Living in a Small Town

Chapter 4


The next morning Kaden was super happy to have woken up to see both of his new parents in his room with him.  Being Sunday morning, things were pretty slow and quiet throughout the hospital, so the boy stayed very quiet and let Momma Stan read to him so that Daddy could take a nap in the chair that turned into a bed.  Kaden might have taken a few naps as well, but Momma Stan told him that was fine because his body was using a lot of energy getting better.  A little after noon, just as Jude was waking up, there was a knock at the door of the room. 

"Hey Sarge," Jim greeted.  "We ran into a problem at the house.  Ike was power washing the front of the place for you, and me and Tom had the mortar mixer going in the backyard to work on the brick wall surround for your grill, and well… it was too much for the electrical system in the house.  The whole place went dark and that's when we realized you're not up to code.  That place still has screw in fuses instead of breakers.  Everything is on hold at your place until we can get it completely rewired with a new breaker box instead of those old fuses.  It's going to be about a week before you have power again, unless you want us to get Delbert from day shift to have his cousin the electrician to come do the whole job instead of us doing it and him just checking it over when we're done."

"I don't think we could afford to actually hire an electrician, right now," Jude groaned.  His eyes suddenly got big, and he gasped, "Momma cursed us."

"What?" Stan questioned with a laugh.

"Don't you remember last night, on the ride here, she said she was hoping to find a way to make us all move in with her, so she got more time with her boys?" Jude reminded him.  "Well, she got her wish.  I mean I guess we could stay in the hotel again like when we first came to town."

"Tell me I did NOT just hear my son say something about staying in a hotel instead of with me and Poppa," the woman in question grumped as she walked into the room, giving plates of lunch to all three of her boys.  "Now what is going on here?"  She was quickly filled in and just turned to glare at Jude.  "I have not cast some sort of hex on your house, Jude.  Of course, you're all going to stay with us while the work gets done.  Don't be silly.  Stay in a hotel my foot.  I swear, men sometimes," she was still fuming as she kissed Stan and Kaden on their cheeks and left the room.  "I'll have your rooms ready for you in two shakes of a dog's tail, or in this case a cat's," she called out as she walked down the hallway.

"Well, do we need to come home to do anything?" Stan asked Jim.

"It would help if you told us which rooms you really don't want to have to patch the walls in," the older man spoke up.  "We have to run new wires through the whole place, which we can do no problem, but if we have to cut into the walls at any point, we'd rather know which walls we can do that with and not cause too much problem."

"Do what has to be done, I guess," Stan said flatly.  "I can always redo any wallpaper or paint.  It'll give me a reason to….  Jude! They have to gut the walls in all the rooms, right?  That would include our bedroom?"

"Well, gutting them seems a little extreme, but… Oh, I know what you're thinking, and I just said that as a joke, you know that."

"But it would make me feel so much better since I'm losing my rose room," Stan pouted. "I got that wallpaper in a clearance sale.  I can't get any more of it."

"Jim, do you know of anyone wanting to get rid of their hot tub?" Jude asked with a roll of his eyes.  Stan squealed happily and gave his husband a big kiss.

Jude went home to help the guys work on the house, while Stan stayed with Kaden.  Jude whispered to Kaden before he left, "Try to keep Momma's mind off the house, little man.  Stan will be a little depressed that all the work he's been doing is going to be undone." 

"I wouldn't want Momma Stan to be sad, Daddy," the boy agreed seriously.

Once they were gone, Stan sat on the bed beside his son and kissed his curly hair. "I heard what your Daddy said, sweetie.  I'm not sad, I promise.  This just means I get to redo the whole house and it will be even better this time, because this time my little angel boy will be helping me."

"You would let me help?"

"Any little boy with good enough taste to pick purple as his favorite color and love daffodils too, well, he's definitely got what it takes to help me decorate our home," Stan assured him as they sat and nibbled at the cookies Mrs. Rita had sent for her little buddy.

As is typical of renovation projects, the more they revealed of the house, the more it needed to be repaired.  Exposing the wiring had also exposed the bad plumbing, so the house truly would have to be nearly completely gutted and rebuilt.  The room that would need the least amount of work done to it was Kaden's, but only because it had already been gutted and had the ancient horsehair plaster replaced with drywall. 

Monday morning, a vaguely familiar man came to the hospital to find Jude and Stan.  They were not prepared for what he had to tell them. "Misters Truesdale, let me get right to the point," Mr. Pettibone, the president of the local bank told them.  "When you first came to town, I took a strong liking to you two.  You reminded me a lot of my dear old Aunt Jade.  That's why I gave you what I thought was a great price for her house, which I had inherited but didn't need.  Now that it's coming out what bad shape the place was in, I feel like I owe you an apology at the very least.  I know the financial end of real estate, but that's it.  I say all of that to get to this," he said as he started getting stacks of papers out of his briefcase. "These papers are a loan for a little money to fix up that house, and these papers state that you have received a gift of funds to match the loan for the purpose of repairs to your house."

"Wait, we already have a mortgage on the house, I'm not sure we can…."

"Now, I'm sure that you can manage just fine since your raise," the banker said dismissively, and then noticed the looks on their faces.  "Well, if I'm not a dead man walking.  I would have thought for sure that PittyPat and Willy would have told you about the raise already.  I mean everyone in the sheriff's office gets one when they have a child, and with you all being adopted into their own family like this… Well, I just never thought they wouldn't tell you.  For my sake, when they do, act surprised, ok?  PittyPat will have my hide if she knows I stole a moment like this from her."

"You told them about the raise, didn't you, Harlan?" Everyone in the room looked over to see the sheriff standing in the doorway.  "Don't you worry, I was just coming to tell them anyway.  PittyPat would have done it, but she's blitzing through our house like a one-woman cleaning army.  She's been a cyclone ever since Doc Zeb called her this morning."

"So now you're taking over my job, is that it, Sheriff?" said Doctor complained as he entered Kaden's room.  "These, my favorite little patient, are your get out of hospital papers.  I would say get out of jail, but that's more your Daddy and Poppa's line of work."

"I getta go home?" Kaden burst excitedly.

"Well, you get to come home with me," Poppa said with a big smile.  "I'm even going to bend the rule a bit and run my lights and siren taking you to Granny.  Your daddy and your Momma Stan have to ride in the back since they don't have any other way to get there."

"You still have to come in and see me a few more times over the next couple of weeks, but you're well enough to not have to be here overnight anymore," the doctor said with a smile.  "I'll even recommend some medicine for your dads for tonight."

"Why would we need meds, tonight?" Stan asked.

"Well, between all the papers you have to sign for me and the hospital, and the papers you have to sign for Mr. Pettibone apparently, your hands are going to be just about arthritic by tonight," the medical man joked, and the banker laughed along.

"Do I gotta sign stuff, too?" Kaden asked.

"You get to print your whole new name on this certificate of honor," the doctor smiled.  "Jenny Sue is going to get this framed and put it on the wall right beside the nurse's desk out there in the hallway.  This says that Kaden Alexander Truesdale has been the nicest, most friendly patient this hospital has had in the last ten years.  You are something mighty special, little angel.  If Nurse Jenny Sue and I had kids, we would have wanted them all to be just as wonderful as you," the emotional man said as he cried a little bit while hugging Kaden carefully.

Sheriff Truesdale took the scenic route home that day, so that all the kids from school on their afternoon recess break got to come over to the patrol car and say hi to Kaden. He'd thought no one in school liked him that much, but his entire second grade class came running over to greet him and congratulate him on his new family. Janie and Nicky stood guard at each side of the car window so only a couple of kids at a time could get close. Kaden spoke to all the kids from his class before it became obvious to even some of the kids that he was hurting too much to keep on visiting.

Granny and Kit met them in the living room when they finally got to the elder Truesdale's home.  Little Kit instantly climbed up Stan's clothes as if he were a tree so that she could snuggle with her boy.  Kaden was carried to his room, given some medicine for his pain, and laid down on his tummy for a nap, guarded and protected by his very own house panther. The adults were going to let him sleep through until morning if he needed to. Poppa had even moved his recliner from the living room into the boy's room so he could take a turn watching the little angel for a night.

"The point in having someone in there with him tonight is so if he wakes up in a strange place he won't be as scared, and if he needs the toilet, they can show him the way, right?" Poppa asked Stan and Jude pointedly as they tried to decide which of them would be in Kaden's room. "Who knows more about my house, me or you?"

"Yes, Poppa," the men agreed finally.

"Besides it's well past my turn," the sheriff complained. "You've sat with him, PittyPat's sat with him, Ellie's even sat with him. I'm his grandpa, durn it. I want my turn taking care of my little angel boy."

"Yes, sir," the two younger men smiled.

Just before dinner time, Kenny stopped by with pictures of what had been done with the back yard and the house while the Truesdales concentrated on Kaden. As expected, Stan got a bit emotional seeing the mess that was being made ripping out the ancient horsehair plaster and lathing and replacing the wiring and plumbing. Everyone was laughing over his story of one of the men, dropping and breaking the lid to the toilet.

"So, then Mr. Johnny says, 'Well if you gotta replace the whole toilet just for the lid, that means you can use this one as a planter out in the yard.' Well, you can imagine how that went over with the ladies that were there cleaning all the plaster mess up. I thought my momma was going to skin him alive for sure, and his wife looked like she was going to help."

"Please tell me I don't have a porcelain throne of marigolds somewhere in my yard," Stan gasped, hiding his face behind his hands.

"Well, heck no, Mr. Stan, it's daffodils, not marigolds," Kenny teased. Stan glared at him until Kenny started giggling, and then everyone was laughing.

"Granny, it's noisy out here." Everyone turned to see a sleepy little boy in just undies and bandages and holding a rainbow monkey.  "Oh, I didn't know somebody was here," he squeaked and rushed back into the room, shutting the door behind him.

"Was that another kid I just saw?" Kenny said extra loudly.  "Wow, I hope he comes out and sits by me for dinner.  I would feel so much better if I wasn't the only kid at the table with all these grownups."

"Really?" a timid voice said from the now cracked open door.  "You won't laugh at me for not wearing nothing but my undies?"

"I might cry a little because you have to, little buddy, because I feel bad that you got hurt," Kenny assured him.  "I promise I will never laugh at you, though.  If I was braver, I would offer to eat in just my undies so you aren't the only one, but maybe Aunt PittyPat wouldn't like that too much anyway."

"You'd really do that for me?" Kaden asked, opening the door wider and stepping out again.

"Well, I tell you what, boys," the older woman said kneeling down between them.  "If it really makes you feel better, Kaden, I suppose I could maybe overlook it this one time if Kenny here wanted to just wear his shorts to the table.  Shorts, mind you, Kenny, not your undershorts."

"You want me to take my underwear off and just wear my pants?" Kenny asked, accomplishing his goal of making the little boy giggle.

"No, that is not what I meant and….  Oh, this stage of adolescence I have not missed one bit," she huffed and got up, heading for the kitchen.  "You don't have to wear your shirt, but you do have to be decent.  Only Kaden gets that exception and only because he's hurt."  She got to the kitchen and went into the dining room and gasped.  "WILLIAM ARTHUR TRUESDALE, what do you think you're doing?"

"You just said we didn't have to wear shirts," the old man called out.  Jude, Stan, and Kenny all grinned and peeled off their shirts and led Kaden into the dining room.

"Oh, good heavens," Granny moaned.  "I give up.  I just give up.  Males."  She was pouting and mumbling as she brought the food into the room.  "Now Kaden, sweetheart, to save you having to stretch, let me see if we have something you can sit on in the chair to raise you up a bit."

"He can sit on my lap if he wants to," Kenny offered.  "I don't mind, and besides that, my little sister and baby brother used to take turns doing it all the time."

"You'd let me sit on you?" Kaden asked wide eyed. 

"Like I said, little man, I really hate that you got hurt and if I can help you not hurt a little bit, I will be happy to do that.  I kind of miss getting to hold a munchkin and help them eat, cause they both got too grown up to need that anymore," Kenny answered.  "Is it ok if I hold him for dinner?" he asked the adults in the room.

"I think it will be just fine," Stan smiled.  "Just be careful picking him up.  Lift under his arms, that's it.  Now just let him sit on one leg with his back to the side that you will not be eating with.  That's the way.  Now you won't accidentally brush up against any of his ouchies on his back.  Are you comfy, Kaden?"

"Uh huh," the little boy nodded as he looked at the teen holding him.  The stars in his eyes were pretty obvious.

"Kenny, you remember what I said earlier," Jude said sternly.  "Thirty years, not a minute before."

"Sarge, I swear, I'm just holding and helping a little kid," Kenny blushed.  "I'm not some kind of creep."

"Kenny's nice, Daddy," Kaden defended.

"Yes, he is," Stan agreed.  "He's a very nice young man and we are not going to discuss that matter any further, are we Jude?"

"No, dear," Jude said looking properly chastised.

"Well, I don't know what I just missed, but I know what I'm late for and that's this dinner," the sheriff stated.  He bowed his head and spoke again.  "Lord, I'm thankful for this food, and a whole lot more, but you know me well enough to know that if I start naming off how happy and grateful I am to have not just one son again, but a whole family, grandson included, well… I'm going to wind up sniffling all through my meal and not enjoy it near as much as PittyPat's cooking deserves.  So, thank you for everything, Lord.  Amen."

"Amen," everyone repeated and then started eating, and if Mrs. Truesdale or Stan wiped a few tears no one paid any attention to it.

"I never had anybody hold me to help me eat before," Kaden said softly.  "I don't even 'member anybody cuddling me until I met Momma Stan and Granny."

"Yes, well once we get that back of yours all healed up, you'll be getting all the cuddles you can handle," Poppa Truesdale told the little boy.  "You didn't think Grannies are the only grandparents that cuddle, did you?"

"Really?" Kaden squeaked.  "My fath… well he didn't….  I mean he never would on account of he said that men don't cuddle, but I kinda knew it was just that he didn't want to cuddle me 'cause I didn't deserve it."

"The only thing you didn't deserve was a pitiful excuse for a father like him, son," Jude told him firmly.  "If he didn't want you as his son, he was dumber than everyone says he was, because I think you're the best son in the whole world.  I plan to prove that to you over and over and over for the rest of my life."  Kaden squirmed out of his seat on Kenny's lap and ran around the table to hug his new daddy as tight as he could manage.  Jude ruffled the boy's hair and then lifted him onto his lap.  "Kenny, I think I'll take over as Kaden's booster seat for now," he said as he reached out for the plate his son had been eating from.

"No problem, Sarge," the teen smiled as he handed the dish of food over. 

A little later, Mrs. Truesdale got up and left the table to go back in the kitchen. "Well now, are you men folks ready for dessert?" Mrs. Truesdale asked with a big smile for her grandbaby.

"Daddy, Granny called me a men folk," Kaden announced proudly.

"Well, what was I supposed to call you, darling?  You're not a puppy, are you?"

"No, Granny," the boy in question giggled.

"I think maybe he's a little kitten, like the one he's been sneaking food to under Granny's table," Stan teased. 

"Kaden, have you been feeding my roast beef to your cat?  That was all for you to eat, honey.  You need lots to eat so you'll grow up big and strong like your daddy," Granny told the boy.

"I just gived her little nibbles, Granny," the boy said shyly, looking down at his lap.  "I didn't mean to get into trouble.  I just didn't want her to feel bad cause we had such yummy food, and she just had those funny smelling crunchy things in her bowl."

"Sweetie, you're not in trouble," Jude assured him with a carefully placed hug.  "We just want you and the kitten to both eat things that are good for you."

"I was watching him, Sarge," Kenny told the man.  "He really did only give her a few small bites."

"She's still a baby; she can't have big bites yet," Kaden defended.

"Exactly right, Kaden, and that's why I know exactly what you are," the teen told him.  "You are the bravest and most tender hearted, adorable little man that I have ever met."

"I'm not brave," Kaden dismissed.

"Oh yes you are," Kenny corrected.  "When I was your age, I would have been too scared to run out into the streets after dark even to get away from bad people.  I still had a nightlight in my room until I was in fourth grade."

"That wasn't brave, though," Kaden argued.  "I was more scared to stay there than I was of the dark."

"You faced something scary because you knew you had to, right?" Poppa smiled at the little one.  When the boy nodded, he told him, "Well, that right there is what real bravery is.  Silly people think it's not being afraid of anything.  That's not really possible.  Everyone is afraid of something.  Bravery is doing something you are afraid to do because you know you have to do it whether you're afraid or not.  And Kenny here is right, my grandbaby is the bravest little man in this whole town.  Now, how about you come over here and let Poppa hold you for dessert?  None of the blackberry cobbler for the kitten, though.  That would not be good for her little tummy."

Jude passed his son over to his newly adopted dad with a happy smile, and then leaned over and hugged Stan who was sniffling and wiping tears with his napkin.  "You know, I think Kaden gets his bravery from his Momma Stan," he said as he held his husband.  "It takes a lot of bravery to come out to your parents because your boyfriend just got kicked out of his home and disowned, especially when they do the same thing to you.  It takes a lot of bravery to move with your husband to a new, small town, knowing your chances of that town accepting you as gay would be slim to none.  It takes a lot of bravery to spend every night in bed alone while your husband is working the graveyard shift in that small town."

"You work in the graveyard?" Kaden gasped.  "That's scary."

"Well, actually, I sort of did work in a graveyard once," Jude told his son.  "I was chasing down a bad guy and he ran into the graveyard thinking that he would lose me in the dark.  What really happened is that he fell into a grave that had been dug for a funeral the next day."

"Well, that's one way to catch them," Kenny laughed.  "I would have peed myself if I fell into somebody's grave."

"He did," Jude confirmed with a laugh.  "He also broke his arm and leg.  Not that I minded much, because that meant he and his pee didn't stink up or stain my patrol car.  He was the EMT's problem."

"That will be just about enough talk of such unsanitary things at my dinner table, thank you very much," Granny announced as she walked back into the room carrying the homemade blackberry cobbler in one hand and a gallon of vanilla ice cream in the other.

"OOO ice cream," Kaden squealed.  "Granny, if I get something, do I get ice cream or the stuff you made?"

"Don't you want both, little angel?" Poppa asked him. "And what do you mean if you get something? PittyPat made that cobbler special just for you today."

"I never had dessert before, until I got jello'd in the hospital. I told Mrs. Nurse Jenny cause I didn't think I was supposed to get so much food and she cried a little and left my room, then she brought me back two more jello's." He looked over at his Granny and said very seriously, "I always wanted some ice cream cause the other kids say it's super good, but I would rather have the stuff you made for me."

"The ice cream is to go on the cobbler, angel," Granny informed him.

"I get two desserts?" the little boy gasped wide eyed.

"No, you get one dessert that has two parts," Poppa explained.  "One part is a big, huge pile of your Granny's prize winning blackberry cobbler, and one part is vanilla ice cream.  The ice cream is going to melt on top of that hot cobbler and then you mix them all together and you eat them all up and it's going to make you big and strong like your Poppa and your Daddy."

"YIPPEEE!  I want to be fat like Poppa and strong like Daddy, Granny," Kaden called out. He wasn't sure why that made his Poppa sputter, his Daddy pose like a superhero, and everyone else in the room laugh.

"Well, if you want to get that big you might have to have two desserts after all, but let's start you with just one and see if you're still hungry after that," Granny smiled.  She served up his treat and had it passed down the table to him, and then she served Kenny.  "Now I have a firm rule in my house that dessert is served from youngest to oldest, but I don't know you boys' birthdays yet," she said looking from Jude to Stan.

"Stan is my June bug, Momma," Jude announced.

"And he's my July firecracker," Stan added.  "Same year."

"Well then, Stan gets the next batch, with or without?" Granny asked, indicating the ice cream.

"I shouldn't, but let's go with it," Stan smiled.  "I can do some extra calisthenics in the back yard tomorrow to work it off."

"I'll take mine without, Momma," Jude told her before she could ask.  "I have to fit into my uniform."

"Hmm, maybe somebody else ought to think of that now and then instead of claiming I shrunk his pants in the laundry," Granny announced as she playfully glared at her husband.

"Woman, I'll have you know I have the body of a god," the old man said gruffly.

"Yeah, Buddha," she retorted.  "It's all right though; just makes you more cuddly.  Here, pass this down to the god of potbellies, Stan."

"Daddy, was Granny talking about Poppa's booty?" Kaden 'whispered.'

"No, son, she meant… well, she was just teasing Poppa a little bit," Jude stammered trying not to insult either of the elders in the room.  "I'll show you some pictures of who she was talking about when we tuck you into bed tonight, and then you can decide if Poppa looks like him or not."

It wasn't long before a little boy was yawning on Poppa's lap and starting to sway onto his chest for longer and longer in between bites of his dessert.  When Stan suggested he could take the boy to bed, Kaden flatly refused.  "Gotta finish d'sert."

"If you want to go to sleep, baby, Granny will save it for you and you can have it for a snack tomorrow," the old woman assured him.

"Can't save ice cream, Granny," the boy said shaking his head slowly.  "I tried once when the man at the scrap place gave me a ice cream on a stick.  I wanted to go where nobody would take it away from me, but it melted and when I got there all I had was a stick and a messy pocket.  Mom got real mad over that, too."

"Well, don't you worry about getting dirty or sticky around here, little man," Poppa told him with a careful hug.  "Little boys and dirt get along like best friends whether they want to or not.  Ain't nothing wrong with a little dirt on a little boy.  Or a big boy for that matter, ain't that right, Kenny?"

"Yes, sir, Sheriff," the teen agreed.  "I like getting dirty so much that when I grow up, people are going to pay me to get dirty."

"Really?" the too small youngster gasped wide eyed.

"Really, really," Kenny affirmed.  "I'm going to get paid to dig in their yards and plant bushes and trees for them."

"That sounds fun," Kaden grinned.  "I used to help Mrs. Evans next door with her flowers and garden sometimes.  She taught me how to pick squishes and kookamum… kooky… raw pickles."

"You mean squash and cucumbers?" Jude asked him.

"That's it, yeah.  Squashes are funny curly yellow things that look better than they taste, and I'm not poseta say that the pickle things look like big, green poops, on account of that's rude," Kaden answered wrinkling his nose at the memory.

"Well, now I take that as a challenge," Granny announced.  "I bet you'll like the squash I fix you tomorrow, baby.  I do my yellow summer squash with zucchini."

"I'll try anything for you, Granny, I promise."  The unspoken conviction that he would hate it was written all over his face.

"I've had it before, Kade," Kenny told him.  "I swear it's good."

"You ate squishes at the zoo in a bikini with Granny?"  It was a few minutes before the laughter slowed enough to explain away Kaden's misunderstanding.  By that time, he was really ready for bed.  When he was asked who the boy wanted to tuck him into bed, Kaden got a look of distress on his face though. 

"Kaden, sweetheart, is something wrong?  Are you hurting?" Stan asked him.

"I can't pick," he said as tears began to fall.  "If I pick Momma Stan, then Daddy and Poppa and Granny won't get to, and if I pick Daddy then Momma Stan will feel bad with Granny and Poppa, and… and…"

"Hey, how about I put you to bed tonight, and then tomorrow everybody can decide what nights which one of them gets?" Kenny suggested.  "I'm a good tucker inner, too.  I got years of practice with my little sister and brother.  Besides, this is probably the only night I get to do it."

"Okay, Kenny," Kaden agreed and made grabby fingers at the teen.

"How about a piggyback ride?  That way I know I won't hurt your back," Kenny offered.

"I gotta ride a pig to bed?" the boy blinked.

"Here, let Poppa help you, little man," Poppa said as he guided the boy's arms over the shoulders of the teenager and then showed him where to wrap his legs around as well.  "Now, you hang on tight."

"I'd die before I let him get hurt," Kenny vowed seriously.

"We know, Kenny," Stan smiled.

Kenny carefully laid the little boy in the bed and got the monkey who he was officially introduced to and was told how special Kaden's very first teddy monkey was. Stan saw the emotions on the teen's face but didn't say anything yet. Another yawn later, Kaden was ready to say goodnight.

"Goodnight, Momma, goodnight, Daddy, goodnight, Kenny.  Tell Granny and Poppa goodnight for me, too.  Would it be ok if I give you guys kisses goodnight?" Kaden asked shyly.

"That will always be ok, son," Jude told him.  He leaned down and got his kiss on the cheek.  "I love you, my little angel."  He sniffled a bit at the returned promise of love.

"Momma Stan's turn," Stanley smiled and bent down to get his peck, then returned one to his son's forehead.  They exchanged I love you's as well.

"Kenny," Kaden called out.  "Don't you want your goodnight kiss?"

"Umm… well, I mean…" the teen gulped.  "You want to kiss me goodnight, too?"

"You let me sit on you so I could eat, and you piggybacked me to bed, and you tucked me in like I was a normal kid," Kaden said as if he couldn't figure out why the older boy didn't want the kiss.  "You're the first person to ever tuck me in.  Well, Nurse Jenny did, but she don't count, 'cause she had to do it every time she came in my room. So, you're my first."

"Oh, gosh, umm… well yeah, ok," the teen stammered and blushed.  He stepped closer to the bed and bent down and got kissed on the cheek.  "Thank you, Kade.  Goodnight, my brave little hero."  Back in the hallway with Kaden's door closed, the teen still had his hand on the spot where the little boy had kissed him.  "Nobody ever kissed me just because they wanted to except my Momma," he marveled.

"Remember what I said earlier, Kenny," Jude said sternly.  "My baby boy does not date until he's forty."

"I would NEVER…." Kenny protested while blushing and turning green at the same time.  "That's just, eww.  He's younger than my baby brother.  GROSS."

"You called him your brave little hero," Stan pointed out.

"Well, yeah, because he's straight up the bravest person I ever met, and you two guys are the next on that list. Even if I was interested, which I'm not, because he's practically still a baby, I would never do anything to disrespect you guys or Uncle Willy and Aunt PittyPat," the teen vowed honestly.  "He's an awesome little kid, but he's got to grow up, like a lot, before I would even think…. I mean GROSS."

"Ok, you've convinced me," Jude held his hands up in surrender and walked away.

"You convinced me, too," Stan smiled.  "But I'm still going to be watching, because I have this sneaky suspicion that you didn't convince yourself.  I don't think you would do anything with a little boy, but I think that particular little boy just touched a nerve in your brain that nothing ever has before.  I think maybe you two are always going to be close."

"I swear, Mr. Stan…."

"I told you already, you're on my good side and I don't think you would do anything until he's old enough to choose it for himself," Stan assured the teen as he rested a hand on the boy's shoulder.  "Just so you know, though; I'm pretty sure that tonight you became his hero as well.  He was shy and worried, and you put him at ease and made him laugh and feel comfortable."

"I would do that for any little kid, though," Kenny protested.

"I know that, but he doesn't," Stan pointed out.  "He felt very special in your eyes tonight, and that's something new to him.  It means a lot to him, and it means a lot to me and Jude, that you did that for him.  Now, would you like a ride home tonight?"

"It's only a block or two from here," Kenny told him.  "I think I'd like to walk it, tonight.  I just… I never knew a little kid that never had a plushie before, that never had dessert before.  That's just… just wrong.  That little angel deserves so much better than that."  He turned and walked out the front door before Stan could reply.

When Stan walked into the family room at the back of the house, he was stunned to see the gruff, macho sheriff holding Jude tightly and crying.  It surprised him even more to see that man waving for him to join the embrace.  He stepped closer and was crushed against the old man's chest as if being engulfed.

"Ain't been this emotional since our Alex….  That little young'un not ever having dessert before….  You two being kicked out of your families…. I just…. I can't…." the sheriff stammered through his tears.  He took a deep breath and spoke again more clearly.  "I want you both to know that I already love you just as much as I loved our Alex and there ain't nothing or nobody that will make me EVER feel any different.  You understand me?  You are my sons now just as much as if PittyPat and me made you.  Both of you."  He pulled away and wiped his face before hugging them once more, much more gently this time.  "You should also know that the bed in that guest room has the noisiest springs in it that I could find.  Just thought you ought to know that before you turn in.  PittyPat wanted to make sure any guests we had behaved themselves in the house.  Goodnight boys," he added as he kissed them each on the forehead and left the room.

"Everything he said and more, you hear me?" PittyPat sniffled as she took her turn hugging the stuffing out of them both.  "Especially the part about that bed," she added with a snicker.  "You two can play at home, but I want to be able to sleep and we learned this lesson from Alex and Bobby Dale when they had sleepovers."  She kissed each of them on the cheek and wandered down the hall.

That next morning, Jude and Stan were woken up by the smells of bacon, biscuits and coffee.  They got out of bed and got dressed and went to the kitchen where they found their underwear clad son, with Stonewall the monkey wrapped around his arm, happily helping his Granny make breakfast.  "I'm making biscuits with Granny!" Kaden called out proudly.

"Stanley, sweetie, be a dear and fill Willy's thermos about two thirds full of black coffee, then put in two teaspoons of sugar, and fill it the rest of the way with milk from the fridge," Granny asked.  "Jude, honey, can you set the table for us?"

"Yes, Momma," the two men replied in stereo.

"Wait, both of you come here first," she called out.  When they got close enough, she kissed them each on the cheek.  "Thank you both so much for letting me hear those words again," she told them as she wiped a tear from her eye. 

"Granny, don't let the bacon burn," Kaden called out.  "I got another tray of biscuits ready for the oven now.  See, this one is mine and it's shaped like Kit, and that one is for Daddy because it's a little badge, and that big badge one is for Poppa.  Momma Stan gets this one here."

Stanley looked at what appeared to be a banana made out of biscuit dough.  "Why is that one mine?" he asked with an odd sound to his voice.

"It's the smile that you make every time you see me," Kaden explained.

"I smile because you make me so happy, little angel," Stan murmured as he carefully hugged his son.

"My old mom just frowned when she saw me, and my father would make mean faces," the little boy informed them all.  "Mrs. Rita was the only person that ever smiled when she saw me until all of you, oh, and Janie at school, but she don't really count 'cause she's a girl.  Girls smile at all kinds of dumb stuff, and even if Janie is the only nice girl, she's still a girl."

"Well, that silly girl is coming over to see you this afternoon," Granny told him.

"Really, Janie is coming to see me?" Kaden gasped.  "I never got to have anybody from school come visit me before.  It's like she gets to be my friend for real now."

"She sure does," Stan told the boy.  "She gets to be your cousin, too, remember?"

"Granny! Momma Stan! I just remembered.  Janie can't come see me today.  You can't let her.  Please, please, please, I don't want her to come," Kaden suddenly called out.

"Kaden, son, what on earth is the matter?  Why don't you want Janie to come visit?  I thought you said she was your friend," Stan asked quickly.

"I don't got any clothes to wear, and she's a girl.  I don't even got the hospital pajama dress now.  I can't let her see me in just my undies.  I'll get cooties."

"Oh, mercy sakes, sweetheart, is that all?" Granny responded.  "You didn't think I would have my grandbaby stay with me and not have everything he needs, do you? Let's go to your room, sweetie.  The stuff I bought for you is still in packages and bags in there.  We can go through them and see what you want to take home with Daddy and Momma Stan and what you want to leave in your room here."

"I get to keep the room here?"

"Why wouldn't you, darling?  I plan on keeping you as my grandbaby forever, so that means every chance I can get, I'll have you staying here with Poppa and me.  For that to happen, you need a room here."  She pulled the boy into a careful cuddle and kissed the top of his head.  "Does this mean you want to change up your room here a little?"

"Oh, no, Granny, my room here is super perfect just like I said," the boy protested.  "I don't know who all those boys on the wall are, but most of them are cute so they can stay.  And it might hurt their feelings if I got rid of some of the boys just because I think they look silly."  He suddenly got scared and looked at his new parents nervously.

"That's our boy, Momma," Jude said proudly.  "Little man, you can have anybody you want on your walls, boys or girls, puppies or kitties, giraffes or rhinosauceruseseses."  He grinned at the little boy's giggles over his deliberate mispronunciation.   "Whatever you want to go on your walls is fine with us.  We promise.  And Momma Stan can probably tell you who all those boys are later."

"I like that," Stan scoffed.  "Like you weren't drooling over that poster of JTT just as much as I was."

"JTT?" Kaden asked.

"He is one of the boys in the pictures on your walls, sweetheart," Granny told her little angel boy.  "Now, Jude, watch the kitchen and don't let nothing burn, you hear me?"

"Umm… you want me to cook stuff?" the deputy paled.  "I can't do this, Momma.  Stan, tell her."

"Momma, Jude burns water, like he really actually burned water once," Stan stammered.

"How do you do that?" Kaden queried curiously.

"Stan, you could have said I couldn't cook without bringing that up," Jude pouted.

"Oh, now I have to hear the story," Granny grinned. 

"Me too, me too," Kaden giggled.

"Oh, go ahead, you backstabber you," Jude told Stan as he poked his tongue out at his husband.

"Fine, Jude, why don't you go to Kaden's room and get a pair of those soft flannel pajama bottoms out of the bags for your son?" Granny suggested.  

"I got pajamas to wear?" Kaden gasped.  "I don't gotta sleep in my undies or nakee?"

"Not unless you want to sleep that way, darling, but I would appreciate it if you don't leave your room naked when you're over here," Granny told the boy.  "You might be a little freer at your regular home, but Granny and Poppa are a bit old fashioned."

"You will wear at least your undies around the house at home, too, young man," Momma Stan told him quickly.  "How you sleep in your room is your business unless you have a guest sleeping over, in which case, your Daddy and I would both prefer if you keep undies and pajamas on."

"That's fine, now how did Daddy burn water?  Water is what you put fires out with, it can't burn," the boy reasoned.

"That is exactly right, my smart little boy," Stan smiled proudly.  "You can turn all the water into steam, though, until the water is completely gone and all you have is an empty dish on the stove top getting hotter and hotter while you watch Power Rangers and drool over Rhett Fisher, the actor who played the Titanium Ranger.  Your Daddy was supposed to be making oatmeal for breakfast, but he absolutely destroyed his mother's Corning Ware dish.  It actually warped the bottom so it wouldn't sit flat anymore."

"Alex melted my best plastic mixing bowl while watching Home Improvement," Granny laughed.  "He would always set his microwave popcorn in that bowl and cook it longer than the instructions said.  He said it got more kernels popped if you waited for the sounds to stop instead of following the directions.  It's a good thing we had just put a smoke detector in the house the week before.  Merciful heavens my kitchen stunk like burned popcorn and melted plastic for days. He followed directions for a week after that for sure, though, because I grounded him.  No television unless he watched what his Poppa and me were watching, and no cooking anything unless the tv was turned off.  That's also how I still remember which boy on the wall of that room is JTT, even if I don't remember his actual name."

"Jonathan Taylor Thomas," Jude and Stan both provided instantly.

"Well, I guess Alex wasn't his only boy fan," Granny laughed again. 

"He's the celebrity that got us both to realize that we were gay, even though we didn't know each other yet at the time.  We met in high school, but both of us had watched Home Improvement since junior high and dreamed of… spending time… with JTT at night," Jude related.

"That's all the details we need to hear about that," Granny told him.

"Good, because that's all the details you would ever get anyway, Momma," Jude answered with a blush.

"The boys in those pictures are nice looking, but I think I would like more pictures of kitties and maybe some puppies.  OOOO and maybe Lego Batman cause he's cool."

"We will get you all the pictures of cute, fuzzy animals you want, son," Jude smiled as he sighed in relief.

"Could I maybe have a picture of Kenny," Kaden said with a little blush. 

"I'm too young for my baby to have a crush, and so is he," Jude grumbled as he stomped down the hall to Kaden's room.  He came back with flannel pajama bottoms that had teddy bears all over them.  "You can like boys or girls or whoever you want, but only after you are old enough to not wear cartoons on your jammies, little man.  Is it a deal?"

"I can't even like Janie?  She's my best friend," the little boy questioned.

"Of course you can like your cousin Janie," Stan told him with a smile as he helped the little boy step into his pajama bottoms.  "You can have all the friends you want and like every single one of them.  Daddy just isn't ready for you to have a boyfriend or a girlfriend yet."

"EEEEEEWWWW, I don't want cooties," Kaden squealed in horror.

"That's my boy," Jude crowed proudly.  "Cooties are terrible, awful, nasty things and you can't ever get rid of them once you get them."

"Stop scaring the poor child," Granny scolded.  "Get in there and set the table, you rascal," she told Jude as she waved him out of the kitchen. 

"Kaden, one of the bandages on your back is loose," Stan pointed out.  "Let's go back to your room, and I will get the stuff to replace them all, so you don't have to worry about them today."

"Ok, Momma Stan," Kaden agreed easily.  "Don't forget the cold gloop that goes on under them."

"I won't, kiddo," Stan agreed with a smile.  A little bit later, Stan walked into the dining room to eat his breakfast.  "He fell asleep from me massaging the medicine into his back, so I thought I would just let him rest for a bit."

"Sweet baby," Granny sniffled and wiped her eyes with a napkin.  "How that child was going through what he was right here in my little town….  I could take a switch to that husband of mine.  A good sheriff wouldn't let that sort of thing happen."

"Momma, we have to have actual legal evidence before we can stop things," Jude defended.  "Give Poppa a break.  It's stopped now, and we got our little angel in the deal, so I say we let it drop and just focus on making sure the rest of his life goes a lot better than the beginning."

"Amen to that," Stan agreed.  "I can't wait to have him come running home after school and I sit down at the table with him and help with his homework and fix him snacks, reading bedtime stories, and tucking him in at night.  It's a dream come true," he sniffled and wiped his eyes.

"It sure is, and it wouldn't be happening if you hadn't talked me into interviewing for the opening in the sheriff's office of a little tiny Southern town we'd never heard of," Jude told him as he hugged his husband and kissed the top of his head lovingly.  "I thought you were crazy for wanting a gay cop and his husband to move to the Deep South and take a job."

"Too many Andy Griffith reruns, you said," Stan mumbled through his sniffles. 

"Andy Griffith, indeed," Mrs. Truesdale snorted.  "I'll have you know that we're a good piece bigger than Mayberry if the size of our sheriff department is anything to go by, and Lord knows nobody with ears wants Willy to take up the guitar and start singing.  I'll let you tell me which one of the deputies is Barney Fife, but don't think I won't be letting their wives know you said it."

"No ma'am, I am not that desperate to get pranked in the office," Jude defended.

"Now, boys, tell me what you have planned for your place," Granny told the two men in her kitchen, as she started the coffee pot.  "I hope you don't mind old fashioned coffee, boys.  I just can't justify those fancy little one cup things.  All those little plastic cups going into the landfill as compared to just coffee grounds in a paper filter.  It's irresponsible in the extreme if you ask me.  Besides, you can still do flavored coffee and creamers.  This here is my favorite, Pecan Praline coffee with Southern Butter Pecan flavored creamer.  It's like drinking one of my momma's pecan candies from when I was a child, but with coffee."

"I feel the same way, Momma," Stan smiled.  "My favorite coffee flavoring is a bottle of caramel syrup.  I can flavor coffee with it, I can top ice cream with it, or I can pour it over cinnamon rolls.  It's the best thing in the kitchen."

"Best thing in the bedroom, too," Jude whispered.

"JUDE, not in front of Momma," Stan squealed.  "What will she think of us?"

"I'll tell you what I think of you," she smirked.   "I think you're adorable getting all blushy and embarrassed when your husband flirts with you.  You cute little doll, you."  She leaned over and kissed Stan on his very red cheek.  "Lord knows the day will come when you hope and pray for flirting from your man."

"Aww, Momma, anyone can tell that Poppa loves you," Jude told her as he stepped around Stan to hug her.

"I know he loves me; it would just be nice to see and hear it a little more often is all," she told them.  "And not a word from either of you to him about it.  I'll know if you did.  I want it to come from him by his choice, not because he thinks he owes it to me."

"Our lips are sealed, Momma," Stan assured her.