My Carl


I woke up about 5:30 in the morning. Reminding the boys we had an early start, I had managed to stifle their pleas to stay up late that I usually got every weekend night, and stuffed them into bed early.

Everyone had done most of their packing and such the night before, just having to throw our toothbrushes and such in our bags before we left, a hassle free morning! Refreshed but still sleepy I cracked one, then the other eye open, giving my alarm clock a dirty look before looking around.

Bandit was as usual in bed, but no Binki. Thinking nothing of it I rolled over but then had to look away and back a couple of times to be sure I wasn't still asleep. Carl, fully dressed, was sitting in a chair watching me Binki snuggled in his lap.

"What are you doing, why aren't you in bed?" I mumbled. "Is anything wrong, you're already dressed?"

"Well you said we were gonna leave early so I got ready!" he responded.

Shaking my head to be sure I wasn't dreaming I pulled one hand from under my covers toward him. He jumped out of the chair onto the bed wrapping his arms around my neck Binki now in my lap. "Good morning turkey, bunny." I whispered kissing them on top of their heads. I teased Carl a little about being too anxious before crawling out of bed, the coffee pot's aroma calling me.

Carl next to me, I started out into the hall when something caught my foot sending me tumbling toward the floor. Several stumbling steps later I barely caught my balance in time to prevent a nasty fall. "F***" I yelled. Turning around I continued "Damn, what's this shit." staring at a dark object in the bedroom doorway. I had taken one or two steps toward the object when I saw Carl's terror wracked face staring at me. The instant my eyes met his he disappeared into the bedroom.

Another glance told me the object I had tripped over was the backpack I had given Carl last night for his clothes. I looked around my bedroom a little before finding him now in a near fetal position hiding under a small table, his back against the wall, holding two of my bed pillows in front of him like a shield. His face was buried in the pillow and I'm still not sure how he knew but as I knelt down in front of the table his whole body started shaking. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry" he started whimpering.

"Hey, its okay, I should look where I'm going. Come here okay?" he just kept whimpering.

"Come on son, I'm not mad" didn't do any good either. As I reached toward him under the table he slammed his body into the corner as if trying to break through the wall. "Come on Carl, its pop, I won't hurt you!" That's not working. I reached under his arms and lifted his almost convulsing little body out from under the table. I wrapped my arms around him, pillows and all massaging his neck and shoulders. "Calm down, calm down, you're not afraid of me are you?"

After what I know was at least five minutes of holding and talking to him he finally whimpered "I'm sorry please don't whip me. Please I'm sorry sir."

Somehow I managed to move the tear soaked pillows enough to kiss the top of his head. "I don't whip people son, you know that! Hey this is pop remember, do you think I would hurt you? I love you Carl, I promise I'll never do anything to hurt you!"

Finally one of his hands, then the other slowly released their death grip on the pillows, making a couple of test touches against the sides of my chest before giving me a weak hug. "What are you going to do to me?" he slowly asked between sobs.

"I'm going to cook you some breakfast and take you flying!"

He calmed for a second "I still get to go?'' he whined. Before I could answer he continued "I mean what, well, what are you gonna punish me?"

"I'm not going to punish you, you didn't do anything wrong!" I responded, finally able to pry one of the pillows from between us.

"Well I made you mad sir. I'm sorry I really am!" he responded.

A little more rubbing his neck got him to relax enough to get the other pillow from between us so I could hold him. ''Wait,'' I thought ''this kid expects me to beat him half to death not because he left his bag where someone could get hurt, not because he almost made me fall, but because he pissed me off?'' After several tries I think I half way convinced him that my little tirade was because I was startled not mad and that I really wasn't going to hurt him.

After a couple of minutes I coached him to his feet. I was still sitting on the floor as he stood and got an instant shock as he unfolded his thin body, he had pissed all over himself sometime during all this. He immediately knew I had noticed turning ashen white. "Hey turkey" I said. "Those white jeans are gonna get dirty real quick traveling, go change into some darker ones." I at least got a tiny smile as he darted into his room, some of his dignity saved.

Carl was subdued during breakfast but as the twins and I kept talking about the upcoming trip he started relaxing, smiling once or twice. When we were done eating I sent everyone to brush their teeth and bring their bags to the front door, informing them we were leaving in ten minutes. I was out at the van loading my luggage, flight case and such when Carl appeared with his backpack, his eyes timidly asking where (well, almost if it was okay) to put it. Stuffing it next to my gear I just had time to get my arm around his chest before he slipped away. Pulling him next to me I asked "Feeling better?"

He only responded with a slight head nod whispering three or so words I didn't understand. "I love you son, I promise I'm not mad at you, okay? I promise I will never hit you or hurt you, can you believe that?"

"Yes sir" he almost whispered tensing his body somewhat.

"You're still scared, aren't you?" No response. "We are going to be on the road for 2 days, if you keep pouting like this your tail feathers might fall out, you know that?" He started to look up at me but didn't make eye contact. "What if we got in the middle of the Space Center and your tail feathers fell out? I can see it now, turkey feathers floating by the thousands off the top of the shuttle and everything." I continued, giving his armpits a quick tickle.

He squirmed a little then leaned against me.

"Please sir, I'm sorry sir" he whimpered.

"Well this isn't ending, I guess I better punish you." he stiffened like a board. "Let's see, tripping a pop. Hum, that going to cost you two tickles and a hug. Oh, calling a pop sir instead of pop, what are we going to do about that! For that you be sentenced to a pop squish!" I immediately went to what I knew was his most ticklish spot, his thin little stomach. It took a couple of tries before I got a giggle from him. I quickly moved my fingers to his armpits and almost immediately had him squirming and laughing like the little boy I loved. He was almost to his knees when I turned him around and lifted him by his chest. He automatically threw his arms around my neck and legs around my waist as I carried him toward the door.

We were almost at the door when a long honk from a car horn made me turn around. Tim, having just backed his truck out of his driveway was stopped in the middle of the street. "Child abuse, CHILD ABUSE!! I'm gonna report you to CPS!" he yelled before driving off.

Carl looked at me for a second before starting to giggle again.

"Remember you still got a pop squish coming." I told him as I carried him inside.

The twins were in the front room, bags waiting next to them. "Headgear guys." I said.

"But pop!" Jerry whined "Everyone stares at us! They look dumb!"

- a rule the twins hated was when we traveled they wear their headgears while en route. I understood their side, identical twins attract a lot of attention anyway and with matching stainless steel car bumper sticking out of the mouths even more, but, as I had explained to them probably hundreds of times, they would have more time not having to wear the things in more public as we enjoyed ourselves. - "Come on dad, we'll wear them tonight." Jeff answered.

I gave them my one of my ''hey stupid, you want to die or what'' glares, usually was the harshest disciplinary measure I had to use to keep them in line. Disgruntled they picked up their backpacks.

Jeff jerked on his pack as he tried to open it putting on a mini temper tantrum. "This sucks" he muttered. "Carl don't have to wear this shit!"

I was in the middle of Jeff's face as he stood back up. "You got a problem BOY?" I snarled.

"Would you rather stay here with gramps restricted to your room, headgear and all?" I'm not sure how but he managed to install his facebow on his teeth while staring into my eyes, my face about an inch from his, getting out a weak ''No Sir'' while he did. "Do we still have a problem?" I snapped.

"No sir" both of the twins answered in unison. I gently grasp Jerry then Jeff's neck guiding against me and starting toward the toward the door suggesting ''well, let'' go flying!'' Carl, standing against the wall wide eyed stared for a couple of seconds "Come on its totally BAD!"

Jeff told him, holding out his arm. Carl paused a second or two and rushed out the door in front of us.

The twins didn't quit talking all the way to the airport. Having been to NASA before, as well as attending the NASA Space Camp for the last two summers, they described our upcoming adventure to Carl in great detail. I had just taken the freeway exit to the airport when Jeff asked "Who gets right seat?" (the co-pilot's seat in the aircraft). Using the psychic telepathy twin siblings have, that mine have mastered before, Jerry said "Dad, are you gonna let Carl fly?"

Saying he was welcome to try if he wanted Jeff chimed in that they think Carl should get right seat. "Well but we want to fly some too!" Jerry said.

After stowing our belongings in the aircraft Jeff won the coin toss and drove the van to my airplane's reserved spot (about the only place either of them were allowed to drive a car) while I visited the flight center to check on any new weather problems then began my preflight , the careful inspection pilots are required to perform on their aircraft to assure it is flight worthy, the twins helping. For the first few minutes Carl was basically in awe, walking around staring at the aircraft from different angles, but the longer this took the more restless he got. At first he followed me around then darting around, completely under foot I'm sure to burn energy. I was considering ways to rope him to something as I accepted that the outside of the aircraft was flight worthy I yelled "need someone in the cockpit"

The twins, on opposite sides of the aircraft, stood still for maybe a second (I'm sure their telepathic antennas synching,) before Jerry ran and jumped onto the plane's wing. "Come on Carl!" he yelled as he climbed in the aircraft. Another five minutes of checking lights, control surfaces and such I was ready to board, climbing on the wing right behind Jeff.

To my surprise Carl was sitting in the back seat, Jerry showing him how to buckle and adjust the multi point restraint system. I was about to ask what was going on, the twins had given Carl the cherished right seat when Jeff said "Carl decided he wanted to chill some and maybe fly later some time, is that okay?"

I was still trying to figure out how Jeff, from outside the aircraft, had learned this when Carl said "There's too many buttons and stuff up there so I told Jerry I wanta just ride sir. . I mean pop"

Reminding myself to get the twins tested, they were not normal, I climbed into my seat, Jeff right behind me.

I pulled my shoulder straps into place before looking over at Jeff and saying "Well, are we going to go flying anytime this morning?"

Both the twins were fairly experienced pilots, excellent pilots for their age, having flown over a hundred hours or so as my ''right seat'', either of them could quickly qualify for a license if they were old enough - He instantly caught my hint flashing a wide sliver toothed smile that made me reach for my sunglasses as he brought the electronics then the engine to life, performing required tests and checks like he was a 747 Captain. "Can I taxi her? can I take off maybe?" he almost begged.

I checked each boy's seat restraints before responding "Wake me when you are tied down at Hobby." leaning back in my seat. - Hobby is a nickname for Houston's mostly general aviation airport, ''tied down'' is about like parking an airplane, strapping it to the ground so winds won't cause it to take flight unmanned in the middle of the night or such. - ''DUDE!!!'' came an identical voice from the back seat.

Although I had at least one hand on the controls, actually control of the aircraft, my left seat (pilot) station would automatically override anything Jeff tried to do, he began what would be a flawless sortie. I had to bite my lip a few times when the Air Traffic Controllers called him ma'am on the radio, but after taxiing out behind a 747 with a huge cargo aircraft tailgating him for runway time (something that make me nervous, each of these are probably 200 percent larger then my little Mooney, I have often wondered if she would fit in the intake of one of their engines) he took off.

Once we had leveled off at our flight altitude Carl and Jerry crawled out of their restraints. Carl spent probably the first half hour staring wide eyed out the window ( I thought he was going to crush Jerry a few times trying to see out the other side) while the twins and I engaged in small talk.

Soon he started looking over the aircraft's instrument panel, after several minutes he asked Jeff if he really knew what all the gauges, switches and displays did. That was all the twins needed.

Donning imaginary mortar caps and tassels they spent the rest of the flight giving Carl an advanced avionics course.

I was debating if I should remind Jeff we were nearing our approach to Houston when ATC did it for me. Directing us to a new radio frequency, the ATC operator ended his transmission with their standard statement "Have a good flight ma'am" causing a giggle from Carl and a death glare in Carl's direction from our young pilot. Soon Jeff had taxied to the FBO - Fixed Base Operator, about like an airport terminal but for private aircraft - The boys loaded our luggage into our waiting rental car, while I made arrangements to have the plane serviced for tomorrow and shortly I was fighting Houston traffic on the way to NASA. As I parked the car in the visitor area I noticed a lot of ''telepathic'' activity between the twins, eyes and invisible antennas flashing at each other. I had just shut off the car's engine when Jeff said "Ah, dad?" looking over to him he was pointing at his headgear.

"Okay, thanks for wearing them so well" I replied. Both of them had their straps unfastened and facebows out of their mouth so fast I was briefly worried the high grade stainless steel might melt from wind resistance.

NASA was great, everyone having the time of their lives. Choosing not to take the bus tour we explored on out own. After touring the space control center, then several of the training areas for Astronauts, the twins spouting every bit of knowledge they could remember from Space Camp to Carl. Carl remained completely in awe, I had no idea a human could keep his eyes bugged out for that long - I think he only blinked 2 times (nor would I have ever thought the NASA tour staff could be so patient regarding all his questions, I would have killed him to save my voice if I were them) It was close to lunch time so we decided to walk among the static exhibits outside for awhile and see some of the theater simulations after we ate. The twins cruised from exhibit to exhibit, often ahead of me but within bounds. It didn't take Carl's excitement and spirit of adventure to take over, disappearing at the speed of light in one direction then another even after I asked him to stay with our group. I was in the middle of about my third five to ten minute ''where's the lost kid'' panic session, starting to wonder (well or wish!) the gift shop sold those little kiddy leashes in Carl's size, when I spotted him about 50 yards from us. I gave the twins my VISA card asking the twins to meet me a nearby snack concessions stand and I caught up with him, now about 75 yards from where he was suppose to be.

He had his back to me climbing inside a rocket booster when I approached him. "Carl, we agreed everyone was going to stay together, didn't we?" I asked. He turned around and seeing me turned ashen and froze. After a second he looked back inside the booster then back at me now with the eyes of a frightened animal eyes I had seen before. "Come here son." I said. He glanced into the booster and back at three for four times I'm sure deciding his best option. "Come on son." Slowly he crawled down moving in front of me at about one step a second.

"I'm sorry sir its just everything is totally neat and . . . I mean I'm sorry sir." he whimpered looking at the ground, his arms trembling slightly. When I reached out toward him he stiffened like a board putting one arm in front of his face. "Please sir, I'm sorry."

"Hey, remember me, I'm pop, I don't hurt kids!" I responded. After what had to be over a minute he slowly lifted his head, tears dripping onto his shirt. He briefly scanned my face before darting his eyes back down. "Please come here, do you think I'm going to hurt you?" He hesitated then shuffled to me. As soon as he was within reach I put my hand on his shoulder and pulled him into a hug then kissed the top of his head. He was still trembling and sobbing as I guided him to a nearby park bench and sat down, drawing between my legs.

"What are you gonna do to me? he almost whispered. "Please sir I'm sorr. . ."

"Well right now I guess I'm going to buy you lunch!" I interrupted, stroking the back of his neck. "After that I might make you go on some dumb rides about space travel, and when I get you to the motel I might just throw you in some basement swimming pool!"

He hesitated before he moved closer to me asking "I mean about making you mad sir. . . I mean for running away."

I wrapped my arm around his waist and after a couple of tries coached him to sit on my lap.

"You didn't run away, you got excited and roamed farther from me I than you should have.

I'm not mad at you I was scared, I was afraid you might get hurt or lost. I am not mad, okay?"

I got sort of a lost nod. "When I asked you to stay close to me I expect you to do it. Not because you might run away, not because I don't trust you, because I love you and it would break my heart if something happened to you!. I know you are too old to walk around holding my hand, but if we have to do that to keep you safe I will insist, understand?" I said, finishing the statement with a gentle hug of his waist. His eyes flashed from looks of fright to teenage indignity to blank stares several times as he digested my statement.

After what had to be well over a full minute he turned and surveyed my face.

I could feel his eyes zooming in on mine as if I was getting an optical exam. Before I realized he had moved I found a pair of long skinny arms wrapped around my neck and Carl's cheek pressed tightly against mine.

"I love you, I'm sorry sir, , , I mean pop." he whispered. I wrapped my arms around him and we hugged for at least a couple of minutes. As I held him I could feel the tension and fear of the frightened animal side draining away, my shy little angel sneaking back out of its shell. Finally he turned his head and kissed my cheek.

It snapped to me we were sitting in the middle of a Federal Reservation in view of several thousand tourists some of which were surveying us. I returned his kiss with a little peck before reaching around his back and poking his stomach "Damn that feels empty to me!" I said as Carl giggled. Another poke and a little tickling he responded to by squirming like a snake and more giggles. "I think we better find something to feed that tape worm!" I said as I threw him over my shoulder, pinning his knees under one my elbow. I made it about halfway to the snack stand, Carl giggling all the way, before my old bones said enough and I had to let him down. Still giggling and silly as a two year old he wormed his way under my shoulder as we walked.

Lunch was unique, and I am being polite here. . . Unknowingly I had sent the twins to one of the small concession stands NASA operated that sold ''space food''. The kids loved it, Carl thought he was cruising in the space shuttle, but I ended up sucking what was advertised as a "Gemini Cheeseburger" (not knowing what I was getting into, I agreed to it at the twins suggestion, I still think they were getting even with me for making them wear their headgear). It was a tube of hamburger flavored paste, (turd would be a better word, I really wondered if someone had already digested this for me, I don't think I need to go further. . .) and bun shaped crackers I could spread it over. Thankfully they had real water (that you didn't rehydrate or anything!) and we had a good time talking while the kids devoured countless tubes of this crap, I squirting mine under my seat a little at a time acting like I was eating it.

We began making our way back to the visitor center along a different path taking in more exhibits. Carl quickly went back into hyper mode, but this time disappearing and reappearing. As we walked his away time got longer and longer and I found myself scanning wondering how I could best track him down best. I was on the edge of sending the twins hunting when something brushed my palm then a set of little fingers wrapped around my thumb.

"Hi pop! I'm sorry please don't be mad" Carl said. Looking down I was rewarded with the wonderfully innocent, happy freckled face I was learning to love. I guess my face was enough answer for him, he tucked himself under my arm smiling like an opossum. - a small animal native to the southern USA that's lips are in the relaxed position make its face look like it always has a wide, happy grin - After watching several of NASA's multimedia simulations and a visit to the gift shop to buy tee shirts and souvenirs, we found our rental car, I think everyone was ready to find a place to relax for a while. I was impressed that the twins put their headgears on without any reminder and soon we were at our hotel. Carl got a little nervous when the porter rushed off with his belongings along with ours, then another driving off with the car (I don't think he had ever been to a hotel before) When I checked in we had a brief problem. The adjoining rooms I had reserved were not available until later today as the party occupying them had yet not checked out. After I verified my reservation was for noon (and it was 3 PM) I asked the clerk where we were to stay. All but audaciously she suggested we make ourselves comfortable in the lobby or lounge turning to walk away. I'm not sure if my not too tactful language or my facial expression got her attention but magically a manager appeared and upgraded us to a suite for the same rate.

What a suite it was too, this guy wanted me out of lobby badly! We were ushered into a very comfortable sitting room with an in wall entertainment center and comfortable leather furniture, a large balcony and two spacious bedrooms off to the sides. Each bedroom had its own bath and television.

Everyone was impressed, but Carl was in awe. He walked around the room at first with his hands behind his back like a six year old in a ''no-touch'' museum or something.

After a minute or so he began almost risking brief touches of the couch, then the stereo. His pace quickened as he explored the bedrooms then the balcony. "Wow, a pool!" he called to us. We joined him and looked over the large pool below us, devoid of people because of the temperature. "Can we. . ."

"I think I'd prefer the indoor one." I interrupted "I'd hate to see you turn into a turkey- cicle" I said pulling him against my chest my arms over his shoulders.

"They got another pool inside?" he almost hooted.

"Yea, they got a gym and stuff too!" Jerry interjected, "Dad always stays at these."

"Let's get unpacked and we'll go see." I suggested. The twins helped him hang his clothes and soon they were all standing in my bedroom giving me impatient glares. When I hung the last of my garments I shoed them back into the main room and sat down. "Okay Let's talk for a minute" I said, gesturing for them to sit down. I got three ''oh, what now!'' looks as they sat.

"Carl, Jerry and Jeff already know this, but we have some rules when we are away from home."

His eyes widened like here it comes. "They are safety rules so they absolutely must be obeyed, no second chances here, understand?" He pushed closer to Jeff on the couch then gave me a frightened nod, his lips forming a couple of silent words.

"You are never to leave the room without my permission, and only with at least one of the twins or me. When you guys leave you can only go where you have said you were going, no where else without telling me, and never outside the hotel. Understand so far?"

Another nod, his facial expression almost saying ''well, come on, drop the bomb''. "Also, never answer the door unless I say its okay, and if I'm not in the room don't answer it at all. Oh yea, you can only charge soft drinks to our bill but you have to ask me before ordering food, okay? Oh and don't charge beer or mixed drinks to the bill."

The last comment worked perfectly in cutting the tension. His nose wrinkled as he cocked his head to the side, a classic puzzled look that would make any movie director proud. Letting him stew for a few seconds I said "Well you guys want to check out the pool? Let's go, everyone grab your trunks."

The twins ran tripping all over each other rushing to their room but Carl just sat there. I ruffled his hair telling him to come on. "What about the rest of the rules?" he asked.

"Oh yea I did forget one. Since you're the youngest you're not allowed to have any fun, none what so ever!" Before he could react I gave his ribs a good tickle causing him to squeal and giggle.

"You're silly" he howled as he rushed in the bedroom. He was still all bubbly as we started to leave. We had just stepped into the hall when he popped up "You know those rules aren't too bad, you didn't say we can't buy wine!" He was far down the hall before I could even start to grab him.

The pool was a perfect interlude in our busy day. I played with the kids for a few minutes tossing them up for back flips and letting them dive off my shoulders, all the obligatory stunts dads must perform. The hundred or so miles it seemed like I had walked started catching up with me and I slipped away from them, just floating next to the wall relaxing while they played. After a few minutes I climbed out of the water into one of the nearby chaise lounges. Soon I caught a waiter's attention, ordering a rum and coke along with an extra large order of Nachos - corn chips covered with spiced, melted cheese - I got to munch on two or three chips before the kids appeared as I expected, When it comes to food the twins' noses would put a blood hound's to shame, I would swear they can smell a frozen bread slice from 50 yards away. Two orders later, myself getting eight or ten of the hundred or so chips consumed, they seemed refilled, declining the waiter's offer of another order.

As the waiter walked away Jeff pushed his leg against my arm asking "what's for supper?"

After the boys played in the water for a few more minutes we showered, changed out of our trunks and went back to our suite. I had already decided on a nearby Steakhouse, knowing them by reputation, but polled the kids what they wanted to do after we ate.

After I offered several options including going to the movies, finding an amusement park, sight seeing etc., the twins synched their antennas briefly before Jerry said "Can we get some snacks and watch a movie here?" I didn't bother asking Jeff, knowing his brother already had telepathically but Carl seemed thrilled with the idea as was I.

I suggested we get dressed and go eat, ignoring their complaints that they wear button up shirts and dress slacks. "No jeans" I ordered as they went in their bedroom. I changed clothes and called downstairs asking to have my car brought around while I waited for them. We were about to leave when Jerry said "Ah, dad?", his whine identical to his brother's this morning, pointing at his headgear. I ignored the recurring question that popped from the back of my brain every so often in the past 14 years 'are they twins or the result of some evil doctor's cloning experiments?' "Wait till we get to the restaurant." I responded. Two or three silent pleas using their best sad puppy dog eye imitations made me relent.

As we exited the hotel lobby and Carl saw our rental in front of the door, a doorman on each side he froze so quickly I ran into his back. Slipping my arm around him I guided him to the car the doorman opening his then my door closing them for us as we climbed in. After the valet greeted us in front of the restaurant and zoomed away with our car I started inside but had to call Carl to join us, he was still standing in the middle of the driveway gawking toward the car.

Realizing this was going to be an experience for both of us I tucked him under my arm as we entered. After checking our coats the maitre d' approached, dressed in formal coat and tails "Is this all of your party sir?" Carl pushed further under my arm as the steward smartly gestured toward the dining area saying "Please follow me sirs." After a couple of tries I pried Carl from under my arm and into a chair at our table. Presenting everyone menus the maitre d' asked if I would like to see the wine list, before disappearing.

Instantly an equally dignified waiter appeared offering to bring us something to drink and appetizers before we ordered. I asked for a margarita, the twins ordering Cokes. After waiting a few seconds the waiter turned smartly to Carl and asked "And for you sir?"

Knowing we weren't going to get an answer I ordered a coke for him along with a large order of stuffed mushrooms and shrimp cocktails for everyone. I opened my menu being careful to keep Carl in sight as I scanned it, the twins studying theirs like a Christmas wish list.

Carl picked his up but never opened it instead bolting out of his chair to me pushing his body inside my arm. I ran my fingers up and down his back asking him if he was okay.

"I didn't know there really was places like this" he whispered "I thought they were just in old movies and stuff. I'm scared, I don't know what to do or nothing!" his eyes reddening. "Maybe can go we eat somewhere else?"

"I know, I know, you have good reason to be scared." I began causing him to mold even more tightly against me. "Look, they have turkey on the menu! Right here, fresh young turkeys, tail feather soup comes with it" pointing blindly at the menu on the roast beef or whatever. He stiffened like I had given him an electric shock before allowing his eyes to focus. "Relax son, just be a Carl, okay? Take two bites of their food and you will know why we came here." before he could respond our appetizers arrived, the waiter thankfully passing the mushrooms near Carl's nose as he set them down. I picked up a fork scooping a sauce laden shrimp out of my cocktail putting it next to his lips. "Want to see?"

Reluctantly he accepted the taste closing his lips as I pulled the fork out.

His eyes bugged slightly as he bit down and swallowed. "Wow, that is totally yummy!" he reached toward my cocktail but I stopped his telling he had more over at his seat. He took a couple of cautious bites. Studying how the twins and I conducted ourselves. It didn't take long for him to adjust, he destroyed a salad, huge serving of fried shrimp and French fries and finally a very respectable slice of cheese cake.

As we left the restaurant I had to snicker, this skinny kid had a beer belly almost as big as mine, it taking me probably ten years to get that fat.

After a quick stop at a corner grocery for drinks and snacks we were back at the hotel. The boys all but darted into their bedroom to change as I stuffed our drinks in the suite's small refrigerator then went into my bedroom and climbed into a comfortable tee shirt and shorts.

When I came back out the boys were still in their room, the door closed. I spent a couple of minutes looking over the hotel's list of pay per view movies and list of DVD rentals available before I started to wonder what they were up to. I was about to get up and check on them when the door opened and they came out clad only in gym shorts. "Headgear?" I more then ordered then asked as they crossed the room. All of them turned around and darted toward their bedroom.

Carl was almost to the door before he stopped, turning around red faced.

"Oh yea I don't got one!" he explained. I didn't mean any signal as I put my hand on my hip but I guess Carl took it as one and instantly I had a lap full of still embarrassed kid.

I couldn't help noticing the bulging belly he had leaving the restaurant was gone his tummy was flat and thin again. "What did you do with all your yumm?" I asked stroking his bare stomach making him squirm. Before I knew it I had two more kids piled on me the twins and Carl laughing and hugging me, somehow all four of us fitting into a recliner designed for one. Quickly everyone settled down and we spent a couple of minutes investigating movie possibilities. Nothing looked interesting on pay per view or the broadcast channels but the kids found three or four DVD's that I approved of we could rent. "You guys want to run downstairs and get a couple?" I asked getting a quick agreement.

Expecting them to bound out of the chair I glanced around when only Carl jumped out of my lap.

The twins were clearly telepathically discussing something, eyes and invisible antennas almost on overload. "Can Jeff and Carl go get them dad, I kinda wanted to stay here, , , I mean kick back"

Jerry asked. Agreeing I told Jeff to get the room passage card off my dresser before they left. - like a credit card but they opened the electronic lock on the door to our suite, also on doors to the pool and such in the hotel- They were heading toward the door at lightning speed when I snapped "Shirts, shoes, gentlemen!" a quick dart back into their bedroom and the were back at the door. As it opened I growled "CARL! , , , only ONE gallon of wine on my bill if you will sir!"

A series of giggles and they were gone.

Jerry sat motionless for several seconds his face looking like he had the problems of the world on his shoulders. I shifted in the recliner so his thin frame slid next to mine then rolled toward him tucking my arm behind his neck. "what's on your mind son, what's wrong?." I could almost hear gears grinding in his head as he glanced at me three or four times saying nothing. I pulled him closer to me before continuing "Talk to me son, I can't help you if you won't." He rolled his eyes toward mine for several seconds but looked away. "Remember me, I'm dad, please tell me what's wrong."

"What's gonna happen to Carl?" he finally asked. I was trying to think of an answer when he continued "Are you gonna let him live with us?" He shifted his body so we were basically face to face, locking his eyes to mine. "Dad, we love him, so do you. We, ah, Jeff and I have been talking and we think we should adopt him. . . I mean I think you should adopt him, , , I mean we think you should adopt him."

I kissed his forehead before I cuddled his head against my chest. Wiping tears from my eyes I held him for a few seconds. "God son, I wish it was that simple, all this is much more complicated than I think you know, I don't think I could adopt Carl if I tried. But Carl probably isn't going to leave right after the holidays like we thought, he's probably going to stay with us until CPS finds him a good home."

"But he's got a good home here!" he explained. "Why should he go somewhere else? That's dumb, why can't you adopt him?"

I looked away for a few seconds trying to get my thoughts together. Jerry was at the age where he was half little boy half young man but I clearly was addressing the young man right now.

"Jerry, well Let's look at some realities. I'm a single dad that already has two young teens. I'm old enough to be Carl's grandfather and I'm far from rich, I have to go to work every day or we don't eat. That's not the kind of home that kids get adopted into - adoption judges would laugh at me. I have my hands full taking care of you two anyway."

"But you're old enough to by my grandfather too." he responded. "You can take care of all three of us you already are! Dad, Carl is so much different since he moved here, he's not scared all the time and he's not afraid to come home to our house and he's happy! The only time I ever saw Carl happy before he moved here was when he came to our house and was with you. Now that he lives here he's got a real dad that he can trust; well..that he can love."

"Son there are some things involved I cannot tell you and I don't think you would understand if I did." As I said it I knew it was a poor answer at best, but all I could think of. "Carl has had a lot of things done to him that he is going to have to learn to deal with, things that I have no idea how to help him through."

"You mean what his mom and dad made him do?" he interrupted, leaning further into our hug.

After I didn't answer for a few seconds he continued. "Yea we know, he came to our house after almost every time to hide, he knew he would get to be safe with you at least for a little while. You are probably the only reason he didn't kill himself dad.." I felt my head starting to spin as his statement sunk in. I took several deep breaths afraid I was going to back out.

"Dad, dad?" Jerry's voice snapped me back toward reality. "Carl and Jerry are back with the movies, can they come in?" Presuming they had forgotten the passage card I nodded and started to push out of the recliner when I heard the electronic lock release.

To Be Continued…