building-a-family-78.html

Choke

DISCLAIMER:

 

M/M, m/m, M/m

 

This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author”s imagination or are used fictitiously and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

This story contains descriptions of explicit sexual acts of boys and men discovering their sexuality. It contains graphic scenes of sex between consenting underage boys, consenting adult males and boys with adult males (eventually). If this type of content offends you or you are under the age of 18, do not read it.

 

If it is illegal to read such material where you live or if you find the topic distasteful, then please stop reading now. You have been warned.

 

This story is the property of the author. It can be downloaded for personal reading pleasure or sending to a friend, but if you wish to re-post them at your own site, please contact the author for permission.

 

Copyright 2018 WSC, all rights reserved.

 

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Author”s Note:

 

I started writing this story, never intending it to grow into what it has become. It seems to have taken on a life of its own. I hope you enjoy.

 

Also, if you are enjoying this story, my first story can be found fty//gay/adult-youth/moments

 

Chapter 78 � Goodbye Charlie  

“I can see where that would be pretty scary,” I agreed as Tom finally joined us in the kitchen.

 

“Oh, that ain”t all of it. It looked like he was tryin” to tell me somethin”, but I couldn”t hear him, so I moved a little closer. His mouth was movin” a mile a minute, but I still couldn”t hear nothin” and he seemed to be gettin frustrated with me for not understandin” him. That”s when he grabbed my wrist, pulled me off the trail and dragged me deep into the trees. I was fightin” like hell to get away, but he was too strong. I finally twisted and jerked enough he couldn”t hold on to me anymore and I ran like hell to get outta there. I finally found the trail again and kept runnin”, but when I came to the end and got away from the trees, the house wasn”t here. No drive either. It was like it had never been built. There was just this tiny clearing, kinda like something had been there a long time ago.”

 

“Wow, that was a really strange dream. I”m sorry it frightened you, T.J.,” I commented while pulling him into a comforting hug. I finally let him go and continued, “But now that you say that, that little clearing you saw is the main reason I built the house where I did. When I first started exploring the property, it was almost solid trees. I just kept moving deeper and deeper into them until I”d stumbled into this spot that didn”t have any trees and was confused how it could be like that.

 

“But the more I wandered the clearing, the more I felt it would be the perfect place to build this house. The clear area was only about half an acre in size, and it took a crew about a month to create the drive and then enlarge that small clearing to the three acres that”s around the house now. But once that was done and a rock base for the drive had been dumped, construction finally began on the house itself. As they were digging the hole for the crawlspace, they found the remains of an old stone foundation for what we finally decided had been a one or two room log cabin that had been here a long, long time ago. In fact, part of that foundation is still under the house, almost directly below the spot where you”re sitting right now.”

 

“Oh, geez,” T.J. muttered. “You”re tellin” me we live right on top of where Sammy used to. Ain”t no big surprise why he”s picked now to show up, then. With me, Alex, and Joey around, he”s got a captive audience, doesn”t he?”

 

“You know Samuel”s not real and he can”t hurt you, right?” I asked.

 

“I don”t know, Dad, he felt awful real in my dream,” T.J. answered.

 

“It was just a dream, T.J. Nothing in a dream can hurt you because it”s not physically real. It”s just your subconscious running free.”

 

“I sure hope you”re right about that,” he muttered.

 

I finally turned my focus to the twins and asked, “What about you two, did either of you have a strange dream last night?”

 

“Nope,” they answered together before returning to their breakfast.

 

I turned my attention back to T.J. and said, “You said you were walking a trail in your dream. Was it one of the trails you”ve been on since you moved in? And do you know where on that walk Samuel appeared?”

 

“Yeah, it was the trail we walked that first Saturday we was here,” he answered. “And Sammy showed up just about where we spotted the deer that day.”

 

“If we walked it again, do you think you”d recognize the spot.”

 

“Like I said, Dad, I don”t think I”ll never forget it.”

 

“Well, maybe Sunday, you and I can take a stroll and see if we can find anything.”

 

“Don”t think that”s a very good idea, but if you want to try it, I guess I can go with you.”

 

“We”ll go with ya, too” Alex said.

 

“Yeah, maybe if the three of us are together, somethin”ll happen,” Joey added.

 

“Well, I sure ain”t goin” with y”all,” Logan muttered morosely.

 

“Why not,” Tom asked.

 

” `Cause I”m dealin” with enough dead people in my life already. Don”t need to be addin” any spooks.”

 

“That”s fine, Logan. You can stay in the house with Mike and Andy. What about you, Ron, you want to join us?”

 

“Uh, gee, thanks for offering, but I think I”ll stay right here with the others. Sounds safer to me.”

 

“Whatever you want. Okay, guys, it”s time for you to get ready to roll or you”re going to miss the bus.” After dropping their plates and glasses in the dishwasher, the herd headed to their rooms to get dressed and Ron was right behind them so he could run them out to the shelter.

 

With Tom and I being alone, he turned to me asked, “Were you serious about that foundation being under us?”

 

“Sure, I am. Why would I lie about that? Don”t tell me you”re scared of Samuel, too.”

 

“Not scared, no, but I”m not real comfortable with the idea, either. I was freaked out plenty with Joey, Alex and T.J. when all I thought they could do was read our minds. This shit with a kid”s ghost is about to push me beyond my limits of reality.”

 

“Hang in there, big guy. We”ll get through it just fine. Let”s survive the visitation tonight and the funeral tomorrow, then we can deal with Samuel.”

 

“Ain”t no we on this one, babe. You bought this land and built the house on top of that old foundation, so you can just leave me outta it. Figuring out the resident spook is all yours.”

 

“I”ll do my best, but I make no promises. Bet you”re glad I don”t have a Ouija board,” I chuckled.

 

“Damn right I am. Those things are nothin” but evil. `Sides, we don”t really need one here, do we? Not with T.J. and the twins bein” able to conjure up spirits whenever they feel like it.”

 

“Well, now that you mention that, it sure shines a new light on our trip to the cemetery tomorrow, don”t ya think?” I asked with a chuckle.

 

“Oh, don”t go there, bubba. Not if you want me there, too.”

 

“I”m sure it”ll be just fine. And T.J. didn”t conjure up Samuel, it sounds more like Samuel found T.J. because he has something he wants to say.”

 

“You ain”t makin” it any better, ya know. You should probably just shut up about this whole nightmare.”

 

“Not talkin” about it won”t make it go away. You know that, right?”

 

“Yeah, but at least I won”t be thinkin” `bout it, either.” Ron had returned from his trip out to the bus shelter, resumed his cleanup in the kitchen, and he caught the tail end of our conversation, so I asked, “What about you, Ron? What do you think of all this?”

 

“I”m with Tom, leave me the hell out of it. While I”ve always thought there could be spirits around us, most of `em are still here only `cause they”re pissed off `bout somethin”. And I don”t like dealin” with upset people, let alone spirits.”

 

“Fine, I see how y”all are. Guess I”ll have to deal with it by myself. Unless I can talk Dylan into helpin” solve the mystery.”

 

“Good luck with that, babe,” Tom snorted. DING! “Bet that”s him right now. Ask him, why don”t ya?”

 

“I will,” I retorted, confident that I could count on Dylan to back me up.

 

We waited quietly in the kitchen for him to join us and as soon as he stepped inside, he called out, “Where”s the coffee?”

 

“In here with us,” Tom responded. Dylan soon joined the three of us and after pouring a cup for himself, settled on one of the barstools at the counter.

 

“So, what”s up with you guys today?” he asked.

 

“Nothin” much,” Tom answered. “But Max has a question for you,” he added with a smirk.

 

“Hit me, Max.”

 

“Okay. T.J.”s gotten himself into an interesting situation and I could use a little help in dealing with it. Tom and Ron are being wimps and saying they don”t want to get involved. I was hoping you”d be willing to give me a hand.”

 

“Always happy to help one of the kiddos. What”s he gotten himself into?”

 

“Well, he”s met a fourteen-year-old that seems to need some help, but T.J.”s not exactly sure what he wants or needs. He”s tried to talk to the kid, but he”s not getting any answers from him.” I could see Tom and Ron stifling their laughter as I tried to explain the situation without mentioning where the `kid” came from.

 

“Does the kid go to school out here and he went to T.J. because of the support group?”

 

“Um, no. T.J. ran into him while he was walking one of the trails through the woods.”

 

“What!? Is the kid living out there? Why haven”t the security guards seen him and said something?”

 

“Well, they probably can”t see him. I”m not even sure T.J.”s seen him except in his dream last night.”

 

“What the hell are you talkin” about?” Dylan asked in confusion. The other two were about to fall over from their conniptions of laughter they could no longer keep to themselves.

 

“The kid”s name is Samuel and he died in 1892. He”s one of the residents in the family cemetery on the property. And he”s made contact, I guess you”d call it, with T.J.”

 

“Whoa, back the truck up,” Dylan retorted. “You”re tellin” me you”re being haunted? By somebody who”s been dead over 130 years? Boy, are you barkin” up the wrong tree.”

 

“Aw, c”mon, you just said you”d be happy to help. Why you backin” down, now?”

 

“Max, my brother from another mother, let me tell you somethin” you obviously don”t know `bout black folk. We don”t do spooks.”

 

“You”re kidding. Why”s that?” I asked.

 

“You know how in almost every horror movie, the cute white couple buys the notoriously haunted house thinking everything will be just fine. Even when they go to see the place for the first time and they”re warned by a disembodied voice to `get out”, they still buy the damn place. Then, they really fuck up and move into the place with big plans to renovate and shit. And everything is just hunky-dory, until it suddenly isn”t, and they die a miserable and gruesome death.”

 

“Well, yeah, we”ve all seen that movie. So what?”

 

“Let me tell ya why they never cast black people in those flicks. It”s `cause we got brains and we know how to use them,” he laughed. “If that were a black couple touring the house and they been walking through it making comments like `I love this place, Gerald”, and he comes back with, `Yeah, baby, me too. I can see us livin” here the rest of our lives”. Then comes the voice that tells them to get out, right? Guess what happens. The dude grabs his old lady”s hand and while he”s dragging her to the door, he”s sayin”, `Too bad we can”t stay”. Ya see, that”s the end of the movie, all ten damn minutes of it. And it”s all `cause we know spooks are real and we ain”t gonna fuck with them. And since we don”t fuck with them, they don”t fuck with us.”

 

“So, T.J. and I are on our own?”

 

“Sure, looks that way,” Dylan admitted with a laugh while Ron and Tom joined him.

 

“Fine, I see how y”all are. Don”t you guys have some work you should be doing?” As the trio of smart asses broke up to get busy, I was left alone to ponder the situation. Since I didn”t have T.J. or the twins” mental capabilities, I was pretty much stuck in an unfamiliar position as I couldn”t find any way to solve the mystery without those three with me. And I sure as heck wasn”t gonna go looking for Samuel by myself. I was just about to head for the study to get back to work on my book when the drive sensor let us know someone was coming in. When the phone rang ten seconds later, I knew it was Dirk checking on the new arrival.

 

“Morning, Dirk, who do you have?”

 

“Morning to you, too, Mr. Sanders. Got two guys named Justin and Willy out here. Say they”re here to finish getting rid of a tree for you. They okay to let in?”

 

“You bet, Dirk. Thanks for checking.” I hung up the phone and headed to my study to get to work. I”d been grinding away at it for maybe an hour when Clarence called. “Good morning, Clarence. What news do you have for us today?”

 

“It”s a good news, bad news kind of day, Max. Which do you want first?”

 

“Let”s start with the good, I guess.”

 

“Okay, I”ve finally completed my review of the contracts from LeVar and don”t see any problems with any of them. From what you told me, everything matches up as far as terms and financials go, so you”re good to go there. There”s also an `out” clause for each side so if either end wants to terminate the agreements for whatever reason, there aren”t any penalties for exercising those options. That seems to be the standard from what I”ve learned this week. The boys” contracts look good, too, but since they”re minors, their signatures will need to be witnessed by two others, preferably not you and Tom.”

 

“Sounds great, Clarence. We”ll sign the originals I have and get them returned to LeVar. What”s the bad news?”

 

“It has to do with Logan. Judge Corgan and I have had several conversations this week and neither one of us can come up with a valid reason to challenge the stipulation of Troy becoming Logan”s guardian. Not without evidence of some malfeasance on his part.”

 

“Well, Tom and Dylan are headed down to Dexter Sunday afternoon to see what they can dig up on the man. We”re hoping they can find something that will allow Logan to stay with us.”

 

“That”s a good plan, but it”s going to be too little, too late.”

 

“What”re you talkin” about?” I protested.

 

“I don”t know how he did it, but Troy has already petitioned the court to have the change of guardianship clause of Mr. Campbell”s will enforced immediately. And from our understanding, he intends to take Logan home with them Sunday afternoon.”

 

“How the hell did he do that!?”

 

“Don”t have the answer to that question, Max. All I can tell you is the paperwork hit the judge”s desk Wednesday afternoon. I guess what I”m saying is you need to prepare Logan for the move. We know it”s not what any of you want to happen, but there”s just no way out of it right now. Maybe Tom can get some dirt on Troy while he”s down there and give the courts good cause to revoke the guardianship.”

 

“As much as it sucks, we pretty well knew that was going to be the case. Thanks for trying, though.”

 

“Wish I had better news on that front for you, but it is what it is.”

 

“I know. Talk to you later, Clarence.” I ended the call, laid my head down on the desk and started to cry. We didn”t want Logan to move, most especially with Troy, but it looked like our hands were tied for the moment. I let myself go a few minutes before I pulled my shit back together and headed across the house to share the news with the others. Their reaction was much the same as mine.

 

“Do you want us to go down today and get started on checking Troy out?” Tom asked.

 

“It wouldn”t make any difference this weekend, Tom. Besides, you need to be here for the funeral. Logan would never forgive you if you missed it.”

 

“I suppose you”re right, I can”t be in two places at the same time, can I?”

 

“I could go down this afternoon and get started,” Dylan offered.

 

“You could, but I think Logan will want you here, too. Malcom and Damon, also.”

 

“We planned on it, but I”m willing to change plans if you want me to.”

 

“No, let”s stick with plan `A”. So, when do we tell Logan he”s moving Sunday?”

 

“I”d wait until after the funeral, babe. Whenever we do it, it”s not gonna be easy to deal with, but I think waiting until after will be less for Logan to stress over for a little bit.”

 

“That”s kinda what I was thinking, too. Glad we”re in sync on that. Okay, I”m going back to the book. See you two in a bit for lunch.” I left the morose pair to get back to their work and as I passed by the living room, I found Ron sitting by himself and softly crying. I sat next to him and asked, “You okay?”

 

“Not really,” he replied while turning to face me. “Look, I know I”ve only been here for five days now, but I really like Logan. He”s a great kid and I can”t believe that asshole would just move him away from his friends. That shit”s just wrong.”

 

“I sure won”t argue that with you, buddy, but it”s not the end of it. We”re going to fight to keep Logan here with us. He may be moving Sunday, but he”ll be back, I promise. Come hell or high water, I won”t rest until it happens.”

 

“That”s good to hear, Max. Let me know if I can help.”

 

“I will. You fixin” lunch for all of us, again?”

 

“As long as you don”t mind sandwiches and chips. Don”t think I could do anything today that requires serious thought.”

 

“That works for me. See you in a bit.” After a couple more hours of depressing myself even further than I already was, I couldn”t take any more of the self-abuse. I saved my work and shut down the computer before heading towards the kitchen for lunch. My scattered thoughts as I walked down the hallway were interrupted by the doorbell and I turned towards the front door. To reinforce how off-kilter my brain was at the moment, I had neglected to find adequate cover before opening the front door. The surprise that registered on Justin”s face on my nude greeting finally clued me in on error of my ways.

 

“Hey, Justin, sorry `bout that,” I said as I slipped a hand down to provide at least minimal coverage. “My brain”s not firing on all thrusters right now. C”mon in.”

 

“That”s all right,” he muttered in surprise. “I can just mail you a bill if you”d prefer, Mr. Sanders.”

 

“Nah, no need to waste a stamp. How much do we owe you?” After receiving the total from him, I added, “I”ll be right back,” before returning to the study to get the cash I needed. Not bothering to pull on a pair of shorts for thirty seconds, I returned to hand the cash over while saying, “Thanks for comin” back out today. Hope you and Willy have a good weekend.”

 

“Thanks, Mr. Sanders. See you later.” Justin promptly turned around to escape the awkward situation as quickly as he could. At this point, I was beyond caring. Hell, I was even contemplating going bare-assed to the visitation tonight and to hell with what the rest of the world might think. I knew I could easily convince six boys to join in my minor rebellion, but I finally came to my senses and shelved those plans for another day. I returned to the kitchen and joined the others for our simple lunch.

 

 

I climbed in the truck where Willy waited for me and as I pulled away from the front of the house said, “You ain”t gonna believe what just happened, Willy.”

 

“What?” Willy asked.

 

“Max answered the door nekkid as a jaybird and he acted like it wasn”t no big deal.”

 

“Yeah, so what? If I lived out here, I”d be doin” the same thing, ya know?”

 

“Well, yeah, but you”re one whacked-out mofo, Willy. I expect crazy shit like that from you, but not from a rich dude like Max.”

 

“Rich like him or poor like me, doesn”t make any difference. Besides, I don”t see why you”re so freaked out. Clothes suck, man. You been to my house before. When the hell have I ever covered up when you been there? Never, and it don”t bother me a bit.”

 

“Well, yeah, but you live alone, man. I saw three other dudes in there and none of `em had a stitch on.”

 

“Big freakin” deal, Justin. Sounds to me like they hate wearin” clothes, just like me. I”da thought you”d be used to it by now.”

 

“Well, with you, I am, I guess. Just never realized there might be others out there like you.”

 

“Look, Justin, it”s like I”ve told you before. I”m just more comfortable without clothes. `Sides, what”s the problem. You act like you ain”t never seen another naked dude before and we both know that”s bullshit.”

 

“Hey, what I do with my boyfriend, we do in private. We don”t go puttin” it all out there for the rest of the world to see.”

 

“Tell me, dude, did any of them guys have hardons? Were they givin” each other blow jobs in the living room or somethin”?”

 

“Well, no.”

 

“Then they were just bein” themselves in their home. And if they know other dudes who enjoy it, who the hell are we to say anything `bout it?”

 

“Nobody, I guess. It just caught me off guard.”

 

“Well, loosen up and give it a try sometime, man. You and Ed would probably enjoy it.”

 

“You really think Ed could keep his hands to himself if we was both nekkid all the time?” I snickered.

 

“Him, hell, I”d be more worried `bout you controllin” yourself,” Willy laughed as we headed back to town.

 

 

After helping Ron clean up our lunch mess, we went our separate ways, Ron diving back into washing the sheets and remaking beds, Tom and Dylan returning to their office to go back to work and me settling my sorry ass in the theater to watch some mindless drivel, hoping to take my mind off other issues and problems for a few hours. With my mind free to wander for a bit, I suddenly remembered we were supposed to have a meeting tonight with Ryan about the new house. I made the call and while apologizing profusely for the late notice, we rescheduled the meeting for Monday night. I did pass on the change the boys wanted to make to their area with the hope that Ryan could incorporate that modification before the meeting.

 

That problem fixed, I settled back in my chair and pondered my third visit to Jason yesterday. We really hadn”t broken into any new territory during the session, mostly due to my inability to really focus on my own issues since I was so concerned about Logan and what he was facing in the near future. I did remember to take the newer parts of the book with me so Jason could read them before my next visit. I was frustrated as hell with our lack of progress, but Jason accepted the fact I wasn”t in the right frame of mind and, thankfully, he didn”t push me too hard.

 

The one really interesting tidbit Jason had to share with me was that he had arranged to talk to the Muellers before they”d been moved to their new permanent and extremely secure homes. Unfortunately, they didn”t tell him much except to say the main reason they”d selected me for their torture was that I was `cuter than hell” and they both `wanted me”, their words, not Jason”s. They also said another kid had said he thought I was gay, but they couldn”t remember who it was, adding that that kid had been `attended to” by another couple from the church. We didn”t need a translator to tell us what they”d meant by that, lending some credence to what David had told me and igniting the fires of curiosity in Tom and Dylan who had spent yesterday afternoon and today digging into the mystery.

 

Despite my mind swirling with random thoughts at a seeming thousand miles an hour, the afternoon seemed to drag on forever until I couldn”t take it anymore. I turned off the TV and headed back across the house to talk to the two investigators. Both were sitting behind Tom”s desk and engaged in a hushed conversation, a conversation that ended abruptly when I stepped through the door and they saw me.

 

“Don”t stop on my account,” I said. “What have you found out about the other kid? Was it George who told the Muellers to go after me?”

 

The two shared a quick glance before Tom turned to me and said, “We don”t know, babe. And we probably never will.”

 

“Well, what do you know?”

 

“Derek dug up the file on the investigation into George”s suicide and gave it to me,” Dylan began. “And after reading it, I remembered the case. Seems appropriate since I wrote most of the damn thing to begin with. You remember me saying during the workshop there was only one case I”d never really resolved?” After a quick nod from me, he continued. “This was it. And it still baffles the hell out of me.”

 

“How so,” I asked with sincere curiosity.

 

“The first was George”s method. He did something I”d never seen before. When his parents found his body a week later, a large garbage bag was taped around his neck. Our best guess was he”d taped the bag in place, then laid down and went to sleep, expiring when the oxygen in the bag finally ran out. There was an almost empty bottle of bourbon on the nightstand next to his bed and that would have pretty well knocked him out and incapable of waking up. No note was found at the scene giving any explanation as to why he”d done it, so we were at a complete loss.

 

“In talking with his family afterwards, none of them described George as anything but happy go lucky, your typical optimist always hoping and looking for the best in people and any situation. There were no outward hints that George was dealing with depression or other issues that would have caused him to take his own life. During the autopsy, the M.E. at the time found no signs of foul play and everything pointed to suicide. After a month of burdur escort investigating, we finally closed the case as nothing more than a suicide for unknown reasons.”

 

“Did you find any hint that he”d talked to a therapist? Or any signs he”d been assaulted in any way?”

 

“No to both counts, Max. If he was talking to anybody, we don”t know who. As for his being assaulted, I can only assume you”re asking about sexually?” I again nodded my assent before Dylan carried on, “No signs of anything. Of course, since George was most likely gay, if he was in any kind of relationship and sexually active, any signs of previous trauma could have been masked.”

 

“Did you find any kind of diary or journal he might have kept?”

 

“There was nothing like that noted in the case file,” Tom answered. “If he had any, his parents might have taken them before Dylan had a chance to look for `em. But what makes you think he might have written about anything?”

 

“Don”t all us gay guys keep a diary? Hell, I basically wrote one for years, and it ended up becoming four New York Times bestsellers.”

 

“I sure as hell don”t,” Tom replied.

 

“Me either,” Dylan added.

 

“Never,” Ron chirped lightly as he passed the office doorway on his way down the hallway.

 

“You”re tellin” me I”m the only queer here who”s written about his life?” I asked in surprise.

 

“Looks that way, babe,” Tom chortled lightly.

 

“Fine,” I grumbled. “So what”s next? Where do you go from here?”

 

“About the only thing we haven”t done is talk to George”s family to see if they could maybe fill in a few blanks for us. I was hoping we could avoid that, but I don”t see how we can now.”

 

“Well, fuck it all!” I vented. “Just drop it, guys. I”m not gonna have ya bother his family. Besides, I think what Jason learned from the Muellers pretty much answers my question. Though I never thought I was `cute”, I guess that”s all it took to twig them.”

 

“Max,” Dylan started, “please don”t take this the wrong way, but I”ve seen the pictures and despite what was happening at the time, you were a very cute kid. Still are, as a matter of fact,” he added with a grin.

 

“I”m with Dylan, babe,” Tom agreed with a chuckle.

 

“Gee, thanks ever so much for that rousing endorsement of my cuteness, you two. Well, the boys will be here soon, we should get ready to go the funeral home. The visitation doesn”t officially start until five, but I think we should be there about half an hour early.”

 

“That”s fine with us, babe, we were pretty much done for the day, anyway,” Tom answered.

 

“Yeah,” Dylan agreed. “Malcom and Damon should be getting here shortly, but not until after you guys head over. They couldn”t leave Bloomington until Damon got home from school at three-thirty. Once they”re here, we”ll be over.”

 

“Sounds good, Dylan,” I replied. “C”mon big guy, time to get decent.”

 

“Right behind you, babe.”

 

As we crossed the house to get dressed, we found Ron in the living room reading my first book. I stopped briefly and asked, “So, you found something to read, did you?”

 

“Yeah. Hope you don”t mind me helpin” myself, but I was startin” to get bored after finishin” up with the beds this afternoon.

 

“Not a problem, feel free to help yourself. You comin” with us tonight?”

 

“Yeah, I hate funeral homes, but I”ll be there to support Logan and help him get through it,” he answered.

 

“Would you mind takin” your own car?”

 

“Not a problem, Max. Any particular reason why?” Ron asked.

 

“First, the Flex will be full already. Second, if some of the boys want to come home a little early, I thought maybe you wouldn”t mind bringing them home.”

 

“That makes sense, I guess, but do you really think any of them will leave Logan?”

 

“Probably not, but I”d like to be prepared in case they spring a surprise on us.”

 

“Never hurts to be prepared, I suppose. I”ll be ready to go when you guys are.”

 

“Thanks, Ron, I appreciate it. We should be ready to roll by twenty after four.”

 

With that, Tom and I continued on to our bedroom to get dressed. We were just about ready to go when the herd rumbled through the bedroom door and mugged us. All looked happy to be home and ready for the weekend except for Logan who settled into my chair, where he pulled his legs up into the seat and hugged them tightly. We finished our greetings with the other five, then shooed them on to their rooms with instructions to change clothes and get ready to go.

 

Tom and I knelt in front of Logan and Tom asked, “You okay, buddy?”

 

“More or less, Pops,” he grunted in reply. “Just not wantin” to go tonight, but I know I hafta. Seems kinda stupid, really, since ain”t no one gonna show up but us.”

 

“I don”t know, Logan, I think the people around here may surprise you,” I offered.

 

“I find that hard to believe. The way my old man treated people since momma got sick, weren”t nobody wanted to hang around much. Hell, he was such a jerk, even I didn”t wanna be around him anymore than I had to.”

 

“We know that, but we still think you should be there tonight,” Tom said.

 

“Oh, I will be, don”t worry. Just another one of those freakin” steps I gotta take, ain”t it?”

 

“I think so,” I agreed. “Do you know what you”re goin to wear?”

 

“Yeah. It ain”t great, but it”s the best I got in the house. All my really good stuff is out in the storage building since I didn”t think I”d really need it.”

 

“We can run out there and dig it out if you want.”

 

“Nah, don”t do that. `Specially with what Daddy”s wearin”. If I wore any of that stuff, I”d be way overdressed,” Logan replied with a giggle.

 

“Well, you better scoot on outta here and get changed,” Tom said.

 

“All right. I”ll be ready in a few.” On that sad note, Logan shuffled slowly out of the room. Tom and I looked at each and shook our heads.

 

Once Logan was out of earshot, Tom asked, “What did he mean about what Charlie”s wearin”?”

 

“Oh, I guess I forgot to tell you, didn”t I?” I replied with a chuckle. “After all the damage that was done at the farm last weekend, the only thing left in Charlie”s closet was a garish Hawaiian shirt and a pair of khaki shorts, so that”s what Logan took to the funeral home Monday afternoon.”

 

“Oh, my god!” Tom laughed. “That sounds like something Logan would do.” I continued telling Tom about the trip the two had planned for a few months from now. When I”d finished, Tom added, “We should do that, babe.”

 

“What?”

 

“Take the boys to Key West this summer. I bet they”d love the ocean.”

 

“That does sound like it would be fun, doesn”t it? I”ll do some checking on that next week, see if I can find a place that would accommodate us.”

 

“Well, whatever you find, it better be a place that doesn”t mind nude kids runnin” `round day and night. I don”t see this group being very happy anywhere else.”

 

“Ain”t that the truth?” I chuckled. “I”ll do my best to keep everyone happy.”

 

“I would hope so,” Tom replied. “Well, we should get movin” in that direction,” Tom offered.

 

“I suppose. What”re we gonna do if Troy and family show up?”

 

“Don”t you mean when?” Tom asked.

 

“Well, yeah, I guess so.”

 

“Let”s see what they do. With any luck, they”ll behave like decent people,” Tom commented.

 

“Unlikely, I think, but we”ll find out soon enough,” I responded. We headed towards the living room and found all the boys but Logan waiting patiently for us. I quietly thanked them for looking so nice, then Tom explained the type of behavior we expected from them the next few hours. With agreement from all of them, we were ready to go once Logan was ready to roll. Ron was the next to show up and he was followed shortly by Logan. Dylan finally joined the group and he looked rather spiffy in his suit.

 

“Okay, guys, time to go. Ron”s driving his car, so if any of you want to ride over with him, you”re welcome to do so.”

 

“Why don”t he just ride with us,” Logan asked.

 

“Well, our car”s already full with the eight of us. I also thought if some of you wanted to come home a little earlier than the others, Ron could bring you.”

 

“No way, Dad,” Joey protested. “We ain”t leavin” `til Logan can.”

 

Ron and I shared a quick grin at his intuition before I replied, “That”s exactly what Ron said, Joey. But the option will still be there if any of you change your minds.”

 

“What”re we gonna do about supper?” Alex asked.

 

“I don”t know how long we”ll be at the funeral home, so I figure we”ll just go eat at Capone”s when we”re done with the visitation. Can everybody wait that long, or do you want to take some snacks with you?”

 

“Snacks definitely, Dad,” T.J. answered. “We”d die if we didn”t.”

 

Logan shot him a dirty look and grumbled, “Better to die by starvin” than gettin” chewed up by a tractor, ya little puke.”

 

T.J. hung his head in shame at his comment before recovering his empathy and saying, “Oh god, I”m so sorry, Logan. I wasn”t thinkin”.”

 

“Damn right you wasn”t. I oughta kick your skinny little ass for that.” Nobody was surprised when T.J. got off the love seat, walked over to Logan and bent over, presenting the perfect target for Logan”s foot. “Get your ass outta my face,” Logan laughed, “I wasn”t serious ya bonehead.”

 

“I am,” T.J. retorted. “I deserve it for what I said.” Logan must have agreed with T.J. as he quickly stood up and firmly planted his boot on T.J.”s upraised rear end.

 

“OW!” T.J. squealed. “That hurt dammit,” he added as he stood up straight and rubbed his tender backside.

 

“Good, it was s”posed to, jerk. `Sides, you told me I could. I think we”re even now.”

 

Instead of lashing out in anger, T.J. grabbed Logan and pulled him into a smothering hug. “I”m really, really sorry, bro. I love you, dude, and didn”t mean to hurt you.”

 

“I know, and I love you, too, T.J. That”s why I didn”t kick you as hard as you deserved,” Logan snickered as he wrapped his arms around T.J. “Make another crack like that again, though, you best watch yourself `cause I won”t hold back,” he added with a smirk.

 

I turned to Ron and asked, “Would you grab some munchies and follow along?”

 

“You got it, Max.”

 

Tom and I corralled the six boys, herded them to the garage and into the car so we could get moving. We weren”t going to be quite as early as I”d planned, but we”d still be there before the visitation was supposed to begin at five. When we pulled into the parking lot of the funeral home, we were surprised at the number of vehicles already filling the street and the crowd of people waiting at the front door. One vehicle we spied that we”d hoped we wouldn”t see was a dirty beige truck with Missouri license plates parked right by the front door, letting us know Troy and family were already here.

 

“Well, hell,” Logan grumped. “Guess they know how to read after all.”

 

“Looks that way, buddy,” I agreed as I parked the car by the back door. “We can go back home right now if you want.”

 

“Nah, no sense tryin” to hide from `im, Dad. Let”s go get this over with,” he added as he opened the door and climbed out of the car. Logan waited for the rest of us to join him before turning and heading for the rear door of the funeral home. Just as he was about to open the door, Ron pulled in and parked next to the Flex. He jumped out of his car and grabbed a bag from the passenger seat containing the snacks he”d brought for the boys. By the time Ron had joined the us, I was the only one still waiting to go inside and I held the door for him, then slipped in behind him. As the door closed behind me, the first thing I noticed was the weepy music being piped into the room from very well-hidden speakers. I was about to mention it to Logan, but discovered he was already addressing the situation.

 

“Hey, Mr. McGee, you got somebody else you dealin” with tonight?”

 

“No, Logan, just your father. Why do you ask?”

 

” `Cause this music”s got to go. I told you I didn”t want to hear junk like this. My Daddy listened to WYMG all the time and that”s the kinda music he”d want. Can you change it, please?”

 

“Whatever you want. Anything else?”

 

“Yeah, what the hell”s up with all them people out front?”

 

“They”re here for your father”s visitation.”

 

“You can”t be serious. Nobody liked the guy my old man turned into after Momma died. I can”t believe they”d all show up for him now.”

 

“Logan, a lot people loved your mom and dad. Even if they didn”t much like your dad lately, they still loved him, and they care a lot about you, too. They”re here for you more than anyone else.”

 

“Whatever,” Logan muttered. “You got Daddy ready and in place?”

 

“I did the best I could, young man. There was a lot of damage done by the equipment, and as much as it pains me to say it, I couldn”t do much to improve your dad”s appearance. In light of that failure, the casket”s closed.”

 

“Well, you”re just gonna have to open that sucker up `cause I need to see him one more time.”

 

“I don”t think that”s a very good idea,” Mr. McGee protested.

 

“Maybe not, but it”s gonna happen. `Sides, I already seen him once and you can close it again before anyone else comes in.”

 

Mr. McGee looked to me while silently pleading with his eyes to talk Logan out of his plan. I answered just as silently with a negative shake of my head. Seeing no way out of the situation, he turned back to Logan and softly said, “If you insist. Just remember what I said.”

 

“Thank you, sir. This won”t take long. Maybe you could fix this stupid music while I say goodbye.” Mr. McGee turned towards the main room of the funeral home and Logan fell in step behind him. We started to follow the two, but Logan stopped, turned to face us and said, “You guys don”t have to go with me. I”ll be okay, I swear.”

 

“That”s fine, Logan,” Tom replied, “but we”ll be right here if you need us.”

 

“Thanks, Pops.”

 

During the short exchange between us, Mr. McGee had opened the upper half of the casket”s lid and moved a chair next to the bier for Logan to stand on. He then disappeared into the office area to change the music. Logan shuffled slowly to the chair and then climbed up on it so he could look down on his father. While the boys with us were too short to see inside the casket, Tom, Ron and I could plainly see from twenty feet away that Charlie was is no condition for anyone to gaze upon his shattered and broken body, Hawaiian shirt or not. Ron turned away from the spectacle and tried to get the boys to move further away, but they were having no part of that.

 

We stood and watched as Logan pulled a slip of paper from his pocket and then slipped it into his dad”s hand. He then leaned over, whispered something into Charlie”s ear and kissed his forehead. When he stood back up, he looked surprised about something, let go a little giggle and quickly wiped his lips and nose on his sleeve. He jumped off the chair and hustled to rejoin the group.

 

When he reached us, he asked in a panic, “Did I get it all?”

 

“All what?” Tom asked.

 

“Mr. McGee really plastered the makeup on Daddy”s face and there”s a print of my lips on his forehead now. I just know I gots makeup on my face `cause I think stuck my nose in it, too.”

 

“I don”t see anything, buddy,” Tom replied. “You must have gotten it all.”

 

“Phew, good. It”s one thing for a dead guy to be wearin” that junk, but I sure don”t want none of it on me.”

 

With the music changed to Charlie”s favorite radio station, Mr. McGee returned and asked, “May I close the casket now, Logan?”

 

“Yessir, you sure can. And you were right, ain”t nobody wants to see that.” While Mr. McGee took care of his task, Logan turned to me and asked, “So, what am I s”posed to do or say to all them people?”

 

“Just thank them for coming, I guess.”

 

“And what we gonna do `bout Unc and the shitheads?”

 

“That all depends on them, Logan, but let”s try to keep calm, okay?”

 

“I”ll do my best.”

 

“I don”t doubt you one bit. We”ll be right there with you.”

 

Mr. McGee had finally returned and asked, “You ready to get started?”

 

“Ready as I”ll ever be, I guess,” Logan answered. “Not like I gots a choice, do I? Where”m I s”posed to be?”

 

“That”s entirely up to you, young man, but most family will stand or sit by the casket to greet people.”

 

“No way, man. I ain”t spendin” the whole time standin” in one place, `specially there. I gotta move `round.”

 

“Whatever you want to do is fine with us Logan,” I commented. “We”ll try to stay close by, though, just in case you need something.”

 

Mr. McGee had finally opened the front door and allowed the people patiently waiting to pay their respects into the funeral home. True to his word, Logan picked a spot about as far away from the casket as he could and still be inside the building. The rest of us just mingled through the crowd, the boys talking to their friends from school. Despite our mingling, there was always at least one or two of us within a few steps of Logan. Troy and family laid claim to a couch that held all four of them and, thankfully, they managed to sit quietly and stay out of trouble.

 

On one of my rounds, Troy stood to block my path through the crowd and politely asked, “Excuse me, could we talk for a few minutes, please?”

 

“And just what makes you think we have anything to say to each other?” I responded with indifference.

 

“It”s about Logan, and since he”s been living with you, I thought you”d want to hear what I have to say.”

 

“Well, you”d be wrong,” I retorted before adding, “Excuse me.” I stepped around the obnoxious man and continued my rounds. As I turned a corner and headed towards the front door, Troy fell in step behind me and when we reached the door, he grabbed my arm and pulled me outside.

 

“Listen, I”m tryin” to be nice right now, so don”t be such a fuckin” asshole,” Troy hissed as the door closed behind us. “You should know that Logan”s leaving with us Sunday and he ain”t comin” back.”

 

“Take your hands off me!” I yelled. “This is not the time or place to discuss this.”

 

“I just wanted to let you know what was gonna happen `fore we showed up,” Troy replied as he released his grasp on my bicep. He leaned in closer and added, “And there ain”t a damn thing you can do stop it,” as a sick and evil smirk formed on his ugly mug.

 

“Logan”s not going anywhere with you, Troy. We aren”t gonna let that happen,” I bluffed.

 

“My brother wanted me to take charge o” the brat if he croaked and teach him the difference `tween what”s right and what”s not. And I got the court order this afternoon naming me as the little shit”s new daddy, so you be fucked. You may as well give it up right now. `Sides, if ol” Charlie knew his boy was gonna be stayin” with a bunch o” rump-humpin”, kiddie-rapin” faggots like y”all, he”d fuckin” roll over in his grave.”

 

“Say what you want, but Logan”s not going with you Sunday, or any other day.”

 

“Listen up, you pansy-assed bitch. He”s mine and so is the farm and all his money. You ain”t gettin” none of it. I already talked to the cops and if I have to bring some with me Sunday to get what”s mine, I will.”

 

“Bring whoever you want, it”s your time to waste.” With that, I turned around and headed back inside. I located Tom as quickly as I could and told him about what had just happened. As we turned towards the couch, we saw Troy”s wife and sons get up and leave the funeral home. The two of us headed for the front door and before we could reach them, the truck was leaving the parking lot and turning towards Springfield. “Damn it, that man is impossible,” I vented.

 

“I know, babe, but there”s nothin” we can do right now. Have some patience and we”ll get it all worked out, I promise.”

 

“I don”t know if I can wait that long, Tom. I want to kill that prick for thinkin” Logan”s nothin” more than a piece of property.”

 

“I”m sure he thinks his wife and sons are, too. I can”t imagine what their lives are like.”

 

“Miserable, I”m sure, but they sure don”t look like they”re willing to step up and stop him. They probably want the money just as much as Troy does.”

 

“Look, at least they didn”t try to talk to Logan tonight. That could have been really ugly.”

 

“No shit. Well, we better get back inside or Logan”s gonna wonder where we disappeared to.” As we turned to rejoin the crowd, we heard the quick honk of a car horn pass by. Turning back to the street, we saw Dylan, Malcom and Damon searching for a place to park. We decided to wait for them to join us before heading back inside. As they came up the sidewalk, I greeted them with, “Hi, guys, glad you could make it.”

 

“Sorry we”re so late, Max,” Malcom apologized. “Damon was a little later than normal getting home from school.”

 

“You”re here, that”s what”s important,” Tom offered.

 

“How”s Logan doin”,” Damon asked.

 

“He”s hangin” tough, even though we know his heart has been ripped apart,” I answered.

 

“Yeah, I bet,” Damon agreed. “I”d feel the same way if it was my dad.”

 

We finally headed inside where the three newcomers joined the line to see Logan just inside the door and Tom and I continued our mingling with the visitors who”d already been through the line. In the main parlor near the casket, we found Joe with his wife and sons and we joined them to chat for a bit.

 

 

When Dad, Dylan and I finally reached Logan, I pulled him into a hug and said, “I”m really sorry `bout your dad, dude.”

 

“Thanks, Damon,” Logan answered. “How ya doin” Uncle Dylan, Uncle Malcom?”

 

“We”re okay, buddy,” Malcom answered.

 

“How about you,” Dylan asked.

 

“I ain”t worth a shit right now, but I”ll get through it.”

 

“Well, we”re ready to help with whatever you need,” Dylan replied.

 

“Yeah, I know, and `ppreciate it. You just get some dirt on Uncle Scumbag so I can stay where I am.”

 

“I”ll do my best,” Dylan said.

 

“You better.”

 

The three of us started to move on to let the line continue when Logan grabbed my arm and said, “Stay with me and T.J. for a while. Please.”

 

“Sure thing, dude.” I turned to Dad and Poppy and said, “I”ll find you guys in a bit,” then stood by Logan for the next half hour while he mumbled thanks to all the people who continued to come in.

 

 

As we drew closer, I shook hands with Joe and said, “Evening, Joe, thanks for coming by.”

 

“Hi, Max, Tom, good to see you. I”d like you to meet my wife, Daisy and our youngest son, Cail. I think you already know Ryan pretty well.”

 

“Yep,” Tom answered. “How ya doin” Ryan?”

 

“Pretty good Mr. Wright.”

 

“How”s everything going with the farm?” I asked.

 

“No problems, really,” Joe replied. “Especially since the security company has already replaced the tractor and feed grinder that were destroyed last weekend. At least I can grind feed there now instead of havin” to haul stuff back and forth to our farm.”

 

“We hadn”t heard that”d been done. I”m glad to hear they”re taking care of things the way they said they would. How”s Buster doin”, Ryan?” I asked.

 

“He”s doing great, Mr. Sanders. Every time I take feed out to Bessie, ol” Buster”s waitin” at the door for me and he follows me ever”where I go. Silly critter acts more like a dog than a bull,” Ryan laughed. “He even likes Cail and follows him `round, too. An” Buster really likes when we brush him.”

 

“So, you”re helping your brother, are you?” Tom asked.

 

“Nope,” Cail retorted, “I”se helpin” Logan.” He then turned to Daisy and asked, “Can I go talk to Mike and Andy for a while, Mom?”

 

“Sure, go ahead. We”ll find you when it”s time to leave.”

 

“Thanks.” He then turned back to us and added, “Nice to meet y”all. See ya later.”

 

“Same here, Cail. And thanks for helpin” out,” Tom replied. “It must be nice gettin” some help, Ryan.”

 

“It”s okay most o” the time, but I wish he wouldn”t be such a pest `bout it.”

 

“Now, Ryan,” Joe started, “You should be happy to have his help.”

 

“Oh, I am, but he never lets me brush Bessie or Buster, and I like doin” it, too.”

 

“You two should swap every day,” Daisy offered as a compromise. “You brush Bessie, Cail brushes Buster one day, and the next day you swap around.”

 

“Yeah, that”d work. Why didn”t I think o” that?” Ryan pondered.

 

“Because you”re both still learnin” how to share responsibilities,” Daisy answered. “Do you want me to talk to your brother about it for you?”

 

“Nah, Ma, I can handle it. Thanks for the idea, though. Oh, hey, Joey an” Alex have finally left T.J. with Logan and sat down. I”m gonna go talk to them, okay?”

 

“Sure, go ahead,” Joe answered. He then turned his attention back to us and asked, “So, any idea on what Logan”s gonna do with the farm?”

 

“Not a clue at this moment,” I answered. “We have a little fight ahead of us before that can be settled.”

 

“What kind of fight?” Joe asked. We spent the next couple of minutes filling them in on Troy and what was going to happen on Sunday. We also let them know we were going to try to keep Logan”s move from being a permanent change of address. “Well, that sure sounds like somethin” Troy would pull. I always wondered if Charlie was tellin” the truth when he”d spin those yarns `bout his `no-good, worthless brother”. I guess he was.”

 

“Seems that way,” Tom replied. “It”s not gonna be fun, that”s for sure.”

 

As I turned to check on Logan, I saw my mom and dad had arrived and were talking to him. We excused ourselves from Joe and Daisy and headed across the room to talk to them. When we reached the couple, we pulled them into a quiet corner to chat.

 

“Hidey-ho, folks. Thanks for comin” out.”

 

“No problem, son,” Mom replied. “Bill and Estelle should be here in just a minute. They let us out before they went to find bursa escort a place to park.”

 

“Really?” Tom asked with surprise. “I didn”t know they were comin” up tonight.”

 

“Well, we kinda talked `em into it,” Dad said. “We knew they”d be here tomorrow, so we invited them up early. They”ll stay with us tonight and head back home after the funeral tomorrow.”

 

“Then we”ll wait to tell you some news until they”re here. That way, we only have to say it once,” Tom said.

 

“What news?” Mom asked.

 

“Just wait, Mom, okay? Since you”re all here, do you want to join us for supper later?”

 

“Sure, we didn”t eat yet,” Dad answered.

 

“Lee and Carl should be showing up soon, too,” Mom added.

 

We continued to chat quietly until Bill and Estelle joined us and Dad bluntly asked, “Okay, son, what”s going on?” Tom and I gave in and told them about Troy and his plans to take Logan home with them on Sunday. Despite them knowing Logan was most likely going to have to move for short time, they were all surprised that Troy would act so quickly.

 

“You want Bill and me to take Troy out behind the woodshed and, uh, let”s say, convince him that”s not what”s best for Logan,” Dad offered with an evil smirk.

 

“Tempting as that offer may be, Dad, I think we”ll bypass that option for the time being,” I answered. “We have other plans in the works, already.”

 

“Well, I hope like hell they work.”

 

“We do, too, Jim,” Tom replied. Lee and Carl finally arrived and they joined our small group and our ongoing conversations. After inviting them to join us for supper, I excused myself to replace T.J. and Damon near Logan. During the remaining hour of the visitation, it seemed as if half the town had filtered through the funeral home at a snail”s pace, Logan politely thanking everyone for coming by as they offered up their condolences. Among the visitors to attend the visitation were the boys” teacher Ken, Steve, Gloria and several other school personnel. Mrs. Billings and her three children also put in an appearance, along with Grant from the bank.

 

A couple of late arrivals were Carol and Derek, who brought his wife and three kids. Both spent several minutes talking with Logan before moving on to visit with others. After talking to Tom and I, Carol moved on and made a point to talk to each of the boys. Derek took a few minutes away from his family to talk to us privately.

 

“What”s up, Derek?” Tom asked after we”d stepped outside.

 

“Wanted to let you guys know we caught the creeps that vandalized Logan”s farm.”

 

“That”s good to hear, Derek. Who were they?”

 

“Just a druggie dad and his two stoner sons from Waverly.”

 

“So, it wasn”t Troy?” Tom asked in surprise. “Any idea why they picked Logan”s place?”

 

“Nope, it wasn”t Troy. Turns out he was tellin” the truth `bout that. Like I told you the other day, we”ve had other break-ins recently, and with the help of the Morgan County Sheriff”s department, we finally found the three that were responsible for all of them, including Logan”s. These guys were robbin” places to support their habits. The father told us they picked Logan”s farm because they read about Charlie”s death and figured the place would be an easy hit. They didn”t bank on the security team bein” there the first time they tried, so they came up with a new plan to deal with the guards when they tried again Monday morning.”

 

“Then it wasn”t Troy Saturday night, either?” I asked in surprise.

 

“Doesn”t look that way, Max. I just thought you guys would like to know.”

 

“And what”s gonna happen to them” Tom asked.

 

“My best guess would be detox, first, to get them cleaned out and up. Then court and prison. The boys are eighteen and nineteen, so they”re adults and will go away with dear ol” dad.”

 

“Thanks for telling us, Derek. I”ve been worried whoever did it would come after our house next.”

 

“Well, you shouldn”t have to worry any more, Max. You”d probably be okay to let your private security go if you wanted to.”

 

“No, I think we”ll have them hang around until Troy”s gone. While I feel safer knowing the losers who vandalized Logan”s place are in jail, I won”t feel that way completely until Troy”s gone back home.”

 

“I don”t blame you,” Derek agreed. “Well, that”s all I had for you guys, so let me find …”

 

“Wait, Derek, before you go, I wanted to ask if you know what happened that made the Muellers plead guilty. When Tom and I talked to them, Frank sure seemed like he thought he was gonna walk.”

 

“Oh yeah, that. I figured Dylan would have told you by now.”

 

“No, he just called the day they accepted the plea bargain to let me know about that taking place.”

 

“Well, I suppose if anyone deserves to know, it”s you, Max. You remember that list of names Alex and Joey came up with?” After a quick nod, Derek continued. “Well, we passed that on to the FBI so they could keep their eyes open for those names as they sifted through the files. Thanks to the extra manpower, they quickly found 219 files matching all sixty-three of those names. They then reduced the count to seventy-seven after comparing pictures of Frank and Iris against the pictures in the files, sixty-three that match the names on the list and fourteen others who didn”t, but were definitely more of the Muellers victims.

 

“Once we had a true count of cases against them, along with that confession you recorded, they really didn”t have any options but to plead guilty. Not if they wanted to live, anyway. We found a couple of their victims had committed suicide and they were going be charged with their deaths along with everything else, so they were definitely looking at the death penalty. Guess they decided they”d rather live as long as possible. Though I”ll be amazed if either one of them survives past the end of next month. Not with what they”ve done.”

 

“You really think someone inside will kill them?” I asked.

 

“No doubt about it, guys.” Derek leaned in closer and lowered his voice before adding, “We”ve already got a couple of pools going in the department on how and when it happens. Whoever is closest to the date wins one and the person who correctly picks the manner of their demise wins the other one. Actually, it”s four pools, two for each of them. And at twenty-five bucks a pop, we”ve collected a fair share of cash.”

 

“I can”t believe you”re allowing that, Derek,” Tom commented in surprise. “Gambling on how and when someone in prison dies seems just a bit, uh, repugnant. Even for scum like the Muellers.”

 

“Allowing it? Hell, I”m runnin” it,” Derek replied with a laugh. “And everyone has agreed that their winnings will go to a group that specializes in services to gay youth.”

 

“Sounds like a win-win to me,” I laughed. “They get planted and gay kids get the help they need. Is it too late to get in on it?” I asked with a grin.

 

“For now. But if they make it to the first of June, we”ll start another round. You could probably get in on that one.”

 

“Let me know.”

 

“You got it, Max. Well, let me find Suzy and the rugrats and we”ll get out of here. It”s getting late and bedtime is comin” up soon for the kids.”

 

“Well, thanks for comin” out, partner,” Tom said as he gave Derek a hug. “I”m sure Logan appreciated it.”

 

As we headed inside again, Derek turned left to search for his family while Tom and I turned right to begin corralling our herd. Alex and Joey were with Logan and as we passed the trio, we let them know it was time to leave. You could see the wave of relief wash over Logan as he was anxious to get out of here and be done with dealing with all these people. We left them to greet the last few stragglers and soon found our parents, and Lee and Carl. We let them know we were about to leave and suggested they go to Capone”s ahead of us to get a spot picked out for the crowd about to descend on the place.

 

As they headed out into the dark night, we continued our search for our other boys and found T.J., Mike and Andy had staked a claim to the couch previously vacated by Troy and family. A silent wave of the hand was all it took to get them on their feet and moving towards the back door of the funeral home. Mr. Mc Gee was hovering near the front door so he could lock it as soon as the last guest had departed. When the last visitor had finally moved on and the front door was locked, Mr. McGee joined us at the back door.

 

“Well, that was quite the crowd,” Mr. McGee commented. “Certainly more than I expected to be here.”

 

“Me, too,” Logan agreed. “I didn”t know half them people.”

 

“I told you a lot of people care about you, Logan,” Mr. McGee replied.

 

“I guess so.”

 

“What time should we be here tomorrow?” Tom asked.

 

“The service is supposed to start at two, so why don”t we say one-thirty. That will give you a chance to settle in. And don”t forget those three or four songs you wanted, Logan.”

 

“Oh, yeah. I”ll have Max help me find `em tonight.”

 

“How should we get them to you?” I asked.

 

“A flash-drive will work fine,” Mr. McGee answered. “Then I can just drop them into my system. I”ll give the drive back to you once I”ve done that.”

 

“Well, I guess we”ll see you tomorrow afternoon, then.” I turned to the surrounding herd and added, “Load `em up, boys, and let”s go have supper.”

 

“”Bout time, Max,” Logan groaned. “I”m starvin” `cause I never could take a break from talkin” to folks.” With that, Logan led the parade to the car and we headed for Capone”s just a few blocks away. Once inside, we easily found the large table our parents had commandeered and we settled in, Tom and I on each side of Logan. We talked quietly after giving our orders to the server, the adults all skirting the issue of Logan leaving Sunday afternoon. When our meals finally showed up, we dug into the food as if we hadn”t eaten for a week.

 

A few minutes later, Logan looked up to me and asked, “So what did Troy have to say when he drug you outside?”

 

“Um, why don”t we talk about this at home?” I stalled.

 

“No, I wanna know what the useless jackass said,” Logan retorted with just enough volume and edge in his voice to garner the attention of everyone at the table.

 

“He thought we should know that you”ll be moving to Dexter with them,” I answered quietly.

 

“I already knew that, Dad. What”s the big deal?”

 

“He plans on taking you with them when they head back home Sunday afternoon.”

 

“Well, that sucks,” Logan moaned while the other boys protested loudly. After they”d quieted back down, Logan added “Course, I ain”t goin” nowhere with him. He ain”t got no say in where I live.”

 

“I”m afraid he does, buddy. I talked to my attorney today and he told me there”s no way around it. Troy”s actually been to court and he already has the orders designating him as your new guardian.”

 

“How the hell”d he pull that trick off?” Logan vented. “I was hopin” Pops and Uncle Dylan could find a way to stop that from happenin”.”

 

“Clarence didn”t know. But they”re still going down Sunday to see what they can dig up on Troy. We”re not gonna stop fighting until your back home with us, Logan.”

 

“You better not or I”ll be haunting you just like Sammy is,” Logan giggled. “So, looks like I need to get my stuff ready to go after the funeral tomorrow, don”t it?”

 

“Unfortunately, yes. I don”t know if they”ll have enough room to get all your things we dropped in the storage building, though.”

 

“Don”t worry `bout it, Dad. I won”t be there long enough to need any o” that stuff.”

 

“We sure hope not.”

 

The table fell quiet again as we each contemplated Logan”s impending move and the impact it would have on all of us, especially the boys. We knew none of them wanted Logan to leave, but they seemed resigned to that happening. When we finally finished stuffing ourselves, I paid our check and we headed out into the dark night. With lots of hugs and kisses, along with assurances we”d see everyone tomorrow, we finally split up into our separate vehicles and headed for home.

 

Once we got home, everyone disappeared into their rooms to get comfortable for a quiet evening. When we regrouped in the living room, the boys said they all wanted to watch some TV before they went to bed, so off they went. All except for Logan who reminded me he needed my help to find the three songs he”d talked about being played during Charlie”s funeral tomorrow. We left Tom and Ron reading by the newly lit fire as Logan grabbed my hand and led the way to my office so we could take care of our search. I settled into my chair and Logan pulled another around the desk to sit beside me.

 

“Okay, what can you tell me about these songs?” I asked.

 

“Two of `em are by a Sarah somebody and the other one is by some other lady.”

 

“Gee, Logan, that doesn”t narrow the field down very much,” I replied with just a tinge of sarcasm. “You got anything else to help me out here?”

 

“Well, the one is about flyin”, I think, and the other two, one”s somethin” `bout an angel and the other”s `bout remembering somebody. It”s been a long time since I heard them and that”s `bout all I can `member. I just know they seemed to relax momma and made her feel a little bit better when she spent too much time thinkin” `bout what was happenin” to her.”

 

I opened the internet browser and searched for `female singer and song about angels”. The first link displayed directed us to a top ten list of songs about angels, so I clicked it to see what was there. As we scrolled down the new page, Logan suddenly said, “Stop! I think that”s it.”

 

“Which one?”

 

“The third one. I seen that picture before.”

 

“Well let”s check it out,” I commented as I clicked the link to listen to a sample.

 

The music had barely begun when Logan said, “That”s the one, Dad. You”re really good at this.”

 

“Pure luck, buddy. You think the song about remembering was by the same woman?”

 

“Yeah, pretty sure it was.”

 

“Well, let”s zip over to Amazon and see what we can find. After opening a new tab and Amazon”s main page, I searched for Sarah McLachlan, the artist noted on the other site. We quickly found the album that matched the cover from the other site and opened that page. As our luck would have it, I could purchase the track, Angel, for a pittance and I added it to the cart. Next, we needed to find the song about remembering by Sarah. I returned to the listing of her albums and selected the next one. Nothing in the track list there looked promising, so we moved on to the next one.

 

We perused five more of Sarah”s albums before striking pay dirt on the sixth, Mirrorball. One of the songs listed on this album was titled I Will Remember You. I clicked the preview button and while it took just a bit longer, Logan eventually confirmed it was the song he was looking for and I added it to the cart, also. Now it was time to find a song by a female artist about flying, so back to the search page. The list of results proved to be pretty much useless as none of them helped us zero in on the mystery tune.

 

I asked Logan if he had any other clues about the song or singer and the only thing he could come up with was he”d probably recognize the album if he saw the cover again. With that bit of information, I started a new search for pictures of album covers by female singers. I knew it was going to be an extreme longshot to find one song this way, but it was about the only thing I could think of. The two of us spent the next five minutes scrolling through oodles of album covers and I was about to give up when Logan suddenly perked up and pointed at the screen.

 

“I think that”s the one, Dad,” he whispered. “Can we check it on Amazon?”

 

“Sure thing,” I answered, hoping we”d finally found what we”d been searching for. I switched back to the Amazon tab and searched for Celine Dion. Once presented with her album listing, I located and clicked on the cover Logan had pointed out, Falling Into You. I wasn”t holding my breath for this album to contain the song we were searching for, but the last title in the track list was Fly. I crossed my finger and toes as I clicked the sample button, hoping we were about to be amply rewarded for our patience and perseverance.

 

The song started to play and I watched as Logan closed his eyes and tears started dripping from the corners of his eyes and down his cheeks. I knew immediately that this was the one he wanted and without delay, I added it to the cart with the other two songs.

 

“Anything else you want to search for?” I asked.

 

“No, just those three,” Logan answered through his sniffles.

 

“Well, you go join the others in the theater and I”ll get these downloaded and ready to take with us tomorrow.”

 

“Thanks for your help, Dad,” Logan whispered as he hugged me. “I love you,” he added before he turned and shuffled sadly from the room.

 

I returned my eyes to the screen, but discovered my focus was way off due to the tears leaking from my own eyes. I took a moment to compose myself before completing the transaction and downloading the songs. Having heard just the short samples before buying the tracks, I took some time to listen to all three before dragging them onto the flash drive. Boy, was that ever a mistake. By the time the third song had played through, I”d laid my head on the desk and was weeping for the pain Logan was struggling with.

 

It had been hard to tell exactly what Logan was feeling throughout the week due to his wildly fluctuating moods. One moment, he”d seem just as giddy as he always had been and the next, it didn”t seem as if he could sink any lower. I suppose those types of emotional swings should be expected after losing a parent, but I couldn”t see how he could be so strong and seemingly put-together the majority of the time. The poignancy of the songs he”d selected really drove home how he was truly feeling. It was times like this I wished I had a magic wand that I could just wave and take away all his pain.

 

After recovering from my moment of weakness, I pulled a flash drive from the desk drawer, wiped off the files that were already there, then copied the three songs to it. After pulling the device from the USB port, I headed across the hall to put the drive next to my wallet so I couldn”t forget to take it with us tomorrow afternoon. I then headed out to join Tom and Ron by the fire.

 

“Did you find the ones he wanted?” Tom asked as I sank into my chair.

 

“Finally. The last one was a deep dig, but we succeeded.”

 

“So, we”re ready for tomorrow, then?” he asked.

 

“As ready as we”ll ever be, I guess.”

 

“Can I ask you somethin” without pissin” you off?” After a quick nod, Tom continued, “I thought we”d agreed to wait until after the funeral to tell Logan about havin” to move Sunday. Why”d you change your mind and tell him about that at supper?”

 

“Because as much as we want to protect him from the bad things in life, I”m not gonna outright lie to him. I might stretch the truth or leave somethin” out, but when he asks a question like that, the truth is the only answer he should hear. I don”t want to take the chance of hurting him more than he already is by bending or twisting the realities of what he”s going through.”

 

“That makes sense, babe, and I agree with you. I was just surprised you did it. And a little upset we didn”t talk about it before you told him, I guess.”

 

“I”m sorry, hon, I didn”t mean to upset you. I just didn”t think us talking about it after Logan asked the question and then pushed the issue would help at all.”

 

“No worries, Max, I”m cool. You made the right decision.”

 

“Thanks, I”m tryin”.” I finally grabbed my book and the three of us settled in for a bit of low-stress relaxation. I managed to read for about thirty minutes before I dozed off in my chair. It was about ten-thirty when my eyes snapped back open and I felt my world shaking.

 

“C”mon, Max, let”s go to bed,” Tom was saying.

 

“Uh, yeah, okay. What about the boys?” I asked.

 

“They”ve been in bed for an hour already.”

 

“You sent them to bed without sayin” good night?”

 

“Oh, they said it, all right. Even gave you hugs, but you refused to wake up,” Tom chuckled. “I”m guessing this past week has worn you out.”

 

“I suppose it has,” I agreed as I held out my hand for Tom to help pull me out of the chair. “I”ll be glad when life can return to normal.”

 

“What if this is our normal?” Tom asked as we crossed the house to our bedroom.

 

“Then let me off this insane ride at the next stop,” I replied sarcastically.

 

“Yeah, right. Like you”d get off if you had the chance.”

 

“You”re right, of course,” I agreed. “I”ve paid the price of admission and I”m stayin” right here `til someone kicks me off the roller coaster.”

 

“Glad to hear it, babe.”

 

We hit the head one more time before crawling in bed and curling up together. After sharing a kiss and an `I love you”, we fell asleep. I”m not sure what Tom”s dreams held for him this night, but mine were more disturbing than I care to think about. Of course, they were all about Logan and the holes that would be ripped in our hearts when he moved to Missouri in two days. The worst parts, however, prominently featured Troy, with Logan on the receiving end of serious abuse thinly disguised as punishment for bad behavior. When I finally woke up in the morning, I was sweating bullets and shivering in fear of what Logan might have to deal with until we could convince the court he belonged here.

 

I looked to my companion and discovered his body thrashing about as if he were locked in mortal combat. I poked him in the ribs and said, “C”mon, lumpy, time to wake up.”

 

“Whu …?” he muttered as his eyes opened. “Oh, man why the hell”d you wake me up?”

 

“Because it”s that time, bubba.”

 

“You should have given me a couple more minutes. I was havin” the greatest dream.”

 

“Looked like you were in the fight of your life the way you were jerkin” around.”

 

“Well, I wasn”t, but Troy sure was. I had my hands locked around his neck and I was chokin” the shit out of the ignorant bastard. His face was turnin” purple and his eyes had rolled so far back all you could see was white between his fluttering eyelids. Another minute and it would have been all over.”

 

“Hold on to that thought, hon. You may yet get your chance.”

 

After our regular morning stop in the bathroom, we finally headed out to see if anyone else was up and moving. It was obviously later than we”d thought as we found Ron and the boys huddled around the dining room table, stuffing their faces with French toast, sausage and bacon.

 

” `Bout time you two got your lazy butts outta bed,” Joey greeted us as we joined them.

 

“Well, you could have gotten us awake before you sat down to eat without us,” Tom retorted.

 

“No way, Dads,” Alex protested. “We didn”t want to have to share the bacon with ya,” he added with a giggle.

 

“Fine, I see how y”all are,” I chuckled. “And here we were thinkin” you guys actually loved us when all along it”s just been a ploy to get our bacon.”

 

“Dang right,” T.J. agreed.

 

“So, what”re we gonna do to waste time until this afternoon?” Mike asked.

 

“I”m gonna keep readin” Ender”s Game,” Logan answered. “I”m about three-fourths through it and want to try and finish it before I hafta to leave tomorrow since I”m sure I can”t take it with me.”

 

“What makes you think that?” I asked.

 

“Well, it ain”t my book, Dad, it yours.”

 

“It”s yours now, buddy. If you want to take it with you, you can.”

 

“Nah, I wouldn”t want to give Troy a heart attack by readin” somethin”. He pro”lly don”t even know what a book is.”

 

The conversation continued with people”s ideas of what to do and finally ended with Mike and Andy playing a game in their room, T.J., Joey and Alex decided to watch a movie, and the rest of us were going to read. With that all settled, we worked together to clean up the kitchen and load the dishwasher despite Ron”s continuing protests about it being his job. With that task completed, everyone went their separate ways to kill some time before we regrouped for lunch.

 

At noon, Ron started working on our simple lunch of hot dogs and chips. Twenty minutes later, it was time to eat and everyone converged in the dining room again. It was a pretty quiet meal for once since nobody wanted to talk about what was next on our agenda. With our meal finished and cleanup completed, it was time to get dressed. I followed Alex, Joey and Logan to their room to ensure they selected an appropriate outfit while Tom did the same with T.J., Mike and Andy.

 

With the six of them taken care of, Tom and I retreated to our room to make ourselves presentable. Since we hadn”t taken a shower last night before falling into bed, we first cleaned up and then got dressed. Properly attired for a funeral and making sure I had the flash drive in my pocket, we joined the boys and Ron in the living room. With everyone ready to go, we headed to the garage to begin the short trek to the funeral home, the three oldest boys opting to ride with Ron.

 

When we arrived, Mr. McGee was waiting for us and he directed on where we should park to follow the hearse to the cemetery. While the rest of the family headed inside, I took a moment to hand the flash drive to Mr. McGee.

 

“These are the three songs Logan wants played during whatever service happens here,” I said.

 

“Thank you, Mr. Sanders. I”ll return this to you in just a few minutes.”

 

“Any idea how this is going to go?” I asked.

 

“Not a clue. I don”t think I”ve ever handled a service without some type of religious reading or reflection. We”ll play one of the songs Logan”s selected to get started, I guess, then I”ll just open up with a few comments and then see if anyone else has something they”d like to share. We”ll play the other two songs in between some of those stories.”

 

“I suppose that makes sense since Logan didn”t really give you much direction on how to proceed.”

çanakkale escort  

“It”s the only thing I can think of,” he lamented. “Unless you have a better idea.”

 

“Sorry, funeral”s aren”t my specialty,” I replied. “The only request I have is if Logan”s uncle says he has something to say, don”t let him. I know he”s Charlie”s brother, and I”m sure he”s hurting right now, too, but I don”t want him ruining the service for Logan.”

 

“I”ll do my best to keep control of things. Does Logan still have something he wants to say during the graveside service?”

 

“He hasn”t said anything about that this week, but I”d plan on it if I were you.”

 

“I”m prepared for it.” Mr. McGee continued to explain what would happen after the service here and the procession to the cemetery.

 

“Our parents and my sister and her husband will be arriving soon and I”d like their cars right behind ours in the line. And if it”s possible, we”d like Troy”s to be at the end of the line.”

 

“We”ll just have the people who will be joining the procession leave the keys in their cars when they get here and my son and his friends can rearrange them as needed during the service.” I gave him descriptions of the vehicles I was concerned with and he assured me all would be handled. With our conversation completed, I finally joined the rest of the family inside and took the seat they”d saved for me in the front row. Not surprisingly, Logan was situated in the middle of the row between Tom and I, and the other boys and Ron surrounded us.

 

Our parents arrived shortly after we did and they took places in the row behind us, where they were soon joined by Lee and Carl. Dylan, Malcom and Damon filled out the second row with Carol, Rick, Eric and Josh claiming space in the third row. By the time the service was supposed to start, the small funeral home was packed and people were standing against the walls around the fringes of the chairs. It seemed as if all of Joey, Alex, and Logan”s classmates were in attendance, along with their parents and siblings, further adding to the crush of bodies. Troy and family had again claimed space on the long sofa against the wall behind us.

 

When it seemed as if nobody else was coming in, Mr. McGee stepped to the podium near the head of Charlie”s casket and quietly got everyone”s attention. With the crowd silenced, he began, “Friends, we are gathered today to say goodbye to our friend and neighbor, Charlie Campbell. This service will most likely be very different from any other you”ve attended, but it will still be a remembrance of a life cut drastically short.

 

“At Logan”s request, we are going to start with a song he selected. This is one of three songs his mother used to listen to. Logan told me that when she would listen to them during her illness, they seemed to bring her comfort and solace and it”s our hope they will do the same for you today.” He tapped a button on a remote and the tune Angel by Sarah McLachlan drifted from the hidden speakers. *

 

`Spend all your time waiting
for that second chance
for a break that would make it okay
there”s always one reason
to feel not good enough
and it”s hard at the end of the day
I need some distraction
oh beautiful release
memory seeps from my veins
let me be empty
and weightless and maybe
I”ll find some peace tonight

in the arms of an angel
fly away from here
from this dark cold hotel room
and the endlessness that you fear
you are pulled from the wreckage
of your silent reverie
you”re in the arms of the angel
may you find some comfort there

 

so tired of the straight line
and everywhere you turn
there”s vultures and thieves at your back
and the storm keeps on twisting
you keep on building the lie
that you make up for all that you lack
it don”t make no difference
escaping one last time
it”s easier to believe in this sweet madness oh
this glorious sadness that brings me to my knees

in the arms of an angel
fly away from here
from this dark cold hotel room
and the endlessness that you fear
you are pulled from the wreckage
of your silent reverie
you”re in the arms of the angel
may you find some comfort there
you”re in the arms of the angel
may you find some comfort here”

 

By the time the song was over, there wasn”t a dry eye in the building.

 

When the song finished, Mr. McGee again took his place at the podium before continuing. “I first met Mr. Campbell when he came in to make arrangements for his wife”s funeral. Rebecca was nearing the end of her battle with leukemia and Charlie was a lost and very angry soul. He didn”t know what he was going to do or how he was going to go on without her in his life. His biggest concern, though, was how his young son, Logan, was going deal with the loss of his mother. As much as her death was going to affect Charlie, he knew it would have an even greater impact on their son.

 

“Having been in similar situations before with other families, I tried to reassure Charlie that while Rebecca”s death would surely hurt both of them tremendously, they were both strong-willed men who could and would survive the devastation and emptiness they would both have to deal with. Unfortunately for Logan, Charlie let his anger at their loss take him over and he released that anger on the one person who did nothing to deserve such horrible treatment.” Logan gawked at Mr. McGee, surprised that he would dare speak of the abuse he”d received from Charlie over the past couple of years.

 

“Despite the hardships and abuse Logan has suffered through, he now has even more hardship to deal with after the loss of his father.” He turned his head and spoke directly to Logan for the first time today. “Logan, I can”t begin to understand the pain you are dealing with right now and anybody who tells you they do is lying to you. But know this, young man, you are ten times stronger than you think and you”re going to get through this tough time. The way you handled yourself when you came in Monday to deal with the arrangements for your father astounded me. I”ve seen adults many times your age not be near as strong as you were when it was their time to deal with such things. It won”t be easy for you to move forward, not by a long shot, but you”re one tough cookie and I know you”ll do it.

 

“What I don”t want you to do is hide your grief or bury it deep inside and let it fester unresolved. If you do that, then the anger will take you over just like it did your dad. And you won”t like the person you”ll become if that happens. Let the people in your life, the ones who love and care for you, guide you and help you through this troubling time. You are not alone in dealing with your loss and your feelings. All you have to do is look around and will see all the people who care about you and you need to let them help.” Logan did take just a moment to survey the crowded space and you could clearly see the surprise in his eyes when he realized just how many people who are attending his dad”s funeral.

 

“I guess that”s all I had to say at the moment. Does anyone else have something they”d like to share?” Joe Bartley stood and made his way to the podium while Mr. McGee took his chair behind it.

 

“Hi, my name”s Joe Bartley and I”ve known Charlie for goin” on twenty years, ever since he and Rebecca first bought the farm and moved in. In all those years, I”ve always known if I or any of our neighbors had a problem and we needed help, we could count on Charlie to help in any way he could. All that changed about two years ago when Rebecca got sick. Charlie had become an angry man and had withdrawn from the world, but all of us understood the change and we didn”t hold it against him.

 

“The one person we all felt sorry for was Logan because we all knew what was happening to him. Should we have called somebody and intervened? We struggled with the answer to that question constantly, but in the end, we all decided that if we were to make that call and Logan was taken from Charlie, it would probably break ol” Charlie”s heart all over again and we weren”t gonna do that. Instead, we worked together to have Logan spend many nights in our homes to help protect him as much we could, figuring he was safe for another night. It didn”t stop Charlie completely, but we hope it made a difference to Logan, knowing that we cared enough to give him a safe place now and then. While it wasn”t the best solution, it did keep the two from becoming separated forever, and we all knew that would be worse for both of them.” Logan nodded his agreement with that statement.

 

Joe then faced Logan and added, “Logan, I want you to know that all of us will continue to help you out with your farm until you”re in a position to deal with it yourself. You don”t have to worry about a thing.”

 

“Thanks, Mr. Bartley, `ppreciate all of it,” Logan responded quietly. Joe left the podium to take his seat and I caught movement from the couch in the corner of my eye.

 

Mr. McGee quickly stood and said, “I think now is a good time to listen to another one of the songs Logan selected.” He tapped the remote and Fly by Celine Dion filled the building as Troy sat back down. **

 

`Fly, fly little wing
Fly beyond imagining
The softest cloud, the whitest dove
Upon the wind of heaven”s love
Past the planets and the stars
Leave this lonely world of ours
Escape the sorrow and the pain
And fly again

Fly, fly precious one
Your endless journey has begun
Take your gentle happiness
Far too beautiful for this
Cross over to the other shore
There is peace forevermore
But hold this memory bittersweet
Until we meet

Fly, fly do not fear
Don”t waste a breath, don”t shed a tear
Your heart is pure, your soul is free
Be on your way, don”t wait for me
Above the universe you”ll climb
On beyond the hands of time
The moon will rise, the sun will set
But I won”t forget

Fly, fly little wing
Fly where only angels sing
Fly away, the time is right
Go now, find the light”

 

When the song ended, Tom surprised us by taking position behind the podium. I turned to look at Troy and could see he was incensed at being passed over yet again.

 

“Hello, everyone. I”m Tom Wright and though most of you don”t know me, I have a few things I”d like to say. Logan has been living with our family for several weeks now. During his time in our home, he has settled in with our sons and truly become a part of our family. The Logan we”ve all come to know and love is one of the sweetest, kindest and smartest kids you could ever meet or know. He has never failed to pitch in to do his part of the minor chores around our house and I have no doubt that his embracing of those responsibilities is a direct result of the guidance he received from his mom and dad.

 

“Despite the problems Logan and Charlie had between them, they both still loved each other very much and were anxiously looking forward to Logan moving back home. Unfortunately, that can”t happen for several years now, but the farm and everything on it is his now and we are going to make sure it”s still there when the time comes for Logan to truly make it his own. Until that time comes, we want to thank everyone who is helping deal with things out there. Please know that we truly appreciate all your help in this turbulent time.”

 

When he was done, he sat back down next to Logan, wrapped his arm around Logan”s shoulders and kissed the top of his head. Troy again made a move towards the podium, but Mr. McGee was on top of his game as he filled the spot and announced, “Logan has one more song he wanted played today and I think now is a good time.” Another tap of the remote and I will Remember You by Sarah began playing. ***

 

`I will remember you
Will you remember me?
Don”t let your life pass you by
Weep not for the memories

Remember the good times that we had?
I let them slip away from us when things got bad
How clearly I first saw you smilin” in the sun
Wanna feel your warmth upon me, I wanna be the one

I will remember you
Will you remember me?
Don”t let your life pass you by
Weep not for the memories

I”m so tired but I can”t sleep
Standin” on the edge of something much too deep
It”s funny how we feel so much but we cannot say a word
We are screaming inside, but we can”t be heard

But I will remember you
Will you remember me?
Don”t let your life pass you by
Weep not for the memories

I”m so afraid to love you, but more afraid to loose
Clinging to a past that doesn”t let me choose
Once there was a darkness, deep and endless night
You gave me everything you had, oh you gave me light

And I will remember you
Will you remember me?
Don”t let your life pass you by
Weep not for the memories

And I will remember you
Will you remember me?
Don”t let your life pass you by
Weep not for the memories
Weep not for the memories”

 

Sarah”s wish for us to `weep not for the memories” was lost on the assemblage as there wasn”t a dry eye in the house when the song ended. Mr. McGee again took to the podium, thwarting yet another attempt by Troy to spew whatever nonsense he could think of.

 

“Well, I think that will end the service here,” he started.

 

“Hey!” Troy shouted, “He was my fuckin” brother. When is it my turn to talk?”

 

Logan climbed on his chair and glared at Troy for a moment before responding, “You need to sit down and shut the heck up, Troy. I”m in charge today and I don”t want to hear a dang thing you gots to say.”

 

“Just wait, you little prick. You”ll be mine soon enough.”

 

“Yeah? What do you know about how big it is? You been peekin” in my window? `Sides, I bet ya mine”s bigger than yours.” After everyone had quit laughing and the humiliated and red-faced Troy had retaken his seat, Mr. McGee continued.

 

“I think now is a good time for us to move the service to the cemetery. If everyone will please return to their cars, we”ll be leaving shortly,” he asked. That simple request had everybody moving. While the majority of the crowd exited through the front door, the family all headed for the side door of the building. Logan received hugs from our parents, and Carl and Lee before they climbed in their cars. Ron had already gotten in his car and T.J., Andy and Mike had joined him, so the rest of us piled into the Flex.

 

We waited no more than two minutes when the funeral home”s side door opened, and Mr. McGee and his son wheeled the casket outside, then rolled it into the hearse. The cart they”d used was then folded up and slipped into the rear of the hearse also. With the rear door closed, the two got in and started the procession to the cemetery. Once the cars from the parking lot had fallen in line, the folks on the street who were joining us followed the rest. At fifteen miles an hour, the eight-mile drive to the cemetery was going to take forever, it seemed. Upon arriving at the church and cemetery, we followed the hearse to the gravesite that had been prepared that morning.

 

People were clambering from their vehicles and Logan led everyone to the tent set up next to the grave. He took a seat in the center of the row and the boys filled the others. The rest of the family stood behind the chairs and then everyone else stood wherever they could to both see and hear whatever happened next. Once everyone was settled in place, Mr. McGee and his son rolled the casket back onto the cart and then across the grounds to the grave. The two then very carefully rolled the casket onto the straps that would allow them to lower Charlie into the ground.

 

“Before we commit Charlie”s body to the earth, Logan has something he wanted to say, so I”ll let him take over for a bit.” Mr. McGee stepped back and Logan took his place at the foot of the casket.

 

“Hi, everyone. First, I want to say thanks to all of you for coming out today to say goodbye to my daddy. I remember a lot of you bein” here when Momma died. Since Daddy was so pissed off the last time we was here, I don”t know if he ever said thanks to anybody back then and if he didn”t, I”m sayin” it now. It really means a lot to me that all of you are here again today.

 

“Second, I wanna say my daddy was a royal pain in my ass.” The whisper of a multitude of gasps emanated from the group. “Daddy turned mean and nasty after momma got sick and it got even worse after she died. He”d whip my butt any time he felt he needed to, which was pretty often. But the weird thing is, I knew he hated doing it, but he just couldn”t get control of his anger, so he took it out on me. And as much as I hated him when he”d beat me, wanted him to die because of it, I still loved him, needed him.

 

“With Momma gone, he was all I had left. And now Daddy”s gone to be with Momma again. I still hate him and love him, all at the same time. And even though I”d wished he”d die every damn time he beat me, I never really meant it. He had just started to get some help and we was gonna work things out, but now it”s too late for that. The last time we saw each other, we talked about how our lives were gonna be better from here on out. Now that he”s gone, too, we”ll never know what coulda been. I”m gonna miss him until the day I join him and Momma, but I ain”t gonna miss gettin” my ass beat for nothin”.

 

“No kid should ever have to deal with what I did for any reason and I”m gonna do what I can to make sure other kids know that. I inherited a buttload of money from Momma and Daddy and I”m gonna use all of it to help other kids escape bein” abused by their parents. I”m not sure how right now, but it”s gonna happen. I”m gonna work with my new dads, Max and Tom, and my new brothers to make it real.”

 

“Them faggots ain”t your new daddies, you useless piece o” shit!” Troy yelled. “I am! And I”m takin” you away from them perverts. They ain”t never gonna see you or a penny of my money!”

 

Logan calmly continued as if Troy hadn”t said a word. “Thanks again to everyone who came today. I hope the next time we see each other, it”ll be for a different reason.” Logan took his seat again and Mr. McGee stepped back in.

 

“Well, I guess that brings the services to a close. Please travel safely on your trips home.” The group started to disband as they turned for their cars.

 

I placed a hand on Logan”s shoulder and asked, “You ready to go, buddy?”

 

“Not just yet, Dad.”

 

“No rush, Logan. Whenever you”re ready.” I turned to step out from under the tent and was immediately confronted by Troy.

 

“I”m comin” out to get Logan at eleven in the mornin”. You better have the little fucker ready to leave.”

 

“Get out of my face!” I yelled. “I don”t want to deal with you today.” At that point, Dylan and Tom stepped in and removed the obnoxious man from the vicinity, his wife and sons meekly following along.

 

The two returned just in time to see the casket bearing Charlie”s mortal remains being lowered into the ground. Next to follow was the top to the vault. We continued to watch as the framework for the lift was dismantled and loaded into the hearse. When the artificial turf was pulled from the mound of dirt it had been covering, Logan finally stood up, looking like he was ready to leave. He surprised us, though, when he stepped around the open grave and grabbed the shovel that had been laying on the ground behind the pile.

 

“Hey, dudes, come here a minute.”

 

Our five and Damon joined him and Joey asked, “What”s up, Logan?”

 

“I”m gonna dump a few shovels in, thought you guys wouldn”t mind droppin” a few, too.”

 

“Yeah, we can do that,” T.J. agreed. We stood and watched the macabre scene for ten minutes before the herd started running out of steam to operate the shovel.

 

Logan finally stepped back and muttered, “Okay, that”s enough of that shit. Let”s make like hockey players and get the puck outta here.” We all laughed at that before turning for our vehicles and heading for home. We were followed by our parents, Lee, Carl, Dylan, Malcom and Damon. Rick, Eric and Josh joined the parade, too, so we were going to have a full house for a while this afternoon.

 

As soon as we got in the house, all the boys disappeared into their rooms and dispensed with their clothes before moving on to the theater to watch a movie. As they crossed the house, Logan was surrounded by the others looking somewhat like the President in the middle of a Secret Service protection detail. The adults settled into the living room for a visit next to the fire Tom had started. We”d been chatting about nothing really important for about an hour when Bill finally broached the subject we”d all been dutifully skirting.

 

“Logan”s uncle seems like a real nasty piece of work,” he commented.

 

“From what Logan”s said and the little we”ve seen, he is that,” I agreed.

 

“I think it”s sickening the way he talks to Logan,” Rose added.

 

“Isn”t there any way he can stay with you,” Jim asked.

 

“Not right now,” Tom answered. “But Dylan and I are heading down to Dexter tomorrow to investigate Troy. We”re hoping to find the proof we need for the court to invalidate his guardianship appointment by Charlie.”

 

“Do you want Jim and I to join you?” Bill queried. “Four people can cover more ground than two.”

 

“Thanks for offering, Bill, but we got it handled,” Dylan replied. “One of us will keep eyes on the home while the other digs through public records and talks to other people about the situation. If there”s something to be found, well find it.”

 

“Well, have you done anything to protect Logan”s inheritance?” Estelle asked.

 

“Yes, we have,” I answered.

 

“Good, since it sounds like all Troy wants is Logan”s money.”

 

“Can we please talk about other things? I”m tired of thinking about all this.”

 

“Sure, son,” Jim answered. “How”s your movie deal with LeVar goin”?” he asked in a quick change of subjects. That was all it took and we spent another forty-five minutes visiting before the boys emerged from the theater, all of them yakking about who knows what.

 

As they drew closer, Joey got right to the all-important topic on their minds when he bluntly asked, “Hey, Dads, what”s for supper?”

 

I quickly scanned the group and received shoulder shrugs for answers. I finally said, “Well, how does pizza sound to everyone?” With agreement from all, I made the call and placed the order at Capone”s, receiving assurances our meal would be ready in forty-five minutes. When Tom and T.J. left to pick up the pizzas some thirty minutes later, the rest of the crew got busy in the kitchen pulling out plates, silverware, and fixing our drinks. When the two travelers returned, the pizzas were lined up on the bar counter and the line to fill our plates began.

 

The nine wild ones settled in around the table in the dining room with Malcom, Carl, and Tom filling out the seats. The rest of us gravitated to wherever we could get comfortable and have somewhere to set our drink. Despite the number of people in the house, it was actually pretty quiet for once. When everyone was done eating and the kitchen cleaned up, Rick started the exodus by corralling Josh and Eric and heading for the door. Lee and Carl were the next to take their leave, followed shortly by our parents. Dylan, Malcom and Damon were the last group to head for home.

 

Without exception, everyone showed their support to Logan with bone-jarring hugs, reminding him he was loved by them all and was expected to rejoin the family as quickly as possible. Logan returned their affections with sadness as he contemplated the move he was going to make tomorrow. He knew none of us wanted him to leave, but he also understood we didn”t have any choice at the moment. That understanding, however, didn”t make him feel any better about his future.

 

Once the head count had returned to the regular eight, Logan said, “Well, I guess I better get my shit packed and ready to go.”

 

“Do you want us to help?” Tom asked.

 

“Nah, I ain”t takin” that much `cause I won”t be stayin” there that long.”

 

“If you change your mind, let us know,” I offered.

 

“I will, Dad, thanks.” He then turned to the twins and asked, “You dudes wanna help me?”

 

“Not really,” Joey muttered.

 

“But we will, anyway,” Alex added sadly.

 

The three turned for their room to begin working on the task while Mike, T.J. and Andy curled up together on the loveseat and pouted about losing their new brother. While Tom and I felt the same way, we weren”t pouting, we were quietly discussing the plans he and Dylan had devised and were refining their ideas on the best way to nail Troy”s hide to the wall. The two us were just wrapping up our discussion when Logan and the twins came back from their room.

 

“Hey, Dads, can we go for a swim `fore I has to go tomorrow. I bet Uncle Shithead ain”t got a pool.”

 

“Sure thing. You guys grab towels and we”ll get ready.” In less than a minute, everyone was ready to go and we headed out to dive in. There wasn”t much fun to be had tonight as nobody was really in a playful mood, but at least we were distracted for a while. Despite the feelings of doom and gloom engulfing us, Mike still put the other boys through their paces with the ongoing lessons. With the munchkins wiped out from their exercise, we finally climbed from the pool and headed back inside to get ready for bed and snacks.

 

With the boys curled up in their beds and our nightly rituals taken care of, it was time for Tom and I to retreat to our own bed for what would be one of the worst nights for our family. I”d just curled up in Tom”s arms when there was a light rapping on the door. We turned our eyes towards the door when it popped open and Logan”s head came into view.

 

“Can I sleep with you guys tonight?” he begged with a slight whimper.

 

As I”d done before, I scooted away from Tom to create a gap between us, then lifted the cover. Logan wasted no time in crossing the room and burrowing under the covers and in-between us. With the three of us holding each other tightly, we finally drifted off into a restless night”s sleep.

 

 

As I”ve done before, I”m going to include links to videos for the three songs I used in this chapter.

 

*Angel by Sarah McLachlan – ube/watch?v=i1GmxMTwUgs

**Fly by Celine Dion � ube/watch?v=c-Pa4H6VpHo

***I Will Remember You by Sarah McLachlan – ube/watch?v=B51hO8McLbs

 

 

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