The following story is for adults and contains descriptions of sexual contact between males. If you are a minor, then it is illegal for you to read this story. If you find the subject objectionable, then read no further. All the characters, events and settings are the product of my over-active imagination. I hope you like it. Mail me or if literary analysis interests you visit Eliot's Space.
by Eliot Moore
Table of Contents
Thirteen point Five (Twenty-one point Three)
Thirteen point Five (Twenty-one point Three)
Peter slammed the driver's door and then because he realized that was probably the wrong thing to do, he took a moment to to calm down. His hands clenched in a death grip on the wheel. He let go with an effort and slowly dropped his hands onto his thighs. He willed them to stop trembling and rubbed them very slowly on his jeans. That had been close, very close. The sense of near loss left the young man with an urge to vomit. After a deep breath, he felt a little better. The car was silent except for the muted noise of the great engines. The ominous rumble of a rig leaving the truck stop recalled his months aimlessly wandering the road. I almost lost him again. Peter glanced over to where Ethan sat ridged against the door. His face was reflected in the pale glow of the truck stop lights. The boy was biting his lower lip and tears still coursed down his face. He wouldn't look at Peter. Ethan's face was turned toward the window. Peter watched the long lashes as Ethan blinked back the tears. Peter had not handled the moment well.
"I'm sorry." Peter conceded.
This drew a slight shift of Ethan's head, but his young friend would not meet his eyes.
"You really scared me." Peter caught the anger in his voice and saw Ethan flinch. He took a deep breath and said the words again, "You really scared me. I didn't mean to get mad at you." This time his trembling voice expressed the anguish he felt. His own tears flowed. Ethan braved a moment's glance his way and then turned to staring out the window.
"I thought I lost you again Ethan."
"I'm sorry." Ethan dropped his chin to his chest and his shoulders shook as he began sobbing. His clasped hands were pressed tightly between squeezed thighs. Ethan suddenly seemed so frail and vulnerable to Peter. Instead of the confident adolescent playing football in the park, Peter was conscious that Ethan was really still only a sketch of the mature man he would become and completely naive.
"What were you thinking?"
"I know. I wasn't thinking. I made a mistake. I'm sorry Peter." The words came out in a rush; made almost unintelligible by Ethan's convulsive sobs. Ethan's hands came up and he ground his palms into his sockets in an effort to stem the flood. "I wasn't thinking. I should have checked with you." Ethan ground his fists into the sides of his legs and continued in a fierce voice. "No! I should have waited till you told me what you wanted."
"I think you let your little head do your thinking for you." That observation only set Ethan to crying harder.
"I'm sorry; I'm really sorry. Please don't be angry with me Peter."
They had driven late into the night and both were getting very hungry. Peter was shaky from lack of sleep. Jessica's warning came back to him after one frightening moment when he had to jerk the Rabbit back as it drifted across the center of the highway. After that scare, Peter conceded they might have put enough distance between Ethan and his father. When the glow of a small city materialized along the dark horizon he decided it was time for a stop. He picked the first busy truck stop they came to. The welcoming lights of the all night restaurant beckoned them both. It suited Peter's needs for anonymity. They consumed a light meal in a drowsy silence.
The man had been watching Ethan while he ate. There was nothing special in that. Such things seemed to be the geography of Ethan's relationship with the world. When the man smiled at him from a nearby table, Ethan had smiled back. He dismissed the man from his thoughts as he finished his meal and basked the inexpressible contentment of Peter's attention. He had noted the hungry look in the man's eyes. It was all to familiar and easily put out of his mind. When Peter and Ethan were done, Ethan went to the restroom while Peter pulled the Rabbit up to the pumps.
Everything was new and interesting to Ethan. The bustle of the truck stop, the shelves full of junk food. Peter left him with a squeeze to the shoulder and instructions to hurry back to the car. The man from the restaurant appeared next to him as he urinated. "Aren't you just shiny as a penny." Ethan did his best to ignore the comment. The man turned to a second man shaving at the sink behind them. They exchanged a few teasing comments that managed to make even the sexually experienced Ethan blush. They might have been innocent remarks, but Ethan could tell the man beside him was attracted. It might have ended there, except as Ethan was shaking himself off the man tried a tentative advance. "Looks like your wagging that pink tail a little harder than you need to. You looking for someone to lick the last drops off for you?" Ethan blushed, smiled politely and shook his head. This provoked a small laugh from the other man at the sink. "Tell you what little man. See that end shower stall? I think you and me aught to take a moment and let me see what you just tucked away there. Now you're done piddling, maybe I can show you a few tricks that little feller hasn't learned."
The man's words confused Ethan. He glanced in the direction of the shower stall and hesitated in the middle of restroom. The other man had packed his things away by this point and contributed to Ethan's confusion. "You heard the man boy, get down there!" Later, when Ethan had more experience, he realized that the men had been talking to him in a bantering tone; just a few rough truckers passing the time before they moved off to wherever they had to be. They had likely seen a shy thirteen-year-old and expected him to to flee from the restroom back to the safety of the adults waiting for him. He should have done just that. Another young adolescent boy might have simply braved the men's gruff appearance and told them to fuck off, or blatantly taunted them with his inaccessible charms before flipping the bird. Instead, they were talking to Ethan. So when the first man made his lewd suggestion and the other gave him a clear instruction, Ethan reluctantly shuffled down to the shower stall, checked that it was empty, and then waited for the man with a mixture of anxiety and sexual excitement. The man might have been surprised at his success, but he was not hesitant about seizing an opportunity.
Ethan was hard when the man unceremoniously yanked his pants down to his knees. The man swore softly at the sight of Ethan's eager cock and tight orbs. Ethan steadied himself, with a hand on the man's shoulder as the man made contact with the damp tip of his cock. The man buried himself on Ethan. One hand caressed Ethan's bare hip and another jerked on his tight pouch and pinched his slender thigh. Ethan came very quickly sending his small blood-warm salty jets deep into the man's hot mobile throat. After that, the man feasted his eyes on Ethan's adolescent package. He began kneading the boy's round globes as he continued to take occasional sips and sucks at the teen's sensitive crown. Ethan knew Peter was waiting for him, but the man was not finished. The man's hands continued to buffet his light frame. The man was encouraged by Ethan's passive response and asked him if he had ever seen inside the cab of an eighteen wheeler. Ethan said he had not, and when the boy did not pull away from a quick probe to his anus, the man attempted to hustle him out into the night.
Peter was paying for the gas when he caught the stranger herding his disheveled young friend out the door. By the time he reached to the boy. Ethan was standing beside the cab listening to the man attempt to coax him into the rumbling vehicle. Peter had stepped in front of Ethan to shield him and then began to shout angry words to the man, who simply laughed. There was not advantage in creating a scene, so Peter latched onto one thin arm and dragged Ethan away. As they moved back to the waiting car Ethan tried to explain what had happened. All Peter could see was the specter of Ethan cruising down the highway, lost to him once more. Peter had been overwhelmed by the narrow escape and turned his fears into anger.
Peter put a hand over Ethan's clenched fist. "Ethan, you are not to have sex with every man who asks you, do you understand?"
"Okay" Ethan replied in a small voice. Stupid, stupid! For a while he had forgotten how he was supposed to behave.
This command seemed a little harsh to Peter. Ethan was a young adolescent with a growing sex drive. Peter was not so old he could not remember. He didn't want to control Ethan's life. "I guess sometimes you'll want to do it with a friend. I know how it was, but strangers can be dangerous. They could hurt you so easily."
"You can trust me Peter. That was the first time I ever did something like that, honest. Well, maybe the second. The first time was Ed, but I'm not sure he counts because he was Roy's friend and Roy was there. So that's almost like a father don't you think? But other than that, this was the first time and I promise I won't do that again, ever. I really know better."
There had been a few Eric's in Peter's life. Peter guessed this would be the most recent one. He patted Ethan's leg and then started the car. He was tired beyond words and Ethan was stretched beyond his limits. He decided the best thing to do was give in to Jessica's suggestion and search out an inexpensive motel. He looked for a good possibility as they headed into the heart of the city. Ethan lapsed back into silence as they drove. He was looking out the window brooding. Peter decided there had been enough drama between them for a while. The incident was over, things were fine.
"Hey" Peter tried to keep his voice light. He needed to find his way back to trust that was the anchor of their relationship. "So was he any good?"
"No, he was terrible!" The young adolescent sounded stricken "His hands were dirty and he smelled really awful He should have taken a shower. He wasn't very good at all. His teeth were all over me!" Ethan fell apart a second time and it was all hot tears. Peter smiled slightly to himself as he drove.
Ethan sat in the car while Peter checked them in. When they reached their room, Peter sent Ethan off for a hot shower. When Ethan came out, he found Peter stretched on the bed talking quietly to Jessica on a cell phone. Ethan sat naked on the edge of the bed across from Peter. He was unsure of what was expected of him. Peter finished his call and switched off the light leaving Ethan in darkness. Ethan fidgeted on the edge of the bed and watched Peter curled under his blankets. After a long silence Ethan sighed. He reached around and pulled the cover down. The boy took one of the pillows and hugged it to his chest. He rested his chin on the pillow and blinked his eyes at the still mound beneath the blankets. Ethan sighed once more and slowly pushed his covers back so he could lie down.
"What are you doing? Come over here."
Ethan scampered over to Peter's bed and carefully burrowed under the blanket. He tried his best not to disturb Peter. Peter lay with his back toward Ethan and the boy snuggled as close as he dared. After a minute he touched Peter's hard back with a small tentative hand. Peter felt the light touch caress his shoulder. It quickly fell away. Peter rolled over and wrapped his strong arms around Ethan's trembling body. Ethan nuzzled into Peter's shoulder and pressed his body close. The tears came harder for a time, but these tears were different. They were together again, and for Ethan that was really all that mattered.
A thin shaft of sunlight broke through the hastily drawn curtain soon after five. It inched slowly across the bed until it fell across Peter's eyes. Peter threw an arm over his eyes to block the light. He drowsed for a bit longer. Ethan had rolled away from him sometime in the night. Their only link was a foot Ethan had hooked over Peter's leg. Peter moved his arm and looked over at Ethan. The thirteen-year-old lay exposed, the blanket pushed down to his narrow hips. Peter rolled on his side so he could be more comfortable. The motion dislodged Ethan's tenuous connection. Peter watched the boy stir fitfully. Ethan's leg moved beneath the sheets until it found Peter again. A foot hooked over Peter's calf and then Ethan lapsed back into sleep. Peter smiled. Ethan's face was turned away from him, half buried in the pillow. His arms were folded beneath the pillow and that served to emphasize the perfect proportions of his tapered torso. Peter imagined tracing his finger from the soft wisps of short blond hair down the pronounced groove of his backbone to the hard swell of his dimpled cheeks. Peter succumbed to an impulse and tugged the blanket slightly. It shifted enough to unveil the narrow hips and twin mounds. Peter imagined laying his lips on Ethan's skin and running a tongue along the seductive crease. Three hours sleep, he must be worn out. Peter was content to wait.
Peter's bladder could not wait, so he slipped out of the bed and into the bathroom. When he returned to the room he sat on a chair and considered the day ahead. They still had a full day of driving ahead of them. Despite his brief scare, things could not be going much better for them. He considered turning on the news. They were still close enough to Denver that he might catch a report of Ethan's kidnapping, or whatever conclusion the authorities might draw. He decided not to disturb Ethan. For the next quarter of an hour Peter contented himself with the view of Ethan stretched across the bed. Eventually Ethan noticed the cold of the air conditioner and rolled on his back. He stretched like a cat. Peter appreciated the new view. Ethan's flat stomach fell away from his ribs and his flacid penis pointed to the hollow of his navel. Ethan stopped stretching and turned toward Peter and smiled. "I was so sure I would wake up frightened that yesterday was all a dream. I didn't want to fall sleep, just in case. Funny, I slept good. What time is it?"
"It was a lot to handle in one day." Peter refrained from mentioning the incident at the truck stop. "We didn't pull in here until about two, and its not six yet Ethan. You must be tired."
"Not so bad; I think I slept in the car." Ethan bounce up and then off the bed. He paused to add that he intended to sleep in the car later too. Then he skipped into the bathroom. When he returned he jumped back on the bed and executed a playful summersault that deposited him on the floor at Peter's feet. Peter shook his head in amazement. Ethan knelt facing Peter, folded his arms on the young man's knees and then propped his chin on his arms expectantly. It was morning, his man was young and strong, his man was Peter. Ethan's heart was beating through his chest. Ethan eyed the fabric stretched across Peter's groin.
Peter ruffled his hair. "What are you doing Ethan? Get up here."
Ethan leap frogged into Peter's lap and gave him an enthusiastic hug. Peter breathed in his friend's fresh-scrubbed scent and lightly ran his hands up Ethan's thighs until they rested on the teen's smooth hips. Ethan sat up with a smile and balanced his soft behind on Peter's knees for a second, then he used his arms to push Peter's legs apart so that his rear hung free and inviting. His small cock throbbed while he waited for Peter to begin.
"I've missed you so much Ethan. Look at you! You've grown so tall, I hardly know you." Peter's eyes sparkled with joy. Peter's hands pulled away and he used them to support his weight and he leaned back to savour the sight of his friend. Ethan missed the contact. He misunderstood the liquid gloss in the eyes that searched his face.
"Am I a beautiful hound now Peter?" He asked hesitantly. Ethan needed Peter's reassuring touch.
"You are. You know, you are almost as old as I was when we met."
"You were so big. It's hard to imagine that Peter." Ethan reached out a hand and touched Peter's groin. The cock beneath the boxers had weight. He rubbed his hand up and down its length, appreciating Peter's strength. Peter's silence and lack of an erection were not encouraging. When he met Peter's eyes, he couldn't read them. Ethan's smile faltered slightly. He must be forgetting himself again. His earliest training had made his role clear; wait for the command. Ethan recalled the hours waiting in a line with the other puppies for a simple command. He pulled his hand back and bit his lip as he considered what he should do. Peter said nothing. The lack of communication was disturbing Ethan. At the kennel they had always read each other's moods; a look, a slight touch and Peter knew Ethan needed him close; a soft kiss, a slight movement and the young boy was quick to embraced Peter's urge. The horrible mountain party where Peter ignored him and the long years of seperation stood between them.
Ethan's heart told him he should throw himself back on Peter's neck and melt against the young man's chest. He wanted to push Peter onto his back and ride him as he had ridden Vance that golden afternoon when Peter's post card came to him. He had surprised Vance with his hunger, forgetting his place as his own need to be with Peter overwhelmed him. Ethan's young cock throbbed as he balanced on his friend. Your Peter's hound now, tell him you need him, but he has to tell you what to do. Peter seemed to be waiting for something. Ethan was not completely sure he was doing the right thing, but he knew what Vance would have liked at this point and he needed the reassurance that Peter still cared for him. "Fuck me" Ethan blurted out uncertainly. Peter closed his eyes briefly and Ethan tried to weigh the effect these words had on his friend.
"What?" Peter opened his eyes and watched Ethan.
"Fuck my ass Peter." Ethan's voice quivered as he said the words to his best friend. He grabbed Peter's cock through the light cotton fabric and ran his other hand over his own crotch pushing the wetness dewing his crown down his length. The pressure of his palm against his own ready flesh made him burn.
"Ethan" Peter whispered.
"I need you to fill me." Ethan arched his back and pressed his small hands into Peter's broad chest. His fingers splayed out to gather the sensations of the young man's muscles and the soft hairs covering his chest. He wanted to suckle at Peter's nipples as the many men had suckled him. Peter's your man now, wait for what he wants.
"I love you Ethan."
Kiss me Peter, touch me, tell me what you want me to do. Peter's precious words made his heart sing and they gave him the strength to continue. "You're my man, my new father." Ethan lurched forward and hugged Peter close. He kissed Peter's neck quickly. He pulled back confused by Peter's lack of response. A few tears began to roll down his cheeks before he went on. He took a deep breath before continuing with some phrases Dale had liked. "I'm your puppy and I'm empty. I'm nothing till your fat cock is pumping steaming seed up my worthless cunt." Ethan pressed his forehead into Peter's chest and cried. Peter did not even have an erection!
"No Ethan." Peter's voice was adamant. Ethan could hear rejection in his voice. Peter's powerful hands squeezed Ethan's waist. The words cut at the boy and he began to tremble. "This isn't right."
Ethan shook his head violently and sobbed. He searched his memory for some new phrase he had not tried. Vance's words came back to him and he threw them quickly at his friend. "Ride me Peter. Breed me, I'm your little slut. I'm ... I'm a cum whore."
Peter grabbed Ethan's shoulders and shook him like a rag doll. "Shut up!"
"I'll be you're hot little bitch. Let me be your cum rag. They all said I was the best!" It wasn't working. Peter had not come to him in the night, or showed he was wanted in the morning. All Ethan could do was beg for a place in Peter's bed. He was sobbing uncontrolably now. "I love you Peter! I'll take your friend's cocks too! I love you so much! They can stretch my ...."
"I don't need this!" Peter launched the hysterical boy off his knees with a powerful thrust. Ethan landed on the bed, flopped backward into the wall and then onto the floor.
Ethan lay weeping. He had forced himself to say the hateful words and and they hadn't worked. He did not know how to reach his Peter anymore. His fingers clutched at the carpet. He turned his back to where Peter sat and put his face to the wall.
Peter sat stunned by Ethan's words and shocked by what he had just done. He ran trembling fingers through his damp hair. The words and phrases were familiar. He had said as much a dozen times whipping some soft John into a sexual frenzy. Sometimes these things were a shared joke in the night. Coming from Ethan, they had sounded like obscenities. The young man knew all too well where the words had come from. Ethan's soft sobbing tore at Peter's chest. What came over Ethan? Suddenly, Peter found himself transported to that first time when he had carried the small boy back from Gus' cabin. The ravished boy had stretched his thin arms out to Peter begging him to take him back. His spirit had been stronger than his frail young body. Through all the tempests of the kennel the little boy had stubbornly remained Ethan, my Ethan. Peter had tended Ethan's bright flame and kept it strong. Peter thought of the long years that must have followed. He thought of his own confusion and the struggle to break free.
Peter still looked for Gus over his shoulder. Peter was the foundation upon which Gus built the kennel. He was its first and longest occupant. He knew the kennel still pulsed through his body with each heart beat. He was as bound to it as his Ethan, now cowering on the other side of the bed. Peter too still needed some man's strength to steady him. Garrett, it seemed, would never ask Peter to come to heel, but Peter was his body and soul anyway. Garrett had bought him with an act of kindness. Being connected to Garrett brought immense comfort to Peter. Peter understood Ethan all too well. Peter wept for the pain his friend was suffering. Ethan needed Peter's strength and manhood. But Peter need Ethan, not some abject puppy. Finally, Peter smiled at the memory of Ethan's strangled voice and recalled the streaming tears as Ethan spewed the memorized words -- forced himself to be Sean. This was a near-run thing. It was close, very close. Peter had seen Sean for a moment. Ethan had almost been lost to him.
Ethan had stopped sobbing. Peter knew he needed to go to the boy. Ethan had stretched himself flat along the wall as if he wanted to melt into it. His hands still covered his face. This left his prominent shoulder blades stretched and the wonderful sweep of his back exposed to the room. Ethan's small cheeks were pressed tight and dimpled from some inner strain. Peter examined Ethan's unblemished back; the boy looked all the world as if he were waiting for first cut of a thin cane. There was not much room between the bed and the wall. Peter carefully settled beside Ethan on the floor. His body brushed against the boy without response.
"I'm sorry, I wasn't expecting that." Peter brushed the back of his fingers down Ethan's shoulder. "Some guys feel more sexy when they say those things. Some guys feel sexy when they hear those things. That's okay, people are different Ethan. I don't mind, really."
"I hate it." Ethan's voice was muffled by his hands.
"What do you hate?"
"The words, they're silly and they're mean."
"Then you never have to say them again Ethan." Peter put a hand on Ethan's hip and kissed a shoulder. His lips lingered on the flesh cherishing its warmth and the life force beneath his hands. "They are just words."
"I don't know what I'm supposed to do anymore Peter." Ethan's voice sounded lost. He still hadn't moved. Peter's mouth opened against the warm flesh and his tongue kneaded a light muscle.
"I love you Ethan. I want you to do what makes you happy." Ethan rolled away from the wall and looked up at Peter. Peter smiled at his solemn face. "It will be fine bright eyes."
"Do you still want me?"
"Hey, I always told you I couldn't wait till you were a hound."
"I want you to Peter."
Peter wanted to get off the floor. He straddled Ethan to gain his feet. When he did, their cocks brushed together. Ethan's eyes widened slightly so Peter let his dangling organs tickle the boy's groin. Ethan stretched up to meet him. Soon their organs softly dueled between them. Ethan's head bent back and his lips parted. Peter met the small mouth and then they were connected in two places. Peter withdrew from Ethan's liquid lips and pressed his groin against Ethan's. In a fluid movement, Ethan locked his fingers around Peter's neck and wrapped his legs around Peter's waist. They shared an old memory, and then Peter pulled his boy up with him.
Peter carried Ethan to the bed and leaned over. Ethan dropped a hand and when Peter stepped back, the boy pulled the covers back for them. Then Ethan dropped onto the bed and crawled to the center. He pulled a pillow close and wrapped his arms around it. He lay still after that, his head turned away from Peter. Peter covered his friend. He ran a hand along his flank and up to his chest until he cradled him close. They lay that way, sharing their warmth and exchanging soft exhalations. Peter's cock was hard against the soft fold of Ethan's crevasse. Peter's fingers fluttered up to Ethan's lips and when his throbbing member pushed against Ethan's dark flower and Ethan gasped, he slipped two fingers across the boy's teeth. Ethan bit down when Peter pushed through the experienced ring of muscle. They shared the momentary pain. As Peter slid deeper into Ethan, the boy's jaw relaxed. He began suckling on Peter's fingers as Peter's iron presence found its soft home. The length pressed home, messaging and soothing Ethan. It was a gentle lovemaking and Ethan was content to run his tongue around Peter's fingers and feel the young man's weight pressing down as Peter's cock rocked him. Peter kissed his ear and whispered, "I like your skinny little ass."
Ethan pulled the saliva-drenched fingers free and whispered back, "I like that you like my skinny ass."
"Your mine Ethan." Ethan nodded agreement, reassured that he was still possessed, exalted that he was possessed by the one person who had always been there for him. Peter's hand began drifting down, but Ethan pulled it back. He pushed the fingers back between his lips and suckled on them as Peter's cock swelled in his depths and then flooded him with strong pulses. Ethan's cum burst sympathetically onto the sheet below them. Peter's youth and Ethan's tight grip kept him strong for a long time. They lay frozen together, except for the gentle motions of Ethan's tongue lathing a last finger held gently in place by Ethan's teeth. Ethan's flesh closed slowly around Peter's collapsing cock. By the time Peter squeezed free Ethan had the young man's semen trapped safely inside him.
Peter watched the news while Ethan washed. There was no mention of the boy's disappearance so he relaxed and joined his little friend in the shower. The boy studied Peter's body. Ethan admired Peter's poise and reassuring strength. Peter was a man now. The short hair complemented the new growth of body hair. His smile was still the same and Ethan wanted to do his best for the young man who had promised to care for him. Ethan soaped the young man and before long they were exploring the logistics of love making in a confined and slippery space.
They left the hotel reassured by the absence of any report on Ethan's disappearance. Neither had considered the possibility that Vance might be reluctant to test the limits of his documents or place himself on the legal radar. As the young friends collected breakfast from a drive through window Vance was still motionless on his couch in a confusion of dread and misery. After questioning the boys in the park he returned to the bench and waited with dwindling optimism for his hound to return. He was concerned about the young man who had taken Ethan and he searched his memory for young men who might have shown an interest in his hound; perhaps one of the younger swimming instructors? The cold slowly seeped into his body like the realization that his happy dream had turned into a nightmare. Back at the apartment all hope failed him. Twelve hours later he was still staring at the door with Ethan's coat draped across his lap.
The Rabbit sped across the midmorning prairie. After their morning in the hotel room and another meal that felt like a special treat Ethan found his voice and began plying Peter with questions about his new life. As Peter filled in more gaps Ethan began to imagine how he would fit into this new world opening before him. Peter noticed the boy's sugar high and reminded himself that Ethan was not accustomed to junk food. He gathered Ethan thought he would be continuing his solitary existence at Peter's place; waiting naked for his friend's return. "Ethan, I keep telling you you're not a puppy anymore."
"I'm a hound"
"Well sure, but not like you're thinking kid" He checked Ethan's face before continuing. "We're friends right?" Ethan nodded. "Well you need to do what all the other guys your age are doing."
"Hanging out on the street selling drugs and their little brothers?"
"No" Peter shot Ethan an exasperated look.
"You mean going to school?"
That was exactly what Peter was thinking about. Jessica had just assumed he would want to put his brother into school and after Peter had thought about it he realized that was what needed to happen. Ethan had thought about school frequently; there was little to occupy his time as he waited for his father and once Vance allowed him to do sports he had listened with envy to the conversations of his team mates. School had not been within his grasp. Ethan considered this next change in his life silently. His best friend had indeed called him back to a life he had thought was lost to him. He glanced at Peter from time to time.
Peter was not sure how to interpret Ethan's long silence. He had caught the boy's stares but Ethan seemed troubled. "Are you worried about going to school?" What did Peter know about school? He had never been inside of a school in his life. In the brief time he had been free of Gus he had heard and seen more about schools. Jessica's sisters still went to school. When he first got his license Jessica made him pick the young one, Kim, up at her school. Peter thought about Ethan when he saw all the young people streaming out through the door. Jessica told him she would help him get Ethan into a school. Kim had been excited to hear Peter had a brother her age.
Ethan shrugged a reply to Peter's question. "I liked school. I've missed a lot of school Peter. I'm probably too stupid now."
"Don't say that Ethan. You have to go to school just like the other kids." Ethan had to succeed for both of them. When he worked he felt good. The people who worked for Nick accepted him and Nick said he did a good job. He felt ignorant when he was with Jessica. He did not understand half of what she talked about. He did not want that for Ethan. "If you work at it I'm sure you will be great."
They lapsed back into silence as the car closed the distance to Nelson. Peter turned the radio on and music gave them an excuse not to talk. Peter thought briefly about Ethan's father in Denver. They had come too far for local news. The identification Jessica's father gave him would protect Ethan now. He wished he could be sure though. He wished he could get someone's advice. What would the man do about his missing puppy? Would he go to the police?
Ethan turned off the radio at the conclusion of a local news report. He had been following the same line of thought. The boy remembered how anxious Vance would get when people asked simple questions about their life together. He voiced his thought suddenly. "I don't think father will go to the police."
"He is afraid of the police. Well, except for Roy who helped me when I got beat up. But he had a puppy too. I suppose Roy and Ed might help Vance look for me.'' Ethan thought about it. He felt bad for Vance. Vance had loved him; loved Sean anyway. He was okay, Ethan thought sadly wishing he did not have to hurt the man. "I don't think father will go to the police" he repeated. "If I had run away from my mom and dad I bet they would have gone to the police." But Gus had told him they had sent him away and now they were dead. "I used to think they would take me home one day."
Peter struggled for a while as Ethan brooded silently beside him. Against his will he softly responded "Maybe they will."
"What do you mean?"
"Gus tells that story to lots of boys. You know, the one about them dying in a car accident."
"You mean they might be alive?"
"I don't know." Peter had been around the kennel all his life and he pretty well knew what Gus did. He had helped Gus spot children and even lured them away. He had not helped pick up Ethan, but somehow that did not ease the guilt. "Yes, they are alive. I'm sorry."
Somehow the idea that his parents were probably still alive made Ethan depressed and vaguely angry. ''So they did not send me away either?"
"No" Peter couldn't see past the tears so he pulled abruptly to the side of the highway. An eighteen-wheeler blew past rocking the small Rabbit. Peter yanked at the door and climbed out of the car. He walked off the road and sat down in the grass. After a moment he buried his head in his arms. You haven't earned Ethan's trust at all, Peter thought sadly. He looked across the fields. Instead of crops moving to full ripeness he saw a desolation stripped of trees. Peter felt very lonely until Ethan's hand touched his shoulder. Ethan dropped beside him and after a moment leaned into him.
"What's wrong Peter?"
"I'm so sorry Ethan. How you must hate us all. I took you away from your mom and dad. I never told you your parents were still alive." Peter could not continue. Ethan kissed his cheek and squeezed his arm.
Peter's revelation had hardened Ethan's heart toward his mom and dad; all those years waiting for them to come get him. He thought about the cold isolation of the kennel as he huddled crying from the pain of Gus's attention or Mel's heavy hand. Early hours dreaming that his parents would be there to save him, that they would forgive him for being a disobedient brat. Learning how to love other boys and men, all so he might regain the safety of his bedroom in Licklin. Incomprehensible as it was, Ethan had been comforted by the knowledge that in some mean and twisted way his parents were still there taking care of him. Instead they had simply failed him when he needed them the most. No search; no army rescuing him. They had given up and left him to suffer alone. He looked at Peter's bowed head. Never alone; I had Peter. Peter suffered with him in the kennel. Peter never forgot his name, even when Ethan had begun to. Across the years, Peter had cared enough to come get him. He was Ethan Carpenter now and Peter was his brother. They would take care of each other.
"It's okay Peter. I don't think you had all that much choice." That left a silence. Peter finally put an arm around Ethan's shoulders and gave him a hug. Ethan dropped his head on Peter's shoulder. "Peter?"
"Are we there yet?"
"No" Peter stood up and helped Ethan to his feet. As he was brushing himself off in a leisurely fashion Ethan pushed him toward the car. "I'm going Ethan." Peter stopped halfway to the car. "Thanks Ethan."
"Are we there yet?"
"No" Ethan gave him another playful push that set Peter going again. When Peter pulled back onto the highway Ethan kept up his game until finally Peter laughed in exasperation. He set his guilt aside and gave himself over to the joy of being with Ethan.
"I'm hungry" replied the boy, and that started a new game.
Thirteen point Six (Twenty-one point Four)
Garret was distracted by Kim's peevish voice. He glanced toward the open door when he heard the exasperated tone of Jessie's response. It was not immediately apparent what his eldest and youngest were on about. The conversation had progressed to character assassination. Garret returned his attention to Yates's email. The two sisters were usually allies in the feminine household power struggles. A falling out was rare. He was surprised when Kim retreated to the chair beside him. His girls, and their prototype, generally retired to the sanctuary of their rooms or in moments of dire emotional distress the bathroom. Garret ignored Kim, conscious of her need for space. She surprised him with a sudden outburst.
"It's not fair. She gets to do whatever she wants and you all treat me like a baby."
''Thirteen daddy" Garret winced at her tone; all teenagers now and not a tomboy among them to offer some small masculine consolation. Kim never asked him to mediate between them. It was likely dangerous territory. He returned to David's task list hoping Kim would lapse into silence. David really needed to leave his vigil and make another site visit. Garret sent a quick reply and requested the meeting on site. "Fine, I'll take the bus then. I don't need you to take me. You're so selfish." Kim added for the benefit of her older sister.
"That sounds like a sensible plan. You can't expect Jessie to taxi you around all the time." Garret responded mildly. Another email from Yates; What now? He turned on a second screen and slid the diagram over so he could consult it as he read the fresh set of notes. The man did fine work considering he devoted half his time to his hopeless search. David Yates's latest effort was a blog devoted to pedophiles. Curiosity had sent David to the new blog. Predictably it sported a picture of the missing Ethan Yates along with a computer aged picture of the dead boy as he might look at twelve. Garret was not impressed with the result. The image had no personality and projected an oddly bloated and blotchy child that was at odds with the trim young boy's picture. The whole topic made him ill.
"You would never let me do that. You gave me such a hard time when I asked you and now Kim just gets to wander off there by herself and you don't care?" Garret had not been aware Jessica was also in the room. He had innocently become entangled in the fight.
"You promised me Jessie. You said you would."
"Listen he's really shy right now. I mean he doesn't talk much at all. Give him some time."
"You need to be patient sweetie. There is no rush you know." Garret contributed. Boys and dating, that was all Garrett understood about the conversation. Kim had launched herself into adolescence with a terrifying vengeance that was reminiscent of her elder sister.
"I just want to meet him." Garret gave up on his work and shifted around. Jessica sighed heavily. Garret knew she usually indulged her baby sister.
"The thing is Mik" Jessie had invented the reverse nickname, Jody was Yoda for some reason, "I was going to stay for a while and maybe go out. I don't want to bring you home."
"What the hell are we talking about here?" The girls turned to look their father. His eyes settled on Jessica.
"Mik wants to meet Ethan."
"I could bring some DVD's and we could watch them until you get back." Kim did not see a problem. "What movies does he like? Let's phone them."
"Who is Ethan, and what is going on here?" Garret wished Judy was around.
"Peter's brother dad, duh, you know that.''
"Oh" He had forgotten that. Everything surrounding the name tended to confuse him. Jessica turned back to her sister.
"They don't have a phone..."
"Yes they do." Garret countered. Jessica turned back to her father.
"Peter won't use it daddy, he says its only for emergencies." Jessica's tone managed to imply that Garrett should have known that, that his comment was not helpful, and that Peter was being irrational about using a convenience that would have made him accessible to her 24-7. Garret was growing annoyed with being taken as an intrusion in their conversation. "They don't have a TV either. Mik, it's a school night. You have to be in by eight. Right daddy? I'll be home about two, maybe." Garrett didn't like the sudden sparkle in his daughter's eyes.
"I can bring my player. He must be bored by now. I'll take the bus home."
"You will not!" Jessica and Garret replied simultaneously.
"It's not a safe place Mik." Garret rolled his eyes at Jessica. She caught the look and added "For a thirteen-year old girl." She got up to go. "I'll take you next time." Garret noticed Kim slump. He was a little curious about this mysterious brother he had helped.
"Wait Jessie, when did Peter get his brother?"
"Three weeks ago."
"What's he like?" Was he safe like Peter seemed to be? As the months had passed Garret had become more comfortable with the hard working man, he did not think Peter was remotely comfortable with him, particularly when Jessica was near.
"He is a sweet-heart. Really shy and quiet... except with Peter and the kids." Garret's curiosity finally got the better of him. He had not visited Peter's housing project lately.
"If you take Kim, I guess I could pick her up." His youngest did not have a phone so Garret told them to leave Peter's phone on. He also warned Kim not to leave the building. As he watched Kim bounce off to get ready he wondered if Judy would approve.
When Judy returned she was interested, but not particularly concerned. She phoned Kim around 7:30 and Garret eavesdropped on the exchange. Kim squeezed an extra two hours out of her mother so it was close to 10:00 when Garret pulled to a stop near the 5th Ave. block.
The old red facade was illuminated by the security lights beyond the fence enclosing the Fourth Ave. project. Garret paused to look at the building and then up and down the street. Three urchins huddled together in a doorway to the old building. Their conversation dropped to a whisper as he considered him. A boy of about fifteen stepped down onto the sidewalk and leaned against the wall. A younger girl joined him taking station on the other side of the door. They shared a moment before Garret decided he should get Kim. The two young people depressed him. He paused as he passed the doorway. A child huddled behind the older boy in the comparative shelter of the door. He might have been ten. Where did these kids come from? The ragged boy bit his lip as he shuffled nervously. The girl glanced back at the trembling boy "Never mind Cole, its Mr. Wilson." The boy uncoiled and tried a small smile. Garret did not respond. His impassive face shifted to the girl.
"What happened to the shelter?" The girl simply shrugged. Garret nodded as if he understood. He did not. Some older boys had bothered her or her belongings had been pilfered. Perhaps she and the boy simply clung to this sad expression of independence. Garret did not bother to ask. He had only been out of the car for a few minutes and the evening breeze chilled him. He glanced at the small boy and frowned when he saw he was wearing a sleeveless t-shirt.
"It's could get cold tonight."
"Peter lent us some blankets."
"He said we could stay in Clarkson and Tate." Garret nodded again. He started away with a heavy heart. The little one would haunt his dreams. "Night Mr. Wilson" the little boy piped. Garret raised a hand.
Since Garrett had last visited Peter had scrounged some more fixtures from around the building. The stairwell was clean and as he went up the steps it became slightly warm and airless. Garret reached the second floor and smiled to himself while he opened his coat. He guessed it had been at least a month since he had confronted Peter over Jessica. Peter had been busy and he suspected Jessica's hand in the transformation as well. All of the debris had been cleared and for some unknown reason the young people had moved a couch and table into the hallway. Garret passed the door to Peter's rooms and inspected a bulkhead Peter had thrown across the hallway. When he tried the door it opened into the wastes of the decaying building. Garret stepped back into the light. As he walked back to Peter's door he paused to look through the door marked Clarkson and Tate. Two girls sat at a pair of desks; a scruffy office pool that brought to mind his payroll department. The girls eyed him suspiciously over magazines that probably had their origin in his house. Varied mattresses, cushions, and couches ringed the room. Bored residents had begun spray painting tags along one wall. Garret left the girls without a comment and decided it was time to collect his daughter from the youth shelter Peter had created with his tacit approval.
The room was dark except for a light in the nook Peter used as a kitchen. Peter Carpenter, true to his last name, had transformed the small space completely. Cabinets lined the wall above the sink. It now had a rough island with two home-made stools. The salvaged marble counter top was strewn with the remains of microwave popcorn bags and juice bottles. Kim and the boy were across the room lying on the bed under a blanket, shoulders pressed together as they peered at the small screen of Kim's DVD player. An ear bud plugged each head. Kim smiled up at him with a greeting on her lips as the boy executed a barrel roll away from his daughter that dislodged the ear bud and freed him from the blanket. Garret watched him follow the move with a graceful tumble over the edge of the bed that ended with him lightly poised on his toes. His face twitched nervously and an obvious tent in his jeans faded slowly under Garret's gaze.
Garret took in the simple clothes. They seemed new and he judged that they were Wal-Mart specials. They were the kind of clothes Peter wore. The boy was strikingly handsome in a way most boys his age were not. His slender face and arms were free of the softness he saw in the junk food faces of Kim's classmates; spare, that was the word. Young muscles showed through the tight T-shirt. He seemed a mature thirteen. His short blond hair caught Garret's attention. It spiked in a style reminiscent of Garret's own youth. It was another touch to what was a very masculine appearance. The boy was clearly nervous, Garret had the impression that in an instant the boy would be in flight, but he met Garret's eyes silently and stood his ground. Garret was used to the boys who surrounded his daughters and he had learned to judge them quickly. This Ethan Carpenter he had helped create struck him as a boy he might like; one of the few he might covet for a son. The boy took a look at his daughter and then seemed conscious of his crotch. In a universal gesture usually taken for insolent defiance Ethan jammed his fists into his pockets to hide his arousal. Garret turned away to flip the light switch as Kim began collecting her things. The boy was beautiful, Garrett tried not to stare as something tugged at his memory insistently.
Ethan recognized the man as soon as he had found his feet. It was so improbable he had frozen in his place and forgot the polite phrases Peter had coached him to use. His first thought was that the man would connect him with Denver and alert the police that he was a runaway. A wave of nausea rippled over his stomach and down to his groin. As he met the man's stare it dawned on him that he had not been recognized. It was understandable, for Ethan, the man was a cherished memory of kindness in the lonely wasteland of his life. It had been years and he had likely been a passing moment in the man's life. So this is Peter's Mr. Wilson. Ethan remembered Peter's warning about the man's daughters. He had promised Peter he would behave with Kim. He glanced at her and he realized he was still hard. Ethan hoped the man would not notice his boner.
Ethan loved the old rooms and the neighborhood. When they first arrived Peter phoned his friend Jessica and showed him around the building. He explained his arrangement with their benefactor Mr. Wilson. The boys and girls across the hall who shared the building from time to time were friendly. Peter had stressed that Ethan could hang out with them, but they were not to come over to their apartment if Peter was away. Peter had given him keys and told him the doors had to stay locked. Ethan recognized the young people as wild dogs. Sex with them would not be allowed so he quickly reassured Peter he would not get involved with them. It would just be Peter. When they returned from their tour of the old building they found Jessica waiting for them. She was sitting on the couch in the hallway listening to two girls. He knew who she was; Peter had mentioned her on the ride home frequently. He watched shyly as Peter kissed the young woman. She turned to him and gave him a hard squeeze. It startled Ethan. He had had virtually no dealings with women since he had lost his mom and he had no idea how to respond. Over the next hour he became more comfortable. His barely audible replies to her early barrage of questions sent her the message that he was overwhelmed by everything. She backed off and Peter and Jessica took him around the neighborhood and showed him the school he would be attending. He was content to sit in the back seat and listen to them talk. As time passed Jessica tried to include him in their conversation. By the time they had returned to the apartment Ethan was comfortable talking with her. Before she left, he was forewarned that Kim and Jody would be visiting him too.
Ethan settled into his new life over the next few weeks. Peter had decided to give him a chance to adjust before they tried the school. Ethan watched Peter walk across the street to the construction site each morning and waited patiently for him to return in the evening. He read Peter's books and experienced the indecent pleasure of taking food when he wanted it. The first two evenings the friends simply sat close together. Peter would read until Ethan was close to sleep. They would move to the single bed and share each other before sleep claimed them. Waking beside Peter in the morning was bliss. On the third morning Peter let him walk him to work. He met some of Peter's coworkers and then walked around the neighborhood before returning to the old building. It was sweet freedom.
After two weeks Ethan had become used to Jessica's frequent visits. She took an interest in the young people who slept across the hall and with little else to do he tagged along. Ethan was thrown into a panic when Jessica arrived in the evening with Kim. Confronted with the prospect of spending more than a few minutes with a girl his own age, Ethan shut down. Kim had been prepared by Jessica for that. Peter and Jessica patiently drew him back out during a card game.
Ethan tried desperately to remember what it had been like to have girl friends. Trapped in Vance's apartment with only a couple of male companions you were expected to play around with was no help. Neither had spending time with the boys on the street. There had been girls once and a while. They were at the mall. You only saw them though. He recalled the girls at the pool. He remembered the girl who had harassed him on the soccer field. Whenever Kim talked to him he tried to respond to her the way he had to the girls in the pool. Gradually he relaxed and began enjoying himself.
Ethan panicked when Jessica told the youngsters that she and Peter would be going out. As much as he had fantasized about talking with a cute girl like Kim he had no idea what to say if they were alone together. Ethan had tried to get Peter's attention, hoping Peter would stay if he asked him. Peter had caught his look, but when they had a private moment together all he had done was warn Ethan not to play around with Kim. Ethan was so frightened of Kim that the warning seemed unnecessary.
When they were alone Kim helped ease his panic by suggesting they explore the old building. It was a welcome distraction from being alone and Ethan had quickly agreed. The thirteen-year olds took a flashlight, carefully locked the door, and then walked quietly past the room where the other young people stayed. Ethan found it easier to deal with Kim in the dusty darkness of the mysterious building. As their footsteps pattered quietly over the dusty Terrazzo floors they began to talk. It began with Kim's questions about the old building. In time Ethan answered her with more confidence, but it became quickly apparent that he did not know much. He had explored the building on his own so he was able to show her some of the more interesting rooms. They ended their exploration on the top floor in a dentist's office. By that time they were both chilled. The smell of dust reminded Ethan of late nights in the kennel. He was ready to turn back to the warmth of the apartment when Kim sat in an old dental chair and pulled her legs up against her body. Ethan flashed the light in her face quickly and moved it away when it reflected her eyes staring at him.
"Are you cold?"
Ethan was wearing nothing but a t-shirt Peter had brought him when they arrived in Nelson. "No"
"I'm a little cold here."
"I guess I'm used to it. Do you want to go back now?" Maybe it was the dark, but Ethan's heart was pounding. Kim ignored his question. He moved the flashlight so her shadowed face was illuminated in the soft corona of the beam. His own face was lost in the darkness and he found it easier to talk to her.
"Can I ask you something?"
"Sure" Ethan found he liked listening to the girl's voice. He shifted so that he could lean against a wall.
"I know I'm not supposed to ask you this, but why did you leave your dad and mom?"
"Mom and dad are dead." The reply came automatically although he knew this was not true. It had been an impulsive response and he felt he needed to explain it more. "I was living with a man, my father."
"Your step father?"
"Did he adopt you?"
"Yeah I guess." Ethan thought briefly of Vance and wondered how he was handling Ethan's flight.
"Peter said he had to get you away from there."
"Yes" An uncomfortable silence descended. Peter had warned him about talking too much. They had a story and they needed to stay with it.
"Was it, like, really bad or something? Was your step dad mean or something?" He could hear the caution in her voice. "Sorry, that's not my business, never mind." Ethan did not want the conversation to die. He was lonely and Kim awed him. He had wanted to talk to girls, but he had never thought a pretty one like Jessica's sister would say anything to him. The thought blurted out suddenly.
"You're pretty like Jessica."
"What?" Kim's voice quavered and in the dim light Ethan could see her eyes staring at him.
"You two are a lot alike." Kim remained frozen in the twilight.
"We are?" Ethan flashed the light back onto her face and she flinched a little.
"Peter and I wanted to be together" Ethan answered her earlier question. He thought about the man he had been supposed to love. "My father was okay I guess. I just didn't want to live with him anymore. I think maybe he was tired of me. You know? I mean, he really loved me when I was little, but he was not so happy when I turned into a hound."
"A hound?" Kim's voice registered confusion.
"You know, I got older and started to shoot." He realized suddenly he was saying things that would be better left unsaid. He could not take the words back so he remained silent as Kim replied.
"Shoot? Oh, ohhhh. I get it." Kim giggled to herself. "That's funny, shoot, I'll have to remember that one." she giggled again.
"Do you want to go back?"
"It must be nice not having to go to school. It would be sort of cool if you went to my school."
"Yeah it would. I would have someone to talk to." Ethan felt so stupid around people. When he was with people his age he was always shy until someone came up to talk to him. He did not understand.
"You're nice, you'll make friends." She spoke with certainty. "You're a jock right? I bet you are good at it."
"A jock?" Vance had spoken about athletic people. He had not made them sound nice though.
"You look like you play sports. Muscles, good bod." She suddenly buried her face in her knees as if she was embarrassed. "Oh my God, I can't believe I said that."
"I play soccer. You look like you're a jock too."
"You have a pretty body."
"Ethan you're weird." He retreated into his shell in confusion. He was saying the wrong things, he could tell." Thank you" she added. A wave of frustration washed over Ethan.
"I'm sorry, I'm just so stupid. I guess I never get to talk to girls."
"What?" There might have been disbelief in her voice.
"You're the first girl I've talked to in... I don't know how long." Ethan turned and kicked his foot into the wall in frustration. It made a loud noise in the room.
"What about school? Ethan looked off into the distance.
"I didn't go to school." he answered simply.
"You home schooled?"
"Was your stepfather religious?"
"Religious? No, he just wanted me to stay home. He liked me to be there when he got home."
"School's not much fun, but I like seeing my friends."
"Do you have a boyfriend?" Ethan was not conscious he had said anything personal.
"But you're so beautiful and smart."
"Stop saying that." She replied softly.
"Because we just met."
"I don't understand" Ethan sighed in frustration. Girls were definitely harder to deal with than the puppies and hounds he had known. Even the wild dogs he had met on the street were easier.
"So did you have a girlfriend?" Kim's voice was still very soft. "Did you leave someone behind in...?"
"Denver?" Ethan shook his head in the dark. Kim slid out of the chair and walked over to the doorway. "Let's go back. I brought some movies to watch. Have you seen Mean Girls" Ethan shook his head again as he moved over to her.
"No, I don't think so. All the girls who talked to me seemed really nice. Well there was this one girl in my soccer club. She was mean. You should have seen her! She was always pushing me and trying to distract me with the annoying things she said."
Kim burst into loud laughter. "I'll bet she did. Mean Girls is a movie silly" She gave him a gentle push and he surprised her by pushing back. ''Have you seen Blast from the Past?"
"Is that a movie too?"
"Oh God you are so out there. Have you been living in a fallout shelter all your life?"
Ethan paused and looked at her. He knew he had missed so much. Russ had told him a bit, but Father had discouraged his questions and restricted what he could watch to programs the older man followed. Ethan drooped. He wanted Kim to like him and all he did was convince her how stupid he was. He was stupid. She was staring at him now with those bright liquid eyes. He was caught by them for a moment and then looked down.
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to tease.'' Her voice was gentle. She poked him to get his attention. "Friends?" Ethan's answering smile sent a shock through her body.
When they were back in the room she had to coax him to lie next to her on the old mattress. Their hips made contact and he found the warmth, her scent, and the action movie thrilling. Like driving down the highway, the time with Kim was a blast of freedom. The feeling stayed with him until he recognized Kim's father.
Garret did not stay long. There was a short three-way conversation during which Garret probed at Ethan as he tried to tease out the source of his sense of familiarity and the accompanying flush of pleasure the boy's presence brought him. Ethan responded in near incoherent monosyllables that Kim would quickly translate. Garret left no wiser but alert to a new source of worry; his youngest daughter, unusually physical with both friends and acquaintances, simply flushed and waved in the direction of the blond boy.
The ride up the elevator taxed Ed Lampman's patience. The two officers flanking him in respectful silence knew nothing of the turmoil that usually simmered beneath the veteran detective's placid surface. It had been almost fourteen years since three desperate orderlies wrestled him to the ground amidst the havoc he had wrought. He had shut himself down after that and turned his back on all the friends he had known; friends he had shared with Keith. The world had not much mattered after the hospital room. Occasionally his rage boiled over and he vented himself on some worthless soul who still polluted the clean air. He tried to contain himself, but the twisted faces mocked him. They soiled the world around them. For fourteen years Ed managed to keep the world at bay until he saw the boy on the street. It was enough to make a man believe in reincarnation, Ed reflected. Perhaps not, but it was enough to make Ed Lampman set a torch to the crumbling edifice of his diseased career. Let me see this one thing through, Ed thought and then he might go clean back to the small glade in Great Seal Park where he had scattered his lover's ashes.
Vance blanched when he opened the door and found a tall man shadowed by two uniformed officers. He stepped back as if poised for flight, then collected his wits. He offered a relaxed smile intended to soften the professional demeanor of the three officers facing him. "Hello there, can I help you folks with anything?" The tall man's expression never changed as he met Vance's eyes.
"I'm here to see Sean."
Vance's organs dissolved in a squeezy liquid mass that began churning dangerously. He thought himself a shrewd man, always able to read the people who crossed his path. Vance judged this man standing easy before him, hands buried deep in the pockets of his black slacks, knew the score. As Vance attempted to pull himself together, a fleeting grief washed through him. This man could not tell him where his boy was. Vance swallowed his disappointment. He had to clear his throat before he could continue. "Sean isn't here."
"I see. When do you expect him back?" The man's voice was so cold Vance expected the words to drop and shatter on the slate tile of his entrance way.
Vance stepped back into his living room to buy some time. The three officers took that as an invitation to enter. Vance turned back on the trio. "I'm sorry, but who are you exactly and what do you want with my son?"
"Your son?" The man in plain clothes began examining the room. He had not answered Vance's first question.
"Well he is my cousin's son actually. I'm his guardian now that she is dead. I ... I think of Sean as my son."
"I'm detective Lampman. These are officers Juarez and Putnam. Lampman turned away from inspecting the Carl Bork Vance over Vance's fireplace. "And now, when do you expect Sean to come back?"
The woman identified as Juarez had remained in the hallway by the door. Putnam.had moved over near the open door to the balcony. What do they think I am going to do? Run for it, or toss myself over the balcony? The despair Vance had been living with since Sean's disappearance returned. "He ran away. I don't know where he is." Lampman's composure vanished. The tall man stepped forward and drilled Vance in the face. He staggered backward and then flipped over the couch.
"Christ Lampman! what are you doing?"
Ed turned on Putnam.with a menacing glare. He pointed at Vance now struggling to regain his feet. "Watch him, see that he doesn't go anywhere." Ed headed toward the hallway that must lead to the bedrooms. Putnam. called after him, something about a warrant. Ed ignored him. He needed time by himself. If he stayed and had to look at Vance's face, he might not be able to control himself. He checked the master bedroom first. He tried not to imagine Sean in that room. He moved on to the next.
A bed, dresser and a writing desk. Ed took in the array of electronic games and the poverty of personal items that might have conveyed something of the boy who had lived here. Ed had to sit on the bed. He buried his face in his hands. Too fucking late Keith! I know why you wanted to run Sean, but I wish you hadn't. Where did you go boy? How am I going to find you kid? Ed sighed. He was done with the department, but he had friends still. People he had shielded from the fallout when he came forward, and people who remembered him from before. Stay safe Sean. I'll find you. Ed began searching. There were few clues in the Spartan room. There was only a few changes of clothing in the top drawer, hardly what he expected. The others were empty and there was nothing behind or under the bottoms. Not many books on the shelf. Ed flipped pages looking for paper, scanned a few lines in one of the binders and then discarded them. Sean's coats were in the closet along with some snow boarding gear. Ed noticed the light jacket he had seen Sean wearing the day they met. Its bright colors matched the boy and Ed smiled. He pulled the jacket off the hanger and ran his hands over the fabric. Ed felt the post card and pulled it out.
E.T. Han, here where I want to be
The picture was interesting under the circumstances. Roy had explained the whole puppy concept to him over an evening of drinks. Here where I want to be; the economy of the words intrigued Ed. He considered the name. Ed slipped the card in his coat pocket.
The night table drawer gave up an assortment of lubricants and a few sex toys. Ed fingered a dildo, and brought it to his nose hoping for some mark of the boy who had shared himself in the alley. He felt a pang of guilt and then laughed quietly. Whatever else the room said about the boy, Sean was obsessively tidy. All Ed smelled was soap. Ed spent a moment in the bathroom. He noticed a razor beside the sink. Sean had taken nothing.
Ed returned to the living room. Vance was sitting in a chair nursing his nose. One of the officers had brought him a wet cloth. Ed kicked the ottoman closer to the man's seat and sat facing him. Vance eyed him over the cloth. "So what happens now? Do I need a lawyer?"
"A lawyer would probably be a good idea Sylkuis; but not right now. I'm here to offer you a get out of jail free card Sylkuis. You're my card and I'm yours. You and I have a chance at redemption here. Likely neither of us deserve it, but there you go."
"What are you suggesting here?"
"What happened to Sean?" Vance was silent for a long while; then he told Ed about the day Sean had disappeared. Ed let him talk himself out. "So this young man took him." Ed asked when Vance's story trailed off.
"The boys he was playing with said Sean ran to some young man. They said he jumped into the man's arms." Vance shared his bewilderment. "Why would Sean do that? I loved him."
"Don't make me hit you again Sylkuis." Ed thought about the postcard in his jacket pocket. Here where I want to be; the words took on a new meaning to detective. Sean's hopeful comment on the street, if you saw him standing across the street waiting for you. It was a better image than Sean reduced to selling himself on the streets. "Who is Ethan?"
"I don't know an Ethan." Ed nodded. He asked for a picture and Vance produced a small album. They were all innocent pictures that stretched back to the time when Sean was nine. Christ he was so young! Ed slipped a recent photo of a smiling Sean out of the album and added it to the pocket where he had placed the card. He dropped the album back on the table and noticed how quickly Sylkuis pulled it to him.
"I think we need to be on a first name basis Sylkuis. Vance?" The man continued to watch him carefully. He flinched when Ed stood up. Ed smiled at him coldly and moved back to the couch.
"Am I under arrest?" Ed sat down and put his feet on the coffee table. Cops, thought Vance. He wondered how Dale was connected to this disaster. Lampman wanted something, Vance sensed there might be a way to extricate himself. "Are you going to look for Sean?"
"You've lost your sex toy Vance, get over it." The detective pulled a small recorder from his pocket, turned it on, and then set it on the coffee table between them. He stretched his arms out onto the back of the couch and looked at Vance. "I think you need a new puppy Vance. Tell me all about Gus."
Thirteen point Seven (Twenty-one point Five)
In the weeks after Ethan met Kim he was distracted by school. It was a struggle to keep up and he learned that he did not have the habit of work. In the first two weeks he was shuffled between programs as the school gradually became aware of both how far behind he was and how much more he was capable of. It was a rough school and the boys reminded him of the gang that had befriended him on the streets of Denver. Ethan understood how to handle wild dogs. When he had to, he bared his teeth. Those times were rare because being Peter's brother helped. Kids who lived half their lives on the streets knew Peter. Peter was a haven when you needed one. It was Ethan who inadvertently named the 5th Ave. rooms when he referred to it as the Kennel. The small circle of tweens and teenagers adopted the nickname. Ethan fit in. He was poor, quiet, athletic and bad in school.
Ethan saw Kim occasionally. Kim would come by with her sister and a few times Kim took the bus to see Ethan. Kim invited him to her house, but Ethan avoided a second meeting with Garrett. If Peter felt a reluctance to use the phone Garrett had given him, Ethan did not share it. They talked when they could. Kim patiently explained all manner of things and if she laughed at him she did so in a friendly way. He liked Kim. Girls in his class took an interest in him and he enjoyed the attention but he never pursued friendships. Ethan found it was easier to spend time with boys.
Ethan learned quickly that he should not reveal his attraction to boys. His first morning in the gym locker room showed him what might happen. His classmates laughed at another seventh grader's erection and the mean spirited comments and gossip let him know the boy's would turn on him. It was confusing because he was almost certain that some of the boys who had been then meanest were attracted to him. Much of his life was confusing that way.
Garret watched his daughters closely for a week and then let his concerns about the Carpenter brothers slide. Garret had little opportunity to see either brother. Nick Rozdeba's contract was almost done. Most of Rozdeba's people had been moved on to other sites. Garret had noticed Peter working with a carpenter addressing some deficiencies. Jessica and Peter were clearly together. Garrett accepted the situation with as much grace as he could. Jessica's relationships tended to be brief. The best thing to do was let the affair run its course. Kim's interest in Peter's brother seemed innocent. Kim's old TV-VCR was no longer in her bedroom, so Garret assumed it had found its way to the brothers along with half of his favorite action films. Ethan's picture appeared on her bedroom wall. Garrett would stop and stare at the thirteen-year-old face from time to time trying to tease the source of the boy's familiarity. He understood the intriguing younger brother was now in school. What little he learned of him came from Jessica and Kim's rare remarks at the dinner table.
Garret had continued dropping by the restaurant near the site. Things were at a frustrating phase. To look at the building a casual pedestrian might take it as complete. Inside the costs were accumulating as construction turned to the more expensive mechanical systems and networks. Garret continued to slip across the street to decompress. The restaurant staff left him alone. He could tell from their comments that the construction with its promise of prosperity excited them. He fielded a few questions from Reba as she checked on his needs for the day. Once he opened his laptop and spread the table with papers he was left alone. Occasionally he could here Reba or her husband out from the kitchen quizzing other visitors from the construction site. They were aware that the 5th Avenue block was also going to be developed. Garret had no interest in the row of properties that housed the tired old restaurant and he did not share his vision of the upscale coffee shop and deli that would occupy the space roughly below the rooms Peter and his brother shared with the street kids. He knew that unless the old restaurant underwent renovations and Reba's husband improved his menu it would see limited benefits once the construction crews left.
It was a hot July day when Garret ducked into the restaurant determined to hide from his office for at least an hour. He settled in comfortably and opened his laptop so Reba would leave him to his thoughts. He idled his time away through a late afternoon snack and flipped through files. With only a moment's guilty hesitation he opened an e-book he had downloaded and began reading. Laptop screens are not as satisfying as printed page and he found himself pausing from time to time to give his eyes a rest. It was during one of those moments that he noticed the slender figure of Ethan leaning against the fence across the street. It was where he had first noticed Peter. He watched the boy shake his head at the driver of a car that paused beside him. When the car had pulled away he began to bounce against the spring in the fence with an impatient restlessness his older brother had never shown. He finally turned back to the new building as if to see someone and then surprised Garret by starting across the street toward the restaurant. Ethan's white t-shirt gleamed in the afternoon sunlight. Garret had a passing thought about teenage boys in board shorts. Garret watched Ethan pause in the doorway and decided to invite the boy over to his table.
"You must be hot." Ethan turned and looked at Kim's father sitting over a cup of coffee. He didn't answer. "Can I buy you something to drink?"
"Yes please." His shyness evaporated with the offer.
"What would you like?"
"Chocolate milkshake please" Ethan liked the man. He had always liked Garrett's quiet voice. Ethan sat and studied the other people in the restaurant while Garrett went to the counter to catch Reba's attention. "Thank you sir" Ethan took the glass eagerly when the woman brought it. Ethan never seemed to get enough chocolate. He was unconscious of Kim's father's occasional glances as he sucked at the drink.
Garret had returned to his story. He had the laptop on the table and alternated his attention between it and the view outside the window. The tall glass was half empty when Ethan sat back in his chair. Garret turned away from his story. Ethan took another sip of his shake and played with the condensation on the clear glass. Garret glanced at his laptop to check the time. "Cold?" he asked Ethan and then they both froze into silence.
Garret could see it now and he could not understand how he could have been so blind. The childish features that had hinted at the man to come were now tipping the other way. He could still see traces of the child in the lean youth. The eyes staring back at him were the same. It is an odd world, Garret mused. He had a joyous sensation that something fine had been returned to him. Looking at Ethan overwhelmed his heart the way it did when he looked at one of his three daughters.
Ethan thought he would black out for a moment. He had been stupid again and now his new life would be snatched away from him. There was no mistaking the look in Mr. Wilson's eyes and he followed his first impulse and ran. He did not even register the shout from behind him as he burst through the door. He felt fear. It had not felt this strong since the day he had woken naked and alone in the moving truck with a collar around his neck. Ethan pushed past people on the street. The first time Gus had forced his penis deep into Ethan's trembling body had not felt this awful. Ethan ran up the street oblivious to the world around. Peter is gone. They would take him away a second time and somehow Ethan knew Peter and he would not get a second chance. Ethan was sweating now and he paused against a wall feeling nauseated. They will take me back to Father. I'll be Sean and Ethan will wither away. Vance would expect him to love again. Suddenly Ethan heaved and in a rush his after school snack came up in an awful shower mixed with brown chocolate. A hand fell on his shoulder but he turned toward the body and shoved it away with all of his strength. The person fell back speaking words that made no sense and Ethan began running again. He would not go back to being a puppy. The fear and determination galvanized his muscles and he felt like he could run forever. I will run forever, Ethan swore to himself. Nobody would take him again, even if that meant loosing Peter and the chance for a new life.
Garret watched the boy run down the street before bending over to catch his breath. He had simply left his things behind to follow the boy. He could not catch him so he decided to retrieve them. He felt bad. The boy's reaction was predictable and if he had not been so shocked and pleased to see him, he might have reassured Ethan before he took flight. His belongings were where he had left them and the first thing he did was head across the street. He needed to speak with Peter.
When you are thirteen and you are on the run there are few sensible directions to go. Ethan gave it some thought and settled on sneaking into the basement of the 5th Ave. building where he thought he could hide in the dark coolness. His first thought once he had stopped running was to go in a shop so nobody would find him on the street. It might take Mr. Wilson a while to get the police involved, but when they did start looking for him there would be many people who might recognize his face. He thought he needed to get out of town. The two things that settled the question for him were the need for his wallet and some supplies. He also felt scared for Peter. Ethan needed to know Peter was alright. Mr. Wilson had helped them both but he reasoned that when he found out Peter had taken him away from his Father the man would be upset. Peter was likely in trouble. Ethan hoped he might have a chance to see his friend. If Peter was not in trouble then they could get in the car and go away together. It was hard not to hope that things might still work out. Anxious as he was, he waited until nightfall before he crept back into the building. When he finally settled onto the cool cement Ethan began to cry.
Peter and Jessica drove in aimless circles keeping their eyes out for Ethan. Unlike Ethan, the young man had stayed to listen to Garret's explanation. The two men had more history and there was trust. Garret had known Ethan had been taken from somewhere and Peter understood this. As he listened to Garret describe the brief meeting in the Denver coffee shop he judged that the older man was sympathetic. Peter was reassured by Garret's concern for Ethan and his apparent lack of concern for returning Ethan to the Denver home he had escaped. Garret phoned Judy and the search began for the missing boy. Jessica worried about the time and urged Peter to look for places the boy might find transportation. Peter remained silent. This was his greatest fear, that his young friend would follow his own earlier example and get in a truck. Peter remembered the overwhelming drive to place as much distance as he possibly could between himself and Gus. It frightened Peter to think that Ethan might already be on the road to another city. Peter knew the streets better than the boy who had experienced a bare three weeks of freedom. The world was not a safe place for a thirteen-year-old without friends. Every truck became a reminder that Ethan might be lost to him. As night fell Jessica watched Peter collapse into himself.
The thought had occurred to Garret that Ethan might make contact with his youngest daughter. He phoned home to check. Ethan had not called. Until Kim had ripped the phone out of her sister's hand to ask him why Ethan had run. He mentioned he had met Ethan before and Kim cut him off with a barrage of suggested destinations and an offer to catch a bus down town. Garrett had not really grasped her feelings for the boy. He shook the secondary concern about the two thirteen-year old's relationship out of his mind and turned the car back toward the 5th Ave. building. As Garret finished touching base with Jody and the hysterical Kim it came to him that he knew where Ethan might go. Garrett hoped Ethan would not want to leave Peter behind.
He parked the car and moved quietly up to the make-shift apartment conscious that Ethan might be frightened off by his presence. There was no movement from the other rooms when he reached the hallway and he let himself into Peter's rooms without drawing attention to himself. It was a disappointment, but not an unexpected one to find the rooms empty. Garret looked around in the dark. He did not know what to do next. The driving seemed pointless. He thought of Judy, Jessica and Peter ranging the neighborhood in ever widening patterns and decided he might as well play his hunch for a while longer. He went to a window where he could watch for the boy. While he sat he thought about the way life connects people, the way people obligate themselves to each other, and what really matters.
Ethan dozed in the cold room. He dreamed of his parents a little, but his life encompassed the hard years at the kennel and the stifling life with his father. The time before held very little significance to him now. He woke with a start. His first thought was of Peter and that brought the sorrow back. He knew he needed to get his wallet and move on. He was sorry to leave the comfort of the old building and he knew as he passed through the dusty passages of the silent building that his stay in the apartment would have to be brief. He would not get to see Peter. His coat was where he had left it on the bed and he slipped it on before turning to search for his wallet. He remembered dropping it on the table but it was not there. He was searching the floor when Garret spoke to him out of the darkness near the window.
"Please don't run"
Ethan froze and looked in the direction of the voice. He could have made it to the door. He looked at it and even made a small move, but the truth was he was too tired to run and the rooms he had shared with Peter were too hard to leave. To go through the door and into the muted light in the hallway meant leaving everything he cared about, everything he needed behind. It was like stepping into the cold water of the lake surrounding the island. Ethan began to sob softly. It was just like that day on the rocks. Then Ethan had not known how to swim through the frozen expanse of dark water; now he did not know how to brave the cold isolation of life without Peter. As always he was trapped and he had no choice.
Garret watched anxiously to see what Ethan would do. The boy's crying tore at him and he wished he could move forward. Finally Ethan crumpled to the floor and the sobs grew quiet. Garrett watched perplexed as the boy slowly pulled his coat off. Ethan paused a moment and then tugged the sandals free. after Ethan pulled his shirt over his head Garret finally moved toward him.
Ethan was pulling his shorts off when Garret reached him. Garret did not understand why Ethan was doing this but he gently stopped Ethan from removing his underwear. He sat on the floor beside the boy who seemed almost catatonic. "Ethan, it's alright." There was no response. Garret reached out a hand and brushed it against the side of the boy's short hair. Ethan flinched a little and settled back into the ominous stillness that had consumed him. Garret tried again, "Don't worry, everything will be alright."
Ethan puzzled him. Ethan began to pull his underwear down again so Garret reached out and drew the boy onto his lap. The thirteen-year-old came like a loose puppet. Ethan shivered slightly as he settled against Garrett. Garret pulled the underwear back into place and this got a small reaction out of the boy. Garret reached for the shorts that were still tangled about one ankle and began tugging them up. Ethan sat passively watching his efforts and then surprised Garrett by reaching down to help. When the pants were settled back around Ethan's waist, the boy lapsed back into motionlessness. Garret wrapped an arm around Ethan's chest and pulled him close for a minute. He spoke into Ethan's ear gently "Don't be afraid. You don't have to go back to Denver." Ethan's body responded with a tremble and his face shifted toward the city light coming in through the window. They sat for a while with Garret's arms wrapped lightly around the boy. Ethan was the next to break the silence.
"You can do it if you want." Ethan said listlessly.
"I know" Garret's voice quavered back sadly. It was too much for Garrett and tears began rolling down his cheeks. "I know" he repeated consumed by the boy's words. How similar that phrase was to Peter's, and Garret understood exactly what the beautiful boy offered him. It spoke volumes to Garret and if he had not been overwhelmed at that moment by a grief that echoed the boy's desolation he would have given way to a towering rage. He kissed Ethan's scalp gently and slowly reached into his pocket for the phone. Ethan rested silently in his arms as he connected with first Jessica and then Judy. As an afterthought he phoned Jody so that Kim would know Ethan was safe.
The boy was heavy and it was hard to hold him. Garret let Ethan slide between his legs so that he was sitting between them on the floor. A midsummer's night breeze blew into the old room and Garret had an errant thought about where he should move Peter and Ethan when the time came to renovate. The lost boys possessed him now and Garrett smiled through his tears. Out in the city the questing cars had turned toward them; soon the old offices would be filled with people and the silence would end. He reached for Ethan's t-shirt and helped him put it on as if he was a small child. Garrett needed to connect with the boy before everyone arrived. The circle had not closed. "Don't worry Ethan" this time the boy nodded his head a little and sighed. Garret gave him a reassuring hug. "You are safe now." Garret was not sure if the boy believed him. He listened to the boy's soft breaths for a while and then the need to ask was too much for him. He broke the silence again. "Ethan" Garret whispered the question, "Are you Ethan Yates?"
"I'm Ethan Carpenter."
The answer came quickly back. It was not spoken in the same dull voice Ethan had used to offer his body to Garret. There was an edge to the words that brooked no debate. If it was not for Garrett's role in fabricating the name and a momentary stiffening of the boy's body Garret might have accepted his response.
Garret thought about Ethan's response. He thought about David Yates and puzzled out the right path to take. David's family had been shattered and the man lived in shadow now. The boy still leaning against him was not the bright boy in David's pictures. Garret knew Ethan had immerged from some dark place trailing nightmares and the fragments of chains that no doubt pulled at him as he struggled to regain the world. Ethan was extremely fragile still. Peter was the rock Ethan clung to. Still, the truth was a door Garret was not willing to close. There were people like David Yates who deserved better. But perhaps they did not have to take that path yet. Perhaps Ethan at least deserved the chance to finally pick some paths for himself. David could wait with his memories a little longer and whatever else might happen, what had been broken could not be made whole again with some simple joyous revelation. Garret sighed and replied "I guess you are."
Garrett's reply left another silence in which Ethan allowed himself to believe that perhaps things might be all right and that the phone calls meant Peter was coming back to him. This man knows who I am. Ethan had no idea how a name he had never been voiced since the day he was kidnapped had come back to him on this man's lips. Mr. Wilson somehow knew; but Ethan realized he was safe with Kim's father; he was just as safe as he was with Peter. Ethan rested in the man's warmth. Ethan had spoken with the boy's across the hall and he listened to Peter's story of meeting this man who gave them everything but asked for nothing. One evening Ethan had asked the boys across the hall if Kim's father expected them to have sex with him. No, they had responded with scorn, this was Mr. Wilson they were talking about. It seemed enough of an answer for the boys and girls who came to the kennel on 5th Ave.
Ethan closed his eyes for a moment to pull himself together. It was going to be okay. He was conscious of the man's strong arms cradling him protectively. Garret felt safe. It was the feeling he remembered in his dad's arms so long ago and the comfort he felt when Peter held him close. Ethan understood what Garrett meant to Peter. This man had known where he was and offered him safety. Ethan decided that even if it was Mr. Wilson, and even though he was not some puppy anymore, not even perhaps a hound, he might give the man a hug. He twisted around and reached around Garret's neck and pulled himself close. He felt a brief pressure as Garrett's arms welcomed him and then the reassurance of fingers on his neck and back. Peter found them that way when he bound up the stairs and burst through the door.