Halloween had arrived and the Haunted House was proceeding without a hitch, but even better than that, Brandon and I weren't required to stick around. That was because Pop had offered to keep an eye on things for us and hand out the candy instead of wearing the scarecrow costume, as he had during the trial run. He'd opted to stuff it with hay instead and placed it in a chair on the porch as we'd originally planned. That freed us up so we could go with Dion and Trey to take the three youngest boys trick-or-treating.
We loaded everyone into my SUV to do this, and then Dion and Trey told me the places they were planning to go. In addition to stopping at the houses of some of their friends, we also stopped by to see Uncle Steve and Aunt Mary Shay too. They were glad to see us and surprised that we had another boy. They hadn't heard about Benny yet, so after we'd explained the situation to them, Uncle Steve winked and smiled, indicating he saw another adoption appearing on his docket in the near future.
We went to visit Aunt Sally too, and she was also very happy to see us. She also seemed pleased that Benny was fitting in so well and having such a good time. "So... are you happy living in your new home?" she asked, and Benny's face immediately lit up.
"Yep, I got two brothers now and my bestest friend, Joshie. I like my dads too and I've been havin' lots of fun." Aunt Sally had a huge grin on her face after hearing his answer.
On the way home Benny mentioned something else. "I never done this before and I got a whole bunch of candy now."
"Yes, you did really well, but we have a rule you'll have to follow about the candy," Brandon informed him. "You can only eat two pieces of candy a day, because we don't want you to get sick or rot your teeth."
"And it will last longer that way too," Benny added with a toothy grin. It seemed that since he'd never had candy before he wasn't fazed by the restriction.
As we entered the house, Noah filled us in about how things had gone with the Haunted House and claimed his friends had a blast helping out. He told us they'd wanted to stick around to thank us, but we got home too late since we'd spent so much time with the Shays and Aunt Sally. He then explained that his friends said they'd see us at their next soccer match instead, and they'd also informed him that they wanted to help out again next year.
After that night, things started to calm down for awhile, even though Brandon and I knew it was time to start preparing for the next important dates on our calendar. Noah's birthday was in a few days, but we'd already talked it over with him and had asked what he wanted to do, since we weren't sure if he wanted to have a party. He said he didn't want the type of party that he'd had in the past and asked if he could do something different instead. After talking it over, Brandon and I agreed with his proposal, as well as his decision to wait until the following weekend to celebrate instead of the coming weekend. His birthday was on the 4th, which fell on a Tuesday this year, so we planned to get together with his friends on the following Saturday, November 8th. Now, we just had to figure out what he wanted to do.
Noah had a soccer match on the Wednesday before his party, which would be the last one of the season, so we promised to be there to cheer him on. After racing out of our offices after work, we drove directly to the field because Dion had agreed to take the boys and meet us there. The teams were only partway through the first half when we arrived, which surprised us, because they were usually farther along by the time we arrived. As we looked around, Dion got our attention and we joined them in the bleachers.
"The other team arrived late, so you haven't missed much," he explained. "Noah's team scored very early and I think it was because the other team was still a little stiff from the long bus ride."
"Was it Noah who scored?" Brandon inquired.
"No, it was one of his friends. Noah wasn't involved in the goal, but he's still been playing really well."
Noah's team nearly scored again just before the half, but the shot hit the crossbar and ricocheted back onto the field. Then, the other team was able to kick it away as time expired. It was exciting and very close, but they had nothing to show for the effort, although they led 1-0.
Noah spotted us as he was walking off the field with his team and waved in our direction. We waved back as he grabbed a water bottle and sat down with the team to listen to the coach make adjustments for the second half.
When they took the field again, the other team had the ball first, but a bad pass led to it to going over the touchline and out of play, giving Noah's team a throw-in. The ball was tossed to one of the midfielders and he quickly passed it to one of the other boys as he broke toward the goal. Unfortunately, one of the defenders got to the ball first, but it took a bad bounce and glanced off his leg before rolling over the goal line and out of play. The other team's bad break was now about to result in a corner kick for Noah's team.
One of Noah's teammates placed the ball inside the corner arc and prepared to put it in play. Noah lined up near the top of the penalty area, basically in line with the far goalpost, and as the ball went into the air he raced toward the spot where he thought it was going to go. The keeper tried to catch the ball in the air but was screened off by the other bodies and was now badly out of position. This left Noah as the only one with a clear shot at the ball.
He timed it perfectly and leaped into the air to complete his acrobatic header. Just as the ball came into contact with his forehead, Noah jerked his head toward the goal and directed the ball behind the keeper. None of the opposing players were able to stop the ball either and it sailed into the net for the score. Noah's teammates immediately began celebrating and jubilantly raced toward Noah to congratulate him. A loud cheer also went up from the stands, as the crowd showed its approval as well. Noah's team was now leading 2-0.
The other team scored with about two minutes left in regular time, which brought them to within a goal just before the referee signaled two minutes of added time. The other team quickly pulled their keeper forward to add a little extra offence in an attempt to score again, but the tactic backfired. One of Noah's teammates was able to clear the ball downfield and it bounced twice and then rolled into the goal before anyone from the other squad could catch up to it. The game ended with Noah's team winning, 3-1.
Needless to say, Noah's teammates began celebrating as soon as the game ended, along with the fans in the stands. However, before long several members of the team ceased congratulating each other and headed in our direction.
"Hey, we wanted to thank both of you for letting us help with the Haunted House. It was a blast and we hope you'll let us do it again next year," their spokesman stated. Then, the others chimed in their agreement, pumped their fists in the air, and then pointed at us to show they all felt the same way. Brandon and I merely nodded in acknowledgment.
As they were walking away, I thought of something else and shouted out a reply. "By the way, great game!"
"Yes, you all played really well," Brandon added, before they moved off to celebrate some more with their coach.
Noah joined up with us again a short time later, but Dion had already left to go home so he could help Trey with dinner. He had taken Wyatt with him, but Joshie and Benny stayed with us, since they wanted to wait for Noah. They were all chatting excitedly as we loaded into the SUV.
"You played great again," Joshie gushed, extremely proud of Noah.
"Yeah, you were the best one out there," Benny chirped in agreement.
"Thanks, but the team won that game, not just me," Noah replied modestly. That may have been the case, but it certainly didn't lessen either boy's admiration for how he'd played.
The next couple of days went by fairly quickly with us spending a great deal of time talking about Noah's birthday party, which was going to be held on Saturday. Noah had convinced us to take him and some of his friends to play laser tag at a place that wasn't too far away. When I mentioned that Joshie and Benny wanted to go too, Noah agreed it would be all right. He said he didn't think his friends would mind if those two went as well, as long as Joshie and Benny didn't complain if they got 'shot' and were put out of the game. We explained this to the younger pair and they confirmed that they understood, so they were busy thanking Noah while Brandon and I talked to Dion and Trey about letting Joshie join us.
We even asked Dion and Trey to come too, if they wanted, but they said they'd stay home with Wyatt and have things ready when everyone came back to the house for cake and ice cream. Noah hadn't wanted to do that at first, but after his friends told him they thought it would be neat, he finally gave in.
On Saturday, I drove our group to the place where we were going to play laser tag, while Noah's friends were dropped off by their parents. After everyone had arrived, they talked Brandon and me into playing too, so we agreed to do it with a specific purpose in mind. One of us was going to stick with Joshie and the other one with Benny so we could help protect them and keep them from getting put out of the game quite as quickly. The entire group split into two teams and got ready to play, but before we began some of the boys started trash talking and saying how they were going to get the other team out and win the game. Now, the other team was even more determined to make them eat their words.
It actually worked out quite well that Brandon and I were helping the younger pair, because we shot down some of Noah's friends before they got any of us. When the game ended, everyone said they'd had such a great time that they wanted to go again and keep the same teams, so Brandon and I agreed. During this game, it was a little harder to get people out since they had all learned from the first go around and were a little more cautious.
It took considerably longer until one of the teams was declared victorious, but the outcome created a new problem. Each team had now won a game apiece, so the boys wanted to play a third time so they could declare an overall winner. After talking it over, Brandon and I reluctantly agreed, but the game took even longer than the other two before we finally had a winner. The team that lost didn't get upset, although a few of the trash talkers were forced to eat crow and admit they'd been wrong.
A couple of the parents that drove either an SUV or a van had offered to come back when we'd finished and help transport the other boys to our house and we happily accepted their offer. We had their sons call and tell them we were ready as soon as the last game ended, and when we got to the house we hurried inside. Trey met us in the foyer and directed everyone toward the dining room.
"Cake's on the table and Dion and I will bring in the ice cream," he advised Brandon and me.
Once everyone was seated around the table, Brandon lit the '1' and '5' candles on the top of the cake and then we sang Happy Birthday to Noah. His friends were belting it out louder than the rest of us and really got into it, but I think it was just a mild dig at Noah. He merely smiled at their enthusiastic rendition and thanked them after blowing out the candles.
As soon as everyone had cake and ice cream, I handed Noah his gift from Brandon and me. He quickly unwrapped it and then looked at us, grinning sheepishly. We had given him a new Samsung waterproof cell phone because he'd had a slight accident with his old phone and it was no longer usable.
"Thanks," he said without elaborating.
As soon as he'd set his new phone down, Benny handed him another gift. "This one is from Joshie and me, cuz we wanted to get you something from just us."
Noah looked puzzled as he slowly unwrapped the present. It turned out to be two games for the PS4 that would be more to his liking, 'Destiny' and 'Star Wars'. "You can play those when we're not usin' it," Joshie told him.
Noah merely grinned before commenting. "I guess this means you don't want me playing with you any more, but that's ok, and thanks, little brothers."
"Hey, Joshie's not your brother," Benny pointed out.
"Maybe not officially, but we're all still brothers, since we're growing up together in the same house," Noah responded.
"Yeah, I like that!" Benny replied gleefully as he nudged Joshie.
Dion and Trey gave Noah some clothes that they'd seen him admiring when he was at the mall with them. He and his friends all seemed to view the gifts favorably and made several very positive comments about the choices they'd made, so I guess Dion and Trey had shopped wisely.
"Those are really neat, but how did you know that Noah wanted them?" one of Noah's friends asked.
"We saw him checking them out when he went to the mall with us once," Dion replied.
"Damn, I wish my parents were that observant," another boy grumbled. I guess his comment meant his parents didn't always select the clothing he'd been fawning over. I wasn't sure if this was due to their lack of powers of observation or if they just weren't fond of the items he liked, but either way he obviously didn't get what he wanted.
Jake, however, did something we hadn't expected. He bought Noah's gifts from the Walking Dead store. The first was 'The Walking Dead Four Survivor' t-shirt that featured the Ringleader, the Archer, the Samurai, and the Kid. He also bought him 'The Walking Dead Walkers Attack Men's Zip Hoodie' that contained the images of multiple, gruesome-looking zombies on it.
"Thanks, Grandpa Jake. These are really neat," Noah told him.
"They're from Grandpa Josh too, and we decided to get them for you because we knew how much you liked that show."
"Yep, the show is awesome."
Finally, one of Noah's friends spoke up. "We know the kind of stuff you like, but we weren't sure what you already had or might get today. We also weren't sure if you wanted something to wear, listen to, or something to do with sports, so we all chipped in and got you a Visa gift card instead. This way you can get whatever you want.
"Hey, thanks a lot, and maybe we can all go to the mall together sometime and you can help me pick out some things." His friends seemed agreeable to his suggestion, so I guess it was a perfect gift after all.
The boys then went outside to mess around with the soccer and basketballs for a while before their parents showed up to take them home. Noah thanked each of his friends for coming and told each one that he'd see him at school. Eventually, it was just the family left to clean up the mess.
You might say we all had a minor letdown after that, because things were fairly quiet over the next couple of weeks. Not only were the boys slightly depressed that Halloween and the Haunted House was now behind them, but also because the fall sport season had ended and the winter season was just getting underway. They also hadn't been bitten by the Christmas bug yet, so there wasn't a whole lot going on at the house. Brandon, Dion, Trey, and I, however, were thinking ahead to Thanksgiving.
"Damn, Dad isn't going to be here this year and I've never fixed a turkey before," Trey complained when we started talking about Thanksgiving dinner.
"Maybe Pop has," Dion offered.
"No, he doesn't like to cook and lets Dad take care of that," Trey confirmed.
"Then ask Pop about how you can reach Dad on Skype and he can tell you what to do," Brandon offered.
"What if I screw up?" Trey countered, looking worried.
"You won't, but if you do we'll just go out to eat instead," I offered, trying to let him know we'd make the day work no matter what happened.
"Ok, I guess I'll give it a try then," Trey agreed.
When Dion went to give Wyatt his bath, Trey brought up something else to Brandon and me. "Dion's birthday falls on Thanksgiving this year, so that's why I was so worried. I don't want to ruin his special day for him."
"Don't worry, you won't," Brandon offered. "I'm sure Dad will be able to tell you all you'll need to know and the meal will come out great. I'll order a cake for you and one of us will pick it up the night before, but you'll have to distract Dion so we can sneak it into the house."
"No problem. I'll take care of that," Trey confirmed. "And thanks for doing this for me. I'd really like to do something different for him this year, maybe with just the two of us, but I don't have any ideas."
"I'll tell you what," Brandon offered, "we'll watch the kids for you if you want to make reservations to take Dion somewhere for the weekend. Both of our offices are closed on Friday and Saturday, so we're free to do that for you."
"Really? That would be great. Now I just have to think of where I can take him, along with making sure Thanksgiving isn't a total flop."
"Who else do you think will be coming for Thanksgiving this year?" I wondered, since it was usually a big day at the house.
"Everyone knows that Dad's in Georgia, so I doubt any of them will be coming home this year," Brandon offered.
"What about Vinnie and Kevin?" Trey followed.
"I can call them and check, but I have a feeling they'll be having dinner with Uncle Steve and Aunt Mary, seeing they're legally Vinnie's parents," I replied. "Aunt Sally even said something about being invited to have Thanksgiving with them when we saw her on Halloween. They all knew Dad wouldn't be here and we probably wouldn't be having a big shindig at the house this year, so I guess they made other plans."
"That works out then and I won't need to fix a huge bird."
"And we'll help with the meal too," Brandon stated. "We can take care of the side dishes, as long as you take care of the turkey and dressing."
"Thanks, and that will help a lot."
"And we can buy frozen pies that we can bake in the oven when we're ready for them, so they'll be fresh," I added.
"Sounds like a plan," Trey agreed.
Now that those things had been agreed to, all we had to do was get the things we would need before then, since it was only a couple of weeks away.
Fortunately, the boys were into watching football games on the weekends, college on Saturday and Pro on Sunday, so it freed us up to do other things. I was a little surprised that Benny had gotten involved in doing it too, but I guess Joshie's enthusiasm had rubbed off on him. Either that or he just liked spending time with Joshie and Noah no matter what they were doing, but either way it gave them time to bond. Sometimes I'd go in to join them, but Brandon, Dion, and Trey weren't into football, so I had all three boys to myself.
Later on Sunday, Brandon got a call from his parents. "Hi, honey, we just wanted to call and see if you'd mind if we came to visit over Thanksgiving," his mother announced. Brandon had called them shortly after Benny had moved in, so they knew about him, and it might be the reason they wanted to visit.
"So you want to come for Thanksgiving and not Christmas, or are you planning to do both?"
"No, we won't be making two trips. We just figured you wouldn't be having everyone there this year, since Josh is in Georgia, so we'd get more time to visit with you, Danny, and the boys if we came for Thanksgiving. Christmas is so hectic there, with everyone home for the holiday, so this will work out better for us. I'll even offer to fix Thanksgiving Dinner if you want, since Josh won't be there to do it this year."
"We were just talking about that and Trey was worried he'd mess dinner up, seeing he'd never fixed a turkey before. I'm sure he'd love to have your help so he can learn for the future."
"And I'd appreciate his help in the kitchen too."
"Oh, you'll have more than just him helping, since you'll technically be our guests."
"I don't mind fixing the meal, but any help will be appreciated."
"And don't worry about picking us up from the airport," his father chimed in. "I'll rent a car and drive there after the plane lands, so you won't have to make two roundtrips to the airport."
After Brandon and I finished speaking with his parents, we called the boys so they could talk to their grandparents too, while we went to tell Trey the good news.
"Whew, that takes a big load off my mind," Trey agreed. "Now I know the day will be perfect for Dion."
We all went to bed feeling really good that night and looking forward to the holiday.
Things went smoothly over the next couple of weeks, and we all went grocery shopping together to make sure we didn't forget anything for the holiday. Each couple made a list and took it with us, scratching each item off as we placed it in the cart. Trey and Dion had a couple of items on their list that we didn't have, but we had a couple they didn't have either, so it all worked out well.
On the day before Thanksgiving we had an unexpected surprise, because when we got home Elliot was there waiting for us. "We didn't know you were going to drive back for Thanksgiving," I mentioned after I'd greeted him and given him a hug.
"I wasn't going to at first, but after meeting Benny I wanted to come home so I could spend some more time with him. I also wanted to see Noah, since he hadn't come with you when you visited me. Besides, I only have two classes on Wednesday and both professors told us they were giving us the day as a special study time and there would be no class. I figured I could study just as well from here, so I left this morning to make sure I could drive the speed limit and still get here by the time you guys got home from work." I knew he'd added that last part because Brandon and I were always warning him about driving too fast.
"Well, we're glad to have you and I'm sure the boys will all be happy to have you home as well," Brandon added.
"Yeah, they all went crazy when they first saw me earlier. I was in the family room playing video games with them before you got here, but they let me take a break so I could come out to say hello."
"Well, that was nice of them," I teased, tongue-in-cheek. "I'm glad they were willing to share you. I'm sorry Grandpa Jake isn't here, but he was leaving directly from work and heading to the airport. He's flying to Atlanta to spend time with Grandpa Josh, Shannon, and Nick."
"Aw, that's too bad because I wanted to see both of my grandpas too."
"They'll both be here for Christmas and I suspect you'll be coming back then too," Brandon advised him.
"Yeah, I will. Ummm, would you mind if I asked a favor?" Elliot stated next.
"I guess that depends on what you have in mind," I answered.
"Joshie and Benny already asked if they could sleep with me tonight, so I told them I'd ask you. Would it be ok if we all slept together?"
"Your bedroom still has the double bed, so I suppose it would be alright," Brandon responded. "Do you want to shower with them again as well?"
"Yeah, I was going to ask you about that next, because they said something about it too."
"Sure, if you don't mind doing it with them, then we don't have any objections either," Brandon confirmed.
"Great. I know it will make Joshie and Benny happy."
"And I have a feeling it makes you happy too," I chimed in.
"Yeah, it makes me feel good that they want to do these things with me, especially since Benny and I just met."
"I have news for you. They all think of you as their big brother now, so set a good example for them," I added.
"Yes, thanks to you and Noah," Brandon replied. "He called both of them his brothers at his birthday party, and when Benny questioned it, Noah told them they were all brothers, since they were growing up together in the same house. It was kind of like you did when we came to see you for Family Weekend."
"Yeah, I'm glad Noah feels that way too, so I'm going to have to thank him and let him know I agree."
"Oh, and we'll also have a little surprise for you later," Brandon added.
"What kind of surprise?"
"You'll see," Brandon replied, and Elliot merely rolled his eyes knowing it wouldn't do any good pursuing it further.
After dinner, the boys spent the night entertaining each other while the rest of us concentrated on getting things ready for the following day. Brandon's parents showed up just before 8:00 and got to meet Benny.
"Benny, these are my parents, so this is your Grandma Brenda and Grandpa Pat," Brandon introduced them.
"Benny, I'm so pleased to meet you," Brenda said as she pulled him into a hug. She was squeezing him and his face was crushed against her breasts, so we were beginning to wonder if he could breathe. When she released him, Benny had a huge grin on his face, as Pat hugged him next.
"I hope you like being part of our family," Pat added after he'd released Benny too.
"Yeah, I love it here. It's really great and I have four brothers."
"Four brothers?" Brenda quipped before glancing at us.
"Yeah, Elliot, Noah, Joshie, and Wyatt. We all agree we're all brothers now, since we all live here together."
"It's really nice that all of you to feel that way about each other."
"It sure helps us," Brandon added. "They get along great and entertain each other, which frees us up to do what we need to do."
Once the preliminaries were over, Brenda turned to address Trey. "I understand we're going to be working together on tomorrow's dinner."
"Yes, and I can't tell you how relieved l am that you've agreed to do this. I've never prepared a turkey before and was worried that I'd mess up."
"Well, I've fixed plenty, so just watch and learn. I appreciate that you're going to help, though."
"Yeah, I don't mind helping, as long as you do the turkey."
After doing some things in advance, Brenda and Trey told us they were going to turn in early since they'd also be getting up early in the morning to start the turkey. After Brandon took his mother upstairs to show her which bedroom she and Pat would be using, I told Dion he could go upstairs with Trey too, if they wanted to have a little fun before Trey fell asleep. Wyatt was in the family room with the other boys and I told him we'd take care of his sons and get them cleaned up and tuck them in bed. He thanked me for the offer and headed upstairs to join Trey.
After Brandon returned, we sat down with his father in the family room and visited with the boys when they weren't playing video games. Wyatt was shifting between Noah and Elliot's laps as they went to take their turns, but he seemed satisfied watching the others, as long as he was being held.
Pat commented on how well the boys were behaving and getting along, so we explained that this had been working out really well. We also filled him in about Benny's background and he made us promise not to tell this to his wife. He was worried it would upset her and ruin the holiday, so he'd tell her what she needed to know after they got home. We agreed that would probably be best.
A little later I took Wyatt to give him his bath, and then I took him
up to his room, helped him put his PJs on, and tucked him in bed. When I came downstairs afterward, we spent some time watching TV with the other boys before sending them to shower and go to bed too.
When Pat was ready to turn in, Brandon showed him to the bedroom he'd be using, and then he and I went to turn in as well. Before we did that, however, we decided to check on the boys first, and that's when we got our next surprise. Noah was in with them as well, with Joshie and Benny cuddled in between the older pair. I guess they were all brothers after all.