Living in a Small Town

Chapter 2

The next morning Jude came straight to the hospital as soon as he got off work.  He met Stan in the hall as his husband headed back to the room with a cup of coffee.  "He was still asleep when I left the room to find the coffee," Stan said as he sneaked a kiss to his husband's cheek in the hallway.  They were still setting up in the hospital cafeteria, so I've been gone longer than I planned."

They peeked into Kaden's room and found the boy was awake and watching cartoons on the television across the room.  He was laying on his stomach, with his chin resting on his hands which were on the elevated foot of the bed, and his feet at the head of the bed.  His face lit up like a Christmas tree when he saw them. 

"You look a little backwards in the bed," Stan chuckled.

"You came back for me!  Mr. Not A Doctor Yet found cartoons on TV for me so I don't gotta just lay here looking at tubes and stuff that I don't get to use cause I'm not that kind of sick.  He tried to turn the bed around for me, but the cord's not long enough, so we turned me around instead.  He's really smart and I think he's gonna be a super great doctor when he finishes school.  I just don't remember his name, so I'm calling him Mr. Not A Doctor Yet, cause he says he's not, even though he does doctor stuff here at night time so he can learn more doctor stuff.  Mrs. Nurse Jenny Sue came back to take care of me this morning, and she brought me a can of Mountain Dew to drink.  I had wanted to drink a Coke, but she said they weren't cold yet and this was, but now she says that she won't ever let me have any more Mountain Dew because I'm bouncing off the walls, but I haven't even touched the walls 'cause I can't even get out of bed on account of she says I'm not ready to walk again yet.  Am I talking too much?  Mrs. Nurse Jenny Sue called me a chatterbox and I think that means I'm talking too much because that's what one of the teachers at school called Janie one time only it wasn't Janie's fault that she didn't hear the teacher announce quiet time because Ralph was yelling at her for taking my purple crayon away from him and giving it back to me.  Do I get to be your son again today?"

"You talk all you want to, little man.  And always, always remember that you already are our son, and you will be forever plus a few days," Jude assured him as he ruffled the boy's hair affectionately.

"You messed up my hair," Kaden whispered quietly.

"I won't do it again if you don't like it," Jude said quickly as he saw tears start to run down Kaden's cheeks.  "I'm sorry, my little man.  Please don't cry.  If you cry, you'll make Momma Stan cry, and then I'll cry, and none of us will be able to see the TV show for all the tears."  He turned to Stan in a near panic.  "Stan, he's crying.  He's not supposed to ever cry anymore.  You have to fix it."

"Jude, he's not broken, so he doesn't need fixing," Stan scolded and rolled his eyes.

"My back and my legs need fixed," Kaden corrected.  "That's why I gotta lay on my tummy and try not to wiggle too much.  Mrs. Nurse Jenny Sue told me so."

"Ok, fair point, some parts of you need a little bit of fixing," Stan agreed as he sat on the bed beside Kaden and took one of his small hands into his own.  "But don't you listen to Daddy Jude," Stan said.  "Anytime you need to cry, you just go right ahead and cry.  There is nothing wrong with crying; nothing at all.  If you feel sad…."

"I'm not sad," Kaden sniffled.  "I just never had nobody do that before.  I seen other boys get their hair messed up by their moms and dads and big brothers even, but nobody ever did that to me.  My father just smacked me on the head and so did she.  They never petted me and mussed up my hair."

"Anybody ever hits you on the head or anywhere else, I will deal with them personally," Stan growled.  "You're my angel boy now and nobody messes with you unless…. Well, they had just best hope that your Daddy and Poppa get to them before your Granny and I do.  Now, here, let me help you fix your hair, sweetie," he added as he took the little plastic comb from the bedside table and started on the bird's nest of dark spikes on top of Kaden's head.  "How do you normally wear your hair, son?"

"Ummm… on my head?" Kaden blinked in confusion. 

Jude got a glare from his husband for laughing, so he tried to help.  "What Daddy Stan meant was…."

"No, he's not Daddy, silly, you are," Kaden giggled.  "You're Daddy and this is Momma Stan."  Stan would have protested, but the way the boy said it, and the fact that he hugged Stan as he did so, stopped the complaints before they even started.

"Ok, I give in," Stan shrugged.  "I'm Momma Stan."  He returned the hug with a sniffle and then broke up giggling like a schoolgirl at his son's next words.

"Daddy, you look like crap.  Did you drink too much last night like my other father?"  If it weren't for Stan's laughter the little boy would have been terrified at what he had just blurted.  As it was, he slapped a hand over his mouth and then started apologizing profusely.

"You're fine, son," Jude told him with a kiss to his forehead.  "I didn't drink last night, baby.  I never drink, because in my job, I see what it does to people.  But you see my job means I work during the night.  I used to sleep in the mornings when I would get home from work, but I had to come see my son and make sure you're being taken care of and that you're getting better."

"You really stayed awake just to come see me?  Why would you do that?"

"Because you're my son and I love you," Jude answered.  Instantly, he had a small boy wrapped around him and crying.  "Hey now, be careful, little buddy.  We don't want you opening up sore spots on your back again."

"Speaking of those spots, I'm here to take a look at them."  The little family turned to see the doctor standing in the doorway with a smile.  "So, the grapevine around this place tells me that I can now officially tell you gentlemen, 'Congratulations, it's a boy'."  The doctor peeked under some of the bandages and removed others to look at Kaden's back.  "Well, he's doing every bit as good as I expected him to, although we are still a little worried about infection as well as pulled stitches.   All in all, I would say you have about two more days to get his room ready for him.  If not, I'm sure you can twist his Granny's arm into letting him stay with her until it is."

"Well, I'm glad that's settled then," Granny smiled as she walked into the room.  "I will get Alex's room all cleaned and ready for Kaden here this afternoon.  I expect you to go get my grandkitten and bring her to my house so she can help take care of our boy, too." 

"Now, PittyPat, you and Stan pay special attention to Nurse Jenny when she shows you how to care of the boy's burns and wounds," the doctor ordered.  "He'll be coming back to see me two days after he leaves here for a checkup, and if that goes well, he's due back a week later to take some of the stitches out of his back where we had to dig bits of debris out of him.  Now, what I'm about to tell you is going to be upsetting, especially for you, Kaden, but unfortunately you all have to hear it and know it.  This sweet little tyke took some massive damage to his skin from his shoulders to his rump.  There will be permanent scars.  I will do everything I can to help minimize it, but short of a large-scale skin transplant which would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, nothing is going to make this skin look like new ever again.  Now for the good news, at least to Kaden here; I called over to the school yesterday and let them know that until I see Kaden in my office to get his stitches out, he will not be back in class.  That means he will miss the rest of this term as there are only two weeks left anyway."

"No more school?" Kaden asked eagerly.

"No more this year, you rascal," the doctor laughed.  "I'm sure you'll be good to go back in the fall."

"I'm sure I can get Principal Darnell to come over to our house and give the end of year tests to him," Granny was saying as she grabbed her phone and headed into the hallway.

"You boys are new around here, so I'll tell you this once and once only," the doctor said after she was gone.  "I will also deny it to my dying day if you ever tell her I said it, but don't ever get on that woman's bad side, and never underestimate what she will do when she sets her mind to it.  PittyPat was born a force of nature to be reckoned with and she don't show any signs of slowing down.  If anything, the three of you coming into her life seems to have sparked a whole new level of activity for her.  Enjoy the ride and may God have mercy on your souls."

"Zebadiah Jason Mulhearn, don't think I didn't hear that just cause I'm in the hallway and on the phone," Granny called out. 

"BUSTED!" Kaden giggled and grinned.  The three grown men however looked around the room at each other in a mixture of shock, shame, and a bit of fear.  Kaden was the only male in the room that didn't look nervous as the old woman walked back in to say goodbye to her grandson before she headed out to run her errands and get home for the kitten delivery.

"One more thing before I go," the doctor said to Jude as he headed for the door.  "Tell your Poppa I already called my brother over in Lavern County so he can send my nephew over here to help out in the sheriff's office for a few days while you're on family leave."

"Family leave?" Jude asked in confusion.

The doctor chuckled and patted him on the shoulder.  "It's ok, buddy.  There's always a little adjustment time needed when a family has a baby."

"HEY! I'm not a baby," Kaden protested.

"No, you aren't," Stan agreed.  "Your Momma Stan's big grown-up boy angel, only maybe you're not so grown up that you won't want cuddles sometimes?"

"I think that could be ok, I guess," the boy admitted bashfully.

"You guess?" Stan smirked.  "Let's see if we can't make up your mind a little better than that."  He carefully picked up his little boy and sat in the recliner chair in the room, carefully positioning the child on his lap so that his back wasn't rubbing against the chair or himself.  "Now, you just relax with me and watch some more cartoons while Daddy goes and changes his clothes.  After that, I'll send him home to get to work in your room."

"No, you don't, Stanley Truesdale."  All three males turned to see Aunt Ellie in the doorway.  "Me and Janie are going to stay here with Kaden so you both can work in his room.  Now, you two run on over to your place and see how things are going over there," the old woman directed.  "We can handle watching over this little angel just fine."

"Janie?" Kaden squeaked as he dove under the covers of his bed.  "I don't got clothes on."  He then started to cry a bit because the sudden movements hurt his back.  Janie and Aunt Ellie waited in the hallway as the nurse came in and gave him a shot of pain medicine through the little plastic hose still attached to his arm and into his vein.  It was still there just in case he started to get an infection and they had to start antibiotics again.  His IV of fluids had been stopped the night before.  The boy was still nervous about his friend, who was a girl, seeing his lack of clothing.

"Kady, I've seen you without a shirt before," Janie scolded.  "Remember when you got picked for playing basketball at school and you were on the skins team."

"Yeah, and I lost the game because I stink at it," Kaden mumbled.

"Lots of people stink at basketball, silly," Janie said rolling her eyes.  "You just gotta find something you don't stink at, even though that's going to be really hard since all boys stink all the time."

"Do not," Kaden defended quickly.

"Do too."

"Do not and not as bad as girls stink anyway," Kaden responded.  "Only you're still my friend even if you're a stinky old girl."

"I am not," Janie corrected.

"You are too a girl," Kaden told her.

"I know I'm a girl, doofus.  I meant I'm not your friend," she informed him.

"You're not?"  The pain in his voice nearly broke the hearts of everyone else in the room.

"No, 'cause now I'm your cousin, and that's way better than just being your friend, 'cause you can get rid of a friend, but you can't ever get rid of a cousin.  We're family now," Janie said firmly as she climbed onto the bed and hugged him carefully.

"Oh, we should ask him about the colors he wants for his room," Stan realized aloud.  "He might not like the purple furniture he's getting."

"I can gets purple furniture?  I can really have purple stuff?  You won't get mad at me and tell me purple isn't a boy color?" Kaden asked excitedly.

"No one will be mad at you, angel," Jude told him seriously.  "I guess this means you like purple?"

"My two favoritest colors are purple and blue," the little boy answered.  "I always had to just say blue because it's ok for boys."

"You can like any color you want," Stan assured him.  "I like purple too, but my favorite color is pink."

"You like pink?" Kaden questioned wide eyed.

"Oh yeah, he loves pink," Jude said with a laugh.  "Our bedroom looks like it was hosed down with Pepto Bismol."

"JUDE MICHAEL!" Stan gasped.  "You never told me that you felt that way about our room." 

Kaden burst into giggles.  "Daddy's in trouble," he said in that singsong voice little kids have for that phrase.

"I was just teasing, love," Jude said quickly.  "I think our room is very romantic and tasteful.  I swear.  I love it and I love you."

"Nice save, Jude," Aunt Ellie smirked.  "Now, you boys have chores to do.  Fetch that grandkitten over to PittyPat and then get your boy's other room all set up."

"Other room?" Kaden questioned.

"Well, yes, baby," Aunt Ellie told the little boy with a laugh.  "If I know your granny at all, she's going to want you to stay over at her house every chance she can get.  That means you'll have your room at Granny and Poppa's house, and your other room at home with Daddy and Momma Stan.  At least you will if they ever get moving and get the place done for you."

"Yes ma'am, on our way, ma'am," Jude retorted as he ruffled Kaden's hair, then kissed him on the head before leaving.  Stan took a little longer to stop fidgeting and fussing over his little boy, but he too eventually left the hospital room.


When Jude and Stan pulled up in front of their house, there were 8 other vehicles already there.  "It's about time you two got here," a woman called out from the front porch.  "This little kitten will not set foot in the house.  I have tried every lure I can think of."  As they walked up the steps, the tiny black cat mewed loudly and ran up to them.  She looked up at them, then looked around them, and then sat down and meowed quite displeased.

"Sorry, little Queen of Sheba, but Kaden was hurt too badly to come home with us just yet," Jude told the kitten.  Instantly the cat started climbing his leg like a tree.  "Now, don't think this is going to get me to try to sneak you into that hospital for him.  You're going to have to wait until he's better, but I promise to take you over to Momma's house so you can cuddle your boy as soon as he gets out of the hospital tomorrow."

"Well, I'll be blessed," the woman said in amazement.  "Guardian angel for sure that one is.  Well, here, this stuff is so this little furball can become a safe, inside kitten.  Aunt PittyPat is waiting on this stuff and the kitten over to her house so she can break the little one in a bit before that grandbaby of hers gets there."  She shoved armloads of cat toys and supplies at Jude and shooed him back towards the car.  "Stan, you come on in the house here and start telling these men folk what colors to paint the walls in your boy's room.  Jude, you hurry up back here, so you can get to work with the guys out back working on that patio.  They need to know where you want your grill."

"What grill?" Jude asked.

"Now, Sarge, a man can't have a brick patio with covered deck and NOT have a grill," Officer Miller told him.

"Henry Jackson Miller, didn't I tell you to get home and get to sleep?  You got to work tonight.  Just cause your boss has the night off, don't mean you do," the woman scolded.  "I best not hear tell of you dozing off in your car at the speed trap out on the highway tonight either."

"It's not a trap," Officer Miller and Jude both said quickly.

"Well, I'll give you that one," the woman sneered.  "Everybody in the county knows you boys sit behind the billboard for the KFC every night.  If you really wanted to catch any of the speeders, you'd move around once in a while.  I swear, Stan, what would our men do without us?  Am I right?  Now, Stan, you have just GOT to tell Flo where you got that bedspread in your room.  She's about to bust a gut over it.  She's the undisputed rose queen around these parts and that just tickled her fancy like you wouldn't believe."

"Oh, that came from Macy's in New York City," Stan answered as he was pulled into the house by Mrs. Miller.  "We went there for our honeymoon and saw the Statue of Liberty and the 9/11 Memorial.  Oh, and we got to see Cats on Broadway.  It was the most wonderful week, worth every penny we had scrimped and saved to pay for it."

"Oh, that's so romantic," another woman's voice from in the house cooed.  "My Johnny thought going to the Motel 6 over in Silasville was good enough."

"Jim took me to the basement bedroom in his Momma's house," another one griped.

"Thanks a lot, Sarge," Miller bitched as he stomped to his truck.  "Now your husband is going to have all our wives wanting us to be sensitive and romantic all the time.  Remind me why I liked you, again?"

"Umm… Because it looks like I'm about to be as miserable as you guys?"

"I heard that Jude Michael Truesdale," Stanley called out from inside the house.  "You wait until tonight.  I'll show you miserable."

"You get him, Stanny," one of the women yelled.

"See what just happened right there, that's it," Miller laughed.

"That's what?" Jude asked as he struggled to cross the yard with a kitten and all its supplies.

"See, most of us guys thought gay guys were… different; you know, all swishy and stuff," Miller told him.  "Hell, you ain't no different than the rest of us.  We all stick our foot in our mouth with the lady of the house near about every day.  Just happens your lady of the house has the same equipment down there as we do.  Don't stop him from fitting in just fine with the other wives of the force, though."

"That's right, Henry Miller, and when I get home there better be another dollar in your swear jar," Mrs. Miller called out.  "Now get going before you manage to insult my friends and your boss any worse than you just did."

"Oh, I so owe you when you get back to the office, Sarge," Miller growled.  "The prank war is on, boss."

"It wasn't my fault," Jude protested.

"Yeah, you keep telling yourself that, Sarge."

Inside the house, four ladies had pulled Stan into his own kitchen and sat him down at the table to a tall glass of iced tea.  He learned that the woman who had met him on the porch was Dotty Miller, wife of Jude's second in command, Henry, better known as Hank.  The next woman he was introduced to was Ida Mae Hanson, the wife of Deputy Jim Hanson, also from the night shift.  Immediately after that he met Florence 'Flo' Harris, rose queen and wife of day shift deputy Jesse Harris.  Last but not least was Emily Langtry, wife of Deputy Jonny Langtry of the day shift, and who was very interested in the honeymoon in New York. 

"Now, honey, tell us more about that honeymoon to New York City.  Did you get to see anyone famous?  Did you see any other shows?"

"Well, we did get to see James Earl Jones in On Golden Pond," Stan answered.  "That man's voice….  Mmm, gives me goosebumps just thinking about it."  He blushed and worried that he had said too much but was immediately relieved as the ladies picked up the conversation from there.

"Oh, I know that's right," Dotty agreed.  "I swear he could just read me the phone book and it would melt my butter."

"Ooh, honey," Flo agreed.  "I remember the first time I saw Star Wars.  I was rooting for Darth Vader just so I could hear him talk more."

"Well, he's alright, but give me Sean Connery," Ida Mae told them.  "I know he was a lot older than me, but I swear that man didn't age a day for twenty-five years and his voice did a lot more than melt butter, I tell you what."

"Ida Mae," Emily laughed.  "Is that why you named your oldest boy Sean?"

"Shhh, Jim don't know that.  He thinks I picked it for his cousin Sean from over in Templeton.  Like I'd name a baby after that wierdo.  I had to block him off my Facebook list 'cause of all that stupid hate talk of his.  I'ma tell you what, when a preacher tries to tell you that you got to hate somebody 'cause of their bed partners or their skin color, he ain't nobody anybody ought to listen to.  My God loves all His children, or He wouldn't have made them the way He did," Ida Mae growled.

"Stan, are you alright, honey?" Flo asked when she looked over and saw tears on his cheeks.

"I don't know," Stan admitted.  "This is all so surreal.  I can't believe that I'm in a little town like this and all my dreams are starting to come true.  People helping us like we're real people, and giving us a little boy to raise, and adopting us so we have a family again after our families kicked us out and disowned us completely.  I just keep thinking I'm dreaming or something.  It can't be real."

"Oh, sweetie," Dotty said pulling him into a hug.  "You just gotta understand that this whole town went through that mess with Alex Truesdale and Bobby Dale Eubanks, not just the sheriff and Aunt PittyPat.  It taught all of us a hard lesson on what hate looked like and what it did to people, to good people that never hurt a soul.  We were all four of us in school with Alex and Bobby Dale.  You couldn't ask for better friends.  Why I would never have known I was a fall color palette if Alex hadn't told me what a trollop I looked like wearing my Momma's makeup to school in junior high."

"And my county fair grand prize-winning blueberry muffins is a recipe I got from Bobby Dale," Flo added.

"I never would have married Jonny Langtry if Alex and Bobby hadn't helped him write poetry love letters for me that summer that I got shipped off to my Aunt Ruth's because of my Momma having to have surgery," Emily told the group.  "I knew right off Jonny couldn't have written them letters by himself.  He don't know a sonnet from a baseball cap."

"Excuse me, ladies… Oh and gentleman," a man spoke up as he entered the room.  "I got Lisa Marie's old furniture ready to go in the room now that we finished with the drywalling.  The question is are we painting just the walls or the furniture too?"

"Tom, this here is Stan Truesdale, Jude's better half," Dotty introduced. 

"Pleasure to meet you, Stan," Tom greeted.  "I got tarps down to protect that hardwood floor no matter what we do next.  I just wondered if we need to paint the bed and put the drawers in the dresser and the desk yet."

"Kaden says his favorite color is purple, so the furniture will be fine just as it is," Stan told him.  "We want the hallway wall and the outside wall to be painted a soft sky blue and then the other two walls to be purple, but I want it a different shade than the furniture of course.  I'd better come take a look."

"Two different colored walls?" Tom questioned.

"It's called style, Tom," Flo told him with a smirk.  "Ask your wife about it sometime."

"Oh, this furniture is perfect," Stan cooed.  "True deep purple.  Now if we could get something really soft to go with this."

"Would lilac work?" Tom asked.  "I'm only asking because I still got some of that left over from when Lisa Marie did her room last time.  I thought it was all purple, but apparently lilac is something different."

"Oh, I just remembered we've got some sky blue paint in our garage from when I painted our dining room last month," Ida Mae blurted.  "I'll call my Sean to bring it over right away.  Ever since he got that learner's permit back at Christmas, he'll latch onto any excuse he can get to drive the car.  Do you know he drove the car to get me a bag of ice from the A&P the other night?"

"Isn't the A&P right across the street from your house?" Dotty asked.

"It is," Ida Mae confirmed.  "That boy could have walked it both ways in less than the time it took him to drive.  Lord help us all if Callie Mae Simmons at checkout lane number 2 saw him walking after he got his license, though."

"Aww, do I detect young love?" Stan asked her.

"Well, I don't know about love, but he sure moans her name a lot while he's staining the sheets on his bed," Ida Mae laughed.

"I had no idea boys did such things," Stan said, trying his best to look innocent.  Everyone in the room laughed at that.

"Yup, you're fitting in just fine," Tom snorted as he stepped back into the room from having called his daughter to bring her leftover paint over.  "Now, Lisa Marie is going to do her best to put the bite on you for a babysitting job, Stan.  Don't you worry about telling her no.  Won't none of us take it wrong if you and Jude want to wait a while before you take an evening out on the town.  Lord knows, none of us want to cross Aunt PittyPat and tell her she can't babysit her grandson, either."

"Well, what sort of student is Lisa Marie in school?" Stan asked.

"She's graduating valedictorian of her class in a few weeks," Tom said proudly.

"Well, I have a perfect compromise then," Stan smiled.

"Yoohoo!  Daddy, are you in here?  Nobody answered the front door, but the men working on the patio told me to come on in."

Stan walked out into the hallway and smiled.  "You must be Lisa Marie.  I've heard so much about you."

"All of it good, I hope," the girl smiled. 

"It was indeed," Stan confirmed.  "I was told you are the babysitter par excellence in town."

"Oh yes sir, Mr. Truesdale, I've been babysitting for folks all over town for four years now, and I know CPR, too," the girl told him honestly but not overly proudly.  "I charge less than minimum wage because I just love little kids so much.  I plan to go to college next fall and go into pre-med and then specialize as a pediatrician."

"Very impressive, but I have to tell you that I'm too chicken to tell Momma Truesdale that she can't babysit for us," Stan informed her.  "I do however have another need for Kaden.  You see he was burned and hurt rather severely by the explosion of his house the other night, so he won't be going back to school this year.  I was hoping you could help him with his schoolwork, so he doesn't fall behind."

"Oh, I'd be happy to, Mr. Truesdale," the girl agreed eagerly.  "I'm so glad that you guys wanted my old bedroom furniture, too.  I hated it just sitting around in a shed."

"Well, he is really excited about it, not least because it is his favorite color," Stan told her.  "There is just one thing, Lisa.  You see with the burns and wounds he has, it's really uncomfortable for Kaden to wear anything more than his underpants right now…."

"Don't you worry, Mr. Truesdale, I've got three little brothers that don't have an excuse and they run around in their undies all the time, sometimes even less.  I'll be sure to let him know that I don't mind in a way that won't make him any more uncomfortable.  That poor kid."

"Well, it sounds like you're hired, young lady, but there is one more very important rule.  I mean this could break the whole deal," Stan cautioned her seriously.

"What is it, Mr. Truesdale?"

"Stop calling me Mr. Truesdale.  It makes me feel old," Stan laughed.  "I'm Stan; but feel free to insist on calling my husband Mr. Truesdale."

"What are you scheming behind my back?" Jude asked as he walked into the living room where everyone was gathered.

"Darling, this is Lisa Marie," Stan introduced.  "She's going to be Kaden's tutor until he can take his final exams for school this year."

"It's an honor to meet you, Mr. Truesdale," the teenage girl greeted enthusiastically.

"Did I suddenly grow a long gray beard?" Jude pouted.  "Stan, you'd better make room in the living room for one of those rocker recliners for old men.  I'm apparently ancient now."

"Oh, you two are going to be a hoot to work for," Lisa Marie giggled.  She turned to her father and asked, "Daddy, can you make sure you give them my phone number?  I have to get back home to help Mom.  The twins got into the other paint buckets you were supposed to get rid of just as I was leaving with the lilac."

"I'm a dead man," Tom groaned.

"Yeah, but she's gotta kill the Terrible Twosome first, so then she'll have to rest up before killing you," Lisa Marie grinned.  "Bye everyone," she called out as she darted out the front door.  From the front yard they all heard her call out, "Look at you, Sean.  You parked that car like a real pro."

"You really think so?  I don't know, I think I'm a little crooked.  Do you think Deputy Sergeant Truesdale is going to give me a ticket?"

"It's just like my house or yours, Sean.  Get on Mr. Stan's good side," Lisa Marie told him.  "Then you're all set.  See you at school Monday."

"Thanks, bye," the boy called out.  A moment later, a pimply faced teenage boy knocked on the door, even though it was still open.  "Hello, anyone home?"

"Sean, for goodness sakes, you can see half the police force and all their wives are standing right in front of you," Ida Mae scolded.  "Just get in here and give us the paint."

"Yes'm," the boy blushed and hurried inside.

"Sean, is it?" Jude asked and the teen visibly shook with fright.

"Yes sir," the poor kid's voice cracked almost painfully to the ears of everyone in the room.

"Did your father happen to mention that I am a certified instructor for the defensive driving course that limousine drivers take for when they have high profile passengers?"

"Umm… No, sir," the teen answered nervously.

"Well, if you're interested, I'll be glad to give you some lessons, as long as I don't EVER catch you using any of it to just show off on the back roads around here."

"REALLY?" the teen squealed excitedly.  "Did you hear that, Momma?"

"No, son, I was all of two feet away from him, so I missed all of that," she said sarcastically.

"The sarge said he could teach me to drive like the fancy chauffeurs do for the rich and famous," Sean blurted.  "That would be so awesome.  I could hire out to drive folks around town then and they'd know they were in safe hands.  I bet with a job that important, Callie Mae would remember my name."

"Ida Mae, could I borrow Sean for a little bit?" Stan asked suddenly.  "I just realized that I don't have any snacks for when little Kaden gets to come home.  If he could run me down to the A&P, I'd be really grateful.  That way Jude here can stay and help the guys with the patio."

"I think you're up to something, but it's alright with me," Ida Mae said thoughtfully.

"Here's the keys, Mr…."

"First of all, do NOT call me Mr. Truesdale," Stan cut him off.  "If I have to be a mister, then I am Mr. Stan.  Second, why would I not want my chauffeur to drive me?  Let's go, young man."

"Yes, sir, Mr. Stan," the teen grinned and proudly marched out of the house.

"Your husband is up to something," Ida Mae told Jude after they left.

"Yes, and I know exactly what," Jude smiled.  "It's how he and I got together.  I had such a huge crush on him, and I thought he liked me, too, but I knew he didn't know if I was gay or not.  He worked in a department store at the time, and they had a policy of calling their customers by name.  An upper classman friend of mine went into the store with me and we approached Stan, him first and then me.  Stan called my friend by name, but he didn't use mine.  So, my friend started raising a ruckus about him disrespecting a customer.  Well, Stan didn't want trouble, so he immediately corrected and called me by whole entire name, which no one at school knew except for the teachers and staff.  So, then my friend cornered him about that, and Stan admitted that he had snuck into the school office and distracted the secretary with some wild goose chase so he could look me up in the registry.  That's when I confessed that I had done the same thing to learn more about him."

"Aww, how sweet," all of the women cooed. 

"And he's going to go do that for Sean with Callie Mae?" Ida Mae asked.  "I knew that hubby of yours was good people."

"Just him?" Jude pouted.

"Oh, you already know I like you, you big lug," Ida Mae scoffed.  "I decided you were worth keeping around when you tackled Jim to keep him from getting hit in the face with that drunken fool's roman candle on New Year's Eve."

"I didn't think Jim would tell anyone about that," Jude admitted.

"He didn't," Ida Mae confirmed.  "It was Marybelle Haskell telling me how sorry she was that her Nick nearly put my Jim's eye out.  What Jim told me about was how Nick talked to you that night, and how you didn't just shut him up, you shut him down.  To hear my Jim tell it, you must be stronger than Superman and tougher than nails.  You made a big impression on Jim that night, Jude Truesdale, and it takes a lot to impress him the way you did."

"Well, maybe you'd better not tell him that I came home and cried on Stan's shoulder for an hour the next day and gave really serious thought to packing it in and leaving this town," Jude admitted with a sigh.

"She ain't got to tell me."  Jim was standing in the back door of dining room that opened onto the new patio that was being built.  "It don't change a thing, though.  Ida Mae can tell you there's plenty of times I come home and break down on her in our room after a rough shift.  The other night when we thought that boy of yours was lost in the fire… well, that just about did me in.  I was ready to call it quits yesterday morning when I got home.  Don't much get to me the way a hurt young'un does.  The only thing that stopped me from packing it in yesterday was finding out that you and Stan had the boy safe and sound at the hospital.  The only times I have ever been happier was when Ida Mae said I do, and when our kids were born.  Now, that's enough of this mush.  Get your butt out here and tell us where to put your grill, boss.  I expect to be invited over for the first barbecue on this grill, too."

"Oh, for sure, I want all of you folks to come over my first day off after we bring Kaden home," Jude said enthusiastically.  "We'll have an all-day party so the whole force can come by.  Families included."

"Lord have mercy, Jude, are you sure you're up to feeding an army that size?" Emily asked him.

"I wouldn't have it any other way," Jude insisted.  "Now that we're parents, and have a family here, it's time for Stan and me to put down some roots to stay a long time."

"Well, you clear it with Stan, and we'll coordinate so we can all help out with the food some," Ida Mae smiled.  "It'll be the best summer kickoff this town's ever seen."

"I sure hope so," Jude said as he wiped a tear from his cheek.  "Because it'll also be the kickoff to a whole new life for Kaden and God knows he deserves the best there is."

"That's for sure," Flo agreed.  "Now get out there and build that patio and grill or there won't be a place to have the party.  Ladies, we got some painting to do."


"Is it ok if I come in?" a timid voice called from the doorway.  Janie and Kaden looked up to see Nicky Haskell squirming nervously.

"Why would you want to show up here, Nicky?" Janie demanded.

"Nicky, I really don't feel like getting picked on today, please?" Kaden begged quietly.

"I swear I won't pick on you no more, not ever," the boy vowed quickly.  "I didn't really want to be mean to you, Kaden, but my dad really didn't like your dad, and I…."

"Don't call him that," Kaden cut him off sharply.  "He wasn't my dad.  He might have been my father, but he wasn't a dad.  Dads love their kids and take care of them.  He didn't."

"Did he really blow himself up in your house?" Nicky asked as he eased into the room a bit.

"How do you think I got all this?" Kaden asked and turned his back so the other boy could see all the bandages.

"Nicholas James Haskell!  You can't just waltz in here and ask someone if their people blew themselves up," Aunt Ellie scolded.  "Boy, you spend way yonder too much time listening to your father."

"Yes,m," Nicky agreed.  "Momma says the same thing all the time."

"Now, you come in here and you apologize to my little nephew," Aunt Ellie told him waving him into the room.   "And what's this I hear about you spitting on people?"

"I didn't mean to spit on you, Kaden.  My… umm that is I lost a tooth that morning and I didn't know I was spraying like that when I talked.  Please don't tell Janie to beat me up again."

"I didn't tell her to do it the first time," Kaden answered.  "Janie takes good care of me, though, cause now she's my cousin."

"Yeah, so if you're mean to him again, I will beat you up a lot more next time," Janie growled.  "Nobody messes with my Kady."

"Well, next time somebody messes with him, it won't be me, cause I'll be helping you beat them up," Nicky vowed.

"You mean that Nicky?" Kaden asked in a whisper.

"Sure, I do," the boy said firmly.  "My daddy went off to a special hospital to learn how not to drink and be mean to everybody, because he really does love me.  He says any parents that don't love their kids don't deserve to live, and I guess that's what happened with your folks, Kaden.  They didn't love you like they were supposed to, so now they're gone."

"Yeah, and now I got new parents that love me bunches and I got grandparents, and a aunt and uncle and a cousin too," Kaden gushed happily.

"Excuse me?  Why did you put me at the end of the list?" Janie demanded.

"He was obviously saving the best for last, right, Kaden?" Nicky prompted pointedly.

"Yeah, that's it," Kaden agreed quickly.

"Well, that's all right then," Janie said smugly.  "Mawmaw, I'm thirsty.  Can I go down the hall and get us all a soda from the machine?"

"That's a wonderful idea, and I'll come with you to help carry them all," the old woman smiled.  She crossed over closer to Kaden and whispered, "I'll let Jenny Sue know you need to go to the washroom when we go past."

"How did you…?" the boy blurted and blushed.

"It's called the peepee dance, Kady," Janie said rolling her eyes.  "It's the only dance I know that you can still do even if you're sitting down.  Come on, Mawmaw, let's go before his eyes turn yellow."

"EEEWWW that's gross, Janie," Kaden squealed in disgust.

"Now, Janie, don't be crude," her grandmother scolded softly. 

"How come they gotta let the nurse know you need to pee?  Do you need permission like at school?" Nicky asked once the females were out of the room.

"It's on account of my legs being hurt some too," Kaden explained.  "They don't want me to go by myself in case I fall or if I move wrong and hurt my back again."

"OHMYGOSH!  That nurse lady don't go in there with you does she?" Nicky yelped. 

"I just said they won't let me go alone," Kaden said rolling his eyes.

"I couldn't go with some strange lady watching me," Nicky shuddered.  "Hey, we go together when we're at school.  I could help you now, so you don't gotta have some woman watching you."

"I can stay out here in the main room while Nick helps you if you're ok with that, Kade," Nurse Jenny Sue said as she walked in.  "It's ok with me if someone else helps you in there, but I still need to be close by just in case you fall or break open your stitches."

"Done and done," Nicky announced.  "Come on Kaden, now I gotta go too."  He held his arm up and let the slightly smaller boy lean on him a bit as they walked into the adjoining room and closed the door.  "No fair, all you gotta do is lift up your hospital dress," Nicky whined once they were at the toilet.

"It's not a dress, it's hospital pajamas," Kaden explained.

"HEY! Those pajamas don't shut in the back," Nicky gasped.  "You want me to walk behind you when we leave so she can't see your butt?"

"I've already seen his butt, and you can't walk too close behind him because you might mess up some of his bandages.  Now get back out here so I can check him over again.  Hold up.  I heard a toilet flush, but I did not hear a sink.  Get both of your hind ends back in there and wash those hands, you little hooligans."

"That lady is scarier than Janie," Nicky whispered once Nurse Jenny Sue left the room. 

"You think I'm scary?" Janie demanded as she walked into the room with her grandmother.  "Good.  You should be scared of me, Nicky.  I don't trust you yet."

"I think Nicky is my new best friend," Kaden defended.

"I thought I was your best friend," Janie pouted.

"He helped me pee without Mrs. Nurse Jenny Sue having to watch me," Kaden explained.  "Besides, you're my best cousin now, so Nicky's my new best friend," Kaden announced firmly, making both of the other children preen proudly.