That was a delicious lunch, Penny," Craig said. "I didn't realize how hungry I was."
"I'm glad you enjoyed our offering," Pete said. "We raised and grew everything you feasted on today. Everything tastes much better when it's picked fresh from the fields."
Dan said, "Why don't you guys chat in the den while I take the children out for a walk around the grounds? It's been too long since I've had a visit with my nephews and niece. I want to catch up on all the dirt."
Pete laughed, "I knew you had an evil side. Imagine that, Penny, pumping our children for information."
"It doesn't bother me one bit, since I am perfect, and never give the children any reason to tell tales about me," Penny chuckled. "You, on the other hand, have some very serious character flaws."
Pete laughed and put his arm around Penny, "Let's take our guests into the den." After everyone sat down, Pete said. "Penny and I were absolutely devastated when Sandy told us of your cancer. We both admire you for your strength, you are a remarkable person. I don't think I would hold up as well, if I were in your shoes."
"Believe me, I did not take the news that well when the doctor gave me the bad news. It took time, and the help of a counselor to reach this stage. My first thoughts were, 'Why me, Lord?' Who was going to take care of my children? My life hasn't been easy for quite some time. My siblings may have had the advantage of a college education, yet they're very narrow minded, and lead restricted lives. They are rigid in their beliefs and feel everyone should live the same way. If they had it their way, we would reinstitute burning at the stake for the sinners among us. We haven't spoken for over eight years. They disapproved of my wife as well. Thank God, Clair's parents died before us, because they did not feel I was good enough for their daughter, and never let us forget it. I was crushed when Clair died three years ago. She was a wonderful woman and I loved her very much. Lloyd was only a year old when she passed away."
"I have never really recovered from Clair's death. The boys remind me of her so much. They have all of her good qualities and good looks. They are a great comfort to me, and have eased some of the sorrow of losing my wife. I thought that things were back on track again, until I started getting these headaches. That was so unusual for me because I never was bothered with headaches before. Then I experience burled vision on occasions. At first, I thought it was eyestrain that was causing my headaches. I made an appointment to see a specialist. He was the one that suggested that the cause was other than my vision. He told me to see my Internist, which I did. The internist sent me to a diagnostician. After a week of testing, they concluded that I had a malignant brain tumor that could not be treated."
'They gave me approximately nine months to live. I lost it, and couldn't face the boys for over a week because I was so devastated. I went to grief counseling every day. It wasn't until the second week that I was able to cope with the reality. That is when I started to become very concerned about my sons' future. I racked my brain to see whom I could approach. As you can guess, my family was out of the picture, but I had to make absolutely certain that they could not interfere with my Will. I had to select a guardian and or adoptive person who could not only raise them in the same way I would, yet a person strong enough to fight my family in court should a custody battle ensue. I compiled a list of everyone I thought would be suitable guardians. I started the list with our immediate circle of close friends, both Clair's and mine. The majority of Clair's friends were British with a smattering of French and Spanish. Then there were my friends, who are mostly from the States. After a week of elimination, I had two candidates from Clair's list and five from my list of candidates."
"The more I thought about it, the more I wanted my sons to be raised in the United States. In the end, there was only one person that I felt had all the right qualifications. The more I thought about it, the more I knew that you, Sandy, were the only person I felt could raise my boys. There were many positive reasons that made you the ideal candidate. Besides the fact that we have been business associates for many years, but you and Pete have been my good friends for a long time. A further consideration was your loving and supportive family. I also have seen how much you love children."
"Over the years I've seen how you are around your nieces and nephews. I also know how tough minded you can be to protect your people and your company. Therefore, I felt that my family would not stand a chance of getting their hands on my children. I know you're a wealthy man, Sandy, but my boys stand to inherit a substantial estate worth millions of pounds. That is another reason I selected you, Sandy. Several million pounds is petty cash to a man of your wealth. Finally, because you and your life-partner, Dan, are homosexuals, I thought that if one of my sons turns out to be homosexual, you would know how to deal with that issue."
"Dan came up with the ideal solution in inviting me and the boys to fly over with them. This way the boys will be able to make the transition in living with Sandy and Dan and gradually to accept the eventual outcome of my cancer. We agreed that the transfer to the Home Office was necessary for my job. I will be able to spend more time with the boys and help them to adjust."
Penny said, "It appears as if you three have it under control. I suggest that Lloyd and Chip hop a ride over here every day with Dan, to attend school with our kids. I think it would be better for all the children. They will have other children to play with. That's important in their little world."
Sandy said, "I think that is a good idea. What do you think, Craig?"
"I agree, it is a good arrangement. Maybe the other boys can spend afternoons visiting Sandy's. I know the boys would like to continue their swimming and horseback lessons."
Penny said, "I think that would be a good idea. There is no reason my boys can't take the lessons along with your two boys. If you have a few minutes, why don't we contact the Dunnlap Academy to make an appointment to enroll the boys in school?"
Craig said, "Let's do that as soon as we finish up here."
Sandy said, "While you two are taking care of that, I will call the family internist and have him recommend a pediatrician for the boys. They will need a physical before the school will accept them. I will also set up a meeting in Atlanta with my mother to discuss the adoption."
"That would be helpful," Craig said, "I would like to take care of the legal issues right away."
Sandy said, "Well, unless someone has anything further to add, I think we should make those calls."
Sandy and Dan were in the study later that evening, trying to catch-up on the backlog of email messages that had accumulated during their absence. When Sandy said, "Dan, several pages of the Irish contract are missing on my copy of the CD. I need to drive over to the office to make another copy. I hope the original in my safe is complete."
Dan said, "Must you do that tonight? Can't it wait until tomorrow?"
"I wish it could, but I would like to finish it off tonight to have it ready for the legal department first thing tomorrow morning."
Dan said, "Would you like me to go with you?"
"No, you finish your work; I shouldn't be gone more than a half-hour."
His driver and his security guard, Brian, drove Sandy to the underground parking deck in his office building. The driver remained in the SUV while Sandy and Brian took the elevator up to his office on the top floor. Sandy punched in his code on the touch pad, and opened the door and switched on the over head lights. Then he stopped dead in his tracks when he saw a young boy asleep on his leather couch. The security guard moved in front of Sandy as they both approached the couch. The guard leaned down as shook the boy. The boy opened his eyes. He eyes registered both fear and shock at being discovered.
Sandy said, "We are not going to hurt you, son; what is your name?"
"My name is Jeremy Brown."
Sandy said, "Well, Jeremy, why don't you sit up and explain how you were able to get into my office without setting off the alarm system, and why you are sleeping here? If you story makes sense, Brain won't call the police. Now I want you to start at the beginning, starting with your age."
"I am twelve years old and up to two months ago I lived with my Aunt and her boyfriend, Hank. My Aunt and Hank kicked me out on the last day of school and told me to get lost. I didn't know what to do. I only had fifty dollars saved that I had stashed in my hideaway in the woods. I remember some of the older boys in school talking about finding summer jobs in Dunnlap. So the next day, I snuck into my Aunt's cabin when she was gone, and took my clothes and some food from the pantry. I hid in my hideaway overnight and left early the following morning for Dunnlap. I discovered that no would hire a twelve year old. I was eating my hamburger at McDonalds at one of the outdoor tables. I noticed that that there were paper and cups littered all over the parking lot. So I went to the manager and told him I would clean up the parking lot for five-bucks. After that, I had a regular job and free meals at McDonalds. They throw away all the cooked burgers after so many minutes, if they are not sold. I took them before they hit the garbage bin."
Sandy said, "You still have not explained how you got in here."
"You told me to explain everything from the beginning. That's what I'm trying to do."
Sandy smiled, "You're right, son, you go ahead with your story."
Jeremy continued, "I slept in the woods every night, yet, I was unable to shower. One night I saw your cleaning crew getting ready to enter this building to start their work. I noticed one of the older men was struggling to lift the plastic trash bags into the dumpster. So I helped him with the bags. He thanked me and asked me if I would like to help him empty waste baskets in the offices. He said he would pay me five dollars a night. I jumped at the opportunity. After we became friends, I told him my story. He said he would like to help me but that he could get in trouble if he let a runaway live in his home. He said his wife would never allow me in the house for the same reason. I told him that I understood and that all I wanted was a safe place to sleep at night and a place where I could shower. Since he was the last person to leave every night, he suggested that I sneak into this office and hide until the building opened in the morning. He told me that the security people didn't have the code for this office and I would be safe as long as I didn't turn on any lights. I used the shower in your bathroom every night and slept on your couch.
Sandy asked, "How long has this been going on?"
Jeremy said, "Almost two months now."
Sandy said, "Didn't you realize that it would only be a matter time before you would be discovered?"
"I was hoping that it would last for a while," Jeremy said. "I know the authorities will haul me off to some foster care home."
"Maybe not," Sandy said. "Where have you been stashing your belongings?"
"In the maintenance storage room in the basement," Jeremy said.
"Brian, accompany Jeremy to the basement so that he can retrieve his things and bring him back here," Sandy said.
Sandy opened his safe and found the original CD of the Irish contract and copied the missing pages. He picked-up phone and called Dan and told him about finding Jeremy and of his story.
Dan said, "I hope you are planning to bring him home with you tonight, I would not sleep a wink knowing he was sleeping in the woods."
Sandy smiled, "I knew you would feel the same way. Yet, I wanted your consent before I brought him home. I'm not going to turn him over to the authorities without our attorney's advice."
"Thank you for thinking of me first, sweetheart," Dan said.
"You are my other half and I wouldn't think of bringing another boy into our home without your approval. As soon as Brian and Jeremy return, I'll be heading home. You might ask Ludlow to fix up a suite for Jeremy tonight."
"I'll see to it, sweetheart." Dan said.
Brian and Jeremy returned a few minutes later. Sandy locked up and they took the elevator to the parking deck. After they were all seated in the SUV, Sandy said, "Jeremy, please give Brain all the information about your Aunt, her boyfriend, and the school you attended. He will also need your parents' names and your old home address, and your doctor's name and address."
By the time they pulled into the basement garage, Brian had all the information he needed.
Sandy said, "Brian, please check on that information ASAP. I will need it tomorrow morning before I speak to my attorney."
"You'll have it in the morning, boss," Brian said.
"Thanks, Brian; come with me, Jeremy, I'll show you to your room," Sandy said.
Sandy took the elevator to the second floor and guided Jeremy into his bedroom suite. Dan was still working at his laptop when they entered the sitting room. Sandy said, "I want to introduce you to my partner, Dan Kelly."
Dan said, "Hello, Jeremy, I didn't expect a visitor so late in the day. Welcome to Dunnlap Manor."
"Thank you, Mr. Kelly," Jeremy said. "I never expected to be escorted to such a beautiful place. May I ask who own this beautiful home?"
Dan smiled and said, "Sandy Dunnlap, the man standing next to you, is the owner of this estate, and the town of Dunnlap."
"Wow, I never would have guessed that you owned all this, Mr. Dunnlap," Jeremy said. "I didn't realize who you were."
Sandy smiled, "We'll work that all out in the morning. Right now, I think it's time you were in bed asleep. Dan, which suite did Ludlow assign to Jeremy?"
The one down the hall from the boys; follow me Jeremy and I'll show you the way," Dan said.
Sandy and Dan led Jeremy to his suite. Jeremy was wide-eyed when he was led into the suite. "This is like a palace, this is all for me?"
Sandy chuckled and led him into the bedroom. Sandy showed him the dressing room and the bathroom, and back into the bedroom again. Sandy handed Jeremy a cell phone. "This cell phone is programmed with the numbers of the house manager, Ludlow, and for Dan and me. Shortly after Dan & I leave, the security alarm will be set. You are not to leave this suite or the alarm will be triggered. You won't hear a sound until the security team barges into this room. So I suggest you not open the door or the windows. If you need anything in the middle of the night, contact any of the three numbers on the phone and we will respond to your call. Tomorrow morning, when you wake up, ring for Ludlow. He will see that you are taken care of and make sure you have your breakfast."
Dan said, "You will find a tooth brush and everything else you will need in the bathroom, make yourself at home. Do you have any questions before we leave?"
"No sir, everything is fine," Jeremy said.
Dan said, "Great, we'll see you in the morning, now don't forget to call Ludlow."
Jeremy said, "Thank you, you've both been very kind; good night."
After returning to their room, Sandy called security and told them to set the security alarm for the night.
Dan said, "Jeremy is a handsome young boy, I will never understand how someone could kick out a twelve year old child. It's beyond me."
"I agree, baby, we should have some more information about him tomorrow. If he has been abandoned, and his story checks out, I would like to adopt him. How do you feel about that, Dan?"
"From what I can gather, so far, he appears to be intelligent and well mannered. I have no objections in adopting him. Think about it, Sandy, we will have three grown young boys in one week. Not only that, they are all house broken, and well-behaved boys.
Sandy chuckled, "Good Lord, we had better move fast to hire a staff to take care of them. We have a busy schedule ahead of us, sweetheart."
Sandy, Dan and Craig were in the dining room having breakfast. Sandy said, "Craig we may be adding another young boy to our little family. I found him sleeping in my office last night."
Craig chuckled, "What is it with you two? You didn't need to find a playmate for my boys; they are perfectly capable of amusing themselves."
"Very funny, Craig," Sandy said. "The last thing on my mind yesterday was finding a castaway on my doorstep. Anyway, we won't know until after my people do some checking if he will stay of not."
Craig said, "All kidding aside, did you really find this young boy in your office last night?"
"Yes, his name is Jeremy Brown. He appears to be a nice kid, who told us that his aunt and her boyfriend kicked him out two months ago and he has been surviving on handouts and sleeping in my office."
Craig said, "What a damn shame, that poor boy. He is lucky he hasn't been molested or arrested by now."
"If his story checks out, we plan to adopt him."
"That's great," Craig said.
"I wanted you to know before he appears at breakfast this morning."
Craig said, "Thanks for the heads up. Is there anyone else lurking in the wings that I should know about?"
Sandy laughed, "No, Jeremy is the only for now. Of course, the week is not over yet."
They all laughed at that. "Sorry to leave you alone at the table," Sandy said, "Dan & I have a lot of loose ends to take care of right now. Would you do the honors when Jeremy arrives for breakfast? If he could hang out with your boys for awhile this morning, it would be appreciated."
Craig said, "That's fine with me, it will give me a chance to talk with the young man. You go on about your business. Don't worry about us, we do just fine."
Sandy said, "Thanks, Craig."
Dan and Sandy headed to the library to work. Sandy's first call was to his mother to tell her about Jeremy. She said she didn't want to get involved until he knew more about the boy's story. "After your security people verify the information Jeremy gave you, I will be in a much better position to plan our next move. Get back to me as soon as you have anything, Sandy. You don't want that boy in your home if he is lying to you. You could get into big trouble with the authorities."
"All right, Mom, I'll be back to you as soon as I know something."
Brian walked into the library and over to Sandy's desk. "Do you have a minute, boss?"
"I sure do, Brian, have your people had a chance to check out Jeremy's story?"
Brian said, "Yes, sir, they found the aunt and her boyfriend at the address Jeremy gave you. My men used the cover story that they were hired by a law firm and were looking for Jeremy Brown's whereabouts because of an inheritance. Right away, the aunt became very interested and started asking a lot of questions about the inheritance and how much money was involved. She told us that Jeremy ran away a few days ago and would be back any day now. She said he was always running away. Usually, he was back a few days later. My guys said that the attorneys would be in touch with them in a couple of days, and to please let them know when the boy returns."
"She said that the insurance company was still investigating Jeremy's father's accident. But she still had not heard back from them. We took down all the information about the law firm that was handling the case for the family. She wanted to know if ours was the same law firm. I told her that this firm was out of Atlanta and was representing the driver and the company that was responsible for the accident." Brian handed Sandy a copy of the notes he had developed. "Your men did a good job in such a short time," Sandy said. "I'm surprised that the aunt even agreed to talk to you last night."
"The aunt and the boyfriend were watching the boob tube and drinking beer. At first they were annoyed with my men, but when the heard that there was money involved they became very friendly," Brian said. "That cabin they live in is a real dump, and it looked like it hadn't been cleaned in months. There are several old cars outside and junk lying around, all over the place. The aunt and the boyfriend are drunks. My men said it's no wonder the kid ran away. She said the kid was a pain in the ass and lived in the shed next to the garage. They checked it out. There was a wooden bunk type bed built into one wall, a home made desk and a old wooden chair, a wooden shelf on one wall that held the wash basin with an old mirror over it and an old fashioned wooden ice chest with a electric hot plate on top of that for cooking. There were a few pots and pans, and some kitchen utensils. That was it, except the place was a neat as a pin. There was no indoor plumbing. There was an outhouse back of the garage. I guess the kid took his shower in the cabin. Here's some digital photos of the place.
Sandy looked at the photos and shook his head. "What a dump, they are real losers. Dan, take a look at these pictures."
Dan walked over to Sandy's desk and looked at the photos. "God, it's hard to believe, that in this day and age, people still live like that. Did the aunt say how long Jeremy was living with her?"
Brain said, "The aunt said that Jeremy's mother died of cancer over two years ago and that her brother, Jeremy's father, took care of the boy until he was killed in an accident last year. Since she was his only living relative, the court awarded her custody of Jeremy. She told me that her brother's lawyer sold the house and contents, and that there was a small insurance policy to take care of his funeral expenses. The lawyer set up a trust fund for the boy and the aunt received a monthly income to care for the boy. I also know that Social Security also pays the aunt a monthly benefits package for the support of the boy. From what I could see, that boy saw very little of that money. The few clothes that were hanging in the closet looked like they were from Goodwill. Jeremy's lawyer's contact information is listed on the notes I gave you."
"Thanks, Brian, this is what I needed to know," Sandy said. "I'll have my mother get on this right away. One more thing, will you find Jeremy and bring him in here? We need to talk."
Sandy called his mother and gave her the information Brian's men had found. His mother told him she would be back to him after she talked to some of her colleagues that handled that area.
Brian led Jeremy into the den and left. "Good morning, Jeremy, did you sleep well?" Sandy asked.
"The best night's sleep I've had in years. That is a comfortable bed and a quiet room. It was nice to sleep in, and not have to get up at six, like every other morning," Jeremy said.
"Did you have breakfast with Craig and his boys?" Dan asked.
"Oh yes, the boys are very proper, and I love the way they speak. It feels strange to be waited on for breakfast. That hasn't happened to me since my father died."
"Well, I'm glad you had a chance to meet Chip and Lloyd," Sandy said. "I had my security men check your story out, and everything you have told me was true. My mother's law firm in digging into your case as we speak. Now, I would like you to tell me about your background, from the beginning."
Jeremy began his story.
"My family lived in Huntsville, Alabama for as long as I can remember. My father was an Aeronautical Engineer and worked at the Redstone Arsenal. He headed up a team of engineers working on solid propellants. We lived in a nice home in Jones Valley. All of the homes on my street were very large. Many of my playmate's fathers also were engineers, who also worked at the Arsenal. I really loved my parents."
"About three years ago, my mother became sick and had gone to the hospital many times. My dad told me that Mom was very sick and would not get better. She lost all her hair and keep losing weight. She was very weak and had to be taken to a hospice, where she died after a month. My Aunt Paula came to my Mom's funeral; she was our only living relative. She was my father's sister. I asked my dad, after she went home, why Aunt Paula never visited us before. He told me that Paula and my mother never got along.
Dad told me that Aunt Paula was my only living relative on his side of the family. My mother was an orphan and was raised by the nuns until she was eighteen. She was very smart and won a scholarship to attend college to study nursing. She met my dad in college and they were married shortly after they graduated.
After my dad was killed in that automobile accident, I was placed in the custody of my Aunt Paula. Aunt Paula was all right in the beginning, that is, until her boyfriend moved in with us. Then things got worse. They both started drinking after lunch, and keep drinking the rest of the day, and well into the night. Most nights all I had to eat for dinner was peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Or, sometimes she would fix beans and franks. Most of our meals were something she opened from a can. Luckily, I received a good meal at school every day. Maybe my Aunt felt guilty, because she bought me a monthly meal ticket.
The cabin my aunt owned only had one bedroom. In the beginning, we slept in the one bedroom. She slept in the bed, and I slept on a rollaway bed in one corner of the room. That all changed when Hank, her boyfriend arrived. They moved the rollaway into the family room and that is where I slept. I couldn't fall asleep most nights because of the TV noise, and the shouting they would do if they were watching a game. Some mornings I was half asleep when she woke me up for school. That is when I suggested that I sleep in the shed. They were all for it, since I would be out of the way. It was quite an improvement, yet, I was lonely most of the time. That is when I did a lot of reading. There was not much else to do with my time.
Sandy said, "Why did your aunt throw you out the day after school let out?"
Jeremy turned red faced and said, "She found me and another boy having sex in the shed. She called me a faggot and a few other nasty words and chased my friend away. She told me that she was not going to put up with that. That's when she told me that as soon as school ended, I was on my own. She did not want me around any more. I knew she meant it and I started to do odd jobs for people in town. I saved fifty-five dollars and left right after school closed and headed to Dunnlap."
"Do you think you might be gay? Dan asked.
"I don't know. I'm only twelve years old and I've have never given it much thought. I liked having sex with other boys, we all enjoyed it. Most of the guys I did it with never thought it was bad. I was never as bad as my aunt said. Heck, I never knew what being gay meant. My aunt made it sound so dirty."
Sandy said, "All boys go through that stage, Jeremy. It's nothing to be ashamed of; it is part of growing up. We can discuss that at a later time. Just remember this, it is a bad thing if you force another boy to have sex with you, and you should never have sex with someone younger than you, or with anyone older than you. It is okay to experiment with boys in your own age group."
Sandy said, "Dan and I want you to live here until we straighten out this issue with your aunt. I can tell you this, you are a minor and your aunt is legally responsible for you until you are eighteen. If anything has happened to you she would be held responsible. Other than the roof over your head, did your aunt give you an allowance and buy you new clothes that you needed?"
"Aunt Paula never gave me any money at all, and my clothes came from Goodwill, and then only when I needed them. I had three changes of clothes for school and only two pairs of shoes, one pair for school and the other pair for play."
"I want you to stay around the house and grounds until everything is straightened out," Sandy said.
"Yes, sir," Jeremy said.
"Why don't you see what the boys are up to? Usually they like to play with their Play Station. You might like to try that out. If not, you can amuse yourself in your suite. Check with Ludlow on the meal schedule. We don't want you missing out on any meals."
Jeremy smiled, "Thank you; I'll see what the boys are up to." Jeremy left.