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LINCOLN, THE FAMILY I NEVER EXPECTED

Copyright ©2017-2020 Lindon Weztser & CSU Productions. All Rights Reserved.

Full disclaimer may be viewed at http://cornercafe.us


Installment 28 (Cooper)

Part – 1

“He’s not staying though,” Lincoln continued as we held onto one another.

“I,” I sighed. ” okay… let’s just focus on one thing at a time.”

“He’s staying? Isn’t he?”

“Lincoln-”

“I don’t want him too,” he responded as he nervously fiddled with the back of my shirt.

“I know you don’t, but…”

“He’s not staying.” Lincoln quickly interrupted as his emotions were starting to stir.

“Okay, let’s beath,” I said as I thought we were on the verge of calming down, but Lincoln had other plans.

“Tell me he is not staying with us!”

“Lincoln-”

“Tell me! Please.”

“I can’t-”

“Why?”

“Because I don’t want to lie to you. I don’t know what’s going on, kiddo.” I said as I tried to lighten the mood. “After you started slugging him, all madness broke loose.”

“So,” Lincoln said as he completely bypassed my joke. “Just say he can’t stay with us then.”

“It’s… it’s not that easy, bud.”

“Yes, it is.”

“Bud.”

“Fine… I’ll do it,” Lincoln stated.

“No-no-no,” I quickly answered as I held onto him tighter. “You’ve already voiced your opinion… quite cleary, I would say.”

“Then he knows he isn’t welcomed.”

“Can you let me-”

“He isn’t staying!”

“Lincoln… enough.”

“Enough?”

“You’re overthinking things right now.”

“He isn’t staying, Garret… I don’t want him to… he freaking pushed Clay.”

“Hey! Enough, okay? Just listen to me, buddy. I’m trying to explain.”

“Nothing to explain. Just tell me he isn’t staying.”

“I can’t-”

“Why?”

“It’s not an easy situation… I-I don’t even know why or what really happened.”

“HE PUSHED HIM!”

“Lincoln-”

“Why… Why are you taking his side? Do you want him here?”

“I’m not taking his side, son.”

“Yes, you are.”

“Listen to me, bud.”

“What?”

“I’m not taking his side, but I can’t promise you that he won’t stay.”

“If-If he stays, I want to leave!” Lincoln angrily answered as he shoved me away.

“Hey,” I mildly hollered as I caught myself from falling. Trying to remain calm and composed, I followed with, “Lincoln… we do NOT push each other in this family, you understand? That is not okay.”

“When you do, it is,” Lincoln hastily replied. “It’s okay to throw stuff and get angry, but I can’t?”

“Lincoln,” I began as I knew my actions would come back to bite me in the ass.

“What?” He roared back.

“Son,” I said and grabbed his wrist.

“I’m not your son,” Lincoln stated and ripped his arm from my grasp. “I… I-I don’t-don’t wanna be either.”

I was stunned, and I’m sure my face gave it away. I knew… well, I hoped Lincoln didn’t mean those words, and he was simply acting out in anger. Regardless, hearing that from him caught me by surprise as my heart ached. I took a deep breath as I saw Lincoln crying again, “come here,” I said as I held my arms out for a hug. “I know you’re upset and you didn’t mean that-”

“NO! I…” he sniffled, “I… I do mean it,” Lincoln hollered as he backed himself into his bathroom and slammed the door.

Now entirely unsure how to handle this situation, I wanted to show support for him but also give Lincoln space. I wasn’t too far from his bathroom door, so I crawled over and sat my back against the door. “Lincoln,” I said, and I took a deep breath as I heard him angrily sulking behind the piece of wood that separated us. “Even if you do mean what you said. It does not change how I feel about you or where I ultimately see us as a family. I love you, bud, and I still want you to be my son. Whenever you are-”

“Hello?” Came a knock on the door. “It’s-It’s Christian.”

“Hey, bud… It’s unlocked,” I said as I began to stand up.

“Jordan said you wanted to see me,” Christian stated as he peeked his head in first.

“Yup… you can come all the way in.”

“Okay… Where’s Lincoln?”

“In the bathroom,” I answered and then lightly tapped on the door. “Lincoln, Christian is here. Do you want to let him in?”

No response.

“Lincoln?”

“WHAT?”

“Whoa,” Christian said as he reacted to his cousin.

“Christian… he wants to know if he can come in.”

“Umm… only if you leave,” yelled Lincoln.

“Only if I leave?”

“Uh-huh.”

“yeah…okay, sure, if… if that’s what you want,” I answered.

“What’s happening?” Christian inquired.

“Nothing that won’t be fixed. Could you just keep him company,” I said and ruffled his hair as we passed each other.

“Okay?” Christian stated and turned the knob to the door. “Hey, Lincoln.”

“Shut the door.”

“What’s happening?” Christian asked as he listened to Lincoln’s demand.

With the door shut, it would have been hard to hear what they were saying, but Lincoln’s voiced carried through, as I didn’t entirely leave his room yet. It was probably wrong of me to eavesdrop, but I was concerned for Lincoln. Especially after I heard him say, “He fucking pushed Clayton!”

“What?”

“He pushed him!”

“Garret did?” Christian answered in a confused tone as I was still listening. I was at the door with half my body in the room, and the other half in the hallway.

“No, the kid did.”

“The kid?”

“YES!”

“What kid?”

“The-umm. I don’t know his name.”

“From Ryker’s party?”

“NO!” Lincoln hollered. “The-the kid at the door.”

“I don’t know who you are talking about.”

“Forget it,” Lincoln said as I heard him begin to cry. “Did-did Garret leave?”

“He was walking out to the door… why?”

“I… I,” Lincoln spoke as his voice was becoming softer. “I said something bad to him.”

I felt a tap on my shoulder and heard a whisper, “Garret.”

Nearly jumping through the roof because I wasn’t expecting anyone to be near me, I quickly turned to see Rita, “geez… you scared the shit out of me.”

“Sorry,” Rita rapidly replied. “I saw Jordan in the kitchen with Clayton, she told me the gist of what’s happening. Is everyone okay?”

“I haven’t checked on the other kid yet, but Lincoln is fuming. He’s… he’s just outraged and furious right now. How’s Clayton?”

“He was rubbing his head, but Jordan had him giggling. I think she was giving him a small piece of cake to eat by the fire.”

“Oh… okay… good.”

“Yeah… so do you need help with anything? You look stressed.”

“I am,” I admitted. “I don’t know what to do.”

“Well,” Rita said as she started to rub my back. “I don’t know exactly what you’re stressed about, but you will make the right decision for everyone involved. I know you will… you’ve been doing a half-decent job thus far.”

“Thanks,” I chuckled.

“You’re welcome. Now, what can I do to help?”

“Umm… just make sure Lincoln is okay. Christian is in there with him, but… basically, don’t let Lincoln into my room. I don’t know if they plan on heading back downstairs with everybody or staying upstairs; either way, they should probably go to Ryker’s bedroom too. Lucas and Katherine are staying in the room they are in, and I don’t want Lincoln falling asleep in their room.”

“Got it… anything else?”

“No… I don’t think so. I’m gonna check on Laura and Cooper. Holler if you need me, okay?”

“Yup.”

“Thank you,” I sighed and slowly made my way over to my bedroom. I didn’t have much time to think, which might have been for the best, but I ran through two or three scenarios. Each of them seemed to end where I would be making someone angry. It appeared to be a lose-lose situation where a positive outcome was unlikely. I opened my door and didn’t see them, so I figured they were in the bathroom. As I turned to the corner, I saw Laura frantically talking on her phone.

“I gotta go,” Laura said as she saw me and quickly hung up. “Garret, I am so so so sorry. I-”

“Where is he?” I cut her off.

“Why?” Laura quickly responded in a defensive tone.

“Bathroom?”

“Garret, why do you want to see him?”

“I wanna make sure he is okay.”

“Oh… he’s sitting on the bathroom floor.”

“Everything good?”

“I think he is shaken up. Still trying to stop his nose from bleeding.”

“Geez.”

“I know… I’m-I’m sorry, Garret. I completely forgot you were having Ryker’s birthday party today.”

I took a deep breath and said, “it’s okay. We just need to figure out what to do next.”

“I’m trying,” Laura answered and then whispered in my ear. “Nobody wants to take him in.”

Not wanting Cooper to hear the conversation, I guided us around the corner and spoke quietly, “There aren’t any newly crowned foster parents that want him?”

“The house he was at before… was the newest foster family we have. After them, it’s you. We have some other families getting background checks complete, but we can’t place him there, not yet at least.”

“And explain to me why can’t you take him yourself?”

“It’s a conflict of interest. It’s… it’s hard to explain in proper terminology, but I can’t.” Laura paused. “I’ve… I’ve already looked into it.”

“What happens if no one takes him?”

“I don’t know. I have to keep placing him in different homes, hoping one will last.”

“I don’t think that is my place,” I stated.

Laura looked at me disappointedly, but I could tell in her eyes, she knew it was true.

“What happens from here?”

“I’ll probably have to take him back to my office and set up a temporary living space. At least for the next few days. Is… is Lincoln, okay?”

“Umm, define okay?” I joked. “He’s doesn’t want to add another boy, especially someone who pushed Clayton.”

“Yeah… his response was a bit uncalled for… you do know that, right?”

“Yeah I do, and I plan on talking to him. Although, if you look at it through his eyes, he was defending his family.”

“Defending is one thing… beating someone about half his age, is… well kind of a whole nother level.”

“I know,” I replied as I did partially agree with her.

A few seconds of silence passed before Laura spoke, “yeah… well, with Lincoln’s background, it’s not too surprising.”

“Still… I will talk to him.”

“I know you will, you’re doing good.”

“Haven’t been perfect, but thanks.”

“No one is perfect, Garret.”

“I can try,” I chuckled. “But, I’m going to check on Cooper.”

“Why?”

“Because my foster son beat the shit out of him,” I said as I walked around Laura and made my way to the door. I knocked and then opened the door to find Cooper scampering to his feet. He looked terrified as he backed himself as close to the wall as possible. As I stepped in, I was able to get a better look at the damage done. He was still holding the towel by his nose that covered his lower face. He also had some swelling around his left eye, which I’m assuming would turn into a black eye soon, although I wasn’t sure. “Hey… you ahh… doing okay?”

No response. He just looked at me and watched my every moment like a hawk.

I kneeled to look less intimidating, “Mind if I take a look at your face?”

Again, he didn’t generate a response.

Honestly not knowing if I should push the limits or not, I decided to slowly reach out and remove the towel from his face. As soon as my hand left my side, the boy was flinching and grimacing. I took a deep breath and sighed because I felt so awful for Cooper. He didn’t have a single ounce of trust in his body, and it made me sick to my stomach. It was so bad that Cooper was on the cusp of crying. I could see the tears bundling in the corner of his eye. Not wanting to force Cooper into a defensive situation where he felt threatened to respond, I retracted my arm. “Coop… I don’t know what is going to happen, and I won’t make you any promises I can’t keep. However… I’ll make you the same promise I made my four boys when they came into my life. I will NEVER hurt you on purpose, and whatever happened to you before… will never happen to you again. You are safe here.”

And once again, he didn’t speak a single word… not even a sound. Cooper just looked at me, watching my every move.

“Garret,” Laura called.

“Yes?”

“Can you step out here again… please?”

“Yeah,” I said as I stood up and walked back out of the bathroom. “What’s up?”

“I don’t want to hold anything up, so I’m gonna take him and get going. I uhh… don’t want to ruin anything else.”

“Wait,” I stated. “What are you going to do with him? You still haven’t told me.”

“It’s not like I’ve had some magically plan pop into my head in the last couple of minutes. I-”

I cut her off… “And I thought I had some sass… damn.”

“I’m sorry… just… look, I don’t know, I honestly couldn’t tell you. I mean, you obviously don’t want him, right?”

“I don’t know what I want… I just feel terrible for him.”

“What are you saying?”

“I don’t know, Laura. Part of me thinks I would regret not taking him, and the other half thinks I’m an idiot for considering it.”

“You’re considering it?”

“I don’t know enough to consider it. Like I don’t know anything about the boy.”

“How is that different from Lincoln and his brothers?”

“By a lot! One, they didn’t start off by fighting each other. Two, this is completely different than finding Lincoln. I mean for god sakes, Lincoln was almost dead.”

“Okay-okay, nothing is happening tonight,” Laura sighed. “I will take him back to my office. I’m sorry for bringing him here, especially on Ryker’s birthday.”

“Just wait a minute. Everything is happening too quick… I mean, I have Lincoln unraveling in his room. Cooper crying in my bathroom, and a decision being made that can impact the poor child’s future…. just slow down.”

Laura looked at me for a second before speaking, “Do you really think leaving Cooper here would be a good option?”

“No,” I quickly answered.

“Then the quicker I get him out of here, the quicker you can calm down your boys.”

“But where will he stay?”

“I already told you… At my office… at least until I can find a spot for him to stay.”

“Your office isn’t a long term solution.”

“Well-duh.”

“And we aren’t thinking about placing him here… with me?”

“Garret… I’d love to place him here with you. I knew your sister wanted to as well.”

“I know,” I answered.

“However, I think I just botched it by bringing him here, and that’s my fault.”

“What was your plan?”

“I didn’t have one,” Laura answered.

“Were you just planning on leaving him here?”

“No… well, if you would have said yes, then I would have… I just didn’t think all the drama would happen.”

“Yeah… I’m sorry about that one too.”

“Why?”

“Because… I just feel bad. It shouldn’t have happened.”

“You’re right, it shouldn’t have. However, it’s like you said… Lincoln was protecting his brother. With their background and what they’ve been through… it’s not what I expected, but I should have known better.”

“Yeah, but still.”

“I wouldn’t worry too much, Garret.”

“Easier said than done,” I responded.

“Tell me about it,” Laura chuckled. “Look, I’m sorry… I’m taking Cooper, and we will head back to my office.”

“What if I called you in the morning?”

“Why?”

“To talk about Cooper. I want to know more about him and his past… I mean, the least I could do is hear his story and see if I could help in any way.”

“Are you serious?”

“Yes.”

“Alright, umm yeah, that works for me.”

“Good, we will talk bright and early.”

“I probably won’t get much sleep,”

“No,” I chuckled. “But umm… I’ll walk down with y’all, and make sure the path is clear. Don’t want Lincoln or any of the boys making things worse.”

“Okay,” Laura said. “Garret, I’m truly sorry… I didn’t mean to ruin Ryker’s birthday.”

“You didn’t ruin anything, just a little blip.”

“I still feel bad,” Laura stated as she walked over to Cooper. “Come on, Coop… we are heading back to my office to spend the night.”

Cooper struggled to get to his feet as he tried to keep the towel on his nose.

“There ya go,” commented Laura, and the three of us made our way downstairs. I was leading the two, but we didn’t run into any problems. The only noise we heard came from the basement as the rambunctious kids were laughing away. Once they got to the car, I said my goodbyes and joined everybody by the fire.

Outback with everyone, little Clayton was wrapped up in Jordan’s arms, however, as soon as he saw me, that changed. He jumped into my lap as my butt his the chair. I made sure he was okay, and he seemed fine, maybe just a bump on the head. Everybody wanted to know what happened, but I wasn’t in the mood to get into it. So I diverted the topic to something else that didn’t involve Laura, Cooper, Clayton, or anything that happened. Plus, we weren’t out there too much longer as it was getting late.

So with the day coming to a close, we moved inside. Jordan had taken Clayton downstairs to say his goodnights to everybody, and I went to check on Christian and Lincoln.

As I made it to the top of the steps, Rita appeared from her room. “They are in Ryker’s room, Garret. They moved when you were out by the fire… I think Adrian is in there too.”

“Thanks… how long have they been in there?”

“40-45 minutes,”

“Gotcha… you going to bed?”

“Very shortly.”

“Goodnight,” I said as I walked over to Ryker’s room.

“Night,” Rita returned.

“Oh, and thank you.”

“You’re welcome, Sugar,” Rita stated as she softly shut the door to her room. Which allowed me to turn my attention to everybody in Ryker’s room.

“Boys,” I said as I lightly knocked on the door and opened it.

“Shh,” Christian called as I walked in.

“Hey,” I smiled as I saw the two boys cuddling with one another. However, Lincoln was out cold as he used his cousin as a pillow. “You okay?”

“Yeah… actually…. really good,” Christian whispered as he rubbed his cousin’s back. Lincoln was laying his head on the right side of Christian’s peck. Lincoln’s hand came to rest on the middle on Christian’s chest as the two were both shirtless. It looked as if they were naked, but I couldn’t tell if they were wearing anything underneath the sheet. Although, it wasn’t a big concern as I wanted to check on Lincoln.

“How long has he been asleep?” I inquired as I sat on the side of the bed.

“I don’t know… like 30 minutes.”

“You want me to move him?”

“No, please don’t… I mean, no… I like this.”

“You sure?”

Christian glanced down at his little cousin and smiled before he responded with,” Yeah, I’m positive.”

“Alright,” I lightly chuckled and ran my hands through Christians hair. “Y’all have clothes on?”

“Our underwear, see,” Christian replied as he lifted the sheet to expose the two of them. I was surprised to observe how much Lincoln was actually laying on his cousin, but I thought it was so adorable to see. “Is that… umm o-okay?”

“As long as you two are comfortable than I-

“I am… like really comfortable.”

“Alright… you sure you don’t want me to move him, buddy?”

“Yes! I can move if I want to.”

“Okay-okay… just making sure. He can get heavy after a while.”

“Yeah, but he’s just so cute,” Christian commented, “oh, and I get why you like rubbing their backs… it’s kinda soothing.”

“Soothing?” I lightly laughed.

“Yeah… like-like, I don’t know!”

“I mean… I guess I understand that” I stated. “Just be lucky it’s not Ryker… or you’d be scratching or rubbing his behind.”

“Ryker likes that?” Christian giggled.

“Oh yeah. So does this one,” I pointed to Lincoln.

“Really? Does… you know. Does it feel good?”

“I don’t know,” I laughed.

“Oh,” Christian responded.

“I’m sure it does, or they wouldn’t ask me to do it.”

“hmmm, guess so.”

“Yeah so, was he alright? And where’s Adrian?”

“He’s in the bathroom. I think his stomach is hurting.”

“Oh. Does he need medicine?”

“I’ll ask when he gets out.”

“Alright,” I said. “But was Lincoln, okay?”

“Yeah, he was kinda quiet though.”

“What do you mean?”

“Like not at first, but afterward… he didn’t speak much,” Christian answered as he continued to rub Lincoln’s back.

“He was pretty worked up.”

“I never saw him like that… besides his… you know attack thingies.”

“That’s a whole different type of worked up.”

“That was really scary… I thought he was gonna die the one time I saw it. Does-does he still get them?”

“Yeah, he does but not as much, kiddo. His therapist has been helping, and I think you’ve really supported him too.”

“I have?”

“Absolutely… you two talk like every day.”

“But not about that stuff.”

“It doesn’t matter… you keep his mind off other things that could lead to an attack.”

“Really?”

“Yup… and I can’t thank you enough for doing it.”

“I don’t mean too. I just like talking to Lincoln. He’s-he’s like my best friend… actually more than that… he is like a-like a brother.”

“He says the same thing, Buddy. And that’s why I can’t thank you enough. Lincoln looks up to you so much, and he loves you.”

Christian looked down at his cousin, “I love him, too,” he responded and kissed the top of his head.

“I know you do,” I stated and ran my hand through Christian’s hair again.

“And I love you too, Uncle G.”

“You better, camera boy,” I joked.

“Uncle G,” Christian giggled as he pointed to the bathroom door. “Shh.”

“I know-I know … but… I love you too, Christian.”

“Thanks, Uncle G,” Christian said as he returned to scratching his cousins back.

“You really like doing that, don’t you?”

“Yeah, his skin is like so smooth, and it feels nice against my hand.”

“Well, don’t do it too long, you’ve got to get to sleep soon.”

“I will.”

“Hey,” spoke Adrian as he opened the door to the bathroom. He too was in his underwear, but I don’t think he cared that I was in the room.

“Uncle G has medicine if you need some,” Christian softly said.

“I think I’m good.”

“Well if you’re not, just come into my room and wake me up.”

“Okay, thanks,” Adrian replied as he plugged his phone charger into the wall.

“Alright,” I said and kissed Christian’s forehead and then the top of Lincolns. “I’ll let you guys go, don’t stay up too long and no… no boathouse actions tonight.”

“UNCLE G!”

“Hey… I didn’t see anything that day, remember?” I stated as I stood up. Poor Adrian was as red as a cherry with his face blushing pure red.

“Ugh,” Christian moaned as he was embarrassed by me.

“Goodnight, you three,” I chuckled as I left the door slightly cracked.

“I knew he saw,” I heard Adrian softly comment. “You told me he didn’t.”

“I… didn’t think he did… but he doesn’t care,” Christian replied. “He wouldn’t let us even sleep together if he did.”

“But we aren’t like doing anything tonight, are we?”

“No… not with my little cousin in here,”

“Okay good, I didn’t want him seeing us… you know doing anything,”

“We haven’t done anything but kissed,” Christian said, and I decided I had heard enough and walked away. However, I wasn’t walking to my room, not yet at least. I had to make sure the little hooligans were getting ready for bed, so I made my way to the basement.

Luckily for me, it didn’t take much convincing to get them ready for bed. I suggested that we put a movie on, and everyone lay down in an attempt to fall asleep. As I said, it didn’t take much convincing, especially after the activity-filled day they had. With everyone agreeing, I had Ryker pick a movie as everyone got into their pajamas… or lack of pajamas. As Ryker scrolled through the movies on Netflix, he was undressing down to his undies. Jacob and all his cousins, Max, Dylan, and quite a few others, joined Ryker in wearing nothing but undies.

Meanwhile, some of the boys had pajama bottoms only, while others had the full outfit. It was just funny to see every boy prefer a different style of sleeping. With a movie picked and everyone settled into their sleeping bags or blankets, I said my goodnights and I turned off the majority of the lights beside the one in the bathroom.

I was just about to the top of the steps when I heard, “Garret!””

“Yeah?” I said as I turned around to see Ryker running up the steps. “What’s up, buddy? Everything okay?”

“Uh-huh… I just wanted to say goodnight, and I love you.”

“Ohh, I’ll take that! Come up here,” I chuckled as I sat down on the step and had my little boy climb into my arms. I picked him up and sat him on my lap as I wrapped him in a hug. “I love you so so so much.”

“I love you too,” Ryker replied as he buried his face into my shirt.

“Hey, what’s wrong?” I asked as I heard him lightly sniffle.

“I’m just-just really happy.”

“Aww, buddy,” I replied as I rubbed his bareback and cradled his body.

“I’m just happy that-that you are gonna be like my new dad. You make everything so fun and stuff.”

“Because you deserve it, kiddo.”

“No, I don’t,” Ryker replied.

“Pretty sure you do,” I answered as I kissed the top of his head.

“Nut-uh.”

“Yes-huh,” I acknowledged and lightly tickled his ribs.

“Hey,” he giggled.

“What?” I acted as if I didn’t do anything.

“You tickled me.”

“Pshh you crazy… I did no such thing.”

“Yeah, you did!”

“Nope,” I stated and did it again. Ryker’s slight tears turned to laughter as he squirmed in my arms. I had to be careful not to make him move too much, considering we were at the top of the steps, so I ceased my attack. “Now, as much as I would love to keep cuddling and torturing with you. We can’t keep your friends waiting.”

“Yeah.”

“But maybe we can cuddle for just a bit longer,” I added as I gave him a tight squeeze.

“Yes,” Ryker giggled.

“I love you, bud,” I stated and released my hug as I set him down on the step below me.

“Love you more.”

“Not a chance,” I added as I fixed his underwear. They were slightly pulled down from all the wiggling and squirming around. “Go enjoy the last hour or so of your birthday, kiddo.”

“Okay,” Ryker replied and gave me a quick kiss before heading downstairs. I just sat there and watched as he disappeared around the corner. It was just so cute and adorable that he had to say goodnight even with all of his friends downstairs. I also didn’t think it was possible to love someone as much as I loved these boys.

Anyway, after finally making it to my room, I wasn’t surprised to see Clayton and Jordan cuddling in my bed. I mean, this wasn’t how I had planned the night to go, but she reassured me that this was a perfect way to spend the evening. Clayton had yet to fall asleep, but he was very close as he rolled over to me and got comfortable.

“That boy loves you so much,” Jordan commented.

“Feeling is mutual,” I replied as I let Clayton get comfortable under my arm.

“They usually sleep with you?”

“It varies from time to time… some nights it’s him other nights it might be Ryker… if I’m lucky it’s all of them.”

“That’s a site I would love to see,” Jordan laughed.

“Oh, it’s an interesting one,” I responded. “By the way, thank you for everything tonight. You’ve been so amazing with them. I can’t thank you enough.”

“It’s been my pleasure so far,” Jordan answered and gave me a quick kiss on the cheek before getting comfortable.

“Yeah, but thanks,” I stated again as I flipped off the light. I’m pretty sure Clayton had fallen asleep as soon as he was tucked in close. For me, it didn’t take long, either, as I was exhausted.

Now I was sleeping pretty good until I felt a poke or two on my arm. Being half asleep. I opened my eyes to find a nearly naked Dylan standing next to me in his boxers. He wanted to call his parents to come to pick him up again. However, I knew from the previous sleepover that he was just scared of being the last one awake. Not even genuinely thinking, I patted beside me and told him to climb in. We were going to chat for a bit, and if he wasn’t asleep, then I would call his parents. Although I knew he wouldn’t last long… we were quietly whispering back and forth, and to be quite honest, I couldn’t even recall what we were talking about. It was a bunch of gibberish to me, and I’d bet that I mumbled most of my replies.

In an attempt to get him to fall asleep, I began rubbing his stomach and chest. Knowing this worked for my four, I figured it would work for him, and I wasn’t wrong. Nearly a minute in, he mentioned that it felt really good, especially on his tummy. At the three minute mark, he was quiet, and the only thing I heard was his deep breathing. A couple minutes later, I heard light and continuous snoring coming from his direction, and I knew I could stop. Thankfully it didn’t take long for me to fall back asleep too.



!!TAKE A BREAK!!       !!TAKE A BREAK!!        !!TAKE A BREAK!!        !!TAKE A BREAK!!



Part – 2 

Sunday Morning

Waking up in bed, never in my life did I expect to be seeing a gorgeous woman sleeping to the right of me. In the middle of her and I, the cutest and most charming little boy I’ve ever met. Clayton looked so adorable, as he peacefully slept attached to me. I don’t even think he moved throughout the night, as he was in the same position when I fell asleep. Finally, to my left, my neighbor’s son, who was pretty attractive too. Nothing comparable to my two oldest, but Dylan was quite the little tyke. If he was anything like Ryker, he was a few years away from puberty as he still maintained his boyish looks. The one comparable thing was that Dylan was definitely a male. His underwear and the light sheet that covered his torso on down did little to nothing in hiding his morning erection as he peacefully slept. I lightly chuckled and noted that at least it wasn’t just my boys that sprouted so often.

With a busy day ahead, I was trying to wake up earlier than I usually do on Sundays. Not wanting to disturb anyone in my bed, I slowly moved from the sheets and crawled towards the bottom of the mattress, where I planted my two feet on the floor. Before making my way to the kitchen, I checked in on the three in Ryker’s room. Similar to how I left them, they were all sleeping in the same bed, except Lincoln seemed to shift away from the other two while sleeping. Instead, Christian and Adrian both were cuddling as Christian had his arm on the chest of his boyfriend. They all looked to be resting peacefully (and adorably), so I shut the door and went downstairs.

“Smells good,” I commented as Rita was already prepping breakfast for the house.

“Why are you up so early? You usually not awake for another hour or so.”

“Busy day Rita! Well… at least the morning is.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Yup… see how it goes.”

“See how what goes?”

“Today.”

“Okay?” Spoke Rita, and she paused as she kept preparing the food. “So, you’re not going to tell me what’s going on?”

“Truthfully… I don’t really know what is going on. I’m going to talk with Laura to see if I can help the Cooper.”

“Uhh-okay… are you going to offer Cooper a spot to live here?”

“I umm… I think so… I don’t know. I have to talk to Laura first. I want to see how she feels and bring up some of my concerns.”

“What issues do you have?”

“Mainly the fact that Lincoln said he didn’t want to live with me anymore if I allowed Cooper to stay.”

“Oh? I think he is just talking, Garret.”

“But what if he isn’t?”

“That boy loves you, Garret. The way he looks at you and the way he craves your love… Lincoln is just scared of losing all that he has gained. He doesn’t want to be replaced by someone.”

“I know, and I understand that. But what if I let Cooper stay and Lincoln does truly feel that way though.”

“I don’t know… I just don’t see that happening-”

“What if it does? I don’t wanna lose Lincoln.”

“Then you can play it safe and voice your thoughts to Laura… see what she says.”

“Yeah,” I answered and let out a deep sigh. “You know… part of me doesn’t want to take Cooper in too.”

“Why?” Rita questioned as she threw sausage patties on the griddle.

“I’ve only been a parent for three months or so… and I am scared of ruining what we have now. Plus, the boys still have a long way to go.”

“You’re looking at the negatives, Sugar. Think about what you could do to help this poor child. You’ve already been such a… such a positive influence on the four amazing boys. Adding one more? It’s… it’s not going to change much in our household. It’s just going to be a life-altering event for that little boy who hasn’t been shown a great opportunity until now. Just think what you could do for him.”

I let Rita’s word sink in before I commented, “I… I’m just going to give Laura a call. I’ll be in my office if you need me.”

“It’s ten minutes to seven, you think she will be up?”

“I doubt if she fell asleep,” I chuckled.

“Okay,” Rita said as I made my way to the office, but was a bit surprised to see my brother coming down the steps.

“What are you doing up so early?” I asked as he rounded the banister at the bottom of the staircase.

“Last night, Christian said he wanted to talk to me…. so I told him we would go for a walk in the morning.”

“Ah-gotcha.”

“Any idea what’s on his mind?”

“With him,” I chuckled. “Could be anything… best of luck.”

“Speaking of up so early, why are you?”

“Phone calls.”

“About what happened last night?”

“Yeah, kinda. I’ll fill you in later.”

“You sure you don’t wanna fill me in now?”

“Umm,” I said as I pondered the idea. See, ever since I was a kid, my brother usually gave me good advice. Whenever I had questions about honestly anything, he was always there for me. The best part was Lucas never made the final decision or judged. He would give you his opinions and let me decide what action to take.

“Hey,” I heard a soft whisper from the top of the steps.

Looking in that direction, I saw Christian at the top of the stairs as he slipped on a hoodie to cover his naked upper body. I responded, “Hey bud, sleep well?”

“Yeah,” Christian replied as he stretched his body. “You ready to go for a walk, Uncle Lucas?”

“Umm-” my brother said and looked at me.

“I’ll be good,” I reassured.

“Yup, let me get a cup of coffee.”

“Okay,” Christian answered as he made his way down the steps. “Wanna go to the lake first?”

“That works for me,” Lucas answered as he turned to go to the kitchen.

“Cool,” Christian stated and reached the bottom.

“Thanks again for last night,” I said as I wrapped my arms around him and gave a big hug. “Love you, kiddo.”

“Love you too, Uncle G,” Christian quietly spoke as he responded with a big hug of his own. “I’m… I’m nervous.”

“You’ll be okay. I promise.”

“You sure?” Christian added as he clung to me even tighter.

“100 percent.”

“Okay,” Christian said and looked up at me to make eye contact.

“You know I don’t break promises,” I smiled and kissed the top of his forehead. “Now go on,” I stated and released our hug.

“Talk to you later.”

“Alright,” I chuckled and finally went to my office and shut the doors for privacy. Walking over to sit in my chair, I was beginning to dread this upcoming phone call. I had no idea how it would play out or what I even wanted. It was so different compared to Lincoln, but it shouldn’t have been. I felt the instant connection to Lincoln the moment I brought him in. With Cooper, I don’t have any of those feelings, and it makes it difficult. Maybe subconsciously, I thought I needed something in my life when I found Lincoln and his brothers because I was ready to run through a wall for them. Or maybe it was how Cooper and our family started out, which made me not have the same excitement. It’s hard to describe other than odd.

I sat down and found Laura’s number in my phone. It didn’t take long for her to answer, as she said, “hello?”

“Hey,” I responded as I sat down in my chair. “How’s Cooper doing?”

“He’s doing alright… still pretty banged up from last night. I’m surprised you’re up this early.”

“I told you, bright and early.”

“I didn’t think you would actually call me this early. So I am surprised!”

“I could say the same for you, but I figured you would be. I’m guessing you didn’t get much sleep?”

“Oh… about three hours worth.”

“That’s not terrible,” I joked.

“I’ve had worse.”

“So have I,” I lightly chuckled, “So has the swelling gone down at all?”

“Not really, and his black eye may have gotten worse.”

“Geez… I’m sorry.”

“It’s not your fault,” Laura stated.

“Still… I feel bad.”

“Yeah… but what’s done is done. We can’t change the past.”

“I guess so.”

“I know so… or I already would have, but umm… what did you want to talk about?”

“Okay… so basically I’ve uhh… been thinking about Cooper and taking him in to stay. However, I see a lot of complications, and I want to run them by you, but I also want to see if you still think it’s a good idea.”

“Yeah, okay… I have two big concerns,” I heard Laura begin. “So let’s start with my biggest one which happened last night. Cooper has been through a lot, and I don’t want to place him in an environment where I don’t think he will be loved. Now we have started off on rocky terms, but I do think that it can be saved.”

“Yeah-”

“Let me finish,” Laura chuckled. “My other big issue is ruining the dynamic, or should I say the environment of your house. I don’t want that, and it’s been bugging me all night, and it’s still on my mind… but let’s start with number one.”

“See… after last night’s brawl, Lincoln was obviously upset. We even got to the point when he said he didn’t want to live with me anymore if I were to take in Cooper.”

“Uh-huh.”

“Uh-huh? You’re okay with that?”

“What no? I was just listening.”

“Oh, okay… so could Lincoln not live with me anymore if he decided so?”

“Umm… Okay-okay… this may sound harsh, but fortunately, Lincoln doesn’t have much control over where he stays though. The state allows me to determine his housing situation. He has done nothing but flourish under your supervision, so it would be stupid for me to pull him out of your house.”

“But I don’t want him to feel like he is forced to stay here. As much as I love the kid and know he doesn’t mean what he is saying, I don’t want him to feel like he has no control over his life.”

“Wait-wait-wait… I’m a tad bit confused. Are you saying you would want me to place Lincoln in a different home?”

“No! That’s not at all what I was thinking. I’d rather keep Lincoln then take in Cooper! That…. umm This… this whole conversation sounds awful.”

“I know.”

“However, my ideal situation would be to take in Cooper if it makes sense for my family but also having Lincoln. I just don’t know how serious Lincoln is about wanting to leave, and keeping Lincoln is my biggest priority.

“Yeah… okay… I get what you are saying, and then this is where you can be the good guy and let me be the bad person. You could let him search for other options, and I could say no-”

“Then, I feel he would start to resent me.”

“You know we are talking about a big “if” scenario right now. If you take in Cooper and if Lincoln does feel that way, which I highly doubt, then we would address it. Personally, I don’t see him ever leaving you, Garret. You should listen to how he talks about you when we do random check-ups. The boy loves you, and honestly, I believe he his pushing your limits to see how much control he has.”

“But what if he does actually feel that way?”

“I… okay, we are getting ahead of ourselves, Garret. We don’t even know what you plan on doing.”

“But, it’s important.”

“I agree, but does it matter if you aren’t going to take him in?”

“Umm… I guess not.”

“Okay,” Laura said. “So let me tell you about Cooper’s past, and I’m sure you’ll understand why you would be the perfect fit.”

“Okay?” I said with a hint of doubtfulness.

“So as you can tell, he is very timid… you know skeptical or skittish around new people, especially men. That comes from years of physical, mental, and sexual abuse from his father. We were able to estimate that the abuse probably started at the age of four. About a year ago, the degree of abuse drastically increased. It went from a few times a month to weekly, to daily, and sometimes even hourly. After we pulled Cooper out of the home, the father was taken into custody. Unfortunately, the abusive asshole is still waiting for trial. Still, the good news is the judge didn’t allow for him to post bail. Partly because he already confessed to multiple horrifying acts on this unfortunate child.”

“How bad we talking?”

“Everything and then some. Penetration orally and anally as well as multiple objects inserted anally too.”

“Was the umm… the mother aware?”

“She overdosed when Cooper was three.”

“Oh… gotcha.”

“Besides being sexually abused, the boy probably suffered worse from physical abuse. Anytime something went wrong, or he didn’t perform well, the father would lash out on the boy. The poor kids been beaten, whipped, tied, starved, and even made to hold his breath underwater in a tub.”

“What?”

“I know-”

“How do y’all know this?”

“The father spewed his guts to everyone.”

“Has Cooper confirmed any of these?”

“He doesn’t talk much, and I sure as hell don’t bring up his past when he does.”

“Makes sense. Do-do we know if Cooper can actually speak, though?” I questioned.

“Yes, but we don’t know how well. The father never required Cooper to go to school. He completed kindergarten, first grade, and partially second before the father pulled him and stated he was going to homeschool his child. After removing his son from the school system, the two moved to a different part of town, and he was never reinstated elsewhere.”

“Geez…”

“I know, trust me… it’s not good, but It makes sense if you think about it, because Cooper doesn’t have the greatest people skills. Even if you homeschool a child, they develop people skills from elsewhere. In Cooper’s case, he doesn’t know how to interact with adults or children. The father most likely kept Cooper inside and away from others the last few months… like I said, it’s-it’s not good.”

“Yeah,” I said as I was actually taken back by what this boy has gone through, and I must admit. Cooper’s case sounded kind of similar to Jacob’s…. well from what Jacob has told me so far. “Apart from… social skills, what else does Cooper struggle with?”

“Apart from social skills?” Laura paused. “I’m not making any of this up, okay… but Cooper has issues in the personal department. So his body has all kinds of marks, bruises, and scars, which makes him very shy about his body image. Also, he umm… usually cries when he goes number two because his bowels and rectum are so badly damaged. He’s terrified of showers, baths, or anything with water besides a cup of it. So getting him actually clean and smelling good is a mission by itself. Part of that is because he doesn’t want you to see his body, and he thinks people will use him like his father has in the past. The other part of that relates to him being scared of water. When you combine the lack of social skills and fundamental hygienic abilities, he becomes difficult to be around.”

“I don’t think difficult is the right term… more like… like, well I don’t know. It’s not his fault he’s been dealt the wrong hand.”

“No, you’re right… difficult isn’t the proper term, but I don’t know what is.”

“Neither do I. So why did it not work for the last foster parents.”

“For everything I stated. One night they are trying to work with him on getting a bath, and he becomes physical. Another night they are working on him using words, and he becomes physical again… that’s another issue. Cooper doesn’t know how to voice his concerns or issues, so it often leaves him disconcerted and frustrated. He gets so angry that he will lash out by hitting and breaking things or trying to bite you. With them being new foster parents, they could only take so much before it became overwhelming. So that’s where we kind of stand right now. Ya know… like I said, we have new families enrolling and going through the background checks, but his unique past makes it challenging to place with a new family.”

“I can see that… I assume he doesn’t do great with other children either?”

“Well, you and I learned first hand that he doesn’t, didn’t we?”

“Right… which kind of brings us to your second concern.”

“Correct… I’m worried that if I place him in your house, it will slow and limit the growth of the four boys you currently have. I’m also slightly concerned about placing him with your current boys considering it didn’t turn out great. However, I also see you and those boys as the best chance for Cooper to have a normal life. Not his only chance because someone will be able to accept him… but you are sure his best.”

“What if it doesn’t work out? Or-or what if I say yes and I somehow manage to integrate him into our family… I’m not gonna have another struggle to keep him like I have with the four boys, right?”

“Okay, slow down… you’re asking two different questions here. Your first question… well I don’t know, I’m all about thinking right now and not in the future. As for your second one… I mean, the father will likely be in jail for the rest of his life, and he also has no custody rights. As for family… no one has stepped up. I don’t believe he has any in the state of Ohio anyway. The closest we talked with, lived in Florida.”

“But still a possibility that he could be placed with his family.”

“Legally, yes, realistically… no.”

“Okay… I guess… umm tell me more about Cooper.”

“We’ve kind of covered a lot, and I don’t know too much more. The foster family never got a chance to know him that well.”

“No favorite games, food, anything?”

“Oh… thanks for bringing it up. Cooper doesn’t eat well… like he doesn’t like food too much.”

“You’re kidding? What boy doesn’t like food?”

“Him… I don’t get it either.”

“Or maybe he doesn’t like it because it’s hard to eat food.”

“Maybe it’s a mental thing, but doctors found no damage in that area… if that’s what you are suggesting.”

“Oh… hopefully, it’s a mental related issue that can be overcome.”

“Possibly, but I don’t know.” Laura answered, “it’s just difficult to get him to eat… that’s why he is so small.”

“Yeah, so basically what I’ve been able to get from you…. is that Cooper is extremely… extremely broken.”

“Correct.”

I took a deep breath and leaned back in my chair… after quickly analyzing my options, I simply replied, “okay.”

“Okay? What do you mean?”

“If I can manage to get my boys on board, I’ll take him.”

“When-when do you you’ll know or when umm do you want him?”

“I’ll know tonight, but Monday morning would probably be best to bring him over. The kids would be at school, so it would make it easy to get to know one another.”

“Okay… this is uhh… good.”

“It’s only good if I can get everyone on board.”

“I understand,” Laura said.

“And it might not even work out, so who knows.”

“Trust me… I know.”

“Alright,” I said. “I’ll call you later tonight.”

“Looking forward to it, enjoy your day, Garret.”

“You too,” I said and hung the phone up as I slightly reclined in the seat. I didn’t know how I was going to pitch this idea to the boys, but one thing was certain, I wouldn’t do it if all boys didn’t want to. Multiple scenarios played out in my head, but they were interrupted by numerous voices. I didn’t even realize it was 7:45, as a lot of the adults were awake and in the kitchen. I stepped out of my office to join them, and a few of the kids were awake too.

“Thanks, Mr. Garret,” Dylan said as he was the first one to see me. He placed his drink on the table and ran over to give me a quick hug.

“For?” I chuckled and responded with a hug of my own.

“Letting me sleep in your room.”

“Oh… no problem, bud,” I chuckled and ruffled his hair before moving to Jordan, who also had Clayton on her lap. “Mornin, you two!”

“Garret!” Clayton smiled and swiftly moved off of Jordan to give me a hug. I immediately picked him up and sat next to Jordan. “Where was you?”

“Morning phone calls… you okay, how’s your head?”

“It don’t hurt anymore!” He responded in his cute high pitch voice

“Good,” I answered a planted a kiss on his cheek.

“Morning,” Jordan said as she leaned over for hers.

“Morning to you too.”

“Breakfast should be ready soon, I’d start waking the boys,” Rita called over everyone talking, which was quite a lot. In the kitchen, we had my parents, Jordan, Katherine, Clayton, Adrian, Dylan, Jackson, and George. I was surprised to see Christian and Lucas hadn’t returned, but that is a meaningful conversation, so I understood why it was taking longer.

“I’ll go downstairs and start,” Katherine said.

“I’ll help,” Jordan added.

“I’m… gonna go wake Lincoln,” I said. “I gotta stand up, Lil Bear.”

“Aww, really?”

“Yes,” I whispered and kissed his cheek. “But grandma looks like she could use a few cuddles… what do you think?”

Clayton studied my mother, who was distracted by Rita. “Yeah!”

“Go get her,” I stated and placed the 5-year-old on the floor. “Be sneaky.”

“Okay,” Clayton giggled as he tried to duck behind the chairs. I didn’t see it play out because I stood up to go get Lincoln. However, on my way, I heard the combination of Clayton’s giggle and my mother’s laugh, which made me smile as I started to climb the steps.

Once in Ryker’s room, I sat on the edge of the bed and began combing my hand through his hair. I softly whispered his name, “Lincoln,” until he slowly opened his eyes. After blinking a few times and then stretching his body, Lincoln finally gained a sense of where he was. “Morning, bud.”

“Morning,” Lincoln replied and yawned. “Where-where is everyone?”

“About to eat breakfast,” I answered as I kissed the top of his head and placed my hand on his bare chest to rub. “Come on.”

“I’m good,” Lincoln mumbled as he buried his head under the pillow to hide his eyes.

“You’re good?” I replied and lightly tickled his chest.

“Yeah!” Lincoln answered, and I saw him grin as the pillows didn’t cover his mouth.

“Hmm… I don’t know about that.”

“What?” Lincoln giggled.

“I might just have to drag you out of here… or I see some ribs, and I know some bare feet are under the blankets… be a shame if they were… tickled.”

And Lincoln didn’t budge.

“Alright,” I said, and I began to move my hands south as I picked up the cover.

“Okay-okay!” Lincoln quickly responded, “I’m up.”

“Good,” I answered as I grabbed his arms to pull his upper body up. “Now come, give me a hug… I need one from you.”

Lincoln half smiled as his body raised, “you do?”

“Absolutely.”

His half-smile turned into a full one as he wrapped his arm around my neck.

“Ohhhh, thank you,” I said and squeezed my little man tight.

After embracing one another for a few seconds, we let go of each other, and I chuckled as I gazed upon this beautiful boy. Even with bed head, Lincoln was gorgeous as the sun peeked through the sunshade and illuminated his face. “What’s so funny?”

“I’m just thinking about the amount of hearts you’ll break someday, bud. You are such a beautiful boy.”

Lincoln blushed and softly said, “thanks. I love you, Garret.”

“Love you too, son,” I returned as I ran my fingers through his hair.

“You’re… you’re not mad at me?”

“About?”

“Last night and-and the things I uhhh… said?”

“Umm, I’m not mad, but I’m not happy either… but we are going to talk about your actions at some point… just not today.”

“Am I gonna be in trouble?”

“We will discuss punishment whenever we talk about everything else… alright?”

“Yeah,” Lincoln responded. “He… he umm, isn’t here, right?”

“The boy from last night?”

“Uh-huh”

“No… not right now.”

“Will he?”

“Umm-”

“He is… isn’t he.”

“I don’t have an answer, so I’m not going to lie to you, Lincoln. He could be, but we will talk about that situation tonight. All of us, as a family, will come up with a decision, okay? I haven’t told Laura no, and I haven’t told her yes… but I don’t want to think about it until later. I’d liked to go enjoy the rest of the day with family and friends. What about you?”

“Umm… yeah, me too.”

“Alright!” I chuckled. “Let’s get some clothes on you.”

“Can-can I get another hug?”

I smirked as I look at him, “of course you can.”

Lincoln didn’t waste any time, except this time, he latched on to my chest as he wrapped his arms around my back. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay,” I responded as I rubbed his bareback.

“I- I.”

“Shh, it’s alright.”

“Yeah… okay… Love you.”

“I love you so much, Lincoln,” I answered and kissed the top of his head.

“I know,” he stated as we backed off from each other. Now, I’m gonna admit that I was more confused than ever. Was he sorry about hitting Cooper, or was he sorry for putting me into a dilemma where I had to choose between people? Hell… he could be sorry for everything… I don’t know. I mean, I’m assuming he still disliked Cooper. One night of sleep doesn’t change your thinking, yet maybe he realized he overreacted.

“Uncle Lucas and Aunt Katherine are out of your room if you wanna go change.”

“Okay.”

“Alright, I’ll meet you downstairs, kiddo,” I said and stood up to leave. Lincoln followed me until we reached the steps, and he went to his room to put on clothes. Luckily, I wasn’t able to think about Lincoln or Cooper because it was pure madness downstairs. So many kids were starting to wake, which meant it was getting louder and louder. As more of Ryker’s friends were in the kitchen, more chaos followed. Yet, it was all worth it when Ryker ran over to thank me again. He gave me the biggest hug and kiss on the cheek that it made all the madness seem like nothing. The best part was I still hadn’t given him his personal gift from me, I was waiting until later on.

Anyway, the day flew by as people were starting to leave. Jordan and Rita left around lunchtime, and parents were picking up their kids throughout the day. The best thing was I didn’t hear one complaint or issue from anyone, so I considered it a successful day. The last kids to be picked up, minus cousins, were Dylan and Max. Whenever Todd arrived, I did inform him about Dylan sleeping in my bedroom, but Todd wasn’t concerned. Just like last time, he apologized and appreciated how I handled the situation. Furthermore, he invited the oldest three to stay over there house next weekend, which drew an enthusiastic response from Ryker and Jacob. Lincoln was a bit standoffish but agreed to go over at least.

After those two left, the only three boys that needed to go home were Christian, George, and Adrian. My father was tasked with taking George back while I offered to give Christian and Adrian I ride home. Plus, it would give me some time to talk to both of them. Lincoln wanted to join, but I suggested he stay and hangout with LJ. Lucas and company were probably leaving by dinner time, so I wanted him to stay at home.

With plans set, we started acting on them, as Christian and Adrian jumped in the SUV. Once everyone was buckled, we started on our way.

“You boys have fun?” I asked as we just turned off the driveway and on to the road.

“Lots of fun, thanks for having me, Mr. Hamel,” Adrian said first.

“Yeah, thanks Uncle G… but-but there were a lot of people there.”

“I know… tell me about it,” I chuckled. “Everyone seemed to get along, though.”

“Yeah, but like it was nice to get away from all the little kids too. They were really loud, especially in the basement.”

“I thought it was all fun,” Adrian said.

“They aren’t that much younger, plus you had Lincolns friends too.”

“But we were the oldest boys there,” Christian responded.

“True,” I chuckled. “I’m just glad everything went well… I mean, for the most part, and I think Ryker really enjoyed it.”

“He was so excited,” Christian responded.

“He even gave me a hug,” Adrian commented.

“Get used to it… all they do is hug,” Christian chuckled.

“And so do you,” I joked.

“So,” Christian giggled. “It’s-its part of being in the family!”

“You ain’t kidding,” I spoke as we continued to drive. “Anyway, I’m not trying to change the topic, but I do want to talk about something, and this might be my only chance too. So with that being said, you two have some explaining about what happened in school the other day.”

“Uncle G!”

“What?”

“Do we HAVE to talk about this?”

“Yes, we do… you know, I’m not mad at either one of you and quite frankly… I’m a bit proud of Adrian if he’s who told on everyone.”

“You are?” Inquired Adrian.

“Yeah.”

“Why?” Followed Christian.

“Well, I don’t know the full story as I only know what Christian has told me. However, if you reported those involved to the principal, and even got yourself in trouble… then you did the right thing and that… that is something you should always be proud of. It takes a lot to go against your friends and teammates, but you did the right thing.”

“I guess,” Adrian commented, which made me ask more about the situation. Now I won’t bore you with everything, but the majority of the car ride was spent talking about that. I was able to find out that it was a group of four boys on the baseball team that included Adrian. It’s wasn’t planned, but they thought it would be funny to pick on Christian. Adrian didn’t want to be called out by his teammates for liking the “gay kid.” So with that being said, they started antagonizing and bullying Christian to the point where he was pushed down the small hill. None of them were caught until Adrian decided to speak up a day or two after. He claimed he knew it was wrong but was afraid of the backlash from his teammates. However, he went to the principal and reported his friends and himself. The outcome… well, it wasn’t great. All four boys were kicked off the baseball team for the year. Adrian had a chance to stay, but he didn’t want to be ratted out as a tattletale. So they kept him anonymous and gave him the same disciplinary consequences as the others. The only difference was Adrian, and one other teammate weren’t suspended from school as they admitted to the actions. Whereas the other two denied everything and were caught in a lie.

Anyway, instead of taking both the boys to my sisters, I dropped Adrian off at his home. As we pulled into his driveway, I noted it wasn’t the nicest of homes, but not awful. It was small but maintained well. You could tell that a blue-collar family was living in this home, which isn’t a bad thing. However, I was just a bit surprised that this was Adrian’s background. Then again… I didn’t really know that much about him. Once the car came to a stop, Adrian quickly thanked me and said his goodbyes leaving Christian and me to talk.

“So,” I said as I put the car into reverse.

“So?”

I chuckled, “so how did the talk go? You know… with Uncle Lucas?”

“OH! It went perfect.”

“How’d he handled it?”

“Just like you said, he told… he told me he loved me and gave me a hug. Then said he was proud of me for telling him.”

“See… I told you.”

“Yeah… I was really nervous right after I told him because he didn’t say anything for a few seconds.”

“He was probably shocked.”

“He was,” Christian giggled. “He said he didn’t expect it but that there was nothing wrong with being gay.”

“Yeah,” I smiled. “Do you feel better after telling Uncle Lucas?”

“Actually…I kinda do. Like he handled everything so good.”

“I told you!”

“You’ve said that already!” Christian stated, which was followed by a brief pause in our conversation. “How’d… how’d you know he would handle it so well?”

“I’ve grown up with Lucas, and I’ve seen him be so caring and thoughtful. You’ve just got to stop doubting me,” I commented as I poked him in the sides.

“Hey,” Christian giggled as he prepared himself to catch my next jab, but one never came his way.

“You just gotta trust your Uncle G!”

“I… I guess.”

A few seconds of silence passed before, I spoke, “And… well, he didn’t react negatively when I came out as gay.”

“Ha funny,” Christian responded.

“I’m not kidding.”

“What?” Christian quickly turned his head in my direction. “You’re not gay.”

“I don’t consider myself gay anymore, but when I was just about your age… I did.”

“Nut-uh.”

“I promise bud.” I said, “Lincoln never told you this?”

“Nooo… not at all. Wait… are you serious?”

“Yes! And I’m surprised, I thought he would have said something.”

“Wait… you promise this isn’t a joke?”

“Yes, Christian. I even had a boyfriend for about uhh… two years, yeah two years. He was my best friend, his name was Jonah.”

“What? This… I- I never knew this. Did people know?”

“Most the family… well all of the family.”

“And no one reacted badly?”

“Well, for the most part,” I said as I didn’t want to scare him. “Everyone seems to accept it sooner or later.”

“For the most part?”

“Yeah.”

“So, someone didn’t like it… was it my mother?

“Christian-”

“Was it… no, she doesn’t care about that. Ohhh… that’s why you told me not to go to him… it was Uncle Calvin that didn’t react well.”

“Umm, I don’t know if I should answer that.”

“You can’t do that, Uncle G.”

“Christian, I don’t want to scare you or anything.”

“So it was Uncle Calvin. He didn’t support you, right?.”

“No, he didn’t,” I answered. “However, that was a long time ago, and your uncle has changed. He isn’t the same person he was.”

“But still… should I like not tell him?”

“I- look, I don’t think you need to worry about Uncle Calvin. I would just wait a bit longer.”

“But why?”

“Because I don’t want to see you get hurt.”

“So he still doesn’t like gay people then.”

“Honestly, Christian, I don’t know. Whenever I considered myself gay, that was a long time ago.”

“Yeah,” Christian replied as he didn’t seem too satisfied. “I just wanna know who won’t and who will judge me if I tell them. So far… at least our family has been really good.”

“I understand that, but I don’t know his stance or feeling towards the LGBTQ community. So it’s hard for me to judge… it’s not something we talk about because it was a rough patch in our relationship.”

“What happened?”

“He… I don’t know if I should be saying this.”

“Just tell me.”

“He… he was never accepting of my boyfriend or me. He would constantly make fun of us to our faces and behind our backs. He… let’s just say he wasn’t the nicest about it.”

“Uncle Calvin is like way older than you, right?”

“Yup,” I answered.

“That sucks… I’m sorry, Uncle G.”

“Thanks,” I lightly chuckled.

“You’re welcome,” Christian replied. “I have like so many questions.”

“I figured you would.”

“Like did you do like…. stuff with your boyfriend.”

I looked at him, pondering what I should say. I didn’t tell Lincoln if I had done anything, but I felt he was too young. Christian, on the other hand, is at the stage where he wants to start experimenting and learning about himself. “I… I did.”

“YOU DID?”

“Yes.”

“Like what?” Christian quickly fired back as his full attention was on me.

“You know that’s kind of private, bud.”

“What? Oh, I’m sorry… but like, please tell me.”

“Maybe another time.”

“Uncle G, please don’t be like that.”

“Well, what are you trying to accomplish here?”

“What do you mean?”

“What does knowing what I did, help you?”

“I don’t know. I guess I’m like nervous when it comes to that.”

“About what?”

“Like not knowing what to do or like knowing when to do the right thing.”

I chuckled, “buddy… that’s part of experimenting and growing up. You’ve got to find those things out on your own time and a pace you feel comfortable with.”

“You always say that when you don’t wanna tell me something you don’t think I can handle, Uncle G. Or… or when you think I’m too young to do things.”

“Whoa… easy. I wouldn’t be having any of these conversations if I didn’t think you were too young, Christian.”

“Then why do you always deflect answering the question I want to know most?”

“Because,” I said as I was trying to think of something to say, but part of me hoped we would reach his house first as we pulled onto their street.

“UNCLE G!”

“Because… you’re supposed to learn on your own.”

“Really… wow,” Christian said as he turned away from me and looked out the window for the last 25 seconds.

As we came to a stop in the driveway, “Christi-”

“Aren’t you suppose to help me? Isn’t that what a godfather and a good uncle does?” Christian asked as he was tearing up. “You’re the only person I know that slightly understands what I’m going through, and you don’t even answer my questions. Like-like if I can’t go to you… YOU out of all people, what am I gonna do, Uncle G? You’re the only person I can trust and feel comfortable asking questions. If… if I don’t have you, then I don’t have anyone. I thought you’re supposed to guide me and answer these things,” Christian spoke as he was really getting worked up. “I… ” Christian mumbled some unrecognizable words before he took off his seatbelt, opened the car door, and ran to his house.

“Shit,” I stated and smacked my steering wheel. My nephew was right, and I botched that situation. I’d rather be the one he goes to instead of turning to the internet or even worse… chat rooms. Who knows what he would find and the people he would meet. I shut off my car and hopped out to make my way to the front door. When I got there, I was greeted by my sister as she was looking up the steps. “Hey.”

“Oh, hey… what happened to Christian? He came into the house, ran to his room, and slammed the door.” Kelly stated, “did Adrian do something stupid?”

“No, not this time… I did,” I said as I peeled off my shoes.

“You? How? You can’t do anything wrong in his eyes.”

“Well… I do.”

“What happened?”

“So I was asking him about his conversation with Lucas and coming out-”

“He finally told Lucas?”

“Yeah, that’s not the point… but he asked how I knew Lucas would react well, and I told him about Jonah and me.”

“Jonah? Oh my god, Jonah… I forgot about him and you.”

“How?”

“I don’t know… it wasn’t a big deal to me, unlike Calvin.”

“Yeah… that’s a whole different thing… umm you mind if I go talk to Christian?”

“Not at all… but why did he get mad at you?”

“He was asking some questions and well… I treated him like a little kid. I didn’t respond the way I should have.”

“Alright, go on up,” Kelly stated. “You know he isn’t a little boy anymore.”

“I know… I’m learning,”

“Alright, good luck.”

“Yup,” I answered and made my way up the stairs and to his door. I lightly knocked before I turned the knob and peeked inside. Christian was lying on his bed, looking at his phone. “Hey.”

“What?” Christian sighed.

“Look,” I began as I walked over and sat on his bed. “You were right, and I’m sorry. It’s just… that I don’t really talk about those years in my life much.”

“But why?”

“Because… it caused some personal problems amongst the family. Everyone was supportive except for one person, but that one person made my life a living hell at the time. And it’s not like I am ashamed or embarrassed, but I try my best to forget about it.”

“Is that why you aren’t gay anymore?”

“No,” I chuckled. “You know, Lincoln asked that exact same question, but uhh… I lost interest in boys when I moved away from Jonah. Girls were becoming more attractive, and something changed.”

“Changed? How?”

“I don’t know, bud. Maybe I was bi during that time point, and I realized I liked females more… I guess the only boy I was attracted too was, Jonah.”

“Do you think that could happen to me?”

“It very well could, but I also wouldn’t try to seek it, if you aren’t interested in girls.”

“But I don’t want to be gay, Uncle G.”

“I know… but you can’t change what gender you like if you truly don’t find the other one attractive.”

“But you did.”

“Because I truly found girls attractive… does a female ever, you know, excite you?”

“No,” Christian whispered.

“Do you ever picture a girl or look at pictures of a girl during… you know, your personal private time?”

“What do you mean?”

“Really,” I said as I rattled off names, “Masturbation… jerking off… beating the monkey… choking the chain… playing with yourself.”

“I-I don’t do that.”

“Boy… Don’t play dumb, there is absolutely nothing wrong with it,” I chuckled. “You know what I mean and don’t act like you don’t do it either… all boys your age do.”

Christian blushed, “no… I don’t look at girls when I do it.”

“Well, don’t try to force yourself into liking girls then. You’ve found what excites your interest, and there is nothing wrong with it.”

“Yeah,” Christian stated.

“And look bud. I will tell you more next time we talk about this. I’m sorry for treating you like a little boy. I know you aren’t one, and I apologize. I just wasn’t ready to talk to you about that moment in my life. But I know I need to be for next time you ask.”

“Can you tell me now?”

“Not tonight, bud. I’ve got to get home and talk to your cousins.”

“Oh… okay.”

“But I promise I will,” I said as I stood up from his bed and went to walk out of his room, “I love you, Christian.”

“Love you, Uncle G. Sorry for being mean in the car.”

“Don’t be sorry, because you were right… about what you said in the car. So there is nothing to be sorry about. I apologize for not being more open.”

“It’s okay.”

“Thanks, bud… oh, and to answer your question.” I stated as I stopped by his door, “I’ve done everything with Jonah.”

Christian turned to me, wide-eyed, and repeated me, “everything?”

“Everything,” I replied. “Now I gotta go, bud, I love you. Don’t ever forget it.”

“But wait-”

“We will talk about it later,” I chuckled and shut his door before I could hear him finish his sentence. Now before I left to go home, I reassured Kelly that he was doing better than when we arrived. Once that was done, I hopped in the car and drove back.

On my way, I received a call from my brother stating they were leaving. With me being 30 minutes away, I announced my goodbyes over the phone to everyone and thanked them for coming. After I hung up, I drove back, just listening to music and debated back and forth on how to approach the topic with the boys. I couldn’t think of any better way than to briefly tell them about Cooper’s past and approach the idea of him staying. Obviously, Lincoln was going to be the most difficult, but if appropriately explained, he should come around.

Once I arrived home, I made my way into the house via the garage door. Everybody that stayed, which was Rita, my parents, and the boys were in the family room except for Lincoln.

“Hey, son,” my father hollered from the couch.

“Garret?” Ryker said as he peaked his head over the armrest. Once that he saw it was me, he flung himself up from the laying position and ran over to give me a hug.

“Hey bud,” I responded as I lifted him up and placed my arms under his bum for support. “Love you,” I stated and kissed his precious cheek.

“Love you too,” he giggled.

“So, what’s going on?”

“We are about to watch a movie,” Jacob shouted as he sat next to my father.

“Oh nice… where’s Lincoln?”

“The water stopped not too long away, I think he finished his shower,” my mother commented. “So he should be coming down soon. He said he wanted to watch.”

“Okay, great.”

“Thanks for the party,” Ryker said as he leaned his head on my shoulder.

“You’re welcome, I’m glad you had fun.”

“It was the bestest birthday I ever had.”

“That’s what I like to hear!” I chuckled. “I’ve still got one more gift for you.”

“You do?”

“Yup.”

“What is it?”

“You’ll have to wait and see.”

“Please-please-please, tell me!”

“Nope… you’ll have to wait until later.”

“Later can be now!”

“No,” I chuckled.

“Technically, it is later.”

“Ry-”

“Fine,” Ryker stated, and I finally set him on the ground. “But can we set up the trampoline soon?”

“I will try to get it built while you’re at school tomorrow.”

“Okay!” Ryker responded.

“Yeah… boys, we need to talk about something before you start the movie.”

“About what?” Lincoln said as he entered without a shirt as his hair was still damp.

“There you are… and you’ll find out. Can we go to the office really quick?”

“We in trouble?” Jacob asked as he stood up.

“No,” I chuckled.

“What’s it about?” Ryker inquired.

“Y’all are so impatient, just wait until we get to the office,” I answered as all four of them walked with me. Once everyone was in, I shut the doors and made my way over to the chair. Lincoln, Ryker, and Jacob sat across from me as Clayton claimed my lap.

“What are we talking about?” Ryker asked again.

“So,” I said. “We have a decision to make as a family, and it is an important one. Last night, a little boy, by the name of Cooper, stopped by our home. He’s looking for a good environment where he can be himself-”

“No,” Lincoln interrupted.

“Now wait-”

“If he needed a home, he shouldn’t have done what he did,” Lincoln replied.

“What he do?” Asked Ryker.

“He pushed Clay!”

“Yes, he did,” I interjected. “But people make mistakes, and Clay wasn’t seriously hurt.”

“Nope,” stated Clay.

“So… he still shouldn’t have done that and-and I don’t want nobody else living with us… we don’t need anybody else,” Lincoln commented.

“I don’t either,” Ryker said. “I like how it is.”

“Me too,” Clayton giggled as I didn’t think he truly knew what we were talking about.

“Alright… umm before we make a decision… hear me out, okay?”

“Fine,” Lincoln answered for everybody.

“Cooper has had a very difficult life. Both of his parents are no longer around since his mother passed away, and his dad lost umm… lost the decency to care for him. Not going to lie, boys… Cooper has had it bad. He’s been beaten, screamed at, and abused. So his previous actions of pushing Clay… well he doesn’t know how to interact with others. He is looking for a place that will have patience and help him learn that not everyone is a bad person who wants to hurt him.”

“He’s been hurt a lot?” Clayton asked.

“For most of his life.”

“So,” Lincoln stated. “Before we met you, it sounds like the same thing we were in.”

“Exactly… but look at the difference now. Why would you not want to share?”

“Because it’s our family and like-like, we shouldn’t have to lose you.”

“You wouldn’t lose me. You will never lose me while I walk this earth. You boys mean everything to me, and that’s why I included you in this decision.”

“So, we would have a new brother?” Ryker asked.

“No, not exactly… well not at first. If everything works out and Cooper stays for a while, then he could be your brother.”

“I still don’t want anything to change with us, and this would make everything different,” voiced Lincoln.

“I know… I get what you’re saying. It would change things, but change isn’t bad.”

“I think,” Jacob spoke for the first time. “That we should help him.”

“What?” Lincoln inquired.

“You do?” I said.

“Yeah, cause-cause if I was him. I’d want someone to live with.”

“He pushed Clay!” Lincoln reminded him. “He’s not nice.”

“But I’d still want someone to help me. I wouldn’t like living without a home… so I think we should umm help him.”

I smiled at him for having the courage to disagree with his brothers, “so you are saying you want to let Cooper stay with us?”

“Umm… yeah, guess so.”

“Would it change stuff that much?” Asked Ryker.

“In the beginning… umm, to be honest, it would change some stuff since it would take a while to gain his trust. I would have to work with him and be dedicated to making sure he feels comfortable. However, I wouldn’t miss anything important for you guys. Just because we added one more person, doesn’t mean I forget about you. Soccer games, hockey, school, all that… it won’t change anything.”

“Could we help him feel comfortable?” Ryker inquired.

“I think that would be great! Maybe not exactly the first day or two because I don’t want a repeat of what happened-”

“Don’t let him come then,” interrupted Lincoln.

“Bud.”

“No… I don’t want him here.”

“I don’t know if I want him either… but I do know that I would feel guilty and regret it, bud… change isn’t a bad thing.”

“If you don’t want him here then-then why would you do it?”

“Because… because it’s the right thing to do.”

“Then I… I don’t wanna be here. We will leave if,” Lincoln stuttered. “If you let him stay here with us.”

“What? I don’t wanna go anywhere,” Ryker spoke. “I love Garret and-and I’m not leaving. I don’t want to leave.”

“Me too,” Clayton giggled as he was playing with my shirt.

“You… you don’t want to leave?” Lincoln asked as his brothers were turning against him. “You guys would rather stay with Garret than go with me?”

“I-I don’t know, I guess,” Ryker answered.

“What? Why?”

“I umm… don’t want to leave either,” Jacob stated, which surprised Lincoln even more.

“So no one would leave with me?”

“Stop it, okay… no one answer that,” I said. “Now look, I’m not doing this, so you guys pick sides, and I will not have our family be divided about this. Lincoln, what you’re asking your brothers to answer is difficult and unfair. You know you don’t want to leave either but-”

“No-”

“Lincoln… do not interrupt me, you understand?”

“But-”

“Do. You. Understand?”

And Lincoln stared directly at me, gauging on how to answer. “Yeah,” he whispered.

“Good, so I will run through this one last time, and we will vote as a family, got it?”

“Yeah,” Ryker responded and was followed by Jacob and Clayton agreeing. Lincoln stayed quiet and waited for me to speak.

“Alright then,” I began. “Taking in Cooper is not mandatory, and Laura has given us the chance to make our decision. If we say no, then we move on as if nothing happened. In two or three weeks, it would most likely be a forgotten topic, and it wouldn’t be mentioned. However, if we say yes, not only could we change Cooper’s life, but also ours too. Not between us four, but it will change. That’s why it’s a big decision, and we will make it together. Before we do… I’d just like you guys to remember he’s never had a family like us, and he has never had brothers that understand what he has gone through. This could be his best shot at a normal life, which doesn’t happen often. Just think how different our lives would be if we didn’t find each other. I would be lonely, and the joyfulness that fills this house wouldn’t be here. You boys would have a completely different life than you currently do. So really consider what you would like if you were in Cooper’s spot. It shouldn’t be incredibly difficult because we all experienced something similar not long ago. Now I’ll start with Jacob, and there is no wrong answer, okay?”

“Uh-huh.”

“Great! So what do you think we should do?”

“We should help him.”

I smiled at him, “alright… Mister Clay?”

“Umm,” Clayton said as he looked directly up at me. “I think… I think we should too.”

“Ryker?”

“You won’t miss a soccer game or nothing?”

“Because of Cooper, absolutely not… for an emergency, possibly, but I’ll always make it up to you.”

“Okay!”

“Alright… Lincoln?”

Lincoln sighed, “I really don’t want him here, Garret.”

“Is that your answer?”

“N-no,” Lincoln stuttered again. “You promise nothing will change with us?”

“Nothing will, and I don’t know if it’ll work out anyways, but we should try.”

“Then… then whatever. I’m just… like not gonna be nice and he better not get in my way… I’ll-I’ll punch him again.”

“No, you won’t… we won’t have any of that, okay? If Cooper is coming, then we give him a legitimate chance.”

“Fine… whatever, I’m not gonna like him,” Lincoln mumbled. “Can-can we go to watch the movie now.”

“No… I need you to promise me you’ll go in with an open mind.”

Lincoln rolled his eyes and exaggerated, “I will.”

“Lincoln,” I firmly responded.

“I said, I will!”

“Alright,” I said. “Everyone come give me a hug, I love you boys more than anything.”

“Okay,” Ryker giggled as he launched himself out of the chair. Clayton laughed as he saw his brother closing in. Jacob wasn’t far behind, and Lincoln was hesitant, but he got up from his chair and joined in the group hug.

“Thank you, boys,” I stated. “Go start the movie.”

“Love you,” spoke Ryker.

“Yeah, love you,” Jacob added.

“Love you, boys, too,” I responded as they began to let go of me. “Go on, I’ll catch up in a bit. I’m sure grandma and grandpa are missing your snuggles.”

“I call grandpa,” Jacob announced, which caused the boys to run out of the office to get there seats back. Lincoln, on the other hand, slowly left, and I could sense he was displeased about everything. However, I also knew Lincoln was scared of losing what he gained. So if everything works out, I’m sure he’ll see what little difference it makes when we add one more.

With everyone out of the office, I sent a text to Laura saying, “discussed it with the boys. We are willing to give it a shot and see if it works out. I’d recommend bringing him over tomorrow night.”

It didn’t even take her ten seconds to answer, as she replied, “I’ve been waiting for this text all night. THANK YOU!”

“Bring him over around 7:00.”

“Great!” Was all Laura replied, and I considered that to be the end of the conversation as I wanted to go and join my family.

Once I sat down, the rest of the night went by quick. After the movie, it was bedtime for the boys as they all got showered and into/lack of pajamas. At this point, I also gave the necklace to Ryker before tucking him in. As I unveiled the present, his eyes lit up with joy. It was great to see his reaction because he was entirely focused on everything I was saying. I even gave him all the options we could add in the future to make it customizable to him. The best part was he wanted to wear it to bed, so I knew he liked the gift. However, I made sure he set it on the nightstand, and I tucked him in with a kiss on the forehead goodnight.

With Ryker good, I made my way to all the other rooms before heading to my bed. It didn’t take long for me to get showered and lying down. Once my head hit the pillow, I was out for the night.



!!TAKE A BREAK!!       !!TAKE A BREAK!!        !!TAKE A BREAK!!        !!TAKE A BREAK!!



Part – 3 

Monday morning… Unfortunately, the weekend was over, and the boys were in the same morning routine. Wake up, breakfast, back upstairs to get ready, and go to school.

Since the boys were out at school, it was time to prepare for Cooper and get the house cleaned again. The company that I rented the inflatables from were here shortly after I got home. They quickly removed their property and left mine a bit torn up. The grass where the slides sat wasn’t dead, but it sure didn’t look right. Hopefully, some rain, sun, and air would return it to normal. Although it wasn’t the biggest deal, as it was all worth seeing Ryker having fun with his family and friends.

With that finished, I moved to my next task, which was setting up Cooper’s room. I planned for him to stay in the bedroom my parents were using, so I moved all of their belongings to the basement bedroom. It didn’t matter to them, especially my father, as he was leaving later today. My mother was supposed to go tomorrow but offered to stay another couple of days to help with the boys as Cooper settled in. I knew I would definitely appreciate her help and guidance in the upcoming days. Anyway, it didn’t take long to move my mom and then have the room cleaned up… well, Rita cleaned the room and changed the sheets, but it didn’t seem to take long.

As she was doing that, I was in the office, preparing to hear from Berry. When he called, I wasn’t expecting the answer I received, as he turned down the role. He stated he liked doing his own thing and taking on his own projects, which I understood. However, I was a bit sad as this would be my last time working with Berry. He was a qualified private investigator who would have helped weed out any people that were joining the HLRJC organization for the wrong reason. Although the good news was, he found someone who would take on that role. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised to hear Rory on the phone. I guess, those two had formed a close friendship, and when Berry didn’t want the job, he spoke with Rory about the opportunity. Now I didn’t consider Rory for the spot because he was about to be promoted to detective. However, he wanted a change of pace, and this was the perfect place to start. I could tell Rory was excited as I heard it in his voice when he asked questions. After a similar conversation I had with Berry a couple of days ago, where I explained everything involved with the position, Rory quickly answered yes. I mean, he didn’t even hesitate, which I took as a good sign. It showed me he was eager to start and happy to be involved. So after the conversation ended between us, I quickly consulted Keith and my sister. Those two didn’t have any issues, as my sister would send over employment papers for Rory to go over. If he liked how everything checked out, he could sign and become a crucial member of the team.

Anyhow, the day flew by… well until 6:00. We had returned home from therapy, and I’m sure you know what the hot topic was, as we got closer and closer to Cooper arriving. Having just finished dinner, I let the boys go to their rooms to play as the adults cleaned up. Although I had one more little task on hand. I wanted to speak to Ryker and tell him about Wednesday, without going into much detail. So before Cooper arrived, I went upstairs to his room.

“Hey buddy,” I said as he was playing Xbox. “You have a second?”

“Uh-huh.”

“Like pause the game second?”

“Umm, okay,” Ryker answered as he set the controller on his bed.

“Great,” I said. “I just wanted to speak to you really quick. This Wednesday, I’ll be at your school.”

“For what?”

“We have a conference with some people! They are probably going to ask you to do a few things like reading aloud, maybe solve some quick math problems. I don’t want you overthinking it though, just have fun with it. Plus, maybe I will call it a half-day for you, and we can have some fun… just you and me.”

“Can we do that?”

“Absolutely”

“Okay.”

“Okay?” I chuckled. “No questions?”

“Nut-uh… can I play again?”

“Yeah,” I laughed and kissed his head.

“When’s the new boy come?”

“Should be here in a bit… are you going to help me greet him?”

“How?” Ryker inquired as his focus was glued to the screen.

“Just come downstairs when you hear him arrive.”

“Okay.”

“Alright, start thinking about what you’d like to do on a half-day,” I stated and watched him play for a few minutes before getting up to leave for the kitchen. We were getting so close to Cooper getting here, and I wanted to calm down. Although nothing was working as we were about five minutes to seven, my stomach began to flip and turn a bit. I guess it was noticeable, as my nervous energy radiated throughout the kitchen. It was so bad that my mother reassured me that everything would be fine. I wanted to believe her, and I didn’t want anything to go drastically wrong like it did the first time. However, something felt off… and I couldn’t put my finger on it. Whatever it was, there wasn’t any turning back. I just waited for those five minutes until I saw headlights coming up the driveway. No later then a minute or so, a knock at the door, and I went to greet them.

“Welcome back,” I said as I opened the door to see Cooper and Laura. Laura looked like a wreck, as I’m sure the last couple of days were interesting. Cooper still had his black eye, but it wasn’t too noticeable. He was also carrying a small suitcase that I’m assuming contained all his belongings. “Do you have anything else in the car that you may want?”

Cooper just looked straight ahead, which prompted Laura to answer, “he only has this bag and one other small item in the car.”

“No problem at all… come on in,” I stated as I moved from the entrance. “You unfortunately just missed dinner, but I’m sure Rita has some leftovers she could heat up, you hungry.”

To which I didn’t receive a reply, and I looked at Laura.

“I’m gonna get you to talk, one way or another,” I joked, and again he didn’t reply. He just looked sad and depressed, as he continued to keep his head down.

“Come on, Cooper,” Laura stated with a slight nudge to move.

“Garret!” Ryker called from the top of the steps. “Is he here?”

“You wanna come say hi?”

“So, he’s here?” Hollered Jacob as Laura and Cooper stepped inside, and I shut the door.

“Yes, both of you come down here,” I chuckled, and the loud footsteps followed, as the two boys raced down the steps. In a matter of seconds, they were standing next to me, one on each side.

“Hi Jacob, hi Ryker,” spoke Laura.

“Hi,” Ryker giggled as he wrapped his arms around my leg.

“Boys, this is Cooper. Cooper, this one hanging onto my leg is Ryker, and this one to my right is Jacob.”

“Hi,” both boys said in unison, but again nothing came from Cooper.

“Don’t be shy, Cooper, say hi,” Laura instructed.

“…” nothing at all, instead he mercifully looked at Laura as if he was about to cry.

“We will work on introductions,” I said as I ruffled Jacob’s and Ryker’s hair.

“Why doesn’t he say something?” Ryker asked.

“He’s just adapting to everything.”

“Oh… can-can we show him his room?”

“Umm… let’s just wait for me.”

“Can we show him the basement?” Inquired Jacob.

“No no… I-well, we will do that together,” I said as I feared Cooper would lash out if left alone.

“Oh-okay… I umm like your umm bag,” Ryker commented as he was trying to make some form of communication with Cooper. However, Cooper didn’t reply; he only clutched the handle of his suitcase tighter.

“Alrighty then… umm,” I began but was cut off by Rita as she entered the hallway.

“Hi and welcome, Sugar! My name is Rita, and if you ever need anything, just come and get me, okay? Can I get you anything to drink? Water? Milk?”

“Juice… please,” Ryker giggled.

“I was speaking to our new guest,” Rita chuckled, “but I guess you can have one too. What about you, Jacob?”

“Uh-huh.”

“Cooper?”

“…”

“Not a talker, huh?” Rita said, “that’ll change, Sugar.”

“Rita is the best,” Ryker informed Cooper, who was still trying to keep his head down.

“Thank you, Sugar! So two glasses of juice coming right up. Laura, can I get you anything while you’re here? Coffee?

“Oh no thank you, I’ve had about ten cups today. I don’t think my heart can handle anymore.”

“Well, if you need anything, let me know.”

“Thank you,” Laura spoke. “So, where are the other two?”

“Both of them are upstairs in their rooms, I believe.”

“Oh… I was looking to speak with them, actually all of the boys together.”

“Umm yeah? What for?”

“I just want to check in and make sure they understand how much they could help and be a positive influence. I also want to clear the air specifically with Lincoln. I want to tell him I’m not mad about what happened and admit that I made a mistake.”

“Sure,” I said. “I’ll go get them… you can use my office.”

“Great… I’ll take Cooper back out to the car, and then would you like to show him where he can set his belongings?”

“Absolutely,” I answered. “Boys go wait in the office, Lincoln and Clayton will be down soon.”

“What about the juice?” Ryker inquired.

“Right here, Sugar. Let’s head to the office,” Rita said as she was walking back into the hallway, holding two cups. That was all the incentive they needed as they let go of me and followed Rita into the room. Meanwhile, Cooper and Laura were already back out to there car as I was walking up the steps.

“He doesn’t say anything,” I heard Ryker comment to Rita.

“Yeah, why?” Echoed Jacob, but I was out of range to hear Rita’s reply. Coming up to the top of the steps, I snagged Clayton first and then knocked on Lincoln’s door. It took a moment or two for him to answer, but he opened the door. I mean, I could have just entered, but I didn’t want to intrude on his privacy. After a brief discussion, they were walking down the steps and into the office.

It was great timing, and I don’t know if Laura intentionally did this, but Lincoln and Clayton never crossed paths with Cooper. As soon as those two entered the office, Laura and Cooper walked back inside. Now they could see one another, but they were a good twenty-five feet away from each other.

“Alright, Cooper, I’m gonna hand you off to Garret. He is going to show you a couple of things and help you unpack,” Laura spoke as she handed him the small bag that was left in the car.

“Great, do you want any help carrying your suitcase?” I asked.

“…”

“I see… well come on then,” I said as I reached out to take ahold of his hand… of course, that was stupid of me. My action only made Cooper hold the handle of his belongings even tighter. “Right.”

“It’ll be alright,” Laura reassured him, but it didn’t help the boy.

“Just follow me,” I said as I brought back my hand and started walking up the stairs. Cooper responded by taking a few steps with me but was obviously struggling to carry his bag past the first few steps. Not sure what to do, I continued on until I reached the top and waited for him. Cooper wasn’t far behind, but the struggle was real. Once he was on the final step, I spoke, “you know that would have been easier if you would have let me help you, Cooper. I understand that you aren’t used to it, but you don’t have to do everything on your own. Now would you like any help the rest of the way?”

Cooper finally looked at me but didn’t say anything. It was as if he was embarrassed to accept help, so he gripped his suitcase tighter.

“Alright,” I replied, and we continued to walk until we reached his room. “This is it, bud, go ahead and throw your stuff on the bed.”

Cooper listened as he hauled his luggage with him and then placed it at the end of the mattress.

“So that door right there… is your bathroom. You have a shower tub combo, toilet, and sink. The door next to the bathroom is your closet, and you’ll put most of your shoes and nicer clothes in there. Over this way is your desk for studying and schoolwork. Last but not least, you have a TV that’s connected to the cable. You can watch movies and all that good stuff. I’m sure we will have an Xbox or PlayStation for you as well. Any questions so far?”

“…”

“Okay… umm, let’s unpack your stuff, bud,” I said as I walked over to his suitcase and unzipped the bag to find hardly any clothes. He had five pairs of underwear and socks, two pairs of pants, one set of jeans that looked way too small, four or five shirts, and the only shoes he had were the ones he was wearing. “Guess we will be shopping tomorrow, bud. But umm… let’s get your things put away, is there a certain drawer that you’d like to keep your clothes?”

“…”

“No? Okay… umm,” I began as I took his underwear and socks and set them in the top drawer. “You know something, Cooper, I don’t mind speaking out loud here, bud. Your silence makes me want to find out more… so sooner or later, I’ll get you to speak! Although… if you’re willing to help me out a bit, then I won’t have to continue speaking for both of us. The sooner that happens, the sooner we get to know one another, which means I can help you out more.” I kept talking as I unpacked his suitcase and put his shorts and shirts in the next drawer down. “I guess what I’m trying to say… is that you can trust me and trust the other four boys.

Cooper still didn’t reply as he twiddled his fingers.

“Cooper, come sit next to me,” I stated and moved his suitcase to the floor. He was hesitant, but he walked over and sat on the bed and continued not to make eye contact. “Could you look at me?”

He kept his eyes down.

“Bud,” I spoke and moved my hand to his chin, but he slapped my hand away. Not wanting to blow a gasket, I remained calm. “Just so you know, we do not hit each other in the household anymore, okay? So, could you please look at me?”

“…”

“Cooper… listen to me, bud. I’d like to know that you are paying attention, so please look at me.”

It took him a few seconds, but finally, the boy picked up his head, and we looked into each other’s eyes. Just looking at the boy, I felt terrible for him… as his eyes were tired, drained, and showed the pain that he went through.

“Thank you,” I began speaking again. “Whatever happened the other night, is in the past, okay? From this day forward, we are moving on and trying to see… see where this takes us. I’m going to be honest, I don’t know if it will work out with you living here, but I will promise you a few things. One, I’ll never intentionally hurt you or cause pain. Two, everything that happened to you will never happen again. Finally, number three… I’m willing to give you my best shot at helping and integrating you into the family that the boys and I have. However, it’s a two-way street, Cooper. You need to be willing to try your best because it’s just as important that you do it too. Now, as I was sayin’, everything that happened in the past couple of days… let’s just forget about it. I think it would be best if everyone had a fresh start. With that being said, we do not fight one another or shove each other to the ground. That’s wrong, and you will be punished if you do it again. That goes for my four boys too, so don’t think you are the only one, okay?”

“…”

“Okay… umm, don’t say anything if you understand.”

And he didn’t speak.

“Good… and by punishment, I don’t mean hitting or anything along those terms. I uhh just wanna make that clear. But… I think you are unpacked, you didn’t have much… which isn’t a problem because we will go shopping tomorrow for some clothes and stuff. Sound good? Say nothing if that’s okay.”

“…”

“Great. I am going to head back downstairs. You’re welcome to check out your room, or you can come back with me.” I said and reached my hand out for him to hold. He stared at me for a few seconds and didn’t respond in any way. “I’m not gonna hurt you, Cooper. You can trust me, I promise,”

Still nothing as he sat on the bed and turned his head back down to the ground.

“Alright,” I retracted my hand. “I’ll let you get comfortable in your room. But… I’m gonna try to put a family movie on for everyone, so I expect you downstairs. In a bit, alright? Again… keep silent if you understand.”

“…”

“Great,” I said and made my way to the steps. What kind of mess did I just get into, I mean he clearly had no interest in being here. Then again, I don’t know if he cared to be anywhere. The sweet, fun, and playful innocence that little boys have, was ripped out of him. He was thrusted into a negative culture that abused the poor child. Now it left me, trying to figure out how to pick up the pieces.

Anyway, Laura was finished talking to the boys, and she seemed satisfied with the conversation. Although we didn’t even have the chance to talk about it, because Laura was on her way upstairs to speak with Cooper. Meanwhile, the boys were in the kitchen, eating some snacks that Rita prepared.

“Ohh, what kind of goodies do we have?” I asked.

“Cookies,” Clayton mumbled as he shoveled another down. “And umm-umm whatever this is.”

“That’s mango, Sugar.”

“Mango and cookies?”

“Not my choice,” Rita responded.

“I wanted pancakes,” Jacob giggled.

“Pancakes? What, you are crazy boy,” I jokingly said.

“So,” he replied.

“Pancakes are a meal, not a snack!”

Jacob thought for a second before biting into the cookie, “so… it’s still good.”

“Maybe we can have pancakes for breakfast tomorrow morning,” I said as I walked over and kissed the top of his head. “Why don’t we stick to what you’re eating, but we add some popcorn and a movie to the mix?”

“Yeah!” Ryker cheered.

“That’s even better,” Jacob stated as he was becoming more and more vocal about his preferences, which was great to see.

“Clay? Lincoln? Sound good?”

“Uh-huh,” Clayton mumbled again.

“Whatever,” Lincoln spoke.

“Linc-”

“It sounds good to me,” my mother said, entering from the family room. “Lincoln, you can sit with me! Just ask Garret, I give the best back rubs.”

“She’s pretty good,” I said. “Not as good as me.”

“In your dreams,” My mother returned.

“I wanna sit with grandma then,” Ryker chimed.

“You’ll get me next time, okay?”

“But… fine. I call Garret!”

“Ehh… seat might be taken.”

“Really?”

“No,” I laughed. “I’m all yours.”

“Good,” Ryker said, and he finished eating his mango.

“Is umm… what’s his name again?” Inquired Jacob

“Cooper.”

“Is Cooper gonna watch too?”

“I believe so.”

“Where is he gonna sit?”

“Where ever he would like to.”

“Not next to me,” Lincoln stated

“Lincoln… please.”

“What?”

“You know what… now we agreed that we would give this a fair shot, and all I hear from you is negativity at the moment. It’s not needed, and if you keep it up, you’ll be grounded from your mac.”

“That’s… that’s not even fair. I FaceTime Christian like every day.”

“I know you do, and that’s why it would be a punishment… but that doesn’t need to happen.”

Lincoln exhaled a deep breath, “fine, he can sit next to me.”

“Bud, you’re missing the point… that’s not what I had in mind. In fact, I wasn’t going to let him sit next to you… it’s more about being positive and not saying harsh comments. You know, treat Cooper like you would want to be treated-”

“Whatever,” Lincoln said as he obviously agreed to get me to shut up.

“Knock off the sass, Lincoln.”

“This is stupid.”

“Lincoln,” I returned in a firm tone. “One more comment bud and your MacBook is gone. Do not test me, okay? I don’t want to be this way, but I will if you force me too.”

“Okay.”

“Alright… We will talk about this later. But now, everyone go get changed into pajamas. No nakedness… at least for tonight. Underwear and a robe or shirt is required, okay boys?”

Multiple yeahs came from them.

“Alright, now before you do that… come here,” I said and wrapped them in a hug. “I just want to say that I love you guys so so so much. What we are doing is a new experience for me too, so I don’t know what will happen. However, one thing will always stay true, and that is my love for you four. It might not seem like it right now, but I do love you guys more than anything in the world… and nothing will change that.

“Love you too,” Ryker answered.

“Yeah, love you,” Jacob said.

“Same,” Clayton replied.

“Yeah… love you too,” Lincoln stated.

“Thank you, boys… now go on upstairs and get ready for the movie,” I instructed as we let go of our hug, and they followed Lincoln up to their rooms. Now I was surprised that Laura wasn’t back downstairs, but I’m sure she was getting Cooper caught up to speed. In fact, the boys even made it back downstairs before they did. My curious self, took a walk upstairs to see what was going on. However, Laura and Cooper had just finished up.

“All good?” I asked.

“I hope so,” Laura answered. “I’m just about to head out, you sure you’ve got this?”

“I hope so,” I responded.

“Garret.”

“I mean, I’m just being honest. We are gonna give it our best shot though… isn’t that right, Cooper?”

“…”

“Say nothing if you mean yes.”

“…”

“See! It’s gonna be great!”

“Garret. You’re not inspiring me with much confidence.”

“Will anyone?”

“No.”

“That’s what I thought,” I stated and turned my attention to Cooper. “Come on, buddy, we’ve got a movie to watch. Your own separate chair and blanket are downstairs waiting for you. Plus, we say bye to Laura… so come on, get your booty downstairs. It’s family time, kiddo.”

Obviously, it didn’t generate a response, but he slowly picked up his head and started walking towards us.

“There we go,” I said, and we started on our way. Once by the door, Laura said her goodbyes and told me she would be reaching out tomorrow or the day after. With her gone, it was time to go to the family room. Thankfully, the boys were munching on popcorn and watching movie trailers, as I brought Cooper to sit down. I put him in his own chair and gave him a blanket with a bowl of popcorn. Although he didn’t seem to care, he was just going through the motions. After Cooper was situated, I turned my attention to the couch and quickly sat down. I was swarmed by Ryker and Jacob as those two made themselves comfortable. Clayton was seated closer to Lincoln and my mother, as they all shared one blanket. With everyone comfortable, we settled on a film and began to watch it.

As the movie went on, I would try to sneak a look at Cooper to see what he was doing. When I was able to, I noticed he hadn’t touched his popcorn, but curled himself in a ball on the recliner chair. The blanket covered most of him, minus his head. His attention was definitely on the TV, which was good, but he didn’t show much emotion. Meanwhile, when I wasn’t glancing over at Cooper, I was scratching Ryker and Jacob’s body. For Ryker, it was all over his body while Jacob was enjoying his chest and head being rubbed.

In general, it was a great way to finish the night. All the boys, except for Cooper, fell asleep towards the end of the movie. Once I was able to move them to their beds, I went to check on Cooper one last time.

“Hey bud,” I said as I walked through his door. “Ready for bed?”

“…”

“Okay… I’ll take that as a yes.” I replied as I folded the comforter down. “What do you usually sleep in?”

“…”

“Right… the whole not speaking thing… okay umm,” I stated as he was still in the clothes he arrived in. “So the other four all sleep differently, like Ryker and Lincoln both sleep naked. Jacob usually has a shirt on only, while Clayton… well Clayton is a mixture. So you can pick whichever way makes you comfortable. Ideally, I would like you to change the clothes you have on because you’ve been wearing them all day… but I don’t want to make you uncomfortable, so for tonight you can sleep in what you have on. For the future, just let me know how you like to sleep. I mean, if you like pajamas, let me know, and we will get some tomorrow. If you wanna sleep with nothing on, I’ll turn my back so you can get under the covers.”

Cooper didn’t answer… shocker.

“Alright,” I said because I wasn’t sure what to do. I didn’t want to make a decision for him, especially his first night, however that’s what I felt he wanted to do. I don’t think he is used to having a choice in his life. “This is your call, and there is no wrong answer, bud.”

“…”

“I see… umm just hop in bed,” I suggested as I sat and patted for him to come lay down. He was going to sleep in the clothes he’s been in, but that would be only for tonight. Not wanting to freak him out, I sat on the edge of the bed as he crawled in. “There ya go,” I said. “If you need anything, I am right down the hall, and my door will be unlocked, okay?”

“…”

“Okay… umm, we have a busy day tomorrow, so get some sleep, kiddo,” I said as I reached out to comb my hand through his red hair. He quickly flinched, but let me continue to run my hand through his hair. “I’m not going to hurt you, I promise. You can trust me,” I stated and retracted my hand as I stood up from his bed. “Goodnight, Cooper. I’m glad to have the chance to get to know you more.”

“…” of course, which I expected from him. As I was leaving, I partially shut his door for some privacy before returning to my room, where I quickly fell asleep too.



!!TAKE A BREAK!!       !!TAKE A BREAK!!        !!TAKE A BREAK!!        !!TAKE A BREAK!!



Part – 4 

Tuesday, April 26th, 2016.

With the addition of Cooper, I didn’t want the original four to feel like anything was drastically changing. I mean, that was there biggest concern, so I was up and waking them for breakfast. I let Cooper sleep in because he wasn’t enrolled, and I didn’t know where he stood on the academic scale. Once everyone was awake and moving around, the morning went as per our usual routine. I drove them to school, and we said our goodbyes when I dropped them off. Now I wouldn’t be picking them up, as my mother was going to do that. However, I planned on taking them to soccer practice.

When I returned home, I went upstairs to wake Cooper. I think he forgot where he was because I startled the poor boy as he woke up from his sleeping state. Noticing how timid it made him, I made sure to reinstate that I wasn’t planning on hurting him. Of course, the boy said nothing, and as a matter of fact, he said nothing the whole damn day.

Whenever we were out shopping and buying new clothes… he didn’t have a single preference. He didn’t even pick out underwear that he usually wears, so I got him all kinds and different brands. The worst part was his body language. He didn’t want to look up from the ground as he consistently stood five feet away from me with his hands in his pockets. The only time he glanced up, was to make sure I wasn’t too far or too close to him.

I thought a meal would be a good idea after shopping, but Cooper didn’t eat a single piece of food. Since being here, he hadn’t taken a bite out of anything.

“Hey bud,” I said as I was finishing up my last few bites. “You not hungry?”

“…”

I sighed a deep breath, “okay, we need some form of communication kiddo. It doesn’t have to involve talking, but a simple yes or no to my questions would be great. You umm think you could do that?”

Cooper didn’t do anything, he was still looking down at his food and not eating it.

“Cooper… did you hear me?”

“…”

“Hey,” I said as I slowly reached across the table and put my finger under his chin to lift his head. “I’m not going to make fun of you, or overreact, and I promise I won’t do anything special if you start talking to me… I mean, I’d even take a yes or no nod from you, kiddo. I just… I just want to get to know you and give you the chance to know my family and me. You… You… umm-you could be part of my family too, and the only person stopping you… would be yourself. Not talking or giving feedback won’t make me stop trying and won’t make me give up on you. But bud… it’ll help us both.”

“…” he didn’t reply, but I felt he wanted to… I could see it in his eyes, but for some reason, the boy just didn’t want to speak.

“Let’s start with nodding, yes or no, okay?” I stated and let my hand go from his chin. However, this time, instead of dipping his head back down, he kept it up as he waited for me to speak. “Are-are you hungry?”

He looked at me for a couple of seconds, but he finally nodded his head. It was a slight up and down motion, but it counted!

I smiled and answered, “alright, I purchased the food for you, Cooper. So you are allowed to eat it. Go ahead, take a bite… it’s pretty good.”

This time he shook his head side to side.

“No?” I answered, and it immediately made me inquire why. However, I couldn’t ask why because I had to state questions in a yes or no format. “Do you not like it?”

He didn’t respond.

“Have you tried it before?”

Cooper shook his head no.

“Well give it a try bud, if you don’t like… you don’t need to finish it. But if you do, then you can eat the rest!”

He looked at the subway sandwich, and then the boy shut down again. Instead of looking at me, his face was pointed to his lap, where he fiddled with his hands.

“Cooper.”

“…”

“Cooper,” I said again as I stood up from my seat and went to sit next to him. I was going to wrap my arm around his shoulder, but Cooper had other plans. Getting too close to his personal space, he shoved my arm back and away from him. He proceeded to get into a protective state as he folded his arms into his chest and slightly turned away from me.

“Fuck,” I said to myself as I forgot he wasn’t anything like the other four. He hated being touched compared to my boys, who asked and loved the bond of closeness. Although, I felt all Cooper needed was a massive hug. One in which he felt safe and connected with another person who didn’t seek to harm him. One in which he felt an undeniable love without his innocence being tarnished… but I felt a hug would push him over the edge and make him do something we both would regret. “Cooper… I’m-I’m sorry. I forget we have different boundaries, and I’m still learning that you don’t like certain things. It’s… it’s different compared to how I want to handle situations. You know… if we ever get past your boundaries.” I stated as I didn’t really know where I was going with this. “Look, bud, I’m… I’m usually a person who likes to talk and comfort by touch… but I promise that touch will never be harmful. I’m just sorry that I… well, I’m sorry, Cooper.” I said as I stood up to go back to my seat.

Cooper didn’t give me any feedback, but he loosened up as he relaxed his muscles.

“Well, we do have to get back soon, umm, but if you wanna eat the sandwich, go for it, buddy. Maybe take a bite or two and see if you like it.”

To my surprise, he exhaled a deep breath and went to grab the sandwich. He slowly brought it to his mouth and took the smallest bite of food I’ve ever seen. However, I was through the roof! I didn’t want to show my excitement, but I honestly was happy to see him attempting to eat it. Although I think he enjoyed it more than me as the boy went back for more. I chuckled as he devoured every last bit of the 6-inch sub. I guess that’s one thing all the boys have in common… food doesn’t last too long when they find out they like it.

Anyway, after he finished, it was time to head home. It was later than I planned, but that was okay. I still had time to drop Cooper off with my mother, Rita, and Clayton plus be there to pick the boys up from school. Once we arrived, it was a quick greeting and hug from Clayton. Meanwhile, Cooper went straight to his room without saying hi or acknowledging anyone as he entered. I was a bit disappointed, but I also didn’t dwell on it too much. I think Clayton was more upset than me, which was comical as he threw his arms in the air. I’m not sure how he came to this conclusion, but little Clayton thought he would have a playmate after school. Seeing Cooper walk by without even looking at Clayton, hurt his feelings.

“Does he hate me?” Clayton asked as he slumped his body.

“Not at all,” I stated and wrapped my little man in another hug.

“I think he does.”

“He doesn’t know you, Lil Bear. He doesn’t really know anyone in our family. It might take him a while to become comfortable with everyone.”

“But-but we didn’t.”

“No, not at all,” I chuckled and kissed his cheek. “The first night… oh boy… the first night,” I laughed again. “If I recall… I was chasing your little naked butt around my room, trying to dry you off after your bath.”

“So,” Clayton giggled in my arms. “I like to be nakey.”

“Oh, we know, Sugar,” Rita commented as she put clean dishes away.

Clayton snickered some more, “Is… is that bad?”

“No… absolutely not,” I reassured him and started to rub his back. “Being comfortable in your own skin is nothing to be ashamed about. You know that! The only time I would prefer you have clothes on is when we have a guest.”

“Uh-huh,” Clayton answered as he let his head rest on my shoulder.

“Something I wish your father and I would have taught you more of,” my mother added as she walked by us two.

“What’s that?” Rita inquired.

“To be more comfortable with their body.”

“Yeah,” I chuckled. “But we weren’t that bad, though.”

“You’re funny,” my mother chuckled. “You were, Mister Private.”

“Thanks,” I said as I wanted to move on. “back to Cooper… he didn’t have three brothers to help him move into a new house and family. So… you know, it might just take longer for him to become as comfortable and friendly as your brothers and you.”

“Yeah,” Clayton answered in a disappointing tone. “I just thought he wanted to play like me.”

“Maybe he does, just not right now,” I stated and kissed his cheek. “I love you so so so so much buddy.”

Clayton smiled, “love you lots!”

“Thanks,” I chuckled. “You know what might be nice?”

“What?”

“If we help bring Cooper his stuff, he got today.”

“Where is it?”

“Come on, let’s go to the car,” I said and set Clayton on the ground. Together we grabbed the six bags of clothing and miscellaneous items and walked upstairs. We found Cooper laying on his bed, staring at the ceiling, and I think we kind of startled him. However, he didn’t move much, he just sat up from his laying position and precisely watched our every step.

“This is super heavy,” Clayton said and exhaled a deep breath as he set the down the one bag he carried.

“Tell me about it,” l chuckled as I dropped off the remaining. “Alright, Cooper, everything is up here.”

“…”

“Right… come on, Clay.”

“Do you wanna play?” Clayton asked Cooper as he ignored my comment. “I gots lots of things like-like legos, and umm… puzzles, and Ro-Blox, Minecraft, FIFA and umm-umm a Nintendo DS too.”

“…”

“So, you wanna?” Clayton asked again. I was close to stepping in, but I wanted to see how this played out. Obviously, with their brief history, I wasn’t letting them get too close without my supervision.

“…” and Cooper looked down towards his lap again. Part of me felt that he wanted to play, but he didn’t know how to interact.

“Come on, Clay, I don’t think he wants to play right now.”

“But it will be fun!”

“I know.”

“We got knee hockey too!”

“…”

“Let’s go, Clay,”

“But-but… okay.”

“You can come with me and pick up the other three if you’d like.”

“Oh-okay!” Clayton answered.

“Cooper… would you like to come too?” I asked as he still kept his head down. With no response, I decided to let it go, “alright. If you need anything, Rita is only downstairs, okay?”

“…”

“Let’s go, Lil Bear,” I stated and picked Clayton up to go get his brothers.

From this point, the night flew by. After getting the boys back home, it was homework and a quick snack before soccer practice. Lincoln joined along too, but that’s because he didn’t want to be anywhere near Cooper. Once practice was finished, we went home to eat dinner and spend our night with my mother.

Dinner was a bit awkward, mainly due to the tension between Lincoln and Cooper. It didn’t help that Cooper ate not one bit of food and stared at his plate the whole time. However, we still carried on, and at least included him at the table. With supper finished, it was time to relax and spend time with my mother for her last night here. Well, at least the boys and her were able to relax, as I was stressing about tomorrow and Ryker’s dyslexia evaluation. I’m just fearful that Ryker won’t correctly understand if he is diagnosed with dyslexia. I could see him being tough on himself and creating more issues.

Anyway, I didn’t want it to ruin my night completely, but it was always in the back of my head as we spent family time. One of the things the boys wanted to do… minus Cooper… was to piece together the puzzle my parents had bought them. Over the past week, we’ve been slowly trying to piece it together, and we’ve made progress. Everybody was working on the edges, and we finally had the border, and most of the corners defined. However, after a while, the boys grew bored with the puzzle, and we switched to watching tv. Although, I had them go get ready for bed before we started.

“Thanks for coming up early and staying an extra day,” I said to my mother as we sat down in the family room.

“Oh honey, it’s been wonderful being up here. I’m just so happy I’ve had the chance to meet Jordan and spend more time with the boys. I just wished we were closer… kinda feels like we miss so much, especially when we weren’t in their life from the beginning.”

“Tell me about it,” I said. “I’m just happy to have them here now.”

“Me too, honey. So do you have any idea what you are going to do with Cooper?”

“Nope, not a single clue, Mom.”

“Well, my piece of advice here… and you can take it or leave it… but don’t ever give up. The moment you do, you won’t ever get it back, and he will notice.”

“I know… I just don’t know if it will work.”

“Not with that mindset,” my mother stated as we heard some footsteps coming.

“We can talk about it later,” I commented as Ryker was the first one to appear, but he was quickly followed by Lincoln. “So, what do we wanna watch.”

“Cooper is like crying or something,” spoke Ryker.

“What?”

“He is crying.”

“Where?”

“In his room, I think.”

“Did something happen?”

“I didn’t do anything,” Lincoln blurted out.

“Did someone?”

“I don’t know, not me,” Ryker said.

“Boys… you not telling me something?”

“Nope.”

“Alright… I’ll… I’ll go check on him,” I said as I stood up. “Help grandma find a TV show on Netflix.”

“Okay,” Lincoln answered as the two boys plopped down on the couch. And I ventured upstairs to see what was going on. As I got closer to his room, I could definitely hear some type of noise coming from his direction, but I didn’t know if it was him crying. Once I was in his room, I found that he was in the bathroom. So I slowly walked over to the shut door and called his name.

“Cooper?”

“…” nothing, even the sounds he was making stopped.

“Cooper, you okay?”

“…”

“Cooper,” I said, and I slowly twisted the doorknob as it wasn’t locked. Carefully opening the door and peaking my head in, I saw him sitting on the toilet. He had his pants halfway up his thighs, his shirt draped entirely down, and his legs squeezed shut to hide any view of his body. As if that wasn’t enough, his hands pushed the bottom of his shirt down in between his legs. His eyes were red, and tears were rolling down his face, but the boy tried to put on a brave face. “Hey,” I said as I directly made eye contact. I didn’t want him trying to think I was looking elsewhere as I took a step in. I kept the door open, but I got down to sit on my knees.

“…” but his eyes were glued to mine.

“You okay?”

Dumb question on my part, he wasn’t going to answer.

“Right… umm, so we are having a little trouble going to the bathroom, right?” I began as I remembered Laura telling me about this issue. “Let’s umm, you know, try to relax, okay?”

“…”

“Now, umm… I think you’ll be more comfortable if we… umm loosen some of your clothes here, buddy. Now I’m not gonna look at anything else but your eyes, okay?”

“…” nothing, he just stared at me as a tear rolled down his face.

“Here goes nothing,” I thought as I reached both of my hands to the top of his undies and pants. The poor boy trembled on the toilet as I began to speak to him, “I’m going to pull this down, okay? Now, remember, I’m not going to look at anything besides your face, and I’m not going to touch you in any way. I promise you… I don’t like to break promises either, alright?”

He just watched my eyes.

“Alright,” I stated and began to pull down his clothing. “You’re gonna need to lift your legs a bit.”

“…” and we were at a standstill until he finally caved.

“Atta boy, bud,” I commented as his underwear and pants were falling freely to his feet. Not wanting to scare him anymore, I let them stop there. “Now, let’s loosen your grip on the legs bud,” I stated and lightly patted the outside of his lower thighs.

Cooper sniffled first, but he slowly relaxed his legs.

“There we go,” I lightly chuckled, and I gradually pulled his legs apart while still maintaining eye contact. At this point, I also believe his pants and undies slipped off his feet, leaving his lowered body entirely exposed.

“Alright,” I said and let go of his legs and put my hand back on my lap. “You can keep your shirt on if you want to, but that’s your call… you want it on?”

“…”

“Quickly nod, yes or no.”

Cooper didn’t know what to do.

“We will just keep it on,” I said. “However, let’s move this hand to the side,” I stated and reached out for his forearm. When I made contact, Cooper let out a slight gasp, but he closed his eyes tight and allowed me to move his arms from the front of him and toward the side. “Good job, bud. The final step… open your eyes, and let’s relax! We don’t have to be anywhere, and no one is going to hurt you…. you’re safe,” I commented as I brought my hand to his face and wiped his tears away. I didn’t know how far Cooper would let this continue, but for the moment, he was doing well. With him finally opening his eyes, I gave him a smile, and asked, “so let me understand this, okay? It hurts to use the bathroom, right? Just shake your head yes or no.”

A quick nod up and down.

“Okay,” I answered as I shifted to sit on the edge of the bathtub. “Whenever it starts to hurt, squeeze my hand as tight as you want to. I don’t care if you break it, just squeeze okay?”

Cooper didn’t answer; he just stared at me with a confused look.

“Trust me,” I replied with a smile and took ahold of his left hand. “It will still hurt kiddo, but focus on squeezing my hand, okay? Just relax your body too… you’re safe bud, no one is judging you right now. We have all the time in the world, just do your thing.”

Cooper responded by closing his eyes and letting his little body relax. However, that didn’t last for long as his body flinched to the side.

“Relax,” I said in a calming voice. “Just squeeze my hand, and don’t think about anything else.”

And squeeze he did. Cooper let out a soft cry as another tear rolled down his face, but he held my hand tight. After a few seconds, Cooper whined some more, but a wave of relief rushed over his face. His grip on my hand had begun to loosen, and Cooper began to open his eyes again.

“Good job, bud,” I stated as I patted his thigh with my free hand before wiping his face clear of tears. “You uhh… have to go anymore?”

Cooper shook his head side to side and now fully let go of my hand.

“Alright,” I said as I stood up and got my first real glimpse of his legs. His little boyhood was still protected by his shirt, but the poor child has scars all over him. Some looked to be old, but others appeared to be new as they were still bright red. I felt awful, and words could not describe how bad it looked. I mean, these deep lash marks started on one side of his thigh and wrapped around to the other. I was almost scared to see the rest of him. However, I knew I wouldn’t have to worry about that for now. I had forgotten I was looking as Cooper must have caught me. He quickly placed his hands over his lap, even though I couldn’t see his boy parts anyway. He also lowered his head to avoid eye contact as he was embarrassed. “H-hey umm,” I stuttered. “It’s nothing to be ashamed of, Cooper.” I placed my hand under his chin and lifted his face to look at me. He still had a few tears rolling down his face. “However you got these marks, won’t happen to you again. Not while you are under my supervision. You understand you don’t have to worry here. You can just be a kid and relax. Just ask any of the boys, they will… well when you’re ready to talk to me and ask questions, I will tell you about them and how we all helped each other. But for now,” I stated as I grabbed his pants and undies off the ground. “I’ll let you finish up. I’m actually going to take these two things… you’ve been in them all day. You’ll have a new set on your bed when you’re finished. Also, I’d change your shirt too. We are watching a tv show before bed if you’d like to come downstairs and join us. It’ll be a lot of fun!”

Cooper stared at me as he still kept his hands over his privates.

“Alright,” I said and partially closed the door to give him privacy. After tossing his dirty clothes in his basket, I found him a new pair of undies and pajamas and set them on his bed. After that, I made my way back downstairs to cuddle with the boys. Unfortunately, Cooper did not come downstairs, but I kind of expected him not too. With the show finished, it was time for bed. All the boys went to get ready, and I tucked them in. I checked on Cooper, but he was sound asleep under the covers. With all of them down for the night, I went to my bedroom and proceeded to do my nightly routine.

To Be Continued…

Author Notes:

Email me if you would like to be added to a email notification list for the story. If interested, you will receive an email when the chapter is available for reading. You’ll also receive updates on story progress,  release dates,  and other early release details. To join, email me!

Also a new story was released by a collective group of authors. ACFan, Jeff Fort, and myself bring you “Unbroken”. Chapter 1 is available for reading, so go check it out and give us some feedback!

!!!CHECK OUT Imagine Magazine by Comicality. Great person to know and a wonderful idea he has started that is released once a month. Imagine hosts stories, author interviews, cool articles, life tips, and much more that are geared towards the LBGTQ community. I had the opportunity to be interviewed by comicality, which you can check out here –> https://imagine-magazine.org/. I am featured in volume 40 addition, and I highly recommend checking out the site!!!
 
Thank you for reading and following the story! Always enjoy hearing from readers! 

***DO NOT EVEN THINK ABOUT ABUSING CHILDREN. IT IS WRONG ON SO MANY LEVELS. IT HAS AN EVERLASTING EFFECT ON PEOPLE***

Lindon Weztser
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