Byron woke to the sound of soft sobbing coming from across the room. He rubbed the sleep from his eyes, then wiggled off of the bed and went to investigate the source. To his surprise, it was Antonio sitting at the desk, his head resting on his arms sobbing quietly.
"What's wrong, buddy?" Byron asked as he knelt and placed his arms around Antonio's small chest.
"Nuthin', you wouldn't understand." Antonio sobbed back. "Just let me be."
Byron's mind flashed back to a point ten months ago; he had realized he was gay and was considering ending it all when Derek had walked in on him. When Derek had asked him what was wrong, Byron had replied in those exact same words; in fact his reply was even in the same tone. Derek's persistence had paid off; once Byron opened up about what he considered a problem, Derek was able to show him that there was nothing wrong and nothing to worry about.
Byron replied in a soft yet commanding tone. "Antonio, I understand a lot more than you think I do. My big brother saved me from making a big mistake when I thought nobody would understand; I'm not going to let you make the mistake I almost made. C'mon, let's hit the bathroom, grab a couple of towels to wrap around us, and head down to the Rec room to talk."
Teri looked up in surprise as she heard the two boys come down the stairs. She immediately noticed Antonio had been crying, so she ignored the fact that the two of them were just wrapped in towels. She stopped her preparations for making coffee and met them as they reached the bottom of the stairs. "What's wrong?"
Byron answered for the two of them. "Antonio needs to talk to someone. I'm taking him to the Rec room for some privacy so we don't wake the guys."
Teri leaned over and kissed Antonio's forehead. "Take him into my office, Byron. He knows where the blanket is. I'll make sure you two are left alone. Once the rest of the crew is up I'm sure one of them will bring you some clothes down."
"Thanks, Teri." Byron said with a smile. "I don't know how long we'll be. Are you sure it's okay?"
Teri laid a hand on Byron's shoulder. "Yes, it's okay. Any of you boys needing to talk is the most important thing in this house. Get in there, I'll let you know when breakfast is ready."
Teri watched as the boys went in the office and closed the door. She jumped when Matt came up and asked, "What's that all about?"
Teri turned and guided Matt towards the table. "I think your new son is having some problems."
Matt placed his head in his hands. "What kind of problems? What do I need to do? Why didn't he say anything to me?"
Teri started the coffee then sat next to Matt. "Settle down and stop worrying! I know it's hard to believe, but the boys are handling it. I have no idea what the problem is, but from experience I can tell you that we'll find out when the time is right. I've learned something from this roller-coaster ride which has given me a new family - the boys as a group can handle a lot more than we give them credit for, and as long as we stay off of their backs they have no problems with coming to us for help if they need it. Going by the looks I saw on Antonio and Byron's faces, right now Byron is having to convince Antonio to talk. That means you would have no chance. Most of them will talk to each other before any adult. Antonio even more than most. He's learned to distrust adults over a period longer than you've been alive. That's going to take some time to overcome, and if you try to force him it'll never happen."
Matt looked at Teri in shock. "The way you make it sound, it's like I'm his parent only when he wants me to be!"
"Not really, Matt. You need to remember, he's went through a lot; and it's easier to talk to someone who has been through something similar recently than it is to talk to someone who has never been through the ordeal or had it happen a long time ago. I think that's the magic of this group; all of their experiences add up to a serious knowledge base to help each other."
Matt relaxed. "You know, looking at it that way I see your point. I just wish I knew what was wrong."
"Don't worry, I'm sure we'll find out. My only recommendation is to support Antonio with whatever comes out of this talk. If you have concerns about their choices, discuss it with them. Whatever you do, don't force your ideas on them. Right now, you don't have the trust that you need for him to accept that you are looking out for him. All his life the adults around him have forced choices on him that hurt him. You need to show him that you are not going to do that."
Matt got up and poured them both some coffee. "Thanks, Teri. I'll do that. I never really thought about what I needed to do to overcome what his old family did to him. At least now, you've gave me a direction to head towards."
Byron sat down and pulled Antonio onto his lap. Once they were settled, he pulled the blanket over both of them. Byron wiggled his arms under the blanket and gently wrapped them around Antonio's belly. As he cuddled with Antonio, Byron softly asked "Okay buddy, we're alone now. What's got you feeling so down?"
Antonio replied in a whisper. "You're gonna think I'm being a baby. I gotta watch all of you guys cuddle with your boyfriends. I ain't never gonna be able to have that."
"Duhhh! Who's gonna want a boyfriend who don't grow up? Who wants to date someone who's gonna outlive them four times? It's gonna be twelve years before I even get my first hair down there! The only guys who have ever been interested in me are grownups who think I'll be their long-term boy toy; I wanna have a boyfriend, I don't wanna be some old fart's plaything. I might as well just die, I ain't never gonna be happy with someone."
Byron held Antonio tighter. "Please don't say that. I almost did it. My big brother Derek caught me just in time. We had a long talk, and he explained to me that sometimes the Great Spirit gives us a gift which seems like a curse at first glance. If we follow our hearts, He will guide us to the point where we see the gift for it's true worth. I have followed my brother's wise words. I think that today might be the day my curse becomes a gift. My father knows of this curse. He was guided by our Shaman to send me here. The Spirits said my destiny was within this Clan."
"What's that got to do with me?" Antonio interrupted.
Byron giggled. "For someone with so much time you are sure impatient! I'm getting to it, okay?"
Antonio gave a small smile in response to the aging jab. "Okay, you better hurry up; you're getting older by the minute!"
Byron smiled as he continued. "Once I tell you my curse you'll understand. You know that I'm gay; I told everyone that as soon as I knew it was cool. My curse is that I want a boyfriend a little younger than me; someone I can protect and help become a better man. I don't want a boy-toy; I want someone who will stay with me forever. The problem is that at our ages people get stupid over a years difference in age; yet adults marry with ten years between them. I wanted to ask you to be my boyfriend on the ride away from your old home, but I was scared that you'd freak. In some ways you're older than me, yet in others you are just a nine year old; if you went on the years since you were born I would be YOUR junior, in fact you could be my dad. I don't care about that, other people might have a problem with the way you age but I think it's awesome. In fact, I'll do whatever I can to make sure I'll be with you for as long as possible."
Antonio turned to face Byron. "There's three years between us, nobody's gonna be okay with that!"
"You're wrong there. Do you know how old Andy is?"
"Because Andy turned twelve last month. You know his boyfriend is Alec; and we just were at Alec's fifteenth birthday party. Nobody has a problem with that."
"Yeah, but I'll be turning ten when you're sixteen. I'll be eleven when you're twenty. What they gonna say then?"
Before Byron could answer, Antonio's question was answered by Mike as he appeared in the room. "I'll tell you what they are going to say, they will say that it must be true love for Byron to be willing to wait for you to grow up. That's what your families and the Clan will say. Nobody else's opinion will matter."
Antonio giggled as he commented "You know, Mikey, you give 'big brother is watching' a whole new meaning!"
Mike smiled. "I told you I'd be keeping an eye on you in case you needed help. I know you're confused right now, Antonio, but I think you are going to sort things out pretty soon. I know how much problem you have trusting people; so I stopped in to let you know that Byron was speaking from the heart. I won't tell you how to answer him, but I'll tell you to begin listening to your heart again instead of going on past experiences. That's not just for right this instant; it's for all of your dealings with your new family. You understand?"
Antonio thought for a minute. "Yeah, I see what you mean. I guess I gotta learn to trust again, don't I?"
"Yes, but let everyone else help you so that you don't make the wrong choices. In some ways you are an adult trapped in a boy's body, in other ways you are just a really old boy. I'm talking about mentally, not just physically. As soon as you learn to balance that out things will be easier; normally you would have learned it as you grew, but your old family messed that up. You are learning the balance pretty fast, but sometimes it will mess with you like it did this morning. Just let someone know when that happens, they'll help you through it."
Antonio smiled. "Okay, I get it now. Thanks Mikey." He then turned to Byron as Mikey faded out. "Byron, Mike kinda hinted that people outside our families ain't gonna understand us dating. Are you gonna be able to handle that without hiding from me in public?"
Byron pulled Antonio into a cuddle. "Antonio, if I have to choose between having you and going out in public - I'll never leave your side. Mikey said to listen to your heart. My heart tells me that I'd live in a cave before I'd lose you."
Antonio giggled. "It better be a heated cave! My mind is telling me to say no, that it'll cause too much trouble. But my heart says yes, that the Clan will help protect us. For the first time I can remember I'm going to do like Mikey said and listen to my heart. Byron, will you please be my boyfriend?"
Byron looked at Antonio and answered in a serious tone. "Antonio, I swear with my ancestors as my witness that I will never leave your side for as long as the Great Spirit leaves me on this plain."
Antonio smiled as he stood up. "Thanks for being here for me. You just made my life complete. Can we lay down and cuddle? I didn't sleep too well last night."
Byron stretched out and patted his chest. "From now on, angel - this is your new bed. Lay down and I'll cover us up. Today I start protecting you in your sleep."
The two boys laid belly to belly, both almost purred as they felt the body of their new partner settle into position. Byron slowly caressed Antonio's back as both of them responded to the newfound love they were feeling for each other. A few minutes later, they both stiffened then relaxed and fell asleep as a small wet spot dried between them.
Kelly came bounding down the stairs, all but dragging Tommy behind him. Tommy skidded to a stop and tried to cover himself when he saw Teri, Helen, and Matt at the table.
"KELLY!" Tommy whined. "Y'all said it was safe to come down here in our boxers! Now I'm gonna get in trouble, and it's y'all's fault!"
Teri shook her head in wonder as she motioned her newest son to join her. Once she had coaxed him to her side, Teri leaned over and kissed his cheek. "Don't worry, Tommy; you're not in any trouble. I guess nobody explained the house dress code, did they?"
Tommy was still blushing as he shook his head no.
"That's what I thought. Just so you know, the only guy here who is a worse nudist than Kelly is your nephew Timmy. With that said, Kelly was telling you the truth; when there is no company here you can run around in your boxers if you want. The only exception is when you are eating; then you must have on a shirt, at least some boxers or a swimsuit, and shoes. I know that you guys usually sleep nude, so you don't need to worry about that. I don't believe that any of you should be ashamed of your bodies; you should be comfortable enough so that if you are worried about something you'll have no problem with walking up and asking me to look inside your shorts. Did Sean have his usual meeting filling you in on everyones history?"
Tommy was still slightly embarrassed, and it showed in his Mississippi drawl as he answered. "Yes Ma'am. Them guys went through some bad stuff. I ain't had to do half'a what they did. Y'all ain't like down from my old parts; I would'a been skinned for runnin' 'round in my shorts. If Momma'd caught me sleepin' nekkid wit' Kelly she'd'a beat me like a stubbr'n mule."
Teri smiled at Tommy. "I see you're going to have to work on your grammar!" she chuckled. "There's a lot of things that work differently around here, just relax and learn. I expect you to make some mistakes, and if you're not sure just ask. Since Kelly dragged you down here, I'll make an exception to the dress rule this time; have a seat and we'll see about some cereal for you. What sounds good?"
Tommy leaned in and gave Teri a hug. "I dunno ... sorry ma'am, I mean whatever you have is okay."
Teri kissed his forehead. "Tommy, I know you have been taught to be polite, but please call me Mom or Teri. It makes me feel more comfortable, okay? The last I saw, we had Cocoa Puffs and Apple Jacks in the cupboard. If there's something you like better, let Helen know and she'll get it for you. That's one of Helen's rules; any food you like, within reason, we will have here for you. I'll put it this way; there's a certain little angel in Orlando that Helen keeps the fixings for cherry cobbler for, just in case he visits. She has a special recipe just for him."
"Wow! Nobody has ever let me choose what I eat! The Apple Jacks sound good, but do you know how to fix grits right, Helen?" Before Helen could answer, Tommy turned his head back to Teri. "I'll try to fix up my grammar, that way I talk like the rest of y'all - I mean you do. Okay, Mom?"
Teri giggled. "As long as you try I'll be happy. Oh, you don't have to stop saying y'all, that sounds just fine coming from you. That's part of who you are, besides a lot of us say it too."
Helen had walked over, and she rustled Tommy's hair. "As for your other question, yes I do know how to fix grits; you need to wait until I go to the store to have them though. I assume you want eggs and corned beef hash with them?"
Tommy's head spun in shock. "How'd you know that? That's my favorite breakfast!"
Helen smiled. "You're definitely a Southern Boy. I think I can give you a treat for lunch, I've got everything I need to make some real homemade biscuits and gravy. I think you'll like it, Iowa sausage makes it even better than you're used to!"
Tommy grinned. "You better make a bunch then, I can eat lotsa that!"
Kelly walked over and joined them, a bowl of cereal in each hand. He sat one by Tommy and sat the other at the next chair over. "Hey, what are grits? I've never had those. Are they any good?"
Tommy spun and hugged Kelly. "Thanks for getting' me a new family; this is awesome! Grits are good as long as you don't fix'em like a dang Yankee, them folks screw up boilin' water!"
Helen laughed. "I couldn't agree more, Tommy! I was born and raised south of Little Rock. We moved up here when I was seventeen. Here in Iowa people still can cook, but once you go east of the Ole' Miss it gets worse the further north and east you get!"
Tommy giggled. "I guess you know cookin' then. What's so special 'bout Iowa sausage?"
"You'll see, it's the best sausage in the US. Sit down and eat; if you want you can help make lunch."
Tommy took his seat by Kelly. "AWESOME! I love helpin' in the kitchen! Cookin's fun!"
Teri smiled as she commented "Watch it, Tommy. If your brothers find out you can cook they'll never leave you alone."
"What was that?" Cory announced as he walked in with Sean and most of the rest of the Clan. "Did I hear that my little brother wants to be the Clan chef?"
Tommy blushed and slid down in his chair as he tried to concentrate on eating. Sean came up behind him and placed a hand on his shoulder. "Hey lil' bro, don't let our big brother get to you."
Adam and Ty joined the boys. Adam added his thoughts. "Lil' bro, whatever you want to do, just do it; the rest of us will back you. Just don't let Sean help; he's about as much help in the kitchen as a bull in a china shop."
"Bite me, Adam!" Sean giggled. "You ain't much better!"
Tyler giggled as he snuck by and wiggled onto Tommy's lap. "Do you really know how to cook? Can you teach me, bro?"
Tommy looked around him at the boys. Silent tears started running down his face as he said "This is for real, ain't it? Y'all really are callin' me kin. I ain't gotta never leave, do I?"
Ty answered for all of them as he cuddled into Tommy's chest. "Tommy, you're my big brother now. I know you're cryin' 'cause you're happy; it's okay. You and me have got five big brothers to help us; Adam, Sean, Cory, Aaron, and Mikey. I'm glad you're my bro, and I know the rest of our brothers are too. We won't let anything take you away from us."
Tommy was speechless as he wrapped his arms around Ty and pulled him in close. Cory and Sean moved to the sides of the chair and wrapped their arms around the pair, while Adam did the same from the back. Everyone else watched quietly as the five boys started the forging of the brotherly bond that would guide their actions throughout the rest of their lives.
A few minutes later, Tommy had recovered enough to speak again. "Y'all know what?" he said softly. "I useta' wonder how it'd be havin' a brother. Now that I got all y'all, it's awesome. Y'all's been tellin' me we're kin now; I kinda didn't believe it 'till now. Y'all made me feel safe and wanted just now; something I'd plumb near forgot how it felt." He gave Tyler a squeeze as he continued. "Lil' bro, you wanna learn cookin' stick with me. The pair of us are gonna make a great team."
Tyler beamed at the news. "Kewl! You're an awesome big brother! Can I learn to talk like you too? I think it sounds awesome."
All of the boys giggled when Teri immediately answered. "I don't think so, munchkin! One son with a Mississippi drawl is enough!"
The giggles turned to laughter when Helen piped in with a deep southern accent. "Now there Teri, it ain't no reason to git you're skirt askew. Both dem young'uns ain't hurtin' nuttin' by talkin' alike."
The laughter was interrupted as Timmy and Ricky appeared. They were both still soaking wet from their bath, wearing nothing but their birthday suits and dragging towels behind them. They zeroed in on Tommy.
Timmy grinned as he announced "There you are, Unca Tommy! We was lookin' all over for you! Could you dry us off, PLEASE!"
Tommy grinned at the boys. "Do you little rug rats know y'all are nekkid in the dinin' room? Git over here before y'all's birds decide to chow on dem worms stickin' out."
Timmy giggled as he stood in front of Tommy. "Unca Tommy, you're silly! That ain't a worm, it's a stiffy! Ricky and me's been sword fighting!"
"That's more than I needed to know!" Tommy stuttered as his face turned red. He dried off Timmy and went to start on Ricky. Timmy stopped him. "You missed a spot, Unca Tommy."
Tommy turned red again. "I can't touch you there."
Timmy giggled. "Yeah you can, it ain't like you're playin' with it! I trust you, and so does Daddy or else he wouldn't let you dry me."
Tommy looked over at Teri to see her opinion. When she just smiled and nodded, Tommy turned back to his new nephew and began drying the areas he skipped. As soon as he finished, Ricky wiggled in and passed his towel to Tommy. "Dry ALL of me too!" Ricky giggled.
Tommy finally finished and sat back down. As soon as he was seated, Timmy and Ricky jumped onto his lap. Tommy chuckled at the boys. "Hey, ain't y'all forgetin' sumthin?"
"What's that?" both boys answered innocently.
"Ain't y'all supposed to be dressed at the table?"
Timmy giggled. "Yeah, but today's special! We got a new Uncle!"
Tommy turned his head. "Cory, Sean! Talk to y'all's son!"
Sean tried to keep a straight face as he walked over to rescue Tommy. "Okay guys, stop torturing Tommy. Get upstairs and get dressed."
"But Poppa, we was gonna have Unca Tommy dress us after breakfast." Timmy pouted.
Sean became serious. "Timmy, you know the rules. We let you slide with drying off, but now it's time to get back to normal."
"No!" Timmy exclaimed as he folded his arms across his chest. Ricky mirrored Timmy and sat defiantly.
Sean crossed his own arms and stated "I'm going to count to ten. If your two little bare butts are not upstairs by the time I reach ten, there are going to be two little boys spending their morning on opposite sides of the living room staring at the wall." Sean started counting; he had reached five before the boys realized he was serious. They hopped off of Tommy's lap and ran for the stairs, disappearing into the bedroom just as Sean reached ten.
Teri smiled at her son. "You handled that well, Sean. Were you willing to follow through on your threat?"
"You better believe it, mom. You never let us slide, I'm not about to let him get away with back talking me or Cory."
Cory giggled. "Besides, there are some interesting designs in those walls!"
Teri just nodded. "I was waiting to see how you dealt with him when he decided to stand up to you; I think you guys are going to do just fine."
The boys spread out to their normal positions at the table and began eating their breakfast. About halfway through, Kyle spoke up.
"Helen, Antonio and Byron just woke up. They're comin' out to eat in just a minute, just as soon as they finish kissin'. They found where you hid the clothes, Trav."
Matt started to stand, but Dan stopped him. "Hold on, Matt. There are three boys here that I can honestly say I know how their mind works. None of those three even blinked, so I'm certain that nothing improper or dangerous is happening. Sit it out, I'm sure we'll know the full story shortly."
Matt sat down, but watched the office door to see when the boys came out. A few minutes later, Byron walked out with Antonio riding on his back, both of them giggling. Antonio noticed the look on Matt's face, and whispered to Byron to head over by him.
When the boys reached him, Matt motioned for Antonio to take a seat on his lap. Once Antonio was seated, Matt spoke while Byron stood nervously watching.
"Hey kiddo, I heard you had a problem this morning. Did you guys get it all sorted out?"
"Yeah, we got it." Antonio replied as he fidgeted on Matt's lap. "I was thinking stupid, but Byron helped me. Why are you mad?"
Matt kissed the top of Antonio's head. "I'm not mad, son. I was worried about you. That's part of being a dad. You worry about your son. I admit I'm new at this dad thing, but I'm willing to learn with your help. I can tell one thing already - there's something on your mind. Is it something you want to tell me about?"
Antonio squirmed some more before replying. "Yeah, kinda. I don't want to make you mad though."
Matt thought for a second. "I'll tell you what, let me see if I can help you. This is what I've figured out, and I'm not mad yet. I'll admit I'm worried, but I'm not mad. First off, whatever it is concerns Byron. That's obvious by the way he's standing here waiting for something. Going by the way you two were acting when you came out, you must consider it something good. I'm responsible for making sure you are safe and happy. I don't see anything that puts you in danger, and you were definitely happy; so I guess there's nothing to worry about."
Antonio relaxed slightly. "Yeah, I guess so. You promise not to get mad?"
Matt was serious as he replied. "You are a very smart little man. I know how hard it is for you to trust me after what has been done to you. I can't expect you to trust me unless I trust you; since I do trust you I promise not to get mad."
Antonio thought over Matt's statement. "Okay, but you promised. I was about to do something stupid this morning because I thought that nobody would want a boyfriend who takes forever to grow up. Byron woke up and saw me, he brought me down here and we talked. He had thought about doing the same thing I was thinking about doing, but Derek talked him out of it. Byron don't care how I grow, he loves me just like I am. We're boyfriends now, and Byron swore by his ancestors that we'd be boyfriends until one of us dies." Antonio looked Matt in the eyes to see his reaction.
Matt thought over what was just said before responding. "I'm glad Byron was there for you when you needed him. I want both of you to sit down with Dan to discuss the thoughts you were having; that's non-negotiable. As far as the two of you being boyfriends, I want to hear Byron's side before I say yes or no." Matt turned his head to Byron. "Okay, you're up. Do you have anything to add?"
Byron shuffled his feet. "Well, Matt, I think Antonio said it best earlier. The only guys interested in him are dirty old men looking for boy-toys. I know his body is younger than mine, but his spirit is older than me. I admit he's good looking, but I think the Great Spirit placed us together for something big; something that's going to use his mind. If I've gotta hide to keep him with me I will, I love him that much. I'm going to enjoy waiting for him to grow up."
Matt smiled. "Byron, you told me more in what you didn't say than you did in what you said. I've got my suspicions at what you were skating around; you can relax, this is the one situation where I won't hold it against you. I think that you were right about one thing; the two of you were put together for an unknown reason." Matt wrapped his arms around Antonio and gave him a hug. "As for you munchkin, you can relax. You two have my okay, just take it slow and ask for help if you have problems."
Antonio twisted around and returned the hug. "Thanks Dad. You must really care about me with all of the stuff you are making us do."
"That I do. Now that you have a boyfriend, I got to watch out for both of you. Now why don't you two go grab a seat and get some food."
Thirty minutes later, everyone finally finished their meal and headed out back for a pickup game of soccer.
As they all assembled outside, Cory had an idea. "Hey guys, let's make this interesting. What do you think about splitting teams into boyfriend against boyfriend?"
JJ grinned. "Sounds good to me. How are you gonna choose which team gets which boyfriend?"
"That's easy! Sean and I'll be captains; we'll take turns picking from you guys, whichever one is not picked goes to the other team."
Everyone agreed to the arrangement, and in no time teams were picked. Cory's team drew skins, and they began playing. Nobody really kept score, but they all stopped to congratulate Ricky when he scored a goal against JJ. Just as they were getting ready to restart, Helen came outside.
"TOMMY! I'm getting ready to start lunch; do you still want to help?"
Tommy looked over. "Yeah! I'll be right in!" He started to head in, but then turned around. "Hey lil' bro; you comin'? You ain't gonna learn hangin' out here."
Tyler glowed at the invitation. "Wow! Thanks bro, wait for me." Tyler grabbed his shirt from the pile and ran to catch up with Tommy. The two boys headed into the house, Tommy proudly walking with his arm over Tyler's shoulder. Helen smiled as they passed her, their pride showing on their faces.
Fifteen minutes later, Teri walked into the kitchen. She couldn't help but smile when she saw the boys. Tyler was covered in flour and cutting out biscuits, while Tommy was at the stove cooking sausage and beginning to assemble the rest of the necessities for the gravy under Helen's directions. "How are they doing, Helen? They giving you any trouble?"
Helen turned around. "They are doing great; I think you've got a couple of natural chefs here. They wanted to do all of the cooking, and I think that the rest of the boys are in for a treat."
"I figured as much. Keep it up guys, I can't wait to see how it comes out."
"Thanks Mom." both boys replied while staying focused on what they were doing.
A short time later, Helen returned outside. "Okay guys, time to get cleaned up for lunch!" She managed to get out of the way just in time as the boys stampeded into the house. When the boys came back down, they were shocked to find Helen sitting with the rest of the adults at the table even though there was no food set out.
"Mom, I thought you said lunch was ready?" Kelly asked as they sat down.
"It is, just be patient." Helen replied with a grin. "I was kicked out of the kitchen."
Adam looked at Helen quizzically. "Who kicked you out? I know Mom wouldn't do that, and nobody else is that crazy."
"Your little brothers did it, Adam." Helen replied. "They made this lunch special for all of y'all. They worked hard to do good, so be sure you all let them know what you think."
Just then Ty came walking out carrying a platter of biscuits almost as big as him. Tommy was right behind him pushing a cart with four large steaming bowls of gravy and four bowls of hash browns. The two boys carefully sat the serving dishes on the table, then took their seats and watched expectantly as everyone started filling their plates. Cory was the first to try the food; his grin at the first taste showed his appreciation.
"This is great guys! Who made what?" Cory asked.
Tommy blushed. "You really think so? Ty did everything with the biscuits. Helen told me what to do while I made the gravy. I cut the 'taters and Ty cooked them."
By this time everyone else had tried their servings. Helen was the next to comment. "Tommy, Tyler; you two did wonderful. I couldn't do any better myself."
Sean echoed everyone's thoughts as they all finished their meal. "Lil' bros, I'm proud of you. You can cook for us any time you want; I've never had biscuits and gravy this good!"
Tommy gave a shy reply. "Aww man, it ain't nothin'. Helen told us what to do."
There was no way Kelly was going to let Tommy get away with playing off the meal. "Babe, Mom's tried to do that with me; the stray dogs in our old neighborhood wouldn't even eat what I made. I could tell she didn't make this, it tasted different. In fact, it really was the best biscuits and gravy I've ever had; y'all did something different and it turned out awesome. Keep it up, I think you two are gonna end up being a great team in the kitchen; y'all can cook for us anytime."
"Tyler, Tommy, would you come here?" Teri asked. Once they were next to her. Teri pulled both boys onto her lap. "Guys, Kelly was right. You two should be proud, I know you've made me really proud of you. There's just one thing; I don't ever want to see either of you push it off when you are complimented for a great job. You earned those compliments; accept them and thank the person giving them to you. It's wrong to take credit for something you didn't do; it's almost as bad if you refuse to take credit when you did a great job. The two of you did great today, and I'm happy to find out that at least two of my sons have a hobby other than collecting stray boys."
"MOM!" Sean, Cory, and Adam chorused.
Teri giggled at their response. "Sorry guys, I couldn't resist."
Their conversation was interrupted as Aaron came barging through the front door. "Hey Mom! What's for lunch!" he asked as he gave her a quick kiss.
Teri watched as Aaron grabbed a plate and scraped up the leftovers to give himself a heaping helping. After the first taste, Aaron began shoveling the food into his mouth. Once the plate was spotless, he sat back and grinned. "Dang Helen, you outdid yourself with this meal!"
Helen shook her head. "I wish I'd made it. Your little brothers cooked today, tell them."
Teri chimed in. "You know Aaron, if you had stopped for a second I would have introduced you to one of the cooks. Get your butt over here before I sic Timmy and Ricky on you."
"Sorry Mom." Aaron said contritely as he got up and came over.
Once he was next to her, Teri reached up and slapped him gently upside the head. "That was for not being civil when you came in. These guys look up to you, show some manners. I'm sure that by now you heard that you've got a new brother; don't you think you should at least say 'hi' to him?"
Aaron grinned sheepishly. "Sorry; I smelled the food and couldn't stop." He looked at the boys still sitting on Teri's lap. "You gotta be Tommy; welcome to the family lil' bro, come up here."
Tommy shyly stood up and shuffled to Aaron. He was surprised when Aaron grabbed him and gave him a huge hug.
"Whadda you think of your new family, bro?" Aaron asked with a smile.
Tommy smiled back. "I think they're great! Mom's awesome; Cory, Sean, and Adam act like we've been kin forever; and Ty is learnin' cookin' with me. I ain't sure about Timmy likin' me though; he m'barrassed me this mornin' by comin' out nekkid and wantin' me to dry him."
Aaron giggled. "Don't worry bro, he likes you. You got lucky, usually he cons people he likes into a shower; you got off easy! You really don't want to know what you have to go through showering with him! Now what's this about cooking? Does that mean what I think it does?"
Tommy nodded his head. "If you're thinkin' we did the fixin' of lunch, yeah it does."
Aaron motioned to Tyler. "Get over here, Ty! After a meal like that you both deserve a hug!" Tyler jumped down and joined Tommy in Aaron's arms.
Aaron squeezed both boys. "Guys, I'm really proud of you. I could tell all of that was homemade, that's something very few adults could pull off. I'm gonna be doing a lot of bragging in Orlando about you two. There ain't anyone down there who can say their little brothers are awesome cooks. Once y'all are down there, I'll bet Joey's mom will wanna teach you how to cook pasta."
Tommy thought about the reprimand he had just got from Teri before he responded. "Thanks Aaron; don't go bragging too much, we're still learnin'."
Aaron giggled. "Okay bro, whatever you say. The two of you are naturals, I'll leave it at that. Ty, why are you being so quiet?"
Tyler took his turn at blushing. "Tommy may be learnin', but he's teachin' me. I'm lettin' him answer for both of us."
"He must be teaching you to talk too!" Aaron giggled. "You don't need to do that, you accomplished this together so you both should talk about it. What part did you do?"
"I made the biscuits and cooked the 'taters after Tommy cut them." Tyler answered proudly.
"You should be very proud then; the two of you worked together. You didn't just help, you did some of it while Tommy did the rest. That is a true team effort."
Cory interrupted the exchange. "Bro, you're not taking them with you! Did you just stop in to raid the leftovers, or is there a reason you flew all the way up here?"
Aaron turned to Cory. "Dang, you're getting possessive, lil' bro! Don't worry, I think Mom would strangle me if I even offered for them to go home with me."
"You better believe it! They don't need your influence!" Teri giggled.
"Sorry Aaron." Cory replied. "Seriously, what's up? I didn't think you went anywhere without David."
"That's okay Cory. I had a few reasons to come up here. The first was to meet our new little brother. I'm glad I did, I ended up with an awesome lunch. A close second was to see how you were doing after what happened last night. I've got my answer, and it looks like I'm going to be staying a few days until you're over it."
"What do you mean?"
"Cor, you're not acting like yourself. I haven't heard one joke out of you since I got here. When you did talk you were short with me. David and I talked things over last night. He's holding down the fort in Orlando while I'm up here taking care of you, JJ, and Gabe. The last reason is going to brighten everyone's day. Camp Little Eagle has a bunch of new residents. All of the boys whose names Kyle got from Calvin's head have been taken into protective custody and released to Chief Tecumseh. We got all of them!"
A cheer went up from around the table at the news. Aaron moved over to Cory and gave him a hug. "Lil' bro, what you had to do would stress out anyone. I have some orders for you from Josh, and from Chip as well. He called last night from the Enterprise. They both said to tell you to forget about chasing down the adults that were involved for a few days. You are supposed to do that computer work on the simulator and let John and his crew catch up with the work you guys did already. Chip said that Spock will be waiting for that information when the Enterprise gets back to Earth. You've made all of us really proud, now take some time for yourself. You get my drift, lil bro?"
Cory gave a small giggle. "Yeah, I get it; y'all think I need a vacation and you are gonna make sure I take it. I'm not gonna argue with you; Sean nailed me to the wall this morning in the shower about the same things. I get the hint, and Uncle Chip and Uncle Josh actually has a good idea about working on the software. Right now, Sean made me promise to spend some pool time outside before it gets cold. Since you're the brother-in-charge for now, do you want to get everyone out there?"
"You got it!" Aaron said with a grin. He turned to Teri. "Mom, it's time for a pool party! I promise we'll all stay dressed for a change. What do you think about a cookout for dinner?"
Teri grinned back. "If you can keep the tornados dressed it's a miracle! Sounds great; just try to keep it down to a dull roar out there, okay?"
"You got it!" Aaron replied as he followed the rush of boys up the stairs to get changed.
By the time they came back down, the adults had claimed prime seats to see the show. They were not disappointed; Aaron came out with Tommy in his arms and immediately tossed him in the pool. As Aaron stood at the edge laughing, Adam pushed him in. Keeping it in the family, Sean pushed in Adam and was pushed in by Cory. Cory stood laughing at the edge until Timmy decided to finish the family dunk with a flying pounce; the impact put both Timmy and Cory in the water. The rest of the crew jumped in before they were tossed in, and for at least a little while all cares were forgotten as they played.