Dan answered his phone.
"Dan, this is John. Is someone there with you?" The voice on the other end sounded concerned.
"Yes John; I'm at Teri Short's with the boys. Why, what's happening?"
"I stopped by the house to see how you guys were doing; and when I went inside, I found Sharon passed out on the floor. We are on our way to Mercy Hospital right now, Life Flight just left with her. Do you think Teri would mind watching the boys so you can get down here?"
Dan's face slowly turned ghost white as John was speaking. Dan put his hand over the microphone on the cell, and then turned towards Teri. "Teri, could you please watch the boys for a little while? I need to run to Mercy right away."
Teri saw the terror in Dan's eyes, and immediately responded. "Sure, Dan. Take as long as you need."
"She said yes, John, so I'll be right down there."
"OK, but be careful driving; those boys need you. Bye." John hung up before Dan could ask him any questions.
"What's happened Dad?" said JJ in a small, panicked voice.
"Sheriff John stopped by the house to see how we were doing, and found your mom lying on the floor." Dan answered in a low voice, "They are on the way to Mercy hospital right now, and I am going to meet them there. I want you two to stay here with Teri until I know more. I promise to let you know as soon as I know something."
"But ... " Kyle and JJ started simultaneously.
Dan held up his hand and stopped them. "No arguments boys, I need to get going."
With that, Dan grabbed his coat, gave Teri a hug and whispered in her ear, "Thank you, she was taken out on Life Flight.", and then he hurried out the door.
It was times like this when Dan appreciated the Iowa road system. Once he got off of 86th street onto I-80, he was easily able to do 80 without being a hazard; in fact he was passed a couple of times. "Not bad for a 65 zone." Dan thought. Once he hit the west mixer, (the local name for the west junctions of I80, I35, and I235), he dropped to 70 for the trip down I-235, even though the speed limit was 55. Within fifteen minutes he was at the 6th Ave exit, then three minutes later he was handing his keys to the valet and running toward the emergency room. As he went through the revolving door; he found John, along with one of the deputies from the other night, waiting for him.
As Dan headed out the door, Teri looked over at the boys. She saw the worry about Sharon in Kyle and JJ's faces, and her own boy's faces reflected the worry for their friends. Teri opened her arms, and immediately had JJ and Kyle on each side. Sean and Cory came up behind them and joined in the hug, wrapping the two younger boys in a circle of support.
At first, Teri said nothing, but then she felt a familiar chill, and she knew Mike was with them again. It was immediately followed by another; not familiar like Mike, but she felt the care and concern. Just then, she had a premonition, and realized what needed to be said. "Kyle, JJ, could you please listen to me, it will only take a second?" The boys raised their faces to look at her, and as she looked them in the eyes, she said; "I want you to know that if anything happens to your mom, I will be here for both of you, for as long as I live."
Cory gasped, and a fresh tear ran from his left eye. As more tears began to fall, Sean pulled him up close, tight to his shoulder. Feeling Sean's support, Cory began to slowly speak quietly. "When I was little, my mommy went to the hospital. I was scared, and Teri was holding me, just like she is holding you now."
Teri looked into Cory's eyes, and a lump rose in her throat with what she saw. Looking back at her was the scared little boy that she had held so long ago, a little boy who put his absolute trust in her when he found out his mother was sick. Even before Mike's accident, this was one subject that was taboo around Cory, a wound that had never healed.
Cory continued. "When I found out that my mommy was sick, Teri said the exact same thing to me. She has kept her promise, and now I am proud to call her Mom. It hurts in my heart, I know I just remembered her saying it, and it reminded me of my mommy when she said it to you, but it feels like I had forgotten her being sick, even before Mikey's accident." His face slowly retuned to normal, and then he spoke again. "Mom, I need to thank you for giving me a family back."
Teri leaned over the top of Kyle's head, and then kissed Cory on his forehead. She then managed to choke out "You're welcome, son."
After a few more minutes of hugs, they broke apart. Teri headed to the kitchen for a much-needed drink, while the boys headed toward the love seat. When Teri returned, she found Sean holding Cory, with JJ leaning against both of them, holding Kyle. The emotional roller coaster had been too much for them, and all were fast asleep. She retrieved a blanket to put over them, praying that her premonition was wrong, for their sake, and then took a seat in the chair to wait.
Three hours later, Teri woke up to the sound of the front door opening. She immediately shook off the sleep, and hurried to the foyer when she saw John helping Dan through the door. She guided them to the kitchen, and helped John seat Dan at the table.
Teri pulled John off to the side. "Is she that bad?"
A tear ran down John's face. "Sharon had a brain aneurysm, she was pronounced dead on arrival, there was nothing the doctors could do for her."
Teri gave John a hug of consolation, then went back to Dan. As she put her arm over his shoulder, she spoke softly to him. "Dan, I'm sorry, I want you and the boys to stay here, and I'll do whatever I can to help you. You gave me my son back, so the least I can do is to be here for you now."
Dan looked up, with obvious gratitude behind the sorrow etched upon his face. "Thank you Teri, right now I'm so lost, I don't know what to do." He then broke down into quiet sobs. Once he had regained some control, Teri gave him a concerned look.
"The boys need to be told as soon as possible, can you do it, or would you rather have either John or I do it?"
Dan seemed to draw on an untapped reservoir of strength when she said that. "I can do it; I need to be the one who does it."
"Alright, I will go get them, but wait until all four boys are in here and settled. I think my two are going to be the support that your boys will need. I learned the hard way what happens if you let them try to handle something like this on their own."
Teri went in and awakened the boys, sending Kyle and JJ to the bathroom before they went into the kitchen. As Sean and Cory got up, she pulled them close and spoke softly to them. "Guys, Kyle and JJ are going to need your help. Their mom has passed away, and I think you guys can help them more than anyone. I want you to promise me something. If either one of you even starts to have a problem, or you are not sure what to do, let me know right away. I don't want to see you lose everything you have gained back, Cory. And you, Sean, keep an eye on Cory too. When this is all over; I want all four of you to make it through; without anything even close to what Cory went through happening. Do you guys think you can handle it?"
Both boys gave Teri a hug, and she heard them both answer "Yes, Mom."
They went into the dining room, and Teri pulled out four chairs into an open area of the room. Just as Cory and Sean sat down in the two center chairs, JJ and Kyle came into the room. Cory waved Kyle over to sit in his lap, and, to Teri's surprise, Sean motioned JJ to come sit on his. Teri sat next to Cory and Kyle, and John took the seat next to Sean and JJ. Dan came over and knelt in front of the chairs the boys were sitting in.
"JJ, Kyle, your mommy had a brain aneurysm. What that means is that a blood vessel broke inside her head. There was no way to tell it was going to happen, there are no warning signs." Dan paused, seeing Sean and Cory pull both their charges tight against them. "Your mommy passed away before she even got to the hospital. The doctors said that she did not feel much pain, and that she passed quickly." Dan reached up, and JJ and Kyle fell into his arms. Right behind them, Cory and Sean joined the hug, expressing their sympathy and support without words.
"Does this mean I have to go back to that place?" whimpered Kyle.
"No, baby, you do not have to go back." Dan replied.
"If anyone tries to make you go back, they have to go through me first!" Teri stated, her resolve evident in her tone. "You have a father now, and I will not let you lose that."
That must have been the right thing to say, because Kyle relaxed and cuddled in closer to Dan. It took a half hour for everyone to get their emotions back under control. Teri then went to the kitchen and brought out some sliced ham, bread, and condiments. She knew if she had asked, nobody, or at least no adult, would admit to needing to eat. With the food in front of them, she hoped that they all would at least try to eat something.
The boys didn't disappoint her; as soon as they saw food they were at the table, plates in hand. "Nice to know they still think with their stomachs." Teri thought wryly.
"Dan, John; get over here and grab a sandwich, before these monsters eat it all!" Teri called out. When Dan shook his head, Teri walked over to him. "I told you I would help however I could; that includes making sure that you eat something. You of all people should know that not eating when you are depressed worsens the depression. Now EAT!"
After they ate, Teri took Sean and Cory aside. "Guys, I'm going to have Dan and the boys stay here at least tonight. Would you mind Dan using your room Sean, and then the boys can camp with you two? I'm hoping I can get John to stay with Dan, in case he has any problems overnight." She was proud when they both agreed without hesitation. Once Dan was convinced that he was not kicking Sean out of his room, he agreed that it would be better to try to rest there instead of on the couch.
Teri then went up to John. "John, I hate to ask this of you, but is there anyway possible you could stay here with Dan tonight? I really think that he will need a friend close by before the morning comes."
"I agree. If I could use your phone, I'll call the station so they know where to find me, I'm a bachelor, so not going home is not a big deal."
As she showed John to the phone, Teri looked in on the boys. They had migrated to the living room, and were holding a quiet discussion, punctuated with copious amounts of hugging. It was obvious that Sean was paying attention to JJ and Cory the most, both of which were paying close attention to Kyle. It appeared as if Sean and Cory were succeeding in comforting the other two boys; and surprisingly Cory looked to be holding up well, so far.
Fifteen minutes later, Teri showed Dan and John to Sean's room, while Cory and Sean took the boys to Cory's room. As the boys entered the room, Kyle exclaimed, "WOW, look at the size of that bed - COOL!"
Kyle's reaction at seeing the queen-sized bed that was in Cory's room, (Actually, there was a matching one in Sean's room too), broke the somber mood some, and caused the older boys to begin giggling under their breath. JJ was the first to regain control, "Kyle, put your eyes back in your head and hit the bathroom, you're first."
As Kyle headed into the bathroom, Sean explained to JJ: "Mom got queen size beds for both of us when we were kids, we would always end up sleeping in either my room or Cory's room. As a matter of fact, we still do. I don't know about Cory, but I have trouble sleeping without someone next to me. Last night, knowing that Cory was back home for good, I slept well for the first time in a year."
Cory started to give Sean the evil eye when he stated that they still slept together, but he was unable to restrain himself once Sean finished speaking. Cory pulled Sean into a tight hug, and quietly whispered in his ear; "I promise you will never sleep alone again. I love you, Sean."
Just before Cory pulled away, Sean said "It looks like tonight is a boxers night, too much of an audience for nude." Just then Kyle walked back into the room, and the worried expression on his face immediately caught Cory's attention. "Sean, why don't you hit the bathroom with JJ; I think Kyle and I need to talk alone for a minute" Cory said, loud enough that JJ could hear him too. JJ looked over at Kyle, then returned his gaze to Cory and nodded his head, giving a slight smile showing he understood.
"Let us know when you are done, so we can come back out," said Sean.
Once the other two were out of the room, Cory sat on the bed and patted his leg for Kyle to sit on his lap. "What's the matter, buddy? You wanna tell me about it?"
"Do you have a sleeping bag I can use to sleep on the floor?" Kyle whispered.
"Why do you want to do that, the bed is big enough for all of us?"
"It's such a nice bed ... umm ... and, all of you will be sleeping there and ... well ... "
"Kyle," Cory interrupted "are you worried about someone getting mad if you have an accident tonight?"
"Yeah ... " Kyle muttered, hanging his head.
Cory put a finger under Kyle's chin, and then lifted Kyle's face up and kissed the tip of his little nose. "Don't worry little buddy, it wouldn't be the first time that bed has had a wet spot on it in the morning. Does JJ know you have problems sometimes?"
"Yeah, but what about Sean? Won't he get mad at me?"
"Would it make you feel better if I talked to him? I'll tell you what; if he has a problem, I will make HIM sleep on the floor! Remember, this is my room!"
Kyle giggled at that thought. "Okay, you can tell him. Thanks Cory."
Cory lifted Kyle down, and then went over to the bathroom door and knocked. JJ came out first, but as Sean came out, Cory grabbed him and pulled him back into the bathroom. At the quizzical look from JJ, Cory replied; "Didn't you know? He's my slave; I need him to hold it for me!" Cory laughed and closed the door once he saw the shocked look on JJ's face.
Sean could barely contain his laughter. "I'm gonna kill you, what do you mean SLAVE!"
Cory giggled. "You are a slave to my love, silly. Now, seriously, I need to talk for a second."
"Okay, what has that one lonely brain cell in that blond head of yours thought up now?"
"HEY! No kisses tonight if you are going to talk like that!" Cory giggled. "But, the reason I pulled you back in here is to warn you; Kyle has a problem with peeing the bed sometimes. He is worried that you will get mad if he has an accident tonight, and wanted to sleep on the floor. I think he needs to cuddle, considering all that has happened today, and told him I would make sure you knew, so you would not get mad or make fun of him."
Sean got serious. "Wow, poor little guy. Thanks bro, I think you are right. Don't worry; I will be just fine about it if he has an accident."
"I knew I loved something about you besides that cute face" Cory replied, then pulled Sean into a passionate lip lock.
As he paused to catch his breath, Sean replied, "Yeah and you are pretty smart, for a blond." Then he pulled Cory back to him to resume the kiss.
When they finally separated, Cory giggled. "Okay, get on out there so I can take a leak without you attacking me. If we stay in here much longer together we will be busted."
Sean smiled, and then left the bathroom. A couple of minutes later, Cory followed, and found the other three sitting on the edge of the bed, waiting for him. "Come on guys, let's hit the sack." Cory then proceeded to strip down to his boxers.
After cleaning out his pockets, and then tossing his and Cory's clothes down the laundry chute, Sean turned around. He was surprised to see that Kyle was standing there nervously, still wearing his jeans. "Don't worry Kyle, we are all boys. Besides, if you have a problem tonight, you won't have anything to wear tomorrow."
Kyle blushed. "I ... umm ... don't have on underwear. I get all red and itchy if I wear any."
"What do you usually wear to bed?" Sean asked softly.
Sean got on his knee in front of Kyle. "Would you be more comfortable if we all slept with nothing on? Usually Cory and I do, but we thought it would make you feel weird if we did that with you here."
A small smile graced Kyle's face. "Would you really do that for me? Yeah, it would make me feel lots better."
Sean gave him a quick hug. "Yes, you are a part of our family now; our mom decided that earlier today, when she said she would watch out for you."
Sean stood up, backed away from Kyle a few feet, and then dropped his boxers to the floor. He then looked around and saw that JJ and Cory had followed suit, both of them were also nude. He couldn't resist checking out JJ's hairless body, and appreciated the show JJ was unknowingly giving him.
Sean pulled his gaze from JJ before it became too obvious that the scenery interested him, and looked to see how Kyle was doing. Kyle was not at the bed, so he looked around, and found him putting his jeans over the back of the desk chair. Looking at Kyle from the back, Sean was amazed at how tiny he looked, the little butt cheeks, with just a tiny bubble, and cute little dimples on the sides. When Kyle turned around, Sean was almost in shock; there was not an ounce of fat on him! Even though he did not look starved, Sean could still see each of his ribs. Kyle's hip bones were obvious, and as Sean looked closer he felt a jolt of sorrow for the boy in front of him; instead of two little lumps in the sack between his legs, there was only one, on the right side.
"Come here, angel, let's hit the sack" said Sean, motioning to Kyle.
As he headed towards the bed with Kyle snuggled under his arm, Sean thought to himself 'I swear, I'm going to protect this little angel from anybody hurting him from now on.'
JJ was already in bed, and once Sean and Kyle were there, Cory shut off the light and then joined them. It took a couple of minutes to sort out who was going to sleep where, then after a flurry of "Good Nights" and hugs everyone drifted off.
About fifteen minutes later, Teri looked in to make sure the boys were all okay. She smiled when she saw the arrangement. Cory was lying with Sean cuddled up to his right side and Kyle cuddled up to his left. Sean's right hand was just below Kyle's armpit on the side of his ribcage. JJ was cuddled up to Kyle's back, with his left arm draped over Kyle and Sean. The sheet was being held in place by Sean's forearm, and all the boys were snoring softly.