Plan C: Mawg Dilligs

by Driver

Chapter 1

It got dark really early like you'd expect, because it was one day before the shortest day of the year. I was excited, and I was doing my best impression of a prep for Lilac's sake. I was wearing beige Dockers and a pale blue shirt, with a red sweater so dark it was almost black. Brown shoes, carefully combed hair, and a really close shave finished off the look.

A party at Lilac's sounded like a contradiction in terms, but I was anxious for Justin to show up just the same. Aaron and I had been seriously lacking in time together for the last month, and I had the whole weekend with him at his house to look forward to. School was out until after the New Year, and Aaron was spending the days right after Christmas at my house. Christmas was on the Tuesday, and our house was all done up like it always was.

I kept looking at myself in the mirror. My outfit looked foreign on me, but I found myself liking it. I went downstairs where there was a full-length mirror, and I looked in that. I liked the front, but I couldn't really see my behind no matter how I tried. Not seeing it made it important, and nobody was home but Bruce, so I went looking for him. Alton was working, and my folks had gone directly from work to some Christmas get-together.

Bruce was in his room reading, and his eyes went wide when I walked in. "Holy shit! Welcome to normal, Evan!"

I grinned and turned my back to him. "Does my ass look good in these pants?"

He wheezed out a laugh, "Evan, how would I judge that? There are no stains, no obvious leaks, if that's what you're getting at."

I rolled my eyes, "Thank you very much. I'm talking about the look of it ... how these pants fit."

He snickered, "Like I say, I can't judge. It looks fine to me."

"What looks fine? My ass?"

I turned around, and Bruce was smiling. "Everything looks fine, Evan. Is that what you want to hear?"

I said, "I want to hear the truth." I tried looking over my shoulder at my backside, "My butt looks okay?"

Bruce laughed, "Let me go out on a limb here, and say your butt looks fine. Not too big, not too small, but definitely there where it belongs. Is that what you want to hear?"

I smiled.

"Good!" he said, and stood up, turning his rear to me, "Now you can comment on mine."

Damn! "You might not have mentioned that, Bruce. How did I not notice that before?" God, my little brother had a fine butt.

"Really?" he smiled. "I hear girls talking about my butt sometimes."

I laughed, "Yeah, girls like butts. Mine's really okay?"

He started, "Evan, it's ..." then the doorbell rang.

I headed out in a run, yelling "See you Sunday."

It was Justin at the door, and Aaron was with him, which I hadn't expected. Aaron, since summer, had put a little meat on his bones, and it especially showed in his face. When we first met, I always thought about that 'lean and hungry look' that Cassius had in the Julius Caesar play by Shakespeare. Aaron was still tall and slim, but he had cheeks that were out now, instead of in, and they made him about two hundred times cuter than before.

He looked more like Justin than he used to, and that would never be a bad thing.

I thought we'd just leave, but they both needed to use the toilet, so I had time for a great kiss with Aaron while Justin went, then time to talk to Justin.

"How's Cindy?" I asked.

He smiled, "Pretty as ever. She's coming tonight."

I snickered, "You two might as well be married."

Justin smiled, then Aaron came back. He said, "You look really nice, Evan." He glanced at Justin, then looked right at me. "You have a nice body, and you hide it all the time with what you wear."

Justin winced and smiled, but I basked in the comment. I was human, too, and I liked hearing somebody else say that I looked good. I especially liked to hear Aaron say that he liked how I looked. I smiled and picked up my bag, "Ready?"

They were, and I was, and I was soon in the back seat of Justin's car with Aaron, and we kissed and groped the whole way.

Justin left the car running when he went in to pick up Cindy, and oddly enough, that's when Aaron and I took a break. There was more that we wanted to do. It was better to leave it for later, otherwise we'd be hopeless at the party.

Justin wasn't long, and Cindy was as cute as ever, and just as friendly.

I'd not been to Lilac's before, and kind of expected her to live in a little house. Instead, it was an ancient factory building that had been converted into condominiums. It looked nice from the outside. Whoever had done the work did a nice job.

Inside was like magic, though. It was ancient space, high-ceilinged, and with wide-boarded floors that had enough urethane on them to float a ship. I liked it just walking down the hall to the stairs, then up to Lilac's place. Somebody had taken an old building and been really creative in making it over into new living space, and there was something worthy of comment at every turn.

I was charmed by the building Lilac lived in, but I was still chary about her. She was Aaron's aunt, the sister of his mother, so she'd fit into any picture I could put together. She had some kind of hostility for gays, or gayness, or whatever it was, and she felt free to display it. I felt leery around her because of that. I had it in me to not like somebody, but I didn't feel obligated to get all vocal about my dislike the way Lilac did.

I had people I didn't like, too, but not whole classes of them. I thought dislike should come at the individual level, just the way liking someone did.

It was too late. Some black guy opened Lilac's door and looked kind of haughty. "Yes? Do you have the right address?"

Justin said, "Lilac is our aunt."

The man's face seemed to morph into the sun. "Come in, then! Family be welcome here, let me find your auntie."

I looked to Justin, who smiled, shrugged, and went in, so the rest of us followed.

I suddenly didn't care about Lilac, or her friends, or anybody except me and Aaron. Her unit was just amazing, architecturally. High ceilings and skylights, ancient brick walls, shiny floors.

There was a background noise that was a little bit quiet jazz, and a big bit people talking and laughing. It smelled great too, so things were cooking. There were tasteful Christmas decorations and lights here and there, and the whole scene was shouting 'warmth' at me. Everything except the prospect of Lilac, but even she dazzled me when she found us.

She was like a Christmas elf, and she had the size and shape to get away with it. Her hair was done kind of pixie style, and she was wearing pants and a jacket that were made of what looked liked brocaded cloth, dark red with a mostly green pattern. Lilac was a pretty woman, and she had a nice shape ... one that even a gay boy could comment on. Right then, she seemed delighted to see us all there.

"Justin, Aaron! My, don't you both look smart." She kissed them both on the cheek, and turned the same good cheer to Cindy. "Hello, dear. You are more striking every time I see you."

Cindy smiled at the flattery, then Lilac turned to me. Her smile was warm, and seemed genuine as she took my hand, "And Evan, I'm really happy that you came."

I cynically wanted to ask why that was, but instead I said, "Thanks for inviting me. I really like your apartment here, I love this kind of thing."

The black man who'd let us in appeared behind her, and she introduced him as her friend, Rakeed. "Rocky, introduce Justin and Cindy around, while I show Aaron and Evan the rest of the house."

Rakeed smiled and led Justin and Cindy into the other room, while Lilac stood there smiling at Aaron and me. She said, "I'm really pleased that you came." Her eyebrows went up, "I suppose you're wondering why I asked you, and it really isn't just the holiday spirit." She paused and bit her lip, her cheer disappearing, "Boys, I'm not proud of this. I have turned a blind eye to things different for too long. I wish it was you who showed me that, but it was Rakeed. I've led a sheltered life, and never dealt with a black person except in a business kind of way."

I started smiling in advance, because Lilac's sappy smile said she was in love, and with Rakeed. She went on, "This past fall, I was driving in the rain when my car slid off the road. Before I knew what happened, Rakeed was there, and he drove my car back out of trouble. When he first came up to the car, he frightened me, just because he was a black man. I thanked him, of course, and I got his name, and I thought that was it." She looked at us in turn, "But no. I came home, and I was absolutely haunted by that smile, those manners. I've seen lots of men, but there was never ... never mind." She smiled quickly, "I think you get the picture."

Aaron asked, matter-of-factly, "You're seeing a black man?"

Lilac nodded, "Yes, and that is one thing I never, ever imagined. If my father knew it, he'd roll over in his grave. My mother knows, though, and that brings me to why I want you two in my life." She smiled, "It's simple, really. Loving a black man makes me different, and it's like you're different, too, and suddenly I appreciate that. I see how good it can feel, regardless of raised eyebrows all around me." She looked questioningly at us, "That's how you feel, isn't it? You don't have to answer, because I can see it. Different comes in degrees, and you have yours, and I have mine. I've been wrong all along. It's something to celebrate, not to avoid or resist."

Aaron and I were both gape-mouthed, and after a minute Lilac laughed loudly. "You look like baby birds in need of worms!" Her expression was funny, "Come on, say something!"

Aaron snickered nervously, "Are you for real?"

Lilac looked hurt, but Aaron said, "Lilac, you have tried and tried to make me look like some kind of sick person. I never did anything wrong to you, but you wouldn't leave me alone. Last summer you picked on Evan, too. Tell me why the reason that you like a black person suddenly makes me okay." He crossed his arms, "I think you're looking for a cheap way out. You decide you like a black guy, and suddenly I'm okay?" He snickered, "You better tell me how this works, oh Auntie of mine."

Lilac's eyes took on shock, but they softened right up. "Here's how it works, oh beautiful nephew." They both chuckled, "When I'm wrong, I'm a hard-ass about it. I really had a hard time with you being gay, but I can see now that was my problem." She smiled, "You're a charmer, Aaron. You always have been, and that's the reason I've only been halfway negative with you." She smiled and nodded sadly, "I'm sorry for the way I've been, I really am." She suddenly grinned almost evilly, and said in a strong voice, "I deign to be different myself, Aaron. I apologize for my past views, but like it or not, we're different together from now on." She looked hopeful.

Aaron was thoughtful, then he grinned, "This is a truce?"

Lilac smiled, "No, Aaron, not a truce. This is the end. I'm older, but I've been wrong all along. I admit that, and I apologize, and I'll try to make up for it." She gave a little grin and leaned to Aaron, then gave him a quick kiss. "Okay?"

Aaron eyed her suspiciously, but not for long, and I think because it wasn't his nature. He shrugged, "Sure, okay. Do you have any food here? Can we have some wine to celebrate?"

Lilac smiled, "Yes, celebrate. Let's do that! Red or white? I have some champagne, too."

Aaron looked at me, and I said "Red, please."

Lilac gestured around, "There are munchies all over the place. I have some things I have to heat up, so you go and mingle while I get things ready. I'll bring you your wine."

She walked off while Aaron and I watched her go. Then we turned to each other and burst out laughing. My humor had been growing with Lilac's every word. It was her house, and it was almost Christmas, so I held off laughing directly at her, but once her back was turned, my mirth couldn't be denied. Lilac's new-found affinity for me and Aaron came when she found herself looked at for going with Rakeed. That had about as much in common with Aaron and me as real lilacs had with snow tires on tour buses.

It was good that she'd come to terms with us, but not really necessary. Lilac had been more of a pain than a threat, and she provided comic relief for us sometimes when we needed it.

Rakeed was there in a few minutes, holding out two glasses of red wine, and with a huge smile on his face. We took the wine, and he was gone quickly, saying we'd get a chance to talk later, after he helped in the kitchen.

I held my glass up until Aaron did, then we clinked them together before taking sips. I grinned, "I like it here. Let's get some food!"

There were the usual things around; bowls of pretzels, chips and dips, a veggie thing with dip. We stopped there, and snacked on carrots and celery, sometimes dipped and sometimes not. I took a piece of broccoli, dipped it, and held it out to Aaron.

He made a face and backed away, "No thanks, broccoli gives me the stinkies."

I considered that for not long enough, because as soon as I popped the broccoli piece in my own mouth, I had to spit it into my hand when the laugh caught me. "The stinkies? Where did you ever come up with that one? You mean farts, right? Gas?"

Aaron gave me a dirty look and didn't say anything. I dropped it for the time being, but I wanted to know how bad it could be. Still, in the Christmas spirit that was overtaking me, I decided to leave the subject of farting for the future. That didn't stop the fact that Aaron called them 'the stinkies' from worrying me, not at all. I would worry until I was fully informed, then we'd go from there.

It was nice for me to be able to think about the mundane again. Since I'd come home after Thanksgiving, my life was anything but mundane. I'd been questioned, and re-questioned and re-questioned by the police. They even asked me to take a lie-detector test, which I would have, but our lawyer didn't want me to.

I didn't know what Lee Erasmus was telling people, because they wouldn't say. I'd seen his picture as a ten-year-old a hundred times by then, but not a current picture. Still, I could swear I never met the kid. I'd never met his father, either.

I was in the middle of it after a month, and I didn't understand anything except what little I knew. I knew Lee's history from when he was kidnaped, and how un-pretty it was, and that would upset any right-thinking person.

Everyone knew that Lee had been arrested, but the papers and television weren't using his name anymore because he was a minor. They had never used it, except when he was a so-called hostage on Thanksgiving Day. Since his arrest, he was 'a fourteen year-old boy'. The charges against him weren't public yet, and wouldn't be public unless the prosecutor got his way. He wanted to charge Lee as an adult.

The police wouldn't even tell me what the charges were, though I'd heard them on television at the time of his arrest. From the way they talked, though, I knew that they thought Lee Erasmus was complicit in the attacks on me, and probably other things.

Lee had been suspended from school until things got sorted out, so I never got a chance to see what he looked like. Donovan had told me that he was going to a different school, but not much else.

We had learned the connection to me, though, and it was a tenuous one by any stretch. One of the camera men, Herb Sutton, who had been there for my abortive attempt at outing myself on television, was married to the sister of Leonard Erasmus' wife. It was a different sister's house that had been blown up, so the last names didn't help at all. Still, Leonard and his wife, along with Lee, had been staying with the Suttons that summer while people were looking for me. I was sometimes the topic of discussion in their house, just because it was a story everyone knew.

When I tried to come out, though, that had resulted in Herb mentioning to them that I was gay, and that's the reason I left home to start with. When he told us that, he said he didn't detect any unusual reaction, but that's what set Leonard off on his murderous rampage. He was outraged that his son, who had been a victim of sodomy many times, had to go to school with a 'known' homosexual. Lee had somehow learned who I was. The night of the knife attack, they'd come across me, and I was a victim of opportunity as it turned out ... alone and in a dark place. Leonard's pen knife didn't prove to be much of a weapon, and the next day he was so enraged that I wasn't dead, that he'd taken Lee and shot up our house. He emptied a pistol, and Lee shot both barrels of a shotgun.

The only slant we had on the whole thing came from Herb Sutton. His feeling was that Leonard forced Lee to participate, that Lee was a victim once again, and that Leonard had been a nutcase all along. Just not an obvious one.

My thoughts were interrupted by good smells, and there was a guy there offering us oysters. I took one, as did Aaron, and it was hot, and it was delicious beyond imagining. I chewed it down quickly and said, "Follow that tray!" before running after the guy. I caught up with him, and put three more of the oysters on a little paper plate. This time I looked at them, and they made a pretty little treat, even if I didn't know what was in them. It was oyster shells, browned bread crumbs, some kind of white cheese, and the oysters themselves, and they made beautifully delicious mouthfuls. I ate two, and brought one back to Aaron, who loved them, too.

By then, there were hot nibbles going around everywhere. Familiar things like stuffed mushrooms and scallops wrapped in bacon, to little skewers of meat and vegetables that were Thai food when I asked, and really spicy hot.

It made for a nice party, anyhow. We took it easy on the wine, but we always had some. Rakeed and Lilac introduced us around, and as 'My nephew Aaron, and his boyfriend, Evan'. Aaron and I both liked that they did that. We got a few looks, but nothing threatening, and when people started dancing, we danced too. We danced with each other mostly, but also with Cindy and Lilac, and I even did a fast dance with a game Justin.

We started with the fast songs, which weren't 'together' dances anyhow, and stuck with that for as long as it lasted. It was fun. The whole room was just moving their bones anyhow, smiling and laughing.

By the time the music slowed, people were pretty well coupled-up, and I danced slowly with Aaron right in the middle of the crowd. If anybody noticed us, I didn't notice them noticing. By the time Justin said he had to get Cindy home, we'd danced and partied for hours. It was fate, maybe, that Aaron and I had one of the best times of our lives at Lilac's house. I hoped it was a sign of things to come.

* * * * * * * *

The next day we spent with Billy at first, then Dean joined us when we had lunch at their house. The bunch of us were already invited to Huck's for dinner.

Billy hadn't changed in the few months I'd been away. The moment he opened his door, it was, "Grins! Jesus, come on in!"

I smiled, because it was good to see him looking good. Aaron and I followed him out to the kitchen, where Dean and his father were putting away groceries. They both looked up, and Mr. O'Shea smiled, "Hi, boys. Merry Christmas!"

Dean stood up and held his hand out to me, "Hi, Evan." He smiled brightly, "Long time, huh?"

I think I gaped for a second, then I smiled. Dean was looking good, and I mean a lot of things by that. I didn't know him very well to begin with, but when we first met I thought he was a house hermit, which turned out to be true. Then I learned that he had talent, and not long after I discovered that, he started behaving like a real person.

He was surely a different person than the first time I met him. Billy and Dean looked like brothers, but not a lot alike. Aaron had told me that both Billy and Dean were seeing girls, so I felt it was my duty to learn the gossip.

"So," I said, "I understand you guys both have a little love interest going?"

Billy pointed at Dean and said, "He does. Me? Well ... I guess, but it's kind of one way right now." He smirked, "She might come around."

I looked at Dean, my eyebrows arched, "Well?"

He flushed, "Well what? I'm seeing a girl named Stephanie. I'm attracted to her ..." he glanced at his father, "Um, upper regions. The upper part that has two regions, not the one with one region."

His father was putting cans into a cabinet, and without turning around he said, "He means boobs, Evan, not her brains. He's an O'Shea, born and bred."

Billy eyed him suspiciously, "Are you putting Mom down?"

Mr. O'Shea turned around quickly, "Certainly not!" He smiled, "I was attracted to all of her regions, but you do have to start somewhere."

Billy was going to say something, but Dean cut him off. "Better leave it alone, Bill."

Billy grinned, "Yeah, huh?" He turned to Aaron and me, "How about you guys? Where's the attraction?"

Aaron said cheerfully, "Oh, it's strictly cerebral with us. We're just eggs."

I gave him a questioning look, and he winked at me. I didn't know what to make of it, but I didn't want to ask in public either.

The doorbell rang and Dean ran out to answer it. When he came back, it was with a gangly kid carrying a guitar case, who he introduced as John Balls, which I hoped was a nickname. John was clearly a member of the Goth subculture, maybe even a founding member. He had spiked dark brown hair, wore makeup, and had enough metal stuck through various holes in his face to build a small car with. When he took off his long, black coat, everything under it was also black, except that his belt was chrome chain. He wore a Spirit tee shirt, had spiked bands on both wrists, silver and turquoise rings on a lot of his fingers, and when he spoke his damn tongue was pierced, too, with a little silvery ball right through the middle of it.


Dean and John had been planning to get together on guitars for a week, and this was it. Dean wanted to start a band, and John was his first choice to do it with. That's what he said, anyhow. He hadn't actually heard John play anything, but John had a reputation, as did Dean.

We followed them down to the basement where there was some equipment set up. I'd never seen Dean play his electric guitar before, so I was kind of intrigued. It took him and John another five minutes to get plugged in and tuned up together, then Dean started playing a song. John strummed along cautiously, then stepped up to a microphone and started singing. He did sing on key, but I didn't think I could listen to his voice for any length of time. It was coarse and raspy, and these uncomplimentary extra sounds kept creeping in, almost like he was coughing or groaning. If Bill Clinton could sing, it's probably how he would sound. Still, he was on key, and it was nice to hear Dean's good guitar work with an accompaniment.

John sang a few verses, then stepped back from the mike, and then they made magic. Dean started a lead, John watched and listened for a few measures, then he leaned back and dug in right behind Dean. What they were doing was loud, and it was awesome! It was good enough that I got excited, and that doesn't usually happen to me from listening to music. I looked at Aaron, and he also seemed mesmerized, as did Billy.

John never went back to singing, and they played on that jam for a good five minutes. When they finally stopped, it was clear that they'd amazed each other as much as they had us, and they laughed this loud, happy, surprised laugh for as long as they'd played to begin with.

Billy and I were clapping loudly and laughing ourselves, while Aaron just sat there with a stunned and happy look on his face, his mouth hanging open.

When things quieted down, John fussed with his tuning for a minute, this silly little smile stuck on his face, and Dean had a similar smile. Dean said, "Aaron, sing with us. This is great!"

"Go ahead, Aar," I said. "This is great."

Aaron's hesitant look turned into a broad smile, and he jumped up, always eager to perform. He looked around at what Dean had there, and picked up a tambourine, which he started bopping immediately while they talked over what song to try. Suddenly John was strumming, Dean was picking, and Aaron took a step back, banging on his tambourine.

John started into the song. His voice was still raspy, but not so gnarly, so I think that was something he could turn off. He sang a verse, then Aaron stepped up to the same mike. In a second, my mind was blown for the second time in ten minutes. Aaron sang a very close, very tight harmony with John, and his rich voice was the perfect offset for John's coarse one. It was beautiful music, and I felt tears in my eyes listening to them.

I watched Aaron and John, and I knew they could tell how good they sounded together. Their eyes were shiny with joy, as were Dean's.

They didn't belabor the song, and when it ended there was a second of silence, then John let out a whoop like a movie Indian.

Billy and I were both on our feet to share the excitement. John looked at Dean and said, "You don't need me, man!" He put his hand on Aaron's shoulder, "This is all the singer you'll ever need!"

Dean stared in disbelief, then finally said, "Screw you, John. You know that? You're fucking demented if you think Aaron and I could put on that show by ourselves." He stared at John, then added, "And what's this shit that you strum a little? Not many guys will ever knock you off the stage."

Billy spoke up, "You tell him, Dean! John, that was so totally awesome!"

I suddenly figured it out. John was shy, not used to praise, and he was almost cowering under a barrage of it. I said softly, "It sounded really nice, John. I hear these guys a lot, and you really do add to it ... a lot!"

He smiled, "Yeah? You think so?"

I nodded eagerly, and said, "I think so. Try something else, try something slow."

Dean and John both glowered at me, but Aaron said, "I know ..."

In another minute, Aaron was singing, Dean was strumming, and John was playing lead, on some pretty little song they all knew, but I didn't.

They played non-stop for another two hours, until John had to go 'absolutely, positively, no doubt about it'.

They played amazingly well, too, and everything they did had that feeling of magic about it. I didn't know music, really, but I knew what I liked, and I liked the heck out of what those guys were doing.

It's funny how your impressions of people could change. When John showed up he was Goth to the core, replete with the sullen looks that went with it. When he was putting his coat back on, he had this new look, and it said that he was totally pleased with himself. Dean was excited too, as was Aaron, because they'd all talked about a band, and about who knew who else that could play something.

I was easy with that idea, because I knew they could do it.

Dean didn't wire down all afternoon, and after John left we could hear him in the basement trying out his licks.

I sat upstairs talking to Billy and Aaron about all kinds of things, and we got these occasional, happy punctuation marks from the basement that made us all smile.

We did get serious for a while, because it was just a year since Billy's mother had died. This would be their second Christmas without her, and Billy seemed okay. The hurt was there, just beneath the surface, but he was handling it, and there wasn't anything other people could do. It was theirs to live with, Billy, and his father and Dean. They were all back to living their lives. Still, while we talked to Billy, I ended up feeling like he was the meat in a sandwich between us, and that he found comfort in being there.

At five o'clock, we headed out to Huck's house, all five of us. Aaron and I walked behind Billy, Dean and their father. We chose walking because it was so nice out. It hadn't snowed for a few days, but the lawns were still white and the walks were clear. People had Christmas lights and decorations out, and everything was pretty. There were a few snowmen around, and the whole neighborhood looked picture-perfect for Christmas time.

I'd met Huck's family during the summer, and I'd had a few meals there. They lived casually like everyone else during the summer, cooking their food on the outside grill, and most likely eating it outside, too.

We weren't all that close when I knew that things were different at Christmas. Most houses had a lit tree showing up through a front window, and a lot of houses had outside lights. Some were tasteful and some weren't, but that's how the neighborhood was. Until we got near Huck's, that is.

You could see the glow, right out to the road, from way up the street. When we got really close it was almost blinding.

There were people in my neighborhood who over-decorated. You'd see them out there in October, running wires, putting up auxiliary electrical panels. They mostly wasted electricity, I think, and some of those places ended up looking awful.

Huck's house was just unbelievable. Everything that could possibly be outlined in light was. Every wall, every eave, every door, every window, the porch railings, everything! The trees in the yard were lit, and there were these wire reindeer, and every wire was lit up to outline the beasts. I'd seen that, though. I'd seen all that. Even the wire Santa that was all lit up.

What I hadn't seen before, and what made me smile at the totality of the over-doneness, were the lights on the ground. Yes! The driveway, the walkways, the two steps up to the front door ... all outlined with lights, just like you'd see in a theater, or in an airplane that was busy crashing.

"Gaaaa!" I cried when we were there. I was both appalled and delighted. I didn't know what to think, because I found the ground lights fascinating, while I had to shield my eyes from everything else. I wasn't alone, either, because I heard Billy's dad mutter, "Kinky."

We were welcomed inside, though, and it was a lot tamer there. They had a really pretty tree, some electric candles in the windows, regular decorations like garlands, and that was it. Well, except that it smelled absolutely wonderful in there.

I had liked Huck's family from the beginning. His father sold Fords at the local dealership, and apparently did well. His mother worked at a bank. His little sister, Maisie, who was about the cutest thing on earth, had loved me from the day we met.

Huck's parents were from the Bahamas, and they both had traces of British accents. Thankfully, the kids hadn't picked that up, except for expressions.

Whatever went on outside with the lights, inside that house had to be one of the warmest, friendliest places in North America. Huck's mom was easily the best cook on the planet, too. I'd suspected that for some time, but now I was convinced. Dinner was roast beef, mashed potatoes, spinach and a lot of little things that went with it. The meat wasn't prime rib, but rump roast, and I don't think I ever tasted anything finer. It was perfectly rare, tender as a pat of butter, and seasoned just so. It was the kind of meal that would make anyone gladly become fat, and I marveled at Huck's restraint. He was a big boy, but far from overweight. I would have been roly-poly if I lived there, and from the way Aaron and Billy's family were putting it away, we could have started our own bowling league, with us as the balls.

After dinner, Maisie played the piano and we all sang Christmas carols, and lame as it sounds, it was a really nice time. Huck's and Billy's fathers both had some kind of shots of booze, but that wasn't offered around. The rest of us had cider, milk, or soda. And cake, really delicious carrot cake. And pie, both pumpkin and mince. And ice cream. Oh Lord, what a beautiful day it had turned out to be.

Huck's dad offered to drive us back, but we wanted to walk, and mostly to prove that we could still move a muscle. We were as bloated as five guys could be, and not a lot less so when Aaron and I stopped at his house.

It had been that kind of day, and everyone hugged. I hugged Billy's father, Dean, then Billy, and Aaron did the same.

We were happy people, full people ... very full, and it was Christmas time.

After the O'Shea guys left, we went into Aaron's own warm house. We shed our outer clothes, then poked our heads into the living room, but it appeared that everyone had gone to bed, so we did the same.

The next morning at breakfast, Aaron's father started asking what was going on with me at home, and I figured it was a good time to catch them all up on things.

"Well," I said, wiping a toast crumb off my finger, "things are really good with my parents. Ever since Thanksgiving they've been great about understanding me, and I'm finally not getting those looks every time I say something about being gay. I think they're finally in a place where it's just a part of my makeup." I grinned, "I hope to keep them in that place, too."

Aaron's dad smiled, "I kind of knew that. We talk a lot, you know, usually about you, and behind your back." He winked, "Believe it or not, your father is helping other people at PFLAG already." His face went serious, "It's not an easy thing for a parent to hear, Evan," he smiled at Aaron, "even when you suspect it, even expect it, it's not easy."

"Why do you think that is, Dad?" Justin asked. "I can see it with Evan, and I'd surprise you for sure if it was me, but," he smiled at Aaron and said, "No offense," and turned back to his father, "Aaron couldn't have been a huge surprise. He sure wasn't to me, and I didn't know much then."

His father sat back and took his chin between his thumb and forefinger. He thought for a moment, then said, "In our case, you're right, Justin. It wasn't a huge surprise, but still, there's a reality that comes with having a gay child. It's a different kind of reality than learning ... say ... oh, that your boy has some artist in him, or some athletic ability, or even that he's a real dummy." He smiled warmly at Aaron, who had a kind of petulant look on his face. "Don't give me that face, Aaron. I'm not trying to talk around you, just to answer a question."

Mrs. Castle had been cleaning up, and she approached saying, "People ... parents, that is, are always getting surprised by their children. Gay is a different thing, and there are different connotations attached. Even if learning for sure that your child is gay isn't a shock or a surprise, it still changes things, and the changes are what we, as parents, have to deal with. When people like Evan's parents learn that a boy like Evan is gay, and every bit as gay as our Aaron, then they have other things to deal with. It's sudden. It's a shock to the system. It's a lot of things, and none of them likely to engender any joy."

Mr. Castle said, looking at me, "You're lucky, Evan. Your folks denied you for some time. Not you the person, but they couldn't and wouldn't believe you were really gay. They never rejected you, though, never withheld their love from you. Still, and tell me if I don't have this right, their denial had to eat away at you. It must have really felt weird that they didn't believe you, and continued not to, even with Aaron there as the proof of the pudding."

I spoke up, "That was worse than weird. They thought I had this imagination thing going. God, like I could just dream it up and play a role. They were being nice to me, but I had this feeling that they were trying to drive me crazy, too. No, that's not right. They weren't trying to, but they were doing a good job, anyhow. "

Aaron's father smiled at me, "You're there now, Evan, and you all managed not to lose anything along the way. Heh, believe it or not, your folks weren't too hard to turn around, not compared to some I've seen."

I smiled myself. I actually felt closer to my family than before everything started. We were all more open with each other, even though that wasn't always so great. I didn't really need to know every single feeling someone was having for me, but I figured people would get tired of it soon enough, then we could be a pretty normal family.

"Is there anything new with the police, Evan?" Mrs. Castle asked. "Any news on the prosecution?"

I shook my head and sighed, "They don't tell me anything. I know more from television than from being involved."

That was true. For all its faults, television news had given us a pretty detailed picture of what had transpired in that house on Thanksgiving, and right up until the place blew up. The family of Mrs. Erasmus had the custom of taking turns with holidays, and that year it had been the McHughs' turn for Thanksgiving, and those who could make it showed up at the house in Mt. Harman. Leonard Erasmus was there with his wife and his son, Lee. His wife was the sister of the host. Things seemed normal to everyone, and the family was having a nice time getting ready for the big meal. Leonard stepped outside, saying he needed something from his car, and when he came back he was like a commando. He had two bandoliers of ammunition, two pistols in holsters, and a shotgun in his hands. He rounded the entire family up in the kitchen, talking crazy all the time about the bible. He fired a few blasts from the shotgun into the ceiling, most likely to intimidate, then he appeared to totally lose his mind. He fired shots, held guns to people's heads, made crazy phone calls, and kept screaming threats to everyone in the house.

Whenever he had to turn his back to the others, he'd do it with either his own son or one of the other children held close to him, a gun to the head. Nobody could stand, not even to use the bathroom, and after many hours they'd had to go where they were, in their clothes, with Thanksgiving dinner going to waste on the stove and in the oven.

Leonard got crazier, thinking the house was under attack by killer rabbits, and he sent the three little girls who lived there outside to draw them away, shooting guns out the window after them.

All along, he'd pick up the phone and make calls, and that's where he had demanded me, but nobody figured that out from the way he worded it.

By night, the police thought they could charge the place. The young girls had said there were no more kids in the house, but they were little, and considered Lee a man on the basis that his voice had changed. This is one place where Lee may or may not have been involved. When the police started firing on the house, Lee was in the living room firing out, with both a pistol and the shotgun, while his father fired from another room.

Herb told me privately that Lee was shooting because Leonard had his wife, Lee's mother, as his current hostage, threatening to blow her head off if Lee didn't shoot.

That was plausible to me, but I didn't count in any of this as far as the police were concerned. I was just a victim in previous crimes.

It continued through the night as a standoff, with Leonard Erasmus making phone calls, firing the occasional shot in the house, and steadily deteriorating mentally. By morning, he had decided to just blow up the house and everyone in it. He left Lee guarding the other sleeping people, and hurried to the basement, where he broke a gas pipe with an axe. Then he came upstairs and killed the flame in the oven, letting more gas escape.

Nobody knew why, but at the last minute, he sent everyone, including Lee, out of the house running, then he shot himself in the head, and the flash from the gun set the gas off. The whole house went sky high, in one of those TV pictures that was so spectacular that it went national within minutes.

I got the willies every time I thought of it.

Mt. Harman is a fair size town of around eighty thousand, and it has its own regular problems. Coldness to the plights of others wasn't one of them, and people were collecting money and supplies for the people who had lost their house even before the fire was out. Bruce and Chris went door to door in our own neighborhood, collecting mostly money, but also clothes for little girls where anybody had some.

Other than that, there wasn't a lot to know. That family had lost every material thing they owned, but they were intact and alive, and hopefully somewhere nice.

Mr. Castle's insurance company didn't have their policy, but he'd asked around where they did, and found out that they had pretty good coverage. Insurance money couldn't do anything for the trauma they'd been through, but the family wouldn't be financially broken.

I got a little weepy every time I thought about them, and I don't mean the part that involved me. That kind of thing shouldn't happen to begin with, but I'd seen those terrified little girls escaping, and I couldn't get that vision out of my head. The world could be a fucked up place sometimes.


Right then, my planets all seemed to be lined up right. I'd had one good day after another. If it weren't for the cops calling me all the time, I probably would have forgotten the whole thing. If I wanted to be an idiot, I could have stopped talking to them until they actually told me something from the other side, and I wasn't far from being like that. They could ask anything, and I was supposed to tell them. What I wanted to know, I had to learn from TV, or glean from their own innuendo.

I was tired of it, but that didn't put me in a bad mood. Aaron's parents left us alone, and our talk turned to school and grades for a minute. I was solid, as was Aaron, but Justin admitted to having problems in World History, and mostly with his teacher.

I couldn't offer up much. When your teacher doesn't like you, for whatever reason, you're pretty much dead meat. Justin didn't think it was that bad, and he was falling behind, not failing. We faded off into talking about basketball for a while. Justin was the star player at his school, and I was thinking about not even playing. I liked basketball ... I loved basketball, but it took up so much time, and just when everything else I liked was coming up. It was a lot, and I made up my mind right then that I wouldn't play on the school team.

We had pickup games, the Boys Club, the Y, even town league. I could play in any of those when I felt like it, and when I had time. The school played three, sometimes four games a week, and practiced when they weren't playing. If there was nothing else going on, I would have done it, but there were a lot of other things.

I was doing set construction for the school play, for one thing, and I was backup on the lighting. I joined the computer club, and they met once a week. I had homework, and I had Aaron, and I had friends to spend time with. I also had my family, and we were more of a unit than before, so spending time with them was important.

I'd play baseball in the Spring, and everything else would take a back seat to that for a while, but I couldn't do that twice in a year again. I'd play baseball because I had an inbred need to play that game. As much as I liked basketball, that need to play wasn't there, not nearly as strong as it was for baseball, anyhow.

I was all thought out, anyhow, and expecting whoever made the drive to pick me up at any time. Aaron took me to his room for some last-minute loving, and we were still at it when the doorbell rang. "Fuck!" I said.

"Don't stop," Aaron gasped.

I couldn't stop anyhow, and I didn't, and it was probably twenty minutes before we heard Justin at the door, asking, "Are you guys coming out? Alton and Bruce are here, and they've been here."

"Right now," I cried. "We'll be right out. Nobody said they were here!"

We could hear Justin snicker and walk away. At least we had him on our side. My brothers had been good, but I knew that Alton didn't care to think about me having any kind of sex with Aaron. That was fine with us, and fully understandable, too. Justin could joke about us, but he didn't want any details either, not a single one. Actually, Billy and Chris were the only ones who could say anything at all about gay sex and keep straight faces. They had both been, if not participants, at least recipients enough times that they knew what some of it was about. I guess it's all about education, even when it comes to things like that.

Aaron and I straightened our clothes and our hair, checked each other out for presentability, then headed downstairs. I wished his family a merry Christmas, then left with Alton and Bruce. I was going to celebrate Christmas with Aaron the day after, when he came to stay for a few days at my house.

The ride back to Mt. Harman was no easier than ever, but at least it wasn't slippery out. I wanted to stop at the doughnut place for lunch, but Bruce and Alton both voted for McDonald's, so we stopped at the one on the outskirts of Mt. Harman. Frankly, I didn't like McDonald's food, at least not their sandwiches. I swear, whenever I did break down and eat one, I could literally feel my arteries turning to aluminum, or something even harder. I got the chicken salad thing, which was tolerable with fat-free dressing. My brothers gleefully dug into their super-sized piles of saturated fat, unsaturated fat, and trans-fatty acids.

I did my best not to watch them, and ate my salad. It wasn't enough food, so I got a second one, which made it an expensive lunch. I was grumbling when we left, but not really in a bad mood. The value meals my brothers got were plenty of food for them, and they each spent less than half of what I spent, and I was still hungry. How much can leaves cost? I really resented that there was such a penalty to pay for not trying to kill yourself with what you ate.

At school, the meal I just had would have cost about two bucks, not ten, and I could have put it together myself with exactly what I wanted. I'll digress here, because Harman High has the best cafeteria system in the lower forty-eight states. You don't even have to take my word for it, because they were written up in Time magazine and other places. The space itself was exceptional. The exterior walls were floor-to-ceiling smoked glass, and they looked out over a close-in lawn area with lots of trees. In the big serving area, there was no single line, but rather stations. You got served by people at some, helped yourself at others. There were things they had every day, and daily specials. If you got something you normally liked to eat, you could be pretty certain that you'd like their version of it.

The main dining area wasn't one big space either. It was divided with permanent walls, and further divided with cork-board easels, and those had displays of student art, announcements, all kinds of things on them. There were even booths along the interior walls.

Eating there wasn't fine dining by any stretch, but it was a nice place and the food was good, and there was a huge variety. You could probably eat an unhealthy diet there if you put your mind to it, but they didn't make it easy. If you went to the grill for a cheeseburger, you'd have to wait in an entirely different line to get fries, while yummy looking melon slices would be right there in front of you.

There was an auxiliary cafeteria next to the school library, where you could get things that they'd prepared, but out of vending machines. It was the same food, so it was fine. You could bring a book in there to eat, but not food into the library. Finally, there was a little sandwich and salad bar just outside the gym, with a few tables to eat at. If your routine included swimming a few laps, or a game of racquetball, or using the exercise equipment at lunch, you could wait your turn right there and get lunch in the same place.

So, there you have it. Mt. Harman kids were spoiled on good food at school. Our cafeteria was known nationally as the best there was. We all knew someone from different towns, and heard their stories and complaints. You'd hear complaints in our school, too, but they'd be about some individual thing, or from somebody who wanted a burger and fries, but ran out of time. Otherwise, we were happy, and everyone else was jealous of us.

I sagged when we turned into our driveway, though, because Sgt. Donovan's car was there, so he had yet more questions for me.

"Fuck me," I groaned as we turned in. "Now what?"

"Easy boy," Alton mumbled, as he set the brake and turned the car off. "Threaten to send them a bill for your time or something."

Right, I thought.

Donovan was there with my father waiting for me, and he smiled his usual. He was too nice for me to be rude with him, but I was really tired of spilling every thought in my head and getting nothing back.

"Hi, Evan," he smiled when he saw me. "I hope you had a wonderful weekend with Aaron."

"I did," I smiled, caught off guard. No questions?

He reached down and picked up a piece of paper, like a parchment, then smiled warmly at me. "Evan, I know I've been a major pain to you lately, and I really hope to cut that out soon. In the meantime, and as a symbol of how much you've helped us, I'd like to give you this certificate of appreciation." He held it out and pointed at it, "Look, it's signed by the Chief and the mayor."

I took it in my hands and looked. It was the most official looking thing I'd ever had. I handed it to whichever brother was right there after admiring it, and smiled at Donovan. I opened my mouth to say something, but he stopped me, holding out something shiny. "It's an honorary shield, Evan. It's symbolic, but it'll get you into any PBA club in the country. It may also save you the fine for minor traffic problems."

I took the badge, which was nice and heavy and looked at it, then up at Donovan. "I'm a cop?"

He chuckled, "Honorary, Evan. That badge will get you respect from any policeman in the world. If you try to use it on anyone, though, it'll act just like the 'Go to Jail' card in Monopoly." His voice quieted, became more serious, "You're not a policeman, Evan, but you're a citizen that all policemen will respect and admire." I looked back at him, and he smiled brightly, "Especially this one."

My eyes welled up, but I didn't cry. I smiled instead, "Really?" and looked back at the badge. "Why me?"

Donovan looked down, "That's harder to answer. We don't hand out a lot of these things, yet this one seemed like a given." He looked up and smiled, "You're a strong lad, Evan. You take your knocks and come up looking for the next one. You carry your baggage like it weighs nothing, and you're laying a clear path for those who will follow you." I looked, and now Donovan's eyes were wet. "You're our boy, Evan. And if you're ready to promise that you can keep it to yourself, I'm ready to believe you, and tell you everything we know about this case." He grinned, "Sorta like a Christmas present."

I looked around. My father was still there, and my brothers were there.

I turned to Donovan, "Let me say hello to my mom, I'll be right back."

I went looking for my mother, and she was just coming out of my room. She smiled when she saw me, "Hi, Evan! Tell me about your weekend!"

I hugged her, "I will, Ma, but later, okay? Donovan's here from the police, and he's finally gonna tell me what's going on."

My mother squeezed me tighter, and whispered, "Are you sure you want to know?"

There was the question. Did I want to know?

Yes was the answer in this case. I knew why my mother asked, because she knew my news watching habits, which were to hear the headlines, then get the rest off the computer. I'd been like that for a few years, because it gave me a chance to get more than one slant on things. I liked to read the news more than get talked to anyhow, and especially as opposed to the network news. Those talking heads; Brokaw, Jennings and Rather, were always trying to tell me what I should think, and I hated that. I preferred the paper. Absent that, the regular CNN news was better.

I guess it's human nature to try to get people to think like you do, but that's not proper journalism, and I preferred to stay away from it.

When I joined Donovan again, we went up to the dining room to be alone.

I was ready to learn. I'd been in the dark for a long time, and going up the steps I asked, "Why now?"

Donovan glanced at me when we hit the landing, "You'll know when you hear it, Evan. You'll know."

Sgt. Donovan talked to me for about an hour, and there wasn't a happy word in anything he said. Leonard and Lee Erasmus attacked me because Leonard wanted to. He wanted to eradicate all known gays in our school, so I wasn't their only target, just their first one. Leonard's story was that knowing somebody gay was around stirred unhealthy memories in Lee of the time he was being abused.

It was complicated, to say the least, and it was the story of the implosion of a nice family. Nice by all accounts, anyhow. Leonard Erasmus was a civil engineer employed by the state. His wife also worked for the state, in the tourism department. They were model citizens; successful, friendly and popular. They were involved in a long list of civic affairs, active in their church, and active in the local Democratic party. Lee was said to be bright, friendly and energetic, with a lot of friends and, like his parents, he also engaged in a lot of activities.

Then a man named Charles Sugarman came along. He was fifty, an auto mechanic, and an utterly unremarkable individual. People who worked with him for years, people who lived near him ... none had much to say. He was a loner that most people considered to be a loser, so he was left alone. He didn't bother anyone, nor did he try to interact with people. He kept his property up, spoke when spoken to, and basically stayed out of the way. He had the paper delivered, contributed modestly when people came collecting for something, and turned off the outside light for Halloween.

Then one day, he murdered three boys he'd stumbled across, and stole the fourth boy who was with them. That was Lee Erasmus, ten years old at the time.

Charles Sugarman sexually abused Lee several times a day for months, in ways both sordid and horribly painful for the boy. Somehow during all that, he convinced Lee that he loved him. Astoundingly, Lee believed that, and returned the love. It became a bond, which included trust. Lee was allowed outside to play, while his 'grandfather' proudly watched over him.

At the time, of course, there had been a huge, nationwide search for Lee. His local police privately thought he was probably dead like the other boys, but without a body they kept the search on. It was Lee's parents who kept the pressure up, appearing on any television show that would have them, with pictures and videos of Lee.

One of Charles Sugarman's neighbors happened to watch one of those shows, and thought the new boy in the trailer park looked like the missing boy. She was careful. She taped the show, and looked at it a few more times, then got a good look at Lee the next morning. Then she called the local police, who arrested Charles Sugarman without incident, and they returned Lee to his home and his elated family.

That took Donovan a half hour to tell me. It was pretty much what I already knew ... the public knowledge part of it all. Harlan had been right when he said bonding like that could happen between abuser and victim. I didn't even pretend to understand how it could be, but Lee Erasmus claimed to love his abductor and abuser.

That's exactly what set Leonard Erasmus off, though. He was completely overjoyed to have Lee back home, even as damaged as he was. The boy was young, he thought. With love, proper care, the right counseling, he'd overcome everything and be fine.

That's when he learned of Lee's love for Charles Sugarman, and that's where he began to unravel. He'd spent the past months in a desperate, endless, sleepless search for his lost son. When he was finally returned home, it killed Leonard's heart to learn that his son's affections were now for the man who caused it all. People said Leonard seemed normal, so he kept his rage private, but he also bought some bullets for the pistol that he owned legally.

He only had to follow the news to learn when to strike. Sugarman lived over the state line, so he had to be extradited, which he didn't fight. Leonard simply went to the airport, followed the news cameras, and waited with them. When Sugarman was escorted into the arrivals area, Leonard shot five bullets into the man's chest before he was subdued. Two shots hit Sugarman's heart, and he was dead on the airport floor.

Leonard Erasmus was a hugely sympathetic man with the public. The State's attorney had an iron-clad case for first-degree murder, and he didn't even try for it in the face of public opinion. Leonard was charged with what amounted to justifiable homicide, the mildest charge they could find.

The court case was a no-brainer. Leonard pled guilty and was sentenced to five years, three on probation. He still had to go to prison, and as a man who wasn't a criminal by nature, he had a very hard time in the general population of the state penitentiary. He changed further in jail. He fixated on Lee and 'fixing things up' when he got out, and when he finally did, Lee had changed.

When the bad things happened, Lee was a boy. What he knew about sex was playground gossip, tree house talk. When he was finally returned home, he knew more about it than any child his age should, and not because he'd been asking questions. He was well versed in the things a man could do to a boy, and the ways the boy could reciprocate.

When Leonard got out of prison, he went right back to work for the state, complete with seniority and all benefits, just like he'd been there all along. That may have been costly to taxpayers, but it was a testament to how people esteemed Leonard Erasmus.

There was a new problem, and that was Lee. He was a young teenager by then, and all too aware of sex. He wasn't gay, but he had that past, and it wouldn't always leave him alone. When he was taken, his name was all over the news, and his family kept it in the public eye until he came home. Then people learned what had happened to him, that he was the victim of sexual abuse in the form of homosexual acts.

It didn't happen often, but his name would occasionally stir a memory in someone, and he'd suddenly be pegged as gay because of things that had happened to him. People who did that weren't right to begin with, and they weren't fair, or even moral when they did.

According to Leonard's thinking, that gave Lee this deathly fear of gays. He was convinced that somebody like me, who he didn't know, would think his son was 'easy' and go for his pants given any opportunity. He didn't have much to fear in Catholic school. If anyone there admitted to being gay, they'd be gone the same day. Now he was in high school, though, and his uncle had inadvertently notified Lee and his father that I was gay and in the same school.

That's basically what Donovan took as the truth.

Lee's stories, which were all they had to go by about the attack on me at school, and the next day at home, weren't consistent. All the rest of this is filled with Lee's views, and nothing to verify them. Donovan didn't know if they'd ever get the real truth, because Lee was very emotional after the death of his father. He couldn't even explain the inconsistency. Lee could be lying, or he could be uncertain, or he could be influenced by other things like his medication.

The story most often told had Lee getting picked up late after school, and the two of them just happening to see me exit the building. When they realized they were alone, Leonard just set on me in a rage, stabbing me over and over with his pocket knife, which he should have known would be ineffectual. They left me thinking I'd bleed to death if nothing else.

They actually had the nerve to go to the hospital a few hours later, and saw from a distance when I walked out with my mother. That totally enraged Leonard, and he stayed up all night seething. Then, according to Lee, he forced his son to go with him to 'finish the job'. Leonard emptied his pistol into our house from the driver's seat, while Lee shot first one, then the other barrel of a twelve-gauge shotgun. They sped off, not knowing anything, but fully expecting to hear about it on the news.

When that didn't happen, they came back through our neighborhood in a different car, saw all the emergency vehicles there, and they waited. When they finally brought me out to the ambulance, they congratulated each other, because they were certain I was dead. Otherwise, I'd have been rushed to the hospital, but this was hours later.

They drove to the hospital, staying out of sight of the ambulance and police, and waited until the ambulance left, then they went home. This is where Detective Munro had been so insightful, although Donovan thought if Munro ever envisioned the events of Thanksgiving he would have tried something else.

Leonard and Lee listened to a news channel on the radio, turned on the local station every time the news came on television, and there was nothing. They drove to a pay phone that night, and Lee called the hospital asking to talk to me, and heard that the hospital knew nothing about me.

By then I was at Harlan's. Whisked away, so to speak, but gone far and gone good.

According to Lee, it made his father go from bad to worse, to the point that he was fixated on me. When he couldn't learn a thing, it made him even crazier. Lee was the only one who saw the craziness, though, according to him. His public father was still the model of charm and contentedness, while in private he was pulling his hair out.

Lee claims to have been abused himself from that point on. Not sexually, but mentally. His father would wake him up with a gun in his ear, hold the barrel of a loaded gun in his mouth, toss a box of bullets loose on the floor and have Lee chase after them.

It was all bizarre. Lee, according to Lee himself, was as intimidated as anyone on Thanksgiving when his father flipped for the last time. He was the most frequently threatened, and by then his fears were for his mother, because Leonard was doing the same to her as to Lee.

Donovan painted a pretty maniacal scene at the end, with Leonard Erasmus, former model citizen, as mad and looney as Jack Nicholson in 'The Shining'.

I felt numb. The prosecutor thought his case against Lee was tight, and that there was sufficient cause to pursue charges as an adult.

As much as it all involved me, I still thought that was bogus, and I asked Sgt. Donovan, "What do you think? I don't know Lee, but I know two things about him. First and foremost, he's not an adult! He's fourteen years old." Donovan winced at my vehemence. "Second," I said, "His life doesn't suck right now because of anything he started! I mean, can you say victim?"

Donovan looked at me with a sad smile, his wise old eyes exploring mine. After a long pause he said, very softly, "Evan, that was well spoken." His smile brightened, "You know, this will sound strange, but Lee Erasmus is much like you. He's smart and passionate about things, and in his own way he's honest." He smiled again, "I have a built-in lie detector, and Lee doesn't try to lie, but there are times where he doesn't know the truth, so he chooses a convenient one."

"Don't we all," I muttered.

Donovan looked at his watch, "I'm leaving, Evan." He patted my wrist, "You enjoy that certificate and shield. You've earned them."

"What about Lee?" I asked.

"I don't know, Evan. I'll pass your thoughts to the prosecutor, but you should know that they won't mean much. He will prosecute as he sees fit. When he goes to change Lee's status to adult, there'll be a hearing. You may be called there, and you can voice your thoughts. If you're not called, then there will be the trial. If it does end up in adult court, then you'll be called to testify."

"If it's not in adult court?" I asked hopefully.

Donovan stood and stretched, then shrugged, "Those are closed proceedings, but they'll want to talk to you." His eyes narrowed, "Don't get too involved, Evan. You have your own life, and it's a good one. I can promise you one thing, and that's that nobody, and I mean nobody is trying to harm Lee Erasmus. He's at home, and he's in a new school. It's his own behavior that's gonna decide things from now on."

I said, kind of acidly, "Don't forget, he saw his father commit suicide on national television."

"I won't." He suddenly grinned and hugged me, "Evan, you've gone from missing child to a trusted friend." He beamed, "Don't worry about Lee. I'll be on his case now."

He left shortly, and I felt ambivalent about all I'd learned. I don't know why I cared about Lee Erasmus, but I did. I don't know why I wanted him out of adult court, but I did. I couldn't figure how much had to happen to a person before it was enough. I didn't know Lee, and I couldn't even tell you what he looked like, much less what he was like as a person. Still, there was a feeling rising in me that I'd do what I could to help him.

Even though he tried to kill me, and probably would hate me for being gay.

People aren't born to hatred, they learn it, and Lee Erasmus had come on his hatred for gays in the worst way imaginable.

I called Chris as soon as I got to my room.

He was excited at my voice. "Hey, sweetheart, what's up?"

I laughed, "Chris, you know I love you. Admit that you love me back, and I'll tell you a story."

Chris snickered, "I'll do you one better, Evie. I'm coming over, right now."

I wasn't surprised about that, and Chris showed up in just a few minutes. We disappeared up to my room as fast as we could. I pushed Chris down on the bed, then laid beside him.

"Chris," I started, "Did you know I was a saint?"

He started wheezing before I even got going, so I had to continue. "All those blow jobs ... you knew I was underage ... hell, I still am! Still, you persisted, and I think you should be tried as an adult."

"Me?" Chris asked weakly. "Why an adult? And aren't you the perverted one? I'm an innocent victim here."

"You are, Chris." I kissed at his hair, "And thanks." I closed my eyes and smiled.

Chris asked, "Thanks for what?"

"Thanks for helping me see."

"That's what I do," Chris said cheerfully. "Open your eyes, it works every time."

I kept my eyes closed and said, "It works this way, too. With open eyes, you get what's there. When they're closed, you can kind of manufacture whatever you want to see."

"What are you seeing now?" Chris asked.

I sighed and smiled, "Your mouth opened in a nice, big O, your lips shining, your eyes all desirous."

Chris wasn't making a sound, but he was bouncing a little, and when he finally spoke it was to say, "I see. You envision me as a mirror image of yourself. That's really sweet, Ev."

"You think?"

I started laughing when Chris tickled his way up my leg with a finger. He said, "This is the fire engine on the way to a fire. When you want it to stop, say red light."

I was seriously giggling when he was halfway along my thigh, and called out, "Red light. Red light!"

Chris said, "Fire engines don't stop for red lights," then he goosed me and jumped off the bed laughing.

I sat bolt upright at his touch. I almost yelled at him, but had a better thought. "I don't get it, Chris," I said as I laid back down, closing my eyes again. "It's your joke, so don't tell me, just do it again 'til I figure it out myself."

Continued ...

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