Chapter 17

Sean unhappily took his seat, chewing on his lip angrily. All he could think is, ‘How could he do that?’

Phil looked at the man and nodded, sharing his frustration. Somehow, somehow Phil had known this was coming since that day he had gone down there about Paul’s glasses. The men left the room and talked quietly in the kitchen. “Andy, do you know anybody in Family and Children’s Services?”

“I was hoping you did,” Andy said to Phil.

“I do,” Phil said, “just not high enough up to make me feel comfortable.”

“Is keeping him here even legal?” Sean asked.

“He’s not a runaway,” Phil said, “and he’s sixteen. But you don’t have a right to kick your kids out when they’re sixteen….”

“Maybe he can get emancipated,” Sean said.

Phil shrugged. “I was really hoping to stick it to his father. That just lets the bastard off the hook.”

“Still, it might be the easiest thing,” Andy said. “There are other things we can do to even up with daddy dearest.”

Sean said, “Like wear masks and go down there and beat him with pillowcases full of soap?”

“I know, I know,” Andy said. “But top priority is get things right for this kid!”

“Agreed,” Phil said. “I’ll call Arnold Prince tomorrow just to get his opinion.”

“That’s a pricey attorney, Phil,” Sean teased. “Something you need to tell us?”

“Arnie and I were roommates freshman and sophomore year in college,” Phil said. “Great guy, does a lot of pro-bono work for youth. I have a feeling he’ll jump at the chance to help Billy.”

“He won’t mind a call on Christmas Eve?” Andy asked.

“Not for a kid,” Phil said with a smile.

***

“I’m sorry to ruin your Christmas,” Billy said, head in his hands.

“Billy,” Paul said with a sigh, “We’re glad you came! Something bad could have happened to you!”

“Nothing I don’t deserve,” the boy responded.

“Bullshit,” Jim said darkly. “While you do deserve me kicking your ass all the way around this house one day, you don’t deserve this! I mean, yeah, I’d beat you to a bloody pulp, but nobody should get hit by their dad. And nobody should get put out on the street and lose their family and home for being who they are!”

“Thanks,” Billy said. “I think….” Jim cracked a smile and, at an urging nod from Paul, put a strong arm across Billy’s shoulder in a friendly half-hug.

“How ‘bout that dessert now?” Molly asked with a smile. That sounded good to everyone, so they joined the three men in the kitchen and sat the desserts out on the island and stood around eating sweets and talking, Billy receiving special attention from the adults.

Jim’s grandparents were the first to leave.  “Thank you so much for having us, Molly.  It was beautiful!” Bethany exclaimed.

“We’re so glad you could come,” she said, hugging the woman and her husband. Phil shook hands with both of them.  Jim hugged them both, thanking them again as well.

Andy was next, and after exchanging hugs, they asked, “What are our plans for tomorrow?”

“Well, I think we were all planning to spend the day together here,” Andy said, getting a nod from Phil.  “Meet us back here after breakfast?”

“Why don’t you and Jim pick us up from the hotel so we can have breakfast together,” Bethany suggested.

“Sure,” Andy said.

“Well, that went well,” Molly said after they were gone.  “It’s not trouble that they want private breakfast with you in the morning is it?”

“Nah,” Andy said.  “It’s been too long since they saw us and just want some one-on-one, or rather two-on-two time!”  Then he looked at Sean and asked, “Can you come back tomorrow as well?”

“I need to go by the facility to visit mom tomorrow at some point, but yeah, I’ll be here!” the man answered.  “I also need to do some shopping.”

“A little last minute shopping,” Molly teased.  The man smiled and mouthed silently, ‘Billy!’  She nodded and said, “I do love going out in the maddening crowd.  Can I come with, maybe after lunch?”  Sean smiled and nodded, and she winked.

Andy and Sean shared a look, and Andy said, “Jim, you want to stay here tonight?”

“YES!” the boy replied.  “Pick me up on the way to breakfast?”  He knew it was inconvenient, but besides the fact Andy obviously wanted some private time with Sean, Jim didn’t want to leave Paul alone with Billy.  It wasn’t that he was jealous – not to a pathological degree anyway – but he didn’t know where Billy’s mind was.

“Sure,” Andy smiled.  “We’ll see you tomorrow then,” they said, excusing themselves.  But not before Sean went and hugged Billy and said, “If you need to talk, I’m here!”  The boy nodded and hugged him back.

Then, all that remained was to lock up.  “Billy, you know where the guest room is, and you’ve already cleaned up.  I think we all need some rest,” Phil said.  “You boys head upstairs, okay?”  The boys nodded and headed upstairs.  Billy silently disappeared behind the guest room door.

Paul and Jim went to Paul’s room and Paul asked, “Do you think he’s alright?”

“No, I don’t suppose so,” Jim said.  “I wouldn’t be.”

“I just don’t know what to do,” Paul said.

“What do you mean?” Jim asked.

“I just … I don’t think he should be alone, but I can’t,” Paul began, but paused with a huff and a shy glance at Jim.

“You don’t mean for me to,” Jim began, but Paul batted his eyes.  “That’s not fair, Paul!”  Jim took his shirt off like he was going to refuse, and then tossed it in Paul’s face.  “You’re coming too, then!”

“Oh, that’s what I meant,” Paul said.  “I just don’t want to be alone with him!”

“Don’t trust yourself with the old beau?” Jim teased.

“I don’t trust him,” Paul said with a frown.  “But I don’t want him to hurt, either.”  Jim nodded and they both walked across the hall.  Paul knocked and pushed the door open.  The light was dim, but Paul could see Billy curled up on the edge of the queen bed crying to himself.

“Billy?” Paul asked.  “Can we come in?”

“Just leave me alone,” Billy whimpered pathetically.

“Not gonna happen,” Jim said, walking around to the side Billy was facing and sitting down on the edge in his boxers.  “Scoot over!”  Paul climbed in the other side, and Billy did move in that direction to let Jim in.  “No funny business, but you shouldn’t be alone.”

“Alright,” Billy said.  A moment later, he added, “Thanks.”

Jim was shocked when his archrival wrapped an arm across his chest and squeezed him as he was wracked by sobs.  Jim held him in a half hug as the boy cried on his shoulder, and Paul curled up behind Billy and whispered, “It’s going to be alright!”  Sleep was elusive, but eventually the comfort and warmth soothed Billy to sleep.

***

Jim woke up first in the morning and quickly showered and dressed, knowing his father would be around soon to take him to breakfast.  He considered waking Paul but decided to leave him sleeping.  Jim went downstairs and found Phil at the table.

“How’d it go last night?” Phil asked.

“Alright,” Jim said.  “Paul didn’t want to leave him alone, so we stayed with him.”

“Paul’s still in there?” Phil asked.  Jim nodded.  “You’re okay with that?”

“Paul’s not going back to him again.  Not even for sympathy.  Billy hurt him, and Paul and I have something.  So no, I’m okay.”  Phil nodded. “What’s going to happen to him?” Jim asked.

“He’s not going back to that house,” Phil declared.  “But we have to find him a better place.  We’d offer him that room, but with the thing with Paul it’s complicated.  And if his father and mother don’t out him, he may not want that.”

“To be honest, I’m NOT so alright that I’d like for them to live together,” Jim grudgingly admitted.  “I’d share my room with him before I’d see that!”

Phil laughed and said, “I get it!”  But then he got serious and said, “There may not be a lot of good options.  It’s hard with a boy his age.  A group home might….”

“NO!” Jim said.  “No, not that! There’s got to be something better than that!”

There was a knock at the door and Phil said, “We’ll talk about it later.  Time for you to go to breakfast!”

***

“Are things always so exciting with that boy?” Bethany asked her grandson over breakfast with a smile.

“Since I’ve known him … yeah,” Jim laughed, blushing.  Jim explained how Paul had been outed by Billy, who had been trying to save his reputation, as well as how he and Robert had bullied Paul until the latter had become unhinged.

“And now they’re going to help Billy?” Carl asked, an intent look on his face.

“Yep,” Jim said.

“What a wonderful family,” Carl said approvingly.

“They really are,” Andy said.

“Now, about this Sean character,” Carl began, making Jim laugh.  His grandfather probed Andy about the new man in his life as they ate.

***

Paul woke up and stretched, and it took him a moment to comprehend.  It was Billy whose arms were around him.  He’d not had the opportunity to wake up in the boy’s arms since a weekend during the end of summer, before he was outed, when the boy slipped over to his room when he was supposed to be spending the night with ‘appropriate’ friends.

As he looked into the sleeping face, it occurred to him that the old feeling was gone.  He didn’t feel the fluttering in his stomach, or the build-up of desire.  Only a fear, and a desire to help.  But would Billy be ready to move on?  Could they be friends?

“Morning,” Billy groaned, squeezing Paul.  “What you thinking about?”

“I was thinking about you,” Paul said.

“Yeah,” Billy smiled, running a hand down the boy’s soft back.  When he began to run that hand down to the boy’s ass, though, Paul rolled away.

“Billy, that’s over!” Paul said loudly.

Billy’s face darkened and he said, “I thought, maybe….”

“Billy, I’m moving on, for real this time.  You and I … I just won’t be able to get past what you were going to let happen to me, and there’s no use pretending,” Paul said, laying down the law.  “Understand?”  Billy nodded sadly.  “Last night was about making you feel better, because I don’t want you to hurt, Billy.  I want you to be as happy as I am now.”  Billy looked confused, but then he understood the truth.  Jim.

“I … understand,” Billy said then.  “I’ll just get going!”

“DON’T BE AN ASSHOLE!” Paul shouted.  “We ALL want to help you, because WE CARE ABOUT YOU!  YOU ARE NOT LEAVING THIS HOUSE!”

Billy looked at him and laughed a little.  “Are you sure?”  Paul hit him on the shoulder and laughed.  “What do you think’s going to happen to me?  I don’t want to go into foster care or some shit like that….”

“You can stay here before that’ll happen,” Paul said with a firm nod.  Billy looked away and Paul could see his bare shoulders quaking as the boy was crying again.  Paul scooted over behind him and wrapped his arms around him.  “What’s wrong?”

“Even after everything … you still….”  The boy coughed and tried to finish, “Why couldn’t my mom or my dad feel anything at all?  Love me just a little?”

Paul said, “I can’t tell you that, but I can tell you that, if you’ll let us, we’ll all give you as much love as you could ever want!  But you have to be honest with us, and yourself.”

“That’ll be a lot easier now,” Billy laughed bitterly.  “I don’t have a home to get kicked out of anymore.”

“There’s still school,” Paul said.

“Mom will explain to all her church bitch friends why I’m gone.  Everyone knows by now,” Billy said.  “Or will after Christmas.”

“So the guy you dad caught you online with….  Was he cute?” Paul teased.

“Yeah,” Billy blushed.  “Kinda like you, but college guy.  We were gonna meet up after the break, but….”

“I don’t know if meeting a guy online is the best idea,” Paul cautioned.  “And now, with everything especially, I just think you should worry about yourself for a while….”

“Says the guy who hopped straight into Jim’s arms after what happened,” Billy said, a little too much feeling behind it.  Paul was going to chastise him, but Billy was right.

“Well, see how it feels, but just … don’t go without telling somebody.  To be safe….  I do care about you, Billy,” Paul said.

“That means a lot to me,” Billy said honestly.  “I wish … you know, it’s funny I worried so much about this happening I was willing to throw you under a bus, or worse, and it was always gonna happen anyway.  I was such an idiot!”

“Agreed,” Paul laughed.  “But things are gonna start looking up for you, dummy!”  Paul got off the bed and said, “Get dressed and I’ll meet you downstairs for food.  How will we find you a nice guy if you don’t feed those muscles?” Paul teased.

***

Billy and Paul were eating, Molly hovering over Billy like a mother bird, when Sean showed up.  “Hey boys,” the man smiled as Phil escorted him in.  “You about ready for that shopping trip, Molly?”

“After lunch, I’m ready to go,” the woman said, wagging her eyebrows at her husband.

Phil shook his head and laughed.  “Try to take it easy on the VISA,” he said before refilling his coffee.  “Can I get you some, Sean?”

“Thanks,” the man replied.  Molly pointed him toward the cream and sugar before sitting down beside Billy and putting a hand on his shoulder while he ate.

“I’m really alright, ma’am,” he said with a sighing laugh.

“Nonsense!  It’s Molly,” she said.  “And if you need anything, you just tell me!”

“Some space, mom!  He might like some space!” Paul laughed.

“It’s okay,” Billy said in a hurry, like it was no big deal.  In reality, it was nice to have someone paying attention to him, someone who wanted him around.

“See!” Molly said to her son and resumed doting.

A bit later, Andy and Jim arrived with the boy’s grandparents and they had a very informal lunch of leftovers.  Sean slipped away briefly upstairs while the others finished and then he was ready to go when Molly was done.  Before he could slip away, though, Andy stood and kissed him on the lips, just a quick peck, but Sean smiled sheepishly and blushed.

On their way out Molly whispered to him, “You don’t need to be afraid in here.”  He smiled at her and nodded.

Andy and Phil, along with Carl, Billy and Jim, piled into the living room and turned on ESPN to watch some game replay from the previous day.  They could be heard laughing from the kitchen where Paul was cleaning up.  “You’re spending a lot of time in here,” Bethany said.

“You’re catching me in here a lot,” Paul laughed.  “Not a big sports nut.”

“Jim isn’t either, but he gets to spend time with his dad and grandpa!” she smiled and poured herself some coffee.  “Come sit with me?”  He dried his hands and followed her to the table.  “Paul, you are an interesting young man,” she said as he sat.

“I don’t know about that,” Paul said.

“Jim told us about what that boy did to you, both times, and how you’re still trying to look out for him!” the woman said.  “You’re a very caring fellow!”  Paul blushed and shrugged.  “Does Jim talk about our daughter much?”

“No,” Paul said.  “He only said that she left them alone, and that he sometimes gets postcards from her.”

The woman nodded and said, “My grandson’s been putting on a stoic face for a long time, and I can’t remember seeing him so relaxed.  He’s normally wound tight and plays everything close to his chest.  Trying to stay strong, trying not to let his mother abandoning him get to him, was a great weight on him.”

“I can’t imagine what it’s been like for him,” Paul said.  “But from day one, with me, he’s been so totally … I don’t know, so sweet, and he’s put himself out there.  You know, none of the other guys will have anything to do with me.  He took me to the movies, he went out to eat with me, ate ice cream with me in a parking lot in his car….”

“It’s hard to believe you’re talking about my grandson,” she laughed.  “It’s you,” she mused.  They smiled as they heard the men laughing in the other room, and Jim and Billy could be heard laughing and talking as if they were old friends, having for a moment forgotten some of what had gone before.  “Would you have ever guessed those two would be able to have fun together even for a minute?”

“After Jim let me talk him into sharing a bed with Billy last night so he wouldn’t be alone,” Paul grinned, “it’s not so hard to believe!”

***

“So what’s on the list?” Molly teased Sean as they got to the mall.

“What does a teenage boy who’s lost everything want?” Sean smiled.  “While he’s at your place, he’s got video games and things, but he’ll need more clothes than he hid away in his runaway kit, until they can go and retrieve his things….”

“You went upstairs this morning,” Molly said, realizing what he’d done.

“I went to check his sizes,” the man said with a nod.  They went straight to a department store and loaded up a cart with a few changes of clothes, and the like – trendy jeans and t-shirts, button-ups and sweaters.  When they checked out, the bill was something like $400, as he’d thrown in a pair of new shoes.

“Are you sure about this?” Molly asked.

“I’ve been alone for 15 years,” he answered her.  “I’ve got no social life, so I’ve got a full bank account!  I just want him to feel normal….”

“Did you ever want children?” Molly asked nonchalantly.

“Yeah,” he smiled.  “Just not enough to deal with a woman!”

“Hey now,” she laughed.  “I just mean, Billy’s going to need a home, someone to take care of him and make him realize that people care for him.  You’re a good man, Sean, and despite everything Billy’s a sweet boy with a lot of love to give….  I don’t know, just think about it.”

“I have,” he said, staring off into the distance.  “I’ve been through the background checks for the foster system, it’s just a lot of kids don’t want to go to single men, and the system doesn’t force them, for sure….”

“Well, we’ll see what happens,” Molly said, “but give him a few days to settle down, and if you want, we can talk to him.”

Sean nodded, and said, “I’ve got one more stop….”

***

“Arnie, it’s Phil!”

“What’s up, bean counter?” the man asked with a laugh.

“Not much, parasite!” Phil answered with a laugh.  “But seriously, Arnie, we’ve got a problem.”

The man was suddenly all business.  “Right.  Privilege is invoked!”

“Thanks buddy.  Last night, a neighborhood kid showed up on our doorstep in his underwear, bruised and bloody.”

“Sexual assault?” the man asked, his voice unreadable.

“No, he’s sixteen and his dad caught him on the net with a boy….  Dad didn’t even give him time to get dressed before booting him, and the kid was so afraid he ran.  But he hurt himself in the woods and in the end had to come here,” Phil explained.

“He have a car?” Arnie asked.

“Dad wouldn’t let him take it,” Phil said.

“Good.  Bastard can’t say he stole it….  Listen, Phil, I can’t be there before three,” the man said.

“It can wait until after Christmas,” Phil said.

“Like hell.  I want to be ready to drop a hell-storm of legal action on this motherfucker by Friday!”  Phil heard someone in the background and then Arnie said, “Sorry dear, kids.”  Then he explained to Phil, “Kids have friends over … and Christine doesn’t approve of my language.”

“Tell Christine I’m sorry,” Phil laughed.

“Not a chance!  I’ll tell her why I’m coming.  What with Alan, she’ll want to strangle the guy!” Arnie said.

“It’s going round,” Phil said with a laugh.

“Paul?” Arnie asked. “Bombshell! But seriously, did they put something in the water at school?”

“Whatever they did, they’re fantastic boys, Arnie!” Phil said.

“Damn straight,” the man said, before yelling, “SORRY!” into the background.

Phil laughed and put the phone down before enlisting the boys to help him straighten up a bit.

***

About 3:15, Phil answered the door and escorted Arnold Prince into the house.  “Hi Uncle Arnie!” Paul said and hugged the man.

“Hi Paul,” the man smiled.  “And this young man won’t be Billy, so he must be….”

“This is Jim,” he said excitedly.  “Jim, this is my dad’s college roommate, Arnold Prince!”

“And how did you get dragged into this mental hospital, Jim?” the man asked with a smile, already knowing the answer.

“I’m Paulie’s boyfriend,” Jim said, wrapping an arm around the small boy proudly.

“There goes my big plan,” Arnie said with a laugh.  “Who’s Alan supposed to marry now , Paul?”

Paul blushed and said, winking, “I know a couple of cute guys who’d be interested!”

“I bet you do,” Arnie said.  “Now where’s Billy?”

Paul took Arnie into the living room and introduced Billy.  Billy looked embarrassed as he shook the man’s hand.  “Paul, I’m gonna need your dad’s camera,” he said.  While Paul was gone, he explained to Billy he’d need pictures of the bruises and scrapes.

“What’s going to happen?” Billy opened, and had a long conversation with the man.  Arnie wanted to get to know the kid, and he could tell the boy was torn up over everything that had happened.  He figured what had happened with Paul was mostly because of his fear of his father … and that boy Robert’s bad example.  When he figured out who Robert was, he realized how close a call Billy had had with trouble.

“Phil?” Arnie called after he’d talked privately with the boy.  “Come in here for a bit?”

“What Arnie?” Phil asked as he came into the living room.

“There are a few things we can do, and I want to run some of it by you,” the man said.  “First of all, there’s foster care, but you know how it is to place a teenaged boy who’s been abused,” Arnie explained with an apologetic look at Billy.  “Most boys like you end up in group homes.”

“NOT GONNA HAPPEN!” a voice yelled from the kitchen.

“You might as well join us, then, Paul,” Arnie laughed.  “The other option is to get him emancipated, he’d have to get a job and it’s a real hassle unless he’s got a place lined up and, well I just don’t like to do it.  It’d give you too much freedom,” he told Billy.  “Plus your dad would be off the hook, financially, and I want to nail the bastard to the wall, personally.

“Do you know anybody looking to foster for a kid his age?” Phil asked.  “He’s a good boy!”

“I think I know just the family,” Arnie said.  “I think it would work out fine!”

Phil said, “I would, you know I would, Arnie, but with the history between the boys….”

“He can stay here if he needs to,” Paul said.

Phil nodded, “If there’s no better alternative he can stay with us!  Absolutely!”

Andy entered the room and said, “I think it’s a terrible idea!”  Billy winced at him, but he said, “Why don’t you come stay with us?  Our place is a little less spacious, but….”

“Is there anybody in this house not listening in?” Arnie asked.

Just then the front door opened and Sean and Molly returned bearing a big pile of boxes each.  “How much damage did you do, woman?” Phil asked.

“Don’t look at me!  This is all him!” the woman smiled as Sean piled the boxes around the tree.  “ARNIE!” she said, giving him a hug.  “It’s Christmas Eve!  Get home!”

“I’m about to get,” the man smiled.  “We’re just trying to sort out what to do with our young friend here.  The upshot is everybody will take him, if I can’t find a better option.”

Molly gave Sean a hard stare and a nod.  He introduced himself to the lawyer, “Hi, I’m Sean Spencer, athletics directory at Billy’s school and,” he said with a nervous glance at the boy, “if he will, I’d like Billy to come live with me.”

“What?” about four people blurted.  Sean looked at Billy and said, “I can give you the attention you need, and keep you in school with your friends – your real friends I mean….  I always wanted a son, and you need a real father….”

“Really?” Billy asked with a gasp.  “You’d do that for me?”

Sean nodded and Molly smiled and said, “All those presents are for you!”

Billy got up and walked over to Sean with his eyes on the ground and began to cry as the man wrapped his arms around him.  “It’s okay, Billy,” he whispered.  “Things are going to get better!”  The boy nodded and squeezed him back.

“Well, it looks like that’s well settled,” Arnie smiled, “so I really should be going.  I’ve got to call a man about a scumbag, and my kids are climbing the walls!  Don’t be surprised if the police come by tonight though; I’m going to call my friend on the crimes against children task force; I imagine your dad will spend Christmas in jail.  I plan on filing in family court on Friday.  They won’t know what hit them!”

“Thanks, Arnie, thanks a lot,” Phil said, hugging his friend.  Molly followed suit.

Then Paul gave him a big hug and said, “Tell Alan to call me sometime.  Me and Jim, and maybe Billy … well, it could be fun for us guys to hang out!”

“I’ll do that, Paul!  Everyone, it was nice to meet you.  Sean, a sincere pleasure!”

When Arnie was gone, there was a general silence.  Sean asked Billy, “Can we go somewhere and talk?”  The boy still hadn’t let go of him, but nodded.  “We’ll be back for dinner,” Sean said before leading Billy out to his car and driving him back to his place.