Reservations – A Novel


By Drew Filchak



Chapter Nine:  "Crossroads"



          I woke to find Mau snuggled into the crook between my bare shoulder and chest, sleep and security erasing any sign of the horrors he knew intimately from his mien.  I studied his perfect face from the vantage point of an open, unguarded gaze.  Flawlessly, his features owed their creation quite obviously to the blend of pacific island lines and Caucasian symmetries.  Long, black lashes lay at rest against his cheek while an equally dark head of thick hair spiked in multiple directions.  Strong cheekbones and a suitably proportioned nose combined with his small, pink lips to complete the angelic vision lying before me.

          My final thought from the night before marred the exquisite delight my first sight of the day brought me.  We had to get him professional help and it had to happen today.  I pulled reluctantly from my semi-awake state to full alertness at the reminder.

          Mau lay against me, his face resting on my chest and shoulder while his hands tucked themselves closely to his covered chest.  I was loath to move, but my bladder called.  Also, I was uncertain what Mau's reaction would be upon waking to find himself semi-draped over me.  Then the question surfaced of how I could possibly extricate myself without rousing him.

          'Very carefully, Blair.' 

          I smirked and placed a soft kiss on his forehead then began the delicate process of sliding out from under Mau's sleeping form.  I raised my arm, which half-held him, and began to shift my body gently.  My stealth and silence were for naught.  He whimpered softly then rolled his face further into my shoulder.  His eyes opened at the same time and a moment later, focused first on my chest hair then flicked upward to meet my eyes. 

          He pulled back, a surprised and embarrassed look coming back at me briefly before dropping his eyes. 

          "Sorry," he whispered.

          I ruffled his hair and allowed a slight grin.  "Nothing to be sorry for.  I was trying not to wake you.  Go back to sleep for a while."

          He rubbed his face once then reached with his other hand and repeated the action jointly.  I heard, more that saw, Joel roll onto his back and a conspiratorial grin stretched my lips.  I signaled with my finger for Mau to remain quiet, but again my actions were wasted. 

          A low, gruff and animated voice growled from the other side of the bed.  "Who's that sleeping in my bed?"

          Mau's eyes grew wide as he giggled softly.  I raised my brows once then winked at Mau.

          "Go back to sleep, old man.  And no more snoring."

          Bright, youthful giggles quickly escalated into laughter.  Mau's face lit with childish delight.  It was as if the sun decided to rise in our bedroom and I joined him with a couple snorts of laughter. 

          "I'll get you later for the old comment," Joel growled.  "And I don't snore."

          Mau grinned and rolled his eyes at me as I nodded dramatically.  I heard Joel sigh then his sleep-filled baritone continued.

          "Did you sleep all right, Mau Man?"

          He tipped his chin upward and grinned.  "Yeah."

          "I don't snore, do I?"

          Mau looked at me, silently asking for the right answer.  I arched my brow and returned the look, then swung my legs over the side of the bed and as I looked back at him over my shoulder, he grinned again.


          I snorted once more as Joel groaned. 

          "I can tell you've both sided against me this morning.  I give up.  I'm going back to sleep."

          Mau's grin widened and then he yawned as Joel rolled onto his side away from us.

          "Still sleepy?"  I asked as I stood up, absentmindedly hitching my briefs a little higher on my hips.  A slow nod answered my question.  "Then lie back down and catch a few more winks.  I'm gonna see if I can rouse Ben and drag him along on a run."

          Mau shook his head and began to crawl off the bed.  "I'll use my bed."  His grin showed slight embarrassment then he yawned again and headed for the bedroom door.  He stopped as he reached it and turned back towards me.

          "Thanks for ...," he paused and shrugged.

          "You're welcome, honey.  Any time.  And I mean that completely, okay?"

          He nodded and smiled, then headed down the hall to the boy's room.

          Joel rolled back over to face me.

          "I about had a fucking heart attack last night when I rolled over to cuddle with you and found Mau between us.  I damn near yelled in surprise!"

          I chuckled.  "God, love, I'm sorry."  I chuckled again.  "He had a nightmare, which isn't any wonder, and showed up around one-thirty.  I still can't believe he came to us."

          "He came to you, lover."

          "Yeah, but you're a part of me.  I think he's at the same level of comfort with both of us.  I've just been there at a couple of crucial times."

          "Not quite, babe," Joel yawned and stretched.  "He's as attached to you as Ben is.  Which I think is just fantastic."

          I looked steadily at him as he placed his head in the crook of his arm.  "We have to get Bill's friend over here today, Joel.  She has to do something for him.  I don't know what, but something.  Yesterday really rocked him and by some miracle, he had his boys and us around to help.  But he's still very much alone."

          Joel nodded and yawned again.  "I'll call him first thing this morning, okay?"

          I smiled tightly and nodded.

          "Now," Joel began as he reached towards me, "skip your run and snuggle with me.  I'll make it worth your while."

          His soft brown eyes beckoned with promise and I slid across the bed, brushing my lips against his once quickly.  "Not this morning, lover.  I'm too wound up already and need a good run."  I kissed him again.  He moaned at my touch.

          "God, I love my new life."

          I felt happy and kissed him one last time.



          I moved down the hallway with my running shoes in hand and glanced into the boy's room to see Mau with the rest of the boys on the mattresses.  Cody was alone on the bed and there was no sign of Ben.  I grinned as I acknowledged that Ben was as much of a morning person as I was. 

          I found him on the couch in the study with a blanket pulled over him. I ruffled his hair.

          "Hey, pup.  Come with me on a run."

          Surprisingly, he swatted at my hand and pulled the blanket around his neck, tightly.  "No."

          I grinned playfully.  "What?  Too tired after our run yesterday.  You must be getting soft."

          "Go away.  Leave me alone."

          Alarms wiped the grin from my face.  Something was wrong and I had a sudden sour feeling in my gut that said I was the cause.  I laid my hand on his shoulder, hoping to prompt a little of our usual tenderness, but he shrugged it off immediately.

          "I said, go away.  Are you stupid or what?"

          His words shocked me.  Actually, they stunned me.  And through my shock, I felt a knife go through me.  What did I do?  Why was he so mad at me?  My thoughts spun with the questions while at the same time I fought for understanding. 

          "Ben?"  No response.  "Ben?  What did I do?  Why are you upset with me?"

          "Fuck off."

          "No, I won't fuck off.  Talk to me.  Please."

          My hand again reached for him and tried to roll him onto his back so I could see his face, but he madly swept the blanket from him and rolled off the couch acting as if my touch burned.

          "Don't touch me.  Fuck!"  He spat his curse at me. 

          "What the hell is wrong, Ben?  I mean it, tell me now!"  My anger and hurt and bewilderment swelled in me like a typhoon, ready to expel its raw force on anything in its path.

          He took two steps back from the couch.  His eyes flashed anger and seething contempt, causing me to rear backwards away from their intensity.  My mouth opened to speak, but no words were possible.

          "Just stay away, you lyin’ perv," he hissed.  "I'm warnin' you."

          He turned and ran from the study.  In my dazed, wounded state, I hesitated to follow him, but slowly I turned towards the door and made my way down the hallway to the kitchen.  I heard a door close down the hallway of the bedroom wing and turned to follow the sound. 

          The boy's door stood closed before me. 

          The implication rocked through me and I staggered back towards the kitchen.  My mind spun wildly, searching for the cause of Ben's bizarre, yet obviously very real emotions.  I continued to the front door and almost blindly made my way to the elevator.


          Hank's smile dropped as he took in my appearance through the glass doors of the restaurant.  His worried stare watched me as he fumbled with the keys to unlock the inner entrance. 

          His first words startled me.  "What the hell is wrong, Blair?  You look like you just lost your best friend.  Are you and Joel okay?"

          My nod ended up being more of a bobbled head movement than an answer.  "I need one of Joel's combinations from days gone by, Hank." 

          The look coming at me sufficiently related its doubt as to the wisdom of my request, but he nodded and grabbed the back of my arm.  "Come on."

          He moved from me to enter the bar as I shuffled towards the far corner and slipped onto the stool, propping my elbows on the bar's edge.  I dropped my head into my hands and rubbed my face then stopped as I saw the end of the surreal scene with Ben.  'Just stay away, perv.  I'm warning you'.  I clenched my eyes tightly.  'Perv!  How could he call me that?'

          The sound of a glass being placed on the bar in front of me caused me to look up.  My requested vodka stood before me and I watched as Hank placed a coffee cup and saucer next to it. 

          "I've never served a guy in here without his shoes on.  You're pretty special and all, but you wanna take your shoes off the bar, bud?"

          I sighed as I shrunk a little in embarrassment.  My shoes found a new home on the floor.  "Sorry."

          I stared at the vodka.  'Lyin’ Perv.’   

          "What the hell's wrong, Blair?  Talk to me.  Please, man."

          His repeat of my words to Ben caused my head to jerk upwards.  My eyes flooded with rage and hurt.  I moved from the barstool.

          "Sorry," I said as I slipped into my shoes.  Then I turned from Hank and without bothering to lace up, I sprinted to the door. 

          I had to get out of the bar.

          Hank's yell followed me through the door, mercifully cut off by the city noise.  I launched across 18th at an all-out run.  By the middle of the block, one of my shoes fell off which I quickly remedied.  As I finished tying them, Ben's words again rocketed me towards 19th.

          'Don't touch me … are you stupid, or what?'



          Hours later, exhausted and in pain, I passed in front of the restaurant's windows limping down the sidewalk coming from 17th.  I saw only two customers at the bar and nodded to myself.  Most people were at work now and the two that I saw would most likely be heading off soon.  It felt okay to enter even though my body and shirt were drenched in sweat.  My ankle throbbed at close to the same intensity as when I'd first hurt it six weeks ago. 

          'Of course it does, Michaels.  You can't run for hours on a newly healed ankle and not expect it to fuck up … even though you did somehow.'  The only conclusion that I'd been able to draw as to the reason for Ben's reaction and feelings was that I'd been touching him too much ... too many times brushing his hair out of his eyes, too many arms around his shoulder, too many offers for hugs.  But that answer fell short of balancing the equation.  Did I even know what all of the equation’s components were? The thought that Joel may have some insight, some inside knowledge to offer from his experiences with Megan gave me a little hope.

          I saw Hank glance at me as I entered then watched as he turned to the service area and picked up the phone.  His look wasn't friendly.  'Shit,' I thought.  'Mark up another fuck up for the morning, asshole.'

          Limping badly, I finally settled onto Joel's barstool and propped my left foot onto mine.  I swore I could almost see it throb.  Hank approached, but remained silent.  His glance moved from my face to the sweat stains on my t-shirt, finally stopping on my ankle.  He shook his head repeatedly and placed a glass of tap water in front of me.  I nodded and sipped it gingerly.

          "Uh, I'll take that vodka now and a bag of ice, if you wouldn't mind helping me out."

          He looked at me and sniffed quietly.  My eyes dropped to the water glass to hide my embarrassment.

          "And, uh, Hank?  I'll also take your forgiveness, if you're offering.  I ... uh … sorry, man.  I just had to get out of here earlier.  Nothing personal, right?"

          He sniffed again.  "You've been running this whole time?"

          I nodded. 

          "That's close to two and a half hours, Blair.  What?  Did you just miss your crutches that much?"

          The only answer I could give him was a shrug.  My head rolled back slowly as I felt the muscles in my back and shoulders begin to cramp from the strain I'd placed on my legs and hips due to favoring my ankle.  I took another sip of water.  "I'm serious about the vodka."

          He placed it in front of me with a shrug.  "Joel's on his way down.  Sorry, but I was worried when you just took off like that."

          My eyes dropped shut for a moment and then nodded.  I grabbed the glass with the chilled alcohol and downed it, feeling the burn along my throat and into my stomach.  I shuddered.  "One more before he gets here, bud." 

          His mouth dropped open in surprise and upset. 


          He grabbed the bottle and refilled my glass.  I knocked that one back in the same fashion as the first.  My shiver the second time was twice as bad. 

          "Damn," I groaned.  "I don't know how he did that every morning for two or three weeks."  My face clenched as I felt my stomach turn.  "But if it helps with the pain in my ankle, then I might have another one."  I looked at him and winked.  "Wanna lay odds if I could keep it down?"

          He didn't move or react.  He just stared at me coolly.  I nodded slowly.  "It was a joke, Hank."  The smile I gave him didn't score any points.

          He tipped his chin towards me once, but otherwise remained silent. 

          My face fell as I grimaced at the pain in both my ankle and my heart.  "Ben called me a pervert this morning and it wasn't a term of endearment."

          A startled look crossed his face as his eyebrows lifted in surprise.  "Why?"

          I sighed.  "Can I save that till Joel gets here without pissing you off any further?"

          He smirked and nodded. 

          "I'm here."

          I jumped and twisted to see Joel moving towards me around the corner of the bar.  His face showed a mixture of worry and anger and instantly I realized that I'd done a piss poor job of being an adult this morning.  'But, damnit!  What did I do to make Ben so afraid of me all of a sudden?'  I wanted to rage with the impotent feeling that had consumed me during my run. 

          Hank and Joel nodded to each other then Hank moved to the service counter and produced a plastic bag.  Once filled with ice, he handed it to me and I placed it on my ankle. 

          "Thanks, man.  This should help."

          "You look like shit, love.  What'd you do to your ankle?"

          Uncontrollably, my eyes closed again and I took a deep breath.  Hank responded for me.

          "The asshole decided to take a two and a half hour run, that's what.  And with the pace he took off at out of here, I wouldn't doubt that his ankle was screaming at him even then."

          "Nice, Hank," I groaned.  "You call me an asshole and a dumb shit all in one sentence."

          Hank raised his eyebrows and tipped his head towards me, but thankfully kept his comment to himself.

          "Ben told me what happened, Blair."

          I jerked to look him in the eye.  "He told you that he screamed at me not to touch him?  And that I was to 'fuck off'?"  My voice dropped as I spouted my last hushed exclamation.

          Joel tilted his head in question.  His look intensified and held my eyes with his own.  "No.  Just that you had a fight."

          "Joel, I think his exact words were 'stay away from me, you lyin’ perv.  I'm warning you'."  The emotion in my voice caused it to tighten up as my throat clenched.  "What did I do?  Huh?  I still don't know."  My breath forced its way out in an exasperated rush of frustration and confusion and … hurt.  I grabbed the empty glass and moved it to the edge of the bar towards Hank.

          "C'mon, Blair."  Hank said in sympathetic frustration.  "No more, all right?"

          My head rolled back in irritation.  "What?"  I yelled.  "What the fuck did I do to him to make him so afraid of me?"

          The two customers across the bar looked towards me and I glared back at them.  The man closest to me huffed once then reached into his pocket and threw some cash on the bar.  Hank quickly moved towards them, scooping up the cash before the guy was fully standing.  He handed it back to the man and apologized, asking them to come back again.  The guy looked at me a last time, then nodded to Hank and left with his friend. 

          I rubbed my eyes and sighed continuing in a quieter voice.  "Did he tell you what I did Joel, what ever it was that made him think that I’d lied to him, that I was a pervert after his ass?  I mean, if you could have seen his face and saw the disgust and betrayal I saw … you'd understand why I'm so upset.  I love him so much already and his words and his look and his flinch ripped me apart."

          Joel nodded once slowly in recognition.  "No, he didn't, but I got a similar reaction when I went in to wake him up before I left to come down here.  He flinched at me too, even though I didn't touch him.  I called from the door to wake him up to see if he knew anything about why you'd left and he wouldn't look at me.  He just mumbled that you'd had a fight and he was glad you were gone.  He wouldn't say anything else.  The other boys didn't know anything."

          My head shook resignedly. 

          "We need to go up there and figure this out," Joel said.  When I didn't respond, Joel gently pulled my chin to look at him.  "C'mon, Blair.  This stuff happens with kids and the only way to stop it from happening again, whatever it is, is to get to the bottom of it, okay?"

          "He's right, bud," Hank said.  "I may not have kids yet, but my niece and nephew are about the same age and my sister is pulling her hair out because she'll say one thing and they'll hear another."

          I sighed then grabbed the bag of ice and handed it to Hank.  "Yeah." 

          I swung from my chair and almost dropped to the floor as the pain in my ankle shot up my leg.


          Joel grabbed me under my arm and helped me get my balance.  After a minute of standing on my foot, the pain receded and we made our way slowly from the restaurant to the elevator.

          "This is familiar," he said with a low chuckle.


          Nothing prepared me for the sight of Ben standing outside of the elevator door with his backpack slung over his shoulder and tears running down his face.  All I could do was to stare at him and see the sudden surprise on his face to find Joel and me unexpectedly standing in front of him.  My mouth dropped open and my first reaction was one of flaring anger.

          "What the fuck!  You're leaving?"

          His chin jutted towards me as he wiped his face with the back of his hand. 

          "Why?  What did I do?"  The pitch in my voice rose with the strain of the past three hours. 

          Joel stepped past me into the entry hallway then suddenly turned his head towards the apartment door.  I heard Cody's voice and saw him approaching us, his back pack slung over his shoulder.

          "We've been trying to stop him since you left, Joel, but the only one he's talked with is Mau.  What's going on?"

          "I don't know, Cody, guys, but we're going to find out.  What's the backpack for?  Are you leaving too?" 

          “I can’t let him go out there alone, Fu.”

          Joel turned and looked at Ben.  "All right, this is enough.  Tell us what's going on, Ben, now."  The command in his voice caused Ben to look quickly from the floor towards him.  His eyes glanced at me once as I remained in my spot in the elevator, then they returned to the floor.

          Mau stepped into view and touched the back of Joel's hand.  "He saw me sleeping in your bed this morning up next to Blair and thought you'd forced me there.  Now he's leaving because he doesn't think you'll want him anymore."


          "Oh, fuck."  My grunt caused Ben to flinch, but his eyes remained on the floor. 

          "Is this true, Ben?  How could you think that about us?"  Joel asked.  "And how could you possible think that we … that Blair could not want you anymore?"

          Ben's jaw clenched and new tears filled his eyes.  He shrugged and mumbled to the floor.  "After what I said to him, why would he?"

          "Cause he's cool, Bone, even though you're a dick?"  Cleats piped in from somewhere around the corner.  "That's why?"

          Anger suddenly flared from Ben's eyes.  "Fuck you, Cleats!  At least I'm not sneaking out to fuck some high school bitch!"

          I heard one of the boys snicker and watched Joel's shoulders sag as he sighed then slowly turned to look at Cleats.  "What?  Do I need to put a leash on you when we're asleep?"

          Cleats' voice tried to sound cool, but the worry of Joel's reaction was evidently clear.  "Oh, man, that's cold.  He's just …."

          "Not now, Cleats," Joel said, stopping what was sure to be a lie.  "And Ben, that wasn't very cool.  The rest of you come into the apartment with me, all right?  Ben and Blair have a little talking they need to do."  He turned and gave me a tight, close-mouthed smile.  "I'll send out a bag of ice for your ankle."

          I nodded and looked again at Ben as he turned to watch Joel herd the boys into the apartment. 

          We stood in front of each other for a moment, both of us looking elsewhere.  Once I heard the door close, I limped past Ben and dropped onto the couch.  I tried to pull the side chair over to me so I could place my foot on it, but it was out of my reach.  Ben quickly moved the chair for me then just stood there, looking at the carpet.

          "You're not going to sit down?"

          "You want me to?"  He asked, flicking his eyes once quickly to catch mine.  "You're not mad at me?"

          I sniffed.  "No, I'm not mad at you.  I'm pissed off to the max and on top of that, I'm hurt that you would think this shit, if you want the truth.  But no, I'm not mad.  Now I'm just relieved."  I hit the cushion next to me once, indicating that he should sit.  He dropped his backpack onto the floor and sat down, an empty cushion separating us.

          The apartment door opened and Chris brought out an ankle wrap that contained a frozen gel pack.  He knelt beside the chair and looked up at me.  A smirk crossed his lips as his eyes twinkled playfully. 

          "I'm on my knees, beggin' ya to let it be my turn in your bed tonight, B-man.  What do ya say?"  He finished with a wink and I chuckled. 

          "Just give me the wrap, you horndog."

          He grinned.  "Nope," he said as he started to untie my shoe.  "Let me do the honors.  I'm already down here, you dig?"

          A quiet snort came from Ben as Chris slipped first my shoe then my sweat sock off.  He quickly wrapped the cold pack around my ankle and secured the Velcro straps. 

          "There," he said as his hand gently rubbed up my shin then slid around to feel my calf muscle. 


          He stopped the touch with another grin.  "Fu Man said to use my best bed-side manner.  I'm just doing what I was told."

          "Oh, he did not."  I turned to Ben and rolled my eyes.  "Some one needs to take a cold shower, wouldn't you agree?"

          Ben nodded then grinned widely.  I caught further movement out of the corner of my eye and looked back towards Chris just as his open mouth was about to swallow my big toe. 

          I jerked upright quickly.  "Chris!"

          Ben laughed as Chris winked at me.  "Pretty quick reflexes for an old man."  He stood and with another wink towards Ben returned to the apartment.

          I chuckled then shook my head and sighed.  It felt good to laugh with Ben and Chris.  It felt good to laugh period after the last three hours.  But waiting behind the chuckles for Ben and me was his reaction to seeing Mau in bed with us this morning along with his quick decision to leave.  With a final swallow, I turned to face Ben.

          "Ben, I would never do anything sexual with any of you boys, even if I had your consent.  I know that today has only been a week since we met you, but I need you to believe what I'm saying.  Do you?"

          His grin faded as well as the light in his blue eyes.  He nodded, but didn't say anything so I continued.  "I've been going crazy the past three hours trying to figure out what I did.  I now understand your actions from earlier.  But what I don't understand and like even less than your reaction is that you would leave, just like that, because either you thought you'd be in trouble or you felt uncomfortable."

          "That's not why."

          I looked at him.  The lock of hair, which I'd normally tuck behind his ear, hung in front of his eyes shading them.  While I wanted badly to tuck it away … hell, pull him into my arms and tell him I loved him, I couldn't.  Not after this morning.  Regardless of the reason why he acted the way he did this morning, the fact remained that at some level he still felt insecure or threatened by me -- not safe.  Sure, it had only been a week and I couldn't blame him for his fears in the least nor could I hold it against him, but it was almost impossible for me to be patient and allow the time it would take for him to feel really secure.  I wasn't used to the teenage mind or teenage emotions.  Why would I be?  I'd had very little exposure and most of it had been negative, based on expressions of angst and anti-societal actions.  Somewhere in the back of my mind, a thought flashed briefly, one which said that there had to be something else behind his response from earlier and his desire just minutes ago to leave.  I didn't know what it was and that irritated me.

          "Then are you able to tell me why you were just going to ditch out on me and Joel and your boys?  Because I have to tell you, when I saw you standing in front of the elevator with your backpack, it about ripped my heart out."

          He looked at me quickly with a pensive, penetrating stare.  "You're so good with the words, Blair."

          His out-of-the-blue, backhanded accusation caused me to pull my head back in question.  "What's that supposed to mean?"

          "You always say these great things."

          "And … so?  I usually mean them."

          "Yeah, it's the 'usually' part that I'm not so down with."

          "What?"  I wanted to scan through every interaction we'd had together over the past week to see if I could find something that I hadn't followed through on, but I stumbled on instead.  "What have I said I'd do and haven't done?  Or what have I said that was just flattery and haven't really meant?  Please, tell me."

          He dropped his face into his hand as it rested on his knee, but he didn't answer.

          "Ben, I don't know what's worse -- you calling me a pervert and stupid without telling me why you feel that way or this, telling me something and then expecting me to guess the rest.  I'm not good at this, Joel is, so if you're expecting me to read your mind, you're gonna be disappointed."

          My irritation continued to build as he sat there looking at his shoes.  I waited for some kind of response, but then I simply ran out of patience.  I slapped my knee and swore under my breath.  "That's just great, Ben.  All I want is one example so I can see what I'm doing wrong, but you can't even give me that, can you?  How are we supposed to move on from here, huh?  You know, I'm sorry I've become such a thorn in your side so quickly."

          He whirled to face me, his eyes watering with frustration.  "You're not a pain, Blair, but you don't do what you say you're gonna do.  You said you wanted to just hug me and hold me and tell me what a great kid I am, but all you do is hug Mau all the time or let Timmy snuggle into you while you guys look at the plane book.  You even fucking let Mau into your bed last night because he was scared.  What about me?  I've been scared so many fucking times and you just tell me I'm a good boy and how proud you are of me.  Or tell me I'm ripping your heart out or calling me 'my Ben', but you don't …" he trailed off and angrily wiped the tears from his face. 

          My own sudden and uncontrollable tears blurred my view of him.  I reached my arms out.  "I'm so sorry, Ben.  I’m just so sorry.  Please …"   He shot down the couch and slammed into me as my arms grabbed him in a frantic hug. 

          "I just want some of this too, Blair.  I miss it so badly since my mom died.  I just …"

          "Shhh, lad, shhh.  I'm so sorry that I was being too careful and so unobservant."  My voice swelled and cracked with the held-back feelings of love and regret and remorse about the pain I'd caused him.  "I've wanted to take you up into a huge hug and tell you that you were safe -- never let you go since the first morning you were here.  I've watched you sleep and my heart just breaks thinking of you.  And all week I wanted to tell you that I loved you and tell you how I just want you to be with us always and … and take you with us on our trips and … " my emotions poured through me like a flashflood.  "And I want to say to the rest of the guys that 'you boys are great and we'll see ya tomorrow, c'mon, Ben, c'mon, Son, it's time to go home'." 

          Ben started sobbing and I heard his voice hitch as he gulped a breath.  I sniffed loudly to clear my nose.  "But I can't do that to the rest of them, bud.  I can't have a favorite.  You know I can't, but that's no reason to hurt you by holding back what I feel for you.  I'm so sorry."  My hug expanded as I moved one hand to the back of his head and enveloped him in my embrace.  "Shhh.  It's all right.  You and I are gonna make it all right again." 

          His hug was so tight that I felt my ribcage compress.  I stroked the back of his hair.

          His crying left me bereft of normal thought.  Its sound wormed its way deeply into my heart and I'd have promised him anything just to make him happy again in the moment.  Then, as if my unuttered prayer had been answered, I heard his voice croak through his tears.

          "I want you to be my dad."

          "Oh, Ben, me too," I whispered before I could stop myself.  My chest heaved with the most powerful emotion I'd ever felt and to stop myself from losing it completely, I kissed the top of his head and laughed.  "We look enough alike that no one would suspect that you'd adopted me."

          He raised his face from my chest, the tears falling from his tortured, blue eyes spread in rivulets down his cheeks.  "You mean it?  You'd really want me?  Like that?"

          I smiled as my own tears spilled over again.  I nodded.  My mind screamed for me to not promise him anything, but my heart won the battle without even the slightest struggle.  "Oh, you bet, son.  If we can work it out and get your father to sign over custody, I'd do it in a heartbeat."

          "You really would?  You mean I wouldn't ever have to see him again?  And I wouldn't have to move away?"

          I grinned and nodded.  "I don't know everything that we'd have to do legally, but you and I both know Joel's pretty powerful.  Give me a little while to talk with Joel.  I can't promise anything, even though I want to.  But please, just give us a little time, okay."

          He nodded then laid his head again on my chest.  "I love you, Blair.  Fu Man too."

          My smile, soft and contented, rested on my face.  I felt peaceful inside.  We sat there, simply holding on to each other, for quite a while.  He apologized for his words from earlier and I asked him to please, no matter how things may seem or look, come to us with his worries or fears and we'd do our best to help him. 

          The door to the apartment opened and I looked to see Joel walking towards us with my cane in one hand.  He smiled at the sight of us holding on to each other then sighed. 

          "Sorry to interrupt, boys.  You look so comfortable and you, youngin', I'm glad to see that you're still here."

          Ben looked up to Joel and grinned.  "Me too, Fu Man."

          "Good.  We'd kind of like you to stay around for good, you know."

          My eyes quickly darted to Joel's, sending a question to him in my look.  His nod was nearly imperceptible.  "Uh, Blair?  Again, sorry, but the woman from social services is down stairs wanting to see me and Ben and I don't think this is such a hot time, so I told Barry that he was to act like we weren't here and that you'd go down and talk with her.  Tell her we're skiing or something for the weekend."

          Ben quickly sat up, his eyes darting from mine to Joel's.

          Joel quickly attempted to calm him.  "Don't worry, Ben.  Nothing's gonna happen, but remember me telling you that my friend, Judge Stephens, said that he didn't think he'd be able to keep her away because of the arrest and all?  Well, he couldn't.  He called me a few days ago to tell us to expect a surprise visit.  But she doesn't know who she's dealing with, now does she?"  His grin warmed my heart and the transformation on Ben's face told the same story. 

          "Pretty stupid to not know about the Fu Man."

          "Well, Ben, I don't know about stupid, but we do need to respect her position and the very good things that she does."  He turned to me.  "I know your ankle is … uh, whacked," he winked at Ben, "as the boys would say, but I thought your cane would help.  Marc is coming over in about an hour with the results of the rest of the tests and he's gonna check it at the same time."

          I turned to Ben and rolled my eyes.  "And you all think that I'm the mother hen!"

          Ben grinned and I reached to pull him back to me.  I placed a kiss on his cheek.  "I'll be right back.  We're not done with our love-in yet, bud."

          He grinned and then laughed as I hopped onto my right foot.  "Don't laugh, pup.  If I don't get this ankle healed, you'll be the one assigned to push me around in my wheelchair."  I turned to Joel.  "By the way, what about Cleats and Mauricio's service.  Aren't you supposed to be leaving sometime soon?"

          "He decided that he'd rather go and spend some time with Ranus while he paints the house.  I don't think he wanted to go without his boys.  And I understand both sides."

          I nodded and gave Joel a quick kiss and then pushed the elevator call button.  It opened immediately.  As I entered, I threw a question to Joel over my shoulder.  "Now what ski resort are you two at while I stay at home and take care of the children?"



          "I can't believe you told her that, Blair!"  Joel's laughter was joined with Marc's to produce a bright, wide grin. 

          "I'm serious.  She wanted to see the apartment and I just told her that we had five other teenage boys running around naked at our beckon call for sexual favors and that she'd drug me from an intense orgy.  I thought that Barry was going to tear something internally because he was laughing so hard.  She just sniffed and restated that she'd be here on Monday morning at 8:00 o'clock sharp.  I almost saluted her, but she turned too quickly and stomped off."

          Marc calmed a bit and finished the wrap on my ankle.  "How about some good news to offset what we already knew about Mau?"

          We both nodded.  Even though we knew the chances of Mau's initial results coming back any different were slim to none, the final test results were still hard to hear.

          "You're both clean as a whistle, so go fuck your brains out without condoms.  That should be a treat.  All that seminal fluid squishing …"

          "Stop!"  Joel yelled as I laughed.  "Christ, Marc, you're a professional."

          "Yup.  A horny one at that and Blair, if he ever gets tired of all that squishing around, you just let me know."

          "Hey!"  Joel yelled again, then laughed as he looked at our faces.  "Very funny.  You guys are used to all of this gay banter.  I'm still a virgin in all of this."

          "Not hardly, stud," I laughed.  "If I remember correctly, you haven't been a virgin since our third time together in bed and that was what, Monday night after you moved your troops back here from New York because you were jonesin' for my bootee?"

          "What's this?  You flew your whole team back here just because you couldn't stay away from Blair's ass?"  Marc threw his head back and howled laughter.  "Oh, god, Joel, that's priceless.  Wait till I tell Jim.  He'll 'farct out with laughter"

          Acting playfully annoyed, Joel scowled at Marc.  "'Farct out?  What's that?"

          Bringing his laughter under control, Marc explained.  "'Farct out.  Myocardial Infarction.  He'll have a heart attack from laughter."

          Joel shook his head and tried not to grin.  "Doctors.  I can't imagine what it would be like to be around two, sappy in love, gay doctors.  I'll keep my level-headed, English speaking business man, thank you."

          I blew a kiss towards my lover.  "You and Jim sound like a lot of fun.  We should get together for dinner some night."

          Marc's face lit up.  "What about tomorrow night?  Our great friends, Tom and Julian are coming over for dinner.  I'd love it and I know Jim would love meeting the two of you."

          I felt a sudden bout of shame cover my face.  My heart leapt at the thought of having dinner with four other gay, coupled men.  For the past month, we'd pretty much stayed to ourselves.  There'd been one lunch with a friend of mine, and a number of business-oriented dinners, but that was about the extent of our socialization.  And I found myself suddenly starving for dinner conversation that didn't surround talk of Ben's prodigious boner or Cleats' tales of the city.  Plus, I truly felt that Joel would relate so well in a social situation.  He clearly liked Marc and they bantered like old queens, though I wouldn't say that to Joel.  Still, it would be our first time out as a couple with other gay men.

          I turned my eyes hesitantly towards Joel and was met with a wink.

          Joel ginned.  "Marc, we'd love to join you, if you sure it's okay with Jim."

          Marc smiled.  "Oh, sure.  He's wanted to meet both of you.  Great!  I'll call him on my way back to the office."

          "Please, allow us to bring the wine.  Just call me with what you're serving."

          Marc nodded then patted my ankle a last time.  "Ah, wonderful.  You and I have shared many a fine bottle from your cellar over the past year.  So, let me check with Jim.  I think he was planning on some kind of fish, but truth be told, I wasn't listening very closely."

          I beamed at Joel.  Then the realization that we had six teenage boys who we were responsible for, surfaced to dampen my excitement.  "Uh, what about the boys?"

          Joel looked at me and smirked.  "Chris is seventeen.  Why don't we talk to him about keeping an eye on the others for a few hours, and then talk with the boys about trust and respect again.  If we get a bad feeling about anything, we'll see if Bill can come by."

          I grinned.  "You know, Hank offered.  Not to baby sit, but more just check in with them."

          Joel nodded.  "Good."

          "Then we're on?"  Marc asked. 

          We both grinned.


          After Marc left, Joel turned to me.  "How about a hug?"

          His arms enfolded me in their strength and love.  I snuggled into his neck, enjoying the difference in our heights.  The masculine smell, subtle yet musky, filled my senses causing me to groan.  The morning's dramas seemed to be ebbing, and I savored the quiet intimacy found in his closeness. 

          "If you feel like it, I'd love to hear how things went with Ben."

          I sighed as my thoughts immediately began to spin with the implications inherent in my connection with Ben. 

          "Don't sigh, babe," he whispered.  "From what I saw when I entered the hallway, the two of you were as close as a man and his son could be.  And I loved the sight."

          I quickly raised my head to look at his face, his expression -- his eyes.  "He said he wanted me to be his dad."

          "Good.  I agree a million times over.  And while I admit I'm a little thrown by the suddenness of his request and the sudden intensity of the feelings between the two of you, I'm not in the least bit surprised.  If you could have seen the love flowing between the two of you when you were on the couch, you'd know that I couldn't do anything other than work my hardest to make it happen."

          "God, Joel.  There are so many issues, so many variables.  And the biggest of them all is what about the other boys?  God!  How can I work towards gaining full custody of Ben and then send them off to live elsewhere?  It would kill me, Joel, and I can't even imagine what it would do to them."

          "I know, hon.  I know there are too many issues on the table now for us to do anything, but think about it.  So, let's do that, okay.  Give me a little while, a couple of days to check on a few things, okay?"

          "Of course," I said.  "I agree a hundred percent.  It's caught me off guard too.  You know, when I came back from talking to 'Atilla the Social Worker', Ben was waiting.  He said, 'thanks'.  And when I asked him what he was thanking me for, he said it was because I hadn't laughed at him when he told me he wanted me to be his dad.  Can you believe that?"

          Joel shook his head slowly as the unspoken meaning in Ben's words sank in. 

          I slowly nodded in shared understanding.  "Incredible, huh.  He also told me earlier that he never wanted to have to see his father again.  Isn't that intense?  I mean, he's almost sixteen and I don't think any court would force that on him, but still, to be so young and know emotions like that with such intensity and decisiveness is amazing and ... horrible at the same time."

          "God, Blair," he said, his voice low.  "Well, I'll tell you one thing, I'm ready to move on finding out about their parents, all of them, and bringing them to stand in front of Steven with the full power of the Court behind him and make them answer for their actions.  That includes Ben's dad and uncle, Cleat's father, and Cody's father.  I don't think there is anything we can do about Chris's dad, and we still don't even know Mau's real name.  I'm hoping that Bill's friend, Gayle, can help us there."  He checked his watch.  "She should be here in a half hour or so, around eleven."

          "Good.  I'm glad she's coming.  There's so much shit festering in Mau right now, I can't but hope that she'll be able to begin to help him deal with it."  I sighed as my eyes closed at the thought of what we needed to do before Gayle arrived.  "Should we talk with Mau now about the final results?"

          Joel nodded.  Reluctantly, I grabbed my cane and went to find Mau.



          I watched as she processed the last of my words.  Gayle's pale, grey-blue eyes studied the edge of the coffee table while she rested her delicate cheek against her fist.  She absent-mindedly tucked the shoulder length blonde hair behind her ear and mumbled a few words to herself.  I was quite taken by the natural beauty of her face.  With little or no makeup, her natural attractiveness was obvious.

          "And you say that Mau simply nodded and told you it was okay when you shared the final results with him?"  She looked at us as she finished her question.

          "Yes," I began.  "Then I asked him for a hug and he slid over to me and let me hold him.  There were no tears, no questions and honestly," I looked at Joel for confirmation, then continued, "he didn't seem to be upset, just resigned.  And so I held him for quite a while.  Joel went to check on the other boys and I talked to Mau about how Marc Prentice said he'd make a referral to an infectious disease doc.  He stirred a bit when I mentioned another doctor, but I assured him I'd be with him the whole time if he wished.  He only nodded and relaxed against me."

          Gayle nodded.  "How long did he let you hold him?"

          I shrugged.  "Maybe fifteen minutes or so.  I wasn't talking the whole time.  Some of it was spent just being together.  After the past couple of days, he's become fairly comfortable with me ... with us.  He may not be as physically affectionate with Joel, but he lights up when Joel enters the room."

          Joel agreed.  "Gayle, I think in some ways Mau sees us in the traditional roles, me as the male provider presence and Joel as the female nurturer presence."

          "I agree.  The fact is that after what he's been through, for him to go as far as seeking you two out for safety and security after his nightmare is nothing short of remarkable.  It gives me great hope that he may not be so scarred emotionally that he won't be able to allow for positive suggestions and processing."  She paused for a moment.  "I think that I'm going to use the first part of our time together today trying to establish a connection with him.  If I'm able to do that, then I'll proceed with more of a standard psychotherapy approach.  But I have to tell you, if he is non-communicative, we'll be left at a crossroads.  I could continue trying to establish a connection in the standard way or I could try hypnosis to gently break through some of the barriers he's erected to protect himself.  You've already broken through one by getting him to talk.  I've never started a therapeutic series with hypnotherapy, but when I hold up its invasive approach next to what I'm sure is a minefield of memories that we'd have to carefully step through over the course of a couple of months, it may be the safest  route.  We can get some answers that we desperately need and know our go-forward approach through the minefield.  Am I making sense?"

          "Yes, complete sense."  Joel nodded.  "There's one other thing.  We're trying to find out his real name.  If you do go with the hypnosis, can you try and get that for us.  It's very important in trying to locate his parents.  We have not had any luck matching his description to the missing children's network.  In fact, my assistant, Rob, called this morning saying that we have no further avenue for search left to us."

          "I understand, but you need to realize that he may not be susceptible to hypnotic suggestion.  Some people are, some people are not and we won't know until I try.  So let's bring Mau in here and see where it takes us."

          I went to get up, but Joel waved me back to my seat.  "Stay off your ankle, Blair.  I'll get him."  He turned to Gayle.  "Once you start, I'm going to run over to Bill's house.  I need to talk with him about a few things and I'd rather not do it over the phone.  Plus I need to find out what the Governor's office is doing and why they haven't called."

          Joel returned a few minutes later with Mau and after introductions and with Mau seated next to me on the couch, Joel left.  I tried to leave with him, but Mau grabbed my hand and looked at me with something close to panic in his eyes.  With a nod from Gayle, I stayed and Mau relaxed visibly. 

          Gayle began trying to establish her connection, but it was obvious from the start that Mau wouldn't talk with her.  I tried to prompt him gently, but his only response was to lean into my shoulder and continue to look at Gayle blankly.  His grasp on my hand remained firm.

          She tried joking with him, talking about sports, recent movies, teen music groups, girls, Hawaii, and a number of other topics.  Nothing worked.  While I could tell that Mau was listening, there simply was no response to her words.  So when her eyes met mine, I nodded for her to try the hypnosis.

          She asked him if he'd do her a favor and surprisingly, he nodded once in agreement.  So she asked him to close his eyes and listen to her words.  He did so after a moment of consideration.  His grip on my hand tightened. 

          Her words were soothing and gradually, his breathing calmed.  He nodded a few times when she queried him and I could tell that he was accepting her suggestions when his grip relaxed.  She asked him to focus on her voice and forget about any other sounds and then asked him to visualize a safe place that he could see himself in.  He nodded when she asked him if he'd visualized that place and my eyes moistened when she asked where it was and he said 'with B-man'. 

          And then she began her way through the minefield and the horrors that lay within.  At one point, my eyes were so full of tears listening to the atrocities that he, due to Gayle's repeated instruction, relayed dispassionately, that I couldn't see Gayle sitting across from me.  The final, unthinkable, unspeakable blow came when he related the real reason that he'd spent four months in an unimaginable hell.  I signaled for Gayle to stop and wearily, she agreed immediately, leaving Mau with the suggestion that he could always trust her and Blair and Joel not to hurt him. 

          He turned to me upon finishing the trance, having no concrete recall of the events of the past forty-five minutes.  I had tried to wipe the tears from my face, but the evidence was still clear for him to see.  He reached to touch my cheek.

          "I'm sorry, B-man."

          I grabbed his head in my hands and pulled his forehead to my lips, kissing it gently then taking him into my arms, I pulled him close. 

          "I love you, Jordan, with my whole heart.  You have absolutely nothing to be sorry for, okay?"

          He shrugged slightly in my hug and pulled back to look at me.  "But you're crying and I'm the reason for it again."
          I tried to give him a smile.  "I'm crying Jordan, because I love you and care so much for you.  And that's all good in my book."

          A small smile appeared on his lips as he dropped his eyes from mine.  "I love you too, B-man, I mean it."  He looked quickly back to me as his smile dropped into a grin.  "But if you don't mind, I kinda like Mau.  I'm not Jordan anymore."

          My eyes darted once quickly towards Gayle and saw her brow raise in surprise at his comment.  I grinned back at him and nodded then pulled him close so I could give him another kiss on his forehead.  "Mau it is, bud."  Then I ruffled his hair and he ginned widely.  "What's that grin for?"

          He rolled his eyes.  "If you keep kissing me like that, I'm gonna think you're queer or something."

          Laughter burst from my mouth as his grin covered his face. I heard Gayle's laughter join mine.  "Well, we can't have that, now can we?"

          "I'm just kiddin'.  You and Fu Man are the coolest.  And I don't mind really."

          "Mind what?  That we're gay?"

          He grinned.  "That you kiss me.  Just don't do it in front of my boys, okay?"

          "I promise, Mau."  I winked.  "Are you hungry?"


          "Me too.  What say you go make us a couple of sandwiches?  I'll be out in a minute.  I need to talk to Gayle."

          He looked across at Gayle and nodded then stood and went to leave.  He then turned and walked back to Gayle's chair, placing his hand on her shoulder.  They looked at each other and smiled.  

          Gayle and I looked at each other in silence after Mau left.  Finally, she closed her eyes and sagged back in her chair, a deep sigh escaped her.  My eyes filled with tears and I felt myself involuntarily slipping off the couch onto the floor and slumping onto the coffee table as the horrors flooded again through my mind.  My body trembled and without warning, I began to sob painfully. 

          The unimaginable had actually happened to him and I didn't see how I could even begin to think I could help him. 

          Soft, gentle arms enveloped me and I turned into Gayle's embrace.  She too was crying and we held each other making the feeble attempt to provide comfort. 

          "Why ... how could they ...."  I tried to voice my incredulity, but failed miserably.

          "Shhh," she began.  "Let's not do this now.  We need Bill to help us process everything we heard.  You'll need to share it with Joel, but only that which you can while you maintain control.  Do you understand me, Blair?  I have never encountered this kind of horror.  So please, we'll find a time this early evening to meet at Bill's and go over everything.  It's too ... too raw right now for me and I can't even imagine what it's like for you with your feelings for Mau."

          She was right.  My emotions felt like raw, exposed nerve endings that would never heal.  "Okay, Gayle.  Call Bill and set it up."  I wiped my face and tried to breath.  "But ..."

          "But, what, Blair?"

          I wiped my face and small tremors continued to tweak through me.  "He was so talkative after the hypnosis and so almost ... bubbly."

          Gayle smiled grimly and raised her eyebrows.  "Remember in the very beginning, I told him that it was a wonderful thing and very healthy to speak to the people he loved?"

          Recognition of her words and their impact on Mau's subconscious came together in my head.  "So he's gonna talk more now?"

          "Well, I don't know, we'll have to see.  I put that suggestion in with the hope that at least with you, Joel and the rest of the boys that he'd feel comfortable in opening up.  And my last suggestion about trusting me not to hurt him was so that the two of us can begin a conversation now that we know where a lot of the landmines are and how to work our way around them."

          "I don't know how to thank you, Gayle."

          "Don't.  You give back to me with your love for Mau.  I don't always get to experience that, so no thanks needed."

          We pulled ourselves from the floor and hugged one last time.  My phone rang as we headed for the study door.  It was Joel.

          "Hi, Babe,"   I answered.  The effort it took to even speak at that moment felt like it was beyond my strength after my seeming emotional hemorrhage.

          "His name is Jordan and ..."

          "I know, Joel," I said flatly.

          "How?"  He asked then paused.  "He told you in the session."

          "Yes and so goddamned much more.  But I can't talk about it now."

          "But I just got off the phone with the agent from the FBI.  They got the bastard."

          "Joel, that's great, but please, I just ... can't right now.  Not after what I've heard."

          "But Blair, his parents ..."

          I cut him off.  I simply couldn't discuss it with him on the phone.  I needed to feel his arms around me.  I needed to look into his eyes and find some kind of strength.  "I know.  Please, I'll see you when you get here.  I'm just walking Gayle out.  She wants you, me and her to meet with Bill later on to decompress and do a little processing.  And I don't want the details of what I've heard rolling around in your head as you're up flying with the boys."

          Silence met my words.  Then, I heard him sigh with frustration and resignation.  "Okay, you're right.  I'm on my way back now, so we'll see each other soon enough.  I love you."

          "I love you too, babe."

          Gayle and I hugged at the elevator and then I turned towards the kitchen and its promised sandwich, cold drink and possibly some hope for a lost teenage boy that may have just taken the first step towards finding himself again.



          Rob's smirk was subtle and tightly held as he nodded in acknowledgement of my snarl.  I didn't need help getting out of a damned car.  Granted, my irritation wasn't solely based on the fact that he was treating me like an invalid by racing around the car and opening my door.  I was irritated for a number of reasons. 

          Joel had been gone most of the afternoon, initially with Timmy, Mau and Cody flying the skies around Denver and the foothills.  After their return, he said he needed to leave again, but refused to tell me where he was going.  Cleats and Chris had gone out looking for another pickup basketball game, at least I hoped that's what they were doing, while the other four boys headed for the video arcade at the Tivoli Center on the west side of downtown. 

          The quiet in the apartment had actually been enjoyable after the intensity of the morning and I'd ended up dozing on the couch with my foot propped up as I tried to read through some specs our team had compiled regarding the Paris acquisition.  Peter had done a great job of summarizing and presenting priorities, but I didn't get very far with them because my mind continued to float back to the session with Gayle and Mau.  Joel and I had shared a brief half hour on the terrace discussing the generalities from Mau's hypnosis along with the basic facts of the arrest of the guy who'd been involved in Mau's rapes.  I got the gist regarding the FBI's involvement and the mother lode of incriminating evidence obtained from the guy's house before Timmy burst onto the terrace unable to contain his excitement of the coming flight.

          But I think it was Rob's unexpected presence in the study, waking me with Joel's request to go with Rob that really set my irritation into full swing.  What was all the secrecy about?  And Rob had remained as tight lipped as ever.  He was so Joel's perfect right-hand man. 

          Plus, my ankle hurt and the throbbing pain served to push me beyond the limits of my patience.

          "I'm not a damned invalid, Rob.  Just tell me what this is all about."

          His laughter surprised me almost as much as the bright twinkle in his hazel eyes.  It was rare that he shared any emotion.  He was always so serious and precise about everything.  Joel had assured me that he did in fact have a life outside of being at his beck and call, but I wasn't so sure.  Rob was probably close to my age and divorced with no children.  His focus in life was his work with Joel -- and watching the stock market.  In Joel's estimation, Rob clearly far out-shined his own investment activities.  He considered him somewhat a genius at investing and had at one time offered Rob a position at the head of his investment management team.  Rob had declined simply, stating that he was good at and enjoyed what he did for Joel and Joel had told me that he couldn't argue.  He was the best assistant he'd ever known.

          Rob's laughter both irritated and warmed me.  "You're enjoying this, aren't you?"

          He nodded.  "Yes, I am."  He closed the door behind me and then gestured up the walkway towards what was considered to be one of the Queen Anne mansions on Capitol Hill, an urban neighborhood just slightly southeast of central downtown.  He handed me a pair of crutches, which I couldn't refuse.  The five or six steps to the front door looked quite formidable.

          "May I ask why you're enjoying this so much?"

          His smile dimmed slightly as he shrugged.  "Seeing Joel this excited is contagious.  If possible, he's even more excited than when he called that Saturday after first meeting you."

          He then refused to say anything more even though I stopped to look at him pointedly.

          Upon entering, I heard Joel's voice just off to the left of the entryway at the top of the wide, center staircase.  As he walked into view, I saw him speaking into his phone.

          "I'll have Rob call you in a little while with our decision."  He flipped his phone closed and stopped at the top of the stairs.  His look contained excitement and a slight bit of hesitancy.

          "Hey, babe," he began.  "Before you get all upset about me moving at the speed of light, you need to know that this is all Rob's fault."

          Rob snorted next to me.  "If you say so, Joel.  I'm just doing my job."

          Joel grinned.  "Of course you are.  I should have known that you'd come up with something in a few hours."

          Their banter forced a reluctant grin to purse my lips.  I sighed as I handed Rob my crutches taking my cane in return.  "Okay, boys.  What's all the Mission Impossible secrecy about?"

          Joel bounded down the steps and clasped my face firmly in his hand.  Surprisingly, he kissed me fully, even working his tongue briefly through my startled lips.  He'd never shown intimate contact in front of Rob before. 

          Rob chuckled.  "God, Joel."

          Joel pulled back from the kiss and winked at Rob.  "Again, this is your fault, so you have no one else to blame."

          I looked at the two of them and felt their shared excitement.  Joel placed his arm around me then swept his other arm in a wide arc.  "What do you think, lover?  Can you, me and the boys be comfortable here?"

          My eyes opened widely, surprised beyond belief.  "What are you saying?  Did you buy this?"

          "No.  Not yet, but if you want to, we can.  I have to say that it's definitely one of our 'possibilities'.  I can't see a down side to the deal."

          My head turned, taking in the enormity of the house and as I continued to observe the spacious, nearly opulent surroundings, I came face to face with Rob.  His grin contained not only mirth, but a little bit of smugness.  I snorted softly as the realization of Joel's words and Rob's knowing smirk sank in. 

          "You mean it?"  I exclaimed.

          Joel nodded. 

          My mind exploded with multiple thoughts at once.  "But what about our traveling?  What about leaving them alone?  And what about my house and all the stuff that Paul is doing?  Joel, are you crazy?"

          I expected a laugh, but instead his face softened as he took my hand in his.  "I have ideas about all of your questions, love, but after this morning ... hell, after this entire week, I simply can't deny that the eight of us are bound together.  The rest is all simply details.  Seeing you with Ben this morning on the couch plus waking up to find Mau in our bed between us, possibly getting his first real night of rest in a very long time just made it blatantly clear to me that we cannot be without these kids in our life on a daily, full-time basis."

          My legs felt like they were going to give way.  "I need to sit down."

          Joel's eyes filled immediately with concern and he nodded towards a main doorway.  I swapped my cane for the crutches again and followed Joel into a large dining room.  An enormous, circular dining table sat in the middle of the room surrounded by ten chairs.  I paused as I took in the sight and saw in my head the eight of us sitting around the table having dinner.  I felt Joel's hand on my elbow urging me forward. 

          "I know, love.  I had the same thought when I saw the table.  It can be our very own Round Table.  Arthur and Lancelot, with their own set of knights."

          I looked at him and saw the shine in his eyes, causing my own to moisten. 

          "God!  I never would have guessed how mushy you are, boss."

          Joel laughed as Rob joined us at the table.  Joel nodded towards me.  "He brings it all out of me.  I truly couldn't be happier, Rob."

          "I can see that.  Good."

          Once seated, I turned towards Joel after allowing the vision of our boys, here in this magnificent house, to filter through my thoughts. 

          "Help me see how this all can happen, Joel.  Let me in on your vision, because I know that look.  You've got a roadmap already, don't you?  I know all about you and your 'possibilities'."

          He shrugged.  "I spoke with Bill earlier, as you know, and asked him what he thought about the boys after the past couple of days.  His answer somewhat surprised me, but also confirmed what I had already started to feel.  Somehow, our boys have sheltered themselves from the worst of what could have been a truly negative, damaging experience.  They've done it because they've banded together as a pack, as brothers.  Even Mau, with ... everything ... has found security with the others.  And now, almost miraculously, they've landed with us and accepted us into their lives.  All within a week.  But they've been able to do that because they are together.

          I still want to use your house for boys, Blair, but other boys -- ones that need security and help.  I can't help but see in my mind the two friends of Ben and Cody's outside of the theatre.  We can fill your house with kids like them and hopefully Bill will want to work with them also.  He told me that he feels that while each of our boys have issues, some serious, some not so, they don't need full time work, with the exception of Mau."

          My mind spun with the idea of filling my house with other boys from the streets.  The need was tremendous.  At any one time, there were over 500 teens on the streets of Denver, homeless and alone.  And the numbers continued to grow.  I was overwhelmed with just our six.

          "Joel, I'm not sure I can absorb much more.  Our six seem to be beyond what is possible now and it's only been a week."

          "I would like to help."  Rob's voice startled me.  For a moment, I'd forgotten that we weren't alone.  He continued.  "I'm not talking about living there, but I'd like to somehow play a part.  What you two are doing now moves me incredibly."  He grinned.  "I don't know, but I can see myself like a Mini-Me to Joel."

          Joel smiled widely.  "Wrong.  You're all powerful just as yourself, Rob."

          He shrugged and grinned at Joel's words.  "I love what I do with you Joel ... Blair."  He nodded to me.  "But I also know that I need more in my life, but I just haven't known what it was.  Helping some kids get their feet back under them sounds like a perfect adjunct to my day job."

          "You're the best, Rob.  I know I keep saying that, but you keep proving it."  He turned back to look at me.  "This house has six, large bedrooms between the second and third floors, five baths, a great kitchen, dining room, living room, study, office setup and a room that could be made into a media room.  Plus there's an enormous Carriage House above a four-car garage.  And it's affordable."

          Rob snorted quietly and I glanced to see his smirk.  "What's affordable, Joel?"

          "Just under two."

          I gulped.  Two million bucks.  But to Joel, maybe that is affordable.  "When's it available?"

          "Now.  It's been on the market for eight months with only nibbles.  It's here, centrally located and I think we can use the apartment for business meetings and functions, plus as an over night place for the property managers when they're in town."

          "But what about when we travel?  We can't leave the boys alone."

          "When possible, they'll travel with us."

          "And what about school?  The year may be over in a couple of weeks, but next fall they'll need to be enrolled."

          "Then I think that we'll have to find the perfect tutor, one that is free to travel and with minimal commitments here.  We may have already found her."


          I sighed.  I couldn't help it.  After the many countless times this past week where my heart about ripped itself from my chest at the thought of Ben and the other boys being in my old house while Joel and I were either in the apartment or on the road, it seemed there was no reason to do anything but agree with him. 

          "It all seems perfect, Joel.  Who do you have to call?"

          His grin prompted one of my own.  Joel nodded to Rob who excused himself and left the room already dialing his cell phone. 

          "I'm serious, Joel.  It seems so perfect, almost too perfect.  What about Mau and Ben?  I plan to have complete court involvement with their parents.  I won't rest until they are all behind bars.  I'm serious, Joel.  And after all of that, we have no guarantee that the boys, the six of them will end up with us -- no guarantee at all.  We could be left standing at the corner looking all different directions and not knowing which way to go."

          "Yes, Blair, we could end up there," he whispered as he took my hand and held it between both of his.  "But I simply won't let that happen.  I know it's a lot to grasp and believe in, but why the blast of insecurity?  Between us, combined we are unstoppable."

          I held his gaze and wondered myself where the sudden insecurity about everything was based.  The day had proven to be grueling and exhausting at best and we still needed to meet with Bill and Gayle.  I'd swung from an incredible high this morning, knowing that Mau felt as comfortable with us as he did, into a devastating emotional slide with Ben and his fears and up again to the ultimate feelings of love and acceptance as Ben admitted his desires, and I my own, about making it permanent and legal between us.  Yet nothing could have prepared me for the monstrosities revealed during Mau's session.

          And now, here was truly the man of my dreams offering me what constituted the entirety of what I considered to be the perfect world -- and I was frozen with insecurity. 

          The crossroads stood barren and windy before me.

          To my left was the life I'd imagined a month ago, containing everything two people in love could share -- happiness, togetherness, incredible wealth and the world seemingly at their feet.  To the right lay a new reality, one based on the past week and the voluminous surprises and changes, which could shape our lives together for many years to come, but also offering the security inherent in passing off the daily needs of our boys to another. 

          In front of me stood the dream of Camelot in its truest form and unlimited potential.  And yet, the skies above that road contained storm clouds that whirled with pending violence and promised ongoing hurt, randomly sending down lightning strikes to kiss the spires of our keep with its shocking, inherent reality that life within the Dream would never be truly golden.

          Mau's emotional scars, reaching so deeply within him, would take years to heal.  Ben's need for love was almost unfathomable.  Cleats' anger and occasional desire to break free held innumerable future headaches along with unknown challenges.  Chris and Cody, while similarly molded had abandonment issues that I could only guess at and were manifesting in their need for sexual contact.  And Timmy just wanted to belong to someone.  Dumping him off on Bill could possibly challenge his sense of belonging for the rest of his life.

          I looked left, knowing that a retreat into some fairy tale was no longer possible and, glancing to the right at the hand-off to Bill, the suddenly clear, untenable nature of that option revealed itself.  And so, with a deep breath and a slight shudder, I stepped through the crossroads and was immediately buffeted by the storm.

          My eyes closed as I allowed the rage I felt about what had been allowed to happen to Mau to course through me. I could hold it back no longer.

          "Lover?  Blair?  You're trembling.  Is this too much for you all of a sudden?"  His voice, filled with love and strength, surrounded me.

          "No, Joel.  I'm with you."  I opened my eyes.  "And I need to know what we're going to do about what those fiends did to Mau.  I want them to rot in prison and then go to hell.  They fucking sold their own son to those monsters to do with what they wanted.  And I want to make their lives -- all of them -- a living nightmare.”


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


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