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 95

By: Tim Keppler

 Edited by: Bob Leahy

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We're in the garden behind a small cabana that we've rented in Carmel, about an hour and a half south of San Jose. The weather is perfect, around 78 F. The sun is beaming against our eight-foot redwood fence, shielding us from most direct sunlight. We've been in the jacuzzi for the past fifteen, and are deliciously warm. Jason, who has toweled off, is now lying on a massage table that I borrowed from the innkeeper, his face caressed by the soft suede that cushions the face hole. He is limp, and relaxed. He's also covered with a shiny coating of patchouli oil that I've squirted along his back and massaged onto his shoulders, and between his shoulder blades. As I apply pressure with my thumbs on either side of his spine, he moans comfortably, and continues to moan as I work his shoulders. Squirting more oil onto his lower back, I continue to work the muscles right along his spine with my elbows, a trick I learned from a Thai masseur years ago in Bangkok. He squirms a little, indicating that I'm applying a little too much pressure, and so I back off a bit, and his comfort returns. He continues to moan.

 

Kenny suggested this trip. Jason has gotten short shrift from me lately, what with all that's been going on. Jason never complains. He takes what he's given. This is a very Buddhist trait, to banish desire, but to take freely of what is given freely. I'd suggested that we go to France, to Nice, or to Paris. I'd suggested Friedrichshafen, a sort of beach town in southern Germany on the shores of Lake Constance. He has concerts, on Thursday and on the following Monday, so this will be a three-day weekend for just the two of us in a place he loves. We've been to the beach once already, basking in the sun as a luscious breeze washed over us, frolicking along the margin of sand drenched with ocean water with each incoming wave. We played Frisbee, believe it or not, and were joined by a local dog that ran back and forth between us, retrieving the throws that missed the mark. Returning to the cabana, we moved to the garden, stripped, and submerged ourselves in the warm, gurgling tide pool that is the jacuzzi like two lobsters preparing to meet our fates. We kissed, and kissed some more. We hugged. We rubbed our erections together, both moaning, and then we got out and toweled off.

 

The sight of Jason, lying on his belly on the massage table is almost more than I can bear. As I squirt a light stream of patchouli oil along the crack of his ass, I admire the bronze shoulders, the soft, sensuous skin of his back, so tanned now from working in our back garden. My gaze shifts downward, as I admire the curve from his shoulders to his waist and then back up and over his ass. I can imagine myself in the Sahara meandering along the small hillocks of sand. As I begin to massage his ass cheeks, rubbing the oil into his skin (and grazing his pucker with my thumbs), the volume of his groans increases. I take a long, thin dildo from the couch, lube it with oil, and slide it gently into him. He squirms and moans, and continues to moan as I massage his inner and outer thighs. I apply more oil so that my hand slides smoothly across the skin, squeezing his thigh muscles (and tracing the line of his perineum in the process). Finally, I move to his calves and use my elbows again to apply a firm pressure as I slide down toward his ankles. Jason is in ecstasy, as his dick shows, protruding downward between his legs, hard and oozing.

 

I move back to his shoulders and neck, applying considerable pressure now. He groans loudly. I press my hands against the middle of his back, pressing downward with a slow, but steady force. He exhales, and his back cracks slowly, which elicits another loud moan. Moving down to his ass again, I rotate the dildo, which is curved, so that the tip of it is lodged against his prostate. Any move he makes, however small, will now stimulate his prostate as the dildo does its work, and massaging his ass cheeks, I help it along. His dick continues to leak, and I use the pre-cum to make his inner thighs a little slicker. "Oh, god," he breathes. "That feels so good!"

 

"What feels good...specifically?" I ask, twisting the dildo just a bit.

 

"All of it," he sighs. "Just so good."

 

I continue working his thighs, and calves, and then ask him to turn over. As he does, he groans again, the dildo stroking him as he moves. I squirt some patchouli oil onto his chest, and begin massaging his pecs, squeezing his nipples gently between my oily fingers. He moans again, and I lean over and kiss him, a long lingering kiss that I'm reluctant to break, but finally do. Then I move down to his legs, massaging his thighs again, and applying a steady pressure to the muscles on either side of his shins. Finally, I pour some oil into my hand, and take his scrotum in my hand, caressing it softly, rolling each ball between my thumb and forefinger. He is in ecstasy, and nearly in tears by the time I take his dick into my mouth and suck him slowly, sliding my lips all the way down his shaft until his dick head is pressing at the back of my throat. I swallow, and he lets out a little shriek, before I move back up and begin swirling my tongue around his dickhead. He's very close, but I'm not ready to let him cum yet, so I move off him and begin to stroke his perineum just behind his balls, giving the dildo a twist with each stroke. He begins to moan non-stop, and then to cry. I move back up and begin to kiss him as I stroke his throbbing dick very slowly and lightly. He'll never get off on this stimulation, as light as it is, and that's the intent. I know I can have him sobbing if I can keep him on the edge for a while longer, and after maybe another fifteen minutes of slow massage and kissing, he's right where I want him. "How we gonna do this, baby?" I ask him.

 

"Fuck me," he chokes softly through tears. "I want you to fuck me."

 

I thought he might. I lube my dick with oil, and slowly slide the dildo out of him. He lifts his legs, splaying them invitingly, and I slide up onto the table between them. I massage his nipples a bit more, and then slowly inch forward, insinuating my dickhead between his cheeks, and lightly touch his pucker. I continue to press forward, and my dick slowly penetrates his asshole. He opens to receive me, sobbing, and once I'm inside him, he squirms, arching his back to get the angle of entry just right. As I begin to withdraw, he stops me. "No, please. Just stay still for a minute. I want to feel you, the fullness of you. Please, can you kiss me?"

 

I'm stunned, and then giggle silently. Imagine me being asked to kiss Jason. Imagine him having to ask. "Yeah," I say, mock reluctance in my voice, "I guess." He giggles, still crying, as I lean forward and seal my lips to his. This boy is not kidding about this kiss. He drops his legs from my shoulders and, instead, wraps them behind me, pulling me closer, and driving my dick even further inside. He wraps his arms around me, hugging me tightly as he drives his tongue into my mouth.

 

Most people, I guess, close their eyes when they kiss, and mostly I do too. But Jason is just so beautiful, that I often take surreptitious glances along the way, admiring his long black lashes, and those beautiful almond-shaped single-fold eyes. Balancing myself with my left arm, I put my right behind his head, and pull his face even closer until our faces are mashed together, our tongues exploring each other. Finally, Jason breaks the kiss. "Fuck me, Tim. Please."

 

He moves his legs back to my shoulders and I arch backward, supporting myself with my arms on either side of his body. I begin to withdraw, and then slam back into him. He screams, and starts to cry again, and continues to cry as I establish a rhythm, slow at first, and then faster, until I'm fucking him with a frenzy that's unusual even for me. Jason is sobbing, and squirming, arching his back so I hit him just right with every thrust.

 

Ten minutes is all it takes. Jason is first to cum, and when he does, he screams, and keeps screaming through one of the longest orgasms I've ever seen him have. Jason is not a screamer, so this has to be intense, and between his screams and the relentless contractions of his asshole, I cum about midway through his orgasm. It feels like he's sucking the cum right out of me, rather than me firing it into him. It has never felt this way for me before. It's almost effortless. I mean, yes, I'm tense, but his sphincter muscles seem to be doing all the work. It's like nothing I've ever felt before.

 

When we're done, I collapse on top of him, and kiss him again, another lingering kiss. "I love you, baby!" I say. "You are my treasure. I love you more than I will ever be able to tell you, more than I can express in words. I'm sorry I've neglected you lately. I honestly couldn't live without you. You've taught me so much about how to be a better human being." And, in fact, he has. He's taught me connectedness. Making love to Jason is not just a physical experience. It's also profoundly spiritual. Brought up a Buddhist, Jason has studied Zen Buddhism for years with a spiritual guide who has led him to places he can't adequately describe to me. I haven't the capacity or wisdom to understand. What I do understand, though, is that when he looks at me sometimes, I feel the physical world crumble and vanish, and all that's left is us. And by "us," I don't mean Jason and me. I mean we. All that's left is "WE". I don't know how else to describe it. And sometimes this happens when we make love, as it has today. For maybe ten seconds, there was no Tim and no Jason. There was "WE". We were one spirit, so inexorably complete, that calling what we expressed "love" is wholly inadequate. It's like saying "I love my arm." You don't "love" an arm. It's a part of you. It is you. Jason can complete me, and does this often, when I'm not stupid enough to ignore him.

 

After a shower, we head into town for dinner at Cantinetta Luca, a quiet little Italian restaurant on Dolores, two blocks from Ocean Avenue. We share an antipasto, Warm Organic Figs, Gorganzola Cheese and Prosciutto, and a salad of Wild Arugula with Roasted Beets, Toasted Hazelnuts, Oranges and Balsamic Vinaigrette. Then Jason has the Grilled King Prawns, Spagna Beans, Roasted Peppers and Salsa Verde, and I have the Stinco d'Agnello - Braised Colorado Lamb Shank, Taggiasca Olives and Rosemary. We finish up with a bowl of Spumoni ice cream, a perfect ending to a nearly perfect meal.

 

After dinner we return to the beach where we watch the sunset and kiss, hugging each other, both for warmth and because we simply can't keep our hands off each other. Once that sun has extinguished itself in the vast Pacific before us, we wander back to the cabana for some more love making before falling asleep in each other's arms, exhausted but content.

 

Carmel is a wondrous place, full of little streets, little shops, vast vistas, and an ocean view that is unmatched anywhere in California. We spend the next two days exploring the town on our bicycles, which we've brought along with us. By the time Sunday evening rolls around, we're both sad to be going home, but also anxious to see the boys. And as we enter the house, we find that the boys are just as anxious to see us, especially Thim, who hops up from where he's sitting in the living room with Tan playing with building blocks. "Daddy," he shrieks, launching himself at both of us at once, indifferent, apparently, to which of us catches him. Quan, too, is excited, and wants to hear about everything we did while we were in Carmel. Ultimately our exploits aren't very interesting to him. I mean, we tell him about bicycling through the town, about the beach, about the jacuzzi, but, if you omit all the sex, as we do, it doesn't sound like we did very much at all.

 

"Wow," he says, "is that it?"

 

"Well, we were there to relax," I say. "We were looking forward to slow days, and that's what we got." Quan looks a little disappointed, but then gives us both a hug.

 

"I'm glad you're back," he says.

 

"Where're Kenny and Dinh?" Jason asks Quan.

 

"They're in the kitchen with Uncle Nathan. They're cooking. And Kev, Kai and Feng are at the park. They asked if they could take Becky's dog to play Frisbee."

 

So, yes, Carmel was beautiful. Three days in Carmel with Jason was a luxury almost not to be matched...by anything except being home with the kids. That's the real luxury. As I stand there in the entryway, hurling Thim up into the air and then catching him on the way down to shrieks of his laughter, I realize yet again that this life of mine is the real vacation. It is pure joy embodied in three men whom I love, and eight boys on whom I dote. Even Ian, whose poor judgment has disappointed me more than once, is so dear to me that I can't imagine a world without him in it. We're all one, as becomes most evident at dinnertime, when eleven of us crowd around the dining table. We're joined by Nathan, Thao, Bryce, and Robbie (this being Robbie's night off at Paolo's, his increasingly popular four-star Michelin-rated restaurant in the heart of downtown San Jose). I have no idea what I can have done to deserve such joy.

 

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The news the week after our return from Carmel is anything but joyful, though, because we need to resolve the little problem of Joey. Joey, one of Cooper's regular session attendees, is an alcoholic at twelve. Having been supplied with nearly unlimited liquor by his parents, who cut him out of their lives when they discovered he was gay, he was left with an addiction to alcohol that, unquenched, sent him to the hospital in convulsions. From there, he became locked in the embrace of the protective and beneficent County Child Protective Services, an organization whose mission it is to protect the welfare of homeless children. In their wisdom these child welfare professionals chose to house Joey in something called an SLE, a "Sober Living Environment". It's basically a secured facility that one can only enter or exit with the permission of the supervisor, a man whose moral rectitude is, of course, beyond reproach. It's the supervisor's task to ensure that the housing facility is drug and alcohol free. He does this by frequently (and often intimately) searching the boys and men as they enter, looking for illegal substances. The only trouble with this picture, my private detective tells me, is that this man's vigilance is not the result of his concern for the wards in his care, but rather to ensure that he is their only source of the drugs and alcohol. In other words, he derives a lot more of his income from selling drugs and booze to the men and boys whose abstinence he's supposed to ensure, than he does from the County for the room and board he provides them. He wants `em hooked, because that's how he makes the money he requires to support his rather lavish lifestyle.

The detective we use is one Bob Titus, my attorney, suggests as we strategize about how to figure out why Joey, despite months in this secured facility, still regularly tests positive for alcohol on breathalyzer and urine scans at the treatment center he attends daily. Tracking Joey for days on end, the detective determines that Joey isn't getting his booze on the outside. That leaves a single disturbing alternative. But verifying that alternative has us stumped for some time until the detective comes up with a plan, a plan that will require us to call in some favors from friends within the legal community, among them some fairly prominent judges. With the help of the police, a court appearance is staged, and the detective and his partner are remanded to the custody of the very SLE in which Joey is staying. The order of the court is that these men are to maintain their outside jobs, requiring them to leave the facility by 7:30 A.M., and to return by 5:15 P.M. They are not to be allowed to leave thereafter until 7:30 A.M. the following morning. Their jobs, they tell the SLE supervisor, are as a refurbisher of cameras, and an appliance repairman. So, when they appear each evening carrying small mechanical or electronic parts in their pockets, they raise no suspicions, especially because they buy liberal quantities of cocaine from the supervisor. In the course of their first week at the SLE, they manage to carry in enough parts to assemble a small, radio-controlled camera capable of picking up both audio and video. This they're able to secrete late one night at the back of a book shelf in the supervisor's office, just peeking above a pile of old papers. In the course of the next several days, this camera broadcasts everything it sees and hears to a receiver housed in a van across from the SLE where it is digitally recorded. What it sees is shocking. Not only is he forcing his tenants to buy drugs and alcohol from him with money they get from whatever it is they do during the day (and with the boys below an employable age like Joey, one can guess what that might be), but if they are not able to pay him, they are disciplined. Some are beaten, some are raped, some are even cut with razor blades, almost guaranteeing that when their cuts are noticed at whatever day-treatment center they attend, they'll be moved to the psychiatric ward of Valley Medical Center for an indefinite period of observation and treatment housed with patients in much worse shape than they are themselves. In other words, they'll be dried out, an agonizing process as performed at the county hospital.

After two weeks of recording these events, Bob Titus delivers the recordings to the police, and it doesn't take long for the wheels of justice to begin to turn. The supervisor/owner of the SLE is arrested and held without bail. The SLE itself is closed down, and the tenants are to be disbursed to other facilities throughout the county. But, how does that help us? SLEs in Santa Clara County are notorious for the very crimes committed at the SLE just closed down. The odds are quite high that Joey will be placed in one as bad or worse than the one he's been in. That's where Jorge Fernandez, the president of the board of directors of Youth Renewed, the non-profit I run to help gay youth, becomes a real asset. He and I have both wanted to expand the mission of the foundation to help gay alcoholic kids recover from their addiction. Actually, we'd like to go beyond that and help those addicted to other substances as well, but don't think that will be achievable at the outset. We've put this project off repeatedly because other serious problems have seemed more pressing, but now we've agreed to dedicate ourselves to making it happen, and quickly. Jorge has the political connections within the city and county governments to fast-track this project, and I have the financial connections to get it bankrolled. And, we've got the Center itself, which has plenty of room to add a small outpatient rehab facility on the third floor, as well as a number of rooms that we could turn into a small SLE of our own on the second floor I'm thinking no more than maybe five tenants at most. As Bob Titus, Jorge Fernandez, Jimmi (our office manager), and I put together a project plan for getting this done, the magnitude of the effort suddenly dawns on us. We're going to need plenty of help and one hell of a lot of luck to pull all this off. This is going to be one long motherfucker to get done, and I'm not sure we can accomplish it in time to prevent Joey from being redeployed to another facility. "We can't get this done before Joey is carted off to some other cesspool. What the fuck do we do about Joey?" I ask the group.

Bob smiles, and as he does, the old Vulcan Mind Meld kicks in. I know exactly what he's thinking. "No," I say, resolutely. Nine is too many. I like this kid. I like him a lot. But, I don't want to adopt him, at least not yet." Bob frowns, and then looks up.

"What about fostering him?" he asks.

"Okay, but he can't live with us until he's clean. I can't have him around the boys until he's not drinking and I have some faith that he won't start again. Fostering won't help."

"But, what if he lived here?" Bob asks.

"At the Center? It's not exactly zoned for that. Cooper's living here, but he's 18, so I didn't have to do anything special to get permission from the Child Welfare crowd. I mean, they weren't involved, so I didn't have to identify to anyone where he'd be living, thereby exposing the fact that the Center has residents, residents for which it's not zoned."

"Set zoning aside for a minute," Jorge says. "I think I can get the zoning fixed with a city variance in a matter of hours. But Child Welfare won't go for him living here unsupervised. How do we deal with that one?"

"Well," muses Bob, "if I were smart entrepreneurs like you two, who lacked the benefit of the valuable legal counsel available from honest lawyers like me, I might be tempted to lead Child Welfare to believe that Joey would be living at Tim's place. I might be tempted to show them a room in Tim's house that would be allocated to Joey. And when they were gone, I might move him to a room in the newly-zoned Center where he would be supervised, at least temporarily, by Cooper. As an honest lawyer, I could never advise you to do anything like this, mind you, but if I were smart entrepreneurs like you, I might be tempted to pursue such a plan."

Leave it to Bob. It's a risky plan, but it could work.

"You remember why you adopted all those other kids?" Bob asks. "Why not Kenny, you asked me? The reason was because you have a track record. Child Welfare is going to show interest in this case because the kid's an alcoholic. They know that. They're going to want to see a plan for his recovery. On paper, he looks like a chronic user, but we know why that is. You'll need to put together a recovery plan that they'll buy, and there's no reason to suppose that simply moving him from the care of the SLE to your protection won't satisfy their needs. You could even offer to forward his breathalyzer reports from his day-treatment center. You're golden, Tim. The Child Welfare crowd knows that if they make any kind of attempt to block this, or any kind of trouble for you, I'll have them before a judge in a matter of hours. They can't mess with you without pretty firm evidence that your care isn't serving the best interests of the boy. Even if they were to try such a ploy, all we have to do is juxtapose the benefits of living with you against the benefits of living where he was living, reminding the judge that that SLE was Child Welfare's choice."

Bob is a very clever fellow, but we're going to need some buy-in from some more obvious participants in this plan to make it work. I start with Cooper that afternoon. "How's Joey doing?" I ask him, nonchalantly, after his last session.

"He's okay, I guess," he says ruefully, "but I think he was wasted today. He looked dazed, sort of out of it, and he was really shaking."

"He's still using?"

"Yeah, I think so."

"We got his SLE closed down, the place he was living. The Child Welfare agency will have to move him somewhere else to live. We found that the guy running the SLE was his supplier. He was the one keeping Joey drunk. Now he'll have to live somewhere else."

Cooper looks concerned, almost pained, and teary-eyed. "Will he still be able to come here?" he asks.

"I think so, but it's going to take a bit of work." I take him through the plan for adding alcohol recovery for gay kids to the mission of the center, and for adding housing for alcohol-dependent adolescents. "The trouble is, we can't make this happen in time to help Joey, so we've come up with an interim plan. Jason and I will become his foster parents, but he can't live with us. I can't have him around the boys until he's clean. So, the idea is for him to live here at the Center until we have him off the alcohol. That will require someone to supervise him when he's not in at school or at his day treatment center. We'd like that someone to be you. Would you be willing to do that?"

"Sure!" he says, looking confused. "What would I have to do?"

"Well, mostly just be his friend. Be there for him. But, Joey is an alcoholic. He's going to want to drink. So, your primary job is to keep him from doing that. You're going to have to counsel him. You're going to have to help him stay off alcohol." Cooper nods.

"I can try."

"Good. Where's Joey now?"

"I left him in my room. He was shaking so hard, I told him to lie down until he felt better."

I give Cooper a quizzical look, and then smile. "Let's go see him. By the way, do you know why he was shaking?"

"Umm...not exactly. I figured it had something to do with the alcohol."

"Yeah. He was going through withdrawal. Let's go see him."

When we reach Cooper's room, Joey is sitting in one of the chairs, staring blankly off into space. He's not shaking. He smiles when he sees us. "You feeling better?" Cooper asks.

"Yeah," Joey replies. "Sorry. I was just feeling really jittery."

Cooper and I sit on the bed.

"Joey, you know that the guy who ran the place where you were living has been arrested, right?"

"I'd heard rumors," he replies. "I hated him!"

"Why?" I ask.

"Because...umm...well...he...umm...took a lot of our money."

"Why?"

He starts to tear up. "He...umm...forced us to buy stuff from him...and if we didn't..." He tapers off.

"If you didn't, he'd hurt you?" I ask.

He nods, starting to cry. "What kind of stuff did he make you buy from him?" I ask.

Joey is crying now. "Booze."

"Where is it, Joey? Where's your booze?"

Cooper looks at me abruptly, alarmed.

"You said he was shaking when you left him," I say to Cooper. "Now he's not. Where's your booze, Joey?" I ask again.

Joey reaches reluctantly into his jacket and pulls out a half-pint bottle of brandy. It's half full. He passes it to me. "Is there any more?" I ask.

He shakes his head, still crying. "What am I going to do? I don't know where to get any more. Whenever I don't have any, I start to shake, and to sweat, and sometimes my tummy starts to ache, and I throw up."

"I know," I reply. "You get really sick, don't you?"

He nods.

When I was a kid of about Joey's age, my uncle came to live with us for a while. He was my dad's age, but looked a lot older. "He's a drunk," my dad had said derisively. I didn't know what that meant, but it was clearly something really bad. I remember the smell of him, the slurred speech, the lack of balance, and sometimes he'd start to shake, too. Then he'd run to the bathroom, and then slink into his bedroom. Later he'd reappear, still slurring, still, still teetering, but not shaking anymore. My father would look at him in disgust, and my mother would usually tell me to go out and play. She wanted me out of the house. I can remember sitting outside our front door, in the courtyard, listening to the shouting and swearing. Then, one day, my uncle left us. He didn't take any of the stuff he had in his room, and he didn't say goodbye. I just woke up one morning, and he was gone, and my father was loading everything in my uncle's room into trash bags. I knew instinctively not to ask where he was, and it was only years later that I found out that he'd left because he couldn't take the derision and degradation any longer. A week after leaving us, he was found dead in an abandoned lot over in East Palo Alto.

All that happened when alcoholism was considered to be a moral problem. Alcoholics, it was said, chose the life of shame they led. They lacked willpower, and the moral rectitude to stop drinking. They deserved anything anyone chose to believe of them. They were drunks, lushes, worse than trash. They were losers. And today? Many still believe these characterizations, despite scientific research that shows alcoholism to be a disease that is in many cases passed from generation to generation within families. We prefer to judge rather than to heal.

I toss the bottle onto the bed, cross the room to the chair Joey is sitting in, and kneel in front of the boy. "I want to help you get over this. I want to help you feel better. I want to help you stop drinking."

Joey reaches forward and hugs me, but whispers in my ear, "I can't stop. I've tried."

"Yes you can," I whisper back to him. "It won't be easy, but you can stop." I push him back into the chair. "Here's what's going to happen. In about two hours my lawyer will receive final approval from the County Juvenile Court and the Child Protection Agency for your removal from the SLE you're living in. You'll be placed with me in foster care. You'll live with us at the center. Specifically, you'll live with Cooper, who'll act as your guardian. Is that okay?"

Joey just stares at me, tears in his eyes. "I'll live here?"

"Yes. Is that okay?"

He scrunches his eyes closed, and then looks at me again. He's begun shaking like a leaf again. "Yes."

"In the mean time, you and I are going to see a doctor who can help you not to feel so sick. Okay?"

Joey nods. I draw him out of the chair and hold him firmly so he doesn't collapse as we walk out of Cooper's room. We move downstairs into the lobby of the Center, stopping briefly at the front desk. "Call Dr. Cohen and tell him Joey and I are on our way," I say to Jimmi, our office manager. Then I take Joey out to my car, get him buckled into the front seat, and drive him to the doctor's office. Dr. Nguyen, Cohen's partner, is waiting for us, and shows us immediately into an examining room, where he helps Joey onto an examining table. He takes his blood pressure, which is 198/144, his pulse, which is 122, his temperature, and listens carefully to his heart and lungs. Then he gives him a breathalyzer test. He registers .14.

"When was his last drink?" Dr. Nguyen asks me.

"When was it, Joey?" I ask him.

"Half an hour ago," he says, hanging his head, "in Cooper's room."

Dr. Nguyen nods. "Joey," he says gently, sitting on the examining table next to him, putting an arm around him. "I can help you feel better. I can help you feel much better, but first, you'll need to feel a lot worse. We need to let some of the alcohol you drank wear off before I'll know how to treat you. That's going to mean that you'll be shaking pretty hard for a while, sweating a lot, you may feel sick to your stomach, and you may have to throw up. I expect it to take about two hours for those symptoms to really kick in, and by then you're going to feel really miserable. Have you felt like that before?" he asks.

Joey nods, starting to cry softly, "Yeah," he says. "I've felt that way a lot lately."

"Well, you're going to have to go through it one more time, but once you get your blood alcohol down closer to zero, I'll know what to give you to stop you feeling that way. Then you'll feel better really quickly and won't ever have to feel that way again if you don't want to, okay?"

Joey nods. Dr. Nguyen gives him a hug, and rings for the nurse, who comes into the room. They consult quickly, and Nguyen motions me to follow him out of the room, while the nurse takes off Joey's jacket and shoes, and helps him to lie back on the table, propping his head up slightly and covering him with a light blanket. Then she sits down next to him, and strokes his hair while she takes his blood pressure and pulse again.

Once out of the examining room, Dr. Nguyen stops me in the hallway. "He's got too much alcohol in his system right now for me to know how to treat him. We've got to let that run its course, and that's not going to be pleasant for him. Maggie will be with him to monitor his vitals every five minutes or so, because alcohol withdrawal is one of the most dangerous procedures of all. There's a very real chance of a seizure. When we get his system cleared a little more, I can prescribe something to alleviate the physical symptoms and he'll be able to walk out of here feeling much better. But, then the hard work starts. I'd suggest you stay with him if you can. Help him through the next two to four hours as his alcohol level decreases. He's going to need the support of someone he trusts to get through this, and I have the feeling that he trusts you. Maggie will be with you."

I nod, as Dr. Nguyen opens the door to the examining room, letting me back in to be with Joey.

The next three and a half hours are sheer hell for this boy, and by the end of it, by the time his alcohol count is at 0.01, Maggie rings for Nguyen, who returns almost immediately. Joey is drenched in sweat, and shaking violently. He's thrown up frequently, and by now his stomach is empty. At about the two hour mark, Maggie gave him a saline drip to ensure that he stayed hydrated. I am, by this time, sitting on the examining table, and he's lying with his head in my lap. He's as white as a sheet, and is crying. Dr. Nguyen checks his vital signs again, and then gives him a small white tablet, asking him to let it dissolve slowly under his tongue. "Ativan," he says to me. "It's a benzodiazepine, which is what I'm planning to prescribe, but in another form. This will tell us whether he can tolerate these."

 

After twenty minutes of continued shaking and misery, the Ativan seems to have had no effect. That's apparently the good news. No reaction to the Ativan means that he has no allergic symptoms to benzos, so the doctor gives him his first Librium, a small green and yellow capsule, and leaves the examining room as Joey continues to shake violently. After exactly twelve minutes the shaking stops, completely and abruptly. He looks up into my face, tears still running down his face, and waits to start shaking again. But he doesn't. He is absolutes still for a full ten minutes, and then he looks up at me and smiles, still weepy, but as happy as I've ever seen him. His color is back, and he sighs with relief. At about this time, Dr. Nguyen returns and takes Joey's blood pressure and pulse again. Both are markedly lower at 155/99. He's also stopped sweating. "How do you feel?" Nguyen asks.

 

Joey sits up, and as he does, every drop of color disappears from his face. He begins to fall forward, and Dr. Nguyen catches him, laying him back on the table. "I feel faint," Joey says, "but better."

 

"Just stay put for a while and relax. Your blood pressure is fluctuating still. That's causing the faintness. Let's let it stabilize for a few more minutes, and then we'll try to get you up again."

 

Joey nods, and Dr. Nguyen once more leaves the examining room. He returns twenty minutes later, and helps Joey to sit up. This time he seems fine, and his blood pressure has fallen to 148/90. "Let's go to my office," Nguyen says, and leads us out of the examining room and into his consulting room.

 

"The pill I gave you is called Librium. It stimulates the same nerve centers in your brain as alcohol, but without the physical side effects. But, it's a narcotic, and highly addictive. So, I'm going to prescribe you a seven-day supply of the medication which I want you to take today every six hours even if you have to wake up in the middle of the night to take it. Tomorrow you'll take it every seven hours, and the following day every eight hours, and so on, increasing the time between dosages every day until the prescription is used up. I'm also going to prescribe something to help you sleep, because without alcohol, I don't think you're going to sleep well for a while. Mr. Jensen can take the prescriptions to his pharmacy and get them filled, and Mr. Jensen can make sure you take them on time," he says, glancing significantly at me. "The first day you're going to feel a little tired and sluggish, but that'll pass. By the seventh day you'll feel fine and won't need the medication any more. Okay? Any questions?"

 

Joey shakes his head, but goes teary-eyed. "Thank you," he whispers, staring at the floor.

 

Dr. Nguyen smiles. "You're welcome. Mr. Jensen, I want you to call me tomorrow at around 10 A.M. and let me know how things are going. At that time I'll have some suggestions for further treatment. Okay?"

 

I nod, and we leave, heading over to Walgreen's on our way home. When we get there, Cooper is already there, waiting for us. I introduce Joey to the family. He's captivated by all these children, and is especially drawn to Kevin, who by now is fourteen, two years older than Joey, and by Kai, who is just Joey's age. They talk about school, which Joey hasn't attended in some time, going instead to day treatment at a clinic on the east side. He wants to go back to school, and longs to have friends again, but looks so hopeless and forlorn. I don't think he thinks he'll ever come out on the other side of his alcoholism. I plan to prove him wrong.

 

Both Cooper and Joey join us for dinner, and as the dishes are being cleared, I draw the two of them into the office. I fill Cooper in on the medication plan, and give him the prescriptions. He'll dole out the medication at the appropriate time. I don't trust Joey yet, either to be responsible enough to remember to take the Librium at the right times, or to take only one of the sleeping meds at bedtime. "For the moment you and Cooper will share Cooper's bedroom. We've put another bed in there so you'll have somewhere to sleep. Ultimately, we plan to extend the mission of the Center to include alcohol rehabilitation, which will include lodging a small number of patients. You'll be among them. So, for the time being, Cooper will take care of preparing your breakfast and a lunch for you to take to day treatment, and you both'll have dinner with us. Cooper'll also be responsible for you while you're at the center, so please do what he tells you to. I'm going to want to chat with you once a day after dinner to see how your day went, and if you want to talk at any other time, just ask. I want you to think of my family and the Center staff as your family. You're dear to us, Joey. That's why we're doing all this. We want you to pull out of this alcohol problem you're having and become just another happy kid. Okay?"

 

He nods, doubtfully.

 

"You can do this, Joey. Millions of people have. It's going to take some effort, but you can pull this off. Right?"

 

He nods more enthusiastically.

 

"Good," I say. "Now let me give you a ride back to the Center."

 

On Dr. Nguyen's suggestion, I pull Joey out of the treatment center he's been going to, and send him instead to a Kaiser program, something they call their "Chemical Dependency Recovery Program." Geared specifically to adolescents, the program keeps them on a pretty short leash, ensuring their safety and sobriety while they're at the facility. They're taught the physiological and spiritual impacts of alcohol abuse, but, unlike the day treatment center he was going to, they also act as a standard school for kids from 10 through 18. They teach them the usual stuff reading, math, science pretty much everything they'd get at any public school. We loan Cooper one of our cars, and he agrees to deliver Joey to the center every morning, and to pick him up in the evening. Every kid is given a breathalyzer test when they arrive at the center and when they leave. They also do regular urine screenings to ensure against cross-addiction kids who, having withdrawn from alcohol, switch instead to meth, which is something that a breathalyzer wouldn't pick up.

 

After two weeks, Joey seems to be doing well. He's clean on all his breathalyzer and urine tests, and seems to be taking an interest in his school work. Cooper is happy with his progress, as is the Kaiser staff, both his teachers, and his counselors. Tuesday night, at our regular after dinner chat, though, I realize that I've fucked up. He comes to me looking forlorn and a little teary-eyed. "What's wrong, Joey?"

 

He says nothing, but instead stares at the carpet, and looks sad. "What's wrong, Joey. You're doing so well! Why are you so sad?"

 

He continues to stare at the carpet for maybe thirty seconds, and then he looks up. He's crying. I pat my lap, inviting him to come and sit on it, but he doesn't move. Instead he hangs his head and continues to cry. After several seconds, I get up from my desk chair, and move around the desk to where he's sitting. I lift him out of the chair and carry him to the couch. He wraps his arms around my neck and arranges himself in my lap, his head resting on my shoulder. We sit for maybe fifteen minutes, before he finally begins to talk softly, whispering in my ear.

 

"I'm...umm...lonely..." He tapers off.

 

I wait, and finally ask, "Do you know why you're lonely?"

 

He nods, but says nothing.

 

After several minutes of sitting here, I ask again, "Why are you lonely, Joey?"

 

Silence. "Because I don't...umm...have..."

 

"What?" I ask.

 

"I don't have...a family. No one loves me."

 

I'm stunned by this admission, by this revelation. Then my mind start to churn, and I realize how ridiculously stupid I am. Joey admitted to Cooper a week or so ago that he never felt loved by his parents, the drunks who got him started on alcohol in the first place. They didn't really want him around, he said. They got him drunk so he'd pass out and they could be rid of him for the day or the evening, or both. This started pretty early, he said. He remembered drinking stuff as early as five years old, although it was mixed with soda or juice or something to disguise the flavor of straight vodka. As I remember Cooper telling me about this conversation, I remember taking some satisfaction in rescuing Joey from the SLE where he was also not loved, where he was forced to buy liquor from a man with no more moral scruples than his own parents. I'd fixed the problem, hadn't I? What an idiot I am.

 

Then my mind slips back to Evan, another of my rescue projects. I'd intended to house Evan at the Center as well, realizing at the last minute that he was too young to be off on his own, too young to be living in a great barn of a building with no one to talk to, no one to confide in. He was sixteen, and I couldn't bear to leave him at the Center. He was just too young to be pushed off the edge of the cliff called adulthood like a starling forced too soon to learn to fly. Joey's situation is a little different. He has Cooper, after all, but Cooper doesn't love him, not like a family does. Joey doesn't feel part of anything. He and Cooper are two loners who support each other, but who are not a family.

 

"You don't feel like we're your family?" another stupid question.

 

He nods. "You are," he says, very softly, "for maybe two hours a day." There's not a trace of bitterness in his voice, only sadness...and longing.

 

I thought I had this sewn up. I dealt with his abuse at the hands of the SLE supervisor, I dealt with his addiction, I dealt with his schooling, putting him in a place where he could make some friends. The only thing I missed, silly me, was his soul. He appreciates all I've done, but misses what I've overlooked. He's lonely. Of course he's fucking lonely! He's a twelve year old child looking for a connection to something bigger than he is, looking for people he can trust unconditionally, who will love him unconditionally. I haven't given him that. Isn't that the job of a foster parent? Suddenly Ian comes to mind, Ian who had been shipped off to the home of someone who saw him as a monthly government subsidy rather than a child in need. He'd been fostered by a venal bitch who housed him with her fat, spoiled son. She cared nothing about the boy. She just wanted the money he represented. I don't give a damn about the money Joey represents. So, why am I treating him just like Ian's foster mother treated him? Why am I treating Joey like his parents treated him, shuttling him out of the way at around 8:00 P.M. each night?

 

Suddenly, I squeeze Joey tight, and feel the tears well up in my eyes. I'm a fool! An incurable, incorrigible fool. Why do I keep making the same mistake over and over again? I treat the physical symptoms, and leave the disease unattended. I did it with Andrew, and I've done it over and over with Jason and Kenny, and even with Dinh. I nearly did it with Evan. How many more times do I have to go through this? How many more people do I have to hurt? I separated Joey from my family because, in my heart of hearts, I felt I couldn't trust him to stop drinking. I felt he'd be a bad influence on the boys, a contaminant. But, if I honestly believe that he's irredeemable, what the fuck am I playing at? Of course he's redeemable. He's shown me that in his willingness to turn his life topsy-turvy even though he didn't himself believe he could stop drinking. But he has stopped, for a whole two weeks, and believe me, for an alcoholic, two weeks can be a life time. He's gone from being frightened and distraught, from being so withdrawn that you could barely get him to talk, to being someone quick to smile. He's still shy, still emotionally unsure of himself. But he's only twelve fucking years old, for Christ's sake. What more can I expect of him?

 

"You're wrong about nobody loving you, Joey," I choke. "I love you, and there's nothing you can do to stop me. But..." I have to stop. I have to wait to regain a little control. "But, I haven't been very good..." I pause, and squeeze him again. "Would you...umm...come live with us...please?" I choke.

 

He hugs me so tight, I think he might squeeze the life right out of me, but then, abruptly, he sits back and looks deep into my eyes. "What about Cooper?" he asks.

 

"Cooper is a grown-up now. He needs to start building a life of his own, and part of that life is going to be playing a pivotal role in helping us get our alcoholic outpatient treatment center and SLE up and running. He's going to be very busy, too busy to be doing my job, which is being your father, a job that was never really his. It was mine. And I fucked it up. I want to fix that now. Please, baby, will you come and live with us? Will you come and be part of the family twenty-four hours a day?"

 

Suddenly, he starts to sob, and flings himself at me, putting his arms around my neck. I'm a little confused. I expect some emotion, but nothing like this. "Why the tears?"

 

It takes him several seconds to stop crying long enough to answer, or at least that's what I thought at the time. Finally, he whispers in my ear, and I realize by what he says how vulnerable he feels, how fragile he is. "You've never called me `baby' before. You call everyone else `baby,' but not me."

 

Wow! I realize that I'm naturally a little effusive when it comes to terms of endearment. That probably stems from what I perceived as a lack of such expressions between my parents, and between my parents and me. I longed for someone to call me something that expressed their love for me, and they never did. So, I'm effusive. But, that's not the point here. Joey is right. I never have called him `baby' before. It's as though I locked him out of my heart, refusing resolutely to love him lest he fulfill my tacit assumption that he would fail to quit drinking, thereby hurting me. Now, `baby' just slipped out, proving to him and to myself that I do love him, like it or not.

 

"Well, I guess you've sort of wormed your way into my heart, which is why I want you here with us, and not living at the center, lonely and depressed. You're too young to be living on your own. You need to be with us, and we need to be with you."

 

When we wander out of the office, we find Kenny, Dinh, Cooper, and the boys in the living room listening to Jason play a transcription of "The Dance at the Gym," Bernstein's music for West Side Story. It's electrifying, and was apparently requested by Kai, who likes musical theater. Kai has become convinced that Jason knows every piece of music ever written, a conviction that isn't far from the truth. Finally, when Jason has finished the piece, everyone notices Joey and me standing behind the sofa. They all look at us quizzically, although Jason, I think, knows what's coming. He has a tiny grin that he's trying desperately to conceal. How does he know what I'm going to say, I find myself wondering. How does he invariably know what I'll do next? Clairvoyance? Or is it symbiosis? I've no idea, but I've never been able to keep anything from him. He always knows in advance.

 

"Guys," I say, "Joey's going to be staying with us here from now on rather than living at the Center." And with that, there is a spontaneous round of applause from everyone, including Cooper, who is beaming. He tells me later that he'd been hoping it would come to this. "Joey doesn't need me," he'd said. "Joey needs you. He needs something he can call his own. He needs a family."

 

"You won't be lonely?" I ask, a little concerned.

 

"Naahhhh. I'll get to see him, and this'll sort of free me up at night to...well...to find some friends."

 

I laugh. I know exactly what he means. "Be careful, okay?"

 

He nods, giggling. "Okay, Mom."

 

I cuff him playfully. Cooper is a smart kid. He'll do fine.

 

Sleeping arrangements turn out to be easier than I thought they'd be. Kevin and Kai have finally started sleeping in their own bunk beds. Kevin, at fourteen, and Kai at twelve, are a little old for the communal sleeping arrangements they grew up with. This leaves Feng, Tan and Quan in the king-size bed by themselves. There are three other bunks for Joey to choose from, but apparently that's not what he wants. When he sees Feng, Tan, and Quan bundle into the king-size bed, he asks shyly if he can join them. They all nod excitedly, and he climbs in behind Tan, snuggling in for both warmth and comfort. It's actually very sweet. This, apparently, is part of what a family means to Joey someone to sleep with, someone to make you feel secure. As I turn off the light, and begin to close the door, I hear a whisper. "Thank you," it says.

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

A month after Joey moves out of the Center and into our house, the treatment program is taking shape. We've hired a retired nurse to head up the detox program, backed by Dr. Nguyen, Dr. Cohen's partner who, it turns out, is board certified in psychiatry. What he's doing in family practice with these credentials confused me at first, so I ask him. "I found that psychiatry by itself was not fulfilling. I needed something broader, something that would enable me to treat patients in the context of their families and living environments. Working with you at the center will be a dream come true."

The general staffing of the counselors is a bigger task, and requires a lot of research and extensive interviews. What we don't want are a bunch of counselors satisfying their own egos at the expense of our clients, and believe me, there are plenty of those out there. We want compassion and understand, but we know that a lot of our clients are going to be very manipulative, too, so the ability to sense when they're being lied to is essential. Dr. Nguyen, our new-old nurse, Sandra, and I find ourselves poring over resumes and applications one evening at about 9:15 P.M. when we hear a fairly loud bump against the front door followed by the screeching of tires. I wander over to the door and open it slowly, and as I do, Kevin falls across the threshold, reeking of beer. I instinctively feel for a pulse, and, finding it, call for Dr. Nguyen, who glances over the back of the couch in the living room. Seeing Kevin collapsed on the floor he rushes over. He checks his pulse, and rushes out to his car for a blood pressure kit. Kevin's BP is a little elevated, but not markedly. He looks awful, though. "He's intoxicated," Dr. Nguyen concludes. Rocket science!

I excuse myself, and carry Kevin to the guest bedroom. I'm not going to put him in with the other boys tonight both because I don't want them to see him this way, and because I suspect he'll be fairly active before too long. Setting him on the bed, I pull off his shirt, his shoes, his socks and his jeans, and slide him into bed. Then I return to the living room and suggest that we call it a night. I need to be with Kevin. I show Sandra and Dr. Nguyen to the door, and then return to the guest bedroom, carrying a plastic trash pail that I set alongside the bed. Kevin is an hour and fifteen minutes late. It's a Saturday night, and on Fridays and Saturdays he's allowed to go out after dinner to visit friends, but has to be home by 8:00 P.M. At fourteen years old, this seems like an appropriate curfew.

I continue to pore over resumes, sitting in a chair by the bed, until about 2:30 A.M., when Kevin begins to stir. As I thought, what he needs to do is throw up. I rush over to the bed, and help him flip onto his belly, positioning his head over the plastic trash pail just in time for the first torrent of vomit. Then I get him to drink a glass of water, and swing him back onto the bed, leaving him on his belly. He throws up again at 3:40 A.M., 5:20 A.M. and 7:30 A.M. The last time he vomits, his stomach is empty. It's the dry heaves he has now. And then he falls back asleep until around 11:30 A.M.

Not finding me in bed when he wakes up, Jason tours the house, looking for me. When he finds me, I tell him the story. He nods and runs interference with the boys, effectively keeping them away from us. Dinh and Kenny also peek their heads in, and Kenny agrees to sit with Kevin while I get a couple of hours sleep. I wake up again at 10:45 A.M., and wander back to the guest bedroom with a couple of aspirin and an Alka-Seltzer for when he wakes up. At around 11:30 he finally comes to, sweaty and miserable, with the penitential hangover he deserves. I give him the aspirin which he downs with the Alka-Seltzer, and he props himself against the headboard looking shamefaced and very close to tears, both from pain, nausea, and shame. He knows exactly what I'm thinking as I sit next to him in the chair.

"When do you want to talk about it?" I ask him.

He cringes at the sound of my voice, but nods slowly. "Now."

"And?" I ask.

"I was at Gavin's, and he had a couple of other guys from school over. They were drinking beer when I got there. His parents were at his grandmother's for the day. They wouldn't be back until late. He asked me if I wanted one, and all the other guys looked at me. If I didn't drink one, I'd be a wuss. Pretty soon one became two, and two became four. Half way through the fourth, I think, I started to feel really dizzy, but finished the beer anyway. Then I realized what time it was and said I'd better be getting home, but I couldn't walk without falling down. One of the guys said he'd drive me home, and helped me out to his car. I must have fallen asleep in the car, because the next thing I knew, I was here. My head hurts so bad," he moans.

"Had the guy who drove you home been drinking?"

"I guess. We'd all been drinking. I don't remember who it was. Someone..." He's crying now, and I let him. I want this to sink in. Whatever he's feeling, he needs to feel, and while every instinct in my body tells me to go hug him, I don't. Instead, I just stare at him. This is my Kevin, my baby. This is a boy who has never gotten into trouble, who brings home straight A's, who's a model to his brothers. He plays soccer. He dances. And he makes me laugh. He's always made me laugh. I love him so intensely right now, that I'm paralyzed. I couldn't move if I had to. But, as I sit staring at him, I start to cry, and then to sob. I raise my hands and cover my face, and just keep sobbing. I'm disappointed in him, yes, I'm profoundly disappointed. But there's something more here. It's almost as though I'm mourning a loss. It's like a death in the family. My Kevin has grown up today. The innocent boy is gone, and...I miss him...terribly. As I sit and cry, Kevin stops crying. He stares at me for a moment, and is suddenly in my lap, his arms around me with his head resting on my shoulder.

"I'm sorry," he whispers. "I'm so sorry."

I nod. "I honestly don't know which of us feels worse right now, Kevin. You have no idea how disappointed I am. Why would you do this?"

"Because I was stupid...and weak," he whispers back. "I'm so sorry. I didn't want to hurt you. I never want to hurt you."

I give him a curt squeeze, and send him back to bed. "I need some time alone," I tell him. "And so do you. Sleep off your hangover, if you can. We'll talk again later today. I don't want you leaving this room except to go to the bathroom. I'll send Jason in with some broth and some bread in a little while. You need hydration, and I'm not sure you'll be able to keep anything else down. I'll be back later."

I leave the room, closing the door behind me. I'm in a fog, both from lack of sleep and from grief. I need a couple more hours of sleep, but try as I might, I can't get back to sleep. My mind is too active. I want to go back in there and comfort him, but I can't do that. To do that would be supremely selfish. It would not only be responding to my sense of loss rather than to his need for guidance, but it would be treating him like the little boy he no longer is. I wander out to the kitchen. Dinh and Kenny have taken the boys to the playground for some Frisbee. Only Jason remains, sitting at the kitchen table, and looking glum.

"Hey, babe," he says when he sees me.

"Hey," I reply, kissing him briefly, and sitting down next to him.

"What are we going to do?" he asks after a few moments of silence.

"I don't know. I don't know what to do. This is so not Kevin, this succumbing to peer pressure when he know what he's about to do is stupid. I think he knows that, but I think we've got to drive the message home. I was thinking of starting with some education about the effects of alcohol. I have something in mind, something that I hope will give him a sense of how dangerous what he did last night is. In the mean time, could you take him some broth, a slice of bread, and some water? He needs to eat something hydrating.

Jason nods.

Moving to the office, I make a few phone calls. About an hour later, I head down to the guest room, and peek in when I get there. Kevin is sitting on the bed with his head in his hands. An empty soup bowl is sitting on his night stand along with a glass of water. He looks up when I come in. He looks miserable, with eyes that are puffy and red.

I sit in the chair beside the bed.

"So, let's see if I understand last night. You go over to Gavin's where you drink four beers with Gavin and his friends because you're afraid they won't think you're cool if you don't. You realize you're late, and say you're going to go home, but you're so drunk you can't walk. Another drunken teenager drives you home and dumps you on your doorstep, passed out. That's where I found you when I opened the front door. Is that about the gist of it?"

He nods, teary-eyed.

"Have you ever had alcohol before?"

He shakes his head.

"Do you have any idea how dangerous what you did last night was? You could have gotten alcohol poisoning and died. You could have seriously injured yourself had you walked home, and riding in a car driven by a drunken driver is just flat-out crazy. You let peer pressure lead you down a path that you knew was wrong. I though you were smarter than that, Kevin. I thought you were stronger."

Kevin is staring at the floor, with tears running down his face.

"Get dressed. We're going out. We're going to see some people. When we get back, I want you to tell me what you think is a just punishment for your behavior last night, so be thinking about it as we make our calls."

Our first stop is an in-patient treatment center for chemical addiction at Valley Medical Center. I know one of the doctors here, and he's agreed to give us a tour. The wards are communal, probably fifteen beds to a ward, and there are four wards. The place is packed. "This is the first port of call for a lot of alcoholics who are arrested by the police for public intoxication," the doctor tells us. "If they tell the police that they want to clean up, they're brought here to dry out. We manage their withdrawal within endurable boundaries, but, as you see, there's a lot of suffering involved in alcohol withdrawal under the best of conditions." What we see are rows and rows of beds containing guys ranging in age from eighteen to probably seventy or at least they look seventy. Some are sleeping. Most are not. Most are shaking violently, some vomiting into containers next to their beds. The doctor walks us through all four wards. "Truthfully, most of these guys will never stop drinking. Most are here for a respite from life on the streets. They have to trade off a comfortable bed and withdrawal for the hard pavement and the possibility of scoring some more alcohol. It has to be an agonizing choice for them. Probably one in forty will be rehabilitated. The rest...well...some will go on living on the streets for several more years. Most will die within a year or two from cirrhosis of the liver, kidney disease, pancreatitis, ulcers, or being beaten to death by some other drunk desperate for a drink. It's not a story with a happy ending for most of these guys."

On our way out, just as we reach the door to the treatment unit, the doctor stops us. Kevin is very pale, and is sniffling back tears. The doctor reaches out, and raises Kevin's head so he can look him in the eye. "Tim mentioned that you'd gotten drunk. I don't want you to leave here thinking that this can never happen to you. These guys weren't always like this. Most of them were nice, clean-cut kids just like you. They may have started drinking at about your age. They may have done it at a friend's house, or they may have raided their parents' liquor cupboard, or maybe they got some guy to buy it for them at a liquor store. Most of them were just like you. Please, don't let me find you in here a couple years down the road."

Kevin is crying now. "I won't," he chokes, lunging at the doctor and hugging him.

Our next stop is the drunk tank at the county jail. The officer on duty, Dave Grayson, a gay guy, and a friend from the Unitarian Church, calls for backup at the front desk. Then he takes us to a room that contains six cells holding men and women arrested tonight for public intoxication. The place reeks. The moment we're inside, we're assaulted by the smells of liquor, shit, urine, and vomit. It's a truly ghastly place with guys sprawled on the floor, retching into a hole in the center of each cell, or sitting up, holding their heads and moaning. "Believe it or not," Dave says, "this isn't much of a crowd. By probably 2:00 A.M., these cells will be filled beyond their legal capacity. Guys will be lying on top of other guys, puking on the guys underneath them. We hose this place down about twice a day at 6:00 A.M. and 6:00 P.M., and then a new day starts with more drunks. We see a lot of familiar faces in here, but some we've never seen before. Where do they all come from? Who knows? Some are new to the life, and we try to get them to consent to go to Valley Med to dry out and hopefully get some help. We never lack guests though at this particular hotel."

As we leave, Kevin looks shell shocked, and very teary.

Finally, we drive to Juvenile Hall, and meet with Carol Vanderveer, a friend from my early programming days who changed careers probably ten years ago and is now a juvenile counselor working for the county. Juvenile Hall is also a collection point for alcoholics, but in this case for children who are collected off the streets by the police for intoxication or drug use. She leads us through a labyrinth of connecting corridors until we find ourselves in a dark, unfurnished room with one wall covered by floor to ceiling curtains. These she opens once we're inside and the door is closed, and we suddenly have a view of the juvenile drunk tank. It consists of a series of cells stacked against each other containing kids from as young as seven to as old as seventeen. Fuck, there are a lot of them, all sprawled on the floor or vomiting into a pail in the corner of each cell. "Some of these kids have been here for three days, though most turn over more quickly," Carol explains. "Once we find their parents, we can release them, but if we can't find them, they stay here for up to three days before being transferred to other facilities throughout the county. Most of these kids come from broken homes and abusive parents. Some are runaways. But some are just like you...umm...Kevin, isn't it?" Kevin nods. "Some are bright kids with well-to-do parents. Why they're stupid enough to get involved with alcohol is anyone's guess. Peer pressure, probably. They think it's cool. They think their friends will laugh at them if they don't drink. That your story?"

Kevin nods, side-stepping toward me. I put my arm around him, and he flips around, attaching himself to me, while he continues sobbing. "Please," he chokes, "please can we go home?"

I smile sadly at Carol, who smiles back, and leads us back through that labyrinth of corridors to the front door of the facility. "Please, Kevin," she says, a single tear coursing its way down her cheek, "please don't join these boys and girls. Please don't..." She trails off.

Kevin shakes his head, and then looks up into my face. "Please..."

I thank Carol, and we get back in the car and head home. Kevin doesn't say a word on the way home, but sobs almost the whole way. When we get there, he runs to the guest bedroom at the back of the house, and throws himself onto the bed, still sobbing. I follow, sitting in the chair next to the bed. I wait for maybe ten minutes as he cries, and then finally break into his thoughts.

"So, what was last night worth, Kevin? If you were me, what would you do to punish your son for getting drunk, passing out, and riding in a car driven by another drunken boy? What would you do to a son whom you love, who had frivolously put his life in such danger? What would you do to teach that son not to become like the guys we just visited?"

There's a long pause. As he looks up at me, I see anguish in his eyes. "I'm so frightened." Another long pause. "I was an idiot last night, especially when I see what happens to people who go on like that, who go on drinking. I'm scared that someday I could be one of them. If I were you, I'd ground him until I could be sure that I could trust him, and I'm not sure you can trust him now. In fact, I'm pretty sure you can't."

As I parse this statement over and over, I realize that what he's asking for is protection. Fourteen or not, he's still a child, not yet a young adult. He still needs to be cared for. He's not ready to be emancipated. He's asking me to treat him as I treat Kai and Joey to insist that he come home right after school, and to curtail his freedom in the evenings and on weekends. If he wants to go out, he'll have to ask special permission, and one of his four fathers will be keeping tabs on where he is and what he's doing. This seems reasonable. The boys have, after all, lived pretty sheltered lives. We've worked hard to protect them. One of the results of that protection some would say over-protection is that they've all grown up slowly, as I grew up. They've been allowed to have a childhood, but have also been slow to pick up the skills and the strength necessary for living in the real world. All that was by design. Kenny, Jason, Dinh and I all agreed that we want the boys to enjoy carefree childhoods. It shouldn't really surprise me that Kevin isn't ready to give that up yet, that he isn't ready to be plunged headlong into the sea of adult life, with all the adult decisions that entails.

I nod, reaching across and hugging him. "Okay," I say, "consider yourself grounded until I'm convinced that you're ready to make better decisions than you did last night. I want you home right after school, and if you want to go anywhere after that or on weekends, you'll need to clear it with Jase, Kenny, Dinh, or me. And if you do go out, it'll be because one of us knows that there'll be responsible supervision wherever it is you're going. I don't want you to think of this as a prison sentence, Kev. I just don't think you're ready to be out there on your own yet. Essentially we're going back to the old rules that you grew up with. Okay?"

He nods, smiling bleakly.

"There's one more thing I want you to do, Kevin."

He looks up and waits.

"Tomorrow night at dinner, I want you to tell the family what you did, and to apologize. They need to know that you're sorry, and they need to understand our expectations of them."

He nods sorrowfully, and gets ready for bed. He'll stay in the guest room tonight, and move back with his brothers tomorrow, after the apology. And he'll stay home from school tomorrow. I don't want him seeing Gavin tomorrow, because I intend to call his parents as soon as Kevin is in bed. Once he's tucked in, I kiss him, and prepare to turn out the light. "I'm sorry," he says. "I was really stupid. Please, can you forgive me?"

"Of course I forgive you, Kevin. I love you. How could I not forgive you? And, honestly, this is as much my fault as yours. I gave you too much too quickly. I gave you something you weren't ready for yet. But you will be before long. You okay?"

"Yeah," he sniffs. I walk back to his bed, and hug him again. "We all make mistakes, Kev, and mistakes have consequences, but they're how we learn. We've both learned something today."

Gavin's parents are surprised by my call, and initially defensive, until the wife remembers that she found a couple of empty beer cans behind the sofa in the basement rec room. That had confused her a little because they rarely use that room. They call back the next evening to say that they confronted Gavin with my accusation, and that he confirmed it. The beer had been supplied by the older brother of a friend. Gavin was now grounded, albeit not as severely as Kevin. Gavin isn't the brightest bulb on the porch. Kevin is. Kevin's actions were more irresponsible, in my opinion, because he knew he was being stupid. No, that's not fair. He behaved like a child, which is what I should have expected. Clearly, that's what he is. And, while he wouldn't admit it, I suspect that he's grateful that we've returned to the old rules. I think he finds security in knowing that his parents are watching out for him, and will probably prevent him from getting himself into a predicament like this again for some time.

Kevin's apology that evening is heartfelt. I get everyone's attention, and announce that Kevin has something to say. Sitting at the end of the table tonight, he rises to his feet and briefly relates the events of last Saturday night. He's very close to tears by the end of it. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry to everyone. I was very stupid. I recklessly endangered my life, and hurt my family. Dad," he says, nodding toward me, "took me to some places where alcoholics are kept, and I realized what I could become by continuing to do what I did on Saturday night. I don't want to become... I'm sorry. I'm sorry to everyone," he says, finally breaking into tears.

It's Joey who comes to comfort him. Joey gets up out of his chair, moves to Kevin, and hugs him. He doesn't say anything. He just hugs him, and Kevin hugs him back as he sobs.

We've come full circle. Joey, whom I thought would be a problem child, is now in a position to be of real service to Kevin, explaining what it's like to live with alcohol dependence. And who better for the job? I can give Kevin snapshots, images like those he saw at Valley Med and at the San Jose jail, but I can't tell him how it feels. I can't explain what it's like when your heart is racing so fast that it seems like it's going to pop out of your chest, or when you're sweating so profusely that you saturate anything you come in contact with, or when you're lying on an examining table, shaking so hard that the table is banging against the wall. I can't describe these things. But Joey can. Joey, whom I secretly suspected was dangerous to my family because he would never stop drinking, has stopped, and has become a real asset. He's become an example to the boys of what might happen if they're not very thoughtful in the decisions they make in life. He is a gift rather than a liability, and once again I feel very lucky.

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