My Carl

Chapter 11 - A HOME ROOST

Once I took off and maneuvered through a couple of mountain passes so we could level out to a steady flight altitude and course I gave Carl the controls. He had learned much more from the flight simulators on our PC than I could have imagined (and was a much faster learner then I gave him credit for). It took him only a few times to get back the feel the actual aircraft's yoke again, but he was watching his instruments and making subtle course and altitude corrections like an experienced pilot.

I started to offer to activate the auto pilot but he was having too good a time, improving with each minute. Far too soon for his tastes it we were approaching our first fuel stop. When ATC directed us to begin our approach he looked over at me, his sad eyes saying he was relinquishing the controls.

"Think you can land her?" I asked.

"No way!" he replied after scanning the instrument panel.

'Yea you can.', 'come on dude!' and 'you can do it!' resounded a pair of identical voices from the rear seat. Before he could answer his twin tutors began asking him where the flaps lever, landing gear control and other controls related to landing an aircraft were. He did an impressive job of identifying them, even relating to the twins the appropriate settings.

"Mooney three two Charlie, turn right to two one zero." ATC cracked over the radio. (Telling us to steer the aircraft to the right until we were traveling on compass bearing 210 degrees)

"You still have the aircraft, but decide right now son." I said. He stared at me and the panel for a second.

"Thirty-two Charlie banking right to two one zero." I said into my microphone, out of time.

I was about to begin the maneuver when I felt my stick move. Carl did a perfect turn, righting the aircraft on exactly the bearing needed. For his first landing he did an excellent job. I actually had control of the aircraft but made so few last minute corrections he probably never felt them in his yoke. He broke a wide smile as our wheels squealed, gently contacting the runway. He was a little confused when ground control began firing instructions regarding what taxiway to take first then next so I took the aircraft back for the slow drive to the fueling depot.

As soon as everyone exited the aircraft the twins and Timmy made a bee line for the restrooms and snack machines. Carl stayed next to me for a few seconds as I supervised having the aircraft serviced before he drifted off. As soon I could get free I found him on the other side of the plane, watching another aircraft land. I noticed his thin arms and hands moving slightly at his sides, his bony hips and back shifting in body language as the craft touched down.

"You did great son, that was an excellent flight." I said, wrapping my arms around his flat little chest, pulling his back against my stomach. "I wish my first landing was that perfect!"

He leaned his head against my chest and grasp my wrists with his little fingers, drawing them more tightly around himself. We stood silent for probably two minutes as he intently watched a small aircraft similar to mine pull onto the runway and take off.

"I love you pop." He whispered as we watched it gracefully soar into the clouds.

"I love you, son, I love you a whole lot." I replied, only able to get slightly more then a whisper out. I enjoyed his cuddle for another minute or so before continuing "Come on, let's go home. And guess, what? I gotta pee!" He let out a soft giggle before we turned and hurried inside the FBO.

I had the aircraft filled with enough fuel for us to get home without another fuel stop and purchased a load of chips and snacks to hold everyone over until we got there (straining my little Mooney's takeoff weight to the max, I could almost picture FAA nailing me for overload because of munchies but oh well). Timmy wanted no part of trying to fly so I let the twins fight it out regarding right seat for the final leg of our sortie, Jeff winning.

I only tripped over Carl twenty or so times as I conducted my pre-flight, his nose and eyes everywhere I was. I was doing my final walk around, Carl still under foot, when I saw several line boys (flight line workers) fifty feet or so down the ramp in orange jump suits.

"Oh shit." I said. Carl looked at the aircraft trying to see what was wrong for a second or so. "Come here quick, boy!" I snapped. His eyes widened, and after taking another quick glance at the plane he rushed to my side. "You stay RIGHT next to me, understand?" I ordered, getting a nod.

"What's wrong, is the plane okay?" He finally risk.

"Down there!" I responded, pointing down the tarmac. "See?" As I had hoped he scanned the area briefly before starting to develop his famous lost look. "God, I hope those orange suits aren't Ski Patrol, but I'm not letting you anywhere near anything that flies until I know for sure!"

He stared down the ramp for a second, then back at me then over to the aircraft before looking back down the ramp. From my grip on his arms I could feel the vibration of gears grinding in his brain for several seconds.

"You're MEAN!" he shrieked, jerking out of my grasp. Instantly he was racing down the concrete roaring like a jet engine, his arms out to his sides like wings on an attacking fighter jet. After several tries I was able to call him back before anyone noticed him (and the FAA and FBI appeared!). He turned and charged toward me, his imaginary jet engine at full throttle.

He was about to cut off to the side when I stepped forward and grabbed him around the waist, throwing him over my shoulder. I carried all eighty pounds of my squirming giggle box back the aircraft dropping him on the wing like a sack of potatoes. The other kids look at us like we were completely nuts as I tickled him for several seconds before letting him up.

 Jeff flew the final leg without flaw. The only time I had any involvement was, after he activated the autopilot, I monitored the instruments when he stuffed down twenty or so pounds of snacks. Right after I called Dad to let him know we were almost home I snickered under my breath at ATC, which when handing him over to Approach Control, called him ma'am.

"Have a good flight MA'AM!" Carl's angelic voice mimicked from the rear seat giggling loudly.

"I'm gonna kick your f***'n ass!" Jeff growled. His face turned so red I almost could see the color reflect off his facebow before he continued. "Sorry dad! I didn't mean to say that!"

"Land the aircraft." I ordered. "When we get on the ground we might have to talk about who's ass is going to be sore." I continued, getting several more apologies as he maneuvered the plane.

 The kids bailed out of the van like it was on fire as soon as I pulled into the driveway. The next five minutes or so were complete chaos as Bandit and Binki attacked everyone trying to catch up on snuggles and loving, along with gramps getting besieged with hugs. I didn't even consider suggesting we unload the van.

After my turn with the pets I opened the refrigerator to retrieve a beer and was surprised to see several trays of hors d'oeuvre and treats inside.

"Oh, Tim and Judy are making us supper, I think as thanks for taking Timmy." Dad said, seeing my stare into the box. "Oh also, call your boss, she said nothing urgent, and not to tell you until you were home, no rush."

Finally I managed to herd the boys back outside to empty the van. Threatening to padlock the refrigerator for a month I coerced them into emptying their luggage and delivering the several tons of dirty clothes I knew was ahead of me to the garage before doing anything else, suggesting a quick shower. I had just stuffed the dirty ski wear there when the doorbell rang. As I expected the door burst open before I could move.

"Hey dude, you didn't freeze!" Tim exclaimed, Judy coming in right behind him. "Where's mine?" He asked pointing at my beer. He didn't wait for an answer, grabbing one out of the refrigerator. He asked several questions about our flight and such.

"Is Timmy here?" Judy interrupted, her face a little drawn. "I expected he would have come right home, is, , ,"

"He's in the boys' room. I think he's helping them unpack, I'll go get him." I interrupted.

Timmy was just getting out of the shower, he came into the twin's bedroom right behind me, holding a towel around his thin waist. I told him his parents were here expecting to see him, that mama was a little worried.

"Oh yeah, I forgot!"

He forgot where he lived, he forgot mom and dad might want to see him for the first time in almost a week? I asked myself. I almost hated to, but inquired where his dirty clothes were; of course he had emptied his suitcase into the huge pile in the middle of the room, as I had directed. 'Ah, to be young and stupid again' I told myself.

"No, son, you didn't forget to go tell your parents you were back, did you!" I began, pulling him next to me. Ignoring his blush I continued "You felt REALLY clammy and grimy from our flight, and wanted to clean up before they saw you, DIDN'T YOU? Oh, and all our dirty clothes got mixed together, DIDN'T THEY!"

"Oh, yea, that's right!" he responded, grinning. "Thanks pop!" he hooted, throwing his arms around my neck.

"Get dressed before you mama comes unglued and kills all of us, okay?" I suggested, popping him on the butt.

 Judy had set a couple of snack trays on the patio table when I returned to the kitchen, everyone now outside watching Tim light the barbeque pit. None to my surprise one of my ice chests was also set out, full of beer and soft drinks.

I saw Timmy and Carl go past the patio door hauling baskets of clothes, and soon they joined us outside. Timmy played his part perfectly. After repeated hugs and kisses from mom and dad he responded to Judy's questions stating he was 'all smelly and stuff'. His sliver smile beamed like a new penny as mom praised him for being so considered and mature, giving me several appreciative glances as he began answering questions about his trip.

Soon the twins appeared, immediately noticing the snack trays and swooping in like vultures. Timmy and Carl quickly joined them. Timmy took a little teasing from mom about being able to eat with his headgear on, about how he had said he couldn't eat in it, but just looked a little resigned.

Carl sampled most of the different meat and cracker/bread hors d'oeuvres before looking holding one up.

"Yum, this is good!" he comment. "What are these?" Judy looked at the treat.

"That is liverwurst."

"Liver?" He asked, his voice raising a full octave. "Worst liver?"

"Yes dear, its liver sausage." she replied. "Wurst is German for sausage, liverwurst is sausage made from liver.

"Oh" he whimpered, gently setting the offending snack back on the tray, almost as if it would explode if handled too harshly. He took a long swallow of soda as if flushing his mouth before looking around the tray again.

"What are these?" He asked, pointing at another without touching it.

"That's chicken salad." Judy answered, snickering.

"Oh!" he responded, thrusting one in his mouth as if he hadn't eaten in weeks. I watched him inhale three or so identical treats before picking one up and popping it into my mouth.

"Are you sure this is chicken salad?" I asked. "It tastes more like chicken liver to me!" I waited as his face turned pale, then began to develop a green tint before assuring him it was chicken salad. After a few reassurances we got him to enjoy some of the snacks before supper, but he spent a lot of time by the chip bowl until we ate.

I got a late Christmas gift of sorts when I called my boss. She informed me that after receiving Bob Gordon's e-mail earlier in the week the three star general that commands the installation where I work asked a few questions, learning a little of what had happened. He has ordered me to take 'administrative leave' (paid leave without touching my vacation leave time) at least until school restarts, up to thirty days if I needed. His way of saying thanks, she suggested.

After supper it didn't take long to get the kids in bed, by eight o'clock everyone far away in dreamland. I finally got around to checking my e-mail after tucking them in, and I began to wonder if the Casey Foundation and the good General and plotted against me. I had an two messages, from Helen and one from Sandra.

Helen had scheduled several appointments for Carl, starting right after the New Year. Tuesday he visited his shrink, then off to an Orthodontic examination ending the day with an eye exam (with an MD type, not Eyemasters or such). She as usual had done her homework and scheduled this with our Orthodontist, which was a relief to me. Wednesday's first stop were for a hearing test then an academic skills evaluation with a private learning center Casey contracted with.

'Yeah, well, I guess we get to spend some time together.' I told myself, deciding to take him to the appointments. Helen had her cell phone on and I told her I would take him to all of them.

Sandra had forwarded a note from Mike, also suggesting I set up a Yahoo account for Carl and Mike to write directly. She said his parents had no objection if I didn't, provided both boys agree not to reveal addresses or locations. I wrote her back saying I would accomplish this, as well as informing of the shirt Carl had purchased, asking how I could get it to her.

 The boys were still dead to the world when I woke up, I'm not sure an earth quake would have awoken them. My brain started to come to life after my second cup of coffee, and I crawled out to the garage to start another load of the laundry left over from the trip. Binki, Bandit and I settled into my recliner, just enjoying each others company, as I scanned at the newspaper not really looking at the words printed on it.

My stomach and my legs were in the middle of a heated argument about getting another cup of coffee when I heard feet coming down the hall. Soon I could hear the patio, then garage doors open and close before the footsteps faded back down the hall. Shortly the steps returned seemingly going back into the kitchen.

Binki alerted me of another presence in the family room just before I felt a small hand touch my shoulder, and almost immediately I had a bony set of hips climbing next to me in the recliner.

"I couldn't find you!" Carl whined, wrapping his arms around my neck and kissing my cheek.

"I got kidnapped by these evil animals." I realized how poor my choice of words were almost immediately, as Carl stiffened. After a few seconds he relaxed slightly burying his face under my chin.

"Well I guess I should have said Bunny-napped!" I teased. As if on cue Binki hopped onto my chest pushing his head against Carl's chest.

"Now you've done it!" I exclaimed. When Carl whispered something about what he had done I rubbed his bare little back and responded "He got you too! Now we're both bunny- napped!" As if agreeing Binki oinked. Carl hugged me again with one arm as he petted Binki with the other for a second or so, giggling softly into my neck.

"Yea well," He whispered. "Just so we don't gotta eat carrots and stuff!"

I enjoyed his snuggle for several minutes before the ever expanding caffeine withdrawal knot in my stomach interceded, demanding a fix. I reached down and stroked his flat, bare tummy a few times before commenting.

"Hey, that feels pretty empty to me, maybe we better get something inside it!" Pausing I asked "How about a great big glass of carrot juice!"

Ignoring his glare I lowered the recliner and scooped him up as I stood, ignoring the protests of my travel weary bones. I carried him into the kitchen perching him on the counter while I poured a fresh cup of coffee and asked what he was hungry for. After I explained that everyone was going to sleep in and get what they wanted to eat as they got up he chose to have rolls and fruit.

I told him he had a letter from Mike along with Sandra's recommendation regarding e- mail as he ate. He was totally excited with the idea, I even had to snap at him to finish eating before we set up his account. Soon after reviewing the 'rules' about having his own e-mail account he was pecking away replying to Mike's letter. I declined his offer to 'check' his letter, reminding him not to give any addresses or such before I helped him send it. I excused myself to start another load of clothes as he began to surf the net.

When I returned from the garage he had abandoned the computer. I went down the hall to check on the twins, still sound asleep, and heard Carl moving around in his room. I had crawled back into my recliner and turned on the TV when I heard some grunting noises in the hall. Shortly Dad came into the family room, asking what all the 'construction' was all about. We both shrugged our shoulders and sat down for a few minutes.

I went into the garage to move clothes into the dryer and noticed a stack of boxes by the door, about where we had put all the Christmas gift wrap and trash after we opened our gifts. After looking them over I went to Carl's room. I started to knock but instead quietly opened the door slightly, peeking in on him. Several more boxes from his unused Christmas gifts were scattered on the floor. He was sitting at his study desk arranging it around the new CD player the twins had chosen as his other gift from my co-workers. Glancing around the room I saw all his other gifts he had stuffed in his closet, still in their containers, now laid about the room.

"Knock, knock!" I announced, entering the room. "What ya' doing?" He blushed slightly as he turned toward me.

"Ah, I was just getting some stuff out is all sir." He almost stammered, clearly embarrassed. Blushing he asked "Well, is it okay sir? I mean can I still keep it?"

"Well, its yours" I replied, sitting on his bed. "Why do you think you couldn't?" He just shrugged, staring at his shoes. I tapped on the bed next to me, and after some hesitation he sat down next to me. "Presents are forever, right? The only requirement about any of the gifts anyone gave you is that you enjoy them."

"Well, but I didn't give a lot of people anything." he mumbled.

"Yes, you did! You gave all of something very, very special!" I paused as he looked at me curiously. "I got a new son for Christmas, I can't think of anything more special!" He pushed tightly against me for a minute or two before smiling shyly. "Come on, get all your stuff put up!"

 The twins finally woke up at lunch time, attacking the refrigerator before they even dressed. Shortly all the boys were out the door, off to play and share their Colorado adventures with the neighbor kids. To my surprise they were back in about ten minutes, asking if they could go to the mall, then a movie with Timmy and Judy. Judy called just as I agreed, saying they would probably be gone most of the afternoon. Realizing I would soon have company I made sure there was plenty of beer in the refrigerator before doing anything else.

I was reading on the patio when my cell phone rang. It was Sandra, stating that the Snyder's would like to contact me. She was sure they just wanted to thank us for our efforts, but couldn't release any information without my consent. At her suggestion I told her to give them my home e-mail address, that I would be glad to hear from them.

I was briefly filling her in on Carl's progress when something cold landed on my neck. I jerked away and before I could turn around I heard Tim's laugh as he stuck a beer can in front of me. Explaining to Sandra what had happened she laughed and said to tell him hi before ringing off.

"He's a great kid, we had him in our custody while we located and cleared the parents." Tim commented after I filled him in on the conversation. "How would you feel about meeting them, letting the boys see each other again?"

I replied I wasn't sure, that I didn't want to bring back to the surface memories that might hurt either of them.

"He's all yours now, its your call dude," Tim replied. "But think about it, it would probably be good for them to see for themselves that the other is safe and happy again."

I considered Tim's suggestion somewhat as we talked for the next hour or so. We had moved to the family room to check on the progress of some football games on TV when I noticed the 'New Mail' icon on the computer. Carl had a note from Mike, and I had one from his parents.

After thanking me for our help in recovering their son and saying how wonderful it was to have him back, they asked if I would consider allowing the boys to talk together on the phone. They, along with the shrink Mike was now seeing, felt about like Tim, that it would be beneficial for the boys to talk to each other, giving me their home phone number along with their address.

I considered their and Tim's suggestions for a few minutes before writing them back. I told them I would want to feel Carl out a little about such a conversation before deciding, assuring them I would let them know later today or tomorrow morning.

As I expected Carl was enthralled about getting to talk to Mike, I thought I might have to hide the telephones to keep him from calling right them. After explaining a couple of different ways that we needed to set up a time when everyone would be home and available he reluctantly agreed to wait. I e-mailed the Snyder's suggesting we call them about ten in the morning and shortly received a conformation from them.

I didn't get the kids in bed until about one AM, allowing them to stay up and watch the New Year's fireworks and TV celebrations. Dad and I enjoyed a few more drinks then we should have during the evening and the next morning my head was demanding homage as I awoke.

I finally begged one eye to open slightly to the awful site of my alarm clock, announcing it was 8:30. I started to roll back over when I saw some motion next to my bed. My one working eye cracked open somewhat wider. Binki and Carl were sitting in a chair next to my bed, both napping as they cuddled to each other.

It took a couple of tries to drag myself out of bed, but the aroma of the coffee pot kept me trying. My sleeping charges seemed undisturbed as I stood next to them, so I decided to move Carl into my bed before going to the kitchen. Gently slipping my arms under his thighs and back I scooped him up. As I lay him in my bed I heard a thump next to me, which after tucking him in I found out was one of our cordless phones. Binki and Bandit were both snuggled with him as I staggered toward the kitchen.

Shortly after I began frying some bacon for breakfast the twins appeared, looking like they hadn't eaten in weeks. When I got a carton of eggs out they both began licking their lips and facebows, I'm sure to keep saliva from running down their cheeks. Carl seemed to time his appearance with breakfast being served. It wasn't until I had sat down to eat that I noticed he had once again retrieved the cordless phone from its charger, keeping it next to him as he ate.

I wasn't going to say anything about the phone until he started helping the twins clear the table, carrying dishes with one hand, the phone in the other. I gently reminded him that we were going to call Mike, that he didn't need to wait for a call. He blushed slightly explaining that he wanted to be sure no one called before, then reluctantly surrendered the instrument while he finished his chores.

Starting at about a quarter to ten I couldn't help noticing I had a shadow. It became very apparent I was being watched when I was followed to the bathroom, but thankfully he stopped right outside the door.

Ten o'clock finally arrived. I took a second to remind Carl I wanted to talk to Mike's parents after he was done and dialed the Snyder's number, offering Carl the phone as soon as it began to ring. He pulled back as if refusing it, saying I should 'go first'.

"Just ask if Mike is there." I replied, pushing the phone in his little hand.

It only took a few seconds to break the ice before he began chatting with his young friend. As soon as I was sure he was okay I quietly slipped out of the room into the kitchen. I had no sooner sat down to the table when a bony little hip pushed its way under my arm, Carl squirming into my lap as he talked on the phone. I casually listened to his end of the conversation for the next 15 minutes or so as he relayed detailed descriptions of his holiday adventure and his new home, giggling like a girl at a slumber party as he answered questions and talked.

Finally they seemed to be finishing their conversation. Carl announced that 'his dad' wanted to speak to Mike's. There was silence on the line for a few seconds after he handed the phone to me.

"This is Jack Snyder." A voice began. I introduced myself, accepting his multiple thanks for helping with recovering his son. As we relayed to each other how Mike and Carl were adjusting to being home again I tried to shoo Carl out of the room, finally retreating to the patio almost slamming the door on Carl's face.

"Jack, our social workers are suggesting something I'm not too sure about, but wanted to throw out to you for consideration." I began. "They think Carl and Mike should meet face to face again, they suggest it would be beneficial that they see for themselves that the other is safe and in good surroundings again. How do you feel about this?" I asked, cursing myself for screwing up the rehearsed statement I had planned.

Jack was surprisingly agreeable to my suggestion, saying that the social workers helping his family had hinted toward the same visit. We shortly agreed on the next weekend as a target date for the visit, they accepted a tentative invitation to come here.

We were discussing times and such when I felt something that made me look toward the patio door. I glanced just in time to see Jerry duck to the side out of my sight. 'ONE word of this to ANYONE, and I'll rip your f***'n vocal cords out!' I pressed into my thoughts. He returned, red faced, to my view through the glass as I mentally broadcast 'Jeff too!'

I had just stepped back inside when Jeff appeared in the kitchen, wrapping his thin arms around my waist and hugging me. Jerry immediately joined in.

"Thanks dad." Jeff whispered.

"What did I do to deserve this?" I asked, stroking their headgear laden heads.

"Well, just for being a neat pop, I mean dad." Jeff replied. "When are you gonna tell him?" He continued before I could respond.

I enjoyed their cuddle for a few seconds before the evil side of me began to surface. 'Should I tell them about the boarding school I've been looking at?' I forced into my thoughts. They both instantly stiffened, looking up at me with identical frightened looks.

"See, sometimes it can be dangerous to get too nosy, can't it!" I snickered, popping both of them on their butt. "I'll tell Carl as soon as we have all the details worked out, I don't want to get him excited until I'm certain everything will come together, okay? You two keep this to yourselves, I promise I'll let you know everything I do okay?"

'As if I can hide it from them.' I told myself as they agreed.

 By Monday afternoon the plans for Mike's visit seemed finalized. We had agreed on them joining us for lunch at my house Saturday. We would make a final decision after Mike had been here for a few hours, but the Snyder's were going to entertain the idea of their boy spending the weekend with us, that if he did I would fly him the 100 miles or so home Monday morning.

Somehow we both had been able to keep our plans from the boys, despite multiple e-mails they had exchanged over Yahoo. We agreed to tell them that evening, not letting the other near a computer until after eight PM. I knew that would be fun and enlisted the help of my matching psychics to keep Carl occupied. They were all but overwhelmed with the request, honored to be included in the plot.

I called Carl off to the side right after the boys had finished clearing the supper table and loading the dishwasher, sitting next to him on the couch. I had decided, partly to relax him before his multiple doctor visits and partly to check on my staff, to take him to work with me while I spent a few minutes making sure everything was going smooth without me.

I started by asking if he wanted to see where I worked in the morning, which thrilled him completely. I eased into the reset of the day's visits which he just nodded at, looking as he wanted to say 'if I have to.' I ask him if he was nervous about tomorrow.

"Well we gotta go to the FBI place too." He injected. When I asked him why he continued "Well, we gotta give them Mike's shirt. Please, I promised it to him!"

"Why don't you give it to him yourself?" I asked, getting a 'yeah sure!' glare from him. "Would you like to have Mike come here and meet your family?" He rolled his eyes up at me. Somehow I detected a bit of distrust in his face, something I had rarely seen before.

"He can't come here, we're not even allowed to say where we live or stuff." He mumbled, looking away.

"You're not allowed to give your address or such on the internet, no kids are." I corrected. "Would you like to have Mike and his parents visit us, they would like to come Saturday." Pausing I continued "Or, well, are you free? Do you want to check your social calendar first?" I would swear I saw his eye balls vibrate from the gears grinding in his little head.

"Mike is gonna come here?" He finally asked. It took three or four tries, but I convinced him that Saturday morning he would see his friend again.

 Tuesday morning I awoke a little after six, dragging body down the hall toward the sacred coffee pot. Carl appeared in the kitchen about five minutes after me, already dressed. He wrapped his arms around me burying his face in my chest.

"What'ch doing up so early?" I asked, stroking his back.

"Well I gotta take all them tests and stuff." I reminded him we didn't have to leave for a couple of hours as I started some hot chocolate for him. He seemed quiet as we sat down, not even to suggest any favorites for breakfast.

"What happens if I don't pass?" He finally asked.

"Pass what?" I inquired.

"All my tests!" He exclaimed. At first I thought he was kidding, but his facial expression told him concern.

"Hey, you'll do fine!" I replied. All I got was a 'yeah sure' look. "Well, you did study for them didn't you?" I continued. "The only one I'd be worried about is your hearing test, I understand that one is pretty hard, you probably better study up for that one." His face tightened with apprehension briefly, then began to change toward a confused look. "I think the only test that is harder is a blood test, the last time I had to take one I was up all night studying for it!" I threw in for effect.

"But how can do you study for that?" He whined. "I don't know how to study for a hearing test!" He continued, his voice raising in pitch. I mocked a frown, looking away in deep thought for a few seconds.

"Well, Binki and Bandit have excellent hearing, maybe you should ask them to tutor you!" I finally suggested.

His face brightened briefly as he looked around for the pets. He stood up and had turned to go find our four legged friends then turned back toward me, his classic puzzled look now covering his face. I'm sure the smirk I couldn't suppress gave me away.

"Pop!" He shrieked, pushing up against me. I snickered as I hugged him, assuring him he would do fine.

 Carl was an instant celebrity at work. The minute we entered the building my co-workers were all over him, rushing to introduce themselves and get to talk to him. At first he was pretty bashful but soon warmed up to everyone, winning all their hearts as he showed off his necklace thanking them for it.

I spent two or three minutes discussing a few matters with some of my staff and was going to show him around, but he was nowhere to be found. Several inquires only told me he was last seen with one then another staffer, all of which were dead end trails. I was considering having him paged when I noticed several people standing at the entrance to our director's office. None to my surprise Carl was perched on the director's conference table, a cookie in one hand and soda in the other. All eyes were on him as he recounted different adventures from our trip.

Finally, I was able to pry him away, reminding him I wanted to show him the server room. I was about to fill out the check sheet for his visitor's badge when our director of security stopped me, asking us to come into his section. Shortly he had snapped Carl's picture and presented him with a 'Jr. VIP' identification badge. Although his student ID from school would have gotten him just as far into our secure areas as the badge, it had the desired effect, Carl beaming like a headlight as I showed him our server farm. He had to touch each of the over thirty large rack mounted servers as we walked around.

 Our visit with the shrink was fairly uneventful. Carl was correct in his assessment of her figure, but as he had said she didn't hold a candle to Helen. He seemed relieved when she met with both of us after her session with him instead of talking to me privately.

Things had changed in the two years since I last visited our Orthodontist to have an evaluation. After Carl and I were escorted to the treatment area the doctor spent a minute or so looking into his mouth before ordering a full evaluation. The nurses spent the better part of an hour taking X-rays, photos and other imagery that were all digital and tied into his computer network. Only about fifteen minutes after all the tests were complete we were sitting in his office as he evaluated the results.

"We definitely need to correct your bite, Carl." The doctor began. Swinging his flat panel monitor so everyone could see it he continued. "This is your profile right now, a picture we took a few minutes ago." He made a couple of mouse clicks, and we watched as the image animated through several frames, changing the shape of Carl's cheeks and jaw. "This is what your face will look like when we have your bite corrected."

He brought up several x-rays and sketches showing what teeth were out of line, even providing more animations of changes needed in his facial bone structure. He suggested we start as soon as possible, citing redirecting growth patterns instead of moving teeth as his justification.

"Well, I think my face is okay." Carl responded, rubbing his jaw.

"You have a beautiful face son." The doctor responded. "But as you grow up, your jaws are not going to grow correctly if we don't help them. This is what your face will look like when you are grown if we don't do anything." He clicked his mouse again, bringing a more mature version of Carl, complete with a fairly obvious over bite. Carl studied the image for a few seconds before glancing at me then the doctor.

"Well, the twins got their braces after school let out for summer, can I do that?"

"You are growing every day, if we waited six months to get started, you probably would be in treatment for up to two years longer than if we start right away."

"But how long do I gotta wear them?" His eyes bugged when the doctor predicted three years. He slid closer to me. "Do I gotta wear one of those antenna things?" He asked, bowing his finger and thumb in front of his lips. His eyes sank to the floor when the doctor nodded in the affirmative.

"Do I gotta?" He asked me. Before I could answer he groaned "I guess I gotta."

I reviewed Casey's billing procedure with him and signed his treatment agreement. Suggesting it would be better to give Carl a few days to get used to the appliances he was going to being treatment with, the doctor offered us a Friday morning appointment.

"Friday!" Carl shrieked, giving me a dirty look. After taking in my 'watch it boy' glare he agreed.

 He was quiet for several minutes after we left the Orthodontist's office. I was about to suggest we get something to eat before his eye appointment when he looked over at me.

"Are you gonna tell Jeff and Jerry?" he asked. I reminded him braces are rather hard to hide, especially from brothers that live together. He thought for a couple of seconds before grinning. "Well, I wanta surprise them, please don't tell no one!" He snickered.

'Oh boy, this is going to be good' I told myself before promising him my silence.

I was still trying to figure out what evil my youngest son was plotting when I saw a Long John Silver's ahead. I waited until I had turned into the driveway before asking Carl if he was hungry. He just shrugged his shoulders then passively nodded yes as I parked the truck. He was still moping, studying the floor tiles as I tucked him under my arm and led him to the order counter.

"I'll have the number seven and iced tea, extra lemon please." I told the clerk. "That sounds good to you son?" He just shrugged his shoulders and agreed before he glanced up at the menu board. I felt his thin frame stiffen as he jerked his head back at the board.

"Pop!" He screamed. "No, wait ma'am, I don't want that stuff! No Ma'am!"

"What? You're going to turn down fried shark snot?" I asked, pulling him in front of me.

"You're mean!" He whined, studying his options.

 Much to his relief his vision was perfect, the only thing the eye doctor recommended was another checkup in six months. By the time we got back to the house his spirits seemed back to normal.

The twins and Timmy were in the middle of their mid afternoon refrigerator rape when we walked in. Carl quickly joined in, casually dodging everyone's questions about his visits, just saying he had to go back to the 'dentist' Friday. As the last of a loaf of bread and side of ham disappeared into the stomachs Jeff informed Carl he had some mail on the computer. Carl almost gagged on the last of his snack before disappearing into the family room. Shortly I had a lap full of skinny kid.

"Is Mike really gonna get to stay here?" He began. Seeing my shocked face he continued "Please pop, PLEASE!" Wrapping his arms around me.

I silently cursed the Snyder's for leaking our plans. I tried to explain to him that Mike, like he, had been through a lot, that he might not feel comfortable being away from his parents so soon, that he might have trouble trusting a stranger like me.

"Please pop, he's gotta!" He responded. "We gotta show him our airplane and your computer ranch and a bunch of stuff! He wants to he said he does!"

"I bet he will stay overnight, but no promises, okay? His parents might not want to let go of him yet too, did you think about that?" All I got was a questioning look, not a pleasant one. "If he can't sleep over this weekend, what about the next time he visits?"

"He gets to come here again?" He almost howled. "We get to be friends still?"

It took a couple of tries to convince him we had to let their new relationship develop a step at a time, but soon he was darting back to the computer to write his friend. Shortly he was out the door to go play with the twins.

When I checked my e-mail I had a message from Jack Snyder. He apologized as he told me they left our last messages up on their computer and that Mike had read it. He tactfully suggested we were stuck, he would have to either let Mike stay over with Carl for the weekend or live with the wrath of his son's anger for the next hundred years or so.

 Carl did fine regarding his hearing test the next day, I never did get a conclusive answer from him if he had gotten any coaching from our four legged friends. As I expected the academic evaluation suggested he enter into some tutelage for school, he was about three grade levels below where he should be.

Carl didn't take very long to develop an itinerary for the weekend; his first draft proposed to cram seven or eight days of flights and activities into the 36 or so hours Mike would be here. I probably spent more time helping him refine his plans then I normally did helping to schedule visits from Congressional members and four star Generals at work, but we managed to squeeze the visit down to something workable.

 Friday morning Carl was shown into the Orthodontist's treatment area almost as soon as we arrived. The nurse said he would be occupied for an hour or more, so I walked down the street to a donut shop to wait, asking her to call me on my cell shortly before he would be released.

When I returned to the practice I was immediately escorted into the treatment area and to my son, laying in one of the dentist chairs, a thick facebow protruding from his lips, headgear straps wrapped around the top of his head and behind his neck.

"Yeah, well!" He whined when he saw me. I took his facebow between my fingers, turning his head side to side gently. When he grinned I could see about half his teeth now had bright metal brackets glued to them.

"Yeah, well, you sure look like a Miller now!" I responded. He asked if I thought if he looked dumb, so I answered "You look like a kid getting his teeth straightened! Are you gonna go catch a lady friend now?"

The doctor interrupted us. He said Carl should wear his headgear as much as possible for the next three days, that he could take it off every few hours as he got used to it. After that he was to wear it at least 14 hours a day.

Carl seemed surprisingly relaxed with his new equipment as we drove home. As I turned in our driveway he reached up at his straps then paused.

"Can I take if off for a little sir?" He asked. "Please sir, just for a little!" The almost evil grin on his face told me he had something in mind and I agreed. He handed me his new headgear and facebow as he removed it.

"Ah, well you put these under the couch cushion, please sir? The right side, please pop?"

'This is gonna be interesting' I told the appliances as I tucked them under my shirt and followed Carl into the house.

To Be Continued…