WARNING

This story details explicit gay sex between men, teens and boys. If you find this kind of thing distasteful, or if you are underage wherever you live, then stop reading this now, and delete this file. The story is completely fictional; the author does not condone or encourage any of the acts contained herein.

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Craigslist

Chapter 61

By: Tim Keppler

Edited by: Bob Leahy

The flights home are exhausting, despite the fact that we get plenty of sleep. Like most kids, I imagine, the boys fall asleep any time they're bored, and once you get over the initial excitement of that ascent into the clear blue sky, flying is deathly dull. So, they're out within an hour of takeoff on both the London to New York flight, and the New York to San Jose flight. Jason needs a little inverse stimulation to put him to sleep, so he's brought a novel. Kenny finds herbal tea very calming, so he's brought a collection of tea bags, and simply asks for hot water. Me? I use my time-tested method for getting to sleep under arduous circumstances. I order a double scotch, drink it, and pass out. With this method, though, you need to be careful what you wish for. On a business trip to Sydney, I flew coach on Quantas from Los Angeles. This was back in the days when booze on international flights was free, even in coach. I ordered my standard, and the steward brought me two eight-ounce glasses of neat Scotch. I looked at those two enormous tumblers of whiskey, set before me on my tray table, and then I looked at him. "You don't think I'm going to drink both of these, do you?"

"You did say a double, didn't you?"

"Umm...yeah. But, you've brought me two quadruples. A double is three to four ounces."

"Oh, sorry mate! I guess we drink a bit more than your lot."

He took one of the glasses away, and I nursed the remaining glass as long as I could before passing into oblivion.

Now that we pay for the booze, I don't have to worry about such blunders. I get two of those silly little bottles, drink them both, and fall quietly to sleep with the boys attached to me. Around eleven hours later, we get to San Jose, and as the plane touches down, we are all gleeful to be home. I've travelled all over the world, but I've never found a place I'd rather live than in Northern California, and, honestly, I've never found a city I prefer to San Jose. Palo Alto is snooty. Menlo Park, San Mateo, and Burlingame are overpriced. Mountain View is slovenly. And Sunnyvale is cheap. San Jose is just my speed. The people are friendly but somewhat distant they're not in your business, and don't want you in theirs. It's perfect for the introvert that I am.

As we deplane, I begin looking for either Peter or Erich. I emailed them a couple days ago, asking whether they could pick us up. I see no sign of them. I call both Peter's and then Erich's cell phones, but get no answer on either. So, I guess we're on our own. With six of us, a taxi is complicated. You need one of those van cabs. Rather than just trusting that one will arrive before long, I call Rainbow Cab and order one, and within ten minutes it's here. We load up the luggage and pile in, and the driver takes us home. "Where are you coming from?" the Indian driver asks. I tell him, explain the nature of the trip, and for whatever reason, he's excited. "Do you like Indian food?" he asks, and that opens a whole new can of worms. I tell him about our restaurant experiences and about Mrs. Patel. "Yes," he replies, "short of Bombay or Bangalore, London is probably the best place in the world to get good Indian food. I lived there for six years. I know this." By the time I've described our various Indian menus, we're home. We all jump out, unload the luggage, pay the driver, and make our way into the house.

As I open the front door, I know instantly that something is wrong. There's broken glass in the entryway, shattered pottery in the living room. One of the windows overlooking the back garden is shattered, and dining chairs are overturned. The hall telephone is on the floor. As I scan the carnage of our home, the first thing that comes to mind is the safety of the boys. "Get them out of here," I say to Jason, nodding toward the boys. "They can leave their luggage on the porch. We'll take it in later. Take them to the Rose Garden, and make sure your mobile is turned on."

Jason nods. "C'mon guys," he says to Kevin and Kai. "Let's go for a walk." They both nod, and off they go while Kenny and I walk inside to investigate.

I'm not sure what to do. My inclination is to call out, but what if this is a break-in? What if the burglar is still here? The dining room window is broken, after all. Was that how they got in? When I move to the dining room, though, I realize that the broken glass is lying on the patio, not in the dining room. The window was broken from the inside. "Check the kitchen and the basement," I say to Kenny. "And be fucking careful. Get a kitchen knife or something. Protect yourself." He nods. I make my way in the other direction, toward the bedrooms, opening them up for inspection as I go. Our bedroom is empty, as is the small guest room, and the bathroom. When I open the door of the larger guest room, though, I see a slight movement of the covers on the bed, and the smell is...revolting. I cross the room silently, grasp the covers at the top, and fling them off the bed, and there is Peter, looking...damaged. He's naked and bloody, and he's shivering. His hands are tied behind his back and his ankles are tied. He has bruises pretty much everywhere. He has two black eyes, and cuts or lacerations everywhere else. He has actually bled on the sheets, and he's shit on them as well, and peed on them. He's crying. I'm not sure he was before he saw me, but he's sobbing now.

I handle situations like this on autopilot. My conscious brain isn't really involved. I pick up the phone on the nightstand and call Dr. Cohen's office, explain the situation, and he agrees to come. Cohen's office is two minutes walking distance from our home, which may be why he makes house calls. Or maybe he does this for all his patients. I've never known. When I call him with an emergency, he comes to me, and he's here within five minutes. In the meantime, I go to the kitchen, get a paring knife, sharpen it, call Kenny out of the basement where I hear him scrounging around, and return to Peter. I cut the ropes that bind both his wrists and ankles and tell him not to move. His inclination is to sit up. He's looking for comfort. He's looking for a hug. "Don't fucking move, Peter! Stay still!"

By this time Kenny is in the room, and is stroking Peter's hair. "Shhhh...," he says. "Take it easy." By this time Cohen is here. I run to answer the door, and usher him into the bedroom. He palpates and probes, touching Peter here and there, oh, so very gently.

"Nothing broken, I think," he finally announces. "That's good! We need to treat the lacerations," he says. "Let's start with a bath. Luke-warm, not hot. Do you have any Gatorade, Tim, or some other sports drink?"

Kenny moves to the master bathroom where we have the biggest tub, and runs a bath. I head to the kitchen to see what Jason has stocked. I return a minute later with...a bottle of Gatorade, something Jason apparently drinks when he plays tennis. Cohen pours some into an empty plastic cup he finds on Peter's nightstand, and then helps Peter to sit up. He feeds him the drink, and once he's drunk it down and he does this voraciously Cohen and I help Peter to stand. The minute he's on his feet, the blood drains from his face and Cohen instantly pushes him back down so he's once again sitting on the edge of the bed. "Drop your head," he commands. "Spread your legs and drop your head between them. Right. Bend at the waist." Peter complies, and Cohen keeps him in this position until some color returns to his face. Finally, we help him to the bathroom, get him into the tub, and leave him to soak with Kenny beside him. Cohen and I leave the room, moving into the bedroom.

"What in the hell happened?" asks the usually-unflappable Dr. Cohen. "This isn't your work. Your work I recognize. An occasionally rosy buttocks and that's about all. This boy has been beaten and burned with something. Probably cigarettes. And he's been cut with a knife, or a razor blade. I'm also very concerned about the bruising around his kidneys. How did this happen?"

"I've no idea. We got home from Europe fifteen minutes ago. We've been gone about a month. When I opened the door, the place looked like a wreck. I sent Jason and the boys to the park, and Kenny and I investigated. I found Peter where you saw him. He was bound and crying. I called you first thing, and then cut him loose. I haven't had time to talk to him about what happened."

Cohen nods, solemnly. "Find out, Tim. He's not crying out of anguish. He's crying because he's in pain. His bruising and wounds are savage. He's not a minor, so I don't have to report this to Child Welfare, and he hasn't been shot or stabbed, so I don't have to report it to the police. None of his wounds is life-threatening as long as we treat them promptly. You don't have to tell me what happened to him, but when you find out, I want you to call and tell me that you know and that it won't happen again. Okay?"

I nod.

We return to the bathroom. Kenny has given Peter another cup of Gatorade, per Cohen's instructions, and that cup is now empty. Kenny and I help Peter out of the bath and very gently wrap a towel around him. Then we move him to the bedroom, and Cohen inspects the wounds, applying topical ointment to those that are open. He prescribes a ten-day regimen of antibiotics, a two-day regimen of Vicodin for his pain, and an ointment that he says will speed healing. "I want him to sleep for the next 36 hours, and the Vicodin will help him do that and keep him comfortable at the same time. Whenever he's awake, get as much of the Gatorade into him as you can. He's badly dehydrated. I don't think he's had anything to eat or drink for a day or so. When he's a little stronger, start feeding him warm chicken broth, as much as he can take in, but don't force it. I'll be back tomorrow afternoon." Cohen is one of the most responsible physicians I've ever met. I never take him lightly.

Once Dr. Cohen has left, I return to the bedroom. Peter is very groggy. Cohen gave him a sedative, probably one of the Vicodins, and he is not coherent. I shout for Kenny, and together we carry Peter to his own room where we tuck him into a bed that Kenny has stripped and remade in lightening speed. By the time he's under the covers, he's out. I've taken Vicodin twice in my life, both times for an ear ache. The dosage Cohen prescribed for me was low, thank god, because the stuff obliterates me, and not in a good way. I just simply fade away. When I wake up, I feel like Lazarus returning from the dead, and am thoroughly nauseated. I had oral surgery a year or so ago, and the endodontist prescribed Vicodin again. I told him not to bother I preferred the pain. Peter will be out for probably six hours if he reacts to this stuff like I do. And, then, he'll need the pail I place at the side of his bed when he wakes up. We leave his bedroom door open so we can hear him when he comes to, and long about 10:30pm, sitting in the living room reading, I hear him retching. I rush to his room, and find nothing in the pail...or anywhere else. It's dry heaves. There's nothing in his stomach to puke up. Cohen was right he hasn't eaten in a while. He's crying again, and I pet him, stroking his hair. I feed him two more cups of Gatorade, along with an antibiotic tablet that Jason has picked up at Walgreen's, and another Vicodin. He wraps himself around me as I sit next to him on the bed, and in about half an hour he's gone again.

He wakes again at around 4:30am. I know this because I'm sleeping on the floor next to his bed. It's my shift. Jason, Kenny, Dinh and I are taking turns minding him. When he wakes, he starts to cry, and that wakes me. I'm instantly up on the bed, sitting next to him. I give him more Gatorade, and another antibiotic tablet. I give him another Vicodin, but he shakes his head. He won't take it. "Are you hungry?" I ask. He nods. "Let me make you some broth." But at that moment, he wraps himself around me and won't let me go. Thankfully, Jason has woken up and appears at the door. He goes off to heat up some chicken broth, returning maybe ten minutes later with a mug of soup. I help Peter to sit up and feed him spoonfuls of broth that he chokes down between sobs. About halfway through the mug, he shakes his head. He lies down in my lap, wraps himself around my waist and, after several minutes, falls back asleep. I swing my legs up onto the bed, and arrange a pillow behind my back as I lean against the headboard. I motion to Jason to turn off the light, and eventually fall asleep as well. I wake up at 10am. Peter is stirring, just starting to wake up. He's still wrapped around my waist. And, he's not moving, not letting go of me.

"Peter?"

"Hmmmmm," he mumbles.

I wait several seconds, and then I say it again. "Peter?"

He starts to cry. "Yeah?" he whines. He is very hoarse, his voice very raspy.

I'd intended to ask him what happened, but I realize now that it's too soon for an interrogation. Instead, I stroke his hair, caressing him. "Nothing," I say. Five minutes later he's out again, not to reappear for another three hours.

At 1pm he awakes, and is apparently ravenous. "I need something to eat," he says softly, his voice still very ragged.

"Well, let go of me and I'll make you something."

He doesn't move. He doesn't let go of me. Finally, I call for help and Dinh appears in the doorway looking pensive, worried. "Can you heat up some broth and bring that with a couple slices of buttered toast?" He nods, and hurries away, returning probably ten minutes later with another mug of soup, a spoon, and a plate of toast. As the aroma of the chicken broth and the melted butter fills the room, Peter finally releases me and sits up in bed. He takes the mug first and begins voraciously spooning broth into his mouth. Then he scarfs down the toast, basically inhaling it. Then he lies back in my lap, and falls asleep once again.

Dr. Cohen arrives at around 4pm, and Kenny brings him to us. I'm reading a book with Peter wrapped around my waist. He stands in the doorway looking pensive. "Has he eaten?"

"Yeah," I say, softly. "He's had two mugs of soup, two slices of toast, and maybe five cups of Gatorade."

Cohen nods. "Good! Antibiotics?"

"Every six hours."

"And the Vicodin?"

"He stopped taking it after the second tablet. I tried coaxing him, but it didn't work..."

Cohen smiles. "I love codeine as a pain killer because, for many, it's just so unpleasant. Unless you're addicted to it, of course. Unless your pain is really bad, the effects of the drug are often worse than the pain itself. It helps us gauge just how much pain you're in. Let's get him back into a warm bath."

I rouse Peter while Kenny sprints to the bathroom and runs another tepid bath. Cohen and I lead Peter to the bathroom, but before we lower him into the bath, Cohen does two things. First, he has him pee in a plastic container, and then he dumps a cupful of crystals into the water and mixes it around. Then we help Peter into the bath. When he hits the water, he leans back, closing his eyes, and soaks. After about twenty minutes, we help him back out again, and gently dry him off. Cohen reapplies the ointment. I notice that what yesterday were red and angry lacerations are today much less...dramatic. The cuts haven't healed yet, but the angry redness has disappeared, and with it, apparently, much of the pain. He looks much better, and appears much more comfortable.

"How do you feel?" Cohen asks Peter.

Peter nods, still looking very bleak.

"Are you in any pain?" Cohen asks.

"No," Peter rasps, shaking his head. This is the first time Peter has actually spoken to Dr. Cohen, and I see a look of concern pass over Cohen's face before he masks it with a smile.

"Good," Cohen says. "Do you know what day it is?"

"I'm not sure. I'm a little confused about...time."

"It's Thursday," Cohen says. "It's about 4:30pm."

Peter nods. We lead him back to his room, and tuck him in. Kenny stays with him as I walk Cohen out.

"He's mending well. I don't think there'll be much if any scarring. I'll have his urine tested so we can determine whether he has any kidney damage. The placement of the bruises worries me, and they're...telling. They're symmetrical...on both sides of his body...right over the kidneys. Why would anyone do that?"

I shrug.

"And his voice. He's very hoarse."

"Yeah, I noticed that. Does he have a cold?"

"No sign of mucous. I'd guess he's hoarse because he spent a lot of time...screaming."

The minute he says this, I tear up. Jesus! What must Peter have endured?

Cohen knows exactly what I'm thinking. He's reading my mind. "His body took quite a beating. It's understandable that he'd...express that."

I nod.

"I want to see him in a week. I'll have the results of the urinalysis by then. Bring him in. If there are any new symptoms before then, or he doesn't appear to be improving, call me. Take care of him..."

"I will."

Once Cohen is gone, I return to Peter's bedroom. He's staring blankly at the ceiling. His eyes are moist, but he's not crying, not now. I move to the bed, and lie beside him on top of the covers. I hug him, holding him tight. "Peter," I whisper in his ear, "I need to know what happened here, what happened to you. And, I need to know where Erich is." The instant I say Erich's name, Peter turns onto his side, facing away from me. I spoon in behind him and continue to hug him. "Where's Erich, Peter?"

Erich's absence has worried me since yesterday. I mean, an assailant capable of doing this to Peter is surely capable of abduction or worse.

"I don't know where Erich is."

"Was he here when this happened?"

"Yeah, he was here, but we've broken up. I don't know where he is."

I'm stunned, shocked, and really, really confused. "Broken up?" I say, incredulous. "Why?"

Now Peter starts to sob. Not to cry. To sob. "Because he kept beating me up," he chokes.

I'm lost. "Erich...umm...beat you...up?"

"Yeaahhhh," he wails.

"Umm...why?" I ask.

"I don't...know," he sobs. "I never knew what set him off. Sometimes I thought it was how I was dressed; sometimes it seemed to be something I said. Sometimes, when I was frightened of saying the wrong thing, I think he beat me because I didn't say anything."

"He beat you?" I ask, dumbfounded. I'm a little dense sometimes. The gears of my brain need oil, I guess, because it's only at this moment that they start to turn and I get it. "Peter, did Erich do this to you?" I ask.

"Yeah," he says very softly.

Jesus! "How long has he been beating you up?" I ask.

"For...umm...maybe three months. It got worse while you guys were gone."

"And you let it go on?"

The minute these six words are out of my mouth I realize what an asshole I can be sometimes. Peter starts to sob again, inconsolably. And, why not? I've effectively just blamed the victim for his abuse. I've told him that it's his fault, that he should have fought back, that he should have kicked the shit out of his abuser. But what if he wasn't equipped for that, emotionally or physically? What if that kind of violence isn't part of his nature? What if he was still in love, or thought he was still in love? Domestic violence is everywhere and comes in all flavors. The violence we hear about is men abusing their wives or girlfriends slapping them around, and sometimes killing them. There are plenty of instances of women abusing their husbands, though. Why don't we hear about those? Why doesn't the media cover those cases? Well, let's see, do you suppose it could be because the public at large isn't especially interested in men who are abused by women well, unless the woman cuts off his dick while he's asleep, as was the fate of John Bobbitt. Even in that case, though, the victim was assumed to be complicit in the crime. The public snickered. He got what he deserved, and we all got a laugh. But, what were we laughing at? Suppose, instead of waiting until he was asleep to castrate him, until he was helpless, his wife had assaulted him first, knocking him to the ground by whatever means, overpowering him, and then cut off his dick? How would our reaction have changed?

I'd argue that our rigid sexual roles in this country largely account for why we hear so little about wives abusing their husbands. Statistical estimates suggest that such abuse is common, but any man who goes on record as having been abused by his wife is a sissy, isn't he? A weakling. Not much of a man. He allowed it to happen. So, what happens if a gay guy abuses his husband or boyfriend? What's the straight world's perception of that? I can just hear the laughter. "Well, we know who the woman was in that relationship!" Or, they say, "Fags are so kinky! He probably asked for it. He probably enjoyed it." Or, worst of all because I think a lot of gay guys might say this, "Boys will be boys." Just because we're gay doesn't mean we don't subscribe to the stereotypes about gay men. In fact, we may be more likely to subscribe to them than our straight counterparts, whom, I suspect are being educated faster than we are.

"I'm sorry, Peter. That was a really stupid thing to say. Sometimes I'm an idiot, and this is one of those times. But...to be clear...Erich did this to you?"

Choking on his tears, he replies so, so softly, "Yeah."

I hug him tighter. "And, I'm so sorry, Peter, but I have to ask. What did he do, exactly?"

"He beat me...with a wooden stick...and...umm...with his fists. He punched me. He kicked me. He tied me up and he cut me...with a knife. He burned me with a cigar. He made me feel so small, so worthless. Sometimes I felt like he was...right."

"And, did you feel better about yourself after he'd beaten you up?"

He looks over his shoulder at me, shocked by the question. "No! I felt worthless. I felt...abused, and scared. I felt violated. And...I felt like I'd let it happen. I didn't fight back."

I continue to hug him while he cries. "I know you said this...violence has been going on for a while. What caused this episode?"

Peter gulps, trying to regain control. "I stood up to him. We were in here, and he slapped me. I told him to stop. I told him I'd had enough. Then he punched me in the stomach, and when I doubled over, he tied me up like you found me with ropes we'd...umm...used for sex. He told me that he'd had enough, too, that he hated me, and then he went sort of crazy. He started beating and kicking me. I begged him to stop, but that seemed to just drive him on. He got a knife and started cutting me, cutting me everywhere. I thought he was going to kill me. And, then, the cigar. He burned me in the crooks of my legs and arms. All this time he was cursing at me, telling me I was a miserable...piece of...shit. I was so afraid."

I hug him. "Why'd you let this go on, Peter? Why'd you let him continue to abuse you for three months?"

"I thought I was in love."

"In love with someone who causes you pain...against your will? I'm not here to judge you, Peter, or Erich for that matter. Any kind of relationship you want is fine, but you have to want it. It's got to be fulfilling to you, not just to your partner. God knows I cause Kenny, Jason, and Dinh a lot of pain, but it's consensual and controlled. It's one of the ways we express our love for each other. But, you weren't spanked, you were savaged, you were beaten nearly to death, you were sliced up. And none of that was done for your mutual gratification. It was done because Erich is...what...?"

"Disturbed," he offers.

"Yes. Disturbed. Do you think he loved you while he was beating you up?"

"No. But early on, after a beating, he'd say he loved me."

"Do you believe he did?"

He pauses, tearful again. "Yeah, in his way. But I don't think he likes himself very much." he says, sadly. "I think he was acting out...something. It's not exactly that he was acting out his needs, it's that there's a really brutal side to him. I don't understand it. I don't know what I did to make him hurt me."

"Nothing. It doesn't have anything to do with you, and that's what's so sad. It was all about him, about his...baggage. He didn't need you. He needed someone to hurt. Ultimately, I think it was himself he was hurting. He'd objectified himself in you. At this point, though, it doesn't really matter. You're free. But..." Now I'm close to tears, "...but, what if we'd put off our return for one or two more weeks? What if we'd flown to France for a break after all Kenny and Jason's hard work in London? You'd be dead. You would have been a corpse, bound hand and foot in this bed. As it was, how long had you been here before we found you?"

"Our fight was on Wednesday."

"Three days. You were here for three days! No food. No water. Three days wallowing in your own waste." I give up trying to restrain my tears and start to sob. This fucking room is cursed. First Andrew, and now, nearly, Peter. I am just despondent, thinking about what might have been. Peter, too, is sobbing. I've been too graphic. I've terrified us both.

"So, are you over him?" I finally choke. But this question makes him cry even harder. He still loves him, I realize. He's still not over him. "Peter, if you see Erich again, after what he's done to you, I will personally kick your ass, assuming there's any ass to kick after he's done with it. I mean it. If you see him again, or try to contact him, you'll have me to deal with. Do you understand me?"

He nods, sobbing. "Yeeaaahhhh," he whines.

The next day, after I've gotten Peter bathed and reapplied the ointment to his wounds, wounds that have begun to heal nicely, we're sitting in his bedroom. I'm in a chair by the bedside, and he's in bed, propped up against pillows, eating a bowl of rice gruel, a classic Asian comfort food. The Chinese version of this is a little...bland, I think. I like it the way the Thais make it, laced with ginger. I honestly believe that ginger is really regenerative to the body and, of course I love the flavor. This is Peter's second bowl today. It's mid-afternoon, on a warm and sunny day. He's in a better mood today, though still a bit weepy. Just as Kenny comes into the room with a plate of sliced mango, there's a prodigious crash in the front of the house, after which I hear Jason cursing, which he almost never does. "You fucking asshole," Jason cries. "What the fuck are you doing here? Come back to finish the job?"

I give Peter and Kenny a look and tell them to stay put. "Be back in a few."

I push myself out of the chair and move to the hallway, closing the bedroom door behind me. Then I make my way toward the living room. But, I don't get there because there in the entryway is Erich. He is supine, and his mouth is bleeding. I'm not sure he's conscious. He is absolutely still. Jason is standing over him, and Jason is angry. Really angry. Adrenaline.

I think I've mentioned that Jason is very fit. Tennis and martial arts are how he stays that way. He's all of a slender 5'6", and probably doesn't weigh in at much over 130 pounds. But he's a force to be reckoned with, especially after his Cleveland mugging a couple of years ago. Judo, Karate, and Muai Thai (kick boxing) are what he practices. He's reached the rank of yodan in Japanese martial arts, he told me not long ago. I'm not sure what that means, but apparently it's good. It requires a lot of energy and a lot of skill. Muai Tai is a more-recent sport for him, and I have no idea how athletes are ranked in this. I do know that it scares me when I watch him do it, but he's never gotten hurt, so he must be pretty good.

 

"What's going on?" I ask, coming from the hallway.

 

"Look what I found," Jason says, grimly. "I was in the kitchen when I heard the front door open. Dinh's in Santa Cruz for a conference today, and won't be home for dinner, and Kevin and Kai are at a friend's and, anyway, don't have keys to the house. I knew where you, Kenny, and Peter were, so when I heard the front door open, I was confused. When I came out to investigate, this is what I found moving toward the bedrooms. I threw a kick. I think I surprised him."

 

I can well imagine. I told Jason and Kenny last night about what Peter had told me, about how Erich had abused him. They were both pretty angry. I rather imagine that Jason was restraining himself with this single kick to the face.

"Handcuffs," I say, and Jason scampers away, down to the basement, returning almost immediately with a shiny pair of police-grade handcuffs. We flip Erich over, and cuff his wrists behind him. As we do, he starts to recover from the kick, and to struggle. Ultimately, realizing that he's helpless, he stops struggling and waits, for what he's not sure. Nor am I. "Take him downstairs," I tell Jason. "Attach the handcuffs to one of the overhead cables and raise it just enough so he can't wander around. Don't hurt him unless he forces you to."

Do unto others as they do unto you. That is NOT the golden rule. There was a time when I'd have simply beaten this guy nearly to death, and then dropped him off somewhere, severing all ties. As I think about Erich, though, I imagine that's what he expects. He expects that I'll do to him what he did to Peter, but I suspect that what he did to Peter has already been done to him...somewhere along the line in some form or another. That kind of savagery isn't something you invent on your own. It's learned behavior. Cruelty, true cruelty, is something passed down for generations. Instead of punishing him physically for this, and hopefully deterring future incidents by instilling a fear of future reprisals, maybe we should spend some time trying to understand it. In Erich's case, I have a hunch that understand will be a lot better deterrent than violence.

I give him two hours to stew in the basement before I make my way down there. I find him in tears, his posture very awkward. Jason has hoisted his arms a little too high, and he's barely able to raise his head to see who's come into the room. Strappado is a form of torture in which a victim's hands are first secured behind his back, and he is then suspended in the air by means of a rope attached to wrists, which most likely dislocates both arms. That's not what we have here, but the concept is the same. In order to accommodate his arms being raised so high behind him, he has to bend at the waist with his head hung low. I'm sure it's not very comfortable, but it's also not painful. "Hello, Erich," I say. I get no response. Moving to the pulley control panel, I lower his arms so he can almost stand upright. He's not going anywhere, but his stance is much less awkward. Then I move a chair in front of him, back about six feet, and wait.

 

He continues to cry for several minutes, and then calms down a little. Finally he looks across at me, and the play of emotions on his face is fascinating. Initially angry and defiant, he becomes pensive, then he's just flat out confused, and then I see such sadness, such heartbreaking sadness. He hangs his head, and I have the sense that he's going to start crying again, but he doesn't. Finally, he looks up into my face with a pleading look, and then back down at the floor. "I'm sorry," he whispers.

 

"For what?" I ask him.

 

"For what I did to Peter."

 

"And, what did you do to Peter?"

 

He pauses and thinks for nearly fifteen seconds before looking back up at me. "I...umm...sort of beat him up."

 

"Sort of?"

 

"I...umm...beat him up."

 

"Anything else?"

 

"I...cut him."

 

"How many times?"

 

"I don't know."

 

"Thirteen times. Anything else?"

 

"I burned him...with a...cigar."

 

"Anything else?"

 

He looks confused. "Umm...no."

 

I get up from my chair, walk over to him, and get right in his face. In my iciest tone, I say, "Before you did most of those things to him, you tied him up. And then, when you were done, you left him on the bed. We found him three days later, lying in his own blood and filth, unable to move. What if we hadn't come back on Saturday? What if we'd come back later? Assuming you came back today to rescue him, that would have had him lying there, immobile, without food or water, for six days. And, as I say, that's assuming you came back today to rescue him, and not to injure him some more. That doesn't sound like beating him up to me. That sounds like trying to kill him. You tried very hard to kill him. And, you nearly succeeded."

 

Erich is crying now. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to..."

 

"How do you not mean to cut someone with a knife 13 times? How do you not mean to burn someone with a cigar? How do you not mean to leave someone helpless and starving?"

 

Sobbing. "But I love him," he says desperately, choking on tears.

 

"Well, if you love him," I say, circling him angrily, "why'd you try to kill him?"

 

He pauses. "I don't know," he says, and sounds sincere. "I've been struggling with that question."

 

Suddenly I realize that I'm missing a trick. "Struggle with it some more," I say. "I'll be back in a while."

 

I leave the basement and head up to the office. Jason is in there reading. I shoo him out of the desk chair, and he moves to one of the leather chairs in front of the desk. I need to use the computer.

 

When we caught a guy molesting Kai in the same bedroom that Peter and Erich have shared, we had him dead to rights because the camera in that room caught the entire scene. There's a server in the attic that records everything that happens in any room of the house. If there's movement in the room, the server starts recording it. I wrote the software for this system, intending to market it as an anti-theft system for retail stores. I was late to market, though, and most retailers had already invested in other systems that were a good deal less efficient than mine. The beauty of my design lay in its storage subsystem, which has very effective compression algorithms that make the resulting video recording quite small. No one else did that because, until recently, most other manufacturers were recording onto non-digital media. A number of other manufacturers were interested in licensing that storage subsystem, but were put off by the proprietary format of the resulting video files. But, what did they expect? If you're going to have a surveillance system running in multiple locations in a retail establishment for days, weeks or even months, .wmv files (Windows Media Video) are not going to cut it. There's not enough disk space on earth for that much video. So, the system in my home, which I installed as sort of a prototype to test the concept and the software, is the only implementation on earth. Unless something's seriously wrong, it caught Erich's assault on Peter in Technicolor.

 

The question in my mind as I was talking to Erich in the basement was whether I have enough disk storage to have saved a month's worth of recordings from the house. Would the recording of this incident have been saved, or would I have run out of disk space before that time? But coming up the stairs, I realize the question is absurd. I have a terabyte of disk space attached to that server, and the file system is designed as a FIFO queue first file in, first file out. That means that the first video it records is the first one it discards as it runs out of disk space. Given the capacity of the disk drive, that first file should be months old. Recordings are stored in directories by date, and Peter told me that the date of the assault was six days ago. It's a matter of finding the appropriate directory and looking through the videos associated with the camera in their room. It takes me ten minutes. Then I have the video's file name and location. It's time to go back downstairs.

 

When I get back to the basement, I'm surprised to find Erich still in tears. "I'm so sorry," he pleads. "I didn't mean to hurt him."

 

"Let's see if that's true," I say, switching on the plasma screen attached to the wall, and bringing up the appropriate video. Technicolor is an overstatement, I realize. But honestly, the quality isn't bad, and the audio is pretty good as well. I mean, picture and sound aren't HD quality, but what do you expect of files this small, this compressed? As I talk about this, I'm concentrating on the technical aspects of the recording, frankly, because the content is the most agonizing and heartbreaking thing I've ever seen. Cohen was right about Peter's hoarseness. He's hoarse because he never stopped screaming, never stopped until his voice just faded away, much as he did, ultimately. He'd pass out, and Erich would bring him to, and start again. The beating is savage, the cutting is horrifying, and the cigar incident makes me want to vomit. Erich is utterly distraught, confronted with his own violence. At the end, as Erich leaves the room, Peter, pathetic and bleeding, pleads not to be left alone. "Please don't leave me," he screams. By the end of the video, I'm in tears.

 

"I dunno, Erich, does that look like love to you?"

 

Sobbing...sobbing...sobbing.

 

"I've always thought of love, and expressions of love, as something you do for someone that benefits them in some way, that shows how much you care for them. Do your actions here seem like caring to you?"

 

He shakes his head, still sobbing.

 

"Yeah. I agree."

 

I am awash right now in conflicting emotions, and have to pause to get control of myself. On the one hand I am so angry at this guy that I can barely function, especially after seeing the video of the actual assault. But, I'm also so anguished that someone would do something like this, that someone would be so messed up that they could even conceive of this. Anger and anguish. Back and forth. Finally, I look at Erich. "Several years ago my eldest son, whom you haven't met, was having trouble at school. Bullying. Kenny and I abducted the guy who was beating him up, and we...took care of him. A couple years ago, we found Kai being molested by a party guest. Kenny and I beat him nearly to death. Kenny wanted to kill him, but I restrained him. What should I do with you?"

 

"Do to me what I did to him," he says, choking on tears. "Please..." So, we're back to n eye for an eye. Do unto others as they do unto you the old testament version of the Golden Rule.

 

I stare at him, thoughtfully. That's my inclination, my visceral desire. I would derive great satisfaction out of beating him to death. But, that's not the point of this exercise, is it? And, besides, I could never be as savage as he was with Peter. I imagine who I would have to become to exact appropriate retribution, and it frightens me. That transformation frightens me more, actually, than what I'd have to do to him. The fact that he'd even suggest this tells me that the prospect of a savage beating and scarification doesn't hold the terror for him that it would for me. Why? Why doesn't it frighten him more than it does? On a hunch, I unbutton his shirt, and push it back until it's bunched around his wrists. Then I open his pants and push them to his ankles, followed by his underwear. I switch on a couple of halogen lights, aim them at him, front and back, stand back, and inspect his nakedness. It takes several seconds, but I find what I thought I would. Then I'm even more intrigued. I begin to count and find 12 very faint hairline scars over the surface of his body. I must be mistaken. I'm missing one, aren't I? He cut Peter 13 times. Where's his 13th scar? I count again, and inspect him more closely. No, there are only 12. Odd, I think to myself. Every other detail matches, right down to the burns in the crooks of his legs and arms where the scar tissue is evident. I sit back down on the chair across from him and scan his body. I'm confused. There are 12 scars and four burns. His skin is very pale, much paler than Peter's. It's that Dutch / Germanic heritage. Both races are naturally very pale. It makes the scars stand out more than I hope they will on Peter. He's circumcised, I notice, sort of in passing. Where is that 13th scar?

 

Circumcised? Europeans don't typically circumcise their children. And this is a really botched job. The scar left where the foreskin was sliced away is crooked, and an angry red. It isn't pretty. Peter, too, was circumcised, but Peter's scar is much more...elegant. You have to wonder who did Erich's. What doctor would...? Then I get it, and immediately tear up. I cover my face with my hands and cry for a moment, and so does Erich, because he knows that I know. "Who was it?" I ask.

 

"An uncle."

 

"Do your parents know?"

 

"Not explicitly. They know something happened, but they never knew what. I never told them. I was...humiliated, and I probably deserved it. I was with him for two weeks. Stuttgart. I was 13. I was visiting. I had mostly healed by the time I got back. The wounds had. I hadn't. I guess I...never...did."

 

I nod, staring at him vaguely. Moving back to Erich, I pull up his underwear and his pants, fastening them, and then I re-button his shirt. Then I move back to my chair and simply stare at him for several minutes. He's continues to weep and to apologize, continues to beg me to let him see Peter, whom he continues to say he loves. This boy is very confused. "My plan was to discard you. Assuming I could restrain myself from beating you to death, my plan was to put you out with the trash. I'm not sure that I shouldn't still do that. Everyone has baggage, Erich. Some of it you can fix, and some of it you can't. I'm not sure you can be fixed, and I'm not sure I could ever believe you were fixed, even if it were true. Having you here scares me to death, not just on Peter's behalf, but because if you could do this to him," I say, motioning to the plasma screen on the wall with a frozen image of Erich with a knife. "If you could do this to him, what could you do to my sons?"

 

He nods, sobbing.

 

"So, you can't stay here, because I don't trust you not to do this again, or worse. And you can't see Peter, at least not yet. If I took you into his room right now, I think he'd run, and, frankly, he's not yet in any condition to run. So, here the deal. If you really do love Peter and want to see him again, you have to do two things. You have to get yourself into counseling with a reputable psychologist (and I can help you with that), and you have to tell your parents what your uncle did to you, and what you did to Peter. It's time to level with them both because you need their support, and because lying to them will make it more difficult to get mentally healthy. When your psychologist and your parents tell me you're ready, then and only then can you see Peter again. If you try to see him before that time, I'll put this video on YouTube and you'll be a reality star. You'll be Kim Kardashian, famous for being famous and, in your case, famous for being a pervert. So, what do you want to do?"

 

"I'll do it," he says without hesitation. "I'll do anything. Please...can you help me?"

 

"What do you need?"

"I need a counselor and...umm...I need help telling my parents. I'm...afraid they'll...hate me," he says, tearing up again. It sounds like he's coming out, doesn't it? It's more of the guilty secrets that destroy lives.

 

"Okay. I'll make some calls about counselors. In the mean time, invite your parents here for dinner. Invite them for any day this week. Let me know when you have an evening set up. Where've you been staying since you left here?"

 

"At a friends, but I can't stay there much longer because his room mate is coming back from vacation. I have to be out by the end of this week."

 

"Well, then you need to get your parents up to speed before then, because you can't stay here. Not until I'm sure..."

 

He nods, sadly.

 

I lower the cable attached to his handcuffs so I can release them, and then remove the cuffs themselves. I motion him to the stairway, and up we go, emerging into the kitchen. I escort him to the front door, and out of the house. "Call me when you know what night your parents are coming. I should have the name of a psychologist by then." He nods, and walks sadly away from the house, heading to the bus stop on the corner. This is one fucked-up guy!

 

Erich calls me the next day to say that his parents will be here Friday evening. That's four days from now. In turn, I give him the name of a counselor that Dr. Cohen recommended. I owed Cohen a call anyway to tell him that I'd discovered what had happened to Peter, and when I fill him in on the details, he gives me the name of a psychiatrist he feels will be very effective in helping Erich sort out his problems with violence and aggression. Cohen is even able to get Erich an emergency appointment with the guy on Thursday, the day before his parents will join us for dinner. So, once Erich has confessed his problem to his parents, he can show the concrete actions that he's taking to solve the problem.

 

When Friday rolls around, Erich arrives at 5pm, an hour before his parents are due. The meal is going to be dead simple, something even I can cook. We'll have a leg of lamb with a Middle-Eastern spice rub, scalloped potatoes and beets, and a fennel and orange salad with a balsamic dressing. It's fairly bland as our menus go, but everything cooks in the oven. It's just a matter of timing it. This is important, because I've sent the resident cooks away for the evening. Jason, Kenny, Dinh, Peter and the boys will all spend the evening with Christophe and Vijay and won't be back until around 11pm. I want Erich's confession to be quite private, so dinner will be just Erich, his parents, and me.

 

"How'd your appointment with the psychiatrist go?" I ask Erich.

 

The minute I ask this, he goes glassy-eyed. "I think it was the hardest thing I've ever done, confessing something as shameful as what I did to Peter to someone I don't know. He was very calming, though, and relatively easy to talk to. He thinks he can help me, and I think the same. I felt better after talking to him."

 

"Good. That's great news. So, what I have in mind for the evening are cocktails in the living room, a simple meal, coffee and dessert, and then we can talk about the issue. I'll introduced it with something like `Erich has told me something that he'd also like to share with you.' Honestly, I don't know what I'm going to say. It's best with confessions like this to make an effortless transition from whatever you were talking about before. It makes everything seem less dramatic, and that'll be important in how they perceive what you tell them . By the way, your uncle in Stuttgart, whose brother is he?"

 

"He's my father's brother."

 

"Are they close, he and your dad?"

 

"It's funny you should ask that. My Dad really doesn't like him. He doesn't trust him. My Mom can't stand him. He's very arrogant. She won't be in the same room with him. He's sort of the black sheep of the family. When I got back from that visit, my parents knew that something had happened, but they didn't know what. They never let me visit him again, though."

 

Erich is fascinating, but to get anywhere with him you sort of have to read between the lines. He has that Northern European reticence that he probably inherited from his parents. You have to just keep asking questions.

 

"You said you never told them what happened, and you implied that the assault happened pretty early in your visit, giving you time to...heal. I don't want to pry into this. This is for you and the doctor to work through, but that you stayed with him for two weeks after what he did to you...that surprised me. So, here's the only personal question I have. Was there sex involved, with your uncle I mean?"

 

Erich looks down at the floor. I can see the tears welling up in his eyes. He nods, slowly.

 

"Was it forced or consensual?"

 

He continues to stare at the floor. "Initially, he raped me. I think it was my unwillingness to have sex with him that triggered his abuse. I think maybe he felt rejected. Later, after he hurt me, I let him do whatever he wanted."

 

I reach over, pull him to me, and hug him. "That needs to be part of what you tell your parents, Erich. You need to come clean with them. No more hiding and bottling this up. You should have told them this long ago. It would have made you feel much better. Did you tell this to the psychiatrist?"

 

He nods. "He guessed it, too...like you."

 

"Good." We move to the kitchen, where I pre-heat the oven and pop in the roast and the potato and beet escalope. Then I grab a bottle of chardonnay from the fridge and pour us each a glass. I want Erich just a little bit fortified. "Relax," I say, squeezing the back of his neck. "I know this is scary, but I think you're going to feel a lot better once your secret is out."

 

A little before 6pm, Erich's parents arrive. Once again they bring us a bottle of German Riesling, and a bottle of California Pinot Noir, a perfect complement to lamb. I ask them whether they'd like to start with the Riesling, or whether they'd prefer a cocktail. They look a little guilty, but both request a martini. Easy enough. They prefer gin, they tell me, and usually mix it 6:1. I disappear into the kitchen, and return with four martinis on a tray. Then we sit down and talk about the California budget crisis, the direction our new president is taking, how the perception of the U.S. has changed in Europe since the elections, and Angela Merkel, the first East German Chancellor of Germany, and the first woman. Germany, of course, like most countries, had a very low opinion of the Bush administration. Indeed, the only political figure who could stand Bush, as I recall, was John Howard, the Australian Prime Minister for much of the Bush presidency. But, of course, that was because he, too, was an asshole. Merkel would have no more to do with Bush than she had to, which instantly endeared her to me. What I'm curious about, though, is how a woman Chancellor has fared in Germany. "She has done very well, I think," Klaus, Erich's father, opines. "It of course helped that she had led the Christian Democrats before coming to office. She was known."

 

Gisla, Erich's mother, agrees. "It is refreshing, don't you think, to have a woman in office? Women govern differently. There is more of an interest in coalition-building. It is ironic that Holland is far more liberal than Germany in general, yet has failed to adequately include women at the highest levels of government."

 

"Gott im Himmel," Klaus says with a laugh. "Here we go!" Both he and Gisla giggle. I gather that this is a long-standing discussion point between them.

 

Erich has said not one word during this discussion. In fact, he's said almost nothing at all since they arrived. Noticing this, his mother tries to draw him out. "How are you, my son?"

 

"I'm fine," he replies.

 

"And where is your handsome boyfriend?" she asks.

 

Erich suddenly looks at me, urgently. "Everyone else had prior commitments tonight, so it'll just be us, I'm afraid," I reply, smiling.

 

At that moment the buzzer in the kitchen sounds, announcing that the lamb had reached 140 degrees. It's time to carve and eat. I suggest that Erich open the Pinot and take it to the table, and that we all adjourn to the dining room, where I bring out the lamb, the potatoes and beats, and the salad. Erich fills the wine glasses and we're off and running. I like lamb rare, so I'm very careful to get the temperature just right, and this lamb is delicious. The Middle-Eastern rub I use actually comes pre-mixed. I've no idea what's in it. I went into a Persian market one day and asked the lady at the counter how she cooks her lamb. She gave me the package, and I've been using it ever since. The potato and beet escalope is my invention, and is dead simple sliced potatoes, beets, flour, some milk, and pepper. Then you bake it for an hour or so. We start with the spinach and orange salad, and move on from there.

 

We continue to talk politics over dinner for a while, and then I start to describe our London trip. I tell them about the football match, the museums we went to, and, of course, the steak and kidney pie, which has Gisla wrinkling her nose. Then, over coffee and dessert, I talk about Kenny and Jason's musical, Confessions of the Canterbury Pilgrims. They're both Chaucer fans, it turns out, which surprises me a little because they're both non-native English speakers. But, both have read The Canterbury Tales in Middle English, and both enjoyed it. Klaus' favorite character is the Wife of Bath, and Gisla's is Nicholas in "The Miller's Tale". I have to agree with her. "We flew home last Saturday. Since then we've been dealing with the aftermath of something troubling we found when we got home, something involving Erich and Peter. It's really something Erich should have talked to you about a long time ago, but I understand why he couldn't. Why don't you do that now, Erich?"

 

I really feel for the guy. He looks like a deer in the headlights. He's naturally pale anyway, but at this moment, he's paler than I've ever seen him. "I...umm...need to...talk about...that summer when I was 13, that vacation I spent at...Uncle Reiner's." He is stammering like crazy and is really nervous. The moment he says "Uncle Reiner," both parents looks concerned, concerned and nervous. I think they have some vague inkling of what they're going to hear. And, then Erich begins. He tells them about being fondled, about the rape, and about his resistance to his Uncle's advances. Then he tells them about his Uncle's attack, about being beaten, cut, and burned. About halfway through his narrative, his mother begins to cry. She has been sitting across from Erich, and suddenly she leaps out of her chair, and runs around the table, grabbing her son's chair and twisting it abruptly so he's facing her. Then she drops to her knees and hugs him. She just attaches herself to him. He hugs her, but only tentatively. He wonders whether she'll still love him when she hears the rest. The other complication is that he's started to cry.

 

His father is ashen, and as I watch his face I see him repeatedly flexing the muscles of his jaw. It looks like he's grinding his teeth. "Why did you not tell us about this before, Erich? Why did you not call us and ask to be brought home? Why did you not say anything about it when you got home?"

 

"I was so ashamed. After Uncle...umm...beat me, I stopped resisting. I was too frightened of him. He was so...violent. He told me that I liked it, that I wanted him to rape me. And, of course, I knew by that time that I was gay, but I hadn't told you that yet. So, a part of me believed him, believed that I wanted his...attention because I had feelings for other...males. I was afraid, afraid of him, of you and your reaction to hearing the news that I was gay at the same time you heard about this incident. Most of all, I was afraid of myself, afraid of what I was discovering about myself. The rape has colored every aspect of my sexuality. It has...polluted...me. It has maybe destroyed me and my ability to find happiness."

 

Erich is sobbing now, clinging to his mother like a little boy. His father is pensive, almost brooding, and I really wonder what he's thinking. His hands are folded in front of him on the table, and he's staring at them. But it's not an idle gaze. His eyes are intent very bright. What I see in those eyes is not anger, exactly. It's much more intense than that. What I see in those eyes is hatred, and maybe malevolence. I think Uncle Reiner is lucky to be living in Stuttgart right now.

 

Finally, Klaus looks up, looks at his son. "Why are you telling us this now? Why today?" This guy is very perceptive. He's asked the pregnant question.

 

But, it's a question Erich can't answer right now because he's so wracked with sobs.

 

Klaus turns to me. "Do you know why today?"

 

"Yes," I say. "Experiences such Erich's cause trauma, and psychological scarring. Erich is intensely unhappy, and has been responding to that unhappiness in some rather damaging ways. To his credit, he's now going to a therapist, a psychiatrist, to help him come to terms with the feelings of helplessness and worthlessness that his Uncle caused him. He started treatment yesterday. His doctor believes he can help him."

 

"And, what are the damaging ways he has dealt with his unhappiness?" He's staring at me intently now, and Erich is clinging to his mother as though afraid that she might get away from him, sobbing inconsolably.

 

"When we arrived home on Saturday morning we found some...damage to the house. No one seemed to be home, at least that's what we believed, until we checked the room that Erich and Peter share. We found Peter bound and helpless, lying in his own filth. He'd been there for three days. He'd been beaten, cut and burned just as Erich's Uncle had done to him. When I finally got Peter to tell me what had happened, he said that this was the culmination of three months of violence. Erich has been acting out his trauma on Peter. I've had to ask Erich to leave us because, until he's dealt with his anger, I can't allow him near our boys. Peter, also, doesn't feel safe around him. He still loves Erich, he says, but he's afraid of him. That reconciliation, if there is one, is going to take some time. Telling you all this was one of my conditions for ever letting him see Peter again, for ever letting him back into our lives. I think if you asked him, he'd probably tell you that this is the most frightening moment of his life, certainly more frightening than when he told you he was gay. He's terrified that you'll reject him, and he really needs you right now."

 

Hearing this, his mother moves back and looks into his eyes as he sobs. Then she leans forward and kisses him. "I am so sorry, Erich. I have always hated that man! Hufter! Asshole! We should never have trusted you with him. I'm so sorry you didn't tell us about him sooner, but, I understand, and I love you. I would never reject you."

 

Then, to my surprise, Erich's father gets up and crosses to him. Standing next to his chair, he caresses Erich's head. "Ja," he says, "we both love you, and we will support you. You know this. I am proud that you have gone for help. We must get you the help you need. Where will you live?"

 

"With...you?" he chokes.

 

"Ja, of course. We will love to have you back," he says, giving Erich another squeeze.

 

While Gisla continues to reassure Erich, Klaus takes me aside. "The damage to your house, you must let me pay for the repairs. And, how was the counselor compensated?"

"Forget about the damage. A window was broken, and some crystal and bric-a-brac that can't be replaced anyway. It doesn't matter. I paid for his visit to the psychiatrist, and am happy to continue..."

 

"No. Our health insurance will cover it. And his boyfriend? Has Peter recovered?"

 

"He's recovering. The first couple of days he was in quite a lot of pain, but he's more comfortable now. Like Erich, there's psychological damage, but Peter is resilient, and he's not 13, as Erich was. He'll recover. I honestly believe that if Erich can deal with his anger and hurt, the two of them have a chance at reconciliation."

 

"Ja," he says. "Gisla and I are both fond of Peter. We would like them to be together." The fire in his eyes is back again, and his jaw is once again twitching. I truly believe that Uncle Reiner is very lucky to be 6000 miles away.

 

-------------------------------------------

 

It takes three months of intensive therapy to get Erich to a point where his therapist believes he will no longer act out his feeling of helplessness and rage. During that time he hasn't seen Peter. In fact, he hasn't been back to our house at all. I've kept in touch with him via email and phone, and have chatted with his mother who tells me that she's noticed a real change in his demeanor. "He has become less...nervous and more outgoing, more care-free," she comments one day. "He seems more comfortable with himself than I ever remember him." So, when Erich calls and asks if he can cook us a meal, I agree. It'll be good to see him, good to see who he's become. And, I think, regardless of where their relationship goes, it'll be good for Peter and Erich to face each other.

 

So, one evening long about 5pm, Erich arrives with groceries. He's going to make an asparagus salad, a mushroom soup, veal cutlets stuffed with bacon, onion, mushrooms and parsley, and sorrel in butter. For dessert, we'll have something simple ice cream with berries except that he's made the ice cream himself. This is a menu to impress, and it certainly impresses me. Jason joins him in the kitchen and acts as sou-chef, chopping veggies and stirring sauces, and about half way through the preparations, Peter wanders into the kitchen. He sits at the table, chatting with both Jason and Erich. This is the first they've seen each other since the beating, and Jason later tells me that it goes well.

 

"They were really cute together," he tells me. "It was sort of like a first date. They were both shy, and a little awkward, but there's just so much chemistry there. I had the feeling that Erich really wanted me to leave them alone, but Peter was nervous. He wanted me to stay. It was really funny."

 

After that first meeting, Peter and Erich start to date again. It's as though they're starting from scratch. Peter asks us to double date with them on the first several dates, until he feels more secure, I imagine. So, Dinh and I join Peter and Erich for Phở at my favorite Vietnamese noodle shop, and then we go dancing at TD's (Tinker's Damn) in Santa Clara, a gay dance club. Then Jason and Kenny go with them to The Fish Market in Santa Clara for Seafood Marinara before catching a movie at the Camera 7 Cinema in Campbell. Then we do a double-double with Erich, Peter, Dinh, Kenny, Jason, and me. We head up to San Francisco and hit 2223 for dinner, and then go dancing at N'Touch, one of our old haunts. When Brian, the owner of N'Touch, sees us all, he gets very excited. Jase and Kenny have, after all, spent a lot time dancing naked in these go-go cages. I think Brian is hoping for a reprise. Tonight, though, we're here more to facilitate a budding romance than to abandon all inhibitions. Besides, Peter and Erich aren't "mine". I don't know how they'd feel about getting naked in front of a roomful of "Asian boys and their admirers," which is this club's clientele. I have no doubt that the potato queens would enjoy it. I'm just not sure Erich and Peter would.

After a couple of weeks of double dates, Peter becomes more confident. He and Erich go out on their own, and when Peter comes back from that first solo date, he's teary-eyed. "What'd you do?" I ask him casually.

"Not much," he replies. "We walked over to the Rose Garden."

"That doesn't sound very exciting."

"It wasn't. But it was so...romantic. We'd been sitting on a bench, sort of gazing at the fountain, and all of a sudden he got down on his knees. He took my hand, and he apologized to me. `I'm so sorry,' he said. `I have no right to expect anything from you. What I did to you is unforgiveable. But, I love you anyway.' That's what he said. He was crying. And by the time he'd finished, I was crying, too. I've never stopped loving him."

They continue to date, reconnecting, and getting comfortable with each other again. And, as they do, I have a real sense of just how much they love each other, how much they've always loved each other. Any relationship that can overcome what they've been through together, it occurs to me, has a real chance of withstanding the tests of time. We just all have to be comfortable that Erich can embrace such a relationship without violence, and it's not just Peter that has to believe that. I have to believe it, too. I need to know that he's safe. I'd decreed when he'd first started dating Peter again after his three months of therapy, that he was to have no unsupervised contact with Kai and Kevin. He could only see them if Kenny, Jason or I were with them. But, in the course of five months of courtship, five months during which we've seen Erich regularly, I've become pretty confident, and so have Jason and Kenny. He seems almost serene now, certainly less moody than before his assault on Peter. He seems to have made peace with himself, and that has made him personally more attractive to all of us.

So, after five months of courtship, during which Erich has continued to see his therapist regularly, he catches me in my office and asks if we can talk. I motion him into one of the chairs in front of the desk. He's nervous, and seems almost...submissive. "Umm...Tim..." He tapers off, and then starts again. "I've...umm...worked through a lot in the last eight months..." He tapers off again, and then restarts again, this time with more confidence. "Tim, I love Peter. I've always loved Peter, from the first day I met him. I forfeited that love by what I did to him. But, I think he's forgiven me for that. I don't deserve that forgiveness, but he's given it anyway. I love him, and I'd...umm...like to come home." Full stop. He waits.

"Home?"

"I want to come back here. I want to live with him, with you all. I want to play with the boys. I want my life back the way it was." He's really close to breaking down.

I look at him skeptically. "Is that something you think you deserve?"

He doesn't miss a beat. "No. I don't deserve it. Not at all! But, it's something I will try to deserve for the rest of my life."

"Have you discussed this with your therapist? Does he think you're ready for this?"

"Yes. He thinks this would be good for me."

This draws a snort from me. "The question is, will it be good for us?" I pause. "Will he talk to me if I call him? Will he talk about you?"

He nods. "I knew you'd want to talk to him. I told him to tell you anything you want to know. He'll answer any questions you ask him." He's thought this through, even anticipating that I'd want to discuss confidential stuff with his therapist before making a decision. I'm impressed. He's making an effort. I nod. Pushing myself out of my desk chair, I move to the door, open it, and shout Peter's name. He comes out of the living room and into the office, plunking down in the chair next to Erich, and reaching for Erich's hand.

"Erich says he wants to come `home'. Erich considers this home, probably because you're in it. Is that something you want?"

"More than anything. Please let him come back to us!"

I give him a long, pensive look, and then move my gaze to Erich. "Since the beating, I think you've done a good job of dealing with your issues. I'm proud of you, frankly. I am planning to call your doctor, but I have no doubt that he'll enthusiastically endorse you, and that's a good thing, because I'd really like to have you back with us. Everyone loves you, and we were all pretty devastated when you had to leave us, but there wasn't any choice. In the state you were in, I couldn't trust you with our children. You seem so much better now, so much happier, but...if you ever hurt our boys, I will personally kill you, and it won't be a quick and easy death. You need to know that."

He nods, solemnly.

"As for you," I say, moving now to Peter, "if Jason, Kenny or Dinh had been beaten up, having failed to tell me about three months of abuse, I would have carefully and lovingly nursed them back to health, tended their wounds, consoled them, and helped them through the trauma that such a beating would probably have caused. Then, when they were healed, when their health was assured, I would have spanked them to within an inch of their life for having concealed the abuse. I need you to promise me that, if anyone hurts you, that you'll tell me immediately rather than waiting three months. If you're hurt, I need to know instantly. Agree to that, and he can come home."

He nods. "I won't let that happen to me again."

"I won't, either!" Erich assures me. "I will never do that again, to anyone. I swear!"

I nod.

So, after an eight month absence, Erich is back with us the next day. His first official act is to take Kevin to soccer practice accompanied by Kevin's little brother, whom Erich bounces on his knee throughout the game, much to Kai's delight. Erich is part of the family again, having learned one hell of a lot more about himself than he knew eight months ago. We all learned a lot. What I learned is to keep my eyes open, and you can bet I will.

Published first at: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Nemo-stories/