This story details explicit gay sex between men, teens and boys. If you find this kind of thing distasteful, or if you are underage wherever you live, then stop reading this now, and delete this file. The story is completely fictional; the author does not condone or encourage any of the acts contained herein.



Chapter 62

By: Tim Keppler

 Edited by: Bob Leahy

I have to confess to being a really heartless piece of shit when it's convenient. I took the job at Youth Renewed to combat that side of myself, but sometimes it sneaks up on me. Then I start making expedient decisions without thinking, merely because they make my life easier, or at least more convenient. What's an example? Oh, yes. Several years ago my neighbor had a dog. I'm not fond of dogs, and I wasn't fond of hers. He'd bark at me any time he saw me, wail when his owner left him alone in her house, and shit in my garden any chance he got. One day the dog wandered away, and the neighborhood was suddenly tranquil. After about a week I noticed a flyer taped to a telephone pole four blocks away from my house. I was out on a walk in the neighborhood. There, on the flyer, was a picture of the dog and the caption: "Stray Found -- Do You Know this Mixed-Breed Poodle?" I did. It was Celia's dog. But I don't like dogs, and I didn't like Celia. I didn't tell her, and the dog stayed lost. She was frantic for a week or two, but ultimately got herself a cat to replace him, after much urging from me.

I make no excuses for my actions in that case. They were pretty well unforgiveable. I should have told her where her fucking dog was even though I didn't like it or her. It would have been the civilized thing to do. It would have been "neighborly". Maybe if I'd returned her dog to her, we could have bonded. She might feel a sense of gratitude that would have translated into keeping the little bastard out of my garden. But I took the chicken-shit approach and pretended I'd never seen that flyer. I put it entirely out of my mind.

Where am I going with this, you may ask? Well, let me tell you. Youth Renewed is housed in a building that used to be a senior center. It's big, nearly 20,000 square feet, and has a lot of rooms. But it needs renovation, renovation that we're not going to do. So, because the building is a bit run down, we can rent it cheap, despite the fact that we use only about a third of the available space. We have a couple of meeting rooms, a few offices, our phone bank, and that's about all. We have hopes for expansion one day, but right now this building is way too big for us. But it's cheap, so who cares?

Recently, after one of my Youth Support sessions, I was followed back to my office by one of the session attendees. He's maybe fifteen or sixteen, with wavy brown hair, green eyes, a full face, and rather thin lips. He's of medium height, maybe 5'9" and neatly dressed. And he's very cute. He stands at my door for nearly a minute before I notice him, and wave him into my tiny little office, and into one of the chairs along the wall.

Evan attends pretty much every workshop I conduct. He's also in my Coming Out to Family and Friends workshop, and a new workshop I've just begun called, Square Pegs and Round Holes: Fitting into a Straight Community. He's been in a couple of sessions with Peter, as well, I later find, but I guess they didn't resonate for him, because he stopped going. He comes faithfully to my sessions, though, and I see him nearly every day. This is the first opportunity I've had to actually talk to him, though, because he typically disappears as soon as a session is over. He always sits in the front row, never makes eye contact, and never participates in the discussions. And, while I've tried to coax him into participating more fully, I don't want to force him. I have the sense that just being in these workshops benefits him emotionally, and ultimately that's all I really care about. When and if he wants to jump into discussions, he can. He just has to build up a little confidence.

For the first few minutes after plunking down into my office chair, Evan simply stares at the floor in front of him. My office is a little dark. It has no windows. I'd assigned the window offices to the volunteers as a small reward for their help and support. So, I wonder if Evan's silence is abetted by the overall gloominess of our environment. I suggest lunch. He looks up and nods. I ask him what he likes to eat, and he shrugs. Our building is on the Alameda, the oldest thoroughfare in the city -- running through the downtown since the city was first incorporated. There's an Italian pasta restaurant nearby, a couple of Mexican restaurants, and a bakery that makes sandwiches. "What about Mexican?" I suggest. He smiles and nods.

We head downstairs and out the door, walking north on the Alameda. The Mexican place I like is about four blocks away, a relatively short walk. It's been here for years, and bills itself as cooking authentic Mexican food. From what I can tell, they're not lying. That's their big advantage over the other two Mexican places in the area, which cater more to Caucasian tastes. Their other advantage, from my perspective, is that everyone who works here knows me, and knows my taste for really-spicy food. There aren't any menus. On the wall there's a list of the usual stuff you can get at Mexican restaurants, but you can get anything you want here. They'll make you anything you can describe to them, at least within the limits of Mexican cuisine, and they'll do it for around $6. "What do you want to eat?" I ask Evan.

He's quiet for several seconds, scanning the list of choices on the wall, and then says, "Can I have an enchilada? A cheese enchilada?"

It's the phrasing of that "Can I have" part that stops me for a moment, and I realize that I'm probably paying. But, why am I paying? Am I paying because this kid forgot to bring any money, maybe forgot his wallet? Or am I paying because this kid doesn't have any money to bring? I don't know yet.

"How hungry are you?" I ask him.

He looks up at me, and what I see in his eyes is longing...desperation. "I'm sort of hungry," he says.

My ass! This kid is really hungry! I'm guessing he hasn't eaten in a while. "How spicy do you like it?"

"Sort of medium."

It's Luis who takes our order. His father, Julio, is the owner and the cook. I like Luis because, when I order in Spanish, bad Spanish, he'll correct my grammar as we go. I get sort of a mini language lesson. I think he's surprised that I even try to speak Spanish, given how little of it I obviously know. I never took Spanish in school, believe it or not. Well, not since the third grade. I sort of make up Spanish sentences from what I've heard on the radio and TV, and what I know of Latin, Italian and French. And sometimes I get close. But not often. I order Evan's cheese enchilada and an additional chicken enchilada, careful to specify medium strength for both. Because these guys know me, they know my tastes, and if I don't specify otherwise, the food will be nuclear. No sense in killing this boy before I even get to know him. For myself, I order the menudo, the boiled tripe. It isn't on the menu, but I'm crazy about it. The first time I ordered it here may have been the first time I came here. I'm not sure. The family didn't know me then. Julio came out from the back and stared at me. Margarita, his wife, had taken the order, and apparently had whispered to him that it was a Caucasian guy that had ordered it. "Is tripe, ju know? Cow stomach." I nodded. He smiled broadly, went back into the kitchen, and then sent out a bowl of menudo that was unbelievably good. I've been coming here for it ever since.

Luis takes my money, makes change, and hands me a basket of chips and a bowl of salsa. Evan and I make our way to a table in the corner of the restaurant, my "usual" table because it's a little secluded. I pop a couple of chips into my mouth, crunching away, before I realize that Evan isn't eating. "Have some chips," I say. That's all it takes. Evan inhales that first basket of chips in a couple of minutes, and two more baskets in the course of the meal. When the actual food comes, he inhales his cheese enchilada with the same...verve. He is clearly ravenous, and eyes the chicken enchilada with longing. I'm chewing on menudo when I notice his gaze. "I got that for you," I say of the chicken enchilada. "I thought you might like it." For the first time today, for the first time since I've known him, he looks up at me and smiles. It's a radiant smile, a smile that could bring sunshine to a cloudy day. What does it mean, I wonder? Is he happy to have something more to eat? Is he grateful that I've thought of him? Or, is he just happy to be here? I've no idea. But it doesn't take him more than a couple of seconds to tuck into that chicken enchilada, which he dispatches expeditiously.

Finally, he looks up at me and smiles again. "That was amazing," he says. "So good! And, I am so stuffed. Thank you." Jesus Christ! Full sentences! He must be happy.

"So, tell me about yourself, Evan. How old are you? Where do you go to school?"

"I'm 16...in three days. I go to Lincoln. I'm a sophomore."

"You come to the Center nearly every day. Are you gay?"

"I'm attracted to boys," he replies. "I like the social atmosphere at the Center."

The first answer will surprise some, but if you work with gay kids, you won't be surprised at all. Ten years ago, if you asked someone if he was gay and he responded, instead, that he liked boys, you'd know you had a closet case on your hands. You were speaking with someone who wasn't ready to admit that he was gay. Today, though, teens are less willing to reduce their sexual identity to being "gay" or "straight". Some don't know what they are, and some -- perhaps most -- aren't willing to embrace society's desire to make them either...or... The second answer does surprise me, though, because Evan is anything but social.

"Have you made a lot of friends there?" I ask.

"Not really," he says, sensing my confusion. "It's just nice to be somewhere where there are a lot of people in a...predictable context."

Wow! There's a phrase. "Predictable context." Who am I talking to?

"So, is it okay to be attracted to boys? Do others know you're attracted to boys?" This I ask before casually taking another bite of menudo. I don't want this to seem like an interrogation. It has to be casual.

He pauses. "Yeah, it's fine. My Mom knew, and some people at school."

"Your friends?"

"Umm...I don't really have...friends."

I nod. It's not time to pursue this one, yet.

"What do you like to do in your spare time?"

"Umm...I like to read, and to walk. I don't really do any sports. I hang out at Peet's Coffee around the corner a lot, and sometimes I like to watch TV, but I can't really do that very often."

"Why not?"

He looks a little embarrassed, and very reticent. I'm not sure what I've hit. Finally, after several seconds, he responds, "I don't have electricity."

Before I can stop it, my face scrunches into a quizzical look. I can feel my brows furrowing. Then I catch it, and go blank again. I nod, and take another bite of menudo as I ponder not having electricity. Who doesn't have electricity? People who can't pay their bills. Homeless people. Alejandro lived under a bridge for a year or so. He didn't have any electricity. Where does this kid live? How do I ask him that...gently?

"Do you live around here," I ask, my mouth half full. And then I giggle and wipe the corners of my mouth with my napkin. "Sorry," I say, giggling again. Make it look like casual curiosity.

"Sort of. I live in a house on Singletary."

"Really? I live one street over, on Fremont. Which house is yours?"

"It's the house on the corner of Singletary and Morse."

I think for a minute. I walk in this neighborhood every evening. That's how I get my exercise. "Okay. I know the one. It's a blue and white house. Clapboard siding. It's got a really nice garden -- lots of herbs."

"No," he says, "that's across the street. I live in the grey house just across from it. It actually faces onto Morse."

For a moment I'm totally confused. Then I realize the house he's talking about and I stop chewing, gazing at him absently, pensively. The house he's talking about is a house someone started to rebuild probably three years ago. It's grey because it's never been painted. Whoever owns it keeps running out of money, and the renovations stop. It has a chain link fence completely surrounding the construction zone, but it's still possible to see in through the windows. It has no interior walls, just studs. It has no floor, just bare plywood. It has no ceiling, just joists. And, Evan is right. It has no electricity because the power has never been connected, nor has the plumbing. No one lives in that house. It's uninhabitable. You'd have to climb the fence to get inside, and then you'd probably have to crawl in a window because the doors are boarded up. Once inside, about the only thing it offers you is shelter from the rain. I consciously start to chew again, trying to keep it casual.

I nod. "Do you live there with your folks?"

"No," he says. "My Dad left years ago for somewhere in South America. I don't know where he is. I never really knew him. I was maybe three years old when he left. I lived with my Mom in a rental over on Hanchett, but she left and I had to...move."

"She left? Where'd she go?"

"I don't know. She left me a note written on an envelope saying she'd be away for a few days. Inside the envelope was a little money -- for food, I guess."

"And when was that?"

He pauses to think. "It must have been, like, four or five months ago."

I'm lost. I have so many questions! But, I can't bombard him with them. "So, since then, you've been living in the grey house on Singletary. Are you there alone?"

"No, there's another guy who lives there, too, but he's pretty...violent. I think he's on drugs. So, he lives in the house and I live in the garage. We don't see each other much."

The thing that strikes me about this conversation is how matter-of-fact Evan is about it all. This is not a plea for sympathy. In fact, his situation doesn't even seem to surprise him much. He's just answering questions. There doesn't seem to be much emotion attached to it. There's an interesting thing I've noticed about survivors. They never seem to be much interested or concerned about their plight. I think it's because they're too busy...surviving. They do what they have to do, taking their hardships as a given. That's what I sense in Evan. He's living his life any way he can.

"How do you eat?" I ask him. "How do you buy food?"

"Mostly I get food from the dumpsters at the groceries, and also from the Farmers' Market in Santa Clara. If you go to the Farmers' Market just before they close on Sunday afternoon, they'll give you their vegetable trimmings for free. You know, the stuff they can't sell -- cauliflower leaves, rotting bell peppers, carrot tops, old broccoli. But you have to tell them it's for your rabbit or something. If they think it's for you, they won't give it to you. And, the lady who lives next door pays me to walk her dog. She pays me $5 a day, and that helps a lot. I think she knows about me. I do okay, although nothing like this," he says, gesturing to all the dirty dishes on the table in front of us. "This was a treat. Thank you!"

I've stopped chewing again, I realize, and that may be because I'm not sure I can swallow. I have a really-big lump in my throat. "How're you doing in school?" I ask. There are just so many things I want to ask him, but I think I need to switch to something else, something less...tragic.

"Okay," he says. "Report cards came out two weeks ago, and I got four As and two Bs." This, despite being homeless and spending his afternoons rooting around in grocery dumpsters. "I do homework mostly at Peet's or Starbuck's because there's no light in the house I'm living in. The guys at Peet's are really cool. They know I can't afford the coffee, so they give me a glass of ice water and let me work at one of the tables." My devotion to Peet's has just increased 20-fold.

After lunch, I give Evan a hug, and we both start to walk along the Alameda in opposite directions. I'm returning to the Center, and he looks like he's going back to the house he lives in. As I walk, I find myself crying. This is a really-nice kid. No 16-year-old should have to live like this. Why do people have kids if they're just going to walk away from them? How did his mother think he was going to survive, or did she care? I know what a lot of kids his age would be doing to survive, and I don't want that for him. He's too shy and too naďve to survive that. After walking about two minutes thinking about this kid, I turn and sprint in the other direction, chasing after him. I catch up to him just as he's about to climb the fence that surrounds that dreadful grey house off Singletary.

"Hey, Evan!"

He looks surprised for a moment, and then turns to me and smiles.

I'm out of breath, and panting, but start talking anyway. "This is an awful place to live, and sometime soon, when they start to work on it again, whoever owns it is going to throw you out, or, more likely, have you arrested. We've got to find somewhere else for you to go, somewhere more secure than this."

He's immediately on edge. "I don't want to go into a foster home. I was in one of those for a while. It was a really bad scene, worse than living here," he says, gesturing to the derelict house. "I won't go into a foster home."

"I'm not suggesting that, and believe me, I'd never do that to you. My eldest son was in a foster home for only a couple of weeks, and it scarred him for a long time. I honestly don't know what I'm suggesting long term, but for the moment I'd like you to stay at the Center. We have lots of extra room. You can take one of the unused conference rooms and use it as a bedroom. And, it would really help us, too, because we've been looking for a sort of caretaker to look after the place when there's no one there, like at night and on weekends." I'm talking pretty fast now, and, in fact, I'm making this stuff up as I go. We have never discussed looking for a caretaker, and even if we did, the place isn't zoned for residential occupancy. Having him live there will be illegal. But, I just don't want this sweet kid living in this dump with a violent drug addict and scrounging in dumpsters for food. "And, if you're willing to do a bit of clerical work, we can even offer you a small salary."

He gives me a long, blank look, a look that says absolutely nothing about what he's thinking. Finally, he asks, "Why would you do this for me?"

"Because you seem like a really-nice guy who's having a hard time surviving right now. Because I can't stand the thought of someone as bright as you working harder to find something to eat than he works on school work. Because I think someone needs to give you a break, and I'm in a position to do that."

He goes a little teary-eyed, and then leans forward and hugs me. "Okay," he whispers.

Climbing the fence, he makes his way into the garage through a rear window. He returns five minutes later with a garbage bag that apparently contains all of his worldly possessions. This he throws over the fence to me, and then climbs back over to the sidewalk, and we make our way back to the Center. Upstairs, in the back of the building the Center is housed in, are three available conference rooms, only one of which has a window. This is the one Evan chooses. But there's nothing in here, nothing but dust and cobwebs. That doesn't deter him, though. He borrows a broom and dustpan from our office manager and begins to clean. By the time he's done, the room is livable. He takes a blanket out of his garbage bag and lays it on the floor next to the window. "This is going to be so nice!" he exclaims. "I never felt safe on Singletary. It wasn't just the drug guy living in the house. The place was totally exposed, and every homeless guy in town knew about it, and quite often one or more would show up. Just feeling secure again, feeling safe, that's going be so nice."

"What the blanket on the floor for?"

"That's where I'll sleep."

I give him a long, puzzled look. "Let's take a walk," I say. Once again, we walk north on The Alameda, toward the Mexican restaurant where we had lunch, and continue toward my house.

Evan expects nothing from people, which is at once very nice, and very troubling. I'm not sure whether he doesn't ask for what he needs because he doesn't know what he needs, or because he's been so disappointed by others in the past. I'm thinking of his parents here. Perhaps he just assumes that what he needs isn't going to materialize anyway, so why bother asking. Once we get to the house, I lead him into the entryway, and call out, "Who's home?"

Dinh pops out of the kitchen, smiling. "Just little me," he says with a giggle.

I motion him over and introduce him to Evan. "I guess, since you'll be joining us at the Center, that I should tell you what everyone else at the Center already knows. My family is decidedly non-traditional, even for a gay guy. I have what I consider to be three husbands, and together we're raising two Chinese boys. Dinh is one of my husbands. He's Vietnamese. The other two husbands, whom you'll meet tonight when you join us for dinner, are Chinese. All that clear?"

Evan is wide-eyed. "Umm...yeah. Three husbands?"

"Is that a problem?"

"Not for me. I've just never heard of that before. Can three guys get married to each other?"

"Emotionally, yes. Officially, no. It'll become clearer over dinner. Dinh, my little sugarplum," I say with a snort, turning to Dinh.

"Ahhh," he says, laughing. "He wants something," he says to Evan, "a favor. What might that be?"

I give him a hug. I need some brawn to help us move a few things to the Center."

My aunt Evelyn has Alzheimer's. She lived alone for years in Mountain View, and I'd visit her there every week or so. When I began to notice a significant weight loss and other symptoms of her forgetfulness, I realized that it was time to move her to an assisted-living facility. That necessitated clearing her house so we could rent it in order to generate additional income to help pay for her care. She had some really-stunning Danish Modern furniture that I could have sold, I guess, but it wouldn't have gone for much. More important, she had a brand-new queen-sized bed. So, today's exercise is to strap the bed to the top of the Westfalia, and to load up the van itself with stuff Evan will need to be comfortable -- a dresser, a desk, lamps, a chair, and a book case.

When he understands what I have in mind, Evan is stunned. "You don't need to do this. I'll be fine on the floor, really!"

"What's the point of having a room if the only things in it are a bag of clothes and a blanket? This will make the difference between surviving and being comfortable. Besides, this stuff has been cluttering my garage for better than two years collecting dust. I'm happy to be able to put it to good use, and to reclaim my garage at the same time."

Evan nods, slowly, glassy-eyed. "I'm so grateful!" he says, at last. "I never thought this day would come. I never thought I'd have a home again. Thank you." I reach across and give him a hug.

I drive the Westfalia to the Center, about a minute and a half away. There's no room inside for Evan and Dinh, so they make the trip on foot, chatting along the way about our family, our children, and what it means to have three husbands. "It isn't just Tim that has three husbands. All of us do. We're all married to each other, sort of. We all love each other."

Evan is quiet for several seconds before he screws up his courage, and asks, "What does three husbands mean -- physically?"

Evan's question was too oblique, Dinh tells me later. Dinh had no idea what he was asking.

"What's it mean for...sex?" Evan clarifies, flushed.

Suddenly Dinh get it, and laughs. "Yeah, that's got to be a little confusing. I guess it means everything you'd think it means. Sometimes it means two of us together, sometimes four. Do you have a boyfriend?" Dinh asks, changing the focus from us to Evan.

"No," Evan replies. "The way I've been living hasn't really lent itself to...romance. I kissed a guy once, and it felt so good...to be...that close to someone else. It was indescribable. But, the relationship it didn't last. School is tough for gay kids. There's so much fear. I'm pretty open about my sexuality, but a lot of gay kids aren't. Relationships are hard to maintain."

By this time, they've reached the Center. Together we haul the bed and furniture up to Evan's new room and get him set up. The dresser that I brought is full of bed linens and blankets, so he's got pretty much everything he needs. The Center has a full kitchen just down the corridor from Evan's room, so meals and snacks should be straightforward. It has a bathroom with a shower close by as well, both legacies of the buildings former life as a senior center. Best of all, this wing of the Center, in the back of the building, isn't used at all for Center activities, so it's virtually deserted. He'll have as much privacy as he could ask for.

Once we've gotten Evan ensconced, the three of us pile into the Westfalia and head for home. This is Jason's night to cook, so we're having Chinese food (of course), and I have my mouth set for it. "Do you like Chinese food?" I ask Evan.

"I don't really know," he replies. "I don't think I've ever had Chinese food."

Dinh and I both stare at him in disbelief, and Evan looks really sheepish.

"If my Mom ever took me out, which wasn't very often, it was to McDonald's or somewhere like that. She didn't cook very well, so McDonald's was a treat."

"What was your Mom like?" I ask Evan, my curiosity piqued.

He pauses to think about this a minute. "She was nice when she wasn't drinking, which was never. She wasn't around much even when she was around, so when she left and I had to move out of our apartment, there wasn't much of a change from an emotional perspective. Mostly, toward the end, I tried to stay out of her way, like I did with the drug guy at the Singletary house."

"Was she abusive?"

"Not really. Not physically, anyway. She was mean when she was drunk, though, and could say some really-nasty things. That's why I tried to stay out of her way. She made me sad."

When we get to the house, the guys pile out of the Westfalia, and I drive it back into the garage where it lives most of the time. Then we head inside, and the minute we hit the entry hall, Evan's eyes roll at the aromas of garlic, onions, black bean sauce, Shao Xing wine, and sesame oil. "Oh, my god that smells good! What is it?"

"I don't know," I say with a laugh. "There's no telling. Let's go find out." I lead Evan toward the kitchen with Dinh in hot pursuit. When we get there, we find everyone is there. Everyone. Jason is cooking, and Kenny is helping the boys draw animals, at least, I think they're animals. It's not always clear what Kai's shapeless blobs are, but he enjoys drawing. When he brings his masterpieces to me, I try to avoid admitting that I don't know what the drawings were intended to depict. Through artful questioning I try to get him to tell me without letting on that I don't already know. It's a game we've played ever since he first came to us. Vijay is there, too, although Christophe isn't with him. He has a deadline, I hear, and won't be home from work until late. Standing next to Vijay, to my utter and complete surprise, is Cliff, little Cliff, looking just the same as he did two years ago. "Where's Robbie? Is he with you?"

"No," Cliff replies. "We sort of broke up."

"Sort of?"

"Well, Robbie decided to go to the University of Chicago after high school, and I was planning to go with him. But, in the last year of high school we started to grow apart. I was living with him and his Mom for most of that year. When it came time for him to leave for school, we talked and agreed to break up. We just didn't seem to have enough in common to sustain an intimate relationship. We're still great friends, but not boyfriends. His Mom was really nice, though, and let me stay on with her until I could get a job and find somewhere else to stay. I live with five other guys now off 11th Street, downtown. I can walk to work, and I can walk to San Jose State where I'm going to school."

We hug warmly. "I'm sorry to hear about you and Robbie, but it sounds like it was an amicable divorce, and those are rare these days, so congratulations!" Then I move aside, and Evan, who has been lingering behind me all this times, comes into view. "Let me introduce you all to Evan. He's joined us at the Center. He's going to be our facilities caretaker and administrative assistant to Jimmi (the office manager). He's a sophomore at Lincoln, and will be living at the Center while he finishes high school. Evan, this is Jason. He's chronologically husband number one. And this is Kenny, chronologically husband number two. Dinh you've met. This is Vijay, a close friend of ours and the partner of an old friend of mine. Cliff is...was the boyfriend of a guy we tutored for a while. You'll like him. Everyone likes him. And these imps," I say, gesturing toward Kevin and Kai, "are `the boys'. Kevin is the one working on the drawing of the giraffe, and Kai is the one working on the drawing of...the other animal."

Kevin is first up to greet Evan. "Pleased to meet you," he says, ever the little gentleman, holding out his hand. Evan shakes it, and then he shakes Kai's, who mimics Kevin almost perfectly, right down to the vocal inflection. Then pandemonium ensues as everyone comes forward to hug and greet him.

"Do you cook?" Vijay asks Evan.

"Not at all," he replies.

"Well, come watch and learn from a master," he says, nodding toward Jason and throwing Evan an apron. At the same time, Kenny gets the boys focused on their drawings once again, giggling and chatting with them in Cantonese, with Jason moving in and out of their conversation in Mandarin. After a couple minutes of this, Evan finally asks the question, "What are you speaking?"

"Two dialects of Chinese," Jason responds, "Cantonese and Mandarin. Kevin and Kai are Kenny's nephews, and my second-cousins. They came to us when Kenny's sister died of cancer. At that time they spoke only Cantonese, and Tim, Kenny and I agreed that we wanted them to be fluent in the languages we speak. So, Kenny speaks to them only in Cantonese, Tim only in English, and I speak to them only in Mandarin."

"Wow!" he says, "That's awesome!"

Just at that moment, Erich and Peter bounce into the room, and as they do everyone turns around to see who's come in. Seeing Evan, Peter immediately greets him, "Hey, Evan. What're you doing here?"

"He's going to be working at the Center," I preemptively respond. "He's our new caretaker, and will be Jimmi's assistant. He'll be living in the back corridor in one of the old conference rooms."

"Really," Peter says, looking a little surprised. I give him a look, and he recovers. "That's very cool. Jimmi has needed help for quite a while. Very good!"

There are now ten of us crammed into our kitchen. Too damned many people. "Peter, you and Erich aren't cooking, nor am I. Let's go hang out in the living room. Cliff, why don't you join us? I'd like to hear what you've been up to for the past year and a half or so. Once the four of us are in the living room and have something to drink, I look across at Peter. "Evan's apparently been homeless for more than four months. His mother walked out on him, leaving him nowhere to go. He's been living in a derelict house on Singletary with another guy, an addict by the sounds of it. I took him to lunch today, and he told me his story. It nearly broke my heart. I improvised with the room in the back. I wanted him out the place he was living. We can use a caretaker, someone to call the cops when the graffiti artists come to paint obscenities on our walls. And, as you say, Jimmi has needed some help. I think he'll fit right in." Peter nods.

"How old is Evan," Cliff asks.

"Sixteen in three days, he said," I reply.

"And he's gay?"

"Yeah. That's what he says." There's sort of a dreamy look in Cliff's eyes that I recognize from when I first introduced him to Robbie.

"You be nice to that boy, Cliff," I say with a wink. "He needs a boy friend probably more than a boyfriend, but the roles aren't mutually exclusive."

Cliff blushes, and we move on in the conversation. I discover that Cliff is now a bank teller at a branch of Bank of America downtown, and that his major at San Jose State is music. He's pursuing a BFA, a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in piano, and is also in their musicology program. San Jose State is the wrong place to get a BFA, especially if you want to make a career of music. I ask him about this, and he tells me that he has a private teacher as well, but he's not sure he can continue with her. He doesn't think he'll be able to afford her. I make note of that, and just as I do, the door to the kitchen opens, and dishes begin to arrive. We've got Hot and Sour Soup, Salt and Pepper Crab, Beef and Asparagus in what smells like a Black Bean Sauce, Baby Bok Choi with Mushrooms, On Choi with Fermented Tofu. We also have something Jason makes just for me because he knows I love it, Stir-fried Sprouted Soy Beans in Chili Sauce. He hasn't announced dessert, which has Kevin nearly frantic, but once we tuck into the meal itself, Kevin settles down to enjoy the food.

Evan is lost. First, he doesn't know how to use chop sticks, and he's the only one at the table with a fork. This is embarrassing. But, also, he has no idea what to do with crab. I don't think he's ever seen one, and he's confused about the dishware, until Jason comes to his rescue. Steamed rice is the foundation of any good Chinese meal, but you can't eat rice off a plate with chop sticks. In setting the table, Dinh gave everyone rice bowls, of course, but a rice bowl isn't particularly convenient if you're eating with a fork. Just as the rice is passed to Evan, Jason swoops in and removes the rice bowl and brings him a dinner place. "This'll be easier," he says, matter-of-factly. Evan looks up at him and smiles. "Thanks," he says, "I wasn't sure what I was supposed to do with the bowl."

Jason teaches him how to eat crab, and how not to worry about getting a little...messy. He does get messy, but doesn't seem to care. As with our lunch, he is voracious, having consumed multiple helpings of pretty much everything. At the end of the meal, I ask him the question again, "So, do you like Chinese food?"

He giggles. "I guess!" he says, a comment that draws a laugh from everyone.

At the beginning of the meal, as we were finding our places at the table, Vijay was just about to sit down next to Evan when Cliff swooped in and grabbed the chair a split second before Vijay could claim it. Vijay looked surprise for a moment, and then smiled. Wasn't it obvious? He moved instead to sit next to Jason, leaving victory to Cliff. And a victory it was. Cliff and Evan talked non-stop for the two hours we sat in the dining room. They talked through the soup, through the entrees, and through the dessert, which turned out to be Mango Sticky Rice, one of Kevin's favorites, Kai's too. If you want to see an eight-year-old Asian boy have an orgasm (insofar as he is capable) you feed him Mango Sticky Rice. It's slices of fresh mango layered on top of sticky rice that's been sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds, and then drizzled with coconut milk. Kevin squealed when he saw it, much to Evan's amusement. "Is this stuff good, Kevin? I've never had it."

Kevin rolls his eyes, suggesting ever so gently that Evan is an idiot. "Yeeaaahhhh!" he says. We all laugh. Kevin knows what he likes, and if you don't agree, well...

After dinner, at around 9:15, Erich takes the boys off to get them bathed and to put them to bed, and by the time he returns, Jason is in the middle of a Shostakovich prelude. I am tearing terribly, but manage to keep it together. When he's finished it, I look over at Jason, still on the piano bench. "Did you know that Cliff is pursuing a BFA in piano?"

Jason's eyes light up. "Really? You went for it? That is so great! What can you play us?"

When Jason first asked him this question, he's played us some Beethoven...reluctantly. Like now, he had just heard Jason play and was intimidated. Tonight, though, he doesn't hesitate. He goes to the piano and plays Janácek's In the Mist, which is structured as a sonata, more or less. I think most musicologists might characterize it as a tone poem for technical reasons, though. It's lush and lovely and has me right on the edge of tears. The last time I heard Cliff play, his pacing was a little...off. Not tonight. Tonight he is fluid; his pacing is nearly perfect from what I can hear. Jason has taken Cliff's seat next to Evan, and lies back in his seat with his eyes closed. At some point, he unconsciously lets his head flop onto Evan's shoulder. Evan doesn't move. The piece lasts fifteen minutes. At the end of it, Jason opens his eyes and asks to hear a few bars again. He hums them, and then Cliff plays them. They're in the middle of the third movement.

"That," Jason says, rising from his seat, "was spectacular. It was so liquid, which is really important for Janácek. He's right on the edge of atonality, so you have to mitigate that with smooth transitions. You've improved so much since I last heard you play. On the section in the third movement, suppose you'd played it like this instead?" And then he sits and plays about 30 seconds of the piece with very different phrasing. I honestly don't know if I like it as well, but Cliff gets it. He understands the nuances, and he leans over and hugs Jason.

"Yes! That's much better, much more precise. It's much more...articulated."

"Cliff is running out of money for piano lessons," I say to Jason, abruptly. "Do you think we might be able to help him?"

Jason smiles broadly. "I'd love to help him," he responds. And then, looking at Cliff, "I'd love to work with you again. You've improved so much. You have so much potential. I'd love to be able to say in twenty years, when you're on the concert circuit, that I helped train you."

"Would you?" he asks, incredulous. "When can we start?"

"How about tomorrow? I usually get home from the city at about 7pm. Dinner's next. How about 8:30pm?" Cliff is just so excited. "How often do you want to come?" Jason asks.

Cliff looks really sheepish. "Umm...could I come every day for a while?"

Jason grins. "Sure. We'll see how that goes. I'm not going to be able to do it some days -- concerts. But, let's aim for that."

Cliff nods. He knows what an opportunity this is. And then he pauses. "I need to be up front about something. Gary got me a piano, a really-beautiful baby grand. It's in storage downtown because I don't have room for it where I live. I practice at school, and go to the storage facility sometimes and play there. Practice time is a problem for me. It's so frustrating!"

"Well," Jason begins, "you can always practice here."

"No. I don't want to put you out. Practice is so monotonous. I don't think I want to inflict that on you all. I just need you to understand that..."

And then the rotation of the earth changes slightly as Evan weighs in on this discussion, almost the first words he's spoken since we finished dinner. "Umm...Tim. You said that I could use either of the other two conference rooms next to mine if I needed more space. At the time I thought that was funny. I mean, I've been living in a one-car garage for the past 4 months. What if we put Cliff's piano in one of those rooms? Would that be okay? He could practice anytime. I could help to move it. Would that help to solve the problem?"

He waits as I parse this suggestion, parse it several times. Finally, I look up at him and smile. "I think that's a great idea, Evan. We're paying rent for that space. We might as well use it. What do you think, Cliff?"

Cliff is working really hard to contain his absolute adulation, to look sober. Finally he says, "Yeah, that'd be great." I don't know what's going on here. Maybe nothing. Maybe this really is all about finding a space for Cliff to practice in. Somehow, though, I sense that there's more to it than that. We'll see.

At any rate, at the end of the evening, after Vijay and Cliff have gone home, I drive Evan back to the Center and let him in. He doesn't have a key, yet. On the way there, I stop at Safeway and buy him some basic groceries -- eggs, milk, bread, lunch meat, soda, some frozen meals, some fruit, and coffee. All of this we stash in the kitchen at the end the corridor before making our way to his room. This is an eerie place at night. Voluminous and scary, and you can see a tinge of fear in Evan's eyes. When we get to his room, I sit down in his chair, and he sits on the bed. "I'm still in a dream," he says. "None of this has sunk in, yet. I've been living one day at a time for so long, the idea of having a future is a little...strange. I'm so excited," he says, looking into my eyes, "and so grateful! Thanks for help..." Then he dissolves in mid-sentence. Evan is very controlled. He's very self-contained. But, if I were sixteen, having lived without parents for four months in a derelict house with a derelict drug addict, and then suddenly my life changed, changed as his has today, I'd be a little emotional. I've been waiting for this. I've been waiting for him to lose control. It's neither healthy nor natural to repress your feelings, assuming you have some. I've been waiting to see if he'd succumb, and he has, he does. I move to the bed and hug him, and he hugs back, hugs me so tight. Then he swings around so he's sitting on my lap, facing me, with his legs wrapped around my waist. He's draped over my shoulder and sobbing. I just hold him. We stay like this for nearly half an hour.

We grow kids up too quickly nowadays. We insist that they be mature and independent before they've even had a chance to be children. And then, when they're in their twenties and thirties, we wonder why they're so immature, so needy, so neurotic. We've forced them to skip all those developmental stages that enable them to move gracefully into adulthood. We put our own needs before theirs, turning them into neurotic children who will later become neurotic parents rearing future generations of neurotic children. And what does "neurotic" mean? These days, I think it means a tendency to see the world only from the point of view of the self egocentrism prevails. It's a very sad commentary on the society we've built when the needs of parents become more important than the needs of their children, who have no power to satisfy their own needs.

So, I've been waiting for Evan to behave like a child, and once he does, I realize that I can't leave him here alone. He's not supposed to be alone at sixteen. He's supposed to be dependent -- autonomous but dependent. And this is what I meant when I said that I was a really heartless piece of shit when it's convenient. How could I have imagined that I could leave a sixteen-year-old boy in a cold, dark, empty place like this?

"Evan," I whisper, "I don't want you here."

He rears back and looks me in the eyes through his tears, and suddenly all I see is fear; all I see is anguish.

"You're not ready to live on your own. Yeah, I know you've been doing it for a long time, but it isn't right. It isn't optimal. In this great barn of a building you'll end up being a ghost haunting yourself. I don't want you here. I want you with us. I want you to have a home with people who you can talk to, who you feel close to. Please, Evan, can I take you home?"

Suddenly he embraces me again, almost violently, sobbing. "Yes," he chokes. "Yes, please..."

Gary used to laugh at me for collecting strays, and I guess I do. Andrew, Vijay, Dinh -- all of these were strays. But each made my life so much richer simply by virtue of knowing them. Now we have Evan, the strayest of them all. He's like a feral cat that you catch in your back yard. You feed him. You pet him if he'll let you. You give him a basket in the corner, and hope he'll settle down. In Evan's case, I think I've caught him in a "Pre-Feral Stage". I think I can help him to be more comfortable and confident simply by giving him a home, by giving him a family to cherish that cherishes him. I'm going to have to stop collecting strays, though. After Evan, we'll only have one small bedroom left, a room we've used for storage, and, of course the guest house in the back. It's a space we've never used for anything, a space that could, I realize suddenly, really be improved by the inclusion of a baby-grand piano. This is where Cliff can practice without disturbing anyone. It's a much better answer than the Center, and will keep him close to Evan, if that turns out to be what they want.

So, now we are nine with an occasional tenth. We have a full house, and will need to add another leaf to the dining table. I grew up as an only child, well, almost only. I had...have...an older sister. But she was twelve years old when I was born. She was essentially a second mother to me until she went off to college. As our family has grown, I've realized how much I missed as a child locked in my solitary contentment. I missed the goings-on, the chaos of too many schedules colliding. I missed the turbulence of a large and loving family. I don't plan to miss that anymore.

When Evan finally stops crying, we grab his garbage bag of clothes, and make our way out of the building. I drive him home. When we get there Jason, who's been playing the piano, looks up, sees Evan, and knows immediately what this means. He smiles at me, and comes over to hug Evan. "Welcome!" he says. "I'm glad you're here."

Kenny's response is similar. He hugs him, and welcomes him, but not before giving me an amused look. "Stray?" he says.

I nod, giggling.

Dinh, curiously, is the one with the strongest reaction. "I was wondering why you were banishing him to Siberia," he says to me. "He seems so nice. I'm glad you've come to your senses."

I'm glad, too. The question is, now what do I do? Do I foster him? Adopt him? Either of these choices would have the Child Welfare crowd in my pants. Or do we just leave well enough alone? That's the $64,000 question I'll need to ponder for a while.

Published first at: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Nemo-stories/