Written by Mark The Goodpen
By now I'm sure you know the drill, so I won't bore you with another disclaimer to ignore.
Thank you to everyone who has e-mailed their feedback on this story. You're e-mails let me know I should keep the Sierra Inn in business.
Feedback is always welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org
I stare at Doris for a moment, trying to comprehend exactly what it is she has just asked of me. Three weeks ago I would have laughed in her face, but now I am almost willing to do what I once thought unthinkable. The Sierra Inn is my baby, it is the product of many long days and nights, bargaining with banks, arguing with contractors, pleading with construction workers. Up until recently it has been a constant struggle just to stay a float, and the thought of selling it now, just doesn't make sense to me. I am a person who up until two weeks ago thought in business terms and followed numbers and logic and definitely not my heart. But now my heart seems to be in command, and Brian is at the very center of it.
The motel has been more than just my livelihood for the past three years, I'm not joking or exaggerating when I call it my baby. But now with Brian in my life, I know he has to take precedence and I don't mind that for a second. The problem is, my entire life is tied to the Sierra Inn, I sell it now and I come up with absolutely nothing.
"Doris, that's a very loaded question," I say, still not wanting to answer it.
"I understand that," Doris says. "And that's why I feel horrible for even asking it. But I need to know that Brian will be taken care of, and the way Ms. Harden was speaking made it sound as though your first and only love is that motel."
"It was definitely my first," I say. "But it's not my only love. And, Doris you're asking me to give up my career. I'm sorry but I hardly think that's fair."
"I'm not asking you to give it up," Doris says. "Just amend it is all."
"I'm a hotel manager," I say, some anger coming through in my voice. "The fact that I own my own motel gives me a lot more freedom than if I worked as a general manager at somebody else's motel. And quite frankly with the way things are today I think it would be quite stupid of me to go searching for something else."
"Wouldn't you be able to live off the money you made from selling the motel?" Doris asks.
"No," I say, quickly. "Doris I got banks to finance virtually the entire thing with loans, from the land to my employees first year of pay. And I had to fight tooth and nail for every cent I got from those banks too. I'm still not even half way to paying back all the loans. If I sold it now, I'd get enough to pay back the loans and maybe pay for Brian's second semester of college."
"So you're not willing to sell it?" Doris asks. "Not even for Brian?"
"It's not a matter of being willing," I say. "It's that I can't. I would do anything for Brian, but it has to make sense. Me being unemployed does him absolutely no good, and quite frankly will ruin any chance of me being able to adopt him."
"I see your point," Doris says, slowly. "See Kevin, I'm not trying to blackmail you or anything. It's just that Brian's father was a workaholic and it cost him dearly, he never got to spend time with his only son. And I know it hurt Brian as well. If you intend to adopt him, I need to know he has your full commitment."
"He does, I promise you that," I say, meaning it with all of my heart. "But, I hope you see that selling the motel isn't feasible."
"Well I do understand better now," Doris says. "I wouldn't even have thought to mention something like this, but Ms. Harden got me so worked up about you being married to the motel. I felt as though I needed to speak with you about it."
"Well, I'll take care of Ms. Harden," I say, now more determined than ever to de-rail whatever train Julie Harden is conducting. "But Doris, I promise you I will take the best care of Brian possible. And I fully intend to be there for him no matter what."
"I was never worried about your intentions," Doris says. "At least not after I met you, I quickly saw how nice of a person you are."
"Thank you," I say, guilt yet again slapping me across the face. "So does this mean I can keep my motel?"
"With a couple of conditions," Doris says.
"What are those?" I ask.
"You work Monday thru Friday only," Doris says. "And if you have to bring Brian there after school, you're there no later than five pm."
"I can do that," I say, with a little bit of a gulp.
I don't like making promises that I can't be absolutely sure I'll be able to keep. As of right now I only have one manager, Matt who probably didn't sign on to work eighty hour weeks. It's not that I don't trust my employees, because I do. But I feel more comfortable being at the motel myself, and there are certain things that I would prefer get done by me. Keeping my promise to Doris would mean having to lean on other people more than I have ever had to do before, and I'm unsure if that's a step I am willing or able to make. I know if it's the difference between being allowed to adopt Brian or not, I will find a way to make this work. I just didn't want to have to.
"Good, then we shouldn't have any problems," Doris, who is obviously not a mind reader, says with a smile. "Kevin, I must say you keep impressing me. I was half way expecting you to storm out of here at the mere suggestion of selling your motel. Level headedness is important in being a parent, especially a single one."
"Well I learned very early on that yelling and screaming usually doesn't get you anywhere," I say. I can instantly mentally recall scenes of myself screaming in the faces of contractors only to end up in a worse position than I was before I started yelling.
"I don't know about you," Doris says. "But I feel a whole lot better now," she says with a smile.
"I'm glad," I say, a smile is on my face too but I'm more tense now than I was before our conversation.
Doris and I join Brian in the living room. I'm sure he was listening to us talk more than paying attention to the television but he doesn't say anything about it. Brian starts to tell Doris all about his new computer and the games for it, and the Suns. Doris acts like she knows what Brian is talking about, but I can tell she has no clue. A couple of hours pass with the three of us talking but it's a school night so Brian and I head home before dinner, with an invitation to come back next Sunday.
Brian is silent on the way home, but I am too lost in my own world to even notice if he's distracted or simply just doesn't have anything to say. I'm hoping Julie Harden doesn't show her face around me anytime soon, because if she does I will be heading to prison for murder. Having her own pre-conceived notions about me is one thing, but trying to rub them off on other people is totally a different story. Telling Doris to ask me to sell the motel, almost tops telling my parents about my plans to adopt Brian before I was able to (not that I really minded that part). As I pull into my parking space in my complex I'm weighing my options of what to do next when Brian breaks the silence. Not by talking but by bursting into tears.
"Angel. What's wrong?" I ask quickly as we sit in the parked car. Brian has his back turned to me, his face buried in his hands which are pressed up against the window.
"No....th...ing," he says, between heaves of tears.
"Come on, Brian nobody cries like this over nothing," I say, as I start gently rubbing his back. "You can tell me."
"I...don't....want...to," he sniffles, still not looking at me.
"Okay," I say, residing myself to the fact that he's just going to need some time. "Well, if you want to later you can."
"K," he says, seemingly having calmed himself down, at least for the moment.
We head into the apartment and Brian immediately goes for his room, and shuts the door. I start to think about what I could have done or said to anger or hurt him, but I come up absolutely empty. I stand in the hallway outside of his closed bedroom door, listening to him crying, unsure of what to do. Finally deciding just standing in the hallway is stupid, I gently knock on his door.
"Angel, can I come in?" I ask.
"Yeah," I hear him say, through his crying.
I slowly open the door, and find Brian lying on his stomach on the bed, his face buried in his pillow. I take a seat next to him, and start gently rubbing his back, but he only seems to start crying harder now. The only time I've seen Brian cry was after the bad dream he had, the first week I met him. Up until now I hadn't really thought about it, but for someone who has been through as much as Brian has it does seem a bit strange. I would think he would be doing a lot more crying then he has. I sit next to him for what seems like an eternity, gently rubbing his back, letting him cry whatever it is out. Finally Brian's crying slows, and he rolls onto his side, facing me. His face and eyes are red, his cheeks still have tears running down them but he is no longer balling.
"Do you want to talk about it?" I ask.
"I don't know," Brian says with a sniffle as he looks past me.
"Angel, you know you can tell me anything," I say, trying to make him feel comfortable. "I won't tell anybody else, and I will never get mad at you."
"You promise you won't get mad?" Brian asks, now looking right into my eyes.
"I absolutely promise," I say. "Now do you feel comfortable talking about it?"
"Yeah," Brian says, as he sits up on the bed and starts wiping his eyes with the back of his right hand. "I miss my parents," he says, with another loud sniffle.
"Oh angel," I say, as I grab him into a hug. Brian buries his face into my chest and I feel him give a couple more heaves of tears. "It's okay, I know you miss them. Did going back to your Grandma's today remind you of them?" I ask, as I keep him in the hug, gently rubbing his back with my right hand as my left is on the top of head.
"Yeah," he says into my chest. "The last time I was there was with my Mom and Dad."
"Did you have fun there with them?" I ask him.
"Yeah," he says, wiggling himself out of my hug so he can breathe normally.
"Angel, when was the last time before today you cried about what happened to your parents?" I ask, in an attempt to try to help him.
"I don't know," he says, looking down into his lap as he is now sitting Indian style right in front of me on the bed. "I cried about it when the doctor told me they were dead. And then sometimes at night in the first place Ms. Harden put me. But one of the other kids in the house started making fun of me for crying," he says, still looking into the gap in between his legs.
"And you haven't cried about it since?" I ask. Brian quickly shakes his head no. "You do know it's okay to cry? Don't you?"
"Yeah I do," Brian says, looking up at me for the first time. "That's what the shrinking lady told me."
"Shrinking lady?" I ask, confused.
"The lady, my first foster parents took me to," Brian says. "The guy called her a shrink or something."
"Oh," I say, with a little chuckle. "You mean a psychiatrist. Some people call them shrinks. Did you go to her very long?"
"I don't remember," Brian says.
"Did you tell that lady about your parents at all?" I ask him.
"A little," he says. "But I don't like talking about them too much."
"It makes you upset?" I ask.
"Yeah," he says.
"Well, maybe it would be a good idea to talk about them sometimes," I say. "Like you've been doing with me, just keep doing that. Like if you remember something you used to do with them that was fun, or something funny about them, you can tell me."
"You won't get angry?" he asks.
"Absolutely not," I say, emphatically. "Why would I get upset?"
"Because I call you Dad now," he says, once again looking at his lap.
"So?" I ask. "I'm like Dad number two, and that's totally fine with me. And if you want to go back to calling me Kevin that's okay with me too," I say, even though that would hurt like hell.
"No," Brian says, looking up at me quickly. "I like calling you Dad. Is that okay?"
"It's more than okay," I say, with a smile. "And angel, don't think of me as a replacement for your Dad, or anything like that because that's not what I am. I'm just like an additional Dad, because you're Dad is still looking out for you, even if you can't see him."
Brian doesn't say anything else, he just looks at me for a moment, before crawling up on his knees and throwing his arms around me, his face going into the crook of my neck. I wrap my arms around his back and just hold him for awhile. I wish I could take his pain away, I know he must have a lot of it. I am hoping that making him feel comfortable talking to me about his parents will open the door to talking about more of the pain he has experienced. I know there are a lot of up hill battles facing the both of us in the near future, and he needs to know that he is in a place where it is safe to talk about how he is feeling. I want to keep holding him forever, but as always he can always be held so long and eventually he wiggles free from the embrace.
"I love you, angel. No matter what," I say, brushing his bangs, which are getting a little long, away from the bottom of his forehead with my right hand.
"I love you too, Dad," he says, looking up at me.
"Are you hungry?" I ask, realizing it is dinner time.
"Yeah," Brian says, making me realize that was a dumb question.
We head into the kitchen, and Brian starts helping me make spaghetti. I know it isn't that hard, but he wants to help so I let him pour the sauce into a pot and stir it when it needs to be stirred. Other than asking if he is doing it right, he is silent, but again it is a comfortable kind of silence.
"Can Ethan come to the motel this week?" Brian asks suddenly as we are eating.
"Sure," I say. "You want to show him your skate park in the back?"
"Yeah," Brian says. "He wants to see it, he doesn't believe me."
"Well, we're just going to have to show him then," I say with a smile. "How about you ask him to come on Friday, that way you can ride longer."
"Cool!" Brian says. "Maybe..." his voice trails off.
"You want him to spend the night here?" I ask, sensing the question without it even being asked.
"Yeah," Brian says.
"Well, ask him," I say. "If his Mom...." I stop as I remember the wife I told Ethan's mom I have. "If his Mom says it's okay then it's fine by me," I add, thinking I'm going to have to drop Ethan off at home on Saturday. Either that or find a wife in five days.
"Thanks, Dad," Brian says, with a huge spaghetti sauce framed grin on his face.
"You're welcome, angel," I say, with a smile of my own.
After we finish dinner Brian actually helps me put the dishes in the dishwasher. I start to suspect that he wants something more than a sleepover because this is the most helpful he has been in the kitchen, but he never says anything. After everything is cleaned up, Brian gets his laptop out and tries to teach me some type of World War II game.
"Here, you're the American guy," Brian says, as he shifts the laptop in front of me on the breakfast bar after getting the game set up. "You have to shoot at the Germans," he adds.
"Yeah I thought that," I say with a smile.
"You use the arrow keys to move and the mouse to aim, and click to shoot," he says, as he scoots his stool closer to me so he can see the computer screen.
"Okay," I say, as I begin searching the screen for Nazis.
Before a minute passes there is a flash on the screen, before it goes blank.
"What happened?" I ask.
"You got killed," Brian says, with a little giggle as the screen goes back to where I started. "You still have four more lives."
"Okay," I say as I again start searching the screen for Nazis. I start shooting as another person suddenly appears. "Hey I got one!" I say proud of myself.
"Dad," Brian says.
"That was another American," he says, with a giggle. "I told you, you have to kill the Germans."
"Oh," I say, as there is another flash and the screen goes blank again.
"You're not very good are you?" Brian asks, with a giggle.
"No, I'm not," I say, as the screen resets. "Why don't you show me how it's done?"
I quickly get off the stool and Brian takes my place. I stand behind him watching in minor amazement as he in seemingly no time wipes out all the Nazis and the screen reads "Mission 1 achieved."
"See it's easy," Brian says, looking at me with a grin.
"Yeah, when you know what you're doing," I say. "Just watch I get some practice and I'll be kicking Nazi butt. I used to rock the NES."
"The what?" Brian asks.
"The original Nintendo," I say.
"Was that like the Wii?" he asks, looking up at me with confusion in his face.
"Not quite," I say, with a chuckle.
"When did you play it?" he asks.
"When I was your age, and younger," I say. "I got it in 89 I think."
"1989?" Brian asks.
"Yeah," I say with a nod.
"You're old!" he says, with a giggle.
"I'm just older than you," I say. "We can't all be eleven," I add as I tousle his hair.
"I'm almost twelve," Brian says, quickly. "My birthday's three months from tomorrow."
"Okay then, we can't all be twelve in three months and a day," I say, with a smile.
"How old are you?" Brian asks.
"I'm 27," I say.
"See I told you, you're old!" Brian says.
"Yeah, yeah," I say. "Don't you have a beach to invade?" I ask, nodding my head towards the paused game on the computer screen.
"Oh yeah," Brian says quickly turning his attention back to the ignored computer.
As Brian invades Omaha Beach I am amazed by his resilience. To watch and listen to him now you would never guess that less than two hours ago he was a balling mess of tears. I guess that's what being three months and a day away from your twelfth birthday will get you, the ability to bounce back quickly. Brian continues to plow through the game like it is the easiest thing in the world, and after another failed attempt at teaching me how to play I send him to get ready for bed.
While Brian is in the shower I sit on the couch thinking about everything that has happened today. Maybe I should be angry with Doris, I don't know what the appropriate reaction to what she asked would be. But for whatever reason I'm not angry with her. I think her heart was in the right place, she just had not thought things through enough. I guess she was thinking that I am sitting on a small fortune, when in reality I'm not. My income depends on the Sierra Inn, when it does well I do well. And with all the interest my loans are accruing selling it now would be unbelievably stupid for so many reasons. I have resided myself to the fact that I am going to face a lot of questions and a lot of doubts during this adoption process. But I am determined to not let any question or doubt stand in my way. I know I can make this work and I am going to do just that.
"I'm done," Brian says, as he comes back into the living room, wearing a t-shirt and sleeping pants I got him, last week.
"Ready to get to sleep?" I ask him, as he takes a seat next me on the couch.
"Yeah," he says, nodding his head slowly.
"Okay, then why don't you go ahead, I'll be there in a while," I say.
"K," Brian says, getting off the couch as quickly as he sat down. "I love you, Dad," he adds, as he steps in between my legs and wraps his arms around my neck.
"I love you too, angel," I say, as I put my arms around him. Again I feel like I just want to hold him forever, but he wiggles himself out of my arms after less than a minute.
After taking a shower myself I go into the bedroom, and find Brian sound asleep underneath the covers. I set my alarm clock and gently get into bed. Brian is sleeping on his back his face pointed towards me.
"Goodnight, angel," I say, leaning over and giving him a gentle kiss on the forehead before settling back and quickly falling to sleep myself.
It might have only been two days, but I had been getting used to pleasant wake up calls. Saturday the strong sun coming through the window, yesterday with Brian's oral alarm clock. But this morning it was back to the blaring mother fucker sitting on the night stand near my head. Brian and I quickly fall back into the routine we had set up last week, rushing out the door, breakfast in hand, me driving semi recklessly to get him to school on time.
On my drive to the motel, I start to think about all that happened over the weekend. Dad seemingly coming around, and apparently even accepting Brian as part of the family was a very pleasant surprise to me. Dad telling me that Julie had told him and Mom about my plans for adoption, while still acting as Brian's social worker was a very un-pleasant surprise. Maybe what worries me the most is that Doris seems to still believe a lot of what Julie has apparently told her. I can only guess how much weight Doris's opinion will carry in my attempt to adopt Brian, but I figure it's probably going to be a pretty heavy factor. If Julie keeps telling Doris things about me to make me look bad, or un-fit it is very possible Doris won't help me at all. I can't help but question Doris a little, even though I feel guilty about doing it. The fact that she totally dropping out of Brian's life for three years then all of a sudden popped back up out of no where is just a little odd to me.
Out of all of that though, maybe the biggest thing that happened over the weekend was Brian's cry fest. His feeling that comfortable with his new situation to do something he hasn't felt comfortable doing anywhere else for so long was huge. For awhile he seemed stuck in a shell, and I was beginning to question if he would ever fully come out of it. Sure, he had shown glimpses here and there of his personality but there was still a part of him that I could tell he was holding back. Yesterday for the first time, he seemed to be totally putting himself out there to me. Showing vulnerability in crying like he did is not something he would have done had he not felt comfortable with me, if he had not trusted me. So now I feel more confident than ever that I am doing the right thing by trying to adopt him. Knowing that the life I am giving him is making him feel able to open up has let me know that I need to make this adoption work, not just for me but for Brian as well.
As I pull into my spot at the Sierra Inn, I can't help but smile a little. The workaholic in me missed my baby this weekend. I walk into the lobby to find Laura standing behind the front desk, helping a guest check out. I go back to my office and immediately any smile disappears on my face. My desk is buried somewhere, I think, under piles of papers, apparently the two filing cabinets that are behind my desk got a stomach virus over the weekend and vomited all over my desk.
"I can explain," I hear Matt say from behind me.
"I didn't know we had tornados in Phoenix," I say, looking at him.
"Well," Matt says. "You see, there was a problem with the last order of shampoo. The warehouse called and said that they received the order but the number amount you ordered exceeded your credit line. So I was looking for a copy of the order, but I couldn't find it."
"That's because I don't print them out, it's saved on the computer," I say, realizing I had been distracted on Friday when I was showing Matt the ropes and probably had forgotten that minor detail.
"Oh," Matt says looking embarrassed.
"It's my fault I forgot to show you how to look that stuff up," I say. "Here I'll help you put all of this stuff back."
"Thanks," he says.
Matt takes one pile and I take another as we start putting the papers back in their respective filing cabinets. We work in silence for awhile, before Matt speaks up.
"So when do I get to meet this kid of yours?" he asks.
"Well he'll be over here Friday," I say. "I'm going to try not to make him come here on school nights."
"I still can't believe you dude," he says.
"Sometimes I can't either," I say, with a little smirk.
"This is probably going to kill your social life," he says. "Chicks probably aren't going to be digging you already having a kid."
"I got news for you," I say. "We're standing in what killed my social life."
"So you like, being like a father and everything?" Matt asks me.
"Yeah," I say, quickly. "I mean I don't really consider myself a parent yet. I guess I'm more like a guardian right now, but Brian coming along was one of the best things that has happened in my life in a long time."
"You're not scared?" Matt asks.
"Well yeah I am," I say. "But I'm not going to let fear stand in my way."
"Good," Matt says. "Yeah, my girlfriend wants kids. We're going to have to adopt, because of the cancer I had. But I don't know if I could do it. Be a father I mean."
"Don't shut the door on it," I say quickly. "I know it hasn't been that long but I really can't imagine my life now without Brian in it."
"Well maybe in a few years I'll be ready," he says. "I mean it's not like anything's going to happen tomorrow or anything."
"You never know," I say with a little chuckle as I think about my attitude about having kids the day before Brian showed up.
We fall back into working in silence, and after an hour we finally have all the papers back where they belong. After we are done, Matt who only came in to clean up the mess he had made goes home to enjoy his day off. After settling the dispute with my shampoo supplier I decide I need to give Mr. Quincy a call and update him on all that I have learned this weekend.
"I need to do something," I tell him, after explaining to him what happened yesterday with Doris and on Saturday with Dad. "Is there a way I can get in touch with her?"
"Kevin, don't do that," Mr. Quincy says. "That would only be setting yourself up for more problems."
"But what am I supposed to do?" I ask, frustrated. "Just sit on my hands and let this bitch try to sabotage me?"
"I know, it's frustrating," he says, in a sympathetic tone. "But becoming a vigilante won't do you any good at all. I'm working with CPS to resolve the issue."
"CPS?" I ask. "What are they going to do? Give her, her old job back? I want to go to the cops. I mean hasn't she broken a law by impersonating a CPS official."
"I've tried that, Kevin," Mr. Quincy says. "There's nothing the police can do yet. Unless she actually tries to take Brian somewhere she really isn't breaking a law. All she has done so far is tell a few lies."
"Yeah a few lies that could have cost me a lot," I say. "So what am I supposed to do?"
"I know this might be tough," he says. "But you're just going to have to trust me, and the system to work. We will get this problem resolved."
"I trust you," I say. "It's the system I'm worried about."
"I know," he says with a sigh. "But you need to promise me that you will not take anything into your own hands on this."
"Don't worry," I say. "I don't even know how to get in touch with her anyway."
"Good," Mr. Quincy says. "You don't know how glad I am to hear you say that."
After getting off the phone with Mr. Quincy I try to get more work done. It is not easy though as my mind keeps going back to the situation with Julie. I don't know how I'm supposed to trust the same system that allowed someone like her to work for it for so long. I decide quickly I can't just sit on my hands, I have to do something. I decide to call Bill Lofton, and see what he can suggest.
"Kevin, I don't know what to tell you," he says, after I have explained to him what went on this weekend. "I honestly don't know what Julie is thinking, or hoping to accomplish by doing all of this. It just doesn't make sense to me."
"But you don't think she's a danger to Brian?" I ask him.
"No, I honestly don't," he says. "And don't worry anything she has done or said will not be taken into consideration when we start the adoption process. I can promise you that much."
"So my hands are tied?" I ask. "There's nothing I can do?"
"Not really," Bill says. "I've been trying to call her to ask her some questions about what she wants to accomplish but she never returns my messages. So my best advice to you would be just to relax about it the best you can."
"Yeah, that's not going to be very much," I sigh.
After hanging up with Bill I feel totally helpless, a feeling I absolutely hate. I like being in control, knowing that I am the one steering things. This is part of the reason why working for someone else never appealed to me. But now I am in the passenger seat, having to hold on while other people are driving. I am hoping that Mr. Quincy and Bill's seeming lack of concern doesn't steer me right off a cliff but I am seemingly out of options. I certainly don't want to help hurl myself over that cliff like Mr. Quincy thinks my contacting Julie myself would be doing. So I reside myself to having to sit on the sidelines and pray that the people actually in the game know what they are doing. I sink myself back into my work and try to forget about everything else until it is time for me to get Brian.
"I'm out for the day Laura," I say, as I pass the front desk on my way to the car to pick up Brian from school.
"Kevin wait," she says, before I can get any closer to the door. "You've been so busy all day I haven't had a chance to talk to you yet."
"What about?" I ask.
"I took Juan's shift yesterday because he was sick," Laura says. "And to be honest with you, I don't think Matt has it together to well."
"Laura, he's just new give him a chance," I say.
"Well I know he's new," Laura says. "But that mess he created in your office, and then when I asked him to deal with a simple guest complaint he seemed totally overwhelmed."
"Like I said he's new," I say. "Not everybody can be as smooth as I am," I add with a smile.
"Well that's just it," Laura says. "Don't you think you should have hired someone with more experience than he has?"
"No," I say. "Matt is a very smart person, once he gets his feet underneath him he'll be one hell of a manager. Quite frankly I'm a little surprised you're being so quick to judge him."
"But if I'm still concerned..."
"If you don't see a reasonable improvement in a couple of weeks talk to me again," I say. "And then I'll see what we can do."
"Okay," Laura says.
"Now if you'd excuse me, I have to go play Dad," I say. "So I'll see you tomorrow."
"Say hi to Brian for me," she says.
"I sure will," I say, as I open the door and head out to the parking lot.
When I get to Brian's school the bell has already rung and I don't even have a chance to get out of the car, as I see Brian coming in the rear view mirror.
"Hi Dad," he says, happily as he gets into the passenger seat after putting his backpack in the back.
"Hey kiddo," I say. "How was your day?"
"Fine," he says. "Ethan's going to ask his Mom about sleeping over on Friday."
"Good," I say, as I back out of the parking spot.
After a stop at the grocery store we head home. Brian helps me put the groceries away before starting on his homework. While at the grocery store I bought myself a small cookbook with easy recopies' in it and while Brian is doing his homework at the breakfast bar I start my first attempt at cooking stir fried chicken. An hour later I'm sitting next to Brian at the breakfast bar, with our plates of food in front of us. Brian digs right in, and after seeing him take a second bite I figure that it must not be totally horrible.
"Hey I'm not that bad," I say, after taking a bite and realizing it is actually eatable.
"But you cheated," Brian says.
"Cheated?" I ask.
"Yeah you used a cook book," he says. "My Mom said that using a cook book was like cheating."
"Did she like to cook?" I ask him.
"Yeah," he says. "And bake too. She always made chocolate chip cookies, and she never used any cook books."
"Well maybe someday I'll be able to cook without cheating," I say. "But for right now I don't think you want me to try that."
Brian giggles a little, before diving back into his plate. Even though it was only a little thing on the surface what Brian has just told me makes me feel good. It makes me think that he listened to advice I had given him, and I can't help but smile a little at the realization.
After dinner, Brian helps me put the dishes in the dishwasher and then we settle in on the couch to watch television. Brian lies down, resting his head on my leg as we find a movie to watch. After a few minutes I start running my fingers through Brian's hair which has gotten a little too long in my opinion. It wasn't exactly short when I first met him, but now the tops of his ears are hidden and his bangs are reaching a little past his eye brows.
"Angel, I think you need a hair cut," I tell him as I brush the hair away from his ear while the movie is at a commercial.
"I think so too," he says.
"Okay, we'll go after school tomorrow," I say. "There's a place not too far from the motel."
"You mean that place by the dollar store?" Brian asks, rolling onto his back so he is looking right up at me.
"Yeah," I say. "You've been there?"
"Can we go somewhere else?" he asks, ignoring my question with a pleading look on his face.
"Sure," I say. "I'll look for another place tomorrow while I'm at work."
"Thanks," he says.
"Did they give you a bad haircut before or something?" I ask him.
"No," he says.
"Oh," I say, not understanding why he has anything against this particular barber shop. I go there regularly and think the two guys that own it are very friendly.
"I used to have to go there, after it closed," Brian volunteers without being asked.
I feel my eyes bulge out of my head, as I quickly get the meaning of what Brian is telling me. I forgot how close Brian was to the motel during his time on the streets. Or maybe I never really thought about it, but if he was able to walk from the corner that the teenager made him stand on to the Sierra Inn he couldn't have been that far. Suddenly my mind flashes back to the day after Brian showed up in front of the motel, when he said that the room he had spent that first night in scared him. I feel my stomach turn as I realize it's very possible that he had been at the Sierra Inn before, with one of the men he was made to go with while on the streets.
"Well then we definitely won't go there," I say, trying to get heart out of my throat.
"Thanks," Brian says.
We watch the rest of the movie in silence, Brian resting his head on my lap the entire time. I am distracted though as the thought of Brian being used under the roof of my motel makes me feel unbelievably guilty. I know questionable things go on at the motel, the first year it was open we had a drug bust go down in room 202. Ever since I've tried hard to keep things reputable but with being along an interstate in a very questionable part of town there is only so much I can do. I know Juan chases guys off when he knows they are bringing a homeless teenager to the motel. But if he had seen Brian with a guy he probably wouldn't have thought twice assuming Brian was the guy's son. Most of the runaways we've seen are in there middle teens, not as young as Brian.
"Do I have to go to sleep now?" Brian asks me, after the movie is over, as he sits up for the first time.
"Wait," I say. "I need to ask you something."
"What?" Brian asks.
"Be honest with me, I won't be mad," I say. "But did any of the guys on the street take you to the Sierra Inn? I know you said that they would just park their cars in an abandoned lot. But are you sure that's the only place they would take you?"
Brian is silent for a minute, as he stares at his feet and I begin to kick myself for opening a fresh wound unnecessarily.
"A couple of guys took me there," he says, and I instantly feel my heart sink.
"Oh angel, I'm so sorry," I say, quickly wrapping him in a tight hug.
"It's not your fault," he says, taking me by surprise. "You didn't know."
"I know, but I feel horrible something like that went on at my motel," I say. "But you don't mind going back there?"
"No," Brian says, wiggling free of my embrace. "I like it in the back, with my skate park."
"Good," I say.
We sit in silence for a minute as I try to think of something profound to say but nothing comes. Eventually we get off the couch and brush our teeth, standing side by side at the bathroom sink. Brian decides he wants to wait until the morning to take a shower, but after a long day I feel like I need a hot shower. So Brian heads to bed while I get the shower going. When I am done I head into the bedroom with my towel still wrapped around my waist fully expecting Brian to be asleep. So I am surprised when I see him, lying on the bed on top of the covers naked.
"Can we do what we did yesterday morning?" Brian asks.
To Be Continued...
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Chapter 16 Coming Soon!!