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Viral Times

by Rob Warr

Chapter 2

Dan woke early, which was very unlike him. Usually he wallowed in bed till at least 10am, then got up and ate a late breakfast before going about his dull and routine day. But with the boys now occupying the room down the hall, and his thoughts, he was up and humming by 7am.

The first thing he did was wash and dry the boys' clothes, including their worn tennis shoes. He tossed their socks however, and exchange them for some of his own, which he figured would fit them close enough till they could purchase more.

Once the clothes were out of the dryer, he placed the shoes in a laundry bag and tied it tight, threw them in the dryer, then went in to start breakfast. It was just after eight when he started the bacon frying, and not long after two hungry boys appeared, sniffing like two hound dogs as the scent led them to the source.

"Good morning guys. Did you sleep okay?"

"Yeah, great," Jace said smiling, "it was nice to sleep in a real bed for a change."

Dan winced at those words. What must it have been like before for the two? Sleeping in a park or some other place where they had to be on constant guard against someone trying to molest them or take what little they had?

"Yeah, I slept like a log," Cody said, stretching his lithe body as Dan studied the boy's face. He looked much better today, more relaxed and rested, and Dan hoped that he was through giving him shit and ready to try to make things work.

"I hope you're hungry," Dan said smiling, "there's bacon, hash browns, omelets, biscuits and jelly, and milk or juice to drink."

"Yummy," Jace said, "can we help, Dan?"

"Sure buddy, why don't you set the table and pour the drinks while I finish up here?"

The boys seemed happy to do their part, and Dan decided this was going to be a very good arrangement once they got the kinks worked out of it. Jace had been on board at the get go, but Cody had been reluctant to let go of what little control he had until he and Dan had finally come to an agreement late last night. He hoped Cody would keep his end of the bargain, but if not, there was always hope for the future. There was no danger of either boy going anywhere now that they'd seen how good it could be living here away from the stress and danger of the city.

As they sat down to breakfast, Dan outlined the day's activities and the boys listened with enthusiasm and nods as they snarfed down their food. "After we've finished cleaning up we'll head to town. I washed your clothes this morning and your shoes are in the dryer. I'll replace all your clothes once we get to town, and then we can toss the old ones. I have an incinerator out back. It's not technically legal, but let's face it, the cops have better things to worry about."

"What stores are we going to?" Jace asked, wiping a little bacon grease off his cute face.

"Well, I think we'll go to Walmart. We can get everything we need there, and hopefully expose ourselves to as few people as possible. Their clothes are good enough for everyday wear. I'm not that crazy about their shoe selection, but I'll order you some better ones online. Oh, and we can probably find a bike for Jace there too."

"Really, you mean it?" Jace said excitedly.

"Yeah, I wouldn't want you to be left out when Cody and I go biking," Dan chuckled, "you're fast, but I don't think you could keep up with us on foot."

"Cool," Jace said, "hear that Cody? I'm getting my own bike. Remember that bike mom and dad bought me when I was in second grade?"

"Yeah, it had training wheels," Cody laughed, "and you kept begging dad to take them off. Then when he did you wrecked first thing."

"Yeah, but I finally learned to ride it without them. Even if I did get a few scrapes."

"We'll be wearing helmets, knee and elbow pads," Dan assured them, so hopefully we can keep the boo boos down to a minimum."

"Are you sure you want to spend all that money on us?" Cody said frowning.

"Why not, it's your money now too."

"Huh, what do you mean?"

"We're a team now, right? What's mine is yours."

"But isn't that supposed to work both ways? We got nothing to give back?" Cody said suspiciously.

"Yeah, you do. You have a lot to give back. You can help around the place and do your part. It will make it easier for me in my old age," he chuckled, "and you can keep me company on those long winter nights."

Cody had some nasty comebacks for that, but again he managed to check his tongue and tried to accept Dan's words at face value.

"I just hope you don't get tired of us," Cody said, addressing only one of his many issues.

"How could I get tired of you?" Dan asked with dismay, "Now that I've met you and spent time with you, there's no way I'd want to just toss you away. I'm growing very fond of both of you, and we've only been together one day. Imagine how close we'll become after a week, a month, a year?"

Cody still had some doubts, but he wasn't about to rock the boat and risk upsetting Jace or Dan by verbalizing them. He'd just take a wait and see attitude, and hope for the best.

"Okay guys, I'll clean up in here, you go grab your clothes from the mudroom, and your shoes out of the dryer and get dressed, then meet me back down here."

The boys reappeared just as Dan was starting the dishwasher, and he turned to give them a looking over. Their clothes had held up to one last washing, but one was enough since they'd be replacing them as soon as they got to Walmart.

Both boys had brushed their hair, and Jace's long blond tresses crowned his cute face as he smiled up at Dan, "All ready Dan. I'm so excited," he said bouncing from one foot to the other.

"Well, you guys look good. Let's get this show on the road," Dan said leading them down the hall toward the mud room and then into the garage.

"Can we take the Mustang?" Cody asked, looking the shiny convertible over.

"Not this time, we need room for Jace's bike so we'll take the Jeep, can drive back, how's that sound?"

"Really? Awesome," Cody said, forgetting all his doubts and feeling good about things for a change.

"Cool," Jace said, glad his brother was finally showing some enthusiasm, "when do I get to drive?"

"Hmmm...I tell you what, when you're tall enough to reach the pedals I'll take you out on some country roads and let you practice, how does that sound?"

"Really cool. Hear that Cody? All I gotta' do is get taller."

Dan chuckled, "You're probably just entering into that time of your life when a boy starts going through changes and growing in all sorts of places."

"Yeah, like my wiener," Jace giggled, "and I'll get hair and stuff."

"Yep, and grow taller and fill out some. We'll make sure you get lots of exercise and good food, and that will help move things along."

Cody had been listening to Dan's choice of words carefully, and he had to admit, he didn't sound creepy or pervy, he sounded more like a teacher, or a doctor, or...did he dare think it? a dad. Would it be so bad if Dan became their dad? He wondered. They'd be safe and well cared for here, and despite his initial feelings of mistrust and displacement, he had to admit he liked Dan and sort of looked up to him. He decided right there and then that he was going to do everything in his power to make Dan like him and let them hang around. He knew Dan already liked Jace and that wasn't a problem, but they were a team, and Dan had to take both of them or neither.

The drive into town didn't take long. Fortunately, the Walmart was located on that end of town, and actually a mile or so outside the city limits. It was busy, but not packed as Dan pulled into a space close to the front and parked the Jeep.

"Okay guys, a couple of rules before we go in. First: stay as far as you can away from other people. Trust no one when it comes to your health, and second: don't touch any surfaces you can avoid touching. And until you've had a chance to wash your hands, don't touch your face or mouth. Got it?"

"Yeah, we know," Cody said, then added quickly, "But thanks for reminding us. We want to stay healthy and keep you healthy too."

"Cool, okay...let's roll then."

Their first stop was the boys department where they found jeans, shorts, tees, and pullovers for Jace, as well as socks and underwear. Dan added a light jacket and a hoodie as well, even though he knew the boy would grow some before it turned cold again.

Next, they moved to the men's department where they found the same assortment of clothing for Cody. Though 15, he wore men's size small in most things, and they were lucky enough to find some 28 inch waist pants for him as well. Once Dan had both boys outfitted with clothes, he led them to the shoe department where he had them try on some athletic shoes till they found a pair they liked, then added a pair of boots for each boy, buying them a size larger so they could wear them come winter as well.

"I'll order you some better tennis shoes online and have them delivered, but these will do just fine for now."

"We never really had any expensive stuff before anyway," Cody offered, "these are fine."

Dan ignored the boy and instead directed them to the toy department where they checked out the bikes. They spent about a half hour letting Jace try out a few bikes he liked, but he finally settled on a bright blue 15 speed bike with fat tires.

"Good choice buddy. We can adjust the seat to fit you now, and as you grow we can raise it and you can ride it for a long time."

They flagged down an employee who took the bike to the front and they proceeded to pick out helmets and pads for the two boys, as well as a water bottle and holder for Jace's bike. Dan's bike and the spare one already had a water bottle and holder and were ready to go.

The cart was almost full by the time they left the toy department, and Dan sent Cody up front to grab another cart so they could do some grocery shopping while they were there. There was plenty of food for all of them back home, but Dan decided that he'd buy some fresh meat, fruit and vegetables, and an assortment of junk food for them to enjoy.

They'd been in the store over an hour by the time Dan finally finished up in the grocery section, and as they headed to the checkouts Cody looked at the overflowing carts and drew in a breath.

"That's a lot of stuff, you sure you can afford all this?"

Dan laughed, "It's only money. I'd rather spend it on you two than let it rot in some bank."

"Okay, but you didn't have to buy so much..."

"Oh, I'm not done yet," Dan laughed, "You guys deserve to be spoiled for a change."

It took a good fifteen minutes to get through checkouts, and Cody and Dan pushed the baskets out while Jace pushed his bike. They loaded the bike up on the roof rack, being careful to tie it down securely, then loaded the groceries and other items into the back before Dan handed the keys to Cody.

"Do you remember how to get back?"

"Sure, just turn right onto the highway and it's straight ahead, right?"

"Yep, just checking," Dan chuckled, as he buckled up next to the smiling boy.

"Don't wreck us Cody," Jace teased from behind them.

"I won't. I'm a good driver," Cody assured him.

"I know, I trust you Cody."

The trip home was without incident, however Dan had to remind Cody to drive a little faster since he seemed reluctant to get over 50 mph at first. Once he was sure Dan approved of his driving and his speed, he kept the vehicle at a steady 65 till just before the turn off. Slowing down, then checking his mirrors for any traffic behind, he actuated the left turn signal and slowed to stop before finally turning into the paved road leading to the house.

"Excellent job buddy. Your grandpa taught you very well," Dan said sincerely, "Looks like I have my own private chauffeur from now on," he chuckled.

"Sure, anytime you want me to drive, that's cool," the teen said grinning. If nothing else, Dan's confidence and trust in him concerning his driving was quickly winning the boy over. He decided this was sort of like how a father and son might interact, and it gave him a warm feeling inside.

How about you back the Jeep into the garage, you up to that?"

"Sure, no problem," Cody said, turning the Jeep around in the wide drive and shifting into reverse, "Oh, cool...a backup camera. Show me how that works."

Dan smiled at the boy and proceeded to explain how to use the lines on the screen to assist while backing up. "You should still be looking over your shoulder occasionally, but the camera is pretty helpful."

Cody did an excellent job of parking the Jeep, and Dan was quick to heap praise on him. Cody was beaming as he climbed out, and this time he didn't give Dan any grief when he insisted they needed to shower and toss their old clothes. Dan let them pick out a new set of clothes to wear after their shower, then enlisted their help in unloading the supplies. Once the groceries were put away, Dan began washing the rest of the boys' new clothes, starting with the jeans and shorts.

While the washer was running, Dan removed the bike from the top of the Jeep and suggested Jace try it out on the paved road leading to the gate.

"You want to go with him Cody?" Dan asked, "the other bikes are over here, the red one is mine, but the green one should be just about right for you."

After some minor adjustments of the seat and handlebars, Cody was all set, and Dan watched as the two rode off, a huge smile on his face. This was nothing like anything he'd ever dreamed of or even imagined, but somehow it all seemed so natural, so perfect, wonderful. Was this what having a family was like? Was this what he'd been missing all his life, and didn't even know it?

He busied himself moving the boy's new clothes to the dryer, then started a load of underwear, socks, and tees. In the kitchen he put away the rest of the groceries and planned the evening meal. It was still early and the boys would need lunch soon, so he pulled out the hamburger meat he'd bought the day before and made patties out of it.

There were frozen French fries in the freezer and he turned on the oven so he could cook them later. He sliced up the veggies for the burgers, then stored them in the refrigerator and checked the cabinet for the hamburger buns he'd bought along with the hamburger on his trip to the grocery store. That trip, he smiled, had been the start of all this, and now his life had changed dramatically, but for the good this time.

He found himself whistling as he went about his tasks, and for the first time in a long time, he was actually looking forward to life.

"Dan, can you come look at Jace's bike? I think the chain slipped off or something," Cody said appearing from the hallway.

"Sure, be right there," Dan said smiling, it sure was nice to be needed.

After a hearty meal of cheeseburgers and fries, washed down by soda for a change, the three unlikely companions decided to take a dip in the pool. While they were way too full to do much more than paddle about at first, soon the boys were swimming about and eventually pulled Dan into their fun.

Jace kept swimming up to Dan and hanging onto him, but for once Cody didn't act jealous or give Dan the evil eye. He was starting to accept and enjoy what Dan offered, and the stress he had felt upon their arrival was quickly evaporating.

Dan eventually climbed out to sun, and soon he dozed off to the sound of the two feisty boys frolicking in the pool. He awoke to the feel of something tickling his nose and opened his eyes to see a grinning Jace with a blade of grass in his little paw.

"Hi," Dan said, "are you the grass gnome?" he teased.

"No silly, is there really such a thing? he added, sounding interested.

"Who knows. There are lots of strange and wondrous things in the world that most of us have never seen."

"Cody went inside. I got lonely," Jace explained.

Dan wondered what Cody was up to, then smiled, having once been a teenage boy himself, and a slave to his libido, he had a pretty good idea what he was doing. He wondered if eventually it wouldn't be better for him and Jace to have separate bedrooms, but it was too soon for anything that radical at the moment. Maybe after they'd been around a while and were more comfortable with things.

"He's probably jerking off," Jace giggled, "he does it a lot."

"And you don't?" Dan teased.

"Well, not as much as Cody, but yeah...I do it too. Is that all right?"

"Yes, it's perfectly natural and normal, and actually healthy. It's good exercise," Dan teased, "and it helps to relax you and makes it easier to get on with life."

"Yeah, it usually makes me go right to sleep," the boy said, then blushed as he realized he had revealed more than he'd planned.

"Yeah, I know," Dan chuckled, letting the boy off the hook, "I find a good wank always helps me sleep."

"You mean you do it too?" Jace asked in wonder, forgetting his slip of the tongue.

"Well, I said, it's natural and normal, and healthy."

"I just never thought of grownups doing that."

"Most men do it, and some women," Dan assured him, "even the ones who are married or have partners."

"Even if they do sex with their partners, or wives, or whatever?"

"Yeah, sometimes it just feels better to do it yourself, and sometimes their partners may not be in the mood, or not available."

"Oh, okay. Thanks for talking to me about this stuff and not treating me like a little kid."

"You're not a little kid, that's for sure. You're a smart young man just trying to learn about life, and I promise you I will always treat you as an equal when we talk. can always come to me and ask me anything, and I promise I will never get mad, and I will help you in any way I can."

"Thanks," Jace said. He appeared to be about to say something else when Cody came strolling out the door looking relaxed but flushed. Turning to his brother, Jace giggled, "Was it a good one?"

"What?" Cody asked blushing, and pretending ignorance.

"You know," Jace said, making the universal jacking motion with his hand.

"You little jerk," Cody said, tackling his brother and tickling him unmercifully, "That's none of your business, right Dan?"

"Only our business if you care to share," Dan chuckled, "but a denial at this point is useless, we already know what you been up to."

"So? It's no big deal, right?"

"Well, only you can judge that," Dan laughed, "mine are usually a big deal."

"He does it too Cody," Jace said between giggles.

"So what? Everyone does it," Cody said shrugging.

"Yeah, we're all guys, and we all do it," Jace confirmed, "so...what are we gonna do now?" he said, moving on.

"Well, a shower to wash off the chlorine is a good idea. You guys can use the pool house or your bath upstairs, and I'll use the shower by the mudroom."

Once they were showered and dressed, they reassembled in the kitchen for a drink and a snack, then Dan put the rest of the boys' clothes in the dryer.

"Almost done with your clothes. You guys should have enough stuff to last you a while."

"It's cool to have clean clothes for a change," Cody noted, "I hated that smell."

"Yeah, Cody is a real stinker," Jace laughed.

"So are you. Your butt stinks," Cody laughed.

"Not anymore," Jace smirked, "I had a shower."

"Today was awesome Dan," Cody said, turning serious, "tomorrow can we go riding on the trail?"

"Yeah, the weather is supposed to be good again tomorrow, but this weekend they're predicting rain."

"Can't we ride in the rain?" Cody wondered.

"Well, we could, but the rain turns the dirt to mud, and it gets mighty slippery. Not to mention we'd get really dirty, but then I bet you boys don't mind getting all muddy, do you?" he added chuckling.

"We could mud wrestle," Jace joked.

"Then I better teach you how to do laundry," Dan said looking serious, "either of you boys ever used a washing machine?"

"Sure, I have," Cody assured him, "I helped gran do the laundry lots of times. She had arthritis real bad, and some days her hands hurt too much to do much of anything."

"Well, then how about this idea? From now on you are in charge of your and Jaces' laundry. That way you can do your part, and...I won't have to smell your stinky underwear," Dan laughed at the last part and the boys smiled knowingly.

"Okay, it's a deal." Cody said solemnly.

"What can I do?" Jace wanted to know.

"How about running the vacuum cleaner? There's just the bedrooms and hall, living room, and family room. The other rooms are tiled or have wood floors."

"Okay, I can do that."

"And all three of us can do the outside work. I have a big lawn tractor for mowing, and a battery powered weed eater."

"Cool, can we drive the tractor?" Cody asked excitedly.

"Yeah, I think you can handle that, both of you. We'll probably need to cut the lawn again by Monday or Tuesday. We'll start early and be done before it gets too hot."

"Cool, I can't wait. Can we see the lawn tractor now?"

"Sure, come on. It's in the barn."

The barn was actually a 10x12 portable building, but the small loft at the back of it gave it a barn-like look, and Dan had always called it that. It held, among other things, the mower, weed eater, garden tools, fertilizers, pots and buckets, and all the things necessary for outdoor lawn keeping and gardening.

"Cool," Cody said sitting down on the zero turn John Deere mower, "it has handles instead of a steering wheel. How does that work?"

Dan quickly explained how the levers directed power to each wheel, and how by applying power to one wheel over the other it would cause the mower to turn in that direction. Though neither boy begged to take it for a spin, Dan decided that it might be a good idea to let the boys get the feel of the machine while they weren't under any pressure.

He let them take turns driving the mower with the deck raised, and they drove it up and down the drive a few times till they became accustomed to it. Even Jace showed a lot of skill in handling the mower, and Dan was pleased with both boys' performance.

"Looks like I got my own lawn service now," Dan chuckled, "After you boys get the hang of things I can just sit by the pool and sip champagne while you do the lawn."

"Okay," Cody agreed easily, "this will be fun, right Jace."

"Yeah, lots of fun. We can take turns, okay?"

"Yeah, one of us can do the front, and one can do the back, and switch off with the weed eater," Cody said taking charge.

Eventually they headed back inside and the boys played computer games while Dan did some writing in his office. He hadn't turned out any copy since the boys had come to stay, but he was under no deadline. He created when he felt like it, turned it in to his publisher, and collected the checks. There was never any pressure or a deadline, because he didn't allow anyone to put him in that position. It didn't hurt that his stories, articles, and occasional best selling books were highly coveted and in great demand. He'd made his publisher and publishing company a lot of money and no one dared cross him.

Inspired by the two homeless boys he'd taken in, he began to do some research, and was amazed at how grim the situation was. What had once been a problem, was now a catastrophe, with homeless youth now outnumbering homeless adults, since more adults died from the virus. And because of that, the organizations in place to deal with them were just too overwhelmed to help them all. Even the authorities turned a blind eye to the kids. Once they would have arrested kids for not living at home, or not going to school, and place them in juvenile facilities, but even those institutions were at capacity. So, most of the population, including those who were charged with protecting children, ignored them and concentrated on other problems.

"Wow," Dan said sighing, "this just isn't right. Someone needs to help these kids."

"Uh, were you talking to someone?" Cody said appearing at the open door.

"What, oh, no...just myself," Dan said smiling, "I tend to do that a lot."

"Is something wrong?"

"Yeah, but I don't know what to do about it, yet." Dan confessed.

"Is it about us, me and Jace?"

"Yes, and no. Yes because you two were once part of the homeless swarm of kids on the streets, and no, because now you're safe and secure here, but...all those other kids are still out there and they need help."

"Yeah, I know," Cody said looking sad, "but what can we do?"

"I don't know, but I'm going to figure something out. I'm not a politician, or a cop, or a judge, or anyone in power for that matter, but I have something even more powerful, the power of the press. I intend to publish a study of the problem and see if I can't get our so-called welfare agencies to do something about the kids . But I also hope to enlist the help of regular folks, even if it's only to donate money for food, clothing, blankets, and stuff like that to help the kids."

"Really? That's so cool. Me and Jace could help give out stuff. We know a lot of the kids on the street and they trust us."

"Wonderful, so we sort of have a plan. I just need to do some writing and get it to the right people. I may be busy for a while doing that, but you boys feel free to entertain yourself. You've been here two days now're not guests anymore, you're family. Help yourself to whatever you want."

"Okay, but...where do you keep the car keys?" Cody teased.

"Except the cars and the mower," Dan corrected, grinning at Cody's joke.

"Okay, we'll leave you alone. Hey, want me to fix supper later? I know how to cook some stuff."

"Hmm...oh, okay. There's some frozen meatballs in the freezer, and pasta and sauce in the pantry . Maybe you could make spaghetti and meatballs. You could make up a nice salad too. That should be easy enough," Dan said turning back to his computer screen.

"Cool, I won't let you down dad...I mean Dan," Cody said blushing as he rushed out.

It took Dan a moment to realize what the boy had said, and he stared at the open door and smiled. Dad, that sure sounds good, he thought, then turning his attention back to the task at hand, he began writing a letter to the editor of a local newspaper.

Supper was excellent by anyone's standards. Not only had Cody prepared the meatballs by cooking them slowly in a skillet, he'd cooked the spaghetti to just the right consistency, then let the sauce marinate the cooked meatballs till they were infused with the flavor. He'd found a box of frozen garlic toast in the freezer as well, and grilled six slices for them, while Jace threw together the salad.

When Jace came to tell Dan supper was ready, he was eager to get away from his computer and he discovered he was ravenous. As they approached the dining room his sense of smell was assaulted by the aroma of onions and tomatoes and his mouth began to water.

"Gosh something smells good. What did you guys do, send out to Luigi's for pasta?" he teased. Luigi's being one of Dan's favorite places to eat before the pandemic.

"No silly, we cooked it," Jace said proudly, "well...Cody mostly, but I made the salad."

"Sit down Dan, I got this," Cody said, assuming the role of host and server, "What would you like to drink sir?"

"Sir?" Dan laughed, "any iced tea left?"

"I made some fresh," Cody said grinning, "iced tea for the gentleman Jace," he said looking at his little brother and smiling.

Jace was beaming as he poured Dan's tea, and Dan had never felt so happy or satisfied as he did at that moment.

The meal was delicious, and Dan could barely take a bite without praising the two boys. It had been a long time since he'd had someone cook for him, and Cody seemed to show great promise as a chef. Maybe he'd have him take some lessons online and give the cooking duty over to him, that is if he was interested. It was something they could discuss later, but right now he was keen on enjoying his dinner.

"Boys that was the best spaghetti I've had since this craziness started. You have a natural talent for cooking son," he said to Cody, who preened under Dan's praise.

"I like to cook. I helped gran a lot and she taught me lots of things. I can even make pies. I didn't have time to bake one this time, but I did make some pudding for dessert. It should be set by now."

Dessert was banana pudding with vanilla wafers and sliced banana, topped with a squirt of whipped cream. It was simple, but tasty, and the way Cody had presented it made Dan even more determined to encourage the boy to expand his culinary skills.

"I'm so full I can't move," Dan laughed when he'd finished off the last spoonful of dessert, "I could get fat eating like this."

"Then we better go bike riding tomorrow," Jace said grinning.

"Sounds like a plan. Well, since you guys cooked, let me help with the clean up?"

"Nope, we got this," Cody insisted, "we want to do our part and we know you have important things to do."

"All right, if you insist, but for right now I think I'm going to go watch some TV and let my dinner settle. I have some heavy thinking to do, and the mindless drivel of TV helps me think my best," he chuckled.

While Dan stared at the TV and thought about what to do next, the two boys were busy clearing and cleaning and doing some brotherly bonding.

"Thanks for being so nice to Dan," Jace said smiling, "I really like it here and I think Dan is really cool."

"Yeah, I guess I was wrong about him at first," Cody admitted, "and now he wants to help the other kids, and that makes him even cooler in my eyes."

"Think he can do it?"

"If anyone can, I think Dan will be the one. He knows a lot of important people, and I found out why he's so rich. He's a writer. At first I didn't think too much about it, but then he said something about writing to his publisher and I did some snooping. He's written a bunch of books, and I've even read a couple of them. He's Dan Chandler, Jace, The Dan Chandler that wrote that book about the time travelers. They made a movie out of it, remember?"

"No way, awesome," Jace said, his eyes flying open wide, "he's famous Cody, and he's our...I mean, we're friends with him now and living in his house."

Cody knew what Jace was about to say, that Dan was their dad now, and he'd even begun to think that way himself. Of course he didn't know if Dan felt the same way or not, but he had admitted that he had some deep feelings for them, and who knew what could happen?

"I don't know how much Dan can do, but it's nice of him to try. There are a lot of good kids out there that need help, and no one is doing anything about it. I guess that's why I was so suspicious of Dan. I mean, you know what some of those kids do to survive on the street, and I just thought Dan was one of those guys that pay kids to do sex stuff."

"I never worried at all," Jace confessed, "I liked him right off, and I was sure he was a good guy, and he is."

"Yeah, I know that now. Come on, let's go see if Dan wants any company."

The three watched a movie, and around ten Dan insisted they should get some sleep since they would be getting up early to go bike riding. The boys didn't argue, however they did insist on being tucked in, just as Dan had done the night before.

Dan smiled as he thought about how much Cody had changed in the past 24 hours, and he was glad he could direct his attention to helping other kids now and not have to worry about dealing with Cody's feelings of mistrust and insecurity.

"Goodnight guys," Dan said as he started for the door after tucking each boy in and kissing them on the forehead.

"Night Dan," Jace said yawning softly.

"Goodnight, and thanks," Cody said, "see ya' tomorrow."

"Bright and early. I'll wake you guys when I get up and you can help me fix breakfast so we can get on the trail sooner."

"Okay, sounds great." Cody agreed.

In his room, Dan stripped down to his underwear and crawled into bed. He was tired, but he kept thinking about all those poor kids out on the street and where they were sleeping tonight. He might not be able to feed and house all of them, but he was hoping that with help from the community he could make all their lives a little brighter. He was still thinking about what to do next when he finally dozed off to sleep.

Morning dawned bright and clear and the temps were already in the 70's when Dan stepped out of the shower and began to towel off. He'd woke up the boys before hopping in the shower and hopefully they were up and showering as well.

He need not have worried however, for when he finally made his way downstairs, Cody had already assembled the items needed for breakfast and had turned on the oven to bake canned biscuits. Dan smiled when he saw the two rascally boys, and he tousled Jace's stringy mop then kissed the top of his head almost instinctively.

"How's scrambled eggs, bacon, biscuits and gravy sound Dan?"

"You know how to make gravy?" Dan said, lighting up at hearing that part.

"Yep, my gran made the best gravy and she taught me how."

"Go for it then. I love gravy, but mine is not that great. What can I do to help?"

"Scramble the eggs, about eight should be about right," Cody said busying himself laying out bacon on a baking sheet lined with foil, "I'm gonna cook the bacon in the oven, it's faster and cooks more evenly that way."

"So I've read. Never tried it, so I'm definitely anxious to see how that turns out."

The bacon was perfect, the biscuits brown and fluffy, the scrambled eggs delicious, and the gravy was the best Dan had ever tasted.

"It's better with sausage grease, but bacon grease is pretty good too," Cody said, soaking up Dan's compliments.

"I'll thaw some sausage out for tomorrow then. I can't imagine your gravy tasting any better, but I have to see what you mean."

After they finished breakfast, the mess was cleaned away, and the dishes in the dishwasher, the three headed upstairs to change into shorts and tees for the bike ride.

"Be sure to tie your shoes in two knots to keep them from coming untied, and don't forget the knee pads and elbow pads."

"And our helmets," Jace said grinning, "we know."

Twenty minutes later they headed to the garage to grab their bikes, and after attaching their filled water bottles they were off. Dan led the way since he knew the trail best, and the two boys followed behind, loving every hill and every dip, and soon it was as if they had been riding the course their whole lives.

As they topped a hill about half way through the course, Dan pointed to a small stream running through the property, and motioned for the boys to follow him down a narrow path that eventually brought them to the stream's edge.

"This little creek comes off the river. It branches off in several places and I was lucky enough to have this branch run across my land. It's a natural watering place for animals and birds, and sometimes there are deer here when I ride the trail. There are squirrels, raccoons, rabbits, and some other small animals here, but the deer are the biggest animals I've ever noticed. Of course, who knows what lurks out here at night," Dan added chuckling.

"Bears maybe?" Jace said wide-eyed.

"No silly," Cody said, "bears couldn't live here, right Dan."

"Lions and tigers and bears, oh my," Dan sang, then laughed, causing Jace to giggle.

"You guys..." Cody scolded, but he was laughing too.

They rested by the small creek for a bit and Jace suggested they strip off their socks and shoes and wade into the cool water. Dan agreed easily, and soon the three were wading the sandy-bottomed little creek. It was Jace who first noticed the small fish darting around at their feet and at first he was frightened.

"Aaaaggh, something just touched my foot," he yelped.

Dan laughed, "It's just a sunfish or a perch. Probably thinks your little toes are worms."

"Do they bite?" Jace asked in horror.

"Naw, not people anyway," Dan assured him, "they won't hurt you. Just watch out for snakes," he teased.

"Snakes?" this time it was Cody who was alarmed, "I hate snakes."

"Usually snakes will avoid a human if at all possible, and if we do the same we should be okay. I've only seen one or two snakes the whole time I've lived here and they were on the trail."

The talk of snakes prompted the two boys to decide it was time to get out and hit the trail again, and before long the three were back at it. On the way back they stopped at the bathroom and this time all three went inside. Dan had to pee badly, and now that Cody seemed to trust that his intentions were good, he saw no reason not to use the facilities with the boys.

There was only one urinal, but there was also a toilet in an enclosed stall, and Dan chose to use that while the two boys took turns at the urinal. When they'd finished and washed up, they headed back outside and Dan suggested they rest a bit before heading home.

As they sat on the bench by the exercise area, Dan took a swig of water from his bottle and the boys followed suit.

"Well guys, what did you think of the trail. Was it too much for you?"

"No way," Cody assured him, "I could go again, how about you Jace."

"Maybe, after we rest," Jace said with uncertainty.

"I think once is enough for today. As you ride more and get used to the exercise you'll be able to ride farther and faster, but for now you both did a good job."

"What are we gonna do when we get home?" Jace asked, always eager for more fun, "can we swim?"

"Yeah, if you'd like. I might work a nap in," Dan chuckled, "then I have some phone calls to make."

"Is it about the kids in town?" Cody wanted to know.

"Yes, I have a good friend who's a lawyer and knows the ins and out of adoption and fostering, that sort of thing."

"I didn't know anyone cared about that stuff anymore," Cody said frowning, "The cops don't even hassle the kids anymore cause they got no place to put them if they did. Some kids go live with friends, or...or older guys and no one cares. It's like they just don't care what happens to the kids as long as they don't bother anyone."

"In some ways that will make things easier," Dan said looking thoughtful, "I mean, a year ago if I'd brought you two home with me I'd have been in trouble with the law and the DHS. Now, they're just glad when someone comes along and takes a kid in. That's what I'm counting on when I start my campaign to help the kids. I'm hoping to find families willing to take some of the kids in. A lot of families lost kids to the virus, and I'm hoping they see this as an opportunity to not only help the kids, but themselves."

"But some kids don't want that. They actually like being free, even if it's hard sometimes."

"And for those kids, I want to set up locations to provide food and clothing, medical care, schooling, and...when the weather is bad, places for them to sleep. I know it's crazy, but there is no reason our society can't pull this off. The economy is back on track, people are working, and there are a lot fewer folks in this country. Most of those folks we lost were the ones who needed the most assistance, the aged, the ill, and now those who remain behind are mostly healthy and strong and able to help our cause. We just need to take our case to them and hope for the best. If we can find enough sponsors willing to back us up we'll be able to get this thing going rather quickly."

"You know important people, right?" Cody asked.

"Yeah, I do have a few contacts that could prove to be helpful and I'll be calling some of them later."

"This is so cool," Cody said excitedly.

"Yeah, maybe we can help some of our friends," Jace suggested.

"Like Archie," Cody said looking wistful.

"Archie, like in the comics," Dan chuckled, "is he red headed and freckle-faced?"

"You know him?" Cody asked with a serious look.

"No, I was kidding. There's a comic book character named Archie Andrews and he's red haired."

"Oh, yeah...I think I've seen that one. I just never thought about it before," Cody chuckled.

"Is he your age?"

"Yeah, we used to go to school together, you know? Before the virus and all. He lived with his uncle and aunt before they died. He hung around where they used to live till the cops finally kicked him out and then we met up on the street."

"I hope you get to see him again," Dan said sincerely, as a plan began to form in his mind. Why did he have to stop at helping just two boys? He had two more bedrooms not being used, and there was the pool house which could sleep a couple of people as well. It was a bold thought, but he was keeping an open mind. Oh, he wasn't going to just go pick up random boys and offer them a home, but if they should happen to come across Cody's friend Archie, wouldn't that be a good start?

They rested, then rode back to the house, and after a quick shower the boys changed into their swim trunks, and Dan into shorts, and they parted company at the pool. Dan watched the boys ease into the water, then headed inside to make his calls, forgetting all about his plan to take a nap.

Dan woke early as usual and started breakfast, but he had other things on his mind as he went about the task. Fortunately Cody showed up after a few minutes and offered to help, and Dan eagerly accepted. Jace wandered in a few minutes later still rubbing sleep from his peepers, but as usual he was smiling and his sunny disposition was contagious.

"Good morning," Dan said smiling warmly when he saw his little buddy.

"Morning Dan," I'm hungry, what's for breakfast?"

"Worms and grass, how does that sound?" Dan teased.

"Yummy," Jace giggled, "I'll have double grass."

Cody just rolled his eyes as he tended to the sausage patties Dan had started earlier, then turning to Dan, he asked the question that had been on his mind since the night before, "Dan, how did the phone calls go? Did you find out anything?"

"Well, everyone I talked to seem to be interested in helping, but you know how it goes? someone actually has to get the ball rolling, and I'm afraid that someone will have to be me."

"Us you mean," Cody said looking serious, "We'll help too."

"Yeah, thanks. I'll need all the help I can get."

"What are we gonna do?" Jace asked, climbing up on a bar stool at the breakfast bar.

"Well, I think first thing we're going to start collecting things for the kids and distributing them. I'm going to print up some handbills explaining the plight of the kids and what we're trying to accomplish. The most important thing right now is to make sure the kids get fed. I'm also going to contact all the restaurants in the area and see about getting their left overs at the end of the day. Instead of throwing them in the dumpster, we can distribute the food to the kids."

"But how can we get the food to the kids?" Cody asked.

"Well, it's going to take some coordination on the part of the volunteers. I figure we can have people pick up the food and bring it to a couple of central locations to be distributed, but I'm open to suggestions."

"What if we got the kids to help?" Cody said shrugging.

"Hey, that's not a bad idea," Dan said perking up, "do you think you can convince the kids to help?"

"Yeah, sure...not all of them, but there are a lot of em' who will help."

"Okay, sounds like a plan then. Any suggestions as to how we can let them know we need their help?"

"Yeah, just drop me and Jace off downtown by the warehouse district, and we'll talk to em'. It's better if you don't come with us cause kids don't trust most adults."

Dan chuckled, "Boy do I know that."

Cody blushed, knowing Dan was referring to his own mistrust at the beginning, "So, we'll take care of that and we can even get the kids to help pass out the fliers. What do you think?"

"I think you're a genius, with your help I think we can get things going a lot faster. I'm really pumped about this guys, I can't wait to get started."

Cody made gravy using the sausage grease and Dan had to agree that it was better than that made with bacon grease. After breakfast Dan sent the boys upstairs to get dressed while he tidied up the kitchen. He was almost done when his phone alerted him to a call.

"Dan Chandler here," he said, not recognizing the number.

"Oh, hi Mayor Brown. I didn't expect to hear from you directly. Oh, well...that's great. I know you have a lot of things going on, what with trying to recover from the pandemic and all, but I feel like the homeless kids are part of that recovery. I'm surprised that no one has done anything about it before now. Well, I guess I can understand that to some degree, but these are kids we're talking about, some as young as 11 or 12 years old. I know because I have two of them staying with me right now, two brothers 12 and 15. First their parents died, then their grandparents, and they had nowhere to go but the streets. They're pretty typical of the kids on the street, kids without anywhere to go, and the system just can't help them all. That's why I want to enlist the aid of local businesses and volunteers to help take care of the kids' basic needs, food, clothing, blankets, and a place to stay if possible."

Dan listened intently to what the Mayor had to say then nodded, "Well, that would certainly help the cause. If we can open up some of the abandoned motels to the kids when they need a safe and warm place to stay that would be great. Yeah, I agree we'd need adults there to supervise, but I'm hoping we can get enough people interested in this that that won't be a problem. Tomorrow I'm going into town and distribute fliers explaining what we're trying to do and asking for donations, but I'll need volunteers to pick up the goods and distribute them. I'm contacting local restaurants as well and asking for their left over food at the end of each day. That too will require volunteers to pick up the food and distribute it, but Cody, one of the boys I have staying here, suggested he get the other kids involved, and I think that's a great idea."

Dan listened again while the Mayor made some suggestions, then quickly added his agreement, "Off duty Policemen and Firemen would be great. They know the area, and I think the kids might trust them to some degree, as long as they know they're not in trouble. I think there are lots of folks who would be willing to help once we get their attention. Okay...yes, I can do that," Dan said when the Mayor suggested he come meet with him next week. That will give me time to get some things going and see just what needs to be done. Yes, I can bring the boys too. I think you'll be impressed with them, they're very intelligent and caring kids, and from what they've told me, most of the kids out there are like that too. Well, thank you Mayor Brown for calling. I'll be heading into town soon, and hopefully I'll have some good things to report when I see you on Monday. Yes sir, you have a good day too. Goodbye now."

Dan was grinning as he hung up, and the boys couldn't help but notice his changed mood.

"Who was that on the phone?"

"Oh no one, just the Mayor," Dan said grinning.

"The Mayor, but how did he know about this? Did you call him?"

"Not exactly, but I called his office and spoke to an aide, and I guess the aide told him everything, and he called me in person. I was halfway expecting to deal with his underlings but lo and behold I got his honor himself, and best of all, he's as gung ho about helping the kids as I am. He's even agreed to ask off duty cops and firemen to help out. His idea was to use the firehouses and precincts as distribution points for the food and clothing and stuff."

"I guess that would work, if we can convince the kids that they're not gonna get arrested or something," Cody said.

"Yeah, well...that's where you guys are gonna be a big help. They know you and trust you, and if you tell them it's cool, then we should be okay. But first we gotta get the stuff and get the rest of the community involved."

"Okay, so where do we start?"

"By hitting the mean streets and getting these fliers out."

They distributed all one thousand of the fliers using some of the kids from the street, who seemed eager to have something to do. It didn't hurt that Dan fed them all pizza and soft drinks afterwards as he explained further what they were trying to accomplish.

"So you want to like...give us food and clothes and stuff...for free?" a dark haired boy named Robert asked, looking less than convinced.

"Yes, is that so hard to believe?" Dan chuckled.

"What's in it for you, and for them?" a slender black boy named Carl asked.

"Hmmm...well, that's a good question. I guess you'd have to say it's the satisfaction that we're doing the right thing and helping kids that through no fault of their own don't have anyone else to look out for them. I know that a lot of adults take advantage of kids like you and you have a right to be suspicious. Cody here has told me a lot about how things are on the street, and he was just like you in the beginning. Right son?"

Cody preened at being called son, and he felt compelled to smooth over the other boys' feelings of mistrust.

"When Dan first offered to take us home I figured he was one of the pervs, but Jace seemed to know right off that he wasn't like that. I mostly agreed to go home with him cause of Jace. He was hungry and I wasn't doing a very good job of taking care of him. I didn't trust Dan, but I figured I'd do what I had to do to make sure Jace had food and was safe. Then I began to see that Dan wasn't like that, that he only wanted to help us, and now, well...he wants to help all the kids. He's even got the Mayor helping out and if you guys can help us get the word out on the street we can make this work."

"How do we know you're not just playing us? Maybe this guy wants to kidnap kids and sell them for sex slaves," Robert joked.

Dan frowned, but let Cody answer.

"I can't blame ya' for having doubts, but I swear it's nothing like that. We've been living with him almost a week now, and he's fed us, bought us new clothes, and he takes care of us. He really cares, and he cares about you guys too. He just wants to make things better for you guys, we all do, and we need you guys' help to make it work."

"Yeah, Dan is a good guy," Jace said enthusiastically, "so quit being a butt head and help us."

Dan almost laughed at Jace's cool appraisal of the situation, but he need not have held back, for soon the other boys were doing just that.

"We're just bustin' your balls," Robert laughed, "anything is better than what we have now. If we can get some food and some clothes out of the deal, then we're willing to help. After all, it's not like we have anything better to do," he chuckled.

It was obvious that Robert was the leader of this pack of boys, and before they left that day they had pledges from all six of the street kids to help out and to enlist the help of others.

After making sure the boys had money for supper, Dan herded Cody and Jace into the Jeep and they drove back home. By the time they were showered and dressed in clean clothes Dan had over a dozen emails from people who had read the fliers.

"Wow, this is amazing. Lots of folks are offering to help already. Some have stuff to donate, and some are offering to help any way they can. This is very encouraging guys. This may turn out to be easier than I'd first thought. With the Mayor's help, and the help of the good citizens, and the policemen and firemen, we may just make this thing work.

By Monday when Dan met with the mayor they had over forty volunteers to help out, as well as tons of clothing, shoes, blankets, backpacks, and other items the kids needed. Those who didn't have used items to give often went out and purchased new items to contribute, but many more just gave cash. Dan had set up a go-fund-me page and so far had accumulated over 10,000 dollars.

In the meantime the Mayor had met with the Police Chief and Fire Chief, and their men were on board as well. Not only would the fire stations and precincts be pick up points for food and clothing and such, they would also be deemed as safe places where a kid could come if they needed help or just a safe place to hang out for a while. Volunteers would be on call as well if the kids needed medical or psychological help, since many of the street kids were abused and often entertained thoughts of suicide.

"Dan, I want to thank you for bringing this problem to our attention and I promise we will continue to do our part in all this. We've already put into place some new legislation making it easier for families to foster and adopt kids, and we're hoping to place a good number of the kids in good homes. Of course there will always be those adults who's intentions are not so good, but we're hoping we can weed out most of them and we're counting on the kids to give us good feedback. Under the old system the kids didn't have as much say in their placement, but we hope to fix many of the flaws the old system had. If this pandemic has had one good outcome, it's that we've finally come to realize that many of the things we took for granted before, were in need of change, and we are trying to make those changes. The Governor and I have talked about this situation and he was so impressed with our plan that he is suggesting to other cities that they institute a similar plan. It's not just our city that has this problem, it's a statewide, and national crisis. If we can show other cities that our plan is a good one, then hopefully we can help all the homeless kids in this country."

"That's wonderful Mayor. I appreciate your hard work and the support of the local authorities. I never expected this kind of response. I'm overwhelmed and so grateful to everyone."

"Yeah, that's cool," Cody said speaking up for the first time. He was a little in awe of the Mayor and a bit nervous to be there, but so far the man had been nothing but nice and helpful.

"Yeah," Jace agreed, "this is gonna be so cool. The kids are gonna be so happy."

Mayor Brown laughed softly, "Dan tells me you boys lived on the streets for a while yourself. I think it's commendable that you want to help the other kids even though you have a home now. You seem like fine young men and I am happy to help your cause."

The meeting was brief, but the Mayor promised to stay in touch, and that at their next meeting the Police and Fire Chiefs would be there to outline their plan to help in detail.

After leaving the Mayor's office, Dan suggested they grab some lunch and he drove to a nearby fast food restaurant. Dan was just pulling into a parking place when Jace suddenly cried out in excitement.

"Look Cody, isn't that Archie over there?"

"Where?" Cody said unbuckling his seat belt quickly, "Yeah, I think so," he added as he looked where Jace indicated, "Dan, can I go talk to him?"

"Of course, invite him to lunch if you want. I'd like to meet him."

As Dan and Jace climbed out of the Jeep, Cody was already headed toward the red haired boy. It took a moment for the boy to recognize Cody in his stylish and new clothes, but when he did he started running toward him with open arms.

Dan smiled as he watched them hug and slap each other on the back, laughing and bumping together like old friends do when reunited. Was there something more here than friendship? Dan wondered with a smile. Was it possible they were crushing on one another?

Jace broke loose at last and joined the two, dancing around and trying to get in on the action, and suddenly Archie reached down and pulled the boy into a bear hug and swung him around. Despite being considerably taller, the boy couldn't have weighed much more than the younger boy, and Dan was amazed that he could lift him so easily.

As Dan approached, the freckle-faced boy gave him a curious look, but he didn't seem alarmed by his presence.

"Archie, this is Dan. We're living with him now," Cody said quickly, "Dan, this is Archie."

"Hi," Dan said giving the boy a bow and the clasped hand greeting.

"Hi," the kid said waving, "Are you guys kin?"

"Nope," Cody answered before Dan could, "Dan is just a nice guy who's been helping us." He went on to explain how they'd met and what had transpired since, and finally about their plan to help the other street kids.

"So, there's gonna be food and stuff?" the boy asked looking interested, "where do I go?"

"We're still working on that," Dan jumped in, "but if you don't have to be anyplace right now, why don't you join us for lunch, my treat?"

"Free food?" the boy laughed, "I never pass up free food."

"Come on," Cody said putting an arm around his buddy's shoulder, "we got a lot to talk about."

Dan smiled as he and Jace followed the two inside, and he couldn't help but think he was right about them being closer than friends as he observed their behavior.

Dan instructed the boys to order whatever they wanted, and Archie wasn't shy about accepting. He ordered two cheeseburgers, a large order of fries, soft drink, and a shake, then turned to Dan for his approval, "That okay?"

"Yep, I want you to eat your fill," Dan assured him.

Cody and Jace ordered combos, while Dan ordered a cheeseburger and a drink, passing on the fries, and after stopping by the condiment table for napkins, ketchup, and such, they filled their drink cups at the fountain and found a table near the back.

Dan tried to ignore the ripe odor of the red-haired boy, and remembered that Cody and Jace had smelled just as rank that first day they'd met. He hadn't thought of that aspect of street life and began to form a plan to provide places where the kids could shower occasionally. Maybe the firehouses could help, or even the jail, he mused.

"So I was over by the river today and I almost stayed over there, but something told me to come downtown and hang out, and bam, there you guys were," Archie said, bubbling over with enthusiasm, "Man, I have really missed your ugly face," he said placing a hand on Cody's shoulder and squeezing it gently.

"I've missed you too," Cody said looking very emotional, "It just happened so quick I didn't have time to come find you and tell you where we'd gone."

"It's cool," Archie said smiling, "are you living here in town, maybe we can like...get together some time."

"We live way outside town," Cody said frowning.

"Yeah, it's really cool there," Jace offered, "it's this huge house and there's even a pool, and a park, and riding trails, and we even have our own bikes."

"Wow, really?" Archie said looking at Dan, "you rich or something?"

"Rich enough," Dan said blushing. To a street kid, anything would seem rich, and he didn't want to flaunt what he had and make Archie feel worse than he did."

"Cool, you guys are lucky."

Their number was called and Dan let the boys go pick up the order while he sat there thinking about what to do next. He wanted to make sure he was making the right decision for everyone involved, but with no chance to talk to Cody or Jace in private, he'd have to play it by ear.

The boys returned then and were relatively quiet as they ate. Dan couldn't help but think that Archie was stalling, taking his time eating just to prolong his time with them, and Dan decided it was time to speak up.

"So, Archie, do you have any plans for the rest of the day?"

"Huh, no. I got nowhere to go, why?"

Dan looked at Cody and he could see a glimmer of hope in the boy's eyes as he studied Dan's face.

"Well, if it's okay with the boys, I thought maybe you might like to come home with us and try out the pool."

"Really? Are you serious? Oh man, that would be so cool. If Cody and Jace want me to."

"Yeah, of course," Cody said trying to keep his excitement in check and not look too eager, and failing miserably.

"Cool, but I don't have no swim trunks," Archie said looking embarrassed.

"No problem, we got you covered," Dan assured him, "and I bet Cody would lend you some clothes to wear when you get tired of swimming. I'll wash those you're wearing while you guys are swimming."

Archie seemed to eat a little faster after that, and before long they had finished their meal, and after stashing the trash, then refilling their drinks, they headed to the Jeep. Dan handed Cody the keys, but he told Dan he'd rather ride in the back with Archie while Jace rode up front.

Dan smiled knowingly, and once they were on the road he kept checking the rear view mirror to watch the boys. They were talking softly and as close together as their seat belts would allow, and though not exactly holding hands, their arms were pressed together and their hands touching between them.

Yep, Dan chuckled to himself, the boys are definitely crushing.

Jace however, seemed to be oblivious to the two in the back seat, and kept Dan engaged in conversation the whole trip. When they finally arrived, Cody quickly explained to Archie about the need to decontaminate after being out in public, but Archie didn't seemed concerned.

"So we gotta take a shower? No problem, I could use a long hot shower," he said sniffing his pits, "it's been awhile."

"Yeah, I didn't want to mention it dude," Cody laughed, "but you stink."

"But you like me anyway," Archie said jabbing Cody playfully in the ribs.

"Yeah, I know you can't help it. Come on, follow me."

Jace turned to Dan as the two headed inside and smiled, "They like each other. I better let them shower together. Can I shower with you Dan?"

"Well, I don't see why not," Dan said easily, "but no perving on me," he teased.

"I promise," Cody giggled, "I just want to get clean and go swimming. Too bad we can't swim nekkid."

Dan thought about that a moment. He was actually surprised this idea hadn't come up before now. Boys were naturally adventurous, and what was more adventurous than skinny dipping. He decided that whatever the boys decided was okay with him, but that it might be a long time before Cody felt comfortable enough to go native, even in the pool.

"I don't care if the other two don't," Dan assured him, "but think about how shy your brother has been," Dan chuckled, "there's not much chance of him wanting to swim naked with me around."

"Yeah, well...maybe if I do it first," Jace said looking thoughtful.

Dan chuckled, "Well, whatever you guys decide is fine by me. I want you to think of this as home and for you to feel comfortable here. As for myself, I prefer a swim suit with a built in supporter," Dan chuckled.

"That's cause you got big balls," Jace giggled.

"You been peeking," Dan laughed.

Cody and Archie were already in the bathroom with the door closed by the time Dan and Jace arrived and Dan smiled.

"They didn't waste any time, did they?" Dan chuckled.

"Nope, and they'll probably be in there a long time."

"Well, we could use the pool house shower I guess. We're not all that germy, Archie is the biggest risk."

"Yeah, let's do that, then we can get in the pool while they're fooling around."

Dan didn't know exactly what Jace meant by fooling around, but he wasn't about to ask. The less he knew the better, he decided, but not because he didn't approve. No, just the opposite, he understood and encouraged young love, but he also knew how fragile and vulnerable both boys must feel, and he didn't want to add to their discomfort.

Despite agreeing to shower with Jace, Dan still felt a bit uncomfortable as he began to undress. Jace however, wasted no time stripping off his clothes and heading to the shower stall. There was no door here, just a low ledge across the opening and a tiled floor beyond with a floor drain.

Dan found the boy already lathered up and facing away from him as he stepped inside the large enclosure and took his place at one of he shower heads. Dan was glad to find that Jace seemed more interested in getting clean and in the pool than checking out his body, and he relaxed after a few minutes.

As they were drying off, Jace looked at Dan and grinned, "You do have big balls," he giggled.

Dan was at a loss for words for a moment, then chuckled, "Well, that gives you something to look forward to I guess."

By the time they were dressed in their trunks, Jace was eager to get to the pool and left Dan behind to hang up their towels and tidy up a bit. When he arrived at the pool, Jace was swimming about, but there was no sign of the other two boys yet.

"Just us," Jace said as Dan slid into the water, "Cody and Archie are probably getting to know each other again."

Again Dan didn't know how to take what Jace said, did he mean get to know each other in the biblical sense, or something more innocent?

He was still mulling that over when the two boys finally appeared wearing just towels as they headed to the pool house. "We'll be right there," Cody yelled as they passed, "we gotta get our trunks on."

"No hurry," Dan said smiling, "just hang your towels on the rack in the shower."

Ten minutes later the boys returned, Cody dressed in blue Hawaiian print trunks, and Archie in red and yellow ones that went well with his hair. They canon-balled into the pool, causing a tidal wave and splashing both Dan and Jace, and the fun began.

Dan swam around and played with the boys for about an hour, then excused himself and went in to shower and do some laundry. He washed Archie's clothes separately, noting how worn and ratty they were, and sighed. It looked like they'd be making another trip into town to buy clothes again. For now though he could borrow some of Cody's clothes, they were close enough in size that that shouldn't be a problem, and tomorrow they'd go shopping again.

"Hi," Archie said as he came up behind Dan, who was surprised to see the boy without Cody hanging on him.

"Hi, enjoying the pool?"

"Yeah, it's really cool. So, I was wondering," Archie said looking nervous, "what time do I have to go back?"

"Well, that's up to you. I'll be going back into town tomorrow, but even then you don't have to stay there, if you don't want to."

"So, um...are you saying I can live here too?" the boy asked blushing.

"Would you like that?"

"Are you kidding? Yeah, this place is awesome, and well...I've missed Cody a lot."

"So you and Cody are close friends? That's good, that means you'll get along okay. No fighting or arguing?"

"No, no way. We're tight," the boy said, "Jace too, but me and Cody are...well, really close."

Dan smiled, "I sort of figured that when I saw you two hugging. There's a spare bedroom next to the one Cody and Jace share, you're welcome to sleep there as long as you like. The only thing I ask is that you do your share, and respect everyone and everything, and not cause trouble."

"Don't worry, I'd do anything to live in a cool place like this...even, well you know? But Cody says you're not like that."

"If you mean sex, yeah...I'm not like that. I didn't bring you boys here to abuse you, I only want to help."

"Cool, then, well...I guess I'll stay as long as you'll let me," he said meekly.

"If you behave and fit in you can stay as long as you like. Now, why don't you go to the kitchen and get you and the other two something to drink? There's soda, sports drinks, or juice."

"Okay, thanks, um...Dan. Thanks a lot."

When Archie returned to the pool, Cody was hanging on the edge of the pool waiting for him, "Well, what did he say?"

"He's taking me back in an hour," Archie teased, "here have a Gatorade," he added solemnly as he handed Cody his drink.

"What, why?" Cody said sounding upset, "I just knew he was gonna let you stay. I'll talk to him."

"Got ya', sucka'...." Archie said breaking out in a big grin.

"You asswipe," Cody said laughing, "You had me worried. What did he really say?"

"That as long as I behaved I could stay as long as I want, which is forever," he said beaming.

"Cool, you can have the room next to ours. We'll share a bathroom and we can hang out at bedtime and stuff."

"And mess around," Jace giggled as he swam up next to Cody and claimed the other bottle of Gatorade.

"Shut it," Cody said blushing, "that's none of your business."

"Ease up on Jace bro," Archie advised, "he's a cool kid and he don't care what we do, but he's gotta give us grief sometimes, that's just how it is."

"Yeah, I guess, but don't tell Dan, okay?"

"He knows already," Cody informed him.

"How, did you tell him?"

"Nope, but he's not stupid. Besides I think Dan is gay."

"Why do you think that. He's never come on to us?"

"That's cause he's not a child molester, duh. He likes men though."

"How do you know this?"

"I just do, besides I checked his browsing history on the laptop he let me use," he giggled, "he knows all the best sites for gay stuff."

"Wow, I don't know whether to be glad or worried," Cody said.

"Why would you worry?" Archie asked simply, "he likes guys, so big deal. He's not interested in us that way, so we got nothing to worry about, right?"

"I guess, but he should've told us..."

"Why? It's his business. Did you tell him everything about you and me?"

"No, course not. That's different."

"Nope, it's the same. That's our business, and that's his."

"I guess you're right, but what if he brings guys here? What if he starts dating or something?"

"Do you trust this guy or not? If you do then you know he won't bring anyone here that would mess with us, right?"

"I guess not, I'm just sort of shocked that he's gay, that's all."

"Why? When you thought he liked us that way you weren't shocked," Jace reminded him.

"That's different, a lot of guys who mess with kids are straight and even married."

"Yeah, so that means Dan is a good guy, right? He didn't molest you, and he didn't tell you he was gay, cause it's not a big deal."

"Yeah, I guess so." Cody was about to say more when Dan appeared dressed in shorts and a tee shirt and carrying a glass of iced tea.

"I assume Archie has told you that he's going to be staying a while, and I assume you guys are okay with that?"

"Yeah, I was hoping you'd let him stay. Thanks Dan," Cody said smiling, his worries forgotten for the moment.

"Yeah, thanks Dan, now I got two big brothers to watch over me."

"Well, three counting me," Dan reminded him.

"Naw, you're more like my dad," Jace said smiling, "if that's okay."

Dan's heart melted and he felt near tears, "Yeah, can think of me that way if you want. I think that would be just fine."

"Cool," Jace said, satisfied for the moment, "I'm gonna get out now, I'm all wrinkly."

Dan watched as the boy climbed out of the pool and stretched out on a lounger near the pool's edge. He closed his eyes and Dan figured it wouldn't be long before he fell asleep. Turning to the other two boys, Dan smiled, "I'm gonna go take a quick nap. When I wake up I'll fix us some dinner. Cody you can loan Archie some clothes, his are still in the dryer."

"Sure, no problem. See ya' later Dan."

"Yeah, later dude," Archie said smiling.

When Dan was gone, Cody swam over to where Archie floated and hugged his neck, bringing their faces only inches apart, "Remember that night in the park?"

"Yeah, that was cool. It was the first time I ever kissed anyone, and a boy at that," he chuckled.

"Well, did you like it?"

"Yeah, I liked it just fine. Why? You gonna do it again?"

"I might. There's no one around."

"Why don't we go to the pool house?" Archie said suggestively, "that way if Jace wakes up we won't have to worry about him."

"Okay, but Jace isn't a problem. He understands."

"Yeah, but it could still be embarrassing."

They climbed out and dried off a bit before heading to the pool house, and when they arrived Cody closed the door and turned the latch.

"We should take a shower and wash off the chlorine," he suggested grinning.

"You just want to see me naked again," Archie teased.

"Do I need an excuse?"

"Nope, getting naked right now," Archie giggled, and soon they were both naked and under the spray, their excitement obvious as their erections pressed together. Their lips met and their hands began to wander, and soon they were lost in each other.

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