The Boy by The Lake

by Jobe

Life has a way of gifting you with surprises, they come randomly, without any restrictions or expectations. I always thought I lived a normal life, I waited till I was 30 before finding the woman who I was going to share my life with. We both were professionals, she was a lawyer, I was a CPA with my own business. Our life was full, we had a very comfortable home, took exotic vacations, never felt the need to have children. This was just as well as my wife couldn't have children, so we built our life around each other, we lived for the moment.

At the age of 60, we retired. Through wise investments ,we had acquired sufficient funds to be able to enjoy the rest of our lives. We planned on revisiting some of our past vacation spots, those that had a special meaning for us.

Everything was going just great until Clair's 62nd birthday. She became ill; we were in Switzerland at one of our favorite cities. When we went to a doctor, that was where we heard the bad news, Clair had cancer that was so extensive the doctors gave her six months to live.

"Jeff, when I die, I want my ashes to be deposited in that lake in Italy where we enjoyed our 25th anniversary."

Clair died 7 months later, true to my promise I had her ashes encased in a water tight urn for burial. The day was a beautiful sunny day, just like it was on our 25th anniversary. With teary eyes, I said goodbye as I dropped the urn into the lake.

Returning home, I was lost. With tears, I packed Clair's clothes and donated them to the local charity. I took her jewelry and placed them in our safe deposit box. I couldn't sell them, we had no one who would appreciate them.

Everything I did reminded me of Clair. My doctor suggested that I do something that Clair and I didn't do, the idea of developing new interests. At first, I couldn't think of anything till one day I read about a walk to benefit cancer research. I signed up, this was Clair giving me a new lease on life.

That walk started me on my practice of walking every day. At first, I walked in the afternoon, but being summer, it was too hot so I started to walk in the morning. I eventually got in the habit of walking very early and watching the sun rise over the lake. I'd walk to the lake, wait for the sun to rise, then return home.

That routine led me to a significant change in my life. It was an unusually cold morning, temperature was several degrees below zero. I had just started my walk and got no further than the end of my driveway when I returned to the house and put on another coat, one that I bought when we were in Iceland. Clair said it made me look like a big fuzzy bear.

My mInd was on our Icelandic vacation as I walked toward the lake. ,As I waited for the sun to rise I noticed a figure standing by the lake. As I got closer, I saw it was a young man who only had on a light shirt, no coat. I went up to him, put my arm around him and realized in a few more minutes he would be frozen. Putting my bear coat on him, taking his arm, I took him back to my home. I'll miss the sun rising this morning.

Arriving home I led him to a chair in front of the fireplace. I stoked up the fire, added another log. Hanging up my coat, I went to the kitchen to begin breakfast, particularly starting the coffee. While the coffee was brewing, I went to remove the bear coat from the boy. He seemed to regain consciousness as he warmed up.

"Can you tell me your name?"

Looking at me and then around the room his eyes landing on the fire. "Tobias, my friends call me Toby."

"Toby, will you tell me why you were at the lake?"

He looked at me and started to cry.

"Toby, you don't have to be afraid of me, I won't hurt you."

That seemed to make him cry even harder. It was strange to sit there and watch this teenager crying. I wonder what could've he had done to cause him to cry so hard and be out in this cold without warm clothing. "Would you like a cup of coffee?"

He stared at me as if he couldn't believe what he heard. "Sit there and get warm, I'll bring you a cup of coffee."

I went to the kitchen to get the coffees. I heated up some milk and made a 50-50 cup of coffee. I took my usual black cup of coffee and went to sit down with Toby. I handed him his coffee, as I sipped mine he gulped his down.

"Have you eaten anything lately?"

He shook his head no. I wondered how long he has gone without eating. "You sit here and get warm, I'm going to fix breakfast."

I knew if he hadn't eaten, he would eat a big breakfast. I had a tube of biscuits that I opened and put in the oven. Scrambled eggs and sausage would be the main course. I fixed him another cup of coffee, took it to him and noticed the blank stare of his eyes. What I really saw, his eyes were the same color as Clair's.

It didn't take long for breakfast to be ready. I went and led Toby to the table, Toby behaved as a person in a stupor, easily led with a blank expression. Sitting him down at the table, I placed a plate loaded with scrambled eggs, sausages and biscuits. The coffee I replaced with a cup of hot chocolate, Clair's favorite breakfast drink.

At first Toby stared at the plate, as if it was all a dream. Then the odor of the food reached his nose, it wasn't a dream. He started to eat like he was starved and in fact, I think he was.

"Eat slow Toby, or it'll come back up. You don't want to eat your breakfast twice."

I watched Toby eat and knew that the boy hadn't had anything to eat. I felt a need to take care of him, why I didn't know. I thought what Clair would do in this situation? As I thought about Clair, I kept looking at Toby. The more I looked at him, the more I became aware that this lad needed a friend and someone to look out for him.

As Toby finished his breakfast, "Toby, do you want anything else? I could make more eggs for you, and there's a couple of biscuits left."

It seemed to me Toby became more aware, "Would you like to lay down for a while and maybe take a hot shower?"

I didn't need a verbal answer, one look at Toby's face answered my questions,

"Follow me." I led him to one of the guest bedrooms on the second floor. When Clair and I designed this home, we had insisted on guest rooms with en-suite bathrooms. The builder said it was a waste of money but since we were paying, he complied with our requests.

"Toby, this is your room and your bathroom is right here. Take a hot shower, put your clothes outside of your door and I'll wash them. There's a robe you can wear hanging behind the bathroom door."

I left Toby in the room and went downstairs, I just finished adding wood to the fire when I heard the water being turned on. I smiled as I went to pick up his clothes. Deep down I liked the idea of having someone to care for, I almost wished we had children, almost but wouldn't change my life with Clair for anything.

I expected Toby to come back down for his clothes. I checked, he was in bed fast asleep.

Smiling I went back down to see what information I could find. His pants pockets were empty, one had a quarter. To find out more information I'd need to wait till he woke up. As it turned out that didn't occur until early evening.

I was sitting in front of the fireplace reading the paper when the other seat became occupied. "Did you have a good sleep?"

"Yes, thank you. What's going to happen to me?"

"Well, the first thing I need your full name, then we'll work out something. In the mean time you can stay here."

"My full name is Tobias MacDougal, I live on Central Avenue. My dad tossed me out because I'm gay. If that bothers you, I'll leave."

"No, if you remember I asked you if you were on the street because you were a murderer or thief. That's all that matters to me. Your sexual preference is your business. You said your last name is MacDougal, do you know Angus MacDougal?"

"Yes, he was my grandfather."

I smiled, "Come with me." I led him to my office.

"When I was working, I was a CPA and my wife was an attorney. Your grandfather came to us to set up a trust fund for you. Are you aware of that?"

"No, no one said anything about a trust fund."

"It may be that your grandfather never told anyone. I managed the investments in your fund and to be honest I haven't checked them since I retired. So let me do that now." I opened Angus's file and checked on the investment portfolio, it had grown quite a bit over the last ten years. "Toby you're a lucky young man. Your grandfather's trust fund for you has made you a wealthy young man."

I printed the investment portfolio and the current value. I gave the printed portfolio to

Toby and watched his reaction.

As he read his expression changed, "No way do I have this amount of money."

"Yes, you do, your grandfather put conditions on your access to that money. First, it's to cover your college costs which include tuition, books and living expenses. You'll receive the interest in your account when you reach the age of 18. Once you have finished college or reached the age of 25, the full trust fund becomes available to you."

"My mom and dad didn't know this?"

"If your grandfather didn't tell them, I didn't."

"I can't believe grandfather didn't tell them."

"I'm sure there was a reason why your grandfather didn't tell them. But we have another problem, you'll probably go into child services till you are 18 unless I get appointed as your guardian."

"You would do that, become my guardian?"

"Sure, why not, your grandfather trusted us so why not you."

"Oh, I trust you. You haven't taken advantage of me knowing in what shape I was in. You have treated me better than I would've expect."

"I'm glad you feel comfortable here. My wife and I never had children, she couldn't have children. We spent our time together enjoying our work and our life. The chair you're sitting in was her chair."

"What happened to her?"

"She died from cancer. We didn't know anything until it was too late. Now, all I have are memories of the times we spent together. The nights are the hardest for me, in time I think you being here will help. It was by chance that I saw you in the morning. I almost decided it was too cold to go for my walk. Now, I'm glad I did."

"Tomorrow we'll put in action a plan to gather your belongings from your old home. I'll contact my lawyer and get the paperwork naming me as your Guardian till you reach the age of maturity which is 18. Is there anyone you need to call? You'll go back to your current school unless you want to change."

"Yes, I'd like to call my best friend."

"Ok, you can use the phone in the kitchen or in the other office."

"The other office?"

"Yes, my wife had her office and I had mine. You can use her office, come,I'll show you were it is."

When we design our home we put the stair case in the center of the living room with an office on either side. We had a half bath under the stair that either office could use.

It felt strange to open her door, I hadn't gone into that room since she died. I pointed to the office, "Go ahead you can use the phone there."

While Toby called his friend, I went and began to look over the other investment portfolio's I had set up for other clients. I realized that I missed doing this. When Clair was alive I never missed it, now without her, it felt right to do this again. I began to make out a list of accounts that were active, active being those people who hadn't switch their accounts to another investment company.

I was in the process of making a list when Toby came in to my office. "Sir, could my friend come over to visit?"

"Of course, you can invite any of your friends over. Hopefully, in a few days you'll regard this as your new home." Yes, more tears and I got a hug.

That evening we order pizza from his favorite pizza place. Of course, I had to compare it to the pizza Clair and I ate in Italy, I did that silently to myself. He was happy and made the comment it was the best in the city. It was nice to see him smiling. Toby was a good looking boy, I was sure he wouldn't have any problem finding a partner.

He watched a little television, I continued to read a book I had started early in the week.

As the clock ticked off the hours, I began to get sleepy. "Good night Toby, I'm going to turn in. Just make sure all of the lights are off when you turn in. Do you want to walk with me in the morning? I leave at 5:30."

"Is that the walk that brought you to the lake?"


"Would you be upset if I didn't go?"

"No, absolutely not, sleep well and I'll see you in the morning when you get up."

That night I had a dream of Clair and me in Italy. We had a good time, walking through the markets, trying the food and drinking the wine. The weather was fantastic but I think that was more because of the love we shared. It was a beautiful dream and one I'd never want to forget.


I woke at my usual time and dressed for my walk. As I neared the lake, I looked where Toby was standing, it was empty, the sun began to rise as usual. It was a glorious sight, I knew it would be a good day.

Arriving back home, Toby was still in bed. I brought in some logs and poked the fire to life. Then I addressed breakfast, this morning we'd have pancakes with bacon. I had the coffee on, I think that was the smell that brought Toby to life. He entered the kitchen in his bathrobe and slippers. My thoughts immediately flooded to Clair, that was the way she dressed when she came to breakfast. In our travels she always insisted we have breakfast in our hotel room for that reason.

"Good morning, do you want coffee or hot chocolate?"

"Coffee is okay. Can you fix it like you did yesterday?"

"How about I show you? If you're going to live here, you'll need to help yourself."

I showed him how I fixed his coffee, "In Europe this is called Cafe Au Lait. Which means coffee with milk only the milk is heated, its about half coffee and half milk. The coffee is robust, like espressos. You would like that, maybe we'll get an espresso machine. Clair and I talked about it but never got around to getting one."

"Tell me about Clair."

"She was the love of my life. You'll know when you meet the right one. It seemed for me, the sun rose with her and set with her. We had a lot of fun, touring all over the world. I miss her but knowing she isn't in pain anymore helps."

"Is she the woman in the painting over the fire place ?"

"Yes, we use to sit in front of the fire on cold days, she would be reading her legal briefs, I was reading the latest stock market and the corresponding reviews. Every once in a while we'd look at each other, smile and whisper 'I love you'. I miss her terribly, but I know we'll be united again someday."

"I hope I'll find someone to love like that."

"I also do."

I went back to making pancakes and told Toby how to make his coffee. We smiled at each other, amazing after one day we were very comfortable with each other.

I guess I forgot how much a teenager can eat. I thought I made enough batter for tomorrow's breakfast as well. Never happened, that boy could really eat.

After cleaning up from breakfast, Toby went to dress for the day. I went to my office and called James Steven a lawyer that worked with Clair. We agreed he'd join us for lunch at my home.

When Toby came back down after being dressed, I asked him to come with me to my office. "Toby, I have my lawyer stopping here for lunch today. I need some information from you so let's start. Home address, birth date, mother and father's names, the school you are attending and of course why you are here. I hope you'll like it here, but if you don't, you need to tell Mr. Steven. You'll be meeting with him alone. When you meet him, give him this dollar. That makes him your attorney."

Toby went to Clair's office, I went to mine. I started to contact the various clients that hadn't switched to different investment advisers. They were glad to hear I was back in the business and when I told them the value of their portfolio they were happy I had called I said I'd be working out of my office at my home from now on, I gave them my address and phone number.

I reviewed their portfolio with them during our phone call, so it wasn't surprising to me when James showed up. Of course, I hadn't started lunch yet but I was hoping the time he'd spend with Toby would give me a chance to prepare lunch. I remembered Clair's favorite and since she has been on my mind lately, I sat about making a seafood salad to be served on crisp lettuce leaves. I knew that wouldn't be enough for Toby so I also prepared several types of sandwiches of which grilled cheese with tomato and onion was one of my selections.

A fresh pot of coffee and I was all set. I went and knocked on the door and asked them if they were ready for a break and lunch. Toby being a teenager answered, "We'll be right there."

I had everything out on the table when they arrived in the kitchen. "Toby you can make your coffee or there's milk and juices in the fridge." He opted for a glass of milk.

We chatted about business, I told James I decided to go back into the investment business. "I have a lot of time on my hands now, I think Clair would approved."

"I think she would also. She was a big loss to the firm, even after she retired she was still consulted. I know you must miss her terribly."

"I do, but we had so many wonderful memories, those I'll never forget. They keep her, in a way, alive for me. And now I may have Toby to share an old man's life for a little while."

"Toby and I talked abut him staying here. You'd need to be appointed guardian, I think we could have that done rather quickly. The problem may be getting the release from his family. Toby, I didn't ask you this but do your parents know about your trust fund?"

"I don't think so. They never mentioned it, I didn't know about it until Uncle Jeff told me."

Uncle Jeff, I like that. I smiled at Toby and gave him a wink.

"Toby needs to go home and get his clothes and school books. Can you arrange that?"

I'll hire a small truck and contact one of my clients who works for the police to accompany you when you go to visit Toby's parents. Toby you need to make a list of what you want besides clothes and books."

The rest of lunch was small talk. Toby and James went back to finish the paperwork. Before James left we agree we'd try for 11 am tomorrow morning to get his books,

clothes and what else he had on the list.

Toby had a call to make and I suspect it was to his best friend. "Toby, please don't discuss your trust fund with anyone. Your grandfather wanted to keep that quiet so I think you should honor his wishes."

"I haven't mentioned it to anyone except Mr. Stevens. He said anything I tell him is confidential."

"That's fine, and he's right. Did you give him the dollar?"

"Yes, he laughed and said your wife must have taught you something."

I went to my office, he went to Clair's. If I do have guardianship I'll have to go to that office and remove Clair's things so he can use it for studying. I know I'm not going to like doing that, the room has to be full of memories.

I got so involved in what I was doing, I didn't realize it was past dinner time. "Uncle, would it be okay if I fix myself something to eat?"

"I'm sorry Toby, I got so involved I forgot the time. Suppose we fix dinner together."

He smiled as he nodded yes and headed to the kitchen. "Toby, there's lunch meat in the fridge as well as cheese. In the vegetable drawer there's lettuce and tomatoes, go for it."

I fixed myself a coffee and took the soup I had made earlier from the fridge. Of course, when Toby saw the soup, he asked for a bowl as well. I think I was beginning to realize that my shopping list was going to be enlarged.

That evening we spent reading. Toby found one of Clair's books and was reading it while I finished reading the papers.

Laying in bed, I thought about how my life was going to change if Toby stays. I smiled to myself when I realized my food larder will be seriously hit but I also thought how nice it'll be to show Toby the world Clair and I found and enjoyed. I slept confident that Toby would be a part of my world.


The next morning as I was leaving for my morning walk, Toby came dressed in the bear coat. "If it's okay, I'd like to go with you."

"It's fine. I appreciate the company. Let's go."

Walking we made what is colloquially known as small talk. He told me now that he knew he had money for college, he wanted to study engineering. We chatted about the various disciplines that would be included under the broad title of engineering. I really enjoyed this discussion,I just couldn't get my head around why on earth would his family essentially disown this young man.

"Let's sit here and wait for the sun rise. It won't be long." It wasn't long, in about 5 minutes you could see the first light and then over the next 20 minutes the sun was up.

While we sat there, Toby's eyes stared at the lake until I mentioned the sun rising. I wonder what he was thinking. When I looked at him, there were tears in his eyes. I put my arm around him and pulled him toward me. Once the sun was up, we walked home.

As we fixed our coffees, "Toby, after breakfast I suggest you make a list of what you want to bring here from your bedroom. Mr. Stevens will be going there today."

I normally shop for one and now I need to buy for two and one of us is a teenager which equates to shopping for three.

About 10 AM I got a call from Jim saying they were on there way to pick up Toby's things. I asked Toby for his list and read it to him. I think he got the idea and probably would use his judgment if he saw something he thinks should be included in the list.

At 11:30 Jim and police officer Jones arrived at Toby's old home with a van and several packing boxes. "Are you Mrs. MacDougal?"


"We're here to gather your son Tobias's personal belongings. If you show us his bedroom, we'll begin to remove his personal effects."

"I'm not sure you can do that. My husband isn't home"

"Mrs. MacDougal, I have a court order permitting us to do this. Officer Jones is here to enforce that court order." She took the order, read it and took us to Toby's room.

"Jones, check under the bed, behind the dresser and between the mattress and springs. The young man is gay and may have hidden things from his parents."

The two men began packing up Toby's belongings. When they had finished the bedroom, "Mrs. MacDougal, is there any other place where Tobias might have his personal belongings?"

"No, only his room."

As the men finished loading the small van, a young man came by and asked them what they were doing and did they know where Toby was. He wasn't in school the last few days.

"And you are?"

"I'm Ronald Southern, Toby's best friend."

Just then Mrs. MacDougal, who had been watching from the living room window, opened the door, "Ronald, Tobias doesn't live here anymore. So go on home."

On a hunch, "Ronald, we just finished packing up Toby's belongings from his room, you wouldn't know of anything else which is his?"

"Did you get his bike from the garage? He bought that from working odd jobs. He was quite proud of buying it."

"Can you show it to me?"

As the men and Ronald headed towards the garage Mrs. MaxDougal yelled at them. "You can't go there. Your warrant doesn't mention the garage."

"Mrs. MacDougal, the warrant is for any and all of Tobias's belongings on and in this property. Please open the garage doors."

She slammed the door, but soon the garage door opened. While Ronald and Officer Jones began to remove Toby's things, Jim went to get Mrs. MacDougal's signature on a form releasing custody of Tobias.

"Mrs. MacDougal, I need your signature on these forms releasing custody of your son. Also I'll need your husbands signature. If you tell me where he works I'll go there to get his signature as well."

"He's on his way here, he should be here in another 10 minutes."

"I'll wait but I suggest you read over these papers while we wait." Jim knew that when they saw that they'd have to pay a monthly stipend until Toby reached the age of 18, they would be very upset.

Jim went and waited at the van as the last of the garage items were added to what was already there. "So tell me Ronald, how long have you and Toby been best friends."

'Since kindergarten, we're the only two boys on this street. I live three houses in that direction. What happened with Toby and why are you collecting his things?"

"If you have time, I suggest you come with us and let him tell you."

'So he's okay? I was worried and when I asked his mother. She said he was visiting his grandfather who was very ill. I need to tell my mom that I'm going."

'Tell her you'll call her and tell her where you are, and you'll be safe."

Jim watched Ronald leave as he headed home. Just as Ronald reached his home, Mr. MacDougal pulled into the driveway. Jim introduced himself and Officer Jones.

"I have a parental release form for you and your wife to sign. It relinquishes your responsibility for your son Tobias. Your wife has the forms."

The three men headed inside. As Toby's dad read the first set of forms, he immediately signed them. Those forms release them of custody of their son, permanently surrender all of their responsibility for their son. The second paper did not need their signature, it was a court order ordering them to pay a monthly support fee of 750 dollars until Toby reaches the age of 18. Of course Toby's father was furious, "I'm not paying one damn red cent for that abomination."

"Mr. MacDougal, this is a court order, you have no choice. If you don't pay, you'll go to jail. There are consequences when you disown a minor. I'll send you a statement to prorate this month and then from now on you'll send your check to my attention at this address."

Jim picked up the signed papers, leaving a copy behind for them.

"Let's go and deliver these boxes. There's Ronald running, ready to go?"


Arriving back at Jeff's, Toby came out to meet the truck. When he saw Ronald, he forgot about everything except Ronald, "Ron, what are you doing here? Man, I'm so glad to see you. I thought I'd never see you again." Jeff watched them hugging, he thought that there was more there than just a friendship. It didn't take long for his thoughts to be true.

"Uncle Jeff, this is Ron, he's my boyfriend. I thought I'd never see him again.

"It is nice to meet you, Ron. Toby, why don't you and Ron help unload the van, you can show Ron your room. Jim, how did it go?"

"I think it went fairly well. His mother didn't want to let us in until we told her we had a court order. Ronald helped us, his mother said there was nothing else when we finished his room, Ronald said Tobias had a scooter in the garage. So we checked that area out as well. I gave them a copy of the court order demanding they pay 750 dollars per month till he reaches 18. You'll have to think what you're going to do with that money. As guardian it's yours."

"Well, as you know I don't need the money. I'll give him an allowance and bank the rest. I hope you have something else for me?"

"You have a court appointment on Friday at 1 concerning the guardianship. I'll be there and you'll have to bring Tobias with you."

"I need to inform the school as well."

"I suggest you do that after Friday. Call the school and explain that Tobias is staying with you and is ill."

"I also need to find out which school he was attending. If word got out that he was

tossed out, he might want to change schools. So he and I need to talk."

As the bike was placed in the garage, "How about some late lunch? I have chicken soup and hot beef sandwiches on a hoagie roll."

"Officer Johns, you hungry?"

"Is water wet?"

"Let's go."

Entering the kitchen, I set the table. What is it about a teenager's nose, as soon as food is put on the table, they know. Toby and Ron walked into the kitchen holding hands. Toby had a big smile on his face, Ron was blushing.

"Well, is everything sorted in your bedroom? Ronald, do you need to call your mother and let her know where you are? Here are my address and phone number." I handed him one of my business cards. "You can use the phone in my wife's office."

The soup was hot, the buns for the sandwiches were warming in the over, the beef was in the slow cooker and ready to be sliced. I set out cheese slices, sliced onions, and condiments. "Coffee or soda, I have no beer, in fact, I have no alcohol."

I enjoyed lunch, we listened to Ron and Toby tell us about their school and friends. It seemed that their friends knew they were gay, but they weren't being bullied about it. I thought how times have changed. I remembered a young man who was in high school with me, the kids were very cruel to him. He didn't have nice clothing and was pretty much a loner. I remember telling my mom and dad about him. My dad made sure that I befriended him, I remember his words as if he said them yesterday.

"Children aren't responsible for their parents inability to provide. They are the victim of society and when they are mocked, they hurt deeply. They want to have friends just as you want to have friends, be his friend." I was his friend and even today we exchange cards, he went on to become a school teacher. I know my dad and his friends paid for his college although I remember when I asked my dad if he contributed to his college fund, he said, 'maybe'.

Looking at the boys, I decided then to start a scholarship for high school students that are treated as outcasts but have the intelligence to attend college. I'll call it the Clair Foundation for Deserving Students. When everything is finalized with Toby, I'll discuss this with Jim.

With lunch being over, I said goodbye to Jim and Officer Johns. "Sir, my mother said it would be okay to stay over if it's okay with you."

"Don't you have school tomorrow?"

"Yes, but I can skip."

"How about you not staying tonight but come over on Friday and you can stay the week-end. Don't you think that would be better?"

"Yes, Uncle Jeff that would be better. We have to take Ron home."

"How about we take him home after dinner? I'm sure his parents will want to meet me."

I could see the disappointment in their eyes but I knew they'd eventually agree.


I went and took some money from my safe in my bedroom. I could hear the boys talking and laughing when I went to ask them if they wanted to go grocery shopping with me. Knocking on the bedroom door, Toby came and opened it. "Toby, I'm going grocery shopping, do you boys want to come along? If not that's okay, I'll just buy what I think you might like." I'm not sure exactly what I said, but thy both agreed to come with me.

Shopping with teenagers is a new experience for me. I thought of how Clair would have loved to do this. Two shopping carts, we headed off to the various isles. Toby would see something, hold it up, a nod from me it went into the shopping cart, a 'no' nod resulted in an expression of 'please'. I gave in and nodded yes.

I made sure we got food that I considered wholesome for a teenager as well as chips and what has been characterized as junk food. I stocked up on breakfast food as well as frozen food for dinners. Just looking at the carts, I realized I may need a new freezer or plan on shopping more often.

When it was all done, I realized except for the chips, cookies and ice cream, we had mostly healthy food.

Arriving home, they helped me to unload the car and put the groceries away. I made a mistake, I asked them what they wanted for dinner, answer pizza.

I guess the pizza delivery person and I will become good friends. I ordered a large pizza with what the boys wanted to be delivered at 6. I'd fix myself some soup and roast beef left over from lunch.

I went back to my office to finish sending out letters to old clients who hadn't transfer their accounts. I was getting a little excited about getting back in business. I missed Clair, I was hoping that by doing this I wouldn't miss her as much. Of course, having Toby around was helping a lot.

I drove Ron and Toby home after finishing the pizza. Toby showed me where he lived

as we drove by. Stopping at Ron's, I met his mother and dad. They invited me in for a cup of coffee, which I accepted. Of course, they had questions about why Toby was with me. I told them the truth except I didn't tell them about the boy at the lake. Of course, Toby referring to me as Uncle Jeff, left the impression I was family. I'm sure Ron will bring them up to date.

Toby was smiling as we drove home. "You and Ron seem very close, so he's your boyfriend?"

"Yes, we haven't dated or anything except to kiss. I like him very much."

I smiled at him when he told me this. I tried to remember that song about young love, I must be getting old.

Friday rolled around reasonably fast. I met with James at the courthouse, Toby's mom and dad were there as well, no doubt to object to the monthly support payment.

The judge asked who was representing Tobias MacDougal, James stood and identified himself. The judge asked who the other people were. Toby's dad stood and told them they were Toby's parents. The judge looked at them, probably wondered why they were here.

"I would like to speak to Tobias in my chambers."

James told Toby to go ahead and be honest, now the wait.

Thirty minutes later, Toby returned with a smile.

"In the matter of appointing Jeffery Madison as guardian for Tobias MacDougal, the court rules in favor of the guardianship. In the matter of child support, the court approves the sum of $750 dollars per month."

"Your Honor, we disagree with the support. Seven hundred and fifty dollars per month is more than we paid for his maintenance when he was living at home."

"Then you should have kept him at home instead of throwing him away like he was garbage. Sexual preference has no legal position in our laws. Your reason for throwing him out of his home because you disagree with his personal beliefs does not influence this court. Court adjoined, as the judge rapped his gavel, stood up and left the court room.

But Toby's dad wasn't finished, or so he thought, "I may have to pay until he's 18 but he'll not get any money once he's 18. No college fund so he better think about a job."

I looked at Toby and winked. He wouldn't need his dad's money, his grandfather saw to that.

"Toby, we need to go to school and change your home address. Also need to get all the homework you missed so you can get caught up. James, when you have time we need to talk about a special program. How about I call you sometime next week?"

"That'll be fine. You also need to set up a bank account for Toby."

"He already has one. His grandfather set it up for him. I'll forward the bank address and account number to you when we get home. Thanks for doing this."

"Toby, you need to tell me your school address. Do you still want to attend that school or change schools?"

"If it's possible I'd still like to attend my school."

"Do they have drivers ed?"

"Yes, but I won't be eligible until next year."

As I drove to the school, it was close to his parents home. He probably walked to school. I parked in the visitor lot, I let Toby show me to the school's office. The school secretary asked if she could help me then she saw Toby.

"Toby, where have you been?"

"That's one of the reasons we're here. Toby no longer lives at his old address, we need to update his address."

"And who are you?"

"I'm his guardian. These papers authorize me to act in his best interest. His new address is also on these forms as well as my name."

She took the papers and made a copy. "You'll need to see Mrs. Barreca, she's our principal. I'll see if she has time to see you now. Why don't you sit there and I'll check."

"Are you okay Toby?"

"Yes, I'm fine. Classes will let out soon so I guess I'll see Ron. He's coming home with us."

"You may have to see the guidance consular concerning any homework you missed."

"That's Mr. Anders, he's a nice guy."

We waited about 20 minutes before the secretary told us that Mrs. Barreca would see us.

Walking into her office, I saw she had the copy of the court papers which she evidently read while we were waiting. She greeted Toby, I introduced myself, although she knew my name from reading the report.

"We were worried about you Tobias. We tried to contact your parents, they weren't answering our phone calls, now I understand why. I'm sorry you had to endure that. But from these papers, you seem to be in a better place. Am I correct that you'll continue to attend school here?"

"Yes ma'am."

"We'll update your files and you should go and see Mr. Anders to get your assignments, which you missed. We'll see you Monday morning."

"I'll take you to Mr. Anders' office." I followed Toby to a small office at the end of the hall. A very young looking man was sitting behind a desk. Toby knocked on the door, Mr. Anders waved him in.

"It's nice to see you Toby, and you are?"

Before I could answer, "He's my Uncle Jeff, Mr. Anders. I'll be living with him from now on. I came to get the assignments that I missed while I was gone."

"I'll need to contact your teachers to get them. Can you wait, it won't take long?"

We sat in his office and chatted. "Were you surprise to see your mom and dad at the hearing?"

"I thought they were going to ask me to come back home, but they didn't say anything. They only complained about the money."

"I thought with that money, you could have an allowance and we would bank the rest. If you had gone through child welfare offices, that money would go in support of your food, clothing and incidentals. Because I don't need that money, we'll add it to your bank account. Once you get your driving license, we can use that money to get you a car."

He seemed far away, looking at him I could see his eyes becoming moist. I knew what he was thinking. I grabbed him and pulled him into a hug. "Have faith, everything happens for a reason." He smiled.

It wasn't long before Mr. Anders came back. "Toby, it seems you missed one test, which you can make up on Monday during your free period. You have an English and History report that was due and there were several chapters in Literature that you missed. I suggest you read them over the week end and write a paper summarizing what you have read. This is your English and History assignments you missed. Any questions?"

"No sir. Thank you."

"It's good meeting you Mr. Madison. It seems I have heard your name before in connection with the estate of my grandfather, Earnest Anders."

"I knew that name was familiar. Yes, I was his investment advisor. I was sorry to hear that he had died."

"Are you still in the investment business? My grandfather said you were the best."

"Your grandfather was a shrewd investor. I learn as much from him as he learned from me. And to answer your question, yes I am still in the business."

"I don't have much to invest. Most firms want 10,000 minimum. I don't have that kind of money."

"Why don't you drop by my home and let's look at some options. Here's my card, I gave up my office and now work from home. Anytime, just call and let me know when you'll be stopping by."

Leaving his office, "Why won't other investment firms take his money?"

"Most investment firms believe they need a lot of upfront capital, money, to be sure an investor is serious. It's a mistake they make that allows people like me to make a lot of money."


"Do you know that boy over there? He keeps looking at you."

Toby started to laugh. He ran over and gave Ron a hug. A few other kids, patted them on the back as they passed. A couple of girls stopped and talked for a few minutes. You knew what they were saying, 'where were you'.

Toby stopped at his locker, took some books out, then we left the school. "Ron, do we have to stop at your house for anything?"

"Do you mind, I need to get clothes for the week-end and school on Monday."

That answer one of my questions, Ron will be staying until Monday morning.

I was glad we had gone shopping, the boys no sooner entered the house when they hit the refrigerator, glasses of milk and cookies were on the menu. I reheated a cup of coffee from this mornings left overs.

"Boys, I know it's only early, but if you get to your homework, you'll have more time to visit this weekend. Ron, I'll show you a bedroom you can use when you're here." I noticed the look on his face when I said that. I'm sure he was hoping to sleep with Toby, I'm also sure he'll end up sleeping with Toby, at least for part of the night.

"Uncle Jeff, can we use the office to do our homework?"

"Of course, as soon as I get a chance, I'll remove my wife's personal items and you can use that room as your office."

The next morning I was tempted to ask if Toby had a visitor during the night but I didn't. Knocking on his door, Toby are you walking with me this morning?"

"Not this morning, I was up late last night doing my homework."

I was tempted to knock on Ron's bedroom door, but I didn't. I dressed for my walk and began my morning trek to the lake. As I neared my bench, I noticed someone sitting there.

Approaching, "Good morning, I thought I was the only crazy person who walked at this time of the morning . I'm Jeffrey Madison."

"Good morning, Richard Ellsworth, I enjoy morning walks, clears the mind."

"Yes, it does. Is this your first time walking to the park?"

"Yes, we just moved here from Florida. My firm is opening an office here. Problem is my children don't like the cold."

"They'll get use to it. We all do."

We sat there in quiet when I saw the first streak of the sun rising. "In a few minutes you will see one of the greatest sights nature has to offer. I come here just for this moment."

We sat in silence as the sun rose, it never fails to produce a brilliant display of color as the sun breaks the horizon.

"That is beautiful."

"Yes, well I need to get back home and start breakfast. I hope to see you tomorrow morning." We said goodbye, I left to go home and begin breakfast.

Arriving home, the boys were still sleeping. I started the coffee and waited to see what the boys would want for breakfast. I didn't have to wait long. The aroma of the coffee must have awoken them. They came down in their robes, still looking sleepy. I got a sleepy hug from Toby, I think he has accepted me as his uncle. I hugged him back.

"Morning boys, what would you like for breakfast? Toby are you awake enough to make your coffee and perhaps one for Ron."

Toby looked at Ron, "Cereal will be fine." He went and got out a box of cereal, two bowls, two glasses and two coffee cups. I set out the milk, orange juice and a small bowl of cut up fruit. I made toast for myself.

They were quiet as they proceeded to fix their breakfast. "How much of your homework were you able to get done last night?"

"I finished all of mine and then helped Toby with his. He was still working on it when I went to bed."

"I have about another 4 hours to finish up with what I missed and then about 2 hours to finish the current assignments. I'll start on that as soon as I wake up."

"Why don't you relax this morning and start back on your homework after lunch." I saw he was too tired to continue and what would take him one hour will end up taking him two hours.

I sat at the table with them while they ate. I noticed the sly looks they gave each other I knew they spent some time together in bed last night. Teenager hormones cannot be arrested.

"After lunch and if you're caught up with your homework, what say we go to the movies and then have dinner at a restaurant."

Toby looked at me as if to say, 'can we decided later'.

I guess he was still tired from staying up late last night. I chuckled to myself, although no fault of his, one must pay for their unfortunate circumstances. I was glad Ron was helping him, even if the teachers would think it was cheating. "Go back to bed, I'll call you when lunch is ready."

While they went back to bed, I began to remove Clair's personal belongings from her office. I wasn't sure what to do with them, so I took them to my room. What I couldn't place in the room, I put them away in a closet drawer.

"Toby, how did you end up here?" Ron was snuggled against Toby and didn't understand how Toby came to stay with Uncle Jeff. He rationalized why he wasn't home, he was there when the men came to get his things.

"After my dad told me to leave, I didn't know what to do. I had a few dollars and that was it. The first night I stayed in an all night laundry. When I went there the second night, the owner came in and told me I couldn't stay there. I had no place to stay. I didn't know what to do, I already made up my mind I wasn't going to sell my body to live. I went to the lake, which is close by and contemplated jumping in and ending it all. I was about to do it when Uncle Jeff came up to me. I think he knew what I was thinking. He placed this fur coat around me and led me to a bench by the lake. I was crying and I was scared. He walked me to his home, sat me in front of the fireplace, made a coffee for me. He fixed breakfast, I know he knew I hadn't eaten. I had the biggest plate of scrambled eggs I had even seen. When I was finished eating, he led me to this bedroom and told me I could stay here. At first I was scared, I still thought he brought me here for sex. He told me to take a hot shower and put my clothes outside of the door. I did that, then I was so tired, I went to bed. He came into the room and I thought this was it, but he placed another blanket on the bed and left. When I woke, I put the robe on and went downstairs. He fixed chicken soup and sandwiches. He gave me my clothes, I knew then that sex was not on his mind. I had found a home."

Ron thought about what Toby was saying. He realized how close he came to losing the man he loved. "You know what's on my mind?" Ron decided that he wasn't going to lose Toby if he could help it.

"Yes" What followed wasn't sleep. It started with a kiss, and that kiss was going to headed south.

Neither boy had done anything beyond kissing, but now that Ron realized how close he came to losing Toby, he was ready to go further. What started as a simple kiss became a lot more.

Cuddling both boys fell asleep. They were awaken by Jeff calling them to lunch. Showering together took a little longer as there were new toys to play with.


"I hope you both slept well. I didn't think teenagers would ever sleep through a meal. Lunch is ready."

The boys blushed as Jeff looked at them. Jeff knew that they slept together and he also figured that they did more than that. "I understand that you two have strong feelings for each other. Just be kind to each other and respect the feelings of each other. I don't want either of you hurt, your heart can be fragile and break easily. Respect will prevent that."

After lunch, Toby went to finish his homework. Of course, Ron had to help, he said he needed to explain to Toby what the teacher said about his various assignments. I thought he would be explaining a lot more than assignments. Teenagers, I remember when I was that young, passions ran high.

I went back to my office and continued contacting my old clients. I should have done this sooner. I was bored when Clair left and this would've occupied my time.

I didn't realized the time until Toby knocked on my office door. "Uncle Jeff, we're getting hungry. Can Ron and I start dinner?"

Now this was something I hadn't counted on. I nodded yes, then wondered what they were going to cook.

About 45 minutes later, "Uncle Jeff, dinner is ready." Not only was I surprised that dinner was ready, but it was Ron who called me 'Uncle Jeff'.

Dinner was surprising good. "Who taught you boys how to cook?"

"My mom taught me, and when Toby was over at my house, she taught him as well. She said since we were not likely to marry a woman, we needed to know how to cook or we might starve."

"Well, your mom did a great job Ron. This is a delicious and balanced dinner. You might inherit this job if you are planning on spending week-ends here."

The resulting smiles told me that Ron was planning on spending the week-ends here and Toby was all for it.

Sunday was a lazy day. Toby caught up on his homework, we enjoyed a leisure morning after our walk. "What say we go out for lunch?"

They were all for it. Now, where should we go? Ron suggested we go someplace where we could get sandwiches but not McDonald's. I knew just the place.

"This place makes a great beef sandwich. It comes with French fries and Cole slaw." The boys smiled as we sat down.

"Uncle, order for us." I did. When the waiter brought us our sandwiches, their eyes opened wide. The sandwiches were huge, I could never finish mine so I asked for a carry out. The boys had no trouble, they ate their lunch and finished off my French fries.

Driving back home I thought we'd have a light supper. After all they ate for lunch, they couldn't be that hungry. I was wrong, they said they were going to prepare dinner. When they said dinner was ready, it was a mixture of leftovers for the week. "My mom said that after a big lunch we should empty the refrigerator so we can fill it during the week. She called this dinner a refrigerator raid."

It was unusual but the food was good. I knew then that with these boys, there would be no food tossed out. It'd be finished on Sundays.

Monday, I drove the boys to school. Ron, left his clothes at my home, he said he'd wear the same clothes each week-end, then he wouldn't have to bring clothes to

school on Friday.

The week proceeded pretty much on a routine, morning walks, breakfast then school. After school I'd pick Toby up, wave to Ron and on occasions drop him off at his home. On occasions, became the norm about 4 weeks later.

School was winding down, soon Toby would be 17. "Toby, do you want a party for your birthday?"

"Ron asked me that today, if I was going to have a party. I didn't know how to answer him, I said I hadn't thought about it."

"Would you like to have a party? We can you know."

"If it isn't too much trouble then yes."

"Okay, you get your guest list ready, I'll take care of the arrangements." I thought about having one of the local restaurants catering the party. When I called the Italian restaurant, they said they had a private room where we could have the party, that would be perfect.

That evening when Ron was here, "Toby, I had arranged for your party to be at Luigi's Italian restaurant. They have a room for private parties. What do you think?"

"That would be perfect Uncle Jeff, Toby wouldn't have to worry about having a crowd here."

"Thank you Uncle Jeff. Yes, Ron is right it would be perfect."

"Well, we'll need to go there for dinner tonight to finalized the arrangements and select the menu."

I never had a party for a 17 year old, our parties, Clair's and mine, were for adults, mostly clients.

Walking into the restaurant we were seated in a large room, large enough to hold about 100 people. "Toby, how many of your friends would you invite."

"I have only 10 close friends but there are 45 in my grade."

"So how many would you like to invite? Don't think of the cost, your dad will be paying."

"Ron, what do you think?"

"Invite them all then there will no hard feelings."

"Okay, then there will be at least 45."

Our waiter brought us the menu's, it didn't take long for the boys to select their pizza. "Toby, what do you want for your birthday?"

"I don't want anything, the party is enough."

"Surely there is something you'd like."

"No, I have everything I need, an Uncle to help me become a man and a boyfriend to help me through life, what else is there?"

"Those are wise words, where did you learn them."

"I hope you don't get mad, but I read them on a paper I found in the desk in the office I was using. I changed a few words."

"I would like to see that paper when we get home."

Toby did show me the paper and he did paraphrased it. I had tears when I read that paper, typical Clair. I now knew what I'd give Toby for his birthday, a trip to a particular lake in Italy.

Toby's birthday party went very well. I watched as he mingled among his guests, of course, he had Ron by his side all the time. I was somewhat amazed how well they were accepted. I remembered a time when he would've been shunned by his class mates and probably beaten up as well. I was glad people moved ahead in their understanding and level of tolerance.

It was the evening of the party when I told Toby about his birthday gift. I didn't take into account how sensitive he was, I received a big hug from a teary eyed boy. It made me think about his future. What will he study in school knowing his sensitivity. I was sure he'd surprise me. Of course, after he settled down I got the question I expected, "Can Ron come with us, I'll pay for him?"

"Yes, Ron can come with us and I'll pay for him. You need to save that money for school."

Now I really had a teary eyed boy hugging me. "Go tell Ron"


With all of the tribulations Toby had suffered, even to the point of considering suicide, he has become somewhat optimistic about his future and life. He hasn't mentioned the lake and that cold morning. I think he has discussed that with Ron and maybe Ron has helped him through it. As I see him sitting in the chair in front of a cold fireplace reading, no one would ever believe that this was the boy at the lake.

As the weather warmed up, we took advantage of being outdoors. Barbecues, working in the garden, and creating new gardens. Toby thought we should have flowers in front of the house, so off we went to buy plants. Toby, and Ron if he was here, proceeded to plant the flowers along the front of the house. When that was done, we needed a small vegetable garden. Again I let the boys pick the spot, had the ground tilled, bought the plants and seeds. I listened to the boys as they worked the soil, planted the plants and seeds. To listen to them, they would grow enough vegetables to feed both families and then some left over. "Ron, maybe we can sell some."

"Let's see what we have before we think about selling. Between my parents and Uncle Jeff, we may not have any to sell."

Ron seemed to be more down to earth in his thinking. He'd be the one of the two who would put the damper on Toby's wild dreams.

Being 17 dreams are what the world needs, someone who refuses to acknowledge the limits society would like to place on ideas. Many of the inventions started as a dream, the 'what if question' has opened minds resulting in reality and not imaginary dreams.

I had chosen the first two weeks of August to visit Italy. That was when Clair and I visited, we had a great time, I expected to have that time with the boys as well. I booked our flights, booked the same hotel Clair and I stayed in and arranged for transportation while we were there.

"Since school is out, what do you think about auditing a college course. It'd give you an idea of what college is all about, and since you'd be auditing the course, your grade would be for your information only."

"What courses and what college?"

"Well, I have checked some summer courses being offered at the local community college. The head of one of the departments was a client of mine."

"What classes are being offered?"

"He said that only two classes are being offered in the first session, Basic Accounting and Commercial Law."

"Some students took a course called commercial law at school. It covered businesses involved in commerce. I read a little about it in one of the books in the study."

"When you have finished the course, we'll be ready to go to Italy."

Of course, I knew he'd be on the phone. He had to discuss this with Ron, I expect there will be two young men attending summer courses.

Over lunch, "I spoke to Ron about going and auditing the courses. He thinks it's a good idea. Could he go as well? He said he'd be interested in the accounting course as long as it was basic."

"I think all of the courses are basic in nature. They usually are used as an introduction to a major. Many students would like to pursue a career in a field but really don't understand what's totally involved. Summer courses do two things, one, some are designed to give an overview in a specific field and two, some provide an opportunity for students to either makeup a course they failed or to fill in a course needed in their curriculum. The two courses I mentioned are to give an overview."

"When do the courses start?"

"This coming Monday, we could go and check them out, I have pull."

"Good, I'll call Ron."

I think these two boys are joined at the hip.

I called the college and set up a meeting for the boys. "Toby, tomorrow we'll go to the college and talk with the instructors of the two courses I spoke to you about. We'll meet with Dr. Susan Roth, she teaches commercial law, and Mr. Andrew Short teaches the basic accounting course. You'll have a chance to talk to them both."

"Would it be okay for Ron to stay over tonight?"

"Yes," of course we had to go and pick up Ron. As it turned out, we stayed for dinner.

"Jeff, we can't thank you enough for what you are doing for Ron. We always wondered what would happen once he finished high school. Suggesting he attends the summer courses at our community college is a great idea."

"You need to thank Toby for that. Of course, where you see Toby, you'll see Ron. The proverbial joined at the hip applies to them. My wife and I never had children, we didn't miss it. Now, with Toby, I have come to realize that we missed a great deal. Toby has been a blessing for me and adding Ron to the mixture has only been better. They'll have a hard row to hoe unless people's attitudes change. As long as I'm able, I'll make sure they have opportunities which otherwise they would be denied."

"Ron, is very excited about going to Italy."

"Well, it isn't without some self interest. My wife's ashes are in Italy. It was one of the places we enjoyed the most."

Dinner was delicious, it was nice to have someone else cook. Ron got his clothing for their college meeting, we headed home. I was like a chauffeur as they rode in the back seat.

Monday morning two boys were up early, "Are you ready for classes?"

"Yes, Uncle Jeff, would it be too much to take both classes?"

"Since they are meant to be giving students an introduction, I don't see it as a problem. I'll pick you both up for lunch and then drop you back off. Remember pay attention, but also have fun."

The week was noisy as they told me each day what they covered. They were very enthusiastic and I knew they would do well in college. We agreed that Ron would stay with us doing the week and go home for the week-end. Of course, that meant Toby also went home with Ron. I do believe they'll be together for a long time.

We'd discuss the classes, I wanted to know if they had more interest in one of their classes. I guess I was looking to see what preferences they would have for college. Both boys were doing well in high school and would do well in college regardless of their career choices. I wasn't sure Ron's parents could afford Ron's college costs, I knew Toby's grandfather guaranteed his college expenses would be covered.

At the end of the six week period, I spoke to Dr. Roth and Mr. Short concerning the boy's performance. Both instructors indicated they thought the boys would do well in college.

At dinner that evening we celebrated their successful completion of their summer college courses. I took this opportunity to tell them about the Italian trip. They knew that a trip was planned but not the details. "On Saturday we'll be leaving for Italy and our two week stay. I have new luggage for both of you and a short list of the clothes you'll need. We'll have to go shopping to complete the list. Of course we'll leave room for shopping when we're in Italy."

The boys just looked at each other and smiled. I knew they were holding hands under the table.

Arriving home, Ron called his mother, Toby took the suitcases to the bedrooms. I was going to carry the package of clothes I bought to the bedrooms as well but Ron took them instead. "My mom would like for you to call her when you have a moment."

While the boys were packing I called Ron's mother. Her concern was monetary, "You don't need to worry about the costs. It's my treat and there's no way Toby would go without his sidekick. I wonder if I could impose on you to drive us to the airport?" We chatted a little longer, "Ron, do you want to speak to your mother?"

While Ron spoke to his mother, I went to my office and printed out our itinerary. This wasn't a problem, it was the same itinerary Clair and I had when we visited Italy. As It was printing I thought about Clair and how happy we were in Italy.


"Are you all packed? Ron, your mother will be here soon, so get any last minute items packed, if you haven't already." That was a foolish question to ask, I think they repacked their suitcases at least three times.

You could tell they were nervous, they must have paced back and forth at least 10 times before Ron's mother pulled into our drive way. "Let's go boys, get your suitcases."

Arriving at the airport, Ron's mother gave him his passport, I had arranged with her to get him one when I discussed attending the college courses. "Here's your passport Toby, please take care of it." As I expected, he handed it back to me to keep for him. When Ron saw that, he gave me his as well.

It was obvious it was the boys first time flying. They were all eyes as we boarded. I knew I'd enjoy this trip as much as they would. Opening eyes to the world, or in this case Italy, was something that generates knowledge on a first hand basis.

If you have never flown, then you can't understand the excitement of two 17 year old young men. Very attentive to the steward, checking the pocket behind the seats, looking around at the other flyers, and paying attention when the steward went through the safety instructions. I wonder how many flights before they ignored these instructions as must frequent flyers do.

The flight was overnight landing us at Leonardo da Vinci airport in Rome in the morning. My mind couldn't help but go back to the time Clair and I first made this trip, the excitement in her eyes I'll never forget. And now I see the same excitement in the boys' eyes.

"We have to clear customs and get our luggage, then we'll be on our way. Have your passports handy." I let the boys go first through passport control. I couldn't help but notice their faces, they were very somber. Smiles only shown when they saw me exiting passport control.

We followed the crowd to collect our luggage. The boys saw a man standing there with a rifle. Looking at me, "They are Carabinieri, the military arm of the Italian police. I think their presence here is to discourage anyone's idea that this would be an easy entree into Italy. We're okay, look there's our luggage."

I had arrange for the hotel to send a taxi to pick us up. "Okay boys, look for a taxi with a placard saying Hotel Majestic Via Venatu, that will be our taxi."

"Uncle Jeff, there's a man holding a card with your name on it."

"That's us, I should have known that they would asked Pietro to pick us up. Hello Pietro, it's nice to see you again. I hope that the hotel has arrange for your services for the next few days?"

"Buon giorno, Signore Madison. Si, as you say, I am on call for you."

"Buon, these are my nephews Tobias and Ronald. I think we'll keep you busy for few days. I have a list of places they'll want to go."

Arriving at the hotel, we were greeted by the manager. "Signore Madison, it's good to see you again. We have reserved your room and as requested we have a room close to yours for your nephews. I'll have a porter show you to your rooms."

"Thank you Signore Bianchi. It's good to be back in Italy. My wife enjoyed our visits here very much. Pietro, give us an hour and then come back to pick us up. Maybe we can visit Palatine Hill and then have lunch at that small restaurant on the Via del Corso."

That was my plan before reaching our room, "Uncle can we take a shower before going out?"

"Yes, but make it cold and quick. No sleeping or you'll be tired for several days. We need to reset your internal clocks. Staying awake till about 6 tonight will be best."

I waited a full hour and no boys. I knocked on their door, no answer. I opened their door and they were both asleep. "Get up, I told you not to sleep."

"We were tired and just wanted to take a little nap."

"Look I know you're tired, I'm tired also. But I have traveled to Europe many times, it's always best not to go to sleep when we arrive. You sleep now and you'll be unable to sleep tonight. Trust me on this. Let's go, Pietro is waiting for us."

The boys got up, "Go splash some cold water on your face and don't forget your cameras."

We met Pietro in the lobby, "Who fell asleep, I know it was not Signore Madison?"

"It was us. We wanted to test the bed and we fell asleep. Uncle woke us, we're sorry for the delay."

I smiled as the boys got into the taxi. Maybe on our next trip I'll let them sleep, then they will understand.

The ride to Palatine Hill took longer than I remembered. Of course, traffic is always a

problem in Rome. Narrow streets and crazy drivers, I'd never drive here.

"This is Palatine Hill, once the home of Roman emperors. Look from here you can see the Colosseum and Capitoline Hill. There's a museum here where you can get more information. There are the ruins of the Roman Forum and the Circus Maximus. Do you know the story of how Rome was founded?

"Wasn't it something about wolves?"

"Yes, it was, Romulus and Remus. It's said they lived here in an iron hut. The hut still can be seen today but it's all fiction. A nice story, but because of that story, the emperors built their homes here. Let's go to the museum and see what they have."

The boys were all eyes as we wander through the museum. Of course we had to buy a few books concerning not only Palatine Hill but Roman history, particularly the founding of Rome.

"Are you boys hungry?" I smiled as it dawn on them that we hadn't eaten since this morning. "Let's pay for your books and then Pietro can drive us to a restaurant for lunch."

The cashier smiled and offered the boys a pin that said, 'I visited Palatine Hill.' It was in English the boys asked if she had one in Italian, she had and the boys smiled as they pined them on their shirt.

The restaurant Pietro chose was the same one Clair and I always had visited. When I followed the boys in, the owner recognized Pietro and me. Of course we had to chat for a few moments while one of the waiters showed the boys to a table. There's something nice about being welcomed into a foreign country by friends who live and worked there. Of course, the owner selected our menu, which I knew he would, and our wine. I looked at the boys as their glasses were filled with red wine.

"It's normal for Europeans to have a glass of wine with their meals. Eat a little before you sample the wine."

"Pietro, after lunch take us to the Coliseum and then back to the hotel. I think the boys will be ready to go to sleep. Plan on having breakfast with us in the morning."

Now in Europe and specially Italy, lunch isn't a 15 minute gobble the food down. From the antipasto to the dessert we ate for 1 1/2 hours. Between courses and chatting, time seemed to move fast until one checked their watch.

I thanked our host and headed to the Colosseum.

The boys were totally enthralled with the tour. From the side looking down you could see the rooms under the floor of the Colosseum where gladiators stayed. I think the Colosseum would appeal to any boy. Looking at them you could almost see them picturing themselves as gladiators.

Exploring finished, pictures taken, it was time to go back to the hotel and get some sleep. I knew the boys would be up early, but they had their books to read, for a little while.

"If you get hungry, there are snacks in that small refrigerator, but no alcohol. Try and get a good nights sleep, we have a lot of places to visit tomorrow."

The next morning I was awaken by someone knocking on my door. Putting on a robe, I answered the door, there were two boys and Pietro. "Pietro, do me a favor and accompany the boys to the dining room for breakfast. I'll be down as soon as I


As I was showering I had flash backs to when Clair was here. It would take us forever to shower together, now 15 minutes or less and I was done. Dressed for the day, I headed down to breakfast.

"Are you finished eating?"

"No, they have sausages that are really good, but the eggs are hard boiled.The bread is good also, we don't get bread like this at home.

I smiled and thought about the tales these boys will tell when we get home. I went to the table, fixed my self a plate and asked for a coffee. Sitting down, "Uncle Jeff, we need to unload our cameras. Is there a place where we can buy a flash drive.

I smiled to myself, the same thing happened when Clair and I came here on our first trip. I had to buy disposable cameras, now they have flash drives. On the pretext of brushing our teeth, I went to my room and took two flash drives from my luggage.

"Here, use these. I knew you would need more. This morning we'll start at the Vatican and then we'll go the Sistine chapel."

We spent the morning touring the Vatican. I think their cameras were busy. Of course we had to admire Michelangelo's Pieta. I showed the boys were someone had damaged the statue and you could just make out the repair. "Is that why they have it chained off from the public?"

"Yes, and I wouldn't be surprised if it isn't alarmed as well. I think the Sistine Chapel is even more spectacular."

We walked to the entrance of the Sistine Chapel, "Michelangelo painted this, any idea how he did it?"

"He must have done it laying down, he could never do it standing up. He would have a very serious problem with the muscles in his neck."

"No, he did it standing and it was very painful."

"That must have taken him a long time to do that."

"When we leave you can pick up a book that tells all about how he did this. It took him about 4 years to paint this."

"Wow, he must have had a very sore neck."

Of course as the boys read their book, "Uncle, it says he did it laying on his back."

"No, the book is wrong. A man by the name of Vasari wrote about him painting the fresco. He drew the figures on paper, punched holes and use them as a guide."

"Let's stop at the Vatican store, you can get a souvenir." I wondered what they would get. I remember Clair fell in love with some of the crosses, rings and earrings. I watched as the boys looked over the display case.

"Uncle Jeff, may I buy a gift for my mother?"

"Of course, what did you have I mind?"

"Toby and I like the crosses and I think my mother would like one as well."

"No problem, my wife liked the crosses as well."

They picked out the crosses, "For 5 euros the Pope will bless these."

"No, thank you."

With their crosses and a book on the Sistine Chapel we went to find Pietro. "Uncle, are we going to eat soon?"

I looked at my watch and realized it was past lunch time. "There's Pietro, go tell him we're ready for lunch."

I got their packages, as they went after Pietro. By the time I caught up with, them they were smiling. "Pietro invited us for lunch at his place."

"Pietro, that's very nice, let me provide the wine. Stop at that little wine shop off of the plaza."

We stopped at the wine shop, of course, he remembered me and brought two bottles of my favorite wine. I gave him a hug and introduced the boys. "Vincitore, do you still have some of that cheese that goes well with this wine?"

"I have some in the back"

He brought a wheel of cheese, cut off a piece and gave it to me. It was exactly as I remembered. He gave the boys a piece, they smiled when they tasted it. "Uncle can we get this back home?"

"I don't think so. Vincitore, can you ship some of this wine and cheese to the States?"

"I'll let you know.

Pietro introduced us to his wife and children. His mother I remembered since I was here the last time with Clair. I gave them the gifts, the boys immediately became friends, Pietro's oldest was 15 and his youngest was 14. They spoke excellent English. "They study English in school. I speak to them in my broken English to help them practice."

The boys were chatting as we ate a fantastic lunch, antipasto followed by pasta and then a chicken in a wine sauce. Of course there was plenty of salad and bread. "Pietro, you must never go to a restaurant, you have the best chefs here. This food is the best I have ever eaten. When you come to America, you must stay with me and teach us how to prepare such food."

I saw the boys ears pop up as I said about coming to America.

Lunch over 2 1/2 hours later, "Pietro, let's go to the Trevi Fountain and then maybe the Spanish Steps. Anything else we can squeeze in today, would be just fine."

I noticed Pietro's boys whispering to my boys. No big surprise when Toby asked if the boys could come with us. I looked at Pietro who nodded yes, and before you could say our names, they were in the taxi.

Of course I needn't say anything about this land mark. Pietro's boys took over and probably gave a better explanation of the importance of this Fountain than I could.

"Uncle, Roberto said we needed to go to the Spanish Steps and to climb to the top. Is that okay? He said we could walk there."

"Yes, that's fine, Pietro and I will meet you there. Be careful." It wasn't a long walk to the Spanish Steps from the Fountain. But it gave the boys a little freedom.

Of course we arrived before the boys, we sat there waiting till they arrived. They hadn't noticed us as they were talking intensively. Pietro blew the horn and that got their attention.

"Papa, can we show our friends to some of the places that are considered famous. They have been to the Forum, Sistine Chapel, Palatine Hill and Colosseum, there are still plenty of places we could go walking."

"Pietro, that's fine by me if it's okay by you. I'll give the boys some money so they can get something to drink or eat."

"Roberto, you be careful. Remember they are our guests. Jeffry, let's go to my home and enjoy a glass of wine. The boys will meet us there

Well, we had more than a glass of wine. I had to go back and get two more bottles,

When I got back we had visitors. Neighbors of Pietro heard he was being visited by an American. In Italy, this meant party time. "Pietro, should I go and get some food?"

"No, Jeffry, watch, this is an Italian neighborhood, people here are all friends, there are no tourist here. After all of this time, I think we're friends."

Sure enough platters of food appeared, evidently the neighbors pitched in. I did sneak away and got more wine. I wasn't surprised when my friend, Vincitore showed up with more wine.

Most of the conversations were in Italian, Pietro would lean over and translate for me. To say I enjoyed this gathering would be an understatement. I was only sorry Clair wasn't here with me to enjoy this. She would have loved it. I think Pietro saw the tear in my eye, he filled my wine glass, "Drink to the memory."

I was well into the food and wine when the boys showed up. Of course Roberto introduced the boys while his brother, Angelo, handed the boys a glass of wine. I watched as Toby looked at me, I smiled and raised my glass, he smiled back and took a sip of wine. His smile said he liked it.

As the party broke up, Vincento gave me an address and told me to call there when I got home. I looked at it, and put it in my coat pocket. Pietro drove us back to our hotel accompanied by his two boys. We made arrangements to meet for breakfast, Pietro and his boys would join us.

Walking to our room, "Uncle, this is the best vacation ever. Do you think Roberto and Angelo could come and visit us?"

"I don't see why not. Ask his father tomorrow morning."

I could see that the boys were tired and so was I, most of it was due to the wine.

The morning seemed to come quickly.

We met Pietro and his sons for breakfast. "Boys, we have two days left in Rome and then we'll need to fly to Milan."

"Why fly Jeffry, we can drive. It take longer if you fly, I can drive you there in 6 hours, you'll enjoy the sights and the country side. If you haven't made plane arrangements, we could drive."

I knew what was coming. "Uncle, that would be fun. Roberto and Angelo could come with us." I looked at the boys, the faces were smiling and I knew I was had.

"Okay, but you need to make sure their mother agrees." Of course, that was a given, their father was driving. It was a stab at one last chance to fly and not drive. Not that driving was bad, but Italian drivers are the world's worst although Pietro probably was the best of the worst.

Of course their mother thought it was a great idea. But it also meant we'd need to come back to Rome to fly home. Itinerary changes now would be needed.

Over the next two days, I don't think there was a church of any significance that the boys hadn't visited. I had a small case with four flash drives and the boys still had photos in their cameras to download. I had Pietro go and buy another 6 flash drives. I was sure they wouldn't fill that many.

"Uncle, Roberto and Angelo don't have cameras like ours, could I use my money and buy them one as a thank-you gift?"

"A great idea, ask Pietro where he got the flash drives, let him take you there and pick up two cameras. Charge them to your credit card and get two flash drives as well."

I think my boys have made two good friends.

The morning we were to leave for Milan, Toby and Ron gave the boys their cameras. Pietro shook his head, "They wanted a camera but their mother said she would see what is available. I know it wouldn't have been this good."

On the trip to Milan, Toby and Ron showed the boys how to operate their cameras and how to hook the flash drive to the camera to download their pictures. Of course, at our first stop, the boys were busy taking pictures. Pietro pulled into a small village where we had lunch at a small cafe. When we sat down and gave our order, the owner came out and sat a bottle of wine on the table. "In these villages, most people make their own wine. This wine was made by the owner and is served to all who eat here."

The lunch special was a pasta dish as the first dish, primo piatto, and roasted rabbit as the second dish, secondo piatto. It was delicious and included fresh vegetables and a second glass of wine. The food was excellent and the price very reasonable.

"See Jeffry, flying you would miss out on this."

He was right of course, flying we would miss the charm of the country side. The boys were happy, both sets, so I was pleased.

"Pietro, my boys would like for your boys to visit us in the States. Do you think that's possible?"

"The boys would need passports and to be honest I don't think we can afford it. Driving taxi in Rome doesn't make a lot of money. Tourists prefer to walk and tour agencies usually have their own arrangements."

"I would like for my boys to have friends from all over, these friends expand their thinking making them better citizens. Would you agree to me paying for their airfare? I'll even pay for their passports."

"Your boys must mean a lot to you."

"Yes, they do. They have given me my life back. After Clair died I was just a shell, there was no reason to continue. Then Toby came into my life followed by Ron, they have given me a purpose again. I have restarted my business and began to enjoy life again. I'll never forget Clair, but thinking now, I know she wouldn't want me to give up."

"Is that why you are going to Milan?"

"Yes, Clair is in Milan and I need to tell her how my life has changed and to thank her."

"I'll call Maria tonight and see what she says. Please don't say anything to the boys."

"Let me know at breakfast tomorrow."

It took a little over 8 hours to drive to Milan from Rome. I had booked the Spadari al Duomo hotel, I called them and reserved two additional rooms. I also asked them to get tickets to La Scala anytime in the next 5 days.

Arriving in Milan, Pietro drop us off at the hotel. He would have to go and find a place to park. Checking in, I found that they had only one additional room available. I took it and figured we would work something out. They were able to get 6 tickets to La Scala for the following night. I had a message from Viator the tour agency, we could see Da Vinci's Last Supper on Thursday. This gave me one day to get everyone outfitted for the opera. Milan is the fashion capital of Italy and probably the world, so I didn't expect and problems.

Pietro joined us and I explained the problem about rooms. We went to check the rooms, the beds were double and it seemed that there would be no problem.

We took a short walk and Roberto told us about the Cathedral and how long it took to build. The boys enjoyed looking around and taking pictures as well.

"Tomorrow morning after breakfast, we have tickets to La Scala, one of the world's most famous opera house. Verdi was known to utilize this opera house for his operas. So we need to be properly dressed. It's my treat, since I'm the one who wants to go. We'll go to one of the gentlemen stores and get proper clothes, that includes you as well Pietro so don't even bother saying no."

It was fun to watch the boys make their selection, it required three yesses before a boy

would settled on a selection. While I was there, one of the supervisors came over. "I haven't seen you for a few years."

"Hello Geno, no after my wife died I wasn't much into touring. But now I have two nephews who need to see the world that Clair and I saw. We're going to the opera tonight so they needed sprucing up."

"Well, as usual you came to the right place."

Soon a whole new rack of clothes appeared, the selection process started all over again. I knew this would be the latest fashion collection and would cost a pretty penny. But you only do this once so why not enjoy.

When every one was finished selecting their clothes for the opera, the boys asked if they could buy a few things for home. Of course I was okay with that, "Toby, make sure your friends have a few things to take home as well."

He smiled and whispered to Ron. Pietro came over, "Jeffry, I must insist on paying for these clothes."

"Pietro, how long have we known each other. I remember the first time we saw you. Clair thought you were charming. To us you were family. Sometimes we came to Italy just to see you, of course we said it was a vacation or something. Let me do this for Clair, she would have wanted it."

He reluctantly agreed, Toby looked at me, I nodded yes.

"Okay, lunch at the Duomo. This is a very famous place."

"Uncle, this is an arcade."

"Like an expensive shopping mall. But you are right, it is an arcade, let's sit there."

The boys ordered pizza, when the waiter asked them what they wanted on it, they replied as they did in the US, mushrooms, green peppers, sausage and pepperoni. When the pizza was brought, they looked at it and laughed. Think of the circular pizza divided into four quarters, one quarter had mushrooms, one quarter had green peppers and similarly for the pepperoni and sausage. The boys started to laugh. Roberto and Angelo didn't understand what was funny. I listened as Ron explained the difference between pizza made in the US as compared to what they received.

I had no fears that the boys would solve the problem. They cut each quarter in half and enjoyed their lunch.

That evening four smartly dressed boys attended Verdi's Rigoletto at La Scala. I knew

that my boys had never seen an opera. Clair and I always took advantage of attending an opera in every country we visited.

Walking back to the hotel, "You remember in Rome we saw works done by Michelangelo. Tomorrow we shall see something done my Leonardo Da Vinci."

In the morning after breakfast we were met by a Viator representative. He had a list of sites to be seen, one was Da Vinci's Last Supper. The boys were excited and checked their phones to be sure they had enough space for photos.

The guide met us just before lunch. "We need to go and see Da Vinci now. They only allow 25 people at a viewing and we have only 15 minutes. The work has been repaired, Da Vinci painted on plaster and as a result damage and fading of the colors occurred. The painting has been restored and a protective coating applied to prevent future deterioration".

When we walked into the room where the painting existed, the sight overwhelmed us. That one man was able to produce this painting was beyond believable. The painting covered a major portion of the wall. It was impressive, the boys were quiet as they looked at the painting. The phones took the pictures, but they did it quietly. Until we left the room, then they started to talk. "That painting is unbelievable. I'm glad we got pictures."

"Did you get one of the pamphlets as we left?"

"No, did you?"

"Yes, we can share."

"Da Vinci did more than paint. There is a book in our library at home that list all of his inventions."

"He definitely was a genius."

The rest of the day we visited several well known churches. By late afternoon we were tired and hungry. "Pietro, tomorrow we leave for Lake Maggiore. I have booked a guest house there for us, Casa Forster."

We left after breakfast the next day, the trip was short, we arrived at Lake Maggiore just a little before noon. Checking in at the B&B, we decided to have lunch and then do a walking tour of the area. I remembered this area well, Clair loved it here and here she is still. I couldn't help but look out over the lake, Clair was there and would be for all eternity. I then decided that when my time came, I'd want to join her in this tranquil lake.

We stopped at a kiosk, the boys had an ice cream, Pietro and I had a cappuccino, which I really enjoyed.

At dinner that evening we met the other guests, two men from Sweden. They wanted to get away from the cold and made the trip to Italy. "We have toured a lot of cities in Italy but here we can relax. Not many tourists and so we get the real taste of Italy. The lake reminds us of home and our hosts are very charitable."

The next morning I got up very early and walked to the Lake. I stood there looking upon the water thinking of Clair. I really miss her, the boys take away some of my loneliness, but nothing can replace Clair.

As I continue to look out, I heard my name. Our two Swedish young men were jogging and called out to me. I waved to them, they jogged over to me and we began to chat. One thing led to another, I told them about Clair they told me they were married and not everyone in the US accepted them, so they travel mostly in Europe. I told them they would be welcome at my home any time they would like to revisit the US. We chatted a little more when I saw Toby heading in my direction. Of course he was followed by Ron.

"Is this where your wife lies?"

"Yes, we loved this area and she wanted to rest here."

"This is beautiful, I can understand why she wanted to rest here."

"Yes, Toby, when I die, I want to rest here as well. It'll probably be left up to you to see that it's done."

"You still have a long time before that day comes."

The optimism of youth.

Breakfast was typically Italian, bread was the main course with homemade jams and cheese. I had booked a private boat ride to visit the Borromean Islands.

We toured the palaces on Isola de Madre and Isola Belle. The boys had to stop and download their cameras into their flash drives. Then we had a late lunch on Isola Pescatori before heading back to our B&B.

I had come to do what I wanted, so we drove all the way back to Rome, spent the night at the Hotel Majestic. In the morning Pietro drove us to the airport for our plane trip home. Before leaving, I paid Pietro for the taxi service and then gave him a special envelope. "Pietro, use this to get passports for your family. I expect you all to come and visit us."

Pietro handed me two bottles of wine. "From Vincitore"

The boys said their goodbyes, exchanging addresses, we checked our luggage and went to the lounge to wait for the announcement to board.

"Uncle, thanks for a fabulous trip. We got a ton of pictures and two new friends. We promised to stay in touch."

Our trip home was quite different from our trip to Italy. We were now seasoned travelers. The boys spent their time looking at their photos, and of course, when one of the cabin crew stopped, they would show them their pictures. Ron's mother met us when we arrived. I just looked and smiled. The boys couldn't wait to tell her all about trip and to show her their pictures.

Dropping me off at home, Toby wanted to go with Ron. "Wait a minute Toby, I want you to take a bottle of wine with you. I'm, sure Ron is going to give his mom the cross so you can give his dad the wine. When you are ready to come home, call me."

I watch as they pulled out of the drive way. I could see them all talking a mile a minute.

Toby called and wanted to stay the night. I was okay with that, it allowed me to have a talk with Clair. "Clair, I missed you on this trip to Italy. You were with me all the time. I wish I could speak to you as we discussed our trips over pictures and funny incidents. I miss you." I was glad Toby wasn't home, I didn't want him to see the tears in my eyes.

The next morning I started my usual walks to the lake. As I sat there waiting for the sunrise, Richard came and sat beside me. "How was the trip?"

"It was great, the boys really enjoyed it. I forgot the enthusiasm of young boys when they see the marvels of the world. They met two young men, more or less the same age, so they got a different perspective than they would have gotten from a tour guide. We may do more of this in the future."

"It's good you're back. It can get a little lonely sitting here waiting for the sunrise."

"Yes, but sometime the peace and quiet are to be cherished. No one could ever paint a picture of the sun rising. Photos or paintings don't quite give one the same feeling of awe that the actual rising sun does."

As I finished saying that the sun began to rise. I'm always amazed at how glorious it looks. It is almost like God saying, I'm in heaven and all is right, have faith. I don't think I'll ever get tired of watching the sun rise.

Richard and I walked back to our homes changing directions at the intersection of my street. We said goodbye, "See you tomorrow."

It was after lunch when Toby phoned to come home. And of course, Ron would be with him. I went to pick them up and got invited to have a cup of coffee while the boys got their things together.

"Ron showed me their necklaces there are very nice. I certainly appreciated the one that he gave me."

"I'm glad you liked it. There was a lot of discussion about what they would buy. I got my wife one like that and she always wore it. I hope you enjoy wearing it as well. Did

the boys show you their pictures?"

"Yes, I had to call it quits at 2 am this morning."

"Uncle Jeff, we're ready to go."

"Okay, get in the car, Grace thanks for the coffee."

"Uncle, we were up very late last night going through the pictures. I want to put them in an album on the computer. Ron will want a copy as well. Ron's dad liked the wine. Ron asked for a glass, but he said we were too young. If he knew we drank wine in Italy he probably would have been mad."

"Oh, I don't think so. I'm sure he knows that a lot of young people drink wine with their meals in Europe. I wouldn't be surprised if you asked him for a small glass at dinner he would have given it to you. Are you both ready to start school? Next week is your last week before school starts."

"Yes, we have a lot of material for English class. The teacher likes to assign a story a week. So we can even include pictures."

"Toby, do you think our friends are going to be jealous? Our stories will be more interesting, and if we include pictures, they'll have a hard time competing."

"I hope not, this isn't a competition, we did okay with our stories last year."

They just smiled as we pulled in my driveway. "Uncle can we have pizza for dinner?"

"Italian style or American style?"

That started the discussion about the difference in pizza's. They wanted to go and pick up the pizza instead of having it delivered. I knew they would discuss the difference with the owner, Carlo.

On the way back, the boys were laughing. "I didn't mean to start an argument. I bet Carlo was never in Italy. When I showed him my picture of our pizza he said it wasn't real."

"Who was the waiter who said it was true?"

"I think that's Carlo's nephew. He said he was just visiting and would be going back to Italy next week. He attends a university over there."


School started and we re-established our routine. I drove Toby to school and Ron and

him to Ron's house at the end of the day, to my home on Fridays. There is always excitement when those two are together. A simple question, how was school today, ended up requiring several minutes of discussion. One would think that they weren't in the same classes.

"The art teacher wanted to know if we could print off some of our pictures large enough to hang on her wall. I'm not sure we can do that. The printer only handles 8 1/2 by 11 paper."

"You could make a disc and see if someone at the local art supply store can download them on a larger sheet of paper."

"Maybe we can just make the disc and give it to our art teacher and if she wants to make prints she can."

It took them all week-end to do that. With two sets of prints, each camera print had to be examined to select the best views. It kept them busy of course they had to discuss each print, reminiscing more or less.

Two weeks into their school semester, they got a letter from Roberto and Angelo. The family had their passports and were exited about coming to the United States. Now the boys were occupied planning their time with their Italian friends.

I received a note from Pietro telling me to check on Vincitore's contact. While the boys were in school I called the contact Vincitore gave me and he said he had a package for me. I drove to his place of business, it was a wine shop just off main street. You had to be a customer to know where it was. Obviously their clientele was very selective.

I placed the large crate in my trunk, it just made it, paid the man the price I had agreed with Vincitore. It dawned on me that there must be a connection and when I inquired about the possibility, they were brothers. This led to a further discussions and I soon realized I had to leave to pick up the boys at school.

I arrived a few minutes late, the boys were waiting for me. They had a few friends with them chatting away. I don't think they realized I was late. I just waited till they realize I was there.

Thanksgiving was at Ron's home. Of course I supplied the wine and cheese that I received from Vincitore. In fact there was a package once a month. Toby stayed at Ron's the four days and went to school with him on the Monday after Thanksgiving.

As Christmas drew close, the boys excitement also began to grow. Roberto and Angelo were coming on the 15th of December and would be leaving on January 6th. I guess it made sense, if you are going to travel that far from home, then make the most of it.

I sent information to Pietro telling him that plane reservations were completed. We would meet them when they landed in the US. As the days ticked off, the boys excitement also increased. Christmas shopping had to include Roberto and Angelo, I was told I had to buy something for Maria and Pietro.

Toby and Ron decorated the house, inside and outside. I'm sure the neighbors wondered what was up. This was the first time the house was decorated for Christmas since Clair died. As they were going through the boxes of decorations, I felt the presence of Clair. She loved Christmas and went all out with the decorations. Now those decorations will once more grace my home.

The few days before Pietro and family arrived, the boys cleaned the guest rooms, made up the beds with fresh linens, stocked the bathrooms and assigned the rooms. The room that was meant to be Ron's would be for the boys. I knew that Ron and Toby shared his bed, there was no way it wouldn't happen. I also knew what they did in that bed, I was the one washing the sheets and towels.

The morning of the 15, I was getting ready for my walk. "Uncle, don't we have to be going?"

"No, Toby, we have plenty of time. Come and walk with me."

"Ron, get up we are going to take a walk." Ron came down looking like he could sleep for another 8 hours. Bundled up we began our walk.

As we got near the lake, Toby stopped, I looked back and he was crying on Ron's shoulder. "Toby, what's wrong?"

"I just realized that if you came just a few minutes later, I wouldn't be here. Ron and I wouldn't be together, I'm so sorry for what I was thinking."

"You shouldn't be sorry, I was here for a reason. Life has a plan for all of us and yours was meant to be a part of mine. Smile, you are loved."

I always wondered why I started out earlier than my usual time. It seemed that I was ready and so I went. Life has a way of throwing curves, but every once in a while a fast straight ball is thrown at you. For me, Toby was the home run pitch. I needed him as much as he needed saving.


The boys sat in the back while they discussed everything there were going to do when the Italians arrived. Of course they had to go into the city, there were museums, musicals, the zoo and watching some sports events. I was glad we lived near the city, we were about 4 hours away. "Uncle Jeff, should we plan on staying in the city while we show everyone around?"

"We could do that. You need to plan an itinerary to be sure you get everything in you'd want to show them. Be sure to get a few extra flash drives."

Arriving at the airport, the boys rushed to the exit ramp. You could tell they were fidgety and excited. Ron saw Angelo, he yelled and waved. Both boys looked and smiled, they had to get their luggage through customs. I waved to Maria and Pietro, indicating I would meet them when they exited customs.

The boys came out first, it was as if they were brothers and hadn't seen each other for a long time, less than 6 months. I hugged Pietro and gave Maria a kiss on the cheek.

"Jeff, you didn't tell me the tickets were first class. I insisted at the gate there was a mistake. The gate agent said there wasn't and for us to enjoy the flight. The boys thought the lounge was very cool. Already they are picking up American words."

"I'm sure when the boys wrote they included a lot of their local words."

Pietro rode in the front. Maria and the boys crowded in the 2nd and third seats. I bought this car when Clair was alive. I needed the space for when we went shopping or on vacation. The noise level was too high to hold a conversation but we'd be home in a few minutes.

On arriving home, the boys took over. Taking the luggage to the guest rooms, I started the coffee. I had picked up some small pastries and set them out. When every one joined us, that is Pietro and Maria, the boys headed to the study.

I poured the coffee and more or less outlined the next few days for them. Maria wanted to go shopping, I said I'd take her in the morning, Pietro wanted to see Vincitore's brother, I said I'd take him while Maria shopped.

I could tell Pietro and Maria were tired from the flight. I bade them good night, "Boys, we are going to bed."

Roberto and Angelo said, "Me too," and headed for their bedroom. Ron and Toby had what was left of the coffee and pastries. We watched a little TV together then I decided to turn in as well. "Lock up boys before going to bed. Ron, I guess you'll have to sleep on the floor." I saw the look in his eyes, chuckled to myself as I went upstairs to my room.

I was glad that Pietro and his family came to spend time with us. Clair liked Pietro, she thought he was very handsome and very polite. I never worried about Clair, I knew she would never leave me, we were too much in love.

The following morning, I took my morning walk, joined by Pietro. I introduced him to Richard and showed Pietro where I found Toby. He found it hard to believe parents would cause their child to consider such a drastic decision. "Maria and I would never turn our backs on our sons. It isn't even possible to think that would ever happen."

"I found it hard to believe as well. Toby has turned out to be a joy to me and has caused me to start living again. Clair and I never had children, she couldn't, so we lived a full life together. I know if she was still alive, she would be thrilled with Toby."

"You never thought about adopting?"

"We did consider it, but Clair said she was happy as we were. Now that I think about it, I'm sure she had another reason for not adopting. I'll never find out now. I walk here early in the morning just to see the sunrise. It helps set my mood for the day."

After I introduced Pietro to Richard, they talked a little but I wasn't paying attention. I was focused on the lake, my mind was back to the morning I found Toby, was our meeting supposed to happen or was it just luck. I guess I'll never know in this life maybe a lot of my questions will be answered in the next life.

I was surprised when we returned home, Maria had breakfast ready. The boys weren't up yet but by the time we sat down for our breakfast, they joined us.

"I wanted to sleep a little longer, but the smell of the food I couldn't resist and had to get up. Maybe Maria and Pietro could move here and then we'd have her good cooking every day."

"So you don't like my cooking?"

"Yes, I do, but this is like family."

I always knew that in the back of Toby's mind he was hurt from what his family did. The idea of being part of a family again was a reminder of what he lost.

"Yes, this is like an extended family. We need to enjoy it while we can, I suspect we'll see a lot more of our extended family in the future." I felt his pain but there was nothing I could do to erase that pain. I'd work to make it less, but I realized it would always be there.

Time seemed to fly fast. We did go to the city, spent several days there. Toby and Ron were just as excited as Roberto and Angelo. We saw a play, toured the city, shopped and ate at popular restaurants and cafes. All in all, we were glad to get back home.

Christmas Eve we went to church. It was Pietro's family custom, so we went along with it. I realized that going to church was something I missed since Clair was gone. Many of our old friends came up to me and chatted, the Priest was surprised to see me. I introduced Pietro and his family as well as Ron and Toby. It was a pleasant experience and I decided I'd go again. I wasn't sure about Toby as I was sure the church his parents went to wasn't a loving church, probably more like hell and brimstone.

Christmas dinner, was a special day. I invited Ron's parents as I knew Ron would want to stay. Maria, Grace and I did the cooking, well they cook I just showed them where things were. I did open the wine and we all had a sample before dinner. Al, Ron's dad wanted to know where he could buy this wine. He said the bottle I gave him lasted three days, "It was so good I only had a small glass to make it last."

Dinner over we exchange gifts, of course Santa Claus came. I got the boys a bracelet with their names engraved on the inside. Roberto, Angelo and Ron thanked me, I got a hug from a teary eyed Toby. Of course I got a gift for Maria, Pietro, Grace and Al.

New Years was a night of celebration, we stayed up to watch the ball drop, nibbled on cheese and crackers, drank wine and by 12:30 we were ready for bed. Al and Grace stayed over, the boys all slept in the same room, on the floor as we later discovered.

The boys had tears in their eyes as they said farewell to Pietro's family. I assured them that we'd see them again, they were our extended family now.


School resumed and so did our lives, there's a lot to be said about routine, it makes one feel stable. But as time moves, so do our lives.

The boys graduated from high school and now decisions had to be made about college. Their advisor at the high school had information on several universities and their primary strengths. I never thought about that, evidently some schools stress one career choice more than another, all though, they were all considered to be excellent schools. I wanted to know in what direction the boys would take.

The last week of school, "Toby, have you thought about what you would like to study at the university? I remember you said engineering at one time."

"Yes, I think I'd like to be a psychiatrist or psychologist. Maybe I can help some boy or girl who had to face what I did to come and realize their feelings aren't wrong." I smiled so engineering was forgotten.

"Has Ron made any determinations?"

"Yes, we talked it over and he wants to be a doctor."

"Have you decided on a school?

"Yes, but the tuition is pretty high. I know that I have the trust which will pay for mine but I'm not sure if Ron has that kind of money"

"Maybe there's a scholarship for which he could qualify."

"Do I have enough money to pay for both of us?"

"Probably, but in the long run I think Ron should do this on his own, it would be better. If you paid for him, then he might think he owes you. That isn't a good attitude in a relationship. You may have a disagreement and he'll be obliged to go along with you. In time, that could cause resentment. I think there must be a scholarship available for him, probably through the medical community."

I knew if there wasn't, there would be. What or who else do I have to spend my money on.

Graduation gift was another European trip. This year we toured France, Spain and ended up in Italy. Of course, we had to have Roberto and Angelo with us. On this trip we found out that Roberto had a girl friend and they were quite serious.

"Pietro, you know Clair has a foundation to award scholarships to deserving students. I think Roberto might qualify. Does he have any intention to go to University?"

"He'd like to go Jeff, but our money is limited."

"What would he like to study?"

"He said if he could go to the university, he'd want to be a teacher."

"Have him fill out this application, I'll submit it to Clair's foundation and see what they can do." Of course, I knew what they would do, I was the administrator of her foundation.


The first four years passed and the walks took on a new meaning. Now I told Richard all about my boys and how they were doing in school.

Now Grad school had to be chosen, and for the first time Ron and Toby were separated. Each decided to attend a school that had a well known reputation in their field. That summer before they started school, we flew to Holland and Germany. Holland was the first country to recognize gay marriage. Toby and Ron got married there, no surprise for me.

Roberto had graduated from his University and decided to go and get the equivalent of a master's degree in teaching. He got a scholarship from the university and so Clair's foundation picked up any other expenses not covered by the University's scholarship.

We had to make one more trip to Rome over Christmas break, Roberto was getting married. The boys were excited as they were in the wedding party. Now if you have never attended an Italian wedding, you don't know what you're missing. One custom involved the men who wanted to dance with the bride, they were to pin money on her dress. Our boys were up for that custom. I saw Toby pin a few hundred dollars followed by Ron. They pinned American money, whereas the local people used Euros.

School resumed and although it was hard for Toby and Ron to be separated, Toby said he could study more and wouldn't be distracted by Ron. Ron echoed the same thought.

Roberto's graduation came long with his first child, So off we went again to Rome. Angelo was the godfather and Chiara the sister of Roberto's wife, Sofia, was godmother. The baby was named after Roberto's father, Pietro.

Talk about proud parents, the grandparents on both side were very proud, the question was who was prouder. Watching my boys, I knew they'd consider adoption, the love in their eyes was evident to anyone looking as they held the baby.

Back home and life return to some semblance of normality. The boys were back in school, I continued with my morning walks, although I hadn't seen Richard for a while. I wondered if something happened to him.

My investment business took up most of my time, although I wasn't replacing any who left me. The few that left me had their estate take over their accounts. That wasn't a big surprise for me, most of their estates actually cashed in their accounts which added to my funds as well.

Our next trip to Rome was to attend another wedding, Angelo was getting married. He had a job with one of the prominent engineering firms in Italy. The negative, he'd be required to relocate to Venice. Evidently his firm is involved in designing and building walls to prevent the sea water from further erosion of the city.

The wedding was a repeat in similar ways to Roberto's. The boys danced with Angelo's wife, pinning money to her gown. "Uncle, how soon before we have another baptism"

'I don't know but not for a year at least."

The boys finished school and now were interning close to home. Ron spent most of the time with Toby and myself, now that they were married.

We still went to Rome once a year, and they visited once a year. According to the boys, we had family in Rome. It did seem like it, Pietro and Maria visited us as much as we visited them.

Life plays a funny games with us humans. It seems when everything appears to fall in place, we are handed a choice that not taken leads to trouble, and if taken leads to trouble.

The boys practice began to take off. Toby was very sensitive to the problems faced by the gay community and was getting more referrals from Child Services. Ron had an established hospital practice as he was now on the hospital staff.

We got a letter from Pietro, a sad accident happened in Venice. Angelo and his wife were fine, but a fellow engineer and wife were killed in an accident caused by the failure of an old sea wall. They left behind two children, a boy and girl. Off to Rome we went. From Rome we went to Venice. We met Angelo, he had the children with him. The girl was about 10 years old, we found out she was 11, and the boy was 8.

I watched the boy's faces as they met the children. There were tears in Toby's eyes and I knew what he was thinking. He looked at me, I nodded my head yes, he was in my arms. Ron finally caught on, he whispered something to Pietro who whispered to Angelo.

I stayed in Venice with Angelo while we worked out the details. The boys went back to Rome with Pietro and then went home. I was amazed at the paper work and I wondered if that was the reason Clair didn't want to adopt.

I was introduced to the children as Nono, grandfather in Italian. So from that moment on I had one of the children in my lap, mostly the boy called Dante, he was the youngest. The girl was older and a little shy, I made it a point to win her over, her name was Aria, I smiled as Angelo said that was an appropriate name because she liked to sing.

Five months later, we were given the okay to adopt these children, Toby and Ron flew over to fill out papers. They spent the time with the children telling them about America. Angelo put his two cents in saying that he would go and live in America but he had a job to do here.

I thanked Toby, he had brought with him several books about living in America.

On the day we were to leave, there were tears in their eyes. "Angelo, can you and Alessia fly over with us, it might help the children."

The trip home was an eye opened for the children. They sat very still and didn't say a word until food was placed before them. Dante was on my lap, while Aria sat next to me. The food on the tray was for the children, I'd eat later while they were taking a nap. All of this excitement would have to wear them down and it did. Dante sat on my lap all the way until we had to prep for landing. I think he's going to be a daddy's boy.

Ron's mom met us and she beamed at Aria, I knew she would be the one spoiling her. Later she told us she always wanted a daughter after Ron was born but that wasn't to be. Now she has one as a granddaughter and that was just as good. I knew that these children would be spoiled by Grace and Al.

Life continuums continues whether we want it to or not. The boys bought a house close to mine, so I got to see the children a lot. Sunday dinners were at my home or at Grace and Al's and always included all of us.

Toby finally took the bullet and went and change his name to my last name, Madison. That signified him breaking all ties with his family.

But life likes to play games. Ron came and told him that his father was admitted to the hospital with a serious heart problem. Now Toby had a decision to make.

When he went to the hospital the nurse introduced him as Doctor Madison. Of course his dad didn't recognize the name or the face, his mother did. She told him to leave. Ron came in and told her if she didn't calm down, she would have to leave.

Now she really became agitated. Here was the boy who she accused of turning her son gay, telling her to leave. She started to raise her voice when the monitoring machines went off. Staff nurses rushed in, forced everyone out except Ron, closed the door and began to try and resuscitate Toby's father.

The door opened and Ron came out. "Toby, I'm sorry but he has died. The noise was too much for him and his heart couldn't take it."

Toby looked at his mom, her face was turning red, Ron knew what was going to come out of her mouth next. He nodded to a nurse who gave her an injection that calmed her down. "Toby isn't responsible for Mr. MacDougal's death. If anything, it was you yelling in his hospital room. Your temper and yelling has cost you a son and now a husband."

Ron took Toby by the arm and led him away to the visitor lounge. "Ron, I don't feel anything. I don't feel I'll miss him and I don't feel sorry for my mother."

"That's okay, they weren't much of parents for you. My mom and dad made comments about how you were being treated and that happened well before you came out."

The obit was in the local newspaper and didn't mentioned Toby's name. They would find it difficult since Toby changed his last name.

One Sunday, as we were finishing dinner, "Boys, I want you to do something for me. When my time comes, I want to be buried beside my wife. You remember the lake we went to on our first trip to Rome, in the center of that lake are Clair's ashes. Everything has been arranged, instructions are in the safe in my office."

The boys looked at each other as to not want to understand. "Yes, Dad, we'll do as you request." Of course no one wants to talk about death but it is reality.


I truly enjoyed the children, Dante was my shadow and Grace had a shadow as well.

The kids went to the boys school so a lot of times they stayed at Ron's parents rather than at home with the boys.

Of course we still had our Rome trips, Roberto now had two children both boys and Angelo had a boy and girl. Pietro and Maria were very proud of their grandchildren. I enjoyed my time with Pietro but all good times have their sad times as well. Vincitore had died, his younger brother took over the business. I never realized, but Vincitore was never married. I just took it as a fact that all Italian men would marry or at least be in a relationship, but not Vincitore. Pietro told me he had a girlfriend one time and they were going to get married, but she was killed in a car accident. From that time on, he said there were no girl friends in this realm for him.

I was approaching the age of 88 when Ron insisted I start having a physical once per year. When the boys were part of my life, I wanted to live, but now, they are settled, have a thriving career, have a family, I don't feel the urgency as much. I miss Clair, we were to enjoy this time and where cheated out of it. I went and took the physical, more or less to humor the boys.

I still took my morning walks, the sunrise was still special to me. Now I sit on the bench alone, Richard, I found out had died of a heart attack. Not many people walked in the morning, so I was alone.

We celebrated my 90th birthday. Our adopted family came to celebrate it with me and while they were here, Pietro walked with me in the morning. "Pietro, I told the boys where I wanted to be buried when my time came. I leave it to you to help them."

Two weeks after my 90th birthday, I took my early walk to the lake. As the sun rose over the lake, I saw a lovely lady approach, it was Clair, she had her hand out for me to grab. "It's time"

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