Sorry this has been so long in coming. I got through another holiday season without too many scars showing - thanks in large part to the many emails I got from readers. My appreciation for the help is unbounded.
You're right. I didn't spend as much time editing the last chapter - particularly in the HTML formatting. I'll try to be more careful in the future.
Once again, I claim copyright for this story, and will adamantly deny any intentional similarity to events or persons living or dead. The story is pure fiction, and reflects my ideas for how things should be - not, regrettably, the way they are.
If you are not of the legal age in your locality, please go read something else. The powers that be want to keep stories about a love between an old man and a young teen a secret. Maybe they don't want kids to recognize what's missing in their lives.
As always, comments are welcomed at: firstname.lastname@example.org
John and Billy were up almost as early as Eric and I, but declined to join us for our workout. We were in the midst of spotting each other for some bench presses when they wandered down the stairs to the exercise room - each a little bleary-eyed with a cup of coffee in his hand.
Billy was somewhat amazed that Eric was pressing almost two hundred pounds. And commented, "Damn, Eric. You're really getting buffed up."
Eric smiled at him and said, "Yeah, but I really have to work at it."
John looked at us and said, "I thought you were kidding when you told me you work out every morning."
"Oh, we miss a day here and there, but we try to stay in shape," I said.
"Maybe I should try that," he said without conviction. "I'm starting to develop a spare tire."
"The best way to take care of that is to do 'push-aways at every meal.'"
"What's a push-away?" he asked.
"Eat smaller meals, and push yourself away from the table instead of taking seconds," I said with a smile.
Billy snorted, "Yeah, right. He even eats seconds of my cooking."
We all chuckled over that as Eric and I finished up with a brisk ten minute walk on the treadmill and a few stretches.
Eric made a second pot of coffee, and we all sat around the island in the kitchen sipping it. I took a chance that I wasn't interfering and said, "Eric tells me he thinks quite a bit of Liz."
Eric blushed and said, "Aaaw, Dad."
"It's certainly nothing to be ashamed of," I said. "In fact, I've been a little worried that you aren't getting enough social experience. More than half the population of the world is female, and you really need to learn to deal with them. That's a lot easier if you like them, but even if you don't, they are force that needs attention."
John looked sad and said, "Billy and I talked about that last night. He thinks he will be straight by the time he leaves to go to Harvard."
"That's probably good news," I said. "If he is truly straight, it will save him a lot of heartache down the road, but if he's just sampling the waters, he could have a real problem with self-identification. In any case, there's no use in borrowing trouble. He has a couple of years left at Willamette, and that will give him plenty of time to make his decisions."
"Yeah," said John. "I just hope I can let him make those decisions, and not try to influence them."
I smiled at John. "As long as you know about the problem, you'll know when you're doing that. If you keep your self interest out of it, you'll do fine."
Our guests left after breakfast, and Eric came up behind me and hugged me. "I love you, Dad. I think you made John feel a lot better."
"I hope you're right, Babe," I said. "I know he's hurting, and all I can do is stand by and hope I'm around to catch him if he falls."
Our days got back to the routine for a week or so. Then we got involved with putting up the Christmas decorations. The year had passed so quickly, I couldn't believe it was almost time to celebrate our first anniversary. Tom took both boys out in the woods in our utility wagon - a refurbished golf cart with a long bed. They selected two trees - one for the gatehouse, and a bigger one for the family room. Tom wrestled the big tree into place, and erected it in the oversized stand he had made from square steel tubing several years before. Eric and I spent two days putting the lights and ornaments on it. It was a happy chore, and we laughed and joked the whole time. Eric took particular joy in setting up the train and arranging the village. At one point, I missed his happy chatter, and looked down at him. He was sitting cross-legged on the floor holding the flatcar I had attached his watch to the year before. Tears were streaming down his cheeks. I bent down and cupped my hand gently on the back of his head, and said, "You OK, Babe?"
He nodded, and placed the flatcar on the track. "I was just remembering," he said quietly.
He had grown over the past year - intellectually, emotionally, and physically. He was now a tad shy of six feet tall, and weighed close to 165 pounds. He had gained the confidence of his convictions, but there was still a lot of the lost little boy in him.
We plugged in the lights and the train transformer, and the tree sprang into glorious color. Eric started the train to chugging around the track, and his face lit up with that equally glorious smile. He looked up to me and said, "I guess I did it right. It works."
I smiled back at him and said, "Was there ever a doubt?" He giggled, a sound I hadn't heard since his voice changed. It was wonderful.
We laid a fire, and lit it. As the flames rose to envelop the logs, we sat on the sofa and cuddled. Eric laid his head on my shoulder and closed his eyes with a long sigh. "This is so great," he said. I squeezed his shoulder in agreement, and we sat there for an hour or more enjoying each other's closeness.
The days seemed to fly by. Eric wanted to make Christmas cookies, and since he was a better baker than I, I just stayed out of his way. He seemed to have a natural flair for handling dough and batter, and he was meticulous in his detail while decorating the finished product. His patience was amazing, and he could happily spend hours creating little designs with candy sprinkles, or drizzled chocolate. I talked him out of making a fruitcake by citing the fact that it needs to age with frequent applications of brandy for several weeks. He spent three days making cookies, Stöllen, Streusel, and even Croissants. He froze most of his output for future consumption, but we had baked goods with every meal for weeks.
I finally called a halt to his baking, and told him we needed to go to town to shop for Christmas gifts. Dennis had told his supervisor that since he now had a family, he would no longer work on holidays. He was surprised that there was no argument from them, and they agreed he could close the store. He and his two boys would be coming for the weekend. George and his family would also be coming for dinner, as would Norman and Judy. It would be quite a crowd.
Eric had saved almost every dime of his allowance for the year, and had a tidy sum to use for gifts. I cautioned him not to spend too much on a single gift so that there would be enough to cover everyone.
I tried to get him to open a savings account so he could use a debit card, but he was adamant. He didn't trust banks after what had happened to the money his mother had put away for him. Reminding him that was his father's fault didn't change his mind. He would save his money in the little safe I had given him until he was eighteen - "Period. End of discussion."
We made a stop at the tailor's shop, and got him measured for new clothes. Now that he had pretty much attained his full growth, I wanted to outfit him for any occasion.
Eric bought a gold bracelet for Liz, and a video game for Butch. Since we looked at our friends' wants differently, our lists were varied. We each went our separate ways, and agreed to meet at the food mall at noon. I went to the jewelry store to pick up the ring I'd had made for Eric - a man's signet with two small diamonds (his birth stone) flanking his initials which were formed in script between them. It was a beautiful rendering of my explanation to the jeweler of what I wanted. The body of the ring was yellow gold with the initials, ECL, intertwined on the face in platinum. I was very pleased with the workmanship, and asked the clerk to wrap it. I intended to attach it to the flatcar again this year, and the box was just the right size.
I bought a book on the history of Law for Billy, and an embossed leather desk set for John. I got a silver tea service for Carl, and a Blaupunkt AM/FM receiver with a six-CD changer for Josh to put in his car. I had ordered a complete set of Snap-on tools in a new tool chest for Tom. It had been delivered the day before, and the twelve large, heavy boxes were wrapped, and hidden in the garage.
I bought watches for all the youngsters at the coast. I had talked to their respective parents, and learned that none had anything better than a five dollar digital. I bought the latest cell phones for Norman and George, and a Crystal Unicorn for Betty. Dennis was a problem, but I took a wild shot in the dark, and got him a set of dinner ware and silverware - service for twelve.
I was a little late getting to the food mall, and found Eric waiting impatiently. "Where have you been?" he asked. "I was beginning to worry."
I smiled at him and said, "Thank you. It's been a lot of years since anyone worried about me."
He gave me a quick hug and said, "I missed you."
We ordered some fast (fat) food, and while we were eating, he asked me. "I don't know what to get for Dennis. Can you suggest anything?"
"I had the same problem," I said. "I got him some tableware - dishes and silverware. Why don't you get him a set of quality pots and a cookbook?"
"That's a great idea," he enthused. "That will finish my shopping. Do you have anything else to buy?"
"Just food, and that won't take long. It's already ordered. All we have to do is pick it up and pay for it."
We stopped at Target's kitchenware department while Eric selected his gifts for Dennis, and then drove to the grocery store. We were greeted warmly by the entire staff. Tony, the butcher, told me that they had a new assistant manager, and that he was much easier to get along with. One by one, the checkers all came to the register where we checked out to thank me for writing to the main office about the old one. I was a little embarrassed when all four of the box boys helped us to the truck with our groceries, and they too thanked me again and again. I tipped them each ten bucks - little enough when their part-time minimum wage jobs were considered.
The next day, we went in to pick up Eric's new clothes. While he was having the final fitting checked I slipped out and went to a cutlery store nearby. I bought a full set of knives for him. That ought to let him know how much I think of his culinary skills, I thought. Every good craftsman should have his own tools. The knives came fitted into a velvet lined case, the insert of which would slip nicely into the drawer on his side of the island.
It surprised me that Carl would allow it, but four days before Christmas Josh and Eric drove into town alone. I asked Carl where they had gone, but he wouldn't say - although I knew in my heart he had checked their itinerary carefully before allowing the excursion. I couldn't help but worry a bit. Other than the joyride at the coast, the boys had been under close supervision for a year. I trusted them though, and figured there was a Christmas related reason for the trip.
The next day Eric and I began cooking for the big dinner. I counted seventeen in the group who would be eating, and began to wonder if I had enough utensils to go around. I put the last leaf in the table, and did a practice setting. I had to use the best china since that set had a service for twenty-four, and included matching service dishes. I found a linen tablecloth in the attic that must have been made especially for the table in its fully extended configuration. I took it to the basement, and laundered it along with the special napkins that were stored with it. Carl gave me two Poinsettia plants to use for centerpieces. After seeing how festive it looked, I just left the whole thing set up.
Eric and I finished all the little preparation chores by six on Christmas Eve, and spent the whole evening sitting in front of the fire just enjoying each other's company. It was a wonderfully comfortable time with almost no conversation. The stereo was piped throughout the house playing carols, and we were content to rest in each other's arms. Finally, around ten, I sent Eric up to bed while I shut everything down, and carefully attached Santa's gift to the flatcar. I went up to bed, and found him already fast asleep. I got into the bed, and he snuggled up to me without waking. I kissed him gently on the forehead, and quickly found sleep myself.
By the the time the day began making itself known, Eric and I had worked out and gotten everything ready for the ovens. We were sitting by the fire when Eric idly turned on the train. As it chugged into view from behind the tree, he saw the little box attached to the flatcar, and began to sob. "I didn't mean to make you feel bad," I said.
"I don't feel bad," he answered. "It's just all the memories."
When he had controlled himself, he liberated the box from the train and opened it. He was overcome with emotion at the sight of the ring. "It's beautiful," he said. "Should I wear it?"
I chuckled and said, "Of course. It's a signet ring with your initials and birth stone on it."
He slipped it on and admired it in the soft light of the tree. "It looks like there's a fire inside the stones," he said.
"That's what makes diamonds so desirable," I told him. "They catch the light and make it their own."
"How did you know what size to get?" he asked.
"Santa knows everything," I said with a chuckle. It had been a real chore to figure out what size he needed without giving away what I was doing. I finally tied a string around his finger while he was sleeping, and measured that. The jeweler took into consideration my method, and allowed for tolerance. Thankfully, it fit very well.
The day was overcast as Oregon winter days often are, but the weather was mild and, thankfully, dry. Our guests began arriving a little before noon, and Eric went into his host mode. Hors d'oeuvre appeared along with drinks for the adults and Christmas cookies and sodas for the younger set. I asked Eric to play Santa, and he distributed the gifts from under the tree - with many a "ho, ho, ho" - to the delight of everyone. Liz was thrilled that Eric had bought her a bracelet, and rewarded him with a very ardent kiss. He blushed all the way down to his shoes. Billy was a bit more cosmopolitan, and kissed Judy back. She was in her element, and "thanked" him long and often. Dennis was astounded with his gifts, and thanked us profusely. Bobby and Sam were happy that they now had the means to cook in the house, and the book of recipes to show them all how. They teased Dennis without restraint for quite a while to the enjoyment of everybody.
Eric and Josh stood together quietly until they got my attention. "Josh and I went to town the other day. We had a hard time thinking of what to get for you, Dad."
Eric paused, and Josh continued his thoughts. "We decided make a record for you." As Josh said this, Eric ran to the CD changer, and after a slight pause the unmistakable sounds of "Jeremy" came through the speakers. It was Josh playing a piano at his best, but there was more. They had enlisted the help of a chamber orchestra, and the piece became a symphony. The theme soared and dipped like a bird, the strings chasing after the piano, and intertwining woodwinds keeping pace in the background.
As the last strains of the haunting melody faded away, I asked, "How did you know that's what I wanted?"
"It was Eric's idea," said Josh. "I got my music teacher to help me write it down, and he played it for the Dean of the Music School at OU. The Dean did the orchestration. It just snowballed from there, and we went down to the recording studio last week and made the record."
John piped up, "And it's all legal. I made sure Josh's interests were protected. He owns the copyright, and will receive royalties from the record - and from any other performance by other artists or groups."
I was astounded. "It seems like everybody knew about this except me."
"Pretty much," said Eric. "We were afraid you'd find out and ruin the surprise."
"I guess it's the best kept secret since the Manhattan Project," I said with a chuckle.
Josh smiled and said, "I get something out of it too. If I can pass the Entrance Exams, the Dean said I can be accepted at the Music School on a scholarship next fall. He wants me to study harmony, composition, and something he called 'Point and Counterpoint'."
"That's wonderful news, Josh," I said. "Since we have a goal, we'll work toward that end this spring."
Carl was beaming, but I could see reservations in his eyes. Letting go of Josh - even for a day at a time - would be hard for him.
Eric and I carved the roasts again, one at each end of the table. It had worked well on Thanksgiving so I saw no point in changing it. I had bought four first cut Prime Ribs - four ribs each, and there was just enough to sate the appetites of all assembled. Eric used his own carving set from the cased knives I had given him, and made a point of letting everyone know it. He was so proud of them, I couldn't think of anything I could have given him that would make him as pleased. Liz also noticed his new ring, and gushed over the size of the gems, but women are into things like that. I had been glad that Eric had seen the overall design as beautiful without being ostentatious, and I honestly thought the mode of presentation was more important to him than the value of what was in the box.
The dinner was perfect. Tony had outdone himself with the selection of the roasts, and the friendly conversation was a joy. Eric and I had made Creme Brulee for dessert in individual ramekins, and the fiery presentation was well accepted. I used Baccardi 151 Rum to make the flames. I had found it didn't have the strong aftertaste that Everclear does.
Coffee was served in the family room, and soon the party broke up. Eric kissed Liz goodbye, and Billy made plans to visit Judy in the near future. John and Billy left for home about an hour later with plans to return for New Year's Eve.
There was little left to put away so cleanup was a breeze with both Eric and I attending to it. By five-thirty, we were enjoying the last of the fire with Dennis and his boys, but shortly thereafter we all climbed the stairs for a nap.
Eric and I were putting together a light supper around eight o'clock when Dennis wandered in. "How's it going, Dennis?" I asked.
"Wonderful," he said, "and terrible. I never know which."
I chuckled and said, "I know what you're going through. I wish I could help, but that's going to have to be your learning experience."
He looked at me quizzically. "You can't even imagine what it's like - much less know."
"I imagine it's somewhat different for you, but the problems are the same. I knew I was gay at an early age. You came to the realization much later. Likely, it's harder for you to deal with. You had to throw out all that straight baggage and start over."
"That's only part of it," he said. "I feel like my life isn't my own any more."
"That's your fault," I admonished him. "You have to make it clear to the boys that they are not in control."
The sounds of Bobby and Sam coming down the stairs caused him to say, "Can we talk about it later?"
I nodded, and looked at Eric with an inquiring expression on my face. He nodded at me, and we greeted the new arrivals as if nothing had been said.
After supper, the boys all went into the game room to play pool, and Dennis and I retired to the computer room where we would be guaranteed some privacy.
"Now what, exactly, is the problem?" I asked Dennis.
"You nailed it when you said I'm not in control," he said. "Sam is the head of the household. I only get to offer suggestions, and then it's two to one. Bobby votes with Sam on everything."
"I imagine that's pretty galling," I observed.
"I really don't mind most of the time, but some things are just too expensive. For an example, I don't have the money to put in a swimming pool."
"I'm sure you don't," I said, "but don't the boys realize that?"
"They say it's possible if I take out a loan."
"That's a solution, but your property taxes would skyrocket," I said. "You'd have to figure that into the added expense - along with the payments on the loan - not to mention the increased electric bill for the pumps and heater."
"I know that, but Sam doesn't realize the money has to be repaid. He thinks the loan will disappear as if by magic."
"I get the impression that this is only one of many problems," I said.
"Sam wants a car too," he said. "I'd like to get him one, but then Bobby will want one too pretty soon, and they don't understand why they can't have them. Hell, just the insurance for two teenaged drivers would be almost two hundred a month."
"Well, obviously, I don't have a problem with money, but that wasn't always true. I know what you're going through. I used to have to dip into my food budget to throw parties for the boys I wanted. My entertainment budget was the lion's share of my income."
"I'm at my wit's end," he said. "I love both boys to distraction, but Sam is wearing a little thin around the edges. Almost every day brings some new demand. I don't know what to do."
"The best thing you can do is say 'NO'," I said. "Put your foot down. The only weapon they have is sex, and if the relationship is founded on that, it's flawed anyway, and there is no way to repair it."
"I don't want to go back to the way I used to live, but the way things are now, I can't think of anything else."
"It probably wouldn't be that easy anyway," I said. "Let's get them in here and talk to them."
I set up a conference layout on the table - a pad and pen at each place, and a pot of coffee with cups on the side table. Then I went into the game room, and asked all the boys to join us for a talk. I paid special attention to their expressions as they walked into the conference room. Sam was concerned; Bobby watched Sam; Eric was puzzled.
When they were all seated, I opened the proceedings. "Dennis has a problem. It seems there isn't enough money to pay for all of your demands." I said this last directly to Sam with a short glance at Bobby. "Before either of you say anything, I want to remind you that I will not tolerate any lies. For the purposes of this discussion, a lie will be defined as anything that is not entirely the truth. A 'white lie' might be tactful, but it is a lie, nonetheless. Are we clear on that point?"
Everyone nodded, and I continued. "I suppose I could render the problem moot by giving Dennis a substantial gift of cash, but I won't do that. It would only postpone the need for this discussion, and wouldn't solve anything." I watched Sam's face fall, and figured that was going to be his first suggestion. "Dennis, what is your take-home pay?" I asked.
Dennis looked at me and said, "Thirty-eight hundred a month, give or take."
I wrote it down on the pad in front of me. "How much do you get, Sam?"
"That depends on my hours," he said. "Usually around fifteen hundred."
"Do you get any money from outside the family, Bobby? I asked.
Bobby shook hs head and said "No. I can't get a job until I'm sixteen."
I nodded and said, "OK. Now what are the household expenses, Dennis? Property taxes?
"I put away six hundred a month for that, and pay them early to get the discount," he said.
"It varies, but averages out to about a thousand a month."
"I'm on 'Equal Pay' with the electric company. That's a hundred and twenty three. The phone is forty or thereabouts."
"Car payments and insurance?"
"The car payment is five hundred and twelve. Insurance is three hundred and forty every six months for the car, and on the house it's fourteen hundred a year."
"And we have to add the intangibles like clothing, unexpected expenses, and savings for a rainy day," I said. "That doesn't leave much."
I looked at Sam. "What do you do with your income?" I asked him.
He shrugged his shoulders and said, "I don't know. It just gets spent."
"I understand you want a car," I said.
"Yeah," he said with a grin.
"Why don't you buy one?" I asked. "The payments, even adding in the insurance, wouldn't take all of your check, and it doesn't appear that you have any other demands on your money."
"I don't have any credit," he said.
"I'm sure you could arrange for Dennis to co-sign with you, with the understanding that he would give the car back if you missed a payment on either the car or the insurance. Maintenance and upkeep would also be your responsibility. If you don't have gas money, you'll have to park it until you get paid."
Sam was marginally convinced, and smiled. He looked at Dennis and asked,"You'd do that for me?"
Dennis hadn't even thought of that solution, but he nodded and said, "Of course I would. I 'd expect you to be a responsible driver though. I don't want to have to identify your remains at the county morgue some rainy night."
"Good point," I said. "I think Sam should take a driver's ed course - one that includes some of the grisly pictures of people who thought 'it can't happen to me.' Remember, sometimes they don't die. They're left with nothing more than a shell to live in painfully for the rest of their lives. An instant of poor judgement can ruin your life forever."
Sam decided that was a good idea, and seemed satisfied that this talk was going to be a good one for him.
"Would you like to buy the swimming pool too?" I asked him.
His eyes glazed over, and he looked mystified as he asked, "Swimming pool?
"Yes," I said. "Dennis tells me you think he needs a pool. Since he would have to pay about a hundred dollars a month more in taxes on his improved property, don't you think it would be fair for you to pay for the installation? After all, it would give you and Bobby more pleasure than anyone else, and Bobby doesn't have an income."
Suddenly, Sam saw where I was going. He cast around for support from Bobby and said, "Dennis would get pleasure from watching us swim."
Why in the world would you assume that? I asked.
"He likes to watch us when we're dressed in shorts - or completely naked."
"I presume you're saying that he should spend ten or twelve thousand dollars so he can watch you swim. Is that right?"
Sam blushed. "Well, I thought he might."
"That's a red herring," I said. "Dennis can watch you every night if he's that kinky, and I don't think he is. The pool would be for your enjoyment, not his. Tell things as there are, not the way you'd like them to appear. The fact of the matter is that Dennis can't afford a pool - whether or not he would like to have one. His money is tied up in supporting two teenage boys for whom he supplies food, lodging, clothing, and a host of luxury items too numerous to mention. He also supplies you with love, security, and sex whenever you want it. All he asks of you is a return of that love in some small measure.
"I thought helping Dennis adopt you two would solve both your and his problems, but from what he has told me, I was wrong. You have taken over his life, his home, and are now trying to place a claim on his income. If it hadn't been for Dennis, you would be out on the streets again, Sam. You said you would take Bobby with you, but who was that for? Certainly not for Bobby. He had a place at the shelter. It was for you, pure and simple. You wanted a place to stick your dick, and having Bobby around was easier and safer than finding someone else.
"Sam, you are selfish. You gauge a friendship on how much you can get from it, not how much you can give to it. You tried to insinuate your way into my home without any consideration for what your method would do to Eric. I talked to you about it then, and I thought you had understood what I was trying to tell you. Sex should be an outcome of love, not a pathway to it. Sex as a result of love is a satisfying culmination of a relationship. Lust is never satiated. You are a sexual addict, and as an addict you selfishly take pride and dignity along with sex from whomever you can."
Sam sat with head bowed, and tears running down his cheeks. "You don't know how it was for me. I had to take what I could - when I could - and nobody ever cared whether I was happy or not."
"I do know what you went through," I said. "I spent some time on the streets too. Not very long, I'll grant you, but I had the same outlook then that you have so much trouble with now. I sold my body to the highest bidder on the streets of New York when I was younger than you are. I didn't have to. I wanted to.
I spent a lot of years learning the things I'm trying to teach you now. I was a sex addict too. It took five years in prison to allow me the time to look into myself. At the beginning, nothing was my fault, and I hated the people who had passed the laws that put me there. As the time wore on, I looked a little deeper, and eventually realized that being there was my fault. I addressed the problems I found in myself, and I changed my outlook. Wow! What an epiphany. I found that the more I gave to a relationship, the more was returned. My cup runneth over. At last I was in control of my own destiny. I still don't make friends very easily, and I'm still a misogynist, but the important thing is that I like myself, and I don't have to apologize to anyone for that.
"As far as being happy goes, you will always be responsible for your own happiness, but there are people who care about you. I wouldn't take the time to talk to you if I didn't care. Dennis has opened his home to you, and tried to give you everything you need. His problems arose when he tried to give you everything you want. John has given you his time to try and provide you with a decent, secure home. Bobby has given you his trust. What have you given to deserve all this caring? Your dick? Shit, Sam, there's one of those hanging between every man's legs. What makes yours so special? Take a good look at yourself. Where will you be in ten years. As your youth and good looks fade, who will want that marvelous cock? In twenty years, will you be paying for the sex you now expect to be paid for? It's been said that change is a natural function of living. Take charge of your life now so that your future can turn out the way you want it to - not the way it's headed."
There was little more discussion, but Dennis and the boys worked out a plan that put him back in charge. I moderated the plans, but didn't interfere. I felt the train wreck had been averted, and there was no point to pouring salt on Sam's wounds. The next few months would tell if we had accomplished anything good.
New Year's Eve was pretty much a repetition of the year before, except that John and Billy were no longer sharing the same bed. They were still close, but Billy opted to use the third bedroom. John was somber, but acceded to his wishes. I learned that Billy had moved into his own room at home too, and I waited for John to say something about it to me, but he didn't. I decided to stay out of it, and let them solve it between them since it didn't seem to affect their relationship at all. They were still happy with each other.
My birthday in March brought an unexpected gift - the news that the first of the SOCFC members had been sentenced to long terms for Child Abuse, Attempted Murder, and other related charges. Andrea Thompson was one of them. She was completely unrepentant, and had the gall to give an oratory tirade against the Judge and the Justice System in general. When she finished, the judge sentenced her to a total of fifty years - with her sentences to start after she completed six months in the county jail for Contempt of Court.
John told me that there was so much political corruption involved in the prosecution of the leaders of the group that the US Attorney in each affected District would be taking over the cases, and filing charges of Racketeering under the RICO act. That move stirred up a can of worms. Politicians, who had been dragging their feet, suddenly became the conservators of the Public Weal, and started prosecuting the offenders more vigorously lest someone start a rumor that they, too, were a part of the conspiracy. "Save your own ass" became the watchword, and the FBI had so much information that it took longer to process it in an effort to bring charges against every one of those responsible.
Carl was concerned that Josh would have to testify against his mother, but John told him that was unlikely. She was such a font of information, no charges had been filed against her, although the possibility was held over her head in case she changed her mind about testifying.
The days flew by, marked by the usual domestic events - boy's birthdays, and various holidays. We opened the beach house on Memorial Day again, but we didn't spend as much time there. One reason was Josh's upcoming examinations for his college acceptance. I worked very hard to prepare him, and he progressed quickly. He was now seventeen, and in demand by musical groups as a performer. In public, he was a shy, retiring young man, but on stage he was a tiger. He could grasp an audience, and wring every bit of emotion from them. His albums were hot items in the stores, and "Jeremy" alone attained sales of more than a hundred thousand copies in less than six months - quite an accomplishment for a recording in the Classical genre by an almost unknown artist.
Carl was beside himself with worry that all the attention would affect him adversely, but Josh went through the days with an almost embarrassed air of "what's happening." He decided to avoid interviews by the media, a move of which I approved. Even though he had made great strides recovering from Jeremy's death, he was still quite fragile when faced with talking about it.
Eric began to sulk because of the lack of attention paid to him. I asked him, "What's the matter?"
His response was a bit sullen. "Nothing."
I looked at him closely and said, "That's true, but I don't think you're including your life."
"I guess I'm lonely," he admitted. "You never pay any attention to me any more."
I put my arms around him and drew him into a hug. "I have been spread pretty thin lately," I agreed, "but you should know by now that you are the center of my life," For all his perceived maturity, this was still a fifteen year old adolescent full of the insecurity of defining himself. He, in his own way, was fragile too.
"I'm happy for Josh, and all," he said, "but I miss doing things with you like we used to."
"I miss all that too," I said. "I think you've been very patient, but we need to get Josh on the right track. You have a long time to learn the things he needs to know in a hurry."
"Like what?" he asked. "It seems to me he knows everything he needs to. He's doing really great. Everybody treats him like the great Joshua Billings. I liked him better when he was just my friend, Josh" He began to tear up.
"That's one of the things he needs to learn how to handle," I said drawing him closer, and rubbing his back. "He also needs to learn how to judge what other people have in mind for him - are they really friends or do they just want to use him. And through all that, he's trying to define who he is - is he really gay, and how will others react if or when they find out. It's a very difficult time for him - a time of both information overload and information deficit. For the past year and a half he's had no worries that everything in his life was good. Everything in his experience here has been honest and true. He hasn't had to deal with lies and broken promises. Now he's getting ready to go out into a world where people will lie to him, and try to cheat him just to get what they want from him. "
"I guess I'm being pretty selfish," he said.
"We're all a little selfish at times," said. "Carl is selfish in that he doesn't want to let Josh grow; Tom is selfish because he wanted to teach Josh how to do the things he likes; I'm selfish because I want you to show the world that my theories are better than the rest of Society's. The only one who isn't selfish in all this is Josh. I think he would happily give it all up and go back to the streets if he could have Jeremy back."
"I know he would," said Eric. "He dedicates everything he does to Jeremy's memory."
We sat there for a long time with Eric drawing in a reserve of our love. We made love that night, coming closer than ever to the essence of each other's soul.
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