Thursday night after dinner we went in with the boys to watch TV. Dad and Pop were busy doing something else, as the rest of us herded the boys into the family room and got comfortable. Joshie sat on Dion's lap, while Trey held Wyatt, and Benny had opted to sit on Brandon's lap again. That's when Ryan stepped in front of me and spoke.
"Ummm, I haven't ever done nothin' like this before, but would you mind if I sit on your lap for awhile?"
I didn't hesitate and answered immediately. "I wouldn't mind at all and I think it would be nice."
He quickly got ready to take his place, as a huge smile spread across his lips. Then, he snuggled up against me and let out a contented sigh, which I thought was cute.
"I don't remember ever doing this with anyone before, but I think I like it. It's kinda nice."
As soon as he said that, I wrapped my arms around his chest and gave him a squeeze. He turned and smiled at me again. "Thanks. I liked that too."
"Me too," I agreed.
He sat with me the entire time until we sent them up to get ready for bed. Before he left, however, there was something else he wanted to know.
"You're still gonna come up and tuck me in, aren't you?"
"Of course we are," I assured him, as I patted him on the butt and sent him upstairs to shower.
After he took off, I thought about what I'd just done and realized that maybe I shouldn't have given him the gentle tap on the backside. He didn't seem to react to it, though, but now I realized it could have created a problem. I was wondering if he might say something about it when we got to his room, but I guess we'd soon find out.
After tucking Benny and Joshie in, we said goodnight to Noah before going over to Ryan's room. He was standing beside the bed waiting for us to arrive, so I walked over, pulled back the bedding, and allowed him to climb into place. Then, I covered him before Brandon and I wished him sweet dreams and kissed him on the forehead.
"Night, Dads, and thanks. I love being here with you guys."
"We're glad and we love having you here too," I replied, although I'd hesitated momentarily before speaking, since I was slightly unsure about how I should respond.
I'd tried not to read too much into what he'd just said, because he'd only said that he loved being here, not that he loved us, so I didn't want to risk a possible adverse reaction by saying I loved him. He had definitely changed since he'd first arrived, but I wasn't sure how he'd react to a guy saying he loved him. Rather than taking that chance, I opted to word my response carefully and only mirrored what he had said to us.
"I really mean it. When I lived with my parents they weren't around very much and I was never able to do anything because we didn't have much money. Our house wasn't very nice either and I didn't even have my own room. The juvy place was even worse, and I was afraid I was going to be put in a really bad foster home with mean parents after I left there. Then, when I heard you guys were all gay I was worried that you were going to want to do the same crap to me that the trucker did, but you've been really great and I love it here. I just wanted you to know that I love living here with all of you."
"We're glad and we love having you here with us too. Sweet dreams," I added as I bent down and gave him another kiss on the forehead. He then closed his eyes, so I turned out the light and Brandon and I left his bedroom.
"So what did you think of that?" Brandon asked once we were downstairs.
"I'm encouraged, and it's another step in the right direction, but I don't want to read too much into it."
"What do you mean?"
"He only said he loved living with us, not that he loved us. I think it would be best if neither of us got the wrong impression or acted in a way that might set him off. Since he didn't say he loved either of us, I'm leery about saying I love him. He might get the wrong idea and then react badly, reversing all the gains he's made so far."
"You might be right about that, so I'll be careful about how I phrase what I say to him too."
Friday turned out to be fairly hectic, since we were all running around to pick up the things we needed for Dad's party. We wanted to do it before Saturday, so Brandon and Trey would have time to fix their salads and hide them in the refrigerator in the rec room until Sunday.
When we first got home, Brandon went in to talk to Dad about what we were having for dinner, but it was merely a ruse meant to distract him so I could sneak our purchases into the rec room until tomorrow. Then, I came back and said 'hello' to Dad too, before we went to see what the boys were up to.
After dinner we all headed to the family room to relax and see what was on TV. This time Ryan got to Brandon first and asked him a question. "Can I sit on your lap tonight?"
"Sure, I'd like that."
Brandon's reply brought a smile to Ryan's face as he wiggled his way onto Brandon's lap. That meant Benny sat with me, Joshie was on Dion's lap, and Trey held Wyatt, while Noah sprawled out on the floor. Pop dragged the other rocking chair out of the living room and brought it back to the family room so he and Dad would each have one to sit in. They both smiled at us when they saw what Ryan was doing again, and even though it felt good, I wasn't sure if we were out of the woods yet.
When we tucked the boys in later, Ryan paraphrased what he'd told us the night before, which was that he loved living here. We told him we were glad and loved having him with us, before kissing him on the forehead and wishing him sweet dreams.
After having breakfast together on Saturday morning, Pop advised us that he and Dad were going out for awhile, but he didn't tell us where they were going. He also said they probably wouldn't be home for lunch, so we'd know how much time we had to do everything, and we told them to have fun. Joshie teased to go with them, and then Benny and Ryan stated that they'd like to go too, but we had to disappoint them and tell them 'no'. We explained that this was to give their grandfathers time to be alone, since they'd been apart for such a long time while Papa was in Georgia and Grandpa Jake was here with us. I guess they must have understood our reasoning, because they eventually relented, although they weren't happy about it.
I was busy helping Brandon and Trey in the kitchen while Dion was entertaining Wyatt, and the boys were doing something in the rec room. Brandon and Trey were in the middle of their preparations when we heard a commotion coming from the rear of the house. Since I was the only one free, I went back to see what the problem was.
"What's all the shouting about?"
"Ryan's cheating and puttin' a spin on the ping pong ball," Joshie spat out in anger.
"I just figured out how I could do that and didn't think it was cheating," Ryan offered in his own defense.
"It's not cheating and it's actually a good strategy," I replied. "Joshie and Benny, if you play this game with other boys then they're likely to do the same thing, so you might as well learn how to handle the spin by practicing with Ryan."
"But it makes the ball harder to hit and it bounces funny off the paddle," Benny griped.
"Yes, because that's what it's supposed to do, but there are ways to compensate for the spin. You'll just have to try different things until you find a way to do that. When you do, it will probably mean that Ryan will have to find new ways to counter what you just did."
After hearing what I'd said, I could tell Joshie and Benny were now determined to figure this out so they could do something similar to Ryan. Since they'd stopped fighting, I went back to the kitchen and continued helping the other two.
Dad and Pop didn't return home until nearly 2:00, and when they came inside Dad was carrying a bag. Although we didn't ask them about it, the boys weren't about to let it pass unchallenged.
"Whatcha got?" Joshie asked his Papa as he pointed at the bag.
"While we were out I discovered the last of the Hobbit movies had just been released on DVD, so I bought all three so we could watch them at home."
As soon as he finished saying that, three of our hooligans began cheering and dancing around. Once they calmed down, they wanted to know if they could watch one of them now, so Dad came to check with us first, before giving them an answer.
"This was something I wanted us all to do together, so are the four of you able to take a break to join us?" he asked Dion, Trey, Brandon, and me.
We talked it over quickly and agreed that would be fine, so we all went to the family room to watch the first DVD, "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey." I have to admit that I was surprised there was a great deal more material in it than had been in the book. I heard later that the director and writers had drawn some of the background information from the appendices of "The Return of the King."
The boys thoroughly enjoyed watching it, though, especially when the dwarfs took over Bilbo's house, ate all his food, and started throwing his things around. They also got a kick out of the journey too and loved the scene about their encounter with the trolls, as well as their escape from the orcs with the wizard Radagast the Brown. They were also fascinated seeing Rivendell and were disappointed when the movie ended. They then wanted to know when we were going to watch the next one, so we told them we'd see. They weren't happy with that answer and kept bugging us to watch it later, after dinner.
At first we didn't want to do that, because we'd just sat through the first film, but they were insistent. We tried to put them off by telling them we'd decide later, but that only quieted them down until we finished eating. Then, they started in all over again.
After the six of us talked it over, we finally agreed it would be easier to just give in, so we went in with them to watch "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug." The boys got a thrill out of the barrel chase down the river, with the orcs trying to kill Bilbo and the dwarfs, with the elves doing their best to kill the orcs and capture the dwarfs again. The boys were also in awe of Smaug's enormous size, especially when they saw him in flight, as well as all of the treasure Smaug was hording. They were equally disappointed with the people of Laketown, but that was all forgotten as they watched the exciting final showdown with Smaug.
When it ended we sent the boys up to shower and get ready for bed. They grumbled a bit about doing this at first, because we hadn't told them they had to look nice because there would be a party the next day. We were afraid that if they knew, one of them would accidentally spill the beans and Dad would find out about it.
To cheer them up a little, we told them we'd watch the final Hobbit DVD with them tomorrow night, so they took off to do what they'd been asked. After giving them a sufficient amount of time to finish up, we headed upstairs to say goodnight.
Joshie and Benny both wanted to talk and held us up, so by the time we got to Ryan's room he was sitting at the desk waiting for us to arrive.
"I wondered how long it was gonna take before you finally got here," he stated as we walked through the door.
"If you were cold or tired you could have hopped in bed and we could have tucked you in once we got here."
"Nah, I like it when you help me get in bed too."
"Ok, then get your skinny butt over here so we can do this," I added playfully as I pulled back the bedding to let him climb into bed. Then I covered him up and tucked the bedding around him, before kissing him on the forehead and stepping aside so Brandon could do the same.
"Thanks for watching both movies with us today, Dads. They were great and I really enjoyed them."
"We're glad and sweet dreams."
"I love you both!" he followed with a grin. Whoa! This time he actually came out and said it.
"We love you too," Brandon responded, and we could see his smile broadened, even though I'd already turned off the light.
Brandon and I then walked downstairs in stunned silence, as we assimilated the true meaning of those words. Had that been the final hurdle to him feeling as if he was now part of our family, or was it only because we'd given in and watched the second movie with them? I decided to ask Brandon his thoughts on the situation.
"So what did you think of what just happened?"
"I was surprised, yet extremely pleased. I hope it means that he feels we really care about him and he now sees himself as part of our family."
"It's been fairly obvious that he's changed and grown, but he also seems to be more comfortable living here, so maybe this seals the deal for him."
"I certainly hope so, because then we can adopt Benny and him at the same ceremony."
"Yes, we could do that, but it's going to create a minor problem. I'd originally planned on giving Benny his certificate on his birthday, but Ryan's birthday isn't until October. That's too long of a gap in between and too great a time for Benny to have to wait."
"Yes, and Christmas is even father away, so what are we going to do?"
"I'm not sure yet, but we'll figure something out." Brandon and I then got in bed and fell asleep contemplating the situation.
Trey and Brandon set their alarms to get up early the following morning so they could fix breakfast before Dad started doing it. They made home fries and took both the bacon and sausage links out of the freezer, but they were also planning on making omelets for us this time.
It was good that we didn't all come down together, because it would have been nearly impossible for them to keep up, but this was working out great. When Dad asked why they were fixing breakfast, they told him it was to officially welcome him home.
I had gotten up when Brandon did, so they fed Dad, Pop, and me first. Since the boys still weren't awake, they fixed something for themselves as well. When Trey finished eating, he went to wake Dion and Wyatt next and then he fixed their meals. Joshie and Benny came down after that, with Noah and Ryan showing up last.
Once we had all eaten, we took the boys aside and told them to go upstairs and put something nice on because we were expecting company. We also told them not to say anything to their grandfather about this, though, because it was a surprise. Once they heard this, they did as we asked without complaint.
We'd told everyone else to arrive between 11:00 and 11:30, so they'd have a chance to visit with Dad before we sat down to eat. Kevin and Vinnie showed up first.
"Welcome back, Dad," they greeted him after coming inside.
"Well, it was nice for you to come see me like this."
Pop was standing behind Dad at the time and doing his best to signal them not to let the cat out of the bag. Luckily, they caught on to what he meant by his antics and made it sound like they'd just decided to stop by.
Dustin and his wife, Katie, showed up a few minutes later, which made Dad begin to question things. "It's odd that you all just happened to show up at nearly the same time."
"We came because we felt guilty about not seeing you at Christmas, so we decided to get here as soon as we could after you got back," Dustin replied. He and Katie had been among those that hadn't come home for the holiday, since they were celebrating with Katie's family. It also meant that Dad had a lot to ask him.
"Ok, I guess that makes sense," Dad conceded. "So tell me, Dustin, how's your HVAC business going?"
"Business has been really good and I'm doing quite well. The hot summers we've been having have caused many ACs to break down, and the winters keep me busy working on furnaces. I have a lot of steady customers who set up yearly maintenance on their systems, so it seems I'm always on the go."
"It sounds as if things are working out for you then. Are you still glad you went into that line of work?"
"Yeah, I like what I'm doing, I'm making good money, and I love being my own boss. It's just that sometimes I feel like I'm working too much." We all laughed after he said that.
"Yeah, don't we all?" several others chimed in.
"And how about you, Katie? What have you been up to?"
"Since Dustin's been so busy, I took over the office for him. I answer the phones, make appointments, and I also take care of the books. He used to do that too, but he was having trouble finding the time he needed to get it done, so I offered to do it for him. Besides, it's the only way I get to see him, because when he's home he's either eating or sleeping." Her comment made us all laugh too.
The Shays and Aunt Sally showed up next, followed closely behind by Jesse and Little Ricky.
"Now this is a little too much to just be a coincidence," Dad protested as more people kept showing up.
"Ok, I invited them to a Welcome Home party for you," Jake finally admitted.
"You sly dog," Dad countered as he playfully punched Jake in the shoulder.
After they'd all had a chance to chat with Dad, we noticed that Cole and Beth had parked on the street in front of the house, because the driveway was full. They hadn't come home for Christmas either, because they'd spent it with Beth's family last year.
"Cole, it's nice to see you," Dad greeted him. "How's the auto repair service working out?"
"It's what I wanted to do and I'm happy with the way things are going. Since I've become the boss, it means I get to choose which jobs I want to work on and which ones I give to the others."
"It's always good to be the boss," Dad agreed. "How about you, Beth? What are you doing?"
"Not much. I haven't found another job since I got laid off, so I'm still looking."
"For anything in particular?" Kevin asked.
"No, we could just use me having a paycheck to fill in some of the gaps, so I'm open to anything."
"Well, I was getting ready to advertise for another cashier, since my business has picked up so much. If you're interested the job is yours."
"Great, and I'll talk to you about it more before we leave." That was a fortuitous case of good timing.
The pizzas were delivered at 12:30, so we all went to the kitchen to fill our plates before heading into the dining room to eat. We'd also quickly set up the banquet table for the overflow, and the boys were good about sitting at the banquet table with Dion, Trey, Brandon, and me. This allowed our guests to sit at the dining room table with Dad so they could visit with him.
Fortunately, Jake had ordered more than enough pizza, and Brandon and Trey had made extremely large bowls of salad, so there was plenty to eat. Once we were all full, we took a break to chat some more and give the meal time to settle a bit before we brought out the cake and ice cream. That's when Little Ricky pulled Brandon and me aside.
"I hope things are going well and everything is working out with Ryan," Little Ricky began.
"Actually, they're going extremely well," I replied. "I'm totally amazed by how he's been responding and he seems totally comfortable being with us now. Just to give you an idea of what I mean, he's asked to sit with Brandon and me while we were watching TV, and he's also asked us to tuck him into bed at night, like we do with Benny and Joshie. He's even let us see him naked and didn't freak out."
"Wow! That is one hell of a change," Little Ricky agreed. "What do you think caused it?"
"I believe some of it has to do with what he's seen us doing with the other boys and how they respond," Brandon answered. "Just before he did this complete turnaround, he'd screamed at Benny and Joshie for coming out of the bathroom naked and not using their towels to cover up. He was very emphatic as he told them they needed to put something on because he didn't want to see their junk. Then, a couple of weeks later he did the same thing in front of Danny and me and acted as if it was completely normal."
"That's great to hear and I'm glad this is working out. I have to admit that I was more than a little concerned when I placed him here, even though I didn't let on at the time. Aunt Sally's been asking how he's doing as well."
"Yes, we spoke to her about him earlier," I confirmed. "All I can say is, so far, so good."
"I'm sure Aunt Sally must have been pleased hearing that too," he added before we went back to join the others.
"It might be a good idea if you pulled Ryan aside before you leave, so you can get his take on how things are going. I know he trusts you, so this way you'll find out how he really feels about living here, since we can only give our impression by the things he's done."
"Yes, that sounds like a good idea and I'll do it before I leave."
After another hour had passed, we decided we were ready for dessert, so we went in to have the cake and ice cream. After we finished with that, everyone stuck around for another hour before saying goodbye and heading home.
Little Ricky pulled Brandon and me aside before he took off. "I talked with Ryan and you were absolutely correct. He told me he loves it here and thanked me several times for making it happen. I never thought I'd see that kid quite so happy, and I don't know what you've done, but keep it up."
"Thanks, we will, but like I told you with Benny, I think the boys had a lot to do with his adjustment and gradually fitting in," I explained.
"That's not what Ryan told me. He adores you two and says you've been great. He even told me that after living here he's completely changed his mind about gays. He says everyone here has been really great and he wants to remain here forever."
"That's nice to know, and thanks for all of your help," Brandon replied.
"No, it is I who should be thanking you. I hope all the boys we place here do as well as Benny and Ryan."
"No need to rush on that. We're still trying to figure out when we're going to adopt these two."
"Oh, they'll love that, and I'll try to give you a break for awhile, but I can't make any promises."
We thanked him again and walked him out to his car. As he was backing out of the driveway, Ryan came racing out of the house so he could wave goodbye to him to. Once Little Ricky's car disappeared from sight, the three of us went back inside. It had been a really nice party and we were all convinced that Dad had thoroughly enjoyed himself.
After a hasty dinner later, the boys reminded us that we'd agreed to watch the last Hobbit film with them, "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies." In this part, the dwarfs, elves, and men had to decide whether they were going to unite or be destroyed as the orcs and wargs attacked. There was a great deal of action, and the boys seemed to enjoy it, so that's basically all that mattered. As soon as the movie ended, we had to hurry the boys upstairs to shower and get ready for bed, since they still had school in the morning.
As we were bidding them goodnight, each boy thanked us for watching all three DVDs with them, as well as for the party. I think they all felt it had been a good weekend, even though they didn't get to go swimming, but there was always next weekend to do that.
We were finishing the last of our duties and just about ready to leave Ryan's room when he added one final comment. "Night, Dads, I love both of you."
"Goodnight, son," we each replied. "We love you too."