“There ain't no sin and there ain't no virtue. There's just stuff people do.”
― John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath
“What is that?” Trent asked as he thumbed through the papers on Mr. London’s desk. “Who were those men?” Just then, Mr. London stuck his head in the door and asked if we were okay and if he could come in. Trent looked at me and I nodded.
I looked at Trent and asked, “Do you remember me telling you about the old man I lived with when I ran away the second time?” He said he did. “I left when he died and moved out. That’s when I started living on the streets.”
“What does that have to do with those two men.” Mr. London reached for the papers on his desk and asked me if I would give him permission to look at them. I nodded my head and continued talking.
“They told me when Uncle Teddy, that was what I called him, when he died, he left a will in a dresser drawer. He said I was his beneficiary.” Trent’s eyes widened in surprise.
Mr. London let out a low whistle and asked, “Is this the amount he left you?” I nodded my head. Trent rose and looked over Mr. London’s shoulder.
“Holy shit!” he exclaimed. “He left you over four hundred thousand dollars?”
“I suppose,” I replied. “That’s what they said.” I explained that I had to be fingerprinted before it could be official.
“Matt,” said Mr. London. “This is too much money for you to be dealing with by yourself. If you don’t mind, I’m going to have the lawyer for the center look over everything and advise you what you need to do. I think the first thing you may need is a financial advisor. He might be able to recommend someone.”
“Thank you, Mr. London,” I responded appreciatively.
I really didn’t want the money. My life was beginning to turn around. I had Trent, and I had a job I liked at the center. Possessing so much money could only complicate things. However, right now I didn’t have any money. I had only received one paycheck, and it wasn’t very much. I could at least be able to help Trent out with the household expenses.
Mr. London warned, “For the time being, let’s keep this to ourselves. There are a lot of people out there who will try anything to get their hands on this much money. Wait until it is safely in a bank before you go talking about it.” We both told him we agreed.
When we left Mr. London’s office, Trent grabbed my hand and spun me around in the hallway. “I’m so happy for you, Matt. If anyone deserves something like this to happen to them, you do. Your life was ruined for five years. Maybe this will make up for it.”
I replied sadly, “There is no amount of money that will make up for what I lost.”
He pulled me into an alcove and kissed me. “But look what you’ve gained,” he said as he kissed me again.
When we got home that night, we spent the evening talking about what I should do with the money. Trent was worried that I might stop working at the center. I assured him that I had no intention of doing that. He suggested that I deposit some of the money in a bank account and set up a monthly withdrawal. He figured I could probably live comfortably on the money for the rest of my life if I watched what I spent. The rest, he suggested that I invest. I told him that I wanted to donate a portion of it to the center and other organizations that help the homeless. He thought that was an excellent idea, and we would talk to the financial advisor Mr. London’s attorney suggested about it.
When we went to bed, I had a difficult time sleeping. My life had changed so fast the past month, and I think my mind was beginning to catch up. When I lived on the street, I never thought of a brighter future. I lived day to day with no thought of tomorrow. Now, I had Trent, and I had a secure financial future. I knew it would take me time to adjust to that realization.
The next few weeks were overwhelming. Since I hadn’t had much formal education, I was lost in the things going on around me. Mr. London was calling me into his office almost daily to tell me about an interview someone wanted to do with me or an organization that wanted me to give a presentation. In addition, I was starting classes for my GED.
One day, Mr. London called me into his office, and Roberts and Abernathy were there. Mr. Wagner was also in attendance. Mr. London’s lawyer friend had introduced me to him, and we had met a few times. He was a financial expert at a local bank, and he was advising me what I should do with such a large sum of money. The probate court approved the will, and I was officially Uncle Teddy’s beneficiary. They had spoken to Mr. Wagner, and the money had already been transferred to the bank. Mr. Wagner gave me a folder stating how the money was being directed into a saving account and an investment portfolio. I didn’t understand most of it. They assured me that everything had been properly taken care of. The only thing I understood is when Mr. Wagner handed me a credit card from the bank, and he told me that I could use it for whatever I wanted. He told me I would have to come see him for an approval for any large purchase or donation.
That night, I took Trent to the best steak restaurant in town. After gorging on steak and a bottle of expensive wine, we went home and made love for hours.
A week later, tragedy struck. When I went to work, Mr. London called me and Trent early one morning and asked us if we would meet him in his office when we arrived. I had a sinking feeling that he was going to give us some bad news. I was right. He informed us that Hayden’s parents had been granted custody of Hayden, and a court official arrived late in the evening and took him home. He said Hayden tried to resist, and it took them about a half hour to convince him he had no choice. When he left, he was hollering that he was going to run away and no one would ever see him again.
I started crying. Even though I had been preparing myself that this might happen, it still upset me. Recently, Hayden had been so happy. He brought me joy every time I saw his beaming smile. And I was going to miss his hugs. Trent and Mr. London also seemed upset. However, they had experienced this before, so they were better prepared than I was.
I spent the rest of the day in a deep depression. I knew it was wrong to feel like this because I had been warned that dealing with youth at the center, I would often experience heartache. Students come and go all the time. It was something that I would have to learn to deal with.
However, Hayden was like a little brother to me. He was the reason I was recovering from my past. I loved him, and the thought of never being able to see him again hurt deeply.
I moped around for several days. Trent tried to cheer me up, but I couldn’t smile. I had a hole in my heart that couldn’t be repaired. I began to tell myself that I wasn’t cut out to help others. I become too personally involved. Mr. London kept telling me that others wanted to hear what I had to say, but my heart was no longer in it. I was going to work and classes, but I felt I was wandering aimlessly. Trent was worried about me, but even he couldn’t cheer me up. One Saturday night, he suggested that we go back to the Ramrod. He thought that I needed to get away from things. I refused, and I ended up going to bed and curling up into a ball and crying.
Two weeks after Hayden was forced to return home, Trent’s phone rang in the middle of the night while we were sound asleep. When he turned on the light and sat up in bed, I knew something had happened. He kept asking when and where, but I couldn’t make out the conversation.
When he hung up, he looked nervously at me. “That was Mr. London. Hayden has been reported missing. He ran away tonight, and on one knows where he is.”
“Oh, no!” I cried. “I just knew this was going to happen. Did Mr. London say why he ran away?”
He replied, “Hayden and his father got into a big argument. It got physical, and the police were called. His father has been arrested. Hayden ran from the house before the police arrived. His mother says he could need medical attention. He had a deep gash on his forehead, and he was bleeding pretty badly before he left.”
“Shit!” I hissed. I got out of bed and started dressing.
Trent asked, “What are you doing?”
“I’ve got to try and find him,” I said as I pulled on my pants.
“You don’t even know where to begin looking,” he insisted.
“No, I don’t,” I said angrily. “But I can’t lay here knowing he’s in trouble.” Trent and I got in the car and drove around the rest of the night. We cruised the downtown area hoping that we could find him, but it was hopeless. It was like finding a needle in a haystack. We checked the local hospital, but they hadn’t seen him, either.”
Trent joined me when we arrived at work. He said he couldn’t spend two hours at home not knowing what was going on. We immediately headed to Mr. London’s office, but he said there was no new information. He had been on the phone with the police, and they had an all-points bulletin sent out, and every cop in town was looking for him. I spent the remainder of the day working outside. I kept looking down the street hoping that he might return. New Morning was the one place he felt safe. However, he never showed up. When I left for the day, I was still determined to find him.
Earlier in the afternoon, I had borrowed Trent’s phone. I knew he had taken a few pictures of me and Hayden together. With the help of one of the assistants, we were able to download a picture onto a program and then print it. With her aid, we created a poster with Hayden’s picture and a description of him. I included Trent’s phone number on it. We then printed 50 copies of it.
When Trent picked me up after class, I asked him if he could drive me downtown. “Why?” he asked.
I showed him one of the posters. I want to put a few around town. The assistant had given me some thumb tacks and a roll of duct tape. We spent several hours driving around and placing the poster on walls and poles on street corners. Several times, I got out and talked to a panhandler on the corner and asked them to keep an eye out for Hayden. If they saw him, I asked them to give me a call.
We also went to the Ramrod. Dexter was happy to see me, but he became worried when I told him about Hayden. I asked him if he could put some of the posters around the bar. If Hayden tried to solicit money for sex, I was hoping that a customer might recognize him. It started to get dark, and Trent drove around the streets for another hour before we finally decided to head home. We felt we had done all we could for one day. Now, all we had to do was wait and see if anyone responded to the poster.
We didn’t hear anything for several days. I kept hoping Hayden would show up at the center, but he didn’t. We had two new boys enter, and I showed them his picture and asked if they had seen him, but they hadn’t.
Mr. London learned some information concerning the disturbance that caused Hayden to run away. According to a police report, Hayden wanted to go out to a movie with a friend at school. Hayden’s father refused to let him go. He told him that he wasn’t going on a date with another boy. Hayden tried to convince him it wasn’t a date, but his father started ranting about gay boys. When he called Hayden a fag, Hayden slapped him. His father went into a rage and slammed Hayden against the wall. His mother tried to stop him, but he pushed her away. He continued to hit Hayden until he managed to break free. While this was going on, his mother had called the police. Instead of waiting around, Hayden rushed out the door. Police feel that Hayden may be afraid that he is going to get into trouble because he slapped his father first.
Every night, Trent and I spent about two hours driving around town. When I saw a panhandler on the street, I would get out and talk to them. I knew many of them from when I was on the street. Some I even considered friends. They told me they hadn’t seen him, but they kept the poster and assured me they would call if they did.
One night around two, Trent’s phone rang. He answered it and sprang up in bed and handed it to me. “Matt, it’s Dexter.”
“Yeah, Dex?” My heart started pounding. I knew it involved Hayden or he wouldn’t be calling.
“I had a guy in here tonight who recognized the kid on the poster you put up.”
I asked excitedly, “What did he say.”
Dexter replied, “He says there is a young boy over in Parkside hustling for money. He’s pretty sure it’s the kid you’re looking for.”
“Thanks, Dex,” I said appreciatively. “I love you, Man.” I hung up and told Trent to get dressed. Ten minutes later, we were heading to Parkside. Parkside is a community about ten miles out of town. That is why no one had seen him. It didn’t even occur to me to go there. Parkside is a middle-class community. It has a few stores and nightclubs, but it isn’t popular with the city crowd. I tried panhandling there years ago, and they didn’t give me anything. I left swearing I would never return.
We drove around the area for two hours, but we didn’t spot Hayden. Since I wasn’t very familiar with the area, I didn’t know where to look. We did spot a homeless couple sleeping under a tree in the park. I approached and showed them a picture of Hayden. They told me they had seen him a few days earlier, but they didn’t know where he was staying. We headed home and managed to catch a couple hours of sleep before we had to go to work.
After school the next day, I begged Trent to take me back to Parkside. He said he was tired and wanted to get some sleep. When I put on my coat, he asked me where I was going. I told him I was going to catch a bus. He frowned and reluctantly put on his coat.
We drove around for about an hour. When we passed the park, the couple I had spoken to the night before approached the street and flagged us down. “You know that kid you’re looking for?”
“Yeah,” I replied. “Any news?”
The man informed me, “We saw him earlier behind the old mission trying to hustle fags.”
“Where’s the mission?” I asked. He pointed down the street and told us to drive six blocks and take a left. We would see it on the right. I handed them a fifty-dollar bill, and Trent sped away. We were there in a couple of minutes.
I screamed, “There he is!” Hayden was leaning down talking to someone inside a car.
I jumped out and hollered, “Hayden!” He turned and saw me. We rushed to each other, and he jumped into my arms. We were both crying uncontrollably.
“I’m sorry, Matt,” wailed Hayden. “I don’t know what to do.” I put my arm around him and led him to the car. I opened the rear door and he got in. I scooted in beside him and wrapped him in my arms. I looked in the rearview mirror and noticed that Trent was crying. He pulled away, and we headed home.
When we arrived, Hayden was still inconsolable. He kept saying he was sorry. Trent and I said nothing. We wrapped him in our arms and held him. Trent went into the bedroom and closed the door. I assumed he was notifying the police that we had found Hayden.
After a half hour, he began to calm down. I could tell he was exhausted. Trent comforted him while I went into the kitchen to prepare him something to eat. I had made a meatloaf the night before, and we still had leftovers. I made a few meatloaf sandwiches and some potato salad that was also left over. I prepared three plates and placed them on the dining room table. I headed back into the living room and told Trent and Hayden that dinner was ready. He held Hayden as they entered and sat down.
Hayden hungrily ate the two sandwiches on his plate. I knew by looking at him that he probably hadn’t eaten for several days. Tears would run down his cheeks, but he was no longer crying uncontrollably. We didn’t say anything to him because we were afraid he might end up hysterical again.
Finally, he asked, “How did you know where to find me?”
“I’m a street person, remember?” I replied. He nodded his head. “I knew where to look.”
He smiled slightly and replied, “I’m glad you did. I was really scared.”
“Why didn’t you return to the center?” I asked, “We’ve been worried sick about you.”
Tears again welled up in his eyes. “I thought I was in trouble,” he said. “I hit my dad.”
“But look what he did to you,” I said as I inspected the deep gash that was still visible on his forehead. It had scarred over, and it didn’t look too bad. He also had a black eye that was also beginning to heal. “You don’t have to worry about him anymore,” I informed him. “He’s been arrested.”
Hayden seemed surprised, “He has?”
“Of course,” I replied. “You can’t just go beating on a kid.”
“Even if I slapped him first.”
“Even if you slapped him first,” remarked Trent. “It is still against the law.”
Just then, someone knocked on the door. “That would be Mr. London. I called him a few minutes ago, and he said he was on his way.” He answered the door, and Mr. London rushed in.
“How is he?” he asked as he hurried over to Hayden and inspected his face. We assured him that Hayden was alright. He sat down and told us what was going to happen next.
“When Trent called and told me you found Hayden, I called the judge in charge of the case.” He stopped and grinned. “He wasn’t very happy with me interrupting his evening.”
“Sorry, Mr. London,” apologized Hayden. He reached out and gripped Hayden’s arm and assured him everything was alright.
“It’s okay,” he replied. “I convinced the judge to place you into our custody until this matter is settled. Besides, if you were turned over to the police, they would just bring you to the center later tonight anyway.”
I asked Mr. London, “Does he have to go back to the center? Can he stay here with us tonight?”
Hayden’s eyes grew excited. “Can I Mr. London? Please?”
Mr. London looked at his watch. “I don’t see why not. Trent and Matt are both representatives of the center. If there becomes a problem, I’ll handle it.” He rose from his chair and hugged Hayden. “You be good. Don’t cause any more problems.”
“I won’t Mr. London,” he said. “I promise.”
“Good,” he smiled. “Then I’ll see you all in the morning.” He hugged Hayden again. “I’m glad you’re safe.”
“Me, too,” replied Hayden tearfully.
After Mr. London left, we prepared the spare bedroom for Hayden. After taking a shower and putting on a pair of my sweatpants and a tee shirt, we tucked him into bed, and I kissed him on his forehead. Before I turned out the lights, he was already asleep.
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