The following week started out basically the same as the week before, except one of the younger boys was helping Ryan and Dad with each meal whenever there was something they could do. Dion and I were visiting TJ twice a day, and then we would spend each evening helping to plan for Dad’s 69th birthday party. Even though we could tell that he suspected something was up, we tried to keep our activities as low-key as possible, and then we got some unexpected help from another party. On Tuesday Dad received a phone call from Dustin and it distracted him from what we were doing. He told us about the call that evening at dinner.
“Dustin called me earlier and said he and Katie would like to take Jake and me out to dinner on Friday.”
“That’s really nice of them,” commented Brandon. “Where are they taking you?”
“He said it was my choice. I know they’re doing it for my birthday and I told them it isn’t necessary, but he was insistent.”
“So, did you decide where you want to go?” asked Dion.
“I told him the Rusty Nail would be fine.”
“That’s a nice family owned restaurant and the food is good too,” said Danny.
“And it’s not as expensive as The Fountains, the restaurant we normally go to,” added Pop.
“Yes, and that was part of my decision-making process,” stated Dad. “I appreciate that they want to do this for me, but I didn’t want to take advantage of the situation.”
“Just try to have a good time,” I suggested, since I could tell Dad was somewhat conflicted about doing this.
“Oh, I will.”
The rest of the week went about the same and nothing much of interest happened until Friday. Shortly after Dad and Pop left to meet up with Dustin and Kate, we sat down to eat. As soon as we finished, we had the boys consolidate where they were going to be sleeping in order to make room for the early houseguests that we expected to show up.
We asked Ryan to share a room with Noah, although Noah was reluctant to agree, but Danny and Brandon eventually convinced him to do it. Elliot offered to spend the night at Ian’s house, which freed up another room. We also moved Tristan and Xander into Wyatt and the twins’ bedroom, along with Dobby and Flash. Xander was going to sleep in the top bunk with Hayden, while Wyatt slept in the bottom bunk with Hunter, and Tristan would sleep on an air mattress on the floor. That freed up two more rooms, and once everyone was relocated, we made the beds in the now vacant rooms and waited for our visitors to arrive.
When they started showing up, Dobby and Flash ran over to greet each person as they entered the foyer. The pups were hyperactive as they bounced from person-to-person. I wasn’t sure if Dobby and Flash remembered any of our visitors, even though each one had been at the house for the holidays several months prior, but our visitors certainly remembered the puppies. Dad’s grandchildren immediately began to pet and play with Dobby and Flash, much to the puppies’ delight, and they seemed to be enjoying the attention.
“How old are they now?” asked Megan.
“About fourteen months.”
“They’re sooo cute,” she gushed.
“Are they still considered puppies then?” asked Jordan.
“Yes, beagles don’t reach adulthood until they’re 18 months old,” responded Danny, “so they’re kind of like mischievous teens.”
That comment earned Danny a few groans and disapproving glares from the younger crowd, while the adults chuckled silently to themselves.
As we chatted with everyone, we were surprised to learn that Dad’s biological children had all taken the day off from work in order to get here, since they basically lived the farthest away. They also informed us that each couple had reserved a room at a local motel, so we asked why they didn’t just stay with us.
“We thought it would be better than being upstairs with the boys right next door,” replied Andrea, “since they’re getting older. It would also give us a little more privacy, but our children want to stay here, if that’s all right with you?”
“Yes, that will be fine,” we agreed.
Noah and Ryan took the cue and showed Nicky, Jordan, and Lucas to their rooms, and then Brandon and I sat down with Holly so we could talk with her about Megan and Kylie. It was something we hadn’t done earlier, because we thought the girls would be sharing a room with their parents, as they had done in the past.
“Would you mind having your two cousins share your room with you?” Brandon asked. “One could sleep with you, since you have a queen-size bed, and we’ll move the folding bed into your room for the other one.”
“That will be fine and I’ll enjoy their company. I met both of them at Uncle Pat’s wedding, and then we got to know each other better when they were here for the holidays last year, and we get along really well.”
“Thank you and that will help out a lot,” I added.
After letting the others know that Dad and Jake were having dinner with Dustin and Katie, we introduced them to Xander and showed them photos of TJ. Once Xander had gone off with the younger boys, the others started asking questions about Xander and TJ and how they came to our attention. We explained that Richard had contacted us about both boys, and then we gave them a quick summary of the information that Richard had told us about them.
As soon as we finished our conversation, the couples stayed for a while longer, but they ended up leaving before Dad and Pop returned home. They explained they were tired from the long trip and wanted to get some rest, but they asked us to tell Dad and Pop that they’d see both of them at the party the following day and then they took off for the motel. As it turned out, we didn’t need as many bedrooms as we’d first anticipated, so we’d inconvenienced some of the boys for no reason.
“Does this mean Ryan can go back to his own room?” asked Noah.
“Yes, I don’t believe anyone is using it, so he can sleep there if he wants.”
“He wants to, cuz I want him to,” stated Noah emphatically. Even though the competition over Holly had ended between them, we could tell they weren’t completely over what happened yet. I noticed that when we took them to Hershey Park as well.
When Dad and Pop returned home, they quickly spotted their grandchildren, although the kids didn’t notice them right away, and Dad began asking us questions.
“Where are their parents?”
“All of your biological children and their spouses are staying at a motel,” I answered. “I guess they were uncomfortable with the idea of staying in the rooms upstairs with the boys nearby, since the boys are getting older and might be able to figure out what’s going on in the next room.”
“Ok, I can understand that, but I didn’t expect all of them to show up this year.”
“They’re all here and they said they’d see you tomorrow,” replied Dion. “So how was your dinner?”
“It was nice, but it wasn’t for the purpose I expected. They asked Jake and me to join them for dinner so they could announce that Katie is three-months pregnant.”
“Really? Isn’t that the same thing that Cole and Beth did?” asked Danny.
“Yes, and the only difference is that Cole and Beth invited us to have dinner at their house.”
“So does this mean Beth and Katie’s babies will be born about the same time?” I asked.
“Not quite. They’ll arrive about a month apart.”
“So, that would make them about eight or nine months younger than TJ,” mused Dion.
“Yes, so they can become playmates, like Wyatt and the twins,” I followed, “but they’ll probably be in different grades when they go to school.”
“Yes, that sounds about right,” agreed Dad.
Jordan and Nicky eventually spotted their grandfathers and came out to say hello. After they’d exchanged greetings, Dad made an observation:
“I remember when the two of you used to spend part of your summer vacations with us. Back then, you used to look up to us, but now we have to look up at you.”
“Yeah, we’ve both gotten a lot taller since then,” replied Nicky, since he was now six-one (1.85 m) and Jordan was six-three (1.91 m).
“And I almost wish we could go back to those times,” added Jordan, “because they were great, and we had a lot of fun.”
“Yes, we did,” agreed Dad.
At that moment, Lucas came out to join them, and even though he was more than ten years younger than his cousins, he was still as tall as his grandfathers.
“Damn, what are they putting in your food?” joked Dad as he eyeballed his height. “It appears that each of you is going to be taller than Jake and me, and taller than your fathers as well.”
“Yeah, I think it’s great!” replied Lucas with a smirk.
Dad then spent the rest of the night with his grandchildren and he asked them many questions about how they’d been and what they’d been up to. When he’d heard from each of them, Dad made a comment:
“I was going to visit you guys this summer, but that probably won’t be possible now, since school is about to start up again.”
“Yes, I’m sure we’ll be busy with sports and homework,” replied Kylie.
“I know I will,” chimed in Lucas.
“Yes, that’s what I thought, so maybe I’ll do that next summer.”
It was starting to get late, so we sent the younger boys upstairs to shower and get ready for bed. Dobby and Flash followed them, since both of their beds were now in the room where all of the younger boys were sleeping. The older kids stayed downstairs, since they were old enough to make their own decisions, especially on the weekends.
Dion and I ended up going to bed before they did, because we wanted to spend part of the morning with TJ, although we wouldn’t be staying at the hospital as long as we normally did. We were going to explain to the nurses that we wouldn’t be returning until the following day and let them know that it was because of Dad’s birthday party, but we were certain they would understand.
Dad was already awake when we went downstairs the following morning, and he offered to make breakfast for us.
“We can do that,” I countered.
“I don’t mind. I’ve made a fresh pot of coffee, so grab a cup and go sit down at the table. I’ll bring the food in to you shortly.”
We weren’t about to argue with him, so we did as we were told, and when he brought the food in, he sat down at the table with us.
“Everyone else is still sleeping, but I’ll make their breakfast when they wake up.”
“Aren’t you supposed to be taking it easy and enjoying everyone who came to celebrate your birthday with you?” asked Dion.
“I’ll still have plenty of time to spend with them too,” he assured us. “I enjoy doing this, so it’s no big deal.”
“Ok, if you say so.”
After we had eaten and while we were driving to the hospital, Dion and I discussed what would be happening today. “I know his party isn’t until this afternoon, so he should be able to spend a little time with everyone who shows up,” I stated.
“Yes, you’re probably right,” Dion agreed. “And do me a favor. Don’t let me forget to stop and pick up the cakes on the way home.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll remind you.”
Dion had said cakes because of the number of people we were expecting to show up. One cake would be chocolate and the other cherry, so everyone will have a choice, although we expect the boys will all want a slice of each. We were also having a cookout, and Danny, Brandon, and Ryan had agreed to take care of grilling the meat. I had shown Ryan how to make the potato and macaroni salads during the limited time I was home the previous day, and I’d checked them out after dinner. He appeared to have done a very good job on them and it was nice to have him around.
When we reached the hospital, we spent a couple of hours with TJ, and before we left, we notified the nurses that we wouldn’t be back until the following day. They all looked surprised, so we told them about Dad’s birthday party, and they all seemed to understand.
“You’re the parents we can count on most to show up regularly,” commented one of the nurses, “so I suppose we can grant you a little time off.”
“We appreciate that,” we replied.
As we were walking out to the car, I reminded Dion about stopping to pick up the cakes, so he drove over to the bakery and we carefully loaded them into the backseat. Each one was in a box, and Dion drove slower than normal as we made our way back to the house.
When we got there, we had to park in the field across the street, along with several other vehicles, since the driveway was full. Dion and I each carried one of the cakes up to the house, and luckily, one of the boys saw us and raced over to offer assistance.
“Let me get the door for you,” said Joshie.
“Thank you. We really appreciate that,” stated Dion.
Once we were inside, Noah filled us in about a few things as we set the cakes down on the dining room table.
“Man, all the family is here, except for Shannon and Nick. Aunt Sally, Aunt Mary, and Uncle Steve are here too, as well as Becky and Revin, and Kevin and Vinnie brought Jeff and Duck with them.”
“Duck is here?” I asked.
“Yep, and so is Mark. It seems like everyone showed up today.”
“I’m sure your grandfather will be pleased to see each of them.”
“And Cole and Beth arrived in separate cars. Beth drove their car and Cole delivered the new car that Grandpa Josh and Grandpa Jake just bought.”
“I knew they were planning on getting a new car, but I didn’t know they’d be getting it today,” Dion said. “We’ll have to check it out later.”
“And Cole will be driving their old car back to the dealership when he leaves. Ryan looked disappointed when he heard Cole say that, cuz I think he was hopin’ he might get their old car.”
“Yes, I know he was hoping to get a car,” I concurred, “but I told him not to be disappointed if that didn’t happen.”
“I guess he didn’t listen to you then,” Noah stated, and then he tried to stifle a laugh, although unsuccessfully.
When we went outside, we started saying hello to everyone, and we noticed that Dad was busy telling Richard about his trip to the farms.
“I’m really glad you were able to save my parents’ farm and turn it into a home for other kids like I was when my mom and dad took me in,” we overheard him say. “I’m glad you were able to save the adjoining farm as well, and it certainly helps to have two more places that are as reliable as you guys about helping me out by taking in more kids.”
“Yes, and the children that are at the farms seem to be very happy.”
“They are, and most of them call their house-parents Mom and Dad.”
“I noticed that and wondered if they’d adopted the children, but I didn’t ask.”
“They haven’t, but the kids are very fond of them and started doing it on their own. I think it’s great.”
“Yes, I agree.”
We stopped to chat with Jeff next. He’s the boy that Kevin switched prizes with when they both competed for scholarships to pharmacy school. Kevin had initially won a full scholarship, while Jeff won the partial scholarship, but Kevin discovered that Jeff needed the full scholarship or he wouldn’t be able to go to college. Once he learned that, he offered to switch prizes with him, and they’ve been friends ever since. Jeff now works for Kevin.
“So, Kevin actually gave you the day off, did he?” teased Dion.
“Yes, he asked our backup to cover for us today.”
“Well, it’s nice to see you again. Did you bring your mom with you?”
“No, she’d already made plans with her friends, but she told me to wish your dad a happy birthday for her.”
“So, she’s happy since she moved here?”
“Yes, she likes it here very much and she’s made quite a few friends.”
“That’s good and I’m sure making new friends helped to make the transition easier for her.”
“Yes, it has.”
Once we finished chatting with Jeff, Dion and I sought out Mark Williams so we could spend some time with him. We’d first met Mark when he waited on our table during our visit to the Grand Canyon. After we got to know him and learned he was being raised by a single mother and money was tight, Dad helped him get through college by giving him a summer job. Dad had him work on the Castaway Foundation accounts, since Mark’s major was accounting, with a minor in economics. He later went on to earn a Master’s Degree in Financial Mathematics and now works as an investment banker in New York City. It is in that capacity that he continues to handle both Dad’s personal accounts and those of the Castaway Foundation.
“I certainly didn’t expect to see you here today,” I said as I greeted him.
“I know, and it wasn’t exactly planned this way. This was going to be a normal visit, which I do quarterly so I can fill your dad in about the status of his investments and those of the Castaway Foundation. However, when I called the house about a month ago to set this up, Brandon told me about his upcoming birthday party, so I arranged my visit to coincide with it.”
“That was very thoughtful of you.”
“Trust me, it’s the least I could do after all your dad has done for me.”
“Are you still dating Amy?” followed Dion.
“No, we broke up last fall. She thought I was spending too much time with my work and not enough with her. It’s a necessary evil of the job.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. Are you seeing anyone else now?”
“Not currently, but there’s a female at my firm that I’m thinking about asking out.”
“Is she an investment banker too, or part of the support staff?”
“She’s also an investment banker, so she’d definitely understand the requirements of the job.”
“Yes, I’m sure she would. So, when are you meeting with Dad?”
“We’re going to have a business dinner on Monday. I’ve made reservations at The Fountains restaurant, where you guys do most of your celebrating, and I requested the small private dining room.”
“That sounds wonderful, although expensive.”
“It’s a business expense, so the company is paying for everything.”
“That’s even better.”
After we finished chatting with Mark, we went to find Duck. His name is actually Donald Edward Jamison, but his classmates in elementary school started calling him Donald Duck and then they shortened it to just Duck. He came into the picture after Vinnie and Kevin had a big misunderstanding on Valentine’s Day a few years ago that went terribly wrong. Vinnie had gone to see Kevin at college, but when he got there, he caught Kevin with another guy. Vinnie dropped his presents and took off, and by the time Kevin put on some clothes, Vinnie had driven away. The problem was, no one heard from Vinnie after that, and Dad and Pop didn’t find him when they drove to Philly and back looking for him.
It was several weeks before Vinnie saw one of the missing posters that Dad and the boys had put up, and he finally called home. He told Dad that he’d met a guy named Duck who offered to let Vinnie stay with him until he was ready to go home, so Dad wanted to meet and thank this guy. It was during this meeting that Dad heard Duck’s story about how his father had caught him with a guy and then thrown him out because he was gay. After that, Dad treated Duck like part of the family, but once Duck got married, we haven’t seen him as often as we used to.
“Duck, it’s nice to see you again,” I began. “Where are you living and working now?”
“Jennifer and I bought a house just outside of Bethesda, Maryland, and I’m a logistics manager for Lockheed Martin.”
“Does Jennifer work too?” followed Dion.
“Yes, she does. She works in the purchasing department for Lockheed Martin.”
“It sounds like you’re doing ok,” said Dion. “So where is Jennifer?”
“The last time I saw her, she was over in that area with a group of other women. She was with Pat, Dustin, Cole, Michael, and Robert’s wives and Ricky and Frankie’s fiancés, along with your sisters, Marie and Elizabeth.”
“I think we’ll wait to say hello to her until after she comes back to join you again. I certainly wouldn’t want to get into the middle of that group,” I joked.
“Wise move,” agreed Duck.
We only stopped chatting when we heard Danny announce that the food was ready and suggested we should start filling our plates. Everyone was polite enough to let Dad, Pop, Aunt Sally, Aunt Mary, and Uncle Steve go first, in deference to their age, and once they had filled their plates, we went over to speak with them briefly.
“I heard you two are taking on a baby,” said Aunt Mary.
“Yes, Richard asked Danny and Brandon to take him, but since they’d just agreed to take in Xander, they didn’t feel they could take in both. That’s when Dion and I offered to take him instead.”
“I heard that and think it’s very sweet of you to agree to take him in. I’ve been told he might have some underlying issues as well.”
“He might, but we’ll find a way to deal with those once we learn what they might be. Dion and I had already talked about having another child, and since he was available, we couldn’t turn him down. It didn’t bother us that he was premature and in the neonatal ICU.”
“Just let me know when he’s out of the hospital and you’re ready for the adoption ceremony,” stated Uncle Steve. “I’ll do it whenever you’re ready, and I told Danny and Brandon the same thing about Xander. Maybe you could adopt them both at the same time.”
“Thank you and that’s a great idea. We’ll let you know as soon as we’re ready.”
“I thought I was lucky to have convinced Josh to take in boys that needed help when I was in charge of DHS,” said Aunt Sally, “and now Richard has you four that he can rely on the same way.”
“Talk about paying it forward,” added Aunt Mary.
“Yes, the four of us definitely had a good example to learn from and felt we should help others the same way Dad helped us,” replied Dion.
We chatted with some of the other guests as well, and Ricky and Tiffany and Frankie and Carolyn advised us about their upcoming nuptials. They also told us to make sure that we marked both dates on our calendars.
“Dad’s already done that for us, so we won’t forget,” I assured them.
Before Dad blew out the candles on his cake and cut each of them, he asked Dustin and Katie if they’d like to speak first, so they both stood up and announced that Katie was three-months pregnant. After receiving everyone’s congratulations, we heard comments about all of the babies that were suddenly being added to the family. That’s when some of the others started teasing Pat that he and Tori would have to step it up and have one of their own.
Once the jocularity died down, Brandon lit the large ‘six’ and ‘nine’ on one of the cakes and then we all sang Happy Birthday to Dad before he blew them out. Brandon and I each cut one of the cakes for him, and then people came up to the table to choose which cake they wanted a slice of.
After everyone finished eating their cake, we started cleaning up and began taking things back into the house. That’s when I noticed Graham, Sammy, and Andrew wandering from room to room, so I decided to ask them a question.
“Is something wrong? Have you noticed a problem?”
“No, I was just telling these two about the spirits that were here with us today, and I was also relaying messages from their grandparents.”
“So, you can hear them talk?” asked Dion.
“Not exactly, but they use hand signals that I’m able to interpret and then I pass the messages along.”
“Is Cody here as well?”
“He is, and Sammy and Andrew let me have some private time with him earlier. I read his lips and he said I’m getting old and then he laughed.”
“Yes, I suppose you are, because it’s been a number of years since he left us.”
“Too many,” agreed Graham. “It was sixteen years ago when he died.”
After we went outside again, Dion and I singled out Robert. “Since everyone is urging Pat and Tori to get going and have a baby, when are you and Sarah going to pop one out?”
“We’ve discussed it, but we’d like to save a little more money first. We’ve only been in the house for a little over a year and that wiped out our bank accounts, so we’d like to save up a little more before we start a family.”
“Ok, but don’t wait too long.”
“I’ve been meaning to ask you this. When did you get married?” Frankie asked, since he’d overheard our conversation.
“Almost three years ago.”
“Why didn’t I know about the wedding?”
“It’s because Sarah and I agreed to just have a private civil service at the town hall.”
“Why did you do it that way?”
“We couldn’t afford to have a large wedding and didn’t want to invite some and not others, so we didn’t invite anyone, including Sarah’s mother. We merely called to tell our parents about it after the fact.”
“I didn’t know that, but after planning our wedding, I can see why you went that route. Planning a large wedding comes with multiple headaches and sleepless nights, so you were smart to avoid all of that.”
“Yes, we saved the money we would have spent on the wedding and used it to put a down payment on the house.”
Once we finished speaking with Robert, we went looking for Michael, Tim, and Adrian, Dad’s other biological son and two sons-in-law. We found all of them in the family room watching a ball game.
“This is a heck of a way to be celebrating Dad’s birthday,” said Dion.
“Yeah, we know, but he’s got plenty of other guests and won’t even notice that we’re missing. We made a bet about the outcome of this game and we wanted to see who was going to owe whom.”
“And how did you do that with three of you?”
“Tim and I ended up choosing the same team, so we had to predict the score as well,” said Michael. “The tiebreaker is the one with the closest score.”
“All I had to do was to take the other team,” said Adrian.
“But they’re losing,” countered Tim, and then he and Michael shared a laugh.
“The game’s not over yet,” sneered Adrian.
“Ok, but make sure you go out and spend some more time with him before you leave.”
“We will, and Dad said we were all going to church together in the morning, before we head home.”
“Damn, that will more than double the congregation,” I teased, “but we won’t be there. We’ll be going to the hospital to spend the time with TJ.”
“Yes, I guess that is more important than sitting in a pew for over an hour,” Adrian agreed.
Before long, some of the other guests began to take off. Mark was staying at the local hotel, also on the company tab, and Duck and Jennifer were staying with Kevin and Vinnie. Everyone else had a room at the same motel as Dad’s biological children, and those living locally merely returned to their homes. It had been a lovely day and Dad enjoyed having the entire family there to celebrate his big day with him.
In the morning, we had a quick breakfast before leaving for the hospital. We asked Dad if he and the others were planning to stop for brunch after the service, and he said they were. He also said that those living out of the area would be leaving for home after they ate.
“Damn, will the diner be able to handle that many people?” I asked.
“I called and warned them that we’d be coming, and they said they’d reserve one entire room for us, since we’re regulars.”
“That was nice of them,” said Dion.
“Yes, it was, but they know where the money comes from on a regular basis and they’re willing to go the extra mile to make sure it continues to happen.”
“Yes, I suppose you’re right.”
Dion and I spent the morning with TJ, and then we headed over to the diner to join the others.
“This is one hell of a gathering, and it’s just your family,” Becky noted when we joined them.
“Yes, it’s quite a group, isn’t it?”
It took a while for all of us to get our food, but that was to be expected, and after we all finished eating, we began saying our goodbyes before the others headed home.
“We’ll see you again at one of the holidays,” I said in parting.
“Indeed, you will,” they all agreed, and then the parking lot began to empty. Once they had all taken off, the rest headed home.
Before Dion and I returned to the hospital, we also said goodbye to Elliot, because we knew he was preparing to head back to Yale. After he drove off, Dion and I went back to the hospital, and when we left there, we returned home to eat dinner with the family. It had been a very hectic, but enjoyable weekend.