The next morning at work, I couldn’t stop myself from thinking about Tristan. I wondered how he was doing, what he was up to, and if he and Dad were getting along. When I met Brandon for lunch I discovered he’d been having a similar problem.
“We could always call Dad and ask,” Brandon suggested.
“I don’t want him to think we don’t trust him with Tristan. He’ll call if there’s a problem, but it doesn’t mean I’m less curious about how Tristan is doing.”
“I know. I am too, but I guess we’ll just have to wait until we get home then.”
“Yes, we will.”
The rest of the day didn’t seem to fly by as quickly as it usually did, but eventually it was time for us to close our offices and head home. No one greeted us when we walked through the door, but we could hear the boys in the family room. Brandon and I peeked in to see what they were up to and spotted Tristan and Benny playing a game on the PlayStation, with Joshie and Wyatt looking on. We decided not to bother them and went to find Dad instead.
“So how did things go earlier?” I asked.
“Everything was fine. Tristan and I got to know each other better and I answered a lot of questions for him. He got really excited when I told him it was nearly time for the other boys to arrive home, so it seems as if they’ve formed a fairly strong connection already.”
“I’m sure part of it is due to the fact that he slept with Joshie and Benny last night. I think Tristan was pleased when they asked him to join them.”
“Yes, he mentioned that to me as well.”
“Do you think he’ll want to do that again tonight, or do you think he’ll sleep in his own room?”
“I can only tell you this. Tristan spent some time alone in his room after lunch and even laid down on the bed for a while to see what it was like. However, he didn’t happen to mention what he was going to do later, but he appeared to be fine when he came downstairs again.”
“That’s good, so we’ll see what he wants to do after getting ready for bed.”
Brandon went to change first, before helping Trey in the kitchen, so I went to say hello to the boys. Tristan was playing against Joshie when I entered, so I waited until they finished before I spoke. “Hi, guys. How was school today?”
“It was ok, but we couldn’t wait to get home so we could spend time with Tristan,” Benny answered with Joshie nodding in agreement. It also brought a smile to Tristan’s face.
“Yeah, me too,” Wyatt agreed.
“So how was your day, Tristan?”
“It was good. Grandpa Josh was really nice and we talked a lot. He also let me do whatever I wanted, but I was happy when these guys got home.”
“I’m pleased you had a good day.” His answer also told me that he’d decided to call Dad Grandpa Josh, just like the other boys. “I just wanted to say hello, and you guys can keep doing this until we call you for dinner.”
“K,” they all said collectively, and then they returned to playing their game as I left the room.
I headed upstairs to change and wash up next, and then I came down and spoke with Brandon while he was preparing dinner. “We’ll have to do some planning later, because we’ll have a lot less time to fix dinner and eat tomorrow night before we have to get the boys ready for calling hours.”
“Yes, I know. Does this mean you have something specific in mind?”
“I was thinking maybe tomorrow we could have something for dinner that’s quick to prepare, and that way we can eat earlier. I suspect Tristan and the others are going to need as much time as possible to shower and get ready, because they’ll all be wearing suits. I also feel we should get to the funeral home well ahead of anyone else, so we can take Tristan in to see his parents without others being in the room at the time.”
“Don’t worry about dinner, because I’ll take care of that,” Trey interjected. “I’ll get Dad or Dion to help and we’ll have everything ready by the time you get home.”
“Thanks, that will be a big help,” I agreed. “Bran, since you helped Tristan unpack, does he have a suit to wear?”
“No, but Benny and Joshie each have suits they’ve outgrown, so one of those should fit him well enough. I’m not sure it will be a big deal, though, because our family may be the only ones there.”
“That’s true, because I’m not sure who else might attend. Do you know if all of the boys are planning to go with us?”
“I have a feeling Joshie and Benny will want to be there for Tristan. I’m just not sure if Ryan and Noah are planning to join us.”
“Do you think we should advise them later that we expect them to go too?”
“It would probably help Tristan if there were more people there. They might be able to console him after he views the bodies, because I feel that’s going to be pretty rough on him.”
“Yes, I’m sure it will be.”
“Dion and I are going too, and we’ll bring Joshie and Wyatt with us.”
“And I’m sure Dad and Pop will probably go as well,” Brandon added.
“Ok, we’ll check with everyone later, either before or during dinner, to see who is going. We’ll also let the boys know what they’ll need to do before then.”
Once that had been agreed to, I went to chat with Dad and Pop. “Are you two planning on going to the calling hours and funeral?”
“Of course,” Dad responded without hesitation. “One of the questions Tristan asked me earlier was what the funeral was going to be like, since he’d never been to one before. I not only explained what was going to happen at the funeral and calling hours, but I also promised that I would be there as well.”
“Thank you for doing that for us. I think Aunt Sally told him a little bit about what was going to happen then as well, but obviously he still had more questions.”
“And I’m going as well,” Pop added.
“I had a feeling you would.”
I continued chatting with them until Brandon asked me to tell the boys it was time to wash up and get ready to eat. I allowed them to finish the game they were playing first, and then they raced off in different directions as they headed to the various bathrooms.
Once we were all seated around the table and had what we wanted to eat, I addressed the boys. “Tomorrow night we’ll be taking Tristan to the calling hours for his parents, and I want to know if any of you are planning to go with us.”
“Yeah, I am,” Benny and Joshie shouted almost simultaneously while Wyatt raised his hand.
“I’m going too,” Ryan stated next.
“And obviously I’m going,” Noah chipped in. “I want to be there for my newest little brother.”
Tristan turned toward Noah after he’d said this, and for a few moments there was a puzzled look on Tristan’s face. That lasted until he spoke. “I’m your brother?”
“Of course you are. You’re living with us and we have the same dads, so that makes us brothers.”
Tristan thought about this briefly, and then he broke into a grin. “So all of you are my brothers now?”
“Benny, Ryan, and Noah are, along with Elliot, but you haven’t met him yet,” I replied. “Technically, Joshie and Wyatt are your cousins, because they have their own dads, but all the boys think of each other as brothers.”
“And they act like it too,” Dion added. “They have their share of fights and arguments, but they’re always there for one another the rest of the time, especially when they’re facing adversity and are needed the most.”
“I didn’t have no brothers before, and now I’ve got…” he paused as he counted the other boys, “five brothers.”
“Add one more for Elliot,” Brandon told him. “You’ll get to meet him when he comes home for Christmas.”
“I got six brothers now,” Tristan announced gleefully, while appearing like the cat that had just caught the canary.
“You might find it comforting having brothers at times, like last night when you slept with Benny and Joshie. There might be other times when you’ll find it overwhelming and just want to be left alone, but it all evens out,” I offered.
“Do you want to sleep with me tonight?” Wyatt asked Tristan as soon as I finished speaking.
“I was gonna sleep in my room tonight, but I can do that tomorrow and sleep with you tonight. Ok?” Wyatt’s head bobbed up and down to let him know that would be fine.
Tristan seemed to be enjoying the attention of everyone wanting to do things with him, but I was curious about how he was going to react tonight and what he was going to be like tomorrow after seeing his parents in their caskets.
As soon as we finished eating, Brandon told Tristan to follow him upstairs.
“Why?” Tristan demanded.
“You need to try on the clothes you’re going to wear tomorrow.” After saying this, Brandon turned toward the other boys. “The rest of you need to make sure your suits are in decent shape, your dress shirts are clean and ironed, and your shoes are polished, because you’ll be wearing suits as well. If anything needs to be washed or ironed, bring it down here immediately.”
“But I don’t got a suit,” Tristan protested.
“I know, so I dug out a couple of suits Benny and Joshie have outgrown, but you’ll have to try them on to see which one fits the best.”
Brandon had Tristan try on Joshie’s old suit first, but as he suspected it was a little too long in the sleeves and pant legs. He had Tristan try on Benny’s old suit next, and that one was a much better fit. He then had Tristan try on a couple of dress shirts to see which one fit best, and then he selected a tie that would go well with the suit.
“What shoes did you wear when you went to church?” Brandon asked next.
“These,” Tristan answered while pointing at the athletic shoes on his feet.
“I see, so I’ll have to ask Grandpa Josh if he’ll take you shopping tomorrow, because you’ll need a pair of dress shoes to wear with the suit.”
“Can’t I wear these?”
“No. You’ll need dress shoes when you wear a suit. You’ll also be wearing a suit when you attend church services with us at Christmas, so you’ll need the dress shoes then as well. You’ll also wear a suit for special occasions and when the family goes out to eat at a fancy restaurant.”
“Man, it sounds like I’ll be wearin’ them a lot.”
When Brandon and Tristan came downstairs after taking care of everything, Brandon gathered up the various items the boys had brought down and did a quick load of laundry. As soon as that was going, he went to speak with Dad.
“Would you mind taking Tristan shopping tomorrow? He needs a pair of dress shoes to go with the suit.”
“I’d be happy to do that.”
“Thanks. I want him to look good at the calling hours, although I’m not sure if anyone other than our family will be there.”
“I’m sure Aunt Sally will show up as well.”
“Yes, but she’s part of the family. I’m just not sure if anyone else will attend.”
“Maybe not, but we’ll all be there for Tristan.”
After the washing machine cycle ended, Brandon moved the clothes to the dryer before going to find the boys. “Ok, it’s time to head up for your showers.”
“Tristan, do you want to shower with me tonight?” Benny quickly asked.
“Sure,” he agreed. “Can I?” he followed as he glanced at Brandon and waited for confirmation.
“If that’s what you want to do.”
“Yeah, it is,” he squealed in delight.
“And you can shower with me tomorrow,” Joshie offered.
“I’d like that,” Tristan agreed, and then they all raced upstairs to get undressed.
“He seems to be fitting right in,” Pop stated as he watched the boys race up the stairs.
“Yes, he does,” I agreed before addressing Brandon, Dion, and Trey. “Look, I’ll go upstairs and check on them, and then I’ll let you know when you can come up to say goodnight.”
“Ok,” Brandon agreed.
“And I’ll give Wyatt his bath in the downstairs bathroom to hurry the process along,” Trey chimed in.
By the time I got upstairs, all three boys were in the bathroom, but they’d left the door open. Joshie was sitting on the toilet seat as he waited for Benny and Tristan to finish. When the shower curtain suddenly slid back, the other pair got out and left the water running for Joshie. When Tristan saw me standing in the hallway, his hands instinctively moved in front of his groin.
“Oh, wait. You’re gonna see me like this sometime, so I guess I’ll just do it now,” he announced as his hands dropped to his side. “I was told you’ll be giving me a phys’cal, so you’re gonna see my pee-pee then.”
“Yes, I will be giving you a physical, and it will probably happen next week. You might as well get used to the rest of the family seeing you like this, because the other boys aren’t shy and enjoy running around the house naked. We’ve seen each other without anything on many times, especially when we go swimming in the summer. I just came up to see how things were going and to check that you didn’t miss any spots.”
“No, Benny washed me and I washed him. He even let me wash his pee-pee and it was fun.”
“I’m glad you enjoyed it, but now you need to go put your pajamas on, because Wyatt will be coming up here soon.”
“To take his bath?”
“No, his poppy is giving him his bath downstairs, so he’ll be coming up to put on his pajamas and get ready for you to sleep with him.”
“Yeah, so I guess I should do that,” he agreed as he headed to his room.
Tristan had barely finished putting on his PJs when a bare-assed Wyatt came streaking up the stairs with Trey several steps behind him. “Tristan, my room is right down here,” Wyatt shouted as he pointed down the hallway.
“K, I’ll be right there.”
As soon as Tristan finished dressing and started walking over to Wyatt’s bedroom, I went down to tell Dion and Brandon that the boys were ready for them to say goodnight. We let Dion and Trey go first, and then when they left Wyatt’s room and headed toward Joshie’s bedroom, Brandon and I went in to say goodnight to the first pair. Tristan and Wyatt were already in bed.
“Goodnight, my little munchkins,” I said as I tucked them in.
“Hey, aren’t they the little people in The Wizard of Oz?” Tristan asked with his eyes open wide.
“Yes, they are, and since you two are the smallest members of this family you’ll be our munchkins.” He giggled.
“Then we’ll need big lollipops,” he teased.
“Maybe in your dreams, now go to sleep. We’ll see you in the morning. Sweet dreams,” I added as I kissed each of them on the forehead, and then Brandon did the same.
Once we left their room, we went over to do the same with Benny and Joshie, and then we headed to the third floor to say goodnight to the oldest pair. Once all of that had been taken care of, we went downstairs and Brandon took the shirts and other items out of the dryer.
“Damn, these shirts are wrinkled so I’ll have to iron them,” he groused, looking upset.
“You do half and I’ll do the other half,” I offered. “There’s no sense of you getting stuck with all of it.”
“Thanks,” he replied, suddenly looking slightly less frazzled.
Later, when we went upstairs to go to sleep, we checked in on Tristan first. We both immediately broke into a smile when we saw how they were arranged on the bed. Both boys were lying on their sides while facing each other, and Tristan had an arm draped over Wyatt’s hips, like a protective older brother.
“Oh, that’s so sweet,” Brandon said as we quietly slipped out of the room.
“Yes, and I doubt he’s ever done anything like that before,” I added as we walked down the hallway to our bedroom.
After having a quick breakfast and saying goodbye to the boys the following morning, we left for work, I found myself somewhat distracted as I went through the day, because I couldn’t stop thinking about what was going to happen later. I was consumed with thinking of ways I could make it easier for Tristan, and I was determined to figure out the types of problems we might have to deal with at the funeral home. I wanted to devise a plan to handle any situation that arose, but there were too many variables to do this completely, so I merely focused on how we should handle it if Tristan broke down.
Brandon was a couple of loaves short of being a complete basket case when I met him for lunch, so I spent the time trying to reassure him that everything was going to be fine. He wasn’t much better when we met up again later as we prepared to go home, so I chose to do the driving. He managed to calm down a little by the time we pulled into the driveway, but that was only so he wouldn’t upset Tristan.
As soon as we walked through the door, Trey informed us that dinner was ready, and Dad told us that Tristan had taken his new shoes up to his room. I went to tell the boys to wash up for dinner, and as soon as they finished we all sat down to eat.
“When you boys are done filling your bellies we want you to shower quickly and get dressed. I’ll assist anyone who needs help with his tie or anything else, and Brandon will help Tristan get dressed, since he’s never worn a suit before.”
“He’s still gonna shower with me, isn’t he?” Joshie screeched looking alarmed.
“Yes, you boys can still shower together, but Brandon will help him get dressed when you’ve finished.”
There was a great deal of activity in each of the bathrooms, and Brandon and I got ready quickly so we could help the boys. We tied all of their ties, except for Noah, and then we loaded the boys in the SUV with us. Dad and Pop rode with Dion and Trey, but we all walked into the funeral home together. We were greeted by the funeral director as we entered and I explained who we were.
“Would you like a private showing first?” he asked.
“Yes, I think that would be best,” I replied. I then turned toward the others and spoke. “Brandon and I are going to take Tristan in first, and then one of us will let you know when you can come in and join us.”
They all nodded in agreement, so Brandon and I each took a hold of one of Tristan’s hands and walked him into the viewing area. There were two caskets placed head-to-head at the far end of the room and we approached them slowly. We did this because we didn’t want to rush Tristan through the process and wanted to give him time to prepare himself as we made our way there.
I could feel Tristan’s hand start to tighten around mine the closer we got, and his body seemed to tense up as well. I’m certain Brandon had noticed the same things, because he stopped and asked Tristan a question. “Are you ready to do this?”
“Yeah, I guess, but I’m kinda nervous.”
“Do you want us to stay with you, or would you prefer going the rest of the way alone?”
“I want you to come with me,” he replied quickly in a panicked voice.
“Sure, we’ll be happy to do this with you. Do you want to see your mom or dad first?” I followed.
“My mom,” he said, and I could see his lower lip start to tremble slightly.
We walked the rest of the way with him to his mother’s casket, and then Brandon picked him up so he’d have a better view. “She looks nice,” Tristan said in a trembling voice before he began to sob. “She’s dressed up, but she looks like she’s sleeping.”
“Yes, she does,” we both agreed. “Do you want to touch her or kiss her?” Brandon followed.
“Am I s’posed to do that?” he asked between sobs.
“You don’t have to, but you can if you want. Would you like me to put you down first?”
“No! Just hold me so I can bend down and give her a kiss.”
Brandon did what he wanted and Tristan bent forward so he could kiss her on the cheek. “She feels cold,” he said as he pulled away quickly.
“Yes, it’s what happens when you die. Your heart stops beating and is no longer pumping the blood around, so your body can’t produce its own heat,” I explained, seeing it was my area of expertise.
“Do you want to stay here a little while longer, or do you want to move over and see your dad now?” Brandon asked next.
“Ummm, can I stay here a little longer before we do that?” Tristan asked, not ready to leave.
“Sure, no problem.”
We stayed there for a few more minutes before he agreed to move over to his dad’s casket. Once there, Brandon asked him another question. “Do you want to bend over and kiss him too?”
“No, he never wanted me to do that.”
“Then would you like to touch his hand instead?” I followed, giving him an alternative.
“K, I can do that.”
Brandon moved closer to the casket so Tristan could reach down and touch his dad’s hand, but Tristan pulled it back almost as quickly as it came into contact.
“He looks good too,” I said, trying to distract him from whatever had just happened that caused him to pull away so suddenly.
“Yeah, he does,” he agreed, but not as convincingly as he had with his mom.
“Did you get along well with your dad?” I asked, trying to figure out the reason for his reaction.
“I guess. I just spent more time with my mom.”
“Didn’t you all do things together?” I followed.
“Sometimes, but not very often. He mostly liked to do stuff by himself.”
Hearing his response made we wonder about my initial reaction when I’d heard about the source of the carbon monoxide. Could his dad have done that on purpose?
“Where did all the flowers come from?” Tristan asked after finally noticing the flowers surrounding the coffins.”
“I know one of the arrangements is from Danny, me, Benny, Ryan, Noah, and Elliot, and there’s a couple from you too.”
“I didn’t send no flowers.”
“We did it for you. They’re the bouquets lying on the lower half of your mom and dad’s caskets.” Tristan asked Brandon to carry him closer so he could see them better, and once he was satisfied with how they looked, Brandon spoke again.
“There’s another arrangement from Grandpa Josh and Grandpa Jake, and one more from Uncle Dion, Uncle Trey, Joshie, and Wyatt. Let’s read the cards and see who the others are from.”
While they were doing that, I went to tell the others they could come in and join us. As I was walking in with Dad, I informed him about what had happened when we took Tristan up to view his parents.
“I’m sure he’ll miss his mom, but it also sheds a little light on why he’s taken to you and Brandon so quickly. He’s obviously never had a strong father figure before, which explains why he’s reacted so favorably to your attentiveness.”
“You might be right, but I hope it’s not just a temporary connection.”
“I don’t think it is,” Dad challenged. “Tristan told me that you and Brandon hugged and kissed him goodnight, and he thought that was really special. He also liked that Brandon gave him a bath with Wyatt and said his dad would never have done anything like that.”
When the funeral director opened the room to the public, I was mildly surprised to see how many other people showed up. We learned that some of them were neighbors and others attended the same church, and there were a few more who’d worked with Tristan’s dad. There were also a handful of kids who went to school with Tristan, and they were accompanied by their parents. All of these individuals stopped to speak with Tristan briefly either before or after viewing the bodies of his parents, and each one offered his or her condolences. I’m not sure how much of this Tristan would remember later, because he appeared lost in a trance during this time.
“They’re probably the same people who sent the other floral arrangements,” Brandon mentioned to me later. “The cards said they were from the father’s place of employment and the church, as well as from individual congregants and neighbors.”
“I guess it means Tristan’s father wasn’t completely anti-social or a total asshole, because I doubt if any of his co-workers would have showed up if he was,” I observed.
“You might be right, but the comments made by those who came from the church and many of the neighbors told me they were closer to his mom,” Brandon stated. “Tristan said she didn’t work and stayed home most of the time, and he claimed everyone liked her.”
“It sounds like a case of opposites attracting.”
“Yes, it sounds like his mom and dad had totally different personalities.”
When calling hours ended, we loaded into the vehicles and returned home. As soon as we got inside, I told the boys what they were to do next. “Go up to your rooms, take your suits off, and put everything on hangers because you’ll need to wear them again tomorrow. As soon as you’ve done that, then get ready for bed.”
“Do we have to go to sleep already?” Benny whined.
“No, just put on your PJs and then you’ll have an hour to do whatever you want before you have to go to bed.”
“K,” he said as they all turned and headed upstairs. A short time later they were coming downstairs again, and while the other boys went directly to the family room, Tristan came into the dining room to find us.
“Can I stay out here with you guys?” he asked as his eyes silently pleaded with us.
“Of course,” Brandon said first, while holding his arms out in a welcoming fashion.
Tristan took that as an invitation and quickly moved in his direction. As soon as Tristan was in reach, Brandon wrapped his arms around him and gave him a big hug before lifting him onto his lap. “It was a rough day, wasn’t it?”
“Yeah, it was,” Tristan agreed without elaboration.
“Do you know where you’re going to sleep tonight?”
“Not yet,” he answered, while glancing up at Brandon’s face.
“Then how would you like to sleep with me and Danny?”
Tristan thought for a second before he answered. “Yeah, I’d like that a lot.”