This story is fiction. It depicts, sometimes explicitly, sex between teenage boys, between boys and men, and between boys and females, both teenage and adult. If you find such things offensive, or reading such things is illegal where you live, please read no further.

XXV. Making The System Work

"I can't believe you just left him there!" Dan said to his father. "I mean, what's Charlie supposed to think, Dad? He gets thrown in jail and you just pick up and come on home!"

"That's not fair, Dan," Clarke argued. "I stayed three days, got things all set up the best I could. I tried to see him and I made sure he had Justin Krendall appointed as his attorney. Justin has seen him, and he's made sure Charlie knows we're doing all we can. But I still have a job to do. This house you love so much, all those legal fees, they all take money, Dan. I committed to do a job for Jane, and I have to attend to things on that front."

"Is that all that's important to you, Dad? Money? 'Cause if that means more to you than Charlie, then maybe he was better off..."

"Daniel Edwards!" Nancy Edwards exclaimed. "How dare you talk to your father like that! Now I want you to apologize. Now!"

"Mom, he left Charlie in that hell-hole, all alone!"

"Your mom's right," Sean said. "You need to apologize to your father. You still have one, and he cares. I've never seen a father who cares so much about his sons, and two of y'all aren't even his sons yet!"

"Sean?" Emily Fawcett questioned. "I think you should stay out of it. It's really none of your business."

"It certainly is my business. I've stayed quiet long enough, Mom! You've never let me talk about it, never really told me what happened. I've been growing up thinking it was my fault! Something I did made him go away. I've even thought maybe it was 'cause he found out I'm gay, but you'd never talk about it. But I'm not gonna sit here and listen to someone I love a lot talk that way about a man he should be respecting. I'm sorry, Mom, but whatever the reason, Dad had no right to leave us! He had no right at all! And Dan, you need to think about what you just said to your father."

"I certainly can't argue with you there, Sean. But that's not helping with the situation here and now. We need to figure out a way to help, not make matters worse. I'm sorry, Clarke, but I can't for the life of me figure out how something like this could happen. How can they just lock him up like that? I can't believe that Canadian law is the much different."

"It's a common legal dodge, Emily. If you want someone taken out of commission for a while, all you have to do is convince the judge there is some sort of mental illness. I don't think being gay qualifies, but if the judge is prejudiced, there's no telling. It could also be argued that Charlie is totally up front, admits his so-called affliction readily, and there are lots who would argue no rational person would do that."

"So what do we do?" Nancy Edwards asked. "We can't just leave him there!"

"We're not leaving him there, honey. We've got a few tricks up our own sleeves. I just hope that Charlie has the good sense to control that hot temper of his. The more rational and cooperative he is, the more friends he will have. They'll have to have a hearing within a month or so..."

"A MONTH!" Dan screamed. "Dad, how can you be so calm? What about school?"

"I'm sorry, son, but I know how these things work. In the meantime we have to be gathering evidence. We need documents from the school about what kind of work he's doing, what he's missing. We need as many witnesses as we can get to come to his aid. We need credible people to convince that judge that Charlie is not insane, not some monster."

"Sounds a lot like guilty until proven innocent," Jerry said ruefully.

"That's precisely what it is. Unfortunately Charlie's father is in the favored position. They'll believe him before they believe us. So we also have to influence what he says."

"How are we gonna do that?" Sean asked. "From what I've heard about that man, nobody tells him anything!"

"Charlie said something in the court room that got my attention. He said the whole reason for this mess is that his father has heard we've come into money and he wants some."

"So you're gonna pay him off?" Dan said with surprise.

"No, son, I hope you know me better than that. If word got out it would look like a bribe, and I'm not about to pay him anyway. Even if I had the money I don't think I would, but it doesn't matter. I have spent a fortune this summer, and I don't have that much ready cash. But if money is so important to him, it occurred to me a nice hefty law suit will probably get his attention. So that's what Justin's doing right now. I think we have all sorts of grounds, and now that Justin is duly registered as Charlie's attorney, he can add a lawsuit on Charlie's behalf too."

"That sounds good, Dad," Dan said as he grinned slightly. "I'm sorry I didn't trust you. I knew you wouldn't just abandon him. But I've got some things I can do too, so I'm gonna start. I gotta warn you though, I'll probably be driving the phone bill up."

"That's fine, Dan. Just make sure whatever you do is legal and above board. Oh, and if you want to write to Charlie, go ahead, then give it to me. Justin will be seeing him quite regularly, so he can carry letters back and forth, that way we'll avoid any snooping or censorship."

"Cool!" the boys all chorused. "I'll get a note started right away!"

Dear Charlie, Dan wrote.

I surely hope this note finds you well. We were all totally blown away when Dad told us what happened. God, I miss you so much! We all do, but the others have no idea I'm sure how much I miss you. But we're going to get you out of there just as soon as we can. Dad promised that he's doing everything he can, and so is Justin Krendall.

We have been keeping Mr. Tanner informed. He has been so great! He asked me to tell you that you should take advantage of any school they offer there. It may not be much, but on the other hand he said anything you can learn will help you catch up with our program once you're back here.

Sean is back on the swim team this year. No freakin' wonder he was such a great swimmer! He trains like three and four hours every day! I tried out for basketball but I didn't make it. I just can't seem to get interested in anything these days.

Jerry is doing really well, considering the last time he saw the inside of a school was when he was 14. His isn't eligible for most sports because of his age, but that's ok with him. He says he was never much of an athlete anyway. He and Sean are never apart these days. He sits and watches Sean training at the school pool every day, then they spot each other in the gym using the weights. They are so much in love, I think almost as much as you and me. But they have been great with me, always encouraging me and cheering me up when I get lonesome. They are certainly great friends, but they're not you! I miss you, Charlie!

I don't know if you have been seeing your father or not. The last we heard, you were refusing to see him. Dad asked me to tell you that you should see him if you're not already, and as always, be nice. I know Justin is telling you this as well, but I thought maybe if I tell you it would have more weight. Dad is suing your father for breach of contract and a lot of other legal stuff I really don't understand. He said that you told him in the courtroom that day that your father's main interest was in money, so he decided that his best option would be to show him that if any money changes hands, it would be southward, not the other way around.

I guess I had better go, Charlie. I have a mountain of homework, and Dad wants me to finish up so he can get this note in the mail ASAP so Justin can get it to you. I fucking hate all this cloak and dagger stuff, but it seems that Justin is the only one on our side who is allowed to see you.

Be well, Charlie. Take care of yourself, and please, please, please know that we love you. And I love you ten times more!



When Charlie read Dan's note, he had considerable difficulty seeing it. The problem was not, as one would expect, because of the tears in his eyes. It was because both his eyes were almost completely closed due to the beating he'd received the day before. Who and what he was, and the reason he was here in the first place, had come as something of a revelation the second week he was there when one of his former classmates, one who had no love for gay boys, had been sent to the facility for some petty theft. Ever since that revelation, Charlie had been the almost constant subject of abuse by both inmates and guards. All wanted a blow job; all wanted a demonstration of his talents. In all cases the only objective, of course, was Charlie's humiliation. But Charlie was not about to cave to such juvenile behavior. He flatly refused; he returned insult for insult. He told them they were the ones with the problem, not he. And for his trouble he received frequent and severe beatings. Somehow, Dan's description of life in Daytona Beach, of a high class high school and all its activities, of fishing trips, weightlifting, swim teams, seemed on another planet, not merely another country. Somehow it seemed to Charlie almost as if these incredibly wonderful things, things all teens should take for granted, had been dangled in front of him, but as he reached for them, as he was closing his hand on them, they had all been snatched away.

"Would you like to write an answer?" Justin asked softly as Charlie fought the tears.

"I don't think I'm up to it," Charlie answered. "I mean, what am I gonna say? Tell him that I can't go to school because I'll get the crap beat outa me? That everything's going fine, long as I suck two hundred dicks every day?"

"Charlie, you can't let this get the best of you! You can't get bitter! If you do, you're beaten."

"Jesus Fuckin' Christ!" Charlie answered. "Look at me! You don't call this beaten? Do you have eyes? Are you here? Hello????

"Meanwhile everyone else is getting on with their lives. School is going fine, money is rolling in, everybody loves everybody! And what have I got? I've got a letter from someone who's supposed to love me, telling me that I have to see the mother fucker that put me here in the first place, and be nice to him! BE FUCKING NICE TO HIM!"

"Charlie, the way the legal system works..."

"Fuck the legal system! I'm sorry, man, you're the only friend I've got in the entire fucking world! But please, don't stick your fucking legal system in my face! Please, not you, Justin! You're the only friend I've got!"

"Charlie," Justin said in a stern voice, "you're losing it! Snap out of it, you spoiled little faggot! We've got a problem here, and half of that problem is you. YOU! There are more people than you would believe killing themselves to get you out of this fix, but it's all going to be for nothing if you don't do your part. So get your act together, Charlie! Quit feeling sorry for yourself and do your part! Accept the help you're getting, and take my advice. You keep saying I'm the only friend you've got, but you keep trying to get rid of me. How much do you think I can take, Charlie? I'm a young lawyer, and a good one. I'm good enough that I don't need you or your case or your shit. I'm trying to help you because I think you're worth it, Charlie! If you don't agree then just keep on the way you're going, and I'll be gone. I don't need you, Charlie, but you need me! I care about you and I'll help you if you let me, but I'm really close to hanging it up. So what's it gonna be, Charlie? Do we work together, or do you do this one alone?"

Charlie sat in his chair and thought. He looked at Justin Krendall, really looked at him, for perhaps the first time. He was a very handsome man, probably about 37 or so years old. He was dressed immaculately, as always. Charlie liked that. He had learned from Jerry that no matter what one's talents or skills, first impressions were important, and, to use a tired old phrase, Clothes make the man. This was certainly true with Justin Krendall. But this guy went so much deeper! He was a lawyer, and Charlie had no particular respect for lawyers. But Justin was so much more! He was emotional! He was passionate! He cared about his clients! That was obvious right now, even to Charlie, as he looked into the eyes of his young attorney; the eyes that at this moment had tears in them. At that moment, Charlie knew without doubt that Justin cared, would go the distance for him.

"I've got to ask," Charlie said. "Please don't be offended. You're not gay, are you?"

"Damn, I hope not, Charlie! I've got a wife and three kids! It would be a bit of a shock to all of us!"

"Then why? Why do you care? What difference can it possibly make in your life if I ever get out of here? To you I'm nothing but a fag! And a prostitute one at that! Why, Justin?"

"Charlie, you've got to get out of this feeling sorry for yourself bullshit! You're intelligent! You're focused, or at least you were. You know who you are and what you are! You're loving, kind, considerate. You care for others, you do what you can. You're talented, eager to please, anxious to be liked. In other words, Charlie, you're a pretty average teenager. So you have a preference for other males in the bedroom. So what does that have to do with me? I already have my bedroom partner and no one is about to change that. So what possible difference does it make to me what happens in your bedroom?

"I'm a lawyer, Charlie, and you're my client. Already, just by making that simple statement, there is a special bond between us. But it goes far deeper than that. The fact is, you are being victimized here, and I cannot deal with that. Through no fault of your own, you have been locked up simply because a lot of people don't understand who you are, what you are. But I'm going to get you out of here, Charlie, and get you back to people who love you. But I need your help. I need your cooperation, and most of all, I need your patience. We can do this, Charlie, but we need to trust each other. Clarke Edwards is doing his part, so are Dan, Jerry and Sean; so are a lot of people in Truro whose names I don't even know. So it's all up to you, my young friend. There are an incredible number of people who love you and care for you, and are willing to fight for you. Now it's up to you. You have to trust us, Charlie! You have to trust me, your attorney; Clarke Edwards, the man who wants to be your father; Danny, your lover; Jerry and Sean, the best friends anyone could ever ask for; Lisa, Margaret, Bill, Joe, Mr. Bell, Mr. Tanner, and a hundred more, Charlie! They are all, every last one, pulling for you! Trust us, Charlie! Trust me! Let me make the system work for you!"

"I think I got the message," Charlie said humbly. "What do you want me to do?"

"Cooperate. Charm everyone's ass off! Be the epitome of charm! Agree to see your father, and if you see him, tell him you think you're beginning to understand where he's coming from. You've already admitted that you've prostituted your body, Charlie. Now it's time for the biggest indignity of them all: It's time to prostitute your soul if necessary. We're all there for you, my hot-headed friend, but it's all up to you! Unless you get a court hearing, we can do nothing! And the way you get a court hearing is to demonstrate that you're ready to face the world, the legal system, your father. You do that, and get a court hearing, and we'll do the rest."

Mid October. Charlie had been in detention almost five weeks. Mr. Tanner was getting nervous, He didn't know, he said, how much longer he could cover for his absent student. Clarke was nervous. He had been on the phone almost daily since the incident that had locked Charlie up, and still he was no closer to a solution. He wanted to fly to Nova Scotia, but once there, what could he do? In the meantime he had a very large corporation, a big time business to run.

"Mind if I sit here?" a boy said as Charlie sat in his usual solitude picking at his lunch.

"Don't matter to me," Charlie answered without looking up. "If you can fight your way through all the crowds trying to get close to me, then sit right on down!"

"You're funny," the boy giggled. Charlie glanced up. What he saw made his heart skip a beat. There before him stood what could very well have been a smaller version of Sean Fawcett! He looked to be 12 or 13, very dark skin, captivating blue eyes that seemed to grin all by themselves, platinum blond hair cropped short. "My name is Josh," the boy said as he sat down. "You're Charlie, right?"

"The one and only," Charlie answered gloomily. "Now you've got my name, all you need is my address."

"Already got it," Josh said with a smile. "Mine's the same; I'm in your dorm."

"Oh, good! That means you're not missing out on all the fun."

"Charlie, I didn't... I mean, I think it's fuckin' awful what they're doin' to you. I wasn't in on it, ever!"

"So why are you sitting here? You want your own private session?"

"No, Charlie. I'm not gay, but I don't hate gays either. I just thought you needed a friend, and I kinda could use one too."

"You don't need to be hangin' round me, Josh. Even if you're not gay they'll think you are an' you'll be part of the evening's entertainment."

"Fuck 'em! I think you're cool and I'm not gonna stay away just 'cause of them."

"That all sounds very nice, Josh, but what about your parents? If they hear you've been hangin' out with a fag, what're they gonna think?"

"They won't think nothin.' They're dead."

"I'm sorry, Josh. Is that why you're here?"

"Sort of. I was in a foster home but one of the other kids stole some money and I got the blame. I like it here better anyway."

"You mean you're here for no reason? You're innocent?"

"The way I hear it, you're no different, Charlie. So you see, we are alike in some ways. Can we be friends? Please?"

"Ya know," Charlie said as he warmed to this little kid, "you're right, we are alike. And I could certainly use a friend. Sure, you can be my friend. I think I'd like that. But I gotta warn ya, once I make a friend I can be pretty hard to shake."

"I'll deal with it," Josh said with a grin.

"You'd better get up here," Justin Krendall instructed Clarke over the phone. "And bring the whole tribe with you. I mean your wife, Dan, Jerry, even that boy Sean I've heard about and his mother. Bring them all, Clarke! Everyone who knows Charlie and wants to help. And hurry, please! All hell's about to break loose here!"

"All hell?" Clarke questioned. "I don't understand!"

"You will soon enough. It seems your son has been on the phone. He seems to have had an influence in this town the likes of which I've never seen! Clarke, Don Nelson is concerned for his own safety! There have been demonstrations, sit-in's, student strikes! This is serious! The news media is going nuts! They could be calling Charlie into court at any moment! They don't dare wait any longer! Get yourself up here! It's show time! Oh, and there's one more thing."

"More?" Clarke asked.

"I'm... I'm afraid so. You might want to keep this one to yourself for now, Clarke. If this gets out the town's gonna blow wide open. Clarke, Charlie's been gang raped repeatedly ever since he went into custody."

If Clarke Edwards didn't know anything else, he knew how to call in a debt. Jane Rawlings had told him when this whole incident first appeared that he would have a corporate jet at his disposal any time he needed it. At the time he'd said that seemed a little extreme, but that was then. This was now. He picked up the phone and dialed the number Jane had given him. He spoke briefly into the receiver, then hung up. "There's gonna be a Lear Jet at Daytona International in three hours," he announced. "I have to be on it. There's a meeting in Atlanta tomorrow that just can't wait. Dan, you're gonna have to handle it for me."

"Me, Dad? But I can't..."

"Yes, you can. And if you want to get Charlie out of this mess, you will. I'm all ready for it and I can coach you on the way to the airport. There are some reports you need to understand, then all you have to do is referee the meeting. Jane is chartering a jet for tomorrow. Jerry, you and Sean need to get everyone you know who knows Charlie on that jet, including you and Sean, Emily, if you're so inclined."

"What's happened?" Nancy wanted to know. "Clarke, you're as pale as a ghost!"

"I don't know, really," Clarke answered. "All I know for sure is that I've been told to cram everyone I can on that plane when it gets here. What's Greg Tanner's number?"

"Charlie," Don Nelson said as he saw his son for the first time in over five weeks, "thank you for agreeing to see me. I hope this means that we can work together to sort this all out."

"I'll do what I can, sir," Charlie replied. "I'm certainly not getting anywhere sitting here rotting in a cell."

"A cell? But they told me there were no cells here. They said you were housed in very comfortable rooms."

"Call them what you want, sir. But if you care to, I suggest you take a good look at my face. If you like I can take off my shirt and pants too. Do you call those black eyes comfortable? Do you call the bruises comfortable? My 'comfortable room' is a dorm with twenty other guys in it, and they don't take kindly to having a fag in their dorm. Except when they get horny, that is, and then they have lots of ideas for me."

"Charlie, I've done the best I could. Your mother..."

"Father, I'm trying real hard to keep an even keel and remain objective. I know I'm never gonna get out of here unless you and I come to an understanding, and I'm trying. But I have to ask you, please, if you have any feeling for me at all, leave my mother out of this. Whether you agree or not, I am what my mother made me, and I'm proud of what I am, who I am. I owe my mother for that, and I won't listen to any criticism of what you think might be her fault. She did the best she could, but bear in mind she only had twelve years to work with me."

"I didn't mean any..."

"Good. Then if you don't mind, let's just go on from here. Exactly why are you here?"

"Charlie, some of your friends... I mean, kids from school, even one or two of your teachers, are making threats against me. Have you heard anything about that?"

"How would I hear anything, father? I'm in isolation, remember? I'm crazy! How can I be expected to hear or understand anything?"

"Charlie, I was only trying to protect you. I was only trying to get you out of this mess you're in."

"Are you sure? If you're so anxious to get me out of the mess I'm in, then why don't you get us both out of our messes at the same time? Why don't you agree to a court hearing? Mr. Edwards wants me, and you don't. My lawyer tells me that it would only take a word from you and we'd all be in court again. I think you and I have already proven that we're not gonna solve anything between ourselves. So let's just let the courts decide."

"Charlie, if only you would listen to reason! If only you could see my point of view!"

"I can see your point of view. It's all very clear. The son you never cared about in the first place just got worse. But you can't see mine. All you can see is that your son... oh excuse me, I mean your biological offspring, does not fit your mold. I wanted to love you, but you never wanted that. Never! You always wanted a little tin soldier with an on/off switch on the back of its neck. You turn the switch on and Charlie performs. Charlie sings, Charlie dances, plays the piano. Charlie says yes sir, no sir. Charlie shows his perfect report card, and God help him if it isn't perfect. Then you turn the switch off and Charlie goes back to sleep until the next time you want a performance to impress your friends. Well, whether you like to hear this or not, I am too much like you to be like that. I have a mind of my own! I think for myself! You should be proud of that, but you're not. You can't control me, because I'm a carbon copy of you! I'm proud I'm like you, Dad! That's probably the last time I'll call you Dad, but you've got to know, it felt good. I love you, Dad! I love you enough to get out of your life so I won't be a disappointment to you any more. Do you love me enough to let me go?"

"Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen," a very nervous Dan said as he stood in the boardroom in Atlanta. He was wearing his new pinstripe suit, looking a lot more like the typical young executive than he felt. "My name is Dan Edwards. My father Clarke has been called away unexpectedly to attend to matters that just won't wait, and he asked me to stand in for him. As you know, there are some matters that need immediate attention. Please bear with me if I seem a little inexperienced because this is my first board meeting. I promise I'll do the best I can."

There were more than one or two board members who were not only surprised, but somewhat annoyed that their new president had sent his sixteen year old son to preside over their meeting. Who the hell did he think he is? How could this baby faced kid understand anything about their business? But as the meeting progressed, one by one they learned that Dan was more than equal to the task. It soon became obvious that his father had coached him well, and he wasn't about to take any crap from any pompous self-righteous board member.

In question was the acquisition of five thousand acres of land near Orlando, for which the owner wanted far more than it was worth. He had obviously got wind of the Disney plans, but his land was far enough away that it would be years before it was developed. Still, it was desirable property and more than a few of the board wanted to buy it even at its inflated price. No, Dan said, his father had investigated the matter thoroughly and arrived at a maximum price, and that would be the most they would offer. Dan presented the facts and figures his father had given him, debated the subject for over two hours, then called for a vote. He won!

Next on the agenda: the matter of a new shopping center in Marietta, Georgia. By now Dan knew that his father was right. All he had to do was know his facts, draw his conclusions and stick to his guns. In Dan's case it was even easier because the conclusions and the reasons for them had already been drawn. The contractor who was building the shopping center had requested a four month delay because of weather and other difficulties. The question was, what penalties should be assessed? Dan was absolutely amazed at the amount of money being lost each day the opening was delayed. But once again Clarke had coached him well, left good notes and lots of facts and figures, and he managed to get through the negotiations to the satisfaction of all. But this was more than simply filling in while his father saw to matters in Nova Scotia. This was a part of Dan's school assignment! When Clarke had phoned him, Mr. Tanner had been delighted with the experience Dan would gain. Far more important and valuable, he said, than anything he'd miss at school.

As soon as the meeting was over, it was back to reality. Dan took a cab to the airport, then boarded a commercial flight for Boston where he was to meet the chartered jet that was on its way to Truro. He didn't know why they were going and it really didn't matter; all he cared was that there might be a breakthrough in what was beginning to look more hopeless with each passing day.

Clarke Edwards had made his way to Truro alone, leaving Jerry and Sean to arrange for any and all who were interested to meet that chartered jet if they could. But Clarke had some business he had to deal with first. The little airport only ten miles out of Truro was ill equipped to handle jets, but the pilot was good, and he promised he'd do his best. His best, it turned out, was good enough. But the landing was so rough, and so dangerous that he said he was not going to do it again. From now on, he said, they would have to deal with the forty mile drive from Halifax International.

"I wanted to talk to you," Clarke said in Justin Krendall's office, "before all the troops start arriving, which should be some time later today. Do we have any new developments?"

"Court hearing day after tomorrow," Justin said. "I'm not sure I'm ready, but I'm doing my best to prepare."

"I need to ask you a question, Justin," Clarke said. "What do you think is going on here? I mean, what's this all about?"

"It's about a serious waste of taxpayers' money and court time, that's what it's about. A boy has a disagreement with his father, it gets out of hand, and the next thing we know the whole fuckin' countryside is bent out of the frame. It's stupid!"

"Ok, no argument there. But, what do you think of Charlie? I mean, the whole thing boils down to his homosexuality, doesn't it? What do you think about that?"

"I think it's his business. I don't understand it, but no one's asked me to."

"You're evading me, Justin. I think you know what I'm driving at. Deep down, what's in your gut? Do you really care what happens? Are you the right man to get Charlie out of there? Do you even care if he gets out?"

"Clarke, that's an unfair question. I've worked really hard for him. I'm doing all I can."

"No one is accusing you of doing less, Justin. But the question is, are you doing all that can be done? Is your best good enough? Could someone else do more? Say I could find a gay lawyer, or maybe... maybe someone who is emotionally involved? Would Charlie be better off? Do you really care about him, knowing that he's gay?"

"You're getting ready to fire me, aren't you?"

"I'm asking you if I should."

"If you fire me, who would take the case?"

"I would."

"Clarke, that's stupid! All you've ever done is corporate law. You'd get eaten alive in there!"

"Justin, you don't understand. Charlie has been a part of our lives since he was six years old. I love that boy! I think that love would make up for a lot of inadequacies."

"Don't fire me, Clarke! I don't pretend to understand all the issues, but I care about Charlie. I've worked this case so far and I want to see it through. I can do a better job, and I think we've got a great chance. I've learned a lot I'm not sure I ever wanted to know. But Charlie trusts me, so I'm afraid it really isn't your place to fire me anyway."

"Charlie has no money, Justin."

"This stopped being about money weeks ago, Clarke."

"That's what I wanted to hear. So let's see what you've got planned."

When Charlie walked into the courtroom, he was numb. His vision was blurred, his hearing muffled. His stomach was so tied up in knots he hadn't eaten for three days. This was it, Justin had told him. His father had been to visit, and had assured him that things were going to be different, that he was going to be enrolled in one of the best private schools in eastern Canada. He had a plan, he told Charlie, to present to the judge; a plan that would prove beyond any shadow of a doubt that he would be better off with his father. Justin had tried his level best to get the case heard by a different judge, but to no avail. They both knew that meant that anyone who could demonstrate that they could provide a home for Charlie away from an environment where his gay love was encouraged, would be to Charlie's advantage. In Charlie's mind, that meant he had already lost.

"We have several issues here," the judge began. "At first it was the simple matter of a family petitioning for the adoption of a minor child whose biological father appeared not to want him. Since then we have encountered a runaway situation, sexual perversion, prostitution. I can think of dozens of charges here that could be laid, but for the time being there has been no harm, so for the moment that is not an issue. Then there is the matter of transporting this child out of the country where further monitoring by this court would be next to impossible. Now I am informed that there are several lawsuits pending. It seems that our young friend is suing his father, the province of Nova Scotia, the Department of Social Services. As if that weren't enough, Mr. Edwards is suing Mr. Nelson. It is doubtful that we can sort this all out in a day or two's hearing, but I would like to give it a try, if my learned colleagues are ready?"

"Yes, M'Lord," both lawyers replied.

"I also wish to remind you that this is family court; no one is on trial here, including you, Charles. Do you understand that?"

"Uhhh" Charlie stammered, "no, sir, I'm afraid I don't. If I'm not on trial then I would like to be put on trial. If I'm not charged with something and found innocent I'll end up back in that youth jail, because I'm not going back to live with my father."

"That was not a jail, son. You were there for safe keeping. I thought you understood that."

"Safe?" Charlie said as he rose to his feet. "You call..."

"I'm sorry, M'Lord," Justin interrupted as he forcibly hauled Charlie back to his seat. "My client has had a bit of a difficult time. I will see to it that anything he doesn't understand is cleared up for him."

"Very well. I believe you have some witnesses to call, is that correct?"

"I do. I'm afraid I have a long list of witnesses, each with his or her own slant on the situation."

"I hope you're not going to waste this court's time with a lot of irrelevant information."

"I don't believe so, sir. I believe that my client is not the only one who doesn't understand all there is to understand. I feel before he can get a fair hearing, we all need to understand exactly who Charlie Nelson is, and possibly more important, who he is not."

"Fine, Mr. Krendall, let's just get on with it, shall we?"

"Yes, M'Lord. Thank you. I would first like to call Mr. Clarke Edwards."

Charlie sat and listened to two lawyers matching wits, trying to outdo each other with their interrogations, their fancy language. He listened as Clarke Edwards, then his father, both stated that they loved him and wanted to give him a home. He couldn't feel the love. He heard his counselor from the detention center state that Charlie had done well during his incarceration, had been cooperative and helpful and made the best of his time while at the center. For the next two days he watched in a bit of a daze as friends and classmates were questioned about their involvement with Charlie. There were of course Lisa and Margaret, Mr. Bell, some of his other friends from summer school. Some of them surprised Charlie by their very presence, but all, it seemed, were determined to support him.

His mouth dropped open when Mr. Tanner appeared and described the school Charlie was attending in Florida. He made special effort to emphasize that it was certainly no free ride, that all the students were expected to maintain a B plus average, that the curriculum was more advanced than normal, not to mention all the special activities, projects and field trips. As if to drive the point home, Mr. Tanner introduced four of Charlie's classmates, kids Charlie hardly knew. These kids explained that they considered their school more like a brotherhood than a school, and when one of their own was in trouble, they did what they could to help. No, they said when asked, they were not gay. But what did that have to do with helping a classmate?

The students went on to explain that this trip, like everything else they did during the school year, would not be a waste. They had their work assignments with them. In addition, they would be expected to write a full report on their observations about the Canadian justice system and how it differed from the American system. They even managed to get the judge and Crown Attorney to agree to an interview. Mr. Tanner then reported that Charlie's month of incarceration would not go free either. He would be expected to write a full report about his experience, in addition, of course, to catching up on his regular school work.

John and Linda Jenkins were next to appear. They told about how Jerry had appeared on Christmas Day, with two rather timid runaway gay teens in tow. The trio had spent the afternoon with the Jenkins' and their two little boys, who both thought that Charlie and Danny were about the best additions to their world they'd ever seen. No, they said, they were not afraid of exposing their young boys to these three. In fact, they said, all three had put the kids to bed at one time or another, they had all babysat, they had all, both singly and in groups, taken the boys to various activities in place of the boys' parents. "If there is any difference at all that could be attributed to the fact the boys are gay," John said, "it could be said that they are more gentle, more caring than most boys their age. But I'm not the least convinced there is any connection at all. All I know is, they are fine young men who are welcome in my home any time, whether we're there or not!"

Charlie almost fainted when Justin called Lt. Chuck Dalzel, Daytona PD. Chuck told the story of the kiddie pornographer and how Dan had got involved in the plan to capture him. He went into a lot of detail about just what this piece of slime had done in the past, what he planned for the night when Dan almost got himself killed. "I just want everyone to know," Chuck explained, "being gay doesn't make one any more or less of a person. Danny Edwards is Danny Edwards, pretty great teenager, brave as any Marine I've ever known, and it doesn't matter if he's gay or not. He's still Danny Edwards. The same is true of Charlie Nelson and Jerry Wallace. They are all pretty great young men who happen to be gay.

"The biggest tragedy of my story," Chuck said when he realized he'd accomplished his primary objective, namely to get everyone's attention, "is young Terry Blalock. He realized younger than many that he was gay. He didn't handle it very well, and soon was doing drugs. He misinterpreted his parents' efforts to help him and ran away. Now he's dead! Folks, two of your own sons, Danny and Charlie, came so close to the same fate it scares me. They realized they were gay. They knew what that would mean when word got around town and they panicked and ran away. The only thing that saved them was that they met one of the most fantastic young men I have ever had the privilege of knowing. They met Jerry Wallace. Oh, he's gay too, but I repeat: one of the most fantastic men I have ever known! I have teenage sons of my own, and if I do say so myself they are pretty great kids. I've told Dan this, and now I'm telling the world. If they grow up to be anywhere near as good as these three, I will be proud of the job I've done raising them. Mr. Nelson, you have been taking a lot of criticism here today, but sir, your son Charlie is one heck of a young man! That couldn't happen without a positive influence somewhere in his life, and from what I've been told that has to be you, because you're all he's had for the past five years."

Charlie was really beginning to feel good about himself for the first time in a few weeks. People who he'd never dreamed of calling friend were coming out of the woodwork, telling how they knew him, how they had heard all the stories, and what they knew to be fact and what was just someone's fantasy. He heard Bill tell of his sexual encounter with Charlie and why it happened, and that Charlie, having done as requested and satisfied his friend's curiosity, had refused further advances. Bill's social life would be ruined, but it didn't matter. He had seen his friend go from flying high to the depths of despair, and he was going to do what he could to repay what he considered to be a pretty large debt, even if it meant sacrificing his own reputation.

He heard little Josh, who, it turned out, was only 12, as he confirmed Charlie's stories of having been raped repeatedly in the dorms, and how no one, including the staff, had lifted a finger to stop it. Charlie knew that Josh had just doomed himself to some pretty severe treatment. Both inmates and staff would be laying for him once word got back that he'd ratted, and word definitely would get back, closed hearing or no. But Josh had ignored all that and stated clearly and unashamedly that he considered himself to be one of Charlie's best friends, and in the short time he'd known him, he had come to think of Charlie as one of his only real friends. He stated that after they'd met, he and Charlie had spent all their free time together, had even slept together on occasion, but there had been no sex, not so much as a suggestion of sex between them.

Charlie realized as he heard his little friend speak of him in such glowing terms, that he loved the little guy. One way or another, Josh was now a part of Charlie's life. But then the absolute biggest shock of Charlie's life when Justin called Jane Rawlings to the stand. "What did y'all do," Charlie whispered to Clarke, "transport the whole state of Florida up here?"

"Something like that," Clarke whispered back. "But remember, Jane is not from Florida. But most of these people are here because she bankrolled a chartered plane. I told you before, Charlie, Jane thinks a lot of you!"

"Oh, yes," Jane was saying, "I know Charlie Nelson very well. I was one of Charlie's first clients back last December when he first arrived in Daytona Beach. He and Dan showed up to escort me and a friend to a rather formal dinner party. They were so totally gorgeous, all dressed up like two adorable little penguins."

"But we've been hearing," Justin countered, "over and over about how they are gay, the business they were in catered to gay men. I'm afraid you might be confusing the issue, Miss Rawlings."

"I think you really don't understand," Jane replied. "Their business was never about being gay, or straight, or anything else sexual. Oh, there was sex all right, but with Charlie and Danny there was always so much more! When I hired Charlie for an evening, a weekend, or even a full week, I was only with him a few minutes before I found it difficult to remember he was a hired escort, not my lifelong lover. Friends have told me it was no different with Dan. They killed themselves to make it work! They turned themselves inside out to be a good escort, a worthy lover, an attentive beau. I suppose I could get myself in trouble for saying this, seeing as how Charlie is a minor and all, but I'm going to say it anyway. Charlie was the first, and remains the only man I have ever been intimate with. That will not change unless I get married. Charlie is kind, gentle, affectionate, considerate. I suspect that he and Danny will be out of business now that they don't have to do that any more, and that's a real shame for lonely people like me. They have a way of giving people like me what we want and need; and contrary to popular belief, what we want and need is not simply a wild night of sex. Actually I tried that with Charlie and he shut me down. Whatever others may think of these boys, they have their principles and they're not about to compromise them."

Finally in mid afternoon of the second day the judge got tired of the steady stream of witnesses declaring that Charlie was being treated unjustly. "This is all very well," he said impatiently. "I am willing to concede that being gay doesn't necessarily make one sick or perverted. I'm even willing to concede that Charlie is indeed a fine young man, with lots of friends, and is no threat to anyone. But you have not addressed the issue of his guardianship, Mr. Krendall. Can you show any reason why he should not be returned to the custody of his father?"

"Yes, sir," Justin replied, "I believe I can. I can forego some of the other witnesses for now and call Mr. Charles Nelson."

"Oh, sorry, Charlie," Justin said as Charlie stood, "I meant Charles Nelson Senior!"

"My... my grandfather?" Charlie said in amazement. "My grandfather's here?"

"I wouldn't miss this for the world!" he heard a voice exclaim from behind him.

"Thank you for coming, Mr. Nelson," Justin said as an elderly man sat down who, if one pushed a point, looked a fair bit like a seventy-five year old Charlie. "With the court's indulgence and your permission, sir, I'd like to ask that you simply tell us all that you told me last night about Charlie's home life."

Oh God no! Charlie thought to himself, now I'm really dead! Why in the world didn't he tell me he was bringing in my grandfather?"

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