Brenda, Pat, and the boys all woke up early Sunday morning, eager to get underway. After they were dressed and had loaded their gear into the van, we went inside to eat. We had a much larger breakfast than usual since the boys wouldn't be going to brunch with us after the service and we didn't want Brenda and Pat to have to stop again right away to feed them.
I didn't think they were planning on going to church before they left, but after Brenda learned we'd made a special trip to get Owen's clothes so he could join us, she didn't want him going alone. She said it wouldn't hurt if they all went, and it might be a good idea to have God on their side before making the trip. Therefore, we all went to church together.
We dropped Ian off at his house first, since he didn't have an appropriate outfit to wear and didn't seem interested in joining us. After we pulled into the parking lot, Ryan and Noah took Owen with them to their Sunday school class, while Benny and Joshie went to join their group. Elliot, Brenda, and Pat joined the rest of us in the adult class.
Once Sunday school ended, we all met together for church, but we needed to use more than one pew today. We let the boys sit with their grandparents, and the rest of us sat in the pew behind them. We felt that way we could keep an eye on the boys and give them a playful cuff if they started acting up, although we'd never had to do that before. It didn't happen today either, and as soon as the service ended, we left the church as quickly as we could so Brenda, Pat, and the boys could get underway.
"Ok, behave yourselves and have a good time," Brandon said after the boys climbed into the van.
"Make up your mind," Noah quipped. "Do you want us to behave or have a good time?"
"Pat, do you want to run back to the house with us so we can loan you our whip and chair to use on these animals?" I joked in response.
"No, I think we can handle them without using those things."
"Ok, it's your call, but don't hesitate about clamping down on them if they begin acting up," Brandon quipped.
"Dear, we're taking our grandsons, not you and Danny, so we're not worried about anything like that," Brenda shot back.
Her remark caused the boys to laugh and point at us as the van started to move, and we all waved at them as they took off on their trip.
"You guys joke around a lot, don't you?" Owen observed. "I like that and think it's fun when you do those things."
"Yes, we certainly like to pull each other's legs," I agreed, and I noticed a playful gleam appear in Owen's eyes.
"Yeah, I like pulling Ryan's leg too," he whispered to me as we got ready to take him home, "especially his middle leg." I should have known that was coming.
We'd had Owen put his things in the SUV before we left for church, so we wouldn't have to go home again before dropping him off. His mother came out to greet us when we pulled in.
"Did you have a good time, sweetheart?" she asked her son as he got out of our vehicle.
"I had a great time. I even liked going to church with them. Why don't we ever do that?"
"I guess your father and I weren't brought up like that, but I can talk to him about it, if you want. If your father and I decided we don't want to go, though, maybe the Curries will agree to pick you up each week so you can join them."
"Yeah, if you and Dad don't want to go, then I'd rather go with them. It was kinda fun being in the same group with Ryan and Noah, and there were some other kids that I knew too."
"That's fine and we can talk more about this later."
"I hope we haven't accidentally created a problem," I offered, mildly concerned after seeing how persistent Owen was.
"No, it's not a problem at all. And thanks for last night. I got Brian to take me out and we had a wonderful time."
"I'm glad to hear that. Maybe you'll get a chance to do it more often from now on when Owen is spending time with us."
"Yes, that might be a possibility if I can convince Brian to do it," she agreed.
The house seemed unbelievably quiet for the rest of the day, and it lasted throughout the next couple of days. After we ate lunch on Sunday, Dion and Trey took Wyatt to a children's activity center for the afternoon, since they didn't want him to feel left out. They also took him on day trips over the next couple of days, visiting a petting zoo on Monday and then going to the Harrisburg Zoo on Tuesday. On Wednesday, they spent the day playing with Wyatt outside and in the pool, and although they kept him busy, he still asked where the other boys were.
Brenda and Pat's rental van was already in the driveway by the time we arrived home on Wednesday, and the boys came running to greet us just as soon as we walked through the door.
"Did you have a good time?" Brandon asked.
"It was a blast," Ryan gushed, as he flashed us a grin that went from ear-to-ear.
"Yeah, we went on all different kinds of rides," Benny added. "I even got to drive a car with Elliot and we crashed into everyone else." I hoped he was merely referring to riding in a bumper car.
"They had some really wicked roller coasters too," Noah chimed in. "They all went fast, some went really high, and others spun us upside down."
"And we went on swings that went around in circles way up in the air," Joshie followed.
"And I had fun taking my little brothers on the different rides," Elliot added.
"So I take it you all had fun?"
"Yeah," they all answered in unison.
"How about you?" I asked, looking at Brenda and Pat.
"We enjoyed ourselves too and got a kick out of watching the boys having so much fun," Pat replied.
"But it will probably take me a week or more to recuperate after we get home," Brenda quipped. "It was worth it, though, seeing the boys had such a wonderful time."
"Well, you can take it a little easier for the next couple of days, but things will probably become hectic on Saturday, since it's the Fourth of July," Dad offered.
"And then we'll be leaving on Sunday," Pat said. "I'm just glad I have Monday off so I can catch my breath before I have to return to work."
"And I'll wait a few days before I unpack from this trip," Brenda added. "I must be getting old, because this took a lot out of me."
"Well, I hope neither of you is too tired, because Ryan has a baseball game in a little while, so we've got to hurry and eat. I see Trey's putting the food on the table, so let's go sit down."
The boys told us more about their trip in between shoveling food into their mouths. When he finished, I sent Ryan up to his room to change into his uniform, and then we all got ready to leave.
"If you don't mind, I'm going stay here and call Ian so I can ask if he wants to come over. I missed him and want to spend some time with him now," Elliot explained.
"Sure, that's fine," Brandon concurred, and then Elliot went to his room for some privacy. We left for the game while he was on the phone, and Dion took Benny and Joshie to their practice.
Since Ryan had missed a couple of practices, his coach didn't start him tonight, but he went in to sub in the fourth inning. When he came up to bat in the fifth he got a hit and drove in a run, so he didn't look too upset about sitting on the bench for the first three innings. He had another hit in the seventh as well, so he was all smiles as Brenda and Pat praised his play.
As soon as we got home, Elliot came running out to greet us. "You won't believe this, but Ian's mother just told me he was attacked Monday night while we were gone. She said he has to stay in the hospital until at least the end of the week and Ian thinks it was the same guys who busted up my car that attacked him."
"Then I'm surprised you're still here."
"Oh, I went to see him while you were gone, but his parents said he needed his rest and asked me to come back tomorrow."
"Ok, I understand now. Is he going to be all right?"
"His mother says he'll be fine, but she told me the doctors had to use pins to set his leg after one of the guys stomped on it. He looks terrible, and they said it will be a couple of months before his leg is healed, so I hope it happens before he's supposed to return to campus. Besides the broken leg, he's also got a bunch of bruises, cuts, and scrapes from the beating."
"So where was he when this happened?" Brandon asked.
"Ian said he was missing me, because he knew it was my actual birthday, so he went out to be with others we knew. He said he was just leaving the club and heading toward his mother's car when they jumped him. He said one guy pinned his arms behind his back, while the other wailed on him, and it would have been much worse if it hadn't been for a group of our friends. He said they were leaving the club while he was getting beat up and saw what was happening, so they chased the attackers off. Ian said those guys probably wouldn't have left so easily, except they heard one of the girls calling 9-1-1 on her cell phone."
"They probably didn't want to deal with the cops," Pat agreed.
"Yes, but when they were leaving the guy who'd been throwing the punches delivered a final blow. When Ian collapsed on the ground after the other guy let go of him, he stomped on Ian's leg before they took off."
"That's unbelievable!" Brenda gasped before placing her hand over her mouth.
"So did anyone recognize the guys?" I followed.
"No one knew their names, but they gave the attackers' descriptions to the police."
"Then I hope they get caught and go to jail," Brenda spat out, very upset. "If you hadn't gone with us, that might have happened to you too."
"Yes, it probably would have."
"What makes you think it was the same guys who messed up your car?" Dad wondered.
"Because Ian said when they first grabbed him from behind, one of them said, 'We warned you fags, and now you're gonna pay for being a pervert. We only wish your boyfriend was here so we could take care of him too'," Elliot informed us.
We quickly explained about the incident with Elliot's car to Brenda and Pat. We told them the reason we hadn't mentioned it previously was that we didn't want them to worry, but we also thought it was merely an isolated incident. That's why we didn't make a big deal out of it.
"If I didn't know better, I'd say this sounded like something David Hubbard might do," Brandon pointed out.
"It can't be him though, because he's confined to a wheelchair," I stated. "In fact, I've heard his health is deteriorating due to the beating that put him in that chair. I've heard others comment that the beating he received had badly damaged a bunch of his internal organs and now they're starting to fail."
"Who is this person you just mentioned?" Pat wanted to know.
"You may not remember his name, but he's the guy that gave our family all kinds of problems when the boys were growing up. He was also the one who ended up getting Shannon, Pat, Brandon, and me arrested for supposedly beating him up," I confessed.
"Oh, so that was the boy from when you went to court?" Brenda asked.
"Yes, and that's why I said it sounded like something he'd do," Brandon said.
"We're positive he couldn't have been involved, though," Dad added, "but there's no doubt there are others out there who are just like him."
"That's for sure," Elliot agreed, and I noticed he was trembling slightly as he said this.
We spent some time trying to calm Elliot down and make him feel better, but we realized that wasn't going to happen soon. "Would you like one of us to sleep with you tonight, so you're not alone?" Brandon offered.
"No, you've got to work tomorrow, so I don't want you losing sleep worrying about me. If I don't want to be alone, I'll just go up and crawl into bed with Noah."
"Ok, but let us know if you need anything," I added.
"Us too, dear," Brenda chimed in.
"Ok, but I'll be alright. Ian's parents told me the doctor said there shouldn't be any permanent damage and he should be fine, just as soon as his leg mends. I just hope they catch those bastards and make them pay for what they've done."
"I'm sure we all do," Pop added, speaking for the first time.
We then headed to our rooms, because it was late and we all needed our sleep. I had mixed emotions running through my mind as Brandon and I crawled into bed. "I'm glad Elliot wasn't there when it happened, but I feel badly for Ian. I can't believe there are still people around who will do those types of things just because they don't agree with who a person loves."
"The more things change, the more they stay the same," Brandon offered. "Even though there have been many gains made concerning gay rights over the past few years, I'm beginning to think it only makes those who disagree with us even more determined to set the clock back a few decades."
"I know. Look at how long the blacks have been dealing with hate like that, and it's still happening."
"And similar things have been happening to the Jews for centuries. I guess there will always be haters."
"Unfortunately, you're probably right about that."
I'm not sure how well any of us slept that night, since visions of the incident, including Elliot being with Ian at the time, invaded our dreams. At least Dad, Brenda, and Pat would be there for Elliot during the day, although I was fairly certain he'd be spending most of the time with Ian.
When I got to work, my nurse asked a question. "Was that your oldest son's boyfriend who got beat up a couple days ago?"
"Yes, and we just found out about it last night, so how did you know?"
"I called a friend I used to work with when I got home yesterday. She's an O.R. nurse now, and she mentioned it to me because she knows I work for you. I think you probably know her too," she added, as she told me the woman's name.
"Yes, I worked with her before I opened my practice. She's very good at her job, so I'm glad she was there to help Ian."
"I'll be sure to tell her that."
When we got home that evening, Elliot was still at the hospital with Ian. I was told he'd spent the entire day there, and if the staff allowed it, I suspected he would spend the night there too.
As soon as we finished eating, we had to take the boys to their practices. We told Brenda and Pat they could stay home and rest while we were gone, because we knew they'd want to go the following night to watch Benny and Joshie's team play. They thanked us and hugged the boys before we left.
Elliot still wasn't home when we got back, and he didn't show up for another half hour. When he returned, we had a lot of questions for him.
"How's Ian doing?" Brandon asked after we all sat down together.
"He's in good spirits, but he's still experiencing a little pain."
"Didn't the doctors give him something for that?" I pressed.
"They did, but it seems to wear off before it's time for him to take the next pill."
"Then it's not the correct dosage."
"So is he completely bed ridden?" Brenda wondered.
"For now, but he said the doctor told him he'd be able to use crutches to get around once he was released, although they warned him he shouldn't try to negotiate any stairs. His mom said he could sleep on the sofa in their family room when they got home, so he wouldn't fall trying to get to his room. He's ok with that, cuz he'll be able to watch TV and use his laptop, so he says it won't be too bad."
"If he's released before our cookout on the Fourth and you think he'll be able to get around well enough, you should ask Ian and his parents to join us. You can do it when you visit him tomorrow," I suggested.
"Yeah, I'll see what his parents have to say, but do I have to go with you to the parade?"
"I think it would be good to keep things as normal as possible, and it will be the last full day your grandparents will be here. They'll be leaving to return home the next day, so I feel you should spend as much time with them as possible," Brandon replied. "I think it's the least you can do, since they've done so much for you boys and have been so good about letting you spend time with Ian."
"Ok, I'll do it then. I'll explain it to Ian too, since he knows I was supposed to be spending the whole week with them."
"I'm glad you realize that," I confessed. "Now, go spend some time alone with your grandparents before you turn in."
About a half hour later, Brenda and Pat went up with us when we tucked the boys in, and then they spent a little more time with Elliot until they went to bed too. It was good that they'd had this chance to spend with him now, seeing Elliot had been gone so much to be with Ian.
When we got home from work on Friday, we had to hurry to get the two younger boys to their game. Elliot wasn't home when we arrived, and we were told he'd spent the day with Ian again, which we'd expected.
After we ate and the boys had changed into their uniforms, we loaded into the van and SUV to head to the game. We dropped Ryan off at his practice on the way and told him we'd pick him up later, and he seemed fine with that. When we got to the other field, we all piled into the bleachers as Benny and Joshie went to warm up with their teammates.
It was an exciting game and both boys played well, but their team lost. "I wanted to win the game for you," Benny whined to his grandparents when he came over to join us afterward.
"You can't win them all," Pat responded sympathetically, "but you both played very well. It wasn't your fault your team lost, because you both did everything you could to win."
That seemed to make him feel better, but they were still slightly bummed out as we went to pick up Ryan and return home.
Elliot still wasn't there when we got back, but showed up about an hour later. "Ian came home from the hospital today and his parents said they'd love to join us for another cookout, but this time they'll bring the steaks and several bottles of wine."
"That's fine, and I'm sure they won't go to waste."
"What time is the parade?"
"It starts at noon, but we'll be going down about an hour before that so we'll be able to find a parking spot that isn't too far away, as well as locating a good place to watch the parade from."
"Ok, at least I won't have to get up too early," he said, before spending a little time with his grandparents.
Fortunately, none of the boys had a practice or game over the weekend, so we'd be able to concentrate on Brenda, Pat, and celebrating the holiday before they left. Ryan didn't have a game until Tuesday and the other two had a game on Wednesday, so the coaches felt they could all take the weekend off and spend time with their families.
After the boys got ready for bed, we went up to tuck them in. I think this was one of Brenda and Pat's favorite tasks, because the boys gave each of them a hug before their grandparents kissed them on the forehead. It was very touching to watch this play out.
Everyone slept in a little later on Saturday morning, because it had been a rough and hectic week. Neither Brandon's nor my office was open that day because of the holiday, and we had Monday off too. Now, we could enjoy the time with our loved ones.
As soon as everyone was up, we all enjoyed a rather large breakfast together, because we knew we'd be gone for quite awhile as we enjoyed the day's activities. Dad, Brandon, and Trey also packed up a couple of coolers to take with us for later, and we loaded them in the back of the SUV before we took off.
The parade was a typical small town event to celebrate the holiday, but besides enjoying the bands and floats, we also ran into people we hadn't seen for some time. In fact, Elliot bumped into several people he went to school with, including a couple from the swim team, so he was glad that he'd come as well.
Following the parade, we drove over to the park where a concert was scheduled to be held. We unloaded the coolers and took them with us, so we could eat lunch while we enjoyed the music. It was like having a serenaded picnic as we sat on the grass and listened to a selection of patriotic songs, both old and new.
As soon as the final notes of the last number had faded into the air, we packed up and took everything back to our vehicles so we could return home. When we reached the house, we had a little time to kill before our guests started showing up. You see, all of our extended family members who lived in the area were going to be joining us for the cookout, along with Ian and his parents.
The Hills showed up first, since they wanted to get Ian situated before there were too many others around. Elliot raced out to greet them and give Ian a hand, and noticed that Ian was in the front passenger seat, where Ian's mother generally sat.
"My mom let me sit here today," Ian stated when Elliot opened the door and looked at him confused. "She said I could slide the seat back and it would leave more room for me to stretch out with the cast."
"That was nice of her," Elliot replied as he helped Ian get out of the car, got his crutches out of the back, and then helped him walk out to the picnic tables.
Once the others began showing up, we chatted with them for a while before Dad and Pop went to stoke up the grills. As soon as those devices were going, Dad and Pop began cooking enough meat to feed this rather large horde. Although it took time to get everyone what they wanted, eventually all were full and we continued to chat about a wide variety of subjects.
Before the daylight began to fade, we moved indoors to have dessert, and while we were enjoying the sweet treats, Brandon and I handed both Benny and Ryan a rather large envelope. They looked at them for a few seconds, and then up at us.
"What's this?" Ryan asked.
"Open it and you'll find out," I replied.
"How come you only gave these to me and Ryan," Benny followed.
"Just open them and you'll have the answers to your questions," Brandon urged.
After they tore open the envelopes, their eye grew wide, their mouths dropped open, and then they looked at us again. "You want to adopt us?" Ryan asked, now that he'd read the certificate inside.
"Yes, you've been our sons for a while, but now we want to make it legal, if that's ok with you."
"Yes!" they both screamed in response.
"I guess you have your answer," Dad quipped, before he congratulated each boy.
"Today we celebrate the formation of this country, followed by the formation of an even larger and incredible family," Uncle Steve added. "I can't wait to preside over the ceremony and make this happen."
Shortly after things had calmed down again, Dad and Pop disappeared. We assumed they'd gone outside to make sure they hadn't forgotten anything, and to see that the grills had cooled down, but they were gone for a fairly long time. When they returned, they moved around from one group to the next and chatted a little more, before they called for our attention.
"Now that it's dark outside, if you'll all go out to the front yard, we have a little surprise for you."
We all did as he'd requested, with Elliot and Cameron, Ian's father, walking on either side of Ian to make sure he didn't fall. Some of the others were wondering what the surprise was, while the rest of us had a pretty good idea. Our hunches were confirmed when the first rocket soared into the sky and exploded with a loud boom, as it released a brilliant display of multicolored lights. Obviously, Shannon and Nick had sent more fireworks for us to enjoy.
After watching several more rockets light up the nighttime sky, one after the other, three more were set off in a cluster. Another group of three followed that, followed by the rapid release of several more rockets. Soon, the air was filled with shock waves that jolted our bodies, while displays of colorful lights split the darkness. We noticed several of our neighbors had come outside to enjoy the fireworks too, and we even heard some of them cheer as the final group of rockets exploded in the air. It was a wonderful ending to a truly enjoyable day.