My Flock

Chapter 6

As Adam and I chatted for the next few seconds, I don't think either of us realized what an obstacle we were creating in the lobby until one of the bell boys rather pointedly offered to show us or our rooms. When I looked around all of my boy were lined up, side by side, all but facing off with Adam's; between the two groups we were not only blocking the check-in desk, but the majority of the lobby.

After a little prodding everyone followed the two bellhops across the lobby to one of several outside doors. We all let out what seemed like a collective gasp of awe as we looked around the airy, beautifully landscaped quadrangle of sorts, with a large swimming pool in the middle. Rows of glass patio doors opened onto the spacious area from all sides, which we soon found out were the hotel's rooms and suites. Murmurs and whispers like 'Wow', 'Awesome' and 'Unreal' sounded from all the boys. When I glanced back at them both Adam's kids and mine seemed to have completely forgotten about the embarrassment they felt about being paraded in public in their orthodontic appliances, what had to be many, many thousands of dollars in high quality stainless steel reflecting brightly in the sunlight from their agape mouths.

Although I had seem pictures on the internet of the type of suite we would be staying in, I wasn't prepared when we stepped into it. The sitting room, situated in the middle of the suite, looked very comfortable, with two couches and a pair of overstuffed chairs, along with a well equipped home entertainment center, even a small refrigerator and full bathroom. Each of the two bedrooms also had a full bath and sliding door opening onto our patio and the pool, along with comfortable tables and chairs. one of them had two what I was sure were queen sized beds, the other a king.

With the unexpected addition of Bobby and Mike to our group I had been considering renting a couple of roll away beds from the Hotel, but when the boys tried to claim the bedroom with the king size bed, I abandoned that idea. I ignored their complaints and assigned them to the other.

I let the kids explore for a couple of minutes before announcing, "Okay guys, get your clothes put away." I turned to my two wide eyed, stubble headed guests and added, "Jerry and Jeff know what to hang up, they will help you." "No wrinkles," I cautioned the twins.

Bobby obediently picked up his back pack and followed Timmy and the twins into one of the bedrooms. When I looked around Carl was staring motionless out the patio door, and Mike was still scanning the sitting room with saucer wide eyes.

"You like?" I asked as I wrapped my arm around Mike's bony shoulder. He swallowed as his answer, and followed along as pulled him against my side and lead him over to Carl.

"You thinking about Movie Kids again?" asked as I pulled him against me. I reached over his shoulder and tickled his flat tight stomach adding, "Or Poultry cages?"

"Thanks Pop, ah Dad," he giggled as he grabbed my wrist with both of his hands, pulling my hand and arm against his body.

"Just wait, you ain't seen nothing yet," I teased, adding a little extra Texas drawl to my voice. "Go put your clothes away, and we'll try out that there swimming hole!" They both giggled and darted into the bedroom. "That does help!" I snickered a couple of seconds later when a very red faced Carl half crawled, half slunk back into the room and grabbed his and Mike's backpacks.

Well, they seem to be settling in, I told myself a few seconds later when the music from one of their CD's began drifting out of their bedroom.

I had just hung my slacks and shirts and was about to change into a pair of swim trunks when the song playing from the other room ended, and I heard a soft tapping from the sitting room. I couldn't help smiling when I stepped back out of my bedroom and saw Adam's little carrot topped boy tapping on the glass, the platinum blond youngster he had seemed all but glued to earlier in the lobby next to him, nervously glancing around like he was watching out for enemy attackers.

"Hi guys!" I said as I slid the door open. Getting only a bashful look as a response I tried, "Would you like to come in?" It took only a second to realize that didn't work. "I'm Christian, Christian Miller, how are you guys doing?" I tried, offering my hand to them.

They exchanged frightened glances, then the red head said, "Um, ah," but didn't finish his statement.

"Excuse us Sir," the other youngster whimpered. They both darted away from the door so fast I unthinkingly looked down at the patio for skid marks on the concrete.

Yes, life's little adventures, I tittered as I closed the door. Well, I doubt Orlando will be boring! I told myself. I started to go back into my bedroom and finish unpacking, but decided to go tell my boys their new 'friends?' might be looking for them. I was almost to their bedroom door when a reflection from the patio door distracted me. When I our recent visitors were peeking through the glass, I couldn't help but wondering if the sunlight reflecting off the red head's braces and headgear or the other youngster's bright platinum hair caught my attention.

"Hello again!" I began as I slid the door open. I had to take a deep breath to keep from laughing out loud and asked, "Were you guys looking for my boys?" I wanted to say more, but as I looked at their nervous faces that was all I could get out without bursting into laughter.

"Ah, , ," the redhead whined, but looked at the other boy without continuing. The both fired frightened glances to their right then at my shoes.

"We were going to, I mean we are going to go swimming sir, and, , ," the other youngster all but whispered.

I decided to let them off the hook, and didn't wait for them to make any more attempts at civil conversation. "Everyone is in there, unpacking, why don't you go ask them?" I suggested. I wanted to offer them more encouragement, but knew I would break into laughter if I did. "Go on, they won't bite!" I managed as I stepped away from the door.

They exchanged wide eyed glances, then shuffled across the room to the boys' bedroom door. After hesitating a second the redhead pushed his friend through the door, gave me what looked all like a final glance and stepped into the room.

I was about to slide the door closed when I heard a cough, followed by a fairly deep, almost belly chuckle outside. I was about to look outside for its source when Adam stepped into view. "I'm sorry if I put you in a bad position, my boys are grappling with their social identity," he snickered, again offering his hand out to shake.

"Thee and me," I chuckled, gesturing him inside. If you only knew, I silently added.

"Have you ever studied Darwin, and the theory of evolution?" he asked, still chuckling slightly. "My boys have perverted the theory slightly, they sent the weakest, or I should say smallest ahead, if they survive they know it's safe for the rest of them."

Before I could answer I heard a door slide open from the next room. A split second later the chatter level in their bedroom seemed to increase significantly, much of it coming from strange voices.

Adam and I had just sat down when the music stopped and the chatter in the next room lowered to just a couple of muffled whispers. This guy knows kids! I snickered to myself when Carl's pixie little face peered around the corner of the doorsill, then an instant later stumbled into the room. I only caught a glimpse of the thin hand that had shoved him before it disappeared back into the bedroom. Timmy right behind, flashing dirty looks back into the room as he caught his balance.

"Hi Dad," Carl blushed. Both of them flashed nervous grins at us as they slowly shuffled across the room. Carl pushed against my thigh with both legs, gave my hand a longing look that almost seemed to try to levitate it around his waist. He flashed a nervous, but very metallic grin, complete with one of his better sad puppy dog eye expressions. "Ah, do we still get to go swimming, please Dad?" he whined. Timmy flashed me an equally perfect sad expression, his timing and expression something only the twins could have choreographed.

"Hey guys, where are your manners?" I asked. "Adam, this is my youngest son Carl, and our neighbor and family friend Timmy. Boys, please say hello to Mister Owens."

They shot Adam a slightly embarrassed glance as they each raised a hand about to their waist, and gave the man a hint of a wave before locking their eyes back on my face.

"It's a pleasure to meet you. This is my youngest, Johnny," Adam said, pointing at the redhead, "And our friend, or better put, one of my part time sons, Pieter." The carrot top gave me the slightest hint of a grin, and Pieter muttered a soft hello.

"Ah, can we, please Pop, Dad?" Carl whimpered.

I let them stew for a second or so, then began, "Mister Owens and I were just talking about that," I began.

I shot Adam a quick smirk before continuing, "He was just now informing me of a hotel rule I wasn't aware of, that only every other room can use the pool each day, so it doesn't get too crowded. He was trying to remember if it was his day or mine to use the pool when you interrupted us." Both boys faces paled as their mouths fell agape, their eyes bugged so wide I was afraid they might bruise their cheeks on their facebows.

The room fell quiet, but the silence from the boys' bedroom was deafening as Adam snapped his eyes to mine, then quickly looked away. "Yes, , , but I am afraid I do not remember the schedule. Later in the day I will walk down to the lobby and ask, but I'm sure my boys won't mind waiting until tomorrow to swim."

"Whatever, we have all week, you guys won't mind if we don't swim until tomorrow will you?" I asked Carl. His chin, still resting on his chest, quivered slightly as his lower lip began to protrude and his eyes moisten. I started to ask Timmy but he clearly was all but catatonic.

For the next second or so I would have sworn I heat waves, or some form of radiant energy, drift out the bedroom door before Jerry and Jeff stepped into the room; now wearing only gymshorts and their headgears.

Right behind were two lanky boys I had seem with Adam when we checked in, one with hair as golden blond as Carl's, the other with light brown or dark blond hair. They too were only wearing shorts, and each had a towel draped around their neck. The two them took a couple steps into the sitting room then bolted back into my boys' bedroom. Damn, that has to be a world speed record! I thought when the reappeared an instant later in their headgears, now without their towels.

The dirty looks all four boys shot us showed their impatience, wanting to get down to business, as Adam introduced Ronnie and Junior to me.

When I introduced the twins to 'Mister Owens' their eyes flickered between Adam and each other a couple times before they simultaneously answered, "Hi Doctor Owens." The startled looks on the other boys faces told me they had not told the twins about Adam's title.

They obviously surprised Adam too. He shot a quick glance in my direction, started to say something, but chuckled and looked away from everyone.

"DAD!" Jerry screamed.

"You're MEAN!" Jeff chimed in. As Carl and the others gave them shocked looks he hooted, "They're picking on us!"

"Does everyone have their clothes put away?" I snickered. The words no sooner left my mouth than a brief commotion broke loose in the next room.

"Yes sir!" Jerry answered above the clamor of closet doors and dresser drawers slamming.

"I'm sorry I gave away your tease," Adam told me a minute later as we watched our herd of skinny bodies stampeding toward the pool. "But I'd really like to know how those two knew I am a doctor, how they picked up so quickly on our hoax."

"I'd never admit it to the wrong people, they might declare me a wacko and lock me in a rubber room, but they read your mind. If you don't mind me asking, what kind of a doctor are you?" I replied.

"I'm a Psychiatrist." From his grin I would have sworn he intentionally let me suffer for a couple of seconds before continuing, "I'm sure they did, I have a horse that can read human's minds from across the pasture." His grin widened a little as he added, "And a son that is very articulate in Horseonics!"

The boys seemed to hit it off with each other as perfectly as Adam and I did as our afternoon at the pool wore on. Adam and I swam with them for a few minutes and soon I found his boys lining up with mine to climb on my shoulder or be tossed into the water, several times when I hadn't seen a couple of mine for a few minutes I several times looked over to see them impatiently waiting for Adam to do the same thing.

I was completely thrilled to see Bobby seemingly having the time of his life, bouncing around the massive flock of boys like he had known both Adam's boys and mine since he was born. I swam and played with the kids for a half hour or so before my long week, and our long flight caught up with me and I climbed out of the pool, settled back into a nearby deck chair and ordered a beer from one of the waiters.

Johnny, Adam's little carrot top, stole my heart within minutes of us going to the pool. When I first saw him he struck me as a happy, but somewhat frail boy, I wasn't sure but he seemed to have a slight limp even. A little earlier when he peeled his tee-shirt and dove into the pool I felt my heart all but tear apart as I looked at the massive network of scars, spanning from his upper chest to beneath his shorts, it made him look like he had been split open and gutted like a farm animal or such. As he moved around the pool I noticed even more scars on his thin back and shoulder, even on his thigh. He did have a limp, that was very obvious when he climbed out of the pool or onto the diving board, but kept up with the others, and was in the middle of a ten or eleven way tie as far as who was having the best time.

When Adam joined me at pool-side, I'm not sure who was more surprised as we found out we both were adoptive/foster parents. As we chatted for the next few minutes we were both again surprised that we had heard of each other's fostering adventures; I remembered reading newspaper accounts of the two boys that had been shot and buried alive, along with the heroic medical effort it took to save the boy I knew was Johnny. He had seen TV coverage of Mike being kidnaped from my house.

"Please bring us another round," Adam called out to a passing waiter an hour or so later, holding up his beer. "And something for the boys, whatever they want nonalcoholic." he added, pointing to the pool. "Boys, tell the waiter what you want to drink, all of you," he yelled toward the water.

Well, I'm glad they feel like they fit in! I silently snickered as all eleven youngsters waded and swam the pool's side yelling 'Coke', 'Sprite' and such. Seconds later they were all standing on the deck, and I couldn't help wondering if pool water or saliva was dripping from several of their chins as they all stared goggle eyed after the waiter. A couple of minutes later I was sure it was saliva when two waiters, wrestling huge trays, came out of a door and walked toward us, and everyone began licking their lips.

I had just started to clear off the towels and tee-shirts on the table next to me when an ear-piercing scream rang out behind me, immediately followed by a high pitched voice crying "No, No Please!"

When I jerked my head around to see what was wrong, Mike was already about half way to our room, sprinting like the hounds of hell were biting at his heals with Carl and Jerry right behind him. Before they could catch him Mike slammed into the glass patio door so hard I knew he was going to break through it, but he bounced off and began jerking and pounding on the handle with all his force.

Jeff, who bolted toward the room a split second behind the others, only ran for twenty or so feet before he skidded to a stop. He glanced between the boys at the door and the pool for an instant then ran to me. "Give me the key! Jerry wants the key, quick!" he shrieked.

"What's goi, , ," I began as I dug into my rolled up towel and began climbing out of my lounger.

"Give me the key!" Jeff barked. He jerked it out of my hand and darted toward his brothers at full speed.

When I stepped into our suite a second or so behind the boys the four of them were in their bedroom, Mike cowering in a corner, Carl was wrapped into a tight hug with him as the twins rubbed his neck and shoulders. "What's wrong, son? Calm down and tell Pop what's wrong, please?" I tried as I knelt down and cupped his head.

He whimpered and continued to hug Carl for at least a minute, then whined something I couldn't understand between sobs. After a couple more tries he mumbled "Pleas, , , please don't let, , , don't let them take me again, please Pop, Please,"

"No one is going to take you anywhere, I won't let anyone hurt you," I said, getting only a series of sobs as an answer. "Hey, Pop's here, everything is, , ,"

"Bobby! Where's Bobby!" he screamed so loud I was sure they heard him in the lobby. "Please don't let them get Bobby!" I felt a little sorry for Carl as his friend hugged him so tight they youngster let out a whimper of his own.

"Bobby is safe, he is next door in my room waiting for you," Adam's voice answered before I could. He sat down in front of Mike, nudging me to the side slightly and added, "Bobby is okay, I have a school of Silver Tooth Sharks protecting him." He ever so gently brushed his fingers across the boy's bright red cheeks then slid his finger down and lay two of them across the lad's throat. "Just relax, take a couple of slow, deep breaths." he instructed in an all but seducing voice.

"You are his custodian, is that correct?" he whispered to me, his tone no longer the carefree, longhair tourist I had been chatting with all afternoon. Before I could answer an attache case appeared in front of me. When I looked up Ronnie gave us a shy grin then disappeared.

"He's about to, at best hyperventilate, or even lose it, do I have your permission to treat him?" Adam whispered.

As I added my agreement he opened the case, which turned out to be a medical kit with assorted medical instruments in the bottom, and rows upon rows of small medicine bottles lined up on little shelves in the lid.

"Go get a wet wash-towel, cold water." he softly but forcefully told Jerry. He grabbed a small glass vial out of his case, broke it open and sucked the contents into an eyedropper. "Just relax Mike, everything is alright," he whispered, as he slipped the dropper between the youngster's lips and squeezed the bulb. As he did he gently massaged the boy's throat making him swallow. "Wash his face, he'll be okay now," he told Jerry.

"What I gave him is very fast acting, it should take effect within about two minutes," he whispered to me as he leaned back. After we both stood up he softly added, "Not to worry, it's just a mild psycho-tropic, I doubt it will even sedate him."

When I looked back at Mike it was both fast acting and seemed to be working, the lad's color was quickly returning to normal as was his breathing, he seemed to be relaxing somewhat as Jerry washed his face. I felt a little of the tension in my neck relax as also Carl seemed to respond to his friend's recovery.

"Yeah, but what the hell happened, why did he lose it?" I risked. "What happens now?"

Adam, or better put Doctor Owens from his face, ushered me into the sitting room just outside the bedroom door before asking, "Mike, and Bobby, were abducted by members of an Islamic cult, weren't they?" He didn't wait for an answer and asked, "Did you notice our second waiter? The one helping with our drinks? A bearded man, clearly of Arabic decent. I noticed when I saw Bobby's face."

Adam turned back into the bedroom before I could respond. "Feel better?" he asked as he bent toward Mike.

"Where's Bobby? Is he okay?" Mike whimpered.

"Bobby is next door and he is fine," the doctor answered. He slipped his hands under the youngster's arms and lifted him to his feet. "He should be here in a, , ," he stopped in mid-phrase and but his hand to his face. "Pew, you smell like chlorine! You wouldn't want Bobby to see you like that!" His ploy worked perfectly, the young teen's face even showed a small amount of indignation.

Adam paused for an instant, glancing in Jeff's direction. I was more than a little lost, but wondered what was going on an instant later when Jeff exclaimed, "Yes, , , Sir!" and darted out of the suite.

"Why don't you go jump in the shower, I promise Bobby will be here when you get out. Besides, I'm getting hungry, everyone get cleaned up and I'll buy supper!" Mike was still a little shaken and didn't react, but Carl and Jerry picked up on Adam's offer instantly, and quickly manhandled their friend into the bathroom.

"The 'threat' of food always works with mine, I'll see you in a few minutes," Adam chuckled in my direction as he started toward the door.

Still a little leery of being away from Mike for very long, I spent less than a minute in the shower, basically rinsing off and splashing a little soap into my armpits. When I stepped across the suite I relaxed slightly when I heard giggles ring over the running water in the boys' bathroom, and rushed back to my bedroom to dress.

I had just climbed into a pair of slacks and was looking for a comfortable shirt when someone pounding on the glass door, accompanied by several muffled, high pitched screams all but made me jump out of my skin. My panic was short lived as I rushed into the sitting room and looked around. Jeff, Timmy and Bobby were just outside the sliding door, holding towels wrapped around their thin waists closed with one hand as they held their wet shorts in the other and pounded on the door.

"Who locked the fuck'n door!" Jeff yelled through the glass as I reached to open it. "Dad! Someone could have seen us!" he snarled with all the anger his alto voice could as he bolted inside.

I was about to nail him for his language and temper when Timmy pushed past me, now butt naked except for the swim shorts that covered his hand. I bowled over in laughter so hard I'm sure I would have fallen on the carpet if I didn't still have my hand on the doorhandle when I saw Timmy's towel swinging from the door's latch, but somehow recovered enough to toss it after them into their bedroom. Well, things seem to be returning to normal, I snickered as I staggered back to my bedroom, still holding my gut.

Our meal went wonderfully. Adam knew of a seafood restaurant a couple of block from the hotel, within walking distance. Mike seemed to have recovered by the time we left the hotel. I was a little surprised but thrilled that he stuck very close to Adam as we walked, and about half way there tucked himself under Adam's arm. Well, maybe I'll hold off on talking to him about what happened earlier, I decided as the two of them drifted behind the rest of us, seemingly in a serious conversation.

Some things are universal, I thought as all of the boys faces light up when they discovered the eatery's 'All You Can Eat' buffet. That thought was reinforced when I saw the manager's heartbroken look as he watched our eleven little eating machines pillage his steam tables like raiding pirates, but somehow his staff managed to keep a little food out for his other guests, despite the boys repeated plunders.

"I don't know about you, but these room service rates are raping my credit card," Adam told me as we started back to the hotel. I instantly agreed with him as I followed his gaze to what looked like a large convenience store or small grocery store across the street.

The old adage, 'Never Go Grocery Shopping When You're Hungry' rang back into my mind as our young attack squad stripped the store's shelves of everything eatable, but I kept asking myself, How can they be hungry? They just ate two trawler boats of seafood, and half of Idaho's French Fry crop! I cursed myself for not bringing my camcorder to supper with us a few minutes later as I followed behind the two-legged Mule Train back to the hotel, but was proud of both Adam and my boys that they just longingly sniffed at their burden without attacking.

When we returned from to the hotel, my still full belly and our long day made Adam's invitation to join him in the bar for a cocktail an offer I couldn't turn down. After getting enough assurances from the kids they would put our cache of snacks away, then stay in Adam's suite and watch their newly rented DVD's, we sent them on their way.

Although I very rarely drink anything but beer, Adam's offer of a Black Russian, which turned out to be a very strong mixture of Vodka and Kahlua (Coffee Liqueur) sounded too good to turn down. After what ended up to be three, maybe four drinks we ambled our way from the lounge toward our rooms. Neither of us were 'feeling any pain', I was a little proud I could still walk! I started to check on the boys, but the urge to get into a pair of comfortable shorts and tee-shirt was just too strong, and I told my new friend I would join him shortly.

I had already pulled my shirt over my head by the time I reached my bedroom. Something didn't feel quite right, besides the alcohol affecting my balance, as I hopped around the room stripping out of my shoes, but it wasn't until I had climbed into a pair of shorts and turned to my bed, where I had tossed my pants, to retrieve my wallet and keys from my pants that I snapped to what - the room, or at least the bed, appeared to have been pillaged. The quilted bedspread, even the blankets and pillows had been stripped from my wonderfully inviting king size bed, only the linen sheets seemed to be left.

My stomach tightened so much I thought I heard the Rusians inside groan as I scanned the room, but my laptop case and flight case seemed undisturbed, as did my closet. After wrestling to keep my eyes focused enough to get the hotel's built in room safe open I was relieved that the boys custody and medical documents, even the emergency money I had hidden in it were intact.

I grabbed a tee-shirt before rushing back into the sitting room, which seemed undisturbed. My throat tightened when I entered the boys' bedroom, it too had been looted of all of its bedding. What the hell? Did my credit card bounce? I asked myself as I verified their other possessions were undisturbed. I thought back to the way we blocked the lobby when we checked in, and how our flock of kids all but took over the swimming pool earlier in the day. Is the hotel hinting the boys and I go, , ,

"Oh shit, the boys!" I cried out, I guess to the stripped beds. I bolted out of the room toward Adam's next door suite, fighting off a tinge of panic.

I started to pull the door to Adam's suite open, but risked a look in through their partly open drapes. Yeah well, again, some things don't change, state-to-state, family-to-family, I groaned as I looked. A long, thick mat, that had to contain twenty or thirty blankets, quilts, thick bedspreads and pillows had been constructed on the floor of their sitting room. Several boyish heads and headgear straps showed out from the top of the blankets, along with a few more thin bodies laying back on top of the covers, all intently studying the home entertainment center's screen. Well, I can call the lobby, for an 'extra' blanket and pillow, I decided as I tapped on the door.

I couldn't wipe the grin off my face the next morning as I watched the boys eat breakfast, and the little cliques they seemed to be forming. Jerry, Jeff, Junior and Ronnie looked for all the world like they were a separate travel party, claiming their own table and never leaving each other's sides, even when they went for refills. Timmy and Mike seemed equally inseparable, but also looked more like Adam's kids than mine as they followed the man around like a pair of ducklings following their mother hen, even very pointedly claiming seats on each side of Adam when we sat down.

Watching Bobby interact with Pieter played on my heart strings like a harp, it was hard to believe he was the same frightened, distrusting little creature I had all but dragged into my home less than forty-eight hours ago. When the two of them didn't have their arms around each other they were exchanging silly grins and giggles, bubbling like they were on their first date.

At first I felt sorry for little Mark as I watched him follow Carl and Johnny around, he looked for the world like the odd-man-out. From the back, except for their hair color, they looked somewhat like triplets, their lathe, lanky pre-teen bodies all but identical. Mark, the shortest of the three was less than a quarter-inch smallest than Carl, the tallest.

My concern was very short lived. Johnny and Carl sat their trays on each side of mine even before I had time to sit down, but after I settled into my seat and glanced around again Johnny's bright face was smiling at me on one side, Mark was pushing against my other elbow giving me an equally bright silver grin, Carl sitting next to him and grinning more at Mark than me.

"The shuttle leaves in twenty minutes, everyone get your teeth brushed and get ready," Adam announced a few minutes later. I was about to tell mine the same thing, but before I could all of the boys stuffed their mouths with whatever was left on their plates and bolted out of the dinning room.

I couldn't help beaming with pride as Carl, then Jerry and Timmy drifted one by one out of their bedroom, now strapped into their headgears. "Guys, I'm very impressed that you are being so conscientious, but you've been doing great, you can leave those here if you like," I told them.

They glanced at each other for a second, but just shrugged. "Ronnie and them have to wear theirs so we're gonna, if it's okay," Jeff answered for everyone as he stepped into the room.

"That's very considerate of you, I'm very proud of you," I managed to get past the lump in my throat. I considered talking to Adam, but a light show of reflected sunbeams from the patio distracted me before I could say anymore. "Well, let's go meet Mickey!" I hooted.

The younger boys walked at a fairly calm pace for ten feet or so, our two families started toward the lobby, before their eagerness got the better of them and they took off, sprinting toward ahead. Our foursome of fourteen-year-old's managed to maintain all the composure expected of any sophisticated eighth grader for two or three seconds before bolting after their brothers.

"Forgive me for being a boasting parent, but those little guys of mine never cease to amaze me," Adam began as we watched our flocks charge the lobby. "I know how embarrassed they are to wear their orthodontic appliances in public, but when they found out your boys had to, they actually insisted on wearing theirs."

He caught me so far off guard I stumbled slightly. "You didn't? I didn't say they had to, , ," I stammered. "Mine thought yours had to!"

"You didn't?" he exclaimed. "Looks like they outsmarted each other!" he snickered. "What the hell, they need the wear time. I think it's going to be an interesting day, I hope Walt is up to it!"

The kids faces made every one of the many, many dollars I had dumped into our trip worthwhile the instant the bus rounded a curve and Magic Kingdom's skyline came into view. I felt a little like a Biblical Shepherd as Adam and I herded our awestruck youngsters off the bus and into the park, but found myself dazzled as we stepped onto Main Street. Shit, where do we start? I wondered.

I was still looking around, I'm sure goggle-eyed, a minute later when a thin body pushed under my arm and leaned into a hug with me; I didn't looking down but from his size I was sure it was Carl. "Wow, isn't this beautiful?" I whispered as I cupped his thin shoulder.

As soon as I did something didn't feel quiet right, the shoulder I had cuddled God only knows how many thousand times was just slightly thinner than I was used to, and seemed to have a small groove right where my middle finger always squeezed.

I had to blink the tears from my eyes as I looked down at the brightly freckled button nose showing below the red bangs of the little guy tucked against my chest. Without thinking I leaned down and kissed the top of his head.

"You ready to go have some fun?" I asked. I instantly got a three way reward, one of the happiest smiley faces I have ever seen in my life from Johnny as he looked up at me, and a matching pair of hugs from Carl and Mark.

I felt my face flush somewhat when I realized I had kissed another man's kid, and was cuddling another of his until I glanced around. Adam was three or four feet from me with Mike, Bobby, Timmy and Pieter all leaning against him as he draped his arms around them.

As we orientated ourselves I wasn't too pleased with Ronnie, Junior and the twins all but demanding that they be allowed to roam away from the main group, but after learning that Ronnie had his own cell phone, a few nasty glances from Adam, and a few death threats about what would happen if they screwed up, or even if Ronnie's cell didn't work for checkins to Jerry and Jeff, I reluctantly agreed and our four 'upperclassmen' turkeys disappeared into the crowd.

Adam's little clan and mine stayed close to each other as we began exploring. I was completely impressed at all the kids behavior, darting ahead of us, even reserving spots on the different rides and attractions. By the time we were about half way though Adventure Land, or probably right after we watched the Pirate Show I dubbed the three little rats that seemed to swarm back to me every five minutes or so as the Three Musketeers.

"I'm ready for something to drink,!" I told Adam as we watched my Musketeers and his 'Rat Pack' being launched onto what seemed like their hundredth or so ride of the morning.

After he grunted in agreement I began looking around for a snack stand when a series of silver reflections caught my attention. "Well, I know how to find them now!" I chuckled as we watched the older boys break out of the crowd and rush toward us. I tried to filter out the 'Hi Pappa Lunch Ticket!' vibes I got from the twins as they hugged me, but a few minutes and what seemed like a hundred dollars or so of lunch or they flashed a quick smile and disappeared.

Adam's 'Rat Pack' and my 'Musketeers' drifted apart, exploring different areas of Disney's magic as the afternoon wore on. My Musketeers and I were wandering around the sights in Frontier Land when Johnny seemed to trip on something on the walkway. He let out a whimper, but gave me a slight grin and kept walking, but with a now pronounced limp. Mark was at his side a split second later really before I could even react.

Johnny's face showed a little bit of pain, a lot more fatigue as I guided them to a nearby bench. The tears welling in his eyes as he sat down got to me and without thinking about what it might look like to the million or so people watching I scooped him up and perched him in my lap. Mark and Carl pushed against my sides the instant I sat down.

"Are you okay?" I asked, only getting a whimper as a response. "Just relax Son, let me call your dad, he'll know what to do," I told him as I pried my fingers between Carl's body and my hip for my cell phone.

"NO! NO you can't Mister PLEASE don't you can't! He'll ground me!" Johnny cried.

"Your dad's not going to ground you just because you tripped, but he is a Doctor, and he knows , , ," I started to respond.

"Please sir!" Mark cut me off. "Ah, , , well, , , Johnny hurt his leg awhile ago and some it gets sore or stuff is all!" The expression on his face said volumes as he cupped his brother's thigh and kissed Johnny's arm. "If he just rests a little he's gonna be all okay and everything!"

"Yeah Dad, , , Pop, PLEASE!" Carl added more with his hug than his voice, just before he snatched my cell phone from my hand.

A sign advertising Frontier Land's train station caught my attention as I looked away, trying to decide what to do. "That train sounds neat to ride!" I suggested. "I'm getting a little tired too, I bet it would be fun!" I didn't wait for a response, picked Johnny up and, ignoring the painful complaints from my back and shoulders carried him to the depot.

"I'm ready to go back and relax in the hotel's pool for a while, what about you guys?" I asked as our miniature steam engine chugged out of the station. "But, I think we should tell Dad, Doctor Pop, Doctor Owens, don't you?" I suggested, sticking my hand out toward Carl. I got my cell phone and three huge hugs as an answer.

To Be Continued…