I could feel Carl's disappointment when he discovered only my Dad was home. After Dad informed us the twins had gone to the library with Judy and Timmy, that they wouldn't be back until after lunch, he shot me several flustered glances.
"Sorry son, you can't wait that long." I said, handing him his appliances. His face melted to frustration as he reluctantly reached for it, staring at the floor.
"Hmm, you know, if someone 'accidentally' hooked the screen door latch, the twins would have to ring the door bell to get inside." I suggested, tousling his hair.
His eyes snapped up to mine as his face changed to an evil grin before he darted to the front door. After unsuccessfully trying to stretch on his tip toes to see out the spy glass he cautiously turned the doorknob, slowly sliding the door open. He warily scanned the front yard almost as a combat soldier would an enemy position before hooking the screen's latch and slamming the door.
"Thanks pop!" He giggled, flashing his new sliver smile and taking his headgear out of my hand. He made several tries at connecting his facebow to the metal now glued to his back teeth before turning red with frustration. "It won't fit!" He whined.
"Use a mirror until you get used to putting it in." I suggested, guiding him to one in the entry hall, resting my hands on his shoulders. After a few more tries he seated the bow into his mouth. He looked at his image for a second or so before placing the thick web straps behind the top of his head and stretching them down, hooking them on his facebow. Pulling the thick lower strap behind his neck he connected it also to the facebow. He turned side to side, studying his reflection.
"Its so big, it looks so dumb!" He whimpered with a slight slur. "Why's it slick out so far! I mean stick out, this is dumb I can't talk now!" He whined, the slur kids often have when first fitted with orthodontic appliances showing itself.
I was trying to reassure him that his speech impairment would go away in a couple of days, that he didn't look or sound dumb, when Dad came around the corner. He stopped and stared at the now blushing boy for a second before snickering.
"Gramps!" Carl shrieked. "See I told you I look stupid!" he continued, hiding his face.
"Come here Carl." My Dad asked. "Come on, do what I say." Carl shuffled over to his new grandfather, chin on his chest. "I want to show you something." Dad said as he led the boy by the neck toward his bedroom, ignoring my dirty look.
Knowing what was coming I went into the kitchen and got a beer out of the refrigerator. Shortly I heard Carl's giggle echo down the hall. After several snickers and laughs I could hear him making comments like 'that's really him?' and 'wow, those are ugly!' Several minutes later I saw him peer round the corner of the hall, looking at me then a photo he held.
"Yea, that's me." I grunted. "Bring it here." I said as he disappeared back around the corner.
I perched him on my lap before looking down at the snapshot of me, taken when about a year older than he is now. Dad had used it on Sammy and the twins, I still think as revenge for all the hell I put him through at a child. It showed very graphically my old style braces. Instead of the metal brackets that are glued on kids teeth now I had heavy steel bands that wrapped completely around each tooth, the only enamel that showed was a thin line at the bottom of the tooth.
"Still think you look so ugly?" I asked. "I had those for five years!" He looked at me and back at the picture before he started giggling again. "Hey, I can ask your doctor if he can put that kind on you, I think they still make them!" As he stiffened I wrapped my arms around him, pulling him against me. "Your braces don't look stupid or ugly, the only thing that is ugly is when you try to hide that wonderful smile of yours. Do I still get to see it?"
He squirmed against me a little tighter for several seconds. He took another look at my old picture and started to giggle.
"I guess my braces aren't THAT bad." He snickered, his slur reappearing as he tried to laugh and talk. He put his hand over his mouth for a second then pushed off my lap and looked at me then the picture again.
"Arf, it's a good thing they hadn't invented magnets back then!" He quipped. I tried to swat his butt but he was rushing back down the hall before I could reach him.
After a couple of hours I could tell Carl's mouth was beginning to be sore from his new braces. I made him take a children's Advil and told him he could take his headgear off for a few minutes but he declined. Less then 10 minutes later the door bell rang, immediately chiming again two more times. Carl rocketed into the family room. As I walked to answer the door I glanced over, the now headgear-less boy was carefully adjusting the couch cushions in the family room. I waited until he straightened up and started toward the computer before answering the door.
My repugnant glare stifled the twin's complaints regarding the locked screen door as they rushed in, followed by Timmy. After setting several books and DVD's on the coffee table, they all muttered a brief 'hi' in Carl's direction before rushing into the kitchen, attacking a box of cookies and gallon of milk. As I watched the carnage I wondered if Judy forgot to feed them lunch, but knew better. The sound of a jet engine being brought to full throttle, a little louder than usual, from the family room distracted me.
Quickly our flight simulator's nasty noise sequence, announcing the pilot had just crashed and killed half the free world. followed. A few seconds later another engine run up and another catastrophic crash, this time followed by Carl mumbling at what had to be the computer. Shortly he shuffled into the kitchen looking down at the floor.
"You guys know how to fly an F-16?" He grumbled. "I've been crashing all afternoon, I can't figure it out!"
The twins self confidently snickered at each other as they stuffed cookies under their facebows.
"Come on little brother, I'll teach you." Jeff proudly announced, throwing a handful of snacks on a saucer and grabbing his milk glass. The other boys followed, and shortly I heard the sound of a high powered aircraft launch into our cyber-sky.
I could only hear teen age voices mixing with the simulator sounds but was unable to understand any conversation for the next few minutes, as hard as I tried.
"Hey, what are you doing, GIVE IT BACK!" One of the twins shrieked. "How gross!" It continued, this time I was fairly sure it was Jeff.
Almost immediately Carl came rocketing around the corner, his gym shoes sliding as they tried to gain enough traction to get out the patio door. I caught a glimpse of his headgear straps again encasing his little pixie head as he darted into the back yard.
"Give it back!" Jeff shouted as he rounded the corner in hot pursuit, minus his appliances, Timmy and Jerry right behind him.
"Where's your headgear, what did I tell you about wearing it!" I snapped as he reached the back door, partly to defuse the situation, partly because I had a good idea of what was going on.
"But dad, Carl stole it!" Jeff howled, poised to dart outside. "He's wearing it now that's gross!"
"Nice try turkey." I countered, biting my lip to keep from laughing. "He can't be wearing your headgear, you have to have braces to hook it to, remember?"
"But dad, he put it. . ." He began before stopping in mid sentence. His face turned from anger to puzzlement as my statement soaked in. After staring at me for a second he reached up and pushed on his cheek right where the brackets that received his facebow were mounted on his molars. I watched Jerry and his eyes almost jerking around as they synched mentally.
"He had it on dad I saw him too!" Jerry chimed in. "Look there he is!" He shrieked, pointing out the door.
"I don't see anyone." I responded, glancing out toward the patio. "Come on, you guys can make up a better story than that, where's your headgear Jeff?" I could almost see their invisible antennas glow with overload as they telepathically consulted.
"Look, there he is, he is wearing it!" Timmy howled. I glanced over in time to see Carl's bony shoulder disappear from sight. As I was about to turn away, Carl's pixie face appeared briefly in the corner of the door glass grinning like an opossum. I tried to say I hadn't seen anyone but had to turn my head to hide my smile.
"Okay, tell Carl I said to come inside, and DON'T touch him!" I ordered, barely able to keep from laughing. Shortly Carl stepped inside, his lips quivering slightly as he tried to suppress his smile.
"See, I told you he was wearing it!" Jeff exclaimed. "Give it back!" He demanded with all the authority his alto voice could command. He lunged toward Carl but held back before confronting him.
"This one's yours." Carl snickered, pulling a headgear from behind his back.
Jeff snatched his appliance from his brother and gave me a rather dirty 'I told you so' look as he raised his facebow toward his mouth. He was about to insert it when he froze, then slowly looked back at Carl's headgear laden mouth, then back at his facebow.
"What the. . ." He whispered, looking at Carl then Jerry. All three boys’ eyes bounced between Carl's face, mine and each other's several times as their jaws dropped almost in unison.
"Well, you all got'm, why can't I!" Carl said, his lisp a little heavier than usual, cracking a wide sliver smile behind his facebow.
"Dude!" Jerry exclaimed. All three boys gathered around Carl examining his new hardware as they asked questions about what lay ahead for him, how his mouth felt and why he didn't tell them.
I let them talk for a minute or so while I went into the entryway, digging through my coat pocket for what I needed. I sat back down to the kitchen table before calling Jeff's name, tapping a finger to my lips reminding him to put his headgear back on. The dirty looks I got from all four boys was priceless as they noticed I was wearing my sunglasses inside.
The boys had been playing outside for about an hour when Carl came back into the house, complaining his mouth was sore. I could almost hear gears grinding inside his little head when I asked him to set a time that he would put his appliance back on before saying he could remove it. I was willing to agree to two hours out of it, but he suggested an hour.
After a 'soft foods' supper of tuna casserole and a large bowl of ice cream he seemed to relax. I was worried about getting him to sleep but another dose of Advil did a good job of knocking him out for some needed sleep.
'I've been working too long, I need to retire' I mentally informed my silent alarm clock. Despite my intention to sleep in, my brain stirred back to consciousness only fifteen minutes later than I normally would have began my daily assault on the time piece. I staggered down the hall to the sacred coffee pot, enjoying about half a cup before going to check on the boys.
The twins were far away in dreamland, laying motionless. I snapped fully awake when I opened Carl's door and discovered his empty bed. Looking further down the hall I noticed the light in the boys' bathroom on, the door only about half closed. As I approached the door I could see Carl, clad only in his briefs, standing in front of the vanity mirror. I watched for several seconds as he contorted his face and lips this way and that, developing some really strange expressions.
"Morning turkey, what ya doing?" I asked as I stepped behind him.
"Nothing sir!" He replied blushing. Putting my hands on his shoulders and pulling him against me I repeated my question, also inquiring if his mouth was sore.
"Well a little maybe." He began, still a little embarrassed. "Well, I'm sorta figuring how to smile and not look too dumb." He finally revealed.
"Hum, find any that you like, let's see." I suggested. He looked at me somewhat lost through the mirror’s reflection for a second or so. "Come on, I'll let you know which one looks best. You're gonna wear them a long time, don't you want to find just the right one?" I said, causing his confused expression to deepen.
After some hesitation he moved the corners of his mouth slightly upward toward a grin and pushed his lower lip up as in a frown, to cover his silver laden teeth. When I expressed my dissatisfaction he paused, then developed a cagey tight lipped grin about like the cartoon cat that just ate the Canary.
"No, that one will get you in trouble." I responded. "Can I try one?" His face changed to his classic lost look.
He began studying my face in the mirror as if waiting for me to show him a mystery expression. He didn't notice my hand slipping off his shoulders to the bottom of his rib cage on each side, one of his most vulnerable tickle spots. It only took two or three pokes to turn his giggle box on high, squirming and smiling ear to ear.
"There, that one's perfect!" I said. "Well, let's try another one to be sure." I continued, moving my hands and tickling his armpits. "That's a good one too!" I waited until he quit wiggling but still had a wide smile before saying "Don't you dare change that smile of yours, I don't care if its silver or white I love it too much!"
"What's so damn funny!" An alto teenage voice growled for the hallway. "I'm trying to get some f***'n slee. . . Oh, ah, hi Dad, ah sir." Jeff said, his voice changing to almost a whimper. "Ah, sorry sir, I didn't know it, well, I was asleep sir I didn't mean it." he stuttered, turning bright red.
I gave him my best 'you're dead meat' glare for a few seconds before picking up a soap bar from the vanity.
"Do I need to clean that mouth of yours up?" I snapped. His face turned ashen as he assured me five or so ways it wouldn't happen again. I let him stew for a few seconds before setting the bar down. "I don't know where you get such a filthy f***ing mouth, boy!" I commented, pulling his thin frame against me. "You guys get dressed, I'll make some breakfast." I concluded, hugging both my sons.
Carl's new braces hadn't made his mouth too sore, he fully did his part in inhaling the mountain of waffles and sausage I prepared. After the boys cleared the table I was pleased that Carl went to his bedroom, returning almost immediately wearing his new headgear. He gave me a shy grin as he went to join his brothers watching cartoons.
I was basting the roast I intended to serve for our luncheon with the Snyder's when Carl reappeared in the kitchen. He ducked under my arm, pushing his thin back against my stomach and staring at the slab of meat before him.
"Yum!" he exclaimed, drawing several deep breaths in through his nose. I let him dazzle while I finished coating the meat, then drew a small spoonful of the broth slipping it under his facebow. "Wow, that's totally yum, can I have a little more please?"
"Sorry turkey, its still kind of watery, better wait." He rolled his head up at me, perfectly imitating the twins' best sad puppy eyes. "Sorry, kiddo, but let's let it thicken more first." I paused briefly, making a show of studying the pan. "Yeah, way to thin, too much of that and your mouth might rust shut!"
I would have sworn the twins had been tutoring him in the 'up yours dad' glare he gave me as I lifted the roast over him and put it back in the oven. I was a little surprised when he pushed back under my arm, wrapping his arms around me in a hug. As I rubbed his back and shoulders they felt tight, I could almost feel some stress radiating from him.
"What's wrong turkey, you know I was just picking on you don't you?" I asked. He just stuffed his forehead against my chest snuggling tighter against me. "What's wrong, come on, I know when your upset." I continued, stroking his strap laden head.
"What if they don't like me?" He almost whispered. "What if they think I'm bad or stuff?" I caressed him as I moved over to the kitchen table, sitting down and pulling him onto my lap.
"They wanted to come and meet you, they don't think you're bad or anything. If they did they wouldn't be coming here would they?" I could barely feel his shoulders shrug in response. "Come on, your not going to be the shy guy, are you? Aren't you looking forward to seeing Mike again? I bet you guys are going to have a lot of fun!"
"Do they know the bad stuff I did?" He whimpered after a long pause. "That Mike and I did? They can't like me then!"
I pulled him more tightly against me and closed my eyes for a second or so. 'God, you're suppose to be so merciful, how could you dump this much baggage on this soft little angel?' I wondered, how can I get this kid some peace of mind? I held him for a minute or so as I stared away at the wall, composing my thoughts.
"They know a lot about what you did." I began. He stiffened against me before I could continue "They know you saved Mike's life, you got him rescued and back together with them, is that what you're talking about?" He shifted nervously in my lap, staring at the wall.
"Are you talking about what was done to you?" I asked, after waiting for a response. He shrugged his shoulders slightly. "I'm sure they know what was done to you, I bet they feel just like me about it too." He very briefly gave me a questioning look before moving his gaze back to the wall. "I bet Mike's parents are just as thankful as I am that both of you are safe, that you are okay and happy again.
"We know both of you went through a lot that nobody should ever have happen to them, we know its going to take a lot for you to get over it. I know what they have got to like about you, well if they get to see it." He stared at the floor for a couple of seconds before asking, in a whisper, what I was talking about.
"The bright, happy boy I love so much. All you have to do is be yourself and I promise they won't just like you, they'll love you." I concluded, kissing the top of his head. He melted against me, pushing his little head under my chin.
"I love you pop" He whispered.
Although his spirits brightened considerably after our talk, I began to be concerned when we heard the Snyder's car pull into our driveway. Right after Bandit's barking announced their arrival, I encountered him in the entry hall, leaving the family room toward his bedroom as I came out of the kitchen.
"Where's that happy kid everyone will like?" I asked, pulling him under my arm. "Come on, where is that happy silver beak!" I said, tapping on his facebow. "Let's go, I want to meet your friend!"
After I almost shoved Carl out the front door under my arm I could feel the tension drain from his shoulders as he saw Mike's face through the car window. As soon as Mike opened the car door Carl jerked out from under me rushing toward the driveway.
The boys high five'd each other before embracing, hugging each other as they slapped each other's head and rubbing each other's backs and shoulders. I saw Carl turn red as Mike pointed at his friend's new mouth chrome. The boys began giggling and shoving at each other as Mike's parents disembarked their vehicle.
I felt comfortable with Jack and Mary Snyder the instant I met them. Both probably in their early forties, their warm, relaxed faces and demeanor made me feel like I was talking to long known friends within minutes of our exchanging handshakes. The twins managed to guide their brother and his friend toward the door as they still embraced each other talking volumes per minute.
Mike was a stunning lad, more beautiful wearing clothes than the earlier pictures I had seen of him. He was a lanky boy with light brown hair and eyes, eyes that were clear and full of life again, not like his pictures while in captivity. He was clearly was dealing with puberty, all arms and legs, I would have sworn he could stand at attention and scratch his knees without bending his back. His long thin neck also announced recent growth as did his thin, soft face.
We had to mildly admonish the boys to introduce Carl to the Snyder's and Mike to Dad and I. Mary quickly set the overall mood. Her husband and she shook hands with the twins as I introduced them, as I did with Mike. When I almost pushed Carl from his hiding place between Mike and the twins to introduce him, Mary stepped forward wrapping her arms around him. Before he could react she bent her knees and kissed him on the forehead. He turned so red his freckles disappeared as she said he was her hero, that she loved him.
After a couple of minutes I invited everyone to join me in the family room, offering them drinks. Mike and Carl, followed shortly by the twins disappeared down the hall, Carl inviting to show Mike his bedroom. Shortly all the boys were out the door heading for Timmy's house, soccer ball in hand.
We chatted for a half hour or so, getting to know each other, before Dad excused himself to prepare lunch, Mary offering to help. Jack and I talked, comparing jobs and life styles for a minute or so, enjoying idle conversation.
"Have you noticed much change in Carl since he's been back? I mean after all this?" Jack asked, abruptly changing subjects.
I explained (or reminded) him that Carl had only been a visitor in my home until recently. I started to hint toward ending my response there but something in his face told me he had something more on his mind, almost that he was hoping I might draw something out of him that he was unsure how to approach.
"Carl is still adjusting, he is gaining some self-confidence slowly. He is starting to learn to trust again, that he is not going to be abused, but that is going to take a long time. How is Mike doing?"
"I, ah, well he seems to be, , , adjusting too I suppose." Jack stammered. He seemed to drift away for a few seconds, staring at the wall. I was trying to decide how to react when he continued "He seems to have, well have you noticed if Carl has, I'm sorry I forgot, you didn't know Carl, , , before."
"What's bothering you, Jack? I can't help noticing you want to get something off your chest, can I help?"
"Well both the FBI and CPS said you're really good with kids, they said you have done wonders with Carl." He replied. I commented that Carl was my fourth boy. He nodded and looked away, seemingly having another conversation with the wall.
"Let's go for a walk." I suggested, ushering him out to the patio. I gave Dad a quick glance as we walked through the kitchen, and was sure he read my eyes asking for privacy.
"Do you think what the boys did will change them?" He asked after looking around the yard for a few seconds. "Well, I mean what those people did to them." He corrected himself.
"I'm sure it will, in many ways." I began. "Going through what they did would have an effect on the strongest adult, and they were robbed of a part of their childhood. I am sure it has changed them, but I don't think it will ruin their futures or anything, especially with a lot of support, and love." He studied my face as if evaluating me for several seconds then looked away.
"Do you think, , ," He began, cutting his statement off. "When Mike came home, we let him on the internet of course. Neither of us thought about parental controls or such at first. We bought our computer after he was taken, just to search for him on the internet.
"Mike took to it immediately when he got home, which we thought was great, it kept his mind busy I guess. Night before last I noticed a new folder on the computer. When I looked in it, it was," He took a deep breath, rolling his head back. I waited several seconds, then gently asked what was in the folder. He briefly glanced at me then off into the yard.
"Porn?" I asked after another long pause. He nodded his head in the affirmative. I could hear gears grinding in my own skull as I tried to formulate an appropriate response. His kid was of the age to explore, and after what he had gone through damn sure wasn't an innocent little boy anymore, but I didn't want to lay that on a clearly appalled father.
"But men." He added. "All of them were men, and some teenage boys." He almost sobbed. I could feel one of the gears in my head strip as I tried to think of a response. "I've seen him look at men and boys when we are out, sometimes he studies them it seems.
"Do you think they turned my son into, well, into, , , into a queer?" He asked, turning toward me. "Damn, he's only 14 and those perverts ruined his life for him!" He snarled.
'Shit, and this was suppose to be a casual lunch!' I thought. 'This is Tim's job, why me'. Tim's statement from before Christmas, the night all this began, regarding this could be 'a long, hard ride', came to me as harshly as a direct quote. I suggested we go for a walk through the neighborhood, taking a minute to tell Dad to go on with lunch without us.
"Have you talked to Mike about this?" I began as we went out the back yard gate. He nodded in the negative. Not knowing how to best proceed I just stumbled ahead. "I understand your concern Jack, but I think you should consider, Mike is at the age of exploration. Despite what happened to him while he was kidnapped he is just discovering his sexuality, he is still learning about sex, he still has to mature emotionally and sexually.
"Mike looking at men's bodies does not mean he's gay, it could mean he's curious, it could mean he is trying to find out about himself. How would you feel if he turned out to be gay?" I asked.
"God Damn man, what would you do if you found out your only son is a queer!" He snapped more then ask, his anger showing.
"I'd love him and support him in any way I could." I responded even as what he suggested sunk in. "He still would be my son, I would still love him."
"You could love a God damn queer?" He growled, turning to face me. "You're saying if Carl turned out queer you'd keep him?" He looked away for a second or so before asking "What, are you one of them, is that why you got Carl?"
I turned away myself, mainly to TRY to keep from punching him out. I bit my lip trying to regain some control as I turned back to him.
"No, Jack, I am as straight as an arrow. The nearest semblance to a male's anatomy that turns me on is a Harley Davidson's handlebar. I adopted Carl because I love him, but I love him because he is a boy that got under a dad's skin, because he needed a dad. That is ALL I am to Carl, his new father. If you ever suggest anything otherwise again I'll put your f***ing running lights out, GOT IT BITCH!" That vented I calmed down somewhat, remembering he was distraught to say the least.
"Jack, I know I'm a bit older then you, but do you recognize the name J. Edgar Hoover? He's more really from my dad's time than mine, but he founded the FBI and ran it for almost half a century." Jack acknowledged the name. "Did you know he was gay? He was. Ever listen to Leonard Bernstein's music, does the name Alexander Hamilton ring any bell's? They were too.
"Remember the name Eleanor Roosevelt, the only three term First Lady at the White House? So was she. What about Hill. . ." I bit my lip, remembering that a security memo I had read at work was classified. "Did you know one of your very influential First Ladies is also Gay, and provided their husband's with wonderful families? Should I go on?" His shocked face, clearly he didn't expect my tirade, calmed me.
"Jack, you lost your son for several months. I know how much that hurt you because I lost my first born forever. I won't get to see him again until I die, IF St Peter don't pull that left lever and send me to Hell, which he very well might. God gave me Carl and now I have three boys left on this earth. I don't give a f*** if they turn out straight, gay, green or purple, they're what keeps me alive and I love them, I don't care if they become President's or bums. Maybe you better wake up and smell the roses, ace!"
We stared at each other for probably a minute before my cell phone, somewhat thankfully, broke our concentration. Dad called, saying Mary and Mike were both a bit concerned, that we should consider returning home soon. I informed Jack of the phone call as we started back to the house. He was silent for over a minute as we walked.
"This whole thing is so unfair!" He began. "God I hate those bastards, how could they do this to my son! How can I face everyone, well him if they, well, if" He faded off.
"Do you love him?" I asked. He stared at me with a lost look. "Do you or not, do you want to keep him or lose him? Decision time!" I continued. Failing an answer I added "If Mike doesn't know what's going on yet he soon will, kids are not stupid. Good Lord don't abandon the kid now, talk to him! Believe me you don't want to lose a kid, been there done that. Let's go eat lunch, I have a good friend I want you to meet, let me call him, he lives across the street." I suggested.
He faintly nodded his approval. We walked in silence to the back yard gate, instantly surrounded by kids as we entered the house.
Jack and I were just finishing our lunch when the door bell rang and Tim bust in, responding to my invitation of a few minutes prior.
"What's this shit, you can't feed me lunch?" He boomed as he entered the kitchen. Jack look confused as he watched the big man walk up to the table, grabbing some chips off my plate.
"Well, I GUESS we might scrape up a leftover or two, that's about all your worth!" Dad retorted, snickering.
"Shit, all I got was boloney sandwiches, I'll take what I can get!" Tim said, accepting a plate from dad. "That's where Timmy's been! Can't say I blame him." he continued, piling slices of beef on his plate."
Jack and Mary were still analyzing the situation when I finally could introduce everyone. They seemed to relax as I explained Tim and my unique relationship. I was about to suggest we adjourn to the patio when Mike came into the kitchen. My boys and Timmy were right behind, loosely lining up at the kitchen's entrance as Mike moved toward his dad.
"Mr. Younger! What are you doing here?" He asked. His face seemed a little worried as he move next to his dad. Jack quickly asked how they knew each other.
"It’s Young, not Younger, Mike, but thanks for remembering me!" Tim said toward Mike, before explaining to Jack that he was with CPS, that he was the supervisor in charge of Mike's care when the FBI recovered the boy, that the Snyder's case worker worked for him.
"Come here boy, let me look at you!" Tim continued, gesturing toward Mike. "Damn, you've grown, just in a couple of weeks!" he commented, touching the top of the still nervous lad's head. "I live across the street, Mr. Miller and I are friends." He told Mike. "See the third sliver glare from the right?" He asked, pointing at an instantly red faced Timmy. "He's my son."
Mike almost instantly relaxed, and he and Tim chatted for a minute or so about how the boy was doing, Jack even chiming in a few times as the proud papa.
I was debating on offering Jack a beer, knowing Tim would want one (and after the pre- lunch events, I damn sure was ready!) when Jeff broke ranks from the headgear gang and went to the refrigerator. To my surprise he withdrew three beer cans, presenting them to Jack, Tim and myself.
"Well all of you wanted one!" He replied to everyone's confused looks. He turned slightly red faced as I forced my thought patterns to concentrate on 'Don't do that, don't read other people's minds!' His face still looked embarrassed as he started outside, the other boys following.
I grabbed a bag of pretzels as Jack, Tim and I stepped out to the patio. After offering Jack several assurances that any conversation with Tim would not jeopardize Mike's home situation he slowly began revealing to Tim the concerns he had expressed in our earlier discussion.
Tim relaxed into one of the chaise lounges as he listened to Jack, occasionally snacking on a pretzel and sipping on his beer. I was somewhat amazed, just as I had been when he interviewed Carl late one night not so long ago, at his skill dealing with people. He nodded and made casual comments from time to time, just enough to let Jack know he was listening and interested.
Tim grunted, sometimes interjected two or three words into what was really Jack's monologue almost perfectly, that encouraged Jack to expand on his feelings and concerns, adeptly getting the man to spill even his most hidden feelings about the situation with his son. He was completely successful at driving Jack to vocalize his love for Mike, without Jack even knowing it.
"What should I do?" Jack finally asked, his face spent. "I love my boy just as much as you and Christian do yours, what can I do?" He almost begged.
"Drink your beer." Tim replied, reaching for another handful of pretzels. "It tastes like shit hot."
To Be Continued…