Chapter 27

Eric and Ryan escorted Paul into the local hospital and up to the psychiatric ward’s little waiting area.  A nurse asked them, “Can I help you?”

“Could we speak with Dr. Klein?” Paul asked.

The woman smiled and nodded, and said, “I’ll page him for you.”  Moments later they heard her paging him, “Dr. Klein to the waiting area.”

A few moments later, the young doctor arrived and looked surprised.  “Paul!  I wasn’t expecting you back until next week!”

“Neither was I,” Paul smiled.  “But I had to come back to town for a little bit and thought I’d come by and see if I could talk to Gregg for a bit?”

“Well,” Dr. Klein thought for a moment, “he’s in the common area right now….  Why don’t you come back with me and sit with him for a while?”  Eric began to protest, and Dr. Klein assured, “He’ll be perfectly safe!”  Paul waved Eric off and followed the doctor back.

The room was secure, but there was a nurse’s desk inside, and there were board games and books, as well as various card games, available to patients.  A few older men were sitting around a table playing cards in one corner, while another patient stood in the corner facing the wall.

Gregg was sitting on a couch facing a television screen on the wall watching a recap of the previous evening’s sporting events.  As they approached, Dr. Klein said, “Gregg, you’ve got a visitor!”

The boy turned and his frown became a smile.  “Paul!  I thought you were out of town?” Gregg asked.

“I had to come home last night to help out at my house for a bit, so I thought I’d come by to see you before I headed back to the city,” Paul said.

“I didn’t really expect….  I mean, you didn’t have to,” Gregg began.

Paul smiled and sat down next to him.  “I wanted to,” he laughed.  “And I told you I’d come by when I got back, so I did!”  With a bigger smile, he asked, “How’re you doing, Gregg?”

“Feeling better,” the big boy said, “especially now that you’ve come by!”

“Any time,” Paul promised.  “Hopefully you can get out of here soon….”

“The doctor says maybe,” Gregg nodded.  “They’re giving me some medicine, and I’m feeling better….  I guess I’ll have to do some therapy for a while.”

“You should want to,” Paul said.  “It’ll help you get in a better place.”

“I know,” Gregg said.  “But it’s embarrassing….  I feel like the school loony.”

“I bet you aren’t the first kid in our class to land in here, Gregg!” Paul said.  “And I bet a lot of kids are on meds or in therapy.  There’s nothing wrong with that….”

Gregg smiled at him thankfully and the two of them talked about other things for a bit, before Paul excused himself with a promise to return as soon as he returned to town.  The big boy hugged him again, and the nurse called for the doctor to escort him back out to Ryan and Eric.

“Ready to get going, kid?” Eric asked with a smile.

“Absolutely,” Paul smiled, and they set out.

***

“Thanks, Billy,” Jim said as he sat next to the boy on the foot of the bed after getting dressed.

“I didn’t do anything,” Billy smiled.  “But you’re welcome!”

“You let me let it out,” Jim said.  “It sucks to do that by yourself:  I’d know.  Before Paulie, Danny was the only person I really … talked to about stuff, and well, that’s complicated, so … yeah!”

“A lot’s happening right now,” Billy smiled to himself and leaned into Jim bumping him.  “It’s like we don’t have time to let the past get in the way….  A week ago you hated my guts and were ready to beat the crap out of me!”

“And now you’re one of my best friends,” Jim said, nodding.

Billy looked at him with a shocked expression.  “Really?” he asked, his eyes getting misty.

“Yeah,” Jim smiled.  “It’s not just every dude I let hold me while I leak snot on his chest!”

“I just mean … wow,” Billy said, smiling with tears in his eyes.  “I guess if things keep moving, it won’t be two long before we’re kind of brothers too….”

Jim laughed and said, “I kinda like that idea.”  Then after a pause he added, “As long as you swear off being a dick and keep being a stand-up friend!”

Billy smiled and nodded.  “All the things I was afraid of before … seem meaningless now.  I know who really matters.  You guys took care of me even when you were pissed at me, even when I hurt you.  Who the fuck cares what the rest of them think?”

“So you’ll come back to school with us?” Jim asked.  Billy nodded and Jim smiled.  “COOL!”

***

Eric and Ryan walked Paul into the hospital and escorted him up to the waiting area on Carl’s floor.  Jim was pacing around the room and when he saw the boy, his face brightened and he exclaimed, “Paulie!”  He nearly ran over and threw his arms around the boy, lifting him off the ground.

“It was just one night,” Paul teased, burying his face in the boy’s neck and inhaling deeply.

Andy and Sean approached, and Andy asked, “Well, what did you find?”

Ryan looked at Eric, who grimaced.  “Robert had been there,” Vickers sighed.  “He left a few welcome home gifts for the family.”

“Do I even want to know?” Andy asked.

“No,” Eric said honestly.

“He left a teenage boy’s head on the dining room table, and he spooged on my pillow,” Paul said with a look of disgust.

Jim, as well as Andy and Sean, looked at him with wide-eyed, horrified expressions.  It was Jim who asked, “Who?”

“Ken, from the football team,” Paul said, and Jim exhaled.

“I’m just glad it wasn’t one of our friends,” Jim said.  Looking around, he added, “WHAT?  I’m just saying!”

“I get it,” Vickers said.  “And I know Ken hurt your boy here, but in the end he was a victim too, both of the blackmail, and then of course….”

“I know,” Jim said.  “I get it….  I’m just not all torn up over it either.  What does worry me is how bold that was.”

“Agreed,” Vickers said.  “That is problematic….”

***

“I won’t be home this evening for dinner,” Arnie said over breakfast.

“What’s going on, dear?” Christine asked.  Alan raised his eyes as well.  “I was hoping you could take me to the mall, dad,” the boy said.

“Sorry bud, I’ve got to drive into the city this evening after work to see Paul,” Arnie said.  “He let the police search the house last night and it seems this psycho Robert left a body part in the house!  I want to go check on him and see if there’s anything I can do….”

“Can I come?” Alan asked.  “I’d love to see Paul and meet his new boyfriend!”

“I suppose,” Arnie said.  “Though it won’t be very festive, given the circumstances.  Jim’s grandfather is in the hospital too, and his little brother, who they’re visiting, has leukemia….”

Alan nodded and said, “All the more reason for me to go and be there for my cuz!”

Arnie rolled his eyes and smiled.  “I’ll swing by and pick you up on my way then!”

***

Jim was in with his granddad when Edwin burst through the doors.  “Where’s Jonathan?” Andy asked, rising to meet the man.

“He’s with the nanny!  I called her in so I could come straight down,” the man said, grabbing Andy’s arm with excitement.  “There were TWO possible matches!”

“Who?” Andy asked, surprised.

“Jim,” Edwin said, “and Sean….”

“Sean?” Andy asked, surprised.

“I know,” Edwin said.  “Even Jim was an extreme longshot since they weren’t full siblings, but Sean was a total shock.  The hospital wants to test them both further to see which would be the best match, assuming either of them is a viable donor.”

“Just tell me where to go,” Sean said. A very excited Edwin pulled out a pad and ripped out a piece of paper with the information already written on it.  “I’ll just head down there now, then,” the man said, shaking he piece of paper with a smile.

“Thanks, Sean,” Edwin said.  Then with a look at Andy, he asked, “Where’s Jim?”

“He’s back with his granddad,” Andy said.  “Why don’t you go tell him?  That might give Carl a boost as well!”

Edwin smiled like a man reborn and nodded, hurrying off.  He poked his head into the room and said, “I’m so sorry to interrupt!”

“Don’t be silly,” Carl said.  “Come in!”

“So, I’ve got some good news,” Edwin smiled.  “Sean and Jim need to be tested to confirm their level of matching with Jonathan!”

Carl clapped his hands together and Jim rose and hugged the man he barely knew, tears rising to both their eyes.  “Can I go now?” Jim asked.  Edwin smiled and handed him the same information he’d given Sean.  “Be back in a little while grandpa,” he said, leaving in a rush.

“He’s a sweet boy,” Edwin said when he was alone with his father-in-law.

“You can’t imagine,” Carl smiled and nodded.  “He already loves your son as if he’d been there since he was born.  You couldn’t ask for a better brother for your boy….”

“I am beginning to … well, you all showing up and … it’s almost enough to make up for all the rest,” Edwin smiled tight-lipped at Carl.

“Edwin, there’s not much I can say about that.  I guess it’s pretty obvious that I’ve been angry with her for a long time, but … I don’t know….  You got caught up in her crazy, and I’m sorry,” Carl said.  “But I can’t tell you how much it means that I have another grandson.  I just hope you can get beyond this and move on….”

“And do it quicker than I did,” Andy smiled in the door.  “I waited far too long, but at least it worked out for me….”

“What am I going to do?” Edwin asked.

“You’ll have all the help you need,” Andy said.  “And maybe more than you want,” he added, teasing.

“You guys are welcome in my home any time,” Edwin said.  “After all you’ve been through, to reach out to Gloria’s new family must have been….”

Andy shook his head with a smile and said, “Well, this kind of makes us like brothers, huh?  We’ve both had this happen to us, but we both got something incredible out of it….”

***

When Sean got done having his samples taken for the matching tests, he came up to the waiting area and found Billy.  “Hey, buddy,” he said, clasping the boy’s shoulder.  “Let’s get out of here and do something for a while.  Then we can bring dinner back for everybody.”

Billy smiled from ear to ear, but glanced over at Jim and Paul and said, “Let me talk to the guys first?” Sean nodded and smiled, proud that the boy was thinking about his friends.  Billy walked over to Jim and Paul and talked with them before returning.  Jim and Paul had waved him off with smiles, assuring him that they’d be okay and that he should go.

“All set?” Sean asked.  Billy nodded, and on their way down to the car Sean asked, “So what do you want to do?”

“I don’t know,” Billy said.  “It’ll be nice to just walk around a bit.  Can we just walk around downtown and see what we find?”

“Sure,” Sean said, draping his arm across the boy’s shoulder.  To anyone who wondered, Sean would appear to be his father, and Billy reveled in the affection he’d never really received before.

Sean and Billy walked around for a couple of hours, finding a few shops they wanted to browse, including a nice sports memorabilia dealer, where Sean bought Billy a couple of things to decorate his room, as well as a couple of smaller clothing shops.  Then they walked down to the waterfront for a while and just strolled around.

***

“I just talked to Fielding,” Vickers told Ryan who was coming out of the bathroom of the restaurant they had chosen before heading home.

“Any developments?” Ryan asked, slipping into his chair.

“Tests confirm the identity of the killer,” Vickers said, rolling his eyes.  “But on the bright side, Fielding had a meeting with the Sheriff Foster this morning and traded information with him…. Foster could call in the FBI if he wanted….”

“So could the mayor,” Ryan said.

Vickers raised his eyes and asked, “Are you closer to the mayor than the chief?”  Then Eric smiled at him and said, “They’ve managed so far to make this thing look to the public like a string of unrelated incidents.  The mayor won’t call in the FBI until it looks like he’s sitting on his hands if he doesn’t.”

“We could go to the media,” Ryan said.

“Do you ever want to work for law enforcement again?” Vickers asked seriously.

“I’m not sure anymore,” the young man said honestly.  “This has all been a nice wake-up call.”  After a pause, Ryan said, “A friend of mine runs a medical lab in town and has been after me for years to come work with him.  Money’s better, and so are the hours.  Plus there’s no politics, and they’ve got domestic partner benefits….”

“Sounds like you’ve been thinking a lot about this,” Vickers said.

“Lately, for sure,” Ryan nodded.

“If they’ll have me, I guess I’ll go back,” Vickers said.  “Not much else for an old dog like me….”

Ryan rolled his eyes and said, “You can do anything you want!”

“I’m just not sure what else that would be,” Eric said, smiling and putting his hand on Ryan’s.

***

“I’m starving,” Paul said to Jim.  “I hope they get here soon with the food!”

“They said they were on the way, Paulie,” Jim laughed.

Paul’s phone rang and he pulled it out.  “Hello?”

“Paul?  It’s your Uncle Arnie!  You are all still at the hospital right?”

“Yeah,” Paul said.  “Just up in the waiting area.  Why?”

“I’m on my way up,” Arnie said, hanging up.

Paul laughed into the phone and snapped it shut.  “What?” Jim asked.

“Arnie’s here,” Paul said with a smile. A few minutes later the man walked into the room but stopped to hold the door.  Moments later, a young man followed him.  “ALAN!” Paul yelled, running up to the young man and wrapping his arms around his waist, careful of the cane at Alan’s side.

“Hey, Paul,” Alan chuckled, wrapping his free arm around the boy.

“Hi Arnie,” Jim said, extending his hand.

“Jim, this fellow with Paul attached is my son, Alan,” Arnie said with a smile.

“Hi Jim,” Alan said with the pleasantest smile, with an apologetic glance down at Paul who prevented him from shaking hands with the boy.  “I see you landed your dream boy, cuz!”

Paul blushed crimson and quickly explained, “Not you specifically, but … we used to talk about what we wanted in a guy….”

Jim just grinned.  Paul dragged Alan off and began furiously talking his ear off, the handsome young man nodding occasionally and grinning over at his dad.  “They do look a lot alike,” Jim said, “except Alan is taller and a little thinner … and of course there’s the….”

“Yeah,” Arnie said with a heavy nod.  “They said it happened in childbirth … the brain damage I mean.  They warned us that there could be serious mental impairment as well, but, thank God, the microspasms seem to be the worst of it.  Sometimes he gets a little spacey, but that’s tolerable from a genius.”  Jim looked at him with a question and Arnie said, “Alan will be a junior when he returns to college in the spring….”

“But he can’t be nineteen,” Jim said.

“He will be in March,” Arnie nodded.  “He stays close so we can help him as needed, but he insists on staying in the dorms with a roommate.  He’s always been so independent….”

“Paul loves him,” Jim said.

“Like a brother,” Arnie said.  “I was only half teasing the other day.  When we found out both boys were gay, I had really hoped….”  The man smiled and added, “Alas, they both have a taste for jock….”

Jim laughed heartily and said, “Be warned, then….  Paul has his mind set on Billy for Alan.”

Arnie raised his eyebrows.  “Billy?  My son would be gaga for Billy, but after all the boy’s done….”

“Arnie, I was ready to kill him, but with his parents … gone, and his secrets coming out, he’s really changed some,” Jim said, “and changing for the better every day!”

“That’s something,” Arnie said.  “Anyway, my son has great judgment, and he’s the strongest person I know….”  Jim looked at the tall, thin boy, his handsome face smiling as he chatted with Paul, and nodded.  Alan had stretched his legs out in their braces and was subconsciously massaging the tensing muscles as he talked, and Jim wondered what life must have been like for a gay boy-genius with cerebral palsy.

But Jim’s musings were cut short by the smell of food, as Sean and Billy arrived.  Jim looked up and saw Billy’s eyes settle on Paul and Alan.  Paul smiled and said, “Hey Billy!  I want you to meet….”

But Billy hurried to a table and set his bag of food down before rushing from the room.  “Shit,” Jim said, seeing Paul look at him confused, as a hurt look flashed across Alan’s face.  “Paul must have been building this up!  Be right back, Arnie!”

Jim chased after Billy and found him leaning against a wall at the other end of the hall.  “What’s wrong with you?” Jim demanded angrily.  “You hurt that guys feelings!”

Billy cringed, and said, “THAT is the guy Paul wants to set me up with?”

Jim flashed with anger as every bad feeling he had for Billy came rushing back.  “YOU HAVEN’T CHANGED AT ALL, HAVE YOU?” Jim demanded, and each word cut Billy to his core. And he fell deathly silent.

“I … I,” Billy at last began to struggle.

“You look at him and all you see is the leg braces and the cane.  He’s every bit as beautiful as Paul, and probably stronger, if that’s possible,” Jim railed on him.

“I just, it’s not,” Billy stammered.

“I can’t believe I was starting to believe, to think of you as my BROTHER,” Jim said.

Billy burst into tears and yelled, “LISTEN TO ME!”  Jim was shocked to his senses.  “I KNOW THAT BOY!  THAT IS THE BOY FROM THE INTERNET!”

“What?” Jim asked, getting a terrible feeling he’d just made a Billy-sized ass of himself.

“He’s the boy I’ve been chatting with, the one I was so hot to meet.  When I walked in and saw him here, I was shocked and … it scared me a little.  I wanted to meet him so bad and … now he’s here!”

“Fuck!” Jim said, wrapping his arms around Billy.  “I’m gonna be making this up to you for a long time, but there’s no time now!  Get back in there!”

“But what if I just blew it?” Billy whined.

“Tell him what you told me!” Jim said.  “NOW GO!”

Billy walked into the waiting area to find Paul and Alan walking toward the door, Alan explaining, “I can’t stay!  He’s clearly not….”  Paul looked at Billy with a frown until he saw the boy’s red eyes, and then Jim’s pained expression as the boy followed shortly on Billy’s entry.

“I’m really sorry,” Billy said, walking up to the tall, thin young man, his eyes averted.

“I just don’t understand,” Alan said softly, “I mean, I know I might not have been what you … or what Paul built me up to be, but….”

Billy shut the young man up by grabbing his free hand gently and squeezing.  “It’s not that….  I was just shocked to walk in and see you….”

“In my braces,” Alan nodded.  “YOU DIDN’T TELL HIM, PAUL!?”

“It never came up,” Paul began.

“Will both of you let me finish?” Billy asked.  They both looked at him expectantly.  “I was surprised to see YOU here, Alan….  Or should I say Collin?”

Alan looked at him for a moment before it clicked.  “NO FUCKING WAY!” the young man smiled and squeezed his hand.  “I bet that did throw you for a loop!”

“What are you two talking about?” Paul asked.

“The guy I’ve been talking to on the internet, the one I liked so much,” Billy said.  “This is him….”

Paul’s smile looked like it would split his face.  Then he hugged them both and said, “SO YOU ARE STAYING, RIGHT?”  Billy looked back and forth between them and Paul explained, “I invited Alan to stay and hang out….  Maybe you and him can go and do some stuff, so you aren’t shut up here all the time!”

“Don’t feel like you have to for my sake,” Billy said, but then added with a smile, “but if you did it would be fun.”

Alan smiled and raised an eyebrow at Billy before shaking his head and calling, “Dad!  Can I stay?”

“Do you have room?” Arnie asked Sean.

“Those three are already piled up in a king bed,” Sean laughed.  “We can get another room with a couple of queens if Alan stays….”

“Alright, if you’re sure it’s no trouble,” Arnie said.

“It’ll be a squeeze driving home but that’s about it,” Sean said.

“What about clothes?” Arnie asked his son.

“I was thinking I could go shopping and get some new stuff for school, since I’m here,” Alan said.  Then he smiled at Billy and said, “Maybe this one can help me pick out something?”

Billy blushed at the now assertive and confident young man and said, “Sounds like a blast!”

Paul smiled at Jim, who just rolled his eyes.  “I just can’t believe it’s you,” Billy said, and Paul walked away to give them a moment.

“When Paul was telling me about you, I never made the connection,” Alan smiled, “but it is kind of odd, isn’t it?”  Then he reached out and put his hand on Billy’s arm and said, “I’m sorry everyone gave you such a hard time about my braces.  We shouldn’t have assumed….”

“No, I get it,” Billy said, “and I’ve not given the guys a lot of reason not to make that assumption.  Paul told you ALL about me?”

“I think so,” Alan said.  “That you and he were secret boyfriends and that you’re the one who outed him….  He also told me about how you didn’t tell him what Robert had said he was going to do to him….”

Billy looked away in shame and said, “Then he told you everything….”

Alan squeezed Billy’s arm and said, “He also told me about your parents and how different you’ve been since you’ve been away from them, and what you did for Jim when he went to see his mother.”

“I really liked talking to you on the net,” Billy said.  “I hope knowing all this stuff doesn’t change things….”

“If anything,” Alan said, “it makes me like you more.”  Billy looked at him confused and Alan said, “Mostly I liked your abs and chest when I first came across you, and since then I got to know you a little.  But you’re real now, Billy….  And I can tell how sorry you are for what you did wrong, which tells me you’re a good person.”  Then he squeezed Billy’s arm again and said, trying to keep a straight face, “And your muscles feel great!”

Billy blushed bright and looked down at his feet.  “Thanks….”

Meanwhile, Arnie cornered Sean and Andy and asked, “Are you SURE you don’t mind?  With everything that’s going on here, I’d understand if….”

Andy laughed and cut him off.  “Clearly Paul loves your son, and that’ll liven the whole situation up a bit.”

“Plus, I won’t have to leave to entertain Billy,” Sean said with a quick glance at the boy, who was smiling and blushing at whatever Alan was saying to him.

Arnie followed his glance and said, “It looks like Alan will entertain him all you want….”  Andy’s cough made Arnie blush, as he added, “I didn’t mean THAT!”

Sean smiled and said, “Andy’s just being a jerk!”  Then he shook his head and said, “We’re happy to have him!”

Arnie walked over and put his hand on his son’s shoulder and said, “Well, it’s all settled then….  You can stay.  If you need anything, just let me know, and you’ve got your credit card.  Just try not to go TOO crazy at the mall!”

“But DAD!” Alan teased, winking at Billy.  “Just think about all the college money you’ve saved thanks to my scholarships!”

Arnie grinned and shook his head.  “NOT TOO MUCH!”

“Thanks dad,” Alan said, hugging the man.  “See you this weekend!”

Arnie nodded and then looked at Billy and said, “My wife and children are gonna be dying to meet YOU, Billy, so be sure Alan invites you over soon!”  Billy blushed and nodded.

When his dad was gone, Alan said, “Don’t worry about them!  They’re all pretty cool!”  Then he thought for a minute and said, “Paul, Jim … you guys wanna run to the mall?”

Paul shook his head and said, “Nah, you guys go ahead….  Get to know each other a bit.  We’ll see you back at the hotel tonight.”

“You need a ride?” Sean asked.

“We’ll get a cab,” Alan said.  “It’ll be fine!”

Sean nodded and said, “Be careful!”

“Dads,” Alan said, rolling his eyes and waving as he grabbed Billy’s arm and began dragging him toward the door.  Billy looked over his shoulder and shrugged, leaving the room of guys laughing after him.

Alan could hold Billy’s arm without attracting any attention due to his condition, but as Billy moved to help him open the door, Alan swatted his hand away.  “I’m okay,” the boy laughed.  “I don’t really need the help, I just like holding your arm,” he added with an exaggerated wagging of his eyebrows.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to,” Billy stammered.  “I was just….”

Alan laughed and said, “God, you are cute when you’re nervous!  I’m not supersensitive about it.  I just don’t want to seem weak and needy either, or to let you think I need that kind of help.”

“I hope it won’t bother you, but I AM probably gonna want to do things like open doors for you and stuff,” Billy said.

“I get it,” Alan said.  “It’s hard to look past the hardware….”

“No, asshole, because I like you,” Billy said, and this time it was his turn to roll his eyes as they flagged down a cabbie.