4 Turning Over a New Leaf

“What’s wrong, Pete?” Aiden asked as he came in, dressed nicely, wearing a tie and sport coat. Peter recounted the whole story and Aiden looked furious. “Would your brother make a statement, if we arrested your parents?”

“I think so. He sounded so scared, and now that he’s talked to me, it’ll get worse. But our family is in Lockewood,” Peter said.

“We’ve got contacts. It’ll take a couple of days. I think I can make it happen, but I might need your help,” Aiden responded.

“I’d do anything,” Peter declared.

Finally, Tom said, “Peter, I’m sorry, but I promised some friends I’d come to dinner. They’ll be very disappointed if we don’t make it.”

“I understand, Doc. Thanks, and thank you Aiden,” Peter said.

“Look, call us if you need us. Otherwise, I’ll come by first thing in the morning, and I’m free all day,” Tom promised. Out at their cars, he said, “I hate to leave!”

“You can’t fix all of his problems, Tom,” Aiden cautioned.

“I’m going to do my best,” Tom replied. “You can grab the rest.”

Tom directed Aiden to the Moore’s home. When they knocked, Martha answered. Seeing Tom, she burst into happy tears and threw her arms around him, whispering, “It’s been too long!” Poor Aiden, entirely in the dark, looked on helplessly.

“I’m sorry, Martha,” Tom replied. “It’s just been so hard, but I’ll try harder.”

“Promise?” Martha asked.

“I promise!” With that, Martha released him and stepped back, sizing Aiden up with a well-tuned eye. Taking his cue, Tom said, “Martha, this is my friend Aiden O’Connel.”

She shook his hand, but asked in motherly interrogation mode, “Friend?”

“We just started dating, Martha! Take it easy on him? I’ll consider it a personal favor,” Tom said with a laugh.

“Alright,” she said, laughing, “but not too easy!”

Martha waved them in. Walt was sitting in his chair with a scotch, and struggled to his feet. “Tom! So good to have you here! And you must be?”

“Aiden O’Connel, sir, nice to meet you.”

“So what do you do, Aiden? Our Tom doesn’t meet many people,” Walt said with a laugh as he settled uneasily into his seat.         

“I’m a police officer, sir,” Aiden replied.

“Ah, you must have responded to the incident with young Peter Dawson?” Walt asked.

“Yes, sir. I found Tom taking care of the boy’s bloody wound, actually,” Aiden reported.

“The Dawson boy was stabbed?” Martha gasped, and Walt and Tom looked at her knowingly. “And you found him?”

Tom nodded, and the woman’s eyes teared up as she fled the room. Tom started after her, but Walt put a hand up. Shortly, Aiden excused himself to the bathroom, but detoured to the kitchen, where he found Martha working, tears in her eyes.

“Martha?” he asked.

“Yes, dear?” she replied.

“I’m missing something here. All I know is that I’ve come to my boyfriend’s department chairman’s house,” Aiden explained.

“Oh, dear! I’m not sure how much I should say. Look at the wall behind you.” Among the photos of handsome young men and women, Aiden focused on a large family photo from the last Thanksgiving. Walt and Martha stood in the midst of five boys, including Tom and Jamie. Aiden sighed heavily, settling onto a stool and staring at the picture.

“Jamie,” Aiden said.

“Yes, dear – Jamie. So you do know that much. Walt sees Tom all the time, but I can’t help but feel like I lost them both, every day!” Martha said.

“It’s got to be difficult for him to be here,” Aiden said.

“I know, Aiden, I know! It’s also difficult for him to be with me. Jamie, of all my sons, was closest to me. He was my sidekick, you know?” Aiden grabbed a knife to help. For a while, they worked side-by-side. After a long silence, Martha said, “When I met Tom, he was so bottled up, so brittle and scared. By the time Jamie died, he had come to life, and then I saw him slipping away again, bit by bit. I see he has a little of the old fire back.”

“It gets better?” Aiden asked.

“Tom is a shadow of the man he was a year ago,” she replied.

“It’s hard to imagine. He’s so good, so kind,” Aiden said.

“If you stick with him, you’ll be amazed,” she promised.

“Martha, can I ask you a personal question?” Aiden asked.

“You mean, private?” Martha responded.

“Yeah,” he said with a laugh. “Do you believe in love at first sight?” Martha laughed and choked back a sob at the same time. “I’m sorry, please don’t say I said anything?”

“Sorry, dear! It’s just, the last time I was asked that question was right here. Tom is very special. He doesn’t understand the effect he has on people. He’s always surprised that someone could even love him, much less that they do! Jamie met him and was floored. I remember it like yesterday! We were having our beginning of the year party, and Tom, the new faculty person, wasn’t saying a word to anybody! So shy! Jamie was still a student, and he was trying to avoid all the stuffy professors. But he came downstairs for a drink and saw Tom sitting in the corner. He came right in here and asked me that same question! I said, ‘What are you talking about, dear?’ and he asked, ‘Who’s the kid in there who looks like he’s lost his kite?’ I laughed and said, ‘That kid is the new professor.’ He just shrugged, walked right in there, and sat down next to Tom, practically in his lap. Before long Jamie had him out back on the swings, laughing and talking. Walt just closed the blinds and shook his head laughing. We both knew there was no point in getting in Jamie’s way!”

“I … I don’t think Tom’s been able to deal with it, even as well as you have,” Aiden said.

“Maybe now he will. Just don’t let his feelings for Jamie, feelings he’ll always have, get in between you.” Aiden nodded, helping until they finished. When they returned together, Walt and Tom looked at them quizzically, but Martha just introduced Aiden around to the guests who had arrived: two philosophy professors and their spouses, and a professor of religion, Emily Frost, and her whole family, since her babysitter had cancelled at the last minute.

Aiden got down in front of her youngest and said, “Hi, I’m Aiden!”

“Hi Aiden, I’m Adam!”

“How old are you, buddy?” Aiden asked.

“Three,” the boy said happily.

“Wow, you’re a big boy!” Throughout the evening, the boy watched Aiden closely.

Conversation over dinner was lively, and at desert, Walt raised his glass. “Tom, congratulations on your latest accomplishment, and we look forward to many more!” After a lot of clinking of glasses, Walt, out of character, continued, “I think everyone here is aware of the recent difficulties that Tom and my family have gone through, and I just want to add,” he said, pausing to wipe away some tears, “I just want to add, how wonderful it is to have you back home Tom, and I hope that … that you will be here much more often.” With that, he wiped his eyes again, and there wasn’t a dry eye in the room.

Clearing his throat, Tom said, “I am sorry. It’s been wonderful, and I realize that locking myself up hasn’t done me or anyone else any good. So thank you for your patience.” Soon, conversation turned light and was carried to the parlor for after dinner drinks.

Emily and her crew left first. Emily hugged Tom and whispered, “It’s good to see you! We’ll have to get you two over for dinner sometime soon?”

Tom smiled and nodded, “For sure!” Everyone laughed at the cuteness of Adam giving Aiden a big hug goodbye. “I guess that seals the deal, Emily. Call me!”

Slowly, the guests departed until Aiden and Tom had to go. Apologetically, Aiden announced, “I have a weekend seminar, so I need some sleep.”

“Thank you for coming, dears,” Martha said, hugging them both.

Walt hugged Tom and shook hands with Aiden. “Don’t be strangers,” he insisted.

“We won’t,” Aiden winked, cutting Tom off. Aiden later said, “They’re good people.”

“The best,” Tom replied.

“Martha missed you,” Aiden said, gently.

With a sigh, Tom replied, “I know.”

“She said it was like losing two sons,” Aiden reported.

“Oh, God, I’ve been so selfish,” Tom said, looking up into the stars.

“You lost the only person you had ever truly been in love with! It’s understandable, but … you might want to make up for lost time,” Aiden suggested.

Tom smiled and almost let slip an ‘I love you,’ but caught himself. “You’re amazing!”

“I’m okay, you are amazing,” Aiden corrected.

“We’ll agree to disagree,” Tom added, good naturedly. As they sat in the car, Tom asked, “I suppose you need to get back to your place, but would you like to spend the night?”

“I really need to be able to get ready for school in the morning. You could come to my place?” Tom smiled and hopped out, got in his car and followed Aiden home. “It’s not much,” Aiden said, opening the door, “but I save a bunch of money!” It was a bachelor’s apartment, leanly furnished in what looked like IKEA. Modest furniture was arranged around a fancy entertainment system, and there were two bookcases full criminology books.

Tom followed Aiden to the bedroom and found a little room with a double bed. As he began to strip, Aiden said, “It’ll be a tight fit, so I guess we’ll have to cuddle.”

Tom replied, “You didn’t seem to have a problem with either last night!”

Aiden laughed and started helping Tom out of his clothes. Naked, they crawled into bed together, and Tom spooned Aiden, kissing his shoulder as they drifted off to sleep. In the morning, however, Tom awoke quite early with a throbbing need to piss, so he padded off to the bathroom and returned to find Aiden stretched out on his back, taking up the whole bed. Returning, Tom wrapped his fingers around the man’s hardening cock and slowly stroked it to full mast. Slicking it with his saliva, he lowered himself onto Aiden. Feeling the tight warmth squeezing his cock, Aiden moaned and arched his back, driving himself home and making Tom see sparks. Aiden opened his eyes with a cheeky grin. “Fuck, yeah, what a way to wake up in the morning!” Grasping Tom’s hips, he added extra force to Tom’s downstroke. Tom leaned in to kiss him, and at that angle, every movement pressed against his prostate, so he held that position and let Aiden fuck him. When Aiden’s back tired, he flipped Tom over and began making love to him in earnest. With one hand, he grabbed Tom’s head and kissed him hard, while the other stroked Tom’s cock. Tom was overcome with sensation, and soon his orgasm triggered Aiden’s. Sticky, Aiden laid on top of his man until the post orgasmic bliss faded.

Then he dragged Tom to the shower, where they washed off quickly, before grabbing breakfast. Then Aiden hurried off to class, while Tom went home for a fresh set of clothes and then ran to the hospital to see Peter. Peter was still down, but better, and Tom assured him that Aiden would help. Tom spent the day teaching Peter card games.

“Do you know how to play chess?” Tom asked.

“No, but I always wanted to learn,” Peter replied.

“Just what I wanted to hear! I’ll bring the board in tomorrow,” Tom replied with a smile.

Peter was in much better spirits when Aiden called. “Hey, babe,” the man said.

“Hey,” Tom replied, blushing. “What’s up?”

“Just got out of class, thought I’d call,” Aiden answered.

“I’m at the hospital. We’ve been playing cards,” Tom filled him in.

“Strip poker?” Aiden teased.

“No! Innocent games!” Tom protested.

“You want me to come by? I could bring dinner?” Aiden asked.

“Perfect! You don’t even have to sneak! Power of the badge and all,” Tom said.

“Hell, yeah! Chinese?” Aiden suggested.

“Perfect! I l…. I’ll see you in a little while!” Peter was cracking up on the bed. “What?” Tom asked, a little testily.

“You almost let slip the L-word!” Peter teased.

“Lesbian?” Tom asked.

“No, silly, love!” Peter insisted.

“Did not,” Tom laughed.

“Did too!” They both knew that they both knew the truth.

Aiden arrived soon with food and played a few games with them. Finally Aiden had to ask, “I don’t mean to ruin the mood, but we need to talk about your brother.”

Aiden took a statement from Peter about his experience with his father, so they could charge his father with assault for striking him. That would allow a more thorough inspection of the home by child protective services. Aiden promised to have it typed and ready to sign the next day, so they could get it in front of a judge. At last, he asked, “You’re sure this is what you want? It’ll mean a trial, and your dad could go to jail, and there is no guarantee your brother will be removed.”

Peter looked at Tom, who nodded imperceptibly. “Yes, I’m sure.”

“Wait,” Tom asked, “You said ‘brothers’ when you told us about getting kicked out?”

“I have a younger brother, David, and an older brother, Carter. He’s not that different from my parents. He actually scares me more than my dad,” Peter reported.

“Alright, Aiden said, letting it go for the moment. “I’ve got to go type this up and get ready for class tomorrow. Later, Peter!” Tom got a kiss on the cheek and a nod to the hall.

“I’ll see you tomorrow?” Tom asked.

“I wish you could see me tonight, but I’m worried I won’t get my work done!” They laughed and hugged.

“Alright,” Tom smiled. “I’ll be here tomorrow, giving chess lessons.”

“Right, then! I’ll come straight over after,” Aiden replied.

After they parted, Tom talked to Peter some about living arrangements. Tom laid out some ground-rules, to which Peter readily agreed.

“What about David?” the young man asked as Tom was getting ready to go.

“What do you mean?” Tom asked.

“I said I was okay with all that, but what about my brother?” Peter asked.

“The system can work, and you’ll have friends working on this,” Tom said.

“Can you promise me?” Peter asked.

“Peter, I,” Tom began but he couldn’t finish, seeing Peter’s anguish. “I promise….” The words might as well have been punctuated by thunder. What was he going to do now, if things started going wrong? He knew, but that made him a little queasy to contemplate. He hated overpowering people, even bad people. As he walked home, Tom was overburdened by that thought, and a familiar feeling began to creep into his bones. A feeling of being watched, a feeling of pressure increasing imperceptibly until it felt like he was walking through jello. Then, the lights began to dim around him; the whole world seemed to flicker. In the distance, perhaps thirty yards, a dark figure in long coat and hat stood facing him like a gunslinger. Tom just kept walking and when he was within ten yards he could see its radiant black eyes and wicked smile.

Reaching into his pocket, Tom palmed a bottle of blessed water in one hand and a talisman in the other. “What do you want?”

“Don’t worry, Tom, I’m here for pleasure, not business, for now,” the figure said ominously.

“No games! What do you want?” Tom demanded.

“I want the boys, Tom,” the figure snarled, gliding lurchingly across the shadows.

“That,” Tom laughed, “is not going to happen!”

Now they were nearly face to face. “Tom, you have two options – stay out of this, and live a long and happy life, or get in my way and lose another!”

Tom’s anger flared and he began spinning a mystic web chanting in an unreal voice, “I bind you, unclean spirit,” but the figure now stood distant, having slipped the coil.

“Weak,” the figure called, cackling.

Tom rubbed his hands together and raised them to the sky, “Lord of peace, cast Satan down under our feet, so as to keep him from further holding man captive and doing harm! Archangels, carry our prayers up to God’s throne, that the mercy of the Lord may quickly come and lay hold of the beast, the serpent of old, Satan and his demons, casting him in chains into the abyss, so that he can no longer seduce the nations!” As Tom lowered his hands, a peal of thunder ripped the clear sky as a bolt of lightning struck the figure, eliciting an unholy cry.

When the smoke cleared, the figure was gone, and Tom was able to continue on his way. Nevertheless, a disembodied voice cried, “THIS IS NOT OVER!”

The heaviness lifted and the light returned, and everything seemed normal enough. But Tom rushed home for supplies and returned to the hospital, finding Peter still awake, reading. “What’s wrong?” Peter asked.

“I was approached by a figure.” Peter sat upright, his hands trembling. “Nearly seven feet tall and surrounded by shadows like clouds. Its eyes glowed black when he got close to me. Tell me the truth! The man who stabbed you, is that what his eyes looked like?”

“Yes,” the young man stuttered. “Like burning blackness.”

“The man who attacked you was possessed,” Tom declared.

“I know,” Peter said, lowering his eyes at the expression on Tom’s face.

“I kind of expected you to be shocked,” Tom said in a measured tone.

“I wish,” Peter declared.

“Explain,” Tom demanded.

“Where to start, Doc! I was like eleven when I found it,” Peter began.

“Found what?” Tom asked.

“My dad’s spirit board. At the time, I was just screwing around. Apparently a spirit got let loose. It was terrible, but I knew then what my parents were into,” Peter said.

“Shit!” Tom exclaimed.

“Doc, how come you aren’t freaking? How do you know about demons?” Peter asked.

Tom smirked, pulling out a few amulets and a smudge marker to draw invisible symbols on the doorjamb, a process he repeated above the windows. Then he handed a defensive amulet to Peter and slid a bag of herbs under his pillow. “Keep the amulet on your person at all times!”

The young man looked at him appreciatively. “Who are you, Doc?”

“Just a student of magic,” Tom replied.

“So it wasn’t a dream?” Peter asked.

“What?” Tom replied.

“After I was stabbed, I dreamed that an angel, who looked a lot like you, dragged me back and healed my body and fought the demon,” Peter recounted.

“Probably a dream, but not unrelated reality. Though I’m no angel,” Tom added quickly.

“Doc, I think you have no idea what you are,” Peter suggested.

Ignoring that, Tom said, “This won’t keep him out long, but long enough for me to get here anyway. If it does happen to get in, the talisman should keep you safe.”

“I’m sorry I dragged you into this, Doc,” Peter said with sorrow.

“I seem to have been running headlong into this. I felt his presence for days before I found you. He was rubbing you in my face, never intending I’d save you. What do I tell Aiden? He freaked out when the demon spoke when I healed you!” Tom said.

“The man is seriously into you,” Peter said. “I think he’ll deal….”

“Peter, the demon threatened to go after Aiden if I didn’t let him have you and your brother,” Tom revealed, reducing Peter to tears. “It’s not your fault!” Tom said, trying to soothe the distraught youth. Finally he sat and let Peter cry on his chest.