With deepest apologies for taking so long to get this chapter out. Work, illness and another cross-country move have intruded in their own ways, adding to this delay.
We wish everyone a Merry
and Happy Holiday.
and Tyler's Odyssey
Part II Chapter 2
Ty lay nestled in my arms; his soft snores just barely audible in the quiet of the night, while I drifted in and out of brief and dreamless sleep. my insomnia was back, again, but I was just too comfortable with my Babe in my arms to move. Yet even as I tried to rest, my mind was fully alert, and active.
Classes had started again at WSU a month ago, Ty and me both carrying a full load of teaching courses in our departments. I would be responsible for three sections of Anthropology and a Senior Seminar too this semester, while Ty lucked out - according to him - with three Creative Writing classes and one of American Lit: Ty enjoyed the writing process and motivating his students to share his love of reading too.
This would be a critical time for us both, as we would be considered for tenure at the end of the school year next May. It was time for us to decide once and for all if we wanted to teach or go on to something else. I think I knew what Ty wanted as my thoughts were mirrors of his too: we both loved teaching the young and mostly eager minds our students brought into the classroom for us to fill with the presentations we'd prepared after returning from our the late summer trips.
Our course load also allowed us both to continue to write as well; my history of the Valley of the Red Hawk was going well as were Ty's short stories based on the pioneer history of those settlers who'd come into the Valley to found homesteads, farms and businesses on the ancestral lands of tribal peoples. The work was going as planned for now: slowly with attention to detail. Our editors hated us both.
Yet, as I lay beside my sleeping soul mate, my thoughts turned once again - for the fourth time this night - to the "memoir" of our teen years that we were writing together. Each page of the journals we reread brought back the memories, refreshed like they had happened last week - some making us laugh and some making us weep. But both of us remained convinced our personal story and that of our brothers and friends needed to be told and left for those coming up behind us.
After classes were out this afternoon, we had swam the two miles our workout regimen called for and much to Ty's delight, he'd finished first! Of course he knew why I'd let him win...I love watching his still youthful bubble-butt sluice through the water in front of me! Afterward, I'd grilled some fresh Yellow-Tail Snapper fillets while Ty made a salad of baby greens with a light oil and vinegar dressing, crumbles of seasoned goat cheese and garlic bread. With some chilled white-wine and a raspberry sorbet Ty created yesterday, this made the perfect romantic supper eaten in soft candle light on the summer porch.
Afterwards, when the dishes were cleaned-up and we'd settled back with our brandy, Ty brought-out the volume of our journals we had started to reread last month. We were about halfway through the current book where Dale, Rodrigo and Dales brother Terry became good friends and the legacy Seth Bannister left behind was discovered with help from a young, scared and frightened boy who seemed to have returned from the past. For us, those had been hard passages to read, bringing back ghosts we'd hoped had been long dead and buried only to find remembered fear, anger and rage but at some places, love and compassion - and yes - liberation and redemption too.
Ty began to read aloud and with the first few words Dad had written into our journal, we were both transported back almost ten years.
"The fact that Aaron Alexander stood before me..."
The fact that Aaron Alexander stood before me, alive and apparently healthy, was quite a shock. Even though I'd never met him before, I'd become very familiar with the photographs of him and through my Jason's own story; I knew quit a lot about the thin, pale, black haired boy/man with an unusual color of light green eyes who stood in front of me now - by the look on his youthful face - anxious and ill at ease. I extended my hand in greeting and smiled.
"Its good to meet you at last Aaron. Jase...Barney has told me a lot about you."
"Uhhh, thanks Mr. Anderson, nice to meet you too. Randy has told me a lot about what you did for Barn...for your son...Jason."
There was an awkward moment of silence while Aaron and I looked deeply into each other's eyes, he seemingly trying to assess if I was just another adult not to be trusted and me - trying to gauge him too. Had he recovered from the tortures and abuse? How disturbed had this poor kid been in the aftermath of his experiences? What was he was he doing here? What am I really doing here?
"So you know about Barn...Jason coming to live with me, Tyler and Will Johnston? The adoption?" I asked Aaron.
"Yes, I know some...well...actually, only a little - these guys don't say a lot - but I do know how you found Barn...Jason on your doorstep, how close to...close to death he was that night and...and...how you and your son Tyler and Will Johnston saved his life."
Aaron did seem to be informed about some of the happenings in Fairview, but I could see there was something else he wanted to say, but he didn't, glancing nervously at Randy and the other two men in the room out of the corner of his eye.
"Look Derrick, why don't we go get some sandwiches together while you and Aaron get acquainted. Come on guys," Randy said to us as I saw Aaron's eyes begin to fill with unshed tears.
"Lets go outside and sit on the veranda for a while? What do you say Aaron?"
"Shh...sure Mr. Anderson, it's a nice afternoon for sitting outside I guess." I put my arm around his shoulder and turned to walk outside.
"My name is Derrick, okay?" I asked
As soon as I started to move, Aaron literally melted into my side. I could feel him trembling as we walked together to the back door, but soon enough he was settled in a chair and we started to talk.
"I'm sorry Mr. Ander...Derrick. I tried to help Jason and Barney but I...I..."
"You have nothing to be sorry for Aaron. You were trapped just like Jason Davis and...my son were." He sat across from me, head down, looking at the deck, unwilling or unable to meet my eyes. Tears began to stain the redwood planking as he began to speak in a voice so low I had to strain to hear his words.
"I could have tried...I was just so scared and they keep giving me pills...they took the pain away...but when I realized he'd escaped, I just gave-up. Barney...your Jason...your son...well, he had always looked out for me and I didn't...couldn't...look out for him. I felt really bad about that and...JD...Jason Davis too."
"Aaron? Aaron, look at me please," I said to him. I reached out to lift his chin up so when I saw his face, I found the pain and grief etched into his soft features.
'He really is a handsome kid and bright too...just like my Jason.' I thought.
"Aaron? Lets get this perfectly clear: You did nothing wrong! Those men, Bannister, Barney's father and all the others were evil, dangerous and violent people. I wasn't your fault. - any of it! They used lies and coercion at first then the drugs and alcohol. I know their methods and that makes you the victim here!
His eyes opened wide at my forceful ststement and I began to suspect that he'd been carrying this burden of guilt unecessarially for months - had he received any counseling at all?
"Right when you needed an adult friend or family member to trust...yes. I know about your aunt and uncle belonging to that cult of religious zealots; they believed that line of...well, I'm sure you would have tried to get away too and help Jason Davis...JD and Barn...my son in the process. They numbed your head before they doped your body Aaron," he sat very still and his eyes never left mine.
"Is it true what they told me, that Will and Tyler - your own kid - came out to the whole school and you didn't mind?" Aaron asked me, his voice choked with emotion.
The sudden change of topic caught me by surprise.
'That is a very painful subject for Aaron,' I thought confirming again that my suspicions regarding Aaron's treatment since his rescue had been negligent. I wished Suzi was here, or one of the boys. They'd know better than I how to proceed. From here on, i would only have a father's instinct to work with...and all the years of lawyering I'd amassed dealing with client's problems too.
"Yes it is Aaron. I'm very proud of both of them. Will and Ty live together now, in my home...our home, and no, I don't mind. In fact, right now I have four gay "sons."
"You mean Barn...Jason came out too? Who else...?" Those amazing eyes opened wide, when he realized what I'd just told him
"Warren O'Casey and Jason are partners too Aaron. Jason came out soon after he came to live with me and Warren also...on Christmas Day under very difficult circumstances."
"Warren...the diving team Warren? I...I thought he hated us...Barn...JD...all three of us had done a lot of bad things...some of them to Warren and his friends and...I'm sooo sorry Derrick, really I am."
"Warren and Barney Coleman had been close friends for a long time before he changed. Warren always loved him even when he was at his worst."
Aaron broke down then and began to sob, his body trembling, the grief and guilt, perhaps his loneliness too, finally overwhelming him. I got up and sat next to the boy, pulling him into my chest, his head on my shoulder and let him cry.
I saw Randy's head appear around the screen door. There was a questioning look on his face and concern in his eyes when he looked at the sobbing boy in my arms. I shook my head at him and mouthed the words:
"Leave us alone." Randy quietly closed the screen door and left us without saying a word.
Finally Aaron began to quiet down, his uncontrolled tears drying out, breathing slowing to normal and his trembling body stilled. I continued to speak quietly in his ear, words of comfort and understanding.
"We...I...won't let anyone hurt you again Aaron. The boys, Ty, Will, Warren and...my Jason...I know that they'll never let you be hurt either."
While Arron hugged me tightly when I spoke those words, I realized just how true they were; the guys would literally do anything to protect any boy, girl or adult from being hurt by the kind of evil they'd seen first hand.
"Aaron you're safe here. Randy and his men will not let you be harmed again either. You have to understand that they'd give their lives to keep you safe."
I wasn't getting through to him, so I tried another tack...anything to get Aaron to talk to me.
"Aaron? Do you know why you're here, why I'm here today? I'm somewhat confused." I asked him, trying to get him to focus on something else.
Aaron's tear redened eye's locked on mine: I could see the fear, no, the terror in his gaze while he thought about how to answer my question; I could almost hear the gears turning as he made his decision.
"Can I trust you, Derrick?" He whispered, barely moving his lips when he spoke.
"I'm so scared, I don't know who I can trust anymore, who's one of them," he said to me.
'Poor kid is so paranoid...' I remember thinking at the time, but he had reason to be scared as I was about to find out.
"Yes Aaron, you can trust me, I think you have to begin trusting somebody. On my honor and on the lives of those I hold dearest, I swear I'll do whatever I need to do to prove that to you...son." When I said those words I had no idea how much they'd effect my life.
"JD...Jason...Jason Davis is dead...killed by...them. My boy...best friend...the only person who ever loved me is dead. That's what I'm doing here. I'm hiding from them," he wailed into my chest, shaking with terror that gripped him; I was beginning to understand and I was getting more angry by the moment.
'Dear God! When will this end?' I thought as I kissed the top of his head and held Aaron tightly while he cried. Jason Davis dead?
"God Damn you to Hell Randy! Why didn't you tell me?" I was so angry with him my earlier urge to find a cliff to throw him off had returned in full force.
"This isn't like you Randy! First you tell me you've used my kids and me as bait. You explained that strategy and I understood. Now you let that poor wounded boy tell me Jason Davis is dead, possibly murdered by Bannister's followers. And those photographs too! Aaron is terrified Randy! Hell man, I'm scared too. Now what is going on and no more prevarication out of you Chief Inspector! I expect straight answers! NOW TALK!"
I knew Randy was unused to having anyone talk to him like I was because i could see the anger in his eyes. He had deliberately waited until I confronted him - hoping for more time - time for what I didn't exactly know but time was up now!
He spoke quietly for twenty minutes without any interruption from me. I was too stunned.
I cracked my eyes open a little only to see Will sitting in the overstuffed chair by the windows asleep - head slumped onto his shoulder, my boyfriends chest rose and fell in rhythm with the soft breathing sounds he made while sleeping. I knew that he'd been watching me again, something that he did often and that made me love him even more. It's hard to explain why his sitting up at night looking over me makes me feel so safe and loved, but it does. Usually when he can't sleep - he just watches over me like my guardian angel sitting there, the sentry of my dream time, my protector, my lover, my best friend, all rolled into one when Will sits nude in our favorite chair, watching me sleep.
Yet as I looked at his chest slowly rise and fall, the sudden awakening last night to the screams of Jason's voice came rushing back into my thoughts.
'Where did that gun Will had last night come from? Why did he have it?' I asked my still half-asleep brain but I already knew the answer to both in my heart: our "protector."
Will stirred a little while that thought rattled around in my head. His movement caused the light sheet that partially covered him to slip to the floor; with the sun rising-up above the trees, the brilliant red-gold orb sent a beam of light reflecting onto his body, momentarily giving my lover a golden halo from his full balls and dangling thickness to the top of his close cropped blond hair. It was one of those "you had to be there," moments for sure.
'God, he is gorgeous. How could I have been so lucky?' I thought.
The "crip" in the wheelchair falling for the swimmer jock and the jock falling hard for the crip: completely unbelievable yet it happened to us...is still happening to us. I've never been in love with anyone before either...Oh, Mom and Daddy, but that's a different thing altogether. Loving Will is...well...its just amazing and I know he feels the same about me too.
"Ahhh love...works in mysterious ways doesn't it? Mornin' Lover," Will said from his sunlit overstuffed chair perch, looking very cat-like at that moment.
"What? How did you know I was..."
"Dunnow Ty. I just did," my boyfriend told me as he slid out of the chair to stand and stretch in the early morning sunlight before me.
'Such male beauty in his body; such beauty in his soul too and he's all mine.' I thought.
"You know Will? It's been that way for me almost from out first night together."
"I've noticed a couple of times," Will said to me smiling widely.
I smiled at Will too and held out my hand inviting him back into our bed so we could snuggle together before we had to get-up and continue preparing for the party tonight. He walked over and slid in under the heavy comforter next to me. We lay on our sides gazing into each others eyes for a moment, before Will leaned in and kissed me lightly on the lips, then pulled me close against him; our morning woodies pressing hard against each other sending electric shocks up and down my spine.
"I love you Ty."
"I love you too Will." We kissed gently - our lips barely touching - then brushed each other's cheeks with feather-like kisses too. Our kiss.
"My love is sealed with a kiss," I whispered into Will's ear while I nibbled at the side of his neck.
"You know that next week is...?
"Our first anniversary together...yes I remembered its been a year since...," suddenly I felt my throat constrict; making my voice falter and just as suddenly I was overwhelmed with strong emotions,
Will felt me begin to tremble but brought his arms and legs even more tightly around my body.
"I never knew, never thought, that I'd find so much love was even possible Ty; sometimes I think there's so much around you that I'll bust trying to absorb it all. You know how I feel - I want all of you just for myself...I don't want to share your love with anyone else, yet still, since I fell in love with you...my life has been so much better...in so many ways I can't count them all and sharing our love with others has been the key to that happiness. Thank you my love. Thank you for all that you give me every day," Will said before kissing me slowly and deeply, our tongues lazily probing and searching each others mouth. Will slowly broke our "morning moment" with many feather-like kisses around my face and on my eyes.
We lay together silently, both of us momentarily caught-up in these special few seconds together and with our own thoughts too.
"So much has happened in the year we've been together...sometimes...sometimes it's been like a dream land we've been in; the happiness, the excitement ...and the fears we've both shared, sometimes together, sometimes alone..."
"And I'll remember every second as long as I live too," Will spoke to me while kissing my ear.
"Have you, do you think...well, since we've been together...some of the things that have happened around us, to us, seem to sometimes...ahh...have a sort of supernatural, almost magical feeling to them? I mean..."
"Yes love, I have noticed some odd things too. How I was instantly and hopelessly in love with you from the second I saw you in the halls being pushed around...by that horrible bully and his two cohorts - that bully now our best friend and brother. Then there's the dreams; What happened with Warren, all three of us seeing him in our sleep almost exactly as it happened hours later. Yes my love...I've noticed."
I looked at Will closely. He did understand - indeed he knew just what I was trying to say.
"Like we've been guided...sort of warned, protected even in some ways I can't describe; how Jase became our brother, the changes he's gone through, the changes we've gone through with him. Warren coming to live here too and both of them...getting better...and growing in their love too.
"Seemingly a solution presents itself just when we needed it?" Will stated.
"Dreams led us to Warren. Dreams took Jase last night back to another life - his Mom was with him? She was protecting him?"
A week earlier a new face had croppd-up in my slumbering visions - another young man dressed in feathers and skins. He was beautiful and I felt like I should have known his name but the words he spoke to me were alien to my ear. What was that all about?
"Sometimes it worries me - this influence if you know what I mean Will - but mostly I feel like I'm just along for the ride too, an amazing ride, yet...well like maybe we're...just pawns in somebody elses game." I tried to explain further what had been bothering me for quite a while but I didn't seem to be making any sense - to myself anyway.
"It scares me too sometimes Ty. Why haven't we ever talked about this before now Ty?"
"I...I tried...a couple of times...but I thought...," I managed to say to my best friend, unable to put my feelings into words.
"Me too Ty, I thought...you'd think I was crazy or trippin' out, being paranoid,"
I couldn't help but chuckle a little when Will told me that.
"That's the reason why I didn't say anything to you Babe...speaking of paranoid: what about the gun?"
"Derrick's. He gave it to me before he left - just in case. He told me but I think he was just making sure one of us knew about it. Ahhh, I can get to it faster so he showed me how to use it."
I realized that had Will demonstrated his love for all of us once again by taking on that responsibility. I knew he loathed guns, his Mom, the surgeon being called into the ER to help repair some gunshot victim at all hours of the day and night - away from Will when he was still very young. Yet Daddy had chosen him because of that fact too - I was sure of it - it's the way his thinking works, mine too.
"Thanks for being our protector," I told Will just before kissing him again.
That was all that needed to be said. Will knew the rest - we were perfectly in sync with each ether.
We both snuggled closer together sharing our body heat in the cool morning air. I could feel Will's leaking tool throbbing against mine too. We were both ready and flowing.
"Lets keep this between us for now Ty, I want to speak with Jon and Toshi about these dreams we've been having. I heard them telling Kelly and Jamal about interpreting strange dreams last night during the break. I wonder if Kelly and Jamal are having dreams too?" Will said. while grasping our cocks together and slowly jerking us both.
"Lets ask. Jam is coming over with Kelly later and I'll ask him when we're alone." I told Will, moaning and trembling a little when his thumb smeared precum across our sensitive cock heads.
"Okay. Either he'll think it's a joke or he'll know exactly what you're talking about. Jam'll be straight with you if he does know."
I thought about Jamal and Kelly, two guys who played football on our school team and swam with Will too. They'd both "come-out" at school backing after us up with a lot of other good pople - classmates and teachers last November - one of the high, or is it low points in our year-long roller coaster ride. We didn't want to expose ourselves to the harassment, but when we were forced to...well, confrontation or not, there was no way in hell either of us, or our closest friends would stand for the hate and bigotry that had become a real problem at University High.
Both Kelly and Jamal were Will's life long friends and had been part of the "neighborhood gang" of boys growing-up together since he was six. That the two had been lovers for years had surprised a lot of people (Will for sure because he hadn't seen it coming - no pun intended), but their names had been linked together since first grade too.
Always Kel n' Jam or vice versa; where one was, surely the other was close by if not attached at the hip. They were a "cute" couple - black and white - good looking, muscular and fit - terrors on opposing quarterbacks and wide receivers, yet they are two of the gentlest and sensitive young men I know - and very good friends to all of us under my Dad's roof.
But the growing sensations in my chest and groin broke that chain of thought and brought me back to the situation at hand...Will's hand spreading our natural lube all around, making me squirm with pleasure.
"Wanna?" I asked my boyfriend, pressing our cocks together again.
"Always! Yes lover, you know I'd like that and I know you do too," Will whispered into my ear as he began to lick and kiss my neck again.
"Ooohhh Will, you really...know how...to...wake...a guy...up, ooohhh yes."
Will worked his way around my neck and throat, kissing down my chest until, moments later my soul mate began to lave my nipples into taught points of super sensitive flesh. Each time his tongue touched one or the other, I could feel my rock hard penis throb in time with his sucking and nibbling on my nipples.
"Ohhhh, you sweet man...let me have...some...too," I managed to moan to my lover as he worked his way down my chest and abs, his target pumping out precum like a fire hose now.
"Anything for you Babe," he said between ragged breaths; we both need this release.
Will lay down alongside me, his own leaking member pulsing with pent-up energy and I wasted no time at all swallowing all of him down my throat as he did the same to me. His swirling tongue wrapped around my shaft and I repeated the same movements too; we were in perfect sync again, something that over the past year had become so natural, almost like we merged ourselves together when we made love, like now - our lips, tongues and bobbing heads in the dance of pure love...and lusty sex. We didn't last long.
I felt Will's balls begin to tighten and draw-up beneath my caressing fingers and knowing he was close, as close as I was, I slipped his member out of my throat, into my mouth and while teasing his tender, most sensitive spot with my tongue, he exploded, sending pulse after pulse of his hot sweetly pungent cum onto my tongue (I wanted to taste "all" of my lovers spunk) and down my throat as I fired my load deep into Will's mouth and throat.
Drained and basking in the afterglow of our lovemaking, we kissed deeply sharing the familiar tastes of each other's viscous thick cum on our tongues..
Half an hour later a light knock at our door brought us both out of the post orgasmic nirvana we'd once again visited, but all too briefly. The door slowly swung open and Jason peeked out behind it. I could smell the aroma of freshly made coffee wafting in as our brother brought in a breakfast tray with toast, jam and a full pot of what I knew to be "Columbian Supremo" dark roast that had become our favorite morning brew.
"Coffee and Toast to follow your protein shake Bros?"
Jason ducked the pillow Will tossed at his head and chuckling quietly; he put the tray down on the bedside table, then sat in my wheelchair and looked at us intensely, his eyes full of brotherly love and more...concern? I knew that look. He needed to talk.
"When you're up, can we all sit down and talk for a while? I've been working through what happened last night - my nightmare, what I remembered and what I told Pops. I need to talk about this." he said quietly.
Will held out his hand to Jason and he got out of my chair to sit on the edge of our bed. There had been only one time that Jase had joined us, we know he loves us but he no longer needs that sort of love from us - Warren meets all of our brother's needs.
"Want to talk about it now? " Will asked Jase, inviting him to lay down with us.
Jason jumped-up, wrinkled his nose and grinned.
"NO! You two smell like cum and sex and I just got outta the shower. It can wait till later," Jason said as he ducked the pillow I threw at him when he dashed for the door. We could hear Jase giggling as walked down the hallway.
"It's almost eight you two, get cleaned-up and we'll have more coffee ready. Big party tonight...remember?" he called back to us.
Will and I lay together for a few more minutes, not wanting to break our close embrace, but the draw of the coffee was too strong. I'd become much like my lover in the past several months and had a hard time thinking clearly before I had my first mug of the dark brew - except for mornings like this - so when Will scooped me up into his powerful arms and we began our own morning ritual in the shower, I figured the coffee could wait a few more minutes.
Breakfast was unusually quiet, sitting alone in the kitchen of the lodge. That it was just five and there wasn't even a glimmer of the dawn yet accounted for some of the quiet I suppose. I have to admit, I'd become very used to having the four young men who were the center of my life around Grandma's kitchen table every morning, making more bad jokes, the laughter, the teasing and sometimes the arguing that started our daily routines. Oh, the arguments always began over simple things; who forgot to lock the lid down on the trash bins next to the garage and who got to cleanup the mess the raccoons and the opossums left during the night, or maybe it was who poured the last cup of coffee and didn't brew more...those kind of teenager things that signaled harmony in my life. Breakfast around the table was my daily reminder that love and hope are alive in the world.
When Ty and Will found each other, I was very happy for both of them and I could see that their relationship was no youthful fancy of sexual experimentation, toying with the "belief" of their orientation; their love was real and tangible, their devotion to each other was never questioned - certainly not by me or Will's mother either. They are gay and have dealt with that fact as men - strong and loving men.
Then in quick succession Jason and then Warren arrived too. Suddenly I had a house full of very active teenagers, boys no longer but young men asked to grow-up to quickly, facing adult problems too soon in their young lives, young men who loved each other as true brothers. Sometimes I have to remind myself that they're still teenagers, very mature kids for sure, tested by hate and death, but still just beginning to live.
Now there was a new task for me and possibly another addition to the growing clan: Aaron.
What he told me yesterday afternoon shook me badfly. I had thought Jason...Barney Coleman then, had suffered, but listening to Aaron on the veranda as the sun set over the highland forests took every bit of training and endurance I'd developed practicing criminal law: I wanted to scream in rage - or throw up. If Jason's experience was horrifying, Aaron's was truly a voyage into the very gates of hell itself.
While Aaron told me his story, my angry reaction almost overwhelmed me many times during his telling; keeping a calm demeanor was difficult. That the boy survived at all and that he still functioned at all afterwards, was a statement of Aaron's resilient spirit.
I put Aaron to bed and sat with him until I knew he was out for the night. One of Randy's associates, was a qualified Paramedic - one of the two State Troopers who served as Aaron's bodyguards gave him some medication to help him sleep throughout the night. It usually worked. Last night it did and upon reflection, maybe I should have asked the trooper-medic to give me one too because following my confrontation with Randy, I didn't sleep much at all.
It was a couple of hours after the facts Aaron and Randy had given finally made sense. The implications of such a criminal conspiracy existing were incredible. Sleep could not come easily after that revelation.
Aaron had seen papers, overheard the unguarded conversations of his captors and remembered everything. He is one of the most rare of minds, gifted with "total recall," what we used to call a photographic memory, yet he had never told Cosgrove or Randy...everything...he was too terrified.
All the indoctrination at the hands of my Jason's biological father left its mark on Aaron: he'd lost faith in everyone and in himself. After being so badly used, getting close enough to a stranger, allowing someone to share his ongoing burden took great courage.
So Aaron decided to trust me: weeks later he told me he'd seen the "love in my eyes when I talked about Jason, Will, Tyler and Warren. Aaron had really decided to trust that love.
Aaron hadn't told them about the "Group." Bannister had been one of them. It was the one crucial thing he'd held back, even after hours, days of questions, he was just too scared of what the Group represented and he knew what they had done in the past to eliminate witnesses. He believed that's what happened to JD...Jason Davis. The Group had killed him.
If what he had told me was true, or even if a small part was accurate, I now understood his reasonable caution was not paranoia. He simply didn't know who he could trust, so he trusted no one until yesterday.
Global in scale. Pure evil at best. Murder, kidnapping, drugs and rape just a few of their crimes. Huge amounts of cash generated from videos of the heinous acts, distributed through a network of their agents. Of the "special orders" sent out to "clients" who themselves thrive on kidnapping, drugs and death. It had to be stopped.
I had thought about telling Jason about Aaron earlier last night when I'd called him and asked if he knew anything about the photographs Randy had shown me or of the boys in them. He seemed to be quite upset with the topic, but I knew Warren would be able to handle Jason, besides Will and Tyler were both at home too. I also better understood how Jason felt - once again involving those bastards and what had happened to him.
'Yes Jase, this time we'll make it go away forever,' I silently swore to my son, after hearing his sobs on the other end of the line. The news about Aaron and JD would wait until I was there to tell him myself.
The coffee pot chirped its finish of the brew cycle but I paused in beginning to pour a fresh cup of coffee when I felt the presence of someone behind me. When I turned to look at who'd entered the kitchen, no one was there. I was suddenly surrounded with what I can only describe as Jason's unique scent: a sweet musky odor that I associated with him alone. That was immediately followed by a sudden, strong impression of the boy screaming in bed that rocked me back on my heels. A second or two later, my cell phone began to ring. My hand was shaking when I picked it up and answered.
"Jason?" I asked, somehow knowing instinctively that it would be my son who was calling.
"POPS!!!!" I heard his anguished cry.
"Jason! Jason, what's wrong?"
"Pop, Momma was in my dream...she helped me see...the videotapes and the box of video tapes they had...the boys in the tape...all of it! I remember now Pops! I remember!" Jason shouted to me from home.
I could hear the voices of Will and Ty in the background and that of Warren clearly trying to comfort and calm his agitated friend and lover.
"Jason take a couple of deep breaths before you go on...try to relax a little Bro...you're safe Jase. We're here with you...never leave you alone...never."
Over the next few minutes I listened as Jason rambled-on, telling me about his dream and what he'd remembered. The hair on the back of my neck was standing straight when he ended his explanation.
Afterwards, the combined effect of my sensing Jason around me with the anxiety ridden call moments behind, once more reinforced my growing belief that there was something other than coincidence at work here too. Ty's dream about Warren last Christmas Day and other, well, unusual occurrences surrounding the boys - a mystery yet.
I was walking down the hallway to awaken Randy when he came out of his bedroom dressed in a T and sweats. It was just after 5:30 - I was surprised to see my old friend up and about so early especially after I'd exploded at him last night and we'd spent hours arguing until finally a truce was called; we'll finish up some other time. By the look of him, he hadn't had much sleep either.
"Morning Derrick. The coffee smell woke me up," he smiled at me in the dimly lit hallway.
The fresh smell of the sport soap he'd used in his shower mixed wonderfully with the mint smell of his toothpaste when he spoke, very close to my body. I could feel the heat radiating off of him. We hadn't stood this close...dressed this way in many years - since college anyway. He was still as handsome as he was then too. Jacob sure won a prize when he and Randy got together.
"I was just coming to wake you Randy. Jason...my Jason...called to report that he'd remembered something from four or five years ago. Ever heard of Brookside Sanitarium known as Riverside Youth Home now? I asked him as we walked back into the kitchen.
"Dale? Are you ready to go?"
Just a minute more Terry," came my brother's reply through the closed bathroom door.
"Mom never took as long as you Dale! The taxi will be here soon."
He'd been in there for almost an hour now and I was beginning to wonder if Dale changed his mind about going to the picnic and party over at Todd's cousin's house. Another thought that I dismissed almost immediately was Dale may have become so scared he might have actually made himself sick - from fear. But I realized that it was my own fears for my brother that made the errant thought surface. This would be a big step for Dale in any case: like a re-entry to life and living for him and in some ways for both of us.
I had met Tyler and his boyfriend Will last spring at University High. Everyone knew the story of what happened last November just before Thanksgiving in the school cafeteria: the "Great Outing." I'd approached Ty after he and a lot of other guys and girls - mostly athletes from the various school sporting teams - led an assembly at school during International Human Rights Day. I needed to tell him that I understood and I was with him too.
Tyler was just one of several speakers - all adults and mostly politicians - who extolled the need for human rights, yet with one exception, they promoted their own agendas and views. Ty managed to summarize their speeches in a few sentences, then dismissed them as irrelevant; the "same old platitudes and promises we've heard from the Capitol before," causing some on the dais to wince at his blunt words. Everyone there knew he was speaking the truth but maybe theirs was discomfort knowing that not only was Ty right, but he was also gay, openly so and had the support of almost everyone who worked or studied at University High!
"We, you and me, we're the one's who have to stop the bigotry and hate here at University High. If we won't tolerate it any longer, if we, all of us, stand-up to the bullies and haters in our schools, our communities, our nation - nothing and no one can stand against us. But we MUST act. We must protect the defenseless and those who are different among us."
Ty spoke movingly about the abuses of children in our own country and in our own city. He reminded us of the boys and girls subjected to beatings, the sexual exploitation, starvation, the social isolation and the fears these young people suffered daily and it made no difference gay, straight or whatever.
"Without safeguarding the rights of your own children, how can you possibly insure the rights of others around the world. Get your own house in order first," he challenged the adult "leaders" present.
His words were met with
loud applause from the assembled students and faculty, much to
the chagrin of those other speakers on the dais who kept looking at each other with confused glances. Except for one man.
When the Lieutenant Governor of our state leapt to his feet cheering and applauding along with the rest of us, the others cast nervous looks at one another then slowly rose to join in too. He walked over to a surprised and blushing Tyler, knelt and embraced him, whispering something into his ear, then continued to lead the applause for Ty's words, and the challenge he'd made to all present.
I'd told Dale about it later that night at the hospital where he'd been undergoing another skin graft. Since then, I've gotten to know Ty and Will better and now Dale would too. If he knew what had been arranged for him tonight...well we'd all see what would happen later; I just hoped I hadn't made a mistake asking Ty for help. Besides, Will and Ty seemed like the kind of folks you'd want to have as friends in any case.
I heard our bedroom door open and Dale wheel down the hallway into the living room; our grandparents were gone - like always, off doing whatever it was that they did all day - when Dale rolled into my view.
He was stunning! Dressed
in soft brown slacks and a "Hawaiian" tropical shirt - very colorful, just
like Dale had always dressed before, except now, he used long pants to
hide the worst of his scars and his shirt had a wide collar that helped
conceal the burns on his neck and, well, he had
obviously wanted to both make an impression - and be comfortable too.
"You look great Dale!" I told my brother as we both heard the tries crunch on the gravel driveway.
"The taxi is here. Ready?"
Dale sighed deeply then looked at me with a twinkle in his eyes.
"Yes, as ready as I'm ever going to be, I suppose." Dale spun around in the wheelchair and headed for the front door, then stopped. He turned around to face me.
"No matter what happens, no matter how this afternoon and evening goes, thank you for making me do this, for making me go out and meet new people, forcing me to see...to see I've been hiding-out for too long. I've been thinking a lot about what you said the other day Terry. You're right. I am afraid, afraid that I'll be stared at, afraid that no one will want...the scars make me feel so self conscious that I'll never find friends or him, that one guy who's meant for me to find. But I'll never have a chance if I stay cooped-up here cowering in our bedroom."
"You don't have to say anything else Dale. It's what brothers do for each other. You are the bravest person I've ever known Bro and it's your turn for a break to come along. Maybe tonight is the night?"
"I love you Terry. I want you to know that I wouldn't have made it if you hadn't been beside me since...since the accident." There was a tear in the corner of his eyes when he looked at me.
"Dale...I know...I just did what I thought was right. I love you too Big Brother," I told him grasping his arms and squeezing.
The taxi driver honked the horn right then breaking the emotional moment between us. Dale turned around and opening the door, wheeled himself down to the car while I closed and locked the house. Our grandparents had a key - they had all the keys for now.
We arrived just after three and were greeted enthusiastically by a pair of twin boys about 12 or 13 years old who introduced themselves as Chris and Mason Anderson, Todd's younger brothers.
Then I saw Tyler wheeling down the driveway to greet us too. He was smiling broadly and had a tray of hamburger buns in his lap.
"Terry! Dale! Thanks for coming and welcome to our humble home! Everyone is around back." Ty stopped next to Dale and reached out to take my brother's hand.
"I think we kept missing each other this past summer Dale. Pleased to meet you at last," Ty told Dale.
"Thanks...uh..Tyler or Ty?"
"Either works Dale as long as you don't call me anything else." Ty laughed. Dale had a broad grin on his face.
"Terry! Nice to see ya again," he said as his strong hand took mine.
"Come on you two. Lets go around back. Watch the rise back here Dale; it goes down hill really fast into the back yard."
I was surprised to see all the people milling around in small groups and large, laughing and playing various games: there was a boisterous volleyball game in progress and many familiar faces, some I knew, some I didn't but most were familiar from University High. Others were strangers to me. Looked like the picnic was in full swing: smells of grilling meat and corn wafted through the air, reminding me that except for some toast, a bowl of corn flakes and coffee, I hadn't eaten anything since eight this morning and neither had Dale.
"You guys hungry? Let me explain the set-up. The buffet is in the tent, there are tables there and oh, all the food has to be used-up so don't be shy. 'Burgers, sausage wraps, grilled corn-on-the-cob, most of the hot stuff is over at the grill and smokers; must be ten flavors of cold potato salad, pasta dishes, green salad and...well just look around. Sodas and soft drinks are in the big coolers. Make yourselves at home and, oh yes, our bathroom is in the house off the kitchen, up that ramp Dale, just follow my tire tracks: our chairs are a pain to maneuver at the portable toilets. So chow down if you want and I'll be back in a few minutes to take you both around and introduce you to some of our other friends." And just like that, Ty was rolling away with the buns still in his lap heading for the big commercial grills set-up across from the tent.
"Dale? Terry?" The voice I recognized as Todd's called from behind us.
We both turned around and found him and his fiancé Sherri coming towards us.
"Sherri, this is Dale Reagan and his brother Terry. Guys, this is my fiancé Sherri Douglas." She was staring at Dale's neck and then looked down at his legs as if to see...the scars.
"Oh, it's nice to meet
both of you at last. Todd has told me...oh, sorry. I didn't mean to embarrass
you Dale, but what Todd has told me about your accident and the bravery
of your brother. Ahh...well I guess I've put my foot in my mouth again,"
she smiled weakly at us both, but it was Dale who
gently left her off the hook as she blushed red. I was pissed. What a jerk.
"Not at all Sherri. I'm pleased to meet you too. Don't worry though, I'm well over being effected by meeting new people," my brother lied with a tight little smile on his face.
"Are you finding everything alright?" Todd asked, trying to cover for his girlfriend's obviously unintended but embarrassing behavior.
After a few minutes of small talk, Todd led Sherri away by the elbow, speaking quietly into her ear. Sherri is very good looking, but seemed to be kind of an "air head" where social graces were concerned, at least that's what I thought.
"Are you alright Bro?" I asked Dale.
"Sure, I'm okay Terry. Stuff like that is bound to happen from time to time. Why don't you wander around for a while? I'm gonna get a soda and some salad."
"Here, I'll get it..."
"No, Terry. I'm not totally an invalid. I'll get my own stuff. You go see who's here and we'll talk later. Okay?"
I rolled over to the big
coolers and retrieved a couple of bottles of Squirt (my favorite soft drink)
and helped myself to some three-bean salad and a baked potato with an ear
of roasted corn filling my plate, then found a place at one of the tables
to eat at. I saw some flashes of a camera
strobe over by the side of the house - someone was taking pictures of the party, just as the local band - Split Rock - started to play. Many people began to dance to the rock music. There were a bunch of couples dancing together but I was shocked to see at least four sets of guys dancing together and no one was paying them the slightest attention at all.
I knew that Split Rock was a homegrown success story in the music world. One of their arrangements, a cover of Union Station's "Looking in the Eyes of Love" had spent some time on the Top 20 "Alternative" list. There was a persistent rumor around town that the band was the key in finding a lost boy or maybe it was someone close to them who had been looking to help an abused teen. While they toured in the Northwest last year the band had found him in Portland or Seattle, I wasn't sure which. I did know that Toshi Jackson - the woodwinds and "unusual instrument" player, had been beaten nearly to death by bigots who found out he is gay. That was some four or five years back. His partner, Jon Devereaux plays lead guitar in the band too
They did play well together, that was for sure, judging from all the people dancing in front of the riser stage.
A few minutes later, I wheeled myself over next to a big oak tree strung with hundreds of tiny lights and with my Orange Crush companion, listened to the band play. I saw Terry enjoying himself, dancing and laughing with his friends - that made me feel really good. Terry spent so much time with me that I had become concerned that my needs were taking over his own life too, preventing him from growing into the fine man I knew that he would someday become: my own loneliness threatening to become his too.
Then things suddenly changed.
Have you ever had that
feeling that someone is watching you, his or her entire attention focused
on what you are doing at that moment? Well I had one of those feelings
right before I saw him in the crowd of dancers off to the side of
the bandstand. As soon as I looked at him I was almost rocked
The music seemed to fade
in my ears, like every sound and all the colored ligthting becomes soft
and muted. There was smoke swirling in the light breeze from the grills
and as if in my recurrent dream; I saw the image of him looking
down at me by the wreckage of our car. It was him! The boy on
the hillside. Here! Now! And he was walking directly towards me.
"Here it is Derrick," Randy said as I took the sheaf of printouts from his hand.
"As you will read, there has never been a hint of impropriety during the inspections of the place by Children's Services."
"And you know how much that's worth too Randy" I replied, completely skeptical of any "official" report generated by those overworked, underpaid and occasionally burned-out or blind civil servants.
"I know Derrick. I feel the same as you do, but there is one thing that caught my attention on the third page about halfway down. See it? The number of runaways from the facility and the number recovered?"
"Is this accurate?" I asked
"It is, that's why it took so long to get the report. I had an Investigator go out and interview the caseworkers who last visited the place to confirm it. That one line is the only suspect thing in the report."
"Three boys, ages 12, 14 and 15 left the facility over a two day period. None have been found as of the date of the report - two weeks ago," I said.
"One of the case workers said she was really surprised too - that none of them had been found, the 12 year old especially. He came from the city and was too immature to have run from the place; its really quite isolated. I quote here, "It was if the earth had swallowed them up." She was very upset too. He was her first case."
"I see now," I mumbled to myself as I continued to look through the report in my hand.
This seemed to confirm my belief that Aaron was telling me the truth yesterday. I had believed him anyhow, but the report from the caseworkers meant Aaron had been right. The Group was operating here and with Jason's early morning call, it all fit together.
"Randy, we have to go there right now. This is the place those pictures you have were taken. The videotapes Jason told me about - the ones "Barney's" father was watching with Bannister. This has got to be it!"
All right Counselor. Lets have it, you're holding out on me now."
"Yes, there is more, but before I tell you anything, I have to talk with Aaron first."
I got up and left the small
office we had been talking in and went up the stairs to Aaron's room. I
knocked softly, then opened the door slightly and looked in. Aaron was
asleep, bundled up into a ball - a fetal position - in the corner of the
bed. He looked so peaceful there that I hated to disturb
him, but it was important.
As I sat down on the edge of the bed, he stirred, stretched, then sat bolt upright while swinging at my head with his fist. I ducked fast.
"Ohh! I'm sorry Derrick! Please don't be angry. I didn't mean to..."
His tears started at once as he backed away from me, the fear in his watering eyes, unmistakable.
"It's alright Aaron, I won't hurt you and I'm not angry, surprised some, but not angry with you. Its alright.
He almost knocked us both off the bed flying into my outstretched arms. Once again, I was holding and comforting the wounded boy in my arms as he cried.
'God, please help Aaron. He's had enough fear and terror to last several lifetimes,' I prayed.
"Aaron, its time we told Randy everything. I think we've found the place where other boys are being held. I need your help now to convince him to get in there today before anyone else is hurt like you were."
"To help the other boys?"
"Yes, Aaron, to help the others who may be in danger...and get the men responsible. Yes, its very important."
"But I lied. I didn't tell the police everything. They'll put me in jail!"
"No they won't Aaron, I promise." But I could tell he was still unsure about talking to Randy regarding the rest of what he remembered from his time in the compound.
"Look, ahh...do you have any money on you Aaron?" I asked.
"Do you have any money?"
"I've got some change, that's all."
"Get it then and please trust me. I won't let you down." Our eyes locked for a moment: Even tear reddened, his eyes still were the most amazing color I've ever seen and I could also see his trust in me there too.
'I won't let you down Aaron.' Yes, Aaron did indeed trust me.
"Here," he said as he pulled eighty-seven cents out of the pocket of his jeans.
I took a business card out of my wallet and wrote on the back of it: Received of Aaron Alexander: 87 cents as a retainer on...I wrote in the date and signed it, then handed the card to Aaron.
"What does this mean Derrick?"
"It means that I'm your lawyer now too, not just your friend. It means that you are represented by Anderson and Anderson P.A.; the best attorneys this side of New Orleans, Aaron."
"Oh, you're my lawyer now?"
"Yup, I sure am and my brother Drew is your lawyer too."
A slow grin began on his face that widened into a huge smile, the first real smile I'd ever seen on him. I knew then that it had happened again to me. I was falling in love with this boy like I loved Ty then Will, followed by Jason and Warren. Now Aaron too?
I think Aaron was beginning to understand that about me, judging from his strong embrace and once again, from his tears that were soaking my neck.
"Thank you Derrick, thank you for helping me. I've been so afraid for so long..."
We sat there on his bed and I rocked him back and forth, whispering into his ear words of encouragement and of the hope he'd given me this day; hope that the nightmarish legacy that Seth Bannister left behind him would finally end and surging belief, real hope, that Aaron's nightmare would soon be over too.
"Ready now?" I asked after he'd regained...after we'd dried our tears and washed-up.
"Yes," he replied. "I am."
"Sentinel One? Blue Ford van entering the south gate, passing Lookout Three...now."
"Sentinal One? Subject vehicle: California plate number YX79.......," I listened to the description of the van and the driver who was coming slowly up the long gravel driveway, the vehicles progress was reported as the truck passed-by each hidden trooper.
A flurry of activity began around me in absolute silence, while I listened on a headset to the special team report the arrival of another out of state vehicle. They had been arriving about every half hour since dusk. Randy had assembled a team of specially trained officers from different federal, state and local agencies within hours of Aaron's telling Randy the rest of his story. We had been flown in a helicopter to a nearby ranch then joined the rest of the special team. Aaron had stayed behind with one of the bodyguards.
The latest arrival made six vans, three SUV's and a large box truck.
We had seen many containers and video equipment loaded into the truck and mattresses put onto the floor of each van. An hour passed without any more vehicles driving up the long gravel road to the former sanitarium when Randy pointed to the laptop screen in front of him. All the vehicles were registered to Marie Aiken's dummy companies in four states from New Jersey to California, Texas to Montana. The truck carried a Canadian registration, again in the name of a shell corporation. Then they - members of the "Group" - started to move some of the kids into the vans. Bound and gagged, four into this van, three into that one. As they were loaded, the drivers got in and drove back down the forest road right into the waiting arms of Randy's officers.
Within two hours all the
vehicles had been stopped, the drivers secured and the boys taken away
to safety. One SUV was left. When that driver came out, he had one boy
with him. Randy's men had only accounted for
14 boys, and with the one thrust into the SUV by that last man, there were twenty-one unaccounted for!
"Take him down now!" Randy whispered urgently into his headset when he saw that darkly dressed man hook a wire to a hand held detonator.
A single muffled shot popped a few yards away. The man dropped instantly to the ground.
"Move now! All teams move out and secure the buildings!" Randy told the men with him.
"All of them? Are you sure Derrick, I mean really sure?" Aaron asked, holding onto me and almost crushing the air out of my lungs. I was embracing him just as hard too.
'Yes, everyone got out safely and we have the evidence to convict each of the men with them a hundred times over and you made that possible Aaron." I told the sobbing teenager in my arms how relieved the boys were to be free, all because he'd finally decided to trust someone.
What I hadn't told him was that the boy's who'd been left behind were about to be killed, blown-up and burned to destroy any evidence. It was supposed to look like a natural gas explosion. By the time anyone noticed the fire, they'd have all made their escapes. The others, the young teens who'd been taken away were destined to become the fodder for other videos. Those who would have been killed had no knowledge of the operation, the two groups of boys were kept in seperate buildings and questions were discouraged. They were going to murder them just out of pure malice.
A break in the supply wouldn't be good for Aiken's business either - a pay in advance operation with many wealthy and dangerous clients who wouldn't be very pleased.
Many documents were recovered from the truck too and with the details being gleaned from them, Randy was sure the FBI and the Canadian authorities would move very quickly to secure the addresses that had been found and the people named in the papers. There were no more in our region yet already Randy's inter-agency task force was serving warrants on those who were also named as Bannister's financial supporters by the men in custody.
My tired mind replayed the call I'd made to Drew when we got back.
Drew had spoken with the Attorney General following the arrests. Aaron wouldn't be charged for withholding evidence. She had three young teen boys herself and understood with a mother's clarity why he'd been afraid. She also promised that the full investigative might of the multi-agency task force would be focused - very quietly - on the suspects and their associates. The search for Marie Aikens continued but with few leads. The boys recovered from the vehicles were being cared-for at a secret location for their protection.
Drew also found out that Aaron had a trust fund that his Aunt and Uncle were systematically draining with the help of their so called "attorney." The AG promised to prosecute them herself if immediate restitution wasn't made to the trust account. Drew and I would file suit later too. The scum lawyer was arrested.
Aaron had no idea he had inherited anything from his late parents. He was six when they passed away. Drew also mentioned that he'd taken-on two clients in a seemingly similar situation too. I encouraged my brother to follow-up on that case ASAP. I had heard Ty and Will talking about the Reagan brothers earlier in the week. I'd ask them about the boys when I got home, hopefully by tomorrow.
After filling him in on the details at the old Brookside Sanitarium and the freeing of the boys; the capture of the men involved and the suspicious nature of CPS's failure to notice anything amiss, we talked briefly about the plan we had to use an old piece of property, then we said good-bye. I knew Drew and our paralegal - investigator Jonathan would be onto the tasks I'd outlined for Drew tonight.
'What people will do for money...even steal from orphans.' I remember thinking at the time, knowing that much worse was possible too. I'd just seen some of it.
I reminded myself to look into the question of reward money that Jason should apply for too. If he hadn't escaped that night...and lived to tell his story at the hospital, none of this would have happened. The boys would have all just "disappeared" like so many others do each year in this country - there are thousands of them missing.
Ever really look at the sides of the milk carton; the mailer inserts that flood your mailbox Wednesdays - on grocery ad day? All those little cards with the bad photo's on them? Those TV shows may focus on one kid or an abuser every now and again but what I want to know is where are the thousands of others - the boys and girls who just vanish - how were Bannister and Aikens able to get away with it for so long?
Perversion? Corruption? Politics? I doubt it. In the end it will all come down to money. With enough money comes power - an illusion bought with all the cash coming in - over the bodies of defenseless and fearful kids who were used to supply that seemingly endless flow of currency in every denomination worldwide.
Murderers. Kidnappers. Rapists. The Group is beginning to be exposed because a starved, half-crazy boy/man decided to dig his way through a windowsill with a soup spoon to escape into a blizzard; live or die, but on his own terms at last. Now Aaron - who suffered unspeakable acts - has added to their downfall too
Yes, that reward must be pursued and soon. At the very least, Jason wil have a nice nest-egg to lean-on in the future.
During my call to Drew, the question of Aaron remaining as a ward of the court was discussed, but my brother knew what was in my mind...and my heart...from the beginning of our conversation.
"Well, I imagine that you have another son you want to take home with you, huh Derrick?"
"Am I that transparent Drew?"
"To me, of course you are big brother. Have you fallen in love with this boy too?"
"Yes...without a doubt, I have Drew. What...Jason went through was bad, but Drew, some...well some of the details of Aaron's experience...lets just say they were almost too much for me to hear about."
"The Anderson Home for Boys is open again?"
"If he agrees, then yes. I'm bringing him home with me in any case for now. I think Jason and Aaron have some healing to do together and I know Jason is up to it too. He has Warren, Will and Ty to help and you know what I think about those four together: Aaron will be okay with the boys as there isn't anything they can't accomplish. At the very least Aaron deserves a chance for a normal life and I believe that means with us in Fairview - at least for now."
"Okay, I'll call Herb Wilkenson, he'll still be at the club." My brother told me, knowing I wasn't about to be deterred and he would be more diplomatic with the Presiding Senior Judge anyway.
Aaron and I had made a strong connection - a strong "father-son" connection. For the first time in years, the boy/man whose head rested on my thigh as he dozed - was free of all the abuse, terror and guilt he'd suffered at the hands of his "family" and because of Bannister's brand of pervision.
'But is it really over for him?' I thought to myself while running my hands through Aaron's soft and silky hair. Only time will tell and the right environment.
"How screwed-up is Aaron's mind? Will he ever really be free?' Questions I had no answer to as of yet, but for me - I continued to idly play with Aaron's hair, like I used to when Ty was seven or eight - there was no choice: I was compelled to try and help him by a promise I had made long ago.
One thing for sure: he'd be returning to Fairview, to the love of the rest of my "boys" at our home with us. Aaron would agree of that, I was certain. For the rest of us: the anger, the rage and hopefully, the healing would come in time. Jason and Warren still are in therapy, Ty and Will attend a support group for people in chairs and their families. Me? I have Drew, Carley Johnston - Will's surgeon mother - and others, lately WSU's attorney, Larry Jackson in particular when I need to vent. Besides, I like ranting at other lawyers.
"Drew, remember our conversation a while back about what to do with grandma's old house?" I had asked my younger brother.
"Yes. You think its time to put that project on the front burner?"
"Alright Derrick. Tomorrow I'll call Ted and Larry and get them moving. I expect Carley and Dan will have the initial seed money all lined-up by the end of the week. One last thing though; Tim Hurley, the Post-Doc Fellow at the School of Architecture who won the design competition may be interested in the general contractors job. For just 27 he sure has the experience and I like the guy too. Direct with his communications and still friendly. Knows construction from working with his father and brothers building custom homes since he was 10. What do you think?"
"Hire him tomorrow if you can, whatever it takes. He impressed me too. Anything else?" There wasn't, that was enough for now because I knew Drew would make my requests a proprity and we had several cases about to come to trial too. Going to be a busy week anyway.
After I turned the cell phone off, I mentally reviewed the plans for remodeling and opening our grandmother's Victorian house on the edge of Fairview as a shelter and home for abused boys at first and eventually girls too. We'd contacted some friends who also recognized the need and from there, an "unofficial" board of directors was assembled.
Carley Johnston took on the grant search and agreed to serve as the interm medical director. Larry Jackson, General Counsel at WSU, took on all the legal work and was rounding up some hefty corporate donations, unabashedly trading on his name: a former Big D running back turned tackle, he was well liked by the team's front office which opened many doors in his quest for funding. Ted Devereaux was researching program models to structure the operation both for administration and to create a therapeutic milieu where healing and growth could take place. His work continued as well.
The plan Drew and I came up with also included our boys in the near future as well.
In the past year, I've come to believe that Will and Tyler are "naturals" at helping others with real and serious problems that a young person faced - usually alone. Carley had told me about Ty encouraging a newly paraplegic young boy to gain wider wheelchair handling skills by making a game out of it, all the while slowly getting him to release some of the emotion he was keeping in. Will would sit nearby telling the youngster wild stories (mostly true) about learning to live with someone who needed a chair to get around, through the funny stories, he was allowing the boy to see that others had to make adjustments too but in a thoroughly humerous manner.
Carley said she saw an amazing change in the young boy's outlook and behavior. When Will's mother realized that they'd planned it all out beforehand, an the overheard dinner table conversation between the two of them, she was stunned. She also listened them planning how to withdraw their support slowly so Gordon (the boy's name) wouldn't feel abandoned. Tyler and Will are amazing young men in many ways.
Roles for Todd and the twins were yet to be determined.
Warren and Jason although still recovering from their own traumas, have proven to be rock solid in the face of their individual problems, growing together as lovers and best friends along the way. They've both come so far since January, many successes but some set-backs too along the way. Their very recent experiences made both of them realize how lucky they've actually been. Enthuastically grasping at life each day, Jase and Warren are eager to help any way they can.
What role the boys will play will eventually be their choice, but I have a feeling that the four guys will find what suits them - individually and as a band of brothers.
I had to get some rest, my headache returned with a vengence - I was too tired to think much more without sleep. I lay my head back against the overstuffed sofa. As I felt the tension of the past fourty-eight hours slowly drain out of me while my fingers still twisted and turned Aaron's hair when I settled my head deeper and closed my eyes too - for just a little while.
'I wonder how the boy's picnic and party went tonight?' I thought, before I slipped into exhausted and dreamless sleep.
I terminated the call, folded-up the cell phone and tossed it onto my bed.
"Are you going to tell him about the leak now or later Chief?" Detective "Bull" Sweet asked me.
"Later for sure. Derrick or anyone else for that matter doesn't need to know about our little problem just yet. The fact that there was a warning call to the target from someone inside the Task Force is scary enough for me, much less letting Derrick know too." I sighed deeply after I thought about the implications that a turncoat represented and how furious Derrick would be. Good thing there weren't any cliffs in the immediate area or I know I'd be going for a plunge - not that I'd blame him.
Derrick had been very right too. This whole investigation had been compromised from the beginning, and so he told me in no uncertain terms either, but why those behind the pornography ring and the right-wing bigots had allowed their operations to be sacrificed worried me. We knew the videos and "special order" tapes for rich clients had made more than 10 million in the past sixteen months. Big money for the local idiots, way too big for them alone but we were tracking every dollar as fast as we could. Even Bull didn't know the unofficial "task force" that Cosgrove had assembled from among his closest friends in the law enforcement and criminal intelligence community were also using their Interpol connections to pursue overseas leads.
In South Africa, Thailand, Russia and all over Europe facts were assembled, checked and connected to individuals where possible. The tapes had many recipients both here and abroad too. Whether we could ever act on that information was debatable since in this area, we were operating in an "extra legal" manner. But one way or another, it was going to end.
"I'll meet with Derrick and his brother Andrew next week and let them in on the leak then. For now Bull, lets get Derrick and Aaron home safely and review the security in Fairview and around everyone there too. If there is a member of the Group inside our very ranks, we may be in real trouble. Do you remember that operation Cosgrove put together a few years back, Bull? I think he called it "Operation Second Watch" or some such?"
There he was, Rodrigo Ortiz had finally gotten enough courage to approach Dale while he sat watching Jon and Toshi's band play rock and roll dance numbers for the crowd.
"You owe me five Will. I told you he'd do it."
"Okay Ty, my pleasure. You want them now...or later tonight?"
"Well...how about one now and..." I wasn't able to finish as Will's lips met mine in a long, slow and very passionate kiss.
"Wow, thanks lover! That one took my breath away - again."
"You deserve it Mister Matchmaker. I feel like singing "Hello Dolly" right now," Will whispered to me as his tongue ran over my lips again.
"How did you find out about Rodrigo? He goes to Fairview Central doesn't he?"
"Yep - a little bird named Terry just perched on my shoulder last week and told me Dale is trying to come out and that he really likes Rod - even though he'd never met him, never really seen him since the accident. Did you know Rod saw the accident Dale and Terry were in out on the highway last Christmas?"
"No, I didn't. Does that have anything to do...Oh...Rod was burned a couple of years ago wasn't he?"
"Yes, and under similar circumstances too. The pickup his father was driving had a blowout on El Camino Real right at the sharp "S" curve. Rocks punctured the gas tank when it went over the guardrails and down the ravine. His mother and father were both killed and their truck exploded. Rod was thrown clear but his right arm was horribly burned."
"Rod has been looking for Dale at PT and when he comes home from school Rod would ride past Dale and Terry's house. Thats when Terry first cnnected the link between the two of them: he saw Rod day after day and finally asked him who he was. Rod spilled the story about his interest to Terry and...well they've finally met, " letting Will understand some of the background to my "fiddling" with things.
"One plus one always equals a chance to play matchmaker, don't ya know honey?" I said in my best (worst ever) Carol Channing imitation. Will just snickered with repressed laughter. I'd get him later...privately.
We both sat in my chair - the shadows away from the lights provided some privacy for making out and watching so many of our friends have a good time.
Jamal and Kelly had taken over for Todd manning the grill and smoker finishing-up the last of the burgers, dogs and corn. Some folks had brought chicken and "veggie burgers" too but the venison tenderloins and sausage Rod brought tonight were a big hit. His aunt and uncle operate a "game farm" raising domesticated deer, pheasant and quail for the high-end restaurant trade. By the looks of things, Kelly was in the process of shutting down the grills as Jamal carried the last trays of hot food over to the tent.
Todd and Sherri were dancing with most of our guests and we noticed the twins had found partners to dance with as well. Will was mildly surprised that Mason was with another boy, a slightly built young teen I knew as his best friend Eddie. Chris on the other had was holding Eddie's sister Tara close as they slow danced in counter point to the fast beat of the music.
I recalled what I'd learned about genetic influences determining orientation while we watched the boy's have fun dancing and laughing with their friends. Were we seeing that theory at work here in the twins? I suppose only time will tell for sure, but they both looked like they were having a good time holding their partners too.
"Wanna go dance some more Ty?" Will asked me after we shared some more gentle kisses.
"Lets go Dude! Its nearly 10:30 and the band can only play until midnight, but I want to be in your lap this time so lets switch." Will chuckled a little then helped me stand before taking my place; he used his powerful arms to propel us down the path to the dance "floor."
Will turned and spun us around the dancing couples, everyone making room for his erratic movements - Will still hadn't mastered using a wheelchair, but I didn't encourage him. It's still nice to kick his ass at squash games we'd started to play weekly at the outdoor courts in County Park.
I was surprised when we collided with Dale on the dance floor but so was the young man riding in his lap! Rodrigo started to become concerned - the anxiety was written all over his face - but it was concern for Dale.
A moment of shared laughter and an amazingly easy banter between the four of us ensued as we moved around together, two couples "chair dancing." Neither of us could take our eyes off of Dale and Rodrigo and it sure seemed that the two of them couldn't take their eyes off of each other.
I saw Terry watching too. He was happily chatting with Jamal and Warren, but he caught my glance and smiled, giving me a discrete "OK" hand sign and nodding his head in his brother and Rod's direction. Apparently the little little ploy had worked as we'd all planned, Dale had come to the picnic and we'd invited Rod. The rest was simple: Dale and his new friend did all the real work.
"All right, Mr. Dolly Levy. What did you two cook-up tonight?" Will asked as if he hadn't already figure it out..
"Oh not too much, but I'll fill you in later. Lets just cuddle together and dance some more." I knew that he'd be singing "Hello Dolly" in his gravel- voiced imitation of the great Louis Armstrong tomorrow in the shower.
Will had already realized that Terry and I had conspired to get the two guys together tonight - apparently successfully - two lonely souls who dreamed of each other in their sleep and had never really met...until tonight. Yes, Rodrigo had dreams too.
'Strange, so many of the gay guys I know seem to have dreams about their partners, in Rod and Dale's case...about each other even though they'd never met before. Too weird for sure.' I thought as Will moved us around slowly while holding me close - moving in time with the quiet ballad Jon was singing.
Right at midnight, Split Rock unplugged and loaded their van, but Jon and Toshi stayed, uncasing guitar and flute to play for the die-hards in the rapidly thinning crowd. There was one hauntingly melodic tune they played that moved Will and me to tears - all of us had wet eyes, including our guest musicians for while they played, each only had eyes for the other. "Our Song" had never been recorded for it was truly the two of them playing for each other and for the love they shared. A fitting end to a day filled with friendship and new beginnings.
At 2:00am the picnic was finally over yet there were two remaining hold-outs: Dale and Rod were still together, neither willing to leave the other, so Jason and Warren invited them to stay in the spare bedroom.
Yes, they were assuming a lot, but we all recognized love at first sight when we saw it in front of us.
Dale was at first unsure, but when Rod kissed him for the first time and then Dale responded, the invitation was shyly accepted by both. Our brothers showed them the house and where everything was located (including the lube, massage oils and other items in the bedside drawer), then wished them a good night and closed the door on what we hoped was more than just a budding relationship for both Dale and Rod.
"I think today has been one of the best days of my life Will," l told my partner as we lay side by side just before we slept.
Will kissed the back of my neck while I spooned in closer against him.
"I love you so much Ty. What you did for Dale and Rod...well it just makes me feel warm all over. Like Coach Roberts says, "Ya done good boy!"
"Since I met Rodrigo during one of Jason's physical therapy appointments and he opened up to us about thinking he's gay and then Terry introducing himself at the HR Day assembly, well the pieces just fell together. All that was needed was the right opportunity to get Rod and Dale together at the right place and the right time so as you saw, it worked," and by the sounds barely heard coming through the wall, the plan had worked very well indeed.
'You mean to tell me that Jase was in on this too?"
"And Warren from the beginning."
"What? Why not me?"
"Because lover, you'd have been too obvious. You'd have gotten all sappy and tearful and hovered around too much. But I love you anyway."
Will began to hum the first few bars of "Hello Dolly" in my ear before I elbowed him. Will laughed then tickled me.
"I love you Ty, more and more every day."
I had completely forgotten about the boy's end-of-summer picnic yesterday so they were as yet unaware of the events that had transpired many miles away in the "High Country" forests that would bring even more surprises and maybe another "brother" into the family tomorrow.
Aaron slept beside me, his head resting on my chest, my own arm wrapped tightly around him. I guess it had been Randy who'd carried Aaron upstairs after we fell asleep on the sofa and I just followed along, unwilling to leave Aaron alone another night. Drew had faxed the temporary court order to Randy's office just after midnight. It was official; I had another "son" at least for now and I felt it was necessary to start fulfilling some of Aaron's need for family right away. As Randy had said to me earlier tonight, "Aaron is one hurtin' kid."
So here I lay, both of us still fully clothed, too exhausted emotionally and physically to change into anything else, with me wondering what the future had in store for the terrorized boy/man I held close.
Even as tired in mind and body as I was, the events of the day and early evening kept playing back in my head and as I finally started to fell asleep. I regretted not calling home and asking about the picnic too - but I was also sure that they'd understand about why I hadn't.
When we had sat on the edge of the guest room bed together, shyly holding hands and not able to look at each other at first, it was Rod's feather-like touch that thrilled me when he lifted my chin to look into his eyes again. At that moment, all doubt left me and I knew I did want to be with him as I now understood he wanted very much to be with me too.
The low wattage bedside lamp remained on while we just sat and talked in low tones. Our eyes never left the others. The feelings in the pit of my stomach became a growing fire, spreading throughout my body and into my chest. I was lost in his eyes.
'What is happening?' That internal voice, silent until now, asked of me.
There was no answer, just raw emotion pouring out with my words to Rod. The loneliness; lost dreams of being a buff and taut gay stud dressed in Armani like the ads in the gay magazines I stole looks at in Borders. Yes, I told Rod about that part and many other secret dreams and desires - some gone, some still possible.
First we were just holding hands while we talked, then our shoulders touched.
Rod's eyes were filled with tears as he almost whispered out the telling of his parents death...the boy left behind who had to grow older through the pain and wise before his youth had even really begun. We sought even closer body contact, snuggling together tightly, our arms intertwined.
Secrets shared, explored, understood. We are a lot alike in so many ways.
"Can we be boyfriends?" I asked him after a long silence.
"Yes Dale. I'd like that since I'm falling in love with you.
I would also have a long talk with Terry tomorrow...or whenever...about tonight. I had the suspicion that he and Todd, maybe others too, had set all this up. Jason and Warren sure seemed eager for us both to stay too. Hummm?
But I was here with the guy in my dreams - it would wait. Rod said yes to being boyfriends, a couple of souls together. I knew now this was meant to be. Then what Rod had actually said hit me.
"Oh yes Dale Reagan, I love you."
Our lips touched gently - a feather-like kiss of understanding: I was in love with Rod too.
"And I'm falling in love with you too Rodrigo Ortiz."
Rodrigo unbuttoned his shirt but stopped before removing it. I knew instinctively why he hesitated.
"You and me, we have had some very terrible wounds inflicted upon our bodies Rod, but there is nothing...nothing that will make me turn away from you as I know you'll never turn away from me because of...how we look...beneath these pieces of cloth." I managed to stand up in front of Rod, his eyes filled with tenderness and concern when I leaned into his chest and kissed him - then held his hand as he removed his shirt letting it fall to the floor.
Then Rodrigo helped with mine. In that way we undressed each other, exposing our scars to each other, letting go of our fears as each item was shed - until we were both completely exposed - all of our bodily secrets bared, now and forever.
"You are the most beautiful young man I've ever seen Rod," I told him when we were finally free of all our clothing.
Rod laughed and hugged me to him.
"And you are a beautiful man too Dale, yet we know the reality too. We both have flaws - it's taken me a long time to realize that I can't change anything about the past, just the future...with you?
"Do you know how strange that sounds coming from another guy?" I giggled. Yes we both would have periods of anger and dispair but we'll deal with them together from now on.
"I'll be with you now and for as long as you want me around Rodrigo."
We lay back in the bed together and our hard dripping cocks touched for the first time.
Three hours later we once again lay together so warm and comfortable under the sheets. I was just drifting into that twilight place before sleep takes you away when I knew it would be a blissful sleep too.
"Is this really happening to us Rodrigo or are we both still asleep and dreaming/" His lips met mine in a tender answer while we held each other close.
"This is like some kind of storybook tale isn't it, or one of those Nifty stories maybe...when the two star-crossed lovers first meet and...well you know."
"Are we going too fast Rod? I don't want to ask you to do any..."
"Shhhh...we'll go as fast or slow as we both decide what feels right for us,,," Rod whispered before he kissed me again on my scarred neck, on my cheek and ear before tenderly and gently, our lips came together again.
"There is a story my Tia Carmen used to tell all the family about how she and her first husband, Tio Pepe, always believed they had been lovers through the ages...in many different lives, in many different places and they would always find each other again...in another time."
"I think...I think that's what we are Dale. I think we have been lovers many times before this life and we belong together. I used to dream of you too, not knowing it was "you" of course...awww, that sounds so crazy..."
"No!...that's...so...beautiful Rod. Maybe you're right. As soon as I saw you...I knew that...I knew I loved you; the way we talked at once - there was no bullshit between us...I could tell you were...are...speaking from your heart." I could feel the tears rolling down my cheeks and Rod's were reflected in the moonlight streaming through the window behind us.
I held Rod close, my hands lightly tracing the roughness of the scars on his back and shoulder while his feather-like fingers did the same on my lower back and thigh. Normally I would bave been squirming in discomfort from the sensitive places he touched, but when Rod caressed me, anywhere, the sensations were just the opposite and went right to my groin.
Yet my mind was racing too, at the thought of what Rod had just told me about his dreams and his aunt's story. I had seen him in my dreams too - nightly, the young man standing on the rise above the accident and shrouded in smoke was here in my arms! Now I was beginning to understand. I did love Rod and somehow I knew that he was right: we do belong together. Dream lovers for "real."
Understanding that in the past six hours my life had changed as dramatically as it had in the accident; knowing, believing that Rodrigo's life has changed too, both for the better - this was rocking my world of pain and depression to it's very foundations. I wanted to go on now; I would go on now but with my boyfriend beside me from here on out. Words like "my lover" and "partner" began to seep into my thoughts.
"Boyfriend, lover, partner"...words I thought I'd never use, words that had begun to have a concrete meaning now in the form of Rodrigo Carlos Ortiz who seemed to be purring as we held each other close.
I was completely enthralled by Rod's scent, the texture of his hair, the feel of his nipple beneath my finger, his skin so smooth on his hip, the heat radiating from his body: All of Rodrigo. Every single centimeter of him could be mine forever.
'Or has it been "forever" already?' The stray idea surfaced when I remembered what Rodrigo had told me earlier about his "Tia and Tio." I thought back a couple of hours and realized what he said about "meant to be together;" the young man lying next to me was talking about us too.
The joy I felt raced through my body like a physical and emotional jolt. "Everything" would be different from this day and for the rest of my life.
'Oh God, if this is a dream, don't let me wake-up,' I silently prayed while we clung to each other.
For the first time since the accident, I would have no nightmares. Instead, I dreamed of Rodrigo...and of me, together.
Aaron sat pressed up against me as we were flown back to Fairview. Randy and the big older detective I'd come to know only as "Bull" sat behind us in the Citation jet quietly discussing arrangements for Aaron's protection - and for that of my growing family. I suppose we'd moved-up in the world too since the plane was the governor's own aircraft.
Things had progressed rapidly this morning. As soon as we were up and had some breakfast, our bags had been packed and we were taken to a waiting State Police helicopter then flown to the regional airport where the jet was waiting. Aaron was never more than a few feet from me the entire time. If I'd invited him to shower with me, I'm sure he would have. No matter the outcome of the previous evenings successes, I think that Aaron was more afraid now of the reception he'd get in Fairview than he was of the men he'd been instrumental in capturing.
I have to admit that for a few minutes I was concerned too, but then I realized that if there was anyplace in this country where he'd be welcomed "home" it would be into the arms of my own boys.
This would be truly a surprise. Randy had insisted that I not phone ahead or even use my cell phone. When I started to question why, the look in his eyes told me not to ask - yet. I knew when the time was right, for him and his plans, Randy would tell me. He knew my trust in him was on thin ice at best right now, held together only by twenty years of friendship and yes, love too.
How will Jason react when he sees Aaron?' I had asked myself that over and over since we boarded the jet. I'd know soon because the wheels just lowered and I recognized the area we were approaching. Fairview Regional was just off the starboard wing; well we'd be arriving in style anyway.
I felt Aaron squeeze my hand tightly as the aircraft touched down. He was very pale.
"Son, you've got to trust me again. We'll get through this together, I promise.
It was close to noon when I unlocked the front door and ushered Aaron into the house. Randy and "Bull" stayed in the Suburban parked in the driveway - at my request. What would occur next was entirely a private matter between Aaron and the rest of my family.
When we entered the kitchen, I could smell the soup of fall vegetables and pasta simmering on the stove along with the pervasive aroma of freshly roasted garlic. I knew that Will had made the wonderful soup he'd introduced to us all last winter, simple, full flavors of the vegetables and coarse fresh Italian "Peasant" bread smeared with roast garlic and olive oil served alongside. They were all gathered around the grandma's old kitchen table talking quietly when Jason noticed me standing there.
"Pops!" He shouted. Then Aaron stepped out from behind me, almost crushing my arm where he gripped it.
'This is it,' I thought, bracing myself for...for whatever was to come of this reunion. Jason slowly stood up and so did Will and Warren. Ty moved his chair away from the table and turned to face us too. The other two boys seated at the table were strangers to me and seemed startled at the sudden tension in the room.
"Aaron?" Jason whispered in a choked voice.
"AARON!" Jason shouted as he ran across the room and grabbed Aaron into his arms.
"Aaron, Aaron, Aaron!" Jason sobbed as the two boys fell to their knees clinging to each other.
Warren was with them both almost at once, wrapping the two crying boys in his powerful arms, tears streaming down his face as they were on mine too. Ty and Will came over, Ty leaning over to hug Aaron and Jason together with Will too. Everyone was in tears, with Jason and Aaron sobbing the loudest.
"Aaron, Aaron, Aaron," was all Jason could say, repeated over and over as he cried, obviously overwhelmed to see his "lost" friend once again, alive and apparently well too.
I walked across the kitchen to the other two boys still sitting at the old wooden table we loved to have our meals on and smiled at them. Their eyes were wide in amazement and wonder at the heap of crying teenagers that held each other.
"Hi. I'm Derrick." I said to them both as I extended my hand.
"I'm Ty's father..."
"Uhh, hello. I'm Dale Reagan and this is Rodrigo Ortiz," he said as I shook their hands.
"Is it always like this around here?" Rodrigo asked.
"No, not all the time, but we do have our days," I deadpanned in reply
End of Part II Chapter 2.
To be continued in Chapter 3.
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