. We arrived around 11:30 to everything looking ordinary. The inflatables were set up, but you couldn't see them, which was perfect. Hell, you couldn't even tell that anyone had been there since all the trucks were gone. Nobody noticed a thing until they walked into the kitchen.
"Whoa!" Lincoln said as he looked out the window first. 
"Wh-" Ryker began but stopped and looked at me. 
I smiled and just answered, "Happy birthday, buddy." 
Ryker immediately ran towards me and gave me a massive hug, "thank you." 
"Your welcome," I chuckled. 
"You did this for me?" Ryker asked as he sounded like he was about to cry. 
"You deserve it," I replied and kissed the top of his head.
"Thank you," Ryker said again. He was definitely crying a bit, but I understood why. He didn't think he deserved any of this, and it was such an overwhelming feeling for him. He went to having nothing on his birthday to having a kid's birthday heaven. The slides, bouncy house, and obstacles course were huge. The best part was the company that delivered everything even threw in a tent for free that they set up. Rita had already taken advantage of that for placing food when it was ready. 
"Wow!" Clayton happily said as he saw everything. 
"Can we go play?" Jacob inquired. 
"Not yet! Y'all need showers," I answered as I let go of Ryker and wiped his face for him. "Love you, buddy." 
"Love you too." 
"I need a shower?" Lincoln asked. 
"Yes! You were running around, kicking the ball with your cousins." 
"So, you smell!" 
"Nut uh," Lincoln giggled. "Maybe a little." 
"Exactly, everybody upstairs!" 
"Just one quick slide?" LJ asked.
"You need a shower, too, didn't you listen to Uncle Garret?" Katherine said as she was standing next to Jordan. I didn't even have the chance to introduce them, but they were already chatting before Katherine spoke, "upstairs and in the shower! We need to give Rita space anyway." 
"Fine," LJ agreed.
"Lincoln, you can use my shower. Help Clay with his, please." 
"Can I shower in there too?" Ryker asked. 
"You're the birthday boy," I chuckled. 
"Can I too?" Ashton added.
"I do not care where you get showered... as long as everybody takes one." 
"I'm showering in there too!" Jacob giggled. 
"Oh boy... just head on up. I'll be there in a few minutes." 
"I'll get it started," Lucas chuckled. 
"I'll help you, honey," Katherine said. "Come on boys." 
"They're too funny," Jordan laughed as the boys all started there way. "Can they all fit?" 
"I... I don't know, but at least they can try. Before too long, they will all be taking a separate shower because they will want privacy. Might as well let them not worry about nudity and modesty before their own minds do it naturally." 
"That's so true. No need to make any of them self conscious," Jordan added. 
"No, not at all. Like I said, in a year or two, Lincoln won't be doing this. Might as well let him have his fun." 
"I agree," Jordan chuckled. 
"Where's my wife?" My father asked. 
"Getting Christian," Rita spoke.
"What?" I asked
"Oh shoot, that was supposed to be a surprise." 
"Didn't he have soccer too?" Questioned my father. 
"An early game, I think! She called me about ten minutes ago and said she would be here soon." 
"Hmm, alright! Works with me," I said. "Rita, don't you have help?" 
"They should be here soon!" 
"Oh okay," I answered. "I'm going to head upstairs and help out. Jordan, you need anything? Water? Wine?" 
"Umm, not right now. I'm going to help Rita set stuff up." 
"Alright, be down in a bit." 
"Take your time," commented Jordan. I made my way to my room, where I saw clothes littered everywhere. Underwear on my bed, socks on the floor, and shirts by the sink... I mean, it was everywhere. I laughed as I turned the corner and saw all of them in the shower. Somehow they all fit, but it was madness as they were all laughing hysterically. Thankfully the silliness died down when the soap, shampoo, and conditioner started being passed around from one boy to another. It took longer than expected, but one by one, they finished and stepped out. Lincoln was first as he quickly ran into my arms, where I wrapped him into a towel. After quickly rubbing down his body, so he didn't drop water everywhere, he was good to go get dressed. LJ was next, and I did the same thing for him as I grabbed a new towel... I guess my role was the towel boy... it could have been worse. 
With the birthday boy being the last to get out, I wrapped the final towel around him and gave Ryker a big squeeze. As I began to dry Ryker, he giggled as I kissed his cheeks and said happy birthday. His little laugh was infectious to hear, and I started to chuckle whenever he wiggled around. It didn't take long for his body to dry, and he had run off to his room, leaving the adults to clean up the clothes. 
Once all articles of clothing were sorted between Lucas's and my boys, I strolled over to their rooms to help them get dressed. That was until I heard my mother's voice downstairs in the kitchen. I assumed she was talking to Jordan as I heard numerous compliments being thrown around. So those two had to be hitting it off quite well, but I still wanted to go down and give a proper introduction. 
As I stepped downstairs and turned the corner, I caught a glimpse of Christian sitting on the chair. He smiled as he saw me walking down the hallway. I made my way to the kitchen, I saw Adrian sitting across the table. I was honestly quite surprised to see him, and I'm sure my facial reaction wasn't the greatest. 
"Hey guys," I said as I tried my best to recover. 
"Hi, Uncle G!" Christian responded as he stood up to give me a hug. 
"Hi, Mr. Hamel." 
"Hey, Adrian, thanks for coming out." 
"Oh yeah... you're uhh welcome." 
"Jordan," I began as Christian released me. "Did you get a proper introduction?" 
"I did," she chuckled. "Christian did a fine job." 
"Awesome," I responded and ruffed Christian's hair. 
 "Uncle G!" 
"What?" I played dumb. 
"You're messing my hair up." 
"More like fixing it up." 
And I received a playful punch to the arm from Christian, "next ones in the stomach." 
"Next one and you're in the lake," I responded, which made Christian laugh. 
"Nut uh," Christian giggled.
"Don't test me, boy!" I joked as I started poking him. 
"Okay, okay," Christian answered as he was trying to dodge my hands. "Where... where is every-everyone?" 
"They are just getting dressed. Should be down any minute." 
"Oh, okay," Christian said as he avoided my last attempt. 
"How'd soccer go?" I inquired as I stopped my playful attack on him and sat in a chair by Adrian. 
"We won!" 
"Nice job," Jordan quickly said. 
"Did you get to play?" I asked.
"A little." 
"Awesome, just making sure everyone is treating you good," I replied.
"Yeah," Lincoln quickly responded, and I saw him glance at Adrian. Adrian was being very quiet compared to the other time he had been around. I'm positive that had to do with what happened in school this week. Although I wasn't going to bring it up directly, at least not today. I didn't want anything to go wrong for Ryker's big day. 
"Christian!" Ryker hollered from down the hallway. 
"Happy Birthday, dude," Christian stated as Ryker ran over to give him a big hug.
"Did you see outside?" 
"I did." 
"It's so epic!" 
"I know it looks fun. You win your game?" 
"Uh-huh," Ryker replied as he let go of his cousin. "Hi, Adrian." 
"Hey, Ryker, happy birthday." 
"Thanks... Garret, can we go outside yet?" 
"Don't you want to wait for everybody else?" I answered as Ryker walked over to me. 
"No," he snickered and leaned against my shoulder.
"No?" I acted surprised and poked his belly. Ryker giggled some more as he reacted to my touch. "You can go... if I get a hug!" 
"Ok,"  Ryker quickly responded as he wrapped his arms around me. He even went a step further and kissed my cheek. 
"Thanks, be careful. Christian... you're in charge." I stated and patted Ryker's bum. 
"Okay," Christian said as the three stood up and made their way to the back. As soon as they were outside, they took off running for the inflatable slide. It didn't take long for the rest of the boys to head outside and start playing along. 
They were out there for an hour or so, which was great because it allowed the adults to catch up and start preparing for everybody. Rita's help had arrived, which was awesome because they showed up ready to work. It was funny to see these three elderly women pushing people out of there way. In fact, I think they wanted us outside as we were ousted from the kitchen.
But that was for the best as the guest started to show up with Calvin and company arriving first. George was quick to give hugs before joining the others. Kelly and Ashley showed up next, which meant all of my family that was coming had arrived. The Brumm's appeared next with Max, Dylan, Kelsey Dylan's twin sister, and Kelsey had a friend. The Brumms had also brought Logan over to the party as Logan's mother couldn't make it. From here, people started showing up like crazy. I go to set down a card for Ryker and turn around only to be greeted by someone new walking in with another card. And the backyard... oh my word was it loud. Kids were giggling, laughing, screaming, and having a blast on the inflatables. To be honest, I was just happy I hadn't set up the trampoline I had bought. That would have been too much going on. Anyway, it seemed people had stopped arriving, which meant I could finally go and enjoy some time outback. Anyone who hadn't arrived yet could be greeted by Rita. 
See, this was not only a great party for the kids, but adults seemed to be enjoying themselves too. I heard multiple thank-yous and great party comments as I walked over to Jordan, who was helping Clayton out his shoes back on.
"Hey babe," she said and stood up. 
"Hey," I said and kissed her. "You having fun?" 
"Oh my gosh yes. It's been a phenomenal day, babe." 
"Good," I smiled, and Jordan kneeled again. "Clay, you having fun?" 
"Jordan is not annoying you, right?" I joked. 
"No," Clayton giggled. "She's helping me!" 
"I can see," I chuckled. "Have you had a chance to meet and talk to others, Jordan?" 
"Oh yeah! I've met quite a few people. Todd and Joanne Brumm and I officially met all of your siblings." 
"Oh great! Todd and Joanne are so nice. Their kids, Dylan and Max, are pretty good friends with my boys." 
"That's what I heard," Jordan said as she stood up.
"Thanks, Jordan!" Clayton said as he got up and started to run over to Jacob.
"You're welcome!" Jordan smiled. "You okay?" 
"Oh yeah! Just a bit overwhelmed." 
"Just want everybody to have a good time." 
"Babe? Look at everyone," she said. "Not a single person is not having fun... so just relax and enjoy it too." 
"Yeah," I answered as I saw Ryker with most of his team as they climbed to the top of the slide. He looked like he was having a tremendous time. Lincoln was hanging out with Christian, LJ, Max, Adrian, Devin, and Carter as their group was messing around with the obstacle course. Jacob was in the bouncy house with George and Ashton. Plus, they had some other kids around their age. Then Clayton... well Clayton was all over the place. After he got up and ran to Jacob, he veered to the left to go see what my brother was doing. "You know... you're right." 
"I know I am. Let's get you a glass of wine, you need it." 
"Probably right again," I laughed. 
"I'll grab it for you, red or white?" 
"Red, please." 
"Okay," Jordan said and gave me a kiss. 
"Thank you." 
"Your welcome," she stated, and I walked over to check on the birthday boy. He had just slid down the slide. 
"Hey buddy," I said as I kneeled down and watched as he rolled off the slide and onto the ground. "Easy!" I chuckled. "You having fun?"
"This is so epic!" Ryker giggled and stood up. 
"What's your favorite?" 
"The slide," Ryker said and gave me a hug. 
"Well, I'm glad. Have you had the chance to say hi to everyone who came?" I asked as I pulled down the back of his shirt. 
"Umm, I think so!" 
"You've said hi, and thank you to everyone?" 
"Umm, probably not, but-but there are like trillions of peoples here." 
"Trillions, huh?"
"Yeah! How am I supposed to say hi to everybody." 
"Because it's your big day, and all these people came out to say happy birthday and spend time with you. The least we could do was go around and say thank you for coming over." 
"Do we have to?" 
"No, I don't make you do anything, but I think it's really important to do so. It'll probably mean a lot to them too." 
"Umm," Ryker said as he pondered everything. 
"We will do it together if you want. It'll take twenty or thirty minutes, which is great because dinner will be ready soon." 
"But what about all my friends?" 
"They will be here after you finish." 
"Umm, okay, we can," Ryker said as he took ahold of my hand. 
"That's my boy. It'll be quick bud... more importantly, it will mean a lot to those who came out here." 
"Okay," Ryker said as we started walking over to our first group of adults. They were definitely parents of Ryker's teammates, but I wasn't quite sure of their names. Regardless, that didn't matter as we just wanted to thank them for coming. At first, Ryker was being a bit shy, so I did the talking. However, closer to the end, Ryker was walking up with me and doing all the talking too. It was funny to see him become more and more comfortable as we went throughout the groups. The last group he thanked was my family, which took longer because everyone was being silly and giving hugs. Although it worked out because Rita and her helpers started bringing the food out. 
Once all the food was out, most people formed a line and grabbed plates. As always, Rita outdid herself, but what else is new. I'm pretty sure people thought she was a caterer because I had multiple people asking for her business card or number, but there was a zero percent chance I was giving that information out... no way someone was stealing her from me! 
Anyway, after everyone ate, it was time for cake. We all joined around Ryker as my brother brought out the cake with nine candles in it. Once they were all lit, everybody began singing happy birthday. It was hilarious to see the smile on Ryker's face as everybody sang. Some people hate being the center of attention, but he was eating it up! When we finished, he blew out the candles in one puff, which of course, made him proud. The next step consisted of cutting the cake and passing it around. For those that didn't like cake, we had ice cream and brownies to go with it.
After desserts, some people began to leave, but for those who stayed, we started a bonfire and continued having a good time as the booze kept getting poured. Luckily for me, I was taking it easy on the wine, at least for the moment. I had too much responsibility on my hands with the inflatables. The last thing I needed was a kid getting injured, especially as parents started to leave. However, as it got dark, some of the kids went into the basement to play games.
I'd say around nine o'clock, the majority of the parents had left, and all the kids were inside, which was great. That meant I could pull the plug on the inflatables and start to relax. I mean, total relaxation wouldn't be accomplished, but I was just happy to have my family here to help. 
With everyone gone, it left Lucas, Katherine, my parents, Jordan, Rita, and myself sitting at the bonfire. 
"I'm going to get another glass of wine," Katherine stated as she stood up. "Anyone else want more to drink?" 
"Umm, I do," Jordan said. "I'll come to help you!" 
"Can you get me another?" I asked.
"Yeah, red again?" 
"Yes, please, and thank you." 
"You're welcome," Jordan said and gave me a kiss on my lips before walking to the kitchen with Katherine.
My brother just shook his head and chuckled.
"What?" I laughed
"How do you do it?" 
"What?" I asked. 
"Jordan... how did you manage to get her?" 
"What do you mean?" I laughed. 
"She is so nice and kind, plus she is a smoke show, brother. Double plus... She is great with the kids." 
"That she is," my mother added. 
"I'm lucky, what can I say?" 
"Blessed would be the proper term," Rita stated. 
"I don't know. Things in life are going really well. You know... it's-it's weird how different life was a year ago." 
"Oh, for sure," Lucas said. 
"Just picture," my dad chuckled. "None of us would probably be here together if Garret doesn't take in the boys." 
"Yeah... I know," I agreed.
"Life... life is unexplainable," Rita began. "Everyone is just along for the ride." 
"You can say that again," Lucas chuckled. 
"Garret?" A voice called from the house.
"Yeah?" I said as I turned around to see Lincoln walking over. "Hey, buddy, everything okay down there?" 
"Umm yeah! It's so much fun," Lincoln answered as he walked over and leaned on me. 
"Good," I said and kissed his cheek. "Love you, buddy." 
"Love you too." 
"So Lincoln," my dad began. "When is your birthday?" 
"Umm," Lincoln said as he went from leaning to climbing over the chair to sit on my lap and cuddled into me. "It's on November 6th!" 
"Oh, we have some time to go before yours then!" 
"I know! It stinks," Lincoln returned. "I want my birthday to be like this." 
"Oh yeah, why so?" My father inquired. 
"Because... umm because I got to see all of my family, and it's been really fun."
"What if I don't want to come?" My father joked. 
"Grandpa! Why wouldn't you come." 
"I don't see any love over here, you know.... only Garret is getting it." 
"He's all mine," I said as I hugged him tighter. "No escaping!" 
"Sorry, Grandpa, I'm trapped," Lincoln giggled. 
"That's unfair," my father joked. 
"Too bad," I laughed as I heard the door to the house close. 
"Where's Katherine?" Lucas shouted as he saw Jordan walking over. 
"You say, Katherine? She had to use the restroom." 
"Oh okay." 
"Yeah," Jordan spoke as she got closer. "So, we went downstairs to check on everyone and make sure no fires were being started." 
"Oh, boy," my mother laughed. 
"Here, Garret." 
"Thanks, babe," I said Jordan as she handed me my glass of wine. 
"You're welcome," Jordan said as she sat down. "Anyway, it's so cute down there. Boys are piled everywhere and goofing around." 
"No trouble, right?" Lucas asked. 
"None at all." 
"How many are down there?" My mother asked. 
"I think close to twenty-five, maybe more." 
"How are you feeding everyone breakfast?" My dad asked.
"Gordon," Rita began. "Don't you worry about that, sugar." 
"Oh, I know," my dad laughed. "I was just wondering what we are eating."
"You'll have to wait and see," Rita remarked, which made Lincoln giggle.
"You aren't sleeping down there, are you?" Questioned Jordan. 
"No... I'm in one of the boys' rooms upstairs... speaking of that, I've got about ten more minutes in me." 
"Okay, you've got a few rooms to pick from," I said as I took a sip of wine.
"What's that taste like?" Lincoln inquired as he shifted on my lap.
"The wine? To you... not so good, would you like a little sip?" 
"Can I?" 
"Absolutely," I chuckled and held the glass as he tilted it back. 
The tiniest of drops must have hit his tongue before he quickly pushed the glass away from him, "eww yuck! That's gross." 
"Phew... I'm so so SO relieved you said that," I laughed, which made those around the fire chuckle.
"Lincoln?" Lucas stated 
"Why aren't you downstairs with everybody else?" 
Lincoln was still trying to get the taste off his tongue, "I needed a break." 
"A break?" 
"Yeah," Lincoln giggled as he leaned back to rest his body on me.
"A break is good with me! I'll take these cuddles any time," I said as I kissed the back of his head and wrapped my arms around him.
"Enjoy it," my mother commented. "It won't last forever." 
"Oh, I know." 
"Garret," Katherine called as she was walking out with wine glasses and my cell phone. "Someone is at the door asking for you, and your phones been going off like crazy." 
"What?" I asked.
"Yeah, I don't know, you might wanna head out there."
"Who is it, Garret," Lincoln asked.
"I'm not expecting anyone," I replied as I lifted Lincoln off my lap to stand.
"Here's your phone." 
"Thanks," I said as I didn't even look at it. 
"Be back." 
"I'm coming," Lincoln stated and grabbed ahold of my hand to walk with me. We reached the back patio door when I ran into Clayton.
"Yeah, Lil Bear?" 
"I'm tired." 
"Okay, honey... we'll head up to bed soon, but someone is at the door for me." 
"Wanna come find out?" 
"Okay," Clayton giggled and took ahold of his brother's hand as we continued. 
It didn't take long for us to reach the front of the house. I let go of Lincoln's hand and slowly opened the door, "Laura?" 
"Hi!" She quickly and she looked so drained. 
"Everything-" I tried to say but stopped dead in my tracks when I saw the little boy standing behind her legs. He was no taller than Jacob, standing around 4 feet tall, and the boy was skinny... very skinny. His skin complexion was pale, and it looked like the sun would burn him even in the winter during a blizzard. The boy had bright red hair with light freckles on his face, but he had the cutest little dimples, and he wasn't even smiling. He looked timid and shy as he stood behind Laura's legs, trying to hide as much as possible.
"I'm at option Z." 
"What?" I quickly answered. 
"Options Z is happening... like right now." 
You can't be." 
"Oh, I am... actually, I'm past Z." 
"Laura, I have twenty-five kids in my basement, what do you want me to do?" 
"Oh my gosh! I completely forgot about Ryker's birthday." Laura replied as she put her hand on her forehead. "I'm so sorry, Garret." 
Noticing she was extremely stressed, "hey, it's okay." 
"What's going on?" Lincoln asked. 
"Just a minute, buddy." 
"I don't have another option right now," Laura remarked. 
"Hey babe, everything," Jordan inquired as she walked down the hallway. "Every-everything alright?" 
"Yeah, can you just take the boys real quick?" 
"Of course, come on guys," Jordan said as she took ahold of their hands. 
"I wanna stay," Lincoln protested. 
"Buddy go with Jordan," I instructed. 
"What's happening?" I heard Lincoln ask Jordan as they were walking to the kitchen.
"Okay," I said as I stepped out of the house and shut the door. 
"Garret, this is Cooper," Laura introduced.
I took a quick look at her before I squatted to be less intimidating. "Hey, Cooper, my name is Garret," I said as I extended my hand. Not getting a response, let alone a reply handshake, I looked at Laura for guidance. She quickly nodded for me to keep on trying, so I tired a compliment with a little joke, "I like your shoes buddy. You think they would fit my clown sized feet?" And I didn't get anything, not even a smile. Actually, I think it made the boy hang on to Laura even tighter. Not sure what to really do, I stood up and looked at Laura for some advice. 
"Can we go inside?"
"Sure," I said as I opened the door. As we entered, we heard the ruckus downstairs, which mainly consisted of kids laughing as they were playing. 
"Can we go somewhere quiet?" 
"Yeah, we can go upstairs," I recommended. 
"Garret," Lincoln hollered as he ran back over and quickly latched onto my hip. 
"Lincoln... Clay come back here," Jordan said as she chased a giggling boy into the hallway. "I'm sorry, Garret." 
"It's okay, babe," I chuckled as I picked Clayton up. "They are fine." 
"Oh-okay! You need anything else?" 
"We are just heading upstairs," I stated. 
"Holler if you need me." 
"Thanks," I replied and gave her a quick peck before going upstairs. I wanted to bring Lincoln and Clayton to possibly lighten the mood but also to get Cooper talking... or at least saying hi. We made it to the top of the steps, I placed Clayton on his feet and took ahold of his hand as Lincoln had my other. "We can use my room for now." 
"Okay, Cooper," Laura began. "Just sit tight." 
"I'll turn on the TV," I quickly said as I let go of Lincoln and Clayton to grab the remote. With cartoons on, I hoped it would keep Cooper distracted as I stepped into the hallway with Laura. Lincoln and Clayton had accompanied us too.
"Okay," Laura stated. "I know you don't wanna do this, but could use please take him for a few days?" 
"What's a few days?" 
"I don't know, like a week?" 
"What happened to the house he stayed at?" 
"It wasn't working... the family didn't have the patience and... and it didn't end great." 
"What do you mean?" 
"He just pushed his foster mom away because she tried stretching his boundaries, and he wasn't ready. The family didn't like how he responded, so they asked for him to be moved." 
"Wow.," I said as I was trying to comprehend everything Laura was saying. "You know this is only hurting him." 
"It's not ideal, Garret. I know that." 
"Why don't you take him home? He seems to trust you." 
"I can't. It's a conflict of interest. It's complicated..." 
"You're telling me.... so like, what if I say no?" 
"For you nothing, I can't make you do anything. Cooper would just go stay at my office in a makeshift room."
"What's going on?" Lincoln asked as he was trying to keep up with the conversation.
"Nothing at the moment," I said and ruffled his hair. 
"You think you can do it?" Laura inquired. 
"I have a basement with twenty-five kids... my parents plus my brother and his wife are staying here. I have Rita staying in another room up here too, I... I don't think I can." 
"Garret... what if it's just for the weekend?" 
"How would that help?" 
"I could actually try to find him a spot that I think would work. It just makes it more difficult to do my job if I consistently have to worry about a child in my office." 
"Yeah, I can understand that," I said as Clayton began walking into my room, and I hadn't even noticed.
"So... what do you say?" 
"Give me a minute," I replied. "Let me think." 
"Please do," Laura answered as Lincoln now walked towards my room.
"Look-" was all I was able to say before I heard a loud thud followed by Clayton crying. I quickly peered into my room to see Clayton on the ground and Lincoln charging Cooper. 
"HEY!" Lincoln screamed.
"LINCOLN, NO!" I tried to holler, but it was too late. I watched Lincoln deliver a perfect tackle to Cooper as the two hit the ground. With Lincoln landing on top of Cooper, he started throwing haymakers at Cooper's face. The poor kid didn't stand a chance against Lincoln as he was bigger and much stronger. Laura and I immediately started running towards the two, but it didn't do much. In a matter of seconds, Lincoln had landed three or four good punches before I grabbed ahold of him as he cocked back his left arm, but I pulled him off, "Lincoln stop." 
"YOU DON'T TOUCH CLAY," Lincoln hollered towards Cooper as Laura quickly tended to him. 
"Buddy," I said as I was still trying to hold him back. "Lincoln!" 
"What?" He snapped at me. I've never seen him this angry, he was breathing at an insane amount. "He pushed Clay!"
"I know he did," I said as I wrapped my arms around him. "Let's go."
"Lincoln... breathe buddy." 
"Garret, do you have a towel?" Laura asked as I glanced over at her. Cooper's face was a mess as his nose and lip were bleeding. I had two kids bawling and one kid angrily trying to wiggle his way free to throw more punches.
"In the bathroom, use anything you can find," I responded.
"He doesn't get to touch Clay," Lincoln hollered again as he tried to escape my grip and run after Laura and Cooper.
"But-" Lincoln replied as he started to cry from his anger.
"What's going on?" Jordan asked as she came up the steps. 
"Can you check on Clayton?"
"What happened?" Jordan said as she quickly ran over to Clayton.
"He should be okay. I think he was just pushed down." 
"Nut-huh. He-he made Clayton hit his head on that," Lincoln pointed to the dresser as he tried to squirm free. "I'm gonna kill him! LET ME GO!" 
"HEY! ENOUGH," I quickly replied as I raised my voice. 
"We are getting out of this room... Jordan, I'll be back," I said as I looked at her holding Clayton in her arms. Clayton appeared to be fine, but I couldn't really tell because I was controlling Lincoln. 
"No!" He squirmed as I tried to stand up. "You said I need to protect my brothers." 
"And you did." 
"Let me go, Garret!"
"Lincoln, enough!" 
"Why are you taking the other kid's side?" 
"I'm not." 
"Yes, you are!" 
"Alright, let's go," I said and picked him up to walk into his room. I shut the door and set him on the ground. "Listen to me." 
"No," Lincoln stated as he kicked his cousin's suitcase. 
"You need to control yourself, right now. I know you are angry and upset." 
"Why aren't you mad at the other kid?" 
"Who says I'm not.... all I'm saying is you made your point in protecting your brother. I just need you to take a few big deeps breaths." 
"He's not staying, right?" Lincoln quickly fired back as he started to pace his room. 
"He... I don't know." 
"He can't... not after shoving Clayton," Lincoln said as he began to cry again. "I don't want him here, Garret." 
"Come here," I said as I bent down and opened my arms for a hug. He quickly walked over and used my shoulder to cry on. "I'm so proud of you for protecting Clayton." 
Lincoln just sniffled. 
"But I don't know what will happen." 
"He-He just pushed Clay, though!"
"I know, bud, I know," I replied as I ran my hand through the back of his hair. 
"Shhh... we are just relaxing right now. Let's take a few deep breaths." 
And Lincoln finally was responding as he began some techniques we learned from Ruth to calm him down. 
"Garret," Jordan said as she knocked on the door.
"All okay?"
"Can you grab Christian and send him up?"
"Okay, I will. But I'm gonna take Clayton outside to the fire. He's okay, just a bit confused. I wanna get him downstairs and away from everything." 
"Okay, thank you," I responded. "See, buddy, you hear that? Clayton is gonna be okay." 
"Yeah," Lincoln replied as he was still calming himself. 
"It's all going to be alright," I answered, and I started to rub his back as we were still embracing one another.
To Be Continued...

Author Notes:

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