Randy hadn't been home two days when we got a phone call from his doctor. He had been hospitalized with irregular breathing. The doctor believed he had simply overexerted himself making the trip to see Edan, but he admitted that it was something Randy had to do. He told us it was too early to tell if this was the end or not. It was a matter of wait and see how things go. He also told us that Randy had refused to allow any visitors other than a couple of local people. Edan correctly guessed that those were former employees of Randy's production company and his attorney. We were instructed to stay at home and we would be kept notified of any changes in Randy's condition.
Staying at home implies a lack of activity that simply didn't exist in a house with four teenaged boys. Well, Ephraim was close to being a teenager. The boys continued to go to school, Edan kept on teaching, and I ripped the kitchen back to the bare studs. Daniel helped me in the kitchen some days, worked a few days a week with Dan's construction company, and studied all the while for his G.E.D.
He had tested out a little behind Brendan and Derek on his education levels. This would have meant that he would have been placed in the tenth grade if he were to attend high school. He felt too out of place in a classroom with kids nearly three years younger than he was. He sat and discussed his options with Edan and I, and to our surprise asked that Dan be there as well. He said he wanted his boss to know the score firsthand. Dan was honored to be included.
Dan confided to Edan and I that he had grown quite fond of Daniel. He was a dedicated and efficient worker on the job sites. He was also a courteous and polite companion for Brooke. Dan and Karen were both already calling him "son" much to the embarrassment of both Daniel and Brooke. I noticed that neither one protested the label, however.
Daniel and Brooke were getting serious rather quickly. They seemed to spend all of their spare time either with each other in person, or on the phone with one another. As Dan had predicted, between Daniel and Brooke, and Ephraim and Peter, the path through the woods was starting to resemble a major highway.
The weather was finally getting warmer. It was obvious that summer was on its way. As the old saying goes, in spring young men's hearts turn to thoughts of love.
Brendan and Derek had been extremely quiet around the house since the conversation in the kitchen. I could tell they were trying to both lessen Daniel's uneasiness at being the only straight guy in a gay house, and limit Ephraim's voyeuristic opportunities. I could see that it was weighing on them, though. That was the reason that I agreed to the request that they be allowed to spend the weekend in the cabin.
They were even polite enough to ask Ephraim and Peter along for a cookout on the first night. They explained to me that they wanted to have a private talk with the younger boys about the possible consequences of future spying activities. Naturally this topic interested me. They explained that their intention was to simply tell the younger couple that their love was a private matter, even if it did get noisy at times. They would go on to say that privacy was a two way street. If Ephraim and Peter continued to spy on them and listen at doorways, then the younger boys would receive the same treatment.
I approved of their plan and was going to forward the message to the Walborn's. Unfortunately, there we hit a snag. Ephraim informed us that afternoon that Peter had been grounded. Peter's grades were not staying consistent. Actually, that isn't quite accurate. They were consistently falling. It seemed that he was devoting too much of his time to talking with and visiting with Ephraim, and not enough to studying.
"I should be in trouble, too," Ephraim informed me as he told me of Peter's dilemma. "I kept telling him to study, but he didn't listen too good. I should have stopped talking to him or something, but I just didn't want him to think that I didn't like him anymore."
"You managed to keep your grades up, didn't you?" I asked and watched as he nodded. "It sounds like this was a choice he made. That means you were not responsible."
"If he is being punished, I should be too," the boy insisted. "I didn't make him study."
"Well, this is the first time I've ever heard of a kid asking to be punished," I admitted as I saw the determination in his face. "I have also never had to punish you before, so I will have to think about what I should do here. Why don't you go up to your room and I will be up there after I call your other dad and ask for his advice," I suggested. I called Dan Walborn as soon as Ephraim left the room.
"Brooke is at the mall with her mother, again, and Peter is grounded," Dan said as he answered his phone.
"Well, thanks for the update, but I was actually calling to talk to you," I said with a smile at his unorthodox greeting.
"Oh, I'm sorry Cam," he apologized. "I just saw the caller id and thought it was one of the usual suspects," he added with a laugh.
"I understand completely, Dan," I told him. "I only answer this one during the day when they're all at school. I was wondering if I could talk with you about Peter and Ephraim."
"Peter is grounded because he chose not to pay attention to his lessons," Dan began. "He has already confessed that Ephraim's grades have not fallen as his have. He was very insistent on making that clear in fact. I think he was afraid that either we or you would punish Ephraim for this as well."
"Actually that's exactly why I'm calling," I told him. I proceeded to explain about Ephraim's demand to share Peter's fate.
"Well, that's just ridiculous, Cam. The boy did nothing wrong. Peter got himself into this situation all on his own," Dan answered. "There is no reason to punish Ephraim for something Peter did. In fact, he is still welcome to come over as long as he and Peter are only studying and they do it at the kitchen table in view of Karen or me. We'll probably relax that in a week or so, but don't tell the boys that yet."
"The secret is safe with me," I agreed. "I will take care of things at this end. Thanks for the advice. I'm kind of new at this punishment thing."
"Well, it would throw me for one of mine to ask to be punished as well," Dan reassured me. "You're doing a great job as a father, and don't you ever think otherwise. Those four are lucky to have you in their lives."
After saying goodbye to Dan, I decided it was time to try to talk this out with Ephraim one more time. I was halfway up the stairs when I was met by Derek. He looked positively violent. I hadn't seen him this upset since the night I had found him in the park and took him home.
"You monster!" he snarled. "If you do this, I will call Janice on you myself."
"What are you talking about?" I asked in confusion.
"You know f***ing well what I'm talking about," he snapped in reply. "Why in the hell would you ask that holy rolling psycho anything about Ephraim?"
"Derek, I don't know exactly what's got you so upset, but I do not appreciate your tone at all, young man," I told him seriously. "I will be back to talk to you when you've had time to cool off which I expect you to do while standing in the corner at the bottom of the stairs."
"What?!" he exclaimed.
"You heard me, Mister Big Shot," I ordered. "Go stand in the corner like the little boy you are acting like."
He stormed the rest of the way downstairs as I continued up to the second floor of the house. Out of habit now, I looked into the bathroom and was pleased to see that the only thing on the floor was a stray pair of underwear and one dry washcloth that had fallen from the shelf beside the tub. I picked them up replacing the clean cloth and dropping the skivvies into the hamper. Judging from the size, they could only belong to Ephraim. I then headed for the open door of his room.
I was completely unprepared for what I saw as I entered my son's room. Ephraim was standing in the middle of his room, bent at the waist, clutching his ankles. He was also totally naked. There was a leather belt lying across his back.
"Ephraim, what in the world are you doing?" I gasped.
"I assumed the position, Father," he answered with an eerie hollow tone to his voice. "I am ready for discipline."
"No, you aren't," I contradicted him. "Stand up and look at me." When he did, I kept my eyes on his face which was now filled with confusion as well as fear. "I will never, ever strike you as punishment for anything," I assured him. I suddenly understood what had happened on the second floor of my house while I had been on the phone with Dan.
"You thought I was going to call the preacher, didn't you?" I asked for confirmation. He nodded his head up and down as his bottom lip quivered. "That man is not your other dad. He was never anything more than your biological father or as you say, your sperm donor. It takes love for a child to be a dad or a pop."
"You mean you called Pop?" he asked softly. His voice was as shaky as his lip.
"No, Edan is in class right now," I corrected him. "Do you know of any other man that loves you like a son?" Ephraim's face was blank with confusion. "Maybe I should say he loves you like a son-in-law," I added.
"You called Peter's dad?" he blurted. "Are they mad at me?" he asked nervously.
"Only because you think you did something wrong," I answered him. "Your Daddy Dan told me to tell you that this was Peter's mistake, not yours. He also said I had better not punish you for it, or I would have to answer to him and your Momma Karen. Now, I might be able to take Dan without a problem, but one of the first lessons my Master Koji taught me was to pick my battles. I wouldn't cross Karen for all the money in the world. Now give me a hug, you little scamp."
"But…." he began.
"No butts but yours," I told him as we embraced and I playfully swatted his little rump. He jumped, but it wasn't entirely from shock. "I saw that," I told him. "What was that little sidestep for? Are you sore back there from something? Have you and Ephraim…."
"NO!" he exclaimed as he blushed all the way to his toes.
"Did someone else hurt you?" I pressed.
"No, it doesn't hurt, not really," he tried to evade unsuccessfully. He realized that I was not going to let it go, so he dropped his gaze to the floor as he turned red once more. "I…. Well, umm…. I kinda…."
"Ephraim, did you put something in yourself?" I asked him gently. I saw that he was dangerously close to tears, so I pulled him into another hug. "Son, I'm not mad at you and you aren't in trouble for this. Well, not really in trouble. We do need to talk about this, but it can wait for a minute. First, I need to see if you are alright back there."
"Dad!" he gasped as he turned a few shades redder.
"Would you prefer that I take you to Dr. Martin's office and the nurse can check you out?"
"NO!" he blurted quickly. "It doesn't hurt much. It'll be ok. I won't ever do it again, I swear."
"Don't make promises that you have no intention of keeping," I advised him. "It feels good to have something back there. Trust me, I know. I just want to make sure you do it carefully and safely, ok? Now, I will just take a look to make sure you haven't torn anything," I assured him. I would later wish that I had paid attention to the fact that the music I had heard from Daniel's room stopped just then.
"All right," he surrendered. He lay across his bed, exposing his little backside to me.
"Ok, Ephraim, if I hurt you, you just tell me," I said softly as I stepped toward him.
"You won't get the chance to hurt him!" I heard from the doorway. I turned just in time to block a powerful punch from Daniel.
"Danny, no!" Ephraim yelled.
"He won't mess you with you while I'm still breathing, baby bro!" Daniel was calling.
"He didn't mess with me, I did," Ephraim blurted.
"What?" Daniel suddenly stopped struggling and turned to face the still naked boy.
"I was playing with myself and now it's kind of sore back there," Ephraim confessed as he stared at the floor. "Dad was just checking to make sure I didn't hurt myself."
"I guess I'm in trouble now?" Daniel asked sheepishly.
"You were going to fight Dad for me," Ephraim bubbled as he leapt into Daniel's arms, giving him a tight hug. Daniel looked so uncomfortable I had to rescue him.
"Ephraim, you might want to put some clothes on," I suggested. "You're embarrassing Daniel."
"I'm sorry, Daniel," Ephraim responded instantly. He ran over to his dresser and grabbed some boxers and put them on, followed by one of Edan's shirts which still covered him to the point that you could no longer tell he had the boxers.
"If you guys don't quit raiding Pop's laundry, he won't have any t-shirts left to wear himself," I muttered. "Let's head downstairs now; I think it's time for a meeting with my three sons."
I was glad to see that Derek was indeed standing in the corner as we started downstairs. Ephraim started to say something, but he was silenced by a look from me as well as Daniel's hand that clamped across his mouth. As we got closer to him, I saw the shudders that told me that Derek was fighting to control his sobs. I motioned the other two boys into the living room quietly before putting my hand on Derek's shoulder. He spun around before I could say a word and buried his face in my chest.
"I'm sorry, Dad," he bawled. "I should have known you wouldn't have done anything to hurt Effie," he continued gasping through his sobs. "Please don't throw me out," he begged.
"I will never throw you out, son," I whispered as I returned his embrace. "Let's go into the living room and talk this out."
When all three boys were seated on the couch, I spoke again. "Boys, I want to apologize to you. I have obviously not been the father that you three needed."
"Yes, you have", "What do you mean?" and "But Dad," were the responses. I waved them all to silence.
"First of all, I want to say how sorry I am that I made Ephraim think that he would get into trouble for something that someone else did," I began. "For him to further think that I would discipline him in the same way that he experienced in the past… well, that just proves that I am an unfit parent." Again I had to shush three boys before I could continue. "Further proof is that Derek also believed me capable of physically abusing his brother. The final verdict comes from the knowledge that Daniel thought I was a child molester after all."
I stood before them shaking my head. "I just don't know what I can do to make this up to you, much less prove to you that I love you guys, all three of you as much as if I had given you life. You boys are the very air that I breathe." I paused to look up at them as I added, "You tell me guys. What do I have to do to show you how much I love you?"
Daniel was the first to stand up. He walked up to me and wiped the tears from my cheeks, and said, "You just did it for me, Dad." He held up his fingers, wet with my tears, and continued. "These aren't for your pain. You're crying because of the pain you think you caused us. No one has ever cared that much about me before." He then stunned me even more by wrapping his arms around me. Derek and Ephraim both jumped off the sofa and joined him in squeezing the air out of my lungs. At that moment, if I had suffocated, I couldn't have thought of a better way to go.
Once all that was cleared up, Derek got busy preparing everything he and Brendan would be taking to the cabin with them. Admittedly, that wasn't much other than a cooler with some snacks and drinks. After that it was just a matter of waiting for Bren to come home from the office.
Just after the nightmare of New Year's night had settled down, Brendan had started working a few afternoons a week in the computer business offices. He wanted to learn as much as he could about the company, so he insisted on starting at the bottom and working his way up. He made the officers in the company vow on their own jobs that he would not be given new responsibilities until they believed he was ready for them.
Once he got home, he and Derek grabbed the cooler and a small bag for other supplies and they started walking toward the cabin. For some reason, I was suddenly apprehensive about their plans. Something didn't feel right, but I couldn't figure out what the problem could be. Two hours later, I realized what the problem was. A storm had been brewing and was now assaulting the farm with all of the fury of a small typhoon.
Edan tried to tell me there was nothing to worry about. He had gotten Dan to go out and check the stability of the cabin just a week ago. It was perfectly safe for the boys to stay there, and in fact, they would probably be better off staying in the cabin rather than trying to walk home in the storm. I wouldn't rest until I talked to them though. I dialed Brendan's cell phone and it rang several times before he answered.
"I thought we agreed that this weekend would be interruption free," he pointed out as he answered.
"I just wanted to make sure you guys were ok with the storm," I said in my defense.
"Derek says to tell you that rain on a tin roof is very erotic," my brother told me. "Of course he didn't use quite those words."
"It figures; that little horndog," I laughed finally. "Everyone else in the world gets sleepy from the sound, but he gets horny."
"Hey, I'm not complaining," Brendan told me.
"I'll bet you aren't," I agreed. "If it gets too bad out there, call me. I'll come out in your Jeep and get you guys."
"We're just fine, Big Brother," Brendan answered sarcastically. "Now will you please let me get back to…?"
"I don't need to know," I interrupted him quickly.
We hung up, but something was still bothering me. It was a sense of foreboding, something bad was going to happen and I couldn't stop it because I couldn't figure out what it was. I was still antsy an hour later when the storm suddenly worsened. There were blinding flashes of lightning and the thunder shook the whole house. I got up out of bed and turned the TV on to the Weather Channel. The meteorologist on air said that there was nothing to worry about. It was just a normal spring storm. There had been no indications yet of anything more serious developing.
"A lot he knows," I mumbled as I turned the TV off. "It sounds like a typhoon out there."
No sooner had I said it, than there was a horrendously loud crash of thunder. I was suddenly struck with the unmistakable feeling that someone was in dire trouble. I shook Edan awake. He grumbled at first until he saw my face clearly. He got out of bed and started getting dressed. Just at that moment, a very frightened Ephraim came charging into our room.
"Umm… That sounded really close," he said trying to sound braver than he obviously was. Another clash of thunder and he forgot his false bravado and dove into our bed. "Is it ok if I stay down here for a bit?" he squeaked as he peeked back out from under the covers.
"You can stay here, but we are going out," I told him. "Pop and I are going to go get Brendan and Derek."
Just then, Daniel knocked on the door. He looked slightly pale and worried. "Dad, I just called Brendan's cell phone and I can't get an answer."
"They're probably making out," Ephraim called out from the bed.
"No, it didn't even ring," Daniel corrected. "I got some kind of message that the phone isn't receiving a signal."
"Stay here with Ephraim," I told him. "Pop and I are going to drive the Jeep out and get them."
I had trouble getting to the Jeep once I was outside. The wind was so strong that I could barely keep my footing. I finally got the four wheel drive engaged and headed out into the pasture that lead to the woods where the cabin was. We had to stop before we got to the cabin because there was a tree down across the path. I told Edan to wait in the Jeep, but he just gave me a look and got out with me. We climbed over and around the tree only to see to our horror that there was another tree down as well. This one was lying across the flattened remains of the small cabin.
This was going to be a much longer chapter, but I got impatient myself. Well, that and my favorite fan told me I was getting a little long-winded on the updates lately. He said it a little more politely than that, of course, but I got the message. So it's his fault that there's a cliff hanger here.
*Looks around to see if anyone is buying that last line. Didn't think so. Oh well, it was worth a shot.*
Ok, so it's my fault. I accept full responsibility and throw myself on the mercy of the Cliff Hanger Police.