Copyright © 2016-2017 Bill W. All Rights Reserved.
Those not living at home started to arrive on Friday night, in preparation for the party the following evening. Ricky was the first to show up, and he pulled into the driveway just before 6:00.
"I took a little time off from work so I'd miss the worst of the traffic on the way here," he announced as we greeted him at the door.
"It's nice to see you, but you don't seem to have anything with you," Dad remarked, since it didn't appear as if Ricky had even brought a change of clothes.
"It's in the car and I'll get it later. I didn't want to waste time lugging everything around, because I wanted to spend as much time with you as I could, along with getting to meet my newest nephew."
"Well, we can certainly take care of that. Come into the living room and make yourself comfortable. Would you like something to drink?"
"Yeah, I could use a beer."
"I'll get it," Trey offered, "so you two can chat."
"Thanks, and will one of you call Ryan to come here, so we can introduce him to Ricky."
"Do you think that's wise?" I teased, which caused Ricky to make a face.
"Just go get him."
Before long, I was returning from the family room with Ryan by my side. As we entered the living room, he looked at Ricky and then turned to ask me a question. "Is he the uncle that all my brothers said to watch out for?"
Before I could answer, Ricky snapped. "So you guys are already trying to turn him against me, even before we've had a chance to meet?"
"The other boys were just trying to protect their newest brother," I responded. "They wanted him to know what he was up against."
"That's not fair. It seems like I'm being found guilty before I've even done anything."
"Unless you count all of the things you've done to everyone else on all those other occasions," Brandon reasoned.
"But I've never done anything to him," Ricky said as he pointed toward Ryan.
"That's why the boys warned him, so he'd be prepared." I then introduced Ricky to Ryan and they shook hands.
"Don't believe everything you hear about me. I'm really a very nice guy."
"With a sneaky and mischievous streak," Dion added, which caused Ricky to flash him a dismissive stare.
Over the course of the next few hours, more of our guests began to arrive. We figured those living farthest away would show up tonight, so they'd be able to rest up before the party. This also included three of Dad's biological children and their families, but we already knew the last one wouldn't be able to get here until the following day.
As the others arrived, we offered them a drink and a bite to eat first, before we informed them which bedroom they'd be using, since Brandon and I had worked out the logistics in advance. Then, we let them unpack and freshen up, if they wished to do so, before we sat down together to visit.
The only other person who attracted more than the normal amount of attention when he arrived was Frankie. The minute Benny saw him, he went running toward Frankie and leapt in the air, right into his uncle's arms.
"Hi, Uncle Frankie. I'm glad you're here."
"Me too, sport! And it's nice to see you again."
"Ryan, this is Uncle Frankie. He's the one who found me and brought me here to live."
"Nice to meet you, Ryan. And welcome to the family."
"Thanks," Ryan said as Frankie bent down and gave him a hug while still holding Benny.
We had a really nice time chatting with those who'd shown up early, and Ryan got to meet some of the uncles he hadn't seen before. Benny knew who most of them were, although he forgot a couple of their names until we reminded him, but everyone told him it was ok, because it would take time to keep everyone straight.
Then around midnight, the last of us decided to turn in, although we left the front door unlocked in case any stragglers showed up. We weren't worried about leaving the door unlocked, since we felt someone would have to be insane to try to burglarize a house that had so many cars in the driveway, as well as on the lawn.
After we got up and fed everyone the following morning, the younger boys went to the family room to watch their Saturday morning shows and cartoons. They'd been in there for about a half hour when I heard some screaming, so I went to investigate.
"Hey, what's going on in here?"
"We found this bag that had a bunch of small bags of Cheetos in it, so we was gonna have some," Joshie began.
"We thought it'd be alright, cuz there was a note on the bag that said 'Enjoy', so we each grabbed a bag," Ryan continued.
"But when we opened them, there was other stuff inside, not Cheetos," Benny followed. "My bag was filled with fake spiders and it scared me really bad, cuz I don't like spiders." I knew this was true, because at Halloween Benny had steered clear of the tank in the basement that contained the spiders.
"And my bag had plastic bugs," Joshie added, "but they weren't as scary."
"The bag I helped Wyatt open had small rubber snakes inside," Ryan stated. "Wyatt started crying and jumped off my lap the minute he saw them." As I looked at Wyatt, he still had tears streaking down his cheeks and his chest was heaving as he continued to sob.
"Obviously, someone tampered with these bags and was playing a joke on you boys."
"Nuht uh," Benny replied. "They looked the same as they would in the store."
"Yeah, we checked the bags over and none of them had been opened before we opened them," Ryan confirmed, as he looked at me confused.
"Let me see those bags," I said, and the boys passed the small, aluminum foil containers to me.
I inspected each one carefully, as I attempted to figure out how this could have been done. As I studied the final two bags, I spotted my first clue. After checking out the last bag, I spotted another clue that provided me with the answer to this conundrum.
"It appears that someone opened the bags from the bottom, emptied the contents, and then glued them shut again."
"How'd you know that?" Ryan challenged.
"I noticed that one bag had been sealed unevenly, which could have possibly happened during production, but then I checked the other bag. I found one of the bugs that were still at the bottom of the bag after it had been emptied. When I tried to get it out, I discovered it was glued to the inside of the bag."
The boys all looked around at each other and then responded in unison. "Uncle Ricky," they all shouted.
"You're probably right about that, but we can't prove it was him for certain."
We left it like that until Ryan and Elliot came up to me later. "Tell em," Ryan urged.
"Ryan told me about the Cheetos bags, and I saw Uncle Ricky carrying that plastic bag they were in earlier, when he went out to get his things out of his car. He waited until most of you had gone to bed before he did it, but I was in the kitchen getting a drink of water when he came back inside. I know that was the same bag, because we don't have any of those stores around here," he added as he pointed to the logo on the bag in question.
"Then maybe there is enough proof, but what can we do about it?"
"Oh, we'll think of something," Elliot replied with an evil grin.
"Are you sure you'll have time to do that before he leaves?"
"Yeah, not a problem."
"By the way, when are you planning to go back to school? I thought you'd have taken off already."
"Classes are starting a week later than last year, so I'm not leaving until next Thursday. That way I'll have the entire weekend to get moved in and settled before classes start."
"Ok, that sounds good, but please don't do anything to Ricky that's going to create even bigger problems," I replied before he and Ryan turned and walked away.
Throughout the morning and early afternoon more of the family began to arrive. Graham, Sammy, and Andrew showed up just before noon, since they didn't live quite as far away as some of the others, but they told us they would also be spending the night before returning home.
Around 4:00, those living in the immediate area began to show up too, because the party was scheduled to begin at 6:00. We had told everyone we would be having another cookout first to feed this massive horde, and Pop, Trey, and Brandon had volunteered for that duty. The rest of us told them that we'd help and do whatever we could, so the burden didn't fall entirely on them. The menu was also going to be the same as the other cookouts, except this time we'd also be offering Italian sausage with peppers and onions.
When Little Ricky came through the door, Ryan greeted him nearly as enthusiastically as Benny had greeted Frankie, except he didn't try to leap into Little Ricky's arms. "Hi, Uncle Richard, I'm really glad to see you again. I'm legally part of the family now, and that never would have happened without you."
Ryan then explained to Benny how Little Ricky had brought him to live with us, much like Frankie had done for him. He also told Benny that he should call him Uncle Richard, so he wouldn't get confused with the other Uncle Ricky.
"Yeah, cuz they're nothin' alike," Benny agreed.
Over the course of the day, everyone was introduced to Ryan and had a chance to tell him a little about themselves and how they became part of the family. They also made their way around to congratulate Benny and wish Dad a Happy Birthday as well, since this was a joint party. The only one who didn't know this was Dad, but we figured he must have suspected this was the case. I mean, after what we did Tuesday night at the restaurant when we celebrated the adoption, how could he not realize we'd be doing the same thing today.
When Pop told us everything was ready, we all went to grab a plate and some silverware so we could get what we wanted. We let Dad, Ryan, and Benny go first, since this party was for them, and then everyone else lined up behind them. Those of us who still lived at the house waited and were the last ones served. We'd not only done this to be polite, but we also wanted to make sure there was enough food to go around. If we ran out, then we could always fix something else for ourselves, but there turned out to be more than enough food for everyone.
Since the chore of feeding everybody took quite awhile, those who had been served first already had time for their meals to settle. Since that was the case, Brandon and Trey went inside and each one came out carrying a rather large sheet cake. One of the cakes congratulated Benny and Ryan, while the other one wished Dad a Happy Birthday. His cake also had a large, wax '6' and '5' prominently displayed on top, but no one lit the numbers right away, because Uncle Steve wanted to say something first.
"Today we're gathered here to honor two significant events. The first is to honor the founder of the 'Castaway Hotel' on his sixty-fifth birthday. Happy Birthday, Josh!" There was a slight pause while everyone else chimed in and wished him a Happy Birthday too, and then Uncle Steve continued speaking.
"It was a little over eighteen years ago when Josh opened up his home to boys who desperately needed a safe place to live. His biological family had grown up and were living on their own by that point, and Josh had been living alone in this big, old house for some time before he took in his first two boys, Ricky and Danny. I only mention them because Danny is now carrying on the tradition and emulating Josh's terrific example, so today we are also here to welcome his two newest sons into the fold. Congratulations, Benny and Ryan."
Uncle Steve paused at this point so everyone could offer their greetings of welcome to them, and then Uncle Steve spoke again. "I know each of you will welcome Benny and Ryan as the newest members of the next generation of residents to move into the Castaway Hotel, but don't forget to wish the founder of this wonderful establishment a Happy Birthday and also thank him for all the great work he's done."
Everyone began to cheer and applaud again after Uncle Steve finished his comments, and then they began to mill around, as they did the things Uncle Steve had requested. It was definitely a time of great joy and enthusiastic revelry.
When things began to calm down, Dad suggested something next. "Danny, why don't you tell everyone your news too?"
"What news?" the others began to ask. After having several people confront me, I finally relented.
"Brandon and I have been waiting a very long time to do this, but since gay marriage is now legal, we've set our wedding date for the day after Thanksgiving. All of you are invited to join us, if you can."
"It's about time," someone shouted, as they began to come up and congratulate us too.
As the day wore on, some of the family began to consume the beer, wine, and other alcoholic beverages in greater quantities than the rest of us. They got a little loud in the process, but no one did anything to cause any problems, although a couple of them needed help getting to their bedrooms when it was time to turn in. Eventually, the house grew quiet, as everyone fell into a restful slumber.
The next morning, nearly everyone else was up and had come down for breakfast when I realized Ricky was nowhere around. I wasn't sure if he was merely sleeping off the excessive amount of beer he'd drunk the previous evening, or if he might be up to something, so I went to check on him. I eventually discovered that he was still in bed, but not in the way I'd expected. I also found his current situation very comical, so I had to make sure I shared it with others before anything changed. Therefore, I hurried downstairs and called out to a few of the others.
"Dad, Pop, Brandon, Dion, and Trey. You've got to come see this."
They all looked at me quizzically, but followed me upstairs anyway. I then opened the door to the bedroom Ricky was staying in and led them inside.
"Quit gawking and laughing and help me get out of this," he demanded, although no one was in a hurry to assist him.
"This reminds me of Gulliver and the Lilliputians," Dad observed.
He was correct, and I'm sure that same thought had flashed through everyone else's mind as well. As Ricky was sleeping under a single sheet, someone, or a small group, had managed to tie him to the bed using a ton of dental floss. The sheet had obviously prevented the floss from cutting into Ricky's skin, and whoever did this had also looped the waxy string around the area where the sheet covered his wrists too, so he couldn't use his hands to free himself.
As I stood looking down at him, I found it hard to believe how many times the dental floss had been wrapped around Ricky's body, from his shoulders down to his ankles. There had been so much floss placed over the white sheet and now bound him to the mattress that it made it appear as if his body was encased in a cocoon. I found that image slightly unsettling, because it made me wonder what type of creature this metamorphosis might cause Ricky to turn into.
"Anyone up for tickling the monster before we free him?" Trey joked.
"Don't you dare!" Ricky screamed. "I swear I'll get even with anyone who tries doing anything like that."
"Maybe we should just leave him then," Dion followed, as he turned and headed toward the door.
"Dad, you love me, so get me out of this," Ricky pleaded.
"Well, you'll definitely stay out of trouble this way," Dad quipped, leaving Ricky to wonder if he was serious.
"Come on, quit foolin' around and let me loose. I have to find out who did it so I can get even with them."
"That's a good enough reason to leave him right where he is," Pop observed.
"Yes, I definitely don't want a war breaking out and ruining this wonderful weekend," Dad agreed.
"He can't cause any trouble like this," I added, "so maybe Pop's right."
"Quit joking around and cut me loose," Ricky snapped.
"Only if you promise there will be no paybacks!" Dad stated, knowing Ricky wasn't in a position to argue or refuse.
"Ok, I promise I won't do anything to anyone before I leave today," he concurred.
"Sneaky, but he just left open the possibility that he'd do it the next time he was here," I pointed out.
"Yes, so do we want to take that chance?" Brandon followed.
"As long as he promised not to do it this time, I'm willing to let him loose," Dad stated. "We can always tie him up again if he does something else later."
We were all trying to keep from bursting out in laughter as we watched Dad free Ricky with a pair of scissors. Ricky's face was beet red, so we knew he was upset that someone had been able to do this to him, but he had himself partially to blame. I had a good idea about who might have done this, but Ricky had fired the first shot across the bow and set the ball in motion. Not only that, but if he hadn't drunk so much beer the previous evening, whoever did this might not have been able to pull it off without waking him up.
When we got downstairs, word quickly spread about the predicament Ricky had been in and the others began ribbing him about it. Since Ricky didn't particularly enjoy this sort of attention, but seeing he had promised not to seek retribution, he did his best to ignore them. However, it didn't mean everyone else stopped talking about what had happened.
"I'm pretty sure I know who did this," Brandon told me after we were away from the others.
"Do tell," I said, although I thought I knew too.
"When Elliot came to get his teeth cleaned earlier this month, my hygienist said he'd asked her for extra floss. She said he told her it was for his friends at college, and since we get it free from the supplier to give to our patients, she didn't see any harm."
"So you think she gave him enough to do that?"
"No, so he must have bought more."
Throughout the day, we said goodbye to the others and thanked them for coming before they returned home. Ricky was back to his 'old self' by the time he left, although we knew we had to be ready for him to seek retaliation on his next visit When the last of our visitors had departed, Brandon and I called all of the boys together for a little chat.
"We have a pretty good idea about who did that to Uncle Ricky, so is there anything any of you want to tell us?"
"I told you we'd take care of the problem after he played that prank on my brothers," Elliot responded with a smirk.
"He didn't actually hurt anyone, though," Brandon challenged.
"Neither did we, but his prank upset Benny and Wyatt pretty bad," Elliot added.
"Yeah, I don't like spiders and that really scared me," Benny confirmed.
"And Wyatt is afraid of snakes and he cried for a long time after he opened that bag," Joshie informed us.
"Ok, so maybe it was worse than we first thought," Brandon relented.
"Since it took so much dental floss to pull that off, you must have been planning to do this for quite a long time," I stated while staring directly at Elliot.
"Not really. I had collected that stuff to do it to one of the guys who's in my classes at college. He's always giving people shit, so I thought I could get some of the others to help me pay him back."
"So this wasn't something you planned specifically for Ricky?" I followed, slightly confused.
"No, I just happened to have all the things I needed, so I decided to do it to him as a trial run."
"Very interesting, but I know you couldn't have pulled that off by yourself," I challenged.
"No, I had some help."
"And who was this mystery accomplice?" It looked as if Elliot didn't want to answer, so someone else did it for him.
"I helped him," Noah admitted. "He'd upset my brothers, so I thought we needed to pay him back."
"It must have taken you two a really long time to tie him up like that."
"Yeah, it did," Elliot confirmed, "but we just kept passing the floss over his body and under the bed, and then we tied it off after that container was empty."
"So how long did it take you?"
"Ummm, a few hours, but it was definitely worth it," Noah said with a huge grin.
"I know you didn't get all the floss from my office, so did you buy the rest?" Brandon followed.
"I stopped at Uncle Kevin's pharmacy cuz I was gonna buy more, but when he saw me taking all the floss he asked what it was for. I told him it was for guys I knew, so he told me if I didn't mind some damaged containers that he had a box of floss that he'd give me. He said it got damaged in transit and the company had replaced it, because they couldn't sell containers like that. He said the company had told him to just get rid of the damaged stock, but he hadn't done it yet, so he gave it to me instead."
"How fortuitous," I joked.
"Yeah, because there's enough left over so I don't have to buy a whole lot more to do it to the other guy too."
"Just don't get caught, in case that boy turns out to have an even hotter temper than Ricky."
"Don't worry. He's just got a big mouth."
"I hope so, because you certainly don't need anyone else coming after you, now that Ridley and Abernathy are out of the picture."
"Ok, I'll be careful then."
Brandon and I would still worry about him, as all parents do when it comes to their children, no matter how old they are. We also shared one other constant, though, and that was the love we felt for one another. We may not have originated from the same bloodline, but we have all bonded together as a family and we loved and cared for each other deeply, and that was the one variable that would never change.