Home >  Fiction >  Spider >  Chapter 15


© 2011-2017 by MultiMapper
All Rights Reserved

For full disclaimer and Copyright information visit Copyright/Disclaimer Page. Continuation of viewing this document is deemed acceptance of all terms on the preceding link. While these stories are provided for free, I would appreciate it if those who were able would consider contributing to this artist via my Patreon.

Chapter 15

Ron and Junior broke into matching smiles when they heard JD's voice calling out, "I got it!"

When the door finally opened, JD smiled at the pair and eagerly invited them in.

"Hi JD. I hope we're not too late." Ron said warmly.

"No. You're right on time. Everyone else just got here too." JD assured him as he led them inside, then thought to ask, "How are you doing, Junior?"

"I'm fine, but Mr. Cooper wouldn't tell me about what's going on." Junior explained as they followed JD down the hallway.

"We're having a party and we wanted you to be here." JD said cheerfully as they arrived at their destination.

* * * * *

"Pappa, Daddy needs me in the kitchen." JD abruptly announced before dashing out of the living room, leaving the new arrivals standing in the doorway.

"Then I suppose that introductions fall to me." Cliff said simply as he stood, then continued, "I can't remember who's met who already, so for everyone's benefit, Ron and Michael, I'd like for you to meet Todd, Wil, Zeb and, of course, I think everyone knows Jody." Cliff said as he indicated each person in turn.

"Jody Grant!" Jody proudly insisted.

Cliff smiled warmly at his son and responded, "That's right. As of today his name is officially Jody Grant."

"You changed his name?" Junior asked cautiously.

"Yes. Do you remember the new clothes that we bought for the boys? That was so that they would be ready to go to court today." Cliff said with a smile.

"What about JD? Did you get his name changed too?" Zeb asked curiously.

"Yes. But we'll explain that at dinner." Cliff said simply, then quickly added, "Speaking of which, if we're going to have steaks for dinner tonight, I need to go out to the grill and get them started, it should be at just the right temperature. Anyone who wants to help can join me."

"Yeah." Todd grunted as he stood to join Cliff.

Ron nodded, indicating that he would go, too.

"Jody? Do you want to go with us? I may need your help." Cliff asked hopefully.

"You want me to help you?" Jody asked with surprise.

"Of course. If I get busy, I may need you to turn one or two of the steaks for me. Come on." Cliff finished with a tender smile at his son.

Jody considered that for a moment, then got up from in front of his Legos and followed Cliff, Todd, Ron and Junior out of the living room.

* * * * *

"Hi Ron. Hi Junior. How are you doing today?" Ben asked pleasantly as the group walked into the kitchen.

"We're fine. Thanks for inviting us." Ron said for both of them.

"We're glad to have you, but I have to admit that it was the boys' idea." Ben said honestly.

"Do you think the steaks have marinated long enough?" Cliff interrupted as he gathered the shallow pans of meat.

"They should be fine." Ben assured him.

"Do you need any help in here?" Junior asked as he looked around the kitchen, which seemed to have every surface covered with a different recipe being prepared, all at once.

"I'm sure that if you hang around for a minute or two our little master chef will come up with something for you to do." Ben said with a warm glance in JD's direction.

"I'm going to stay in here." Junior told his companions.

"Guys, I'm going to need some help carrying everything." Cliff said as he finally gave up and set the trays of meat back down.

"That's what we're here for." Todd said as he stepped forward to help.

Once Todd had his arms loaded, he also gave Ron a few things to carry and made a point of giving Jody the grill utensils, so that he would know that he was making a contribution to the cooking, just the same as the adults.

Ben, JD and Junior watched as the group finally left, via the back door.

* * * * *

"So, JD, have you thought of anything that I can do to help you?" Junior asked curiously.

"I think Daddy and I have everything timed so that we can handle the cooking part, but could you count how many people we have eating and make sure that there's enough room at the dining room table for everyone?" JD asked thoughtfully as he searched through the vegetable crisper.

"Sure! I'll check on that!" Junior said immediately before dashing away, into the dining room.

"Good thinking, Spider. That didn't occur to me." Ben said honestly.

"Didn't you buy some green onions?" JD asked as he finally looked up from the drawer he had been rummaging through.

"I put them in a glass on the window sill. They usually wilt when I put them in the refrigerator." Ben said absently as he drizzled honey into a sauce that he was making.

"They won't get the chance." JD said with determination as he closed the refrigerator.

* * * * *

As Zeb and Wil sat in front of Jody's half-finished Lego creation, Wil quietly asked, "How have you been, Zeb?"

"Pretty good. I had some problems at work, but everything seems like it's going to be okay now." Zeb answered with a contented smile.

"What about at home? You live alone, don't you?"

"Yeah." Zeb sighed, then continued, "I don't know if I'd call it a home. It's just a place to eat and sleep before I have to go back to work."

"I know how that is. I guess I'm just lucky that I fell in with Todd so that I can have something to look forward to when I'm off work."

"I kind of wish that I had something like that, but I don't even know where to start." Zeb said as he absently snapped another Lego piece into place.

"I think you've already started." Wil said with a smile, then explained, "You're here, having a life, being part of something that's not work related."

"I guess I am."

"What's wrong?"

"I guess it's from the way that I was raised. My whole life I've always been told that growing up was a certain thing and now that I'm getting older, it's nothing like that."

"Are you talking about getting married and starting a family and all that stuff?"

"Yes. And becoming part of the church and participating in the community... I don't know, I guess I feel like I'm a failure because all the things that I've always been told makes a person a success are things that aren't happening for me... and what's worse, I don't want them to happen."

"It sounds like you grew up with lots of expectations being laid on you. I've got the opposite problem. When it became obvious that I had no talent or interest in sports, no one had any expectations of me except to be a failure."

"I guess that maybe both of us need to take a step back and redefine success for ourselves. Other people's definitions don't seem to be working for us."

"I think that may be one of those things that's easier said than done." Wil mumbled as he also added pieces to the Lego structure.

"You're probably right. But we've got Ben and Cliff and they're both successes by anyone's definition. I know that they'd be willing to help us figure things out."

"Yeah." Wil acknowledged, then continued, "It's funny. Just a few weeks ago I didn't know that Ben even existed and now I think of myself as being part of his family. It's a weird jump and I'm not sure how it happened so fast."

"It's something like that for me..." Zeb began to say but was interrupted.

"Guys! Do you think that you could help me move the kitchen table into the dining room?" Junior asked from the living room doorway.

"Sure. No problem." Wil said as he stood.

Zeb immediately followed his lead.

"If you guys don't mind helping me, Ben's got table cloths and stuff so that we can make everything look nice for the dinner." Junior explained as they walked out of the room.

"We don't mind at all." Wil said with a grin at Zeb as they walked.

* * * * *

"Wow! You guys really went all out! Look at this layout!" Cliff said as he led the way into the dining room.

"You have Wil, Zeb and Junior to thank for that. All I did was tell them where things were when they asked." Ben explained.

"Good job, guys." Cliff said appreciatively.

* * * * *

"JD, since the steaks are so large, I thought that you and Jody might want to split one." Cliff carefully suggested while everyone was filling their plates.

"Yeah." JD easily agreed, then turned to Jody and asked, "How do you like your steak cooked?"

The blank stare he received in return reminded JD once again that Jody had yet to experience much of the world.

Before JD could rephrase his question, Jody quickly said, "I like that one!" as he pointed.


"I just like it!"

"Okay." JD said as he followed Jody's pointing finger then transferred Jody's chosen steak to his plate before anyone else could claim it.

"Since this is so big, do you want to share it with me?" JD asked to be sure.


JD quickly cut the steak in half, then transferred the smaller piece to Jody's plate.

"JD made twice baked potatoes, but there are also regular baked potatoes and various toppings, if you prefer that." Ben announced.

"You guys are amazing." Wil said with a grand smile as he made his selections from the middle of the table.

"What kind of dressing is on the salad?" Todd asked curiously as he took a portion for himself.

"I made it to go with the dinner. I don't think it really has a name." JD said simply as he added things to both his and Jody's plates.

"Sounds great!" Todd said with a hungry grin.

"I selected a nice red wine to go with dinner, but we also have sodas and juices on the sideboard for those who would rather." Ben said as he automatically filled Cliff's glass.

Zeb looked uncomfortable at the announcement, but then noticed the variety of other options available to him. Finally, he walked to the sideboard and poured himself a glass of fruit punch.

Before he had finished, Wil was at his side, preparing to pour a glass of fruit punch for himself. When Zeb noticed, Wil quietly explained, "I'm the designated driver."

Once it appeared that everyone had all their dinner selections made, Cliff stood and looked around the table before saying, "Thank you all for being here. Today has been a wonderful day, but what makes it complete is being able to share our happiness with all of you. Please enjoy this meal."

"Can you tell us what's going on now?" Junior asked hopefully.

"Go ahead and start and we'll tell you while we're eating." Cliff assured him.

Junior didn't need to be told twice, and apparently neither did anyone else at the table.

* * * * *

"Bubba?" Jody asked in a small voice, which drew everyone's attention.

"What's up, Jody?" Junior quietly asked the boy at his side.

Rather than answer verbally, Jody poked the steak on his plate with his spoon, then looked at Junior with despair.

"Would you like for me to cut that up for you?" Junior quietly offered, barely restraining a tender smile.

"Yeah. Me and Pappa made it. I bet it's real good."

"I bet you're right."

* * * * *

Once everyone had started eating, Cliff finally said, "For those who don't already know, the short explanation for us having this celebration today is the adoption of JD and Jody into our family."

"Really?!" Junior asked in astonishment.

Ron flashed a warning glare in Cliff's direction, but managed to hold his tongue.

"Yes, Michael. Following a series of highly unlikely events, things worked out so that we had a fleeting opportunity to adopt both of the boys. We decided to take it." Cliff confirmed.

"You mean, like, full adoption? Like, it's done?" Todd asked to confirm.

"I'm sure that we'll have a few things to do to get the boys' legal identities cemented, but the fact that they had their names changed might actually make it easier to explain the need for new documents." Cliff said thoughtfully.

"It seems weird to me that you changed their names. I mean, that's just about the most personal thing that a person has. It just seems wrong to change it." Junior said uneasily.

"I understand what you're saying and how serious it is. But we didn't change their names. That's something that the boys came up with while they were talking with the judge." Cliff explained.

"I want to be a writer, like Daddy, so I picked his last name." JD said simply.

"You did more than that. You also picked a first and middle name." Ben said seriously.

"I picked my first name a long time ago, before I even met you. Back in the hospital I used to think about what it would be like to have a real name."

"I noticed that you chose to use your mom's last name as your middle name. I'm surprised you did that." Ben said honestly.

"She's my mom." JD said simply, as though that explained everything.

"I think it was an excellent choice." Ben assured him.

"Besides, this way, my initials are still JD."

"So, what name did you decide on?" Wil asked curiously.

"Jayden Delaney Stone." JD said proudly.

After a moment to consider, Wil smiled and said, "That is a nice name."

"My name is Jody Grant!" Jody interjected.

"That's a nice name, too." Wil said sincerely.

"JD and the judge helped me pick it out." Jody said earnestly.

"I just told Jody why I took Daddy's name. I didn't talk him into it or nothing." JD quickly explained.

"Whatever you and the judge did, you must have done it right, because Jody ended up with a perfect name." Wil assured him.

"I couldn't have chosen better myself." Cliff said tenderly to his son.

* * * * *

"So, Wil, have you heard anything else about the family gathering on Thursday?" Ben asked curiously.

"Not so far." Wil said frankly, then quickly asked, "You're still going, aren't you?"

"I promised that I'd drive you. But I'm still undecided about the boys going along." Ben said honestly.

"What are we talking about?" Cliff asked curiously.

"Wil's been invited to the annual Stone Family Christmas debacle in Orlando and asked if I'd go along." Ben said simply.

"Sounds hideous." Cliff said frankly.

"Some things are." Ben responded a nod, then continued, "But this could end up being one of those things that I might end up regretting if I automatically reject it based on hurt feelings."

"Or you might regret going." Cliff added simply.

"That's entirely possible. But this is a meeting of Wil's part of the family more than mine. Maybe it won't be so bad."

"Just keep telling yourself that." Cliff said with a grin, then asked, "So what were you saying about the boys?"

"Wil suggested that it might be good for the boys to get to know some of their more distant relatives." Ben said simply.

"Well, I suppose that, from a clinical perspective, it might be a good opportunity to challenge the boys." Cliff said consideringly.

"So you want to go?" Ben asked disbelievingly.

"No. But I think it's an unprecedented opportunity that has the potential of being something rewarding."

"So you're willing to put yourself through it for the boys' sake?"

"Try thinking about it like a colonoscopy. You know it's going to be miserable, but there's a remote chance that it might end up being worth it." Cliff said frankly.

"I think that given the choice..." Ben began to say, but trailed off.

"Did you say that it's this Thursday?" Cliff asked to confirm.

"Yes. That's right."

"I asked Brynna not to schedule any appointments Thursday afternoon, so I should be able to close the office early." Cliff said thoughtfully, then turned to Wil and smiled before saying, "We will be happy to go with you."

"I think happy might be pushing it a bit. But I agree that there's a remote possibility that we won't end up regretting it." Ben reluctantly admitted.

"What time do you think we should leave here to get there in time?" Cliff asked cautiously.

"The invitation said that dinner would be at six, so I figure that we could leave here around four." Wil said thoughtfully.

"If we leave here at four, there's no way we'll arrive in Orlando in time for dinner."

"Yep. That's the plan." Wil said simply.

After a moment to consider, Ben nodded and said, "Good thinking."

"I promise that if things start going badly, we'll pack everyone back in the car and come back to Tallahassee. We'll do our best to make it an exciting adventure for the boys." Cliff assured his mate.

"I have a feeling that it's going to be an adventure no matter which way things go." Ben said frankly.

"After seeing how you did Thanksgiving, I sort of just assumed that you learned how to host a successful holiday from observing your family." Zeb said frankly.

"I suppose that I did in a way. I just tried to remember every detail of everything that they did." Ben said simply, then added with a smile, "Then I did the exact opposite."

* * * * *

"JD." Jody whispered none too subtly.

"What do you need, Squid?" JD asked curiously.

"Can I have more of that?" Jody asked as he pointed at the twice baked potatoes in the center of the table.

"Sure. I made plenty for everyone." JD said as he stretched and was able to grab one.

"Everything's good, but those are really really good!" Jody enthused.

"I'm glad you like them. Eat as much as you want." JD said proudly.

"How can he even eat that much? As skinny as he is, it should be physically impossible." Todd wondered aloud.

"He has some catching up to do. I'm just glad that he's not a picky eater." Cliff said frankly.

Just about everyone around the table had stopped to watch Jody enthusiastically start into his second twice baked potato.

Cliff noticed that Junior seemed to be tearing up and quietly asked, "Are you okay, Michael?"

"What?" Junior asked suddenly, then realized what Cliff was asking and responded, "I was just remembering how Jody was at the home and how worried I was about him. Seeing him now gives me hope."

Cliff smiled at the response, then looked around at all the people surrounding the table before saying, "Why don't all of you come back this weekend and spend Christmas day with us?"

"Sure. As long as you'll be able to forgive me for dragging you to Orlando." Wil said timidly.

"There's no need to worry about that." Cliff assured him.

"But that doesn't mean that we won't tease you about it afterward." Ben quickly interjected.

"It's a deal." Wil said with a quick smile in Ben's direction.

"What do you say, Ron?" Cliff asked with a smile directed at him, then added in a wheedling tone, "Home cooked food."

"As much as I'm sure that I would enjoy that, I'm afraid that I won't be able to attend. I already promised to work at the home on Christmas day." Ron said regretfully.

"We understand. You're going to be taking care of the kids. We wouldn't get in the way of that." Ben promised.

"Trust me, being invited over to celebrate with you and your family on your special day is just as good as Christmas as far as I'm concerned." Ron said sincerely.

"Then, in the spirit of celebration, I'm going to have another one of JD's twice baked potatoes. I swear, these things are addictive." Cliff said as he reached to serve himself another.

* * * * *

Everyone was enjoying their meal along with some light, general conversation when JD suddenly got up from the table and bolted out of the room.

All eyes turned to Cliff and Ben, seeking an explanation.

Just as Cliff was about to tell them that he had no idea what was going on, Ben quietly said, "I think JD was just assaulted by inspiration."

As if to prove Ben's point, JD walked into the dining room with his netbook open, anxiously waiting for it to boot.

"I suppose that it's about time that we started letting the boys know about dining etiquette." Cliff said consideringly.

"While I agree with the sentiment, I wouldn't want to do anything to disrupt JD's concentration while he's in that special, inspired place in his thinking." Ben said seriously.

"You're probably right. We wouldn't want to discourage him from pursuing his higher creativity. We'll only worry about it if his sudden inspirations start causing problems."

As everyone watched, JD began typing as fast as he was able.

* * * * *

When JD's spate of typing finally subsided, Ron quietly asked, "Is everything okay?"

It took a moment for JD to come back to the present, but he finally said, "I've been stuck on this one scene in my story and I just now figured it out. I had to hurry and write it down before I forgot."

"It sometimes happens that way with me. You've got to take the inspiration when and where you get it." Ben explained.

Ron seemed to be somewhat dubious, but didn't voice any concerns that he might have about what he had just witnessed.

* * * * *

When the dinner was complete, Cliff suggested that they move the party downstairs so that all of them could enjoy a few games of pool. JD was reluctant to go until Ben reminded him that he could take his computer with him and continue his writing.

Wil took it upon himself to instruct Zeb on some of the finer points of video game play. Ron and Junior teamed with Cliff and Todd, respectively, and enjoyed many games of pool. Jody stayed nearly glued to Cliff's side, which worked well to handicap his performance and make the play more evenly matched.

Once Ben had finished cleaning up after dinner, he went to the basement and found JD in the 'reading nook' studiously working on his story. It wasn't long before Ben had his own laptop out and they were doing their rendition of dueling laptops, oblivious to all that was going on elsewhere in the basement.

To an outside observer, it might have looked like a rather mundane evening, considering that it was supposed to be a celebration. But those in attendance were all caught up in the feeling of being included as parts of something larger than themselves. Despite their varied pasts, they were all enjoying being included and interacting as members of a family.

* * * * *

At some point a consensus was reached that it was time to call it a night. Wil and Todd offered to drive Zeb home, since it was on the way.

Although the boys were a little wound up after having company, their baths served to calm them down and put them into the right frame of mind to prepare for bed.

Once Ben and Cliff were able to get the boys settled, they dragged themselves to bed and were asleep before five minutes had passed.

* * * * *

"Daddy! Pappa! Something's wrong with Jody! Come quick!" JD screamed from the doorway.

Ben and Cliff both jolted awake in a moment of panic. By the time Cliff reached the bedroom door, JD was already running down the hallway.

Ben was just entering the hallway when he saw JD and Cliff frozen in place, staring disbelievingly with the light from the bedroom illuminating them.

"What's wrong?" Ben asked as he approached.

"We might need to call Ron." Cliff said gravely.

Ben looked into the bedroom and was shocked to hear Jody grunting and growling as he punched and clawed at the bed.

"Do you think he's awake?' Ben asked cautiously.

"I doubt it." Cliff said slowly as he carefully watched Jody's every move.

"Should we try to wake him up?"

"Give him another minute or two. I'd like to try and get some sense of what's going on inside his head."

"Is Jody gonna be alright?" JD asked timidly.

"Yes. We'll make sure of it." Ben assured him as he pulled JD close.

Jody let out a shrill scream, then began punching the mattress with all his might.

Cliff stepped forward and snatched Jody up into his arms. The small frail boy went wild at the sensation of being held; biting, kicking, screaming and clawing.

"Jody, you're safe. No one here's going to hurt you." Cliff tried to soothe.

A low rage-filled growl was Jody's response as he twisted his body spasmodically, trying to free himself.

"Jody, it's Pappa. Listen to me. I love you. I'm not going to hurt you." Cliff urged him to understand.

"Pappa?" Jody asked in a small voice as he stopped fighting.

"That's right, Jody. It's Pappa. Daddy and JD are here, too." Cliff said gently.

Jody's rage began to calm as the foreign concept worked its way into his slowly emerging consciousness.

"What's wrong with Jody?" JD asked in a trembling whisper.

"He just had a bad dream." Ben quietly assured him.

"But he was awake. He was. Hitting and hurting and..." JD trailed off as he buried his face in Ben's side.

"Have you ever heard of sleepwalking?" Ben asked gently as he rubbed JD's back to soothe him.

"I've heard about it, but I don't think I know what it is." JD answered honestly.

"Well, in Jody's case, I think that he was really asleep but something deep inside him felt like it needed to act out."

"Was I being bad?" Jody asked in confusion.

"No, my little angel. You were just having a really vivid dream and you didn't realize for a little bit that what you were seeing wasn't real." Cliff explained as he held his newest son close.

"Should I make Jody some warm milk to help him go back to sleep?" JD asked quietly.

"Ask your Pappa about that." Ben said simply.

"Let's try going back to sleep without it first, then if anyone's having trouble, we can warm some milk for them when it's needed." Cliff responded thoughtfully.

"Daddy, can we sleep with you? I don't want to try to sleep again in here." JD asked hopefully.

"I think that sounds like a very good idea. Let's go." Cliff said as he carried Jody out of the room.

"Is Jody going to be alright? He scared me. It's like he wasn't him anymore." JD asked quietly.

"He'll be fine. All of us together will make sure of it." Ben said as he hoisted JD onto his hip and carried him.

JD snuggled tight, accepting his daddy's words.

* * * * *

Tuesday morning everything seemed to be strangely well. Neither of the boys appeared to be suffering any aftereffects of the the previous night's ordeal. The same couldn't be said for Cliff, who seemed to have to struggle to get awake and aware enough to get ready to face the day.

Fortunately, things seemed to settle into normalcy as the morning progressed. After seeing Cliff off to work and making sure that the boys were fed and able to entertain themselves for a few minutes, Ben made a point of contacting a lawyer to arrange a trust fund to be set up for both boys. He was pleased to learn that the lawyer, Salvador Luck, wouldn't need to see him in person until the papers were ready for him to sign. He was able to arrange everything over the phone and leave Mr. Luck to his work.

The rest of the day progressed without incident. Ben wasn't able to get any of his own work done but his time with the boys was just what all of them needed.

When Cliff got home from work he was exhausted, basically seeing two days worth of patients in one. The quiet night at home with his beloved mate and their children was enough to make his whole day worth it.

Although everyone slept well, JD and Jody did migrate to the closet floor at some point during the night.

The morning shaped up to be much the same as the one before. Ben watched after the boys, providing the attention both of them were craving.

It wasn't until Cliff arrived home that anything out of the ordinary occurred.

Ben was in the kitchen and heard the front door open. He wasn't surprised to see Cliff when he walked into the room, but when Junior followed him in, Ben was astounded.

"You didn't forget about our date night, did you?" Cliff asked with a grin which was proof enough that he already knew the answer.

"I wish you had called to remind me. I'm already making dinner and I can't leave it as it is." Ben said regretfully.

"Next time I'll call in advance to remind you. But I don't mind us having dinner here with the family, then going out together to do something special with just the two of us. To me it's kind of the best of both worlds." Cliff said frankly.

It was only then that Ben noticed that Junior was no longer in the room with them.

When Cliff noticed his reaction, he said, "I think Junior went into the living room to visit with the boys."

"Then I'd better finish making dinner so we can carry on with this evening." Ben said lovingly, then looked Cliff in the eyes as he added, "Thank you for remembering about our date night. That makes it even more special."

"Of the two of us, you're the romantic one, but every now and then I can get it right." Cliff said with a grin.

"You're perfect." Ben said before giving Cliff a brief but heartfelt kiss.

* * * * *

The meal with Junior and the boys was at the same time both energizing and relaxing.

Both Cliff and Ben felt twinges of uncertainty, leaving their new sons in the care of someone else, although neither gave voice to their misgivings.

After getting into the car, Ben cautiously asked, "So, did you already have something in mind for our 'date night'?"

"I had originally thought about us going out to a club, but this morning I realized that SATURDAY is Christmas. We don't have ANY Christmas gifts for the boys."

"I kept putting it off, telling myself that we still had plenty of time, but we're driving Wil to Orlando tomorrow and Friday is Christmas Eve. This is really our only opportunity."

"Although this isn't exactly the same as us having a night off to relax, at least we'll be doing something together." Cliff quietly reasoned.

After a moment to consider, Ben gently responded, "I'm not disappointed. We're going to the store to buy Christmas gifts for our kids. Just take a minute to think about how amazing that is."

"In the abstract, it sounds like the fulfillment of a dream, although I suspect that the reality of shopping the week before Christmas might be something less than joyous." Cliff finished with a grin.

"It's probably one of those experiences that we'll look back on fondly."

"That bad, huh?"

"Yeah. Most likely."

* * * * *

When they arrived at the store, it was busier and more crowded than either had imagined.

They were lucky enough to find shopping carts in the parking lot, on the way to the store. Once inside, they were packed elbow to elbow with other adults vying for position as they worked their way toward the toy department. There was no shortage of kids, either.

Although he hadn't considered it consciously, on some level Cliff had assumed that Ben already had a plan.

"What are we buying?" Cliff asked loudly to be heard over the people surrounding them.

"Grab anything by Lego. I'll grab Tonka. We can meet up in 'Home & Office' and compare notes after that." Ben called back to him.

"I'll see you there." Cliff agreed before moving his cart into an opening in that direction.

Ben had more of a struggle, but he eventually got his cart turned in the direction that he wanted to go.

* * * * *

"How did you fare?" Ben asked as Cliff approached.

"As nasty as some of these people are, it's a wonder they get the opportunity to procreate." Cliff said frankly.

Ben chuckled, then asked, "How did your search for toys go?"

"I was able to get two of the delux Lego sets. Maybe combined with what he's already got, he'll be able to make something spectacular with them." Cliff said honestly, then thought to ask, "How did your search go?"

"JD's a little harder to please. I picked up three different trucks that I think he might like to have. I can't really justify buying him more because I doubt that he'd play with them."

"We should probably look at getting them a few more presents. Neither boy has much in the way of personal possessions."

"Actually, that's why I wanted to meet up with you in the home and office section. It might be nice if we get JD a few 'tools of the trade' to encourage his writing career."

"But won't that leave Jody feeling left out? He still hasn't begun to learn to read."

"Remember those pictures that the boys made for us? I think that we should encourage Jody's artistic expression as much as we do JD's writing."

"Yes. From a clinical standpoint, I think it would be healthy for Jody to have something that he can achieve and accomplish that's all his own. That way it won't be as likely that he'll feel like he's constantly in his brother's shadow."

"Good. Then I think we've got our next monumental task laid out; writing supplies for JD and art supplies for Jody."

"I don't shop as much as you do, so I'm not as familiar with the store. Do you know where the art supplies are?"

Rather than answer verbally, Ben simply pointed upward.

"On the ceiling?" Cliff guessed in bewilderment.

Ben rolled his eyes, then pointed toward the sign, hanging from the ceiling, two aisles away that said 'Arts and Crafts'.

"Now I see where JD gets it." Cliff muttered before pushing his cart away, leaving Ben on his own to search through the 'Home and Office' treasures.

* * * * *

"Did you find anything good?" Ben asked as he pushed his cart into the arts and crafts section.

"Yes. And before you tell me that I'm going overboard, keep in mind that Jody has never been exposed to any kind of creative activity before. I would like for him to have the opportunity to try out as many things as possible."

"I happen to agree with you. Besides, if I were to tell you that you were going overboard, then you'd be able to say the same thing about the presents I'm buying for JD."

Cliff looked at Ben's cart, then cautiously said, "It isn't that much."

"I'm not done yet. They have a very small, very generic selection of books here. I'd like to get JD some really good books to serve as a foundation for the library that I'm sure he'll someday assemble. To do that, I'm going to need to go to an actual book store."

"Do they even still have those?" Cliff asked cautiously.

"They're not as plentiful as they once were, but there are still a few around. Those of us in the trade know where to find them." Ben said with a grin.

"So, after we're done here, we're going to need to go to a bookstore." Cliff said to confirm.

"Yes." Ben confirmed, then hesitantly continued, "Among other places."

"Where else are we going?" Cliff asked slowly.

"Well, I was thinking that since Todd is such a close friend of yours and since we've found out that Wil is my family..." Ben trailed off uncertainly.

"Where else are we going?" Cliff prompted.

"At various times when Wil and Todd have come over to visit, Wil has mentioned how much he and Todd enjoy playing video games and how much better our game system is than theirs." Ben rambled.

"Can't we buy them a game console here?" Cliff asked curiously.

"We could, but this place doesn't have much of a selection of games... even when they're not being picked over by Christmas shoppers. I thought that we might go to an electronics store and pick up a console and a decent assortment of the essential games for them." Ben said reasonably.

"I'm not saying 'no', but have you considered how it's going to make them feel if we buy them an expensive gift and they aren't able to respond in kind?" Cliff asked cautiously.

"Yes. But if Christmas with my family has taught me anything, it's that life can be tough. It's a token of our love for our friends and family. They'll just have to suck it up and deal with it."

"You should write Christmas cards." Cliff teased.

"Do you really think it's a bad idea?" Ben asked cautiously.

"No. It's not a bad idea at all. You couldn't get away with doing something like this with casual acquaintances, but family and friends get special treatment." Cliff said with a nod.

"And with any luck, this will help them understand just how special they are to us." Ben said seriously.

Cliff slowly nodded his agreement, but seemed to be a million miles away.

"What is it?" Ben asked cautiously.

"What about Michael? I assume that you already have something in mind for him." Cliff said slowly.

"I can't say that I really know him all that well, at least, not well enough to know what kind of a gift that he'd enjoy." Ben said frankly.

"But..." Cliff prompted.

"But I thought that every teenager would probably enjoy getting an iPod and some gift cards for music." Ben said frankly.

Cliff once again nodded, not so much in agreement as in comprehension.

"Did you have something else in mind?" Ben asked curiously.

"I didn't really think about it before, but you know what's going on in Junior's life right now, don't you?"

"He's worried about what's going to happen to him after high school." Ben said cautiously.

"As you said, we don't really know that much about his day-to-day life, but I think it's safe to assume that he isn't being set up for success." Cliff said thoughtfully.

"So what do you have in mind?" Ben asked curiously.

"What do you think that we could do to help guide him onto the right path?"

"You want to get him a job for Christmas?"

Cliff laughed, then said, "I'm sure that it would ease his mind if I could arrange that. But what I had in mind was a little more personal for him."

"I can't guess what you're getting at. You're going to have to tell me." Ben said frankly.

"I'd like to get him a computer... well, a laptop. Not exactly top-of-the-line, but something adequate to serve his current needs and get him pointed in the right direction." Cliff said seriously.

"It could open some doors for him." Ben said consideringly.

"It's a tool. If he does nothing productive with it, it'll do him no good. But I think he'll have a lot more prospects with it than without it." Cliff said honestly.

"What about Zeb?" Ben asked cautiously.

"I don't really know him as well as you do. Based on his reaction to 'The Wizard of Oz', I thought it might be nice to get him a portable DVD player and a few classic DVDs."

"That would be GREAT! Not only do I think that he would appreciate the sentiment of the gift, but I know that he'd have a great time discovering a whole new world of movies." Ben said with a smile.

"I'm glad you think so. But did you have something else in mind for him?" Cliff asked curiously.

"No. I was actually at a loss for what to get him. I think your idea is great. But..."

"But what?"

"Well, think about what you just said about Junior. Wouldn't the same things apply to Zeb?"

"How do you mean?"

"What kind of a future can Zeb look forward to, continuing on, living paycheck to paycheck in a dead end job? Don't you think that we could give him the same tools and opportunities that you're talking about giving to Junior?" Ben asked thoughtfully.

"I honestly can't imagine what he would do with those tools, but I agree that he should at least have the opportunity to break away from the hopeless future that he seems to be headed toward."

"Although computers will be a nice start, they're both going to need our guidance and encouragement." Ben said resignedly.

"They'll have it." Cliff said firmly, then turned as he seemed to notice something on a little rack at the end of the aisle.

"What's that?"

"Gift cards."

"Who do you want to get those for?"

"Michael and Zeb."

"For what?"

"New clothes. It will depend on what opportunities each of them decide to pursue, but whether it be an academic or professional pursuit, they'll need to look the part."

"You know, from the looks of it, we're going to be spending a lot more on our friends and family than we are our own kids."

"Our kids will have what they need when they need it. Michael and Zeb are starting out at a disadvantage. We're just helping to give them a fighting chance."

"So you're not worried about how much all of this is going to cost?"

"Not really. We've saved up quite a bit of money just for the fact that we haven't had anything to spend it on. I don't think it'll hurt to let loose just this once." Cliff said with a smile.

"Then what would you think if I went ahead and got Junior the iPod and Zeb the portable DVD player?" Ben asked cautiously.

"I think that'd be fine."

"If you want to pick out some gift cards, there's something else that I want to pick up while we're here."

"What's that?"

"I saw a display of Hickory Farms baskets on the center aisle. I'd like to get one of the big ones for Wil and Todd."

"Pick up one for us, too."

"You got it. I'll meet you back here."

* * * * *

"This isn't the way home. Where are we going now?" Cliff asked anxiously.

"I think you'll be happier if I don't tell you." Ben quietly answered.

"You can't possibly want to go to another store. We don't have three square inches of space left to put anything." Cliff pleaded for Ben to understand.

"I've already thought of that." Ben assured him.

"Where are we going?"

"Toys 'R' Us."

"Oh God." Cliff said in a withering voice.

"I just thought of something else that both the boys absolutely need." Ben said firmly.

"What?" Cliff asked cautiously.


"I'm fairly certain that neither of them can ride."

"It's going to be up to us to change that."

"Why is this so important to you?"

"It's a rite of passage for a child; their first taste of freedom. I think that that's something that both of the boys desperately need. If you'll put your pediatrician hat back on for a few minutes, I'm sure that you'll agree with me."

"But where are you going to put them? You couldn't even fit a picture of two bicycles in here right now."

"I already thought of that. I'm going to buy a bike rack and hook it to the back of the car."

"You sound like you're not going to change your mind about this." Cliff said speculatively.

"I know that I'm right."

Cliff was silent for a moment, but finally reluctantly admitted, "Yeah. You're right."

"All we're getting are the two bikes and the rack. It shouldn't take that long. Then all we'll have left to do is wrap and hide the presents when we get home."

"Don't forget that I'll need to drive Michael back to the home when we get back."

"Oh, that's right. I did forget that."

"And I have to go to work in the morning, so I can't be up all night."

"I know."

"We'll find some way to make it work. If we don't get all the presents wrapped, we'll just make time to work on them later."

"Do you think that we should put some of the presents under the tree, so that the boys will have the opportunity to speculate about what the presents might be?"

"A few of the smaller ones, maybe. But just remember that either boy may not be able to understand that the presents aren't to be opened until later. I wouldn't want to set them up for failure or run the risk of one of them feeling like they'd ruined Christmas or disappointed us somehow. It might be better if we just keep them put away until Christmas morning."

"If you don't risk them failing, you also don't risk them succeeding. Even if one of them makes a mistake, it's likely to be more of a growth experience than keeping them locked inside a protected bubble where they never have the chance to do anything wrong."

"Normally I'd agree with you, but it's Christmas. I'd like for them to have happy memories to dispel some of the bad ones that both of them carry."

"I'd like that too. But we can't give them those memories. They have to participate and be a functional part of the celebration for it to have any meaning to them. Otherwise our Christmas celebration will have no more meaning for them than watching a Christmas special on TV."

"I actually know what that feels like." Cliff said quietly.

"How's that?"

"My family did that one year... well, probably more than one year, but there's one that I remember in particular; all of us sitting in the living room, silently watching a surrealistically happy family on television having a joyous and wholesome Christmas celebration, basking in each others' company... and occasionally breaking into song for some inexplicable reason."

"Sounds hideous."

"What was yours like?"

"For us, all of the turmoil and heartache that's been simmering all year long finally comes to a boil on that most special night of the year. In the weeks leading up to Christmas I remember my mom ranting and raving about everything everyone in the family had ever done to offend her in any way. Never forgive. Never forget."

"I'm glad you didn't inherit that from them."

"It's part of me. I carry it with me. Just watch. If someone hurts one of the boys I'm fully capable of carrying a grudge against that person every single day for the rest of my life."

"What about JD's mother?"

"She's a special case. She's insane. I sincerely hope that she can get the help that she needs."

"What about the woman who held Jody captive?"

"Were it within my power to do so, I would cause her to suffer at least as much as Jody has. And I would revel in drawing out her misery for as long as I possibly could." Ben said as a simple statement of fact.

"Well, from what Gerry told me, Ruby is probably going to suffer a horrific death from late-stage cancer."


"Oh my God." Cliff gasped when he saw the Toys 'R' Us parking lot filled to overflowing.

"It's not as bad as it looks. We already know what we're here for, so we'll just grab it and go."

"You're assuming that we'll even be able to find a place to park." Cliff said in wonder at the sea of cars.

"We'll find one... eventually." Ben said weakly.

* * * * *

"Two bikes and a bike rack, that's what you said, isn't it?" Cliff said as they struggled to maneuver two fully assembled bicycles AND a basket of other purchases out of the store.

"It would have been irresponsible for us to get the boys bicycles without the proper safety gear. I would think that a pediatrician would be the first to think of that."

"I agree that safety is important. But I'm just wondering where we're going to put all of this."

"I'm sure that we'll be able to jam a few more things in the back, but I was thinking that maybe you could carry what's left in your lap." Ben cautiously suggested.

"Next year, we're going to spread our Christmas shopping out over the course of a month in several trips."

"Before we worry too much about that, maybe we should figure out how we're going to assemble the bike rack so that we can get the bikes home." Ben said as he waited for Cliff's reaction.

"Where's the toolbox?" Cliff hesitantly asked.

"As far as I know, it's in the compartment with the spare tire." Ben reluctantly admitted.

Cliff was silent as they walked (and walked and walked) across the parking lot to the remote corner where they had eventually been able to find a parking space.

"Let's see what it takes to assemble the rack. But if it's too bad, I'm going to call someone for help. As far as I know, Wil and Todd are off tonight." Cliff said frankly.

"From the size and shape of the box, we might not need to assemble it at all. It just looks like a frame and a few straps." Ben said in his defense.

"Nothing is ever that easy." Cliff said as they finally reached the car.

"I would think that a pediatrician would be more upbeat and optimistic."

"Walk a mile in my shoes... wait, I think you just did, from the store to this parking space."

"Funny." Ben said flatly, as he started to break the bike rack out of its packaging.

"While you're doing that, I'll see what else I can fit into the back seat." Cliff said as he left Ben to his work.

* * * * *

"Cliff. I could use your help here." Ben said a few minutes later.

"How bad is it?" Cliff asked as he backed out of the passenger side of the car.

"No tools required. All we have to do is hook it on and strap it into place. I was just hoping that you could hold the frame in place while I make sure that all the straps are pulled tight."

"Sounds easy enough."

"Hold it there."

"I've got it."

"You know, this thing can hold four bikes so we could take the boys somewhere and all of us go bike riding together sometime."

"Let's just see if we can get the bikes home with this thing before we start making any long term plans." Cliff said dubiously.

"Agreed." Ben said as he tightened the last strap into place.

"Is that it?" Cliff asked cautiously.

"Now we put the bikes on, then I'll go through all the straps and make sure that they're snug."

"I don't know. It looks flimsy."

"Of the choices available, this was one of the better ones." Ben assured him.

"I know. But I still don't know if I trust it."

"Would you put the other bike in place while I get the Velcro straps tightened on this one?"

"Yeah. I'll get started on it."

"Is this really bothering you that much?"

"No. It just got me to thinking."

"About what, if I may ask."

"We need to get wills made up."

"Come on! Christmas shopping isn't that bad."

"What happens to Jody if something happens to me. As I understand what the judge told us, Jody is my son. There is no legal relationship between you and me to compel the judge to give you custody."

"Don't we have that 'right of survivorship' paperwork filed somewhere?"

"Yes. But as far as I know, that doesn't have anything to do with the kids or our guardianship of them. Try looking at it this way, there are no legal protections automatically put into place for us. We have to be sure that we've covered all the bases ourselves. While there's always the chance that a judge might decide that Jody is best left where he is loved and feels safe, there's nothing to compel or even encourage him to leave Jody with you."

"Or JD with you." Ben said thoughtfully.

"I know that we won't be able to do anything in the next few days, but this is something that we really can't afford to put off. We need to get the legalities sorted out so that we'll know that the boys will be taken care of."

"What happens to the boys if something happens to both of us at once? We should probably decide who we want to watch after them." Ben said slowly.

"I agree that it would be wise to make those arrangements, but the likelihood of us both dying at the same time is remote at best. We can probably wait on that."

"Yeah. It's not like we'd ever be out together without the boys... like we are tonight. And we wouldn't ever find ourselves in a situation where the car is dangerously overloaded and where we've just installed a dubious bicycle rack on the back... that could never happen."

"Okay. Point taken." Cliff conceded with a grin, then asked, "So, who do you think should get custody of the boys if we're both incapacitated or killed?"

"I have absolutely no idea. But like you already said, we can't do anything about it right now anyway. Between now and the time we can talk to a lawyer about it, we should think about who we know who can and will take the boys in."

"No one immediately jumps to mind."

"I know. But even if we can't find the perfect new parents for JD and Jody, we can at least arrange for them to be somewhere that they'll be kept together and know that they'll be loved."

"Okay. I can think of a few people who might be able to fill that role."

"I think I'm done with this. Are you ready to go?" Ben asked as he finished tugging on each of the straps to assure himself that they were tight.

"I suppose so. I'm just worried that we're forgetting something... or someone in all our plans." Cliff said frankly.

"Well, if we missed anything, we wouldn't have a place to put it. If we suddenly remember, we'll just have to make another trip."

"You're right. Let's go home."

* * * * *

"Did you have a good date?" Junior asked as he turned off the TV.

"I can honestly say that it's unlike any date that I've ever had before." Cliff said with a grin at Ben.

"Everything's fine here. The boys went to bed on time."

"Thank you for watching them for us. If you're ready, I'll drive you home." Cliff said pleasantly.

"Um, yeah. I didn't bring anything with me, so I'm ready."

"I'll be moving things into the garage while you're doing that." Ben said easily.

"Don't overdo it. I'll help you when I get back." Cliff assured him.

"It's not too late. I can help you if you need it." Junior quickly offered.

"No. Thank you, Michael. You've been a tremendous help already. We've got it from here." Cliff said gratefully.

"Okay. Then I guess I'm ready."

* * * * *

The ride back to the children's home was quiet for the most part, but Junior finally broke the silence by quietly saying, "Thanks for letting me watch the boys. I know that they count on me a lot at the home, but it's different. I don't really do anything important, I just help out, but someone's always there if I need them. No one ever really trusted me before."

"Well, just be sure to let us know if you start feeling a little bit too trusted. By that I mean, let us know if we're asking you to do too much. You need to be able to have your own life." Cliff said concernedly.

"As soon as I figure out what that means, I'll get right on that."

"I can understand how it might feel like you don't have any choices. But I promise you that Ben and I will do everything that we can to see that you have as many choices as possible."

"You've already started doing that. I never even thought about me going to college until you and Ben brought it up."

"So you've been thinking about it?"

"Yeah. I mean, I haven't done anything. But I've looked at some stuff on the Internet and even talked to Mr. Cooper about it a little bit."

"What did he have to say about it?" Cliff asked curiously.

"He said that before I fall in love with the idea of going to college, that I should decide what I'd like to do as a profession. He said that it'll help to keep me motivated if I can form a vision of the future and keep working toward that goal."

"Wise words." Cliff said with a nod, then added, "When I was your age, I had already decided that the one and only thing that I ever wanted to do was to be a doctor. If we hadn't been able to manage the finances or if I hadn't been able to pass the entrance exams, I don't know what I would have done. I didn't have an alternate strategy. Later, when I started my residency, I discovered how much I liked working with children and helping them to overcome their illnesses and that's when I decided to specialize in pediatrics."

"So the medicine came first and the kids came second?"

"Yes." Cliff confirmed, then continued, "Before I entered medical school I never had an opportunity to be around children. I didn't hate them or anything, but I didn't have any special attachment to them either."

"And now not only do you get to work with kids every day, but you also get to come home to kids of your own."

"To tell you the truth, that kind of came out of left field. Although Ben and I went to talk to Mrs. Usher to convince her to let us take in a foster child, we actually had no idea of what we were getting into. I guess that if I were going to give you some advice about choosing a career, it should be about that. Don't let romantic ideas and preconceived notions about a thing cause you to make permanent, life-changing decisions. Find out about the reality. Talk with people who've been through it and can tell you how things really are."

"Does that mean that you wish that you didn't adopt JD and Jody?" Junior asked with concern.

"No! Not at all." Cliff quickly assured him, then explained, "I'm just saying that Ben and I didn't have any clue about the reality of being parents. We went into it with a very sweetly sanitized, 'safe for television', concept of what parenthood was like. It was all hugs and cuddles with the occasional skinned knee."

"But the real world doesn't work that way." Junior said, obviously understanding what Cliff was trying to convey.

"I think the helplessness is the worst part. In my arrogance I had assumed that as a pediatrician I'd automatically have all the answers. I'd do anything in the world to help Jody forget some of the horrors that he's lived through... and I suppose by the same token, I'd do anything to help JD remember some of the missing parts of his life. But in the end, all I can do is try to help them deal with what life has handed them. I can be there when they need me and hold them through their tears, but there's not much else that I can do. I can't make the monsters go away. It tears me apart."

"You may not be able to make the monsters go away, but you're there to help them fight the monsters. I know a lot of kids who don't have that much." Junior said honestly.

"Well, just remember that if you ever have any monsters to face, that Ben and I will be here for you whenever you need us." Cliff assured him as he turned into the parking lot of the home.

"I already knew that. My future is a monster and you're already helping me." Junior said before opening his car door.

"Do you need for me to go with you and sign you in?" Cliff asked after him.

"No. I've got it from here." Junior assured him.

"Hold on. I haven't paid you yet!" Cliff said quickly, before Junior could close the door.

"For what?"

"Babysitting. Not only are you helping us out, but this gives you a chance to earn a little money." Cliff said as he pulled a few bills out of his wallet.

"Okay. Thanks." Junior said uncertainly.

Cliff handed him the money, then said, "We'll probably be asking you to watch the boys again sometime after Christmas."

"Wait. This is too much." Junior said before counting the money a second time.

"No. It's right. Fifteen dollars an hour plus tip." Cliff said with a smile.

"Thanks! I mean, REALLY!" Junior said in amazement.

"If I don't see you before Saturday, expect me to stop by at around eight in the morning to pick you up."

"For what?"

"Christmas. Remember?"

"Oh, yeah. I'll be ready!"

"See you then."

* * * * *

"How are things going here?" Cliff asked as he walked into the living room, which looked like Santa's workshop had exploded all over it.

"Next year, we start earlier." Ben said as he tried to get a piece of wrapping paper to lay flat long enough to get some tape on it.

"Let me help you." Cliff said as he raced to the rescue.

"Thanks." Ben said gratefully, then added, "I was able to get most of the smaller gifts wrapped and under the tree, but some of these bigger things are being uncooperative."

"Don't worry, I'm here now. I'll help you."

"I left the bicycles in the garage. I don't think either of the boys have ever gone in there, so I doubt that they'll accidentally find them."

"What about these baskets? Do you want to wrap them?"

"No. I don't see the sense in that. Just don't confuse the two baskets. The one with the extra strawberry candies is for Todd and Wil."

"I don't think I'm the one you'll need to worry about. I'm pretty sure that JD would be eager to put the contents of those baskets to good use." Cliff said frankly.

"Maybe we should put Todd and Wil's basket in the garage, just to remove the temptation. I bought the other basket for us to use and he won't have to wait until Christmas to have access to it."

"I'll do that now, before we get sidetracked." Cliff said as he picked up the strawberry candy laden basket, then thought to ask, "How much more do you have to do?"

"I've just got a couple boxes left. They should be easy to wrap. If you'll take them to the garage when I finish them, we'll be done in no time." Ben said while continuing to work.

"Are you sure you don't want to leave the bigger gifts in here by the tree? If we tell the boys not to mess with them, I'm sure that they'll leave them alone." Cliff said reasonably.

"I'm not too worried about the boys, but I just think that the big presents will be in the way. I don't want to be tripping over them until Christmas morning."

"That makes sense. We've got a nice big living room, there's no reason for all four of us to be huddled in one corner because the Christmas tree and presents have taken over the room."

"If you'll stick a bow on this one, it's done. You can take it."

"Is this Junior's laptop?" Cliff asked as he looked through the bag of stick-on bows.

"Yes. Although it doesn't matter. His and Zeb's are exactly the same."

"Michael and I talked for a few minutes when I drove him home." Cliff said as he finally selected a blue bow, then continued, "I'm more convinced than ever that we're doing the right thing for him."

"Regardless whether Zeb and Junior use the tools we give them, helping them is the right thing to do." Ben said with certainty.

"We're going to need to continue to help them. I know we can't make decisions for them or force them to take advantage of opportunities, but we can support them with our insights and try to motivate them." Cliff said thoughtfully.

"So what you're saying is that we're not giving them gifts so much as commitments?" Ben asked curiously.

Cliff nodded, then said, "Whether they ever realize it or not."

"If you'll stick a bow on this last one, I'll start cleaning up. If we go to bed right now, we might be able to manage a few hours of sleep." Ben finished with a weary smile.

"Unless Jody has another night terror." Cliff added.

"Well, I guess sleeplessness is just a natural part of parenthood. At least we've been able to avoid poopy diapers." Ben said as he started gathering scraps of paper into a bag.

"Remember what I do for a living." Cliff said tiredly.

"Oh, right." Ben said with a grin, then amended, "Well, at least I've been able to avoid poopy diapers."

"I'm going to put this in the garage. I'll meet you in the bedroom."

"I'll be there in a minute."

To Be Continued...

Editor's Notes:

Well, another memorable chapter of this heartwarming tale.

I must say, that it never fails for me to find places where my eyes start leaking.

That is not a complaint, mind you. These people are part of my family.