Lincoln, The Family I Never Expected

Lincoln-26, Goodbye


!!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 8)-- 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
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 26 (Goodbye)

Part - 1

"Fuck!" I shouted as I threw my phone against the back of the chair and watched it bounce to the floor. I was going to pick it up, but it wasn't worth my time. I began to pace and think as I walked from one side of the room to another. "She did still say Jacob was mine.... but she also said if the grandparents had a legitimate excuse, then they would be allowed to reschedule... FUCK... SAME FUCKING SITUATION WE'VE BEEN IN THIS WHOLE FUCKING TIME." I went for a cabinet in my office that contained two bottles of whiskey along with proper whiskey glasses. I hadn't even opened them, as I was saving them for a special moment, but I guess one would do. I opened it up and poured myself a drink... no ice, just straight whiskey. I was pissed, the more and more I thought about it, the angrier I got. 
I downed one glass and was starting to pour another when I heard a knock on my door, followed by a voice calling, "Garret." 
"Not now, bud," I quickly replied. 
"What happened," replied a voice as the door opened. 
I did a quick turn realizing who it was, "Lincoln, please not at this moment." 
"Is it bad?" 
"Did you lose Jacob?" Lincoln asked as he was past the door and walking towards my desk. 
"Come on, tell me!"
"Lincoln please, not right now," I answered and took a deep breath as I finished pouring the whiskey. 
"Lincoln, come-" Rita said as she was standing in the doorway. After being around me for so long, she recognized that I was frustrated as I needed time to think and process.  
"What happened, I just wanna kno-" 
"I don't know," I said as I was on the cusp of losing it.
"What do you mean... who was that? Please, I wanna know, just tell me!"
"Sugar, come on-." 
"No... what happened? Is it bad?"
"LINCOLN," I hollered like I never hollered before as I whipped the whiskey glass past him, which crashed against my bookshelf and broke into a million pieces. "FOR FUCK SAKES, I DON'T FUCKING KNOW. I ALREADY TOLD YOU THAT, BUT YOU DIDN'T LISTEN. NOW PLEASE, GET OUT OF THE OFFICE AND GET YOUR ASS UPSTAIRS... GET GOIN-" 
And I stopped yelling before I finished the last syllable, but it was too late. The damage was done as the room was silent except for my heavy breathing, not a peep. I knew I just fucked up. The look on Lincoln's face is a look I never desire to see again. It was like I crushed him, destroyed any relationship I had established. His facial expression was similar to the night I found him. His lower lip was quivering, his eyes watering, and he was speechless. Tears began to run down his face, and before I could even attempt to correct what I had just done, Lincoln was retreating away from me. 
"Lincoln," Rita said as Lincoln spun around, pushed past Rita, and bolted upstairs. 
"Wait, Lincoln, I..." 
"Lincoln, it's okay sugar," Rita attempted one last time.
"Damnit," I exhaled as I sat in my office chair and started rubbing my eyes. 
"What the fuck was that?" Rita angrily marched over. "Someone should smack you, Garret. I- uhh, you are unbelievable sometimes." 
"Rita please." 
"Don't you DARE Rita me," she returned as I opened my eyes to the three other boys quickly running by the office door and upstairs.  
"Fuck," I sighed again, "Did-do you think they heard?" 
"The house next door heard you, Garret... You... ohh words can't describe how furious I am... I... What the hell is wrong with you? All he wanted to know was if his brother was going to be okay." 
"I know Ri-
"Jesus," Rita spoke, which cut me off again. "I don't know the discussion you had on the phone. Good or bad, it doesn't give you the right to talk to him like that. I've-I've... I don't even know what to say to you, Garret. You should be fucking ashamed of yourself. I've never been this mad... I-I-I... you make me so angry sometimes. You think you feel bad, just imagine how Lincoln's doing. He may lose his brother, and you probably just lost whatever relationship you built with that boy." 
"Rita, please. I know I just made a mist-" I began but was cut off when we overheard Lincoln shriek. 
"You happy... see what you did," Rita started. "Sent the poor boy into another PTSD attack... ALL BECAUSE OF YOU."
"Can you go up there.... he-he probably doesn't want to see me." 
"Oh I'm going, you stay here and clean up your mess... unbelievable," Rita called as she slammed the door to the office. 
"Fuck," I shouted as I started to rub my eyes again. I couldn't believe what I had just done, I didn't even know that kind of attitude was in me. I mean, I just snapped, I couldn't take his ongoing questions. It was too much, I felt like I was being interrogated. Although it was not an excuse for those type of actions. "FUCK," I sighed again. Rita was right, I could have easily ruined everything. The look on his face, I'll never forget it... I still heard Lincoln's continuing attack, meaning it wasn't a good one. No doubt, that I reminded him of Frank, hell... I  probably sounded just like him too. I couldn't believe what I did, but had no clue how to fix it. 
I sat for about 5 minutes, mulling over everything. Although, I came to the conclusion that what happened has happened. I went over to the broken glass and started plucking up the pieces.  This was the first time I began to doubt my ability to raise the boys. I mean I literally threw a glass cup past Lincoln... what if I would have hit him? It could have easily broken on his face or even knocked him out. Just thinking of all the possibilities made me sick to my stomach. I felt the need to puke. But in all reality, I just wanted to go apologize to Lincoln. Own up to my mistake and learn from it. I, unfortunately, don't think he wanted to see me. 
It was now about 25 minutes after my meltdown. I heard footsteps coming down the stairs as I was now in the kitchen and waited to see who it was. Rita rounded the corner and then continued to walk towards me. 
"Hey," I embarrassingly said. "How-how is he?" 
"He's scared Garret, he doesn't know what he did wrong." 
"Yeah... I umm, he didn't do anything wrong. I just lost my cool."
"Oh I've told him that, don't you worry." 
"The others okay?" 
"No, not really, they are scared too. Poor Jacob asked if you hit Lincoln and Ryker said it reminded him of their old home." 
"Fuck," I exhaled, and took a moment. "I better go talk to them, acknowledge I messed up." 
"I think that would be a good idea, but what was the phone call about?" 
"The grandparents no-showed or didn't answer, or I don't know... but with a good enough excuse, Laura said she would be obligated to give them another chance." 
"What kind of excuse?"
"Rita... I don't know," I spoke with a trace of aggravation, which Rita sensed immediately.
"Whoa whoa whoa. Maybe you shouldn't go up there. If you can't answer one question about the phone call, how are you going to handle any questions from the boys?" 
"Well I'm not going up there to talk about that, I'm going to apologize." 
"And you don't think they will ask about Jacob? Garret, what is wrong with you?" 
"What do you mean?" 
"I mean, I don't believe you are in a good mindset right now." 
"No, I am fine, Rita... I'm just-just, I'm worried. I don't know what's happening to Jacob, and it terrifies me. It's scared me for the past month. I'm sick and tired of not knowing. I want to provide a good answer to all the questions the boys have, but I truly don't know. It's driving me insane... Ya know it's... it's... I don't know," I answered as I dropped my head to my hands and leaned on the kitchen counter. 
"Garret, number one stop feeling sorry for yourself," Rita lectured as she walked over and started to rub my back. "Number two, we all are nervous and scared for him, but what other choice do we have? We need to wait, it's what we have to do. Look, I'm gonna take the boys out for a while, maybe get dinner too. It'll give you some time to collect your thoughts, de-stress, and hopefully find out more." 
"Don't you think I should apologize first?" 
"No, I don't... your not ready to answer questions about Jacob... so I believe it would be best to wait." 
"I'll go grab them," Rita said as she stopped rubbing my back and went upstairs. It was only a few minutes until she returned. Having been a while since I yelled at Lincoln, I was curious to see how the boys were going to handle everything. I mean in reality, this wouldn't be a major issue, but with the boys' unique background, it wasn't a good situation. Especially if I reminded them of their old home, in which I wanted to separate myself from. Anyway, Clayton followed Rita down to the garage but came over and gave a big hug. 
"Thanks, Lil Bear," I replied and kissed his cheek. "Love you so much." 
"You still angry?" Clayton asked and looked at me. 
"No, I'm sorry for yelling earlier too." 
"It's okay," Clayton replied and gave me an extra hug before walking towards Rita. Thankfully Clayton was too young, forgiving, and unaware of the similarities between Frank and I. He acted as if nothing had happened. However, both Ryker and Jacob were soon to walk into the kitchen, except they didn't have much to say. Ryker gave me a big hug before leaving for the car, and Jacob looked timid as both of them went for the garage to meet Rita. Lincoln was last down the steps when he saw me, he started to tear up some. 
"Lincoln," I softly said as he shuffled into the kitchen. 
"..." nothing came from him as he threw a hoodie over his head and sped the pace of his walk. I assumed he put the hoodie on to hide his tears, but also he didn't have to look at me. His ultimate goal was to get to the car as fast as possible. 
"Buddy, I'm sor-," I tried to say before he slammed the door to the garage. He was still obviously upset, and I don't blame him. Although, It crushed my heart getting that reaction that I received even though I did deserve it. On the other side, I didn't know how to handle this or work my way out of the problem I just caused. I felt awful and wanted to bury this deep inside so it would never come out. However, I didn't want to push past it, like nothing had happened. I was confused, so I began my search for some guidance as I gave my mother a ring. 
"Hey, honey!" She answered. "Was just thinking about Jacob... we hear anything?"
"Umm no not yet... I umm, sorta messed up." 
"What do you mean? Messed up how?"
"Well... I uhh, yelled at Lincoln, like bad." 
"For what?" 
I exhaled a deep breath, "for... for asking about Jacob." 
"Oh, Garret. Why would you do that?" 
"I didn't mean too." 
"How bad did you yell at him?" 
"Umm bad... worse than when I yelled at Calvin for making fun of Jonah and me." 
"Oh dear lord.... you didn't hit him, right?" 
"Absolutely not." 
"Just making sure, you know... you punched your brother last time you got so worked up." 
"It's cause he... I don't wanna get into that right now." 
"Then we won't go there." 
"Good... I just-I feel awful, Mom." 
"You should... like what happened?" 
"I just snapped, Mom. I don't really know. I had just got off the phone with Laura, and Lincoln kept asking questions. Just too much pressure on me... I snapped and threw a glass." 
"You threw a glass?" 
"Yeah," I embarrassingly answered. "It went-went by Lincoln's head." 
"I know-" 
"Garret, that is not okay."
"Mom... I know it's not okay. I've already been shamed by Rita, and I just want to know how to fix this." 
"I'm just disappointed in you, Garret. Your father and I never preached violence as an answer to any problem." 
"Can you please just help me." 
"What can I do?" 
"Offer some advice?" I begged. 
"Apologize and learn from it, Garret. What more can you really do? What's done is done, you need to stop feeling sorry for yourself and make sure this never happens again... you know you could lose them over this? Is that what you want?" 
"Not at all." 
"Then you better make sure you learn from it. Where are the boys now?" 
"Rita took them for a night out. She wanted me to be alone and figure my shit out."
"Well, it looks like you have some time to reflect and build a case for Lincoln to forgive you." 
"I don't want to build a case, it was a mistake on my end, and I know it. One that's never going to happen again. I just don't want this to change things... the boys said it reminded them of their old home." 
"Geez," my mom replied. "How could you be this stupid." 
"I don't know... like I said, it's like something snapped. All this pressure has gotten to me." 
"Did you not expect pressure when you agreed to foster them?" 
"Not like this! I've owned a business, been through many negotiations, multiple nights of staying up to make deadlines, and not one of those experiences has put me under this much pressure as the grandparents... I don't want to see someone I love and care for so much, leave, Mom. It's killing me, it's utterly destroying me when I can't tell Jacob he is staying. It feels like I'm breaking my promises to them, Mom. I can't keep this up... I don't know what's happening, and I don't know what the hell to tell my boys." 
"Tell them the truth sweetie. Apologize and explain the pressure you are under but don't make it an excuse. Having a temper tantrum and throwing cups isn't good, so tell them what you told me. I can tell you are struggling with this, Garret, so don't act like you are supposed to have all the answers and be some sort of superhero. You'll drive yourself insane if you keep thinking like that." 
"But I want to be able to answer these types of questions and inform them  that they are safe." 
"And look at what that caused you to do! You can't keep yourself under that much pressure to know everything and anything that is occurring...ya know, especially supporting these boys. Your father and I didn't have all the answers, and we sure as hell worried about you. Don't you remember every time we had to move for your dad... you'd ask me if it was our last time or if you were gonna make new friends or if you would be bullied again... I didn't know what would happen, but remember what I said?" 
"Actually," I chuckled and thought back for a moment, "I do." 
"And what was that?" 
"Whatever, whenever, and wherever anything happens, we will get through it together... as a family." 
"That's right, as a family, like we've done our whole lives," my Mom restated. "That applies to your situation right now, honey. It's like your father said when we welcome them to our family, 'once you join our family you never leave. We are here for you now, forever, and always.' Count on family, you'll get through the grandparent situation, and everything is gonna be alright."
"But it doesn't feel like everything is alright." 
"Have faith, Honey. No matter what happens, we will get through it. If Jacob leaves, then it won't be for long. If he gets to stay, then move by it." 
"But how do I answer their questions?"
"Tell them the truth." 
"I have been." 
"Then what more can you do? You're using all the available options, just trust that everything is going to be okay." 
"Yeah, I know... thanks, Mom. I'm going to go. I need to wait for my caseworker to call or I'll be attempting to get ahold of her."
"Alright honey, call us if you need anything." 
"I will. Love ya." 
"Love you too, make sure you handle the problem you created." 
"I know, I know." 
"Talk to you later, Bye," my mom said and hung the phone up. It left me to think for a little while, as I had the house to myself. Yet, that didn't do me much good since my patience were beginning to thin as the hours ticked away. I guess Laura had forgotten to give me a call like she said she would. As it was now five o'clock, I couldn't take it anymore, so I called her. The first time she didn't pick up, and I almost threw the phone through the window, but I was a persistent bugger and tried again. 
"Garret, I can't talk right now." 
"Wait wait wait." 
"What?" She quickly fired back. 
"Can you tell me what's going on?" 
"Nothing new, I'm on my way out there. Haven't heard from them, haven't had contact, nothing at all. We pulled back our person because she was running late for other home visits." 
"What was the phone call about... the one you said you would call me back." 
"What phone... oh yeah, sorry. I got sidetracked and forgot. It was nothing, just a colleague in another state. I used to work with her and wanted to get her opinion on everything." 
"What did she say?" 
"That after a certain grace period, excuse or not, Jacob should be in your custody." 
"And what do you think of that?" I asked as I received a text on my phone from Berry that said 'found something, could be nothing. I will call you later.' 
"Well," Laura began, but I didn't hear opinion as I was concentrated on the text message. 
"I'm sorry... the uhh, phone cut out. What were you saying?" 
"I said I agreed with her thinking. So, they have 72 hours to respond. If they don't, I am putting Jacob in your custody for good. If they want to go to court, they can." 
"72 hours? That's a bit much." 
"Have to be fair, Garret. 72 hours is enough time to respond to my many voicemails that I've left." 
"Alright," I sighed. "I umm... I don't know." 
"I'm sorry, I didn't catch what you said." 
"I didn't really say anything, I'm just frustrated. I just want this to be over."
"72 hours, Garret. We are almost at the end. I'm on my way over there to check everything out for myself. Plus I have another case out that way... it's gonna be a late Friday for me. So I'll get back to you by Monday unless I need to get in contact. What I want from you is to just relax, Garret. Maybe take the boys out for dinner and distract them. More importantly, distract yourself, you need to," Laura said. 
"Easier said than done..."
"Try too... it'll do wonders," Laura remarked and hung up. Our conversation didn't help much, but I was trying to reach Berry now. Similar to Laura, I tried twice to call, but he didn't pick up. I even dialed Rory's number, but I didn't get anything, so I decided to give in. I left my phone in my office and went out to the family room to watch TV. I just needed an escape from all of this, as it was becoming too much. 
Around 6:30, Rita arrived with the boys. I heard the door to the garage fling open and multiple pairs of footsteps coming my way. 
"Hi," Ryker happily said as he jumped over the arm of the couch and into my lap. 
"Geez," I chuckled when he made an impact on my thigh, and I tickled his belly. "Hello to you too." 
"Are you still mad," asked Clayton who wasn't far behind Ryker in terms climbing onto me. 
"How could I be, when I got you two," I answered and kissed the top of Ryker's head while I ruffled Clayton's hair. 
"Good... you was scary." 
"I know, and I'm sorry. It wasn't right to yell at Lincoln." I said and took a brief pause, "I want to apologize, boys, I didn't even know I could sound like that. It's not something I ever want to do again. I'm just feeling... feeling unease about certain situations, right now. Nevertheless, it doesn't give me the right to yell like I did." I responded as Jacob was now standing by the end of the couch. "Hey, bud!"
"Hi," Jacob said as he twiddled his fingers. 
"I forgive you," Ryker answered. "Everybody gets mad sometimes." 
"Yeah," added Clayton.
"Mad or not, doesn't mean I can raise my voice," I replied, but I wanted to shift to a new topic, "Y'all have fun with Rita?" 
"Uh-huh," Clayton said as he leaned against me to cuddle, but his attention was engrossed on the TV. 
"What did you guys do?" I asked more specifically to Jacob than the other two and patted the seat beside me. 
"We went to this umm... like a game place," Ryker answered as he was adjusting himself on my lap to get more comfortable. 
"Yeah," added Jacob, who was making his way over. 
Rita had finally entered the conversation from the other room and spoke, "We want to Dave and Busters." 
"That place!" Jacob said. 
"Oh nice, that's a lot of fun! Where's uhh... where's Lincoln?" 
"He went up to his room," hollered Rita. 
"Oh," I added, "umm... boys, did you win anything?" 
"I got another puppy!" Jacob responded.
"You did? Where?" 
"Umm... I," Jacob said as he was looking around. "Thought I had it with me." 
"Right here, on the chair, Sugar." Rita directed. 
"Oh yeah! Let me get her." 
"Alright," I chuckled. "Boys, what did you two win?" 
"Candy," Ryker began as he tilted his head upwards to look at me, "can you rub my chest?" 
"Sure, and what about you, Lil Bear?" 
"Under my shirt please!" Ryker commanded as he turned his attention back to the screen.
"I didn't win nothing." 
"What! Why not?" I asked as I dug my hand to the base of Ryker's shirt and then started rubbing his stomach on my way to his chest. 
"I gave my tickets to Jacob, but I wanted the uhh... the umm stuffed bear." 
"Aww buddy, that is so kind of you." 
"I named her Sparky!" Shouted Jacob as he came back with a stuffed animal as big as him. 
I was about to question Jacob on how he thought he had misplaced the new toy, considering how big it was, but I let it slide and simply spoke, "Oh dear." 
"Look how fluffy!" Jacob giggled. 
"I can see that." I laughed, "how many tickets did it cost?" 
"I... don't remember... like umm 1000 or... I umm forget but Clayton and Lincoln gave me their tickets!" 
"I'm gonna take this off," Ryker interrupted our chat as he lifted his shirt above his head, trying not to miss what was on tv. 
"Alright," I chuckled at Ryker as I helped bring it over his head, but turned my attention back to Jacob. "I heard... that was really nice of them." 
"Yeah!" Jacob replied as he set down his new stuffed animal. 
"I'll be sure to take Sparky upstairs and set her by your bed. She looks kinda heavy." 
"It's cause of, umm all her fur," Jacob answered as he now jumped on the couch and cuddled against me. 
"Maybe she needs a diet instead," I joked. 
"Yeah," giggled Jacob as he was now engrossed with the tv too. The attention of the three boys was glued to the TV. It's was pretty funny but also much needed for me. 
"I'm sure we will figure something out," I said which went unnoticed. 
We sat on the couch for 15 minutes, before I decided to go on upstairs and check on Lincoln. Rita was packing up to leave for the weekend, but I asked her to stay until I situated. I actually hadn't eaten anything either, so I wanted to run out really quick too. She agreed, which was a blessing for me, and I went upstairs with Sparky in my arms. 
After placing Jacob's new stuffed animal in his room, I went over to knock on Lincoln's door. 
"Who is it?" He shouted.
"It's me, bud," I answered and didn't get a reply. "Can-can I come in?" 
"Please kiddo?" 
"I don't wanna talk, Garret." 
"What about listening to me talk then?" 
"No... I umm- I don't wanna." 
"Lincoln... please?" I begged, "I know you are mad at me and you have every right to be, son. I'm sorry, you didn't deserve to be yelled at." 
"Please go away!" 
I exhaled a deep breath and caved to Lincoln's demand. I wanted to enter his room and talk face to face, but he was in no mood to hear me out, "sorry bud," I softly said as I walked towards the steps. 
Once back downstairs, I left to grab food. Ryker had willingly joined along, but he didn't grasp the idea of needing a shirt. The less clothing, the better for him, but I did grab a lightweight jacket for him to put on in the car. Ryker was terrific company and kept my mind off specific topics, so I enjoyed having him along. After getting grub, we quickly stopped at Walmart to get Clayton a stuffed teddy bear. I was so proud of him for helping Jacob that I thought he deserved a reward. I didn't know what Lincoln wanted, but I was grabbing him something too. Not to make up for yelling, but for helping his brother get Sparky. With some advice from Ryker, we settled on an RC helicopter toy. Although, I think Ryker was dead set on using it as well.
After checking out, we went back to the S Class as some storm clouds were rolling in. As we exited the building, Ryker reached out for my hand. I recently started noticing how often he did that too. Whenever walking, he likes to hold hands. I didn't understand it, because I hated it when I was a child. I always thought it made me look like a baby, so it embarrassed me. However, it was the opposite for Ryker as he seemed to prefer holding each other's hand when walking. I just find it funny and cute, actually quite adorable, as he loves to be close and show affection towards me. 
"Love you, buddy," I said as we reached the car and he jumped in the back seat behind me. 
"Love you too," Ryker responded after I hopped in the driver's seat. 
"I hope so," I chuckled and started the engine. "So bud, I know you are on spring break for a couple more days here-"
"Do I have to go back to school?" Ryker interrupted me. 
"Yes," I laughed. "How else will you learn new things?" 
"I don't know... The internet?" 
"I don't think so!" 
"You can teach me stuff!" Ryker enthusiastically stated.
"Well, that is true," I started as we departed for home. "However, there is stuff I can't teach you as well as others can. So things you learn from me are valuable to life, but so is the knowledge you gain from school." 
"Can't you just teach me everything?" 
"I wish, but I think you would get sick of me if I were your teacher." I laughed as it started to rain, which produced a loud clap of thunder that rocked our car. "Guess we made it to the car at the precise moment, huh bud." 
"Man, it's really starting to come down," I commented as massive sheets of rain started hitting the car. I knew we were supposed to get some precipitation and light storms, but it seemed pretty intense. 
"Uh-huh, it-it is." 
"You okay back there?" 
"Whoa," Ryker jumped as we saw a lightning bolt strike a tree which brought on another loud boom. "I umm-I don't like this." 
"We will be okay, I promise." 
"I don't like storms." 
"Really? Some people love them." 
"They are scary," Ryker replied as he nervously shifted around. 
"Yeah they can be, but we are safe in the car. Nothing is gonna happen." 
"Yes bud, I promise," I reassured but also wanted to get back to my conversation about schooling. I was trying to ease my way into Ryker completing the extra worksheets his teacher gave to me. I was curious to see if I noticed any learning signs or problems. 
"Okay," Ryker responded as we continued our drive. 
"So, Sunday I was thinking about you and me practicing some works sheets that your teacher provided me." 
"When-" as another thunder boom rang throughout, which caused Ryker to jump in his seat, "when-umm, did you see Mr. Green?" 
"On Tuesday! I had a parent-teacher conference. I'm pretty sure I told you this!" 
"Oh yeah." 
"Yeah, remember?" I laughed. "Your teacher gave me some worksheets that you and I could complete together." 
"Why?" Questioned Ryker as he was still nervously shifting when a lightning bolt illuminated the sky.
"Just so you can umm... stay... up to date on your schoolwork. You don't wanna forget what you've been taught!" 
"Do my brothers have that?" 
"No, I didn't meet with their teachers, so they couldn't give me extra problems." 
"Then why do I gots to do them... whoa that was a big one," Ryker said in reference to another bolt. 
"Just because," I stuttered for the correct words to come up. "Because it'll be a fun activity for you and me!" 
"That doesn't sound fun to me... can't we like workout together or like play video games, or umm...anything else?" 
"We could do both," I suggested as we came to a red light. 
"But-" Ryker stopped speaking when he saw another bolt which was followed by a loud boom. 
"Ryker. We are safe kiddo, nothing is gonna happen. We are almost home too." 
"Is it gonna stop soon?" 
"I don't know, I hope so," I said as the light turned green again. "So you wanna work on those pages when we get back?" 
"I don't wanna do homework until I gots to." 
"Well," I began but was cut off from my sentence as the phone rang through the Bluetooth speakers. 
My heart skipped a beat as I looked at the caller ID on the middle screen. It was Laura, but why was she calling this late. It must have been ringing for 15 seconds as I was too scared to answer the call. At the last possible moment, I hit the answer button on the steering wheel and spoke, 
"Hey, I just want to let you know that I've got you on speaker with Ryker. We are just getting back from Walmart. What's up?" 
"Oh... Can you take me off speaker?" 
"One moment," I answered as I nervously fumbled to get to my phone.
"Who is it?" Ryker questioned from the back as lighting lit up the interior of the car.
"One moment bud," I said, and then brought the phone to my face. "So, what's up?" 
"Well, umm-I've never in my life worked a case like this, Garret. I don't really know how else to say this as there is no real easy way... So I'm going to be straight forward... They're dead, Garret. The grandparents are dead."
"They're dead, gone, out of the picture." 
"What?" I repeated myself as I wasn't quite sure what to think. "I mean- what, how do you know?" 
"I just know. I saw it, and it's bad. I don't know what happened, but that's not for me to find out. I overheard people commenting that they've been dead for a few days and it looks like they were murdered. But I don't honestly know, it's a bloodbath in there. I doubt it could be anything else but a murder... I-I don't know what to think anymore, this is the craziest case I've ever been a part of." 
"Wh-whe-wha-where did you find them?" 
"In their home. It's a very long story, and I wouldn't be surprised if you are asked some questions at some point. I know I will be too. It's... I don't know how to describe this. It's strange." 
"Okay, I'm so confused. Where did you find the grandparents." 
"In their home. I'm no expert and don't take my word, but from what I've quickly seen. It looks eerily similar to the murder at the boys' house." 
"How-how did you get in?" 
"Search warrant. You've got some good friends here that helped. I'm assuming you know a Berry Rodgers and Rory King?
"Get the hell out of here... you're kidding me." 
"Like I said... it's a long story." 
"Can you fill me in?" I nervously asked. 
"I, unfortunately, can't, Berry or Rory will have a better idea of what is happening. At least in terms of what is happening at the house. I am leaving and heading home. I've seen enough today." 
"Wait, what's... what's this mean about Jacob?" 
"It means he is yours, Garret. You know, unless provided evidence that you should not be his guardian." 
"Seriously? So I can tell him?"
"Yes. Congratulations Garret! You've won, he gets to stay with you." 
"Wh- what... I mean wow," I replied as I started to tear up. "I... umm thank you." 
"What's happening," Ryker called from behind me. 
"Hold on, buddy," I spoke to Ryker but returned to my conversation with Laura. "I can't wait to tell them." 
"Have fun. I will be in contact with you soon, I umm, just need a weekend break." 
"Sounds good," I replied and hung up.
"Garret! What's happening," hollered Ryker. 
"Just one moment, sweetie! I don't exactly know, just let me make one more phone call," I responded as we pulled into the driveway. "You wanna head inside?" 
"Is Jacob staying here?" 
"I'll tell you in a moment or two. You need to let me make one last phone call." 
"I wanna stay in the car then," Ryker answered as we were reaching the top of the driveway. 
"I'd prefer if you went inside." 
"No buts! I'll tell you everything you need to know after this phone call." 
"Fine!" Ryker stated as we pulled into the garage and he undid his belt buckle. 
"Thank you." 
"Love ya, too!" I quickly said as he shut the door. Before making my next call, I took a moment to myself to gather all the information that Laura gave me. It was hard to concentrate on one specific thing, as I was too happy to be telling Jacob he was staying. However, I did want to find out more, as Laura said, I could go for questioning, whatever that meant. If it's what I think, then it doesn't scare me as I have nothing to do with whatever happened, but still, I always like to hear everything. 
As I scrolled through my contact list, I couldn't help but smile as I dialed Rory's number first. After 30 seconds, he didn't answer, and the call went to voicemail. I quickly dialed Berry's number, and within seconds, he picked up.
"Garret!" Berry happily answered
"Berry! What's going on, fill me in."
"Oh man, I don't want to jump to conclusions. But I think we found the fucking motherlode of all cases. There is so much shit it's unbelievable... I mean who knows, this could potentially link people to activities all across the US. We just have no clue right now, it's crazy. This is- I mean... I don't know how to put it, but I'm willing to bet Rory is about to get that detective promotion real fucking quick!" 
"What does that even mean?" 
"It's so much information. It's unreal. It's gonna take months maybe and years to truly figure out what and who is involved or how far it spans." 
"You're speaking a hundred words a second, Berry. Like what happened? I have so many questions. How the hell did you end up at the same spot as my caseworker?" 
"Alright, alright, alright. It's a long story, so don't interrupt me. Anything that I say is speculation and not 100% facts. Like I said, it's gonna take a while for pieces to come together to find out what, why, or how things turned out like they did. You got it?" 
"Yeah, stop wasting time now!" I joked as the rain seemed to slow down as I peered at the rearview mirror.
"Ya, ha... I'm wasting your time more like you're wasting my time," Berry remarked. "Alright man, I don't even know where to start. Umm... shit, alright. Stuff started to look interesting when I texted you earlier today. So important detail here, okay? Remember I mentioned a guy who we called suspect 1, well that is.... hold on, it's in my notes. Uhhh there, suspect 1 is Thomas Giradi, now no longer alive." I don't want to celebrate death, but it was kinda music to my ears when Berry said those words. "Was the guy I followed in the Chevy Cobalt. Well once he disappeared from Rory and me, we went a different route to try and find information. After our brief discussion earlier in the week, I wanted to ask some questions to the person that met with Thomas every day. You know, to exchange whatever the fuck they were exchanging, but I never had the chance to fully see what was being swapped. We on the same page?" 
"Yup," I quickly added.
"Alright... well I never got ahold of him, so I settled for the next best thing, which ended up being a fucking goldmine of information. The fucking general store was an open book. I don't get it, but whatever, they helped... so they didn't directly say that this Thomas Giradi person was who we were looking for, but fuck.... they sure had a lot to say about him... wait now that I'm thinking about it, nor did they fucking say what he was selling inside the store. That sorta pisses me off, but it doesn't matter anymore. Fuck sorry, I'm getting off track here, Garret."
"No, no, you're fine. Please keep going." 
"Oh it's just getting good," Berry continued on. "so they suggested I take a drive over to his property, as they haven't heard or seen him in a few days. I thought they had helped us enough just from basic info they had already given. Although these fuckers gave me Thomas's name but also where he fucking lived too. I couldn't believe it. They were being cooperative, which blew my fuckin mind. I mean I told them I was a PI working on a specific case, and they just started talking. It's the wildest thing I've seen, but damn I was thankful they did. Since it was just me, I waited for Rory to get done working his shift and we met a few hundred yards away from this house. We studied and watched the house for... ahh hour and a half maybe two hours before I decided to get ballsy and snoop around. From here, it's was like riding a fucking rollercoaster of emotions man. First, I started to disbelieve everything they told me at the general store because I didn't see jack shit. The Cobalt was nowhere to be seen, and the fucking house seemed abandoned, no lights on, nothing. So at this point, I thought it was a wash as Rory and I were close to calling it a night. Just when we are about to leave, we see a car pull into the driveway. This woman steps out and starts walking around the property and knocking on doors too. It was similar to what we were doing, so it confused the hell out of us. Yet, I took a chance and jumped out of the car to see who she was. Long story short, I strike up a conversation, ya know, questioning if she is the homeowner or how she knows them. Being in the position she is in, she obviously didn't say much besides the fact that she was working with the state in child protective services. In return, she asked who I was and what I was doing up here. I told her I was working on for a client to help resolve a tragedy that happened in the city a few months back. Things started clicking right then and there, but It took some dancing around questions to finally figure out we were talking about the same people. I couldn't fucking believe it when she said she was the caseworker for your kids and that we are both trying to help you out. It was unreal, fucking sent shivers down my spine. You should have been here." 
"Yeah, whoa.," I said as I was taking in all the information that Berry was saying. It was challenging to focus on just one thing, as he kept going on and on. 
"Yeah... so from this point, everything develops instantaneously. I start sharing some knowledge with her, and she starts sharing some details about the missed home inspection. We try one last attempt of knocking on the door to see if they are home. Surprise surprise, they don't answer. We were at a dead-end, but I felt we had found something. This just couldn't be another piece of the puzzle. All the pieces brought us here. Everything had to come together, especially when we saw the caseworker, man. There was a brief moment that I was thinking, like fuck. They might have ditched everything and left town. I've seen it before, so It wouldn't have been that shocking to me. But guess fucking what. As Laura, is that her name?" 
"Yes," I quickly answered. 
"When Laura and I were knocking on the door. Rory was digging through some of their trash they piled by the streets, and we found what we needed. It was enough evidence that Rory could order a search warrant of the property. To get that search warrant, we had to show probable cause that items we found were connected to a crime. Lucky enough, these fucking idiots were throwing their empty dime bags in their trash. The garbage was littered with them, I mean it was fucking stupid on their part. Anyway, after the search warrant was approved and processed, we had open access to the property. And my god, what we found is fucking crazy. Besides finding Thomas and his wife dead, the house had to be broken into. Drawers, plates, pictures littered the fucking floor. I mean it was a mess, they didn't miss any room. Whoever killed them were searching the house for everything. Rory said it reminded him of your boys' house when he first arrived on the scene. So, I don't want to jump to conclusions, but I think it's gang-related and I think it's the same people who killed your boys' family. Ya know, time will tell, but right now everything is still fresh. A full legal investigation is about to happen. We are going to hear a lot of information over the next couple of weeks. Man, it's just... it's just fucking crazy.  Everything we did, in terms of fact-finding and countless sit-downs, finally came together. The Chevy Cobalt that I followed was parked in their garage, under a car cover. That fucking picture.... yeah you know which one! The Gabriel Murphy pic, you know, his proof photo which showed he wasn't involved at first, was on a phone that Thomas used. Now I'm just assuming on this one, but with the amount of dime bags in the trash, I'm pretty fucking sure they stole the drugs from the boys' house, that the boys' father stole from the gang. Hence why they are also dead too. We've got numerous burner phones and numbers written down, with multiple links to the Washington area codes. I mean it's just fucking nuts, these people were fucking stupid. They were asking to get caught, it was just a matter of putting pieces together. I could go on, they had a certain amount of drugs on the floor of the Cobalt as well as a couple thousand in the trunk. Putting a cherry on top, I got a gentleman's hat with a C on it too. It's just the volume of evidence that links them to so much illegal activity, is unfathomable. It's... it's hard to describe my man." 
"Yeah... I can tell," I answered as I was still processing all the information, "I've got so many questions... But I guess my first one is when did they die?" 
"First off, I would save your questions because what I say could change. It's still way too early to try to predict and answer a ton of questions. That being said, I'm not for sure when they died. Although, I believed I overheard them determine the time of death was Tuesday night or Wednesday morning. Like early morning."
 "Damn," I responded as I was trying to ask another question, " So like should we be worried at all? Okay, so Laura said that I might be asked some questions? I'm assuming by the authorities, right? Anything I should be concerned about?" 
"I'd be surprised if you didn't have to answer a few questions," Berry laughed, "shit, I'm not surprised at all. If it makes ya feel any better, I probably will be too. I wouldn't be worried, they just want to know where you were. They might also ask about me and why the need for a private investigator too. The best advice I have is to cooperate and give them real answers, you know just be yourself. We have so much documented proof that links them to certain events, we can't be charged. Matter of fact, we have nothing that can be charged to us. Investigators will want to cover all ends, so I would be expecting something. Like I said though, I wouldn't be worried. The pictures of the vehicle itself are enough proof to link them together. What's even better, wait until they find the associate, you know the frontman Thomas met in the parking lot. He will sing like a fucking canary when he finds out his boss has been killed... it's going to be glorious. I've seen it so many times before. This is.... this is the biggest bust I have ever had in my fucking career. Just so much shit, man, you wouldn't believe it. I'm so happy you have no idea." 
"I just... just can't believe they are dead. I've uhh, been going through a custody battle with them for well over a month and a half basically. I know that's short compared to other people's struggles, but fuck man. It was brutal, especially since they had more leverage in terms of a blood connection. I mean, I don't know if Laura told you much-"
"Nah man, her position is limited on what she can and can't say." 
"Yeah, she was looking for answers to why they no-showed their home inspection visit." 
"Oh, yeah well she did say that," spoke Berry. 
"I didn't expect this outcome. I'm- I'm at a loss of words man."
"You should be fucking celebrating! Go! Enjoy it, ya know. I gotta run anyway, Rory is calling me over." 
"Hey real quick, I just wanted to say thank you, Berry. We will be in touch later. Tell Rory as well!" 
"Ight will do brother. Enjoy!" Berry returned.
I tried to say thank you one last time, but the phone line went silent, which left me sitting in the Benz parked in the garage. I couldn't help but be happy and smile, as I had a grin ear to ear when I stepped out of the car. It was the heaviest weight lifted off my shoulders, and I honestly felt like a new man as I walked to the door to tell my boys. 
Once I stepped in, it was all eyes on me. Ryker, Jacob, Clayton, and Rita were all circled around the kitchen island. I believe I made two steps through the door before the questions started. It was rapid-fire, coming from everyone! 
"Hey hey, come on. Settle down guys," I laughed as I made my way over.
"What's happening?" Inquired Ryker. 
"Well... I got some news!" 
"Is it good news?" Added Jacob. 
"Well... maybe we should good get Lincoln." 
"He just got in the shower, I heard the water runnin'," Ryker said.
"Well... maybe we should wait then." 
"Oh, for heaven's sake, just tell us," Spoke Rita. "That boy could be in there for 30 minutes, I don't have time for that!" 
"Stop saying well!" Ryker giggled as he interrupted.
"Alright, alright," I laughed. "So I just got off the phone with multiple people, but more importantly I have word from Laura, that Jacob is staying here with us. Where he belongs!" 
"Seriously?" Jacob asked. 
"Yes, bud!" 
"YES!" Cheered Ryker and Clayton as Jacob jumped off the stool and ran toward me.
"You get to stay here, and not worry about your grandparents," I said as he opened his arms. I bent down to be eye level with him, but Jacob had other plans. He ran into me so hard that I collapsed backward onto my bum and brought him with me. "Easy," I laughed as he buried his head into my chest, 
"Thank you," Jacob stuttered and started crying happy tears. 
"I love you so much, and I'm so happy you get to stay, bud," I assured him as had one hand on his back while my other hand held his head against my chest. 
"So-so," sniffled Jacob as he couldn't speak. Trying to describe the wave of relief and happiness that surrounded the room is impossible. It was just a great feeling as Ryker and Clayton joined in the group hug. 
"We don't have to worry about it anymore, boys. Everything is alright!" 
"I'm just happy he gets to stay," Ryker spoke as he let go of our hug first. 
"You and me both, buddy," I chuckled as Clayton now released. 
"Let Garret get up, boys," Rita said from the other counter, but Jacob sure as hell wasn't listening. His grip on me wasn't loosening, so I decided to stand up with him in my arms. "Well, congratulations, Garret! This is so exciting! I can't wait to tell my church group, they'll be so excited to hear the good news. They've had a prayer group every week for Jacob." 
"That is umm, well very kind of them," I answered as I brushed Jacob's hair from his forehead. "You okay, Jacob?" 
"Ya-yeah," he quickly replied. 
"How happy are you?" Rita asked. 
"Very!" Jacob responded as he finally picked his head up from my chest. The boy had the biggest smile on his face as he wiped his eyes.
"Aww... I'd say that's a happy face if I ever saw one!" Rita laughed. 
"You ready to get down?" 
"Nut uh," Jacob said as he shook his head and gave me another massive hug. 
"I'm gonna go tell Lincoln," Ryker stated. 
"Uhh no-no," I stopped him. "Just let him be right now, I still need to speak with him. Although we could give Clay his present, what do you think about that?" 
"Present? What present?" Clayton answered. 
"Oh yeah, can I get it!" 
"Go ahead, buddy, it's in the trunk," I told Ryker as he was already making his way to the door.
"I am gonna take off, Garret. Looks like everything is in control." Rita spoke as she grabbed her purse from the counter. On her way to the garage, she said bye Clayton and then to Jacob, who was still in my arms. 
"Bye Rita," Jacob softly said 
"Bye sugars, love you all," she returned and then gave Ryker a hug on her way to her car. 
"Is... is that for me?" Clayton cheered, as he saw a glimpse of his present. 
"What, how did you see that?" I joked
"What is it?" Questioned Jacob
"Is it a bear?" Inquired Clayton. 
"Maybe," I laughed. "Close your eyes and hold out your hands." 
"Please be a bear... please be a bear," Clayton repeated until Ryker placed the stuffed animal in his hands. "Can-can I open?" 
"Yes! Yes! Yes! It's-its even better than the other one!" 
"Good," I laughed. "Whenever you helped Jacob out, I thought that was very nice. So you got a little reward, buddy. I'm proud of you for helping your brother." 
"Thank you!" Clayton said as he wrapped his arms around my leg. 
"You earned it, Lil Bear!" 
"Is Lincoln getting anything?" Inquired Jacob.
"This!" Ryker answered as he was holding the toy above his head. 
"Whoa," Jacob replied as he now wanted down from my arms to check out the RC helicopter. "Can we open it?" 
"No! Boys... It's Lincoln's" 
"Let's go give it to him!" Ryker suggested. 
"Whoa, hold on, guys. I still need to talk to Lincoln. He and I haven't had a chance to chat about what happened earlier in the day." 
"You mean when you yelled at him?" Clayton said. 
"Yes... that's exactly what I'm talking about. Thanks for the reminder." 
"You're welcome!" Clayton returned which caused his brothers to chuckle. 
"I'll welcome you," I responded as I lightly poked his stomach. "So I was wondering if y'all could give me a few moments with Lincoln. We can all go upstairs to get into our sleeping clothes, while I go talk with Lincoln. Afterward, y'all can give him his new toy and maybe we can watch a movie before bed. Sound like a plan?" 
"Okay, can I pick the movie?" Questioned Ryker. 
"I wanna pick it!" Chimed Clayton. 
"We will put it to a vote!" I laughed as we all started making our way up the steps. 
"Fine, I don't gotta wear nothing, right?" Ryker asked me. 
"Whatever you're comfortable in, now go on. Brush y'all's teeth and put your dirty clothes in the laundry basket. I don't want to see any clothes left on the floor. We can meet downstairs in a bit." 
"I'm gonna need help," Clayton claimed as we all went our separate ways. 
"I'll be in to help you after, Lil Bear!" I spoke as I entered Lincoln's room and then shut the door behind me. Now Lincoln was obviously in the shower still, which was a good and bad thing. I didn't want it to seem like I was trapping him in the bathroom just so that I could apologize, but it basically was just as I described... a trap. I was getting nervous, too, as my hands were starting to sweat. I didn't want anything to worsen, but at the same time, I don't know if it could get any worse. I decided to go for it and turned the knob to the door. 
"Lincoln," I called as I popped my head in first. 
"Jesus, Garret." I heard Lincoln reply as I listened to a bottle hit the shower floor. "You scared the crap out of me." 
"I'm sorry bud, I just came up here to talk." 
"I don't wanna talk." 
"That's okay-"
"I-I don't wanna see you either." 
"That's okay as well," I replied as I entered the bathroom.
"Can-can you leave then?" 
"No can do, bud."
"Look kiddo, I know you're upset with me, but I just need you to listen. You don't need to talk or even push the curtain to see me. So no speaking from you or seeing me, if you don't want too. Although I've got some important things to tell you. So like I said, all I need is your ears and attention while you finish in the shower. If you still don't want to be near me, after hearing me out, then that's fine too. I'll leave, but you just need to listen, Okay?" 
"I'm listening," Lincoln replied. 
"Alright alright, good," I began as I propped myself on the bathroom counter. "So first buddy, I want to apologize to you. You have every right to be mad, angry, and frustrated with me. My actions earlier today were not good, and it's someone I don't ever want to be again. I've had a lot of pressure on me, but it gave me no reason to take it out on you for asking a simple question... Ya know when you started talking about Jacob and what was happening to him. I was in the same boat as you. I didn't have a clue, so I couldn't answer the things you wanted to know. I was already frustrated, to begin with, but the more questions you asked, the worse it got for me... but uhh- I was more frustrated at myself than you. I made these promises to you guys to keep you safe, and I felt like I was letting everyone down. Especially since we had no clue what was going to happen. But like I already said, I shouldn't have taken out my frustrations on you, Lincoln. I knew you were only looking out for your brother, and I want to let you know that you did nothing wrong. I can already tell you that I've learned from this bud. I had no idea I could ever yell like that, and I never want to do it again. I never want to be the person that reminds you of Frank or sets you into a PTSD attack. Unfortunately, I know I did both of those things earlier today. I am so so so sorry buddy, I know I shouldn't have taken my anger out on you. You didn't deserve it, not one bit. Not only will I never forgive myself for screaming like I did but also throwing the cup past your head. I don't have an excuse to why, because there is no excuse for those actions. I can only apologize and learn. So again, I love you, Lincoln. More than anything in this world... I hope you can accept my apology. Although, I understand if it takes a while to forgive me... but, I am sorry."  
It took Lincoln a few seconds to reply as he shut off the water and stuck his hand out for the towel, but he stuttered, "is umm... is that umm- is that everything?" 
"In terms of an apology? Yes," I replied as I heard him sniffle. 
"Can... umm," I heard him trying not to cry. "Can you please go." 
"I got one last thing, okay?" 
"So I talked to Laura, and got some news about Jacob." 
"He is staying with us, bud, no one-" 
"Really?" Lincoln asked as he flung back the curtain, which cut me off from finishing my sentence.
"Yes, I wouldn't lie about that, it's too important, bud." 
"Like-like no one can take him away?" 
"They are out of the picture, we don't have to worry about them." 
"So he gets to stay? Here? With us?" 
"Yes, yes, and yes." 
That was all Lincoln needed to hear, as he jumped over the bathtub ledge and ran towards me. Similar to Jacob, he struck me so hard, I nearly fell into the sink and broke the faucet. He finally spoke as his head was in my stomach, "you promise he won't be leaving?" 
"I promise," I answered as I rubbed his bareback. 
"Thank you!" Lincoln replied. 
"Nothing to thank me for, I'm just as relieved and happy as you. Don't know what we would have done without him." 
"Yeah," Lincoln stated and released our hug. And unwrapped his towel from his waist and brought it over his shoulders to dry the top portion of his body. 
"Hey," I said as I put my hand under his chin. "I just want to let you know, you can still be angry at me for the way I acted towards you. I don't want you thinking this was my way of moving past that. It's-it's-well I just wanted you to know about Jacob, I thought it was necessary, but please don't think I'm using it as a scapegoat." 
"Yeah," Lincoln pondered as I took away my hand. "What's a scapegoat?" 
I chuckled at his curiosity, "it's like an umm... easy way out of a problem or someone else you could easily put the blame on." 
"But that's not really important, I'm just sorry bud. I really am." 
"Yeah... it's okay."
"Is it though?" 
"Umm uh-huh... you just like really reminded me of Frank." 
"I know, and it won't ever happen again. I'm sorry, son," I stated as I wrapped him in another hug. 
It took Lincoln a few seconds to respond, but he finally spoke, "it's okay, I umm forgive you." 
"I appreciate it, but I also understand if you are frustrated with me. You know you can be, right?" 
"Good, don't let me off the hook easy... especially when I make stupid mistakes." 
"I won't, but like, I guess I forgive you." 
"It's okay if you don't." 
"I know," Lincoln replied.
"Well, thank you bud. I love you so much, you know that?" 
"Yeah," Lincoln giggled as I had him in a bear hug which lifted him off the ground. 
"Good!" I answered and dropped him to his feet as I began to dry his hair with the towel now. "You know I got- I'm sorry, I meant to say we got you a gift, it's downstairs." 
"Because someone helped his brother get a stuffed animal at the arcade today." 
"He wasn't supposed to tell you," Lincoln giggled as I now moved to dry his back. 
"Well, I'm glad he did. Clay got a present too, but yours is downstairs." 
"What did Clat get?" 
"A Stuffed teddy bear," I stated as I brought the towel back up to his shoulders. "Dry the rest of you, and come downstairs if you want to watch a movie." 
"What movie?" 
"Undecided so far," I chuckled as I picked up his clothes from the floor. 
"Okay, can uhh, I wear my robe?" 
"You know you don't have to ask me." 
"I didn't know if Rita was still here." 
"She left." 
"I'm wearing nothing then!" Lincoln giggled. 
"You do you, but it is chilly downstairs. Especially after a shower, that couch is gonna feel ice cold on your rump." 
"I didn't think of that." 
"Well you make up your mind, I got to help your brother," I said as I walked out and emptied his clothes in the laundry basket. I couldn't help but exhale another deep breath as I walked away. It was a freeing feeling, one that I couldn't describe besides amazing. Finding out about Jacob and now moving on from an earlier incident was pure joy. Although I knew there was still some anger directed at me, at least he was communicating and laughing. I'm sure it would be brought back up, but for the time being, I was okay with how things were. 
Once I reached Clayton's room, I got him undressed and into a onesie. We went downstairs together and made popcorn while we waited for the others. Ryker and Jacob were soon in the kitchen, and we all waited for Lincoln, so we could give him his gift. 
Of course, when we did, the start of the movie was delayed 15 minutes as the boys ripped open the package to start playing with it. A mild disappointment set in, when they figured out, the RC toy needed to be charged first. Anyhow the helicopter would have to wait until tomorrow as the boys all drifted off while watching the film. 
Getting everyone to their own rooms was a challenge, but we accomplished it. With everyone was asleep in their own beds, I went to mine to unwind for the day. For whatever reason, it still felt like Jacob's grandparents had a chance, but Laura's words rang through my ears. 
'They're dead, gone, out of the picture... They're dead, gone, out of the picture... They're dead, gone, out of the picture.' 
And I couldn't help but smile. Now the truth, I was grinning at the fact that they couldn't have Jacob, not because they died. However, I honestly didn't feel that awful with how things turned out. Who knows, they could have been involved in the process from the beginning. I don't know if we would ever find out accurate answers, but it didn't really matter. I slowly drifted to sleep, thinking about all the endless possibilities. 

Part - 2

Saturday, April 9th, 2016.
The morning kicked off pretty routinely. I didn't have any boys in my bed. Which was a good thing, no nightmares, no PTSD attacks and most certainly no grandparents. Okay, I better stop with the no grandparents, karma can be a bitch, so I better stop messing with it. 
Anyhow, we ate breakfast and tried to plan out our day. From listening to everyone, it sounded as if it was going to be a relaxing Saturday.  It would probably be the last one for a while as the boys had soccer games and soon to be a birthday party. So I'm sure we were going to enjoy it. 
Just as we finished eating, my phone rang, and it was Christian. 
"Morning, buddy," I answered, "pretty early for you to be up?" 
"Yeah, is umm Lincoln okay?" 
"I believe so... he's right next to me. Why?" 
"Oh, okay, good! I like FaceTimed him 4 times last night. He never replied once." 
"Uh-oh... Lincoln, you're in trouble," I laughed. 
"Why? Who is that?" Lincoln responded in a defensive tone.
"It's Christian! He tried to FaceTime you last night." 
"Four times!" Christian hollered through the phone.
"Four times!" I reiterated. 
"Wait, really? I'll be back, I'm gonna go check." 
"He's checking," I spoke to Christian as Lincoln took off for his laptop. "Wait... Why am I the middle man here." 
"Hi Christian," Clayton called. 
"Oh forget this, bud you're on speaker now!" 
"Oh, okay." 
"Hi, Christian!" Clayton spoke again. 
"Hi Christian," Ryker and Jacob said in unison.
"Hey, guys." 
"I got a new puppy!" Spoke Jacob. "He names fluffy." 
"I thought her name was Sparky?" Ryker asked. 
"Oh yeah... I mean Sparky but she's really fluffy and humongous." 
"Wait what? Like a real dog? What kind? Like a puppy?" Christian inquired. 
"A rare breed," I joked. "The stuffed umm American-German-Korean made uhh... retriever." 
"Ohh okay... I've umm... never heard of that kind of dog before." 
"Because it's a stuffed dog, bud."
"What's that mean?" 
"Oh my," I laughed, which caused the boys to laugh. 
"Like Riley!" Jacob giggled.
"Like Riley? Ohhh," Christian finally caught on. "I'm so stupid." 
"Not stupid, just a mental lapse. Everyone has a moment or two like that." 
"He did call me four times," Lincoln stated as he walked back in. "Sorry, I didn't have my laptop open." 
"It's okay." 
"Alright," I chuckled. "Everyone say bye." 
"Bye, love ya," Lincoln started the chain. 
"Bye!" Clayton followed. 
"Cya," Jacob said. 
"Love ya, bye!" Ryker finished off. 
"Bye, love you guys." Christian quickly replied. 
"Alright," I began as I took the phone off speaker and stood up to put my dishes in the washer. "We will catch ya later, buddy." 
"Wait wait wait!"
"What's up?" 
"Can-can I sleepover today?" 
"You just did!" I laughed. 
"Yeah but like, just me this time. I feel like I didn't hang out with my cousins a lot. I was with Adrian most of the time." 
"I mean, if you are allowed, then I don't see why not." I remarked as I strolled to my office for more privacy, "everything going good still?" 
"Uh-huh... it's weird. Like he’s sooo nice to me when we hang out and stuff." 
"I would hope he would be, bud! He seems like a really nice boy, so that's awesome it's working better than the last one. I'm just happy for you! When's the last time you hung out?" 
"Umm... yesterday, no wait Thursday! Yeah, Thursday!"
"You have fun?" 
"Yeah nothing happened though, we just like chilled." 
"Oh cool, glad you got to see him again. Like I said, I'm happy for you!" 
"Yeah, thanks... it's, I don't know, it sorta weird." 
"Wait, what's weird?" 
"Having a real boyfriend!"
"Why?" I laughed.
"Because it just is. Like I can't believe I have a boyfriend. We talk about like everything. I usually have just you to tell stuff, but now I have two people... I don't know." 
"Just enjoy it bud. Don't ask questions or wonder why it's weird! It's part of growing up and learning about yourself."
"No, it's weird… I mean like he’s completely opposite to me."
"How so?" I asked as I shut the door to my office. 
"I don't know, Uncle G. He's into healthy things like lifting and stuff. Plus he likes baseball, and I love soccer.
“Minor differences,” I chuckled trying not to make him feel silly, ”but that's okay.”
"I know it is, but like- like I’m still confused. I don't know why Adrian likes me."
"I could probably list a few reasons." 
"Like what?"
"You actually what me too?"
"Alright... ummm, probably because he finds you attractive. Perhaps, because he and you are both gay. Probably, because he likes what you guys do together. Probably, because he finds that you're funny. Probably, because he likes texting and talking with you. Probably, because he feels comfortable around you. I mean I could go on, do you need me too?
"No," Christian giggled. "You said, probably a lot."
"I meant too!"
"Oh... umm what do you mean comfortable around me?
I chuckled and quickly said, "umm the boathouse, you know, need I say anymore? Then again, I didn't see anything, so how would I know... Mr. hands!"
"Uncle G!" Christian giggled, "That… you said… ugh. That doesn’t count anyway because... because I don't know why. Just name another!" 
"You're too funny' bud,” I laughed but started again. “Umm let me think... you two on the couch together is another good one. It looked natural what you guys were doing, well, not at first. But after a while of laying your head in his lap, Adrian would rub your chest or comb your hair. It's… I'm trying to think how I should phrase it… it's the little things that make him, and you look like you've been dating for a while.
"You noticed that?" 
"Yeah, it was cute." 
"Yeah, that felt really good. I get why Ryker always has you doing it for him." 
"That boy, he's a goof sometimes." 
"He's so cute, though." 
"That he is... sometimes. You don't wanna be the one waking him up," I laughed.
"It's just a joke' a bad one, I guess!"
"Ehh... kinda was." 
"Thanks," I chuckled, "so you all good now?" 
"No, I still think it's weird. Like Adrian is hot and... I'm, well I mean I am, like sorta good looking but I think I'm weird." 
"Wow… one to judge yourself much, huh?" I joked!
“You’ve even said it." 
"I know, I'm just kidding, bud. You are a really good looking young man."
"Thanks," Christian answered. "I-it's just weird that I’m out to everyone now like it feels weird, Uncle G."
"I don't doubt that at all!" 
"But like I also think I am weird." 
"I don't think you are weird at all, Christian. But if you were, ya know some people think weird is cute, right? So maybe Adrian finds weird attractive. Which mean you've got cute and cute... not seeing why Adrian wouldn't be into you! Some people like those weird and quirky features, bud." 
"Yeah, I know... Actually, I don't know how to describe what I'm saying. I think I'm more awkward over the phone but when we hangout I am like super chill-
"Ehh... it's debatable."
"Uncle G… Whats the mean, I am though!"
"I'm kidding bud... I don't really even know what super chill means," 
"Like cool, go with the flow type." 
"Whatever you say," I laughed. 
"I am, trust me!" Christian answered, "but it's like we are opposites."
"How? Besides, soccer and baseball?" 
"I’m quieter now, and he’s like still really popular… he still doesn’t talk to me much at school."
"Ahh, I see. Umm you know it's fine that you have your differences. But if it irritates you about school, I would suggest you talk to him about it."
"I'm scared he won't want to... because I don't want to be the person that forces him to come out. I don't want that to happen to him. So, I avoid it, and I usually ask weird questions, like umm... sorry gotta find the text... okay, so I asked him why he likes me and stuff?" 
"He said he finds me really cute and other stuff. Umm I think, he likes my butt too. Especially after the boathouse thing, he said he liked what we did."
"See, I don't see an issue! You have a cute ass, cute body, weird personality, well endowed-"
"Uncle G!"
"Seems like everything is going well," I said, finishing my sentence as I laughed.
"You're never gonna let that go, are you?" 
"Not for a long time, camera boy."
"Well, he doesn't know I'm... you know, well endowed. I've only like felt his umm... stuff and through like clothing so not like a full-on grasp."
"Bud! Seriously, we might have to draw a line on details I need and don't need! That's enough info for me!"
"Sorry sorry. But like I don't know how to explain, what I'm trying to say."
"Well, try!"
"Can you, because I fail every time I try to explain it." 
"I could, but I don't know what I'm trying to describe."
"How it ain’t weird for me, because since all this coming out… I-I don't really know how to explain how I feel!"
"Alright alright, let me take a shot at this," I said as I took a brief moment to collect what I wanted to so. "So I think that's something you have to find out for yourself. You know, have more confidence in yourself bud. From what it seems to me, you are a good looking teen, with a unique background, and who is discovering what you like and don't like. It's part of growing up and finding out who you are. It's totally normal not to know how you feel or shouldn't be feeling, especially for someone in your situation. You are going through a lot... I mean shoot. You started dating people, which is a whole new experience by itself. Stop looking for stuff to go wrong! Enjoy what you have right now, you know. It's all new to you, particularly for someone who recently came out in a... uhh very unique way. Looking from last year compared to this year, you've made tremendous changes in your life. Life-altering changes, but it's positive and will be better for you in the long run! That being said, I don't doubt that it seems weird... hell if it didn't, then I would be concerned for you, Christian. Yet, I'm not though! I think you're right where you're supposed to be in life at your current age... and that is discovering yourself and finding out things you like and dislike. You're transitioning into becoming an adult with his own taste and corky features. You've got to accept some of them and have confidence in yourself. I think it's what you lack the most right now. Although I do see a lot of other stuff like courage and compassion. And boy, I see a lot of fucking courage in you, Christian. Not many people could go back to a hostile school environment and survive coming out like you have. You know, it's something a lot of teens struggle with that are in the LBGTQ community... I mean, if you could just transition some of that courage into confidence, you'll go a long way in life, kiddo. Trust me, confidence will come with experiences, but confidence is also something that you have to find in yourself and apply. Usually, if you can find your confidence and utilize it at a young age, you'll carry it with you for the rest of your life. You will be able to thrive while others struggle. I know you've got confidence bud, I've seen it before you came out as gay. Don't let other people take it away from you, it's too important not to use."
There was a brief pause as Christian was taking in all the information, "Wow... Umm thanks Uncle G. That's umm means a lot, you uhh... really think I have courage?" 
"You know it... I believe you've got courage, compassion, and confidence kid... you just need to buy into yourself!" I answered. 
"Yeah... Thanks, Uncle G." 
"You're welcome, bud." 
"Love you!" 
"Love you too," I replied. "Now go find out if you're sleeping over or not, I don't have all day here!" 
"Okay, okay! I forgot about that. What are you guys even doing today?" 
"We aren't doing much here, but I'm sure it would be fun to have you around." 
"Sounds better than sitting here," Christian chuckled, "brb!"
"Brb? Just say be right back!" I stated, but Christian wasn't responding as he ran off to ask his mother. I decided to head back to the kitchen. The boys had just finished cleaning the table as I entered. "Christian might be staying over tonight." 
"Is Adrian coming?" questioned Lincoln.
"I don't think so."
"Are they still dating?" A concerned Lincoln asked. "Maybe that's why he called... maybe they broke up." 
"Adrian and Christian are dating?" Inquired Ryker. "Like-like boyfriends? Wait wait wait. Does that mean... that Christian likes another boy so that would be like... he is gay, right?"
"What if he is? Does it matter?" Lincoln asked. 
"I don't know. Someone said it was weird at my school," Ryker replied.
"Oh boy," I spoke and quickly stepped in. "Lincoln, I wouldn't worry, I believe they are doing just fine. Ryker, maybe you should ask Christian yourself and form your own opinions instead of listening to classmates." 
"Can I be gay?" Clayton said and threw himself into the mix. 
"Umm possibly...  but you've got a long time before you're allowed to start dating anyone, so don't worry about that," I chuckled as I walked over and tousled his hair.
"Oh," Clayton giggled. 
"Garret?" Kelly said from Christian's phone.
"Hey Sis, what's up?" 
"What happened with the grandparents? None my girls down there have had the time to reach out yet." 
"Was planning on calling you in a bit, but Jacob is staying with me!" 
"What? That's so amazing! That must be such a relief!" 
"You have no idea," I chuckled. 
"So what happened, they fail the home inspection? You got to tell me everything!" 
"No, no... not exactly," I stuttered. "It's... it's well should we say, complicated. I'll explain it later." 
"Oh okay?" 
"Yeah, anyway can Christian spend the night?" 
"He can, but I feel bad that you are always hosting him. Would you like to have them here?" 
"All of them?" 
"Yeah, sure! It would be fun." 
"Whatever works for me," I chuckled. "Boys, would you want to sleepover Aunt Kelly and Christian's house tonight?" 
"Yeah!" Ryker quickly answered, which was followed by a yes from Jacob as well.
"Wait, Garret." Kelly called, "Christian is yelling at me on my end. I think he wants to go to your house tonight." 
"Like I said, whatever works." 
"Alright, next time it's at my house." Kelly said, "you wanna meet halfway, the usual meeting spot?" 
"Around 3:30? sound good?"
"Okay," I chuckled. "Cya later, today." 
"Wait, I think Christian wants to talk again," 
"Uncle G is Lincoln around." 
"Can I talk to him." 
"Sure," I said as I gave the phone to Lincoln. "It's Christian. 
"Oh... Okay," Lincoln spoke as he reached for the phone and walked away, but I heard him say, "hey... yeah, why?" 
It would probably be a few minutes before I had my phone back, but I wasn't too concerned. With Lincoln away from the table, I turned my attention back to the three other boys. For them, it was a pretty slow-moving morning. I don't know why, but they all seemed half asleep still as we went to the family room and turned on the TV. 
Once Lincoln returned, the boys were good to do what they wanted to do as I went to my office to make a few phone calls. By a few, I meant a lot, as my list consisted of My parents, Lucas, Calvin, Jordan, my legal team, Keith, and possibly Berry or Rory. I was hesitant to call those two since they had a long night, especially dealing with a lot of new information. It might be best to wait for them. 
I was calling my parents, Lucas, and Calvin, to inform them about Jacob's situation. Part of me wanted to conference call everybody so I wouldn't have to repeat the same story and answer the same questions, but it wouldn't work. So I also won't bore you with the exact phone call, but the general gist of each conversation when as followed. 
It began with me telling them that Jacob was staying where he belonged. It still puts a smile on my face every time, as it did with my family too. Everybody was so thrilled to hear Jacob was staying with me. Calvin didn't even ask how it happened, he just congratulated me and said he was excited. However, Lucas and my parents wanted the details, which of course weren't the best to share. Plus I didn't want to give too many details since everything was so fresh. What I was told last night, could change in terms of how they died and what could have happened to them. So I filled them into the best of my ability. Although, they genuinely didn't care as long as Jacob was saying with me! 
My next call was to my legal team, or at least Jordan. With it being the weekend, I was sure that most of my team wasn't in the office. Heck Jordan wasn't even in today, so I decided just to call her. I was curious to see how this went, especially since I wasn't too kind when we were last together. However, the conversation went really well. Not only was I able to tell her about Jacob, but also apologize for my bad attitude at her office. I was lucky that she understood I was stressed, and under pressure, so she accepted my apology. We wanted to set up another date, but both of us had a busy week planned, so we couldn't seem to find the time. Which was okay, not ideal, but we seemed to be on good terms right now. 
With already being on the phone for well over two and a half hours, I decided to make one last call to Keith. Thankfully, this call went much quicker as we didn't really talk about Jacob. Instead, we discussed some plans for the HLRJC organization. We were starting to get some positions filled, which was good, but I still wanted to meet them. Another topic of discussion was our next business trip. We had plenty of money to jump-start everything, but we definitely needed more, especially if we wanted to expand. With so many potential business partners in Chicago, we would likely be heading back there as well as opening our second building if the first one proved successful. I also wanted to target some of the businesses in Columbus as well as Ohio State University (OSU). I wasn't looking for money from OSU but more of a partnership to get more recognition within the community. With Columbus being a big college town, partnering with the university would be huge. We also discussed a meet and greet on Tuesday for me to introduce myself and fact find about employees. We planned a long lunch with all new hires and current employees to go over our mission and goals. Anyway, it was good that we touched base and talked about future plans. 
With the phone calls complete, I decided to go have a workout. As always, I was joined by Ryker, and we were down there for over an hour. Once finished, we quickly got in the showers and then everybody ate lunch. Before long, we were all piling into the SUV as it was time to get Christian. 
The drive to the meeting spot wasn't long, but I still didn't want to put the responsibility on Lincoln to watch everyone. He wasn't quite at the age to start being able to babysit. I was a few years away, but for short periods, I would consider leaving him at home. 
We arrived after Kelly and Christian. I barely had the car stopped before the boys were racing over to their cousin. Once I turned off the engine, I stepped out to greet everybody. 
"Hey," I said as I walked over and gave him a hug.
"Hi, Uncle G!" Christian commented and returned my hug.
"So, do... do you wanna?" Clayton inquired. 
"Maybe," Christian chuckled.
"Hey, Sis. Anything new?" 
"No, not really," Kelly stated. "Christian, go get your bag!" 
"Well, you're boring," I joked as the boys went to Kelly's car.
"Thanks." Kelly laughed. "So what happened with Jacobs grandparents?" 
I took a deep breath and exhaled, "they umm... are dead." 
"Yeah, I know." 
"How'd they die?" 
"I'm not sure if anyone truly knows yet. Its all speculation at the moment, but authorities believe the grandparents were murdered." 
"Get the hell out of here." 
"No, I'm serious," I said as the boys started making their way back to us. "Jump in the SUV, I'll be there in a minute or two." 
"Bye Mom, love you," Christian stated and gave her a quick half-hug as they marched to the Mercedes.
"Love you, honey. Be good!" Kelly responded and turned back to me. "Who's responsible?"
"I don't know. Like I said... It's all speculation at the moment. I just found out last night, but I've heard it could be related to the boys' case. My PI told me that it reminded Rory of the night we found the boys. In terms of the crime scene." 
"Oh dear... that was awful. I still think about that night." 
"Yeah, you're not kidding." 
"Who's Rory, again?" 
"He was the officer who first on scene at the boys' house." 
"Oh yeah, the name sounded familiar," Kelly replied. "So does Jacob know that they passed away?" 
"No, not yet. I umm... don't know if I will tell him or not. I mean, I'll tell him if he directly asks what happened, but I just don't think it's that important."
"I don't know, Garret. You might want to. That's a tough one."
"I'm just want to move on from it."
"It's your decision, but it could help him."
"Well you can always call me with questions, bro, you know that right?" 
"I do, and I appreciate it."
"You're welcome."
"Yeah... so what time tomorrow do you want to meet?" 
"You know what we should do instead? How about a family dinner," Kelly suggested. 
"Actually, that doesn't sound like a terrible idea, one of us cooking or we eating out?" 
"How about a cookout, at my place? I think the weather is gonna be alright tomorrow. Suppose to get more storms tonight, but clear skies starting tomorrow!" 
"Alright then, we will be there around 3! You or me calling Calvin?" 
"I'll do it," Kelly chuckled. "You're going to have your hands tied." 
"Sounds good, love ya, sis," I said and gave her a hug before returning to my car. Once I opened the door, I heard the chatter between everyone. I had no clue what they were talking about, but for 5 kids in a car, it sounded like an elementary school's cafeteria during lunchtime. 
"What are you guys talking about," I laughed as I sat down and started the engine. 
"What we are gonna do when we get home," Lincoln commented from the seat behind me. Christian had grabbed shotgun, while Clayton was behind him. Ryker and Jacob had the back two seats. 
"Oh yeah? What's that?" 
"We wanna go in the boat," Clayton said. 
"Yeah but not at first," Ryker called from the back as we started our way back home.
"I'll just tell him," Lincoln cut everybody off. "So we wanna go back and play some video games until like dinner time. After we eat, we wanna go in the boat and maybe swim. After that, we are going in the hot tub cause it's gonna be cold in the lake. Then, play hand hockey and maybe finish watching a movie. I miss something, guys?" 
"I'm good with anything," Christian added. "Just happy to be staying over again." 
"So am I," giggled Clayton. 
"We all are," I chuckled. "Although, not to be the bearer of bad news. I think we have some storms moving into the area again."
"Really?" Ryker inquired. 
"Yeah, suppose to rain all evening." 
"What about going in the boat before?" Lincoln asked.
"I'll check, but I don't want to be caught in the middle of the lake when it starts. It's not safe." 
"I don't either," Ryker added. 
"Oh," Lincoln said. "I don't know then." 
"You guys will figure something out," I stated.
"Hey wait, I got a question," Ryker blurted out. 
"What's up, bud?" I asked 
"It's for Christian." 
"Are-are you umm... gay?" 
"Ryker," Lincoln quickly said in a defensive tone. 
"What? I'm just askin'!"
"You don't ask that," 
"Your call kiddo," I whispered to Christian as those two were arguing back in forth. He was looking at me for some help, but this was his decision.
"Why does it matter?" Lincoln stated.
"I just wanna know." 
"Umm," Christian began. 
"Don't listen to him, Christian," Lincoln interrupted. "He is just NOSEY AND ANNOYING." 
"It's-it's okay," Christian said as he turned to face his cousins. "But umm... yes I am gay, Ryker. Is that okay?" 
"So you like-like boys?" Ryker asked. 
"I do too!" Giggled Clayton. 
"Do you?" Christian jokingly played along as he knew Clayton didn't know his sexual orientation. "You like girls too?" 
"Ehh, sometimes me do and sometimes me don't!" 
"That's a new saying," I chuckled to myself.
"So any girlfriends then?" Christian asked. 
"No, not yet," Clayton sighed. "I don't know if I want one right now." 
"Why?" I inquired. 
"I don't got the money to buy them like nice presents and stuff." 
"What?" I laughed at him.
"Oh well that's pretty important," Christian giggled. "What about boyfriends then?" 
"No... I umm- I just found out I could be gay!" 
"Oh my," I laughed which brought on chuckling to the car, specifically Christian who was still playing along.
"Well... whoever your dating has to be approved by me, ya got it?" 
"Nut uh." 
"Yeah-huh," Christian added. "Gotta make sure he or she is good enough for you." 
Clayton made a face while he thought, but nothing came to his kind, and he finally agreed, "fine! I don't like it though." 
"You're too funny, Clay," Christian said.
"Wait wait, I got another question... I just wanna be sure! So like you and Adrian are dating?" Ryker asked which brought on another glare from Lincoln.
"You're so annoying," Lincoln added. 
"It's okay, I don't mind... have to answer these questions sooner or later." 
"Well, be comfortable with what you're saying," I interrupted. "Don't feel forced to answer something you don't want to, okay?" 
"Yeah, I know, but I like that Ryker is asking stuff," Christian stated. "But umm, well kinda... like it's hard to explain." 
"Do you like... like kiss each other?" Jacob embarrassingly asked which also brought some red cheeks to Christian's face. 
"We umm... I-so hmm... it's like any normal thing I guess. Like instead of a girl and a boy dating, it's just a boy and a boy."
"Ohh okay."
"Is... is it like a secret?" Ryker inquired. "That you're gay." 
"Umm yes wait... no-no well, umm so people at my school know and like part of our family knows." 
"Who in the family knows?" Lincoln asked as he was now becoming curious.
"So obviously you and Uncle G know." 
"What? How do Garret and Lincoln know?" Ryker asked, "Garret, why didn't you tell us?" 
"It wasn't my place to tell people. It's like if you came to me with a secret, I wouldn't share it with others." 
"Uncle G was actually the first person to know." 
"You must be really good at keeping secrets," Clayton added. 
"Who else knows in the family?" Lincoln asked again. 
"Uhh... my mom, dad, sisters, now everybody in the car, grandma and grandpa." 
"Oh, when did you tell grandma and grandpa?" I inquired. 
"Umm, yesterday I think." 
"What'd they say?" Questioned Lincoln. 
"I did it over FaceTime because I didn't know when I was gonna see them next. They didn't care though, grandma was surprised at first but really cool. Grandpa," Christian giggled. "Grandpa said he knew already and didn't care." 
"No way he knew," I added. 
"That's what grandma said too," Christian laughed. "But they were both cool about it." 
"I'm still mad we didn't know sooner," Ryker informed everybody.
"Yeah sorry, I umm... I didn't want you guys like acting different around me, because I love hanging out with everybody. So I didn't want it to be weird... umm does it like- change anything between us now?" 
"Nut uh," Clayton quickly responded. 
"No," Jacob said. 
"Umm... no," Ryker closed everything off. 
"Thanks," Christian spoke as he turned back around. 
"So everybody finished asking Christian questions?" I asked
"I don't got any!" Clayton said. 
"Me either," agreed Jacob.
"Umm," Ryker began. 
"Bud, enough for right now," I cut him off. "Let's change topics, we can talk about stuff later, okay?" 
"But," stated Ryker. 
"Uncle G, it's cool. I don't care."
"Are you sure?" 
"You asked for it... go ahead, Ryker." 
"Okay! So you don't want us telling nobody, right?" 
"I would appreciate it if you kept it secret, especially around like Uncle Lucas." 
"Really?" I inquired as I was quite shocked by that. 
"Yeah! I'm-I'm so afraid to tell him out of everybody. I'm just not as close to him as I am with you. I was going to tell Uncle Calvin before Uncle Lucas." 
"Umm... I wouldn't do that," I suggested.
"Yeah, why?" Lincoln added. "Oh, yeah-"
"Uncle Calvin," I said as I cut Lincoln off accidentally. "Is under a lot of pressure and stress from life. I don't want to see him act negatively or have a bad response if you caught him in a bad mood. I hope that wouldn't be the case, but you never know." 
"Oh," Christian added. "Do you think Uncle Lucas would be cool about it?" 
"I do. I believe... actually, I know Uncle Lucas wouldn't judge you or anything. He is a very down to earth guy. It takes a lot to upset him and make him feel uncomfortable. He would probably give you a hug and tell you to come to him if you needed help. Ultimately though, it's your decision on who you want to come out to. I can only offer advice and suggestions. If you feel closest to Uncle Calvin and are ready to tell him, then I would say go ahead." 
And there was some silence after I spoke, as Christian was obviously thinking about what I said. It's not like Calvin hasn't changed from who he used to be, but I would hate to see Christian feel close enough to tell his uncle and be rejected. Plus since I wasn't dating Jonah anymore, Calvin started coming around more and being friendly. So I honestly didn't know how he would react, but I could at least prepare Christian and Lincoln for any possibilities. The silence was still ongoing, which of course was broken by Ryker. 
"So it's a secret, right?" 
"Yes," I laughed. 
"Yeah," Christian added. "I just don't really want it to change anything between us. So please please please don't treat me any different, I love how it is." 
"It don't change nothing," Clayton said.
"It doesn't," Lincoln said as he corrected Clayton but also assured Christian.
"Yeah," Jacob added. 
"Alright, speaking of change... let's change topics," I spoke, and we quickly went back to figuring out what everybody wanted to do when we got home. 
Once we arrived, the boys all went downstairs. Unfortunately for everybody, the dark clouds were rolling in quick, which meant no outdoor activities. With no stoppage in the forecast, I didn't anticipate to see the boys much as they would be entertained in the basement. I didn't mind as it allowed me to relax and talk to Jordan as well as wait for other phone calls. However, as the day went on, I didn't get any. No one explicitly said they would be calling, but I was surprised that I didn't hear from Berry or Rory. I almost wanted to call them to see if anything else was heard about the case. More importantly, I was hoping for some closure to finding out about Lincoln. If everybody remembers, I brought on Berry and Rory to investigate Gabriel Murphy and how he factored into the picture. I was hoping that it would give Lincoln some relief from his PTSD attacks, but I never thought it would span into what it did. It's quite baffling the more I thought about everything.
Although, my thoughts were interrupted by the laughs of the boys coming up the stairs. I was guessing they were starved, and I wasn't planning on cooking, which meant our options were limited. Everybody settled for Chinese food, and they took off below to finish their FIFA tournament or whatever they were doing. Quite honestly, I was a bit lost, as they kept bickering back and forth. It was cute and funny to see. Once the food was here, it didn't take long for them to race up the steps and grab plates.
The food was devoured, as I only had a half box of rice as leftovers. They all took back off to the basement as I heard them talking about another video game. I wasn't sure what it was, but I went over and laid down on the couch. 
I had only been resting for about 10 minutes when Jacob walked into the living room.
"Hey, bud, what's up?" 
"Nothing. Was wondering what you were doing."
"Just laying down right now. Watching the tv and the storm outside." 
"Yeah, you okay?" 
"You wanna lay down with me?" 
"Yeah!" Jacob answered as he cracked a half-smile. 
"Come on over then!" 
"Okay," Jacob giggled as he crawled on top of me. He positioned himself in the small crack between the couch and myself. He almost fit like a glove as he was on his stomach and resting his head on my left chest.
"Comfortable?" I asked I as draped my arm over him, and my hand came to rest on his lower bum. 
"Uh-huh," Jacob replied.
"Good!" I answered as we watched the TV. We were just cuddling and enjoying each others company. Five minutes had passed, and I thought he was almost asleep until he shifted his head to look out the window.
"Is it gonna stop raining?" 
"Tomorrow morning I think, why?" 
"Just because we can go in the hot tub if it does!" 
"It looks like we have to do that tomorrow, bud," I chuckled as we watched the rain hitting the windows. 
"When did it start storming?" 
"You already missed the first set of storms! Probably couldn't even hear it downstairs, could ya?"
"Oh... I didn't hear it." Jacob giggled, "when?" 
"Before we ordered dinner," I laughed. 
"Nut uh!" 
"Okay... I'm gonna believe you. But I don't think it did." 
"What?" I laughed again as I tickled his ribs. "That's doesn't make any sense." 
"So!" Jacob giggled which turned into a full laugh attack. 
"Believe me now? Huh?" 
"No," Jacob managed to speak. 
"OHHHH BOY... You're in for it now!" I stated as I went for his armpits and tickled them. For Jacob, his whole upper body was ticklish, so he was easy to mess with. "Ya give in?" 
"Ye-Yes!" Jacob spoke as I finally ceased my attack
"You better!" I joked. 
"I can't breathe... my tummy hurts," Jacob said as he was catching his breath. 
"You could have avoided that!" 
"I still don't think it did!" Jacob responded with a big grin. 
"Oh? That so?" I said as I quickly flashed my hand.
"Nooo! Please don't! My sides hurt! 
"Alright alright." 
"Can... can you umm scratch?" Jacob asked as he adjusted his body and finally started to control his breathing. 
"Of course bud, your legs? Back? Head? Just tell me where!" 
"Umm, my legs!" 
"Alright, scoot your booty up here then," I said as he inched his way up with some help from me. "I'm gonna roll up your shorts." 
"Okay," Jacob happily answered as he came to a stop with the top of his head resting on my shoulder, and his face was towards my neck. 
"Lift your hips," I said as I rolled the pant leg of his shorts to the crest between his thigh and bum. "There, all good?" 
"Yeah, thanks," Jacob responded as he relaxed his body, and I started scratching the back of his thighs. 
"You're welcome," I replied. "Love you, buddy." 
"Love you," stated Jacob as our attention turned to the TV. There was probably a minute of silence before Jacob spoke, "Garret?" 
"Are... are you sure I get to stay here?" 
"Yes buddy," I replied and briefly scratched his lower bum under the rolled-up shorts.
"Like promise?" 
"Yes, I do." 
"How do you know for sure?" 
"Well, your grandparents umm," I said as I was going back and forth on telling him what happened. "They umm, went on a long trip, and I don't think they are coming back." 
"Like a vacation?" 
"No, not exactly a vacation. Umm... they moved away, so they won't be coming back to the area."
"What if they do?" Jacob asked as he rested his one arm over my chest and started playing with my shirt. 
"It's not likely. Umm, they- uhh decided it was best for you to grow up with all your brothers and live with me so you could have the best possible life. They didn't really want the responsibility of taking care of you." 
"Oh... I didn't wanna live with them anyway." 
"Neither did I," I said as I grabbed his arm from my chest and kissed his hand. I couldn't reach his head, so this was the best option as I set his arm back and went to scratching his thighs. 
We had another brief pause as he was still playing with my shirt.
"Are you like umm...  happy?" Jacob asked
"Happy would be the biggest understatement, kiddo. I love you so much. You have no idea how relieved I am that you get to stay here with your brothers and me. It wouldn't have been the same if we lost you." 
"Thanks," I heard Jacob sniffle.
"You okay?" 
"Yeah!" Jacob said as he tried to cover his face and hide his tears.
"Buddy," I stated as I stopped scratching his thighs to pull his body over me and give him a hug. "What's up?" 
"I'm-I'm, really really happy I get to stay with you," Jacob answered and dug his face into my chest. 
"Aww bud," I said as I could now kiss the top of his head. "Come on, sit up. Let's talk about it!" 
"O... okay." 
"Here," I said as I helped. Jacob sat with his bum on my stomach and legs draped over both my sides. I brought my legs up so he could lean on them for back support, and began rubbing both his thighs again. "You wanna know what I'm most excited about?"
"That we can move on from all of this, so you do not need to worry anymore." 
"Yeah," Jacob sniffled as I didn't want to see him crying. 
"I wanna try to make sure we can move on rather swift! You've been asking for a sleepover, how about we try next weekend?" 
"Like with Adam?" 
"Yup!" I said as I was now playing with his legs, swinging them back and forth, which was causing Jacob's mood to change. 
"Okay," Jacob giggled and smiled as he wiped his tears away. 
"We just need to find out Adam's phone number so we can ask his mom or dad, you think you can get it from him?" 
"I'm gonna ask when I go back to school! He umm... sits right next to me." 
"Awesome!" I said as I dropped my legs, which supported Jacob and then lifted his legs up over him so he would fall backward. 
"Hey!" Jacob giggled as he was falling back. 
"Oops," I chuckled.
All I heard from Jacob was laughter as I raised him up and then let him fall back down again. We did this for about a minute until I was tired, but more importantly, Jacob could barely breathe again. After picking his body up with my legs one last time, he took the opportunity as he crashed down on me. 
"That was a workout," I panted as I started running my hands through his hair.
"That was fun," Jacob giggled as he was finally calming down. 
"Next time you're lifting me up and down. How's that sound?" 
"Nooo," he snickered some more as his laugh was infectious. 
"Alright alright, we can probably unroll you shorts now," I stated as I did it for him. "You staying up here with me or you wanna head back to the basement ?"
"Can I stay?" 
"If you want," I said as I kissed the top of his head. 
A few moments of silence passed, as both of our breathing returned to normal. "you sure I get to stay here, for like... good?" 
"You get to stay here as long as you want!" 
"Love you," Jacob smiled.
"Love you too, kiddo!" 
"Jake!" Hollered Ryker from the basement steps. "We are playing hand-hockey!" 
"Go on," I said and patted his butt to get a move on. 
"I can go?" 
"Of course!" 
"Okay!" He hollered back to Ryker, which was right by my face. 
"Thanks, bud!" I laughed as I stuck a finger in my ear.
"Oh... sorry."
"It's okay," I said as Jacob was beginning to stand up. "Whoop, you might wanna fix your pants. Part of your scar can be seen." 
"Oh yeah... thanks," replied Jacob as he rolled down the only part of his shorts that I didn't. "Are you coming?" 
"Nah, you guys have fun!" 
"Okay," Jacob answered and took off for the basement. 
"So much for staying up here," I laughed to myself as I turned my attention back to the tv. 
I didn't see the boys until 9 as they wanted a snack and a movie. To please them, I went to the kitchen as the boys went upstairs to put on their pajamas. One by one they arrived, with Ryker showing up first. I was surprised to see him in boxer-briefs and a shirt. I was wondering why this was his choice since he usually wore nothing at all. I was going to question him but didn't want to make a scene, primarily if it dealt with him knowing Christian was gay. Speaking of Christian, he was next as he was in boxers and a shirt. Lincoln soon followed in his robe. Which I'm assumed he had nothing on under. Jacob was in pajama pants and that was it. Finally, Clayton was in his favorite onesie.
"Whoaaa," I said! "You get into that your self, Lil bear?" 
"No... I tried too," Clayton replied in a dull tone.
"Yeah... Christian had to help me," Clayton answered in the same manner.
"What did you struggle with this time." 
"The legs again," 
"He had his arms in first," Christian chuckled as he walked over from the family room. 
"I thought I could do it that way," Clayton replied. 
"It's okay," Christian laughed as he ruffled Clayton's hair and came over to me. "What are you making?" 
"Pigs in a blanket. Should be done in about 20 minutes," I answered as Christian gave me a big hug.
"Oh okay, sounds good... love you. Happy I got to come." 
"Love you too, bud," I replied and kissed the top of his head. 
"I'm thirsty," Clayton spoke.
"I got it," Christian insisted. 
"Thanks.... boys come to the kitchen to get some drinks," I hollered to everyone in the family room. "You can have lemonade, water, or milk." 
"Can I have a Coke?" Ryker asked as he came skipping into the kitchen. 
"You not just hear me?" I laughed. "Lemonade, water, or milk!"
"Umm... Lemonade then." 
"Same," Lincoln stated. 
"Me too," Jacob agreed. 
"Clayton?" I asked.
"Umm... I don't know." 
"Lemonade it is!" 
"Okay, I'll get it!" Clayton stated.
"Oh no, you don't," I chuckled, "Christian is already getting yours. Make 5 glasses of lemonade for everybody, please?" 
"Uh-huh," he replied as he was distracted by his phone. "Adrian says hi and his wishes he was here." 
"Tell em' we said hi back," Lincoln quickly replied as Christian put the phone done and went to the cabinet. 
"I will. Maybe we can FaceTime him later." 
"That'd be cool. Why didn't he come?" 
"He was here last time, and I wanted to spend time with everybody else." 
"Oh, cool," Lincoln said and gave his cousin a hug. "Happy you got to sleepover again." 
"Me too," Christian smiled and embraced Lincoln.
"Alright after Christian pours the lemonade, head back over to the family room and start looking for a movie." I suggested, "My votes for the Martian. It was just released of pay-per-view. We could rent that if you wanted. I heard it's pretty good." 
"Yeah!" Jacob quickly answered.
"Sound good, everybody? 
"Is it scary?" Lincoln inquired. 
"I don't think so, maybe a thriller but nothing crazy." 
"Okay," Lincoln said as Christian was done filling the last cup. He passed them out, and the boys took off to the family room. 
Once the food was ready to be eaten, we decided to eat at the table and then start the movie as we didn't want any distractions. After eating, we piled on to the couch. This time I had Ryker and Jacob to my left as they shared one blanket. Ryker was on his side, laying his head on multiple pillows, so he could see the TV. He was tucked between Jacob and the couch, and I didn't think he would be lasting too long as he looked all bundled up and cozy. Jacob rested his head on my thigh, and I rested my arm on Ryker. Lincoln was in his usual spot to the right of me. On the other couch, Christian was laying down with Clayton as those two shared a blanket. It was so adorable to see the bond between them, as Clayton clearly looked up to him.
With the lights dimmed, we started the movie. As predicted, Ryker was asleep 30 minutes into the film. Jacob's eyes were glued to the screen as this was his type of movie. Lincoln was paying close attention but wanted his legs scratched the majority of the time. On the other couch, Clayton had fallen asleep, but Christian was still holding strong. 
By the end of it, only Christian, Jacob, and I were left awake. Getting everyone upstairs was reasonably easy as Christian carried Clayton and I was responsible for Ryker. We woke Lincoln so he could walk up to his room. In the end, everyone had their own bed as Christian took the spare bedroom. 

Part - 3 

Sunday, everybody was awake around 8:30. I was going to let them sleep in, but with school starting again, I figured it would be best to get wake them up earlier than later. Plus it gave us some time to go for a boat ride before heading over to the cookout. So after breakfast, we went down to the lake and uncovered the boat. 
It was a brisk morning, we weren't gonna be doing any swimming or water sports. Especially with the rain stopping overnight, the water was too cold. It would be another couple of weeks before we could start any real water sports. Although the boys didn't mind, they were just happy to be out in the water, listening to music and dancing around on the boat. 
After the boat ride, the day passed moderately quick. I had everybody showered, and then we were off to Christian's house. The boys were excited because this was their first time coming over, minus Lincoln. Although he never had the chance to look around, as we were in and out for brief moments. 
Once we arrived, I was surprised to see my brother's family there. Usually, on spontaneous and short notice family events, they have trouble making it because of Derrick. He has a set schedule and routine, which makes it hard, as their world typically revolves around him. Although it was nice to see them here and enjoying the beautiful day. However, we were missing two other crucial family groups, so we had multiple FaceTimes going throughout the day to bring them in. Christian had LJ, Ashton, and Jackson on his phone, while I had Lucas on my FaceTime. Unfortunately, my parents couldn't join the fun, as they too were hosting friends for dinner. 
By the end of the cookout, all my boys were exhausted as we left around 8pm. I tried to keep them awake on the car ride home because it was still a bit too early for them to go to bed. I didn't want to risk this being a nap, and then all of them waking up and being energized. So it was a lively conversation as we drove back home. 
Once we reached home, I sent the boys upstairs to get another shower, and one by one put them to bed. Clayton was first, and he was out in a matter of minutes when his head hit the pillow. I went to Ryker's room next, and he was already laying in bed, waiting for a goodnight kiss. After, I went to Jacob's room and tucked him in. Only to finish with Lincoln.
"You have a good spring break, bud?" I asked as I sat down on his bed and ran my fingers through his hair. 
"Good! Maybe next time we can go on a vacation for a week instead." 
"Like where?" 
"Somewhere warm. Like Hawaii or the Bahamas." 
"Seriously? That would be like sooo awesome! We shoulda went this time!" 
"I wish," I chuckled as I laid down on top of the covers. "We had a few things preventing that." 
"Like what?" 
"The big one was Jacob's grandparents," I said, "and I wasn't sure what we were allowed to do in terms of travel. With you and your brothers only being my foster children, I didn't know if we had restrictions. Plus if we wanted to travel out of the United States, we would need passports for everybody." 
"What's a passport?" 
"Umm-hmm... for the United States, it's this little blue book that has a picture and some information about you. It shows other countries that you are a citizen of the USA. For any of us to travel to another country and re-enter the U.S. we need these documents!" 
"Can I get one?" 
"Absolutely, I would love to get you one. I'm just not sure how it works since you aren't technically related to me yet. It's something I will have to check out." 
"Yeah," Lincoln replied as he leaned his head on my chest. "Are-umm... you still want to adopt us?" 
"If I could, I would adopt you boys tomorrow," I answered as I wrapped my arm around him and started rubbing his bareback. 
"In a heartbeat!" 
"I wish we could," Lincoln said as he snuggled against me and wrapped his arm around my chest.
"Me too, bud! I'm going to find out more when I talk to Laura next time." 
"Cool...  so like I get to be a Hamel and take your last name, right?" 
"If you want to." 
"I do!" he quickly answered.
"Good," I chuckled. "Aren't you cold? Your upper body isn't even under the blanket." 
"No," Lincoln giggled. "You're super-duper warm, and I couldn't snuggle with you if I was under the blanket." 
"What's up with you saying super-duper?" I asked as I playfully poked his ribs.
"I don't really know! I just like it!"
"Alright," I chuckled and looked into Lincoln's blue eyes. I loved this boy so much, I was just awestruck that I was so lucky. "Your sure you aren't cold?"
"Yeah! I mean you either gots to get under the blanket with me, or I'm staying like this!" 
"If I get under the covers, you aren't getting rid of me! I'd be snoring in your ears all night!" I joked as I made the sound effect too.
"You're silly," Lincoln laughed. 
"Only sometimes! Now come on, let's get to bed," I said as I started moving his arm from me.
"Nooo... you're so comfortable. Can you please stay a little longer?" 
"Alright, come on. Scoot over," I stated as I lifted up the covers, which exposed Lincoln's nudity. 
"Yes! That was easy!" Lincoln cheered as I got under the covers and laid down on my side.
"Easy?" I laughed. "I'm snoring in your ear all night long now!
 "That's okay! Can you scratch my back?" 
"I can, but you have to try to fall asleep, so no talking!" 
"Alright, roll to your stomach," I suggested to which he followed. 
"Love you, Garret." 
"Love you, bud!" I replied and started towards his upper back. As always, it did the trick, and Lincoln was asleep reasonably quick. I slowly crept out of bed and made my way to my own room where I showered and got ready to fall asleep.

The morning was a rough one, that's for sure. I had to wake them up multiple times before they were downstairs eating breakfast. Rita had even arrived earlier than usual to start cooking pancakes and bacon. However, nothing helped as the boys were zombies. Not only did they have to scarf down their food, but we were also late leaving the house. 
I dropped them off 15 minutes after the doors were shut, so I had to check them in and give an excuse to why. We didn't seem to be the only family that was late, as the line was out of the secretary's door to sign students in. 
Once that was taken care of, I hugged the boys bye and took off back home. It was weird when I arrived because the house was so quiet. Rita agreed, which was sorta depressing. What's even worse was that I was bored, I didn't know what to do without the boys here. Although my boredom was quickly swept away with a knock on my door. Rita was in the laundry room, so I walked over. It was hard to tell who was at the door until I saw a patrol car parked in my driveway. 
"Hi," I said as I opened the front door.
"Mr. Hamel? Correct?" Replied the first officer.
"That would be me." 
"Okay, you know why we are here?" 
"I have a general idea, but I'm assuming to ask me some questions?" 
"That is correct, my name is Officer Benjamin Rawles, and this is my partner' Officer Madison Hall." 
"Pleasure," I returned. "Do I need to come with you or anything?" 
"Oh no, nothing of that," officer Rawles said. "So we have a general idea of your involvement through Rory King. He has documented evidence that shows all sorts of leads and information. However, part of the process is questioning all parties that could have a connection. But look, we know who you are and what you've been doing. It seems to us that you are in it to help your foster children. So I'm not considering you or anyone associated with you responsible. This is more of crossing you off our list type of questioning." 
"Yeah, I understand," I responded. "Would y'all like to come in?" 
"Follow me to my office then," I stated. 
"You have a gorgeous home and a piece of property up here," Officer Hall said. 
"Thank you, I appreciate it. Could I grab anyone a drink soda, water, lemonade?" 
"I think we are good. I don't expect to be here too long," officer Rawles said as we reached my desk. 
"No problem," I answered, and we took a seat. 
"So just general questions here," Officer Rawles began. "Number one, how did you know Thomas and Debra Giradi?" 
"Yeah, so I've only met them twice in person. Well Thomas twice, but I have had numerous conversations with them through lawyers and phone calls. Some backstory would presumably be helpful, so whenever I took in my foster children, it was assumed they all had the same parents. My one son, Jacob, was actually born to a different mother, who died a few days after childbirth. So after getting all the records and documents sent to me, I noticed the birth certificate of Jacob was tampered and altered. I still haven't found out why, but, throughout the process, we found Jacob had his mother's grandparents alive. Child Protective Services reached out and notified them about Jacob. Long story short, we've been going back and forth for his custody rights." 
"Right, we heard that, and it matches what we have in our records as well. What was the need to hire Berry Rodgers and Rory King?"
"Goes back to the beginning, well I guess I should ask, are you familiar with how I became a foster father? I mean like do you know what happened to my boys?" 
"Yes, we... well, I am very familiar with it."
"Okay, good. So you basically already answered that question. I wanted them to investigate Gabriel Murphy. He was the unknown victim or suspect found at the boys' house. He, unfortunately, messed up one of my sons, pretty bad. So I wanted to help my boy as much as I possibly could. I thought some closure or any information would be beneficial to him. Hence why I brought in Berry and Rory, as I needed them to do more investigating since the police closed their investigation rather promptly."
"Yeah, the whole incident was written off as gang violence," officer Hall stated. "It's going to be reopened with a lot of the information Rory and Berry collected." 
"Good, I'm glad. I'm hoping it can shed more light on everything." 
"Hopefully," officer Rawles said. "Alright, how often did you contact the Giradis?" 
"So another good question. I would say I attempted to contact them, either through my legal team or myself about two or threes times a week. Being in the custody battle with them, I wanted to catch them slipping. Okay wait, let me backtrack again! When I first met them, Thomas attempted to bribe me. It was a cash money offer, and they would give their custody rights away-"
"Do you have proof?" 
"No, that's why I wanted to catch them slipping. We were reaching out as often as we could, with an attempt to record the bribe for evidence. If we went to court, It would have been easy for us to prove Thomas and Debra were in it for the money alone. I knew they didn't care about Jacobs well being. But I guess now it doesn't really matter.... you wanna know the sad part? Before meeting them for the first time, I had a slim... just a slim... amount of hope that they would be a positive influence on Jacob. It would have been awesome to have them around and be part of Jacob's life. It just never turned out great. Which sucks, but it's whatever, now." 
"So you have no proof?" 
"My legal team and I were never successful in recording the bribe. Although we do have copies of the conversations if you'd like them." 
"I don't know how much that would help, but it's better than nothing. Who would have these copies?" 
"My legal team. Here, this number is for Jordan O'Grady. She is on my team and will be able to help you out." 
"Thank you." 
"No problem," I said and gave them the piece of paper with her number and name.
"Umm, let me see if I need to ask you anything else... I think we are good for the time being, if we need anything else, we will be in touch." 
"Okay, that was quick. Heck of a way to travel out here for five questions." 
"Always best to do this in person. But Like I said, we aren't considering you responsible. This was more of a... we'll call it a gather intel trip."
"Yeah," I laughed. "Quick question, I haven't heard anything new from Berry or Rory. So any big news or figure out who did it." 
"It's all speculation. It's safe to assume it was a gang attack that killed them; however, we are more concerned with the other evidence that could expand across the U.S." 
"What does that mean?" 
"We can't say much, well honestly, we don't know much either. A lot of information has to be pieced together. Plus if we knew, I couldn't tell you anyway."
"Hmm, alright." I chuckled, "anything else I can help yall with?" 
"I think we are good. Thank you for your time, Mr. Hamel."
"Oh yeah, umm no problem," I said as we stood up and began our way to the front door. "Stay safe out there." 
"We appreciate it, take care." 
"You as well," I said as I closed the door and went to the kitchen. They were only here for about fifteen minutes, so boredom would be quick to set in, but I decided to call Laura after I had a quick snack. 
It didn't take long for her to pick up the phone, "hello?" 
"Hey, how are you doing?" 
"I'm good, thanks for asking though." 
"Good I just wanted to make sure. You seemed... umm I don't know, I guess flustered on the phone." 
"Well, given the circumstance? I think I could be," Laura chuckled.
"I agree," I laughed. "This a good time to talk?" 
"Umm yeah... I was actually going to call you shortly. But this works." 
"You sure?" 
"Yeah I'm just busy, I never had the chance to go to my other case on Friday, so I'm leaving now. Make matters worse, the little boy your sister matched isn't doing good in his home." 
"I thought it was going well?" 
"It was! Extremely well at first, but the foster parents are... I'm trying to think of a good term... skeptical. So, I'll explain, it's more so the boy. He just doesn't communicate too well, which the foster parents knew going into it. They just thought he would open up more, so they are starting to lose hope." 
"Oh, geez, I'm sorry." 
"It's okay, I just need to decide what to do. The foster parents are willing to keep trying, but they feel they are pushing him away. So they have kind of disengaged from the child." 
"Ohh that sucks... what happened with him?" 
"Unfortunately I can't tell you unless I was going to place him with you. I mean... would you be open to it?" 
"Me? Whoa.... umm yeah, look I don't want to come off like I don't care, but I like what we have right now. I've told my sister this before she left, but I don't genuinely want to take another child in. It's not like haven't thought about it either, I mean I've briefly mentioned it to my boys, and they don't necessarily like the idea too." 
"I kinda understand, but It's a shame, Garret. You're pretty damn good at being a foster father. I don't know what it is, by you've got good skills and a strong support network to change a child's life. Look at what you're doing now. Without you, I don't see Lincoln or his brothers in a good place. I'm being honest, what you've done to help the boys move on and better themselves is amazing. I need more foster parents like you, but more importantly, I want you to seriously consider taking another child in."
"I have thought about it," I quickly countered. "I'm able to help my boys so much because I have time for each and every one of them. They all feel like they can share my time equally, and I don't want to ruin anything between us. I mean, I'm not saying I won't think about it, but just don't get your hopes up." 
"What would adding one more child really do?" 
"A lot!"
"In terms of time with the four, you have right now?" 
"I think it would impact them pretty significantly. With a new boy, it would take some time to adjust and build trust. Especially if he doesn't talk much. I mean the more and more he gets tossed around, the worse it gets-"
"That's why I think you'd be the last stop for him." 
"I really don't think I can at the moment. I've only had my four boys for three months. This would really shake things up." 
"I understand, look, worse comes to worst. If I need to place him in a temporary home for a few days, could you at least do that?" 
"I don't know," I replied. "It depends." 
"Okay," Laura spoke with a hint of displeasure. "Moving on to my next question for you. What are your intentions with Lincoln, Ryker, Jacob, and Clayton?"
"Well, first, they are mine, right? No more grandparents or family members?" 
"No more... they are in your custody unless you don't want them." 
"Ehh, you can take them," I joked. 
"Yeah, okay, sure," Laura laughed.
"Pretty sure my family would disown me," I chuckled. "But I intend to adopt all four boys." 
"Usually, adoption takes a long time, even after the six months, but I don't see our particular case taking long at all. No parents or existing family members to slow down the movement, so it should be an easy process. From here, it's just a waiting game. I know it sucks, but we have restrictions and additional background checks we need to do for approval. The good news is we can start the paperwork, and get all done that needs to be accomplished for the adoption process. However, I can't enter everything into our system until the six-month mark. From there, it could take a couple of weeks or six more months, for approval. Usually, when we pre complete our checklist for the adoption process, it doesn't take anywhere near that six-month mark."
"So rough estimate when everything will be complete?" 
"Hard to say, but I'm guessing another four... at most five more months until they are officially your sons." 
"Music to my ears!" I said. "I can't wait to legally be their father. Ya know, to support them for the long run without doubt or worry of them leaving. It just sounds outstanding to me." 
"I'm sure the boys will be excited too. Once again, congratulations. From here, we probably won't have many conversations besides unexpected drop-ins. We still have to make sure everything is going well, which I doubt will be an issue. It's unusual to contact each other so much, but this was an unusual circumstance. I'm glad it's worked out for you and the boys. This is what we wanted in the long run, placing Jacob with the grandparents was never a desire of ours. So we are happy to have you as a foster parent. Like I said, please consider the idea of taking in another child. I need a plan B if this current option fails." 
"I know and I will," I answered. "Just don't expect too much. How old is he?" 
"I'm not supposed to tell you much.... but he is 6. His name is Cooper. I've only ever gotten a few words out of his mouth, but I know he likes to be called Coop. He's a sweetheart, I feel it deep down. He's just been hurt and passed around from home to home. We just need to find him a loving home like yours."
"Well, hopefully, his current foster parents can stick through it and provide that environment. I don't need any new additions." 
"My goal is to keep him there right now, I just need a plan B." 
"I might... at best chance, be Plan Z, but I will think about it." 
"That's all I ask," Laura stated. "Thank you." 
"No problem, but I need to go now." 
"Okay, it's been a pleasure, Garret. Hopefully, we don't have to hear from one another for a little while." 
"I agree," I chuckled. "Thanks for everything you've done." 
"It's part of my job." 
"I know, but thanks." 
"You're welcome, take care," Laura replied and then hung up the phone leaving me to amuse myself. Although, I had one more task on hand, which was trying to locate Lincoln's friend Ezra so I could contact his parents. Without the last name, it was quite challenging to find. It wasn't like I could Facebook search or call Lincoln's old school to find out. I didn't have a house number or anything, so it was quite a failed first attempt. Getting Ezra's last name from Lincoln would be the best route. 
With most of the morning gone, it was time to go pick Clayton. When I arrived to sign him out, something was off. He wasn't his usual happy, outgoing self, although when I asked him what was wrong, he replied that everything was fine. I let it go for the moment, and when we arrived home, he went right to the couch. He was asleep within minutes, so he was either sick or just tired. His forehead was warm, so I let him rest on the sofa. 
Before long, it was time to pick up Lincoln and Jacob to head to therapy. It felt like a while since our last visit, but it was only a week off. I was interested to see how the boys interacted with so much new information. First to enter was Lincoln, which he didn't want me in the room. That was fine by me as it allowed Jacob and me to play a few games on my phone. About an hour later, Jacob went in to talk with Ruth, although they didn't take as long. Once Jacob stepped out, it was my turn to enter. 
"Hey," I said as I sat, "feel like it's been forever since we last met." 
"Tell me about it, I know," Ruth replied as she walked to her desk. "So what's new?" 
"A lot!" 
"So I've been told, first off, congratulations getting custody! That's about all Jacob talked about. This was the most talkative I've ever seen him, it was cute. He kept going on and on about all the fun stuff you guys had planned in the summer, specifically learning to swim and sleepovers." 
"Yeah, I'm excited too," I chuckled, "but I've definitely have seen a change in him. He is showing more and more affection towards me and expressing himself more. Compared to three months ago, I could barely give him a hug, let alone cuddle. It's been a journey so far." 
"That's good, it shows he is beginning to trust you more and more. Although is he opening up more?"
"What do you mean?" 
"About what he went through?" 
"Bits and pieces really. I've had a few discussions, but it's not something we talk about every week." 
"Right," Ruth said as she wrote in her notepad. "Alright, another question. Has he been expressing emotions to you? I know you said he is expressing himself but is it more him talking about what he likes or is it him showing his emotions?" 
"Umm, I would say yes to both of those. Especially since the grandparents were brought into the picture. Multiple times he told me he was scared and whatnot." 
"Okay good, so I think we are making outstanding progress with Jacob. I love that he is expressing emotions with you; however, I still believe it would benefit him to discuss his past more often." 
"That's a tough one though, I want to move past that point in his life." 
"Yes so do I, but I don't want him burying this deep inside him." 
"But I don't want to force him to talk." 
"I don't think you have too. He is becoming more and more comfortable with you, so don't force it. Instead, make it more of a conversational based discussion compared to you peppering him with questions. If he starts crying, comfort and let Jacob know everything is okay, but let him continue talking." 
"Easier said than done," I commented. "I don't like to see them cry." 
"Not many parents do, but you've had the opportunity to dig deeper, but you're scared for him. You don't want to upset or push boundaries. Whenever he is telling you something, it's him opening up, don't be afraid to ask more in-depth conversational questions." 
"Alright," I said as I wasn't too keen on the idea. 
"Any comments?"
"I don't believe so." 
"Moving on, so tell me about Lincoln."
"Well," I said as I shifted my sitting position. "Did he tell you about our incident?" 
"He did." 
"Yeah," I replied as I lowered my head in embarrassment. "Wasn't my most shining moment." 
"No... not really. What happened?" 
"I just lost it. Didn't even know I could yell as harsh and mean as I did. That was the first time it's ever happened. It's not an excuse, but there was a lot of pressure in the room. I was so concerned about Jacob and then have Lincoln consistently asking the same question... I just lost it. You wanna know the sad part? I don't think I was furious at him for asking me questions, but madder at myself because I didn't have answers. It was a loss of control, and it won't happen again."
"Right," Ruth wrote down. "Look, I believe that it was a one-time thing. Lincoln has never said anything negative about you until this event. Trust me, I understand the stresses of life and the impact, but it's not an excuse. If I hear another incident like this, I would be forced to report it to their caseworker. That's not what I want to do, but I would be required." 
"I understand." 
"You need to keep your emotions in check. Lincoln and I spent the majority of our time talking about what happened. It wasn't good, Garret. You know just as well as I do that he came from an environment where he was yelled at for every little thing." 
"I know," I said as I cut her off. "Question." 
"In the future, how would you go about discipline? Say he fails a few tests." 
"That's a completely different scenario from what we were discussing." 
"I know, but don't you believe he will be sensitive to any type of discipline?" 
"Umm... no, not necessarily, but I'm not saying you shouldn't discipline. Although, you can engage and teach him why and what he did wrong, that doesn't involve yelling. Talk it out to correct their actions but also take away privileges like video games and such. If that doesn't work, then use a more severe discipline approach, such as limiting his friends for a week or two. Just don't back away from the punishment you deem reasonable. If you say you're going to do something, then you do it. Kids will take advantage of anything you give them.
"Yeah," I said. 
"But back to the incident. Look I know that you understand that you fucked up. Let's be honest, it was a slip in your judgment that we can't pin on anyone but yourself. I like how you are owning up to it and not making major excuses. Just make this the last time something like that happens. Lincoln looks up to you so much, and it hurt him to see you like that. Usually, kids can push past that type of behavior if it's once or twice, but with Lincoln, you need to be careful." 
"I know... trust me. I've been beating myself up for it," I stated. 
"Well then let's move on... nothing good comes from beating a dead horse." 
"Right, I agree. So how are we looking in terms of the boys' appointments? We still on the same routine here?" 
"So yes, I've meant to talk to you about that. I would like to go a few more weeks with our current schedule. Depending on how everything goes, I could see us cutting Jacob's sessions down to twice a month. For Lincoln, I would still like to see him weekly, but not twice a week. We will address that in a couple of weeks." 
"Alright," I answered. "Anything else?" 
"I believe we are good. See you on Wednesday," Ruth replied.
"Sounds good... oh wait, does Lincoln know you told me what y'all talked about?" 
"He's the one who said I can, or else I wouldn't have," Ruth chuckled.
"Right right, cya soon," I said as I walked to the lobby. "Come on, boys, let's head home!" 
"Can we get ice cream first?" Jacob asked.
"Yeah!" Lincoln agreed.
"Rita should have dinner ready when we get back! So no ice cream this time." 
"Please!" Begged Jacob. 
"Nooo," I chuckled and tousled his hair. 
"Fine," Jacob exhaled with minor disappointment.
With the boys craving some food, we hurried back home. As planned, Rita had dinner on the table when we walked in. Clayton still wasn't himself but insisted that he wasn't sick. Although he barely ate dinner and went back to the couch to lay down while the others finished their food. After supper, it was time for homework. For me, I had my eyes on Ryker to see if I could notice any struggles in his production. I did begin to notice some of the behaviors mentioned by his teacher. The most prominent behavior was his inconsistency to write on the lines given and the misspelling of common words. Although on his math homework, he didn't appear to mix up the numbers, like his teacher pointed out to me. So I was quite lost and thought it would be better to let an expert determine if we had any problems. 
The rest of the night came and went. Rita had left, and the boys were starting their nightly routines. Everybody was getting showered, minus Clayton who still looked under the weather. He wasn't his cheerful self, which concerned me. All Clayton wanted to do was fall asleep. He never complained about a stomach ache or a sore throat, but his forehead still felt warm. The more and more I asked what was wrong, the more he insisted he was okay. I even attempted to pull the no school routine if Clayton told me he wasn't feeling well, but he stayed persistent to his claim of not being sick. Instead, he jumped in his bed and buried himself under the covers. 
Jacob was next, and I received some goodnight cuddles and conversation from him. We went over the newly painted solar system on his ceiling, as it became a new game for us. We'd go through each planet and find a fact on my phone about it. We just recently started it, but Jacob loved the game. He always cuddles up close to lay his head on my chest as we go through new facts. Our game added some time to our nightly routine, but it was worth it. The more and more he opened up, the more I began to understand Jacob. In my eyes, what he was really looking for was for someone he could trust. I couldn't wait to see what more I discovered about his personality. 
After going over our last fact, I kissed Jacob's head and told him goodnight. I was on to my next bedroom, which was Ryker. He was already tucked under the covers and waiting for his goodnight kiss. I visited Lincoln last, and he was already asleep, which surprised me. I guess with school, therapy, and getting back into the swing of things drained him today. Although it was okay for me, I shut off his lamp light and gave his forehand a quick peck before returning to my bedroom to end the night. 

Part - 4

Tuesday, April 12th, 2016.
I woke up with Ryker cuddled against me. I didn't recall waking up when he entered, but I'm assuming he had another nightmare. I tried my best to not wake him yet, as I climbed out of bed to take a morning piss. Afterward, I joined Rita in the kitchen as we went over our day. She would be picking Clayton up from school, that is if he feels well enough to attend. Then they'd be shopping for groceries and house supplies, while I was at my lunch meeting. That started at 11, and I scheduled the meeting to take around 2-3 hours. From there, it was a pretty easy going day until the boys' soccer practice. With Ryker's birthday coming the following weekend, I wanted to discuss having his team come over after their game for his party. I think it would be great fun and really make it a fantastic day. With family and hopefully most of his friends, he would be thrilled. Rita already started working on a menu, but depending on the number of people attending, she would probably need help. Which she's done before with a few friends from her church. 
Anyway, it was time to wake up the boys. This morning went ten times better than yesterday, minus Clayton. He definitely wasn't feeling himself, and I tried one last time to convince him to stay in bed and sleep. However, he didn't want that and stated he wasn't sick. It baffled me because anytime my mom said I could stay home, I took the opportunity in a heartbeat. For Clayton, I guess he liked school and didn't want to stay home. So after everybody was fed and dressed, I dropped them off and went back home to plan for my meeting. 
I hopped on the phone to verify with Keith and Kelly, that we were still on. They both said yes and seemed excited to introduce me to some of the new staff. After calling them, I dialed my parents, siblings, and a few friends to quickly establish they were coming up for Ryker's party. My father and mother intended on coming up next Tuesday and staying for a week. Lucas and company were a yes and planned on leaving Pittsburgh Friday afternoon and heading home on Sunday. Calvin was a maybe, as his girls had plans, but assured me that George could come for the weekend. Kelly, Ashley, and Christian were a yes, but Tom and a Kimberly were a no as they had some trip planned. Todd, Joanne, Max, Dylan and his twin sister Kelsey were a yes. Jordan said she definitely planned on attending, and I even extended an offer to Rory and Berry. Although they both said maybe, I doubt Berry would becoming. He didn't seem like the party type... well at least a child birthday party type. 
After making those calls, it was time for me to get ready. I trimmed my facial hair to a more manageable level and hopped in the shower. I was in there a bit too long and rushed to get dressed in a business casual attire, which was a light green button-up shirt and gray dress pants. My last step was to finish my hair with some gel and a quick comb through. After a quick glance in the mirror, I deemed myself presentable and went to get in the S Class. The meeting place was in town about 45 minutes away, and I wanted to be early anyway. So around 9:45, I started the engine to leave when my phone rang, I quickly glanced at the number and noticed it was the boys' school.
"Hi, Mr. Hamel, this is Brenda Johnston. I am the school nurse at Granite Hill Elementary. I have Clayton here with me, he is laying down. He had an accident a little bit ago, and he needs to be picked up." 
"What type of accident?" 
"He threw up, sir... multiple times actually. Once in his classroom garbage bin and twice in my office bathroom in a bucket. He shouldn't have come to school today." 
"Oh geez... I know, he insisted that nothing was wrong. I gave him the option to stay at home with me, but he didn't want to." 
"Well, he is laying down on one of the beds, ready to be picked up. I think it's a stomach virus or influenza. He is going to need a change of clothes. I would bring everything from undies to shoes." 
"Oh, boy," I answered. "I'll be there in 15 minutes." 
"I'll notify his teachers to send home his work with one of his brothers." 
"Alright," I answered and hung up the phone. I quickly turned off the ignition and went back inside to tell Rita. She offered to go get him, but I didn't want to leave her with that responsibility as it wouldn't be fair to her. I went upstairs and got into more casual clothes and then grabbed a whole outfit for Jacob. On my way back downstairs, I called Kelly and notified her that I wouldn't be able to make it. Being a mother of three and going through similar experiences, she understood. On my behalf, I told Kelly to welcome everybody to the company, and I would be reaching out to each person individually to introduce myself. Although I did feel bad because I wanted to meet my new team members in person and welcome them to the organization. It would have been a vital step to get off on the right track. Anyhow, instead of going in the S Class, I jumped in the SUV. Times like this, I wish I still had the truck, but it's whatever. 
Once I arrived at the school, I quickly signed in, and the secretary walked me to the nurse's office.
"Thank you," I said to the secretary as she led me in the right direction, and I set down Clayton's extra clothes on a chair. "Hi, I'm Garret Hamel. Is Clayton doing okay? Where is he?" 
"In the bathroom, he said he had to throw up again," Brenda stated as I heard him puking from behind the door. "I gave him some over the counter medicine, it should start to work in about 45 minutes. Hopefully, it was in his system long enough to be absorbed.
"Okay, umm do you have a disposable towel or like paper towels?" 
"In the bathroom, on the wall. If you need anything, just holler for me." 
"Alright," I answered as I picked up his extra belongings and walked to the door. I slowly opened it to find his head in a bucket. "Hey, Lil Bear." 
"Garret?" Clayton cried as he had puke all over him. I don't want to describe the scene, but it wasn't pretty. 
"Aww buddy, let's get you cleaned up. We are heading home." 
"I'm-I'm sorry," he replied as he had some tears rolling down his face. 
"Nothing to be sorry about," I answered as I shut the door and walked over to him. 
"I'm all yuck-yucky." 
"I'm not worried about that," I stated as I took away the bucket and carefully emptied it into the toilet. Not sure if that was the proper protocol, but fuck it, I didn't care. "Let's get you out of this shirt." 
"O-okay," Clayton stuttered as he was about to wipe his eyes.
"Oh no, honey. Don't do that, let me. I don't want you touching your eyes, without washing your hands." 
Clayton didn't reply, as he cried some more. The poor boy didn't know what was wrong. 
"Here use this stool to stand on and wash your hands," I suggested, and he stepped up to the sink as I turned the water. This was when I started to clean him up. I wet a towel and wiped his face, arms, and legs. I'm sure the more he undressed, the more I would have to wipe off. "Why didn't you tell me you weren't feeling good?" 
Clayton sniffled, "I... I didn't want you to be-be mad." 
"I would never be mad at you for not feeling well, Clayton." 
"I didn't-didn't wanna be locked downstairs," Clayton cried. 
"When I get sick... I have to stay in the basement." 
"Says who?" 
"Daddy did." 
"Oh," I replied in disbelief. "So he kept you in the basement when you were sick?" 
"Yeah," Clayton nodded. "Mommy said it was so I didn't get other people sick." 
"Where did you sleep?" 
"On the floor." 
"Oh my," I answered as I recalled their basement having cement flooring. "From now on, anytime you get sick, you tell me right away, okay? No more going to the basement, none of that! When you are sick, you get to stay home with Rita or I. You know, cuddle all day, sleep in your own bed or on the couch, and get better. From now on, you have to tell me if you are sick, Okay?" 
"Yeah," Clayton answered as he wiped his eyes. "I think I gotta thr-throw up." 
"Use the bucket again," I said as I handed it to him. "Go over the toilet." 
"Okay," he said as he barely finished speaking before he vomited again. Without getting into much detail, his stomach wasn't digesting the food from the morning. It took him a minute or two to finally speak. "Sorry." 
"Nothing you can do about it, Lil Bear. So nothing to be sorry about, but let's get you out of here. You're gonna need a bath when we get home." 
"Can we use the big tub?" 
"Absolutely," I said as I felt his forehead. He was definitely warm, so I wanted the nurse to take his temperature before we left. "Let's get these stinky clothes off, okay?" 
"Uh-huh," Clayton nodded as I began to untie his shoes. 
"Phew! Stinky feet," I began to joke, trying to make him feel better.
"Nut uh!" 
"Tell that to my nose. Step out, kiddo." 
"Do they really stink?" 
"No, I'm just teasing," I replied as I pulled off his socks. Luckily nothing on his shoes but the tip of his sock did. 
"Good," Clayton said as I was now lifting his shirt off to find some leftover on his stomach. 
"Let's wipe this off too," I quickly stated, but pulled down his khaki shorts first. I placed the dirty clothes in a pile and grabbed a paper towel to wipe off the rest of him. 
"I think I need different underwear," Clayton suggested as I cleaned his tummy,
"Look at these!" I quickly remarked as I pulled out a new pair which put a smile on his face. "Now come on, get out of those dirty ones." 
"Okay," Clayton said and stepped out.
"Alright ready? Now go running through the school! I'll time ya!" I joked. 
"No, silly. You do it!" Clayton giggled, which was the first time I heard his laugh in two days. 
"Come on the camera won't even catch you. They'll just see a little white booty flying around the halls!" 
"I would get in... like trouble, right?" 
"Nahhhh! You'd be fine!" 
"Nut uh," Clayton answered. "And-and I don't want people seeing my thingy."
"Alright alright," I stated as he stepped into his new pair and I pulled them up. "No streaking for you." 
"Next time, right?" 
"Maybe?" I laughed. "Please don't actually do it!" 
"I know," Clayton replied as I pulled a pair up shorts to his waist. 
"I never know with you," I chuckled as I put his shirt on. "Alright buddy, you feeling like you have to throw up again?" 
"No," Clayton replied. 
"Think you can make it home?" 
"I don't know." 
"Well, we will take this bucket, just to be safe. But I want you to go out to the nurse and get your temperature taken." 
"Because I would like to know how if you're running a high fever or not."
"Can't you just do it?"
"I don't have it with me! That's why I said I want the nurse to take it!"
"Noooo," Clayton replied.
"Wait what's wrong, bud?" 
"I don't wanna do that." 
"Get your temperature taken?" 
"It's weird, I don't like it." 
"It's weird?" 
"What's weird about it?" I asked again.
"I don't want her to see my..." Clayton inched closer to my ear and whispered, "My butt and peepee."
"What? Why would- ohhh nevermind... umm, she wouldn't have to see that."
"Yeah-huh," Clayton argued back.
"Did-did your mom or dad have to see your butt to take your temperature at home?" 
"Yeah... daddy did," Clayton answered, "He always took it when I was sick." 
"Oh," I answered, and once again, I was baffled, but I shouldn't have been. "Well, honey, that is an old technique that is only used when you are a newborn baby. The new method is under your tongue, or some places can even scan your forehead. I promise the nurse won't be doing anything around your private area, okay?" 
Clayton didn't reply as he looked at me like I was stupid.
"Come on," I said and took ahold of his hand, and we walked to the door. "I'll show you." 
"No no no," Clayton quickly responded. 
"Buddy be brave, okay? I would never put you in a bad situation and lie about it."
"Fine," Clayton stated as he stood behind me like a shy little boy.
"Excuse me, Miss.  Two questions. Could you take his temperature for me, and do you have plastic bags?" 
"He's at 101.2 right now, I took it before he went to the bathroom." 
"How?" Clayton inquired as he stepped out from behind. 
"This little thing right here," Brenda showed us as she demonstrated it on Clayton. "I run it across your forehead, and it gives me an accurate number. See 101.7 now. I'd monitor his temperature overnight. If it gets above 103, I would take him to the doctors as soon as possible." She said as she pitched the disposable part on the thermometer. "Here are a few bags and a new bucket. Our janitor will sanitize the area after you leave, just make sure you don't leave a mess." 
"Thank you," I stated, "see kiddo! Now come on, let's get you home and in bed!" 
"I think - I think I gotta do it again," Clayton quickly said as he took off for the bathroom to use the bucket. 
"It's gonna be a long night for you, Mr. Hamel. My advice, sleep whenever he does because you won't get much of it if this continues. Light foods are good, he needs to have some food in him. More importantly, make sure he says hydrated. He probably won't want to eat or drink, but if you were gonna focus on one, make sure he's drinking something." 
"Yeah," I acknowledge as I went to the bathroom again. "We will probably be going to the doctors tomorrow anyway." 
"I-I got it on my face again," Clayton claimed. 
"Don't move then, buddy," I responded and hurried to grab a paper towel and wipe him clean. It took a few moments for Clayton to not feel like he was going to puke again, so I went to put all the dirty clothes in the plastic bag. I actually tripled bagged the clothes, because I didn't want anything leaking. 
"Is it gone?" 
"Let me see," I said as he looked in my direction. "Yup." 
"Don't be," I reassured as I emptied the bucket and ran some water in it.
"But I am."
"Hey, it's okay, Lil Bear," I answered as I dumped the bucket one last time and threw the plastic bag in it. I quickly washed my hands and kissed the top of his head. "Let's go home and see if Rita has any secret recipes that make you feel better."
"Okay," Clayton agreed as I picked him up with my one arm. With my free hand, I grabbed the bucket that contained his dirty clothes. With some help from the nurse, she let us into the hallway and made a dash to the car. 
"Garret!" Called out a familiar voice. "Garret!" 
I turned to see Ryker running towards me, "Ryker," called Mr. Green, his teacher.
"Hey buddy," I said as I didn't want to stop moving.
"Hi!" Ryker happily replied and gave me a put hug, which forced me to stop in the hallway. "What's the smell?" 
"Tell you later, you gotta get back in line... Mr. Green, good to see you again." 
"Oh, he was chasing after you," Mr. Green laughed. "Scared me for a moment." 
"Yeah," I chuckled. "He was just saying hi." 
"Well, we've got some gym class to attend. Mr. Hamel, do you have a moment to chat after I drop them off?"
"Unfortunately no. Ryker's little brother isn't feeling too well, and I want to get him back home." 
"What's wrong?" Chimed Ryker. 
"I threw up," Clayton said. 
"Eww! Was it gross?"
"Ryker," I quickly said. 
"I'll just send you an email, you look like you've got a full plate. I'll let you go," Mr. Green spoke. "Come on, Ryker, the rest of the class is waiting." 
"See you later, kiddo, love you," I stated. 
"Love you," Ryker replied and gave me another quick hug. "Feel better Clay!" 
"Go on, have fun," I said as I began rushing for the door again. I was trying to avoid any accident in the car, but with Clayton's track record right now, it wasn't looking too good. 
We were doing fine until we were five minutes out. He started feeling queasy, but he said he could hold it. We pulled into the driveway, and I didn't even enter the garage. As soon as I got him unbuckled from the car seat, it was over, Clayton had puked. Only this time he managed to vomit on himself but also my pants, which were covered now. At least it wasn't in my car, and everything I was wearing was old clothes. 
Clayton was so sad, scared, and apologetic. I felt so bad for him because he didn't honestly know how to stop himself. It's no fun being sick, but I was just happy to have him home. With no chance of me getting back in the SUV until I was clean, I popped the trunk to gather all the dirty stuff. Clayton and I entered the garage where we began to strip. For Clayton, I took him down to his underwear. For myself, I removed my shorts, and I added both our clothes to the dirty bag. 
With that, we entered the kitchen to find Rita waiting to help. She took ahold of Clayton and kept him distracted long enough for me to clean up the mess outside. Yes, I was in my boxers and a shirt, but I doubt anyone could see me. I quickly sprayed off the driveway so nothing would stain, and went back inside. 
With it being 11:00 in the morning, I knew it was going to be a long day. I took Clayton back as we went upstairs to get cleaned. I didn't want him in the bathtub yet, because I wanted to rinse him off in the shower first. Hell, we both needed one, so I jumped in too. 
While we were getting clean, Rita was on her way to the grocery store. She mentioned making chicken noodle soup and something else. I wasn't really paying attention to her since I was dealing with Clayton when I came back inside.  Whatever she is planning, I'm sure would be delicious and easy on the stomach. 
After the shower, Clayton said he wanted to get a bath in the big tub. I was reluctant because it would be a mad and dangerous dash to the bathroom if he needed to throw up again. So I compromised and promised him a bath later if we could try to lay down and watch tv in my room. I was hoping that medicine the nurse had given him was going to kick in. Although I guess I had little faith because I didn't even dress Clayton. After drying him, I just wrapped him in a new towel and put him on my bed to lay down. Additionally, I brought the unused bucket over as a plan B if he wasn't going to make the bathroom. 
I put on a pair of boxers and an old shirt, then climbed into bed too. We got under the covers, and I pulled Clayton next to me. I didn't care that he was sick with something probably contagious. I just wanted him to feel comfortable and start the process to recovery. We turned on a movie, but Clayton wasn't really paying attention. His little body was obviously tired from fighting whatever he had, which drained his energy level. He was out in a matter of minutes as he was on his side in between my body and arm. I rubbed and scratched his back and bum, which just came naturally to me now. There were a few scary moments when I thought he wasn't going to puke again, but it was a burp or two. Knowing it would be a long night, I decided to take the nurse's advice and fall asleep as I cuddled Clayton. 
Our nap lasted an hour before I was awoken by a naked boy climbing over me and rushing to the bathroom. I heard him going through his process and prayed he made it to the toilet. As I got up to check, he thankfully did, and also managed not to get anything on him. Of course, it didn't really matter as it would have been easy to clean up. After making sure he was taken care of and didn't need to go again, I let him go back to my bed, while I went to get his robe. 
When I got back to my room, Clayton was complaining about his tummy hurting. The poor kid was probably this stick before and never really knew how to handle it properly. Thankfully Rita was already downstairs making chicken noodle soup. 
"Hey buddy," I said as I walked over to the bed and combed my fingers through his hair. "Let's head downstairs, okay?" 
"Okay," Clayton replied in a sickly tone as he still had his eyes closed. 
"Come on, we can rest on the couch," I stated and kissed his forehead, which still felt warm. "I got your robe here." 
"Okay," Clayton sniffled but didn't move. 
"Do you just wanna stay up here?" 
"Alright... I'll be back in a moment. I'm heading downstairs to grab you some drinks. Maybe some food too."
"You gonna be alright?" I said as I was still running my hands through his hair. 
"I think so." 
"Holler if you need me. The bucket is right beside you if you can't make it to the bathroom, okay?" 
"Yeah... I'm sorry." 
"It's okay! Be back in a few minutes," I said and made my way to the steps and into the kitchen where Rita was waiting to talk.
"How's he doing?" 
"Worse than this morning I think," I replied. "I don't know, maybe he is just tired. He doesn't even want to come downstairs." 
"Aww, poor Clayton. Anything I can do? The soup is almost done, so I'll bring a bowl upstairs." 
"I Appreciate it. You think you could grab the boys from school?" 
"You want me to take them to soccer practice too?" 
"I completely forgot about soccer practice," I said as I made my way over to the refrigerator. "Clayton's going to throw a fit when he can't go."
"He may not even want to," Rita responded. "What are you looking for?"
"Did-did you get water bottles by chance?" 
"No, I picked up Gatorade instead. It'll help him stay hydrated more, especially if he can't keep anything down." 
"Oh... I never thought of that." 
"Plus it tastes better, so he'll enjoy it more." 
"Hopefully... we don't have any cups with lids, do we?" 
"Like a sippy cup?" 
"Not necessarily that, but like something with a straw and lid." 
"Let me check the pantry," Rita answered as she walked over. "So you never answered me. Do you want me to take the boys to soccer practice?"
"Oh yeah... umm well I'll let you decide. You could stay home with Lincoln and Clayton, or you can take them. I am good with whatever!" 
"I'll take Ryker and Jacob." 
"Awesome, I have one more favor!"
"Found it! Umm... let me wash this out," Rita called as she walked over to the sink to rinse the cup. "What's the favor?"
"With Ryker's party next weekend, could you ask the parents on Ryker's team if they would like to join in." 
"How do I know who's on his team?"
"That's a good point," I laughed. 
"Maybe I should stay here," Rita chuckled. 
"I don't really want to leave you responsible for Clayton. If you get sick, then our whole house shuts down, and I can't afford that to happen," I joked!
"Then what do you want me to do?" 
"Umm, if Todd or Joanne Brumm are there, ask them to help. If not, then I'll take care of it this Saturday." 
"Okay, that works for me," Rita chuckled as she gave me the cup. 
"Thanks," I answered and started pouring the Gatorade in. "I'm taking this upstairs, I will presumably be up there for a bit." 
"No problem, I'll grab the boys from school. The chicken soup should be ready in an hour. I'll bring some up." 
"Alright," I said as I made my way back to my room. Clayton hadn't moved much from when I left. The only difference was he kicked his leg out from under the blanket. I'm assuming he was too hot, which wasn't a good sign since he had nothing on. "Hey Lil Bear, let's sit up for a bit and take a few sips of Gatorade, okay?" 
"Hmm," Clayton moaned. 
"I'll help," I said as I walked over and set the drink on the nightstand. I then grabbed some pillows to prop Clayton up. 
"Garret," Clayton whined as I lifted him to a sitting position. "My tummy still hurts." 
"I know, I know. Rita is almost done with the chicken soup. That may help you out." 
"I'm hot too." 
"I can tell," I answered. "We can take the covers off, but we need to put underwear on then." 
"Nut-uh," Clayton said.
"Alright, let's try to drink some Gatorade," I replied as I sat down with my back against the headboard and reached for the cup. "Here's a straw." 
"Okay," Clayton spoke as he slowly moved his lips to the drink. He took a few gulps before resting his body on me. 
"Hold on, I need to put the drink down, and then we can cuddle," I quickly said as I set the cup on the table.
"Can you rub my tummy?" 
"Sure buddy, you wanna lay in front of me?" 
"Yeah," he moaned.
"Alright," I answered as I shifted down a bit, so I wasn't sitting straight up. I placed a pillow on my stomach and groin to add comfort for Clayton. Once I was ready, I let Clayton roll on to me. He positioned himself in between my legs as he rested his back on my groin and his head on my stomach. "You good?" 
"Try to rest some," I stated as I pulled the covers to below his belly button. I proceeded to basically massage Clayton's chest and stomach with the occasional slip under the blanket to his hairless pubic region. He looked so comfortable as his head leaned to the right. Within minutes he was asleep again, and I dozed off too with my arms resting over him. 
We were both woken up by Rita knocking on the door. She was delivering the soup and some more Gatorade on a food tray. I didn't even know we had one of those in my house. Anyway, she dropped off the food and went back to the kitchen. Clayton and I both sat up with me against the headboard and Clayton against me. I pulled the tray over our laps and let it rest on my legs instead of on Clayton. The last thing I needed was boiling hot soup dumped on his boy bits and my lap. We let the soup cool for a minute before Clayton took his first bite. It smelled so good that I wanted some, but didn't want to risk getting sick. 
He only ate a quarter of the soup before his stomach was telling him no. Before anything could happen, I took that as a sign to move the soup to the nightstand. For us, it was now a waiting game to see if his stomach could keep the food down. 
We had made it 45 minutes without him running off to throw up, but the bucket was calling. We had just finished an episode of Sponge bob when his stomach disagreed with him. At least for the eighth time today, poor little Clayton was kneeling over a bucket in the bathroom. It broke my heart seeing him like this. I wish I could make it all go away, but whatever he is sick with, had to run its course. 
After his latest incident, I had him drink more Gatorade in an attempt to keep it in his system. While he did that, I ran to his room to grab some clothes to wear. It was best to at least slip underwear on him, as a onesie would be too warm. He didn't even gripe, as I was positive all Clayton wanted to do was sleep. We cuddled in bed; however, this time, he was beside me and rolled to lay on his stomach. He drifted off as I rubbed his back. 
Before long, I saw Rita leaving down the driveway to go pick up the boys from school. Once they got home, I left my bedroom to greet the boys. 
"Is Clayton okay?" Ryker quickly asked as he ran and gave me a hug. 
"Yeah, he is just a bit sick." 
"With what?" Lincoln inquired as he set his book bag on the kitchen floor and replaced Ryker's spot. 
"I'm not totally sure. We are going to the doctors tomorrow." 
"Oh," Lincoln said and released our hug. "I got his homework." 
"Thanks," I chuckled and ruffled his hair. 
"We gots soccer, right?" Jacob asked. 
"Yup, Rita is taking you two today." 
"Clayton can't go?" 
"Unfortunately not. I don't want him running around too much." 
"Oh," Jacob said as he sat down at the table. 
"So homework needs to be done before practice boys. Also, Rita made chicken noodle soup for dinner, so grab yourself a bowl." 
"We got plenty here," Rita added. 
"Can I go see Clay first?" Ryker asked
"He is sleeping bud." 
"I just wanna say hi." 
"Alright, I gotta go check to make sure he is still okay anyway." 
"Okay! Anyone coming?" Ryker answered 
"Me," Jacob added as they were heading for the basement door. 
"Boys, Clayton's up in my room," I stated which brought on a weird facial expression from Ryker and Jacob. 
"Why?" Inquired Lincoln. 
"Because it more comfortable for Clayton and I can keep a better eye on him." 
"We always had to go to the basement."
"What?" Rita questioned. 
"I know," I replied and starting walking with Ryker and Jacob. "You don't have to do that anymore." 
"Why would you have to go to the basement?" Rita asked Lincoln. 
"I don't know, that's just-" Lincoln replied as we were at the steps and his voiced faded away. 
"If he is sleeping, no running up and jumping on the bed. Okay?" 
"Yeah," they both answered in unison. Once we made it to the door, I cracked it open to find him sleeping. It was so cute to see them creep alongside the bed just to check on him. They were concerned, and I didn't blame them. With how everything was in their old home, I'm assuming they always had to make sure he was okay. Especially with him being the youngest, the boys all wanted to look out for Clayton. I was surprised Lincoln hadn't come, but he also didn't have soccer to attend.
Once they saw Clayton was good, they went back to the kitchen to do homework and eat. With Rita in charge downstairs, it let me tend to Clayton when he woke. In between the time from the boys getting home and going to practice, Clayton only had one incident. He went right back to sleep as he didn't even notice his brothers getting ready to leave. 
When I saw Rita's car drive away, I heard footsteps racing upstairs, followed by the sound of my door opening. 
"Hey bud," I said to Lincoln.
"Can I come in?" 
"Yeah, sure... what's up?" 
"Just wanted to come up here and see how Clayton was doing." 
"He just fell back asleep about 10 minutes ago." 
"Oh. Can I lay down too?" 
"Umm, I don't know kiddo. I don't need you getting sick too." 
"Oh," Lincoln replied, half disappointedly as he was a quarter of the way to my bed. 
"I mean..." I stated as I looked to the right of me. "Clayton hasn't laid on this side of the bed. He's only crawled over me to run to the bathroom, so you'll be in danger if he has to go." 
"I don't care!" 
"Alright, hop in. I just wouldn't get too close, okay?" 
"Got it," Lincoln answered and climbed under the covers. 
"You finished your homework?" 
"Yeah, well no... I need help with one question." 
"What is it?" 
"My math homework." 
"We will take a look at it later," I said as I fully extended my arm to scratch his head. "So how was school today?" 
"Good," Lincoln answered, and he scooted over to me a bit more. "I was scared when I got called down to the office." 
"Why?" I chuckled.
"I didn't know it was about Clay's homework! I thought I was in trouble or something." 
"That's funny," I laughed. "Although did you do anything to get in trouble?" 
"No... I don't think so!" 
"I'm just messing around," I said. "Although I do have a question for you." 
"When you or your brothers got sick, you had to stay in the basement, right?" 
"That's not normal bud. Where did y'all sleep and were you allowed upstairs at all?" 
"Uhh... the only time we could leave the basement was to use the potty." 
"Hmm," I said. 
"And we slept... well I slept on the floor because the couch had like metal things poking through it."
"Clayton said the same thing." 
"But I think Ryker slept on the couch when he was sick, though." 
"Did you have blankets?" 
"What did you do all day down there?" 
"Umm, nothing really... we didn't really like to tell dad and mom we were sick. Because we didn't want to be stuck there." 
"That's awful bud." 
"Better than being stuck in the basement." 
"No, I mean that you couldn't tell your parents you were sick." 
"It's normal for us." 
"Well, it's not normal to 95% of the population!" I chuckled as I ruffled his hair. "From here on out, if you are sick... tell me! I already told Clayton this, but you won't get stuck in a basement, you get to do what Clayton is doing!"  
"He been sleeping all day?" 
"Just about." 
"Is he gonna be okay?" 
"Yeah, he will. Just need to make sure he is staying hydrated." 
"Well when you throw up as much as he does, your body loses a lot of fluids. So it's important to replace them. It's just like when you're running around and sweating, you need to replace what you've lost." 
"Ohh, okay," Lincoln responded. 
"Yeah," I chuckled. "So I got another question for you." 
"When Frank use to take your temperature, did he do it, you know to your bum?" 
"Yeah," Lincoln quickly answered. "I hated it... I felt so awkward, and it was like super weird. He would come down to the basement, and we would have to like umm... bend over his knee. Frank would pull our pants and undies down to our ankles or sometimes like off completely. I don't know what it was, but he'd put this like cream stuff on the... umm whatever it's called and our butt. Usually, he liked to rub our butt first and then like jam it in. We had to do that like for 5 minutes while he kept rechecking it." 
I just shook my head in displeasure as I couldn't believe it, "That umm... that sounds awful, bud." 
"I know... that's why like no one ever wanted to tell them we were sick." 
"I don't blame you. When was the last time it happened to you?" 
"Like two or three years ago." 
"You haven't been sick in 2 years?" 
"No... I just didn't tell them." 
"Gotcha ya. Who was usually sick the most?" 
"I don't know... Clayton, I guess. Ryker never got sick really, or at least he didn't tell nobody. I don't know about Jacob... he umm he sorta had it done a lot... But I don't think he was sick a lot of the times." 
"Yeah... well that will never happen again. You know... I wish you would have told me this sooner. Especially when I was fixing that cut on your bum." 
"That's different!" Lincoln quickly answered. "I knew you were helping me, and it didn't feel anything like Frank did." 
"Still... I would appreciate knowing something like that." 
"I didn't even think of Frank when you did that. It just felt kinda... I don't know... good, I guess." 
"Well for future reference, if something like that reminds you of Frank... please tell me immediately. I wanna know, okay?" 
"I will," Lincoln responded. "Now, I got a question for you." 
"What's that?" 
"Did Ruth talk to you about what we talked about?" 
"Yeah she did, why?" 
"You're not mad at me?" 
"Absolutely not. I'm happy you discussed it with her-"
"Really?" Lincoln cut me off. 
"Yeah, kiddo! That's why Ruth is here for you. She can talk about what makes you upset or how certain situations make you feel. I was on the verge of telling her myself, so she knew, but you had already mentioned it. You know... every buddy makes mistakes, but how you learn from it is more important." 
"Has she told you anything else?" 
"Nothing that I don't already know. I mean I've been in almost all your therapy sessions," I chuckled. 
"Oh yeah," Lincoln giggled. 
"Ya, goofball! But umm, I do want to apologize again, bud! I shouldn't have yelled at you and thrown a glass. I'm just happy it didn't make contact with that cute face of yours!" I said and playfully pinched his cheek, which made Lincoln blush. 
"It's okay," Lincoln spoke, and he rolled over to me for a hug. "Can I sleep in here tonight?" 
"I don't want you getting sick," I answered as I wrapped my free arm around him and rubbed his back. "Plus I already got a naked boy here, I don't need another one hogging up my bed." 
"Clayton's naked?" Lincoln said as he picked up the cover to peek. "No, he isn't!" 
"I know," I laughed which woke up Clayton.
"Lincoln?" Clayton said.
"Hey Clay." 
"What time is it?" 
"About 7ish... I think," I spoke. "I gotta look at the clock." 
"In the morning?" 
"No, it's still the same day." 
"Oh," Clayton answered as he rubbed his eyes. 
"How ya feeling?" 
"My tummy still hurts," Clayton said and let out a cough. 
"Coughing now too, huh? We are definitely going to the doctors tomorrow," I stated as I ran my hand through his hair.
"You feel like you got to throw up again?" Lincoln inquired.
"Nut-uh," Clayton said as he shook his head and readjusted himself to get comfortable in bed. 
"I think we should try some more soup and get you out of this room for a little," I suggested as he was on the verge of falling asleep.
"Okay," Clayton answered, but you could tell he didn't want to move. 
"Come on, I'll carry you down," I answered, and Lincoln rolled off me so I could pick Clayton up. In one swoop, he was in my arms as I was sitting up from the bed. Lincoln was still rolling to the other side so he could join us in the kitchen. Once I got my footing, we stood up and went downstairs. 
From here, the night was a blur. I tried to feed Clayton, but his stomach was still rejecting food. The good news was his temperature had declined, but his cough was worsening. We didn't spend much time downstairs, as Clayton was sleeping as soon as his stomach let him. 
Once everybody returned from soccer, I was informed Rita decided to stay the night and get the boys ready for bed. I don't know what I would have done without her today, but I was definitely grateful for her. 
Throughout the night, Clayton woke up around four times to rush to the bathroom. After each time he was more and more restless. It was around 3:00 am, and Clayton had finished another round of throwing up. Except for this time we were up until 5:00 am watching movies on the TV. He did manage to fall back asleep, and I wasn't far behind.
To Be Continued...

Author Notes:

Shoutout to FrostBite Seth! Thanks for the collaboration piece, even though we didn't plan on it writing together! It was fun and hopefully we have a chance do it again. For all those unaware of FrostBite Seth, go check out his story "The Robot with Human Hair". He is a newer author, so show him some love! His story can be found one AC Corner Cafe too.

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!

Also a new story was released by a collective group of authors. ACFan, Jeff Fort, and myself bring you "Unbroken". Chapter 1 is available for reading, so go check it out and give us some feedback!

!!!CHECK OUT Imagine Magazine by Comicality. Great person to know and a wonderful idea he has started that is released once a month. Imagine hosts stories, author interviews, cool articles, life tips, and much more that are geared towards the LBGTQ community. I had the opportunity to be interviewed by comicality, which you can check out here --> I am featured in volume 40 addition, and I highly recommend checking out the site!!!
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