My Flock

Chapter 12

It didn't take me long to figure out I was about to lose my ass as what seemed like all of the ancient country of Arabia's Cavalry glared at me. I tried to think of a way to at least get Bobby out of the pasture, and rescue him from the slaughter I was sure was about to begin but things didn't look good.

A slice from one of those long, half moon sabers would be a more merciful way to go than being stampeded. Can horses Draw and Quarter someone without their riders' help? I asked myself, thinking back to the old 'Lawrence of Arabia' movies I had watched as reruns when I was growing up.

After tucking Bobby into an even tighter hug I risked a couple of glances toward the gate, only to find out I was in even more trouble than I could have imagined. Not only had Jerry seemingly followed my instructions, the yard above the pasture and patio were both devoid of human life, but there were several very menacing looking animals were between me and the gate, far more than I would even consider trying to dodge, especially while trying to protect Bobby as we made a run for it.

Adam, where the HELL are you? I groaned. Please God, if you get me out of this I'll, , , I'll start going to church! I prayed.

Bad choice of words, or prayers, but here we go, which one should I TRY to fight off? I wondered as Zeus and Diablo advanced on us. To my disbelief Diablo pushed her huge snout softly against me and let out one of her soft sighs as Zeus sniffed Bobby and I, then turned away and neighed.

Here comes the executioners, I told myself as I watched the formation of huge animals part and they all looked back toward the barn.

"You little turncoat! I should have left your little ass in Florida, I should have handed you over to that hillbilly Leroy!" I softly snarled as Erbert pranced through the opening toward us. Great, we're going to be killed as part of a training session! I thought when Zoe and Hijo appeared behind the bug-eyed little rat.

I came so close to pissing myself I am sure I left a wet spot in my swim trunks a second of so later when something touched my shoulder from behind.

"Some of your friends seem rather worried about you!" Adam voice rang. When I risked a glance he was planting a kiss on the top of Bobby's head. "Even Zoe and Hijo, will you go give him a hug?" he added as he gently pulled the boy out of my grasp. Although I was still in shock from Adam's appearance I somehow managed to nod at the lad, he bolted out from under my arm and rushed toward the colt.

"As experienced a rider as you are, I'm surprised you are so uncomfortable around groups of animals," he began as he stuffed a beer into my hand. "They are really overgrown pets, and often very therapeutic," he continued, motioning with his beer toward Bobby, who was now being showered with tongue kisses from a couple of horses as he hugged the little colt.

I almost went back into panic mode when this huge burnt brown head leaned over the shoulder I had been protectively cuddling Bobby under and pushed the bottom of its long snout against my chest.

"I, or we, can help boys like Bobby, and Mike, we already have helped a hundred or so." Adam continued. "Want to be a part of it? You would be a most valued addition.

"You'd also make someone else very happy," Adam said as he stepped in front of me and rubbed Diablo's nose, earning a sigh from the big animal. "Well a whole bunch of somebodies," he chuckled, nodding his head toward the patio.

"They obeyed me, I don't believe it! Well, almost," I quipped as I looked up toward the house, and the sea of youngsters. Everyone now back in their hip hugging blue-jean uniforms. I was about to wave them that they could join us when one of the twins, I think Jerry, flashed a blinding silver grin and they all charged toward us.

"I was going to talk to you tonight, but let's go for a short walk," Adam suggested as he gestured toward the barn.

Here we go again, I thought as I slipped out from under Diablo. I'm not sure he was talking to you, I snickered as the big mare fell in next to me. What's this, is he the Union Steward? I groaned when Zeus trotted over and began walking next to his owner.

"What are your plans for Bobby, and for Mike?" Adam asked.

"I don't know," I mumbled. "I have to talk to Tim of course, but I guess for the short term I'll take them in." I paused, fighting for an answer to his question, the same one I had asked myself a thousand times this week. "I can't for too long, with five kids the walls of my house are going to start bulging out, and my dad might go on strike or run away to the Old Soldier's Home, but I'm going to be sure they find good homes.

"And no, there is no way in hell Bobby is going back to that, , , 'Shelter'. His assessment of it is right on."

"I'd like to move them out here," he replied. "Hear me out, please," he cut me off as I turned toward him.

"I've been working with Mike, and somewhat with Bobby all week, and they are perfect candidates for our program, and the help we can give them."

He stopped walking and turned to face me before continuing, "Of course I haven't told them what I have in mind, but I have felt them out about this, and I am sure they would be very, very receptive.

"And consider, we have two-thousand acres, well now almost three-thousand acres of freedom to help them get over their phobias of being confined, a lot of peers going through the same challenges they are, and an understanding staff.

"In addition to an on-campus Board Certified Adolescent Psychiatrist, we have a very professional staff, and thirty, no, thirty-three and counting lay therapists." he added with a hint of a snicker in his voice.

It took me a second or so to snap what he was saying until I noticed Zeus and Diablo had also stopped walking, and were patiently looking at us, waiting for us to seemingly continue walking them. They are a little like Bandit, but thousand pound pets? I thought. I don't believe any of this shit, I thought when I saw a pair of cinnamon colored ears twitch behind my host.

"That's, , , well thanks, but decisions like that are way above my pay grade," I risked. I downed the last of my beer and wished we were back on Adam's patio instead of his hot, getting hotter by the second pasture before adding, "That's something for Tim, I mean CPS, to consider. I'll, , , I'll pass it on to him ASAP. Ah, thanks for the offer."

"Oh, here! You rushed out of the house so quickly I'm sure you forgot this!" Adam said as he held out my cell phone. "I learned the hard way not to even go take a piss without having it with you," he grinned. Something in his expression told me he wasn't worried about my job being able to find me. Another glance around, and the furry cinnamon forehead and big pair of eyes peeking above Adam's head told me I wasn't going to get off the hook.

"Thanks, but no thanks," I groaned a second later when Diablo pushed her hug snout against my new phone, her nostrils completely covering the instrument and my hand. "Ginger tried that and it didn't even work, , ," the loud, almost indignant high pitched neigh from behind Adam told me not to go there.

"Sam said you were kicking back in the hill country, did you find some magic cactus or something? It must be good shit, you better bring me some!" Tim teased after I outlined Adam and my conversation.

"I know the facility you are talking about, it's the Ritz of Children's Homes in this area, probably in the US!" he continued. "But as hard as we have tried, we have only placed one boy there, they have a ten to twelve MONTH waiting list, IF you can get a placement in even then." He paused for a second or so, then I could almost feel the tension over the airwaves as he asked, "Are you sure who you are dealing with?"

You wouldn't EVEN believe who all I am dealing with!

Ginger staring at me. Not even! I decided as I noticed Diablo's and Zeus' gaze, their ears cocked rigidly upright and darting between Ginger and I.

"I'm talking with one of the owners, yes, they are for real," I began. I was surprised at Tim's out of character, excited reaction when I mentioned Adam's name.

"Your girlfriend is going to have a cow, she's been using all of her judicial juices, I mean influence, to place both boys with you, but if Bobby and Mike are interested, I God Damn sure am." Tim exclaimed, still with some excitement in his deep voice. "Feel them out, and get back with me."

Feel them out? I wondered as we rang off. You're the social worker! A fresh beer being thrurst into my hand, then Jeff's bright smile distracted me.

"We love you Dad!" he beamed as he pushed against my side.

Oh shit, was he? I asked myself. "Were you, , , listening to my conversation?" I risked.

"No Sir! You said not to, we'd never do that!" he exclaimed, pushing his facebow into my chest. I was trying to believe him when he added, "But it would be neat to live out here, I wish I could!"

"Not a word of this to ANYONE, or you're dead meat," I whispered to him. "Your brother too, I mean it boys," I added when I thought I saw his headgear strap move slightly, I was sure from his antenna extending. Before I realized it I silently added, You too! toward the small cinnamon horse staring at us.

Jeff seemed to follow my gaze as he answered, "Yes sir. Can we go riding?" My millisecond of silence seemed to be enough of an answer and he bolted away.

"But we would like to talk to Bobby and Mike in a few minutes, be sure everyone has their phone!" Adam yelled after him. "Let's go for a ride, we'll meet Mike and Bobby, a perfect venue to talk to them," he said toward me.

Not even, we are just recovering enough to walk! My legs objected. Oh shit, I groaned as Diablo lined up in front of me, her saddle stirrup only about a foot away. Reluctantly, I ignored my spine's complaints and followed Adam up the hill to change clothes.

It didn't take me long to start to relax after I struggled up into the saddle of my big mount. Diablo shifted her feet nervously as Adam and Zeus blasted away from us for their traditional gallop, but gently trotted after them, sticking her big head high into the air and somewhat prancing as we went by the unsaddled animals that were left behind.

After we met the boys and convinced Bobby and Mike to ride with us I'm not sure who I was more impressed with; Adam for his skill and frankness as he talked to them, or Mike and Bobby for their maturity as they listened to him, and to his offer.

The questions they asked as we rode across the pasture were surprisingly mature considering their ages; a combination of how much they would get to ride the horses, see Adam and my sons, and where they would go to school and live.

Adam's timing seemed to be perfect. As he reviewed the home's programs we topped a ridge and The Ranch's campus came into view.

"The other boys won't be back until tonight, they have been at Six Flags over Texas all week, but would you like to see where you would live?" he asked.

I was as awestruck as the boys seemed when we toured one of the 'cottages', as Adam called them - it struck me as a very comfortable family home. Except for being oversized, the kitchen, dining room and even the large den seemed as warm and homelike as my home. A separate game room, equipped with several video game stations, computer stations, and even a pool and ping pong table looked like a teenagers dream come true.

The spacious bedrooms were at least as inviting. Each was equipped with two twin beds and wardrobes, also a pair of combination study desks and computer hutches. "Everyone gets their own computer, e-mail and internet access," Adam told us.

"This is the Prefects' bedroom," he told us. "They are high school seniors or college Freshmen, and they are in charge of the cottage," he said toward Bobby and Mike.

"Each cottage has a staff member that comes in daily to do some housekeeping chores and to cook, but the only adults on campus at night are the director and one pair of house-parents to help with any emergencies. The house-parents have an apartment in Administrative Building." he told me.

"They don't get computers?" Mike asked, looking at the study area of the bedroom.

"Prefects have laptop computers, I'm sure they took them with them to Dallas," Adam replied. "Each of our resid, , , boys are given a laptop when they start their senior year, by the way it is theirs to keep when they leave here for college."

After we left the cottage Adam pointed at the building under construction and continued, "That's going to be our Sports Complex. A full gymnasium, weight room and such, with an Olympic size swimming pool, tennis courts and track and soccer field behind it."

The Administrative building was equally impressive. Besides the normal offices and meeting rooms it had a wing that was somewhat like a school building, but an impressive one to say the least - Besides several small classrooms, that he explained were to tutor residents until they were ready to attend the private school the other boys attended, it had a computer lab that rivaled anything on the military installation I worked at.

I had a little trouble believing him when he informed us they maintained a three-to-one student/teacher ratio, but just added it to my stack of 'believe it or not's'.

It took me a second to snap what he might be up a few minutes later when he suggested, "Let's go see the Director's residence."

I reluctantly followed behind him, wondering what he had up his sleeve. We were about halfway to the house when a horse's neigh distracted me. Oh boy, I hope they're not in on this, I thought when I noticed a mounted posse watching us from the top of the ridge. I guess we'll find out! I groaned as they began thundering toward us.

"Hi Dad!" Jerry hooted as everyone leapt off their still trotting mounts. "What'cha doing?" he asked, flashing an all but blinding smile as he, Carl and Johnny rushed toward me.

Okay, what are they into now, I wondered as I watched Ronnie and Pieter take Adam into tow, while Jeff and Junior isolated Bobby and Mike off to the side.

Oh great, I groaned when Jerry looked toward the Director's house and bubbled, "Nice house!"

"We're just looking around, and talking a little," I answered. "What are you guys doing, why aren't you riding?" I tried, realizing how clumsy my question was as I asked it.

"We were just riding," Carl replied.

"And wondering where you were and stuff!" Johnny smiled at me.

"Well and if Mike and Bobby were, , , I mean if they were gonna ride with us," Jerry injected. His glances at his twin told me he was waiting for input. "That is a neat house, its got a pool even!" he continued as he turned me back toward the Director's residence. "We saw it when we were here the other day," he added, I'm sure answering my questioning expression.

Jerry and his little helpers ushered me a dozen or so steps toward the building before stopping. When I followed their gaze I noticed Adam somehow had escaped his captors was talking to Bobby and Mike, ignoring Jeff's dirty glare. A minute later they gave Adam a quick hug then bolted away toward the horses. They ran a few yards before they turned back and rushed to me, both of them wrapping into a hug.

"Thanks Pop!" Bobby exclaimed. "Come on, let's go riding!" he hooted as they darted away. To my surprise all the other boys took off behind them.

"It's getting late, be home before dark!" Adam yelled after them.

"What happened, what did you tell them?" I asked as he walked toward me. "How much do they know, well about,"

"With those twin little clairvoyant rats of yours, what do you think they know!" Adam chuckled. "Bobby and Mike want to talk to each other, and to our boys, but I'm sure they will agree to try it here for a couple of weeks at least."

I digested his comments for a few seconds before risking, "What about, the discussions you and I have been having, do they know about those?"

He glanced out toward the herd of horses racing away, then took a deep breath. "Let me show you the Director's residence," was his only answer.

Diablo acted more like an excited puppy than the half ton of horse flesh she was as we walked toward her and Zeus a few minutes later, excitedly prancing her hoofs and wiggling her rump, much like Bandit did every time one of us came home. Thankfully she didn't jump up on me with her front legs like Bandit does, instead pushing her long snout into my chest, clearly saying 'pet me!'.

She even behaved perfectly as Adam and I guided our mounts back across the pasture, leisurely walking them as we each enjoyed a beer he had pilfered from the Director's refrigerator.

We were riding and chatting a few minutes later when a high pitched squeal, followed by several loud giggles rang from over the ridge. "Got'cha!" Mike's hooted an instant later.

"Lake Skinny Dip?" I snickered.

"Guess there is always time for a late afternoon dip!" Adam answered, his belly shaking as he tried to chuckle and talk at the same time.

"I'm ready for another beer, what about you?" he asked a minute later. Without waiting for an answer he crushed his empty can, stuffed under the back of his belt, and launched Zeus into a full gallop.

Oh God, I knew it was too good to be true, I moaned as Diablo lowered her big head and bolted after them. She ran four or five steps, then stopped. I didn't know a horse could bend its neck enough to turn around and look at its rider but she did, with a very pleading look. I don't believe even this! But oh well, I guess whatever, I thought. I crushed my can and stuck it into my belt then grabbed my cell phone, stuffing it into my pocket.

"Its okay, go for it," I groaned, locking a death grip on her saddle with both hands. Damn, at least my aircraft has five point restraints, and a flight control yoke!I thought as we broke the sound barrier.

Adam and I had relaxed in his pool for probably half an hour, I think both of us intoxicated by the beauty only a Texas hill country sunset could provide, when the parental portion of my brain kicked in - We had told the boys to be home before dark, and there were only a few thin rays of sunlight still showing from behind Adam's mountain.

I couldn't help wondering if he was reading my mind a minute or so later when Adam snickered, "They sure like to push the edge!"

After I followed his gaze into the dusk's last light I too chuckled at the herd of horses galloping toward the barn.

They were the picture of efficiency as they unsaddled and groomed the horses - I wondered if Henry Ford was looking down from above taking notes on how to improve his revolutionary production line concept. Junior and Ronnie went to the tack room and began removing the saddles for the line of steeds waiting, while the other boys disappeared into the barn.

Shortly afterward, a horse would prance out of the barn every minute or so, some of them with their coats still quivering from being brushed. Even in the twilight I could see a tiny shadow with a pair of bug eyes just outside the barn door, clearly supervising the operation.

Very shortly all of them raced up to the house. Adam and I only rated a couple of hand waves from most of them as they rushed across the patio into the house, but Junior and Ronnie stopped just outside the door, looked out at the few rays of sunlight dimly showing over the horizon, then cast Adam a glance that clearly said 'See, we made it in time!'.

Five minutes or so later I understood why we had gotten the cold shoulder when they bolted back onto the patio, all of them now clad in Speedos and displaying milk moustaches.

"Boys, take off your, , ," Adam barked.

"Headgear," I groaned as all of our tin grins dove into the water.

Bobby and Mike were much more relaxed than I expected, probably better put bubbly, as we swam. I ignored my still somewhat sore muscles and back and joined Adam in tossing the kids into the air so they could dive into the water, and played with them for probably an hour. I was tempted to try to get Bobby and Mike, or even the twins off to the side and talk to them about this afternoon's events, but it was too much so a jovial, party atmosphere to disturb.

Adam earned a few groans and dirty looks later when he announced it was time for everyone to take a shower and get ready for bed, but I think their day had caught up somewhat and none of them argued much.

Okay, whatever! I chuckled a couple of minutes later after I stepped inside for fresh beers. Although I could hear the showers running upstairs about half the boys, still in their wet speedos, were busily downstairs building their nest.

"Now, that's teamwork!" I tittered to Adam as watched through the patio door.

A couple at a time, pairs of freshly scrubbed boys appeared in the family room and took over the nest building activity for the others, who rushed upstairs I'm sure to bathe.

"Well, it's good to see they keep their priorities in order!" Adam snickered as we watched Bobby and Mark wrestle an absolutely huge bowl of still steaming popcorn onto the coffee table.

When we checked on the boys a few minutes later they were all snuggled into small groups under their mountain of quilts and blankets, including Buddy and Erbert. Probably half of them were sound asleep, the others nodding off as they munched on the last of the popcorn and watched some Sci-Fi movie, but clearly were heading toward dreamland.

After kissing everyone but Mark, as usual buried deep under the covers and cuddled against Johnny we stood by the door for several minutes, both of enjoying the sight of our innocent little angels, accented by the bright Texas moon. I was tempted to excuse myself and go to bed but gave into Adam's pressure, and joined him back on the patio for one, or maybe two, more beers before retiring.

We were leaning back enjoying relaxing quiet of the country and beautiful night sky a few minutes later, neither of us talking, when a warm thin body pushed under my arm.

"Hi Dad," Jeff grinned. His twin slipped under my other arm, pushing a fresh beer in front of me.

I started to nail them for being outside instead of asleep like they were suppose to be, but wrapped my arms around their thin waists and enjoyed their cuddle for a few seconds before I did.

"You guys are supposed to be in bed," I said as I stroked their backs. "Is anything wrong, why are you up?"

"Um, well, we sorta wanted to talk to you, Dad," Jerry began in a soft voice.

"It's sorta important, sir" Jeff continued as they turned and perched on my thighs facing me.

"If you will excuse me, I think I'm going to take a shower," Adam announced. He ignored my dirty look and disappeared into his bedroom.

The twins were beginning to mature, bouncing between being carefree boys and young men. Their faces told me there were two young men asking to talk, and not to send them back to bed.

"What's up guys, can't it wait until tomorrow morning?" I asked.

"No sir," Jerry answered. The determination in his alto voice surprised me. They glanced at each other, I was sure each of them wanting the other to pick up the ball and continue.

"Is this about Bobby, and Mike?" I risked, knowing it was and hoping to let them off the hook at least a little.

"No sir, well, , , ah," Jerry mumbled.

"Not exactly," Jeff injected.

"Sir," Jerry finished his twin's statement. They exchanged another glance before he continued, "We, well, we sorta had a meeting and stuff."

"Us kids," Jeff added.

"Sir," Jerry injected. I was trying to think of a gentle way to get them to open up, to break the tension, when he continued, "Are we going to get to live out here? We, well Carl and Jerry and me, ah I, talked, and we want to!"

"And if we do Bobby and Mike will be all happy, so will everyone!" his twin added.

"And you want to! We know you do!" Jeff continued the team attack.

"Guys, I, well, , ,"

"We weren't reading your mind or stuff Dad, but, well, um," Jeff blushed.

Get your ASS out of that shower, and out here! I thought, praying for Adam and his Psychiatrist training to appear and cure my little telepaths. Shock treatments? Lobotomies, or whatever they call them in the movies? I wondered.

"Well, but it is important!" Jerry declared, squirming onto my lap further as his voice rose in pitch.

"Sir," Jeff injected, leaning against his brother.

The tension in their young faces, along with their piercing, and almost begging eyes told me it was far too important to them to try to dodge, also that I was not talking to a pair of little boys. Adam! You got me into this shit! I silently screamed.

"Wow guys, I wish I knew how to answer you, but I'm a little lost right now too," I began. "What Doctor Owens, and Doctor and Mrs. Roberts, and everyone are offering is interesting, but, well it is very complicated too.

"Probably much more complicated than you realize, or could understand." their indignant glares told me I was going in the wrong direction.

"I love it out here as much as you guys do, and would love to live here, but I have to think about a lot of things in, well in considering their offer.

"I've got a lot of time on my job, and I make good money, and know my job will be there for me until I am ready to retire. And, I have to worry about how I am going to feed Binki and Bandit, and keep you three in rubber bands!" I teased, touching Jerry's facebow.

Their faces told me my little joke failed miserably. I downed the last of my beer and prayed Adam would soon appear with another before continuing, "I'm very sorry if I spoke down to you, but there are things dads worry about.

"Like keeping my family fed, and how I can afford to ship your little butts off to college in a few years. We are very, very far from rich, but where I am right now, I feel comfortable I can do that. Starting over I don't know if I could or not."

We engaged in a three way stare for the better part of a minute. I found myself licking the rim of my empty beer can and sniffing the opening for a fix as I digested their expressions, probably the most serious or concerned I had seen from them since their mother and big brother died several years ago.

"Maybe we worry sometimes too, Dad," Jerry all but mumbled. He glanced at his twin, then at the house. "About maybe if some terrorist blows up your building, like they did in Oklahoma and stuff."

"Or the Army sends you off to some war somewhere. They kill civilians too," Jeff whimpered.

Ouch! I groaned. They're just kids, they can't, , , well were just kids what, a few minutes ago?

They were right. I always knew that I, like all Department of Defense employees, was placing myself at some degree of risk every time I went to work. DoD training taught me that my job, and the level of secure data I managed on a day-to-day basis, put me toward the upper end of the potential target list. I had always accepted, or ignored, the risk as a part of the job, but never expected my young sons would be concerned.

"Dad can take care himself, and I'm just a computer tech, I'm not the kind of person terrorists go after," I lied. Their faces told me they knew I was being far less than truthful.

"Is that why whenever they get scared there's always a bunch of cops with machine guns guarding the door to your room?" Jeff challenged.

"And they search everyone, even us kids?" his twin injected.

Ouch again, I groaned. The twins had several times been on base when we went to alert status, or the M.P.s conducted a ORE (Operational Readiness Exercise). As good naturedly as they accepted the threatening atmosphere of a dozen or so M-16 equipped soldiers guarding my server farm I always had presumed that they thought of it more as a game.

The bearded gentlemen that had invaded my home, kidnaped Mike and almost killed us what seemed like years ago flashed into my mind. Did we talk about that enough? I wondered.

I reached out and cupped their tight thin waists for several seconds, trying to decide the best way to respond to them. They squirmed closer to me enjoying our cuddle, but their faces, as wonderfully innocent as they were, still weren't that of the carefree young boys perching on Dad's lap.

"This isn't something we can solve tonight guys," I began. "I promise you I haven't ruled Adam's, Doctor Owens' offer out, but it is a major decision. I think I know where you two stand, but I need to talk to Gramps, and Carl, do a lot of thinking."

I was a little startled, but somehow not surprised a second later when another thin little body pushed against me, and a fresh beer appeared in front of me. Damn, they're getting too big for this! my body groaned as he squirmed into the lounger next to me. Well, I'll live, I decided as he swallowed me with his wonderful, miles deep eyes and happy smile. Without thinking I paused a minute, but thankfully my Dad didn't appear, or join in the mass snuggle.

I took a long draw on my new beer, and looked out at the beautiful moonlit tranquility of Adam's land, then pulled all three of them closer to me. "It's getting late guys, and we're not going to settle this tonight," I began.

"Tomorrow morning, I'm going to go into town, and talk to Gramps, get his thoughts, and then we will have a family meeting, and hash all this out.

"But, I want you three to think about some things in the meantime, okay?" I didn't wait for an answer and continued, "If we did this, it would impact everyone's lives, including you guys.

"If we moved, it would mean you guys going to a new school, and being away from your friends, a lot of them you've known all your lives. And you two are starting high school next year, a very important time of your life," I told the twins.

"But we got friends out, , ," Jerry began.

"I said things to think about, not talk about tonight," I cut him off. "And at home, you can hop on your bikes and ride down to the Stop and Go for a cold drink, or to the Arcade for a few games, it's a LONG ride from here into town guys. Some things to consider?" I suggested.

"You guys go get some sleep, and think about what I said. I promise we will talk, have a family meeting tomorrow, but let me go talk to Gramps first."

They took my suggestion more literally than I expected, and leaned into me. "Come on guys, in bed, well in your, nest. Go on, I'll come tuck you in shortly," I suggested, kissing each of their heads.

Simultaneously I was hit with three cheek kisses so hard I wondered if I would have bruises from their facebows pushing into my face, but they wiggled off my lap and shuffled inside. I get the feeling that is going to be an interesting meeting! I snickered as I noticed a flurry of activity just inside the patio door as my sons walked toward it.

"Something tells me you might enjoy this," Adam's voice rang from the shadows. "I wasn't eavesdropping, but I didn't want to interrupt," he said as he handed me a beer.

"You didn't bring the refrigerator?" I quipped. "They never cease to amaze me, how, , ," I stopped when a small creature landed in my lap. "Yes, Erbert, I'll consider your opinion too," I chuckled as I glanced down.

He looked up at me for a few seconds, his bug eyes even wider than normal. After he glanced at Adam he gave my stomach a quick sniff, wagged his tail slightly before he jumped down and rushed to the patio door. He stared at it briefly until it opened then ran inside.

"Actually, you should consider yourself fortunate," my host snickered. "Would you rather have him or Diablo jump up in your lap and express their opinion?" Without thinking I looked down at the pasture to be sure the gate was closed.

Adam listened intently as I outlined my discussion with the twins, even leaning forward in his chair as I told him about their concerns regarding my job.

"I'm having to be careful here Christian. As much as I want you to come to work with us, as a Psychiatrist, and a Psychiatrist that has gotten very close to your boys, I want my advice, well comments, to address concerns about their well being, not my wishes."

He took a long drink and paused, staring at his beer can for several seconds. "Yes, concerns such as theirs are not uncommon in children whose parents have jobs such as yours. I have treated several teenagers for these same worries, or the social problems they display as they try to deal with their fears.

"And yes, your boys are mature enough for these concerns to be very real to them. You should consider yourself lucky they are able to cope with them so well, at least so far. Would you like me to talk to them, maybe begin working with them?"

At first I was taken aback by his statement. After Sherry and Sammy died we worked with a counselor from school for a few months to help the twins cope with the loss, but the mere suggestion that my boys might need to see a full blown shrink felt somewhat insulting. As I read the sincerity in his face I realized how wrong my assessment was.

"Thanks, but let's see what happens. I'll feel them out some more when I talk to them tomorrow." I answered. "Besides, I know you are good, but are you sure you're ready to take on my twin little rats?" I tittered.

"Well, I Goddamn sure wouldn't try a group session with those two," he chuckled. "If they did one of their mind melds I could end up in therapy!"

"Tomorrow's going to be a long day too, I'm going to hit the sack," I announced.

After we tucked everyone into the mass nest spread across his den we both stood motionless for a couple of minutes, soaking in the beauty of our little angels sleeping so soundly in each other's cuddle. I very well might have stood there most of the night, but my bladder had other ideas and I went upstairs.

I tossed and turned in bed most of the night, rehashing the pros and cons of Adam's offer, and what effect each course of action open to me would have on everyone. Each time I closed my eyes and tried to sleep, images of the boys happy, excited faces enjoying different adventures during the week filled my mind almost like scenes from a movie.

Every time I began drifting into at least some form of slumber images of Mike and Bobby's traumatized faces, so common for a day or so right after they left Tim's 'shelter' took over my mind and snapped me awake.

I have no idea how long I laid there before fatigue took over, nor how long I slept, before an image of the building I worked in appeared in my dreams, or better put what was left of it. It was burning, with most of the area that had been my office and server farm were missing, a big crater in the earth where my desk used to be. Jerry's words, 'Maybe if some terrorist blows up your building,' snapped me awake. God, I hope they don't have those kind of dreams, Bullshit nightmares, I groaned.

"Maybe I should take Adam up on his offer about the twins," I mumbled as I staggered into the bathroom to wash my face. "Maybe I should ask him to have a look at me," I told the haggard image staring back at me in the mirror.

"Four o'clock, screw it, and you," I snarled at my bedside clock. I struggled into a pair of shorts and tee-shirt and crawled downstairs, praying I could find Adam's coffee makings, or better yet a prepared coffee pot, and that I could figure out how to turn it on early.

Thankfully Mary had filled the pot, all I had to do was push the 'On' button, and it began perking its lifesaving liquid into the caffre. After a couple of long inhales I had enough of a caffeine hit to hold me at least a few minutes, went back into the family room, and settled into one end of Adam's couch.

The row of foreheads, a few pixie little noses and tufts of blond, brown and red hair poking out from under the blankets and quilts acted like a miracle drug as I enjoyed their innocence reflecting in the moonlight beaming - it was as if God aimed it to accent their splendor. Even the pair of black, furry noses seemed to hypnotize me as I allowed gravity to take control of my eyelids and drifted off to a much needed slumber, and a wonderful dream of my sons.

"DAD! Dad, Dad help! Quick! Please, , , DAD!!!" I young, high pitched scream scared me out of my sleep.

After several deep breaths, and prayers seemed to fend off the massive heart attack I felt coming on, my eyes managed to focus in time to see a thin, freckle laden body rushing down the hall toward Adam's bedroom.

"Dad! You GOTTA get up, NOW! Ginger said Zoe said Boots said you gotta come quick!" the voice screeched.

"What the, , , Oh shit, that's Mom's horse," another teenage voice mumbled.

"What? What the fuck?" either Jerry or Jeff's sleepy voice groaned.

A few blinks convinced my brain to believe what my eyes claimed as I watched all of the boys bolt out of their nest, and Erbert trying to claw his way through the patio door.

"Shoes, boys," I managed as they all rushed toward the door. Shit, is this normal around here? I wondered as I watched the boys, then Adam sprint down the hill.

"You are up early, you're not going to join the confusion?" Mary's voice rang from behind me a couple of minutes later. "Well, at least there is only one more due soon, I think," she continued as she sat a cup of coffee next to me.

"Mother nature has been delivering horses without our, help, for many, many centuries. I just hope the good doctor doesn't get in her way, too much," she quipped. "Well, looks like we'll be having an early breakfast," she told, I guess, the refrigerator door.

I watched the barn through the patio door for a few minutes until curiosity got the better of me. After I refreshed my coffee I poured Adam a cup and shuffled down to the pasture.

The area just outside the barn looked for all the world like a maternity ward's waiting room. What I was fairly sure was almost all of Adam's horses were gathered near the door, shifting around like they were competing for the best view of what was going on inside. Zeus pacing back and forth just outside the door, the perfect Hollywood expectant father. One of the bigger mares was clearly serving as the security horse, standing in the doorsill like a guard.

Diablo fell in next to me as I approached the door, walking by my side like a well trained dog would heel. As we approached, the big guard horse stepped in front of us, or more probably Diablo, lowering her ears and head as she did.

I don't EVEN believe this shit! I groaned when my escort jerked her big head toward me, let out a soft whinny, and the guard snorted and stepped aside.

"Showoff," I mumbled as Diablo turned her head to glance back into the pasture, then pranced into the barn next to me.

The scene inside the barn took a minute for me to comprehend. Zoe and Hijo, along with several other mares and their foals were loosely lined up staring into a stall about halfway down the row of stalls; a couple of boys were by each foal, petting and whispering to their younger four-legged charges.

Ginger and Johnny were standing side by side just outside of the stall studying the activity in it. Junior was sitting on the floor cuddling a big mares head in his lap as she lay in the hay, Buddy and Erbert were sitting directly in front of the mare, panting like sprinters.

I did a double take as I saw Bobby ever so carefully swabbing our newly-born's nostrils and snout with a cloth, an ear-to-ear grin on the boy's bright face.

"I'll be damned!" Adam exclaimed a minute later, as he finished looking the little animal over. "It's a colt, two in one year, this is unreal!" he proclaimed.

Ginger let out a loud neigh, then bumped into a couple of the mares as she spun around toward the door, as all the boys began to cheer and hoot. All the other horses, both inside the barn and out began snorting and whinnying after she let out another neigh. Diablo leaned her big head against me and let out a long sigh.

"Help him to his feet son, just don't let him fall on you." Adam told Bobby. Instantly Johnny and a couple other boys rushed forward to help.

"A little knock-kneed, but a beautiful animal," he said, accepting the coffee cup I held out. "If he grows into those legs and hoofs, he's going to be as big as Zeus!" he beamed.

"Well, it looks like he's ready to get started!" I chuckled as the little colt swayed and stumbled his way to his mother and began searching for her udder.

"Wow! Yeah!" Jerry shouted an instant later. He glanced at his twin, then the barn door and proclaimed, "Mary's cooking, ham, and pancakes!"

"That's waffles! And she's got some of those little fruits out too!" Jeff added as both of them darted out of the barn, several more boys right behind.

"They smelled pancakes, or waffles cooking from what, fifty-yards away? And over the horse manure and urine in here?" Adam asked. I guess my face answered for me, and we both busted out in laughter.

"And canned fruit being opened?" I quipped, somewhat hoping I was wrong.

After we enjoyed another swallow of our coffee and looked around the barn Bobby and Junior were the only boys still with us. Junior watched the new colt suckling a meal from her mother for a second, glanced around at a couple of other nursing foals and bolted toward the barn door.

"Speaking of young, always hungry colts," I chuckled as we watched him sprint toward the house.

"Yes, but their mares can fill these little ones stomachs. Junior, or any other teenager I've met, forget it!" Adam snickered.

Bobby was a little hesitant to leave his patient, but after Adam reassured him that Boots would take good care of it, and that she needed some time alone with her new son, he hugged the young colt, then tucked himself between us and we started toward the house, and the electric pot that contained my much needed fix of caffeine.

We had just closed the pasture gate and started toward the house when he pushed even more tightly against me, wrapping his thin arm around the back of my waist.

"I want to live here," he proclaimed in an even higher pitched voice than usual. "Horses are totally neat, and I wanta learn to take care, then I wanta be a Horse Doctor, like Doctor Pop!" he bubbled, looking up at Adam. "Well, but maybe after breakfast!" he announced before he raced ahead of us toward the house.

"How was it they always put it in old western movies?" I snickered. "An Old Horse Doc? I'll be sure to pass that onto Doctor Roberts!" I teased. I ignored my physician/host's dirty looks and stepped up my pace toward the kitchen, and another cup of coffee. Well, and a few pancakes, or waffles wouldn't hurt. I wonder who was right? I asked myself, not sure if I wanted to know the answer.

Dad listened intently as I filled him in the developments regarding Bobby and Mike, then the offer I was considering. He looked out the patio door for the better part of a minute, seeming to digest everything I had told him.

"An interesting offer son, what are you going to do?" he asked after what seemed like an eternity.

"God, I wish I knew what to do Dad," I groaned. "In a way it is very tempting, especially considering the boys' fears and feelings, and if the money is as it seems."

I followed his gaze and stared at what I was pretty sure was the same tree trunk for several seconds, hoping he would respond, before continuing, "I'm very leery of letting go of the security, I guess the stability I have now. If it worked out, great, but if it didn't, retiring early I would lose a fair amount of money from my annuity, and end up having to find another job."

His grunt told me I wasn't off the hook. "And, despite what they said, uprooting the boys, and you, I don't know if they would find everything as wonderful as they think it is now. The twins were born in this house, they haven't ever known anything else."

"As you might remember, we bought our first house when I retired from the Army, right when you started high school," he answered. "Before that we always lived in Base Housing. We moved every what, three years or so all the time you were growing up, right?"

He didn't let me answer and snickered, "You Goddamn sure didn't come out perfect, but I guess I can't complain. Well, not too much anyway," he tittered, an almost evil grin on his salty face.

"You had planned to retire in what, eighteen months, a little longer? That would put you, fifty-three, maybe fifty-four?" he more stated than asked. "Do you plan to quit working, and live off your retirement?

"I tried that, had the same dream," he continued as he walked over to the refrigerator. "I made it about six months before I went cabin crazy. A little early for a cold one but," he told me as he set a beer in front of me.

"Your mother was ready to divorce me, you were, well you were your old self back then. And it was somewhat my fault, I was so bored I hated myself and took it out on you, and anyone else I could, until I decided to go back to work. Then it took me six months to find a job, short of going from being a Bird Colonel, Provost Marshal, to a Mall Security Guard working the midnight shift.

"How many hundred K plus jobs do you know will be open to you a year, or two from now?" he asked as he walked back to the refrigerator. "Baked or mashed potatoes tonight, your decision." Something told me he wasn't just asking about the sides for tonight's supper.

"That's not much of an answer, or much advice," I tried. His expression said that was all I was going to get.

"I think potato salad, lots of eggs and pimentos. Mary is making some for an early supper. Let's go out there and you can see what you might be getting into. If we decide to consider their offer."

I cut off his 'I'm not going anywhere' glare, adding, "Bring your own Vioxx and swimming shorts, let's go, before your grandchildren get into anymore shit. Hop to it Colonel Nanny, I didn't say tomorrow!" I teased.

Somehow I managed to duck in time to dodge the potato, beer can and other items being thrown at me and rushed out of the room.

To Be Continued…