I've had a few comments about street kids not being the perfect angels portrayed in the story. I can't deny that adolescents on their own will make mistakes, but it's my contention that most would rather be in a comfortable, regulated environment - even if they have to abide by a few rules. Those rules should be simple, unchanging, and acceptable beforehand. Discipline need not be administered with a stick. It can also be provided with love. A child should not be forced to march lock-step down a narrow road named "Conformity." Parents should support the occasional flight of fancy. From dreams come new ideas - from ideas come innovative creations.

Every social worker in every State has read the same texts, and accepted the same theories. Their thinking is staid, and lacks innovation. Until that changes, there is no hope for a reduction in the numbers of homeless kids.

As always, I claim copyright for this story, which is pure fiction. Any similarity to actual persons or events is unintentional.

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Chapter Eighteen

August came in hot and dry, and although I usually avoided the lower elevations because of the heat, Carl, Tom and I decided to accompany Josh to the University for the day of his college entrance examinations. I had given him everything I could think of to make it less stressful, but it was his first experience in an impersonal setting. I took Eric along so that Josh would have a little moral support from his own age group, and we were all introduced to the Dean who had helped him produce the record. He greeted us warmly, and tried to put Josh at ease. He took us all to the huge hall where the tests would be administered, and walked Josh through the preliminary steps. Once he was seated in his assigned spot, we all left him to the care of the test monitors and took a tour of the Music facilities with the Dean.

It was a very long morning with Carl constantly wanting to go back to the testing site in case Josh needed him. Tom and I had all we could do to keep him from coming unglued. Eric conducted himself admirably. At one point, he said to Carl, "You must not trust Josh very much."

Carl looked at him with consternation and replied, "Of course I trust him. I just don't want him to be alone if something goes wrong."

Eric said,"What can go wrong? He's sitting in the middle of a room with a thousand other kids who are just as scared as he is. He'll be fine."

I was so proud of my son, I almost burst. He had put his finger on the basic problem, and stated it simply and forcefully without being disrespectful of Carl's feelings. I was sure this young man would be a leader of men.

We met Josh for the lunch break around noon. I asked him how he thought he had done. He said, "It was really pretty easy. I sure appreciate all those words you had us learn. I think I aced it." He had a huge smile on his face as he wolfed down two bacon cheeseburgers, a large order of fries, and a forty ounce cup of Pepsi. He was anxious to return to the hall for the afternoon session, which would be the Math part of the tests, so we didn't linger over the meal. A little before one o'clock, he walked confidently into the hall unaccompanied, and disappeared into the crowd of bright faced youngsters.

We were all waiting for him at four when he reappeared on the steps of the building wearing a big smile. "I think I did better than a lot of the others," he said without being asked. "I heard a lot of groans towards the end. I think it was the questions on Calculus."

"Did you have any problems with it?" I asked.

"Not really," he answered. "I took a long time figuring out the one on Taylor Polynomials, but I think I got it right."

We all got in the van and made it up the hill to the cooler climate of the estate. Both boys made a quick trip to their rooms to don their swim suits, and took less than ten minutes to get to the cooling waters of the pool. I sat on a pool-side lounge chair and relaxed while listening to their happy play. I reflected on the way Josh had handled the experience, the crowds, and the different people with whom he interacted. He had taken it all in stride, avoiding the rude, smiling at the considerate, and generally conducting himself with pride in his own abilities. He would do well in a social environment.

Two weeks later, the envelope from the University came - addressed to Josh Coleman - and he nervously opened it with Carl hovering over him like a mother hen. He let out a yelp of joy, and we all knew immediately that he had been accepted. His scores on the tests had been in the upper eighties, and the letter said the School of Music would be proud to have him as a student. There were application forms, and instructions for his registration, but these were coincidental to his achievement. We had a cookout that afternoon in celebration. Josh called Bobby to tell him the news, and received congratulations from all at the coast.

While at the University I had noticed that Josh's clothes were a bit out of fashion, so I gave him a thousand dollars in cash and sent him into town alone to rectify the problem. He silently hugged me, and then said, "Thanks, Bob. I don't think Mom would let me get anything he didn't think looked good, but his ideas on fashion are a little dated."

I smiled at him and said, "So are mine, but you're the one who has to fit in. You can take Eric with you if you want to. "

He ran off to ask Eric if he'd like to go along, and was met with enthusiasm. They drove off in such high spirits, I felt it necessary to caution Josh to drive carefully. Exuberance can be as much a detriment to judgement as alcohol.

We went to the coast for the Labor Day weekend. John and Billy came down on Saturday, and were met by Judy, who was a bit perturbed that Billy hadn't come a day earlier. She was becoming a bit demanding, and I didn't see much of a future for that relationship. I doubt she knew that Billy was aware that she didn't have the only vagina in the world. I was sure she didn't know he had an alternative even if she did. John and I chuckled for an hour over that one.

John told me that Billy was dating some of the girls at Willamette University, and that they had discussed the future quite extensively. Billy had suggested that John take in one of the boys from the shelter, and John was seriously considering that option after Billy left for Harvard next year.

David and Merle were doing well, although Merle's mother was failing. They begged off attending the cookout, and took advantage of our presence to go to the valley to visit her. I told them not to worry about the beach house in an emergency. The local police department had undergone a transformation since the attempted kidnaping and subsequent murder of Josh's father. They kept a watch on everything, and I wasn't afraid of anything bad happening in the Parsons' absence.

Dennis and his boys had evidently smoothed out their problems. Sam drove up in a bright red sports car with a wide grin on his face. Bobby jumped out of the passenger's side and gave me a big hug. "Thanks, Bob," he said. "Everything is awesome since we had that talk - and Dennis is really learning how to cook!"

I smiled at him and said, "A home with good food is much more likely to be a happy one than one strewn with empty pizza boxes."

Dennis drove in about a half hour later, and was as happy as the boys. "Things are going great," he said. "At my suggestion, Sam waited to get his car until he had saved up almost half of the cost. The payments are much less than they would have been, and he's as happy as I've ever seen him. He listens to me, and life is really good - it's the way I dreamed it would be."

"I'm happy for all of you," I said. "Most things can be worked out if you take the time to discuss them quietly and logically."

Josh and Eric were cavorting on the beach, and were joined by Sam and Bobby. Judy took Billy in tow, and I heard her say something about him getting a car so they could go for a ride. He told her he had a car, but he rode with John because the trip was a chore without someone to talk to. They moved away and I didn't hear any more, but her gestures and attitude suggested she was displeased with him. I got the impression from his expression that this would probably be the last time he would see her - at least willingly.

I noticed Norman watching them with a sad expression. He said, "She sure knows how to drive them away. She's getting more like her mother every day."

His remark didn't seem to require an answer so I just nodded at him and walked away.

I had a letter from the FBI AIC (Agent in Charge) when we got home. It said the investigation was almost finished, and that Arlene Billings would be moved into the witness protection plan in a month or so. He also said she would like to see Josh before she left the area. I called him on my secure line, and asked him about it. I told him I wasn't enthusiastic about a meeting, but he said she regretted her actions, and wanted to make amends before she disappeared into the system. I said I would talk to Josh about it, and call him with the answer in a few days.

I called Carl on the intercom, and asked him to bring Josh up to the house for a talk the following morning. He was curious, but I told him I would let them all know what it was about when they got there. I also called John and asked him to be present. I thought a legal view might be helpful. I gave him a thumbnail of the problem, and he said he'd be up around nine o'clock.

Carl was knocking on the door at seven, and I let him in. Josh was patiently reserved, but Carl and Tom were actively curious. I told them John was coming at nine, and I wanted to wait for him. Carl was not, by nature, a patient person, but Tom calmed him down and we sat sipping coffee while we waited. Tom carried the conversation with questions about what I would like to have him do about this and that around the grounds. John finally arrived at a quarter to nine, and we all went into the conference room.

I started by telling them of my conversation with the AIC. Carl was quick to say, "NO! Absolutely not!"

I glanced at Josh and said, "This is not your decision, Carl."

John said, "I agree. This is something only Josh can answer. He will be eighteen in less than a year, and if he doesn't talk to her now he may never have another chance." He looked to me with a question in his eyes. I nodded, and he continued. "Josh, your mother is not to blame for what happened to Jeremy."

Josh looked at him with wide, misty eyes, and asked, "If not her, who?"

"The FBI says his mother admitted to drugging him that night in an attempt to kidnap him."

"That God damned bitch," he said. "I hope she rots in Hell with a moldy dildo up her ass."

 He made the statement with such quiet vehemence that I shuddered to think how Andrea would fare at his hands if he was given the opportunity to mete out her punishment. The hate in his tone was tactile, and the tears ran down his cheeks. He was quietly thoughtful for a few minutes, and Carl put an arm around his shoulder..

Finally, he said, "I think I should see her. I need to forgive her, and get on with my life. If I don't, it will always haunt me, and I don't need that. I'm embarking on a whole new course with a new Mom and Dad who really love me, and I don't want the past to mar that. I will always love Jeremy, but I need to get past that too. If I don't, I'll never have another loving partner, and I don't think I'd like to live my whole life like that."

Carl looked sad. Tom looked thoughtful. John said, "I think you've been thinking about this for a while now."

"Yes, I have," said Josh. "I'm glad to have the opportunity to say goodbye to my biological mother. I would like to have Mom and Dad, and Bob be there too. I'd like her to know that I have a good home with caring people around me."

"I think we can arrange that," I said. "I would object if you wanted to do this alone, but I respect your reasoning, and approve."

Carl wasn't as sure it was a good idea, but the rest of us brought him around, and he finally agreed. Since Josh would be starting college in just over a week, we decided to make the arrangements for the coming Saturday.  

I called the AIC and let him talk to Josh. The arrangements were made and I made sure there would be no problem with Carl, Tom and I accompanying Josh throughout the meeting. I thought it was a good idea, but I didn't want to allow Arlene to have the opportunity to make a mess of all the progress Josh had made since the fiasco on the beach.

Eric opted to come along on the trip to Portland. He understood that he would have to wait outside the meeting area, but he felt he should be there to catch Josh if he fell into a depressive mood. When did my lovely little boy grow up to such a degree? I thought. I hugged him, and said that it was a wonderful thought, and that I hoped it wouldn't be necessary.

We arrived at the Federal Building just before nine, and were ushered into the AIC's office. He was attentive as we ran down the rules for the meeting. I wanted no reference made to Josh's imminent college attendance. His performances were public knowledge, and so were in the acceptable range if they came up, but I didn't trust this woman, and I didn't want her to know where and when Josh would be alone. I was sure that despite the diligence of the investigations, and all the convictions, the FBI had not unearthed all the conspirators.

We were led into an interview room, and sat waiting for Arlene for about five minutes. She came in through another door, and walked slowly to the table where we were seated. She looked a lot older than I remembered, but otherwise in good health. She looked at Josh and asked, "Who are all these people? I thought we could talk privately."

Josh stood up and said, "These are the people who are important to me now, They took care of me when you abandoned me. They're here because I want them to be." He took charge, and introduced Carl as his Mom, and Tom as his Dad. "These are the parents you could have been if you weren't so bigoted." As Tom rose to meet her, she gasped at his size, and sat down quickly.

Arlene broke down and cried. "I'm so sorry I did the things I did," she sobbed. "Your father just couldn't live with the idea that his son was gay. He thought it was a disgrace to his manhood. You have to understand that I loved him, and I went along to keep the peace."

Josh was unmoved by her tears. "You threw me away, but I came here to thank you - not blame you. I would never have had the opportunities that have been presented to me if I had stayed in that hateful house. I am now a recognized pianist and composer with two records on the market, and my life is good. I have people around me who love and respect me, and I have a future that I would never have had if it was up to you. Jeremy wanted fame, but he had to die to get it. I'll be famous, but more than that, I'll be the man I want to be - not the stereotyped red-neck your husband held so dear." He pulled a CD out of his pocket, and handed it to her. "Here, This is all I have to give you. The love you could have had has been spoken for."

Arlene looked at him with disbelief. "I guess you'll never forgive me for what I've done."

"On the contrary," he said. "I came here for just that purpose. I forgave you a long time ago. Now, you have but to forgive yourself. If your remorse is genuine, I suspect that may be more difficult. It doesn't really matter to me, but I do hope you find peace in your new life. "

There was little more to be said. The interview was over for all intents and purposes. As we got up to leave, Arlene looked at Carl and said, "Thank you for making such a great young man out of my kid." Then she hung her head and went out the door through which she had entered.

The meeting had taken less than twenty minutes, and I was amazed at the strength and maturity Josh had shown. I asked him which CD he had given her. He said, "The second one. I couldn't bring myself to give her 'Jeremy.'" The second disk was a random selection of Mozart, Hayden, and a Beethoven Sonata. More importantly, the title was "Joshua Coleman Plays the Masters." Since Arlene would soon be changing her name too, that branch of the Billings family would be forgotten along with the hate it represented.

 The following week was a whirl of activity. Josh had to attend freshman orientation classes, and buy his books for the term. Carl wanted to go with him the first day, but Tom and I prevented that. Every other youngster in the class had to do it on his own, and I pointed out that a gay 'mother' would not make things easier for him.

Eric and I got back to our home-schooling routine, and although I suspected that he could pass the GED test and claim his diploma, I decided to put it off until Spring. He missed Josh's input in 'class', and began to invent little hi-jinx to break the monotony. Then he found a book on CHAOS, and discovered fractals. I had dabbled with those beautiful graphs some thirty years before, but had never understood the Quantum Mechanics theories from which they are derived. Eric wanted to learn how to create them. I was out of my depth, and sought the help of a professor of Physics at the University. He met with us for an entire afternoon in mid September, and gave Eric a thumbnail sketch of what would be required of him, what he would have to learn, and recommended a list of books. Eric was enthralled, and asked some very pertinent questions. I glanced at the book list, and gave up. I had come very close to flunking Ring Theory, and it appeared that CHAOS started where Ring Theory left off. Eric and Dr. Franklin discussed hyperbolic functions, and determinants with a familiarity that left me behind. Around four o'clock the professor looked at his watch, and said, "I'm sorry, but I have to leave. I have a class at five, but I'd like to have you come visit again, Eric."

"Whenever it's convenient for you Doc," said Eric. "My Dad can bring me down, or maybe I could ride with my friend, Josh. He's in the Music School here."

"We have an honors class in Physics for high school students that you could look into. It meets twice a week - Tuesdays and Thursdays at ten in the morning. I could arrange for you to attend if you're interested."

"That would be great," said Eric. He turned to me and asked, "May I, Dad?"

I noticed he had finally used the permissive form, and said, "If that's what you want."

The professor wrote a note on a pad, tore the sheet off, and handing it to Eric said, "Take this to the administration building, and see Ms. Buckley. She'll get you registered, and I'll look forward to seeing you next Tuesday."

We thanked him, and said our goodbyes, then hurried to the administration building. Ms. Buckley was a heavy-set woman in her forties who filled out the necessary forms swiftly, and entered Eric into the Honors Program in Physics. We were on our way home shortly after five o'clock after a quick stop at the bookstore. Eric was enthusiastic about the challenge the course would present, but showed no apprehension for it. I felt the social experience would be the bigger challenge, but didn't want to rain on his parade. He'd cross that bridge soon enough.

Eric was on the intercom to Josh as soon as we got home. "I'm going to college too," he almost shouted into the phone. Of course, Josh came up to the house to get all the particulars, and they talked for quite a while over a game of pool. I wasn't privy to their conversation, but I hoped Josh would give him some insight into the atmosphere on campus. They made plans to talk again after Eric's first class, and Josh returned to the gatehouse to do his homework and practice.

Eric spent the weekend reading the textbook we had purchased at the University bookstore. He asked questions I couldn't answer. I told him to write down his questions, and ask them of the professor when he got to class if he couldn't find them in his book before that. I felt I had failed him in a way, but then realized he was so far ahead of me I should just be proud to have motivated him in his thirst for knowledge.

I drove him to his first class on Tuesday morning, and despite a few butterflies, he walked up the front steps of the building with an air of confidence. When he had not reappeared by twelve-thirty, I parked the truck, and went looking for him. He wasn't hard to find. He and Dr. Franklin were in the center of a group of other students discussing what I assumed to be one of the fine points that had been covered that day. Finally, the professor held up his hand, palm outward, and said, "Eric, you have a fine mind, and I'd like to pursue this with you, but I'm going to be late for my next class. We can continue on Thursday. In the meantime, I suggest you read this." He handed Eric a book and added, "Bring it back when you come to class, and let me know what you think of it."

By the reactions of the other students, I knew I needn't have worried about his social skills. They continued the conversation for another twenty minutes before the group broke up and Eric noticed me standing there. He blushed and said, "I'm sorry, Dad. I just got carried away. This stuff is so interesting, and there's so much I don't know."

"You can't learn it all at once," I said. "It's a complicated subject that has confounded some very smart people for more than a hundred years."

We got home after two, and the phone rang at five. I heard the professor's voice when I answered it. "I'm glad it's you who answered the phone," he said. "Would it be convenient for you to bring Eric down here on Saturday morning?"

"I can do that," I said. "Is there something wrong?"

"No, no," he said hastily. "I just want him to meet someone." He paused, and then added, "And give him a test if he's willing."

"What kind of a test?" I asked.

"It's a new kind of IQ test that will give us some idea of how deep his neural functions go."

"Eric is fifteen," I said. "I don't want him to be subjected to a battery of pokes and probes. Nor do I want him held up for examination like a guinea pig. I'm trying to raise him like a normal boy."

"I understand," he said, "but he isn't just a normal boy. He's much more."

"I know that, and that's one reason I've allowed him to pursue his ideas, but I won't have him treated like a cause celebre. He's had a tough childhood, and I'd like to let him enjoy what's left of it before he has to don the mantle of adulthood."

"Please, Mr. Llewellyn. I promise we won't damage him."

I thought about the alternatives, and decided to arrange the meeting. "I'll ask Eric," I said. "He'll probably jump at the idea, but if he decides he doesn't want to come, I'll call you. Otherwise we'll be there around nine."

I went upstairs and found Eric, as expected, in the library pouring over the book Dr. Franklin had lent him. "How's it going?" I asked.

He looked up at me and said, "Pretty slow. This book was written by a German expert, and I disagree with almost everything he says."

"How can you disagree with an expert on a subject you've just begun to study?'

He frowned thoughtfully and said, "I just see things differently than he does. When I start with his premises, everything goes haywire by the third determinant. It doesn't work the way he says it should."

"You'll work it out," I smiled at him. "I came up to tell you that Dr. Franklin just called. He'd like to meet with you on Saturday morning, and give you a test."

"What kind of test?"

"He said it was a new kind of IQ test - something about neural functions."

"OK," he said brightly. "Maybe that will tell me why I understand things that I can't explain. "

Thursday's class was a repeat of the first one. I didn't wait until twelve-thirty though. I went in at noon, and stood in the doorway. Eric gave the book back to Dr. Franklin, and was asked what he thought of it. "He's wrong, but I can't explain why," said Eric.

"Very good," said Dr, Franklin pleasantly. "We'll go into that Saturday if you're coming."

"I wouldn't miss it," said Eric with a smile.


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