Lincoln, The Family I Never Expected

Lincoln-22, Murphy

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Installment 22 (Murphy)

Part - 1

Sunday, March 20th, 2016. 
It's 5:30 in the morning, and I'm waking up a bit earlier than I usually do. As I crawl out of bed, I noticed Ryker had once again joined me in the middle of the night and slept in my room. This was becoming more and more of an occurrence, which got me asking the question... why? Why the sudden change of coming into my bed in the middle of the night? However, I didn't want to wake him, which meant my question would have to wait to be answered. So I quickly slipped out of the room and fetched all the boys' tackle boxes and fishing rods from the garage. We planned on fishing this morning, so as a surprise to them, I wanted to have each of their tackle boxes equipped with lures, bobbers, and extra line. My goal was to be down by the dock at 6:45 and lines in the water by 6:46. This meant having the boys awake by 6:15 and grabbing a quick bite before walking down to the lake. 
With the ice off the lake, the boys and I should be able to catch some fish. And lucky for us, our lake has an abundant amount of fish species such as the Large & Smallmouth bass, Northern Pike, Muskellunge, Crappie, lake sturgeon, sunfish or bluegill, and many more.  The odds of catching a bigger fish weren't in our favor as we didn't have a boat in the water to fish for them. However, if they each reeled in a small fish, I'm sure they'd be happy enough. 
Anyway, I was down in the kitchen drinking my cup of coffee and preparing the tackle boxes. 30 minutes later, I was finished with them and moved into my next task of waking the boys. I entered Lincoln's room first and slowly walked up to his bed. 
My sleeping angel looked so peaceful that I kissed his forehead, and combed my hand through his hair, "morning," I whispered, "time to get up and go fishing." 
I didn't get a reply.
"Come on," I whispered again and kept running my hand through his hair. "Let's get a move on!" 
Lincoln slowly began to wake and started to rub his eyes, "what time is it?"  
"6:05. Come on, we got some fish to catch!" 
"Fishing! Up and moving," I stated and kissed his forehead again.
"Okay," Lincoln yawned as he stretched his arm then gave me a hug.
"It's a bit chilly this morning, so sweatpants and a hoodie would probably be a good idea." 
"Okay," Lincoln answered as he let go of me, and sat up to take the covers off. Then he stood up from his bed and walked naked to the bathroom.
"Don't forget underwear either," I joked as I was on my way to the next room.
"Yeah," I heard Lincoln mumble from the bathroom. 
Walking Jacob's room next, where he wasn't the happiest camper for being up woken up this early. However, he got over it once he learned we were going fishing. After Jacob, I went to Clayton, who was much easier to wake. I received my morning hugs from him, and as he went to the bathroom, I laid out his clothes. After getting Clayton situated, I went to my room and woke Ryker up. I was going to ask him why he was in my bed but decided to let it go for the time being. Once he was up and moving, we all met downstairs in the kitchen.
"Hey boys, let's hurry up and eat," I said as I walked into the kitchen.
"Okay," Lincoln answered as he took a seat and stretched his arms.
"Oh... I have finished each your guys' tackle box this morning, so everyone should be ready to go."
"We gonna catch a big fish?" Clayton asked as he sat down at the table.
"Anythings possible!" 
"What do we do with the fish after we catch one?" Ryker inquired.
"Well, it depends," I replied as I gave each of the boys a bowl and went back to the cabinet for cereal. "If we catch the right fish and the right amount, we can keep them and filet them for lunch!" 
"What's filet mean?" Asked Clayton.
"I would skin and debone the fish... it's easier to watch than explain the process." 
"I don't know if I like fish," Jacob commented.
"Well depending on the fish, it can taste delicious. If we catch enough, you'll at least have to try." 
"I don't know," Jacob giggled.
"Goes for all of you, if we catch enough... you at least have to try some!" I stated as I brought the cereal over. After everyone was done eating, we grabbed our fishing gear and headed down to the lake. Once on the dock, I grabbed some chairs, and we took our seats. I was in the middle, with Ryker on my lap. Clayton was to my right, and Lincoln and Jacob were to my left. I'm not sure how Ryker got my lap, but I'm just happy someone did as they kept me warm. 
"Alright boys," I said as I grabbed my fishing rod. "I want you to cast as far as you can and then reel in slowly." 
"How do you cast?" Jacob inquired. 
"Ryker, can I see your fishing pole?" 
"Okay," he answered. 
"So can everyone see the button on the top of your rod? You're going to push it in and hold. Then as you go to throw the line out, you're gonna release the button." I instructed with Ryker's fishing rod instead of mine because I had a different rod than the boys. "So in one motion, push the button, and then as you come forward, you release the button and watch the lure go." 
"Like this?" Lincoln asked as he managed to cast about 9-10ft out from the dock.
"Yeah! Good job! Now just reel in slowly." 
"Okay!" Lincoln answered, and I could sense he was proud of himself for doing so well on his first attempt.
"Jacob, go ahead and cast," I encouraged and then watched as he did the same movement as Lincoln, but the lure flew a bit shorter. "As you get better at casting, you'll be able to get your cast out further!" 
"Come here fishy fishy fishy," I heard Clayton giggle which caused me to look his way to see him holding the tip of his fishing rod in the water and repeatedly pushing the button.
"Clay... did you watch or listen to anything I said?" 
"No! I like my way," he laughed. 
"It's... it's... never mind... you do you!" I said as I shifted my focus to Ryker. "Alright bud, just like Lincoln and Jacob. Let's see the cast!" 
"Okay," Ryker said as he went back to cast. 
"There ya go!" I said as I watched him send the lure a good distance away. "Good job!" 
"I caught one!" Clayton yelled! "I caught one!"
"Huh?" I answered in somewhat disbelief.
"I got one!" 
"No you didn't," commented Ryker 
"Yes, I did! 
"Good job clay!" Lincoln added
"You've got to be kidding me," I said.
"Nope!" Clayton giggled as he reeled in his first fish. 
"Of course you're not," I replied. Only Clayton could be doing the complete wrong technique and still be able to catch the first fish. He was so happy and proud of himself that it was cute to see.
"Can we keep him?" Clayton inquired as he brought the fish out of the water. 
"Umm bring your rod to me," I commanded.
"Here," Clayton said as he was happily jumping around. 
"What kind of fish is it?" Ryker asked as I began taking the fish off the hook.
"It's an bluegill, not good for eating. So we are gonna put Mr. Fishy back in the water, but you wanna touch him first?"
"Alright," I chuckled as Clayton proceeded to run his pointer finger up and down it.
"Eww... it's all slimy." 
"Yup," I said. "Say bye to the fish." 
"Bye fishy," Clayton said as he waved goodbye and I threw the bluegill back in the water. 
"I'm catching the next one," Lincoln stated.
"Nut uh," Ryker commented. "I am!" 
"Enough talk and just fish!" I added.
It would be another 10 minutes before anyone caught the next one, but soon after that, the fish started hitting like crazy. Of course, I didn't have the opportunity to fish as I was too busy helping each of the boys, but it was fun to see them enjoying themselves. After a few hours of fishing, no one really caught anything we could filet. However, I would say everyone had a good time as the boys turned it into a competition of who could catch the most and the biggest fish. By the end of it, Jacob reeled in 11, Lincoln 10, Ryker 9, and Clayton with 7. Clayton would have done better, but he insisted that his way of fishing was best. The biggest fish award went to Lincoln, who reeled in a catfish. Which by the way, are some of the worst fish to get off of the hook because the tip of a catfishes' spine is pointed and sharp. If punctured by a catfish, the skin would swell because the spine contains a venom. So I didn't let the boys anywhere near that fish. Anyway, the boys were a bit disappointed they didn't catch anything bigger, but I assured them that once we got the boat in the water, we would be fishing for some larger ones. 
As we cleaned up the dock, I couldn't help but smile as I looked around and watched my boys laughing and having fun. This was such a fun family bonding moment... well not the cleaning up, but the fishing part! I'm realizing our fun is only beginning too. I mean honestly, this was my perfect Sunday. Spending time with my four beautiful boys, catching fish, creating memories, and being together. Every day I spend with them, I come to love them more and more. It's hard to explain what this felt like besides pure joy, but it was a special moment for me... and the best part, our time together has only just begun. 
After we cleaned up, the boys and I went back to the house for lunch. As we walked, I had my arm around Lincoln, and we all listened to Clayton, the now master fisherman, tell us about how he missed two ginormous fish... oh the fishing tales have already started.
After a few laughs at Clayton's story, we made it back to the house with no fish to filet, so I decided to make them sandwiches with a side of carrots and potato chips. Once everyone was done with lunch, we went to the family room to watch TV. I was in my usual spot and was surrounded by the boys. 
"You guys look tired," I commented as Lincoln sat down and rested his legs over my lap.
"You woke us up at 6!" He returned. 
"Yeah," added Ryker as he laid down beside me. 
"You all taking a nap?" 
"Maybe," Jacob responded as he reached for a blanket.
"You are all weak... WEAK! We don't need naps," I sarcastically said
"I think Clayton is already asleep," added Lincoln as he took off his shirt.
"Yeah," I chuckled. "I think you're right."
"Can we take one?" Asked Ryker.
"Yeah you boys can, but did you have fun this morning?" 
"Can we do it again?" 
"Of course! Just wait till we get the boat in the water!"
"Yeah... why does that matter?" Lincoln yawned as he closed his eyes.
"We can go out deeper and also go to other spots on the lake." 
"Can we put the boat in soon... please... like pretty please," Ryker commented.
"It will be in the water soon!" I answered and ran my hand through his hair while also scratching Lincoln's legs.
"Thanks for taking us fishing," Jacob said. 
"I glad you all enjoyed, now if you're gonna nap, take one! You guys got 45 minutes!" I said as I looked around the room to only see Jacob really moving around. However, after 5 minutes, everyone was out cold. 
Around, 1:20 I heard my phone ringing in the kitchen. I slowly untangled Lincoln's legs from my lap and put a pillow under Ryker's head. I ran to my phone and reached it, just as the ringer went off. When I checked the caller ID, it said I had 1 missed called from Christian. I quickly dialed back and went to my office.
"Hello," he answered.
"Hey, bud!" 
"So what's up?" 
"Umm... it, didn't really go good," Christian said.
Damnit! This was the one thing I didn't want To hear from Christian, and I was almost scared to listen to what he had to say, but I answered, "awe that sucks, I'm sorry bud. You okay?" 
"No... because, well everything actually went great!"
"So it didn't go bad?" 
"Not at all!" 
"I should hang up on you," I said.
"It was a joke!" 
"You brat!" 
"I'm sorry, but I had to!" Christian giggled. 
"No, you didn't!"
"I know, you're just fun to mess with." 
"Uh huh," I sarcastically answered.
"It's okay, so what happened?" 
"Well, Adrian is so so so cool! And he's sorta... cute, like really cute. We are hanging out after my soccer practice on Wednesday." 
"Well that's good, so what did you guys do or talk about?" 
"Umm... really we just played video games and hung out." 
"Yeah? Nothing else?" 
"Umm... no, no... nothing... nothing at all really." 
"You're a terrible liar Christian, you do know that right? You're voice got so high." 
"No, it didn't!" 
"I know," he giggled. 
"So what else happened?" 
"Okay... we kissed... but that's it!" Christian quickly added. 
"You sure?" 
"Yes! And it was only once, but long." 
"Alright," I chuckled. "So umm, does Adrian think he is gay?" 
"Okay well, he isn't sure. Umm... like he told me he thinks he is, but he doesn't want anyone to know, because of what happened to me. Which I totally understand, but he also said he's not sure if he likes girls too." 
"Yeah... It's a confusing time for you guys, ya know... your body is changing, your hormones are raging, and you are starting to care what your peers think of you... it's a weird time in your life bud. You know, are you sure you don't like girls?" 
"I've thought about it before, but umm... but no, not really." 
"That's okay!" I said.
"So anyway, I told him that I wouldn't tell anyone he is gay or even that we hung out."
"How'd he respond?" 
"He wasn't sure... like, I don't know, he didn't seem to think it was fair for me."
"Well, that's very mature of you to offer something like that." 
"I don't want to force someone to do something they don't want. It happened to me, and it sucks... oh, umm we went over the bullying thing." 
"Yeah, how'd that go?" 
"We didn't talk about it much, because it was sorta awkward," 
"Just because he felt really bad for me and kept apologizing." 
"Oh," I said.
"Yeah but we just talked like normal friends and hung out!"
"That's awesome bud! I'm proud of you!"
"Thanks," Christian responded. "So wanna know how we kissed?" 
"Not really," I answered, but Christian spoke on.
"Okay so it was later at night, he and I decided to watch a movie in the basement. So I moved the table, and we laid down on the ground in front of the TV. Then as the movie starts... we lay next to each other, and he is sorta laying on me... I don't know, like cuddling." 
"Okay," I chuckled.
"Stop laughing! I don't know how to explain it!" 
"You're doing fine bud!"'
"Okay okay... so anyway he is like laying down on his side with his head on my chest. And I don't know what to do with my arm that's wrapped around him, so I like just rub his side... oh this sounds so stupid now that I'm saying it. I just like... rubbed his side." 
"It's okay bud. I understand what you mean." 
"But it sounds stupid," Christian paused for a second, "but umm we watch the movie for a little. I'm not gonna lie it was sorta hard to concentrate on the movie because I was so nervous and didn't want to get... you know excited." 
"Uh huh," I said hoping his story was going to end soon.
"But we cuddled for most of the movie and then towards the end... I sort of turned on my side, so I was looking at him and... then I leaned in to kiss him... like he didn't stop me, so we kissed for a little while," Christian giggled. "I think... I think he liked it because... because well, he was hard... I felt something on my leg, and well... it was his... umm boner." 
"Okay... okay buddy, too much info." I chuckled.
"What? I'm just telling you what happened." 
"It's just a bit too much information... I didn't need to know he had an erection."
"Oh... umm sorry, I just don't have anyone else to tell this stuff to without them getting all weird, thought you wouldn't mind. I'm... I'm just excited I guess." 
"I understand that," I said. "But, I don't need a mental image of my nephew getting his leg humped." 
"Eww! Uncle G, it wasn't like that!" 
"Uh huh... sure," I teased him.
"It just poked my thigh a few times! He didn't mean to!" 
"I know, I know." I added, "I'm just messing around!" 
"So I take it, that you had fun?"
"Yeah, but next sleepover I want at your house!"
"We will see bud," I said. "But I still want you taking things slow with Adrain." 
"I know!" Christian commented. 
"And if you do stay at my house... no leg humping!" 
"UNCLE G, it wasn't like that!" Christian laughed, "it was sorta... sorta hot." 
"Oh god..."
"What?" Christian now giggled.
"Nothing...," I said trying to move on from that comment, "I'm just happy you had fun. And I hope you know, I'm joking with you about the leg thing."
"I know, leg humping just sounds gross."
"Yeah next time you want to tell me a story, you can leave a few details out." 
"You don't care! That's why I tell you this stuff." 
"Well, you have that right. You can tell me anything, just maybe fewer details." 
"No promises," Christian answered.
"Alright," I laughed. 
"So what are you guys doing?" 
"Well... all the boys are napping. We went fishing, so I woke them up at 6 in the morning." 
"Aww, I want to fish!" 
"You will!" 
"I need to catch a pike!" 
"I know you do, we will get you over here soon." 
"Good, so Lincoln isn't around?" 
"Nope, want me to have him call you back?" I asked.
"Umm... sure."
"Uncle G? You ahh... you think I should tell Lincoln about Adrian?" 
"That's up to you!" 
"Umm... I think I'll wait. It's just Adrian and mines first time hanging out." 
"Alright kiddo, umm... I'm glad you had fun!" 
"Thanks, love you, Uncle G." 
"Love ya bud!" 
"Bye," Christian said and hung up. A wave of relief that just came over me. For the few weeks of hell that Christian has endured, he finally found something positive to speak about. Now I'm not saying it'll be easier once he returns to school on Monday, but it's a step in the right direction for him... a big step! 
After my phone call with Christian, I decided to call Berry. We set up a meeting time for Monday at 10 in the morning to go over the interrogation of Antonio De'Smith and the phone records. Then once I was finished with Berry, I went to wake the boys. They had a good long 45-minute nap, so they should be rested. 
As I woke each one, they all went off to do their own thing. I'm pretty sure Lincoln went to call Christian, and Ryker went upstairs with Clayton. Like I said, everyone went to do something, besides Jacob. As I sat on the couch, he came over and leaned against me.
"Hey buddy," I said as I wrapped my arm around his shoulder. 
"Hey Garret," he softly replied
"So whatcha plan on doing for the rest of the day?" 
"I don't know," Jacob said as he began to tear up.
"Hey hey hey," I replied as I set the tv remote down and pulled him into my lap. "What's the matter?" 
"What's happening to me?" 
Trying to find out what he meant, "umm with?" 
"With my grandparents." 
"Oh," I said. "Umm... well nothing is new buddy. You're still staying here with me, and we have Jordan plus a few others working for us." 
"But-but how long am I staying here?" 
"Hopefully for a long time!" 
"When... when will you know?" 
"If you get to stay with me? 
"Yeah," Jacob said. 
"I'm not sure kiddo, but you'll be the first to know!" 
"I'm... I'm scared," he answered as he buried his face into my chest. 
"Aww buddy," I said and kissed the top of his head. "It's all going to work out." 
"I... I..." Jacob stuttered. "Don't want it to be like my home."
"And it won't. Because I'm fighting for you to stay here... with your brothers and me. 
"You don't know if I'll stay," Jacob fired back.
"I know kiddo, but I promised that you'd never go through what you did again... and you won't!" 
"Yeah, it... it hurt so bad," Jacob bawled. 
"I can't even imagine," I said as I held him in my arms and rubbed his back as he cried. I've said this before, but it just made me think of how sick Frank was. I mean who could do this to anyone let alone sweet little innocent Jacob. He's so nice, caring, and loving that it makes me angrier every time I think about it. But I couldn't show my anger, I just had to support Jacob. "Hey... it's okay buddy."
To which I didn't get a response, just more crying.
"Shhh... everything is gonna be okay," I said and kissed his forehead. 
Once again, Jacob just cried.
"Hey buddy," I tried once more and began rocking him in my arms.
"I just don't wanna make people happy." 
"What uh... what uhh do you mean?" I said trying to pry more information from him.
"Dad... daddy always ta told me I was gonna make someone happy."
"Whoa... wait, what?" I thought, but then I asked Jacob to repeat what he said, "umm what did daddy tell you?" 
"That... that I was gonna make someone happy." 
"Did he ever say who?" 
"No," Jacob bawled. "He just... just always said that to me when... when he... he was"
"I know what you mean buddy." 
"I... I," Jacob tried to speak but couldn't.
"It's... it's okay kiddo," I stated while trying to get him to calm down. "Well, I know you make me happy just being around you... and I love being around you." 
Which it did nothing to help him. Jacob went on to cry for another 5 minutes before he could get ahold of his emotions enough to speak to me. 
He finally looked up in my direction and mumbled, "I'm... sorry." 
"You're sorry?" 
"For crying." 
"Don't you ever apologize to me for crying," I replied as I wiped the tears from his face. "And don't ever apologize when you feel you need to talk with me, son. That's why I'm here, and that is my job... to listen to you and to love you." 
"But my dad always hit me for crying." 
"Buddy... I'm nothing like your dad, and will never be anything like him. He was mean, cruel, and didn't deserve you." I said, "and your dad isn't here to hurt you anymore. You don't need to live in fear for everything you do. Ya know, you can be yourself around me and not worry about being hit or punished. " 
"I guess you're right," Jacob answered. "But I... I don't know." 
"What don't you know?" 
"Why... why was it me?" 
"I don't know if we'll ever have those answers bud. Some people don't understand the pain and hurt they cause others." 
"Yeah," Jacob said as he leaned against my chest. I wasn't sure what he was thinking about, but you could see his mind trying to grasp onto ideas.
"Hey," I said wanting to change the subject, "why don't we do something?" 
"Like what?" 
"Play in the basement, go for a walk, go..."
"Go to the lake again?" Jacob interrupted me. 
"Umm yeah, we can do that, but let me tell your brothers." 
"Do they have to come?" 
"Umm, no. But we have to make it a quick trip to the lake. Can't let them alone too long. But I still need to tell them where we are going," I said.
"Okay. I gotta get my shoes." 
"Alright," I replied as I went upstairs to update the boys where we were heading. Lincoln was working in his journal while Clayton and Ryker were playing video games together, so they were all occupying themselves.
"Ready?" Jacob asked as I made it into the kitchen.
"Yup come on," I said as I opened the door and stepped out. 
"Okay!" He replied and took ahold of my hand. 
"So, what do you think of Jordan?" 
"Umm... I don't know, she's nice."
"Yeah," I chuckled. 
"Did you mean what you said," Jacob asked which completely changed the topic.
"You're gonna need to remind me what I said." 
"That I make you happy?" 
"Absolutely buddy! You and your brothers make me feel like I'm the luckiest person alive." 
"Yes really," I replied. 
"Cool," Jacob returned and wrapped his arm around my waist for a quick hug.
"Yeah!" I answered and placed my arm on his shoulder.
"What was you like when you was my age?" Jacob asked, which again, drastically changed the conversation. 
"Umm," I chuckled. "I moved a lot, which made it hard to make friends when I was your age, but I had my brother around, I guess sorta similar to you. Ya know, how you have your brothers to help you."
"And umm, I guess I was a happy kid. You'd probably have to ask grandma. She'll tell you everything," I added.
"What about Uncle Lucas? What was he like?" 
"Again that's a better question for my parents! But umm, I always looked up to Lucas. He was very protective of me, which was always nice to have." 
"Like Lincoln is?" 
"Yeah, like Lincoln," I replied as we reached the steps to the dock.
"What wrong with Derrick?" Jacob asked, once again changing the subject. 
"Boy... you're all over the place with questions today!"
"Sorry," Jacob replied.
"It's okay," I said and took a seat on the bench along the wall. Jacob was quick to occupy my lap, and together we watched a few ducks land on the water as I started to rub his back. It was a peaceful and relaxing feeling.
"But... but what's wrong with Derrick?" 
"Umm, he has something called Cerebral Palsy. Which is a disability that affects the brain and causes a loss of body movement, muscle control, and in Derrick's case, a loss of oral skills. He can talk but speaks on the same level as a  4-year-old. He also has a minor case of autism which affects how he interacts with people," I answered and watched Jacob think of a response. 
"So like he won't be able to walk? Like ever?" 
"To be honest, he doesn't have a high chance of walking, but miracles do happen." 
"What about him speaking?" 
"Once again, bud, it's not likely." 
"Can we call him?" Jacob asked as he turned his body to look at me.
"Absolutely, he'd love that. Better yet, we can FaceTime." 
"Cool!" Jacob replied as he turned back around and drifted his body deeper into mine. For a minute or two we watched the lake and peacefully listened to water hitting the rocks on shore. Every once in a while we would hear a bird chirp or a fish jump. It was extremely relaxing to be sitting with Jacob in my arms and taking in the gorgeous views. As I began to scratch his chest, Jacob spoke, "love you, Garret!"
"I love you more than anything on this earth," I replied and kissed the top of his head, which made Jacob smile as he rested his head on my chest. After a few seconds of silence, Jacob asked, 
"What's Pittsburgh like?" 
I chuckled and poked him in the ribs before answering, "you really are full of questions today!" 
"Sorry," Jacob giggled!
"It's okay kiddo. Umm, Pittsburgh is," I went on to answer. After a few more silly and random questions plus a few minutes of sitting to enjoy the scenery, it was time to head up. We were gone for probably 10 to 15 minutes. As we were making our way back, I gave Jacob a piggyback ride, and he chatted my ear off with more questions and comments. 
Once we got into the house, the day seemed to fly by. We had dinner, the boys had some time to themselves, and to end the night all of my boys and I FaceTimed with Calvin, George, and Derrick. Which turned out to be so much fun, that we ended up FaceTiming my brother Lucas and his boys. When everything was said and done, we probably spent 90 minutes talking with everyone, which was mostly the kids talking about how excited they are for Easter and what they were going to do together.
After FaceTime, I sent the boys upstairs for shower or bath. The youngest ones jumped in the master bathroom tub, while Lincoln showered in the master shower. Once everyone was clean, I put them to bed starting with Clayton, then went to Jacob, and then with Lincoln. I was saving Ryker for last because I wanted to chat about why he was coming into my room so often. 
As I entered his room, he was just getting under his covers, so I went over and sat on the side of his bed. "Hey kiddo, all comfortable?" 
"Good!" I replied, "so you thinking you'll stay in your room tonight?" 
"What do you mean?" 
"Well, you've been coming into my room more often." 
"Oh," Ryker said, "uhh sorry." 
"No, it's okay! I'm just wondering why?" 
"I don't know. I guess I have a bad dream." 
"Is it the same dream over and over again?" I inquired.
"Umm no... well sorta." 
"Uh huh," I spoke as I began running my hand through his hair. "Want to tell me what it is or what it is about?" 
", not really." 
"How come?" 
"I just don't," Ryker harshly spoke and turned on his side to face away from me.
"Hey... easy bud, I might be able to help if I know what it is." 
"Garret, I don't wanna talk about it," Ryker replied.
"Well when you do, you know where I am," I stated and kissed the back of his head, "goodnight."
"Can... can I sleep in your room?" 
"How about you scoot over and I'll lay down with you." 
"Okay," Ryker answered and moved to make room for me. 
I quickly laid down and got underneath the covers, Ryker promptly shifted to lay his head on my chest. I began to rub his back and tried one more time to get himself to open up, "you umm sure you don't want to talk about the dream?" 
"No," he quickly shot back. 
"Alright, let's try to get to sleep." 
"Can you scratch my back and umm... butt?" 
"Yeah," I chuckled and did a big circular scratch that covered his back and upper bum. While scratching Ryker, I began to think about this dream he was having and why he didn't want to speak of it. My thoughts raced around my head because something was obviously bugging him. However, it didn't matter until Ryker felt comfortable enough to tell me. I don't know, maybe I wasn't asking the right questions. After 15 minutes of cuddling Ryker, he was out cold. I managed to slip away from him and go to my bed to fall asleep.  

Part - 2

Monday morning, I was awakened by those damn deafening screams that I've become accustomed to. I hurried out of bed and took off to Lincoln's room where I saw him beside his bed bawling. I immediately went into the same routine to try and get him calmed down. After 30 or 40 minutes, he was okay enough to fall back asleep. While I crawled back into my bed, I noticed Ryker was beside me too. I don't know if I missed him when I ran to check on Lincoln, or if he came into my bed while I was helping Lincoln. Either way, it concerned me. With Lincoln's PTSD attack mixed with Ryker's bad dreams and Jacob's grandparents, I wasn't able to fall back asleep. I had too much on my mind. So at 4:30am, I went downstairs to lay on the couch and watch some TV. 
I might have dozed off a few times, but around 5:45, Rita had entered through the garage.
"Morning," I hollered from the family room as I sat up from the couch.
"Oh boy, what's wrong?" She replied as she sat down her bag on the kitchen counter.
"What do you mean?" 
"Well one,  you're awake at this time, which isn't a good sign. And two, you're on the couch, which means you either aren't feeling good, you've had too much to drink, or you have too much on your mind.... which is it?" 
"Too much on my mind," I sighed.
"I figured, so what's going on?" 
"Just the boys. Lincoln had another PTSD attack, and Ryker keeps having a bad dream. Then I have the whole Jacob stuff."
"Anything I can do for you?" 
"No, but thanks." 
"You sure?" 
"Yeah," I answered as I stretched and walked to the kitchen. "How was the mother/son event?" 
"So much fun, Ryker was cracking up the entire time. However, I'm still a bit sore, especially my lower back."
"Yeah, some of the events were more physically demanding than I thought they would be, but it was fun."
"I'm glad you had fun, and I can't thank you enough for taking Ryker. It meant a lot to him." 
"I know it did, and it meant so much for me too."
"Well I'm glad, and thanks!" I said again and went for a cup of coffee. The rest of the morning went rather quickly. I dropped the boys off at school and then went to meet Berry and Rory to discuss the questioning of Antonio De'Smith. On my way, I made a call to Keith to find out flight details. He arranged for us to fly out of Columbus on Thursday at 12:00 pm, but left the return date open for me. I was going to do everything I could to fly into Pittsburgh on Saturday night, but supposedly we have a dinner with a potential big money donor on Saturday which could prevent me from leaving until Sunday Morning. Yet, who knows, I might say fuck the dinner and go spend as much time as I can with my family... I guess it all depends. 
Anyway, I arrived at our meeting spot and walked inside. When I entered and made my way to Berry who was sitting in the corner, I noticed he wasn't with Rory. 
"Berry," I said as I extended my hand. "Good to see you again." 
"Always a pleasure," Berry chuckled.
"So where's Rory?" I asked as I sat down.
"He is looking through the last bit of phone records and sorting the phone numbers. He should be here soon though." 
"Uh okay, well do we know anything new?" 
"I couldn't tell you, Rory wanted to take charge on the phone records, so he's been working his ass off the past 24hrs." 
"Oh okay, well should we wait for Rory to arrive or should we start the debrief." 
"Rory and I already went over a few details, so we can start without him."
"So what are your thoughts?" Berry asked. 
"Umm," I said as I sat back in my chair, "from my knowledge, Antonio's account of the 23rd, lines up with what I've heard from Lincoln. Well at least until Lincoln was knocked unconscious. But what uh, does surprise me is Frank's reaction to Gabriel being killed." 
"Remember Antonio said he wasn't around for it though, he was searching for the money." 
"Uh huh, but I'm wondering why or how Frank was able to break free and why was he mad at Lincoln."
"Well, I think it's more important to find out the proof that Gabriel had, ya know, that saved his ass."
 "Oh yeah, I forgot about that." 
"Also another important question, if the money wasn't found, where is it." 
"That hasn't even crossed my mind," I returned.
"Well, it's something to look into." 
"Also something thing I found interesting is why Frank and Gabriel were so close. Then according to Antonio, he didn't see either one of them together for a week leading up to the 23rd... so what did Frank do to piss off Gabriel or vice-versa." 
"Yeah, I found that odd as well." Berry added, "I'm not sure why they tried to move the dead bodies into the kitchen either. That isn't adding up for me." 
"You think we can get answers to any of the questions?" 
"Honestly, I'm not sure. We are missing something here, like stuff isn't adding up. We have Gabriel who is brought in by Frank a month before this incident. Then a week leading up to 23rd, they aren't seen together. Then during the 23rd, Gabriel rapes Frank's oldest, but then when Gabriel is killed, Frank is upset at his son. To make matters worse, we have no idea where the fucking money is, we have no idea why Gabriel was even brought into the equation." 
Berry exhaled deeply, "we will figure it out." 
"You think?" 
"I'm positive, we just need a breakthrough." 
"Yeah," I chuckled, "we sure fucking could!" 
"Speaking of a breakthrough, maybe our luck is about to change." 
"What do you mean?" 
"Gentlemen," Rory spoked as he walked in and took a seat. "How are we doing?"
"Oh just praying for a breakthrough," I replied. "You got one with you?" 
"Well it's sort of confusing," Rory stated as he opened a folder he carried with him.
"How so?" Berry inquired. 
"Okay well before we get into separate phone numbers, I have proof that Frank and Gabriel were in contact with each other leading up to the night of the 23rd, which means there was no fight between them. Here look," Rory said as he pointed to the paper. "The phone records show multiple calls made to each other's phone almost daily, the only time they didn't call one another was the 23rd." 
"I see," Berry stated, "so no blowout between them?" 
"Antonio wasn't telling the truth?" I asked.
"Or he didn't know," Rory added. "But I'm positive that Gabriel and Frank were colluding. I mean let's go back 2 months... see they are still making calls to each other." 
"I don't know how this helps us." 
"It does, but I'm just not sure how... yet," Berry smoothly delivered. "But, what else do we get from the phone records?" 
"A lot... both men were very busy people, at least their phone records indicate. However, Gabriel was more active, he made multiple calls to these area codes 541, 575, 937, and 614."
"937 and 614 are Ohio based," I stated. 
"Correct. Anyone want to take a guess where 541 and 505 are from?" 
"I have no fucking clue," Berry said.
"Nor do I," I added.
"Oregon and New Mexico." 
"I get the Oregon phone number, that's where he was last spotted," Berry said, "but the New Mexico one?" 
"I'm not sure what to think of that either. Honestly, he only called New Mexico umm... 5 times in 2 months." 
"Alright, and what about the Ohio numbers?" 
"So this is where it gets interesting. Here are all the calls to Frank, so many of them, just look. Then some of these other Ohio numbers are just once or twice dials, you know probably to others in the gang, but here... this number right here, ending in 3910. Gabriel calls this Ohio area code number multiple times, with the last call going out a week before the 23rd. I tried searching the number through police records and online, but it wasn't registered to anyone." 
"Okay, what about Frank's phone?" Berry inquired. 
"Here," Rory said as he flipped through the papers, "alright umm... okay, so obviously we have the multiple calls to Gabriel, and then we run into a similar situation with a different number. Frank calls this number ending in 4392, multiple times, but stops a week before the 23rd... but, you ready for this? Frank's wife called the 3910 number on January 19th, and the call lasted for 20 seconds." 
"Is that the only call from the Barnard household to 3910?" Asked Berry.
"And when did Frank and his wife steal the money?" I asked.
"We don't have an exact date, but I think anywhere from the 16th-18th, why?" 
"I'm just wondering... Maybe that person has the money?"
"It's a possibility," Rory said.
"It's not certain though," Berry added.
"No, you're right.... umm, is there any way to track the phone? Like the signal?" I asked. 
"You mean to find a location?" 
"Not really," Berry spoke. "It would be difficult without the proper technology." 
"Why not try and call the number?" Rory asked. 
"Yeah, why not... what do we have to lose?" 
"Umm, yeah... okay," Berry said. "Let's start with 3910 number first." 
"Alright," Rory said and took out his phone. All the sudden my heartbeat increased, I don't know if it was more excitement or nervousness. Rory finished entering the number and starting to call.
Instantly, we heard, "the number you have dialed has been changed, disconnected or no longer in service," and we hung up.
"Alright, let's try the next one." 
"Okay," Rory answered and dialed again. We immediately were answered by an automated answering machine, which meant the phone was turned off and not out of service. "This... this is a good sign." 
"I agree," Berry said. "Look like we have some work to do." 
"Uh huh," Rory replied and closed the folder.
"Wait what?" I asked as I was confused, "are we done?"
"Yes for the day at least. Unless you have any questions for us?" 
"Yes! What the hell just happened? I'm so confused." 
"Well,  now Rory and I's day are going to consist of calling that number and trying to find out who that number belongs to, so we can have a little chat." 
"Was this our breakthrough?" 
"No, not yet. Although this is big, I mean it can be big. This could be our missing piece, or this could turn out to be nothing," Berry said. 
"So we are still stuck at square one?" 
"Yes and no," Berry replied.
"Fucking great," I stated as I exhaled. 
"Calm down Garret, we're building a puzzle here. A complicated puzzle with missing pieces everywhere. We are slowly but surely finding those missing pieces, it's just a matter of time before we connect them, and then our image becomes clear." 
"I know... I know, it's just frustrating." 
"Well that's part of the job, you just can't get too down about it." 
"Yeah I know," I said as I looked at my watch. "Well guys, I think I need to be on my way. Umm keep up the hard work, I really appreciate it." 
"Alright Garret," Berry spoke, "enjoy your day. We will contact you when we know more."
"Yeah take it easy, enjoy the holiday," Rory added.
"You guys too, enjoy it," I replied and stood up to walk out. Actually, I was quite relieved to be leaving. It's not that I didn't want to be part of the process, but I felt I slowed Berry and Rory down. Those two feed off each other's answers and questions, whereas I struggle to grasp all the incoming information. Plus, I felt like I needed a break or something, recently I've felt so much tension and stress. Once I reached my car, I started to make my way to the school to pick up Clayton. As I drove, I called Jordan for personal and business reasons. We chatted about our day but more importantly, we covered the next phone call with Thomas or Debra. We thought it would be best to not call them for a week, so we scheduled it for next Tuesday. After my phone call with Jordan, I dialed Laura and told her about the Easter plans. Being she was the caseworker, she had to give permission to let Rita take them out of the state. After that was all sorted, the day went very quickly.
I picked Clayton up and took him back home where he did some homework, and we snuggled on the couch. After that, it was time for me to take Lincoln and Jacob to therapy, which turned out to be a waste of time. Jacob communicated, but communicated nothing helpful. What I mean is he talked and talked, but it was more about going to Pittsburgh and school. Lincoln, on the other hand, was the opposite. He wasn't very talkative, which was frustrating because he's been doing so well communicating with Ruth. However, Ruth still thought it was a productive day for both boys because she claimed that she was gaining more of their trust. I saw it differently, but who am I to say... right?
After therapy, we returned home, and the boys finished their homework as Rita started prepping dinner. She was making tacos, which was always a good and easy choice. Around 6:45, we all sat down to eat, and we were finished by 7:30. With the boys' homework complete, they wanted to go out in the hot tub, which I wasn't opposed too. They ran up to get their suits on while I went to open the cover. As I went back inside to get my suit, I told the boys to help Rita clean up the kitchen. Once I was ready, and the kitchen was cleaned, the boys and I went out to soak in the tub.
They all beat me to the tub, which wasn't unusual, as they ran and I walked. I reached the hot tub and took my spot in the corner and surprisingly, Lincoln took my lap and not Clatyon. He was extra clingy today, but I didn't mind, I just rubbed his smooth skin as he rested his body against mine.
"Love you, buddy," I said and kissed the top of his head. "Love all of you boys!" 
"Love you!" They all replied almost in unison. 
"So you all have a good day?" I asked.
"Yeah," Lincoln said as he pulled my arm around his body to hug himself. "The best part is right now though." 
"Yup! Nothing better than spending time with you all. So who's excited for Pittsburgh?"
"Me!" Ryker said.
"Same," Clayton spoke. 
"Yeah," Jacob added, "wish you were coming though." 
"I'll be there, it'll just be later then you alł." 
"Do you have to go on your trip?" Lincoln inquired.
"Boys... we've been over this. It's very important, or I wouldn't be going." 
"Yeah we know," Ryker spoke, "I'm just going to miss you." 
"Well, you've got me for three more nights! Plus you'll forget about me when you make it to Pittsburgh! You guys are going to be so busy having fun with family, you'll forget about poor old Garret." 
"No," Lincoln giggled, "that's not possible!" 
"Yeah!" Clayton added.
"We are going to call you every night," Ryker said.
"Better yet, we can FaceTime or Skype!" 
"Bye boys!" We heard Rita holler from the back door. "I'm heading home." 
"Bye!" We all shouted back. 
I'm not kidding when I say this, the boys all looked at each other, and within a matter of seconds, swimsuits were flying everywhere.
"Did you all plan that?" I asked as Lincoln came back into my lap.
"No! We just know we can be naked when it's just us," Ryker commented.
"Just no full moons tonight, okay?" I joked which sent Clayton, Ryker, and Jacob into laughter.
"Can you rub my legs?" Lincoln asked as he scooted his back into my body and leaned his head on my shoulder.
"Your legs are a bit far away." 
"I meant like my thighs!" 
"Oh... yeah," I replied and started on the outside of his thighs and made my way to the top creating a circular motion. Every once in a while I would add pressure and squeeze an area on his thigh. 
Once the 3 boys were able to stop laughing, they resumed with more questions. 
"How far away does Uncle Lucas live from grandma?" Ryker asked. 
"Okay, so grandma and grandpa live in an area north of Pittsburgh called Warrendale. Uncle Lucas lives northeast of Pittsburgh near Allison Park. They are probably 15-20 minutes away from each other."
"Cool!" Jacob said. 
"Jake... maybe we can stay at both places," Ryker giggled. 
"I want to stay wherever grandpa is staying," Jacob responded. 
"But we can go hang out with Ashton and Jackson!" 
"Yeah... I don't know," Jacob said. 
"It's gonna be so much fun!" Ryker announced again. 
"Yes it will, you guys are going to have a blast!" I added. 
"Who else is staying at grandma's" inquired Ryker.
"I don't know yet. I haven't heard from anyone, but usually, Uncle Calvin and Aunt Charlotte stay at grandma's."
"Grandma and grandpa's house is bigger than Uncle Lucas's, and it's easier for Derrick to stay there." 
"Is grandma's house bigger than ours?" Ryker asked. 
"Nope," I added, "but they do have a 5 bedroom place. You'll probably be sharing a bed with someone though." 
"Do they have a pool?" Jacob asked. 
"Yeah, but I don't think it's opened yet." 
"I can't wait for our pool to be open," Clayton said.
"It will be soon," I responded.
"Is Lincoln sleeping?" Clayton asked. 
"No... I'm just... just relaxing," Lincoln softly said as he didn't open his eyes.
"He might be asleep soon," I joked and kissed the side of his head. 
"It just feels so good in here," Lincoln commented. 
"Yeah," all the boys agreed as they sat back in their seats. Well, Clayton was resting on his knees or else he would go under the water line. 
"Yeah, I'm enjoying this time with you guys!" 
"Love you, Garret," Ryker stated which started a chain reaction from the other boys.
"Love all of you with all my heart, you boys are the best," I returned. After a few more minutes of soaking in the warm water, it was time to get out and get ready for bed. All the boys showered and were ready for bed. Ryker, Jacob, and Clayton all went to their beds to sleep, but Lincoln wanted to sleep in my room. I agreed but told him to come into my room in 15 minutes because I had to shower, and I sort of hoped he would fall asleep in his bed while waiting for me. 
However, my plan failed as he walked into my room just as I got under the cover. He was naked, which by now, just seemed normal to me. He climbed into bed and cuddled against me on my right side. I threw my arm around him, and my hand landed on his lower back and upper bum. I kissed his forehead goodnight and then killed the lights. Lincoln didn't last long before he was asleep since I scratched his back, which I swear is like the magic touch. It could put any one of the boys to sleep. After Lincoln was out cold... I soon followed the same path and was dead to the world. 

Part - 3

Tuesday I woke up again at 5:30... although I wasn't sure why, so I flicked on the bedside lamp. Lincoln was sound asleep next to me, and Ryker hadn't joined us either. I didn't have any bad dreams or nightmares... I was just awake. The sad part was I couldn't fall back asleep because I instantly started worrying about the boys and all the issues going on. However, waking up had some comic relief because Lincoln was sprawled out over the bed with the covers scattered by his legs. His one arm was covering his face, while also having his head buried underneath two pillows. I mean he was all over the place. After chuckling at Lincoln,  I decided I wasn't going back to sleep, so I got out of bed and walked over to his side to pull the covers up.  I was blown away by Lincoln's raw beauty. He really is beautiful, he seemed to glow from the dim light coming from my bed lamp. His glabrous skin and slender body were perfection from head to toe. I mean really, he didn't have a speck of hair on his body beside his brownish-blonde hair on his head. If you were to describe a boy Adonis, you would be portraying Lincoln or Ryker. This boy is damn gorgeous, and I don't think he even has a clue. After mulling over Lincoln for a quick second, I finally pulled the covers up and moved the pillowed to kiss his forehead ever so gently, trying not to wake him. 
After I pulled Lincoln's covers up, I walked over to my bed and shut off the lamp. I then went to check on the rest of the boys before making my way downstairs to watch TV. I know I've said it time after time, but I sat down, turned on the tv and thought how lucky I am to have these boys with me. 
Since I didn't get much sleep the past two nights, I knew it was going to be a rough day. However, it went pretty quick. The boys went to school, I came back and exercised, then picked Clayton up from school. After we came back, we took a nap together which was so lovely, and then before long, it was time to get the boys from school. 
Once they all got back, I quickly had them do their homework and then it was off to soccer practice where Ryker Jacob and Clayton got to run off some energy. Lincoln tagged along because we were going to the car dealership after, so he and I passed a football around and bonded some more. 
With practice finished Lincoln, the three smelly boys, and I hopped in the GLS and took off to the Lexus dealership. With the boys' help, we decided on buying Rita a fully loaded 2016 Lexus RX 350. The boys went with a white exterior with black accents and selected the black interior. It was a sharp looking car, and I knew she would be excited... well hopefully....she might kill me instead.
Anyway, with help from the dealer, they kindly drove the car to my house as I drove back the boys in the GLS. With it being such a hectic day, the boys showered and went to bed rather quickly, which I was completely fine with. With the boys all down and in there own beds, I went to my room in hopes of not waking before 6:00am. 

Part - 4

Wednesday, March 23rd... Rita's Birthday! 
With it being Rita's birthday, we planned for Rita to come to our house around 7:30 as we were cooking her breakfast, plus we had to surprise her with the car. 
So around 7:00 I woke the boys, and together we made a strategy. Lincoln and Ryker were on lookout duty, which meant Jacob and Clayton were on cooking duty with me. Lincoln and Ryker's goal was to distract Rita from entering the house through the garage, so as soon as they saw her car pull up, those two took off out the front door. Luckily Rita had bought them their robes or the boys would have been streaking. I heard them yelling happy birthday as they raced to her car. I mean they must have been screaming it. Somehow they did convince her, and the three came through the front door laughing. Rita was quickly was led to her table. 
"Happy Birthday Miss. Rita," Clayton said as he gave Rita a hug.
"Oh well thank you Mister Clay," Rita chuckled and picked Clayton up to sit in her lap.
"Happy B-day," Jacob stated as he was still helping me.
"Thank you, Jacob!"
"Did you get anything for your birthday?" Ryker asked.
"As a matter of fact, I did! I bought myself one of those fancy amazon Alexa things!"
"Look at you catching up with the 21st  century," I joked.
"Ha ha ha, funny," Rita sarcastically laughed, "I don't see one in this household."
"Whats an Alexa?" Jacob asked.
"You're right. That's the last thing I need in this house," I replied to Rita.
"Whats an Alexa?" Jacob repeated.
"Well, its actually called an amazon echo I believe, but it's a smart speaker. Like, it connects to the internet, and you can ask it questions or order the device to play music." 
"Oh, like an iPod?" Clayton inquired.
"Not quite," Rita said, "but it can do everything plus more."
"I'll stick to my iPod," Clayton giggled.
"Did you get anything else?" Lincoln asked.
"Nope, I was lucky enough to have Garret pay for a trip to Florida to see my friends and family."
"When was that?"
"Oh... I don't know, I think the week Garret found you guys."
"Oh," Lincoln replied.
"Yeah! Plus you boys are a good birthday present! That's about all I need," Rita spoke. "I'm looking forward to our trip together!"
"Thanks," Lincoln said and gave Rita a hug.
"Breakfast is ready," I yelled. "Lincoln get Rita a glass of milk or water."
"Oh sugar, I can do that myself."
"No, I want to," Lincoln spoke. "what do you want?"
"Water would be great!"
"Alrighty, here we go. French toast served with sliced banana!" I said.
"Yummy," Rita replied
"Here is your water!"
"Thank you sugar!"
"Boys come here," I called, and they all stood in front of me. "So before you eat, we have a surprise for you!"
"Garret... you better not of."
"The boys helped me pick everything for you!"
"And you deserve more than anyone I know. So, with that being said, here are the keys to your new Lexus!"
"Surprise!" The boys all hollered!
"It's really nice," Lincoln commented.
"Yeah come on, let's go to the garage!" Ryker said.
"I just want to say, the boys were a big help! They picked the color and the interior."
"Yeah, its white and black," Jacob said.
"Come on, Rita," Lincoln stated and grabbed her arm. 
"Alright alright," Rita laughed as she stood up and went with the boys. She was excited, although I think the boys were more excited than she was. Poor Rita didn't even get a chance to eat her french toast. After a few minutes out in the garage, they all came back inside to eat.
With the surprise over, our daily routine kicked in. Well minus Rita, she got the day off. So I took the boys to school, and then came back to pack my bags. My next task was to pack the boys' suitcases. They weren't leaving till Friday morning, but I would rather pack their suitcases instead of having Rita do all the work. They would be gone for 3 nights, which meant in each boys' suitcase I put in 6 pairs of underwear, 6 pairs of socks, 3 t-shirts, 2 athletic shorts, 1 pair of jeans/khaki pants, 2 polo shirts, and I put one of my large shirts in Jacob's bag for him to sleep in and Clayton's PJs in his bag. 
With the bags packed, it was time to go get Clayton and then we went out for lunch. After lunch, we went back to the house but weren't there for long. Clayton and I took the boat to drop off at the local marina to be dewinterized and then we went back to the school to pick up the other 3.
Then we were quickly out the door again for Lincoln's therapy appointment which again, turned out pointless. I don't know if Lincoln is hiding something, but the past two therapy sessions have been utterly useless. Anyway, after therapy, we stopped at the gas station to fill up the GLS because Rita would be driving that vehicle to Pittsburgh.
Thankfully the day slowed down when we got back to the house. Without Rita's help, it's been an exhausting day for me, but it was worth it to give her the day off to enjoy the new car and her birthday. As we walked into the house, I asked.
"So pizza for dinner work?" 
"Yeah!" I heard them reply.
"Alright I'll order the food in a little, so what do we want to do tonight?" 
"Can we go fishing?" Jacob asked while Clayton was walking to me.
"No buddy, not tonight," I answered as Clayton wrapped his arms around my legs.
"I'm gonna miss you, Garret," Clayton spoke as he looked up at me.
"Aww," I answered and picked him up. "I'll miss you too buddy, but let's try to have fun tonight!" 
"Can we play knee hockey?" Ryker chimed in.
"Yeah, can we?" Added Jacob. 
"Yeah sure, let me order the pizza."
"I'm on Garret's team," Lincoln shouted with caused an uproar from the other three. I'm not sure who said what, but I heard. 
"That's not fair." 
"Nut uh!" 
"I wanna be on Garret's team." 
"Hold on boys, I have a way to draw teams randomly, okay? But let me order the food" I asked as I picked up my phone and began to dial the pizza.
"Fine," Lincoln said 
"One pepperoni and one cheese?" I asked the boys as the phone rang.
"Can we get ham?" Ryker inquired.
"What about a meat lovers pizza and one cheese pizza?" 
"Yum," Clayton giggled.
"Yeah," agreed the rest of them. 
"Go set up knee hockey," I commanded just as the pizza place answered, "hi I'd like to place an order for delivery."
"The last one downstairs is a loser," Lincoln yelled as he bolted down the steps with his brothers following. After I finished ordering the pizza, I went to the office and tore a piece of paper into five sections. I then labeled the pieces 1-5 and folded each piece of paper to hide the number. So everybody was going to select a piece of paper, and then the evens were on one team, and the odds were on the others. When I went downstairs, the boys were ready to play, and they selected their numbers. The teams went Lincoln, Ryker, and Clayton VS Jacob and me. 
We were going to play three games, and the first one to seven goals wins one game. As the "puck" dropped, I quickly noticed how competitive the boys were. I mean Lincoln was throwing hip checks into Jacob, while Ryker tried body slamming me a few times. During the first game, we even got into a "full team fist fight" which was basically me pulling Ryker, Clayton, and Lincoln shirt over their head and playfully hitting their exposed ribs. It turned into a lot of fun but unfortunately, Jacob, and I had lost 7-5. However, the second game was more fast-paced and less physical which was better for Jacob and I because we won 7-5. 
With the final game to determine who won what the boys dubbed "the knee hockey championship," we had a lot of bragging rights on the table. However, we did need to take a pizza break before starting game three. So we quickly went upstairs to eat and watch some ESPN before heading back downstairs for game three. 
The beginning of game three was absolutely hilarious. The boys really got into it, I mean they had introductions and everything. It was like they had a crowd of 20,000 watching them. Anyway, we started, and the game was similar to the first, with Lincoln being physical, but this time he kept trying to knock me out of the goal for Clayton or Ryker to shoot on an empty net. He succeeded twice, but after I let two goals by me...I was a brick WALL! No way they were beating us, and the final game was a blowout for Jacob and me! We won 7-2 and let's just say the other team wasn't too happy with each other. After a quick celebration from Jacob and I, it was time to head upstairs for showers and baths. 
Lincoln and Ryker went to their bathrooms to shower while Clayton and Jacob bathed together. Once those two were clean, I put them to bed in their rooms then went to check on Ryker. He was just crawling into bed, so I kissed his forehead goodnight and went to Lincoln's bedroom.
"Hey bud," I said as I entered. 
"Hey," Lincoln responded as he set his journal down beside him. 
"You didn't shower yet... did you?" 
"Nope, was waiting for you." 
"Alright, come on," I replied as I stepped into his bathroom and sat down on the lid of the toilet. 
Lincoln walked in and turned the water on to warm up. He quickly pulled down his underwear.
"So whats the shower discussion going to be tonight?" I asked. 
"I'm going to miss you, Garret, like really miss you," Lincoln answered as he came over and gave me a hug.
"I'm gonna miss you too, buddy," I stated as I wrapped my arms around him.
"Do you have to go?" 
"Yes," I said as I let go of his hug and then patted his bum, "go on... hop in!" 
"Okay," Lincoln answered as he wiped his eyes then jumped into the water stream. 
"Plus, you're going to have so much fun with your cousins," I added. 
"But... what if I have a PTSD attack or like what if I pee the bed?" 
"It'll be no big deal, grandma and grandpa would understand completely. And Rita is going to be there with you." 
"Yeah, but you won't." 
"I know kiddo, but I'll be a phone call away." 
"I'm just... just, I don't know, scared to have another PTSD attack." Lincoln spoke, "I don't know what happens when you aren't around."
"Yeah I understand, but remember what Ruth said about your relaxation methods! It might not prevent an attack, but it will help you recover from one." 
"Can't you just come with us?" I heard Lincoln cry. "What if... what if, like something happens to us. Or what if something happens to you and I never see you again." 
"That's not going to happen. Everything will be good, and before you know it... I'll be sitting on grandma's couch with you beside me!" 
"Please, Garret!" Lincoln begged as he pushed the curtain to the side. "I'm scared." 
"Aww buddy," I said and stood up. I didn't care if he was soaking wet, I lifted him out of the shower as I wrapped him in a hug and sat on the toilet seat again. I let Lincoln sit on my right thigh, and he leaned his head on my shoulder. "There is nothing to be afraid of kiddo." 
"Yeah, there is," he cried. 
"Like what?" 
"What if I never see you again. Or... or umm... or..."
"Shh, it's okay Lincoln," I assured him. "Everything is going to be fine. Ya know, umm... I know this is our first time apart since I found you..." 
"Yeah," Lincoln cried.
"I know, buddy. But as I was about to say, I know this is our first time apart, and it's difficult to deal with." 
"Please don't leave." 
"Buddy, you're breaking my heart here." 
"Please Garret."
"Lincoln... I'm sorry, I can't back out now. It's a wonderful opportunity to help a lot of kids." 
"So," Lincoln shot back. 
"Hey," I said trying to figure out the root of the problem. "What is there to be afraid of?" 
"Everything! What if someone breaks into our house or umm what if someone hurts you or what if umm someone kidnaps me... or."
"Lincoln," I said as I was starting to see severe separation anxiety from him. I rubbed his back and spoke, "do I ever break a promise?" 
"N... no." 
"Okay, I promise you everything is going to be okay. You got to believe me, everything will be fine. I will be safe, you will be safe, and nothing will harm you. You and your brothers will be surrounded by family, you're going to have so so so much fun! I'm actually jealous of you! I really do wish I could come with you boys, but I need to go to Chicago. It's very important, and I can help a lot of kids that were in a similar situation you were in."
"No buts," I said as I kissed his cheek. "I love you more than anything Lincoln, and you need to trust me. Everything is going to be okay." 
"I just don't want you to leave!" 
"Can you give me a reason?" 
"I already said I'm scared!"
"But why are you scared?" 
"Because... because I just am! I don't want you to leave." 
"I don't want to either, but it's only for a short time. Hey look, I'll tell you what. To make it up to you, when we get home from Pittsburgh, we will do anything you want to do!" 
"I want you to come to Pittsburgh with us."
"I said when we get back," I replied and playfully poked him in the ribs which he didn't find too amusing. "Hey, I'm sorry bud. I wish I could go with you." 
"I know," Lincoln said as he put his head down. 
"It's all going to work out, I promise," I stated as I gave him another hug. "But come on, it's getting late, and you need to finish your shower." 
"Okay," Lincoln said in a dejected tone as he got up from my lap and hopped back in the shower. The rest of his shower was pretty quiet, which I didn't take as a good sign, but it was something Lincoln was going to have to overcome. Realistically I couldn't be around him 24/7, and this was our first real test apart from each other. It definitely turned my stomach uneasy. 
Finally, Lincoln was finished, and I tucked him into bed. I kissed his forehead goodnight then walked to my room to get a quick shower.
After my shower, I put on my shirt and underwear to head to bed, but when I rounded the corner, I saw the 4 boys standing in my doorway. Lincoln and Ryker had boxer briefs on, Jacob had one of my long t-shirts on and was holding Riley tightly in his arms, and Clayton was in his fuzzy onesie. 
"Garret?" Lincoln spoke as he rested his hand on Clayton's shoulders. "Since... since it's our final night, can we all sleep with you?" 
"Please," Clayton added. 
I think if I would have said no, I would have had 4 crying boys to deal with as they looked like they were about to cry already. 
"Please!" Ryker said.
I chuckled, "there's no way I could say no to you all... come on boys hop in!" 
"Yes!" They all said and ran for the bed.
"Hold on boys, let me get in first," I said as I scooted to the middle.
"I get to sleep next to Garret," Lincoln quickly stated as he jumped in on the left side and moved next to me. Clayton was quick to take my right side, and then Jacob and Ryker squeezed in on the ends. Lincoln turned on his side and threw his one leg over mine, then rested his head on my shoulder. Thankfully he was wearing underwear, or I would have felt a lot more than I already was. However, I ignored it and quickly pulled a pillow down to my shoulder for Lincoln to rest his head. Jacob was close behind Lincoln, and they laid butt to butt with each other. I was still able to place my hand on Jacob's side and scratch for him. Ryker and Clayton were to my right. With Clayton being so small, he was all cozy in between Ryker and I. Ryker was on his side facing me, and Clayton was on his back. Luckily for Ryker, I could run my hand through his hair which would hopefully make him fall asleep.
"Everyone comfortable?" I asked.
"You're the bestest Garret!" Clayton quickly spoke as he sat up and kissed my cheek.
"Yeah! Love you," Ryker said.
"Love ya, Garret," Jacob echoed.
"Love you," Lincoln said as he threw his arm around my chest and kissed my cheek. He squeezed me tight, and I could feel how emotional he still was, but I let it go. 
"Love all you boys. Couldn't picture a better way to end the night and thanks for the awesome day" I answered all of them and then kissed the top of Lincoln's head. 
"Goodnight," Lincoln quietly whispered. 
"Goodnight boys," I answered and rested my head on the pillow that Lincoln was using too. After about 20 minutes, everyone was asleep except for me. I couldn't fall asleep, I just have too much on my mind. With me leaving and seeing how Lincoln reacted tonight, there's a seed of doubt in the back of my mind that kept growing and growing as I got closer to leaving them. I kept thinking about all the possibilities which caused another 20 minutes to fly by, and I finally decided to try to get some sleep.

Part - 5 

Thursday morning, it was a dark and gloomy morning with heavy rainfall. I don't know if this was an augury for the trip, but I sure hoped not. I was already feeling sad about leaving the boys, and the weather sure didn't help. Rita arrived on time and started making breakfast. I somehow managed to get away from the boys without waking them, and I joined her for morning coffee. We discussed our plans, which involved her taking the boys to school because Keith was picking me up at 9. 
When the boys woke, Rita fed them breakfast as I brought my bags downstairs. Before long, they were all dressed and were ready to leave.
"Alright boys," I said as I bent down. "I need a hug from each of you before I allow you get in that car to go to school!" 
"Bye, love you," Clayton said first as he ran to give me a hug.
"Love you, buddy! You look so cute in your raingear!"
"You better save some hugs for me when I get to Pittsburgh," I replied as I tickled his ribs. 
"Okay!" He giggled and kissed my cheek.
"Love you!" I said again and patted his butt to tell him to move on.
Ryker was next and gave me a huge hug. "I'm gonna miss you," he spoke and kissed my cheek. 
"Going to miss you bud, love you!" 
"Love you!" Ryker replied as he let go of me and Jacob walked up.
"Love you kiddo!" I said and wrapped Jacob in a tight hug. 
"Love you!" Jacob responded and let go to follow his brothers out to the garage, leaving Lincoln last. 
"Hey bud," I said as he walked up to me. 
"I'm going to miss you," he cried as he wrapped his arms around my neck.
"I know I know," I replied. 
"Promise me you'll be safe and careful?" 
"You betcha ya!" I answered and kissed his cheek.
"Can... can I FaceTime you tonight?" 
"I sure hope you do!" 
"Promise to answer?" 
"Of course!" I said. 
With a sniffle, Lincoln spoke, "o...okay. Umm... love you, Garret!" 
"Love you, buddy, be strong!" I replied and let go of my hug. With that, he was out the door and into the SUV. As Rita backed out, I waved goodbye and shut the door.
It wasn't long before Keith arrived and pulled into the garage because it was raining so heavily. I loaded my bags into his trunk and then went to sit in the front seat, where Keith greeted me, 
"Hey! You Ready? You excited?"
"I don't know what I am," I chuckled as I shut the car door.
"What do you mean?" 
"Oh man, it was rough... leaving the boys." 
"Oh, yeah it's never easy leaving the family behind. I always hated it, especially when the kids were younger." 
"I feel awful. Like something isn't right in my stomach." 
"You're just nervous."
"Did your kids ever go through like separation anxiety?" I asked as Keith started to drive down the driveway. 
"Umm, no not really... why?" 
"Well Lincoln, the oldest, is having a difficult time with me leaving." 
"Your situation is a bit different from the average parent, Garret. I mean I'm not surprised he has separation anxiety, you saved that boy's life...  you are his everything! Actually, you are all those boys' everything. Literally, you are their hero!" 
"I know. I just feel I'm making a mistake." 
"Yeah it sucks leaving family behind, I hated doing it." 
"Does it get easier?" 
"For the parents? At least for me, it was never easy leaving, even as they got older. Trying to work and be included in their life's was a challenge for me. The work/life balance is a struggle, and unfortunately, our current work/life balance isn't great as we try to kick-start this organization. It sucks, but hopefully, we can raise enough money on these trips to only have to do it once a month or less."
"Yeah," I answered him.
"It's going to be alright man," Keith said. 
"Now you sound like me talking to Lincoln last night," I chuckled. "So what's the game plan?"
"Alright... umm 5 meetings over 2 days. Since this is our first time presenting this idea, I gave us Thursday night to practice and go over our material. Come Friday, we have 3 meetings with corporations that should last about 2-3 hours each. Then Saturday, we have 2 more meetings. One for breakfast and one for an early dinner." 
"I am going to come out and say this now. If we already have enough money raised, I'm probably skipping that last meeting." 
"To be with my boys!" 
"Oh okay," Keith said. "What's our donation goal for the trip?" 
"So 5 meetings you said? Umm anywhere from $750,000 to 1.5 is a good target." 
"I was thinking over a million would be a good start." 
"Yeah! Let's shoot for over a million. That's at least each of them donating $200,000." 
"Got to bring our A game," Keith said. 
"Oh, we will," I remarked. The rest of the way to the airport was quick. Actually, the whole trip to Chicago was quick. Before I knew it, I was in my hotel room waiting for Lincoln to FaceTime me. I had heard from Rita that skating practice was fun for the boys and that they were doing pretty good so far. Which was a wave of relief when I heard that. Anyway, around 8:30 pm my time, the phone started ringing.
"Hey, buddy!" I answered as his picture popped up on my screen.
"Hi, Garret! Miss you!" 
"Miss you too kiddo, how was your day?" 
"It was good," Lincoln said as he placed his mac on his desk. 
"Yeah? What about skating lessons?" 
"It was fun! Hold on," Lincoln said as he walked away from the screen. 
"Yeah?" I heard him yell.
"Are you naked?" 
"Yeah! See!" Lincoln said as he reappeared in the picture.
"Put... put some clothes on, you maniac, never get naked on camera like that."
"Even if it's just you?" 
"Yes," I laughed, "you never know who is watching." 
"Oh... sorry. Be right back," Lincoln spoke as I heard his dresser open and close. "Back! With underwear on! See." 
"Alright... umm anyone else still awake?" 
"I... I don't think so." 
"Okay, what are you doing up then?" 
"Well, I got home from skating, had a shower, and then been writin' in my journal." 
"What are you writing about?" 
"Umm... don't laugh okay?" 
"Never buddy!"
"So you know how we have the ceremony thing with Ruth?"
"Yeah?" I answered.
"I've been trying to come up with something, and every time I can't do it." 
"Well let me hear what you have so far?" 
"Absolutely bud!" 
"Umm... okay," Lincoln said and cleared his throat. "You ready?"
"O...oh, Okay," Lincoln began, 

Why me?

Why do I have to

Feel this pain

Please stop the


But I know it won't


I’m doing it for them

I want them to be safe

I want them to live

I want them to be happy


Their smiles are what

Keep me going

I want to feel

A real smile on my face

"That's... that's about all I have so far," Lincoln said. "Hello, you still here?"
It took me a second to answer, "Wow. I'm... I'm here. I'm just blown away bud, that's uh... I wasn't expecting a poem." 
"It sucked didn't it?" 
"No not at all... umm, I could feel the emotion and hard work you've put into it.  Especially when you read it to me." 
"Yeah," Lincoln quietly said.
"Since when have you liked poetry?" 
"I don't know, poetry was like the only thing my mom ever read to me." 
"Oh," I responded. 
"Well, I like it, buddy!" 
"You mean it?" 
"Yup, I can't wait to hear more." 
"Thanks," Lincoln replied. "I... I wish you were here." 
"So do I," I said.
"Love you, Garret!" 
"Love you too buddy! You ready for bed?" 
"Could... could you stay up and talk while I try to fall asleep? I umm, like hearing your voice," Lincoln said. 
"I don't think that will make you fall asleep," I chuckled.
"Please? Just a few minutes?" 
"Yes! But hold on, I need to get ready again," Lincoln commented as he ran to his bed and I saw an object fly through the screen. 
"Was that your underwear?" 
"Do you want to risk Rita waking you up and something being exposed and umm... elongated?" I asked.
"Elongated?" Lincoln question.
"Do I need to spell it out for you? just think!"
"E-long... Ohhhhhh, I get it" Lincoln said and started cracking up.
"You goofball" I laughed.
"Uhh, that wouldn't be good " Lincoln giggled, "let me get those back." 
"Okay," I laughed as I saw a flash of whiteness appear on the screen for a mere second. 
"Underwear... check," Lincoln giggled as he walked by the camera.
"You're too funny," I remarked. "So you in bed yet?" 
"Alright kiddo, I'm not sure what we're are going to chat about, but let's make it quick," I said. We went on to have a 5-10 minutes conversation about random stuff, and luckily, Lincoln dozed off. When I heard his faint snores, I turned the FaceTime off and went to bed as well.
To Be Continued.....

Author Notes:

Thank you for reading and following the story! Always enjoy hearing from readers!
Third and final, the destinations, streets, events, and locations are made up. I use Columbus as a nearby city, but I'm unaware if the addresses listed are real or not. All scores and games are made up in my head. However, most teams are real.