Neil sat down on the side of the bed, dug around in his backpack and pulled out a clean tee shirt. As he pulled it over his head, he could feel something wet tickling his leg. He started laughing after he pulled his shirt down. “Midas,” he giggled as he reached down and hugged the large dog. The retriever wagged his tail as he continued to lick Neil in the face.
Neil asked the dog, “Ready for dinner?” Midas barked once and headed out the door. Neil trailed behind until they got to the kitchen.
Dwight was setting the last plate on the table. He looked up at Neil and said, “I see Midas came and got you.” He reached down and patted the dog on the head. When he said, “Good Boy,” the dog sat and waited for the treat that Dwight pulled from his pocket.
Neil exclaimed, “He’s really smart.”
“Of course he’s smart,” responded Dwight as he scratched the dog behind the ears and asked, “Who’s your Daddy?” Neil laughed when the dog let out a sharp bark.
Just then, Brian walked into the kitchen and asked, “What’s so funny?”
Neil replied jokingly, “Dwight was telling me how smart Midas is because he’s his daddy.”
Brian rolled his eyes and replied sarcastically, “More like his bitch. He does everything that dog wants.”
Neil blushed and looked away when Dwight walked over to Brian, kissed him and said, “You don’t complain when I’m your bitch.”
Brian playfully pushed Dwight away. When he saw how embarrassed Neil was, he quickly apologized. “I’m sorry, Son.” He looked at Dwight and said, “We need to be more careful.”
Neil shook his head. “No, Dad,” he said. “It’s okay. I just have to get used to it is all.”
“That’s right,” laughed Dwight as he walked up and put his arm around Neil. “Besides, we’ll probably see this one swapping spit someday with his boyfriend.”
Neil stepped back and gave Dwight an astonished look. “You know I’m gay?”
Dwight laughed and pulled Neil back into a hug. “Honey,” he replied. “There is no way your father would have walked through that door and told you we were married if you weren’t gay. He’s kept me a secret for so long, I was beginning to think we were just roommates.”
“That wasn’t my doing,” responded Brian. “Brenda wanted to protect the kids.”
“Well, the barn door is open now,” remarked Dwight as he leaned over and kissed Brian on the lips.
“Ew,” giggled Neil as he pulled away from Dwight’s embrace. “You two need to get a room.”
Dwight reached out and grabbed Neil around the waist. “You’re just jealous,” he laughed as he leaned in and pretended he was going to kiss Neil on the lips.
“Ew, gag,” giggled Neil as he pulled away. “Who wants to kiss an old man?”
“Hey!” shouted Dwight as he posed and showed Neil his biceps. “Just hope you look this good when you get to be my age.”
Neil grabbed his stomach and began howling when his father remarked, “When he gets to be your age, he’ll be wheeling himself around in a nursing home.”
Dwight stuck out his tongue and replied, “Just remember. I’m only one year younger than you.” He walked over to the table and sat down. “Now eat,” he said as he pointed to the plates, “Before your dinner gets cold.”
Neil sat and looked at the plate of food in front of him. “Wow,” he exclaimed excitedly, “this looks good. What is it?” The plate contained what looked like a large chicken breast. It was sliced, and it appeared stuffed with other food. The plate also contained wild rice and fresh green beans with pearl onions. He cut a piece of the chicken, smelled it and then cautiously took a bite. Dwight smiled when he murmured, “Yummy,” and cut off a larger piece.
Dwight smiled and asked, “Like it?”
“Mmmm,” replied Neil as he continued to eat. “What is it?”
“Chicken cordon bleu.”
“What’s that?” asked Neil as he took another bite. “This is good.”
“Chicken breast stuffed with ham and Swiss cheese.”
Brian and Dwight laughed as they watched Neil devour the dinner. Dwight jokingly asked Neil, “Doesn’t your mother feed you?”
“Yeah,” replied Neil with a mouth full of chicken. “But her idea of chicken is KFC.”
“Yuck,” grimaced Dwight. “Might as well eat of bucket of lard.”
“I like KFC,” responded Neil as he held up his fork with a piece of chicken on it, “but it’s nothing like this.”
“Of course not,” replied Dwight as he rolled his eyes. “I’m a gourmet cook and they are.. they are... eighteen year olds who drop chicken into a vat.”
As they ate, Brian attempted to catch up on Neil’s life. He asked him what he did during the summer. However, he avoided the incident at the barn. He could detect, though, how sad Neil became when he talked about the things he did with his friends, especially Owen. Brian noted that he talked about them in the past tense, as if they were no longer his friends.
When they finished eating, Dwight suggested that they go swimming for a little while. Neil asked, “Aren’t we supposed to wait an hour after we eat?”
Dwight laughed and replied, “They say that so little kids won’t puke in the pool.” He rose and started cleaning dishes from the table.
Brian yawned and said, “You two kids can go play.” He rubbed his stomach and added, “This old man is going to go to sleep for a little while.”
Dwight winked at Neil and remarked, “See what I have to deal with. Don’t ever grow old.”
“I don’t plan to,” laughed Neil as he began to help Dwight clear the table and take dishes to the kitchen. Dwight told him he didn’t have to help, but Neil insisted and said it wasn’t fair that he had to cook the meal and then clean up afterwards.
Dwight looked at Brian and said, “See. Someone around here has some consideration for others.”
Brian turned and started to walk out of the dining room. Before leaving, he put his hand behind his back and flipped Dwight off. “Consider this,” he laughed as he left the room.
* * * * * * * *
When Sam made her way to the back of the bus, she glanced quickly at Owen. He was staring up intently at her as she passed. When she sat down, he got up and sat in the seat in front of her. When the bus began to roll away from the school, he turned toward her. “Hi, Sammy,” he said nervously.
Sammy rolled her eyes and looked away. She asked sarcastically, “Don’t you have a rock you have to crawl back under?”
Owen rose and sat down beside her. “Listen, Sammy,” he pleaded. “None of this is my fault.”
“Liar,” she hissed as she stared out the window. “That was your phone that awful text message came from.”
He turned and tried to get her to look him in the face. “I didn’t do that,” he insisted. “I swear to God. Lucas took my phone and did it.”
She stared into Owen’s eyes. “But you gave him the phone to do it, didn’t you?”
“He was going to kick my ass if I didn‘t,” replied Owen.
She turned and looked at Owen again. “So,” she asked. “Neil didn’t really do what you said he did?”
“No,” he replied as he shook his head. “He did it, but it isn’t like what everybody thinks. We was just clowning around, is all.”
Sammy asked angrily, “Then why don’t you tell people that? You have everyone thinking Neil is gay.”
“Cause Lucas don’t want us to,” he replied.
“Jesus, Owen,” hissed Sammy. “Does Lucas control all you guys? Don’t any of you have a brain of your own?”
Owen slunk down in the seat and looked away. “He’s bigger than us,” he mumbled softly. “He’ll hurt us if we don’t do what he says.”
Sammy looked over at Owen and said angrily, “That’s about the most cowardly thing I think I’ve ever heard anyone say.”
Owen sat up and pleaded, “You don’t understand, Sammy. Lucas is crazy sometimes. He’ll hurt me or any of the guys if we don’t do what he says.”
Sammy looked out the window and mumbled, “Fucking pussies.” She then looked angrily at Owen. “So you’re letting Neil suffer because you can’t stand up and tell Lucas to go fuck himself?” Owen looked away and didn’t reply.
Sammy rose and pushed Owen out of her way. “I’m moving,” she hissed angrily as she stepped over him to get out into the aisle. “It smells like a dead skunk back here.”
As she headed down the aisle, she heard Owen say, “You don’t understand, Sammy. Lucas is crazy.”
* * * * * * *
Dwight was sitting on the edge of the pool with his feet in the water when Neil walked out of the family room and onto the pool deck. He stopped and stared down at Dwight’s strong back. Dwight turned when he realized Neil had come outside.
“There you are,” he smiled. He let his body slip into the warm water. He looked up at Neil and asked, “Well, aren’t you coming in? The water feels great.”
Neil’s face reddened as he slowly opened his bathrobe. Even though he had swum for years at the creek with his friends, he felt embarrassed with Dwight staring up at him. When Dwight went under the water and swam to the other side, he disrobed and jumped into the water.
The water felt warm on his body. He treaded water a moment until he was startled by a splash of water to his face. “Hey!” he shouted. When he turned, Dwight splashed him in the face again. He and Dwight began a battle to see who could splash the other the most. They both laughed as they playfully circled the pool. Dwight was the first to call a truce. He swam to the side of the pool, jumped up and sat down. Neil dog paddled over and pulled himself beside him.
Dwight asked, “Can’t you swim?”
“Not really,” replied Neil “I swim at the creek with the other guys, but none of us can swim very good.”
Dwight replied, “I’ll have to teach you.” He looked at Neil and smiled. “That sound good to you?”
Neil could feel his face starting to blush. He had never been attracted to an older man before, but Dwight was extremely good looking. Even though he was in his late thirties, he had a boyish appearance. He was close shaven with no facial hair. His blond hair was cropped short, and his body had very little fat. Even though he was tall, his slight built made him appear smaller. When he lay back, Neil let his eyes wander down to the obvious protrusion in his swimming suit. He had to slide into the water to hide the erection that was quickly building inside his trunks. When Dwight sat back up, Neil held on to the side of the pool and kicked his legs in the water.
Dwight smiled down and said, “Your father is really happy you’re here. He talks about you guys all the time.”
Neil asked surprisingly, “He does?”
Dwight let his lanky body slip into the water beside Neil. “Of course,” he replied. “I don’t know if he tells you, but he loves you, Brett and Emily.”
Dwight laughed and said, “Why does that surprise you?”
Neil shrugged his shoulders and replied, “It’s just that we don’t see him all that much.” He then turned and started to dog paddle away. Dwight swam beside him until they reached the other side.
They both held on the side and stared at each other. “I know this is hard for you to understand,” said Dwight. “To you, he just left one day and wasn’t there anymore. You probably thought he abandoned you.”
Neil pulled himself away and dog paddled to the other side. Dwight sighed, turned and did the backstroke beside him. When they got to the other side, he told Neil, “I was there after he left. I saw how it tore him up.”
Neil took a deep breath and replied as tears filled his eyes, “He wasn’t the only one who got tore up.”
Dwight reached out and pulled Neil toward him. “He’s a different man today,” he said softly. “He’s happy, and all he wants is for you to be happy, too.”
“Don’t think that’s going to happen,” responded Neil as he pulled away and started dog paddling across the pool. Dwight waited until he got to the other side before he swam across to him.
He asked Neil, “You want to talk about it?”
“About whatever it is that brought you here this week?” He looked into Neil’s eyes and said, “All I know is you got suspended and Brian thought it would be best if you came here to spend a week with us. I didn’t even know you were gay until you came through the door with Brian.”
Neil replied, “He didn’t know. I never told no one.”
“So,” asked Dwight. “Want to talk about whatever is bothering you?”
“Nope,” replied Neil as he started to dog paddle away. This time Dwight didn’t follow him. He climbed out of the pool, sat down in a lounge chair, and closed his eyes. Minutes later, he could hear Neil paddling back across the pool. He listened as Neil climbed out of the water and plopped down in a chair beside him.
They sat quietly for several minutes. He heard Neil clear his throat and admit in a whispered voice, “I sucked a friend, and he told everyone about it. Now everyone hates me at school.”
Dwight turned on his side and faced Neil. Neil wiped a few tears away from his eyes as he looked out onto the pool. He asked, “Why did you get suspended?”
Neil sighed and admitted, “Some of the guys were bullying me. I stood up to one of them, and called him some bad names in class. So I got suspended for ten days for starting a fight.”
Dwight responded, “That doesn’t seem very fair.”
Neil shrugged his shoulders and said, “It’s okay. I didn’t want to go back to school anyway.”
“So, what are you going to do?” asked Dwight. “You have to go back someday.”
Neil shrugged his shoulders again. “I guess I’ll keep getting suspended until I get expelled. Then I won’t have to go anymore.”
Dwight laughed slightly and asked, “Have you discussed this brilliant plan with your father or Brenda?”
Neil looked away and replied, “Nope.”
Dwight stood and held his arms out to Neil. “Come here,” he said soothingly. Neil hesitantly stood and let Dwight embrace him. “We have to get you a better plan,” he suggested with a slight laugh.
He suddenly picked Neil up over his head, and then tossed the screaming boy into the water.
* * * * * * *
The elderly security guard wandered through the abandoned building flashing his light into hallways and secluded corners. Occasionally, he would stop, pull a dirty handkerchief from his pocket and blow his nose. “Damn cold,” he muttered to himself as he blew his nose again.
Suddenly, his flashlight outlined the body of someone under a cardboard box. He crept slowly over to inspect. He feared that someone had tossed a dead body inside the building, and they had used the box to try to hide it. He took his radio and held it to his lips. He whispered softly, “This is Officer Crews. I’m at the old Warner Building on Lennox Street. Better get someone over her quick. I think I’ve got a corpse here.”
He then stepped closer to the body to see if he could see who it might be. He was startled when he flashed his light into the face of a young man and his eyes blinked several times. He nervously removed a taser gun from his holster and pointed it at the boy.
He hollered, “What are you doing here?”
The boy’s eyes opened wider, and he began to look around. He looked up at the guard and asked, “Who are you?”
The guard’s hand quivered as he ordered, “Stand up, and don’t you try to pull anything stupid. If you do, I’ll taze you.”
The boy threw back the box that was covering him and rose to his feet. He blinked his eyes several times as he tried to remember where he was.
After running from his grandmother’s house, Lucas wandered around the city for several hours before finally kicking in the door of an abandoned building to seek shelter for the night. He knew the streets weren’t a safe place for someone his age. He also didn’t expect to be awakened by a guard in the middle of the night.
“I asked you, Boy,” asked the guard sternly, “What are you doing here?”
Lucas attempted to explain, “I just wandered in here to sleep for a bit. I ain’t done nothing wrong.”
“Ain’t done nothing wrong? The guard took a step closer as he flashed his light into the face of the large boy. “You are trespassing on private property.”
Lucas took a step away from the guard and said, “Then I reckon I best be leaving.”
The guard nervously pointed his taser at Lucas. “You ain’t going nowhere,” he warned. “The police should be here any minute.”
Lucas approached the guard in a threatening manner. “I ain’t done nothing for you to call the cops,” he stated angrily. “I just came in here to get some sleep.”
“Back up, Boy,” warned the guard as he readied his taser. When Lucas took another step towards him, he shot him once in the chest. The large boy instantly fell to the ground in a convulsive fit. “I warned you, Boy,” remarked the guard as he stood over Lucas with his gun ready to shoot another laser if he needed to in order to keep the boy from escaping.
Just then, two police officers approached with their guns drawn. They stepped up to Lucas and looked down. “What you got here, Jake?” One of the officers asked as he shone his flashlight into Lucas’s face. The other knelt down and quickly handcuffed him.
The elderly guard put away his taser and replied, “Got another trespasser. Makes the third one this month.”
The officer remarked as he pulled Lucas to his feet, “This one looks younger than the others.” He then pulled on the tall boy and started leading him away.
* * * * * * * *
Neil was lying across his bed watching a movie on HBO. He enjoyed the quiet. It wasn’t like home where he had to share a room with Brett. Suddenly, his father called from the family room. “Neil, you have company!”
“Company?” thought Neil. “No one knows I’m here.” He jumped from the bed, trotted down the hallway. He suddenly stopped when he saw Sammy standing in the family room.
“Hey,” he said. “Why are you here?”
His father was standing nearby and started to laugh. “Is that anyway to treat a beautiful, young girl?”
Neil looked at his father and said, “Sorry, Dad.”
Brian laughed again, walked over to his son and put his arm around his back. “I’m not the one you should be apologizing to.” He pushed Neil closer to Sammy. “Why don’t you kids go into the living room. I’ll have Dwight dish up some snacks.”
Sammy smiled and replied, “Thank you, Mr. Michaels.”
“Please, Sammy,” insisted Neil’s father, “Call me Brian.” He winked at Neil and then headed into the kitchen.
Neil nervously asked Sammy, “What are you doing here? How did you find me?”
Sammy pulled a heavy book bag off her shoulder and let it drop to the floor. “I got your assignments for you. I took them by your house, but your mother told me you were here.” She turned and headed into the living room. Neil picked up the book bag and trailed behind her.
Neil asked, “How did you get here?”
Sammy explained, “My mother brought me.” She looked up at the clock. “I only have a half hour before she comes back to get me.” When she sat on the sofa, Neil walked over and sat beside her.
He dropped the book bag on the floor and asked, “I thought I couldn’t do work while I was suspended.”
Sammy grinned and replied, “That’s what they want you to believe. However, school policy says you can. I looked it up on the internet.”
“How did you get the teachers to give you the assignments?”
“I just asked them,” she giggled. “It wasn’t a problem. They all like you anyway, so they readily agreed.”
“Of course,” smiled Sammy. “Not everyone at the school is an asshole.” She smiled again at Neil and added, “Ms. Shelton told me to tell you hi. She is really worried about you.”
Sammy asked, “Why are you so surprised?”
Neil shrugged his shoulders. “I just thought everyone would hate me after what I did.”
Neil was surprised when Sammy reached over and held his hand. “It’s not as bad as you think,” she assured him. “Even Owen feels sorry for what he did to you.”
Neil gave Sammy a surprised look and asked, “He does?”
Just then, Dwight appeared at the door and said, “Come into the kitchen, Kids. I just cut into a peach cobbler.”
Sammy gave Neil a puzzled look and asked, “Who’s he?”
Neil rose as he still held Sammy’s hand. He pulled her to his feet and said, “I’ll explain later.”