Reservations – A Novel
By Drew Filchak
Chapter Ten: "Decisions"
I wanted to stroke his cheek to wake him, but I stopped myself. Granted, I'd received phenomenal affirmation from Ben the previous morning, but after the emotional skyrockets and hellish plunges from yesterday, I found myself a little self-conscious of any expressive displays of affection. I shook his shoulder gently instead.
"Ya wanna come with me?" I asked in a hushed voice as Ben looked up to me with sleep-filled eyes.
He rubbed his eyes and cheeks then nodded as he extricated himself gently from Cody's arms. Inwardly, I smiled as I watched him absent-mindedly kiss Cody's forehead. As he pulled free of his bed partner, I heard a quiet, dissatisfied moan from Cody. I grinned as I watched Cody press his tented shorts one last time against Ben's leg.
"Someone doesn't want to let you go," I whispered.
Ben rolled his eyes as he sat up. "He never does," he returned in a whisper.
I noticed Ben's own morning expression contained in his boxers and swallowed quickly. The comparison between Ben's wood next to Joel's in the morning was easily made. But I had to admit, I thought that Ben showed an even larger swell. I quickly shook my head at the thought. ’And he's only sixteen!'
He moved to the bathroom without closing the door and I heard the splash into the bowl. The thought that natural parents must get used to the sound as their kids grow up passed through my mind. I wished I could have woken him from the door.
I grinned and turned to find Cody watching me through sleep-filled eyes.
"He's the hottest thing going, ain't he?" Cody asked.
"Yeah, he is," I said. "But you're all about the cutest things I've ever seen."
Cody shrugged. "Maybe, but Bone's just the … max." His eyes filled with a longing that I knew would likely never be fulfilled.
"So why do you put yourself through the … aggravation, Codes? He seems to be pretty clear that he's not like us and Chris."
He rolled face-first into Ben's pillow and breathed deeply. I thought he wasn't going to answer, but then he rolled again onto his back and threw his arms over his head in frustration. "Because I love him so much, B-man. He's it for me. I … I just know it. The first time I saw him on the street, I knew it. He was so whacked, so scared and all I wanted to do was grab him and lay a big, wet one on him. Then, man, as we started to talk, I saw him checking out this girl and I asked him if he wanted to meet her. He just shrugged and said she looked just like some chick he was blitzed about. And I knew he was one of the liners."
My face clouded with question. "Liners?"
"Straight. Straight line."
"Hmm." Their lingo was a constant source of amusement. "So what did you do?"
"The dude professed his undying love for me and I told him to keep it in his pants."
I whirled around to find Ben leaning against the doorway leading from the bathroom. His shorts no longer tented, but I couldn't help but think that he looked like a gigolo, practiced in posing for effect and big tips. "Eavesdropping isn't a very cool thing, bud."
"Fuck!" Cody moaned and rolled over to again bury his face in Ben's pillow.
"C'mon, Bonehead," I said quietly to Ben. "Throw some clothes on. I've already got the coffee made."
Ben shrugged and moved to the pile of clothes next to the bed, pulling on the same thing he wore yesterday.
"Codes?" Ben whispered in a plaintive voice. When Cody refused to roll over and look at him, he sighed and dropped his shoulders. "C'mon, C. You know I love you."
Without raising his head, Cody's arm flipped up, his middle finger extended, then he dropped it again and pulled the pillow close.
Ben tossed his hands out in exasperation as if to say, 'see', then grabbed his runners and stomped out of the room.
I moved to the bed and placed my hand on the back of Cody's head. I wanted to tell him that it'll all work out, but my words were somewhat different. "You're a catch, Cody. Believe me." He quickly pulled the pillow out from under him and slammed it on top of his head. I didn't know if I was supposed to leave or stay.
I dropped on the edge of the mattress and moved my hand to stroke his back. "You are, bud. You're cute and funny and even sexy for a sixteen-year-old." My voice, hushed in quiet, was meant to soothe away a little of his hurt. "Don't rush it. You'll find what you're looking for, I promise, bud. Just … be patient with yourself, okay?"
The one edge of the pillow was raised slightly and I tried to peek under it, but he pulled it close again. I rubbed his back tenderly and felt the smooth, unblemished skin under my touch. "Maybe you and I should try and spend a little more time together, just the two of us, away from the others. I've … I've been where you are, Codes. I know what it's like."
I felt his breathing pause. He slowly pulled the pillow away and looked at me with wet eyes. "You're not just saying that?"
The hope and need for my words to be the truth blazed from his eyes. I slowly shook my head and offered him a half smile. "Nope. If it tells you anything, I've cried over guys more times than I will ever admit to any one that's not comatose."
His tears surged at my words. "I love him so much. He's … "
I smiled and nodded as my hand squeezed his neck affectionately. My gesture broke through the physical barrier that had been in place between us for the past week and he tentatively moved towards me. I pulled him into my arms as he sagged against me.
His muffled words brought a knowing smile to my face. "He's so fucking cute. I just want to kiss him, just once."
"I know, love. It's not fair and a real bitch, huh?"
I felt him nod against my chest. "He's the one that started it all. He pulled me to him back in the crib. I'm not just making this shit up, you know."
From my peripheral vision, I saw Ben standing at the door with two cups of coffee in his hand, watching us. My head jerked to tell him to move away and after a moment, he silently pulled back into the hallway.
"I know, Codes. We talked about it once. He's confused just like a lot of teenagers are. But you wanna know something?"
"What?" His voice contained the faintest glimmer of what sounded like hope and it caused me to take a deep breath. I didn't want him to know the huge potential that my words offered for disappointment, but I continued in a hushed tone.
"You may get him to kiss you. He may even do it on his own, but so many times kids your age just need to try things out." I felt him sag again in my arms and I hurried on. "But that doesn't mean that there is anything wrong with you because you love him. Loving someone is the greatest thing you can do as a person. And the fact that you love Ben and are willing to go on loving him even though he doesn't appear to love you back in the same way, is a wonderful sign of the potential one day for you to know what real love is all about. You will, you know … love someone who will return it back to you ten times over. I have no idea if that person will be Ben or not, but simply because you are able to really love someone, I guarantee you that you'll get your chance to experience it on the receiving end."
I felt like I'd said too many words, but he raised his head and looked at me like he'd actually heard what I'd said. "Really?"
I nodded. "Really."
He dropped his gaze to the side and I could see that he was processing the concept. "You know what, B-man? I want him to kiss me on his own. I want it to be his decision, cuz then I'll know that he's doing it because he loves me, not cuz I want him too."
"Good. Then that leaves you a little less hopelessly in love and a lot more the stud that I know you are."
He beamed his awe across the distance between us. "You think I'm a stud?"
"Oh, yeah, bud. Grade A."
His grin widened. "Cool."
I leaned forward and kissed his forehead. His face exploded with delight. "Just promise me one thing, stud, okay?"
He nodded eagerly.
"Promise me that whenever you're called to 'stud duty' that you'll wear a raincoat, all right?"
He rolled his eyes and smirked. "Okay, Dad."
I snorted. "Good."
We shared a look that told me we'd finally connected. I nodded then ruffled his hair. "You done sleeping? You wanna join Ben and me?"
He rolled his eyes again. "No way, dude. I've got hours of sleep left in me. You two are just dopey for getting up when you do. Even the roosters know you're blasted."
I licked my lips as I grinned smugly. "Blasted, huh?"
"Yup." His grin smoothed away the last of my worry.
"Go back to sleep, pup." I winked at him playfully. "And don't drool all over Ben's pillow."
His mouth dropped and his eyes rolled again, telling me that he couldn't believe I said that. I simply raised my brows in question and he finally grinned back at me as he dropped back to the pillow, a look of slightly renewed anguish covering his face.
I nodded then stood and walked to the door. "Nighty night, stud."
His tisk brought a quiet chuckle to my lips. I left the bedroom amidst the ongoing snores from Cleats and Chris and partially pulled the door shut behind me.
Ben stood just outside the door. His embarrassed look told me that he'd heard enough of our conversation to worry about what I was going to say. I grabbed him by the neck and pulled him to me so that our shoulders bumped together as I drug him companionably down the hall.
"C'mon, you. I've got a secret place that I'm gonna let you in on."
He went to hand me my coffee cup, but I shook my head. "Hang on to it. This damned cane makes me a little unstable."
At the main door, I swapped my cane for the crutches and humped my way through the door and across the entry foyer to a secluded door in the corner of the hallway. I turned and winked at Ben who watched me with a large amount of question in his eyes. I opened the door then signaled with my head for him to follow me up the stairs.
Eventually, I topped the last step and pushed on the release bar of the door leading to the roof. I glanced quickly at Ben and saw his eyes light up. I grinned then moved through the door and began to make my way towards the west parapet. The not-so-distant mountains, lit dimly by the slightest bit of new-dawn light, rose before us as we stood next to each other. He handed me my coffee and we each sipped the hot liquid. I felt a small relief from the morning chill and placed my arm across his shoulders, then pointed toward the mountains with my coffee cup.
"That's Mount Evans. It's 14,240 feet tall. Wanna hike to the top with me, one of these days."
"No." He said resolutely.
I looked at him in question as he raised his face to mine.
"Blair. You're too old. You'd probably have a heart attack." He looked at me with steadfast seriousness. I felt my lips purse once slightly.
"You're a little shit. You know that don't you?"
He grinned smugly. "I'm not the one using a cane, old man."
I sighed in resignation. "Just because I'm momentarily at a disadvantage, doesn't mean that I can't pound your teenage butt even before I heal up, pup. Don't forget that." I arched my eyebrows at him, laced with feigned menace. He grinned then pulled from me, hopping onto one leg as his arms rose, devilish delight covering his face.
My laughter ripped across the space between the buildings. He dropped his leg and flicked his head upwards to let me know that he knew he was cool. The playfulness expressed in his face left me grinning with pleasure.
It struck me suddenly, just how much I enjoyed spending time with him -- just being with him, one-on-one, sent my spirits soaring. "Do you know how much I've enjoyed having you with us this past week, Ben? I mean, I really have enjoyed it."
His grin dropped and he looked at my coffee cup. "Blair, all I've done is cause you mondo grief. How can you say that and not be bullshitting me?"
"Simple. Because I've wanted a son in my life for a long time now and I'd really stopped thinking that it could happen."
He took a large swallow of his coffee then looked out across the city. I watched him process my words, a mixture of hope and hesitancy in his gaze. "I wasn't sure if yesterday was all just … in my imagination or what."
"No, it wasn't, Ben. I'm sorry if I didn't touch base with you after our time on the couch. Things heated up pretty dramatically and between everything that kept rolling at us, I never had a chance to get you alone to just give you a hug and reiterate my feelings."
I felt blinded by the bright intensity of his smile and as his arms encircled me in a hug that was at once both fierce and heartfelt, any fears about mine and Joel's decision to keep the boys immediately dissolved.
"Good hug," I said after a long, tender embrace. "Help this old man out, would ya? Grab us another shot of coffee and also a set of car keys from the holder. I need another bit of caffeine, then I have something else to show you."
As Ben left to refill our cups, my thoughts floated to the house on Thirteenth and Vine. It was twice as big as my house on Adams plus offered a third floor. Yesterday evening we met at the new house with Bill and Gayle to feel them out about our decision to include them in our plans. We also used the quiet to discuss the events revealed through both the capture of the scum who'd abused Mau as well as the tragedies exposed during his hypnosis.
Initially, I was blinded by my hatred of the man as I tried to listen to the details of the arrest and the subsequent evidence found at the man's house including apparent video footage of the abhorrent and vile acts done to Mau. Joel said the FBI agent would not elaborate on their content, but from the hypnosis session, Gayle and I reluctantly had some small details to share of the repeated rapes and torture. The combined essence gleamed from the two reports shared that Mau had been sold to the man named Jenkins for eight thousand dollars by his parents during the early part of November. Unbelievably, Jenkins had filmed the transaction and the agent said that Mau was clearly drugged in the footage. The sexual abuse started as soon as Mau's parents left with the money. The agent confirmed our knowledge from Marc Prentice's medical exam that Jenkins, acting as Mau's pimp, had scheduled numerous other sick and sadistic johns to use Mau's precious body as they would. Jenkins and one other monster, for their own perverted pleasures, apparently did the torture and abuse including the cigarette burns and forced urine exchange.
Contained within a hidden compartment in Jenkins's house was found, among hard copies of emails setting up Mau's sale, his birth certificate stating his name to be Jordan Allen Yamakata, born in January1988 to a Thomas and Mary Yamakata from Kaanapali, Maui, Hawaii. As of yesterday afternoon when Joel had last spoken to the agent in charge of the investigation, the Bureau was focusing their search towards locating and apprehending his parents.
Gayle had related that she'd spent the day thinking about Mau. Her eyes teared as she related the struggle she'd been through weighing Mau's enormous need against what she felt she was capable of doing. She admitted, almost in a whisper, that for the better part of the afternoon, her decision had been to try and find another therapist to work with Mau. Her reasoning centered around the uncertainly she felt about being able to remain objective. And she admitted that her loss of objectivity was the catalyst which had previously driven her into substitute teaching; no ties and very few repeat interactions.
Joel took my hand into his as we waited for her to finish.
"I have to tell you though," she finally said as her eyes met ours, "that it finally hit me. He needs personal, one-on-one therapy with someone who isn't afraid to hug him and share his hurt -- take it away from him for a little while and give him a chance to try and see what life without the horrors could be like. I can do this kind of work for one child, but I don't know about more, even though I sense you're looking to me for just that."
I felt Joel's grip relax slightly. "Yes, Gayle, we are. Our decision to buy this house, so we can remain with the boys and still have enough space for everyone, is based on the fact that we've realized, even after only a week, that we simply cannot pass these boys off to Bill."
Bill grunted and as I looked at him, I saw a slow smile form on his lips. "I know, Joel. I knew when you left my house earlier. And if you're thinking what I think you're thinking, there's a new crop of boys out there that are going to find an offer for some permanent lodging along with some permanent security."
A slight twitch flitted across Joel's lips as he nodded. "Sorry, my friend. I couldn't say anything without first speaking with my man, here." He pulled my hand, still clasped in his, to his lips. "He agreed, but not without a fight."
"Let me guess," Bill said chuckling. "He wanted to know what would happen when you two had to travel for business and would need to leave them alone. Who would watch out for them? Am I close?"
Joel shrugged. "Somewhat."
Bill studied his friend for a moment, then grinned. "Ah. You want to take them with you on your trips whenever possible, turn them into young, international men of the world and … oh, wow," he said as a light of comprehension filled his eyes, "and Blair was worried about school. Enter Gayle."
Joel refrained from grinning and instead, turned a serious look towards Gayle. "I kind of had a vision about it, Gayle. I sometimes see things very clearly and then work to bring them into reality."
I snorted. "Sometimes?"
Bill chuckled and Joel grinned briefly as he renewed his grip. Gayle's head and shoulders sagged. I watched as the realization of what we were suggesting began to sink into her awareness.
"Forget about them, Gayle. I know it's a lot to consider, but we'd like for you to team up with us, if you will, and work with Mau professionally, but also consider being a full-time tutor with the other boys."
Gayle's eyes dropped shut and I heard a quiet whisper escape her lips. "Good, God."
Joel had assured Gayle that there was no obligation on her part and told her he knew she hadn't signed up for such a life altering change, but it was obvious that Mau had responded to her and if she only wanted to focus on Mau then we'd understand completely. She'd asked for time to think about it, but definitely did not want to work professionally with the other boys and hoped that we planned on Bill handling the rest of the therapy. Joel had nodded and Bill agreed then explained that he wanted to set up private sessions with each of the boys to determine what, if any, therapeutic needs required on-going work.
Ben and Cleats had been subjected to significant violence and outside of the one time we'd talked with them about it, the acts committed against them had not been discussed with either Joel or me. Chris experienced vile exhortations from his father and minister about his lack of worthiness to be a member of the human race and Bill felt that his sexual practices were an indication that he possibly believed the hate-laced rhetoric.
Bill felt, surprisingly, that Cody and Timmy appeared to act like fairly well adjusted teenage boys. They both needed love and security and a place to belong. Timmy was able to get his needs met by his association with the other boys -- they'd become his family and the addition of Joel and I into the picture helped to complete a healthy basis around which he could mature. Unfortunately, Bill had not yet been able to ascertain Cody's needs, if any, though he did mumble something about a need for approval and direction.
I was amazed that after only two short meetings with the boys lasting a few hours at best, Bill was able to pick up on the dynamics of the group to the extent that he had. To me, it showed why Joel's faith in Bill's ability was so strong. And I couldn't dispute his effect on the boys. They'd taken to him almost immediately. Bill's agreement to continue with the plan to be houseparent and therapist if need be to a new set of boys left us waiting only for Gayle's decision -- and I hoped it wouldn't be long in coming.
I heard Ben approach from behind as my thoughts shifted.
"Here you go, old man."
"We need to get bigger coffee cups."
"Why would we when I've got you around to keep mine filled?" I bumped him with my shoulder.
He grunted. "How's your ankle?"
"Better. It's not so tender this morning, but I'm gonna need to take it easy for a while. You'll have to get Cleats to run with you for the next week or so."
"Yeah," he mumbled. "Or I'll just wait till you're okay."
I turned and rested against the parapet. "Are you and Cleats cool?"
His head tipped upward. "Yeah, we're cool."
"Then why don't you want to run with him?"
I expected his shrug, but not his grimace. "All he talks about is girls and pussy. It gets boring."
"I'd think that you'd like that."
"I do, but not all the time. It doesn't seem to bother Chris, but I know that Cody hates it, especially when Cleats tries to get him to try it."
Ben sipped from his cup then leaned against the wall next to me. "Good coffee."
His not-so-subtle change of subject forced a half grin to my lips. "Nice change of subject, Ben. How about another one?"
The drop in his shoulders told me that he knew what I wanted to talk about. "Don't start on me about Cody, Blair. Him and me got it covered."
I nodded thoughtfully. "You know how bad he's got it for you, don't you?"
His face grimaced with understanding and I watched as his eyes turned to look across the roof. With the time change, the sun now stood above the horizon even though it was only 6:30, and as he studied it, his eyes moved in thought. I couldn't imagine the confusion he must be feeling. I'd always known that I liked boys more than girls. It was simple for me in that respect. What wasn't simple though, was having feelings for another boy, like what Cody had for Ben, and knowing that I could never act on those feelings. Twenty-five or thirty years ago, you couldn't even speak about it. Now, it wasn't as much of a taboo subject and Ben knew how Cody felt about him.
"He's never really told me before, not like he told you. Just kind of whispered it to me when he thought I was asleep." He turned and rested his arms on the capstone. I heard his sigh. "I guess I knew though."
"And so, hearing him tell me how he really feels, what does that do for you?" I reached to tuck his hair away so I could see his face. "You were kind of brutal to him when you came out of the bathroom."
I watched his jaw clench as he flushed, embarrassed. "This all sucks, man. I've told him not to say shit like that, but it's like he can't help himself. And what am I s'posed to do when he says it, huh? I tell him I love him, but he always wants more. Now he wants to kiss me."
Confusion and anxiety flowed from him palpably. "Kissing him isn't a bad thing, you know, if you want to, but all of the holding you two do, the sleeping together, the little kiss you placed on his forehead this morning … it all serves to stir things up in Cody, even though you may only mean it as good, close buds."
"I know kissing him ain't bad or …" he shook as a spasm of revulsion swept through him. "I can't be like him … like that. I just can't be."
I was confused. "You mean you can't be like Cody and want to kiss your best bud?"
His head shook once as he dipped his chin and growled. "No. I can't be like him.” Ben's emphasis on the word 'him' reached through my confusion. He meant his uncle -- he couldn't be like his uncle! Anguish gripped me. Ben couldn't separate the act of forced sodomy that his uncle had committed against him with his confused feelings and possibly his desires for Cody. They were the same thing in his mind! I felt the rage surge within me.
"Fucking bastard!" My growl caused him to look at me quickly. My eyes blazed with hate until I realized that he was staring at me wide-eyed. I breathed quickly, my nostrils flaring as I tried to pull back from the blinding abyss of hatred I'd felt too often lately. I reached to stroke his hair and tried to offer him some kind of explanation. "He's just scum, Ben. What he did to you was so wrong on so many levels. You know we're going to put him away, don't you? So he can't do that to anyone else."
He nodded, but remained quiet. I had to help him see the difference between what his uncle did and what he felt for Cody. "What he did was rape, Ben." Tears wet my eyes, but I fought them back. "What Cody feels for you is love and what you might feel back for him is love. There is no comparison. They are complete opposites and I need you to see that only a tiny percent of men are like your uncle. Being sexual is not about violence or forced acts. And you can't confuse what he did to you with anything you may or may not feel for Cody … or what he feels for you. He loves you cleanly. Do you understand what I mean?"
"He loves me like a boyfriend." His eyes clouded with sadness. "He wants to be with me like I want to be with girls."
"Yes. Just the way kids your age should be -- all excited and wanting to be with the other person all the time. That's what I mean by cleanly. No hang-ups, no coercion, no violence, just clean feelings of interest and desire. You didn't like or get excited by what your uncle did to you. It was horrible. I know that, right? There is where the difference comes in between you and Cody. You like holding him or him holding you when you sleep. You've told me you like feeling him close to you. There is nothing wrong with that, nor is there anything wrong if you get aroused. It's natural, Ben. Touching other people, especially when you feel something for them is good and sometimes it gets your juices going."
"You touch me, but it doesn't get my juices going."
I smiled. "My touches aren't meant to arouse you, bud. I love you, you know that, but I don't want you sexually. When a person wants someone else sexually, there's an energy that is shared between the two of them. I'm sure you've felt this from Cody, right?"
"Yeah. Sometimes I tell him to just roll over because he … it feels like he's going to attack me."
"You mean he starts trying things with you?"
"No. It's just that energy stuff you were talking about. I just feel it and I …" He shrugged to say that he wasn't sure about the feeling.
"So do you feel it back for him?"
A long pause stood between us as he thought about my question. He finished the last of the coffee in his mug then replied. "Sometimes."
"And that's what worries you, right? That you feel the same thing, sometimes."
"Ben, I'm not here to tell you what to do, but more to help you make your own decisions. Yet, Bud, I do need to say that you need to think about what your actions, innocent friendship or more, are doing to Cody. He makes his own choices, granted, but it might be time for you to make a decision."
He turned to me and his face conveyed a look of overwhelming reluctance. "You mean a decision like if I'm gay or not? Blair …"
"No, no, no, bud. Not that at all. I simply meant for you to think about pulling back from all of the touching and holding each other if you're not willing to let your heart take it any further.”
I saw a small bit of relief fill his eyes, but remaining behind the relief were more questions. "I don't think about guys like that, Blair. I just … I don't know. Cody's different though." He closed his eyes and sighed heavily. "Can we change the subject?"
"Sure," I smiled and reached for his chin and he opened his eyes at my touch. "Just think about what I said, okay?"
"Now, what car are we taking?"
He held up the keys to my BMW. "Yours. It's cool." He grinned. "Where are we going?"
"That, my boy, is a secret."
He sighed again, though this time with a playful roll of his eyes. "Can I drive?"
"My ankle may be damaged, but my mind isn't."
Twenty minutes later we pulled up in front of the Vine Street house and as I made my way around the side of the car, Ben met me with a confused look on his face. I nodded my head for him to follow me up the steps.
"What are we doing here? Who's place is this?" His voice contained uncertainty and I felt a slight reluctance in him to want to follow me.
"C'mon, pup. Just follow me inside then I'll tell you."
He chewed on his lip, but remained by the car.
"What gives, Blair?"
"Well," I started as a smirk covered my lips and I lowered myself onto the first step from the sidewalk. I could tell he wasn't going to budge until I told him. "You know by now how Joel is. He gets something in his head and before you can say 'Holy Batmobile, Batman', he's already set his plan in motion."
"No shit, Blair."
I rolled my eyes at him and shook my head. "Real nice language, pup." He tipped his chin to me in recognition of my admonishment and I continued. "In answer to your second question, it's ours."
"What's ours?" He asked with obvious confusion.
"This house. Or it will be soon. Joel bought it yesterday."
His eyes widened and his brows lifted in surprise, but I could tell he wasn't making the connection. "Why?"
"Well you don't expect us all to live in my house and you know there isn't enough room in the apartment."
It took a moment for my words to sink in and then his face exploded with excitement; eyes as big as dollar coins and a smile that showed all of his teeth. "No Way!" He launched at me from his place on the sidewalk and struck me with enough force to propel us off the step into the grass.
"Whoa, pup!" My laughter rang out loudly as I rolled onto my back and held him in a tight hug on my chest.
He laughed excitedly. "Really? You mean it? We're all going to live together?" As I nodded, he sat up on my stomach and raised his arms into the air victoriously. "Yes!"
I laughed again. "Joel and I made the decision yesterday after he saw us on the couch together. He told me that we looked as close as any dad and son could be."
My words caused Ben to shudder as his excitement transformed swiftly into incredulity. "I can't believe this. I wanted it so bad." His voice cracked with emotion as he rolled off me and hugged his arms around his knees.
"What, bud?" I sat up and turned towards him to find his eyes full of tears as his chin began to tremble.
"This is all so incredible. God, just a week ago … last Saturday, I was still so hungry even after you guys fed me." His voice caught as the emotional impact of the changes the past week had brought almost overwhelmed his ability to speak. He sputtered a little. "I …cried as I… headed back to … the crib with your money. I wanted so badly to just believe you guys were for real, but I was so scared." His shoulders shook with the force of the emotional overload that washed over him. I pulled him into my arms as he cried. "I was so scared all the time, Blair. I never thought I'd get out of there and I was so fuckin' hungry all the time … and I just wanted my dad to believe me and hold me like he used to before my mom died -- like you do. But he's barely even talked to me ever since the funeral."
'My God!' I thought. 'She died when he was eleven. He's been basically alone for five years!' I felt him shudder with the pain and loss and it hit me how conflicted he was about his feelings for his father -- anger and hate warring with his desire to be loved by the man that had brought him into the world; the man that had unfortunately and tragically lost the wrestling match with his own demons.
His shudders continued, but he pulled from me and tried to wipe his eyes. "I called him once to see if he was still mad at me." The muscles in his lips and mouth quivered as he sniffed loudly. "He called me a faggot and said my uncle had told him everything about how I'd fed him beers and begged him to fuck me and that that wasn't the only time … that I'd been begging him for six months. I never did, Blair."
"I know, love." I brushed away the tears. "What else did he say to you?"
"That he didn't have a son no more."
My eyes closed at the pain I could only imagine Ben felt at hearing those words. "I'm so sorry, Ben. I really am. You are absolutely the best kid in the world to me and I'll do anything I possibly can to get you to believe that."
He wiped the last of his tears away and sniffed again. "So that's why I say I can't believe all of this." He gestured to the house and shook his head. "I can't believe it! It's like a movie or something and I keep waiting for it to end, you know?"
"Yeah, I can imagine. But it's not going to end, bud." I reached into my pocket and withdrew the front door key. I grinned as I handed it to him. "Ya wanna go see what your new bedroom looks like?"
He stared at the key and then a small grin began at his lips and reached to his eyes.
The bowls from the restaurant stood empty and six boys along with my dark haired lover sat full and sated in front of me. Our impromptu Saturday brunch had been a hit and it had all been Ben's idea. After a lengthy tour of the Vine Street house spent exploring all the nooks and crannies hidden in the marvelous century old house, we ended up sitting on the first step at the top of the grand staircase. We'd found two other staircases, one tucked away and leading to the kitchen, while a second led from the north upper level into the study. As we sat on the step, a half hour after we started our explorations, I'd heard Ben's stomach growl and couldn't resist a tease. I'd exclaimed 'Wait! Quiet! I think I just heard a primordial sound' then had leaned over and placed my ear next to Ben's stomach. After a pause, I'd said with a grin, 'oh, it's just your belly, guess it's time to feed you'. Ben had graced me with his patent, 'you're so weird' and then suggested having Hank put in an order for a morning feast that we'd pick up on our way into the apartment.
The breakfast had been delayed though.
With our seatbelts buckled and just as I went to pull from the curb in front of Vine Street, Ben's cell phone rang and he looked at me with a stunned expression saying that it was Mau's phone calling his. He answered as I put the car again into park. Mau's conversation was to the point and brief in its duration. Cody was still in his bed and wouldn't talk to anyone since Mau had woken an hour earlier. He said he thought he'd been crying. Chris had finally brought Joel into the picture, unfortunately without any substantial results. Out of worry and concern, Mau called Ben.
Once at the building, Ben went immediately up to the apartment while I gathered the food from Hank. When I arrived, Joel gave me a shrug and told me Ben had gone straight to their room and closed the door. Telling myself to be patient and let them have their time together, I set up the food from the cart and pulled out plates and silverware for the eight of us. After pouring myself another cup of coffee, I wandered down the hall and knocked on the boy's door.
"Hey, guys," I began. "How's it going in there?"
I heard a muffled swear then Ben's voice. "Not now, Blair. We'll be out in a minute."
I grinned. "Sure. Just wanted you to know that breakfast is ready and hot. Don't let it get cold."
Silence answered my announcement and still grinning, I made my way back to the kitchen. I hollered for the rest of the boys and stood back watching as they plowed into the bowls of eggs, bacon, sausage and fruit. Once Joel had filled his plate and took a seat at the table, I began to fill mine when I heard the sound of hushed conversation in the hallway leading to the bedrooms, then again silence. I peeked around the corner and surprisingly I saw Ben and Cody in an embrace, kissing passionately.
I quickly returned to the counter and had just filled my glass with juice when the two boys entered the kitchen. Turning to them I immediately noticed the matching flush that covered their faces.
"Bout time, guys. I was getting ready to send in the fire brigade." I said quietly with a wink.
Ben's face flushed with scarlet blush and Cody did a truly admirable job of containing his happiness. The glare I received from Ben was worthy of an Oscar. I ignored it and simply arched my brow as I carried my plate to the table.
The boys filled their plates, whispering the entire time, finally taking a seat at the breakfast bar. I noticed the other boys watching them and the conversation around the table was virtually non-existent. Finally, the silence was broken as Ben turned and looked at Mau.
"Thanks, Mau, for the phone call."
I watched as Cody's eyes filled with shared gratitude then turned to see Mau nod. Normal conversation returned after Ben's statement with Timmy asking Joel if they could go flying again today.
Joel nodded to Timmy's delight. "But you know, Tim, the plane is only a four-seater and Chris, Cleats and Ben haven't been up yet."
Timmy's face fell and the light was crushed from his eyes as he nodded.
"No way, Fu Man," Cleats said. "I ain't going up there with some crazy white man behind the wheel. Count me out."
Timmy exploded with excitement. "So can I go too, Joel? Please!"
Joel chuckled and appeared to think about his answer. "Well, Tim," he said, giving me a wink, "Blair hasn't been up yet either. Shouldn't you give him a shot first?"
Intense desperation poured from Timmy's eyes as he looked towards me. In the end, it was too much and I chuckled. "Not today, love," I began as I tossed my napkin at Timmy. "I'm gonna hang around to see if Gayle calls."
"Yes!" Timmy exclaimed.
Joel grinned and nodded. "But first, there's something Blair and I need to speak to you all about." We shared a look of excitement. I'd hoped that Joel wouldn't wait too long to speak to the boys. He gave me a slight nod then continued. "Guys, make room for Ben and Cody, would you?"
I smirked as I watched them squeeze their chairs next to each other at the corner. Their forearms and shoulders were in near-constant touch as they ate. Mau watched them closely as he sipped some juice and I found myself wondering what was going through his mind. His look told me that he recognized a difference in their interactions with each other, even though the other boys didn't seem to notice. He must have felt my look as his gaze shifted from Cody and Ben to me. I winked at him and watched his lips purse in response. He returned the wink. Then Joel started.
"Guys, Blair and I did something yesterday that has rather wide reaching effects for all of us." That got their attention. Each of the boys looked at Joel and I saw Chris set his fork down and look towards me. I realized this week that he never missed much of what was important and I could sense his anticipation. I smiled and he turned back towards Joel.
"What'd you do," Cleats jibed, "make another billion, Fu Man?" Mau and Chris chuckled and I saw a glint brighten in Cleats' eyes. "Or are you gonna tell us that Blair's pregnant and we're gonna have a baby brother?"
Joel laughed and raised his coffee cup towards Cleats. "Just promise me it'll be much later on, pup. I can't have my plans for you derailed before they even get going."
"What plans, man? I ain't said nothing about no plans."
Joel gave him a wink. "You'll see."
Cleats sighed and cupped his groin one last time. "Whatever, Fu Man. Just stay away from my boys."
Joel nodded then cleared his throat. "Now, if I can start again without the side commentary from our boy Clayton here, I want to tell you about yesterday. As I said, Blair and I did something that will possibly have an impact on all of you, us included. I can't say that we did a lot of soul-searching about it, we just both arrived at the same spot at about the same time and knew that the decision had already been made. Maybe we should have spoken to you first," he said, taking the time to look into each of the boy's eyes and pausing to give Ben a wink. "But we put an offer on a house … a rather large house, and the offer was accepted."
The reactions varied with each of the boys. Chris' eyes shown with immediate understanding and his head moved subtly back and forth in amazement. Cleats had a puzzled look on his face. Ben smiled and Cody looked at Ben wide-eyed. Mau glanced away, lost in his thoughts, but obviously understanding what Joel was saying. Timmy's eyes filled with tears.
"Are you moving away?" He asked, immediately taking Joel's words as a rejection and a goodbye.
Joel reached across the table and as he smiled warmly at Timmy, he tweaked the tip of Timmy's nose. "Not without you, buddy."
Timmy's eyes lit up and Joel looked at each of the boys again.
"Not without all of you, if you'll agree to come with us."
Chris looked from Joel to me. "You're serious, aren't you. You want us all to live together."
Joel nodded. "If you guys still want to."
"Like a family," Chris stated. "After just a week with us."
Again, Joel nodded. I could sense Chris' amazement. He turned to share a look between him and Cleats. Cleats licked his lower lip again as some thought passed between him and Chris, but he remained silent.
"I know it's a big decision," I started. "And I also know it's only been a week since we even met Ben and then all of you in turn, but we've been simply blown away by the intensity of your devotion to each other and the natural family that you've already made for yourselves. I know we initially said that we felt like we couldn't offer you guys the kind of security you need because of our business commitments, but in the end, there's a solution to every problem."
Chris slowly nodded and without thinking, I reached to tuck his hair behind his ear. He grinned at me sideways and I turned to the other boys. "You're all the most incredible kids. We never expected to fall for each and every one of you, but you're amazing and we feel like, combined, we can make a pretty amazing group."
Timmy jumped up and ran to Joel, throwing his arms around his neck. Tears streamed down his cheeks as Joel pulled him onto his lap and hugged him tightly. I turned to Cody and Ben and received a wink from my boy then I ruffled Cody's hair.
"What do you think, C-man?"
He smiled. "Took you long enough."
I laughed and turned to face Mau sitting next to me looking into his plate. I placed my hand on his shoulder and felt him quiver at my touch then tilt his head towards my hand. "And you, honey? You want to make this a little more permanent?"
He looked up at me. His dark brown eyes conveyed such unguarded longing and hope that I almost broke into tears. "You really want me after everything you know?" He spoke softly, but his words easily reached to everyone around the table.
"What I know is that you've won my heart just like every one of your boys here. I told you yesterday after we shared the final results from Dr. Prentice with you that we love you and we'll always … always be here for you through everything that's still yet to come. I can't even imagine our life without you in it." I quickly glanced around the table. "That goes for all of you." I turned back to Mau. "So are you down with the idea of having your boys and you together with us for a good, long while?"
He nodded slowly and I bent forward to place a kiss on his forehead. He closed his eyes and I suddenly remembered I'd promised not to do that. "Sorry," I whispered. "I wasn't supposed to do that in front of your boys, was I?"
He grinned and leaned into me with a nod. I put my arm around his shoulder then turned towards Cleats. "All right, Mr. Cool, what's up with you, of all people, not saying anything?"
Cleats looked at me intensely for a moment then dropped his eyes. I saw that Joel was eyeing him closely. Cleats shrugged then nodded as if he liked the idea. "It all sounds great, Blair, but I think I'm going to pass. I'm probably going to head back to Chicago and check on the scene there. But thanks, man." He refused to look at either Joel or me. His words shocked me as they came out of left field. I watched, stunned, as Chris studied him then reached out quickly and punched him in the chest.
"Real funny, dude."
Cleats scowled and rubbed his chest. "Don't, Chris. Just leave it, man. I'm not joking."
Joel gestured for Timmy to head back to his seat then he turned back to face Cleats. "Something's bugging you, all of a sudden. Let me guess, Clayton. You can't believe that two, white faggots could possibly want a straight, black boy for their son. Am I right?" Cleats snapped his head up and glared at Joel. "Or is it that while you could be down with the idea of living at Blair's house with your boys and Bill, the idea of people knowing that you have two queer Dads would ruin your reputation? Yeah, maybe that's it."
Cleats' eyes flashed anger. "Fuck you, man. You don't know shit."
"Yeah, I do," Joel responded. His eyes momentarily moved to mine and his look told me to trust him.
"No you don't. And what's this shit about being your son? What, now you wanna adopt me? Yeah, good one, white boy."
Joel nodded. "Something like that, black boy. It's actually a second question we were going to put in front of you boys. We wanted to have you start thinking if this is something you might want to make more permanent, but I can tell already that your pride and your fears aren't going to allow you to even consider the idea."
"Yeah, and what do you know about my pride or my fears. Like I said, you don't know shit. I ain't scared of nothing." His eyes glared at Joel refusing to look away.
"That's right, Clayton. Flare your nostrils and puff out your chest. Show me what a tough guy you are and how you don't need anyone. But I know better. You're ready to piss on the world rather than accept someone's help."
"Bullshit man. How can you even think shit like that?"
Each of the boys watched the exchange with focused attention. Timmy looked like he wanted to cry and Ben eyed Joel with a steel gaze. Then Joel settled the matter with a cross-cut combination of verbal blows meant to knock the fight out of any opponent. It hadn't taken me long to figure out that he considered it time to reveal his own past.
"Because you're exactly like I was when I was your age -- angry with the world and dead-set on ramming my independence up everyone's ass. You see, Clayton, I was a spoiled, rich brat who considered the world nothing less than my kingdom and the people in it were there to do what I wanted. Then my parents were killed and my spinster aunt became my guardian. I was fifteen and incredibly angry with the world. For a couple of years I was just like you, flashing out my anger with cutting put-downs and asserting my independence by never following a single rule laid out for me. I had more money in a trust than I could imagine, but my Aunt controlled it, making me even madder. She was an incredible woman and I treated her like dirt."
He looked across the table at me and I smiled supportively, knowing the anxiety the recall of his memories was costing him. He nodded and gave me a quick grin, then continued.
"Fortunately, a very wise and quiet man exerted his strength on me one night when I went to take one of the cars out after my curfew. He refused to let me and I started to rage at him because he was simply the lowly chauffer. And yes, he was black. But in the end, he broke through my walls and got me to see that I was throwing my life away because of my anger. What he did was teach me about respect for others and that respect, he said, began with respecting myself When he died three years ago, I felt like I'd lost my father all over again. But what he did for me back when I was seventeen changed me. He steered me through school and into my professional career having zero education behind him. He made me see that I could let people love me and help me because they wanted to, not because they had to. You're the same way I was back then so before you throw out anymore of your racist, angry jive just remember, I've said and done it all before."
The silence around the table didn't surprise me. The impact of Joel's story on the boys left a profound mark. Mau's gaze locked on Joel as Timmy moved back to Joel's chair and touched him on his arm. Joel grinned and winked at him then put his arm around his waist.
"Fuck me," Cody said.
I shook my head. "Nice language, Codes."
"Sorry, but you all could have told us this stuff before, you know."
Joel shook his head. "Nope. No need. Blair knows that I didn't start all of this because I felt some need to pay back the cosmos. I did it because you guys have had enough tough breaks in your young lives and needed someone to help you get a new start and teach you about self-respect." He turned to face Cleats. "I'm not asking you to decide about becoming my son or me being your dad … that's not what this is about right now. I asking you to make the decision to let go of some of your anger -- just set it aside, right next to you if you're so fond of it, but give yourself a chance to see what life looks like without anger blurring everything. I want you with us, Clayton James because you enrich us and complete our circle. Plus," he grinned, "you sometimes make me laugh."
Cleats stared at him, emotion flooding his eyes. "You'd really want me to be your kid?"
Joel nodded. "I'd be honored for you to decide one day to be Clayton James-Summers, but that's something for down the road. Right now I'm just asking you to consider if you want to live with us as a group, like a family."
"Damn," he muttered under his breath and gave Chris a sideways glance. "You weren't shittin' me, were you?"
Chris shook his head. I wondered what their exchange meant, but realized that I may never know. And then the thought faded into irrelevance with Mau's quiet words.
"I'm an orphan too, Fu Man."
Joel spun his head to look from Cleats to Mau. His eyes narrowed and I knew he shared the same thought as I. 'He doesn't consider his parents even to be alive."
Joel nodded slowly. "Mau, I know you feel that way and after everything they've done to you, I can't blame you at all for feeling what you do, but the FBI is right now trying to locate them and bring them in front of the judge to answer for what they've done."
Mau's eyes filled with tears. "They and my sister died in September."
My mouth dropped open as I stared at Joel. The shock on his face was apparent and I could tell he was trying to process what Mau was saying against what the Agent had told him.
I turned back to Mau. "But they have video footage of … of when they gave you to … uh, the man up in the mountains."
He shrugged. "I don't really remember all that much after the funeral, it's all blurry, but it was probably my dad's partner. He got custody of me."
I saw Joel motion to me with his eyes that the other boys were still with us and I touched Mau's shoulder. "Okay. Can you tell me more later?"
He shrugged and nodded.
I looked around and found Ben staring at me. Mau's revelation rocked me and while holding Ben's look, I breathed deeply trying to calm the confusion racing through me. He glanced from me to Mau then nodded his head towards Mau. I turned to see quiet tears sliding down his cheeks and for what seemed liked the millionth time in the past seven days, my heart felt like it was slammed emotionally. I pulled Mau into a sideways hug.
"It'll be okay, Cubbo. I promise."
He nodded and looked up at me. "I hate them," he whispered. "But I really miss Jenny."
"Was Jenny your sister?"
He sighed and nodded without saying anything.
Joel leaned forward toward Mau. "I'm so sorry, Mau. What happened?"
Unconsciously, Mau leaned into me closer. "They wrecked. Dad was drunk or on drugs or something. But they showed me how he set it all up."
"Set what up?" Ben asked.
Mau pulled out from beneath my arm. "Later, Bone," he mumbled. I could see Ben's frustration rising and I mouthed the word 'please' to him. Eventually, he nodded.
"Okay, dude. Whenever you're ready."
Obviously, we needed a change of subject and I signaled for Joel to continue.
"So, if you guys want to see the house, we can go over in a little bit and you can check it out. Are you interested?"
Chris grinned. "You bet."
Ben and Cody nodded and I watched Timmy whisper something in Joel's ear that brought a wide smile to his face. He nodded back to Timmy who nodded and grinned in response.
"I want to go," Mau said looking at Joel then shifted his gaze toward Cleats.
Cleats tipped his chin up towards Mau. "I'll look at it."
"Good," Joel said. "Let's plan to leave in fifteen minutes."
"Well, what about a half hour," I asked. "I haven't showered yet."
It was a twenty minute drive to Marc and Jim's for dinner and we used the time to finish catching each other up on the day's events. As we were dressing, Joel had related the details of his three conversations with the Agent-in-Charge of the investigation, Bob Brady. Brady confirmed Mau's statement that his parents and sister had died in an auto accident in September and he also confirmed that Thomas Yamakata's partner, Ed Latosi, had received custody of Mau according to his father's will. What surprised Brady was Mau's assertion that his father had set up the sale. He wanted to speak with Mau, but we'd asked him to wait until Sunday.
I'd, in fact, tried to speak with Mau myself after we returned from looking at the Vine Street house. He was reluctant and asked if we could do it later because he wanted to go flying with Chris and Timmy since Ben declined. I hadn't pushed it and actually wanted to check with Gayle before I did. My chance came to speak with her after Joel and the boys left for the hangar.
The security phone rang and Barry informed me that Gayle was downstairs. She'd greeted me with a smile as I opened the apartment door and I knew her decision immediately. She told me she'd had a long talk with her mentor after our meeting last night and woke up knowing that the combination of therapy with Mau and tutoring the rest of the boys would help provide the balance she knew she needed. Her work with Mau would continue, beginning on Monday, but the extent of her work next week with the other boys would be limited to testing for scholastic levels. She said she planned on dropping by some reference materials on child rape and Traumatic Stress Syndrome later on this evening for Joel and I.
We were both pleased and lifted by her decision.
"You know, lover," Joel said as he pulled from the parking garage, "Rob found three academic treatises that she wrote. One was on the process of educating kids in the Critical Thinking Skills educational model. The academic reviews fell in the superior level. She's really going to have a great impact on the boys. I'm very eager to see how Cleats relates to her."
"So what do you think Cleats' reluctance this morning was all about?"
"I'm still not sure, Blair. But I know that there is more to it than he let on. I asked Chris about it when we were walking towards the hangar. Mau and Tim had already run ahead, which was no surprise," he grinned, "but Chris wouldn't tell me anything either. His lack of insight or opinion clearly meant he knew something, but wasn't willing to share."
I thought about Cleats' response both at breakfast and when we arrived at Vine Street. It was obvious that something was holding him back, but there were many levels of him that neither Joel nor I had been granted access.
"On the outside, he appeared to like the place and I think he was excited about having his own room."
Joel grinned. "Yeah, and I think Mau was glad that he and Tim would be sharing so he didn't have to listen to Cleats snore anymore. By the way, you want to share with me what I missed with Ben and Cody? They're looking at each other like two love-sick pups."
I shook my head in worry and wonder and related the conversations and events from very early this morning. "And then Ben was waiting for me in our room when I finished my shower and started immediately telling me that he had kissed Cody and that it felt good. He was so into it that I don't think he even noticed when I dropped my towel and got dressed."
"Well, that sure explains the looks between them today. I actually thought that Cody was going to 'farct out' with happiness when they sat at the table this morning."
I laughed. "'Farct out, huh?" Joel grinned at my jibe and I continued. "I saw them in a major lip-lock before they came into the kitchen. I just hope that Cody is going to be all right if Ben decides he doesn't really want this."
Joel looked at me with a fair amount of surprise. "You think he will?"
"I don't really think he's gay, but I know he loves Cody. He's so messed up though about his thoughts of being gay because of that bastard father and uncle of his. Bill really needs to start with him. He's an amazing kid, they all are, but I can't help and think this is the honeymoon period and sooner or later, all the shit that's happened to them is going to start manifesting in negative behaviors."
Joel reached over and grabbed my hand in his. "Well, I just hope it doesn't start tonight because I'm really looking forward to showing my man off to other queers and then going home and trying out the whole no-condom thing. We were both so wiped out from the ups and downs yesterday, that while the holding each other was nice, it kind of got me really wanting more."
I grinned. "Me too. Tonight we'll have to make sure though that Mikey sleeps in his basket."
Special thanks goes to Rock Hunter for his endless efforts to edit this mess. Thanks, Bud!
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