Chapter 20

“Where are you?” Robert mused aloud. He’d called the boy’s phone to find that it was disconnected, and his parents had kicked him out without a care for where he’d go. Robert supposed he’d have to hold onto his gift until the newspaper reports told him where to find its recipient.

After his much more brutal second go with Chris, he’d returned with the man to the master bedroom where his wife lay bloodied and broken but still quite alive. He’d tried to make Chris tell her about their encounters and how much he loved it, but the man was still stubborn. Robert smiled and tied him to the headboard next to his wife and hooked up the video camera to the television, giving a play-by-play commentary. But then he turned the volume way up for Chris’s confession. “This part speaks for itself,” he grinned over his shoulder.

When he was done, he took the camera out of the room and hooked it up to the computer. He’d forgotten it was digital, and he uploaded the video onto the hard drive and edited it a bit. There was no need to be amateurish, after all, it was a gift. He loaded the file onto a file-sharing service and then took the link and password, and pasted them into an email: “Dear Billy, Guess you know I’m out of a home too? 😉 Came by to talk but since you weren’t here … your parents filled me in. Uncalled for if you ask me, but … you should have told me dude! Anyway, Merry Christmas, and enjoy, Robert.”

But he couldn’t help himself. He edited a shorter video of Chris’s confession about what he wanted to do to Billy, and a few minutes of the man getting fucked on Billy’s bed and emailed it to all the kids he knew. They weren’t the nicest kids, so he knew they’d share.

***

The four teens were on their way home from the movies when Christina took out her cellphone, having just received a message. Looking down at the screen, she whispered, “Oh my God….”

“What?” Paul asked.

“Uhm…. I…. Billy?” she asked.

Billy looked out the window with a bleak look and said, “Cat’s out of the bag, huh?” His voice was hollow. He had been preparing himself, but now it was here.

“Yeah,” she said softly.

“Who? One of those girls from my mom’s church?” he asked dejectedly.

“Uh … not exactly,” Christina said, her stomach rolling. “Robert….”

“But … how could he,” Billy began to ask. “He must have gone to my house and my dad told him.”

“Billy,” Christina said, haltingly. “There is a video attached….”

“Oh, God,” he muttered. He couldn’t imagine what Robert had recorded but it couldn’t be good. “What does the message say?”

Christina didn’t answer immediately, so he asked again. She said, “It says, ‘Paul Anderson’s secret boyfriend, Billy Cooper, kicked out of his house for being a fag.'”

Paul’s face flushed, but he put a hand on Billy’s shoulder and said, “Are you alright?”

Billy laughed and said, “There are more embarrassing things he could have said about me than I am your secret boyfriend….” His face became somber again as he said, “But let’s see what’s on the video….”

When they arrived at Paul’s they ran inside to look for a computer, but they found Sean waiting for Billy. “Billy, don’t look at that email!” Sean pleaded. “Please….”

That gave all the teens pause. What could be on that video?

“I have to know,” Billy said. “I have to know what they’ve all seen!”

“Billy,” Sean said, “it’s … you should … maybe we could go see someone and you could watch it with them?”

“Someone?” Billy asked.

“A professional,” Sean said. Now Billy was scared.

“JUST LET ME SEE IT!” Billy demanded.

Paul walked upstairs and got his laptop and brought it downstairs. He pulled up the email and before he hit play, he wrapped and arm around Billy tightly. The video opened with Chris laying mostly uncovered in Billy’s bed next to a big muscular teen who could be anyone.

The only voice that could be heard was Chris’s as he said, “I always thought about … coming in here after practice while he was changing and catching him in his jock. I’d smack him around a bit until he cried like a little bitch and then I’d bend him over this bed and fuck him raw!” Billy gasped and turned into Paul bending over and burying his face in the shorter boy’s shoulder. Then he heard the sounds of sex. Robert had cut in footage from his first go around with Chris. All that could be heard were the sounds of passion and a teenage boy occasionally moaning, “Daddy!”

“Turn it off!” Sean said. “Turn it off!” Christina reached over and snapped the laptop shut, causing it to hibernate. Sean put his hands on Billy’s shoulders as the boy cried on Paul and whispered, “I thought you said….”

“It wasn’t me!” Billy cried out.

“Billy,” Sean said with compassion “it’s not your fault if….”

“IT WASN’T ME! I SWEAR IT WASN’T ME!” Billy cried. But all you could see in the video was an athletic teen having sex with the handsome man in Billy’s bed. Two plus two….

Paul looked at his parents and his face turned as red as a beet as he met Sean’s gaze. “THAT was NOT Billy. I … I would know.” Avoiding making eye-contact, he said, “Whoever that was – Robert I’m guessing – had a birthmark on his ass….” Paul looked at the big boy crying on his shoulder, who had begun to quake.

But he was laughing through his tears. “Leave it to you to be able to identify me by my ass!” Billy whispered, not quietly enough that Paul’s parents could have missed it. They were both blushing brighter than fire hydrants, though later they’d pretend they had missed the entire exchange.

Paul whispered, “I’m so sorry, Billy!” Then he said to his father, “You should forward this to Uncle Arnie!”

“Why?” Phil asked.

“Well, if nothing else, he looks like he’s having sex with a minor in that video,” Paul said, shooting his father a look. Phil opened the computer and took it away, turning off the volume before sending the email. Then he sent Arnie a text to check his email.

Sean, meanwhile, asked Billy, “Are you ready to go?”

“Yeah,” the boy said, lifting his face off of Paul’s shoulder and wiping his eyes on his sleeve.

“Are you going to be alright?” Paul asked him, hands on Billy’s arms.

“Yeah!” Billy coughed. “Eventually….”

“I’ll see you tomorrow,” Paul said. “We’ve got to get ready for our vacation! A week in the city now!” Looking at Sean, he asked, “We’re leaving Saturday morning, right?” Sean nodded.

“I’m going?” Billy asked.

“Of course you are,” Paul said as if it was a ridiculous question, and Sean smiled thankfully.

“Alright,” Billy said with a tight-lipped smile. “See you tomorrow then!”

Paul frowned a bit and said, “You can stay if you want….”

Billy shook his head and said, “I’ve got to think…. I’ll be okay.” With a look over his shoulder, he added, “But thanks Paul!”

***

When Jim got home, he called Paul as soon as he got on the computer. “Hello?” Paul answered.

“Is he okay?” Jim asked first thing, making Paul smile. It was the thing about Jim. He could still want to beat the snot out of Billy but worry about him at the same time.

“How would you be?” Paul asked. “It’s one thing to be outed, but this?”

“Yeah,” Jim said. “What a day!”

“How are you?” Paul asked softly.

“I don’t know,” Jim said. “I … she…. Does she care about me at all?” he asked with a fragile tone. “Has she changed some, or is she just here to save her baby? If I’m not a match will I ever hear from her again?”

“Are you going to let her get away again?” Paul asked.

“I’m not going to chase a woman around who doesn’t want to be my mom,” Jim said.

“I’m not talking about her, Jim,” Paul said. “You’ve got a brother now.”

“Let’s see what happens,” Jim said. “See what the tests turn up, and meet the dad…. They might not let me have anything to do with him.”

Paul closed his eyes and sighed. “You want to come over?”

“Dad and I are going with my grandparents to the hospital tomorrow morning to get tested,” Jim said. “I should stay here….”

“Jim, we’re all going to the hospital tomorrow to get tested,” Paul said.

“You don’t have to,” Jim said.

But Paul cut him off and said, “But we are….”

“I’ll be there in half an hour,” Jim said.

“Your dad won’t mind?” Paul said.

“I’m guessing he’ll head over to Sean’s. I don’t think either of them will mind. Besides, Billy may need to talk, and it might be nice for him to have dad there,” Jim said.

***

As they entered the house, Billy went straight to the room. It wasn’t yet his; rather it was still a sort of blandly decorated guest room. He looked around. The man had said he could do what he wanted with it, but could he trust him? Really?

Despite his experience, his gut screamed that he could. The one person in the world he REALLY trusted also thought he could. But he thought back to that video, thought about walking back into that school and facing his classmates. He opened the closet to grab his bag and shoved his clothes, including his new ones, into it. He looked at the guitar in its case and took it out. Feeling it in his hands, he cried and wrapped his arms around it, or more precisely around what the idea of it meant to him.

But in the end he wiped his tears and laid the case on the bed. He took out a piece of paper and left it on the case, before slinging his bag over his shoulder and slipping out down the hall. He listened when he came to the living room. The door was a few feet away, but he didn’t want to get caught.

He could hear Sean on the phone in the kitchen. “Yeah, he’s pretty broken up. We can talk to him when you get here…. Yeah, I just don’t know what to do! I feel better knowing you’ll be here with me. Thanks Andy!” The men chatted a bit, and when Billy could tell Sean wasn’t near the door, he slipped to the front door and closed it quietly behind him.

Andy arrived ten minutes later, and the men talked for a few minutes before going to look for the boy. They knocked twice before opening the door and finding the note. “I just can’t face the stares. I’m sorry, Sean. You’ve been great.”

“God damn it!” Sean said, tossing the note against the wall.

Andy put a hand on his shoulder and said, “He can’t have been gone for more than 15 minutes!”

“But it’s dark and he could be going anywhere!” Sean complained.

“Not anywhere – we know he’s not going to anyone, which means he’s going somewhere to be alone before he tries to run!” Andy said. Sean looked at him with surprise in his eyes. “WHAT? I’m a probation officer! I do this all the time to find scumbags!” Sean nodded, looking less panicked. “SO we need to drive around, check parks and natural shelters….”

“Two of us isn’t enough,” Sean said.

Andy took out his phone and called Jim. “Jim, it’s your dad. Put it on speaker and get Phil!”

A minute later they were on. “Go ahead, dad.”

“Phil, boys, Billy’s run off. Sean and I need your help,” Andy said.

“We can take two cars,” Phil said. “I’ll take one, and the boys can take one!”

Andy coordinated with them where each would go, roughly, so they wouldn’t be duplicating. Paul picked his and Jim’s route. Soon they were all off. On the way to their sector, Paul had Jim let him check the place Billy had planned to hide when he had first been kicked out, but he was too smart for that.

“Why did you want this area?” Jim asked knowingly as they drove off to a sparsely populated section of town east of Sean’s house.

“Pull over up here on the side of the road,” Paul said. As Jim did, Paul looked him in the eyes and said, “Billy and I – last summer, to get away from everything – there was a place down by the creek. It’s got natural shelter and he brought me here a few times so I think it must mean something to him….”

Jim nodded and pulled out a flashlight. As they got close, Paul whispered, “Turn off the light.” The moon was bright enough once their eyes adjusted for them to navigate, Paul leading. “I see something moving around up there….”

As they got closer they could see a figure, clearly a person, huddling up, sheltered against the wind by a fallen tree piled with debris. “Billy?”

The figure looked their way and made a break for it. Jim looked at Paul and tried not to grin a little when the boy said, “Get him!”

Jim took off and about half a minute later Paul hurried toward a crashing sound. He ran to find Billy thrashing and fighting against Jim, who lay on top of him in a pile manhandling him.

“BILLY!” Paul yelled. “JUST STOP!” Billy looked at him with wide eyes and stopped fighting. Paul didn’t bother reaching for his phone; they’d have to get nearer the road for any reliable reception. “If Jim lets you up, will you come with us? No running, no fighting?”

Billy nodded submissively with a sad face. Jim helped him to his feet and said, “You run, I’ll take you down again! I enjoyed that!”

“I can tell,” Paul teased him. “Is that just the heat of the chase, or do you have a crush on Billy?”

Jim blushed terribly and averted his eyes. “The cup keeps guys one the field from noticing,” Jim said with a sly smile and even Billy blushed. “Let’s go!” As they walked, both boys kept a hand on him, Paul’s gentle and Jim’s firm, both in their own way reassuring.

As he got in the driver’s seat, Jim picked up the phone and made a call to his dad while Paul and Billy got in the back seat together. “We got him, dad,” Jim said. “We’ll meet you at Sean’s….” The drive back was silent.

When they pulled up, Sean and Andy were waiting on the porch. Jim got out and opened Billy’s door. Paul gave the boy a nudge and Billy got out of the car. He was staring holes in his feet, and shifting uncomfortably. He heard someone stomping down the steps and looked up to see the huge man walking toward him with a resolute gait, his face a mask. As he approached with no sign of slowing, Billy flinched and drew back as much as he could without moving his feet, an automatic response. His body expected a devastating blow, such as he would have received in the past. Instead, he felt strong arms grab him tight.

Billy melted in the hug and Sean whispered, “What were you thinking you damn fool?”

Billy shook his head. The words would not come. They were drowned by tears. Andy put a hand on Sean’s and Billy’s backs and said, “Let’s get in out of the cold. Jim, would you grab Billy’s bag?”

Jim reached into the car and removed the bag. After he locked the car, he and Paul followed the men into the house. “Your dad’s at home, Paul. He said you boys can stay here tonight if you want.”

“Cool,” Paul said. “I’ll change in the morning at home,” he added, and received a grateful glance from Sean.

Jim put Billy’s bag back in his room, and returned to the living room where Billy sat, surrounded. “Give the guy some space,” Jim said, sitting down across from him. The others backed off and sat down, but silence reigned.

“I can’t go back to school,” Billy said, staring a hole in the floor. “I can’t go back with them all thinking! I wasn’t ready to be outed but I could have lived with that! This? It’s too hard!”

“You could have talked to me,” Sean said. “You don’t have to run away from this! Do you want to go to another school?”

Billy looked at him with a confused expression. “I … I just…. Really?”

“Billy, you can’t escape all your problems, but if you just talk to us, we can help solve some of them,” Andy said.

“You have to try to trust us,” Sean said.

“It’s hard,” Billy said. “I never really … had anyone I should have trusted before Paul,” he added, looking away, avoided especially Jim’s eyes.

“You can trust all of us,” Paul said. “We all care about you!” Billy looked up and caught Jim’s eyes, which bored into him for a moment. Then Jim gave him a quick wink and a smile. After a pause, Paul added more subdued, “Changing schools might not help….”

“Why?” Billy asked, his face falling again.

“Robert … sent the email to friends of his at other schools – football players and other people I didn’t recognize,” Paul said. Billy buried his head in his hands and just sighed. “I found out when Seamus emailed me to ask what had happened….”

“We’ll figure something out, Billy,” Sean said. “There are a few weeks of vacation left! You never know, maybe people will figure out it was someone else. When your … Chris was talking he said him and his, like he wasn’t talking to you.”

“People think what they want to think,” Billy said. “And this is worse, so they’ll think it!”

“You don’t know that!” Paul said. “Give people some credit!” As surreptitiously as possible, he pulled out his cellphone and messaged Christina. “There!”

“What?” Billy asked, looking at him.

“We’ve got our own rumor mill…. Christina’s on the case,” Paul said. Billy smiled at him gratefully.

“There’s a lot we need to talk about,” Sean said, shaking his head and smiling. “But right now, it’s been a long day, and I have a feeling tomorrow will be another one, with the lawyer filing papers on your dad and us going to the hospital for testing and getting ready for our trip. You guys run on to bed….”

Jim hugged his dad, and the boys headed down the hall. Andy smiled at Sean and nodded saying, “Good call, pops!”

“Think I should sleep in here tonight? Think he’ll try to sneak out again?” Sean asked.

Andy grabbed his hand and stood, motioning for Sean to join him. “I don’t think so. I saw Jim and Paul head with him into his room, so he’s not going anywhere tonight….”

As they closed the door, Billy said, “You guys don’t have to do this…. I promise I’m not going anywhere tonight!”

“One,” Paul said, “we don’t HAVE to do this. Two, anywhere period! It’s things like that that let me know you don’t need to be alone!”

“Just get in bed,” Jim said, rolling his eyes. “Why even try to argue with him?” Billy cracked a smile and shook his head.

In the middle of the night, Paul was awakened by Billy climbing over him. He grabbed the boy’s muscular forearm. “I’m just going to the bathroom!”

“Kay,” Paul said drowsily. But he stayed awake and listened for the boy to finish and return; and when Billy climbed back into the middle, Paul rolled over and put an arm across his chest, squeezing lightly.

“Thanks, Paul,” Billy whispered as the boy fell back to sleep.

***

Andy and Sean were watching the news and drinking coffee when the boys wandered out. “Jim, you boys need to get over to Paul’s so you boys can change and meet me and your grandparents at the hospital! So make it snappy!”

“What about me?” Billy asked. “I want to go to the hospital too!” Jim looked at him and tried to hide his surprise.

“Thanks, buddy,” Jim said.

“We’ll see if we can fit in time to slide by there,” Sean said, “but you and I have a busy day with a lawyer today. There’s a police complaint to fill out and then we’ll have to deal with Social Services….”

“They’ll let me stay here, right?” Billy asked, nearly panicking.

“Chill,” Sean said, though inside it made him feel good to know the boy really wanted to stay with him. “I’m already approved in the foster system, I’ve done all the training and had the home check. It’ll probably need to be updated, but they’ll visit you some anyway, so it shouldn’t be a problem….”

“It won’t be…. Uncle Arnie can move mountains of paperwork!” Paul reassured him. “And anybody who gets in his way will be lunch.”

“Okay,” Billy said. “Thanks….”

Billy went back to his room and got some clean clothes before hitting the shower. When he was ready, they locked up the house, and Andy went to the hospital where they had set up a time for their group to get tested for donor matches to wait for the others, while Sean and Billy drove off to the lawyer’s office.

“So,” Sean began heavily. “About last night?” Billy didn’t respond immediately, and Sean trudged forward. “I get that what you’ve been through hurt you in ways … maybe even you don’t understand, Billy. But you need to remember, I’m not him! Andy and Phil aren’t him! And we DO ALL care about you!”

Billy nodded but looked away, and Sean reached over ever-so-gently and put his hand beneath the boy’s chin and turned him. “Don’t be ashamed of who you were, or of being afraid, Billy! Don’t be embarrassed by the nice things people say to you and about you! Be proud of who you are going to be!”

“It’s been so bad for so long,” Billy said. “If it wasn’t for Paul….”

“You are going to be amazed at how good things can be, Billy, if you let yourself…. And there are other boys out there who will be happy to have you, you know?” Sean said.

Billy shrugged. “I guess….”

“What about that friend of Jim’s, Seamus?” Sean asked.

“I don’t know,” Billy said. “He’s cute … but I bet he hates me!”

“Let him get to know you and he won’t,” Sean encouraged.

Billy thought about it and Seamus was nice looking. Billy was always attracted to smaller guys and he wondered what it would be like to be held by a bigger, stronger guy. ‘Could be nice,’ he thought to himself and smiled a little. “Maybe we can all hang out together sometime….” Billy allowed himself a little smile.

***

Andy was at the hospital when Carl and Bethany arrived. The two of them were clearly still not reconciled, but that didn’t surprise Andy. Keeping the secret was a betrayal he felt keenly, and he couldn’t imagine Carl’s feelings about the matter. But he also knew his father-in-law to be an extremely stubborn man. If this was the worst thing that had happened in their long marriage, they’d had a good run.

Andy explained to them what he’d been told before they were taken back to small exam rooms for a quick blood draw. Jim and Paul arrived next. After a brief discussion, Paul was disappointed to find out that he could not give even get tested. Unless you’re 18, only direct relatives can give bone marrow in any case, so he was excluded; Andy called Sean to let him know. The man said he’d still try to come by to get himself tested, and then had to run.

The testing all done, Andy and the boys accompanied Jim’s grandparents to a fairly subdued lunch. None of them really knew what the next week, or Gloria, would bring into their lives; on the other hand, Jim and his grandparents were clearly excited about meeting the boy, and Paul was excited for them.

***

 Billy and Sean sat in the sumptuously appointed conference room in the law offices of Baxter, Lloyd, and Prince, where they had been interviewed earlier by police. Based on the boy’s statement and the evidence of his condition when he turned up at Paul’s, the police were seeking a warrant for Chris’s arrest, initially on a charge of child endangerment and child abandonment.

When Arnie returned carrying a couple of bags of Subway sandwiches, Sean asked, “How did it go?”

“Eat your lunch,” Arnie smiled. “She took one look at the affidavits and that was all it took. But she saw your file too,” he added. “After lunch time, she’ll see Billy privately in chambers to see what he really wants. If you really want to stay with Sean, you need to explain that to her!”

“I will,” Billy smiled. He quickly ate his sandwich, his appetite having returned with a vengeance, as the men talked, and then he asked, “Do you mind if I check my email while you guys finished?”

Arnold laughed and logged him in on the workstation at the end of the table. Billy blanched as he saw the sheer volume of emails he had received, many of them no doubt cruel. As he scrolled down, one in particular caught his eye. The subject read “MERRY CHRISTMAS!” and he clicked on it before it registered who the email had come from.

“Hi buddy!” Robert said with a smile from the screen. Sean’s head jerked and he and Arnie rushed to the screen. “It’s been a while! Guess you were right about that Paul kid! Should have laid off for a while. Or just asked him for a good fuck every now and then, apparently. Yeah, your dad told me,” he added with a smile, handsome, sensual and maniacal all at once. “But I guess you knew I had dropped by and gotten to know him better?”

“THAT is Robert?” Arnie asked, and the boy nodded.

“But he shouldn’t have done what he did! I forgave you! But even in the end, neither of them would. You’re parents are pretty nasty folks, Billy boy! So I taught them a lesson for you. Thought you might enjoy it!” Before another word could come out of the boy’s mouth, Sean reached around and paused the video.

“What?” Billy asked as Arnie gave Sean a look.

“This video is long, Billy, and I think it might have stuff on it you don’t … you don’t want to see,” Sean said. Seeing their confusion, he asked, “Didn’t you see what’s on his face?”

Arnie and Billy looked closely and they saw it too. Across the right cheek, Robert’s face bore a smear of blood. Sean said, “Billy, go to the other side of the room please!” Billy did as he was told and Sean made sure he couldn’t see the screen. Then he muted the volume and forwarded the time stamp to near the end of the video. When he hit play, his brain screamed at him: STOP.

He paused the video and turned away quickly. Sean shook his head at Billy and said, “Do you have that card from the detective? Vickers?”

Billy reached into his pocket and pulled out his wallet. The phone went straight to voicemail. “Detective Vickers, it’s Billy Cooper. I just got a long video from Robert and it’s got something bad on it. Will you call me? I’m emailing it to you now….” Sean nodded and forwarded the email to the address on the card.