My Flock

Chapter 14

The van was unusually quiet as we drove home that afternoon, I couldn't help but wonder what Dad had told the kids, especially Mike and Bobby. When Adam and I returned from his mountain they and my boys had already packed their belongings, even loaded them into the van.

When we said our goodbyes an hour or so after we ate, promising to get back 'soon', Bobby and Mike looked a little lost, but after exchanging a final round of hugs climbed into the vehicle behind Timmy, Carl and the twins, waving and smiling as Dad drove us down Adam's long driveway. I made a few attempts at light conversation, hoping to lead into the talk I knew we had to have, but found out quickly that I was talking to myself, except for an occasional whisper from one boy to another, they did an excellent job of making it very clear silence was the only proper decorum.

As soon as Dad pulled into the driveway everyone bolted out of the van toward the house. "Stop! Get your bags, anything dirty into the laundry room, immediately!" I managed to yell out in time to stop them. They begrudgingly grabbed their luggage and only flashed me a few dirty looks as they disappeared into the bedrooms. After I took a minute to put my clean clothes away I made my way back into the kitchen for a beer.

Well, they're not too upset! I chuckled as I looked over the feast of chips and snacks spread out on the kitchen table, and the sea of food smeared headgears and faces inhaling it.

"Timmy, do you think you should let Mom and Dad know you are home?" I suggested.

His reaction was priceless as his face tightened toward panic and he glanced between the dip laden chip in his hand and the phone, his eyes looking much more like a trapped animal than a young teen.

I had to turn away to keep from laughing when he crammed the huge chip, what should of been two or three bites under his facebow and into his mouth, fired a very pungent 'Stuff it up yours old man' look at me, then gave the phone another death glare. He grumbled something I couldn't understand, but darted over and grabbed our cordless phone out of its wall charger and rushed back to his seat at the table.

He looked at the dial for an instant before dropping the instrument on the table next to him and frantically filled another chip with what looked to be a couple of tablespoons of dip.

The doorbell's chime, immediately followed by the front door bursting open distracted everyone.

"Yeah! Where's the celery?" Tim boomed as he stepped into the room. He grabbed a chip off his son's plate and dredged it through the bowl of dip, then turned and grabbed a beer out of the refrigerator.

"Hi, did you have a good time?" Judy somewhat snarled as she followed behind her husband into the kitchen. "We were waiting to hear from you, that you made it back safely," she added as she kissed Timmy's forehead. Her face all but screamed 'not soon enough'.

Timmy's face melted as he looked up at his mother. "Hi Mom," he whined as he glanced around. He locked on my stare at the cordless for an instant, jerked the phone off the table and added, "I was just gonna call you! See!"

"They were pretty hungry, and parched after our drive, I insisted he get a snack first," I lied. Tim's gagging sounds as he tried to keep from snorting his swallow of beer out of his nose told me he didn't believe either of us, but Judy flashed a smile and hugged her son.

"I'm very proud of you," she said. "But, where is your luggage? Do we need to do laundry tonight?"

The lad's face, instantly melting from his proud grin to desperation told me the answer - like he had done before, he had done as I asked and emptied his luggage along with my boys, forgetting he didn't live here. Mary had been wonderful about washing our clothes and he probably had two or three dirty garments, but I was sure his other clothes were mixed in with my boys.

"Our dirty clothes are all mixed together, like last time," I risked. "Some of them are probably already in the washer, can Timmy come over tomorrow after school and pick up his?" I tried.

Tim's eyes told me he knew I was covering for his son, but I got one of the warmest, most wonderful hugs of my life from Timmy when they left a few minutes later. I silently chuckled, but knew who ruled the roost, as my biker friend glanced back at me, clearly wanting to know what was going on as he followed his wife to their house.

I managed to tell Tim I wanted to talk to him later, but the levity, and quips at my former hell raising, fellow biker's henpecked position I enjoyed snickering about was short lived; when I stepped back into the kitchen I was attacked with a roomful of very serious, no non-since young faces.

"We decided to order out for Pizza, I will do that when we are finished," Dad informed me. His, and the boys' eyes demanded I join them.

"Ah, Dad, you, well you keep saying you're gonna talk to us," Jerry began.

"That we're gonna have a family meeting," his twin injected.

"Yes, I know, and I am sorry it seems like I'm dodging you, but I've had a lot of things on my mind," I answered, getting only the same stares as their only reaction. "Actually, I don't see much point in having a real meeting anymore," made Carl pale, and the twins puff up and fire invisible poison darts out of their eyes at me.

"Unless anyone has changed their mind, I know what your choice is, each of you have made your feelings very, very clear." I scanned the room, including Dad for a second or so. "Has anyone?" drew a tense silence.

"Yes, we are going to move to the country," I announced.

"You're going to accept their offer?" Dad asked, his face as tense as the others.

"I already have, I did earlier this afternoon. All we have to do is work out the time schedule, but yes, we are going to go live next to the Owens, the Roberts and everyone."

The kids reaction was different than I expected, their faces flashed between joy, disbelief and shock as the glanced at each other. Mike and Bobby seemed to have been caught off guard as much as the others, until their eyes met for the second or third time.

"What about us?" Mike whined. Everyone's eyes locked back on me when he asked, "Do we still get to go to that home, or whatever they call it?"

"Not exactly. You are going to move with, , ,"

"No please!" Bobby screamed before I could finish. "I don't wanta, we don't wanta go back, , ,"

"Don't interrupt me son," I cut him off.

"Pop, , , Dad!" Carl growled, his showing an angry, almost threatening expression I had never seen from him before as he joined Bobby and Mike's hug.

"You are moving to the country just like the rest of us. But not into the cottages, I would like you to live with us. I don't know if I can adopt either of you yet, but I would like to raise you like my sons, , , my other sons."

The room was so silent and still I began to wonder if time was standing still. As I looked around the room and the five ashen white faces staring open mouthed at me, I would have sworn that there wasn't a milliliter of blood left in all of their faces combined.

"IF that's what you want," I added. "But if you agree, you are my sons, just like Carl, and Jerry and Jeff, forever and ever."

Carl seemed to be the first to recover, flew across the room and landed in my lap, and a tight hug around my neck. "I love you Dad," he whispered as he planted a kiss on my neck.

I just had time to brace myself before the twins, then Bobby and Mike slammed into a group snuggle. I silently thanked my deceased wife for choosing high quality, strong chairs for the kitchen table, and somehow both my chair and my thighs absorbed all of their weight without buckling.

"We really getta?" Jerry more proclaimed than asked.

"All of us!" Carl hooted as he pushed against Mike.

"We gotta go tell Timmy!" Jeff declared.

Carl, Jerry and Jeff bolted toward the front door. Mike and Bobby rushed behind them, but stopped at the front door and gave me a pleading look.

"Don't be long I'm going to, , ," Dad yelled called out behind them. "Order Pizza. Well, something tells me they won't miss supper," he chuckled.

I walked over and cupped my two new sons under my arms. "Go ahead guys you can go too," I said as I ushered them outside. After flashing me a pair of wide grins they rushed across the street and toward Tim's door.

As I followed them with I'm eyes I saw the twins skidding to a stop on the Tim's front porch, but Carl was standing at the curb of Tim's yard, staring wide eyed down the street. I was surprised and a little amazed too as I followed his gaze and saw a pair of motorcycle policemen slowly riding up our street - Something I couldn't ever remember seeing on my quiet residential street. I was a little awestruck as I looked at their big, spotlessly clean, seemingly new Harley Davidsons. I involuntarily swallowed then tried to convince myself I wasn't drooling.

The officers noticed Carl's interest and straightened their posture, even glancing at each other as if trying to stay in perfect parade formation. I had to chuckle as Carl's face brightened and he waved at the cops. An instant later when both officers took one hand off their handlebars an warmly waved back at the youngster I squinted my eyes and looked away a little as he broke into a huge smile and the bright sunlight reflecting off his braces zapped my eyes.

When I did my eyes bugged, and my stomach bounced off my throat as I watched two of the neighbor kids bolt out of the driveway next to Tim's house, into the street and into path of the big Hogs; both kids bicycles only had their back wheels on the ground, they were clearly caught up in the heat of a 'wheelie' contest.

One of the cops seemed to notice the young riders and made a mistake that made me gasp, he locked his rear brakes and tried to swerve his big ride with just one hand on his handlebars. His big Harley careened to the left, then back to the right as he overcorrected and despite my frantic prayer he sideswiped his partner.

Both of the big machines veered one way, then the other a couple of times before crashing into the curb at the front of Tim's house. I remembered the times I had gone down while riding and felt every one of the pains they did as I watched both of them tumble head over heels and skid to a stop on Tim's concrete driveway. Ouch, I groaned as one of them slammed head-on into the side of Tim's parked truck. Oh shit, not again, I moaned as the incident began to sink in.

I yelled back into the house for Dad to come outside and raced down my yard to see if they were hurt, or if I could help. I was almost across the street when I snapped, and almost stumbled and fell as panic set in - No Carl. He had been right by the curb, about where the big motorcycles had crashed, and now he was nowhere to be seen.

No! Please God, NO! I prayed as I heaved one of the big motorcycles, its engine still running, up to look under it. "Carl! CARL!" I screamed.

"Christian! Christian, Carl is here with me!" Judy called from her front porch. I stared at her for an instant until she reached behind her hip and rather forcible dragged a few thin little fingers and a thin slice of a blond haired forehead from behind her.

Tim, the twins and Timmy were helping the cops to their feet, and Dad was talking to the errant bicycle riders with Bobby and Mike tucked under his arms when I glanced around. I started to rush to be sure Carl was not hurt, but not realizing that I did, turned back and shut off both motorcycle's engines before I did.

After considerable coaxing I managed pry the lad from behind Judy enough to verify he was uninjured. Just as I pulled him into a hug to reassure him the loud shrill of sirens began echoing of the houses on our street and he disappeared behind me, pushing tightly against my back. An instant later I felt a small arm wrap around my hip and his little hand grasp the waistband of my shorts.

Quickly our street filled with police cars, a fire truck and a couple of ambulances, cops running around in every direction. I bit my lip when they began asking if anyone had seen what happened, but waved to one of the officers that I had.

I gave them a slightly abbreviated version of what I had seen, saying that the officers swerved to avoid hitting the two young bicycle riders and lost control, and left out the part of Carl distracting, possibly temporarily blinding them, along with them hot dogging for him. Thankfully all the cops seemed to accept my explanation, I even got a slight grin from one the fallen officers.

A big flatbed truck arrived a minute or so later, and two workers began unceremoniously dragging the downed Hogs onto its bed. Tim joined me as soon as the paramedics began assisting the downed riders as they limped toward one of the ambulances.

"Wow, I hope they are going to be okay," I commented as we watched the two policemen being helped into the back of the ambulance.

"Yeah, I hope those two cops will be too," Tim groaned. When I looked at him I was fairly sure I saw a tear forming in one of his usually expressionless eyes as he stared at the now loaded flatbed truck.

Thankfully Carl seemed to calm a little as the street began to empty, I even managed to slide him from behind me under my arm, but he remained glued to my hip. Oh God, we've been back in town, back in civilization, what two hours? I thought as we started back toward the house. A cop an hour, , , no don't go there, I groaned.

Dad and I had just gotten all the boys back into the house when the twins bolted and ran back outside. Less than a minute later they rushed back inside, both of them wrestling tall stacks of pizza boxes.

Poor kid, I thought a minute later as I watched our pimple-faced delivery boy lean against his faded old truck. He only made it about halfway up my front yard before being attacked by my sharks and raped of the bounty he was bringing us, but when I paid and tipped him he seemed to still have all his fingers, and just a few minor bruises. I wonder why we never get the same delivery boy twice, I snickered as I stepped back inside.

Well, I damn sure remember one thing I didn't miss last week, I groaned the next morning as the incessantly buzzing beast on my night stand disturbed my slumber. Thankfully my aim hadn't gotten too rusty while I was away, and a single crushing blow to its snooze button seemed to slay it. When I rolled back over in my wonderfully comfortable bed a tiny black nose twitched and oinked softly.

"Hi Binki," I mumbled toward the little bunny perched on my pillow. "Where's your buddy? Where's Bandit?" I muttered, still half asleep. My bedcover's soft vibration made me glance across my bed.

"Oh," I chuckled at the only slightly bigger pair of black nostrils, and bright white snout showing out from the top of the blanket, surrounded by pixie little noses, foreheads, turfs of hair and headgear straps. As tired as everyone was when I put them to bed last night I was surprised any of them rolled over in their own beds much less found their way into mine.

Yelp, we're home! I told myself as I reached under the cover across the several soft, thin bodies snugged against me and scratched my puppy's belly. Yeah, we are, I groaned when the horrendous beast on the night stand again attacked.

"Damn, after only a week, I have to build my 'Karate callous' back?" I groaned after delivering a bone crushing thrust to the monster's snooze button. You never even studied Karate! I chuckled as I rubbed my slightly sore hand.

"You two start waking your boys up, you've got a whole flock of them to get up now," I told Binki and Bandit as I scratched their noses. I kissed the three sleeping youngsters I could reach on top of the head and struggled out of bed toward the wonderful aroma of the coffee pot.

The breakfast table seemed unusually quiet, and seemingly a little tense a few minutes later when I joined everyone after dressing for work. At first I wrote back to school jitters, and Bobby and Mike nervous about where Dad was taking them, but I noticed the twins shooting their grandfather dirty looks when he wasn't looking, and Carl's long lasting liver lipped frown.

"Is something wrong? What did I miss?" I risked, not sure I wanted to know the answer.

The twins exchanged glances and seemed to synch for an instant. "Gramps said we gotta go to the dentist today," Jerry groaned.

"I told you, it's just for a checkup, and get your teeth cleaned," Dad said. He handed me my travel cup coffee before adding, "Just your six month checkup, hey at least you don't get your braces tightened or anything at this dentist."

"But, he's the kind that gives shots and stuff," Carl whimpered.

"Yeah, I like the ortho better, well I mean, well, ah," Jeff started, but stammered silent I'm sure realizing what he was saying.

"Dad's got to get to work, but somehow I think you guys will live," I chuckled. I walked around the table giving everyone a hug and kiss, then started out the door. "Hey, isn't there a Mc Donald's, and a Long John Silver's right up the street from that dentist?" I called out before shutting the door.

My first morning back at work began much easier than I could have ever imagined. I spent an hour or so getting back up to steam on a few issues, and dealing with three or four problems that required my personal attention, but the catchup chaos I had expected to spend all day dealing with didn't materialize. I managed to slip away for a minute to have a private chat with our Union Steward and use my cell phone to call our Benefits Manager, and by mid-morning I had answers to all of my concerns.

Here we go, I thought as I stared at my supervisor's office door a few minutes later. Are you really going to do this? Do you have the guts to do this? I asked myself. I took a couple of deep breaths, started to turn back toward my cubicle three or four times, but knocked on her door.

Our discussion, and my announcement went much better than I could have imagined. Her face paled and she stared at me blank faced for several seconds when I announced my retirement, but as I explained the events of last week her face warmed somewhat.

She immediately accepted my suggestion regarding my successor, and a half hour later I was officially on the road to retirement. I would continue working almost full time, with time off for out-processing and such, for the next two weeks while I transferred control to my replacement. After that I would begin using my 'Terminal Leave' (all the vacation and comp time, I had accrued but never used) about forty-five work days, but be on call.

I took an early lunch and met with Dad's investment advisor and signed the documents needed to start both my annuity and Carl's trust working, and had a little trouble containing my excitement as I drove back toward the base.

I had locked the cruise control, cranked up the stereo in my truck and put her on semi-autopilot, and was having a really pleasant discussion with my steering wheel when my cell phone interrupted my little party. Well, what took you so long? I chuckled as I read 'Casey Foundation' on the Caller ID.

"Hi Christian, I just wanted to see if you enjoyed your vacation," Helen Cruz' voice bubbled into my ear. Yeah, sure, I silently quipped, but gave her a warm answer. "I'm going to be in your part of town this afternoon, I was wondering if it would be okay if I dropped by, see how Carl enjoyed his trip?" she asked.

I clinched my jaw slightly. I had been looking forward to a quiet evening with the boys, and a little time to talk to them about everything that was going on, but the thought if her huge breasts and luscious figure made me reconsider; also she was Carl's caseworker, and I knew refusing a caseworker's request for a home visit was not a very intelligent thing to do.

What the hell, I snickered as thought back to the twins star-struck faces every time they saw her. We agreed to meet at my house around four o'clock and rang off.

Shortly after I arrived back on base my cell rang again. "Good afternoon Cindy!" I answered it after checking the caller ID.

"Good afternoon to you Christian," she replied. "I have some paperwork I'd like to get to you, I was wondering if it would be okay of I dropped it off this afternoon. Would, say, four o'clock be a good time?"

I took a deep breath, trying to decide how to deal with the conflict when she continued, "I have to run, I have another call. Carl will be with me, and Junior wanted to say hi to the boys, see you then."

I stared at my cell for a second or so. Adam, Judge Kiley, Tim, who's next? I groaned. No, not Tim, he wouldn't bother to call first. He doesn't bother to wait for us to answer the door! I tittered. Well, I better let Dad know, see if I need to stop at the store for anything.

"Great, and what a coincidence! Bobby, Mike and I went grocery shopping a few minutes ago!" Dad beamed as a reaction. "I'm looking forward to seeing them!"

After I rang off and tucked my phone back into my belt I started toward my cubicle, but stopped after a few steps and stared down at my cell. Coincidence my ass, what are you up to now old man, I groaned - My father considers it rude if two people drop by for Saturday morning coffee without a week's notice.

Although I got off of work a little later than I had hoped, thankfully the only vehicle at my house was Dad's van when I turned onto my street. The boys were in the middle of their after school refrigerator rape, so I said a quick hello to everyone and rushed to my bedroom to change into something comfortable before Cindy and Helen, and whatever else Dad et al had up his sleeve arrived.

"Well, I guess the dentist visit wasn't too painful!" I teased as I walked back into the kitchen and watched Carl and the twins inhale their sandwiches and chips. I gently swatted the back of Timmy's head and opened the refrigerator for a beer when Jerry let out a loud groan, followed by a series of soft giggles from the other boys.

"They did," Dad answered. "Only one problem, Jerry has a cavity. No big deal, but he has to miss school all afternoon tomorrow." caused another groan from Jerry.

Jerry groaning about missing school? I asked myself, but felt a little sorry for the boy as Dad told me he had to take the lad to the Orthodontist to have the braces removed from the tooth that had the cavity, then to the general dentist to get a filling, and finally back to the Orthodontist to have his braces refitted to the tooth, all in the same afternoon.

Jerry withered in his chair a little more when his grandfather added, "We are going to leave him off while he gets his filling, Bobby, Mike and I need to do some more shopping."

"Yeah Pop, come on, you gotta come see!" Mike hooted. He stuffed half a sandwich into his mouth in one bite and jumped up, grabbed my hand and half dragged me out of the kitchen, Bobby right behind pushing me along.

Gee, I wonder who cracked the old man's rock hard shell, I chuckled when Bobby opened Carl's budging full closet, now stuffed with not only Carl's clothes, but what looked like an entirely new wardrobe for two more boys. Ouch, I thought as I noticed four pair of brand new Nikes on the closet floor, knowing they alone were about a hundred dollars a pair. As I scanned the labels on the jeans and shirts the two boys proudly showed me it was very clear they had not spent their day shopping at Walmart or whatever-it-was Dress for Less.

The doorbell's chime, immediately followed by Tim's booming voice distracted us. I knew they were up to something, come on Helen, let's get this over with, I groaned as I guided the boys back down the all to greet our 'guest'.

I accepted a beer from Tim and we chatted for five minutes or so before his cell phone rang. After he answered his face began to melt as he grunted into it a few times.

"I'll tell him," he groaned before ringing off. "Helen can't make it, something came up." he moaned toward Dad. "We, ah she said she'll call you tomorrow." he told me.

I was about to ask him what the two of them were concocting when he glanced longingly at Bobby and Mike. Yeah, that answered that, I thought as I watched his gaze shift to Dad.

The doorbell chimed before I could say anything, and a few seconds later Carl ushered the Roberts' into the kitchen. Junior pushed his way between his parents and gave me a warm hug, complete with a giggle that sounded something like 'Hi Pop!' I returned his cuddle for a second or so before he turned around, still leaning against me.

"Hi Gramps, I mean Mister, , ,"

"Just Gramps, remember?" Dad cut him off. My mouth dropped open so fast it bounced off my chest when Dad extended his arm to the boy, and after Junior rushed over to him gave the boy an affectionate one armed hug.

The twins served Roberts a beer and Cindy a Coke while I introduced Tim, and an instant later all of the kids disappeared down the hall I'm sure to show Junior their bedrooms and secret treasures. All of the adults were following me to the family room when the doorbell chimed again. A split second later it burst open, slamming into the wall and a thin streak of flesh and silver flashed across the entry hall, its gym shoes skidding for traction as it tried to make the turn into the hallway.

"Hi Dad! Hi Pop!" Timmy's high pitched voice echoed from the far end of the hall.

"He knows better than barging into someone's house!" Tim snarled. "Has he ever done that before? I’ll straighten this shit out!" he barked as he started out of the front room.

"I wonder where he learned it?" Dad tittered.

Dad and my snickers told Tim he had lost his edge, and he shuffled back into the room and sank onto the couch a lot more like a whipped puppy than a tough ex-biker.

Cindy had indeed been busy, and presented me with a large stack of paperwork and computer disks for me to go over, ranging from the actual contracts for the medical practices I was going to begin providing computer support for to the admission applications for my boys to enter Cornerstone Academy; somehow I wasn't surprised that there were five applications.

Tim and the Roberts, especially Cindy, hit it off better and more quickly than I would have imagined. It didn't take me long to figure out that they each had their hidden agendas as they chatted - Tim's normally expressionless eyes lit up like happy face computer icons when Cindy and her husband talked about forty or so upcoming placements at the boys' ranch as much as Cindy's face brightened as Tim told them of his position with CPS.

We enjoyed another round of drinks before the Roberts excused themselves, after Carl threatened his son with everything but death to separate Junior from my boys. I had to bite my lip to keep from chuckling out loud when Tim walked them to Cindy's Suburban, but wrote it off and went back inside to help Dad get ready to serve supper.

"Nice people," Tim commented when he came back inside ten minutes later. I nodded and handed him a beer from the refrigerator, but almost dropped it on the floor when he told me, "Thanks, but I have to get home, make some calls." He cast the unopened can in my hand a longing glance and added, "Cindy said they would begin accepting new placements in about two weeks, I want to see several of my workers first thing in the morning."

He was almost out of the kitchen when he stopped and turned back. "Oh, she said the

Director has final approval for new residents, friend!"

The boys flushed down the hall like a covey of Quail when I called them for supper. They gave Dad a starving look when he sent them to wash their hands, but somehow all of them crowded against the sink at once and soon began shoveling mountains of food onto their plates even before they sat down to the table.

It wasn't until after Dad and I made sure everything had been set out and started to sit down I realized something was wrong, the table had only one empty plate-setting for Dad and I to, 'share'. A quick headcount told me we had not set the table wrong. Why is it he keeps reminding me of that OTHER Junior I know,I thought as I watched Timmy attack his overloaded plate. I wonder if he remembers where he actually lives?

Dad and I glanced at each other and shrugged our shoulders. He grabbed a spare chair while I fetched another plate and silverware. We were loading our places a minute later when the phone rang. I called telemarketers in general several vile names, but leaned over and checked the caller ID. Yeah well, I thought.

"Hi Judy," I answered her greeting. Timmy reaction was priceless, he face melted of any expression and he froze motionless, his mouth agape and with a fork full of food an inch or so from his mouth.

"Tim said you were about to eat. Would you tell Timmy to get himself home, he knows better than imposing on people at mealtime. I apologize, when I'm done with him he won't do that again!"

"Oh, well, ah," I answered. "Hold on a second," I asked, stalling a little as I tried to decide what to do.

I scanned the table quickly. Timmy was still frozen in time, even the twins and Carl had slowed their feeding frenzy to picking and nibbling at their food as the stared at me; I'm sure they all realized Timmy's faux pas. What the hell, I decided.

"He's not imposing," I began. "Ah, actually we, we wanted him to join us for supper." I took a breath, not believing I was lying to a fellow parent, but continued, "I'm very sorry, the mixup was on our end. Dad thought I had asked Tim if he may, and I thought Dad had."

She let out a long sigh, audible even over the phone. "Oh, well okay, thanks for inviting him." she pause, then almost groaned, "I'm making lasagna one of his favorites. Well, we're going to eat in about half an hour if he wants to save room for a taste, or I'll keep a bowl out for a snack."

The walls rattled from the boys cheers of thanks and praise the instant I rang up. Timmy and the twins seemed to start to climb out of the chairs, but after looking down at their still half full plates the only hug I got out was a one armed one from Carl who was sitting next to me. I relayed Judy's message to Timmy, or tried, but was sure he didn't hear it over all the caterwauling.

After we finished supper I decided to check my email while the boys loaded the dishwasher and slipped away to my bedroom. I had answered a couple of quick notes when Timmy's voice distracted me.

"Arf, I gotta get home, it's supper time!" he declared. "We're having Lasagna!" he hooted.

"Jerry, Jeff, get back in here, NOW!" my Dad's voice snarled a second later.

And Adam thinks he has a nut farm, ranch whatever, I snickered, and opened my next message.

Life seemed to show at least a little hope of returning to normal as the evening wore on. I was a little surprised when I sent the kids to go do their homework and Mike and Bobby followed Carl and the twins down the hall. A couple of seconds later the two of them shuffled back into the kitchen, set a couple of books on the table and set down. Okay, what now? I wondered when Dad joined them and flipped through the books.

"Some home study workbooks Mary recommended, until we can get them in school," Dad whispered to me a minute later when he stepped away from the table.

"When you have completed your assignments, bring them to my bedroom." he ordered to his young students.

"Yes Gramps!" they chimed in almost as perfect unison as I thought only the twins could.

I followed Dad with my eyes for a second or so as he shuffled down the hall, then felt my jaw drop open when I looked back toward the table, and the pair of youngsters with their noses buried in their books.

After delivering my bedside beast its morning beating the next morning, I was a little shocked that I was alone in my bed, save Binki and Bandit. After I staggered to the coffee pot for my morning caffeine fix I sent Bandit to wake the boys and shuffled into my bedroom to shower and dress for work.

"Well, you guys came back to life!" I teased the flock of kids slurping on orange juice and glaring at whatever Dad had in the oven. "Pop has an early meeting, I have to run," I said as I walked around the table, kissed everyone's head and accepted my travel coffee cup from Dad.

I was almost to my truck when a high pitched 'Pop!' rang from the courtyard. I just had time to turn around before a thin youngster slammed into a hug.

"I love you son, but Pop HAS to get to work, I'm going to be late, okay?" I tried as I rubbed Bobby's bony shoulders and neck. "I love you son, but I have to go!"

"How long do we get to stay here?" he whimpered. "How long, please?"

"How long did I say you can? Remember what I told you, , , Sunday?"

"Well, but," he vibrated into my lower ribs and stomach. He rolled his head up to look at me, still locked in a tight hug, then flashed one of his pencil thin little grins at me. "Well, but, please, it feels so neat and stuff when you say it! Please?" he cried.

I leaned back against my truck, closed my eyes, and pulled his lathe little body into my and hugged him for I don't know how long, trying to regain enough composure to breathe.

"Forever," I managed to whisper. "Until you are all grown and go to college, well until whatever, you're my son!" I mumbled.

We cuddled for several minutes until he whimpered, "I love you Pop,"

"I love you too, Son," I gasp. "But, Dad has to go to work," I softly added as I kissed his forehead, then cheek.

Yeah well, I hope they will dry, but they're probably getting used to it, I groaned as drove away and looked down at the tear stains on my shirt, I'm not sure if the one's Bobby left on my belly, or the one's I had dropped on my collar and chest stood out more. Seven-ten, and a fifteen minute drive to my seven-fifteen meeting, oh well! I told my steering wheel. What, are they going to fire you? it seemed to asked back.

I rode the emotional high of Bobby's beautiful little face through all of the boring meetings and sessions I had that morning. When I was suppose to be listening to a presentation or report I couldn't help drifting away. His face, and trademark little pencil grin as he waved after me when I drove away from the house that morning kept flashing back into my mind. Did his cheeks really dimple, and that much? Were his eyes really that bright? I kept asking myself.

I took an extended lunch get a start on reading and filling out the mountain of paperwork Cindy had left for me, and to stop by and the Benefit Manager's office to sign some retirement forms. Things were quiet when I returned to my cubicle, and I had just started catching up on my email when my cell rang.

What now, I thought as I looked at the caller ID and saw our family Dentist name and number.

"Good afternoon Mister Miller, this is Dorothy with Doctor Pratt's office," a rather tense voice began. "We, Doctor Pratt hates to ask this of you, but we need to ask that you come to our office, to, to identify your son." she continued in a shaky voice.

My head began spinning and I had to grab a my desk to keep from falling out of my chair as I tried not to believe what I was hearing.

Oh God, NO, PLEASE NO! I prayed as her request sank in. I had only heard those words once before in my life, when the police asked me to identify the bloody, disfigured remains of my wife and oldest son. Somehow I managed to force a few deep breaths into my lungs and found the strength to stagger out of my building and to my truck.

I tried to stay somewhere near the base's strict, horribly slow traffic regulations for the first block or so before saying 'screw them' and crammed my truck's accelerator pedal into the floorboard. Somehow I managed to dodge any cops, and only had a few near misses as I busted several red lights and speed warnings and slid unscathed into the dentist's parking lot.

I shuddered, and started to rush over to him when I entered the waiting room and saw Jeff sitting in a chair, his tear stained face staring at the carpet, but told the receptionist who I was.

The receptionist immediately showed me into the doctor's office, then reappeared an instant later with a very pale faced Jeff. Before I could say anything the dentist stepped in.

I had to ask the Dentist to repeat himself before I could believe my ears. 'Jerry' had reported for his appointment on time, had his tooth scrubbed and prepped for his filling as usual. After the doctor administered the Novocain shots to deaden the area he was about to begin drilling, but glanced at 'Jerry's' x-ray one more time before he did. It was then that he noticed the lad in his chair had a filling in a nearby tooth that didn't show up on the x-ray of his patient - As close to identical clones as they twins were, they had not mastered the art of cloning their teeth cavities.

After some prompting and a few threats Jeff began stammering out an explanation, and again I found trouble believing what I was hearing, as well as wondering what perverted fairy tale this whole thing was concocted from.

A couple of weeks ago, before Spring Vacation, Jeff had gotten into some minor trouble with one of his teachers. Somehow he charmed the teacher into not sending him to the school office for formal discipline, and she allowed him to report back to her class after school to write lines or some such thing.

However, he also was suppose to meet with some other students that were working on some kind of science project, one of the few things the twins ever did without each other. He talked Jerry into reporting back to the teacher and write his lines for him; a quick exchange of clothes in the boys restroom and no one at school would be able to tell them apart.

Of course a favor has to be returned, so when Jerry's cavity was discovered he collected what was owed him, and convinced Jeff to take the hit, and get the hated tooth filling.

When I recovered enough to glance around the room the dentist's disbelieving stare and agape mouth was at least as lost as I was sure mine expression was. A muffled giggle and a couple of nurses uniforms disappearing from just outside his office door snapped us back.

"When can I bring Jerry, the REAL Jerry back?" I risked, hoping he would still treat them, or any of us.

The dentist slowly shook his head side to side as his lips tightened, I couldn't tell if he was fighting off a frown or a grin. "Tomorrow," he mumbled. He shot Jeff another glace and started toward the office door. "To, , , tomorrow," he stuttered as he disappeared into his treatment area, still shaking his head.

"Dad, I didn't, we didn't, , ," Jeff began to whimper.

"Get in the truck, BOY," I growled.

I followed Jeff through the waiting room and was about to go outside when the receptionist called me back. "Remember to," she began, but covered her mouth to muffle a snicker. "Remember to stop off and have his orthodontic bracket replaced." she managed with only a couple of stutters.

Why, he's not going to live long enough to need it, as soon as I get him home he's dead meat, I thought, but thanked her.

Thankfully they took him directly into the treatment area when we arrived at the orthodontist's office. I called Dad, just telling him not to pick 'Jerry' up, and my office to check in, and had just begun to plan the twin's execution ritual when he shuffled back into the waiting area.

Yes, oh yes! I grinned as I turned onto our street and saw Dad's van in the driveway. If he's picked up the kids from school, I can begin their torture right away!

Jeff and I were about to go into the house when I heard a car stop in front of the house. "Hi Christian!" Helen bubbled. "Perfect timing!"

Yeah, I groaned, but invited her inside.

Timmy and the rest of my boys were in the kitchen polishing off the last of their after school snack. "Hi guys!" Helen exclaimed. She gave Jeff a quick hug, pulling his pale face against her left chest as she gestured to Jerry. "How are my favorite twins?" she bubbled, rubbing their shoulders.

From their faces I thought the twins had gone catatonic, but they slowly turned and followed her huge breasts with their eyes when she rushed over to Carl.

"And hi to you sweety!" she hooted. She gave him a quick hug and kissed the top of his head, then turned him around and pulled his thin back against her. "My, you've grown! I'm going have to start wearing a bra when I visit you!" she explained as she arched her back slightly and tucked his pixie head under her gigantic breasts.

I felt my jaw drop, Carl burst into an ear to ear grin and turned so red his braces and facebow seemed to tint. When I recovered enough to look over at the twins I was pretty sure their jaws and just bounced off the kitchen floor, and was pretty sure I saw 'Tilt' written in their pupils. Thankfully, a minute or so later, I saw what I felt comfortable was a slight movement in their thin chests, they were at least moving a small amount of air into their lungs.

When I looked back around Helen and Dad were talking to Bobby and Mike, Carl still tucked under his living headdress and grinning like an opossum.

"Why don't you guys go play, let me talk to your dad and gramps," she suggested.

Carl let out a soft whimper, but pulled out from under her and followed the other kids outside, but the twins remained motionless, like a pair of statues frozen in time.

"Why don't you guys go wait for me in your room," I said as I turned them toward the hall. After they stumbled a few steps, I'm sure just reflex as their inner ear tried to control their balance they seemed to be moving on their own.

Just as I turned back toward the kitchen the doorbell chimed, and Tim blitzed in. Cindy, Adam, Judge Kiley? I groaned for the second time in what seemed like the same number of days. Thankfully Dad had a beer set out for me when I joined him and Helen.

"I know Helen wants to talk to you, to us, but what did the twins get into?" Dad asked. "Jeff turned as pale as a ghost when you called a few minutes ago, and Jerry looked like the living dead when you brought him home."

I shook my head and took a long swallow of beer. "Dad, that was Jeff I brought home," I began.

Everyone remained silent for what had to be a full minute after I told them about my afternoon. Dad grunted, then chuckled softly for a second or so. "A chip, well chips off the old block!" he snickered. "Your mother always said you'd pay for all the antics you put us through, , ," he let his chuckling stomach finish his statement.

"What are you going to do?" Helen asked.

"I'm going to kill them!" I proclaimed. "They are BOTH dead meat!" I allowed myself another glance at her cleavage before adding, "They are a little, , , distracted right now; as soon as they, well recover,"

"Of course you are!" Dad countered. "Did you know a fable was written around my son? The next time you think a cat has nine lives, it is based on Christian's childhood, I made detailed plans on killing him, at least nine times, , , A YEAR!" He grabbed another round of beer from the refrigerator and added, "I often wonder if the world would have been better off today if, , ,"

"What did you want to talk about Helen," I cut him off, hoping for some relief. Her cagy grin made me wonder if I should have.

"Well, actually I just need you to sign the contracts to put Mike and Bobby into our program," she answered as she pulled some documents out of her purse.

"And custody applications, so we can go to court, maybe the first of the week." Tim injected. "With your girlfriend, Judge Hellfire, it's a sure thing!"

"Also, here are the applications for them to attend Cornerstone Academy, along with Carl's," Helen continued. "I can't file Jerry's and Jeff's, but Cindy said she gave them to you a couple of days ago."

Cindy said? Helen and Cindy, and Tim working together? I groaned.

"Oh, and here are the files on four boys, they would be perfect placements, Cindy said to give them to you, Mister Director," Tim added, handing me a computer disk. "We will have two more for you tomorrow. But hey dude, if you approve these tonight they get to be at the front of the line!" I clinched my jaw as I watched him open my beer for me.

Wait! I'm winding things down, toward retirement! All I want to do tonight is kill the twins and figure out how to spend my pension, I silently groaned.

I glanced at the latest stack of paper I was stuck with, then the cordless phone hanging in its charger. I know there is phone sex, even virtual escapes, just a call away. I wonder if Diablo takes phone calls?

To Be Continued…