The Leapling

by Nicholas Hall

Chapter 16

"But with unhurrying chase,
And unperturbed pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
They beat- and Voice beat
More instant than the Feet-
"All things betray thee
Who betrayest me."
(Francis Thompson –
The Hound of Heaven, l. 25)

Slowly, deliberately, walking as if there was nothing to fear, but yet very wary of the unknown, the four of us left the private dining room in the private club, through throngs of people who had no clue of the drama unfolding only minutes before as they reveled in their meals and conversation. At the door, we politely asked Michael to rejoin the dinner, nodded at the four doormen and continued across the parking lot to the pickup truck.

If there was fear present, Javier exhibited none, outwardly, nor did Efrain! For my part, it was all I could do to keep from shitting my pants! I noticed in the boys, more than the desire to leave, a firm resolve for their previous commitment to each other; to love and protect until death and, if death should occur here in this time and place, it wouldn't be without a fight and certainly not alone! They'd die as they lived; together! They also became acutely aware I was willing to do the same to protect them.

I had no idea what Avery was thinking now or why he allowed the incident to take place. He uttered not a sound, other than his comments about fucking up, when we exited the room. Personally, I thought my employment with him and my home with Aiden was forfeit, but I resolved, somehow, to keep us together and make a home for him and for all of our boys.

The ride, with Javier at the wheel, Efrain in the front passenger seat, and me in the rear seat, was just as silent as had been the walk from the club to the truck. Javier parked the truck in the motel lot, we took the elevator to the floor our suite was on, entered the hall, into our suite, and before walking to their room, Efrain handed me the guns he and Efrain had been carrying. Without a word, the boys walked to their bedroom, and shut the door!

"Shit and double shit!" I muttered softly, wondering how and if we could resolve this crisis; a crisis brought about by betrayal of trust, which I thought would be more difficult to mend than a fistfight on the playground! If I couldn't get people to talk out the problem, the situation would just be exacerbated! I had no idea how Avery would get back to the motel although I suspected his "former associates" would deliver him. I decided to approach him as soon as I heard him enter his suite across the hall. An hour later, I heard his door open and quickly stepped into the hall.

"Avery, we need to talk!" I pleaded.

He nodded, answering, "Yes, we do, but not tonight;" stepped into his room and shut the door!

"Oh, boy," I thought as he did so, "this does not bode well for solving this problem."

I just had to get Avery to speak of the incident and why! In my mind it'd be a strong first step in heading off an increasingly major family crisis; one which could split our family and bring irreconcilable harm. I also knew Avery would speak when Avery chose to and not before.

I missed Aiden desperately, wishing he were here with me, soothing and tempering me with his calmness, thoughtful inquiries, and love! With a sad sigh, I went to my bedroom, stripped, and went to bed. It wasn't two minutes before my bedroom door opened and Javier and Efrain entered and slipped into bed with me, one on my left, the other on my right. Resting their heads on my breast, my arms holding them close, Javier choked out,

"Why, Poppa Nelson, did Uncle Avery do this to us?"

"I have no idea, but we'll find out, okay?"

"Can we trust Uncle Avery to have those attorneys continue to defend us?"

"Oh, I think so, Javier!" I replied with more confidence in my voice than I actually had.

"I'm not so certain!" Efrain sighed sadly.

"Well, if he doesn't, Uncle Aiden and I'll hire the best we can find then." I answered more confidently.

"Efrain and I," Javier said softly, determination in his voice, "along with the rest of the boys, will never go to jail, we'll just disappear into our own people!"

End of conversation! Both lads sighed and fell asleep, which was more than I could do.

I must've slept, but felt I more dozed than anything, my mind awhirl with troubling thoughts providing no clear path forward, save one, watch and see what happens in the next few days! My hopes were Avery would finally relent and speak of the matter.

The motel breakfast wasn't one you'd call "continental" since it was a full buffet with pastries, toast, waffles, pancakes, scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon, and juices. It was more than adequate. Javier, Efrain, and I ate alone; Avery didn't make an appearance to join us. I hoped he ate earlier; Avery really enjoyed his morning coffee.

A message awaited us when we returned to our room; we'd leave at seven-thirty, in a half-hour.

Luggage stowed in the back, Javier and Efrain in the back seat, Avery next to me in the front passenger seat, I headed us toward home. The ride was almost as quiet as the ride from the private club to the motel, although I did gather from Avery, from what little he said, he did eat breakfast and have his morning coffee. I found it out when we stopped for lunch at a restaurant (not Pookie's) for lunch. I pulled in the yard at home in late afternoon, the boys unloaded their luggage and trotted upstairs to their room, I carried Avery's and my luggage to the kitchen, returned to the yard, and parked the truck in the shed. My suitcase was the only one in the kitchen when I returned.

Work was over for the day so everyone, except Alex, Julio, and Concepcion, working at "Mudpuppy's", was home. Putting my clothes away, I could hear voices coming from Javier and Efrain's room. Undoubtedly, the others were in the process of hearing what happened at the private club.

Fortunately for me, Aiden was home as well, quietly, lovingly greeting me with an enveloping hug and passionate kiss. God, I did love him so! He knew, from my manner and the way I held him, wanting him so close, something was terribly wrong!

"What's the problem, Luv?" came his concerned inquiry as his soft, warm lips brushed mine, crotches pressed tightly, yet feeling my angst and growing sorrow for our boys. Pulling back, he led me to our bed, sat down beside me and I poured out the details of the meal, the encounter, Javier and Efrain's reaction, and, finally, Avery's non-reaction to the event.

"The ride home," I explained, "was as quiet as a tomb. I fear it'll only get worse the longer this fiasco goes unexplained and unresolved!"

"I think," he reasoned thoughtfully, "we should wait a couple of days. Certainly Avery will seek a way to make amends and explain why this group wanted to test you?"

"It's not me I'm most concerned about," I explained sadly, "but I fear he'll have to win back their trust; not only Javier and Efrain's but all of the boys. They tend to stick together like glue! They've had to over the years given the circumstances of their ethnicity, migrant status, and raised, basically, by a single parent. The older boys carried the burden of being father, brother, and cousin to each other and to the younger ones. Life hasn't been all that easy for them but I never hear them complain!"

The boys, less the three working, were at the table for dinner. Although the initial conversation, when we first arrived, was light, it came to an abrupt halt when Avery came to the table. Carissa and Estele tried to quiz Javier and Efrain about the trip, receiving an abbreviated and guarded version. They mentioned shopping for clothes, eating lunch at Pookies, meeting with the attorneys, the motel, and the trip home, but failed to mention or even hint at the dinner at the private club.

Estele and Carissa expressed concern over the meeting with the attorneys and whether or not the boys could be defended effectively. The boys said nothing, but Avery made some assurances all would be well. It didn't satisfy the ladies or the boys, but no one said another word. As soon as they were finished eating, the boys excused themselves, took their dishes to the kitchen, and trooped downstairs to the family room. Avery complemented the ladies on the dinner, excused himself claiming he was tired, went to his bedroom, and shut the door!

Estele shot a questioning glance at Carissa, received a shrug from her indicating she had no idea what was going on, and looked at me. I wasn't about to say anything, yet. The five older boys would be working the dining room at "Mudpuppy's" the next night, Friday, in addition to Saturday and Sunday. The summer season was here and it was a busy time. I also felt they'd be busy discussing the situation among themselves as well. By Sunday night, I thought, the pot should be really boiling.

I didn't miss it by much! There was no doubt in our minds, Estele and Carissa knew what happened by Sunday. The only ones who apparently didn't have a clue were Chance and Tommy. Sunday night, laying in each other's arms, snuggled together in bed, after the boys came home from work, Aiden and I were chatting about the family situation and what we might do about it. We both concluded the tension and lack of communication had gone on long enough!

Our bedroom door opened, Javier and Efrain strolled in, in their usual state of undress, and joined us under the covers.

Javier settled himself in his usual position, as did Efrain, hugged me really, really tight, and both boys softly expressed their love for Aiden and me while also giving us a warning or at least alerting us, to just what might happen in the future.

"Poppa Nelson, Uncle Aiden," Javier murmured, "you know how much all of the boys, Efrain, and I really love and trust you. You'll always be in our hearts and be our Poppa's. If we ever are separated, we'll get together again someday when it's safe!" kissed us both, and left our bedroom.

"I don't think that sounds very good to me!" Aiden said apprehensively.

"I don't either!"

We debated whether to get up, wake Chance and Tommy, if they were home, or wait until morning. They usually left "Mudpuppy's" after the bar closed around two in the morning, depending how busy they were. Tommy usually worked on the restaurant books after the dining area closed and worked on the bar receipts the next afternoon so it was hard to say when they would be home, so we decided to wait until morning.

Manny had to be to work early, something about a cattle sale, so I wakened him shortly after five-thirty. He wouldn't need a ride to the stockyards and office since he generally rode one of the ATV's to work in the summer. Carlos and Luis had chores to do, so I woke them around six. They dressed and before heading downstairs, did something unusual for them. The hugs and kisses they generally greeted us with was not unusual, but each murmured sadly to each of us, "No matter what, I love you!"

Aiden and I were more than just a little concerned at this point! We had little time to wonder or even discuss our feelings however. Chance and Tommy, both dressed, emerged from their room; spotting us, Chance declared, "Good, I won't have to wake you!"

With a wave of his hand to follow, announced, "We're going to have a family conference, Avery, Tommy, you two, and me!"

We followed Tommy and him downstairs into the kitchen where Avery, sitting alone, was drinking his coffee.

"Bring your coffee, Pops!" Chance declared, "we're going to the office for a little bit of a chit-chat!"

The way he announced it clearly emphasized the urgency, the seriousness, and importance of the upcoming meeting! I thought I saw Avery shiver, not relishing the discussion he knew was going to take place, yet he picked up his full cup, and followed us to the office downstairs off of the family room. Chance unlocked the door, Avery took his place behind the desk, Tommy, Aiden, and I sat down while Chance stood with his arms folded.

"What the fuck is going on around here!" he growled. "And what brought it on? Carissa and Estele barely speak to me, the boys shut up the minute Tommy or I come near them, and they all act as though they lost their pet dog or best friend!"

"I'm afraid I caused it!" Avery confessed.

"How!"

He sighed guiltily, stood, opened his liquor cabinet, pulled out a bottle of whiskey, poured a good dollop in his coffee, sat back down, and carefully, meticulously detailed our journey. His detail of the dinner, Javier's reaction when Eddie offered Efrain for Michael's sexual pleasure, and Efrain's reaction when taking the guns from his captors!

"Good for him!" Tommy muttered.

"Honest to god, Chance," Avery pleaded, "I never expected Javier to react that way! It was just one of Eddie's little tests and it wasn't aimed at Javier. I was convinced Javier would kill Eddie, his son, and grandson along with anyone else before Efrain and he were shot dead by the bodyguards! It was all I could do to stop it before there was bloodshed!"

Chance moaned, sat down in a chair, his head face down in his hands, dumbfounded, saddened, and angry!

"Why the hell did you let Eddie do that, Pops? Couldn't he believe you when you said Nelson could be trusted?"

Avery just shrugged, unable to explain why.

"What the fuck we going to do about it?" Chance asked as he, Tommy, and Avery looked at me.

The expectant look they gave me almost demanded I produce some sort of pronouncement or some magical tried and true solution to the problem Avery created and now vexed us all. I sat, pondering my choices; either dance around the subject, promoting time delay hoping it'd solve itself, getting nowhere of course, but perhaps preserving my own "second" job with Bend in the River as well as keeping Aiden and me together or speak the truth as I saw it, probably losing my position here, hopefully keep Aiden, keep my boys, Estele, and Carissa with us as well!

A nudge from Aiden put me on my feet, propelling me into my "teacher" mode! I don't know about other teachers, but I always feel more comfortable, assured, and certainly more interactive with my students when I am on my feet, using the board, approaching the students, prodding, questioning, causing them to interact with me and their fellow classmates, investigating, debating, and solving problems until they arrive at the correct or most probable answers to my initial question or questions. Causing or motivating students to discover solutions through their own thought processes, utilizing information they already have or can gather from every possible source was always the goal of mine. Independent thinking is so important for the intellectual growth of individuals and of society in general. I learned years before "a problem well defined is a problem solved."

With a deep breath, I asked, "Just what did you expect, Avery? All of our boys are bright, but Javier and Efrain are the brightest and the brightest of the bright is Javier! Did you expect him to take on some members of the football team in the cafeteria at school and in the process cause the coach to lose his job? Did you expect him to attack those three thugs with a garbage can lid because they were assaulting Efrain?"

"Did people ever expect you, as a young lad, to walk into a tavern and kill three men?"

"Or, order the death of two men, castrate them, and light their corpses on fire, who killed your beloved Francisco?"

"Did you expect Chance and Tommy to take on a small squad of soldiers in order to protect each other and keep from being separated? Did you expect Chance to stick a sharpened pencil in the crotch of an army officer and threaten to emasculate him?"

"Would you expect Chance and Tommy or Aiden and me fight to the death to protect our mates?"

"Given all of this, why in heaven's name, wouldn't you expect Javier to fight to the death to protect the love of his life? He had no idea what was going on, only that Efrain was in danger!"

I paused, catching my breath, organizing my next thoughts, and waited to see if there was a response; there was none, so I continued.

"Someday, soon I should think from what I'm hearing, if the boys end up heading for trial, you'll wake, trudge downstairs to the kitchen for your morning coffee, and there won't be any! There'll be no one there to make it for you. You'll check Estele and Carissa's rooms and they'll be empty. You'll walk upstairs and find the boys room just as empty. It'll be as if they never were here! They will all disappear into their own communities and you'll see them no more, unless they want you to. Believe me, Avery, the boys are already making their plans. When they go, I go as well!"

"That's right, Uncle Avery," Aiden inserted. "I've heard the same comments from the boys. When Nelson goes, so do I!"

Avery's eyes teared up, he laid his head on the desk, sobbing, "But I love them; I'd do anything for them! Nelson, I'm so sorry; this is all so fucked up!"

"They love you too, Avery," I announced, "but now they don't trust you!"

My comment concerning trust thrust hard and deep, cutting to the quick of the matter, much as a sharp knife or rapier would pierce the heart of a bloody blackguard!

"What do you mean, they don't trust me?" came the heartbroken response from Avery.

"Avery, you betrayed their trust in you when you failed to trust them! You knew what was going to happen to Javier and Efrain as a test of me, yet you failed to trust them to decide whether or not they wanted to participate and to what degree, or decide to forego the dinner and stay at the motel. It's the failure to trust in this case which was the straw which broke the camel's back, so to speak. Javier wouldn't trust Eddie's demand to 'end' the game while Efrain was still being detained. He made certain Efrain and he were well-armed when leaving, and, if you remember, didn't ask you to ride back to the motel with us."

"What happened to Javier affected all of our boys, setting up a barrier of mistrust between you and them. Alex may be the leader of the group, but Javier is the warrior, their champion, their defender, and they follow when he leads them into battle! It's only natural they would react accordingly if he were maligned in any way."

"Right now they feel their future is uncertain, not trusting you or your attorneys to provide an adequate defense of their actions. All eight of our boys, plus Monty, were involved in the altercation protecting Efrain and assisting Javier and they're worried; as worried as a mouse in a room full of hungry cats!"

Anxious, Avery pleaded, "So, what do I do? When do I start?"

"Avery, you have to win back their trust; sooner rather than later!"

"How?"

It may seem as an innocuous question asked by some, but to me it gave me great caution to speak in general terms rather than specificity, not telling how the end results should be obtained, but to outline those first steps and provide some guidance for future direction, since Avery, unlike me, was unused to working with or teaching the adolescent child. True, he raised Chance from the winter of 1942 through his high school and college years, with Chance now living at home, and Chance was definitely homosexual, not heterosexual. In the case of our boys, they were a mixture of both, as if this made a great deal of difference.

On the other hand, I've not raised boys before now, but I do have younger brothers, sexual orientation unknown, and my course work at the university included adolescent psychology, psychology of learning, student teaching, and other such educational opportunities providing me with the intellectual knowledge and some practical experience in dealing with this particular age group. My current experience as a high school teacher certainly added to my knowledge.

Starting carefully, trying not to be too "directive" but wanting to emphasize the need, I advised, "If I were you, I'd make this ridiculous case this upstart of a district attorney is trying to build go away – far away! I'd contact those lawyers and tell them to have at it, no holds barred! Encourage them to find anything, dirt or otherwise, to force this case to gather dust in some obscure cellar in some distant archival dumping ground. Secondly, I'd hold a meeting with Estele, Carissa, Monty, and our boys; apologize to them, explain what happened and how you let it get out of control, how distressed you are concerning their unspoken fears are, and ask them what you need to do to earn back their trust!"

I paused, allowing it to sink in, before adding, cautiously, "Remember, love is given, trust is earned! It won't happen overnight with all of them. The key to your success in achieving your desire to earn their trust and how long it takes rests with Javier."

Chance entered into our conversation, saying, "Let's get you some breakfast, Pops, while we talk about how and when we want to call everyone together."

This, I thought, was a good move on Chance's part. It'd give the three of them the opportunity to visit privately! Aiden and I decided to sit a minute and catch our breath or at least rid ourselves of some of the tension! It was now up to Chance, Tommy, and Avery to plan the next, the most important, move.

"It's been one hell of morning, hasn't it Aiden?" I groaned.

"You got that right!" he acknowledged. "How about a drink?"

I nodded, knowing full well he wanted one as well! As I did, I heard a voice coming from behind the half –open door of the wine cellar.

"I'd recommend a Bloody Mary this time of the day, but a nice White Zinfandel would be very acceptable."

The wine cellar door pushed open and Javier, followed by Efrain, stepped out into the room and walked toward us. As Javier neared, I asked incredulously, "How long have you two been in there?"

"Shortly after you guys came down here." Javier replied.

"How?"

"Through the secret entrance in Avery's bedroom closet."

The discovery of the secret passage would be a subject of another discussion, I thought.

Clad only in their boxer briefs, naked save those knit, soft, skin-clinging garments emphasizing their lithe smooth bodies, trim waists, narrow hips, causing their very ample genitals to bulge remarkably in the front, both boys stepped forward to embrace us.

I opened my arms to accept Javier and Aiden did the same for Efrain. Javier held me tight, his head on my shoulder, resting in the safety of my very person.

"You really love us a lot, don't you Poppa Nelson?"

I nodded, choked up emotionally as I held him!

"Enough to give up everything here for us!" he stated, his words full of feeling and intensity.

Again I nodded, only able to reply, "With all of our heart, with our lives if necessary, Javier!"

"What should I do, Poppa?"

Speaking softly, yet loud enough for Efrain to hear, "You should listen, think through what is said and how it is said, evaluate the words and the manner said, accept it or reject it, and learn; not only to give your trust but to accept Avery's trust in return. It won't be easy and it won't come fast, but it'll happen! Know always Uncle Aiden and I love you, support you, and your home will be with us always."

"What will you do, Poppa?"

"Javier, Honey, I'll listen as well and try to understand why Avery allowed Eddie to test me. If it is what I think it is, I think I made my position quite clear to Eddie and I'm certain there's no doubt in Avery's mind the direction I'd lead our family should it ever come to that."

And so the process of healing, learning, and trusting began! It didn't happen overnight but it eventually came to fruition over time.

Avery, Chance, and Tommy met with our family; Avery explained, in detail, what happened, how sorry he was it did, how he felt he failed the boys, and blamed himself for allowing it to occur!

"I should've trusted Nelson, Aiden, Javier, and Efrain, as I should trust all of you now! Chance, Tommy, and I love you and respect you so much. Without you all, I am nothing."

Avery made solemn promises to all of the family and I can attest he hasn't broken them.

The case against Javier and the rest of the boys disappeared as soon as the district attorney resigned his position for "personal reasons" and moved out of state. I never asked Avery what those "personal" reasons were, not did I care to know. All I was concerned with was the ending of the stress caused by and ridiculous nature of the case against our boys.

The summer was uneventful, albeit busy not only on the farm, as it always is during summer, and "Mudpuppy's" but in preparation for five of our young men leaving for college in the fall. I noticed Avery became much more active in all of our lives, especially the boys, being with them, conversing with them, seeking their opinions, and acting as a loving grandfather would ordinarily. There was still some distance between him and Javier and Efrain, but I could sense the gap was narrowing, yet the feeling of trust existing before our trip to Illinois didn't return fully, especially with Javier and Efrain! There remained, for a considerable amount of time, a slight distance between them and Avery, something that bothered him until his dying day.

Aiden, Avery, and I loaded up my truck, Javier and Efrain's, and Alex and Julio's with luggage, televisions, stereos, and other items of lesser consequence such as clothes, several ice chests full of frozen meats, vegetables, and pizza for the freezer in their new home in Iowa City. Unloaded there, rooms decided, and the boys settled in, Aiden, Avery, and I returned home to Morgan's Landing and helped Concepcion move to Monty's folks home.

Alex was planning on a degree in business and Julio in accounting since those subjects were not only their interests, but they were planning to return to Morgan's Landing to work "Mudpuppy's!" They were promised positions by Chance and Tommy and I knew if it worked out, which I didn't doubt for a minute, they'd be part of "Mudpuppy's" when Chance and Tommy retired.

Concepcion wanted to be a science teacher and set his sights on it. Javier and Efrain, inseparable in every way, were determined to pursue degrees in law, corporate, personal, and defense.

With only Manny, Carlos, and Luis left at home, the house seemed almost empty, but yet not so! I must admit, however, the tensions did seem to ease with the older boys off to college! School activities involving Manny, Carlos, and Luis kept us busy! There were parent-teacher conferences, school programs, field trips, and Manny's music and drama activities. Toss in an occasional weekend visit to Iowa City to attend programs and visit along with activities at Concepcion's college, and we were more than busy. All five made an occasional visit home as well, but in the main they concentrated on their course work on campus. In addition, Alex concentrated on Beth, while Julio did Megan. Manny continued to be madly in love with Erica and she with him. High school was fun for both of them!

Thanksgiving that year was a blast! Everyone was home and Estele and Carissa outdid themselves with turkey and all the fixings as well as desserts and snacks feeding the family. To say they missed the boys (and their fiancés) would be an understatement even though Avery did drive the two of them to Iowa City several times to visit and enjoy the campus life. However, it just wasn't the same as having them all home.

Aiden and I felt the relationship between Avery and the boys, especially Javier and Efrain, was improving! He was more relaxed and conversant with them sharing more and more aspects of his life and business. He listened and absorbed what they offered in return. In addition, Avery wasn't the least bit hesitant to consult Aiden or me concerning the boys. I also noticed he was involving us more and more in business decisions as well.

Christmas break was three weeks long and the house was full again, as it'd be for some years to come. Our college boys, along with Monty, worked "Mudpuppy's." It was a good opportunity for them to earn extra cash and gain more experience. Their people skills were great and the tips proved it.

There was a Christmas movie showing in the cities Carlos and Luis wanted to see, so, after arranging for Manny to take care of their chores, Aiden and I took them to an evening showing. We enjoy taking them as much as they enjoy going. As far as they were concerned, the movie was great! Full of popcorn, soda, and tired from long day, we ended up carrying them upstairs to bed. About half-way up the stairs, Aiden commented, Carlos' head lolling on his shoulder,

"Carlos is not only growing older, but heavier as well!"

When Carlos fell asleep, it was the very devil to wake him, but it wouldn't be long his most favorite uncle wouldn't be able to lift him easily. In their bedroom, we stripped them naked and while doing so, Aiden grinned,

"Yep, he's getting older!"

Sure enough, his balls were dropping and there were a few black hairs at the base of his penis. We covered them up, checked on Manny (sound asleep) and walked through the bathroom to our room.

We visited awhile and evidently didn't hear the older boys come home. Settled into the driver's seat, about to shift into high gear and really give it what-for, I heard the bedroom door open! Sighing, still embedded, I looked over my shoulder and saw Javier and Efrain, naked as usual, sauntering across the room to our bed. They both slid under the covers and, because of the position Aiden and I were in, were unable to assume their usual positions atop us.

It didn't seem to hinder them any, as Javier crawled in behind me and Efrain behind Aiden. I felt Javier's hand slip over my stomach until in encountered where I was connected to Aiden.

"You're fucking!" he giggled.

"Not any more!" Aiden lamented.

The showers were busy was Javier's excuse for joining us, but Aiden and I both knew they missed us terribly and just wanted to be held, visited with, and know they were safe in our arms! They chattered softly about classes, work, new friends, college life in general, and how much they missed us. Aiden and I rolled over on our backs and, quick as cat, Javier was stretched out on top of me, his head resting on my shoulder with Efrain assuming the same position on Aiden. I guessed they'd always be our boys, although they were fine young men now. They could still pour out their souls knowing we wouldn't judge them harshly and these two needed someone to do that with! Aiden and I were happy to be there for them.

The longer they lay and visited, warm and snuggled in our arms, their voices became softer and softer until Javier yawned and whispered,

"We forgive him, you know!" and with that, both of them were sound asleep!


Indeed, they did forgive Avery and began to trust again. All, except Javier and Efrain, who trusted any person, including Avery, to a point and beyond that point, with skepticism. This wasn't the case with Aiden and me, they trusted us unequivocally; with all of their thoughts, secrets, dreams, and desires! Their cautiousness, intellect, and drive, is making them a very successful team of young lawyers.

Watching them, a young, handsome couple, sitting in the living room, enjoying the comrade of family, made Aiden and me extremely proud. Not that we aren't proud of all of our boys, because we are! They both still live at home with us and we're pleased with their company. They're still such a joy to have around.

It was a fine gathering of our family, this February 19, 1996; gathered to celebrate Chance's sixty-fourth birthday and Tommy's and his retirement. They were returning to Hawaii, the place of their births and where they spent their early childhood together before being separated by war. Even though their home was in Morgan's Landing for many years, they missed the warmth and beauty of the Islands. Chance had a large extended family here, along with the boys, but Tommy's family were all located in Hawaii. As Chance once admitted to me,

"Although I love the boys and know they love me, it's you and Aiden to whom they are the most attached!"

Alex, bouncing a little guy on his knee, watched with delight, his two older sons play with their cousins on the living room floor. Beth, heavy with their fourth, sat next to Megan, also very pregnant with their fourth as well, sat next to Julio holding their youngest while the other two boys played with their cousins. Alex and Julio did well at the University and were pretty much running "Mudpuppy's" now. It'd be their full responsibilities as soon as Chance and Tommy left for Hawaii.

Concepcion was a high school science teacher in the Quad Cities, while Monty, with a degree in Money and Banking, was enjoying his position at a bank there as well.

Dr. Manny, as he was known, and Erica, were expecting their second child and looked as happy as a couple of ticks. Dr. Manny Calderon, DVM, opened his large animal practice and clinic in Morgan's Landing soon after he graduated from vet school. His main client was "Bend in the River Enterprise, Inc., Livestock Division," although other smaller farm operations kept him busy as well!

Carlos was in his third year at the University on his way to becoming a Doctor of Medicine – Family Practice and Luis was in his first year at the University as well. He was still sorting out what he wanted to do, but was leaning toward medicine as well, only in pediatrics.

Estele, nearing eighty, now a great-grandmother, and Carissa, a grandmother, beamed with unabashed happiness at having all of their family home for this special occasion. Of course, they were happy to have them home anytime and the boys frequently visited. Those little ones who could talk called both "grandma" and Aiden as "Grandpa Aiden" and me as "Grandpa Nelson!" We couldn't have been happier!

I haven't taught for five years, ever since I became CEO of "Bend in the River Enterprises, Inc." and Aiden became Chief of Operations, when Avery, Chance, and Tommy reorganized and incorporated all of the business ventures, except those held personally, into one. It was more than just a little bit of a shock to all of us!

"Bend in the River Enterprises, Inc." was established as a private corporation with a board of directors consisting of the eight boys, Aiden and me. Avery, Chance, and Tommy would serve in a non-voting, emeritus status, but were paid a stipend of a lesser amount than the rest of the board received. They each held one share, while the boys each held five, while Aiden and I held ten shares each. However, regardless of the number of shares, each director only had one vote. The total value of the shares was determined by the net worth of the corporation, with dividends paid accordingly on a yearly basis. Overall, including all the capital assets, "Bend in the River" was worth several millions, making the shares very valuable!

I was concerned with the action, fearing it'd be taking away wealth from Avery, Chance, and Tommy they might need in the future. Hours of closed door meetings with the three of them, including Aiden, Javier, Efrain, and me left me reassured this wouldn't be the case. Their personal investments, partnership, and several limited liability companies, along with impressive portfolios of bonds and stocks, would more than suffice their needs, according to Avery and the accounting reports we read through. What they did for the rest of us was absolutely remarkable and completely unselfish, given out of trust and love.

Estele and Carissa set up the buffet table and we chose our meal from a variety of entrees and side dishes; all designed to titillate our palettes and fill our tummies! Our meal finished, we adjourned to the family room in the lower level for cake and ice cream. A cake with "Happy Birthday Chance" and another with "Happy Retirement" were produced and, led by Javier on his guitar, we all sang a chorus of "Happy Birthday" to Chance. Then Alex, on behalf of the rest of us, presented Chance and Tommy each with a gold watch, with the date engraved on the back.

I was about to stand up and add my own words of congratulations and best wishes when Concepcion and Monty carried out another cake and put it on the table with the other two. Javier stood again and led everyone with "Happy Birthday" to me!

How the hell did they find out? I'd celebrated my birthday on March first ever since I could remember. My father thought it unseemly to have a birthday only every four years. Besides, he didn't believe there was such a thing as "leap year!"

Javier's sly smile gave him away! Evidently, he happened across my birth certificate somewhere, showing my date of birth as February 29, 1964 and began planning this little surprise.

"Poppa Nelson, or El Jefe as we first called you," Alex began stepping forward toward me. "You've changed our lives and we are grateful and owe you so much. Without you, guiding us, keeping us safe, and all of the opportunities Uncle Avery, Uncle Chance, and Uncle Tommy provided for us including this wonderful home, I don't know where this band of migrant Latino boys might have ended up! You and Uncle Aiden have been the fathers we need and love so much!"

"So, although you tried to keep it from us, we celebrate today two Leap Year birthdays, two 'Leaplings;' people born on February 29 th of the Leap Years who greatly influenced our lives. Where Chance belongs to Uncle Avery and Uncle Tommy, you are our 'Leapling'; the one who will guide us into the future, our Poppa!"

He presented a large photo album, on behalf of all of the family, containing pages of candid shots of all of us at work, play, holidays, school, college, and here at the farm. The last few pages were family portraits; one of Avery, Chance, and Tommy, one of the boys as a group, of Estele with the boys she raised, one of Carissa with her boys, of Estele and Carissa, Alex and Beth and their family, Julio and Megan with their family, Manny and Erica with theirs, Concepcion and Monty, individual pictures of Carlos and Luis, Javier and Efrain, and finally one of Aiden and me.

The picture of us was taken one spring morning in front of one of the apple trees in full bloom in the orchard. We'd walked out there to check the orchard and it was one of those gorgeous spring mornings. The picture was of me, face to face with Aiden, the fingers on one hand gently lifting his chin to accept my kiss. I thought at the time, the beauty of the orchard was only surpassed by his face reflecting the glow of the morning sun and the love he felt for me! Javier had taken the picture unbeknownst to us. It was beautiful and spoke volumes.

It was quite a day, this birthday! We were all sorry Avery wasn't able to share it with us in person! However, we were certain he shared it in spirit! Avery John Morgan, passed away the year before and now lay resting beside his beloved Francisco in the Morgan Family Cemetery.

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