My Carl


I had another dream about Sherry during the night, feeling her warm body pressed against mine. Again the feeling got too real as I stroked her back and shoulders. Running my fingers down her back toward her wonderful buns a little bell rung in the back of my head. After trying unsuccessfully to coach one eye to open I finally managed to slightly crack the other and as I feared Carl was snuggled against me not Sherry, I don't think I could have forced a piece of tissue paper between our bodies. He was gone to the world when I checked on the boys before I went to bed but clearly that didn't last.

After a long sigh I started to get up and carry him back to his bed when I glanced at my alarm clock. It was five o'clock in the morning, half an hour before I had to get up. "Screw it" I muttered pulling the covers back over us and wrapping him under my arm.

I took a minute to wake Carl before leaving for work, although he was still half asleep I found him more comfortable with today than I expected, I don't think he woke up enough to remember he was in my bed not his. Reminding him Roy was going to pick him up from school and that I would meet them before the hearing I was out the door.

I caught all the hell I had expected from my co-workers when they saw me wearing a suit (I maybe wore one two or three times a year to work, only for meeting with very high ranking military officers or civil servants) I ignored "Who's the job interview with?", "Trying for the bosses job?", "Who died?" and so on. I had just made a few final corrections to my report and submitted it when I ran into my colleague whose husband was in the hospital. She had found no one interested in buying their resort package. With the added expense from the accident she was getting pretty anxious saying she would give up her vacation time and fill in for anyone who bought the package from her. I wished her the best of luck and went back to my cubicle.

I was checking my e-mail when out of the blue I muttered, I guess to my keyboard, 'F*** it!' I asked my supervisor for leave time between Christmas and New Years and soon was the much poorer but proud owner of a five day Colorado ski package. I declined her offer to use her leave time for me to be off but left her to her own devices regarding getting her air fare back, which she was sure she could.

When I arrived at the Juvenile Justice Center Roy and Carl we nowhere to be found. I walked through the lobby and had just stepped back into the parking lot I saw Roy parking his car, Carl's little pixie face spinning side to side like a radar scope. He was really cheery, even picking on me about being in a suit as we went into the building, but stayed glued to my side. Roy informed the Deputy Sheriff at the reception desk who we were and another Deputy quickly appeared through a nearby door asking us to follow him. As we walked down a long corridor he told us the hearing would be conducted in the Judges Chambers as we walked that most of the other parties had arrived.

We rounded a corner Carl froze almost pulling out from under my arm. Following his gaze he was staring at four teens, maybe slightly older then the twins, standing in the hall, all dressed in orange jump suits and handcuffed together, a Deputy next to them. I think if I had not had a good grip on his shoulder Carl might have bolted and ran but I pulled him closer. Pulling his face by the chin to look at me I whispered "Whatever you do, not a WORD about eating Shark Snot!" He wrinkled his face like 'what?' but snapped back and continued walking.

We met the CPS attorney, a District Attorney and a lady that introduced herself as Carl's attorney in the judge's spacious chambers. We had chatted for several minutes when an elderly black lady entered dressed in Judicial black robes. She removed her robe as she introduced herself as Judge Kiley. "I'm sorry if we are a little behind schedule but I am parched, will you excuse me while I get a soft drink?" she continued "Come on Carl, I'll buy you a coke.". It took several prompts from me but finally Carl shuffled to her, as they left the room he glanced back at me as if saying goodbye, his face looked like he was taking that last walk toward the death chamber.

Roy was informing me of two appointments he had set for Carl Thursday, his first therapy appointment with his therapist and for a dental appointment when the door burst open, Carl grinning ear to ear almost bubbling over talking to the Judge about getting to fly 'our' airplane. After spending a couple of minutes calming him down everyone settled into several comfortable chairs arranged in a loose circle.

The first two or three minutes of the hearing were procedural, what the hearing was about, who all was there etc. I quickly figured out this lady didn't mess around nor was she the kindly grand mother type her face portrayed. She shamelessly nailed Roy and the CPS attorney to the cross for a couple of missing documents then tore the District Attorney a new one (yea that one, I doubt he sat down for a week) for offering Federal Evidence without a Federal attorney, all so professionally they thanked her.

I was next. After I confirmed Carl was living with me she outlined from memory all the details of my background check including things I had not reported, even parts of my Department of Defense security profile I didn't have any idea she could access. She asked about how he was doing in my home, how he got along with the twins etc before asking me what I felt was the best way to help him short and long term. Not prepared for the depth of her questions I thought for a minute before responding "Clearly you shouldn't consider sending Carl back to his parents. I think he needs a stable loving home and that you should direct your efforts toward finding him one ma'am." She studied my face for a few seconds without expression before moving on.

She turned her attention back to the attorneys asking what plan they would suggest. The CPS lawyer told her they were attempting to locate Carl's parents, should that fail they intended to file to have parental rights terminated sometime next summer. "I don't find that acceptable." she countered. "Considering the home situation, criminal evidence and arrest warrants stated in your briefs you would still like to contact the parents, toward placing him back with them or what?" Not waiting for a response she continued "I see no point in pursuing the long way here. It is the order of this court that the parental rights regarding this minor be terminated and I declare him a ward of the state. Certification and notification by publication to the biological parents. They have sixty days to respond before the order is final but effective now he is mine. Clerk will draft the order." she almost barked.

"Carl," she began shifting in her chair to face him. In a much softer, grand motherly voice she continued "Do you understand what we are doing here, why we are all here?" She waited only a few seconds and not getting an answer continued "We know that your mother and father didn't treat you like other kids. I know they made you do some things too that you didn't like, and then they left you. Do you understand what I am saying?" Getting a weak nod she said "What I want to do is find you a new mom and dad that will love you and take care of you, is that what you want?"

Carl stared at his shoes as he responded "No Ma'am"

She looked stunned but asked "You don't want go to live with a mom and dad that will love you and take good care of you, that will not hurt you?" pausing but getting no response she asked "You don't want to go live with your mom and dad again do you? What do you want?"

"I don't want a mom and dad!" Carl answered. Looking over at me he said "I just want a pop. well and a pop and a gramps!" Every eye in the room was suddenly glued on me, I could have sworn half of the US Supreme Court was also glaring at me from above.

"Has anyone talked to Casey?" the Judge asked, thankfully breaking the tension.

Roy replied that "Casey" was not an option, that (whoever this Casey was, I was lost,) only dealt with permanent care children. "You have a termination order, how permanent do you want?" the Judge snapped. "May I expect a referral to Casey be accomplished by close of business?" Roy, looking more like a naughty school boy facing his principal then a professional social worker, assured her it would. After covering a few more procedural matters she dismissed us, ordering another hearing in 90 days. She walked Carl to the door her arm on his shoulder "Come back and see me, okay?"

I waited until we were in the parking lot, trying to relax a little, before asking Roy "Who's this Casey fellow?"

"I'm running way behind I have five minutes to be at a meeting twenty minutes from here but let me give you these." he replied Opening his brief case he handed me a couple of pamphlets saying it might be better if I read about them, he would call me later.

Carl was very quiet visibly nervous as he and I had climbed into my truck. "You need to get back to school, but how about lunch first, what sounds good?" I asked. He bashfully suggested McDonald's, or pizza studying my reaction to each one. "Hey, wait" I answered "I know of this great Oyster Bar its right down the street that's where we'll go!"

His jaw dropped so hard I could have sworn I felt the truck shake. I looked away briefly to start the engine, and to hide my grin when he said "Okay, that would be yumm!" Now my jaw dropped, so hard I thought I had bruised my chest. I had just turned to look at him when his eyes brightened into the one's I loved to be swallowed by, face breaking into a huge smile. He poked me in the ribs howling "See, I got you this time, YEA!!!"

Soon I was unwrapping probably my least favorite food on earth (well short of the Space Turd- paste from last weekend,) a Big Mac. I guided our conversation about the last day of school tomorrow, getting to sleep late, and such for most of the meal. I was tempted to tell him about going to Colorado but decided he had enough going on right now to distract him from school. Ski trips would wait until school was done. Besides, I was going to end up dumping several grand in this trip, why not make it a special surprise under the Christmas tree.

Carl was almost done with his second burger when he looked up at me locking his again miles deep eyes to mine. "Since we gotta go back to see my judge again that means I get to live with you till we do, don't it?"

I was walking back to my truck after checking Carl back into school, chastising myself for so vaguely responding, more dodging answering his question about his future when my cell phone rang. The computer server farms I administered at the base had just suffered a major crash, one of those 'drop everything and get your ass here NOW' calls. Somehow, while breaking about half the traffic laws on the books and driving with one hand, holding my cell to my ear with the other, I made it back to work without crashing or finding a traffic cop. By the time we had corrected the problem three or so hours later I was worn out, wishing trucks had autopilots like aircraft did as I headed home.

The house was empty excepting Binki and Bandit when I got home. Our van was not in the driveway, so I assumed everyone was off with dad somewhere. Exhausted I threw my suit coat into the 'go to the dry cleaner' corner of my closet and climbed into some comfortable shorts, pants, shirt and such scattered around my bedroom as I stripped. I ignored the messages on our answering machine (well and let dad worry about them) choosing to get a cold beer and climb into my recliner, Binki and Bandit on top of me. Calming them down I downed several swallows of beer when the doorbell rang. 'This better be important, or your dead meat' I thought, but before I could get up the door opened and Tim entered bellowing "Hey dude, you chasing Judge hellfire now? You two would make a cute couple!"

I righted the recliner with one arm giving Tim a one finger salute with other. "You don't know the half of it, they crashed two servers while I was gone, my dick is dragging! Well you f***ed up my nap, quit looking stupid and get a cold one."

"Roy told me Kiley ripped some ass today" Tim said as he sat down. "She is good but doesn't take any trash. Of the three judges I have she takes better care of her cases then the other two combined. By the way she thinks you walk on water." I commented that she walked all over me like I was a raft before he asked "Did you talk to Casey?"

I remembered the pamphlets Roy had given me, stuffed in my suit coat pocket and headed to the cleaners. "No, who is this Casey, how is he involved?"

"They didn't call you?" he asked his normally expressionless face tightening. I remembered the unanswered messages on our voice mail as he continued "Casey is a foundation that helps kids stuck in the more asshole end of our foster care system, the clients that are in circumstances that negate any hope of redeeming a relationship with their biological parents or relatives but are over the age to have any hope of being adopted or such."

I took a long swallow of beer, half of which was air from an almost empty can. I left him in the family room while I got each of us another beer. "Dude, the last time I heard you spout that formal a statement with a beer in your hand was when we were both sitting hogs in front of a cop car, you were trying to talk our way out of a DWI (Driving While Intoxicated). Cut the shit, what's going down!"

"Well Roy is catching hell from your new girlfriend the judge. We are used to that, but you need to talk to Casey." he took a swallow of beer "Bottom line, if you agree to raise him they will pay for everything. You just have to do the asshole part, being a dad. If he wants to go they will pay for his college, if he can get into medical school they'll pay for his MD."

I was digesting all this when I heard the van drive in and quickly the house was full of kids. Carl bounced in the family room all bubbly telling Tim all about his adventure with 'his judge'. It wasn't until I noticed they were already wearing their headgears that I remembered the twins had an orthodontic appointment today to have their braces adjusted. I said hi to them but they just nodded shuffling down the hall with their book bags.

"Did they get in some trouble?" I asked dad.

"No, but they are not happy campers." he replied handing me a note. When I read it I could see why. It was from their Orthodontist stating that because of 'growth trends' he observed, he was prescribing they wear their headgears full time through the Christmas holidays, removing them only to bathe. Once classes resumed it was up to my discretion if they should wear the appliances to school, but asked full time wear after school and on weekends until he saw them again in a month.

"This is going to be fun." I muttered, dad reminding me they were 'my' kids.

A plot was jelling in the back of my mind as I rejoined Tim and Carl. I waited several minutes expecting to hear the daily refrigerator carnage to begin before excusing myself. I was almost to the twins bedroom when I turned around going into my bedroom. I punched on the web and printed out a couple of pages before visiting them. They were both leaning on opposite corners of their lower bunk bed exchanging forlorn looks when I walked in. I sat down between then the dentist's note in my hand. "Looks like its going to be a happy holiday"

"We're NOT going to wear this sh, ah stuff to school!" Jerry barked. . . "Are we?" he asked his voice cracking.

"I'm not sure, hey with you guys in those things I don't have to worry about you kissing all the girls, do I!" I responded, only getting dirty looks as a reaction.

"Please dad Dr Butthead is screwing up our whole Christmas! Its so stupid just because we had to get braces, and these things make us look totally stupid and now we're stuck in them! " Jeff whined, attacking me with his sad puppy dog eyes. I gestured of them to slide over and sit next to me and begrudgingly they slipped under my arms.

"Its Dr Barnes not Butthead and he is doing what I'm paying him to do, aligning your teeth, okay? You don't look stupid or anything else in your headgear, you look just like a couple of good looking kids getting their teeth straightened." I let that soak in for a few seconds before continuing "Its up to you regarding having to wear your headgear to school next year. Dr Barnes wants you in them as much as possible. I will decide when school starts back, but if you wear them like he and I expect until then, no cheating, how much better do you think your odds are?"

I could almost feel the telepathic energy vibrate though my body as they silently conferred. "I know you don't like it, I don't either. But no cheating, no complaining, you've got to do what you got to do, understood?" All I got was weak nods. Clasping Jerry's facebow between two fingers I moved his head from side to side studying his apparatus. "How do these things feel when its cold outside?" I asked, getting a death stare for a reply. "What happens if snow lands on them will they rust or anything?" which was rewarded with probably the harshest 'up yours!' glare I had gotten from either of them since, as two day old infants, they figured out my breast nipples didn't supply milk.

Ignoring their hostility I slowly began unfolding my printouts. "I made reservations for us here right after Christmas and was going to surprise everyone" flashing a brief view of a ski run at Beaver Creek, the resort I had bought into earlier into this LONG day "but I guess I'll have to cancel, I understand how much you guys would be embarrassed if some stranger saw you on the slopes wearing antennas."

I started to stand when Jeff ripped the printout from my hand as Jerry all but body blocked me back onto the bed burying his face into my chest, clearly to make sure I stayed put. After a brief pause he jerked his head away from my chest saying "Colorado? Vail? No way dude!" before I could react he stretched over me toward his brother clearly verifying the data Jeff had broadcast via his sibling antenna. "Dude!" Jerry said as Jeff held the printout toward him. "They have Olympics and stuff there! Vail?"

"Well we were, but I wouldn't want to take you somewhere where you could be embarrassed. I guess its better of we stay home so you can hide in your room, hey its only for a month." I replied, again starting to stand. I instantly had a lap full of twins almost screaming promises of total compliance in twenty or so different ways.

"Please dad, we won't take them off till we go back to the doctor, we'll even wear them to school tomorrow." Jeff begged.

"No complaining, no more pouting?" I asked getting instant agreement. "You don't have to wear them to school tomorrow but that's the ONLY time I expect to see you out of them without my permission, agreed?" Again they turned the different ways to say 'yes' into an art form. I wrapped my arms around their slim waists patting their flat stomachs "These sure sound empty to me, you think you can figure out how to get a snack through all that wire?" causing a pair of humiliated looks then giggles. They both started out of the room before turning back to hug me.

When I came into the kitchen Jeff had the better part of a loaf of bread spread in the counter feverishly smearing sandwich makings. Carl was seated at the table about half through with his snack, Jerry next to him informing him of the ski trip as he stole potato chips from his plate. Dad told me Tim had gone home as he pulled me off to the side asking what Jerry was talking about. I filled him in informing him the package was for five but he immediately declined, saying five days of resting alone at home would be too wonderful to pass up. "Oh, you had a message, a number to call, and Tim wants you to call him." he concluded.

Jeff was balancing a foot or so high stack of sandwiches over to the table when I joined the kids. Setting his bounty between Jerry and himself he unhooked the neck strap from his headgear and was pulling the upper strap from its hook when he froze, frantically reconnecting his neck strap. "Oh I'm sorry I forgot."

Carl began alternating his gaze between me and the mountain of sandwiches, his face growing more and more indecisive. After several seconds he rushed over to me slipping under my arm. He wrapped one arm behind my waist as he looked up wide eyed. He took a quick longing glance at the rapidly shrinking stack of sandwiches be looking back at me saying "Wow we'r. . ah you're going skiing I bet that would be totally bad!" Biting my lip knowing the next question I confirmed Jerry's report saying it was 'only' for five days. I could have sworn I heard gears grinding is his little head before he asked "Ah, who all is going? I mean who is going with you?" his voice rising two octaves in ten words.

"I don't know" I replied. "The twins want to go but gramps said no. I have five lift tickets and I don't know who else to invite. I wish I could think of someone, any ideas?"

His eyes betrayed his puzzlement about lift tickets but he quickly snapped back, his eyes clearly changing subjects. After a pause he said "Oh. . . well, , , ah, can I still live here with gramps while you're gone?" eyes swelling. "I don't know how to ski or stuff anyway."

"I guess you can," I said. "I was thinking about inviting you," his eyes brightened such I had to squint from the flash of light "but with five passengers and luggage and such, I'm not sure there would be room in the aircraft all the birdseed, spare feathers and stuff." Besides I don't know if it would be safe, the twins can't ski too well either but their equipped with those bumpers on their faces, if they fall down their would bounce right back up! " Earning a really harsh 'up yours dad!' look from Jeff and Jerry.

His chin dropped to his chest and he turned back toward the table. I was about to pull him back when he swiveled back toward me his classic puzzled face cocked at a complex angle I didn't think the human neck would allow. Hearing dad's muffled snickers "Of course you're going, you think I'm going all the way to Colorado without my turkey?" I said "Well if you want to go that is,"

A bad choice of words. Before I could react he was climbing up me like a tree, my shins and legs getting beat up by his shoes, but within a second I had a double armload of kid, his legs wrapped around my waist and arms around my neck. Between probably his third or fourth kiss he whispered "I love you pop, Please I wanta go!"

I carried him over to the table, his eyes briefly darting to the few remaining sandwiches. Shifting his weight back in forth in my arms I mocked a concerned look "I don't know now that I think about it". I began. "You're so skinny I don't know if you weigh enough to slide down the slopes, what if you got stuck halfway down the hill?" He pulled his head away from my shoulder giving me another lost look, his mouth dropping open. "Guess we better do something about that." I said stuffing half a sandwich in his mouth. Only a hungry pre-teen could manage to giggle, babble repeated thank you'd and inhale mass quantities of food at the same time, but Carl did a world class job. As soon as the three of them polished off the last of the bread crumbs left from the snack they were out the door. I thought of the argot that God take care of fools and kids as they darted across the street to tell their buddies about our trip but thankfully no cars were passing.

Dad and I decided to order pizza for supper, time running short and neither of us feeling like cooking. I went out to the garage and crawled into the attic retrieving some boxes of old ski wear from when Sherry and Sammy were alive. Almost gagging from the musty odor I stuffed the first load into the clothes drier even before seeing if any of them were still good. When I came back into the house I heard the drone of an engine coming from the family room. Looking around the corner my boys, along with Timmy, were enthralled on the flight simulator as if it were a chambered simulator built by Boeing or something.

I grabbed another beer and started to call Tim as he had asked but, knowing what he wanted and remembering dad's reminder I checked our answering machine. As expected there was a message asking me to return a call to a 'Helen' identifying herself to be with 'Casey". I went to my bedroom fetching the pamphlets Roy had given me from my soiled suit coat. I was impressed as I read, the program being described was almost exactly as Tim had outlined. I was digesting what I had read and trying to decide a course of action when Carl's angelic voice ricocheted out of the front room "Yea, Yea I did it! Wow I really did it!" Timmy and the twins cheering and congratulating him as if he had just single handedly won the Superbowl.

Downing the rest of my beer, I think to fortify my courage, I opened another before dialing Helen's number. I'm sure from caller ID she answered her phone thanking me for returning her call before I got a chance to speak. Stating she was on a cell phone in the middle of traffic, if we lost the connection she would call back, she informed me she was aware of 'our case' and felt 'we' were perfect for Casey, but she was en route to a meeting and only had a couple of minutes offering to meet me for breakfast so we could talk more. When I informed her I usually reported for duty between seven and seven thirty the line was silent for a few seconds "Can I buy you lunch tomorrow?" she suggested. I suggested we meet at the Barbeque place that Tim, Roy and I had eaten at last week. Eleven thirty was agreed on and we rang off.

As soon as I sat the phone down the twins appeared. "What's for supper?" they asked, I'm not sure who was speaking.

"How about pizza?" I replied. Carl and Timmy instantly appeared all smiles. "You guys are having a good time on the computer, but who has homework?" I got four very profound 'God, grownups are so stupid' looks as I was informed NO ONE has homework on the last day of school. Ignoring their glares I continued "Timmy, would you like to eat with us?" getting a unanimous approval from my hungry rats. I started to hand Timmy the phone and suggest he ask his parents but held back suggesting he run across the street and ask if he could. Everyone started out the door when I called the twins back suggesting Carl go with Timmy. Jerry studied my face for an instant before the twins conferred via their sibling link. Jeff whispered in Carl's ear as he gestured for him to go with Timmy.

'F***, are these two 14 going on 21 or what?' I thought as they sat down to the table like corporate executives, their faces suddenly all business. I had to look away for a second then take a swig of beer before beginning "I wanted to tell you first how impressed I am with your maturity regarding helping Carl, you guys are something. I know I promised we would talk about Carl, but life has been crazy since we returned from Houston. Several more things are going on right now and I'm sorry but I need to put you off another day or two, I know how you feel and I respect you more then you imagine for what you have done, but can I have a day or two?"

They both studied my face for several seconds. From their eye activity, although still glued to my face, I knew their invisible antennas were crowding overload when Jerry asked "What's gonna happen to Carl?" Jeff ending the statement with "Are you going to let him live here with us?" in unison they said "Please dad!"

I took a deep swallow of beer, mostly so I could roll my head back and disburse the tears forming in my eyes. I stared off into space for probably thirty or so seconds trying to force myself to commit to a decision I knew I had already made. "Ye. ." I hesitated. . . "Yes. No promises yet, but if I can figure out a way, which I think I have, he's going to be here a very long time. How would like to find a new brother under the Christmas tree?"

I instantly had twin kids slamming against me so hard they knocked my chair over backwards, all three of us crashing to the kitchen floor, 'dude', yea dad' so on and so on ringing in my ear as I checked myself for injuries. I was about to try to get up when Bandit landed in the middle of my chest, saying 'screw it' I pulled the twins against me and laid back on the kitchen floor . "Okay guys, I don't know which way this is gonna work, nothing to Carl until I tell you, understood?" I asked.

Reluctantly they agreed and we were pealing ourselves off the kitchen floor when my dad appeared. Tactfully ignoring our mess he suggested we order supper, I think his stomach speaking for him. The twins quickly agreed but then radared each other "Well dad, can you tell Carl its okay to come back now?" Jeff asked.

Knowing better than to ask any questions I called Tim on my cell phone while dad and the twins ordered pizza. After he approved Timmy joining us for supper I filled him in on my conversation with Joan. He reacted very upbeat saying she was one of the best case workers at Casey almost snickering as he said how rewarding my meeting with her would be. He didn't waste any time in asking about our Colorado trip having heard all about it from Carl and Timmy.

I filled him in, then hesitated, but a little voice inside me said 'f*** it, it's Christmas!'. "I ended up with five reservations and four people, can we take Timmy with us?" I asked.

There was a pause before Tim responded "Maybe we need to get you with Carl's shrink, are you getting into masochism or what?" laughing he continued "I'd have to check with the boss, Judy makes those kind of decisions. But whatever, if she says no I'm available!" I cracked a couple of jokes about owning a single engine, not a cargo aircraft before we rang off, Tim saying he would get back with me soon.

I've always had a deep seated respect for the pizza delivery boys that came to our house, I have wondered if the pizzeria had warning messages posted about our address (I think they always sent the rookie). Most of them didn't know they would be risking life and limb to drop off a few oversized pies smeared with rotten tomatoes. Tonight was no exception, this poor high school kid had no sooner climbed out of his rusty fifteen year old car and approached the door then he was attacked by four hungry sharks grabbing boxes out of keep warm bags like they had not eaten in weeks. After I checked the kid for bleeding or missing fingers I tipped him and went inside. ?????

The boys already had all the boxes open, loading their plates between bites of bread sticks and such like they had never seen food before. I grabbed a couple of slices and went to the refrigerator for Parmesan cheese when I heard the table burst into laughter. When I turned around and I

had to look away to keep from cracking up. Jerry was staring at his slice of pizza, small bits of meat and such splattered on his cheeks and nose, his facebow dripping with tomato sauce. Jeff wasn't much better off a fairly large slice of mushroom hanging on his facebow which was also coated in red. Before I could regain enough composure to speak Jeff took another bite smearing a new load of paste.

"I'm sorry guys I wasn't thinking, you can take them off." I almost snickered. I am fairly sure I heard a sonic boom from the metal and webbing as it flew toward the table, but it could have been from slices of pizza being thrust into their mouths.

Dad and I shared about three fourths of one pie while the boys destroyed the other five along with both orders of bread sticks. I was deciding if I wanted a fourth slice when Jerry asked "Do we have any ice cream?" Glancing at the carnage of empty cardboard boxes strewn across the table I was wondering if what he had asked was possible, I told myself not to ask and nodded at the freezer.

The boys were starting to crowd against each other scooping ice cream when the door bell rang and as usual Tim burst in without waiting for anyone to answer the door. "Shit!" he explained "All I got was fish sticks!" Grabbing one of the two or three bread sticks left on the table he looked over at me gesturing toward the patio. Once outside he said "Thanks for offering to take Timmy with you, what's involved and such what do we need to get him?" I told him really all his boy would need would be spending money, perhaps some insulated underwear I'd let him know, telling him I already had a lot of ski wear from when Sherry and I used to go but if nothing fit his boy we could rent some, that the ski equipment and such were part of the package.

He had just begun saying the normal 'if you're sure he won't be too much trouble' and such when the patio door opened, Timmy appearing a beer in each hand. He gave his dad a sheepish look and started back into the house when I saw the twins peering out the door smiling. 'F***' I thought, 'No way they were listening in on my conversations, well or on my thoughts?'

Tim was about to go back inside and tell his son when I stopped him asking if I could later. I think seeing the evil gleam in my eye he grinned and agreed. He was walking by Timmy on his way out as the boy raised a heaping spoon of ice cream out of his bowl. Tim swooped down grabbing his son's bony hand, pulling it to his mouth Tim swallowed the treat. "DAAAADDDDDDDD!!!" Timmy screamed as his dad dashed out the front door.

Reminding the boys to clean the kitchen I started into the garage to sort the last load of ski wear from the dryer I turned back tapping on my teeth. A couple of 'do we gotta' then 'oh, okay' looks from the twins told me I got my message across.

Five minutes later as I returned from the garage, ski wear in each arm, I was impressed to see a spotless kitchen, the table was empty, no sign of empty pizza boxes or trash to be found, the drone of the computer's flight simulator echoing from the front room.

I had intended to sort the clothes on my bed but the table looked too perfect. I spent the next several minutes stacking snow proof overalls into one stack, parkas, insulated underwear and vests into others. I was pleased that even over my shorts I could fit into the gear I hadn't worn in several years. Thankfully Sherry and I and bought quality ski wear, it graciously forgave my beer belly, even respectfully granting the extra room my matured hips and butt demanded (hey, I'm trying to save some dignity!). Checking labels I found some of Sammy's old wear that looked to be the twins' size, some more of his and from the twins' old things that might fit Timmy and Carl.

When I went into the family room Carl and Jerry were absorbed on the simulator with Timmy and Jeff off to the side watching, so I tapped Jeff on the shoulder pointing him into the kitchen. I was about to ask him to try on the garments I had set aside when I noticed the dried pizza stains on his facebow. Running my finger over the heavy wire sticking out of his mouth I licked my finger saying "Yum, leftovers?" He crossed his eyes trying to see his brace before giving me a sheepish silver smile also laden with bits of sausage and pizza. He rushed to the sink before I could tell him to but I called after him "And rinse your mouth before it rusts shut." earning a 'stuff it' glare from him as he removed his straps.

I had handed him a pair of overalls to try on and was turning to get a parka, when I noticed some movement in the corner of my eye, turning just in time to see a skinny backside disappear into the hall guest bathroom. I didn't think anything about it until I heard gargling through the open door 'No way he heard me over the computer speakers, I wonder if Carl's shrink deals with budding psychics' I asked myself.

By the time Jeff had slipped into the coat the kitchen entryway was full of nosy kids. "Well come on, let's see what fits." I suggested. I handed Jerry another set of Sammy's old pants then held up one then the other of overall sets before tossing Carl a pair. Holding the other out I said "Here Timmy, see how these fit." Giving me a lost look and weak grin he accepted the garment but slowly began sorting the cloth for an opening.

I was about to correct him about the leftover food in his new braces when Carl's anguished cries distracted me, "Ah, help, oh no!" followed by a thump. When I turned around he was squirming on the floor the overall's chest bib and suspenders entangling him like a fish net. Before I could stand up the now ski clad twins were untangling him stuffing him into the legs of the overalls.

The twins were propping Carl back into a standing position closing his leg and hip zippers when Timmy, watching Carl being cinched up said "Well thanks Mr. Miller but that's too much stuff to wear and its too thick and stuff." sitting the overalls on the table and stepping back.

"Whatever Timmy," I replied "I know they are bulky and such but you could get mighty cold in Colorado without them, going down a ski run you could turn into a frozen kid-cicle!" He shrugged his shoulders saying he didn't need it because we were going skiing not him. "Yes you are" I responded "Well unless don't want to, would you like to go with us ?"

He shrugged again starting toward the other boys when I swear I heard the sound of gears stripping inside his pointy little head. Turning back toward me he shrieked "WHAT? . . . I mean what did you say, sir?" As I handed the overalls back to him I felt a presence behind me, along with the smell of stale pizza and garlic breath attacking my nose. Repeating my offer he stared at me briefly before saying "But my parents ain't gonna let me go!"

"They already said you can," I replied "try on the snow pants!" Somehow I managed to keep from gagging as a mass of musty ski wear clad boys wrapped around my neck and face.

To Be Continued…