My Flock

Chapter 18

I was still enjoying the yard full of Speedo-clad eye candy standing and staring wide-eyed at me, when Pepe and two other teens, about his height but clearly more mature, probably older high school students, stepped in front of me. The three of them fell into a perfect formation, Pepe in front and the other two a step behind and on each side. They snapped to a rigid posture that, if they would have saluted me, would have made me wonder if I wasn't taking over an upscale Military Academy.

"We are honored by your attendance, sir!" Pepe proclaimed with all the authority his pre-teen alto voice could offer. "These are my Prefects, Nemo and Arnold," he announced.

I barely had time to greet the two teens, and get a glance at their firm abs and developing bodies before Pepe took a step back and lined up next to them. Immediately a reception line of boys of all shapes and sizes began filing in front of me, each of them offering their thin soft hand to me as I became flooded with new names and smiling youngsters as they paraded by me.

I was fighting off confusion, and enjoying watching a particularly good looking lad walk away so much I paid little attention when the next boy giggled with a thick Spanish accent, "Halloe Seniore, I am Pieter Mouse!"

I knew I had been had when I saw Pieter's silly face and his Platinum hair setting off his Mouse ears cap, the other three of my Mousekateers right behind him with their Disney World Mickey Mouse ears pushing out from under their headgear straps. So much for formality! I chuckled when the twins, Junior and Timmy presented themselves, identical mouse ears stuffed under the traction straps of their headgears.

I managed to slip out of my jeans and shoes while everyone settled in, all the boys sitting around the side of the pool dangling their feet in the water.

At first Pepe impressed me as he began the proceedings, wishing we could conduct our meetings at work like the boys did. As he began reviewing why we were together I started to wonder a little as one youngster seemed to be almost constantly muttering to several boys crowded around him, and one then the other of them whispered back to him as if they were conducting their own conversation. I fired them a stern 'shut up and pay attention' look, and scanned their faces wondering if I should label them trouble makers, which caused the gang leader to blush white and glance around at the others with a worried look.

I jerked an instant later when something pushed against my ear. I just got a glance of Johnny's red hair and facebow before he pulled his mouth next to my ear again and whispered, "They are new and don't speak English. Vincente is translating for them."

I'm sure my sheepish face spoke for me from the shy grin the youngsters flashed me, and before I realized it wrapped my arm around the little carrottop's shoulder as he sat down next to me and leaned into my side.

The boys really impressed me as they began hashing out ideas for a name. Some of them offered suggestions only about a theme; to name their home around the ranch it was situated on; around the scenery of the Texas Hill Country; even the safety it offered. A couple of rather bold comments regarding the freedom of lifestyle they now enjoyed were made. Others offered specific suggestions such as 'Arco Iris Ranch' and 'Rancho ideal dos arco-íris'.

"Rainbow Ranch" the little carrot top whispered in my ear, then "Perfect Rainbow Ranch".

Each idea prompted a discussion, sometime a debate from the group. A couple of times these started to get rather spirited, but Pepe did what was all but a professional job of moderating the discussion, with no one offering to challenge his baby face when he cut someone off and acknowledged another youngster.

"It is where we can make dreams, and make the dreams become true, we should name it what it is." Pieter's soprano voice rang above everyone else's. When I and everyone else turned toward him his normally happy little pixie face was more serious, businesslike than I had ever seen it - it reminded me of the intense looking professional managers and high ranking military officers I dealt with at work so often during crisis meetings.

"When I was in Recife I would go hide under a bridge, or in an alley somewhere and go to sleep, dreaming I was in a real bed in a real house and not a box of cardboard.

"When I allowed men to, to take me, , , I kept my eyes closed and dreamed I was with a grown people, maybe a father that wouldn't hurt me but love me." All eyes including mine were glued on the Platinum haired youngster as he took a deep breath and closed his eyes for a second or so. The youngster translating for the new boys lowered his voice to an all but inaudible whisper, even the pool seemed to stop slapping it soft waves against its sides as we all stared at him.

"Grown up" Junior corrected in a soft voice.

"A Dad, or a Pop," Pepe all but whispered. "A Dad just hugging not hurting." His taut face relaxed ever so slightly, I thought I saw a hint of one of his cheeks dimpling as his eyes prompted Pieter to continue.

Pieter sighed and leaned back into Junior's cuddle before continuing, "Even when I was put into the orphan's home I would stare at my dinner tray and dream it was a real platter, , , a plate I think here, and I was sitting at a dinning table with a mama and papa." He wiped his eyes with his forearm before continuing, "Every morning I would watch though the window at, at all the boys and girls laughing and being happy when they walked by going to their school, a real school. Some days I would close my eyes and dream that the orphan's home door had been unlocked, and we were allowed to go out and go with them. That we were real boys like the one's we sometimes saw when we were allowed to watch cinemas."

He squirmed against Junior and leaned his head on the older lad's arm. "I used to dream I had a family, sometimes I even dreamed a big brother, , , that loved me. In Recife boys like us were not allowed to have such things, we were not allowed to be loved." he told his big brother's forearm. He paused and wiped his eyes again as Junior twisted sideways, wrapped his arms around Pieter's chest and pulled him into a tight snuggle.

"Very long ago, when I was a baby I think, each time it rained my mama showed me the rainbows. She told me that at the end of them were a pot of dreams. Where ever they were, if I ever found it, that they would all come true," he sobbed. He twisted more tightly into his big brother's arms and took a couple of deep breaths: the pool and I guess the entire pasture fell as silent as it could be.

"Mama said the stupid Irish thought there was a pot of gold there, even the, , ," he didn't finish the statement, just stared out toward the pasture for several seconds.

I began to be concerned when Junior, then the twins flashed me frightened glances. I was trying to think of a way to break the tension, to bail Pieter out before he overloaded, or freaked, when he let out a loud sigh.

"I forgot about rainbows, I guess about my mama. But, one day Doctor Pappa, Doctor Pop, took me up there," he all but whispered, pointing at Adam's mountain. "My Mama's end of the rainbow was in Belgium, but our end of it is here, mine is up there.

"Doctor Pop told me about how he had dreams too, about how he made the ones he didn't believe could come true. But, he told me how to make mine, ours come true! We got a new life, we don't get hurt anymore, some of us even got to move to America! We, , ,"

Junior's whimper, then sob cut him off. "I got what I didn't even dream I would ever, ever get, a little brother!" he whined. He pulled Pieter into what looked like a crushing hug and pushed his facebow into the lad's hair and gave the back of his head a long kiss.

"We got our dreams to come true, and a pot of gold!" Jerry interrupted, kissing Carl's beautifully golden hair as he spoke.

"And a bunch of new brothers that are as good as gold!" Jeff continued for his twin as he pulled Carl into a tight cuddle and glanced around.

The wind, even everyone's hearts seemed to fall silent for several seconds.

"Home of our dreams, , ,Rancho of our dreams," a young voice gasp from the pool side.

"Sonhos dourados Rancho, , , Ranch of golden dreams," Nemo whimpered.

"We are in America now," Pepe offered in a soft voice, his baby face taut more then I could have imagined. "Sonhos Dourados Ranch," he mumbled.

As I glanced around the pool several other boys seemed to be mouthing the same thing as they looked at each other. I waited for my new First Boy to call for a vote, hoping he knew what to do for several seconds. I turned back to look at him to see if he might needed some help with Parliamentary Procedure, but he was busy surveying his troops.

"Si?" he hooted. "Sonhos Dourados Ranch!" he shouted, thrusting his thin fist into the air. A chorus or cheers and caterwauls rang out as all of the boys dove into the pool and began cheering, high-fiving and hugging each other.

Pepe pushed his thin hips between my knees a couple of seconds later. Arnold and Pieter were on his sides, all three of their beautiful faces taut as piano wire. "You do not approve, Sir?" Pepe whimpered. A hush fell over the pool as he did.

"No, ah, I think it's a wonderful name," I answered, trying to ignore what seemed like the thousand pair of eyes staring at me. "I thought you were going to vote on the new name, shouldn't you finish your meeting before, , ,"

"We did Pop!" Pieter cut me off. He seemed to pick up on my lost expression and added, "If anyone disapproves, wishes to vote no, they stay sitting there like you."

"Oh," I groaned. Beats the hell out of 'yea and nay', or raising your hand! I thought as I slipped into the water. Whatever, I wouldn't even mind checking for 'hanging chads'! I silently teased as I was pulled into an eight or ten way snuggle and watched a sea of Speedo clad youngsters cheering and jumping up and down in the pool. I take it it's unanimous? I snickered when Ginger and a couple of other horses added their neighs and whinnies.

Adam's right, that boy don't have both oars in the water, I tittered a few seconds later when Junior pushed his thin, wet body against me, hugged me for a second and then disappeared under water, headgear and all. Shit, it's contagious! I groaned when I looked around and saw our other boys wearing theirs while in the pool. Thankfully it seemed that all of them had removed their mouse-ears.

"We must continue to meet!" Pepe's high pitched voice announced five minutes later. The pool instantaneously went from its party atmosphere to silence as everyone rushed back to the bank and climbed out. "As many of you have, , , requested, Arnold has a, a proposition."

I wanted to run over and tuck the older teen under my arm as he nervously glanced at me, then around the pool several times. As he tensed up I couldn't help but notice his developing, blossoming body, and the beginnings of an impressive six-pack and arm muscles accenting his clearly Hispanic dark skin and hair. A Mexican named Arnold, whatever! I silently chuckled.

I was so absorbed in studying the nervous lad I didn't notice Timmy was seated next to me until I felt a thin hand gently squeeze my arm. After flashing me an almost blinding silver smile he pointed down toward the pasture briefly. I had to smile too when I saw his parents, along with Adam, Cindy and her husband walking up the hill toward one of the cottages. I fought off the urge to kiss Timmy when he crossed his fingers on both hands and held them out to me as he squirmed tightly against me.

"Do you want to go see what's going on?" I whispered. His only response was to push his way under my shoulder and lay his still finger crossed hands on my thigh.

"As we have discussed what we want," Arnold began. "Well, Colonel Miller, Colonel Pop, we are honored to have you come here and be our director sir." he said toward me. "And your father Colonel Gramps, to have two war heros come to help us is an honor we never dreamed of."

"Thank you, but I am not a Colonel, nor a hero," I cut him off. "My dad is a retired Army Colonel, but I just work for the military, the Army as a civilian, well but I'm retiring too." The sea of lost faces told me I wasn't getting through. "I don't have a rank, like being a Colonel or whatever. Well not one that you would understand," I offered, not wanting to get into trying to explain our Civil Service's 'GS' ranking system, and our relationship to military ranks. "I don't wear a uniform or anything, I just operate the, Army's Information Technology, network, where the military, the Army, works, on their computers." I tried.

A glance around the pool made me start to feel comfortable I had made myself understood, until I overheard a few whispers. 'Federale', 'Secret Agent' and 'I told you he's a spy!' caught my attention.

I was trying to think of a better explanation, that would comfort them when Pepe called for silence.

"Yes Sir! We, we are honored you have come to help us!" he began. "We know you are not allowed to tell us about it or, , , stuff," he stumbled.

He glanced at his Prefects as if looking for help, and I was racking my brain to find an easy way to get them to move on when I heard a voice near me whisper, "Ask him if the Army will still hide their war secrets in his vault? Can we help guard it?"

My jaw tightened so harshly I was afraid I was going to chip my teeth as the comment sunk in. A glance around the pool confirmed my fears. Only a sliver of the twins thin legs showed as they sheathed themselves behind their friends, it took a minute to figure out where Carl had disappeared to until the refection of a small piece of facebow behind Johnny and Pieter caught my attention.

Yes, you are dead, so very dead, I silently assured them. But not from the 'poison gas', something much, much more painful! I thought as I remembered the freezing morning last winter when I retrieved Carl's adoption decree from my little fire safe and he informed me that everyone at their Junior High School knew about the little safe, and had been told by the twins that our nation's defense secrets were stored in it.

I found myself fighting off brain overload as I reviewed the details of the slow torturous death I had planned for the twins a few days before, how to adjust them to include Carl's demise, and how to get the meeting back on focus all in the same thought.

"I want us to vote on a petition, like everyone said they want," Arnold began. Pepe whispered something to him and he flashed a small grin before continuing, "A resolution, we want to pass a resolution, , ," he glanced back at his baby-faced boss for an instant. "To ask for a flag pole. A really tall flag pole and a big flag."

"And for Colonel Pop and Colonel Gramps to teach us how to use it!" he proclaimed directly to me. "Pop and Colonel Gramps, that is."

Without looking around I could feel every eye at the meeting staring at me. Well, let's see if the meant it about my new credit cards, I decided. "Of course you can, , , I mean if your resolution passes, I will immediately approve a flag pole. Perhaps you should name a committee to decide what you want and where to put it."

The yard was immediately filled with cheers, hoots and splashes as a mini-tidal wave washed against my legs. I was a little quicker this time and jumped in with them. This beats the hell out of developing a Requirement Study and filing a three page Purchase Request, in triplicate, like we have to do to buy a stapler or shit! The military should try this! I chuckled as a school of wet thin bodies pushed into a mass hug against me.

Some motion made me look to the side. "Timmy! Junior! Put on some, , ," I yelled as they bolted out of the pool and ran across the deck hand in hand, their long legs more galloping like a pair of colts then running as they raced out the yard's gate.

"Shoes," I mumbled as they both limped back into the yard. Whatever Junior has is contagious, I moaned as I watched them hop across the grass, picking stickers and grass-burs out of their feet as they went.

At first I didn't snap anything was going on as I climbed out of the pool and rushed to help them, but as I stood up I noticed everyone was evacuating the pool as fast as I did. Well, a unique Benediction! I snickered when I looked around and saw a serving cart with two huge barrels of ice cream on it being wheeled out by several boys.

Junior and Timmy had stuffed their shoes on and bolted back toward the gate again before I could reach them. They were almost at full gallop when they simultaneously slammed on the brakes, skidded to a stop and launched themselves toward the serving cart. I'm glad he has his priorities straight! I chuckled as both boys skidded to a stop at the back of the line.

As I watched Timmy whispered something to the boy in front of him and pointed toward the cottages. An instant later everyone in front of them stepped to the side a little and half ushered, half shoved Timmy and Junior to the cart. At what seemed like lightening speed they each grabbed a huge ice cream and jetted out the gate so fast I was sure their treat would melt from friction before they got a bite of it.

Yes, I'm after your asses, I thought when Carl the twins sprinted out the gate behind their friends, somehow running at full speed and chomping on their cones at the same time.

"Don't you want some, Colonel Miller?" a young voice distracted me. When I turned a younger boy with as golden hair as Mark and Ronnie was holding two triple dipped ice cream cones up. "I mean Colonel Pop, do you want chocolate or vanilla? Sir?"

I started to ask which one he would like, but his silver dollar wide emerald eyes, glued on the chocolate treat answered my question before I could ask. "Thank you! But please call me Pop," I offered as I accepted the vanilla cone.

Wise choice, I congratulated myself as the youngster flashed me a heart-stopping smile, gave the chocolate cone a long tongue slurp then stuffed the top two dips into his mouth in one bite. He flashed me still another of those wonderful smiles, melting ice cream running out the corners of his mouth and forming the outline of a chocolate goatee that wonderfully accented his thick ice cream moustache.

He bit the last dip and the top edge of the cone off so quickly it gave me an 'ice cream headache' just watching him, then devoured the rest of the cone like a high speed paper shredder.

"You want another one?" he asked as his goatee flowed to the bottom of his chin and threatened to drip on his flat well tanned chest.

"No, not right now thank you," I managed, still absorbed in his beauty and glee. "But, what's your name, how do you, , ," I stopped in mid-question as I realized I was talking to his speedo clad back side as he darted back to the cart.

"You left this on your horse, all the ice is going to melt!" Adam's voice rang a couple of minutes later. Unsure what to do, especially around all the boys, I started a bit longingly at the saddle bags for a second or so until he pulled two beers out and handed me one. "How was your meeting?" he asked.

He smiled several times as I briefed him on our meeting, and my commitment to building a flag pole. "Sonhos Dourados Ranch, Ranch of Golden Dreams, how perfect!" he beamed. "You did great regarding their request. That's why we hired you, spend anything you think you need to, for the ranch or for the boys. If you think your credit cards are about to max out, like at the end of the month, call me or any of the directors, we'll take care of it."

Three credit cards, at 250 grand limit each, , , toward the end of the MONTH? I thought. I tried to formulate a verbal answer, but ended up holding my beer can up in a casual toast and taking a long drink as an response.

I was trying to think of a tactful way of asking what, if anything, Tim and Judy had decided when Timmy and Junior burst back into the yard and sped hand-in-hand to the serving cart. They babbled something I couldn't understand to the boys around the cart who burst into cheers and began feverishly hugging and backslapping the two of them and each other, half eaten ice cream cone being splattered around like a food fight.

Now THAT's the way to eat ice cream! I chuckled as everyone began using their fingers to scrape half-melted still thick cream off of each other's bodies and munch on it, then feeding other boys with their fingers. I was so captivated by the site I almost jumped out of my skin when a big hand landed on my shoulder and squeezed it.

"Thanks Amigo, I owe you," Tim's deep voice rang from behind me.

"Thanks Christian, neighbor," Judy bubbled as she gave me a brief hug.

"I take it you took the job?" I risked.

"ASAP!" Tim proudly proclaimed. "If I had my laptop with me, I'd send CPS my Stuff It letter today!"

"You can borrow mine!" Adam and I offered in almost perfect unison. Everyone snickered as Tim's eyes lite up.

"We did want to run one detail by you, for your approval," Adam said toward me. "Judy loves the floor plan of your residence, and, , ,"

"Dad! Thanks DAD! MOM!" Timmy's screech interrupted.

Before anyone could react we were attacked by squirmy youngsters, smearing sticky chocolate and vanilla mess on my skin and the other adult's clothes as they hugged and nestled against us. I would have sworn they made sure all of us were smeared with the thick cream before they just as quickly darted away and in mass dove into the pool.

"And four bathrooms," Judy moaned as she looked at her now soiled blouse.

"Well, it has a large laundry room," Adam quipped, pulling his tee-shirt away to unstick it from his stomach.

"We were discussing building Tim and Judy's house right over there," Cindy continued as she gestured about ninety-degrees off of the back of what was soon to be my new home, then wiped her hands on her jeans. "That has to be Blue Bell, 1900 Vanilla flavor!" she tittered as she licked her fingers.

"The only thing is, it would mean you sharing your pool, we hope it won't make it too crowded," Adam took over.

Overcrowded? God, please don't ever let it be empty! I thought as I looked over the brood of young boy flesh splashing and flocking around. "That's fine, but I better go check on my, , , charges," I said before I realized it, and dove into the middle of my speedo clad ducklings without waiting for an answer.

I received another round of hugs over the next few minutes as small groups of boys left the pool area and ran off toward their cottages.

I had climbed out of the pool and was putting my jeans and shoes on when Adam snickered, "I swear they're going to grow fins, all of them!" It took me a minute to snap to what he was talking about until I realized every group of youngsters that left were all galloping their horses directly toward Lake Skinny Dip.

Mary and Dad seemed to be fully recovered and clearly had been busy when we returned to Adam's house a little later. The barbeque pit was smoking like a forest fire and the house was so full of wonderful aromas I was surprised the boys hadn't smelled it from their swimming hole. Right after everyone changed into swim suits and stepped back onto the patio Dad surprised us with a snack tray of chips and a huge bowl of dip. Mary was right behind with a large pitcher of Margaritas and a tray of salt rimmed glasses.

"Supper will be a little late," Mary announced as she filled everyone's glasses. "But we are having grilled Shrimp and Tuna steaks, it will be worth the wait."

"But we hope this will hold you over," Dad added. He picked up a chip and scooped what seemed like a grossly oversized load of dip onto it before adding, "Lemon Oyster dip, you'll love it!"

He somehow managed to fit the oversized chip under his dentures, then picked up two more large chips, scooped a mountain of dip onto each one and held one out to Mary's waiting mouth, then ate the other. "We have another bowl inside, help yourself," he said as they walked arm-in-arm back into the house. I felt a little relieved when Judy followed behind them offering to help.

All of us stared at the patio door for several seconds. "Ah, Christian, , ," Adam groaned. He took a couple of deep breaths, then a slow sip of his drink before continuing, "Have you considered, well, could it be time for you to have that Son-Father talk with Sam?"

I tried to think of a comeback, or at the least a response, but just shook my head and drew a long swallow off my drink as my answer.

A dip in the pool and another Margarita later I decided to corner Dad when he came outside to check on the pit. I downed a healthy sip of a third drink as I tried to think of the best way to broach the subject before joining him, offering to help.

"Ah, Dad, I wanted to talk to you if you have a minute," I began.

"We do need to talk, I've been trying to find the time too," he answered. "Mary and I have been talking, and we need to discuss several things," he continued before I could speak.

"I think next weekend is the perfect time to move out here," he told the barbeque pit more than me as he stirred the logs and coals. "The new house should be ready by Tuesday, and that will give us time to have your house in town repainted and prepped to be rented the first of the month.

"I think Mike and Bobby can spare a little time from their studies to help me prep our Household Goods for shipment on Wednesday, and our Hold Luggage on Friday."

This isn't what I wanted to discuss, I thought. At the same time I found myself trying to recall his terms from all the times we moved from one Army base to another when I was a kid - they would always come and haul away most of our furniture and such a few weeks before each move, than the beds and everything but our suitcases the day of the move; I later learned those actually traveled in the hold of the ship, and later military aircraft we rode on.

"Judy plans to do the same thing," he continued. "Carl, the twins and Timmy will commute back into town and will finish out their semester at their current school, and Bobby and Mike will continue to study under Mary's and my tutelage for the rest of the term. Here, oil the grill, I'm going to get the fish," he added, offering a brush and pan of oil.

He turned and started back to the patio door before I could answer. He walked a few steps before turning back to me. "And I am going to replace my van Monday, it's too old and small."

Oh, I groaned as he disappeared inside. The smirk on Adam's face, and the fresh glass of Margarita waiting for me at pool-side when I turned around told me he knew how well I had made out.

I don't think anyone was surprised when a posse of young riders charged the house a few minutes after Dad put supper on the pit. I wanted to intercede as they attacked the last of the chips and oyster dip, but they devoured it and darted inside before I could. I started to make a comment about how active the nest might be tonight, but the smirks and grins on everyone's faces told me they were all thinking the same thing.

Dad and Mary did prepare an impressive feast. As I sat down to the table I wondered if it was Thanksgiving in the spring as I looked over all the fair, individual shrimp cocktails for each place setting, a couple of different regular salads, tons of veggies and a selection of rolls and breads that would make a baker at any five-star eatery beam with pride. Even my mouth began to water as Dad wrestled all of the seafood to the table on a single huge serving tray.

My elation was short lived though, and my jaw dropped open so quickly I was afraid I was going to drool on my shirt when Mary came right behind Dad with an equally large tray overloaded with french fries, and Fried Oysters.

It took me several seconds to build up the nerve to glance around the table, but Roberts and Adam's completely bewildered faces told me I wasn't alone. Thankfully the clatter of plates and serving bowls being passed around a frenzied pace as the boys loaded their plates distracted us before we fell out of our chairs and rolled on the patio deck in laughter.

"How is your new business shaping up?" Cindy asked me over the chatter and clamber of silverware a few minutes later, after everyone settled into attacking their delicious bounty.

"Do you know when you might begin making the system upgrades you offered?" her husband hinted more than asked.

"Are you still going to employ your sons to help you?" Adam added.

Thanks a bunch, I groaned. I paused for a split second before I looked to the far end of the table to see the kids reaction, hoping against hope they didn't pick up on his question. Our entire peanut gallery of eating machines fell silent so quickly it startled me. When I looked all of the boys were staring at me wide-eyed, seemingly motionless. Jeff had his mouth wide open, with a fork overfull of mashed potatoes half in, half out of his mouth, gravy slowly dripping into his lips and chin.

"Wipe your face, son," I instructed, my parental instincts kicking in.

He continued to stare for a second, then pulled the fork back a couple of inches, wiped his mouth with his other bare forearm and froze up again, thankfully his fork now dripping on his plate. I started to suggest he use a napkin, but realized it would fall on deaf ears.

"I had hoped to begin today, but the day was much fuller than I had expected." I told Roberts. "I hope I can spent some time tomorrow getting set up, and next week I'm only working at the base part time and should to be able to devote a lot more time," I offered.

"Yes, I would like some help," I told the several pair of saucer wide eyes staring at me. "Again, we ran short of time, maybe we can talk for a minute after we eat."

Well, that worked, I congratulated myself as the youngsters resumed shoveling food into their mouths. I hope not too well! I snickered as the twins, then the other boys' elbows kicked into high gear, forks and spoons flashing like someone had pushed 'fast forward' on the VCR.

Have I stumbled onto something here? I wondered as we finished our meal and the youngsters cleared the table, loaded the dishwasher and tidied up at what had to be record speed. Yes, now figure out how to keep this alive! I decided as Jerry polished my spot at the table, Carl sat a paper napkin in front of me and Jeff served me a Margarita, in a freshly salted glass, all of them back in their headgear without being told. I had to turn away to hide my sigh, and chuckle as all the lads, even Adam and Cindy's sons, lined up behind my wait-staff like Royal servants waiting to serve their monarch.

"Okay guys, let me tell you what is going on, what I am planning, don't you want to sit down?" I began. A couple of pair of eyes ricocheted side to side was their only reaction.

Guess not, I groaned. I took a couple of seconds trying to decide how to proceed, I had intended to talk to the twins alone then break the news to the others later, but Adam changed all that.

When I began explaining what plans I had for my new business, and I watched face after face melt from excited anticipation to disappointment it didn't take long feel like I was several levels of low-life below the Grinch that stole Christmas was rated by their maturity level. Carl's liver lip frown was pressing into his headgear I was sure it was being bruised by his facebow, and Bobby's 'I knew I'd get screwed and left out' eyes made me want to cry when I informed them only the twins would be helping me.

A few of the normally beautiful, happy faces that I loved looking at so much relaxed slightly but didn't brighten when I relented and said I wanted to have not only the twins but Junior help.

"And, as the business grows, and the rest of you learn more about computers, you can work there too!" made Carl's fat lower lip retract enough that I could see a hint of his appliance.

"We need to talk about it, but maybe, maybe Jerry and Jeff are going to be too busy to do chores, and you guys might earn some extra allowance doing them," I tried, at the moment what seemed like the last option before suicide.

"Can we teach them how to do stuff, so they can work for you too?" Jerry begged more than asked.

"Of course you can, so will I!" I answered. "We're a family, we help each other!"

Although my comment was meant to my boys, all of their response was quicker, and more successful than I could have imagined. Carl instantly went from a liver lipped frown to an all but blinding smile, Bobby's trademark pencil grin lasted a split second before exploding into an even wider smile than Carl's as all the boys high-fived and hugged each other.

"Hey though, are you guys going riding? I bet I know of some buds waiting for you!" I suggested, hoping to end all this while they were upbeat.

A skinny little body smashed into me and hugged me as what a was sure was a facebow slammed into my cheek like a jackhammer. A second, and thousand or so hugs, kisses and headgear bruises later I found myself checking for loose teeth as I watched my flock of turkeys fly up the stairwell.

"Don't ask," I groaned as I settled into the pool next to Adam and leaned back against the bank. I downed the last of my drink, lay my head against the bank and closed my eyes, trying to ignore everyone's piercing stares, and the sound of a covey of youngsters flushing out the patio door down toward the pasture.

"Well, they're back early!" Adam commented an hour or so later. When I followed his gaze the boys were dismounting and leading their horses into the barn. "Something's going on," he muttered a couple of minutes later when the first of the now unsaddled horses trotted out of the barn.

Yeah, what have they gotten into THIS time, I wondered not to many minutes later when all the youngsters came charging up the hill like a raiding party of wild west Indians. My concern heightened as they neared the patio and split off into small groups.

Jerry, Bobby, and Mike sprinted across the patio, their long legs stretching the hems of their tight Levis to the point of breaking with each step, as they rushed inside. Junior and Timmy skidded to a stop beside Tim and Judy, at the same time Carl and Mark surrounded Adam while I was incarcerated by Jeff and Johnny. In the flurry of activity it took me an instant to notice Pieter and Ronnie had seized Cindy and her husband.

"May we ask you a question, Sir?" Pieter panted. Before I could answer the two of them gently cupped my upper arms and helped me to my feet and Johnny picked up my drink glass.

Oh shit, what now? I silently gasp when I saw Dad and Mary being led out of the house, a youngster holding each of their arms. I only got to exchange curious glances with Adam as we were escorted to the picnic table and ushered into our seats.

"We have an, ah, idea," Junior blushed. "A, plan, , , sorta. So we can work for Pop," he told the picnic table more than the adults being held captive around it.

Jerry flashed a nervous grin at the group of adults before digging what at first looked like a wet paper towel from his jeans pocket and handed it to me.

After I recovered from the document's strong boy-sweat and horse flesh odor, and figured out the encryptulated folding method they had used, I found what, except for the crooked lines and messing writing, looked for the world like an organizational flow chart we used at work. Although a little messy, probably from being drawn on horseback it was impressive.

"We want to give Carl and Bobby and Mike our chores, so they get our allowances," Jerry began.

"And Timmy and Ronnie gets to mow our yard from now on so they can get the money we got for that," his twin added.

"And Ronnie gets to help mow our yard, so he gets some of my money," Timmy announced.

"And Pieter and Johnny get to do my chores so they get my allowance," Junior said. "Well, if it's okay Mom, Dad," he said more to all the adults than his parents.

I scanned the paper again then glanced around the group before passing the chart off to Roberts. "Well, this is impressive," I mumbled. The other adults expression seemed to echo my feelings. "Let us think about it, but you guys don't have to go to work at other people's houses, I think we can work something out."

"But, we , well, if, well," Jeff whined.

"What about if we still do our chores and they get our allowance?" Junior tried.

"Yeah, ah please Sir," the twins said in unison. None of the adults could maintain eye contact with each other as we exchanged glances.

"Look, this will make it fair for everyone," Jeff exclaimed as he dug into the pocket of his tight jeans.

I took a deep breath before accepting the damp piece of paper and set about breaking the code needed to unfold it. Although a bit more scribbled than his normal handwriting, it was a well laid out spreadsheet listing everyone's allowances, before and after their proposed changes, complete with detailed breakdowns of what parent paid what. The table fell silent as I passed the paper around.

Mary seemed to be the first to recover. "Actually, I could use a little more help around the house, and the household expense account could afford it." All three of Adam's boys pushed behind her and threw their arms around her shoulders and neck as they leaned against her.

"I'm not getting any younger, and our new house is bigger, I'm going to need some extra help," Dad said, stretching his back clearly for effect. The twins bolted behind him and began massaging his neck and shoulders as Carl hopped into his lap. Bobby and Mike pushed against his sides and hugged his arms.

"Ouch!" Tim yelped. He flashed his wife a dirty look as he quickly reached under the table and rubbed his leg. "Ah, yeah. Our house is going to be larger too, and what with living in the country, I'm sure Judy could use some extra help keeping it clean," he groaned.

"Why don't you guys let us work on this," Adam suggested. "This is good work, and I am very impressed at how you are helping each other." he added, holding their worksheets up.

"So am I, boys, all of us are," I added.

"But, it's going to get late before you know it, don't you want to go for your nightly swim before it does?" Adam asked.

Eyeballs bounced around the table like pool balls after a break shot before they all darted toward the patio door. They were about halfway to it when they all turned around, rushed back to the picnic table and ran from one of us to the other, giving everyone groups hugs and kisses. I had to take a deep breath when I noticed even Bobby was hugging and kissing Mary, and the Roberts as warmly, and trustingly, as the other kids did. Thanks God, thanks for your help! I prayed as I watched him giggle and melt into Cindy's cuddle.

The evening swim turned into somewhat of a party. The boys seemed to be mostly back to normal, or pre-business opening, carefree playing in the pool and demanding to be tossed in the air and doing shoulder-dives off of Roberts, Adam and I, even coaxing Dad to wrestle with them the few times he and Mary got into the water.

I was seemingly the loose center of their attention, my Margarita glass was never empty, as soon as it got low one or the other of the lads appeared with another, but they were bar tending for the other adults too and enjoying their swim at the same time.

I thought there might be 'trouble in paradise' when Junior and Timmy appeared on the patio with a fresh pitcher of Margaritas and a tray of salted glasses while Dad, Mary and all the other adults were still outside. Several of us flashed the two boys a smile as thanks and no one seemed to pay much attention as they started toward the pool until Cindy called Junior back.

"You have something on your headgear Son," she bubbled. Before he could react she ran her finger over the bottom of his facebow. Her happy face melted into a scowl as she looked at her fingers than tasted them. "Salt? Margarita salt?" she asked.

I felt a little sorry for the youngster as his face turned as pale white as the salt crystals around the rim of my drink. "Ah, we was, I was, , , making sure the glasses was salted okay." "I mean were properly salted, Ma'am!" he cried.

Yeah, sure, I snickered as I watched Timmy scrub his facebow with his fingers so harshly I was sure he was going to bend it, or pull it loose from his teeth, his face turned so red I began to wonder if he would melt the heavy steel appliance.

"May, , , may we, go swimming now, , , , Please Mom, , , Ma'am," Junior stammered.

A slight head movement from his mom seemed to answer and both of them disappeared into the deep end of the pool at what seemed like the speed of light. Damn, no one can hold their breath that long! I thought a couple of minutes later as I waited for them to surface. I guess in emergency escapes, those damn things are waterproof, I tittered when they finally surfaced, still in their headgears. No one said anything, but the muffled chuckles and suppressed grins from all the adults said volumes about what we all knew the two of them had been sipping on inside.

A half an hour later Mary and Dad excused themselves saying they were going to retire. Adam and I were exchanging glances, and I was trying to think of a tactful way of asking him if he had locked up whatever was left of his Oyster stash, when Junior and the twins disappeared inside behind them.

Whatever happened to the good old days, Dad in bed, alone, by eight, and tucking my already asleep little boys in bed an hour later? I asked myself as I stared at the patio door. Oh well, I decided a minute or so later as my curiosity, or concern got the better of me.

To my surprise the downstairs, and the bar, were empty when I stepped inside. I could hear the faint sound of shower water running from upstairs. I was about to turn and go back outside when the patio door opened and Johnny bolted inside smashing into my stomach. He mumbled something, but I was too busy trying to get out of the way of what seemed like a herd of stampeding Speedo clad beasts charging me from the pool to understand what.

Okay, whatever, I snickered as they charged past me and up the staircase, even little Johnny overcoming his limp to climb two steps at a time.

Shortly after rejoining the other adults around the pool I noticed a convoy of youngsters ferrying blankets, pillows and comforters downstairs through the patio door, just as I expected. A few glances later their mass nest seemed to be taking shape, and I was caught off guard when a thin body pushed against each of my shoulders. Without looking up I knew it was the twins, and tried to convince myself I knew it was them by the feel of their skin, and not the telepathic radiation field I felt over my head; but something told me I was in trouble.

"Ah, Dad, we was wondering, sorta," Jerry whimpered.

"We were wondering," Jeff corrected as he pulled my arm out of my lap and wrapped it around his waist.

Oh shit, what now? I groaned as Jerry squirmed his way between my thigh and the lounger's armrest. "We was, ah were wondering when you're gonna show us what we get to do."

"For our new jobs, can you show us, please?" Jeff took over as he sat on my thigh.

"How about tomorrow, let's get started first thing in the morning," I tried, earning me two pair of sad puppy eyes.

"But, we're all excited and kinda wanted to know!" Jeff whimpered.

"And I don't know if I can sleep thinking about it and stuff!" his brother added.

Watch one of your Sci-Fi movies. The one with the cucumber that ate Washington would put anyone to sleep, I silently snickered, biting my tongue to keep from saying it aloud.

"If I show you, BRIEFLY, what we're going to be doing, will you promise to go to bed, and not mess with it until morning?"

"Yes SIR!" they hooted in perfect unison.

I let out a slight groan when they crossed their chests with their fingers then through their arms around me. It didn't take long to figure out only a fast split second was devoted to a hug as they half helped, half hustled me to my feet.

I considered the best, and quickest way to give them an overview that would satisfy them for the night as we walked inside. At Adam's invitation I told the twins to wait for me in Adam's study while I retrieved my notes from the on-site visits I had made Friday.

When I stepped into the study the boys were both sitting on the couch with an open spot between them, clearly my reserved seat. Both of them were all business as I began going over the various modifications, patches and tasks needed to be performed at each practice, studying my notes as intently as professional technicians, even stopping me from turning the pages several times until they finished digesting the material.

I was about to go over our third client's needs when I felt something warm on the back of my neck. A couple of seconds later I felt it again, this time I was fairly sure it was a breath of air. When I started to turn around the couch's back shuddered slightly, immediately followed by a soft thud behind me. A glance at the twins' faces, and their poor attempt to look innocent gave me a good idea of what was going on.

"You're welcome to join us, , , Junior," I risked. A glance back at the twins eyes told me I was correct. "I'm not mad at you," I tried.

A second or so later a crop of messy hair and part of a headgear strap appeared from behind the couch. After a brief hesitation it began moving upward, revealing a face so beet red the facebow attached to it glowed a red tint.

"I only took a little swallow," he whimpered. "A little bitty one. Well or maybe two."

"That's between you and your parents, I'm not mad, I promise." I waited an instant until his color turned ever so slightly back toward normal. "Well, come on, you're on the clock," I joked as I turned back around.

An instant later a pair of long thin arms wrapped themselves around my neck and the lad leaned over my shoulder and stared down at my notes. Well, I guess it will do, I quipped as I tried to get used to his facebow pushing into my cheek every time he'd turn and ask a question.

The boys seemed as good as their word, and offered no argument ten minutes later when I finished showing them my notes, and they disappeared into the den. I started to take my notebook back to my bedroom, but realizing I would need it in the morning, and ready for a fresh Margarita, I left it on a table in the study.

Several drinks and about an hour later my day caught up with me and I excused myself for bed. Our youngsters were snuggled together into their little groups, a few of the boys were about half awake when I kissed everyone goodnight, but the twins and Junior were gone to the world.

I was trying to decide which set of stairs to attempt, and cursing my Tequila induced double vision when something made me turn back toward the den. "Thanks God, thanks so much," I mumbled as I, suddenly clear visioned, looked over the ten or so foot long nest comforting my army of little angels.

I was a little surprised when I woke up alone in my bed the next morning. "Must get Binki, and Bandit out here," I mumbled to my pillow. Eight A.M.!?! I groaned. God I'd love to sleep till noon!

My bladder didn't seem anywhere nearly as sleepy as I was and demanded immediate relief. After stumbling to the bathroom still trying to wake up, my stomach took over, I'm sure from my nose informing it of the aroma of freshly brewed coffee floating up onto the second floor of Adam's huge house. I started to get dressed, but stuffed my legs into a pair of swim trunks and threw a tee-shirt over my shoulder to climb into later and staggered into the hall, my nose setting my course like the GPS in my aircraft.

Shit, if I was aloft now I could just set a glide path down those damn things! I wished as I prepared to try and navigate Adam's stairway. When I looked down from the stair's landing all of the hundred or so Margaritas I had consumed last night came back to visit all at once. Maybe we'll try this later, say at noon? I decided, and turned back toward that wonderfully comfortable bed I had just left.

I shuffled about halfway to my bedroom door before my eyes focused enough to realize there was something out of the ordinary in the hall; a pair of off-white, fairly well worn gym shoes in the middle of the floor. A couple of blinks of my bloodshot eyes sharpened my focus enough to snap that there was a pair of long, thin, blue jean covered legs attached to the shoes, and the crumpled remains of a skinny boy leaning against the wall right beside my bedroom door, attached to the jeans and shoes.

Oh shit, what now, I groaned.

To Be Continued…

Notes from the Author:

Sorry for taking so long on this chapter, but a hard one to write. (And you might pick up on the other reason very soon ...) Thanks so much for all the responses regarding naming the new home, and the upcoming sequel! Ginger sent sloppy kisses to everyone, hope it don't rust out any of the cybernet wiring. BTW, if you are reading this with your feet on the floor I'd raise and prop them on something QUICKLY, Erbert is thinking about offering his thanks too. . .