STANDARD WARNING: This is a work of fiction. Any similarity to individuals, living or dead, is pure coincidence. Do not read this story if you are offended by man-to-man romance or sex. Do not read if you are underage according to the laws in the country, state/province, county, city/town/village or township where you live. There is sex between males. You have been warned!
Copyright 2000 by archer. Permission is
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By Nick Archer
Casimir Pulaski was a Revolutionary War hero largely unknown to the millions of Illinois schoolchildren who honored him by taking the first Monday in March off of school. The sizeable Polish community was to thank for this piece of legislation. They lobbied the lawmakers in Springfield with the logic that Italian Americans had Columbus Day and African Americans the entire month of February. Chicago has the largest concentration of Polish people outside Poland, they argued, so why not a day for Polish Americans?
Polish Americans certainly should be honored for their contributions, and perhaps Pulaski should be more prominently remembered in textbooks, but not, Matt thought, at the expense of a day of education. He took a vacation day that day. He needed it for a couple reasons. He was still recovering from bronchitis. He was much better, of course, but still easily tired, and the doctor told him to take it easy. And he wanted to keep an eye on the boys. Tommy was also still there and he was due back at St. Lukes later in the evening.
Matt and Brian never had formally reconciled. Matts illness had postponed it, and by the time he was feeling better, the situation had become too awkward. He wanted to say he was sorry for yelling at Brian and calling him a slut, but he could never find the right time. The incident weighed heavily on his heart like fresh, wet snow on an evergreen branch. He genuinely loved Brian, was sorry for his behavior but could never find the right time or words to apologize.
Brian, too, had regrets and was having a difficult time apologizing. He had trouble sleeping nights, and trouble concentrating on his schoolwork. He hated to be on bad terms with anyone, and especially with Matt. They had had discussions before and some of them had been rather heated. But never like this.
Mr. Groves, one of Brians teachers, had called Matt. He expressed his concern that Brians grades were slipping and he was acting out in class. Matt knew exactly what the problem was. He set up an appointment for the next Monday to meet with Mr. Groves.
So the atmosphere between Matt and Brian remained cold and frosty. They had missed the three one-on-one times that were scheduled since the fight. One-on-ones was the working name they gave the scheduled time each boy had for individual attention. There were no impromptu wrestling sessions with Matt and no longer did Brian cuddle with him. The breezy, comfortable banter between them had evaporated, replaced by proper, stiff and formal interactions. Conversation between them was limited to factual matters.
The temperature that Monday had risen to the mid-fifties. It was as if Mother Nature was teasing them with a taste of spring. All the snow had melted and the day was sunny and clear. That Monday afternoon, Brian said to Matt, "Dad, were going to the Center to ride bikes." Matt noticed that Jake was carrying his skateboard.
"OK, be careful and dont be gone too long." Matt was glad they would be out of his hair for a while. He also planned on inviting Leah over for coffee and to talk. Perhaps it would be good to get someone elses perspective.
The three boys rode the four or five blocks south to the central shopping district. There wasnt much left of it. When Park Forest was built after World War II the central business district was the jewel of the city. It was a novel idea in 1948 three anchor department stores around a pedestrian mall. There was office space above the stores. Throughout the fifties and sixties, Park Forest was the premier shopping center of the south suburbs. The trouble started in 1973, when Lincoln Mall was built only four miles away. It boasted four department stores, and it was enclosed, something that Park Forest was not. At Park Forest Plaza, shoppers had to brave the elements as they shopped from store to store. In Chicago, that could mean tolerating some harsh weather.
Two of the three department stores, Sears and Marshall Fields remained. And Sears had just announced plans to move to Lincoln Mall to a former Weiboldts store. Most of the smaller stores were vacant, as were the offices. The village had tried two revitalization efforts once in the late seventies and again in 1987. In the 1987 revitalization, the towns trademark, 60-foot, white triangular clock tower was demolished. It was an act of wanton destruction, and a piece of the towns heart was ripped out.
Both renovations brought some vitality for a period of years, but the downward spiral continued. The third department store had been vacant so long; the leaking roof allowed moss and mushrooms to grow on the floor of the store. The McDonalds restaurant in the northwest corner of the parking lot closed. McDonalds seldom closes stores, no matter how unprofitable. A branch of the same bookstore chain Matt managed had survived four short years and closed in 1991. There simply wasnt enough foot traffic to survive. Matt said that gazing into the vacant store through the dusty display windows was like going to a wake.
But the vast, empty parking lots afforded the neighborhood kids a perfect place to skate and ride bikes. Wheels were strictly forbidden within shopping center itself, but they could use the parking lots. At the north end, some kids had built a ramp of plywood, and it was this ramp that was their destination.
The neighborhood kids kept it hidden in some bushes when it was not in use. They knew that the police would confiscate it. No skateboarding or roller-blading was permitted on Park Forest Center property. But the police simply winked at the practice unless the kids actually went into the mall proper. Even though most kids were diligent enough to return the ramp to its hiding place; it was perhaps the worst kept secret in Park Forest.
"Watch me!" Tommy yelled as he took a flying start on his bike at the ramp.
"Be careful, Tommy," Brian warned. Tommy landed safely, but Brian still had a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach.
Brian went next. His jump was a little more conservative. It was thrilling, though. Almost as much fun as the toboggan slide.
Jake went next on his skateboard. He executed an admirable jump.
John and a few of his friends joined them. Before they knew it, an impromptu competition had sprung up.
Jake positioned himself way back and started for the ramp with all the speed he could muster.
"Jake! Dont!" Brian heard himself yelling.
But Jake was beyond the stopping point. He was a competitive boy and he had nothing to loose.
"Hes crazy," John muttered as they watched him.
Jake landed with the skateboard under his feet, and Brian let out a sigh of relief.
"That was awesome!" Tommy exclaimed.
"It was fucking crazy," Brian corrected.
As the other boys jumped, Brian observed that the ramp itself was moving. The force of the launch was pushing the wooden ramp forward a foot at a time. When Brian took his next jump, he landed in a shallow pothole. It caused him to lose his balance as he landed, but he regained momentum and executed a good jump.
They continued to take turns, and they began perspiring. Some boys doffed their coats and threw them in a pile on the parking lot.
"Wait until you see this!" Jake shouted. For some reason, Brian had the scene from Gone With The Wind in his mind when Bonnie Blue is jumping on her pony. Matt had insisted he watch the movie some months earlier. But why was he thinking about that scene?
Jakes face was a study in concentration as he approached the ramp. His right leg was like a piston pushing the ground to gain speed. Faster and faster he sped toward the ramp. Both feet were firmly on the skateboard as he approached the incline.
He landed perfectly! He looked at the other boys in triumph and sheer joy, when the front wheels of the board met the pothole. Suddenly, the board was no longer under his feet! He was hurtling forward toward the asphalt!
Tommy screamed! Jake lay face down on the parking lot. For a long moment, the boys didnt move. Then, they all ran toward him.
A pool of dark blood was forming under his head. They could see an ugly, open gash on the back of his head.
"Oh, my God!" Tommy screamed. "Dad is going to kill us."
From somewhere deep inside him, Brian found the strength to take control of the situation. His stomach lifted slightly when he saw the open gash, but he fought the sensation down. He searched his memory banks frantically. What did they teach us about this in health class? Brian calmed down as he followed the procedures as best as he could remember.
John started to pick Jake up, but Brian stopped him.
"Dont! He could have spinal injuries." He placed his left ear as close as he could to Jakes head to see if he was breathing. "ABC, ABC," he muttered to himself. It was shorthand for Airway, Breathing, and Circulation. Jake was face down, but his head was turned to the left. His mouth and nose were unobstructed. That was good. And he was breathing. That was another good sign. Brian took his wrist and felt his pulse. He had to reposition his fingertips several times to find the rapid, weak pulse.
Tommy started crying.
"Tommy! Stop it! Dont cry!" Brian commanded. "Run to the mall and call 911."
"Shouldnt I call dad?"
"No! What can he do?" Tommy started to run to the mall, and then Brian halted him. "Wait! I want you to talk to the 911 operator personally." He took the younger boys hands. "Now, listen carefully. Tell them were near Lakewood, in back of the old theater. Tell them he is breathing, but his pulse is weak and rapid. Tell them he is unconscious."
Just then Jake groaned.
"No, wait. Hes coming around. Remember, his name is Jake Wagner and he is thirteen. Theyre going to ask that. OK? Can you remember all that?"
"Ride your bike, Tommy. And hurry." Brian turned his attention back to Jake. "Jake? Can you hear me?"
"Yeah. My head hurts."
Brian patted his back. "Its going to be OK. Dont move. Were getting help. One of you guys give me your shirt," he demanded. John pulled off his shirt and handed it to Brian. Brian placed it over the gash on Jakes head and applied direct pressure as he had been taught in PE class.
Tommy jumped on his bike. As he pumped the pedals he repeated to himself Jake Wagner. Hes thirteen. Hes conscious and breathing. Pulse is rapid and weak. Near Lakewood behind the theater. He repeated the words to himself as if it were a chant. The first open store he came to was a Fanny May candy store. He jumped off his bike and let it fall to the ground.
The smell of chocolate overpowered him as he entered the store. A portly, older woman greeted him.
"What can I get for you today, young man?"
"I need to use your phone, please. My brother is hurt. We were jumping....."
"Damn kids! I knew this was going to happen." She picked up the phone and started to dial.
"Im supposed to talk to the 911 operator," Tommy said as he grabbed the receiver out of the startled womans hand.
Tommy spilled the information to the operator as if the medical concepts and terms was a flood held back by the dam of his worry about Jake.
"I just dont know what to do, Leah. I dont know where to start." Matt was on the verge of tears. He regretted his words to Brian and Marty. But his words were out in the ether, never to be retracted or recaptured. His words were suspended like dark clouds over some of the most important people in his life.
"Matt, you have had an extraordinary year. Youve been under a lot of pressure. I guess some of it was bound to come out somehow."
"I really hurt that boy. And Marty."
"Your anger is justified. Your only fault, perhaps, is that you held it in too long and it all came out like a volcano. Youre doing an excellent job, Matt. But youre only human. You must remember that. Some setbacks are bound to occur."
Just then, the phone rang. "Mr. Rosato? This is Beverly Collins, a nurse in the ER at St. James Hospital. We have your foster son, Jake Wagner here."
At the same instant, Tommy came crashing through the back door, sobbing so hard he was slobbering and incoherent.
Brian had insisted on riding in the ambulance with Jake. While it was against the rules, they reasoned that Brians presence would calm the frightened, injured boy.
The paramedics applied a dressing to his head and put an oxygen mask over his mouth. They gave him an injection to lessen the pain.
At the rear of the hospital, Brian followed Jake into the examining room. Then, he felt a pair of firm, loving hands on his shoulders.
"You cant go in there, baby." It was Beverly, who had gone to nursing school with Matts mom, Gloria. She was a large, matronly, African American woman with huge breasts. She immediately sized up the situation.
"But, thats my brother."
"I know, baby. Hes in good hands now. Why dont you come over to this sink and wash up a bit?" She had purposely avoided using the word blood. She handed him a small package. Inside was a small, pre-soaped scrub brush. He looked at her with a puzzled look. She ripped the package open and turned on the faucet. As he soaped up his bloody hands and arms he began to feel a bit queasy. The soap, which had turned a shade of pink, swirled down the drain. Brians head started to spin in tandem with the soap.
As if in slow motion, he sank to his knees in front of the sink. He started to lose consciousness as he slumped to his right side. Beverly caught him before he hit the floor.
"Ooops! Come on big boy." She half-carried and half-dragged him to a vacant gurney. Her powerful arms, which had held down ranting drunks and hallucinating drug overdose patients, had no problem lifting the boy and laying him on his back.
When he awakened a little later, his bloody shirt was gone, replaced by a green surgical scrub shirt with the St. James logo on the pocket. Jake was also gone.
Beverly was currently assisting the doctor with a cast on a man who had broken his arm.
"You OK, sweetie?" she asked him.
"Yeah," he answered groggily.
"I called your father. Hes on his way."
Brian stared blankly at the crucifix on the wall. Beverly came over to him. "Your brothers going to be OK."
"Can I see him?"
"Not yet, baby. When your father gets here." She took his hand. "You were a real brave young man, you know that? You helped your brother out a lot. You may have even saved his life."
"Yes, sir. Your father will be proud." Her hand slipped into the pocket of her uniform. She handed him a dollar. "Here. Theres a vending machine down the hall, turn right then turn left. If theres one thing I know about boys your age, theys always hungry." She helped him down.
He followed her directions, but his head was still swimming. Sounds had a muffled quality as if his ears were underwater. His knees felt weak and he was shaky. At one point, he even stopped in an empty corridor to lean against a wall. Then, he saw a directional sign.
In the windowless, dimly lit chapel he sat in the last pew.
Please, God, let Jake be OK. Im sorry for the things I did with Mike. I promise I wont do them again, if Jake is OK. I love him. Please dont let my dad be mad at me. I love him, too. Please help me make things right with him again. I promise Ill be a better person. Ill try harder in school. Please dont let Matt send me back to St. Lukes.
By now he was crying. He was glad the chapel was empty so no one could hear him sob. He leaned back in the cool darkness and stared into the perpetual light. His eyelids became heavy again. His body was coming down from the adrenaline rush that had allowed him to take charge of the emergency situation. In truth, he was in shock.
He slumped over in the pew and passed out again.
Brian awoke in Matts arms.
"Brian," Matt called softly as he embraced the boy.
"Daddy," Brian cried. His father was here! He needed his father. Only his fathers embrace could protect him now. Beyond all caring, he crawled into Matts lap.
"Ill let you two alone," Beverly said as she patted Matts shoulder and left the chapel.
"Thanks, Beverly," he called after her.
For a long moment, they held each other, their salty tears mingling on the wooden pew.
"Youve had quite an afternoon, havent you?"
Brian could only nod.
"Im so proud of you. You did exactly the right thing. Jake is going to be OK."
"Yup. He has thirteen stitches on his head and some scrapes on his face and chest. No broken bones and no concussion, thank God. Theyre going to keep him overnight for observation."
"Youre not mad at me are you?"
"No, Brian, not at all. Im so proud of you for keeping your cool. Im glad you told Tommy to call 911 and not me."
"Do you still love me?"
Matt sniffled. "Yes, Brian, with all my heart."
"You wont send me back to St. Lukes, will you?"
Matt began to cry hard. All the pent-up emotions came out in a flood. The guilt, the anger, the tension, the desire to forgive and to be forgiven; all came out in a torrent of tears. "Im so sorry about that, Brian. Ill never send you back. Please forgive me."
"Ill forgive you, if you will forgive me."
Matt could only nod.
Brians next question burned within him. It was the central, core issue. He had to know the answer, and the only way to find out was to ask directly. "Will you still adopt me?"
Matt nodded again. "Do you still want to become Brian Rosato?"
"I already am."
Matt wiped his nose on his sleeve. "Yeah, I guess you are." He looked at the boy though a damp, teary eye. "I love you, Brian. If you still want me to adopt you, I would be happy to do it."
"I never wanted anything else so much in my life."
"OK, then. As soon as Bill can arrange it."
Brian engulfed the man in a hug. "I love you, dad."
"Lets promise each other that were never going to go there again, OK, kiddo? I want you to feel like you can talk to me about anything."
Brian nodded vigorously. "OK, good."
"And Brian? Lets not go through the same thing with drugs. Please?"
"I promise Ill try to do better. I wont play around with Mike anymore. Or at least, Ill try not to."
Matt laughed through his tears. "And I promise not to blow up anymore." Matt was pensive for a moment. "Its all about love, son."
"Sex. Youll find that sex is so much better when you love the person youre with. When youre in love with someone, sex is something special that you share with the other person. Like Tim and me. "
"But, I love Mike."
"I know. Youve said that before. Dont be so defensive." Matt ran his fingers through Brians golden hair. "Think about this: when a guy and a girl hook up as boyfriend and girlfriend at school, how long does it usually last?"
"Not very long. Usually."
"Thats what I mean. You feel like you love Mike now. And thats OK. But young adults change their minds pretty often. Maybe thats how its supposed to be. At your age, you are learning about love and what you want in a relationship. Did you ever think about Mike still being your boyfriend when you get to high school?"
"No, not really." Brian looked Matt in the eyes. Matt noticed they still glistened with tears. "Dont you like Mike? Are you trying to break us up?"
"No, not at all, sweetheart. I like Mike a lot. Hes a charming boy." Matt struggled for the right words. "All Im trying to say is that you may not love Mike forever. Thats how it should be. If your feelings change for Mike, that doesnt make you a bad person. You are at the age when youre finding out what being in love romantically is all about. You cant learn it all from one person. The old saying goes: You gotta kiss a lot of toads until you find Prince Charming."
"Dont be in such a hurry to grow up. Enjoy being a kid. Believe me, being an adult is not all its cracked up to be!"
Brian finally began to comprehend what Matt was trying to tell him, even if he didnt completely agree. They held each other for a long moment, grateful for the renewed closeness.
"I missed this," Brian whispered.
"Me, too," Matt admitted. "I missed joking with you and wrestling on the floor and whipping your ass in Scrabble."
"Dad? I know this is kinda weird....but....I...."
"What? Whats wrong, Brian?"
He looked embarrassed. He lowered his voice to a low mumble. "Would you kiss me?"
Matt giggled. "Sure." He puckered up and gave the boy a generic peck on the lips.
"Hoooo!" Brian swooned comically. "Now I know why Tim stays with you."
Matt laughed. "You are such a mess. Come on. Lets go see how Jake is doing."
Matt stopped him outside the door to Jakes room. "I want to prepare you a bit. The right side of Jakes face is pretty scraped up. He doesnt look good. You cant cry, Brian, not in front of him. It will scare him."
"Atta boy. Deep breathe now...."
Jakes injured face lit up when Brian entered the room. In addition to the scrapes on the right side of his face, both his eyes were blackened, giving him the look of a raccoon. His scalp had been shaved where the sutures had been sewn. "How are you, bro?"
Brian took Jakes hand. Then, an inspiration lit his eyes. He unfastened the guardrail on the side of the bed. It retracted with a metallic clank. With half his body on the hospital bed, he embraced the boy he really loved.
Jake tried to wrap his arms around his foster brother, but it was difficult with all the tubes and monitor wires. Not a word was spoken.
Matt smiled and squeezed Jakes shoulder.
The next morning, Matt picked him up from the hospital to continue the healing process. In fact, the entire family continued the healing process.
Thanks for reading, hope you enjoyed it. As always, your comments and suggestions are welcome. I read and respond to all email (even if it takes a few days) Just click on one of the links below. And don't forget to check out my website (Chapters are always posted there earlier than here) and my other story here on Nifty, Pocketful of Stars, in the Young Friends section.
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