Reservations – A Novel


By Drew Filchak




Chapter Five:  "Gatherings"



          "Do you trust me, Ben?"  Joel's eyes probed the teen's face.  I could see Ben's instant apprehension at Joel's question and though I trusted Joel implicitly, I too wondered what was behind his out-of-the-blue inquiry.  Ben slowly closed the freezer door, his hand remaining on the handle as his calculating gaze remained fixed on Joel.

          Ben shrugged automatically, attempting indifference.  His responses to our attempts at conversation over the past hour and a half since we'd arrived at Joel's apartment were monosyllabic, probably meant to express his inherent teenage lack of interest.  He watched the two of us quietly as we prepared an early dinner.  I received a shrug in response when I asked him if he would scrub the potatoes before I put them into the oven.  But he shuffled to the sink and carefully cleaned each potato, then patted them dry before asking for some aluminum foil.  After wrapping them neatly, he silently returned to his seat at the breakfast bar overlooking the kitchen.  He finished his coke and gave me a slight nod when I offered him a second can. 

          Now, his eyes flicked uncertainly as they stared at Joel from his spot next to the freezer.  "Why?  What do you want?"

          The stoic, intense look on Joel's face softened at Ben's tone.  "I want to know if you trust me."  I saw a slight upturn of Joel's mouth as he replied.

          Ben shrugged again.  He looked at Joel, trying to gauge Joel's reason for the question.  "I guess.  As long as you stay over there."

          A smile spread across my lover's handsome face.  He nodded to Ben.  "Good.  I just wanted to say that if you have any more ice cream, you're probably going to make yourself sick."  His brows rose playfully once, then he picked up his glass and with a gesture towards Ben, sipped from his wine.

          I grinned, amused at Joel's subtle way of getting Ben's attention and at the same time, getting his point across.  Ben pursed his lips, looking as though he was seriously considering Joel's suggestion.  He gave a quick jut of his chin towards Joel and opened the freezer. 

          "I hear ya, man."  He pulled the ice cream container from the freezer, and then gestured towards Joel with it.  "And I just want to say, if you have any more of that wine, you're probably going to make yourself sick."

          They stared at each other, each refusing to drop the other's gaze.  Joel's smile widened slightly while Ben's lips remained pursed as he stood before us, puffed up with challenge.  Joel nodded and then pushed his glass of wine to the center of the breakfast bar. 

          "Well, then.  I guess I've had enough wine."

          My grin immediately widened as I licked my lips to keep from laughing.  I watched as Ben's shoulders sagged and his face relaxed into a frown.  A quiet, resigned sigh escaped from him as he realized that he'd been outsmarted.  He sighed again, dramatically, and pulled the freezer door open. 

          I glanced towards Joel and saw that his eyes twinkled playfully.  He winked at me as his laughter erupted, causing Ben to jerk his head back towards Joel suspiciously.  Joel's laughter continued, his eyes beaming sincere, playful warmth.

          "Ah, Ben.  That sigh was just pitiful," he laughed.  "Have some more ice cream, bud.  It's a celebration after all.  If you get sick, I'm sure Blair will take care of you."

          My laughter joined Joel's.  I felt eagerness and emotion pour from him.  His enjoyment of Ben's presence in the kitchen was clear. 

          Ben's grin widened, unguardedly.  "Cool!"  He said, spooning another large portion of the rich, frozen cream into his bowl.  He grabbed the container of chocolate syrup, liberally covering the bowl's contents. 

          "So were you serious about this being a celebration or did you just want some more wine, ya drunk?"  Ben's eyes looked towards Joel as his grin narrowed.  A heaping spoonful of ice cream disappeared into his mouth.

          "Both" Joel replied, grabbing his wine glass.

          Ben licked his lips.  "What are we celebrating, then?" 

          "You being here."

          Joel's words stopped Ben's second spoonful halfway to his mouth.  He placed the spoon back into his bowl.  His grin fell, replaced with concern and confusion.  "You know, that's just it.  Why are you guys doing this?  Huh?"  He shook his head fiercely and set the bowl on the counter.  "And I don't get what the fuck you mean by me being here being enough of a reason to celebrate." 

          His eyes suddenly widened and a trapped, cornered look instantly covered his face.  A slight shudder of fear rippled through his shoulders.  "I ain't gay like you fags ... uh, guys, okay?"  He slowly edged toward the door that led to the hallway. 

          I saw Joel's eyes spring widely open; a shocked and confused look stared across the space between him and Ben.  My mind instantly filled with worry that Ben was going to bolt.

          "Ben, please!  Hold on, kid.  We don't want anything like that at all."  My words stopped the pale teen.  "The reason Joel called this a celebration is because ... uh, you're here and not out on the streets, not because we want you for sex.  We're not like that." 

          He looked at me with disbelief, but I thought I saw a slight hesitation behind the worry and fear in his eyes.  I went to continue just as Joel stood up from his chair.  Ben's eyes flashed back to Joel, the hesitation I'd seen, instantly snuffed out by his fear.

          "Stay away, kung fu man."

          Ben's words lashed into Joel and his mouth opened wordlessly.  He blinked rapidly.  Stunned. He dropped back into his chair, dropping his gaze.

          "I would never hurt you, Ben.  I could never ..." his words, soft, low, and full of hurt, trailed off. 

          The pain I felt coming from him caused my emotions to flare.  Angrily, I looked again towards Ben. 

          "This is bullshit, Ben.  I don't know what we've done to cause you to think that we are going to hurt you or force ourselves on you, but you need to listen and believe me when I say that we don't do kids, ever.  That's not us, got it?  We only...."  I growled angrily.  I knew suddenly that telling him again that we wanted to help would only cause more doubt in him.  I swallowed my anger and continued.  "Look, I don't know what has happened to you on the streets.  I don't even know your last name, but..."

          "It's Newman," Joel said quietly.  "Benjamin Thomas Newman"

          Ben's mouth dropped open at Joel's words.  "How do you know all that?"  He asked, his voice filled with surprise.

          "I have connections."  Joel spoke his words to the counter top.  He didn't look towards Ben.

          "Right now, that's not important, Ben," I interjected.  "What is important is that you allow us to prove to you that we don't want to hurt you.  We want to offer you a chance to be safe and a chance to become a kid again.  Look," I said, leaning my hands on the edge of the bar.  I stared intently at Ben.  "I'm probably as leery as you are about this whole setup, okay?  I don't know what we're doing and probably have as many questions as you do.  But what I do know is that for just a second there, you let your guard down and I saw a real smile on your face.  That should tell you something.  Trust your gut, Ben and for the moment, please trust me.  We won't hurt you." 

          I saw a small lessening of fear in his eyes.  He looked again at Joel.  "Ben," I said in a softer tone.  "Look at me, would you?"  He flipped his eyes back to me.  I nodded towards Joel.  "Mr. Kung Fu Man Chu over here will never hurt you.  He's the sweetest, kindest, most giving man I've ever met.  And for some reason he has fixed his attentions on you because he wants to offer you more than a life on the streets.  Would you give him a chance?"

          My words apparently wormed their way through Ben's fear.  He nodded once, and then approached his previous spot at the counter.  "You guys are obviously rich and ... and the only rich guys I've known have said a lot of nice words, but only wanted my ass.  Even promised me a lot of money for it."

          I nodded once and took a sip from my glass, then nodded in Joel's direction.  "He's the one with money, not me."  I winked at Ben conspiratorially and reached my hand to stroke the back of Joel's hair.  He pressed into my hand and sighed once, his eyes clenched tightly. 

          "Will you give us a chance, Ben?"  Joel asked.  Ben looked at him and after a long pause, nodded slightly.  "Good," Joel began, then put his arm around my waist.  "The only guy's ass I want is right here."

          Ben tipped his head in acknowledgement, then smirked.  "Last night as you were kung fu-ing me, I thought you said it was the other way around."

          Joel grinned wryly.  "This conversation isn't going to happen.  You're a little too young for us to be discussing our sex life with you."

          "I'm fifteen!"  Ben exclaimed indignantly. 

          "Like I said," Joel responded.  "You're too young.  Now, are you gonna finish your ice cream before it melts?"

          Ben looked into his bowl and gave us a small grin.  "No.  I'm kind of full."

          Joel and I both smiled.  "Then do me a favor and rinse it out, would ya?"  Joel asked.  Ben tipped his chin towards Joel and nodded.  "Thanks.  And Ben?  Would you do me another favor?"

          Ben looked at him with a slight pause.  "What?"

          "Give us a chance to show you that we're not ogres or pedophiles?" 

          Ben pursed his lips quickly and grabbed his bowl.  "Okay."


          I was glad for the separation that the spare bedroom's walk-in closet and adjoining bath provided between Ben's room and Joel's.  I had just left Ben's room after checking to make sure he had everything he needed for the night and now stood outside of Joel's partially closed bedroom door.  I took a deep breath and let out a tired sigh.  I was actually drained physically beyond any point I'd felt in a considerably long time.  The four or five hours of sleep from the previous night combined with the very lengthy hike through downtown and the resulting emotional evening pooled together to make my muscles feel like lead and my body cry out in desperate need of sleep. 

          My libido wanted something else, though.

          It had been almost two full days since I'd been able to luxuriate in the feeling of Joel's body next to mine.  A separate part of me was aware that I was actually tingling with excitement, knowing possibly that Joel already lay undressed and waiting for me.  The image thrilled me.  I needed him now. 

          The thought forced a low chuckle as I shook my head, laughing at myself.  It hadn't been that long ago that I'd gone for over six weeks without any physical contact.  Hell, longer.  I had even gotten to the point where I was living my sex life vicariously through Hank's brief, sordid tales of the wild times with his new girlfriend. 

          'Now look at yourself, Blair.'  I thought with another shake of my head.  'You can't even go two days without sex without having withdrawals.'  I grinned at the realization.  'I guess there are worse things to be addicted to.'

          I pushed the bedroom door open grinning slyly.  My penis lurched and then instantly deflated.  Joel lay spread across the bed fully clothed and obviously already in the Sandman's grip.  His light snore reached my ears. 

          "Oh, man!”  I whined quietly, realizing that there would be no relief found tonight. 

          I closed the door behind me with another sigh accenting my disappointment.  I crawled onto the bed and gently rubbed the back of Joel's hair.

          "C'mon, Lover," I began quietly, tenderly.  "Wake up, Joel.  Let's get you out of these clothes and under the covers so you can sleep better." 

          As I continued to stroke his hair, I felt his body begin to tremble, then I heard the unmistakable sound of a snort.  Joel rolled onto his side facing me.  He chuckled.

          I'd been had!

          He launched at me and covered my face with frantic kisses.  My surprised expression spurred further chuckles and I tried to push him away in feigned anger.  He wasn't buying it. 

          "Your 'sigh' and 'oh man' was just about as pitiful as Ben's earlier.  I could feel your hardon deflating from across the room." 

          I quickly rolled him onto his back and pinned his arms over his head.  "So you thought you'd tease me, huh?"  My eyes gleamed with playful desire.  "Well, I'll show you what happens when you tease a horny, sex-deprived stud like me!"

          Joel's expression became instantly serious.  "Please, stud.  Be gentle."  Then he snorted again.  "No don't!"

          I launched at his exposed neck with my mouth, turned on to a feverish level.  There was something utterly erotic in the sound of his sensual, baritone giggles.


          Later, a deep, lengthy sigh eased from Joel as I cradled his head on my chest.  He lazily ran his fingers through my chest hair and snuggled further into the comfort offered by my one-armed embrace. 

          "You know, lover, it just keeps getting better each time we make love."  His words, uttered in a low, guttural voice, brought a grin to my face.  He continued.  "I can't get enough.  It's as if I'm in the throes of a second puberty and adolescence.  Only this time, instead of breasts, I get to play with your incredibly, hard pecs and silky chest hair."  He kissed my chest once.  "And I also get to play with this."  His hand left my chest for my spent member.  He squeezed it gently and milked a final drop of juice from its mouth.  "Too bad all men can't experience love and sex with another man.  Think of how different the world would be."

          "I'm glad you like it, stud.  I'm pretty fond of yours, too.  I don't know if any other cock has satisfied me in the same way that yours does."

          "Oh, yeah.  I definitely like it.  I like playing with it when it's soft, too; just touching it or rolling it around with my fingers.  I've never had the chance to do this before.  It's surprising how much I find myself having missed this, even though I never thought about it before.  It was just blowjobs in college."

          "Well, again, I'm glad to hear you say that.  I still sometimes wonder about what you must be thinking when we're making love."

          He kissed my chest again and pulled his hand up to my face.  He clasped my chin firmly and pulled my lips to his, kissing me with such gentleness that I felt my soul rock within me. 

          "Blair, as I said on the plane, I know and love the fact that you are a man.  I love your rugged face and your stubble against my lips and," he grinned roguishly, "against other parts of my body.  I love how developed you are.  Your muscles ... god -- sometimes I actually shiver when I see your arms flex or turn to see your naked torso when you're changing shirts.  Before you showed me what I was missing, I'd see a guy naked in the showers at the club and not think a thing about it.  Now, I see you naked and look at your hunky body and shudder because I want to touch you so badly."

          I laughed, my delight in his words combined with the memory of Cody's words earlier.

          "What's so funny about that?"  Joel asked as he tugged a patch of my chest hair playfully.

          "Cody told me earlier, after he surprised me by asking 'if I was Blair', that Ben had told him I was pretty hunky.  And hearing you use the same words just struck me as funny."

          "So Ben thinks you're hunky, too, eh?  I wonder about him.  He was pretty adamant earlier about not being gay."

          I nodded.  "And if you could have seen the look he gave Cody when he realized that Cody and Timmy weren't coming with him ... god, Joel, my heart almost broke.  He may not be aware of it yet, but I swear he's in love with Cody."

          "Hmm," Joel mused.  "Cody was the older, taller one?  I didn't get a good look at either of the boys from where I was standing."

          I nodded again.  "Yeah.  He looks like he's sixteen at least, maybe a little older.  Timmy can't be more than thirteen, at best."

          "Christ, Blair!  And they're living in an abandoned, cold building on Colfax.  The thought is literally killing me, Blair!  I mean, what the fuck good is all of my money, if those boys have to live like that.  They're just children!  And look at what life has thrown them.  It's so wrong, so unfair!"

          Joel's passion and pain at the boys’ current situation combined with his raw feelings of impotence caused my protective nature to surge.  I pulled him to me tightly.

          "I love you so much, Joel.  I can't believe how deeply I love you.  I know we haven't talked about any of the thoughts that I know have surged in you since bringing Ben home last night, but I want to share something I saw in my head as we walked back to the apartment earlier with Ben.  It was like one of your 'possibilities'."

          Joel lifted his head from my chest and focused intently on my face.  "What?  What did you see?"

          "I saw my house filled with Ben and Cody and Timmy and the rest of their gang -- like a Boy's Home with a counselor or a house parent or something like that.  I haven't a clue where the thought came from, but we could use my house as a place for them to be safe in and be together and ... a place where they could finish growing up."

          Joel's eyes grew huge with excitement.  "Christ, Blair.  That was what I saw.  I don't mean in your house or even anything that organized, but I saw all of Ben's friends lounging in front of a television set eating popcorn.  And I just knew I had to make that possibility real somehow.  But using your house is brilliant!"  His eyebrows rose as a new thought formed.  "And the issue of Mikey being alone would be solved also!  Isn't this great!"  Joel's words flowed from him rapidly.  Suddenly his eyes lit up brightly and he rose onto his knees in front of me.

          "God, Blair.  I have just the guy for the houseparent position.  His name is Bill Walden and he'd be the perfect leader for the boys.  I can't believe how perfect all of this is suddenly."

          His excitement wrapped around me and I sat up expectantly.  "Who is this Bill?"

          "He was Megan's companion, for lack of a better word.  He damn near lived with us for the last six months.  He has extensive education and background in child psychology and development and I hired him to be a companion for Megan.  She adored him, almost to the point of making me jealous.  After she died, I tried to give him an obscene bonus, but he refused it and asked instead if he could have the photo album of pictures the two of them had taken together over the six months.  It was all he would accept and when I insisted, he told me to make a donation to The Children's Hospital in Megan's name.  He volunteers there.  That's how I heard about him.  Hell, I'm sure he's still there.  I know he doesn't work."

          Joel's last comment broke through my excitement.  "What do you mean he doesn't work?  What does he live on?"

          "He's a Trust-funder.  He said something about an only uncle with no kids and only Bill for a nephew.  I didn't pry at the time, but I know that he doesn't want a nine-to-five job because he told me that jobs just get in the way and keep him from doing the important stuff."

          "Christ, Joel.  He sounds almost too good to be true.  Do you really think he might be interested in something like this?  I mean, this would be pretty full-time?" 

          The gleam that covered Joel's eyes brought a slow grin to my face.  Suddenly I knew that even though Bill wasn't aware of it yet, he had an 'appointment' with a bright, new and exciting 'possibility'.




          The hot, pulsing jets of water surrounded me with luxurious abandon.  Joel's shower was awesome with its countless jets that bathed my body from multiple directions at once. 

          'He certainly does live well, even though you'd never know it if you passed him on the street', I thought with a yawn.  I had a sudden desire to remain in the shower until the hot water ran out.  But knowing Joel, that could have taken hours and I had a certain cat that needed food and attention.  Plus, I had a dire need for coffee.  We'd talked for over an hour after our lovemaking ended.  And even though I had close to eight hours of sleep, my body still somewhat felt like it'd been run over by a truck.

          I quickly dried off and dressed in my running clothes.  I'd returned to some light jogging a week earlier and my ankle had held up well to the pounding.  I was up for a longer run and decided to get some exercise, figuring that a run to my house from Joel's would put the healed ligaments to a good test. 

          I noticed that Ben's bed was empty as I passed his room on the way to the kitchen.  I paused to listen for sounds coming from his bathroom.  Hearing none, I felt a slight twinge of worry in my gut as I headed for the kitchen.  It too was empty, as was the living room, media room and study.  By the time I circled back around to the living room, I was nearly frantic.  My heart beat furiously in my chest.  Frustration and disappointment combined with more that a little hurt.  My fists clenched in sudden, impotent exasperation.  I was about to shout my frustration to the empty room when I spied the door to the terrace standing slightly open. 

          I lunged and burst onto the terrace.

          "Ben?!"  I yelled in desperation.  I caught movement in the corner of my eye.

          Ben whirled from his place leaning against the balcony ledge, liquid splashing from the cup he held in his hand.

          "What?"  He shouted in return, his eyes round and startled.  I saw instant apprehension fill his face.  I stopped short, almost tripping in my haste to pull myself back from frightening him further.

          "You're still here."  I croaked with a relieved sigh.

          He looked at me for a moment, his eyes taking in the immediate slump of my shoulders.

          "You scared the shit out of me, dude.  What's wrong with you, man?"

          I started chuckling at his question and forced myself to stop, knowing that if I let myself, I'd be very quickly overwhelmed with adrenaline-induced laughter.

          "Uh, sorry, bud.  I ... I couldn't find you anywhere and I thought that you'd ... you know, left sometime in the night."

          Ben shook his head.  He arched his brows in an attempt to appear unaffected by my actions and words.  He looked at me sideways in a way that said 'you're weird'. 

          "No, I didn't leave, obviously.  I've just been out here taking in the view and thinking about shit."  He then looked at me sheepishly.  "Um ... I made some coffee.  I hope that's all right?"

          I smiled as I approached him.  "Of course, it's all right, Ben.  Consider this your home, okay?  The only thing that wouldn't be all right is if you drank it all and left me an empty pot and no coffee."

          He gave me a half-grin.  "I just made another pot.  I've ... kind of been out here for a while."

          I nodded in response, then gestured towards his cup.  "My little dramatic entrance caused you to spill quite a bit.  Can I get you a refill while I get myself a cup?"

          Ben paused as I reached for his cup, then swallowed and nodded.  "Wow.  Yeah.  Uh, thanks." 

          I took his cup and turned from him before I allowed the smile I was feeling to emerge.  The morning was somehow brighter all of a sudden.  I looked into his cup and realized that he obviously took cream in his coffee.  I turned back to him. 

          "I take it you like cream in your coffee.  Sugar too?"

          He nodded.  "Yeah.  Just a little sugar, most times.  Uh, I couldn't find any milk, so I put in a scoop of ice cream, so you don't need to put any more sugar in it."  His grin, so warm and unguarded, sliced into me and left my heart wanting more. 

          "Smart thinking for so early in the day.  I'm impressed."  His grin widened further.

          When I returned with the full cups, I joined him in leaning against the terrace half-wall.  The view from the penthouse balcony was partially obscured by other buildings across the street, but enough remained to allow the morning sunlight to reach our faces.  We sipped the coffee in silence for a while until I heard Ben's voice speaking over the rim of his cup.

          "I wouldn't have just left like I did yesterday, you know.  I don't feel as weird about being here today like I did the first night.  I mean it's all wacky, but ..." he shrugged and took another sip from his cup.  "It’s weird without my boys."

          I turned my head to look at him and saw him watching me out of the corner of his eye.  "That's good to know, Ben.  We kind of would like for you to get comfortable being here and being around us.  We're really just a couple of easy-goin' guys.  And," I chuckled to myself, "I know what you mean about it feeling all wacky and stuff.  I got pretty wacky myself when I couldn't find you."

          He tipped his head in response, but remained silent. 

          I finished my coffee and stood up.  "Well, I'm gonna head out for a little bit.  I have to go feed my cat and check on my house.  Plus I need a run in the worst way.  I just got back to running after a stupid injury and at my age, I need to stay ahead of the fat, if you know what I mean."

          Ben looked at me with his trademark sideways look and arched brow.  "Yeah, like you're gonna get fat."

          "I would, trust me.  Especially the way Joel and I eat.  We don't cook that often.  Mostly we eat in either his restaurant downstairs or somewhere else.  You can probably tell that by just looking in the fridge."

          Ben grinned and smiled.  "I wondered about that.  I was kinda hoping you just hadn't been to the store for a while."

          "Don't worry, kid.  We'll introduce you to Hank and Henri downstairs.  Trust me; they won't let you go hungry."

          "Is it expensive?"  His eyes held worry and hesitation.  I damn near melted on the spot with a surge of protective feelings for the kid.

          I smiled and winked at him.  "Didn't I mention that Joel owned the restaurant?  I haven't paid for a meal there in a month now and you won't need to either."

          Relief and a little awe filled his gaze.  "He's pretty rich, huh?"

          It was my turn to shrug.  "Yeah, pretty."

          Ben studied me for a moment.  I could tell he was thinking about a few things by the way his eyes kept darting from me to the side and back to me again.  I wanted to ask what he was thinking, but decided it would be best if I waited for him to speak in his own time.  I found watching him to be immensely satisfying and I could see that while he was thinking about something specific, he was also processing all the newness from the situation in which he'd so unexpectedly landed.  Ben seemed incapable of hiding his emotions or his thoughts and I found myself interested in watching the process of him assimilating everything.  As an only child, I had no nieces or nephews of my own and only rare exposure to kids his age.  Joel was definitely onto something when he talked about watching a kid grow up and experience things.  But then, when wasn't Joel 'on to something'? 

          I grinned at my thoughts.  Ben interrupted my musing.

          "So you two have only been together for a month?"

          Surprised by his question, I simply nodded in response.

          "So then why the fuck do you want someone like me around for?"  His face conveyed intense sincerity.  His question touched on a few stray thoughts of my own that were along the same lines. 

          "Ben, I don't want you to worry about that stuff now, okay.  Would you just believe me when I say that it makes us happy to have you here right now?"

          He slowly nodded, saying without words that he'd let it drop for the time being. 

          "Why do you keep calling me a kid?"

          "Because that's what you are.  You're a fifteen-year-old-kid and we both want nothing more than for you to go back to being a kid.  You've obviously had enough adult shit..."  I gulped at my usage of the word, "uh, stuff in your life to last you until you're at least old and grey at thirty.  Would you do me the favor of trying on the idea of being a kid again?"

          He shook his head as a grin replaced the worry.  "Whatever, dude.  You crack me up the way you keep trying to talk around stuff.  You don't need to protect me that much.  I'll be sixteen next month."

          I smirked.  "Well, then Mr. Newman, would you at least try and be a kid for the next month?  It'd mean a lot to me."

          "I'm gonna be here for the next month?"  The question in his voice matched the wide-open look in his eyes.

          "I meant try being a kid at least until you're sixteen.  And yes, we'd like you to be here.  And a lot longer than a month if you wish.  Once we grow on you a bit, I don't think you'll find us so bad."

          "Wow," he said in reply.  Then my last words sunk in and he rolled his eyes at me in exaggerated play.  "You guys are so weird."

          I grinned and rolled my eyes back at him.

          "Can I go with you to your house?  I kind of feel like getting out of here, you know?"

          "Uh, sure.  We can take Joel's car.  Mine's at my house."

          "No.  I'll run with you.  Is it very far?"

          "Well, it’s a couple of miles."  I looked at his shoes.  They were in bad shape.  He caught my glance.

          "I run all over downtown in these shoes.  They're my dogs."

          I grinned and chuckled.  "Well, if you think you can keep up, let's go."

          "Aw, man.  No problem.  You're old, dude.  You got any food at your house?"

          I laughed and nodded. 

          We left a note for Joel and headed out.  



          "I'm standing in the Fossil store in Cherry Creek simply mesmerized watching him pick out clothes."  I heard Joel's quiet chuckle in the earpiece of my cell phone.  "He's so amazing to watch.  You know how I said that he has no blocking skills as far as holding emotions?"

          "That you can tell exactly what he's feeling?"  Joel responded.

          "Right.  It's all there on his face.  If he likes something, his face lights up, if something's just okay, he purses his lips.  But if he doesn't like something, he arches his left eyebrow, then he scowls.  It's so amazing to watch."

          "So how long have you two been at it?"

          "Only about an hour, so far.  At Macy's, he picked out a couple pairs of shoes, some boxers, a coat and a lightweight jacket.  Now he's found a number of shirts and t-shirts and he's picking out some pants and jeans.  I told him he had to get at least one pair of 501's to show off his butt."

          Joel laughed.  "Dirty old man."

          I grinned as I nodded to Ben when he held up a second pair of cargo pants for my opinion.  "Don't laugh.  Today’s teenagers completely obscure their bodies with the clothes they wear and I want him to at least have one pair of jeans that says, 'I'm all man ... or boy ... or ... you know what I mean."

          "Yes, I do know what you're talking about.  Megan drove me nuts with the sloppy clothes she wore.  She wouldn't be caught dead out of the house in something nice and shapely.  Kids these days always try and hide themselves.  Has he hit you up for any pants that are big enough to wear half-way down his butt?"

          I smiled.  "No.  Surprisingly, he feels it looks stupid.  He says, get this, 'when I see dudes wearing their pants like that I want to yell at them ... pull up your pants, you look like an idiot'.  I about died from trying to hold the laughter in.  I didn't do so well at it and he was dead serious too."

            Joel's laughter rocked over the headset.  

          "Man, Joel.  This new phone is incredible.  Not only do I get perfect reception here in the mall, but also it's as if you're right here next to me.  Thanks.  I love it."

          "Only the best for you, Blair."  He blew a kiss into the phone and I couldn't help but grin widely.

          I gave Ben a grimace as he held up a pair of faded and streaked jeans.  He nodded and replaced them on the rack.  "Where are you heading?  I hear the background noise." 

          "Over to Bill's house.  I tried him at the hospital, but he's not scheduled today and I don't want to talk with him about this over the phone.  He's a voracious reader, so I'm hoping that he's curled up at home enjoying a book."

          My chuckle caused him to pause. 

          "What?"  he asked.

          "Poor, Bill.  He hasn't a clue what's about to hit him."  I grinned.  The thought of Joel blazing into Bill's house with a life-altering proposal and knowing that Joel normally got his wish, caused my head to nod as I envisioned the scene.  "You're pretty confident that he'll agree, aren't you?"

          "No doubts, lover."  I could sense his grin over the phone.  "Oh, by the way," he continued excitedly, "I called a friend of mine, Paul, this morning.  He's a General Contractor.  And told him I had an emergency remodel job.  He agreed to meet me at your house tomorrow morning at seven to see about opening the attic so Bill can have a little separation from the boys when he needs it.  What do you think?"

          "It's perfect!"  I laughed.  "I was thinking that we'd pack the boys into two of the bedrooms and Bill could have the third, but this is even better."  I couldn't stop myself from nodding into the phone.  "But what do you mean by an emergency remodel?  What time frame are you thinking?"

          "Well, Paul said he'd move on it immediately and I thought that Rob could get everything organized so that the movers could be there Tuesday morning.  Paul and his guys can start Wednesday."

          "Tuesday?!  Are you insane?  That's like the day after tomorrow!"  I was flabbergasted and my exclamation caused Ben to whip around and look at me over the jeans display.  I saw his startled expression and twirled my finger next to my head then pointed at the phone.  He grinned.  God, I loved seeing him grin, watching him being somewhat happy.  Lord knows, he deserved some happiness.

          I found my bearings and my voice once again.  "You're crazy, Joel.  I could never get the house ready for movers by Tuesday.  I know you want to move on this, but that's just impossible." 

          Was he insane?  I'd lived in that house for six years.  There was stuff stashed everywhere.  My office alone would take a couple of days to organize.  Plus Joel and I had back-to-back meetings beginning early Monday morning.  I hadn't even had time to figure out what we were going to do as far as Ben was concerned tomorrow, much less try to work in a move. 

          "I know what you're thinking, Blair, but please, just listen to me for a second, okay?"

          I sighed.  "Joel, give me a second.  Ben needs a hand."

          I walked over to Ben as he stood in front of the mirror, holding each pair of pants up to his waist to see if they fit. 

          "Hey, bud.  Why don't you take those into the fitting room and try 'em on?  They have mirrors in there too.  That way you'll know they fit."

          His eyes met mine in the mirror and he gave me a thoughtful look.  "Oh, yeah."

          I grinned and pointed to the changing room doors. 

          After he'd taken the clothes into the room, I returned to Joel.

          "Go on, babe.  I'm listening."  In the back of my whirling mind I had the fleeting thought that Joel was going to show me how everything will work out like he planned and that I had nothing to worry about.

          "I know you think I'm rushing this, but I want to offer you a different perspective on things -- kind of my way of doing things.  One, I know it is taking you a little time to get used to the idea, but along with all of my wealth comes a lot of opportunities for things to happen when I want them to happen.  Part of that is because I make things the way I want them to be, and the other part is because money talks.  I think you're beginning to see how my mind works, right?"

          I sighed, unable to prevent my sigh from ending in a low chuckle.  I knew it!  "Yeah.  It works at the speed of light.  Go on."

          "Something like that," he chuckled in return.  "Anyway, so with a little bit of money, Rob will have packers in the house tomorrow and they will photograph each room, then pack it up and move it to where ever we want on Tuesday.  Then they'll unpack it all and put everything back the way it was.  I was thinking that your office and study could go into the extra room next to my office.  It's just used for storage right now anyway.  In time, I was hoping to have a door put in between our offices.  And if you don't mind, we could store your bedroom furnishings for a bit while I finally take the time to go through Megan's stuff.  It's time I did that anyway.  Then we could set up another spare room with your stuff.  Right now, I'm only talking about moving the upstairs so the construction won't damage anything.  The rest we can decide later."

          "All right, that's the how.  But what about the 'why right now, in this instant'?"

          "Blair, I know that you were up early this morning and you and Ben have been going non-stop ever since.  Plus, yesterday was crazy, so I know you haven't caught the weather forecast.  A weather front is moving in on us and promises to deliver one of Colorado's late-April snowstorms.  They're predicting quite a bit of snow and temperatures below freezing."

          His words slammed into me and their meaning caused my chest to tighten.  ”Oh, god.  The other boys."

          "Yeah.  And while we both know that they've survived the winter, the next couple of nights are going to be below freezing again and I just can't stand the thought of them in that warehouse without heat.  Sure, tomorrow after the snow, the temp will probably be in the 50's, but tomorrow night the cold will be back."

          My thought spun with the implications of Joel's words. 

          "You got quiet on me all of a sudden."  His voice brought me back to the present.

          "I'm thinking that I need to see if maybe Ben could talk the guys into leaving the warehouse tonight and coming to the apartment or to my house."

          "God, Blair!  I love you so much.  That's exactly what I was thinking.  I know I keep throwing so damn much stuff at you and have since we got together, but I can't help it, I'm ..."

          I interrupted him before he could finish.  "That's just the way you are.  I know that, Joel.  We'll talk about all the rest when we get home.  We're gonna stop at the music store.  I want to get him some CDs and a portable player for his room.  Then we'll be home.  Why don't you call Rob and have him get stuff going."

          "Skip the player.  There are two or three of them in Megan's room.  They even have earphones."  He laughed.

          "Okay.  Just the music.  Oh, by the way, Ben ... uh, has a pretty good idea what you're worth."

          I heard Joel's breath, then a sigh.  "How'd he find that out?  And so quickly?"

          "While I was feeding Mikey, he was checking out the house and he found the Time magazine from a year ago with you on the cover."

          "And what was his response?"

          "Well, he yelled from the living room that he thought you being on the cover was cool.  I didn't think about it much because I was in the kitchen.  Then he started reading the article about your endowment to the children's hospital in Indianapolis and he let out a really loud 'oh shit' when he got to the part about your holdings.  I tried to tell him that you didn't personally have two billion dollars, but he didn't buy it.  I think you're gonna need to explain some of it to him.  And just to warn you, I think he's got a little bit of hero worship going on."

          "Great."  He gave another resigned sigh.  "I'll talk with him about it."

          "Good.  He's coming out of the changing rooms now.  I'll see you at home."

          "I love you, Blair."

          "I love you."

          I ended the call just as Ben arrived in front of me, his arms loaded with pants. 

          "So you two really can't stand being apart from each other, huh?"  His lips pursed in an expectant tease. 

          "How do you know it was Joel?"

          "Because you get a goofy look on your face when you're thinking or talking about him."

          "A goofy look, huh?  I don't think so." 

          Ben just shrugged.  

          Deciding it was best not to debate the point, I led him to the register and we finally made our way out to the car, arms laden. 

          By the time that he'd picked out five or six CDs, the clouds had started moving in from the north.  Ben stopped next to the car and studied the clouds.  I glanced at him over the roof of the car and could see that he was frowning.  He then looked at the bag of CDs in his hand and glanced through the windows to the bags of clothes in the back seat.  He turned to me, his face covered in upset.

          Quietly, I said 'I know' and shared with him part of the reason for Joel's phone call.  His face fell even further when I told him about the weather forecast.  He looked back at the sky and the steel-grey clouds.

          "You know, Ben, we could drop this stuff off at the apartment and go over to the warehouse just to make sure they're okay."

          He shrugged and continued to stare at the clouds.

          "Or, we could drop this stuff off and maybe with your help, you and I could persuade them to come back to the apartment.  Joel and I both want to at least try."

          His face brightened as he looked towards me.  "You mean to stay?  For good?"  His eyes yawned intently at me and I saw the beginnings of tears form as I nodded.  He gulped as the tears threatened to spill over.  "Ww ... why?  Why are you guys being so nice to me ... to us.  You don't know us at all.  You don't know all the shit we've done."

          "Don't you get it, Ben?  It doesn't matter to us what you've done.  You're just kids and the thought of everything you've been through is tearing my heart out.  Joel's too.  We just want to give you, all of you, some love.  Let you know that someone cares about you."

          His tears overflowed at my last words.  He pointed to the back seat.  "You've just spent a million dollars on me and all I did was try and rob you and call you names."

          "All you did was try and get some food to eat for you and your friends.  God, Ben, do you really think we care about that now?  Or that we care about the names you called us.  We care about you being safe, kid ... and fed and warm and ... all of it."

          He started to cry, his shoulders shook with emotion as he pinched his eyes shut.  I moved around the front of the car quickly and opened my arms to him.

          "C'mere, Ben." 

          He moved into my outstretched arms immediately as a heart-wrenching sob sprang from his lips.  I wrapped him in my arms tightly, whispering that he was going to be okay from now on -- that all of them were going to be okay from now on.  He cried for a long time.  At one point his sobs changed into a quiet keening as the pain and fear gushed forth from deep inside.  He mumbled words through his sobs, but I couldn't understand him.  I told him softly to just let it all out and that it was going to be okay.  He pressed his face deeper onto my chest.

          Through his muffled sobs, I began to hear what he was repeating.  "He wouldn't believe me, I didn't lead him on.  I didn't.  But he wouldn't believe me." 

          My heart filled with a horrible feeling of dread.  "Who wouldn't believe you?  Who said you led them on?  Please Ben, talk to me."

          "My uncle."

          Confused, I pulled him apart from me slightly.  "Your uncle wouldn't believe you?"

          He shook his head back and forth as his tears continued their downpour.  He clenched his eyes shut.  "My dad wouldn't believe me that my uncle  ... raped me even with all the blood all over my bed.  He called me a liar and ... and  ...  said I must have led my uncle on, teased him with my …."  His sobs renewed themselves in a fresh torrent.  His cracked and broken voice faltered as a gush of emotions and revulsion caused a spasm to whip through his body.

          My mind exploded in rage, my heart shattered into a million desiccated pieces as the realization of the enormous pain and shame that Ben must be feeling rolled through me. 

          "With your what, Ben?"

          He opened his eyes and glared at me, raw hate flashed from his fierce, wounded eyes.  His sobs stopped instantly as if a massive stone had been slammed into the hole in the dam that was his emotions.  "With ... my ... girlish ... ass!  You satisfied now?  Huh?  He said he always knew I was a faggot.  He accused me of begging my uncle to fuck me, all right?"  His voice sliced into me with his rage as I held his shoulders to keep him from lunging at me.  His tear stained face, twisted by his rage, jutted towards me.  "I never even thought about having sex with a guy then so I screamed 'I hate you' and he back-handed me and sent me flying."  His eyes closed tightly at the memory.

          I felt his muscles clench in rage one last time then slowly begin to relax in my grip.

          When he opened his eyes again, I saw that the rage had dissipated slightly.  His voice, while calmer, was filled with a blank despair.  "Then he yelled that I had five minutes to get my faggot ass out of his house for good, so I grabbed my backpack and left.  I called this girl I was wacky about from my cell phone and broke what was supposed to be our first date that night.  And … I thumbed down to Denver."

          I couldn't think of any words to say to him that would help ease what he was feeling.  I simply told him I was sorry.

          He looked at me with an arched brow.  "What are you sorry for?  You didn't rape me.  You've been nothing but nice to me."

          I released his shoulder and reached my hand to the back of his neck.  I squeezed it lightly.  I tilted my head towards him intently and tried to share with a gentle voice that he did nothing wrong.

          "I'm sorry that you were raped and that your dad is as much of a monster as your uncle.  I'm sorry that your childhood has been cut so drastically short.  I'm sorry that we didn't cross paths sooner.  And if you'll let me, I'll spend however long it takes trying to make up for all that shit."

          His head slowly shook to the side in disbelief.  "What?  You're going to try and make up for all the shit that happened to me and to six other guys?  That's if Mauricio made it back from Ice in one piece -- which is pretty, fuckin' doubtful.  He wasn't back before I ditched them all yesterday.  They all have a shitty story like mine, Blair.  Maybe not rape, but something ugly put them out there.  Are you going to spend a million bucks on each of them and tell them you love 'em and that everything's gonna be okay and that they can go back to being a kid again?  Get real, Dude.  Nobody's that nice."

          I dropped my grip from his neck and shoulder and sighed with frustration.  His despair knifed into me and the only semblance of an answer that I could find was in thinking about what Joel would do -- here, now.  He would claim the possibility without hesitation.

          "Yes, Ben.  That's what Joel and I are going to try and do.  And in answer to your question, we're going to try and do that for each of you.  It seems like you won't even try to believe what we've told you about why we want to do this, but we're gonna try to do it all the same, if you'll let us."

          I took a deep breath and continued.

          "Right now, as we stand here, Joel is meeting with what sounds like a pretty incredible guy to head up a home for all of you ... my home, to be exact, where you can be together and safe -- where hopefully, you'll let Joel and me be a part of your lives.  If you don't want us, fine.  We'll stay away, but the place will still be yours for as long as you need it.  So you get a clue, Ben.  You get real.  We're not asking for anything from any of you, except to try and be kids again for however long possible.  So are you going to help me try and talk the other guys into it or do I have to do it without you?"

          He stared at me, shocked by my intensity, and for the first time there was no indication on his face about what he was thinking or feeling.  I stared back at him, his bright blue eyes refusing to yield.  I had no clue if my response to him had been correct or not, but I knew that it came from my heart.  I needed to trust that.

          I reached my hand to his face and with my forefinger, quickly tucked a swath of hair behind his ear.  I smiled weakly at him. 

          "What's it gonna be, Ben?"

          He tipped his chin towards me after another long pause.

          "They won't be in the crib now.  It's still nice out and it's always cold in the building, so they'll be out on the mall or at the train station or at the Tivoli center.  With the money you gave them yesterday, they could be anywhere.  We'll have to wait until later or until it starts snowing.  Chris looks old enough to rent a room, so they might do that, but not till it starts getting cold.  They'd come back to the crib to get some of their stuff first.  What time is it?"

          I hid my grin as I checked my watch.  "It's just after noon."

          Ben nodded once, then paused and looked at me for a moment.  His hand wiped the last of his cathartic tears from his face.  Then, I saw a slight grin toy with the corner of his lips. 

          "Thanks, dude.  Serious."  His grin bloomed.  "Are you hungry?"




          I sat against the building with my arms wrapped around my knees.  Ben sat next to me in the alley across from the boarded up entrance to the building.  I was cold and I knew he must be also.  I was glad he'd worn his new coat because the first snowflakes were beginning to fall.  The temperature had dropped thirty degrees in the last three hours and the wind had picked up.  Ben thought the guys would be showing up soon and I hoped he was right.  We'd been here for close to an hour and a half already and my anxiety level was beginning to rise. 

          My head spun with the little details that Ben shared with me about the other guys while we waited.  He'd been right, each story screamed with intolerance or hate and brutal actions by adults and parents.  My mind was having a hard time assimilating what I had heard. 

          I'd had no previous exposure to anything like this.  And the realization of my sheltered innocence slammed hard into the almost dizzying amount of changes that I'd been going through, seemingly since I first laid eyes on Joel over two months prior.  I knew that my anxiety lay sourced in the reality that I was having a hard time keeping up with the constant changes, the constant newness.  Joel operated like this on a 24-hour basis, I didn't.  Not yet anyway. 

          I forced my thoughts from myself and allowed them to drift over the stories Ben had shared with me.  


          Chris and Cody's stories were similar.  Not only in the fact that they were both gay, but because each had been forced out of their homes, their lives, because they had been caught having sex with other boys.  In Chris' case, it was an adult.  Actually, the guy had been Chris' football coach and I remembered reading about it in the paper last fall.  Ben shared that the coach had been arrested and Chris' father had tried to force him into one of the brainwashing conversion programs for gay people.  Chris refused and ran away to Denver from Colorado Springs.  Ben related that it was just as well he left because his teammates had started to target him in increasingly violent ways. 

          Cody was from Cheyenne, Wyoming and had been caught in bed with his best friend by Cody's red-neck and fanatical father.  He'd been kicked out, so he hitchhiked to Denver some three or four months ago.

          Cleats was a runner and had torn up the tracks at his high school in Chicago.  He tangled one too many times with his father about refusing to go to church and refusing to stop hanging with his friends because his dad thought they were a gang.  Their last argument grew violent.  His father, drunk and in a rage at his son's insistent defiance, slammed Cleats against the wall and hit him repeatedly before Cleats could get his switchblade from his pocket.  He'd slashed his father across the face and fled Chicago in a stolen car that had run out of gas somewhere in Nebraska.  He left behind his girlfriend,  his homies and any semblance of normal life that he knew.

          Ben didn't know much about the kid named Mau, other than that he was from Maui, Hawaii -- hence the nickname.  Mau didn't talk -- not that he couldn't if he wanted to, he just didn't.  He'd shown up on the streets two months ago.

          Mauricio was another one that Ben didn't know much about.  He wasn't as regular in the crib as the other six boys were.  He'd show up most nights, but didn't always hang with the other guys.  He knew that Mauricio was local and had family in Commerce City -- a primarily Hispanic suburb of Denver -- but he never talked about them.  Ben said he was as much of a hound for pussy as Cleats was.  Somehow, Mauricio kept himself immaculately groomed, even though his clothes were pretty bad off.  But his hair was always perfect, slicked back and shiny.  The rest of the guys thought he ran drugs for a pretty bad element in the city known as the Brood headed up by this Ice character, but they weren't sure. 

          But the story that actually brought tears to my eyes was Timmy's.

          Maybe the tears were because his story was told to me last.  Maybe not.   

          Timmy was a native Coloradoan, like Chris and Mauricio and Ben.  The difference was that he grew up in Denver in an area called The Holly on the northeast side of the city -- the roughest part of town.  His father resided in the supermax prison in Florence, Colorado, on a double-murder conviction.  His mother had been a crack addict, dying six months earlier from an overdose.  He'd spent two months in a foster home, but left it at the beginning of the year because the biological sons of his foster parents considered him their punching bag and slave.  The foster care worker tried to tell him that he needed to adapt, obviously not believing him.  So he left in January and met up with Cody who brought him to the crib.  He turned thirteen two weeks before Ben's run in with me and Joel.


          I shook my head at the serious and suddenly complex nature of what Joel and I were getting ourselves into.  Our salvation came with Bill's acceptance of the job.  He wanted to meet the boys in the next day or so.  The way it looked right now, we were going to need five guys like Bill just to take care of these six boys. 

          That is if they showed up. 

          I looked at my watch.  Another fifteen minutes had passed while I mused about all that Ben had shared with me.  I glanced at Ben and could tell he was cold from the way he held his knees.

          "How ya doing, Ben?  You look cold."

          He gave me a quick glance and shrugged.  "I hate just sitting here, but the coat is great.  That part of me is good.  Thanks.  I tried to thank Joel, but he said it was all your doing."

          I shrugged back at him.  "You're welcome.  So do you feel any better about Joel's money now that you talked with him?  You were pretty blown away about it this morning at my place."

          "Wouldn't you be?  Fuck, Blair!"  He growled.  "You guys sweep down on me, saying you want to take care of all of my problems after I try and knife you and one of you turns out to be a fuckin' billionaire?  Give me a break, dude."

          I nodded thoughtfully.  "The first time we spoke -- well actually it was like the third time -- he asked me to join him at his table.  I didn't know who he was at the time.  I mean I knew who Joel Summers was, but I didn't realize that the guy that I was infatuated with was the Joel Summers.  Henri, the chef, greeted him as Mr. Summers and it all fell into place.  I think if I had been just about any other place, I'd have reacted the same way you did." 

          "I don't even know how much money that is, Blair.  For reals, man."  He said, picking at the laces on his new sneakers. 

          "Don't worry about it, okay?  Do you feel a little better around him now, after you two talked?"

          "Yeah," he grinned.  "I wasn't thinking he was going to kung fu me this time.  He's pretty cool.  He said we could maybe go boarding this week.  That'd be fun and I think …"

          Ben stopped in mid-sentence and turned to look at the entrance to the alley.  Two guys stood at the opening from the parking lot in the rear of the building.  One was considerably shorter than the other guy.  They froze in place as they spied us sitting against the wall. 

          "Hey," Ben called.  "What up?"

          The shorter kid grinned and punched his buddy in the chest playfully.  "It's our boy."  He started to walk towards us, the other guy following. 

          "What you doin' out here, man?" the kid with black dreadlocks for hair continued with a grin.  Ben and I stood up.  My movement was considerably slower due to the prolonged time spent sitting against the wall.  'It's hell getting old,' I smirked to myself.

          "You know how cold it is in there, Cleats."  He nodded towards the building.  "Everyone else coming?"

          Cleats nodded, but the taller boy with long hair spoke.  "Except for Mauricio.  No one's seen him since yesterday morning."

          Ben looked at him, then shifted his eyes towards Cleats.  Some kind of communication passed between them.  Ben dipped his head to the side and sighed. 

          He pitched his thumb towards me.  "This is Blair.  He's cool.  These are my boys, Chris and Cleats.  Chris is the pretty one."  He said with a snort. 

          "Aw, man.  That's cold.  That's cold man," Cleats groused. 

          Both guys looked at me as if they were sizing me up.  Ben hadn't been exaggerating.  Chris was one hell of a good-looking kid.  His shoulder length brown hair accented the strong, long lines of his face.  He could easily pass for twenty or older and as I looked into his brown eyes, he winked at me.  I heard Ben next to me snort at Chris' come-on.  I ignored it and nodded in response.  Cleats moved his gaze from me to Ben and whistled.

          "Look at you, brutha.  Nice rags.  Seems like your fairy godmother here has made good on that promise at least." 

          At Cleats' words, Chris' hand darted up and smacked him in the chest.  Cleats grabbed his chest in mock pain.

          "Hey, bro.  Watch the merchandise."

          Ben grinned.  "We better go in so the others can come through."

          I looked at Ben sideways as the three boys started towards the boarded-up entrance. 

          "We only enter in two's during the day."  He said in partial explanation.

          Once inside, it was only a minute or so when the wood pulled back and I saw Cody's head stick through the entrance, followed by his body.  Timmy was right behind him.  They stopped at the sight of Ben and me.

          "Whazzup, Bone?"  Cody said with a grin as he started to walk towards us.  Timmy ran to Ben and hugged him.

          "I missed you."  Timmy exclaimed, grinning.  Ben grinned and said that he'd missed him too.

          "Shit, boi!"  Cleats swore.  "He's only been gone a day.  You need to chill, son."

          In response to Cody's question, Ben said that he needed to talk with everyone.

          "Is Mau behind you?"  Ben asked.  Cody nodded and then turned to me.

          "Thanks, man, for all the bread you laid on me yesterday.  We had a feast last night!"  I heard a couple of 'yeahs' from Chris and Cleats and I watched as Timmy's eyes lit up.

          "I had two Big Macs at McDonalds!"  He held his stomach as if it were still too full.

          I grinned widely at him.  "That's great, bud."

          "Hey, Mau," Ben said.  I turned to see a kid with spiky black hair and about Ben's size, three or four inches shorter than me, step through the narrow opening.  His face lit up when he saw Ben standing with the other guys.  Then he froze in place when he saw me.  Fear covered his face and showed in his eyes.  Ben walked over to him and grabbed his shoulder.  "He's cool, Mau.  This is the guy I was telling you about.  He's a good guy, okay?"

          Mau looked at him, his eyes searching Ben's face.  His head rose up once in acceptance.  Ben patted his shoulder once and turned to the rest of us. 

          "Let's go upstairs.  I need to talk with you guys."  Then his eyes met mine.  "Just me and my boys for now, Blair, okay?"

          I nodded and soon found myself standing alone. 

          Ten minutes later, I looked up to see Ben standing at the top of the stairs.  "Hey man, come on up."  My anxiety began to drop as I met a grin from Ben that he seemed incapable of hiding.  He turned from me and led the way to the end of the hall.  The boys stood in a group by the window, watching intently as I approached.  Ben stopped next to Cody and turned to face me.

          "I told them what I know about you and what you guys are planning.  And I told them about this morning on the balcony and the mall and … about today in the parking lot.  They want to come with us."

          Relief flooded me.  I clapped once loudly in excitement.  "Right on!  That's great!"  My response brought surprised looks to the boys' faces and a big grin to Ben's. 

          "You're right, Dude.  He is whacked."  Cody said.  Chuckles erupted from each of them. I moved towards Cody and offered him my hand.  He took it and smiled.  "This is great, Cody."            Timmy offered me his hand, grinning widely, and I shook it in a manly gesture then tousled his hair.  He was so young!  "Can I get some new clothes too, Blair?"

          I grinned.  "You bet, kiddo."

          I reached my hand towards Mau and the grinned dropped from his face as he backed away.  My eyes widened in surprise.

          "Oh," Ben said.  "Mau don't like to be touched by guys he don't know."

          I nodded and offered Mau a smile.  "I'm glad you decided to come with Ben and me, Mau.  I think you'll like Joel."  Mau nodded and then looked at Ben before dropping his eyes. 

          I turned to offer my hand to Cleats and watched as he turned sideways and rubbed his butt with his palm.  "See this nice, firm, tight, black ass?"  My eyes widened in confusion and flaring alarm.  "You and your gay boy just plan on staying away from it.  I know it's hot and tempting, but you boys …"  Cleats stopped in mid-sentence as Chris delivered a firm slug to his chest.  I almost felt the thump from where I was standing.

          "Ow!  Man!  You're gonna bruise me, Chrissie." 

          I looked at Ben and saw him grin and roll his eyes.  He tipped his head towards Cleats and gave me a half shrug.  I smiled tentatively in return and blinked a couple of times, shaking my head. 

          "Sorry to disappoint you, Cleats, but I thought Ben would have told you that Joel and I aren't interested in boys.  We only like real men."

          The boys laughed and teased Cleats.  I offered my hand to Chris and received another wink as he shook my hand.  I smirked and shook my head dramatically as I raised my eyebrows, clearly trying to send a message that I wasn't interested.  He grinned and shrugged in reply.

          I turned back to the group.  "So guys, why don't you grab what you want and let's go somewhere warm." 

          It took them all of two minutes to gather their stuff.  I was amazed as I looked around at where they'd been living.  Chris left a note for Mauricio with my phone number and card then we headed down the stairs. 

          Once in the alley on our way to Joel's SUV, Cody moved up next to me.  "So was Bone shittin' us or does Joel really have two billion dollars?"

          I turned towards Ben, open-mouthed.  My head tilted in question.  He looked at me sideways and shrugged.  I could sense the others were waiting intently for my reply. 

          "Okay, yes.  In one way, he is worth that much, but it's in buildings and holdings.  He doesn't flaunt it or try to show it off.  He hates the attention all the money brings.  And guys believe me, he'd be the same guy without all the money, so just give him a chance, would you?"  I gave another questioning look to Ben as we arrived at Joel's SUV.

          I heard a whistle from behind me then Cleats voice followed.  "Yeah, right.  He doesn't show it off.  Look at this Caddy, would you?  There ain't a finer looking SUV made than the black Escalade.  This baby's worth sixty-five g's alone fully loaded.  Nice!" 

          "Forget about the car, Cleats.  Get in guys.  I don't know about you, but I'm hungry."  I winked at Ben and smiled.  He smiled in return.  I heard Timmy's excited 'me too' as I circled around the car and dialed Joel's cell phone number. 

          He answered almost immediately.  "Blair?  What's happening?"

          I smiled as I settled into the driver's seat.  "Hey, babe.  You better start cooking because Ben and I are bringing home five hungry guys."

          I heard Cleats mimic my 'hey babe' in a high falsetto voice, and grinned when I heard a thump.  Obviously, Chris was in reach of his chest.  Joel's response widened my grin.  He let out a loud 'whoop' and said to someone else, 'they're all coming.'  He told me he'd order a lot of pizza and hung up.

          The drive to the apartment took less than five minutes and it was a noticeably subdued and suddenly tense group that loaded into the private elevator for the ride to the penthouse. 


          The elevator opened facing the entryway to the apartment.  A couch and two tables sat against the wall.  Joel was sometimes late in arriving back at the apartment and he wanted visitors to be comfortable.  Cleats couldn't resist making a comment.

          "Damn.  There's a couch in the hallway.  What?  Ain't there no more room in the crib?"

          Grinning, I replied.  "Actually, this is your room, Cleats."  The guys laughed as we cleared the elevator.  The tension dissipated.

          "Shit.  I ain't no white boys' doorman."  He returned playfully.  "Or guard dog."

          "That's good, Cleats," Cody said.  "You'd scare 'em away with your face alone, man."

          "Or your morning wood," Ben added.

          The guys gave him shit as Cleats whined about his boys being so cold.

          The apartment door opened as we approached, stopping the boys in mid-step.  Joel stood dressed in jeans and an open-collar button down white shirt looking as hot as I've ever seen him.  A wide smile covered his face.  He stepped into the hallway offering his hand to Cleats.

          "Hey guys.  Come on in.  I'm Joel."

          Cleats shook his hand.  "So you're the kung fu guy, huh?"  He asked then lifted his leg and arms in the well-known and overused strike position.  "Waaaaaa!!!!"  Joel grinned.

          The guys snickered again as Ben moved forward.  "Joel, these are my boys.  That's Cleats, Chris, Timmy, Cody and Mau.  Mau don't like to be touched, just as a 411."  Joel nodded to each of them.

          "Welcome.  Drop your stuff inside the door.  I've got some pizzas coming and there's plenty to drink.”

          The boys shuffled in and dropped their backpacks -- or in Cleats and Mau's case, their plastic bags of clothes -- where Ben directed them and then followed Ben into the main part of the apartment.  I stopped with Joel in the entry foyer and pulled him into my arms.  I was in sudden need to feel his arms around me.  Our kiss was light and welcomed. 

          "Well, you got your wish, Mr. Summers."

          "I see that, Mr. Michaels."  He winked and pulled me tight once more before we separated. 

          "I take it that Rob is here?"

          "No, he left after you called.  He'd been here since just after you left.  He ordered beds and mattresses for everyone and they should be here shortly."

          My head turned in amazement.  "Joel, that's incredible!  On a Sunday at five o'clock?  How'd he pull that one off?"

          "Well, I called the owner of the furniture chain and Rob handled the rest.  There are six twin beds coming and Rob ran to the linen store and purchased bedding.  But I only count five guys besides Ben."

          I nodded.  "Mauricio hasn't been seen since he left to give this Ice guy his money yesterday morning.  The boys won't say anything, but I know they're worried."  I turned my head and looked into the apartment.  "Where are we putting the beds?  Ben's room is big, granted, but with five or six more beds in there, the boys won't be able to move."

          "We'll find a place.  There's Megan's room also.  I wish I'd gone through it before this." 

          I pulled his face to mine for another kiss.  "You'll get to it when you're ready, love.  Let's go see the guys."

          The group as a whole was somewhat subdued as Joel showed them around the apartment.  The quietly stated impression of wealth was everywhere.  Ben and Cody brought everyone soft drinks from the wet bar once they'd settled in the media room.  Joel sat on the floor with Ben, even though there were plenty of seats for everyone.  I leaned against a credenza and watched the boys begin to interact with Joel.  He was a natural with kids.

          The buzzer from security rang and I answered it, informing them I'd be down shortly to collect the pizzas.  I grabbed Ben to help me. 

          On the way down, he asked where everyone was going to sleep and I shared with him about the new beds coming.  He shook his head in disbelief.

          "You bought new beds for them?"  His mouth hung open in astonishment.

          I nodded.  "We'll need them once my house is ready for everyone.  The delivery men will set some of them up in your room and probably a couple in Megan's room."

          "Who's Megan?"  Ben asked.

          I raised my eyes in sudden realization.  We hadn't told him about Megan.  "Uh, that is Joel's daughter.  She's ... uh, not here anymore."

          Ben nodded, but remained quiet.  We collected the pizzas and as we entered the elevator, he turned to me.  "Do you have to set up the beds?"  I looked at him, confused.  "I mean, can't you just put the mattresses on the floor?  That's how we're all used to sleeping, kind of on top of each other.  I don't think they'd like the beds.  At least not yet."

          "We didn't think of that.  It sounds fine to me.  Thanks, bud."  I paused for a second.  "You know, Ben, anything else you can think of like that which might help to make the guys feel better would be great to know."

          He nodded with a half grin.  "Cool."

          We entered with the pizzas and found Joel laughing with the boys.  A half hour later, the beds arrived and Joel understood immediately about the idea of not setting up the frames.  I could tell the delivery guys were thrilled. 

          The boys moved their bags into the spare room amidst jokes of it being like home, just up scale.  They especially were impressed with the pillows.  After watching an action movie, the boys headed to their room for the night.  A little while later, Joel and I went to say goodnight.

          Joel knocked on the partially opened door and waited.  Cody answered it.

          "Why you knocking?  It's your house, man."

          "Ahh, but it's your room."  Joel responded.  Cody turned and looked at the others.  They each wore similar, surprised expressions on their faces as they sat or reclined on the mattresses. 

          "That's probably my only rule, guys."  Joel said to the group.  "I need you to respect Blair and me and our things, which I want you to consider your things for as long as you're here.  And I want you to respect each other."

          "What about the rest of the rules?"  Cleats asked. 

          "There aren't any.  If you think about it, that one rule handles everything."

          "Cool," Chris said nodding pensively.  "I think we all wanna, uh, say thanks and ... well, just thanks."

          Joel smiled warmly and looked at each boy in turn.  "You're welcome, Chris, all of you.  And thanks to you guys for trusting us.  Sleep well."

          Cody turned his head towards Ben as they sat on Ben's bed together in their boxers and t-shirts.  "You weren't shittin' us, Bone.  Were you?"

          Ben glanced at Joel and me as we stood in the doorway.  He gave a slight tip of his chin towards us and a half grin then turned back to Cody. 

          "No, dude.  I told ya."

          Joel and I held our grins and headed for our bedroom. 

          Once settled in my arms with his face pressed to my naked chest, Joel let out a long, heartfelt sigh.  "Rob is rescheduling our meetings this week except for the two with Chicago.  But I thought you and I could tag-team them from my office here by video-conference."

          "I figured you would when Ben said something about skiing and snow boarding." 

          "He's something else, isn't he?"  Joel said softly.

          "Yeah.  Did you notice that each of the guys had on a pair of Ben's new boxers?  Even Chris, though they looked pretty tight on him."

          "I did.  Amazing, isn't it?  They are such a family already."

          I mused over his words.  "We're ready for this, aren't we?"

          "I have never felt more alive than I do in this moment, love."

          "I know what you mean," I murmured as I stroked his hair.  "They're amazing kids, amazing young men, aren't they?"

          "God, yes.  Just think of the possibilities that lie in front of them, Blair.  I want to do everything we can to make their possibilities reality."

          I chuckled softly.


Special thanks goes to Rock Hunter for his endless efforts to edit this mess.  Thanks, Bud! 


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