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Antonio wiggled from between Kelly and Byron. “I gotta pee!” he mumbled as he crawled off of the bed and ran to the bathroom. When he came back into the bedroom, he was surprised to find Kyle and Ty sitting on the edge of the bed waiting for him. “What are you guys up for?”
Kyle smiled. “We got up to help our new brother. Jamie, Jacob, and I had a talk while you were coming home. Your old family messed with your head pretty bad, didn’t they?”
Antonio gave the boys a shocked stare. “They kinda tried, but I didn’t let them.”
Tyler shook his head. “They let you think that, bro. Grab some shorts, Mom’s lettin’ us use her office. Let’s go get their junk outta your head.”
A few minutes later, the three boys quietly slipped out of the room and padded downstairs. Teri was at the table having her morning coffee, and looked up as the boys appeared.
“Hey guys! Tyler, you didn’t wake Antonio up this morning to help him, did you?”
“MOM! No way, we waited for him to get up! Can we take some cereal into the office?”
Teri shook her head. “No way! I really don’t feel like cleaning Coco Puffs out of the computers. All three of you take a seat, I’ll get you some quick breakfast before you take over the office. Antonio, do you like Coco Puffs or is there something you like better?”
“If you have Apple Jacks, I’d like some of them please, Mrs. Short.” Antonio responded shyly.
Teri stood up and walked around to Antonio. As she pulled him into a hug, she softly said “Antonio, thank you for trying to be so polite. I know this goes against what you have been told over and over, but I think both of us would be a lot more comfortable if you were to call me Teri or Mom. Just about all of the boys call me mom at least occasionally, there is no reason you can’t do it too if you want to. As far as the Apple Jacks go, you don’t ever need to be shy about asking for food you like. If it’s not here, Helen will get it for you. This time you got lucky, John is an Apple Jack freak, it looks like he’s got to learn to share with you now!”
“But kids ain’t supposed to call adults by their names.” Antonio whimpered.
“Just remember – you are very special, little one. You are so special that all of us adults sat down and talked last night about how we could help you. You are so special that two of your new brothers are giving up their morning cuddle time to try to help you. You are in a tough position; you are nine, but you are also almost as old as me. Everyone here agrees that it does not matter what year you were born, we are counting your birthdays. That means you have the same rights and live by the same rules as any other nine-year-old in this house; once you turn ten, everything adjusts accordingly. It also means you are expected to act like a kid, not a miniature adult. This is your home now, and I do not believe in forcing a kid to be formal in their own home. Now do you understand why I would like for you to either call me Teri or Mom?”
“Yeah, I guess so. What’s gonna happen if I mess up?”
Teri giggled. “You get the same as the rest of these goofballs when they do it, sometimes I think on purpose. I’ll remind you and possibly give you a playful swat on the butt if I think you are just having fun. You can ask Tyler, he used to be the worst one.”
Antonio smiled. “Wow, this is gonna be totally different from my old family.”
Teri gave him a squeeze. “I bet it will, this is different from a lot of families; but it lets you guys grow up at your pace. Are you ready for those Apple Jacks?”
Antonio giggled. “You know, you even SOUND like a Mom! Yeah, that sounds good. Thanks … Mom.”
Teri kissed Antonio’s forehead. “Now you sound like one of my boys! Have a seat, three bowls of cereal coming up!”
As soon as the boys finished inhaling their morning snack, they went into the office and closed the door. Kyle and Tyler sat on opposite sides of Antonio and placed their arms around him.
Kyle began describing what he knew. “Antonio, Mom kinda showed you what we were talking about. There’s a little more; all the stuff you should know from since you were born is locked in your head. Jamie thinks it was hypnosis, he says it looks like every year they made you start over at your age, they skipped it on your birthday. We don’t know how to fix it, but we think Ty’s Uncle Mikey can, so I’m gonna call him.”
As soon as Kyle spoke his name, Mike appeared in the center of the room. “You rang, oh miniature climber of curtains?” Mike chuckled.
Mike ignored Kyle sticking his tongue out and focused on Antonio. Upon seeing the fright in the young boy’s face, Mike unfolded his wings to their full span and highlighted his halo. “Shhh, relax little one. I am one of the good guys, I’m Saint Mikey of Urbandale, Guardian of Gay and Abandoned Children.” Mike caused a chair to slide over, and he took a seat. “Please come here and have a seat, Antonio.”
“H … Ho … How do you know my name?” Antonio stuttered.
Mike smiled and held out his arms. “I know things about you that you don’t know yourself. I was there when my little brother comforted you after you were unchained. You have been my responsibility from the moment you woke up yesterday morning; when your old father finalized his plans to abuse you I started working to make you safe again.”
Antonio slowly stood up and timidly shuffled over to Mike. He gently poked at Mike’s leg, then took a seat when he found that it felt solid.
Mike wrapped his wings around the boy and hummed softly. Antonio relaxed in the comfort of Mike’s embrace and laid his head on Mike’s shoulder.
Mike cuddled Antonio for a few minutes before speaking again. “Antonio, for the next month or so you are going to be getting back almost all of the memories that your old family was blocking by hypnotizing you. I want you to talk with Cory, he knows how to deal with memories coming back and can help you through it. There is one memory I’m erasing from your mind, but I will tell you about it. It would hurt you too much to keep the pictures of it in your head, but you can handle knowing about what happened.”
“What’s that?” Antonio asked as he looked at Mike with total trust in his eyes.
“Two years ago, he did the same thing to your body that was done to you yesterday. He hurt you a lot worse that time; if it wasn’t for how fast your body heals you could have died. It scared him, that’s why he waited for you to grow more before trying again. Since that was before I was called to be a Saint, I wasn’t around to be called to help you. I couldn’t help you then, but I’m helping you now so you don’t have to re-live that pain.”
Antonio pondered the new information for a minute before responding. “Thanks Saint Mikey; If it was worse than yesterday I don’t wanna remember it. Why can’t you make me remember everything at once?”
Mike smiled at Antonio. “Bro, you forget I’m supposed to protect you! You have a very unique brain, but even it can’t handle that much information all at once. You have fifteen years of stuff that was hidden from you, it would fry your brain trying to re-file all of that at once. Cory lost about as much as you, and even coming back slowly it messed with him some.”
“Okay. Why did Kyle and Ty have to call you, why didn’t you just come and fix my head?”
Mike couldn’t suppress a small giggle. “You are definitely still nine; full of questions and not afraid to ask them! I could have come to ‘fix your head’ if you had asked for it, but instead Kyle and my little brother asked for you. They are special in their own way; both of them are my helpers, which means they can call for me anytime they have someone who needs help. It also means they can do things without me having to be here, things like helping you put your memories where they belong. I’m also the Guardian Angel of this family, which now includes you. Anything that concerns my family Kyle and Ty make sure I know about; if something worries you that you think I’m needed for, just let one of them know and they will tell me. Most of the time either Cory or Sean are able to handle the problems that come up, so it’s going to be rare that you need to call me.”
Antonio was about to ask another question when Tyler giggled. “Dang bro, you’re worse than Mom! You talked so much you put Kyle to sleep!”
Both Mike and Antonio turned their heads to look. Mike smiled at his little brother. “He’s just ahead of schedule, bro. It’s time for the three of you to cuddle and take a nap; you and Ky will be able to help Antonio more while the three of you are sleeping. I’ll tell Mom to leave you alone until you get up on your own.”
Mike glanced at the futon on the far wall and it unfolded into a bed. He carried Antonio over and laid him in the center, then carried Kyle over and placed him at Antonio’s side. Kyle immediately snuggled against one side of Antonio, then Tyler climbed in and snuggled up to the other side. Mike retrieved a blanket from under the futon and spread it over the boys, then leaned over and kissed each of their foreheads. “Our Father is watching and protecting you, guys. Rest in peace and let Him guide your minds in their work.”
Mike folded his wings back and left the room, the lights dimming as he went through the doorway. Teri was still at the table, she looked up and smiled when she saw Mike exiting the office.
“Well, I see Kyle knows when to ask for help! Is Antonio going to be okay?”
“He’ll be fine, Mom, it’s just going to take time. He has to go through the same process as Cory to get his memories back, and I eliminated the one that would have messed him up. He knows about what it was, but the actual event is gone. They need to be undisturbed until the three of them awaken on their own; Kyle and Ty are helping Antonio’s brain set up a file system.”
“I’m glad to see you are still the same, looking out for the kids. Thanks Mike, You are making me very proud, Son.”
“Thanks Mom, even now that means a lot. I have to go, but I know the boys are safe as long as you are here. Bless you, Mother.”
Teri beamed as she watched Mike fade away. Once he was gone, she sat back and watched to ensure the boys were not disturbed.
Cory looked around the table, making sure everyone was still there. “Hey guys, I know lunch is done, but nobody go anywhere. We need to take care of something. Kel, Trav, Benji, can you give me a hand?”
The three boys jumped up and followed Cory upstairs. A few minutes later, they came back down carrying armloads of packages, with three large boxes following them like puppies. As they appeared in the dining room doorway, Helen joined them pushing a cart with a huge cake on it, fifteen candles burning brightly in it’s center.
“Okay everybody, one … two … three!” Cory announced with a grin.
Everyone except Alec stood and began singing.
Happy Birthday to you,
Happy Birthday to you.
Happy Birthday dear Alec!
Happy Birthday to You!
Alec stood up, and with a huge grin and tears of joy running down his face walked over to the cake.
“Make a wish, Bro!” Trav said with a grin.
Alec held up his hand for quiet. Once everyone was paying attention, he spoke softly. “I really have nothing else to wish for. I have a family where I don’t have to worry about being hurt. My little brother is safe and happy for the first time in his life. I have a group of friends who I call family just because they are really like brothers to me. On top of all that, I have a great new Mom and an awesome new little brother. I even found someone special to share my heart with, my boyfriend Andrew. All of my wishes have already been answered, with bonuses for having to wait.” He stood still for a couple of seconds, then leaned over and blew out the candles. As he stood back up, he found himself in the middle of a four-way hug with Helen, Kelly, and Travis.
“That was the most beautiful speech I’ve ever heard, Alec.” Helen said softy. “I’m proud to call you one of my sons.”
“Thanks Mom, I meant every word.” Alec replied as he wiggled around and wrapped his arms around her.
Andy came up and joined the hug. “That was awesome, Babe.”
After a couple of minutes of hugs, Travis piped up. “What did you wish for, bro?”
Alec giggled. “I ain’t telling, if I do it won’t come true. All I can say is this is the first time I didn’t wish for something for you or me.”
“Aww man! Well, at least I tried!” Trav responded with a grin.
Alec shook his head. “Mom, that’s the best looking cake I have ever had for a birthday. Please sit down and let us handle passing it out, you’ve worked too hard already.” He turned to Andy and his brothers. “Could you guys give me a hand?”
The three boys nodded, and started moving the plates and silverware from under the cart to the table. Even with Alec cutting the cake, Andy taking up ice cream, and Trav and Kelly passing out the plates; it took five minutes for everyone to have their cake in front of them. Alec sat down with his plate before looking around; to his surprise nobody had touched their cake yet, not even Timmy or Ricky.
“What’s everyone waiting for?” Alec asked.
Cory giggled. “C’mon Birthday Boy, everyone knows that YOU have to take the first bite!”
Alec blushed. “Duh! Well, let’s dig in!”
As soon as the first bite passed Alec’s lips, the feeding frenzy began. Alec was about done when everyone on the other side of the table suddenly stopped eating and began giggling. Alec looked up, “What’s so funny?”
“Look behind you!” Antonio giggled.
Alec turned his head, and found a four-inch square piece of birthday cake floating in mid-air behind him. Before he could respond, the cake slammed itself into his face. Alec turned back around and surveyed the faces around the table.
“Eli, I know I wanted another piece of cake, but I didn’t want it on my face!” Alec giggled. “Just for that, you gotta let me throw you in the pool later!”
“Awww Mannn! How did you know it was me?”
“It was easy; you were the only one trying to look innocent!” Alec replied with a grin; he then proceeded to clean off and eat the mess on his face.
Sebastian put his hand over his mouth, trying to hide his giggles. “Busted, babe! That was a good one!”
Eli beamed at the praise from his boyfriend. “Thanks ‘Bas, the look on his face was worth goin’ swimmin’ for!”
All of the boys collapsed in laughter as Austin commented to John with a grin. “You know, I’m not sure which is worse; my son’s sense of humor or your son encouraging it!”
John grinned back. “As long as they are having fun and no one gets hurt, I don’t care! It’s great seeing them be kids!”
“I agree!” Dan added. “Sometimes I wonder about these boys; they’ve been taking on things most adults couldn’t handle.”
Alec looked up from feeding Andrew. “You guys better be glad Mom baked this special for me; otherwise you’d be wearing it right now!”
Helen stepped in before things got out of hand. “Okay, that’s enough. Austin, Dan, John; I know you were making a point, but I think it would be best to hold that discussion away from the table where you’re safe. Alec, as fun as a food fight sounds, I’d prefer it if you’d try to keep away from that idea. Stick to water balloons, okay son?”
“Okay Mom!” Alec grinned. “Did you pick up any?”
Helen chuckled. “It’s your fifteenth birthday, and your first one with your new family. I’ll put it this way, Wal-Mart had to place an order for balloons; for some reason they ran out.”
A chorus of “AWESOME” echoed around the table. Helen held up her hand. “HOLD ON! No balloons until AFTER the presents!”
Helen smiled. “Don’t worry guys, there’s plenty to keep you occupied for a while. Right now, it’s time for my son to see how much he means to all of us.”
Alec turned his attention to the large pile of wrapped packages in the corner of the room. “How did y’all manage to get all of that? I never saw anyone go shopping!”
Teri chuckled at his awe. “You have some very persuasive brothers. They’ve had us adults running in circles while they kept you occupied.”
Alec looked around the table. “Thanks guys. I love all of you.”
“OPEN them ALREADY bro!” Travis said impatiently. “I wanna see what ya’ got!”
“Tell you what, lil’ bro. Why don’t you and Gabe bring them over to me? Seeing you this happy has already made this the best birthday ever.”
Trav and Gabe scrambled to the pile. After looking through the boxes, Travis pulled out one and brought it over. “This one’s from me. I figured you deserved somethin’ special.”
“Come here, bro.” Alec said as he wrapped his arms around Travis. “I already have somethin’ special; a lil’ bro who I was willing to give everything up for that’s now the happy lil’ guy I always thought he should be.”
Alec released Travis and carefully opened the package while Travis watched nervously. Once the wrap was off, he opened the box and looked inside. Inside was a six-inch white ceramic dove mounted on a pedestal with a plaque mounted to the front. Alec held it up, and with tears in his eyes read the plaque.
You believed in me when nobody else would,
and protected me no matter how much you were hurt.
You loved me when all I saw was hate.
You are my shining star in a sea of darkness, my hero in times of trouble.
When I was at my lowest, you gave up everything to make me safe.
For that, Brother, you are forever my idol.
The Dove is a symbol of peace, and that is what you gave me.
I give you this Dove as a symbol of my love for you.
I will love you forever, bro.
Alec carefully placed the gift in the center of the table, then pulled Travis into a tight hug. With tears flowing down his face, Alec whispered to Travis. “Lil’ bro, of all the gifts I have ever got or ever will get, I am going to treasure this one the most. I love you too bro, and today you just proved that everything I went through for you was worth it.”
“Do you really like it?” Travis asked, still unsure.
“Yes, lil’ bro, I really love it. It’s just like you, it’s one of the most special things in the universe.”
Trav finally smiled. “Thanks bro. I really do love you, and I meant every word on that.”
“I know you did, that’s why it’s so special.” Alec replied as he kissed Trav on the forehead.
It took a couple of minutes for the two boys to recover, then Travis went back and helped Gabe with passing out the rest of the presents. When all that was left were the three large boxes and one small one, Travis took a seat. Gabe picked up the remaining small present and brought it over to Andy. “I think you should give him this one.”
Andy took the box and turned to Alec. “Babe, Trav ain’t the only one who knows you are special. I hope you like this.”
Alec unwrapped the package, and pulled out a blue velvet box. Inside was a gold herringbone necklace with a locket containing a lock of bright red hair in it. Alec turned and pulled Andy into a kiss, then said “I love it! Now I’ve always got a part of you with me! Can you please put it on me?”
Andrew smiled shyly and took the necklace. “You know what?” he asked as he placed it around Alec’s neck. “I had so much trouble figuring out what to get you that I had to call Mom and Dad! Mom said the most special thing Dad ever got her was one of these, so I asked Dad where to get one.”
“Are they okay with us being a couple?” Alec asked in a suddenly worried tone.
Andy kissed Alec’s nose. “Settle down, cutie. Mom and Dad ain’t like that; in fact Mom wanted to know what took me so long! She said that she knew a couple of years ago that I’d end up with a boyfriend; she said somethin’ about my fascination with Aaron. They both can’t wait to meet you.”
A smile crept across Alec’s face. “Really! That’d be awesome! You got some kewl parents!”
Teri giggled as she interjected “Believe it or not, Alec, you’re right. Cecil and I go way back, he’s a great man. I think you and him are going to get along fine.”
“Wow, thanks Teri!” Alec grinned.
Cory walked over and joined them. “Congrats bro, it looks like you got some in-laws! You still got a big present left, in those boxes. That one’s from all of the rest of us, here and in Orlando.”
Alec stood up, took Andy’s hand, and walked over to the remaining boxes. “Which one should I open first?”
Andy grinned. “Don’t ask me, nobody would tell me what they got you. I guess we can start with the smallest one.”
Alec opened the offered box carefully. Once he saw the contents, all care was gone as he ripped into the rest of the boxes. Shortly he was sitting in the middle of a professional drum set with a huge grin plastered across his face. “WOW! I’ve always wanted some drums, but these are AWESOME! Thanks guys!”
Sean walked over and stood at the edge of the mess. “There’s one more thing, bro! I have a message from Aaron; he said to tell you that once we are settled in Orlando he’ll give you lessons on how to play right. Until then, PLEASE warn us so we can get out of hearing range before you practice!”
“BITE ME Sean!” Alec giggled. He turned around and said “Hey, Kyle; I know you are passing this party to Orlando, pass on my thanks to those guys too. Tell Aaron I said thanks a million and I’m looking forward to learning from him.”
Kyle giggled. “I just did, Justy says to tell ya’ he’s already ordered five cases of earplugs. He’s just kiddin’ though, all of them are glad you like it.”
“That’s okay. I expected someone to say it.” Alec said with a grin. “Would y’all mind giving me a hand getting’ this all put away and getting’ the trash out?”
Kelly put his arm over Alec’s shoulder. “Bro, you are gonna just sit here; the rest of us are taking care of it for you. It’s your birthday dude, you ain’t gonna do ANY kinda work today.”
Alec started to argue, but Helen stopped him. “Alec, Kelly is right. In my family you are not allowed to work on your birthday. Since you’re MY son, that rule applies to you too.”
Alec sat back. “Okay Mom, I guess I don’t have a choice. Can I at least find someplace special to put my present from Trav?”
Cory walked over during the conversation and interrupted Helen’s response. “Bro, you better believe you can. Why don’t you get it and we’ll go upstairs. I got a plaque from Sean that’s just as special to me as that is to you; if you’d like we can put them together.”
Alec smiled as he stood up. “Thanks Cor! Let’s go.”
Teri watched with amusement as the group of soaked boys started in from the back yard. “Well Helen, those six hundred balloons didn’t last long!” she chuckled”
“Five hundred and ninety-nine.” Helen responded. Teri looked to where Helen was pointing and began giggling. Timmy was using Ricky as cover and trying to sneak up on Cory. Once they were about five foot away, Ricky slipped to the side and Timmy nailed Cory between the shoulders with the final balloon.
Cory spun around in surprise and saw Timmy trying to hide his giggles. “Busted, Gizmo! Come over here and give me a hug, that was a good one!”
Timmy pounced on Cory, still giggling. “I told ya’ I was gonna getcha, Daddy!” he announced as he wrapped his arms around Cory’s neck.
Cory gave Timmy a quick kiss on the cheek, then shifted him so that he was sitting on his hip. “You sure did, munchkin. I’m proud of you, that was really sneaky!”
Timmy snuggled into Cory as they entered the house and went upstairs to get changed. They entered the room just as Sean announced “Put on good clothes, Mom says we’re going out for dinner tonight.”
A few minutes later, the boys filed downstairs. As they walked outside, their jaws all dropped. Sitting in the driveway were a pair of Midnight Blue Hummer limos, dealer stickers still in the windows.
“Who bought the Hummers?” Sean asked.
Matt raised the hand he wasn’t using to hold Antonio on his hip. “I did, or actually you could say the Federation did. That one we had in Orlando worked so well for you guys that I went to bat for you and convinced my boss that they were needed.”
John laughed. “Like it took you a lot of convincing! All you had to do was remind me that I get to use them too!”
Teri shook her head. “You know, I think you two are almost as bad as the boys; always looking for new toys to play with! Let’s load up before you decide to buy something else.”
Everyone was smiling as they climbed into the vehicles and headed out to finish the Clan’s first birthday celebration.