Trials and Tribulations

by Billy

Chapter 4

Safe Haven

Judge Collins walked out into the main emergency room where all the noise was. The first thing he seen was that both deputies had grabbed a hold of Pastor Adams' arms and trying to walk him back towards the exit. Miss Anderson was trying to calm Pastor Adams down and the state detective was leaning back against the nurse's station with a smile on his face just taking everything in. When the detective saw Judge Collins he stood back up and straightened his tie.

"Judge Collins, the deputies appear to be getting everything under control here." The detective said with a smirk.

Judge Collins shook his head. This was a hospital and he knew that things should be handled appropriately and that wasn't happening. Disgusted he turned to the State Detective.

"Detective," Judge Collins began in a voice that brought even the most callous defendant to attention, "call your superior and tell them I said to send someone here that knows how to do their job. I don't want someone like you that sits back watching others while doing nothing to help."

The single comment had been said with enough volume to bring everyone to a standstill, including Pastor Adams, the deputies, and Miss Anderson. The detective dropped his head and pulled out his cell phone. As he was walking away towards the exit, he could be heard trying to explain why he was being dismissed by Judge Collins.

"Bob, have the other Deputy handcuff the Pastor and place him in the back of a patrol car" Judge Collins stated, looking at the pastor with displeasure. "And, Bob, stay with him. If the other deputy needs assistance securing him, do so. When you have him locked up, come and find me." Judge Collins took control like he was in his own courtroom. Then he turned and looked Pastor Adams in the eyes, "Pastor Adams, I'm Judge Collins and these law enforcement officers are authorized to use whatever force they deem necessary to carry out my orders. As of right now, you are being arrested for disturbing the peace and preventing medical personnel from carrying out their duties. If you continue to resist, you will only be adding to those charges. Miss Anderson here is from the Department of Community Based Services. After your son has been examined by the doctors at this hospital, Miss Anderson, a state detective, and myself will be conducting an interview with your son and his attorney."

"My faggot son doesn't have a lawyer!" Pastor Adams interrupted Judge Collins. His face was red and strained against the two deputies who presently were standing on either side of him, restraining him from further action.

"Actually he does, in fact that would be me." a man said sitting by the window taking everything in. He stood up and began walking over to Pastor Adams. He started to offer his hand then noticed that Pastor Adams couldn't shake hands. Instead he smiled, stating, "Carl Bennett sir, I'm your son's attorney." Mr. Bennett's smile faded as he noticed the anger on the Pastor's face, but he continued, "I'm not your attorney sir, but my legal advice to you is to stop talking. The more you say the deeper you're getting. You can do with it as you will, it's free of charge." Bennett turned and walked over to Judge Collins.

"I'm sorry to interrupt, your Honor." He said, reaching his hand out to shake. Judge Collins took it and smile.

"It's good to see you Carl." Judge Collins said before turning his attention back to Pastor Adams.

"Do you have any questions Mr. Adams?" Judge Collins asked dropping the Pastor title.

The anger seemed to fade slowly from Pastor Adams. Then he shook his head 'no' before the Deputies lead him out to the patrol car.

Miss Anderson walked over to where Judge Collins and Mr. Bennett were standing.

"Judge Collins, what can I do for you today?" she asked, shaking Judge Collins' and then Mr. Bennett's hands.

Judge Collins was very aware how the actions of the past few minutes had disrupted the hospital's necessary routines. He quickly glanced around the room before motioning them to follow him.

"Let's go over there and sit while we talk. It's seems a little more private than here in the middle of the room." Judge Collins led them over to a corner that was empty. "First, I'd like to say thank you to you both for arriving so quickly. I don't know how the father found out his son was here this fast." Judge Collins paused; concerned that system he and his wife had designed to keep their son safe might have other problems. However he immediately refocused on the task at hand. "But that may work out in our favor. At least we won't have to go looking for him if we decide we need to talk to him."

Judge Collins took a quick look at the doors to see if Deputy Bob was coming back in, before continuing.

"Basically, what I have to tell you both concerns the minor, Joey Adams."

Miss Anderson and Mister Bennett both grabbed out pads and began to take notes. Judge Collins knew this was just the beginning of a long story. Letting out a heavy sigh, Judge Collins continued. "This morning my son, Andy, called my office making me aware that he felt one of his friends was in danger and asking that he and his friend be taken to the hospital. I quickly wrapped up this morning's proceeding and met them with the Deputies at the school. On the way here," Judge Collins paused shivering as he remembered the ride to the hospital, "the boy told me a story that will probably give me nightmares for years."

"I'm not sure what State, here in Kentucky or another State, this part took place in and I need to check the statues, but it appears at the very least, this young boy was taken advantage of by an older boy, sexually. The older boy was seventeen and Joey was fourteen when the relationship began. However, it continued into the next year when the older boy would have been eighteen at the time. But all that will be investigated by the State Attorney's Office."

Judge Collins took a big breath, closing his eyes; all he could picture was Joey back in the examination room. The boy was covered with all the evidence needed for the abuse case that would be brought against his parents, in fact the evidence was seared into his entire upper torso. The silence brought the full attention of Miss Anderson and Mister Bennett. The tear escaping Judge Collins' eye didn't go unnoticed by the other two.

"The reason we are here today is the Father caught the boys in the driveway as Joey was about to perform oral sex on the older boy. He dragged his son from the car, ran the older boy off, and chased the child to bed with words you heard him used here today."

Judge Collins stopped speaking and looked out the window. It wasn't often he was the one who had to tell the painful details of case to someone else. It might have been a while since he was a practicing attorney, but especially as a judge he had never lost his ability to empathize with a victim.

"The next day, Pastor Adams and the Deacons of their church attempted an exorcism to stop the boy from being gay." Judge Collins' jaw tightened as he continued. "They had Joey stripped naked."

Miss Anderson gasped at this.

"Are you telling me Judge Collins that grown men of a church had a fifteen year old strip naked for a religious ceremony?" she asked.

"Yes and then they laid hands all over his upper body and started praying or chanting. Apparently, Pastor Adams struck Joey on the forehead knocking him to the floor. Joey even says he started praying for Jesus to save him from 'them', and they took it as a sign the boy was saved by calling out for Jesus' help. But Joey's couldn't help from laughing at them, because it was them he was praying to be saved from." Judge Collins' voice became laced with anger as he continued onward. "And this caused the father to go into a rage and he began beating Joey's naked body with his belt. It seems the Deacons stepped in to stop the good Pastor from killing Joey."

"Only the Father continued the beatings in the privacy of the home until some of the women of the church began to notice the bruising on the child over the next few weeks and started asking questions. Pastor Adams either asked to be transferred or was ordered here to Pine Hills by his superiors. Joey says the beatings stopped when he was told about the move a couple of weeks ago."

Judge Collins paused. Deputy Bob walked in the room and began to walk towards them. Judge Collins caught his eye and the Deputy dutifully waited just beyond the alcove they sat in. The Judge shifted uncomfortably in the hospital chair as he realized he had come to where his own son became a part of Joey's story.

"That is until Monday, when he forgot to call home and let his parents know he was at my house with my son and another friend. Apparently, there had been a fight at school involving Joey, my son and another boy. The other boy had used a homophobic slur directed at Joey, and assaulted him as well. My son then got involved and use the forced necessary to stop the other boy from further hurting Joey. Joey says the Principal phoned his home to apologize for the incident and that Pastor Adams assumed the boy was resuming his homosexual ways again, since the homosexual slurs had been used. When Joey got home from my house that afternoon, his father beat him until he was unconscious with his fists, feet and a belt. I've seen the boy's back and chest and if I wasn't a judge," Judge Collins broke in disgust.

It was as Judge Collins was finishing that, Mr. Banks, Roger's father, walked in. Judge Collins saw him and called him over to where they sat, "Over here Steve."

"Sam, you didn't get a chance to tell me much on the phone, but I'm here." Steve said as he walked over to them. Then he sat by Judge Collins reaching out and shaking hands with everyone who was there.

"Thank you my friend for coming here this morning on such a short notice. I'll explain what I have in mind in a minute."

<hr>

"Having trouble staying on the chair, dear?" the nurse asked me barely keeping a laugh in. She then looked up at Joey and handed a gown to him, "Here honey, you need to undress and put this on. I'm sure this young man would be happy to assist, if he can keep from falling all over you." She turned and left with a huge smile on her face leaving the two of us very embarrassed. It was a relief when she left and we were alone again. The double meaning of her words weren't lost on me and just caused me to blush more.

I looked up at Joey and we both burst out laughing. I never knew busting my ass would make me feel so good, but seeing Joey laugh like he was, I'd gladly do it a million times. I was so giddy. I felt like a kid on Christmas morning and just gotten the best gift ever in the history of Christmas. I didn't know what Joey and I were now, but I knew I was one happy camper. We both started calming down enough to pull ourselves together. When I looked into his eyes, gone was the sadness that had been there before. The sadness was gone but hopefully now that was desire I was seeing there. I knew then I wanted to be there for Joey in every way. I got up off the floor and stepped between his legs. As I looked deeply into his eyes, I found myself pulled to him. We kissed with the same passion, but without the rush I felt before. This time I broke the kiss on my own without having the shit scared out of me by someone walking in on us.

"We better get you dressed in this cute gown before the doctor or my Dad comes in." I grinned.

"Oh no, out." He said with a serious face.

"What? I can help you with…" I started.

"Out, I'm not getting undressed with you in here. Now go." He said pointing towards the door.

"I can't" I shrugged.

"What do you mean you can't? You use those sexy legs of yours to walk to the door, open it, step through and close the door behind you."

"But Joey, Dad said for neither of us to leave this room." I pointed out.

"If you aren't on the other side of that door by the time I get up from here, you'll be wishing you were." God he was so hot and cute when he was frustrated.

"Okay, okay." I said smiling and throwing my hands up in surrender. "But, it'll cost you a kiss"

He smiled and leaned into me for another kiss. God, I could never get enough kisses from this boy. I turned grinning like a possum and almost skipped, hopped, and danced to the door. I pulled opened the door and looked back at him and said, "I shall return." I bowed like a jester at court and the door hit me in the head as it closed. I could hear him laughing on the other side of the door as I rubbed my head and smiled.

<hr>

Deputy Robert Mason, known by all as Deputy Bob, stood waiting patiently for Judge Collins to finish. He had worked for years with the judge and respected the way he handled, not only the cases before him, but the people he worked with. When Judge Collins finished talking to those he was sitting with, he signaled for Bob to come over.

"Sorry to keep you waiting deputy. I appreciate you giving us time to finish."

Deputy Bob nodded.

"Judge Collins, the prisoner has been secured in the patrol car. I was also notified by dispatch that the State Police is sending Detective Jones to do the interview with the Adams boy. I think you'll like him. He's young and isn't homophobic. He'll at least listen to the boy and be fair." Deputy Bob explained.

"Thank you, Bob. Please have a nurse show you where the boys are now, and see that they aren't disturbed by unofficial visitors." Judge Collins said, pleased with what he just heard.

Turning to the others, "I could use some coffee, would anyone like some?" he asked.

"Make mine sugar and cream, please." Miss Anderson responded politely, while she continued to look over her notes.

"I'll take mine black, sir." Mr. Bennett added quickly. His attention was focused on the notes he had taken as well.

"Steve, come give me a hand," Judge Collins began, looking at his old friend, "we can talk as well."

"Sure Sam."

As they walked towards the hospital cafeteria, Judge Collins tried to figure out how best to address the many things he needed to discuss with Steve. The two men had been friends nearly their entire lives, but the request Judge Collins was about to make would affect not only Steve, but his family as well. It was only due to his greatest trust in his old friend that he also planned to ask some advice concerning his own son.

"Steve," Sam began. "I want to ask you to do something, but I don't want you to answer me just yet. I would like for you to agree to take Joey in, at least temporarily. He's new here in Pine Hills and has had a shitty deal so far in life. He also seems to have made friends with Andy and maybe Roger."

"Is this the boy Andy got into a fight over the other day at school?"

"As matter of fact, he is." Sam looked up, surprised Steve already knew about the fight.

"Roger mentioned it to us. He said Andy did the right thing and defended the new boy, but that the boy he got into the fight with is bad news."

"The boy who started the fight is a McCray. You know the family's history." Sam said, shaking his head. Steve nodded.

"You need to know that the Adams boy is fifteen, like our boys," Sam paused and faced his friend before he continued. "He also believes he is gay. Personally, from what he has told me, I think he is as well. His father is an old school preacher, and has half beaten the kid to death over it, on multiple occasions. After Child Protective Services and the State Detective conclude their interview with the child, there's no doubt in my mind that they will recommend removal of the boy from the home. I would have no problem signing that order."

Sam paused, now that they had reached the mostly empty cafeteria. He didn't feel like telling this to his friend while they stood in front of the help; so he indicated he wanted to sit again, and led Steve over to an empty table.

"Joey will be safe from physical harm, but without a plea agreement between the State and the Father, he will have to testify in open court against his Father, and perhaps his Mother, as well. I would really love to see this child go to a good home where he will receive the support he needs, for two reasons."

Sam paused knowing he had to convince Steve. He preferred to make sure Joey would be living somewhere safe, and it would make his own son happy. There was a lot riding on this request so he wanted to approach this correctly.

"First, Joey deserves it. I know you and your family well, Steve. I know of no other person in this community that would take this boy in and treat him like he was your own. You've done it with mine. I know both you and Alice love Andy as much as you love Roger. We all have treated the boys with the same love and affection." Sam searched his friends eyes as he continued, hoping to find the answer he wanted in them. "If you can't, or won't, for whatever reason, take him for the long term, then at least please, consider it for a short term, as a favor to me."

Judge Collins added, trying to sweeten the proposition, "I will agree to help pay for half of all expenses above what the parents may be ordered to pay. Will you think it over, talk to Alice, talk to the boy and then decide?"

"Sam, you mentioned two reasons. What's the second one?" Steve asked.

"Steve, you're my best friend." Judge Collins started, then looked around to make sure no one was close enough to overhear their conversation, "What I'm about to say must stay between us."

After waiting for Steve to nod his head in agreement, Judge Collins continued, only loud enough for his friend to hear. "I've been struggling with something lately, but I think I've come to realize that if I'm correct, it doesn't really change how I feel away. I think I've been picking up some signs, signals, or whatever you like to call it… that…" Judge Collins lowered his voice to barely above a whisper and continued, "Steve, Michael Andrew may be gay."

There was a momentary silence, where Sam tried to gauge his friend's reaction.

"Sam, why do you think that?" Steve paused, shook his head, and then rushed on saying, "No. Wait. Do you think it makes any difference to me if Andy is gay or not? I know you remember Tommy Greene from college. He was smart, funny, and a friend to all of us. Before I met him, I probably was a little homophobic, but getting to really know someone that's gay, changed my way of thinking. All too often we make assumptions without knowing the facts. The only thing different between Tommy and us was who he went to bed with. If, and that is a big if, Andy is gay, he was born gay, and there's nothing you, or anyone else can do about it. He'll have a harder time with society in general, but he is a smart kid and he's a lot stronger than he appears."

Steve paused, seeing tears flowing down the Sam's cheeks.

"Is that your second reason, and does that answer your unasked question?" Steve finished.

"Steve, it does partially on the first and yes on the second part." Sam answered using a handkerchief to wipe his face. Clearing his throat, Sam explained. "The second reason is I believe there is a bond or a relationship beginning between Andy and Joey. I've noticed the looks and innocent touching between them. The same type of looks Ellen gave me back in college, and I'm sure, the same looks I gave her." Sam sighed remembering his late wife. This is one of those times he wished he still had her advice and support to help in guiding their son. Just one of many times he missed her dearly.

"My reason for asking you to do this is because it could complicate matters if I took Joey into my home and a relationship does develop between Joey and Andy. Also, I know you would give Joey the type of home I would give him." Sam pushed his final plea forward, hoping to sway his old friend. "Besides, between you, Alice, and me, we could keep an eye on both of them and guide them down a safer path than one without parental guidance and sex education."

"Sam, Alice and I aren't foster parents. However, I know that can be fast tracked. But, before I can agree to anything permanent, like you said, I need to talk to Alice and Roger; and then I need to speak with Joey. After that, we can sit down and iron out a plan." Steve paused and smiled at his old friend, "But for now, Joey can come home with me today on a temporary basis."

<hr>

I leaned back against the door waiting on Joey to get dressed in the hospital gown, wondering if it's like one of those you see on TV with no back in it. I started humming a song that had been running around in my head the last couple of days from Snow Patrol, Chasing Cars. I started remembering the words.

If I lay here

If I just lay here

Would you lie with me

And just forget the world?

The words just kept spinning around in my head just like they were written for me.

I don't quite know

How to say

How I feel

The words had me so mesmerized I hadn't realized I was humming louder.

I need your grace

To remind me

To find my own

Those lyrics were exactly how I felt. In fact, I had been so busy running through them in my head I hadn't heard Joey unlock the door; so, when he opened it, I fell backwards and right on my ass again. Shocked, I looked up and saw Joey looking down at me; he was laughing so hard tears were starting to stream down his face. Well, I had said I'd bust my ass a million times to see him smile, so that made it twice.

"Hey! This is so not funny" I said, with as straight of a face as I could muster, barely able to hold in an embarrassed, but happy, laugh of my own.

"Sorry, come on." He said, with an apologetic look, and then motioned with a wave of his hand for me to follow, as he turned and walked back into the room. Damn, he looked so adorable.

Getting up to follow, I couldn't help but noticed it was one of those gowns that opened in the back. But my excitement over my discovery was tempered when I saw the back of his thighs. They were also scarred and bruised like much of his back and tummy. I had to swallow back the bile rising in my throat. The scars on his body would be enough to make anyone sick. This has been a roller coaster ride of a day so far, that's for sure.

Joey was sitting back on the edge of the examination bed by the time I closed the door behind me. His feet were dangling and swinging a little, drawing my attention to them. Since I was so active with sports, both organized and not, I tried to take good care of mine, and kept them looking as good as I could; but I had never thought much about other people's feet before. So it sort of surprised me to find his little size eights or nines looked perfectly proportioned. Even the curve of the arch was perfect, sexy even.

As my eyes scanned up his tanned legs, which only had a light blond dusting of hair to the edge of the gown, I started to get hard. Embarrassed for thinking like that at a time like this, I quickly looked up to his smiling face.

"Like what you see?" He asked with amusement in his voice.

"Eh, maybe," I replied going red faced at getting caught checking him out, and added, "I'm really sorry Joey. I don't know where my head is today. Are you doing okay?"

"I am a little scared not knowing what's going to happen to me." Joey said, and then looked down at his feet. He lowered his voice, before he continued, "But, as long as you're with me, I know I can get through it."

Joey looked up shyly, trying to gauge my reaction. Once our eyes locked, I smiled, letting him have my million watt smile hoping it would let him know just how I felt. Seeing he still looked nervous, I reached out took his hand in mine, and gently squeezed it.

"I'll always be here for you, Joey" I said, looking deeply into his eyes, and softly started to sing Chasing Cars. He had a look of wonder on his face as I finished; I leaned in and kissed him.

Today was beginning to feel like one Déjà vu. While we kissed, I heard a noise behind me. I jumped again to put some space between Joey and I, tripped over that same damn stool, and ended up on my ass again! I looked up at Joey, and he tried unsuccessfully to suppress a laugh. I looked back towards where the noise had come from, and there stood the nurse, again; not even trying to suppress a laugh. I think she could be heard all the way on the other side of the hospital. Joey joined in the laughing and I couldn't keep from it either. All three of us laughed so hard that Deputy Bob stuck his head in to see what all the noise was about.

"Is everything okay in here?" Deputy Bob asked.

"Oh, I think everything is going to be just fine, now." The nurse said, and then turned and closed the door on him.

You talk about being embarrassed; you would find a picture of my red face next to the word embarrassed in the dictionary. Twice now she had caught me kissing Joey, another boy. Once, I could probably explain, but not twice. I was worried what she was going to do or say.

The nurse wandered over and helped me off the floor and onto the seat. Then she stood smiled down at me and gently shook her head.

"Boy, you need to calm down and stop falling over everything before you seriously hurt yourself." Her voice was soft, and she was still trying to keep from laughing as she continued talking to us. "I have the sweetest nephew you'll ever meet that lives down in Lexington. He's the most well mannered, honest, and helpful boy I know."

She paused long enough to get Joey to sit on the bed properly and then set to work taking his blood pressure while she chatted with us.

"But he had the hardest time in school. The other boys were always picking on him." She paused, and removed the cuff from Joey's arm. She wrote something on his chart before she turned and faced us again. She looked sad as she continued. "He had told a few close friends that he was gay. One of them didn't take it well, and he outed him to the whole school. Then a few days later, three boys cornered him in the shower room at school and raped him."

The nurse paused, reached in her pocket, and pulled out a tissue. She wiped away the tears before she told us the rest of her tale.

I just sat there on the stool totally spellbound by what she was telling us.

"That boy was never the same after that, until one day, a couple of months later, his momma came home from work early, and found him fixing to hang himself in his bedroom. Praise God he sent her home early, because she was able to stop him, and get him the help he needed. Now, he's right as rain, and the happy child he once was." She finished with a smile. "Now, you boys need to be more careful, but you'll have no problems from old Nancy here."

"Thank you, Miss Nancy." I told her as I got up and hugged her.

"It's time to get some x-rays young man." As she said this, an orderly came in pushing a wheelchair. "Now you be a good boy, let this orderly wheel you down to x-ray, and let us get some pictures of your insides, okay?"

"Yes, Miss Nancy." Joey nodded, got up, and sat in the wheelchair, as I stood beside the nurse and watched him being wheeled out of the room.

I was already missing him as the door closed. The nurse must have sensed it and wrapped an arm around my shoulders, giving me a squeeze. As soon as she was sure she had my attention she said, "Everything is going to work out. I know, for a fact, a lot of people are fighting for him as we speak. So, just hang in there, okay?"

I looked up at her and nodded, not trusting my voice. She gave me one last squeeze and set to straightening out the bed. I stood there looking at her as she quickly finished. Before she left, she looked at me and grinned.

"I suggest you put that stool underneath the desk, before you kill yourself falling over the thing." Nurse Nancy then rubbed the top of my head and left, leaving me smiling again and alone to think about everything.

I was starting to get hungry, and decided now was a good time to try finding the vending machines. After asking someone at the nurse's station for directions, I headed off to find a snack and a drink, hoping I wouldn't get lost. I took a left, then a right, another right, then a left again, and found myself at the front entrance of the hospital. I overheard a woman asking the receptionist where she could find Joey and figured it must have been Joey's mother.

Food forgotten, I retraced my steps, deciding to wait for Joey in the room we had been in. On my way back, I met Joey being wheeled back from x-ray by the orderly, with Deputy Bob. Not wanting to hide anything from Joey, I decided to tell the deputy what I saw and heard, as I walked beside Joey.

"Don't worry boys. I'll take care of everything." Deputy Bob said reassuringly, before he turned and went back in the direction of the main hospital entrance.

We weren't back in the room long before an Indian looking man entered. The man was in a white coat and he was not a Native American type, but from the country of India.

"I'm Doctor Karthik. I'll be doing the examination, uh…" he said with a thick accent, then looked down at the file he carried in with him, "Joey." Then he looked over at me, and said, "Son, you need to leave so we can get started."

"Please, let him stay." Joey pleaded.

"Okay, okay, he stays." The doctor said reluctantly.

I looked at Joey and smiled, and then I took a seat in a chair, over in the corner of the room, out of everyone's way. Nurse Nancy came in and assisted the doctor with examining Joey, and cleaning his injuries.

A man in a suit and tie came in and introduced himself.

"I'm sorry to interrupt; I'm Detective Jones with the Kentucky State Police. I need to take some pictures for documentation." Detective Jones explained. Joey appeared nervous about it, but didn't object. After taking a bunch of pictures, the detective left.

After another 30 minutes, Joey was wrapped up from his arm pits to his waist, and both thighs had bandages as well. The doctor told him he could get dressed now, but to wait here, as some people needed to speak with him. Then both the doctor and nurse left, leaving us alone.

Joey smiled at me, and then asked me to leave again while he got dressed; but said when I came back in, I could help him with getting his shirt on if I wanted.

"Sure, I don't mind being kicked out again by a mummy." I said with a grin, turned and walked out the door. I felt something hit me in the back before the door closed. I turned, looked down, and saw the tee shirt Roger had loaned Joey. I bent over, picked it up, smiled at Joey, and told him, "I'll have it when you're ready for it." He stuck out his tongue at me. I laughed and closed the door, giving him his privacy.

<hr>

Having settled everything they could for the moment, Sam and Steve made their way back to the emergency room. Miss Anderson and Mr. Bennett sat, immersed in a conversation with each other, so the men handed their coffee to them. Before anything more could happen, the doctor and the state detective came down the hallway towards them.

"Judge Collins, I'm Doctor Karthik," he said while shaking hands with everyone. "I've examined the patient, who is a fifteen year old male with acute lacerations on his back and posterior thighs. He also had extensive bruising over his chest and abdomen. Some of these injuries appear days, even weeks, old. Chest films also revealed a remote, hairline rib fracture on the left side, but it is minor enough to not need wrapping. I cleaned his injuries and applied bandages that should be changed twice a day.

"It will be several weeks before he is healed physically, and some of the scarring may require plastic surgery in the future, for cosmetic reasons. There are also emotional behavioral signs of abuse, and though he appears to be almost unnaturally calm at this time, I would recommend he undergo counseling. Additionally, it is my opinion, that he be immediately removed from the environment in which these injuries occurred."

"Thank you Doctor, we'll need a detailed written report as well, stating what you just told us. Can Miss Anderson have that today?" Judge Collins asked.

"In this case, I'll make sure you have it before you leave the hospital with the child." Doctor Karthik said, and then went on to explain why he was so eager to help, with disgust dripping on every word, "I've never seen anything like this in all my thirty-three years as a doctor. Whoever did this to the boy should be punished. What was done to him shouldn't happen to anyone." The doctor turned mumbling to himself, and left to write the report, leaving the four to discuss what they had been told.

Deputy Bob walked up to Judge Collins and whispered something in his ear. The judge shook his head and his face turned red. It wasn't often Judge Collins let his anger show.

"Have the other deputy take both of them down to the court house; have him booked on what we discussed earlier. Then have her held as a material witness, for now."

Deputy Bob turned and left.

"The pastor's good wife showed up, and tried to take up where he left off. Now we have them both in custody and won't have to look for them later. That should give us forty-eight hours to get our ducks in a row."

Judge Collins was grateful that things, so far, had been going smoothly. He knew the detective had taken steps to document things; from the way he stood in the back, looking angry, after coming back with the doctor. That just meant that Miss Anderson and Mr. Bennett needed to finish up so Joey might actually be released into Steve's care.

"Mr. Bennett, you may go and confer with Joey; and when you are finished, please come and let Miss Anderson and Detective Jones know that you and Joey are ready for the interview." Judge Collins said. "He's in room one twenty-four."

"Thank you, your Honor. This won't take long. I should be back to alert Miss Anderson and Detective Jones we're ready in ten to fifteen minutes." Mr. Bennett said before leaving to find Joey.

<hr>

This time, instead of opening the door on me, Joey yelled for me to come back in. I grinned and went back into the room. Joey was sitting on the edge of the bed again, dressed, but without the shirt I was holding in my hand. He gingerly jumped off the bed and reached out for the shirt. I just handed it to him and he pulled it over his head. Then I helped him getting it over the bandages.

"Thank you, Andy." Even bandaged and bruised there was a genuine sense of gratitude, as he smiled at me.

"You're welcome, Joey." I said, returning his smile.

"When we get out of here," Joey began, softly looking me in the eyes, "we need to sit down and talk."

"We'll have plenty of time for that. For now, let's just get everything taken care of, so you won't be in pain. I know you're hiding from them how much you're hurt, and I want to make sure you're somewhere safe. I never want anything like this to happen to you again." I told him as Mr. Bennett opened the door and walked in.

"Hello boys. I'm Carl Bennett." Mr. Bennett said to us both, shaking our hands, and then turned to Joey. "I'll be representing your interest for the foreseeable future, if you allow me to." Seeing that Joey didn't understand what he meant, he added. "What that means is, I'll be your attorney, if you let me."

"Mr. Bennett, I do appreciate your offer, but I don't have any money to pay you." Joey was clearly embarrassed.

"Joey, don't you worry about money. Just from what I've already heard today, even if there were no other source to pay for my expenses, I wouldn't charge you a dime. Just let me worry about the money, okay?" Mr. Bennett smiled and tried to put Joey at ease.

"Yes sir, thank you sir." Joey's voice sounded stronger and upbeat.

"Now, let me explain what's going to happen. First, I'm going to leave briefly and return with a nice lady from the Department of Community Based Services, our child protective services, and State Police Detective Jones, so they can interview you. Detective Jones is the man that took pictures earlier during your examination. They'll ask you to tell them what all lead to us being here today. From that interview, they will both be making separate recommendations to the court on what actions the State of Kentucky feels is in your best interest and what criminal laws may have been broken. I'll be here with you, making sure your rights and interests are protected."

As Joey took in what was being said and you could see he was becoming nervous. Mr. Bennett patted his arm and smiled.

He turned then, and smiled at me. "However, I'm afraid they won't allow you to be in here with us. Have you had lunch yet?" He asked, cutting off any objections from Joey, by putting my needs first.

"No sir, I haven't yet." I answered truthfully. Just as if it had been asked, my stomach growled loud enough for the three of us to hear, causing all three of us to laugh.

"Why don't you wait until I return with Miss Anderson and Detective Jones, is that okay with you?"

I nodded yes, as my stomach embarrassed me by growling in hunger.

"I'll be right back."

I studied Joey as he sat on the bed. I noticed his snow white bandages kind of blended in against his pale skin.

"You want me to stay with you?" I was concerned that he would be left alone, with a bunch of strangers, having to tell some of the most painful experiences of his life.

"Naw, I'll be okay. Besides, you need to eat."

He seemed a lot stronger now than when we were back in the school's restroom. The shakes were gone, the quiver in his voice was gone, and he sounded much more confident.

"Okay, here's what I'll do then. I'll see if dad will take me to Mickey D's and get us both something to eat. And when everyone is done talking to you, I'll have your food ready for you. What would you like?" I stood, nervously watching Joey, to see how he would respond.

"Naw, I'm okay. I don't have any money anyway." He said, looking down at his feet.

"It's my treat, okay? Call it a reward for giving me my first kiss." I said with a smile and a wink. The idea that I could do something, anything, for Joey set my heart beating fast.

"It's a deal." He said with a laugh.

When Mr. Bennett came in with Miss Anderson and Detective Jones, I walked over to Joey; placed a hand on his shoulder, looked into his eyes, and nodded. "I'll be back soon," I told him, smiling.

"Andy, your dad said to tell you he is in the emergency room lobby, waiting for you over in the right hand corner of the room." Mr. Bennett stood, holding open the door for me to exit.

"Thank you." I said, and turned towards Joey. "I'll be waiting for you with lunch." I patted him on the shoulder, he nodded, and I left in search for my Dad.

I found my dad sitting with Roger's dad in the little alcove in the emergency room lobby. My stomach growled again as I explained to dad what I wanted to get Joey and me for lunch.

"I figured you two would be hungry by now." Dad said. He looked at his watch, and then turned to Roger's dad. "Steve, let us grab you something as well; and while we're gone you can make a phone call or two."

"That sounds good to me. I'll have a cheese burger with everything, fries, and a diet Pepsi." Roger's dad told us as we got up and left.

Dad seemed a bit out of sorts as we headed out to the SUV. I wasn't sure what had him so upset.

"Son," dad began, as he started the SUV, his voice sounded strained. "We need to have a talk. Actually, what I mean is, I need to let you know a few things." Dad seemed nervous as he sat looking over at me while we buckled our seatbelts.

"Okay dad, what's up?" I said in trepidation, not knowing where this was going. Dad never acted scared around me, which immediately made me wonder just what was going on.

"Back when I was in college, I knew a guy named Tommy. He was a good friend and I liked him a lot. In fact, he was well liked in my circle of friends, including your mom and Roger's parents." Dad drove and barely looked at me while he tried to talk. His voice seemed rushed and it was so unlike him. "I've always been open-minded about most things. As a young man, I figured whatever floats your boat, so to speak. But, growing up here in Pine Hills, I never knew anyone that was gay. At least, no one I knew was gay. Tommy was the first openly gay person I had ever met. Even though I was open-minded, Tommy opened my eyes to all the hardships gays have in our society." He voice had taken on a sad tone as he paused.

Okay, I was right in being nervous. This talk was going where I was afraid it would, but was I hearing my Dad right? He had a gay friend in college. I think I remember mom and dad talking about a Tommy before, yet I can't remember what was said, if it was good or bad. I was feeling scared as I looked over at my Dad. He had a tear in the corner of his right eye.

"Joey" he continued, "has had a hard row to hoe in life, so far. And I'm afraid being gay; he'll always have haters and impediments to overcome. However, with a solid educational foundation, firm support system of family and friends, and a strong heart, he'll have as good of a life as anyone else. This country's attitude towards gays is changing for the better. Maybe not in our lifetime, but in time, gays will be as accepted as the designated hitter rule is today."

I couldn't help but chuckle at his comparison of gays and baseball's designated hitter rule.

"There will always be some that will be intolerant, as there are some that still don't like the designated hitter." As we stopped at a traffic light, Dad turned and smiled at me. "But, they will learn to live with it. Until then, Joey will have us to help him when he needs it. What I'm saying is, I don't care that Joey is gay. It makes no difference to me, if he is, or isn't. If he was my son, I would still love him as much either way."

A few moments later we pulled in and parked at McDonalds. Dad turned and looked me dead in the eyes.

There was no way I could miss what he had said to me. He just told me he loved me, if I was gay or not. With a shit eating grin, I quickly unbuckled my seatbelt and jumped into his arms. I hugged him as tightly as I could, with tears flowing from my eyes.

"I love you, son." He said, choking back his emotions.

"I love you too, Dad," I sobbed, "more than anything."

"More than anything?" Dad joked, as he wiped his eyes.

I leaned back to look at him, wiped the tears from my face, and I said with a wink and a smile, "Well, almost more than anything."

He laughed, and leaned in and kissed my forehead. That simple kiss filled me with love, as its warmth spread from my head to my toes. I felt like the weight of the world had been lifted from my shoulders. I knew things were going to be different, but better, too. I no longer had to hide who I was from my Father. He accepted who I am and not what I am. Now, I had to figure out what was going to happen to Joey. The whole time we were in McDonalds, the million different scenarios concerning Joey kept spinning around in my head.

After we got the food, and we were on the way back to the hospital, I knew I needed answers. I had to find out what my Dad was planning, and it sort of spilled out of me.

"Dad, what's going to happen to Joey? Will he have to go back and live with his mom and dad?" I asked.

"No, he won't have to, unless he chooses to. I'm sure we can find living accommodations that will meet everyone's approval." Dad hinted with a smile.

"Daaaad," I whined, "That's not telling me much. I'm worried for him."

"That's all I can tell you for now, because it's all I'm sure of at the present. Give me some time, and I promise everything will work out. Okay?"

"Okay, Dad."

When we got back, Uncle Steve met us just inside the emergency. He looked at Dad, and nodded yes with a smile; and he offered to take Joey's food back to him, while we ate ours outside at the picnic table by the ER entrance. Dad told him that was fine, but I wasn't too happy about it, because I wanted to be with Joey. I knew I had no choice in the matter, so I sat feeling grumpy, and it showed.

"Son, pouting isn't very becoming of you." Dad said, as he spread his food out before him and began to eat.

"I just wanted to spend more time with Joey." I shot Dad a look while I picked at my own food. "I could have taken his food to him. I did buy it after all."

"I believe, in the end, you'll be happy your Uncle Steve took the time to take Joey his food, and spend a little time with him."

"I've been wondering Dad, why is Uncle Steve here anyway? I didn't know he worked for the State."

"He doesn't, Andy. He's here because I asked him to be here. He may play a very important part in all of this. Just give it some time. It won't be much longer, I promise."

Dad sat looking at me, his eyes almost pleading with me to drop it, and have a little patience.

We finished eating and walked back inside. We found Miss Anderson and Detective Jones waiting for us. Dad pulled Miss Anderson to the side to talk privately. As hard as I tried, I couldn't make out what they were saying. I guess I needed to find some of that stuff they call patience that my dad wanted me to have.

Then I saw Uncle Steve and Joey walking towards us. Joey was beaming and was intently listening to whatever Uncle Steve was saying. When he saw me, he grinned ear to ear, came over, and sat down beside me, as Uncle Steve walked over to my dad and Miss Anderson.

Joey looked at me still grinning, and said, "I have some good news and some great news. Which would you like to hear first?"

"Umm, I guess the good news first." I answered, not having a clue what was coming.

"Okay, the good news is I don't have to live with my dad anymore." He said, still grinning.

"That's awesome Joey!" I really was happy, beyond happy, thrilled, ecstatic, and overjoyed, that he didn't have to deal with his father anymore. Okay, if that's the good news what could be the great news? I figured I'd bite, "Well, what's the great news?"

"We're going to be real honest to God neighbors. I'm going to be living with Roger and his family!"

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