Reservations – A Novel
By Drew Filchak
Chapter Six: "Agendas"
A surreal, yet natural feeling enveloped me upon entering the restaurant from the building's interior. Sure, I should be used to it by now considering a month had passed since my routine of entering the restaurant from the street doorway had altered itself considerably. But seldom over the past month had I come down to breakfast alone. The odd, surreal feelings stemmed from the many memories I had of watching Joel enter the restaurant in the same manner, morning after morning, which I was now doing. Yet, adding to the odd sensation was the very real impression that those memories belonged to another life, another person.
For the past half hour, my thoughts had increasingly darkened. Bits of worry and doubt about the repercussions from the past weekend's events began to snowball quickly from the point of waking up this morning. The brief hug and even quicker kiss I received from Joel as he darted out the door to meet Paul caused me to flare with irritation. I wanted to scream, 'Wait a minute ... what's the plan? What's on the agenda here?', but he was gone before I could focus myself.
Now, as I crossed the closed section of the restaurant, my disjointed thoughts distracted me.
"What? No 'good morning' smile? Don't you love me any more?"
Startled from my burrowing thoughts I looked up to see a forlorn and hangdog expression on Hank's face. His eyes twinkled though, with ornery mischief and prompted my musings to stall.
"Nope. Sorry, babe. I got me a new man now and he's got lots of money and a big dick. You just can't compete."
Hank pouted in a classic scorned lover pose. His hands flew to his hips adding dramatic emphasis to his falsetto shriek. "Well! You never had complaints about my size before!" A crack appeared in the veneer of his staged scowl as the corners of his lips twitched. "Now I suppose you still expect me to fetch your breakfast. Well you can kiss my lily-white ass with your money-grubbing lips, bitch!"
I forced my expression to remain deadpan. "Uh, Hank? You don't have a lily-white ass. You're black."
His eyebrows arched as he shook his finger at me over the bar. "Don't get technical on me, buster!"
I lost it! My head flew backwards and I bellowed laughter. My need for release from the incessant, dark musing that had started from the moment I opened my eyes this morning found satisfaction in Hank's antics. I slapped my leg and doubled over as release poured from me allowing my worry and doubts and beginning bits of agitation to melt in the joy of Hank's good nature.
"Oh, god, man!" I choked. "That was good! I needed that so badly this morning. You can't begin to know how badly I needed a jolt of you today!" My laughter dropped to a chuckle. "Buster! Oh, that's choice!"
Hank's devilish grin widened. "Glad to oblige. I don't know what was up with your weekend, but mine sucked. I needed a jolt of you too, Blair."
He waved me around the bar and turned for the coffee pot. "Grab your seat, bud. Tell me what's going on."
"Thanks for the coffee, Hank. And you won't believe me even after I tell you."
He arched his eyebrow at me in question. "Well, then let me put your order in first and then you can tell your buddy Hank, this unbelievable story. You want your usual?"
I looked at him and shook my head, smirking. Everything again felt surreal, but thankfully, I felt brighter than I did as I entered the restaurant.
"Part of me would love nothing more than to have my usual breakfast this morning, but I need a little more than the usual, bud. I need eggs and bacon and sausage and pancakes or waffles and syrup and juice for at least eight people this morning."
I paused, thinking about how the boys devoured six extra-large pizzas in record time. Grinning, I held up my hands resignedly towards Hank. His bewildered expression was priceless.
"Actually, make that order for ten people. Have them batch the separate items all together, kind of like family-style. We'll dish everything up ourselves."
He pulled his head back and looked at me wide-eyed. "You're serious, aren't you? What? Are you feeding a small army?"
I shook my head still grinning. "Something like that."
His return grin and nod served as his response. "Give me a minute. I'll put the order in and then go speak to the cook about the packaging. Sounds like a hell of a weekend."
'That it was, Hank,' I mused. 'That it was.'
I glanced at my watch trying to gauge when I could expect Ben to arrive, but realized that I'd only left him five minutes ago. He was going to shower and then come down to help me cart the food back upstairs for the boys. I thought about our brief exchange prior to my heading down to the restaurant and again felt an incredible tenderness for Ben surge in me.
Passing by the boy's room on my way to the kitchen in search of coffee, I saw through the open door all six of the boys sleeping soundly, sprawled between the mattresses and Ben's bed. The sheets and comforters had been tossed aside; an obvious accommodation to the warmth in the room. I realized that after the nightly cold they'd experienced repeatedly, the apartment must have felt like the balmy tropics to them.
My eyes were drawn to the large tent in the front of Cleats' boxer shorts. I grinned, finally understanding Ben's comment from yesterday regarding Cleats' morning wood. Mau slept face down, clutching his pillow next to Cleats. Timmy spooned back against Chris' chest as Chris' muscular arm tucked around the small boy's form. In contrast to Chris' long body, Timmy looked even smaller. Chris' wide shoulders tapered dramatically down to a narrow waist and I couldn't help but notice how the tight boxers that Chris wore showed off his slender, yet developed athletic hips and butt. He definitely was a good-looking young man.
Ben lay on his back with his right arm draped over his eyes. Cody lay next to him on the bed with his face burrowed into Ben's left shoulder. His arm draped loosely across Ben's chest with his left leg bent and resting on top of Ben's thigh. It was the most erotically innocent thing I'd seen in years and compounding the eroticism of the scene before me was the fact that Ben's slightly bent right leg pulled the fabric of his boxers taut, displaying an extremely full and packed crotch. His dick wasn't hard like Cleats' was with morning wood. Rather the bulging fabric promised something that would easily rival, if not beat, Cleats' unknowingly displayed erection.
I immediately turned from the doorway, pulling the door closed behind me. An involuntary rush of breath forced its way from my mouth.
'Fuck!' my mind gasped raggedly. 'Gotta get those boys to keep their door closed!'
I chuckled to myself with a shake of my head and a smirk. 'Where's Joel when I need him!'
Mid-way down the hall another thought stopped me instantly as if I'd ran straight into a brick wall.
’My god! They're all so thin! They looked half-starved!' The repeat vision of their separate ribs pressing against their skin shocked me and sent a shiver coursing through me. When I thought about just how long they'd had to fight and steal just to eat, my knees nearly gave way underneath me. I reached my hand to the wall to steady myself as the thought caused me to stagger. Anger flashed through me.
My voice growled lowly, menacingly to the empty hallway. "What fucking monsters are their parents to kick out defenseless kids into the world?" My eyes flooded with tears of rage and frustration. I wanted to pound the wall in fury as images flashed before my mind of them falling asleep on those filth-encrusted mattresses, the sharp pain of hunger being their constant unwanted companion. Impotent tears spilled from my eyes as I heard the sound of the spare room door opening. I whirled around quickly.
Ben stepped from the room clad only in his boxers and pulled the door partially shut behind him. Immediately, he spied me standing a few feet from the door and his face pulled back in an alarmed reaction.
"What's wrong, dude? Why you looking at me like that? Why you crying?"
A rush of breath forced its way passed my lips and I realized from his expression that the rage-filled look on my face, plus my tears, was scaring him. I quickly palmed my face clearing the tears and sniffed.
"Sorry, Ben. I didn't mean for you to see that. Did I wake you?"
He shrugged and continued to look at me intently as he took a couple steps towards me. "Why are you crying, Blair? What's wrong?"
The sincerity and concern in his voice along with the worry in his eyes overwhelmed me with protective and tender feelings. My emotions again surged and fresh tears ran from my eyes.
My voice cracked and sounded like gravel being crushed under a boot heel. "You're all so thin! Look at your ribs."
I stood before Ben, my arms hanging dejectedly at my side with my hands turned upwards. Pointing towards his gaunt torso, I tried in vain to control my emotions. Each rib stood in stark relief against his pasty, white skin. His chest muscles, while naturally developed, seemed to pull from his collar and shoulder muscles. There was no extra skin or extra body fat anywhere. His abdomen pulled inward tightly, concave. The gaunt, visual impact was accented acutely by prominent hipbones framing a tiny waist. The blue striped boxers hung low on his stark frame, well below his hipbones. So thin. Too thin!
I clenched my eyes shut tightly and rubbed my closed lids again, then massaged my brows -- trying to force some element of control to reassert itself.
"Sorry." I whispered, then swallowed.
I felt a light touch on my shoulder and looked to see Ben standing in front of me. His hand squeezed my shoulder. "Hey, we can't all be hunks like you, man."
I chuckled once hoarsely and sniffed again. Ben continued.
"And if it helps you chill any, I'm not hungry now."
I snorted through my plugged nose and rolled my eyes. "Liar."
His telltale grin and reflexive shrug helped to clear the last of the emotion from my eyes. He gave my shoulder another squeeze. "You know, we're gonna be okay. Don't worry so much, all right?"
My face relaxed though my eyes remained moist. "Am I worrying too much?"
He raised his eyebrow and with a lift of his chin rolled his brilliant blue eyes back at me. "You're so ..."
"Weird, I know. You've told me."
"I was gonna say 'cool'. But you're weird too."
I shook my head and grabbed his shoulder pulling him with me as I turned towards the kitchen. "Come on. Let's make some coffee. Then I'll head down stairs to get us all some breakfast. I'm hungry myself."
"There's a pot already made. I was up earlier. Where's Kung Fu Man?"
I turned into the kitchen, smiling. "He went to see a man about a horse."
His sigh, dramatic and underscored with exasperation, caused me to grin further as he grabbed his used cup from the sink. "And you wonder why we all think you're weird."
I smirked wryly and filled our cups. Ben pulled the ice cream from the freezer then stopped to look for my reaction. His lips pursed; an expectant pause filled the silence.
"I think I need to work in a run to the store today. We're gonna need more ice cream."
I could see the relief in him. It was palpable and I sensed in him a reluctant hope that he could be happy here. The simple act of accepting him as he was, demonstrated through my desire to get him more ice cream, seemed to go farther toward building his trust in us than all of our promises to him combined.
Ben's face beamed. He grabbed his used spoon from the sink and placed a heaping spoonful of the frozen cream into his mug.
"Hey, Ben? Thanks for putting your mug in the sink when you were finished earlier. I appreciate it."
He nodded and I watched as his brief surge of unguarded contentment dimmed slightly. "My mom was always after me to do that."
"Where is she, your mom?"
"She's dead." His shrug and pointed glance told me he didn't want to talk about it.
I reached up and swept a lock of his hair behind his ear. His eyes searched mine intently.
"That's twice you done that."
I continued to look at him. "Does that bother you?"
He shrugged. "She used to do that."
"Does it bother you that I do it? My mom did it too. I'll stop if it does. I don't mean anything by it."
"I know you don't. It's ... cool." His contentment welled again, softer this time, though still noticeable. I could feel it. "Where is your mom?"
"Oh, Ben, she died almost thirty years ago when I was just a year younger than you are now."
"And what about your dad? Is he dead too?"
"No, but it wouldn't matter to me if he was. We've spoken maybe five times in the last twenty years." His brows rose in surprise. "It's okay, bud. I still have great memories of him and me when I was a kid. The greatest was sitting on his lap and talking about our days, but after mom died, he just closed up. About the only time I speak with him now is when he needs money for some other get-rich scheme."
He nodded at my explanation.
I leaned against the counter and sipped my coffee. Ben stirred his cup and sipped it gingerly as he leaned next to me. The silence between us was comfortable. But in moments, the image of their too-thin bodies filled my thoughts again. I was certain that Joel knew of a good pediatrician and made a mental note to get the boys checked out. I glanced at Ben from the side and added haircuts to the list, or at least the offer of one. And I needed to take the others to get some decent clothes and shoes and underwear today. And tooth brushes.
My thoughts leapt forward, spinning wildly.
'And what about all the legal stuff? What if one of them gets hurt?' I thought. 'Technically, neither of us has any rights to authorize medical treatment. And why wouldn't Mao talk? Plus, what would the courts or social services say about pulling six teenagers off the streets with us only knowing their first names? What if one of them was wanted by the law? What then?'
I stood up quickly and set my cup on the counter. My panicked musings slowed with the movement. Ben's question distracted me further.
"Can I go with you to get the food? And what about Mikey? Don't we need to feed him?"
"Sure you can come with me. I could use the help. Joel's taking care of Mikey this morning so why don't you jump in the shower and get dressed then meet me downstairs? The restaurant is around the corner from Joel's elevator. As you know, you won't need the code to head down. I'll give it to you later. How's that sound?"
"Good. Why don't you use Joel's shower instead of yours so you don't wake up your boys."
He grinned. "Nothing wakes them up when they're whacked out, dude. But sure I'll use Joel's." He turned to leave the kitchen, then paused and turned back to me. "You dudes aren't really hitched, are you?"
His question startled me. "No. Why do you ask?"
"Cause I see your rings and all, but you keep referring to everything as Joel's, but he keeps calling everything both of yours. Is that why you're not ... you know, married? Don't you want it?"
I was floored by his questions and line of thought. But I didn't want to, nor could I deal with it right now. My mind was full of other stuff that needed handling.
"Ben," I said, giving him a half smile, "it's not that I don't want to answer your questions, but I don't really know if I have a full answer yet. Can I get back to you on that?"
"Whatever, dude. I'm going to the shower."
"Okay. See you downstairs."
Sudden, overwhelming anxiety slammed into me as my whirling thoughts propelled me towards the door. I dialed Joel's phone as the elevator opened. The call went straight to voice mail, which meant he was on two calls at once with my call coming in third. My message was short. "Call me."
Interrupting my thoughts, Hank returned from the kitchen and grabbed an empty coffee cup then brought the pot to my place at the bar. He refilled mine and poured a half cup for himself.
"So what do you need so much food for? Have a few hungry guests?"
I snorted at the understatement.
Over the next few minutes, I told Hank of our weekend beginning with Friday night. A couple of times his eyes grew wide or he let out a low whistle, but didn't interrupt. Finally, he swallowed the last of his coffee, the slow shake of his head conveying his thoughts.
"You two don't do anything on a small scale, do you?"
The urge to grin and make light of what he was implying was strong, but his words hit too close to home. I rubbed my face, trying to smooth out the doubts that I knew he saw there. He stared at me. I arched my brows once, but didn't respond.
"You're thinking 'What the hell happened?', right? And you're also thinking 'I'm not sure I signed up for all of this'. Stop me if I'm wrong, buddy."
I clenched my jaw reflexively, but remained silent.
"And I can hear in your words that in many ways, you feel as deeply about helping these kids as Joel does so you feel guilty about the first two points. But the thing that I think is at the core of what's really upsetting you is ... and I could be way off base here, but I think you're feeling the effect of moving around for the past month in Joel's shadow and not feeling like you're in control."
I immediately felt the sting of truth in his last statement. My face burned. I wanted badly for it not to be true -- but it was. I couldn't deny it.
"That about sums it up," I said quietly. I downed the last of my coffee and he quickly refilled it. "Damn, Hank. You're pretty good at this bartender psychoanalyst shit." I let myself grin wryly and dropped my gaze. "A month ago, I was at the top of my game, calling my own shots and now ..."
"Now you're playing in the All-Stars and are feeling like a rookie. Plus the team just grew by another six players who need a hell of a lot of coaching and they're looking to you for whatever it is they need." He reached across the bar and gave my shoulder a firm squeeze. "Sorry about the sports analogy, but it fits pretty well in this situation. Look, Blair, Joel is a major power player, you know this."
I nodded, but kept my mouth shut.
"I've waited on him during some of his business dinners and some of the things I'd hear him say left my head spinning with their breadth and scope. He's one of those guys that is always 'on', always in play. You're not one of those guys and I'm glad for it. But you gotta realize something here. The 'Joel types', the major players, never sync up or link up with other power players. It'd be too much of everything. They link up with people like yourself that round them out with your stability. You complete them. And I think that's why Joel fell for you so quickly and so completely ... and so obviously in disregard of the fact that you're a man. You two make a perfect combination on all kinds of levels. So you need to just lay this all out for Joel to see and I know you'll find a balance point in all of this. You don't have to capitulate or give in, Blair."
I stared at him as his words yanked me back over twenty years. I don't often capitulate. It's not in my nature, at least my normal nature which has seemed to become more blurred as I continue motoring through my days with Joel. I'm not complaining. Just … unsettled and definitely in unfamiliar territory, kind of like an explorer walking on new land after a long voyage. It's not often that I've felt like this – unsettled, at the mercy of the turbulent seas of desire and satiation and simultaneously feeling more alive and engaged than I knew possible. I'm fighting a tiller with it course previously programmed as if it knows my destination while I remain enmeshed in the overwhelming pulse brought by the waves, the winds, and Joel's outrageous sensuality. God, I love this! I think. There was a time when I was around nineteen or twenty that the same unsettled and tantalizing knowing desire I had now for Joel ate me up and spit me out.
I attended under grad school at UCLA taking a double major in business and finance. It ruled my life for three years, but early graduation was worth it. At least I'm able to say that my five years in Southern Cal weren't a complete waste even though I hated the first two that I spent as a junior and senior in high school. The students were so fake. Thanks a lot, dad, you prick. The people Dad worked with were the worst and he fit right in. Mom had been gone for almost five years at that point and he never mentioned her and wouldn't let me, so I was very much alone. Growing up in Chicago, you get a bearing on how to interact with people on a real and solid basis. It takes the every day aspects of life and gives them meaning, adds depth to your inner workings. At the time, I felt like the people in Los Angeles and Southern Cal as a rule were incapable of depth. It's like they had something missing, something they weren't consciously aware of, and so they filled their need for that something with 'the show' or the pursuit of looking pretty or the subjugation of others. I don't feel as strongly about it now, but that was my opinion in the late seventies and early eighties having come from the Midwest. The weather was great, sure, but it wasn't worth the cost of leaving everything I knew and becoming something I wasn't. In the end, it all just pissed me off.
During the first summer session two years into my undergrad studies, a guy who went by his last named of Baxter and was a doctoral candidate in economics, suggested we audit a three day, sixteen hour course at USF titled "Macro-economics and Its Role in Mergers and Acquisitions". We'd met through his girlfriend and become acquaintances bordering on friends. The thought of a long weekend out of L.A.'s miasma of smog, heat and charades escaping into the cooler sophistications of the city by the bay meant the same to me as a three day-long conjugal visit would to an inmate or the time spent by a runaway teen after breaking into a comfortable home full of food before having to head back to the streets come Monday because the owners were returning from their vacation. I wanted a break from the grind and to fill myself up with something more substantive than L.A.
We headed up early Thursday morning and after the midday's introductory session headed to find some food and check out the scene, all the while talking non-stop about our excitement over the day’s session content. By nine o'clock we were both tired and a little drunk, me being a relative novice drinker, and returned to the campus housing provided for session attendees. I stripped down to my underwear and fell back onto my bed wanting nothing more than to pass out. Then next thing I knew, a hand mashed my crotch. My eyes flew open as I tried to sit up, but Baxter pressed me firmly back to the mattress calling me a cocktease and assuring me that before the night was over, I’d know where all my teasing had led me. I couldn’t fathom what he was talking about. At that point in my life, I’d screwed only two girls, received one blowjob in my junior year from the high school fag and given one to a jerk cousin of a friend of mine, but my head spun wildly from the alcohol and my senses reeled from the contact of some other hand on my privates. When I struggled against the restraint of his hand, he informed me that I was going nowhere and ripped my bikini briefs from my body with a forceful yank and swallowed my soft cock whole. The action had an immediate paralytic effect and I stopped struggling, yielding to the virtually forgotten sensations that I’d denied myself during the two previous, solely-studies focused years of higher education. The blowjob was followed by his tongue in my butt which was followed by his fingers which was followed by my ultimate deflowering. By the time I passed out somewhere around 5:00 with one final watery load down my throat and three more in my butt and having given up three of my own, the northern California skies were lightening and I’d been devoured by desires that eight hours previously were inconceivable.
Two hours later I was pulled from a deep unconscious stupor by one hand shaking my shoulder and another compressing my overly tender and utterly drained balls in a vise-like grip.
“Get up, slut.” A gravelly voice I’d come to know in the deepest recesses of my psyche cleared my fogged mind. He stood over me smirking, his eyes holding the leer I’d recognized as coming from what I’d termed during my sexual awakening as the alter-Baxter. My friend, associate, fellow comrade in pursuit of scholastic excellence was missing. He dropped something on my chest telling me to eat it and be ready to shower after he finished with his own.
Dazed, I complied. It was a granola bar loaded with chocolate chips and covered with some kind of syrup. As I lay there eating mechanically, my awakening senses registered a deep, dull ache in my butt and tears filled my eyes. Memories from the night like micro-short films flashed in five-second blasts. A war raged between my id and my ego – one saying that I was no longer a man, that I’d never be a whole man again and another conversely saying that I finally knew what it meant to embrace my own maleness. Baxter’s Hyde-like transformation confounded me from a third front. He was straight. He had a girlfriend who was all he talked about since she’d left for summer break. I’d never felt the slightest attraction for or from him.
He was silent during our passing as he exited and I entered the bathroom with the exception of pointing out the correlation between his loads dripping down my inner thighs and the tears running down my face. When I exited the bathroom, he was dressed and the old Baxter had returned.
This became our pattern for the length of our stay at USF. We’d attend classes which were passionately discussed afterwards over food and then he’d announce, as if we’d finished one course and started another, that it was time to unleash the slut. The first time he said it the evening after our initial night, I just stared at him. His voice, as he explained my inevitable capitulation, held the patient timbre of a tenured professor speaking to a bright and promising yet wayward pupil. He said that I was the most dedicated and focused undergraduate he’d encountered in his eight years of higher education, but that I had no balancing personal activities to temper my drive for academic excellence. I rarely drank or socialized and seldom left the campus or revealed anything about my personal life. He said that by submitting to the desires I now knew I had deep within me and by relinquishing control to him each night or when it suited him my academic performance would skyrocket. Blurry-eyed from two hours of sleep and the sheer intensity of the thirty-six hours since we’d left L.A., I didn’t resist as he pulled me from my chair and onto my knees pressing my face into his crotch.
That was my life from the point of our return to LA and throughout the remaining two months of summer session. Baxter seemed to be in control of the tiller, control of our destination -- control of our waking moments. He challenged me academically to an extent I’ve never been able to replicate, but he also opened a chasm deep into my desires which haunted me for years after as he pushed me physically with ceaseless, all night sex then forcing me to class after minimal sleep with the insistence that I eat right to keep my body balanced. I should have bought stock in the granola bars or Powerbars as he called them.
The madness ended the day before his doctoral commencement when his girlfriend returned to campus early and walked in on us at my place during a mid-afternoon slut session -- his term for our sex activities, not mine. It seemed another friend told her that we were always buried away in my dorm room. At her appearance, he simply removed his cock from my ass and without a single word, left. Initially, I was lost when he disappeared from my life; rudderless, dejected, raw. He’d controlled every aspect of those months and I’d allowed it because he appeared to me almost heroic in stature in my mind and certain in everything he said or did -- or made me think or do. I was nineteen, a few months shy of my twentieth birthday and he was twenty-six; experienced, and a man with the world at his feet ready to be conquered.
It wasn’t until ten days later, throughout which I’d hidden in my room for the interim between summer and fall session crushed by my desires and submission the reality of his absence made me see, that a knock on my door demanded an answer. Whoever was knocking refused to accept that I wasn’t inside. Once answered, Baxter stood in the open doorway taking in my dejection and depression and slowly shaking his head.
“It was only a game, a summer adventure on the wild side. I thought you knew that, Blair.”
I stared at him as his words reverberated into my core. The smirk in his eyes and the slight incredulous upraise of his lip brought a clarity to surface through my fog of pain. And along with the clarity came a saber-sharp anger. Before he could react, my fist slammed into his gut with the force of an avenging warrior. He doubled over; shock, surprise and pain in equal proportions on his face. I countered the punch with an undercut to his jaw and he flew backward landing on his ass in the hall semi-conscious. I pulled him up by his hair and dragged him through my room and into the toilet where I shoved his head into the bowl until he regained a sputtering awareness.
“No way are you going to remain unconscious for this, asshole.”
His incoherent mumbling increased as I pulled him to the middle of the dorm room and wrenched his shorts to his knees prior to slamming my cock balls-deep in his ass.
It wasn’t until many hours later that his sobbing plea to spare his anal virginity rose from memory to conscious thought. When it did, I felt no guilt. Instead, I renewed my vow for the hundredth time since I’d dumped his naked and sexually spent body into the hallway, still shaking in the aftermath of a spontaneous orgasm that I would never submit to anyone ever again.
It would be twelve years before I allowed another man to top me and that was after we’d been in a relationship for close to a year. It ended shortly after when I relocated to Denver from Chicago. I finally got over my aversion to being topped, but another ten years would pass until I’d meet Joel and the chasm to my deepest desires would finally open again casting me into the seas and their turbulence. Am I submitting to Joel? Absolutely physically, but then he submits to me in return. But what about the deeper submission that borders on ultimate capitulation? My heart and my body are already his, but what about my mind, what about me? I don’t know if there are enough Powerbars in the world to balance me with the force known as Joel Summers.
'Stunned' was an inadequate word to try and describe what I was feeling after listening to Hank and recalling the deep memories his words called up. On the one hand, his words contained a real truth -- one that I was comfortable with. And on the other hand, his words held a decision for me to make. Now that Hank had so effectively stopped my turbulent thoughts, I knew there was really no other decision that I could make -- that I wanted to make -- than to embrace my power-player hero with both arms and a full heart. And that embrace included Ben and the rest of the boys.
My smile rewrote the scowl on my face and in my heart. The dark thoughts softened, replaced with a feeling of adventure and promise. I wanted to see Joel now desperately. He had become my Powerbar.
"Well, that smile tells me that all my bullshit rambling must have hit on something that made some sense."
"Oh yeah, my friend," I sighed as relief etched my voice. "I was wrong earlier when I said you were pretty good at this analysis stuff. You're incredible. How'd you know or ... see all of that?"
Hank shrugged, then looked up and waved as a regular customer entered. "Guess I'm still in the zone, bud. I broke it off with Natalie on Friday and spent the weekend looking at myself pretty honestly."
"Oh, man. I'm sorry to hear that. What happened?"
"We just weren't compatible. Not even close to how compatible you and Joel are. She wanted to party every night and I'm cool if I do it once a week. Plus my family hated her." He laughed. "That's what I get for having a penchant of dating pretty, white chicks with blonde hair."
I laughed with him. "She was fine looking, Hank. I'll give you that."
He turned to the new customer and I watched him welcome the guy with a funny comment. 'Hank was something else!' I thought. He always had his shit together.
I saw Ben standing on the stairs leading into the restaurant. My grin and wave brought a returned grin. He looked different somehow and it took me a second to realize that he was wearing his new 501 jeans. They made a drastic change in his appearance. Instead of his preferred, form-hiding and baggy cargo pants, his long, slender form was now displayed to his benefit. He could get any girl or boy he wanted wearing those jeans. I grinned at the thought as he slid into the seat next to me. The scent of his freshly washed hair surrounded me It was still somewhat damp and tucked behind his ears.
"How was the shower?"
"Great! Man, it kicked ass! I thought the one in our bathroom was cool, but that one was the best!"
I chuckled at his youthful exuberance as he continued.
"I think the rest of my boys were heading in to try it out as I left."
"Oh? They're awake, huh? I thought you said they were whacked out?"
He tipped his head in agreement. "I think Cody heard us in the hall and woke the others up."
"Oh." I replied. "So they heard my little breakdown." I wasn't sure why that embarrassed me, but my face flushed with heat. "Did they say anything about it?"
Ben turned toward me and grinned. "They think you rock, dude."
I smiled at his words. "Yeah?"
'Well, that helps," I smirked to myself then pointed to his jeans. "You know, you look great in those jeans, by the way."
He tried to hide his smile. "They all wanted to wear something clean, so they have on the other pants you bought me. Even Timmy. He's too small for the pants, but the sweat pants have a string, so he was going to cinch them up tight."
It amazed me how easily the boys shared seemingly everything. Last night as they converged on the pizzas, Cleats put two big slices of pizza on a plate and handed it to Cody. Then he did the same for Mao. Later during the movie, Chris moved to the floor next to Timmy, who automatically, and without being asked, gave him one of the two pillows he was cuddling. Joel and I shared a surprised smile at the sight. I knew that they would in time, fight about what to watch on the television or get pissed about another's channel surfing, but they were all undoubtedly tied together by their circumstances -- a great love and acceptance having grown between them. And it showed.
"They're your boys, huh?"
"Yeah." Obviously proud, his response also held a slight bit of embarrassment over my unvoiced, but apparent, approval.
"Well, on our agenda today is getting your boys to the mall for some new clothes of their own. Especially one's that'll fit Chris and Timmy."
Wonder and a little astonishment looked back at me from his bright, blue eyes. Whatever thought lay behind the incredulity that I saw there remained his own as his gaze dropped mine to study the bar top.
"You want some coffee?"
A small raise of his shoulder began his response. "You buying? I don't have any cash. I gotta get a job, man."
God! I felt a wrench twist my heart. I knew intuitively that he was being serious. I reached into my pocket and pulled out my wallet, then handed him two twenty dollar bills. His eyes grew large as he looked up from the money to me.
"You can look around for something that'll earn you some cash later, after you are really settled. I gave Cody that money on Saturday and I'm sure he spread it around with the others. I should have thought about you at the same time. Sorry." I held up my coffee cup towards Hank and he nodded in response. "Just put it in your pocket. You don't need it here, remember? The coffee and any food you want are on the house, all right?"
"You do rock, Blair. Thanks, man." He tucked the bills into his jeans pocket as Hank approached.
"You Ben?" Hank asked extending his hand. Ben took it and nodded.
"You Hank?" He returned.
I grinned. After everything, his seemingly indomitable personality continued to shine through all of the crap he'd experienced.
Hank nodded once and then looked at us together. "Man, I'd think that you two were of the same blood if I didn't know any better. Same eyes, same hair, same chin. But sorry, Blair," his eyes twinkled, 'the kid's got you beat in the looks department. No contest! The chicks have got to be all over him."
Ben beamed while my lips smacked together drolly.
"Shut it, Hank and just pour us some coffee, would ya? Oh, and cutie here takes cream and sugar, unless you've got a spoonful of ice cream handy."
Ben blushed and shook his head. "I'll take it black."
I looked at him sideways. "Since when?"
"Since now. Who needs all that crap in it anyways?"
I shrugged as he finished his explanation. I did a poor job of hiding my twisted grin.
"Well then, I don't have to get any milk or ice cream when I go to the store later, huh?"
Ben's nod conveyed tolerance similar to that displayed by a parent to his wayward child. "Yeah, not if you don't want to, I guess. But Cleats and Mau like milk in their coffee, Mau especially. The others don't drink it. Chris says it'll stunt our growth and Cody just don't like it. Timmy only likes the smell. But as far as the ice cream goes ...."
I grinned at his patient, playful tone. Hank shook his head, confused with all the names. "Well, then, black it is, if you're sure."
Ben nodded again, refusing to look at me. Hank filled both cups and put a splash in his own then turned to me.
"Your feast will be ready in another couple of minutes."
My cell phone buzzed on my hip as I tipped my head in thanks to him. The caller ID flashed Joel's name. I grinned and as I went to open it, I heard Ben chuckle.
"It's the man, isn't it? You got that goofy look on your face again."
Laughing, I handed the phone to Ben and nodded at his surprised look. He grinned.
"Hey, Kung Fu Man. This is Blair's personal secretary. What up?"
I heard Joel's laughter ring in Ben's ear from the handset. I sipped my coffee and I listened to Ben excitedly tell Joel about his morning shower experience and that he thought that his restaurant was 'rad' and that Hank seemed like an all right dude. I watched Ben sip his coffee and wince slightly, then take another sip. Ben asked Joel where he was and shared that I'd told him something 'wiggly' about Joel checking out a horse. He listened for a bit then I heard Ben ask why he was going 'there'. I watched as he listened again silently. Ben glanced at me once and nodded into the phone.
"Sure, Fu Man. I'll get 'em to give it all to Blair. I don't know about Mao though, man. He don't even talk to us. Uh-huh. Okay, here's Blair."
I took the phone as I watched Hank wheel out a cart loaded with food. In addition to what I'd ordered, there was a bowl of prepared fruit and seemingly an entire loaf of buttered toast and a basket of assorted jams and marmalades. Ben's eyes grew wide as he looked from the cart to me. I grinned and lifted my eyebrows in anticipation.
"Hi, babe. How'd it go with Paul?"
"Good. Are you okay?" The anxiety in Joel's voice clearly transmitted itself over the airwaves. I realized that he had heard the considerable upset in my voice from my earlier message. I winced, suddenly hating the thought of causing him worry. I turned in my seat in an attempt to prevent Ben from hearing my side of the conversation.
"Yeah, babe. Sorry about that message earlier," I said softly. "I got a little bit overwhelmed with everything and then I lost it in the hallway outside of the boy's room when I saw how thin and emaciated they all looked. But Hank helped me with the overwhelm bit and Ben did his best to tell me not to worry."
"I'm sorry I wasn't there. I should have noticed something was upsetting you, but I just dashed out to meet Paul. I'm sorry."
"It's okay, Joel. Let's just have a little debrief session when you get back. Where are you heading now?"
"To the courthouse. I'm meeting a buddy of mine -- a judge -- who's agreed to give me temporary guardianship of the boys in case something happens to them medically. I want to try and keep social services out of our hair for a while -- hopefully, long enough to get your house set up and the boys moved in. But he wants to talk to me in person and he has a few free minutes now before he goes into session. I left Paul at your house. Mikey's fine by the way. He even let me hold him."
I grinned at the thought of my traitorous cat, along with the memory of Hank's words assuring me that, together, Joel and I would figure everything out. I turned back around in my seat.
"That sounds great, Joel and good luck with your friend. I feel a lot better just hearing that." I glanced at Hank as he waived Ben over to the cart, which sat waiting on the opposite side of the bar. "The foods ready so we're gonna get it up to the guys. Then once we eat, I was going to run to the store for some food for later. The restaurant's fine, but not for constantly feeding six teenagers."
"I can have Rob find a personal shopper that could probably be over there in a couple of hours, you know."
I grinned. "No. I'll do it. Thanks. I wanna get it done now so that I can get the guys to the mall for some clothes. They basically have nothing so Ben let them wear his new stuff."
I heard a pause on the other end of the line. "I'll take them clothes shopping, babe. It'll give me a chance to spend some time with them. Besides, you've been handling everything with them while I've been jumping around taking care of other things. How's that sound?"
It sounded wonderful. It wasn't as though I needed to be alone, nor that I needed down time. But I'd gone from our new life together, to the past forty-eight hours or more totally focused on Ben and then on the other boys. I required a little adjustment in my own rhythms. "Joel, it sounds great, actually. And I know they'd love that. I'll see you then in 30 minutes or so, yes?"
"You got it. I love you."
"Right back at you, stud."
The guys were in their room, laughing when we arrived back at the apartment. They quickly joined us in the kitchen and piled their plates with food. All of them except Mao and Chris groaned when I insisted they eat some fruit with their breakfast. The first thing Mao grabbed was a banana, followed quickly by a heaping spoonful of the fresh-cut fruit salad. The boys moved to the small table that seated six outside of the kitchen and I pulled up to the breakfast bar next to them.
"Did you all sleep okay?"
Heads bobbed enthusiastically; mouths full. Cody swallowed quickly. "It was so warm, dude!"
Cleats nodded again, but continued eating.
"I liked it." Timmy grinned.
"Yeah, but you kept hogging my pillow, squirt." Chris said. "What was wrong with your own?"
"Cleats kept trying to hump me in his sleep. I had to put it between me and him."
Ben and Cody laughed as Cleats shook his head. Mau and Chris grinned.
"Aw, man. You know I didn't mean nothing, Little T. I just gotta find me a lady." He shrugged then stuffed another sausage into his mouth.
Cody smirked. "So Blair? Did you get a look at Cleats' morning wood? It's there every day, man. You can't miss it."
I blushed slightly and nodded. "Yeah, I saw it. Which reminds me, you guys should probably keep your door pulled shut for modesty's sake."
I watched as his eyes locked on the others. A brief, anxious look passed between them. I wondered if my original thought about them automatically assuring they have an escape route was actually closer to the point than I'd initially thought. "Is that a problem? Do you want the door open for some reason?"
"Uh, yeah. We don't care if you see us, Blair," Chris said with a wink. "But the door being open works for us, if that's all right with you guys."
"Yeah," Cody grinned. "Besides, Bone's afraid of the dark."
Ben blushed. "I am not, asshole." A quick punch to Cody's shoulder brought a few giggles from the boys.
"So, why do you call him Bone, Cody?"
Ben's blush deepened instantly while Cody's eyes lit up with mischief.
"You've obviously not seen him in the skin, man. Shit. Even his boxers can't hide his huge dick. It puts Cleats' monster to shame."
The boys all grinned knowingly at each other and Cleats bobbed his head up and down repeatedly. Ben looked into his plate as embarrassment flooded his face. I blushed myself as the memory of my brief, lingering glance at the bulge in Ben's shorts this morning jumped to my mind.
Cody grinned widely while Chris mumbled a quiet 'oh, yeah'.
Ben grabbed his glass of orange juice. A deep scowl creased his brows. "Would you guys stop talking about my dick all the time? I know you fags can't help dreaming of it and all, but give it up already. You ain't gettin' it."
Cody and Chris laughed. I watched their interplay and couldn't help grinning myself.
"That's right, Ben," I chuckled. "Stand firm. You know us fags."
Laughter erupted and Ben glared at me. "I didn't mean nothing by it," he mumbled.
"I know, bud. Just teasing." I gave him a wink and a smile. He tipped his head up towards me once.
"You sure are sensitive this morning, Bone." Cody tapped his fork against Ben's.
"It's just a dick."
"Yeah, right. A dick that makes me swoon!" Cody grabbed his chest and fell to the floor moaning. "Be still my heart! Or my dick!"
Again, laughter spilled from the table as Cody squirmed on the floor, one hand remaining over his heart while his other hand grabbed his crotch. I grinned and shook my head. The laughter and deep feelings of friendship that I felt between the boys caused a shiver to run down my spine. I loved seeing them laughing and happy. I didn't hear the door close as Joel entered the apartment.
"Hey guys," Joel called as he entered the room, "what's so funny?"
"Whazzup, man?" Cleats laughed. I turned to Joel and blew him a discreet kiss. He winked at me in return and looked at Cody as he squirmed around on the floor. He grinned.
"What did I miss?"
"You didn't miss nothin', Fu Man. Just Cody being stupid." Ben stabbed at another bunch of food with his fork and brought it to his mouth.
Cody sat up and grinned. "Stupid in love with your hog."
Ben rolled his eyes, but remained quiet.
"Okay, guys. That's enough about Ben's endowment. Who wants some more juice or food?"
Timmy stood up with his plate. "I do."
"Well, help yourself, kiddo. You know where it is."
Joel touched my shoulder gently and I felt a current run through me as it always did when we made contact with each other. He smiled knowingly.
"Did you save any for me? I've been running since I left."
I nodded and motioned towards the stool next to me. "Have a seat, Love. I'll get you a plate."
Joel moved to sit down as Cleats snorted.
"Aw. So sweet."
Chris sent a pointed look towards Cleats. I smirked; chuckling inside at the way Chris tried to keep Cleats from his natural tendency to want to razz us.
Joel noticed too, but ignored it. "You guys look pretty sharp; all cleaned up and decked out in Ben's new duds. What say we head to the mall when it opens and get you some clothes of your own and ones that fit ya right?" Joel winked at Chris.
"No shit?" Chris asked seriously. His face filled instantly with shock.
"No shit," Joel replied. "You all may be pretty thin, but c'mon Chris, I can see the waistband of those cargo pants cutting into your gut even with the t-shirt hiding it. Besides, Ben might want his underwear back sometime soon."
"You're really going to buy us clothes too, like you did Ben?" Cody asked.
Joel nodded. "Why wouldn't we? You all need them, don't you? I also thought we'd stop at a salon a friend of mine owns and see about getting you guys a haircut or a trim if you are up for it. They don't open for business until ten and she said that we could come in early before the rest of the clients show up."
The boys were quiet for a moment then I saw Cleats look at Ben privately. He turned towards Joel. "That's cool, man, but ... why you doing this? You don't know us and you don't owe us anything, so why you doing this? I know you're rich and all, but Ben says you got a daughter somewhere. Why ain't she here?"
I looked up and paused as I filled Joel's plate. I watched as Joel nodded slowly. He then rubbed his face thoughtfully. My heart lurched in pain for him.
Joel looked pointedly at Cleats and then scanned the faces of each of the other boys.
"I'm doing this because I want to. We both are. We want to help you guys have a chance to make it. And yes, I have some money and so does Blair. And that makes it easier to help you, sure -- if you'll let us. And about my daughter," he turned towards me and sighed gently, painfully. Our eyes locked briefly. He knew I loved him then turned to the boys. "Megan died seven, almost eight, weeks ago from Leukemia. She was twelve, going on thirteen. Probably about your age, Timmy. And I love her and miss her horribly and all my money couldn't save her."
I watched as his jaws clenched fiercely. He swallowed once and took a sip from my coffee cup.
"But then Ben decided to introduce himself to us and in the end, my heart went out to him, to all of you. I thought that maybe my money could help you guys, where it couldn't help Megan. So I hope ... we hope," he said as I set his plate on the breakfast bar and he put his arm around my waist, "that you'll accept our help and our friendship. We don't want anything from you boys, you young men, other than to see you be happy and healthy kids again. You know ... have a chance to grow up without having to battle each day on the streets to survive."
I gave Joel's shoulder a squeeze. The boys sat quietly. Ben and Chris looked at Joel with intense looks. The rest looked at their plates. Ben's eyes watered slightly.
"Sorry, man." Cleats mumbled.
"Thanks, Cleats." Joel smiled brightly. "So, anyway, I hope that answers your question. Now I can see there's still a lot of food in there. You guys can't be done, right?"
Cody grinned at Joel and I winked at Ben who grinned back at me in return. Mao stood up and gave Joel a quick smile.
"C'mon, fill up your plates again. Blair says you're all too thin. Then we can go get some haircuts and some clothes. And just so you know, you don't have to get your hair cut if you don’t want to."
The boys took their plates into the kitchen while Timmy continued with his second helping. Ben stopped next to us and placed his hand on Joel's knee.
"I'm sorry about Megan, Fu Man. That really sucks." His voice was low and serious.
Joel's eyes watered and he blinked twice rapidly. He squeezed Ben's hand.
"Thanks, Ben." He smiled. "Now go get some more food."
I felt Joel hug me once more and then I joined him at the bar.
Once the boys returned and finished eating, Joel pulled an extra chair up to the corner of the table between Chris and Cleats.
"This morning, I met with a judge about getting temporary medical guardianship of you guys. Did Ben tell you?"
Five heads quickly turned towards Joel. I saw Ben wince.
"I forgot, Joel. Sorry."
Joel grinned warmly at him. "No problem, kid."
"Why?" Timmy asked, a brief flash of fear shaded his eyes.
"Well, I know this is all happening very quickly guys, but I'd hate it if there was an accident or something where you were hurt and Blair, nor I, could do anything to help because we aren't legally connected. The legal system is pretty adamant about a lot of stuff like that. I told my friend the judge, about everything that happened this weekend and that you'd all come over here voluntarily. I also told him about our plans to fix up Blair's house and how our friend Bill has agreed to help with running the place. I know you'll like him. He spent the last six months with Megan. He's really incredible. But anyway, the judge said he would grant me temporary custody of you guys for 30 days without bringing in Social Services."
At the mention of Social Services, Timmy started to cry and Cody shot to his feet. Mau grabbed Timmy and held him close.
"Why them? I ain't fuckin' going in no home and neither is Timmy. None of us are."
"Hold on, Cody. No one is going into a foster home. Okay? But I had to go to the judge because it's on record that I signed Ben out of jail Friday night. He's a minor. You're all minors in the eyes of the law. I couldn't prevent them from notifying Social Services on Saturday about Ben, even though I tried. And I needed to get a little protection of the courts so that Ben and possibly the rest of you aren't yanked out of here and thrown into the system."
He looked around at each boy. "I have some pull in this city and the judge gave me an extra two weeks on top of the normal time to get things set up, but he wants to meet you and see if this is something you want before he signs the papers."
"Why can't we stay here?" Cleats asked.
I saw Ben's eyes dart to me and he turned his head slightly in question. His eyes bore into mine as I offered him a tight smile.
"Yeah," began Ben, his eyes remained locked onto mine. "We'll clean up after ourselves and we won't cause any trouble."
"We just can't be around enough, bud." I said. "We work pretty long hours when we’re in Denver and on top of that, we need to go Chicago and Paris next week for business."
"We can take care of ourselves while you're gone."
Joel broke in. "But that's what we're trying to avoid, Ben -- you guys having to take care of yourselves. I'm not trying to be mean or unpleasant here, but please, you're just kids and you should have a place where you can be kids and not worry about having to cook your own meals or shop for your own food. We are not trying to take away your freedom, but rather give you a place where you can be together and safe and secure."
His gaze shifted to Cody. "Cody? I think by your reaction that you've had a taste of the foster home setting. Am I right?"
Cody nodded and dropped into his chair. "After I first got here, I got pulled in for truancy and spent four days at these fuckers' place. They just wanted me to be their slave. I booked. But Timmy spent a long time in one and put up with all the bullshit."
Joel nodded again and scanned the faces at the table. "That's why I want to get Blair's place set up for you guys ... so you don't have to go through all of that. Besides, a high-rise apartment isn't the best set-up for this. You need to be on the ground level with a yard and a place outside that isn't all concrete. Plus, Bill is incredible and I'm sure there will be rules, but realistic ones. Bill and I already talked about that. And, you'll all be together. You're already a family of sorts and I want to help keep you that way. The temporary guardianship is one way to make that happen."
"So you just going to try and dump us off with this Bill guy." Ben's face flushed with anger. He glared at me, refusing to drop his eyes from mine as Joel assured him that wasn't the case.
I leaned onto the tabletop and stretched my neck towards him. "That's not true, Ben. Please believe me. There are just too many nights when we can't be there for you. But, we'll be around so much that you'll get sick of us. I promise, Ben, and I keep my promises."
He dropped his eyes, his anger fading. I wanted to grab him into my arms and hug him tightly. The two of us had experienced a number of intense moments over the past few days and I knew my feelings for him were greater than what I felt for the other boys.
"Do you believe me, Ben? Bud?"
He looked up at me with a doleful expression. Then after a pause, he nodded. I looked at the other boys. "Do you believe what we're saying here, guys?"
They glanced at each other and gradually, gave us either nods or grunts. Timmy grabbed my forearm. "You won't let them take me again, will you?"
I ruffled his hair with my hand then grabbed the back of his neck gently. "Never, kiddo." I raised my head to the rest of them. "That goes for all of you. Please give our plan a chance."
There was silence around the table. Joel looked at each boy in turn. Chris finally spoke up.
"What do you need from us to make the judge happy?"
"Hey, Bud? Would you mind running to get another cart? I don't think we can get anything else into this one and we still haven't made it to the produce section yet."
Ben nodded and turned towards the front of the store. I frowned as I studied cereal boxes. My mind drifted from the choice of cereals to Ben's question of a few moments ago. My chest relaxed a bit now that the shock of his request had settled in. 'God. What was Joel going to think about this one?' I mused. 'The real question is, what do I think of it?'
His question had come out of nowhere as we piled numerous cans of soup into the cart. 'Will you be my guardian instead of Joel?'
I was speechless at first. My mind chased five different thoughts at once. I wondered if this had been the real reason for Ben wanting to go grocery shopping with me instead of going to the mall with Joel and the guys. I also wondered if he was still somewhat afraid of Joel and my thoughts jumped back to yesterday morning and his flinch when Joel stood up in surprise, wanting to assure Ben that he didn't desire him sexually. But the foremost question that struggled to the front of my thoughts was, 'Why me?'.
I'd responded with telling him that it might complicate things a bit and then asked him why he didn't want Joel to be his guardian along with the rest of the guys. He'd shrugged and said that he just didn't -- he wanted me. His face had instantly formed a scowl when I asked if he was still a little afraid of Joel, but he simply rolled his eyes at me and said in a voice full of bravado, 'Not even, dude'. His response and attitude at the time had brought a brief hint of a smile to my face, but now I felt more confusion. In the end, I'd told him that I would be glad to be his guardian as long as it didn't cause a problem for the other guys with the judge.
So why did I feel so confused? Why was I still frowning? So many incredible things were happening with and around both Joel and me. Sometimes I felt so happy that I almost felt guilty. A truly incredible man had literally walked into my life two months ago and loaded it with energy and zest and quiet, intense pleasure -- fulfilling me beyond imagination with possibilities made real. Now, an astounding occurrence had turned into an amazing and potentially life-altering reality. I mean ... six kids had entered our life in a dramatic way two and a half days ago, needing us, and we had an appointment in front of a judge in a few hours to make it legal ... at least for the next month. It was all so incredible, so right sounding. I didn't have any doubts about it. So then if everything was so right, so good ... why did I feel like I was about to lose something? And just what was it that I was about to lose anyway?
"Dude? You okay?"
I turned toward the voice, failing to realize that Ben had returned with an empty cart. My arm remained stretched in full reach grasping a cereal box as I looked at him blankly.
"You're freakin' me out, man. What's wrong?"
My mind shoved aside the questioning thoughts and my eyes focused on the blond youth before me. "What? I'm sorry, I was lost in thought."
"No shit, dude. You've been holding onto that box and staring off into space since I started down the aisle. Where'd you go?"
I chuckled to myself. "Don't know. I guess it happens at my advanced age."
"Yeah, you're old, but you're not an old timer yet." He grinned then nodded towards the cereal box I was holding. "That stuff sucks."
"Good!" I grinned. "It's horrible for you. Pick some out, would you?"
The four brands of cereal we ended up with were worse health-wise than the first one I chose. But he assured me the other guys would love them. We moved to the produce section and finally made it to the check out. He whistled lowly when the total rang up and shook his head, but remained silent otherwise.
Once home, we unloaded and put away the food and Ben had a sandwich and chips. I called Joel to see how the shopping excursion was progressing and he assured me that it had been years since he'd had as much fun spending money. He felt that they would still be another couple of hours, but that they would be home in time to change clothes for the appointment with the judge.
"Ben threw me a curve ball at the store."
"Yeah, kids can do that, Love. What was it?"
"He asked me to be his guardian instead of you and he wouldn't explain why."
"Are you okay with that?" He asked, his voice quiet with concern.
"Yeah, I am. Are you?"
"God, yes, Blair. I don't think Steven will have a problem either."
I nodded to his words. "Okay. Now I just want to understand why he wants me, but I don't think I'm gonna have much luck with that one."
Joel laughed. "Me neither, but don't worry about it. If he wants us to know, we will."
I needed a run and Ben agreed to join me. We made it to the park and as we circled around the lake, he suggested we check on Mikey. When we arrived, I was surprised to find that Paul was still there as well as the professional packers that were almost complete with boxing up my office. My head swam with the speed in which things were happening.
Paul's foreman had joined him and they were upstairs discussing the job. Ben played with Mikey while I spoke with Paul. His projected timeframe for completing the job stunned me. He was confident that by the end of the following week, Bill and the boys would be able to move in.
"Are you sure, Paul? How can that be? It's already Monday afternoon and you said that you wouldn't be able to pull the permits until Thursday. That leaves you a little over a week to do everything and the movers won't be here until sometime tomorrow."
His chuckle and grin made me feel like I didn't know the whole story. "I understand from Joel that the two of you have been together for a fairly short time, right?"
I nodded, wondering what that fact had to do with anything. "A little over a month."
"I've known and worked with Joel for over ten years. Each time that he has a project for me and my crew, he gets my full attention. And that's not because he's rich, but because he's an exceptional client and friend. Only once before over the past ten years has he said that he needed a job done yesterday and never before has he asked me to consider a job for him to be the most important thing on our schedule."
I saw blatant admiration and respect on Paul's face. Joel had told me that Paul was a good friend and a great contractor and I chuckled to myself as I realized that by now I should be used to the idea that people put out incredible effort for Joel because they wanted to. It had only a little bit to do with the fact that he was rich and it had everything to do with the fact that people loved him. My frown began to rise into a grin.
"So you're going to work a miracle, huh?"
Paul shrugged. "I don't know if it warrants 'miracle' status, but the movers will have the furniture out of here by nine tomorrow morning and we'll have the carpet ripped up and dust containment barriers in place by ten. I'm going to have four guys here in addition to my foreman and myself. We've just completed a list of supplies, fixtures and finishing items needed for my assistant to begin gathering. I'm not guaranteeing that the new bathroom on the third floor will be fully finished by next Friday, but Joel assured me that that wouldn't be a problem. The only tricky part will be installing the two new dormers in the roof. The weather might put us in a little bit of a bind. "
I shook my head slowly in amazement. "Well, Ben and I just ran over here and it's already well into the mid-50s temp-wise and the snow is almost gone. So, hopefully, this trend will continue."
"Yeah," Paul nodded. "This week looks pretty clear, but it's spring time in Colorado. Who really knows what's going to happen weather-wise."
I heard footstep on the steps behind us and saw Ben looking around the corner from the top of the stairs.
"Hey, Ben. This is the architect and contractor. His name is Paul."
They shook hands and I excused us and showed Ben the three upstairs bedrooms. His suddenly quiet mood surprised me. He said he didn't care which room was his and Cody's and that he figured that Timmy would want to be in with the two of them anyway. He nodded when I suggested that the three of them then take the master bedroom. He mumbled something about that Chris would like a room to himself since he was the oldest. Then he asked if we could go.
He was unusually quiet on the run back to the apartment and went into the media room when we arrived. Joel and the rest of the guys arrived soon after and Ben appeared to pull from his quiet mood. Excited and laughing, the boys began showing Ben the clothes and shoes Joel had bought them. He laughed at their story of how Joel failed miserably to get through the first level on some computer game and he looked towards Joel with a cocked eye and a sideways grin when Joel said that the boys assured him that Ben was the master of the game. But his expression exploded with excitement and awe when Joel pulled a new X-Box system from a bag along with the game. His excitement spread as I heard Cody and Cleats swear that Joel 'ruled'. The clothes, instantly forgotten, lay spread around the room as the younger boys began to set up the surprise gift.
Chris gathered his bags and again thanked Joel.
"You spent thousands and thousands of dollars on us, Joel. I can't believe it still."
Joel offered a smile and his hand to Chris, but it was ignored. Chris hugged Joel tightly and when he released him, I saw his eyes were filled with tears.
"I can't ... thank you enough, both of you," he said gesturing towards us with his hands. "I've been out there since October and while I hadn't given up yet," quiet tears rolled down his cheeks, "I ... didn't know how much more I could take." A shudder caught his voice.
His shoulders shook with emotion and after a quick glance towards Joel, we guided him from the media room and into the study across the hall. Chris dropped onto the couch and cried into his hands. We sat on either side of him as Joel hugged him tightly.
"You know," Chris began, wiping his nose on the back of his hand, "I just like sex and have since I could get it up. And I liked sex with my coach a lot! But I never, ever dreamed that it would all lead to this. He was such a great guy and now he's on probation for ten years and has a sex offender label that will be with him for the rest of his life for contributing to the delinquency of a minor. What bullshit. I seduced him! Now his life is ruined along with mine. He wasn't the bad guy, I was. He kept trying to get me to wait until I was eighteen, but I wouldn't listen. I had to have him."
His anger and pain and self-hate poured from him. Joel removed his arm and squeezed his shoulder. Chris swept his hair back with his hands and grimly shook his head. "And because I fucked up so badly, I've had to live off of what I could get first for my car, which was nothing, and then from strangers and ...." His voice dropped to a whisper. "And what I could get for my body."
Joel and I looked at each other over the top of Chris' bowed head. I closed my eyes as fear settled into my thoughts. "Chris? Have you always been safe with other guys?"
He turned and looked at me with his bloodshot eyes that confirmed my fears. "You know, I tried," he replied, dropping his eyes. "But you do the math. When the fuckers are waving an extra twenty in front of me, well ... fuck, it meant me and my boys could eat again."
"How often, Chris?" Joel asked.
He shrugged and sat back against the cushion. He sighed heavily. "I don't know, maybe ten or fifteen times."
"I need to know, Chris," I began, "did you engage in unprotected receptive anal intercourse?"
"What?" He asked with a confused look. "You mean did any guy fuck me without a rubber?"
He grunted and smirked. "Yeah. Three or four times. This one guy was always in a suit. He fucked me three times and I'm not really worried about him, but the first guy was total shit. He promised me a sleeping bag sometime around Christmas last year. He fucked me hard and after he got off in me, he started undressing and trying to say I needed to let him do it again if I wanted the bag. That was when I saw that his arms were fucking covered with track marks. I was so fucking scared all of a sudden. I punched him hard and grabbed the sleeping bag and ran for it."
Chris sat up again and rubbed his face anxiously. His sigh was heart wrenching. "Fuck!" He hissed.
"I take it you never got tested?"
He shook his head. "I went the next day, but they told me it was too soon to know and to come back in three months. I never went back."
"And that was the extent of the times you barebacked?"
He hung his head and sighed again. "Yeah, with strangers."
"What do you mean, Chris?" My heart began to beat fiercely as my mind instantly understood the implications in what he hadn't said.
Chris covered his face with his hands. "Cody's as much of a fuckin' horndog as I am and we got drunk one night a month or so ago and started going at it. He wanted me to fuck him and I knew I couldn't. So I figured it'd be pretty safe if he fucked me."
"Fuck, Chris," I moaned. "Barebacking isn't safe period. You gotta know that. You're a smart guy. I can see it in your eyes."
"I know, all right!" He flared. "Cody doesn't know if he's clean either, okay? Fuck. I know! But ... you know it's all just shit out there and I knew it wasn't going to end. Cody knew it too. So did Ben. The three of us knew that we were fucking going to be on the streets for good. No one would give us a job. Cleats, man ... he always has a plan and who the fuck knows about Mau. He still doesn't fucking talk to us after fucking two months. But Cody and me and Ben know what's real and ... and you just kind of give into all the shit. I was going to be the fucking Salutatorian of my goddamn class! I was the fucking class president, and now ...." His words tumbled into silence as tears flooded his eyes again.
I pulled the hair back that was hanging down in his face and tucked it behind his ear. Joel dropped to his knees in front of Chris as I continued to stroke his hair. Joel grabbed his hand and forced Chris to look at him.
"And now, what, Chris?" Joel asked tenderly.
Chris' body convulsed with new tears and pain. "And now it's just all for shit ... and I'm ready to fucking give up and then you guys come along and ..." his body convulsed with shame and pain. He launched into Joel's arms and released the sobs that he'd held back for so many months. My eyes overflowed as I saw this big, strong young man crying out all the pain and frustration and loss ... and god, such incredible shame at what he'd been forced to do just to survive.
Joel held him tightly to his chest as Chris cried out loud.
Joel's soft, soothing voice repeatedly whispered into Chris' ear. "It's okay, son. It's all going to be okay. You're safe now, son. We're not going to let anything happen to you again, okay? You're going to be all right."
Chris' sobs continued and Joel continued to comfort him. I heard the study door open and turned to see Ben standing in the doorway watching us. I waved him over and mouthed the words that Chris will be okay. Ben dropped to his knees next to Joel as his hand took the place of my own on Chris' head.
"Hey, Chrissy, it's all okay now, bro. We're all going to be okay now."
Chris lifted his head from Joel's shoulder. His tear stained face was wracked with pain. He moved partially from Joel's arms and placed his face next to Ben's. "I know," he said nodding, his voice still loaded with emotion. "I know, Bone. We're out of that shit somehow."
Ben's head nodded repeatedly as he pressed Chris' head tighter against his own. Chris pulled back from Ben and slid down against the couch on the floor. Joel sat back on his heels.
Chris cleared his throat. "I ... I ..." he swallowed once. "I'm so sorry to have lost it like that. It just was all too much." He sniffed loudly trying to clear his nose and Joel pulled a handkerchief from his pocket. Chris took it and blew his nose then wiped his face.
"I didn't believe that you guys were really for real. I just assumed you'd be wanting my ass and all the rest of theirs. But I figured it would get us out of that fucking falling down dump and I thought I could protect them by giving you my ass. I mean, hell, you guys are a couple of studs."
Ben snorted. "You’re so fucking easy, man."
Chris laughed as Joel and I grinned.
"Well, thanks for the compliment, Chris, but you just keep your ass to yourself for a while, all right?"
Chris nodded. "Yeah, I will ... and thanks."
Joel grinned. "We need to get everyone cleaned up to go see the judge. You still up for that, guys?"
Chris smiled widely, but Ben looked to the floor. Joel noticed. "Ben?
Ben raised his head to look at Joel. His eyes held worry and uncertainty.
"Ben, you just tell the judge what you want, okay. And don't worry about it screwing anything up, all right?"
Ben turned to me with a surprised smile and then turned back to Joel and nodded.
"I believe that each of you actually do realize the chance you are being given," the stern voice of the judge filled the room which housed his chambers. His serious face slowly broke into a smile. "And it pleases the shit out of me that you trust my good buddy, Joel and his ...," the judge's steel grey eyes flicked towards me briefly, "his partner, Blair. Joel is one of the best men I know and if you'll let him, I'm sure that in spite of the shit you've had thrown your way, with his and Blair's help, you'll be on your way to a hell of a much brighter future."
The boys looked at each other sideways as they heard the swear words readily spouted by the judge. I grinned. Joel had warned me that his friend, Steven Chambers, was the type of judge that spoke what was on his mind.
"Now," Chambers continued, "I need a confirmation that all of you want Joel to be your Guardian ad Lidum for the next 30 days. This means that he will be responsible for your health and welfare and be able to make decisions in your name and in your best interests. A simple nod will do."
The boys nodded, but remained silent. Ben turned to me with a questioning look. I smiled at him and tipped my chin towards the judge. Ben took a deep breath and stepped forward.
Chambers looked at him over the top of his glasses. "Yes? You're Ben, right? The one that started all of this."
Ben nodded. "Um, I want Blair to be my guardian ad ... um, thing. There's nothing wrong with the Fu Man, but I just want Blair and he said it was okay. So did Fu Man ... I mean Joel."
I chuckled quietly at Ben's name for Joel and heard Joel do the same. Judge Chambers narrowed his gaze and his face dropped into a scowl.
"You're not trying to do this to cause me any more trouble, are you? I'm already late for my date with a Scotch and soda."
"Uh, no sir. It's just the way I want it."
Chambers nodded. "Well, that's fine then, lad. I had Blair checked out after Joel talked to me this morning and he seems to be on the up and up." Chambers nodded at me. Joel laughed outright. "And you two look enough alike for people to mistake him for your father."
I watched as Ben's face beamed when he heard that. A smile of my own covered my face.
"So then," Chambers continued. "If that's all you young men need of me right now, I'll let you go and plan on seeing you in one month. Now why don't you all go eat something? You're way too thin."
Joel laughed again and stood to shake his friend's hand. I followed and the boys took their turns.
Joel remained behind briefly to have a couple of private words while we made our way out to the street. I watched as the boys huddled together in private. I saw a number of heads nod and then they turned to me as Joel joined us.
Chris spoke first. "This means a lot to all of us, you guys. And we wanted to say thanks, formally."
"Well, you're welcome, formally." Joel said. "Why don't we head back to the apartment and watch a movie or you can show me that damned game I suck so badly at. Then I thought that later on we'd all go down to the restaurant and have a little celebration dinner."
Ben nodded, but I noticed he didn't smile. "That sounds good, but ... uh, since we're right here near where we used to hang, we wanted to go check out the place to see if Mauricio is back."
Joel looked at Ben as he pursed his lips. "Do you all need to go? Can't just like Chris and Cleats go? I know you're used to being out here, but now you've got two guys that are going to worry quite a bit when we know you're out on the streets. And since they're the oldest, I'd feel a little better about it."
The boys looked at each other and I saw silent nods around. "Okay." Ben replied. "We're just not used to that ... stuff."
"All right," Joel said then turned to Cleats and Chris. "Can you guys get back to the apartment by like seven? I kinda figure that if you don't find him you'll want to check around a bit."
"That's cool, Daddy-o," Cleats said. The boys laughed. "And don't you worry your pretty little heads about us. We'll be chill, okay?" He tilted his head back to try and look cool as Chris winked at us.
I shook my head humorously in resignation. "Yeah, you be chill, Cleats. And call us if there's any problem. You've still got my card, right?"
They nodded. Joel pulled his cell phone from its holder on his belt and handed it to Cleats. "Don't lose it, or I may have to kung fu you!" He smiled and hopped onto one leg, raising the other leg and both arms in attack position. "Waaaaaaa!"
The boys cheered Joel on. Cleats smiled widely.
The clock next to the bed read 1:15 and I looked down at Joel's sleeping form. I gently stroked his hair as I leaned against the headboard. Our lovemaking earlier was intensely passionate and exuberant with Joel asking me to take him a second time shortly after our first, blinding climax. He said he'd thought about me pounding into him throughout the entire day and when he asked for it the second time after bringing me back to raging hardness with his mouth, I more than happily complied. As we lay spent next to each other, he'd murmured that he would now sleep like an infant after his feeding.
My dick twitched at the memory, but my mind quickly returned to the thoughts I had of the boys -- the same thoughts that had kept me awake for the past two hours. I saw in my mind and felt again in my heart the disappointment the guys tried not to show when Cleats and Chris had returned around seven with no news of Mauricio. They'd asked a number of people if they'd seen him, but no one had. I could tell they were extremely worried. This was just another thing to add to their troubled lives and I was flooded with feelings of the unfair nature of it all. I felt like we had to try and do something to find Mauricio and yet the list of things to take care of already seemed enormous.
I recognized that only a few short days had actually passed since everything had started and with the guardianship taken care of along with a decent start on some clothing, I could relax about a few things. But Chris' admission of his unsafe sexual activities with strangers -- and with Cody -- had my stomach twisting with worry. Joel had called Megan's doctor while the boys were getting ready for the appointment with Judge Chambers at the courthouse. The doctor had agreed to have his nurse come by the apartment in the morning to begin the process of building a medical history file on each of them along with taking blood and urine samples. He was also going to have the nurse take genital cultures for subsequent STD testing. Joel assured me that if any of the boys had a sexually transmitted disease that we would do everything possible to clear it up immediately. And his hug assured me that if either Chris or Cody were HIV positive that we would find a way to deal with that also.
But that hug had been hours ago and now I was again worried. My thoughts also focused on needing to begin the process of checking into school for the boys. I wasn't going to push the issue this week, deciding that they needed some adjustment time, but the judge had made it clear to the boys and us, that this was a condition of his granting temporary guardianship. It had been in the back of my mind, but now it vied for attention in my thoughts -- along with many other equally important and pressing concerns.
Like what had happened to Mau to cause him to stop talking? He’d adamantly refused to speak to Joel or me, or any of the boys, when we tried to get his real name from him. Fear had filled his eyes and yet I had sensed that he wasn't afraid of us, but more so of something that had happened to him in the past -- something that he was still afraid was going to happen again. Chambers hadn't pushed the issue because Joel had assured him that he would have Bill begin working with Mau. But what Joel hadn't shared was that Bill felt it best for a female associate of his to see Mau in light of his very real fear of other men.
Chambers had also relaxed a bit on his initial insistence that we provide contact information to the courts for the boy's parents. He wanted them brought before his bench to answer for their actions. Granted, there was no one to contact for Timmy or Mau, but Joel's argument with his friend, the judge, had centered on Bill's recommendation that we allow the boys to settle in first and become more secure and trusting in their new environment.
The list was seemingly endless with equally important things that had to be dealt with immediately. I looked again at Joel and wondered just how many of these things he'd already processed in his constantly working mind.
The ringing of my cell phone pulled me abruptly from my thoughts. I slipped out of bed and crossed the room quickly to the wall table near the door. I answered just as the second ring started.
"Hello?" My greeting came out as a question. Who would be calling at such a late hour?
I received no answer to my greeting. Instead of a voice, I heard what sounded like road traffic and nighttime street sounds coming from a pay phone on a thoroughfare somewhere.
"Who is this?" I asked.
A raspy, deep voice growled at me. "It don't matter who this is, brutha. Let me talk to Cleats."
"What's this about? He's been asleep for hours."
The voice roared at me in response. "Just wake his ass up!"
"Hold on." I growled in return. "I'll get him."
I felt Joel's touch on my arm and shrugged at him. "Some guy demanding that I wake Cleats up."
I quickly grabbed my discarded pair of white boxer briefs and pulled them on as I headed towards the boy's room.
The door stood partially open and the hallway light that I'd turned on dimly lit the room. I moved towards Cleats' spot on the mattress next to Mau and gently shook his shoulder.
"Cleats. Wake up. Some guy says he has to talk to you."
Cleats woke up immediately upon hearing my voice, as did Ben from his bed. They both sat up and Cleats rubbed his face with his hand before taking the phone. I felt Joel kneel on the floor beside me, having pulled on his own underwear after I left our bedroom.
"Yeah, this is Cleats. Who the fuck is this?" He listened briefly then snapped his head in Ben's direction. He stared wide-eyed at Ben. "When?" His shoulders slumped. "Where'd they find him?" I saw Ben close his eyes and sigh.
Cleats' voice rose into a muffled shout. "That's bullshit man and you know it!" The rest of the boys woke up at the yell. "Yeah, well it's bullshit and I want you to tell 'em that too, man." He nodded once. "Aiight. Thanks, man. Yeah. Later."
He closed the phone and looked at Ben then Cody. "That was Ranus. He went looking for us at the crib and found our note and Blair's card. Mauricio's dead. The cops are saying he O.D.'d."
Special thanks goes to Rock Hunter for his endless efforts to edit this mess. Thanks, Bud!
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