The Steven Roberts Stories

by Hamster

They Fuck You Up, Your Mum and Dad

Author's Note: This is the sixth in this series of stories.

It follows directly after 'Getting to know you'. Happy reading!

Chapter 1

John Moore looked around the English Literature classroom. There were 30 eighth grade kids talking to each other, playing games on their iPads, staring into space, jostling each other. In other words, they were behaving just as you would expect a bunch of thirteen and fourteen year old kids would do. John was waiting patiently for the bell and worrying a little bit about whether his lesson plan for this class would be a success or a disaster. Teaching poetry is hard at the best of times: the syllabus said he had to spend some time on poetry, and all he wanted to do was to try to make it interesting so that kids wouldn't reject poetry outright.

The bell rang for the start of the period. The first class after lunch was always tough, kids had high blood sugar and they'd been running around or playing basketball during the break. So getting the kids to settle down and listen was never easy.

"OK, settle down!" Nothing happened. The kids went on behaving as if John hadn't spoken.

"QUIET! EVERYONE SIT DOWN AND LOOK AT ME!"

Slowly some semblance of order was restored. It was never perfect because some kids just had no attention span at all.

"Thank you. Today we're going to start a module on poetry." There was a collective groan from the students, exactly the response that John had expected. "Sorry, but the syllabus says that's what we have to do, and that's what we're going to do. But I want to try to do it a little differently, so I'm going to do a little experiment and I hope you will begin to change your mind about poetry by the end of this class."

There was a noticeable lack of enthusiasm in the classroom, and a couple of students just started fidgeting and messing around.

"STOP THAT RIGHT NOW!" The two boys stopped.

"Normally when people study poems, they get the class to read a poem and then say what they thought the poet was trying to say. I think that's sort of stupid because we really can't know what goes on in other people's minds. Looking at you all, that's probably a good thing because I'd hate to know what goes on inside your little heads, and some of you don't even seem to have brains! So I'm not going to do that with you. Instead I'm going to ask you a set of questions and we'll have a little discussion about each question. And then near the end of the class I'll read you a poem and that will be it."

John turned to his computer and brought the first question up on the smart board and waited for the kids to react.

'Do your parents make your life difficult for you?'

"Yeah, right on!" "They never let me do anything I want." "Yeah, they try to control me all the time, you know, do this, no, you can't do that, it's like I'm a puppy or something." "They promise they're going to help me with something, but then they're always too busy to actually help!" "Yeah, they never helped me get the stuff I needed for my Science Fair project so I didn't go very well, and then they complained about how crappy it was!" "It's like they really don't want to have us around, we're too much bother for them!" "My parents are OK, they're pretty easy going most of the time." "Yeah, so are mine, but they're not fair. Sometimes they let you do something, but the next time you do exactly the same they yell and scream at you!"

John let the kids have their say. He kept his eye on the clock because he had twelve questions to get through, but inwardly he was pretty excited because he'd gotten a better response than he'd expected.

"OK, let's move on to the second question."

'Do you think they do it on purpose?'

"Yeah, they're just mean." "I'm not sure, I don't think my parents know how to cope with teenagers. They seemed more comfortable when I was smaller, but now it's different." "Yeah, my parents don't like teenagers. They treat me and my brother like we're still five or six!" "I think it depends on how their feeling. If they're in a good mood they're easier on me, but if they're in a bad mood then they take it out on me, just like they do on our dog, so I don't think it's on purpose." "I don't agree, I think my parents do it on purpose. They seem to like bossing me around for no good reason. They seem to have to be in control all the time" "Mine aren't mean like that, they're just stupid and lazy and they don't listen so that means they don't understand me and what I want."

John let them continue for a couple more minutes. "OK, third question coming up!"

'Are they're trying to help you avoid mistakes they made when they were young?'

The kids had to think a little bit harder about that.

"What do you mean by that, Mr. Moore?"

"Well, for example, maybe your parents didn't get very good grades in some subjects and they want to make sure you do better than they did, or they want you to go to a better college than they did, or they don't like you playing video games before you do your homework, that sort of thing."

"Yeah, I like to play video games when I get home, it helps me forget about school for a while, but it drives my Mom crazy so we're always fighting about video games and homework!" "I don't know much about how my parents were when they were in school, but they seem to have some standards I'm supposed to follow. But they're always telling me not to do this or that because then something bad will happen. I don't think they give us enough freedom to make mistakes and learn from that." "That's true. I mean they probably did stupid things and got into trouble, and that's the best way to learn what to do and not do." "I think that my parents mean well, but it's true that they always seem to know better than me about what to do and what not to do."

"OK, question number four!"

'Do your parents treat you more strictly than your brothers or sisters?"

"Yeah, all the time. They pick on me but my sister can get away with everything. It's not fair!" "Same for me, I'm sure they like me less than my brothers and that's why they're always picking on me!" "I think my parents try to be fair, but they seem pick on all of us in different ways, so it's not clear what they want us to do." "My parents are so inconsistent it's just stupid. I always seem to be getting told off or punished and even grounded, but nobody else in the family gets treated like that." "Yeah, when my sister was home after her curfew she was just told not to do it again, but when I stayed late at my friends house, I got grounded. That really sucked!"

It seemed to John that all of the kids felt that they got special attention and more punishment than their siblings, the only exception being the twins in the class who seemed to feel that they got treated pretty much the same.

"Right, next question!"

'Do you think your parents were treated like that by their parents?'

The kids sat and thought about that for a little while.

"I don't really know how they were treated, but I guess my grandparents have similar values to my parents, so maybe they did treat them a bit like my parents treat me." "Probably, I mean I don't think my parents knew much about being parents when they got married, and they probably got lots of advice from my grandparents. So yeah, I guess that they might have learned to behave that way from grandpa and grandma." "But I think parents also learn from other parents. I mean, mine are always talking to my friends parents about what to do when we don't do what they want. So maybe some if from grandparents, and some from other adults." "I think lots of what my parents do comes from their parents. And the older they get they become more like my grandparents. It's scary!"

After some more discussion, John looked at the clock again. "Let's move on! Next question!"

'Do you think your grandparents understand kids your age?'

"No! They're so old-fashioned, and they don't know anything about video games and computers and all that stuff." "Mine don't even have cable! I mean, how can you live like that! It's so boring when we go to their place." "I don't see how they can. After all, they grew up in a different world than we've got now, and I don't think they understand half of what's happening let alone understand what kids today need and want." "They live in a different world. Mine try to talk to me but it's really hard because they don't know about any of the things I'm interested, like Harry Potter and wizards and Fortnite. And when I try to explain they just seem to switch off." "Mine try, but it's pretty frustrating because it's like we speak a different language to them. They don't understand half the words I use." "I like my grandparents but they're really old fashioned, and of course they don't have much energy so you have to be careful around them."

John let the comments drift on for a little while longer. "Moving on, next question!"

'How do your grandparents treat you?'

"Mine spoil me, it's nice. I get treats that I don't get at home. And If I go stay there I can stay up late, and they don't punish me." "Yeah, my grandma is pretty nice to me. It's all rather lame because it's like board games and stuff, but they're pretty kind." "Mine are OK, but when they get tired they can be a bit grumpy and sometimes they tell me off. But it's not very serious. They love being grandparents because grandparents can do things with kids that parents can't. Like break a few rules and stuff." "My grandparents are miserable. They don't let me do anything, and I can't talk unless I'm spoken to. I hate going to see them because I miss all my friends when I have to go." "Mine have rules, but they're not really very strict. They like spoiling me, and sometimes I think they do it to make my parents annoyed." "Yeah, same for me, it's like they're trying to treat me differently than they treat their own children."

Once the comments started to slow down, John moved on to the next question.

'Do your grandparents get on OK with each other and with your parents?'

"Well, I'm not supposed to have heard, but my parents hate going to my grandparents because they always get criticized about how they are bringing me and my sister up. So there's a lot of tension when we visit." "My grandma and grandpa are always shouting at each other. I think they've lived to together so long, all they know is how to make each other miserable. Maybe they've got nothing better to do." "Mine all seem to get on well with each other, except when it comes to religion. My grandma is very religious and goes to church all the time, but my parents don't go, and there's always rows when they try to take us to church when we visit, and my parents don't want us to go." "My dad doesn't like my grandma at all, he says she's a typical mother-in-law, trying to tell him what to do. And grandma and grandpa have arguments. We're not supposed to know that, but you can hear them arguing when they've gone to bed."

"We have to move on. Next question!"

'Do you think that these types of problems get passed down to the next generation?'

"Well, I'd hope not, and I hope I won't do that when I'm a parent." "But where else do you learn how to treat kids properly other than your own parents? I see my eldest sister treating her kids just like my parents treat me." "That's depressing. I mean can't she see that she could do a better job?" "No, and of course my mom encourages her because that's what she did." "Well, it must change from one generation to the next because things change. I mean, my grandparents never had to deal with the internet and phones and sexting and all of those things when my parents were young." "But they all seem to need to try to control their kids, so that sort of behavior does get passed down." "Yeah, that's right, it's their behavior that stays even if the issues keep changing, they still treat us like little kids who need to be told what to do and how to do it." "I think mine are trying to be different to my grandparents. They try to make sure me and my sister don't get sexist toys and we all share chores equally, and they give us quite a bit of freedom." "But I don't think that's typical. I think most of the problems we have these days have been passed on from our parents and grandparents."

"OK, down to the last three questions! Next!"

'When you look at all the problems you face, do you think they're getting worse?'

"There are days when I think that it's hopeless. My parents and I don't communicate very well, but they still try to boss me around, and it seems to get worse and worse." "That's really depressing." "Yeah, I think it's getting harder for me. I mean, we're growing up and we're getting involved with things like sex, and soon it'll be arguments over who gets the car, and how late we can stay out, and it's going to get worse before it gets better." "Yeah, it's really hard when we have to deal with girlfriends and boyfriends and dating and all those things. My parents just don't understand me and my sister when it comes to our friends. It's really making our lives more and more difficult all the time." "That's why teenage suicides are increasing. I blame parents for most of those because they don't know how to cope with having teenagers these days, and so things are getting worse and worse. 'Thirteen Reasons Why' was really interesting for me, but my parents thought it was disgraceful that they talked about all those things on TV."

"Moving right along!"

'Are you looking forward to leaving home?'

The entire class shouted "YES" as soon as the question came up on the screen.

"Can't wait!" "The sooner the better!" "Yes, and at college as far away from home as possible." "Yeah, my brother goes to college in Vermont and he's really happy. I can't wait to do the same." "Yes, I can't wait, although I'd like to stay close to my family and friends."

There really wasn't any discussion because everyone seemed on the same page on that issue. So John brought up the last question.

'Do you think you'll be better parents than your parents are?'

Again there was a pretty unanimous shout of "YES" from the class. But a couple of kids took a different viewpoint.

"I'm not sure I want to have kids. I think that it's very constraining on your life to have kids, and they're really expensive, and I plan to have more time and money to do things I want to do." "That's selfish!" "No it's not selfish. I don't think I'll be a good parent and I'd rather not mess up another generation by being a crappy parent." "Well, I want kids because I think we're smart enough to avoid making all the mistakes our parents made. "But I bet our parents all said the same thing when they were our age. I mean, they can't have enjoyed the way they were treated." "Maybe not, but they didn't seem to learn how to do it better." "Maybe we should think more about whether we want kids of our own."

"OK, times up!" said John. "Given the amount of class participation these are topics and issues that interest you and concern you. I expect all of you agree with parts of what's been said and some who disagree with things that were said. And that's fine, because it's important we have to think things through for ourselves. The famous English writer and poet Oscar Wilde said 'A man who does not think for himself does not think at all'. So I'm glad that you've all had a chance to think about these questions, and I hope you've been able to think what your particular viewpoint is. And if your friends don't agree with what you've said, just accept the fact that their entitled to their own opinion. OK?"

"But, Mr. Moore, what's all this got to do with poetry. I mean this was an interesting discussion and all that, but it doesn't seem to have much to do with poetry."

"Does everyone agree?" All the kids seem to nod in agreement.

"OK, then I'm going to put a poem up on the screen and let you read it, and then let's see if that poem has any relationship to what we've been talking about. I've had to change one word twice because we're still in Middle School and I'm not supposed to use certain four-letter words, but I don't think it changes the meaning very much."

This be the verse
by Philip Larkin

They mess you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

But they were messed up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another's throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don't have any kids yourself.

John sat and watched while the kids read the poem. He saw that several of them read it more than once. Quite a few of the kids were smiling and nodding their heads. After he'd let them finish reading, John started to finish the lesson.

"OK, you've all read the poem. You can see that each question I asked you reflects each line of the poem. I'm not going to ask you if you like it, I'm not going to ask you what you think the poet had in mind, I'm not going to ask you if you agree with any or all of what he has to say. But I am going to say one thing." John looked out over the class, and he was thrilled by the fact that he had their complete attention.

"I hope you all can see that this poem can make you think about yourself and your relationships to your parents and grandparents and having children and how to raise them. And that's the power of poetry. In just a few lines you can get people to think. I think that's awesome!"

The bell rang.

"See you next time!"

The kids were all chattering excitedly and John could hear that they were all talking about the poem. He was a very satisfied teacher.

Chapter 2

A couple of days later John was still feeling pretty pleased about how the poetry class had gone. He had been nervous because the subject matter was pretty sensitive, particularly for kids in Middle School, but he really felt that his students were mature enough to deal with that. He was more concerned about whether there would be repercussions from parents if they knew what he'd done, but he'd heard positive comments from other teachers in the Faculty Lounge. Several teachers had heard the kids talking about poetry and the poem, and were surprised by how excited and enthusiastic the eighth graders were. Even the Principal had heard and told John he thought he'd done a good job.

At the end of the last class in the morning his seventh grade kids had rushed off to have lunch and run around outside for a few minutes. He was left alone, and he was just about to find his lunch and go to the Faculty Lounge when there was a knock on the door.

"Come in!"

John looked up to see Josh, one of his eighth grade kids, slip into the classroom.

"What's up, Josh?"

"Could I talk to you for a few minutes, please, Mr. Moore?"

"Of course. But aren't you missing lunch?"

"I bring my own to school, I'll eat it later."

"No, you can eat it here, I'm going to have mine at my desk. Now, what can I do for you?"

"Could I close the door, please, Mr. Moore, it's rather private."

"No, it's best not. The school policy doesn't encourage students and teachers to be alone behind closed doors. Sorry. But we can talk very quietly. I'm sure everyone else is at lunch or playing basketball."

Josh hesitated. "OK, I guess, but it's really embarrassing."

"OK, let's try anyway. Go ahead, whenever you're ready." John reached over, found his bag, took out his sandwich and started eating.

"Well, after I got home last night I looked up the poem we did in class yesterday and I read it again and I thought that it really was about me. It sounded just like my life: parents who always seem to give me a hard time, grandparents who are old fashioned and spoil me when they can but still think I'm a little kid, and then they're always arguing with my parents. I can't wait to leave home like my brother's done by going to college in Vermont. The sooner I leave home, the better!"

Little did Josh know how prophetic those last few words were.

"That's very interesting, Josh. I'm really glad the poem made you think about those things. So what's the problem?"

"Well, it's the last line, really, about not having kids that got me thinking. I thought at first the poet was gay because gay people don't have kids but when I looked him up it turns out he was sort of a womanizer. But it made me think about myself and I guess that I finally realized to myself that I'm gay and won't have kids. And I really need someone to talk to about it because it's scary. And seeing you're gay I thought coming to you would be easiest."

"Yes, it is scary when you finally accept you're gay. I guess you've been fighting it. Am I right, Josh?"

Yeah, I have. I really don't want to be different. I have no idea how my friends will react if and when they find out, but I know for sure all hell will break out at home. My dad's pretty anti-gay and he's always bad mouthing them when gay people come up on TV."

"Ouch. That's tough."

"Tell me about it! But it's not having anyone to talk to about it is the hard part. I can't come out at school because I don't trust anyone to keep a secret like that, and it would probably get back to my parents in the end. And I don't know any gay people, well, except you, Mr. Moore, so I thought you might be able to help me."

"Let me think a little bit while you're finishing your lunch."

John did start to think about how he might help Josh. Fortunately Josh was one of the more mature eighth graders, both mentally and physically. He'd started the year with just the first signs of serious puberty, and now he had quite of lot of dark hair on his legs, and he'd had a serious growth spurt so he was getting on for six feet tall. He also sported the beginnings of a mustache which made him look more like a high school age kid than a middle school kid. He seemed to have quite a lot of friends, he was never by himself, but he generally kept out of the rough housing and jostling that most of the boys seemed to like. And he was pretty smart and could deal with adults better than most kids his age.

"Do you have any plans for Saturday, Josh?"

"No, well I've probably got some homework coming my way, you teachers seem to think that's what weekends are for, but nothing in particular. Why?"

"Well, I happen to know that on Saturday there's a picnic being held at Memorial Park and there's a whole bunch of gay and gay-friendly high school kids going. Some smart kid from one of the high schools thought it would be a good idea to have the different LGBT clubs to get together so that people from different schools would get to know each other. Apparently it's been very successful. So they've arranged a picnic and sports day for Saturday. You might like that."

"But I'm only an eighth grader so I won't know anyone. I'd be terrified to go there without knowing anyone."

"First, you're mature enough to pass as a high school kid, no problem. Second, I bet you'd see some kids you know who were here last year. You'd be surprised at how many kids find it easier to come out in high school than middle school. Third, and most important, I'm going and I can help you meet a couple of kids I know who might be people you like."

"Why are you going? I thought you said it was for high school kids."

"It is, but you have to be over twenty one to hire the pavilion and the field they use for games, so me and a couple of my friends are going as token adults and be on the lookout in case something happens that needs adult attention. And we're cooking so the kids can have fun and get something to eat."

"Well, if you're going to be there I'd feel a little bit less nervous. What time is it starting?"

"Well, it really starts at three and goes to about six, but I'll be there early to get the grills going and make sure there's food and drinks before the hungry hordes turn up. If you like, I could pick you up about two, that way you don't have to turn up by yourself."

"Wow, thanks, Mr. Moore, that's super! Could you pick me up at the Coffee Corner Cafe on Route 221? I don't think you should come to my house."

"No, that wouldn't be smart! I'll see you Saturday, then! Take care!"

Josh gave him a fist bump and slipped out into the corridor. All the other kids were still outside so nobody needed to know he'd been in with Mr. Moore for the past twenty minutes.

John finished his lunch, went and got a cup of coffee in the Faculty Lounge, returned to his classroom, checked his emails and prepared for the eighth grade English Literature class. He wondered if the class would have any feedback about the poem. They did.

When the kids settled down after the bell rang, several hands went up. John braced himself for complaints and criticism.

"Yes, Mary, what have you got to say?"

"Mr. Moore, I really liked what we did yesterday. Are you going to do the same again today with another poem?"

"Not exactly the same. You'll see!"

"But we all really enjoyed doing that question thing and then finding out how it made us understand the poem better!"

"Well, I'm glad to hear that! It's not every day the poetry teacher gets praised. Does everyone feel the same way?"

There were a lot of nods and smiles from the kids.

"I was a bit worried that some of you would find the poem too negative. I mean, it's not very polite about parents and grandparents but to me it does capture a lot of the issues that people of your age have to deal with."

John looked around the class but nobody seemed to want to follow up. "Good! Well, what we going to do today is that you're going to do all the work. I've copied out three more shorts poems. Each of you can read them, choose the one you feel relates to you and your life best, and then after a few minutes I'll call on some of you to explain what it was the poem made you think about. Don't try to tell me what you think the poet was trying to say, tell me what it made you think about!"

John took a deep breath of relief, handed out the set of three poems, and sat and watched while they read the poems and selected the one they wanted to talk about. He got a lot of good responses, mostly because they were talking about themselves and the things that were important to them, not what they thought some dead poet was trying to say years and years ago.

When school was finished, John called his friend Martin and suggested they meet for a beer. Martin was a teacher at Washington High School and also happened to be the teacher who looked after the LGBT group there. That was the group headed by Chris who had been instrumental in arranging the first inter-High School gay meeting at the local community college.

John and Martin met in the Pink Elephant, a low key bar that wasn't too busy in the late afternoon. They'd known each other in college and had been active in the gay activities there. They'd never been boyfriends, but they had become good friends and they were happy they'd managed to get jobs close to each other.

"Hey, John, how's it hanging?"

"OK! Boy, I need a beer. I forget how tiring it can be to teach all day long!"

"Tell me about it! So what's up?"

"I wanted to ask you for some information. I took the liberty of suggesting to one of my eighth grade students that he come to the picnic on Saturday."

"John, that's naughty. You know it's supposed to be strictly for high school kids."

"Yeah, I know, but he's bigger than a lot of freshman and quite grown up. I wouldn't have done the same to some little shrimp. He'll pass quite easily for a high school freshman. He can always pretend he's being homeschooled or going to one of those Christian Academies where there aren't any kids coming to the picnic."

"OK, I guess. I trust your judgement. But why did you tell him about it?"

"Well, he's only just recognized he's gay, he's not out and doesn't intend to come out any time soon because he's not sure how his friends will react, and he's terrified of his parents knowing, especially his homophobic dad."

"Oh shit! Poor kid. I wish that type of thing would never happen, but it's all too common. So how did you find out he was gay?"

"He told me this lunch time. Two days ago I got the kids to read 'This be the verse' by Philip Larkin, you know, the one that starts 'they fuck you up, your mom and dad', and it really struck a chord with him, and he decided to come and ask me if I could help him find some gay kids he could talk to. And you know we don't have a GSA or LGBT club at my school."

"Well, I told you a long time ago you need to start one!"

"And I will, but not the first year when I'm still trying to find my feet and write up all the lesson plans and get a good first year report from the Principal!"

"Yeah, yeah, I understand! But next school year you'll have to do it!"

"I'll think about it!"

"So what's the information you want from me?"

"Well, you know some of the kids who are coming to the picnic and I wondered if you knew if any of the kids in your LGBT group were at my school last year."

"Mmmm, let me see. There must be, your middle school is one of our feeder schools and we've got about seven or eight freshman in the Club, and I'm sure one or two must have been at your place last year. Why do you want to know?"

"Well, I thought that if my student, his name's Josh by the way, met someone who'd been to the same middle school, and maybe even knew him slightly, that would help him break the ice. He's pretty intimidated about coming at all, but knowing someone there would make him feel a little less nervous."

"Good point."

"If you could point him towards a kid who'd been in my school last year that would be wonderful."

"No problem! I'll look up where the LGBT kids went to middle school and guide him like you suggest. I think that's a great idea, and if he can find someone to talk to that would be perfect. He might even find a boyfriend!"

"I don't think he's ready for that. He's still getting used to the fact that he's gay, so give him a little slack to start with!"

"Just kidding! Want another beer?"

"No, I better be going. Phil's coming over this evening. He's been out on the boat for three days and he'll want a proper meal and a bed that doesn't move around all the time."

"I don't know how he can cope with spending so much time on the boat. It's so claustrophobic!"

"Well, he's a marine biologist. Boats are something you have to deal with. But not me, I get sea sick."

"OK, say 'hi' to Phil for me. He's not coming Saturday, is he?"

"No, they've got another survey of red tide coming up this weekend so I'm coming by myself."

Chapter 3

Right after lunch on Saturday John drove over to the Coffee Corner Cafe. Josh was sitting by the window nursing a soda and as soon as John pulled into a parking space he ran outside and jumped into the car.

"Hi Mr. Moore, let's go!"

As John drove off he looked over at Josh. "Nervous?"

"Yeah, a bit, but I'm excited about going as well."

"You'll be OK, and if you get any problems I'm there to help you out."

"What sort of problems?"

"Well, maybe some outsiders will try to muscle in. We'll have the place taped off so that anyone coming in has to show their invitation. But that's pretty unlikely because there's always lots of people in the park and that stops most people from creating problems. No, I'm more concerned that some older kids will want to hit on you. I mean, you're pretty cute looking and some older kids like that. Just tell them you're spoken for, and if they persist, then yell as loud as possible. That'll scare them off."

"Do you think that's likely?"

"I can't say. Maybe. Best to try to stick with kids your own age, they're less likely to hassle you. And don't go looking for someone to hop into bed with, take it nice and slow. Make friends with people before you go any further."

"OK. Anyway I'm not sure about sex yet. And I really don't know what I'd be supposed to do!"

It took about twenty minutes to get to Memorial Park and locate the pavilion they'd rented for the afternoon. It turned out they were the first people there, so John parked close to the pavilion and he and Josh started getting out the food and charcoal and soft drinks he'd packed in the car. While they were still arranging everything and firing up a couple of the barbecues another car drove up and Martin got out.

"Hey, sorry I'm late! I see you've done most of the work!"

"Hi Martin, good to see you. Let me introduce Josh to you, he's the kid I told you about the other day. Josh, meet Martin Evans."

"Hi Josh, nice to meet you. You're a bit early, aren't you?"

"Yes, Mr. Evans, but Mr. Moore gave me a ride because we live near each other."

"JOHN, YOU ARE SO FUCKING STUPID! WHAT THE FUCK DO YOU THINK YOU'RE DOING?"

"Hey, what's up, why are you yelling?"

"YOU BROUGHT ONE OF YOUR STUDENTS HERE IN YOUR CAR BY HIMSELF?"

"Calm down, Martin, it just happened to be convenient."

"DON'T BE SO FUCKING DUMB! I CAN SEE THE HEADLINE IN THE PAPER RIGHT NOW: 'GAY TEACHER TAKES KID TO GAY PARTY WITHOUT PARENTS KNOWING!' JESUS FUCKING CHRIST!"

There was stunned silence. Josh looked as if the bottom of his world had just fallen out and it was clear he was on the verge of bursting into tears. John just stood there with his mouth hanging open.

"Oh SHIT! Christ, you're right Martin, that was really dumb of me. I'm sorry Josh, I really fucked up! I just wasn't thinking, I mean I was so happy to try to help Josh here I didn't think!"

"Damn right you didn't think!" snapped Martin. "You've put Josh here in a terrible position. If his parents find out then all hell is going to break loose, and this whole program could go up in smoke. The bigots would love such a story, we'd never hear the end of it, and you, John, would not only be out of a job but possibly in jail. FUCK!"

John just stood there. He looked completely shell shocked. He didn't know what to say and he didn't know what to do.

It was Josh who broke the silence. "Ummm, Mr. Evans, do you think I should leave?"

"No, you've done nothing wrong, although it would have been smarter to make your own way here."

"Yeah, that's for sure. Ummm, we were the first people here, and nobody saw us arrive and now it's only you, so I could just disappear for a while until some other kids arrive and pretend I wasn't here earlier."

"I think it's too late for that, some others are arriving already."

"Then I'll just say that I got the time wrong and arrived too early and I was already here when Mr. Moore arrived."

"That's probably the best story. John, what does it feel like when your students are smarter that you?"

A couple of car loads of kids arrived, and soon there were about ten kids grazing on the snacks that had been laid out. They acknowledged Josh but didn't include him in their conversations. Then another car arrived, driven by a dark red haired kid wearing glasses, and three kids who looked a little bit younger. One had a mop of dark hair, one had light brown hair with blond streaks, and one looked Eurasian with brown skin and fairly long straight back hair. When they saw Martin they waved and made their way over.

"Hey guys, glad you could make it!"

The kid with the streaked hair spoke first. "Hi, Mr. Evans, we wouldn't miss it for anything. We've all been looking forward to it looking!"

"Thanks, Kyle! Let me introduce you to Josh, I think you might know him. You were in the same middle school, I think."

Kyle looked at Josh. "Yeah, I think I recognize you, but weren't you a grade below me?"

"Yeah, I'm still only in eighth grade. But I'm not sure I remember you!"

Steven spoke up. "Kyle had a makeover a little while back, he's completely different looking now since he had his hair styled and wears decent clothes. Even I didn't recognize him the first time I saw him after he'd had the makeover! He used to be one of the nerds but now he's become a human being. I'm Steven, by the way, and this is my boyfriend Landon, and him there is Jose, he's a friend of ours. Landon goes to Kennedy High and Jose goes to Catholic High and Kyle and I are both at Washington High, so we're quite a mixed bunch."

"Oh, nice to meet you all. Yeah, now I remember who you are, Kyle! It's nice to see someone I know!"

"First time at one of these events?" asked Landon.

Josh nodded. "Yeah."

"Then why don't you hang with us for a while and see if there's anyone else you may know. We're all pretty friendly and harmless!"

"Cool, I'd like that!"

Martin smiled to himself. He'd set it up with Kyle and Steven to take care of Josh, and they'd done it perfectly. He had talked with Steven to find out how Kyle was faring now that school had started. Kyle had decided to try to stick it out at Washington rather than transfer following his disgrace over trying to force Jose to have sex with him. Steven told Martin that there was a lot of hostility and name calling at first, but because Kyle now sat with Steven every lunchtime, and because Steven made it clear to everyone that Kyle was full of remorse over what he'd done, most people stopped picking on him. Steven added that he and Kyle had, somewhat surprisingly, become good friends. So Steven had felt it OK to let Kyle help look after Josh because he was sure Kyle wouldn't try anything stupid.

"Great, thanks, Steven! John and I need to start some cooking so you don't need to stay here with us! Josh, can I have a word before you disappear?"

"Sure, Mr. Evans!"

Martin took Josh off to one side and whispered in his ear. "Josh, try to stick with these guys, and try to make sure you get a ride home with them. OK?"

"Sure, Mr. Evans, and thanks!"

The five kids went and found some snacks and sodas, and then they saw some other friends of theirs and they were off.

"Jeez, thanks, Martin, you've saved me again!"

"Yeah, diphead. I really hope that nobody saw you and Josh alone together. But let's not worry about that now, we'll talk later. Let's start cooking because they'll all want burgers and dogs at the same time."

They put on their aprons and were soon joined by a couple of other adults who turned out to be the teachers responsible for the LGBT clubs in the other two High Schools. Those three clubs provided the bulk of the kids who had come for the picnic, but there were a few from private schools as well.

Steven Roberts was munching on some chips. Looking around, he was secretly very happy indeed. There were a total of about seventy kids, about one third girls, and they looked just like any other bunch of high schoolers. Sure, some had worn clothes that marked them as gay, including a couple of rainbow tee shirts and a couple with pro-gay slogans, but the vast majority just wore normal kids clothing of shirts, tee shirts and sneakers or sandals. It had been suggested to the kids who were coming not to be too camp because the picnic was in a public park and so there would be others around who might take objection if it looked like a gay orgy. And the kids had been asked to try to minimize too many explicit signs of affection.

For the most part that was true, with most kids engaged in some of the sporting activities that had been set up. There was a five-a-side soccer game and a volleyball court that were both in constant use, there were some bean bag tossing sets, some kids had brought their proKedema bats, while other kids were just sitting around chatting, and others were beginning to prowl close to the barbecues, attracted by the smell of burgers and dogs.

Steven took some pride in knowing that it was his idea in the first place to try to get kids from the different high schools together socially, although he was adamant that he didn't want people to know that. He'd had the idea because he just wanted to have a way to meet other like-minded kids outside the drama and gossip inside his own school. And of course, he'd met Landon at the first of these events and they'd clicked immediately, in fact they'd gone straight back to Steven's home and spent their first night together. They'd been together now for about two months and they were deeply in love with each other, they spent their weekends at each other's houses, they'd had three wonderful days alone together camping at the beach, they'd been welcomed by both sets of parents, and the two of them were happy and content.

Kyle, on the other hand, was still looking for a boyfriend. He thought that it would work out with Jose, who he met on the same evening that Steven and Landon met, and they'd gone on a date. That had been a disaster. Kyle had come on to Jose and starting trying to grope him and get Jose to jack him off, and Jose had said no, and it ended really badly. And when Steven found out he had punched Kyle in the face and gotten suspended. All the kids in his school have gone on strike to support Steven and address the issue of sexual harassment.

Kyle had been mortified when Steven punched him, because Steven was someone he looked up to and trusted. But he soon understood what he'd done wrong, and had managed to meet Jose and apologize. So Kyle had been looking forward to the picnic because he hoped he'd have a chance to meet someone who might become his boyfriend. He'd been really surprised to see Josh when they arrived at the picnic. He'd had no idea Josh might be gay, but then he remembered that he himself had hidden his sexuality until he got to High School by dressing as an unattractive nerd who didn't want to socialize. Middle School was so much harder because most kids were still fairly immature, and more likely to pick on gay kids than in High School where there seemed, at least these days, greater tolerance for diversity. It wasn't perfect, but at least it was better than it had been in Middle School.

Watching Steven and Landon together made Josh feel a little jealous. He dreamed of having a relationship like that where he could go out in public with someone and behave as a couple, but he knew in his heart that as long as he was anywhere near home that was impossible because of his family. He quite liked Kyle and they spent quite a bit of time talking, but he didn't develop any kind of interest in him. He couldn't put his finger on it, but maybe it was just that they didn't have enough in common or something, and he wasn't interested in having him as a boyfriend.

On the other hand, he really liked Jose. Jose was by far the quietest of the four boys that Josh had just met, and he found that appealing because he wasn't very attracted to boys who were always engaged in some form of rough and tumble activity. And when Jose did speak he always seemed to say something sensible or make a good joke.

Seeing it was nearly time for food to be served, Josh decided he needed to try to arrange a ride home.

"Landon, do you have enough room in your car to drop me off somewhere?"

"Where do you need to go?"

"Maybe somewhere near the Coffee Corner Cafe? I can walk home from there."

"Yeah, I guess could do that. We'll drop Kyle off first, and then you. No problem!"

At the sound of the airhorn the kids stopped their games and conversations and headed for the pavilion where there were heaps of burgers and hotdogs, buns, ketchup and mayo, and a few bowls of coleslaw and potato salad. It wasn't gourmet eating, hey, it's a picnic after all, but that didn't stop the kids demolishing everything pretty rapidly. Josh stuck together with his new friends. Although they had met several other kids, all of whom had just accepted Josh without question, he hadn't met anyone he wanted to try to get to know better, and anyway he was more comfortable with the four of them. But he was secretly thrilled to be around so many people who were gay and find most of them were just normal kids who looked just like everyone else. He'd instinctively shied away from the few flamers at the picnic, but then so had his newly found friends.

And once they'd eaten, many of the kids started to drift away, and it wasn't long before only a handful were left. A few of the elder kids, mostly office holders in the participating LGBT clubs, helped John and the other adults clear up the debris and pack things into John's car. John hadn't seen Josh for a while and started to worry about where he was when the five boys walked up to him and Martin, said goodbye, and drove off in Landon's car.

When everything was packed up, and just the four adults were left, they agreed that it had gone pretty well. There hadn't been any trouble from outsiders, the kids had pretty much adhered to the low-key dress code and behavior so it didn't look like they'd antagonized anyone, and they thought that a few more friendships might have been made. What made them all particularly happy was that kids from different schools were mingling together, which after all was the whole purpose of these events.

Chapter 4

John and Martin stopped off at the Pink Elephant for a beer, well deserved after a few hours of grilling burgers and dogs for a bunch of teenagers.

"I'm sorry I yelled at you earlier, especially in front of that kid!"

"I deserved it. And thanks to you, he managed his own ride home."

"That's two you owe me already!"

"Martin, do you really think I'm in trouble?"

"I've no idea. There's two parts to this. The first is whether anyone saw you, either here or where you picked him up. Josh may be right that nobody saw him arrive here with you, but maybe someone did when he got in your car."

"It's possible, I suppose. It was in a parking lot, and I don't know who was there. I feel such a dick."

"Well you are a dick and there's nothing we can do about that! If someone saw you two in the car that's water under the bridge, and you'll have to deal with the consequences. You won't be able to deny it."

"Yeah, that's scary. It's like Damocles sword, never knowing when it's going to drop. I suppose eventually we can feel safe, but it's going to be a worrying time for a while. What's other part?"

"It's Josh himself. Do you trust him?"

"Yeah, I do, but he's only fourteen so he's susceptible to all sorts of pressure and he might say something without meaning to."

"John, while I hope I know the answer, I have to ask this. Is there anything going on between the two of you."

"NO!"

"Well, I had to ask."

"Look, to all intents and purposes, I've only known the kid as an individual for a few days. Before that he was just one of my students, nothing special. I mean he's one of my favorite students but I don't think we've had different relationship than any of the other kids. It was only after we did that poem thing that he ever talked to me one on one."

"Be careful. I watched him looking at you when we were getting ready for the picnic. I think he's got a bad case of hero worship and who knows, he may have crazy ideas about what your relationship might be."

"I'd never do anything like that!"

"I know. But supposing he starts to try to come on to you and you say 'no', he may get really upset and try to blackmail you with the knowledge that he can screw up your life just like that by reporting what happened this afternoon."

John looked miserable. "I've really screwed up, haven't I? What the fuck am I going to do."

"Well, first, you do have to distance yourself a little from the kid. Don't be nasty to him or anything like that, but try to spend as little time as possible with him, and make sure you treat all the other kids equally so he has less chance of getting pissed off at you."

"OK, I'll try."

"Then you are going to have to decide how much you need to cover your ass."

"I don't understand."

"Let's take the worst case scenarios, both of which end up with more or less the same result. Either someone saw him getting in your car, or Josh himself tells someone. Now your going to be in huge trouble because it's your word against someone else's and you're likely to be viewed as guilty from the outset. That's what happens in cases of potential child abuse. So is there anything you can think of that will try to mitigate your situation."

John thought for a long time, and drank some more beer. "What if I went to my Principal and tell him exactly what happened?"

"Do you trust him?"

"Yeah, he's been pretty nice to me, and I think he likes me."

"That's got nothing to do with trust. If you did that, do you think he'd give you a fair hearing, or would he throw you to the wolves?"

"I've no idea. But I think he'd be more likely to throw me to the wolves if he hears about this from somebody else. I think it's my best option."

"Yes, I agree it's better to be straightforward and own up to things yourself than try to have to defend yourself when the shit actually hits the fan when everyone's all hot and bothered about things."

They talked this over for a long time, and in the end decided that really the best option was for John to go to the Principal and tell him what had happened, and trust that the Principal would come up with an appropriate course of action.

When he got home, John emailed his Principal asking for a meeting as soon as possible, and then spend a very uneasy Saturday night and Sunday stewing over his situation. When his partner Phil came back on Sunday evening after the weekend survey of red tide and other algal blooms out in the Gulf of Mexico, he found John in a real mess emotionally. They spend a long time talking about it, and eventually John calmed down and the two of them ended up in bed together focussed on making love to each other.

In the morning John got an email from the Principal saying they could meet at lunch time. He managed to get through his morning classes, but it was clear to his students he was not really focussed on his teaching, and kids messed him around more than normal. At least he didn't lose his temper or take it out on the kids, but by the time he reached the Principal's office, John was a nervous wreck.

"Come on in, John! What's up"

John closed the door behind him and sat down facing the Principal.

"I've done something really stupid and I want to let you know so you can take appropriate action."

"OK, I'm listening."

"On Saturday I took drove one of our students to an event we were both attending without getting parental permission to do so."

"That was stupid. What was the event?"

"It was an inter-High School picnic and games afternoon at Memorial Park for gay and gay-friendly students."

"GODDAMN!" The Principal got up and looked out of the window for a while while he collected his thoughts. Then he turned around and looked at John.

"First and foremost, is there anything going on between you and this boy?"

"No, sir! Absolutely nothing at all!"

"Why did you come and tell me this?"

"Two reasons, sir. First, I felt it best that if you heard this first from me then it would be easier for you to deal with it in case someone else told you about it."

"Yes, you're probably right. Does anybody else know, besides you and the boy."

"We think the only other person who knows is an old friend of mine who was at the same event. And he tore a strip off me when he realised what I'd done."

"Good for him. You deserve it."

"But I can't guarantee someone else didn't see. It's possible but we think it's unlikely."

"What's the second reason?"

"I think you need to discipline me, sir!"

"Why?"

"Because that way, if someone does find out what I did and makes a complaint, you can say you knew about it, and the teacher in question was disciplined."

The Principal thought about this for a while. "I understand where you're coming from. But won't I have to wait until someone complains?"

"I don't think so, sir, if it's clear I informed you of the transgression. You could issue me a letter of severe reprimand and a clear indication that in the event I ever did this again, I'd be fired on the spot."

"I'll think about it. I'll have to consult with the school lawyer to see if that's possible. If it is, I'll do that."

"Thank you, sir."

"Who's the boy?"

"I'd rather not tell you that, sir. I'm the only person in school who knows that he's probably gay and he told me in strictest confidence. If I break my promise to him and he finds out I've outed him, then he will be really angry and may seek revenge against me by accusing me of molesting him. He told me his father is really homophobic, so if his father finds out the boy went to a gay-themed event, he's likely to get into terrible trouble at home. So while I'm prepared to accept the consequences for breaking regulations regarding transporting a student in my car without parental permission, I'd hope the gay issue is kept separate and outside the school."

"I see. You're correct that the boy's private lifestyle is outside the school's concern. Let's hope none of this comes out, because if it does your tenure here will be very short-lived. You must promise me to distance yourself from the boy, and never, absolutely never, be alone with him, or any other student for that matter, in a private setting. Now let me contact our legal people, and I'll let you know the outcome as soon as I hear from them."

"Yes, sir, thank you, sir, you've been very understanding."

John went back to his classroom, swallowed some of his sandwich even though he didn't feel the slightest bit hungry, and prepared himself for his eighth grade class with a great deal of trepidation.

In the end, the class passed peacefully enough and John made sure he didn't inadvertently give Josh any special treatment or ignore him any more than anyone else in the class. And at the end of class Josh took a while to organize his stuff so he was the last to leave. He walked out without saying anything to John, but he gave him a tiny smile and little nod. Nobody else noticed.

Chapter 5

The main reason Josh didn't try to talk to John was that he was very happy and was preoccupied with what was going to happen to him over the coming days. He had got into the back seat with Kyle and Jose, sandwiched between them because Kyle was going to get out first. Steven had the rights to the front seat because he was Landon's boyfriend. There wasn't a huge amount of room in the back seat, so it wasn't surprising that the three boys' legs were frequently touching, particularly when they went around curves.

Kyle started up the back seat conversation. "So, Josh, I didn't want to ask you when there were other kids around, but seeing we're all friends I can ask you whether you have a boyfriend."

"Ummm, no, I don't. I've only just come out to myself and today's the first time I've gone to anything like this."

"Yeah, we're lucky in High School because we've got the LGBT club and it's easy to get to know a few other gay kids. I couldn't do it in Middle School, and I guess things haven't changed very much."

"No. I don't know any kids who are gay. I mean there must be but it's all kept secret. What about you, Kyle, do you have a boyfriend?"

"No, not at present. I keep looking."

"Did you meet anyone today you liked?"

"Well, maybe, I don't know yet."

Jose spoke up. "Be careful, Josh, he's just horny and wants to get his rocks off!"

Kyle glared at him "Well, of course I do, everyone wants that, don't they! Well, almost everyone!"

Jose blushed a bit. "Yeah, almost everyone. I've worried these gay events are sort of a mass meat market where everyone is checking everyone else out to see if they can hook up with them."

Steven interrupted from the front seat. "That's partly true, Jose, but I saw a lot of kids just socializing without seeming to be hitting on each other. But if they do hook up, that's fine, and if they just become friends, that's fine as well. Look at you and Kyle. You're still friends with Kyle even though you won't do stuff with him. That's a plus for these events, isn't it? And Kyle has finally got up the guts to come out and go to the LGBT meetings, and has managed to meet a couple of others who might go out on dates with him. None of that would have happened if we hadn't had a couple of these events."

"Yeah, you're right, Steven, but you're the lucky one, aren't you, meeting Landon like that and getting laid straight away!"

"Hey, it's not just about sex with me and Landon!"

"But there's lots of sex involved, isn't there!"

Steven blushed and turned to look out of the window. "Whatever!"

Josh was fascinated. He'd never been in a conversation like this before. He found it very grown up, and he found himself getting just a little bit horny thinking of Landon and Steven sleeping together, and Kyle having a couple of dates. He sensed that there had been some issue between Kyle and Jose in the past, but they were speaking to each other. He was still in that mood when they reached Kyle's house and dumped him off with promises of getting together soon. And Josh was even more intrigued that when Kyle got out, even though there was more space in the back seat, Jose seemed to be sitting right next to him and their legs were still touching.

"What are you going this evening, Josh?" asked Jose, turning to look at him.

"I've got to get home. My dad knows I went to the park to see some friends, but if I stay out any longer he's going to get too interested in what I've been doing and I'll get the third degree treatment."

"Does he know you're gay?"

"God, no, he's the most homophobic person on the planet! If he ever finds out I'm gay, I'm toast. He'll kill me!"

"Bummer. That's going to make it tough to have a boyfriend."

"Yeah, I mean I'm able to go out and visit friends and stuff, he's OK with that, but he really wants me to have a girlfriend and be banging her all the time. Just like my sister!"

"Your sister? What's up with her?"

"She's a slut. She sleeps with anyone who she can find. It never lasts very long, she moves from boy to boy. My dad thinks that's just fine."

"What's her name, where does she go to school?"

"She goes to Washington High School. Janice Smith."

Steven burst out laughing. "Janice Smith is your sister! Jeez, she's the world's biggest cum bucket, everyone knows that. It's amazing she can still remember how to walk, she's on her back the whole time!"

"That's her!"

"Gross!" Jose pretended to retch. "Hey, about you and me getting together sometime. We could do a movie or something!"

Josh thought carefully about what John had said to him about more experienced kids coming on to him. "Well, OK, a movie would be fine, but it has to be the weekend because I'm pretty much made to stay home on school nights. You know, homework and stuff."

"Same for me. You'd think as we get older we'd be given more freedom, but I haven't seen it yet."

Landon laughed. "Hey, if you kept up your grades maybe you'd get more freedom. I hear you want to be a deep sea diver when you leave school."

"Huh, what do you mean?"

"Well, I heard all your grades are below C-level!"

"Oh, ha, ha, Mr. Braniac. My grades are almost all B's! Josh, ignore him. Give my your phone number and I'll text you and we'll see what we can work out."

They exchanged phone numbers just as they came up to the Coffee Corner Cafe.

"Thanks for the ride, Landon. I hope I'll see you soon!"

"No problem, Josh, it was nice meeting you!"

"Same here," echoed Steven.

"OK, look out for my text, Josh!" And as he said that, Jose turned and gave Josh one of his really awesome smiles.

Josh got out of the car hoping that the rather rapidly growing bulge in his shorts wasn't too visible, and started the ten minute walk back to his house. He was feeling suddenly very grown up having some high school kids as friends, and the promise of something much more exciting when he and Jose got together again.

As they drove off, Landon glanced back at Jose. "Go slowly, OK? But I think he likes you!"

"Well, I like him! I think he's cute!"

"He is cute, I give you that, but isn't he a little young for you?"

"Hey, you're older than Steven, you're two grades above him, so you've got a worse problem than me. And anyway, he's pretty mature for an eighth grader, he's got hairier legs than me and Steven."

"OK, OK, just go to your room and wank yourself stupid dreaming of getting it off with Josh."

Jose kept quiet.

Chapter 6

Nothing happened during the rest of the week. John was mightily relieved that nobody had reported him to the school, and he hoped he'd weathered that storm. He felt that if someone was going to report him, it would be pretty soon after he and Josh had been seen together. There wouldn't be much point in holding back that information.

So his teaching went smoothly enough for the next few days. In each of the classes where Josh was present there didn't seem to be any discernible problems. Josh behaved like he always had, listening to what was being said, asking mostly sensible questions, messing around with his friends, and not giving off any type of signals that things were wrong.

It was only on Friday afternoon that they spoke. As the kids scrambled out of class, Josh dropped his books and had to bend down to retrieve them and all the bits of loose paper that had fallen out. As soon as the last kid had left, Josh looked at John.

"Is everything OK?"

"I think so. Nobody's said anything."

"Good, have a good weekend!" And with that Josh was gone.

Josh was indeed planning a good weekend. He'd arranged a double date with Jose, Landon and Steven which would give him and Jose a chance to spend a little time together. He was very excited about it.

The date he'd just had had gone really well. They'd all watched the same movie although it seemed that Landon was a bit bored. Afterwards the four of them stayed together, went for pizza and sodas, and there were enough opportunities for Josh and Jose to talk to each other without Landon and Steven listening in. They found out they had quite a few things in common, most importantly that neither of them were out because they we both scared of how their parents would react. There certainly wasn't a chance that they could go to Josh's house, but they both felt that it might be possible for Josh to come to Jose's and spend time together in his room. Probably only playing video games and stuff, but better than always being in public. Jose had promised to work on his mom and dad and sound out if they'd mind.

Again, they dropped Josh off at the Coffee Corner Cafe so that he wouldn't be seen by his parents, and he walked home feeling really good about life in general. He and Jose had arranged another date the following weekend, and this time they were planning to go by themselves, without Steven and Landon.

When he got home his Dad was drinking beer and watching some basketball game on TV.

"Where have you been?"

"I told you I was going to the movies with some friends."

"Oh. Yeah, I forgot. Have you finally got a girlfriend then? It's about time! At your age I was bonking lots of girls!"

"No, it was four boys I know from school and stuff."

"I hope they're not all little faggots! What's wrong with you kids, these days? Just get out there and have fun! At least your sister knows how to enjoy herself! She's always got a boyfriend in tow, and she's getting plenty, I can tell you! There must be lots of girls who would love to get hold of you! You could get lots as well!"

"Yes, Dad, but I'm not sure I'm ready!"

"Are you stupid or something! Get out there and get laid. You'll love it! You're far too old to be a virgin. Get going before it's too late."

"Yes, Dad, you're right, as always!"

"Yes, I'm always right! That's what makes me such a good Dad! Now go away and let me watch the rest of the ball game!"

"Yes, Dad!"

Josh felt nauseated by his father and his misogyny. He represented the worst type of person Josh could ever imagine. He went to his room depressed that it would be years before he could get away. And he thought more and more about that poem they'd read in school, and how much he felt it applied to him. The only thing that kept him going was the thought of his next date with Jose. So far they hadn't really ever been alone so they hadn't done anything much, but they seemed to like each other a lot. It seemed such a promising start to this stage in his incipient dating career.

A couple of miles away Landon and Steven were lying on Landon's bed talking. It was the turn of Steven to visit Landon, and the only chance they got to talk together was in Landon's room. The rest of the time, Landon's sisters Bella and Tamsin wanted their attention.

Landon looked at the ceiling. "Well, that went pretty well, I thought. I mean the movie was only so so, but it was nice to see Jose and Josh getting to know each other. Do you think it's going to work for them?"

"Oh, I think so. Jose's still pretty quiet and that seems to suit Josh because he's really only just getting used to all of this dating other boys. I think they're going to be good friends, and it's likely that they'll become boyfriends if they can get past their parental problems."

"I thank my lucky stars that our parents are so understanding and let us spend time together, and treat us like adults and everything. Sometimes I think it's harder on your parents because they're not going to be grandparents, while mine have got Bella and Tamsin to keep the family line going."

"I think you're right, although I admire your mum and dad for letting us be who we are around two impressionable young girls. That's not that common, from what I hear."

"You're right. We're really lucky! Now, I fear it's time for us to get out of my man cave and go and play big brothers to those two girls. I can't wait for tonight when we're alone again!"

"Me too!"

They had a long and extended kiss and then got off the bed, straightened out there clothes, and went to spend time with the rest of Landon's family. Although both boys would have been perfectly happy to stay in Landon's room, they also enjoyed being with the girls and their parents. They had all bonded into a close-knit family, and there was no question that Steven was part of that family. Landon's parents had fallen in love with Steven, and were thrilled he was part of their family, but they also had no hesitation in setting down rules for him and Landon, and making sure they behaved themselves with appropriate propriety in front of their younger siblings.

Another couple of miles away Martin, John and Phil were ensconced in the Pink Elephant enjoying a few beers. Phil hadn't had to go out on the boat this weekend because finally the red tide outbreak seemed to be dying down. That didn't mean it was over, but it wasn't affecting the beaches and there weren't any further reports of fish kills or other deaths.

"So, nothing further about taking Josh to the picnic?" asked Martin.

"No. I'm hoping things have blown over. He treats me just like the rest of the kids in his class, and he hasn't said a word to me otherwise."

"Good. Let's hope it's all blown over. I did see Steven the other day and he told me that Josh and Jose had gone on a double date with him and Landon, and that Jose and Josh seemed to be getting on really well."

"Is that the Steven kid who was on TV before Christmas talking about drunk driving?" asked Phil.

"Yeah, that's the one." said Martin, "Hey, you should meet his boyfriend, Landon. He's a junior, and he told me at the picnic that he wanted to study environmental science or something. I know he's into birds and stuff. Maybe we'll find a way to get you together so you can give him some advice on where to go to college and what to study."

"Yeah, I'd be willing to do that. It's great to hear about kids who care for the environment!"

"But I'm sort of worried about Steven and Landon. I mean they make a perfect couple, but you know Steven's only a freshman and Landon's a junior, so in just over a year's time Landon will go off to college, and Steven will be left on his own for a couple of years."

"Yeah, that's a problem with kids of different ages dating." said Phil. "Of course, he could go to Gulf Coast University" said Phil. "Lots of kids are commuters there and they have a really good environmental science program. Maybe we should get together with those two and have a talk about the future."

"God, we sound like our parents, trying to organize our kids' lives! Who's up for another beer?"

Steven's parents were going out to dinner together. They were resigned to the fact that Steven was spending every other weekend at Landon's house, but having the two boys together when it was their turn more than made up for it. They'd seen how Steven seemed to be growing up and maturing due to the influence of his slightly older boyfriend, they were delighted that there were no more tensions or difficulties among them all as a family, and the evening out they'd planned made them feel like they were dating again.

So, all in all, there was a sense of normality in the circle of kids and adults around Steven. And it would be nice to think that this would be the end of drama and disaster for Steven, and that they'd all live happily ever after. Dream on! Things just aren't like that for Steven, he just couldn't stop getting sucked into unfortunate events, even if they weren't of his making. Poor Steven!

Chapter 7

It all started so innocently. Jose and Josh had finally had a date together by themselves. As normal they went to the movies and sat close to each other, and towards the end of the show Josh reached over and very gently took hold of Jose's hand and gave it a little squeeze. He was thrilled when Jose squeezed back, and he looked over and grinned at Jose who grinned back and squeezed again. That was all that happened, but they stayed hand in hand until the end of the movie. Josh did have most of a hard on, but he didn't do anything about it. He get very excited when the lights went up and he saw an extra bulge in Jose's shorts. Again, they grinned at each other and walked out to find the inevitable pizza.

Both kids had come on the bus, but Jose's mother had agreed to pick them up and drop Josh off at or near his home. This meant, of course, that the day before Jose had had to tell his mother that he was meeting another boy to go to the movies, and she was one of those perceptive mothers who could put two and two together and come up with the answer four. She didn't say anything to Jose but she was determined that she'd manage to get Jose to tell her something and she'd decided to be completely sympathetic and understanding even if she wasn't entirely comfortable about the possibility of having a gay son.

Jose's mother was not in the slightest bit surprised both boys got in the backseat rather than fighting for shotgun, and she was pretty sure that they were holding hands during the journey. When they got near to where Josh lived, he asked to be dropped around the corner from their home. Jose's mother didn't say a word, and asked Josh exactly where he wanted to go. He asked her to slow down, looked around in all directions, and then said she could drop him right there. Both the boys got out of the car because Jose wanted to get in the front seat.

"See you next weekend!"

"OK, Josh, will do, and thanks!" And without thinking, Jose gave Josh a big hug that lasted just a bit longer than a casual hug.

They drove off, and Josh walked round the corner and down the street to his house, feeling really, really good about life. He got home, happily didn't see his parents anywhere, so went upstairs to his bedroom. He'd lain down on his bed and was thinking nothing but happy thoughts, and considered the possibility of pulling his shorts down and reliving the nice time he'd had with Jose and holding his hand.

BANG! The door to his bedroom burst opened and his father strode across to the bed and smacked Josh hard on the side of the head.

"WHAT THE FUCK DO YOU THINK YOU'RE DOING, YOU LITTLE FAGGOT, HOLDING HANDS WITH YOUR FAGGOT NIGGER BOYFRIEND!"

Josh was too stunned by the first blow to respond, so his father smacked him again and then dragged him off the bed onto the floor and kicked him hard several times. All Josh could do was curl up and try to protect himself and hide his head in his hands while the kicks and blows continued unabated. And after a couple of really savage kicks to his head, he passed out.

Some time later Josh regained consciousness. He hurt all over. He tried to move but even the slightest movement hurt too much. He managed to open one eye, the other being pretty much closed up, and was shocked by what he saw. His room was empty except for furniture. His desk was bare, his computer and game console gone, his bookshelves were bare so all his videos and everything were gone, he managed to feel in his pockets but they were empty. His phone and his wallet were gone. Very slowly he crawled over to the door and tried to open it, but it seemed locked from the outside.

He lay on the floor wondering what had happened and what was going to happen. He was scared, he needed the bathroom and he couldn't get out of his room to go there, and then he stopped being scared and became terrified. He started to scream for help even though it hurt his ribs terribly to fill his lungs with deep breaths.

For a while nothing happened. Then his father unlocked the door, found the boy cowering in the corner and tears and snot streaming down his face.

"SHUT UP FAGGOT! You're staying right here. I'm keeping you in this room until I decide what to do with you, you filthy piece of trash. And SHUT UP otherwise I'll come tape your mouth shut."

And just because he was so sadistic he walked over and gave Josh a few more healthy kicks in the ribs. The pain was so much he passed out again. Again he had no idea how long he'd been out, but it was dark when he opened his eye.

Josh knew that he had to get out. But he had no idea how to do this. There was just the one door, and it was clear that was locked, and the window overlooking the backyard. But that was a twenty foot sheer drop, and he had no idea how we could get down to ground level safely. So he decided he'd have to think about it, and crawled over to the bed, managed to somehow haul himself up on to it, and promptly fell asleep.

When he woke up it was morning. He was incredibly sore, he could hardly move his arms and legs, it was hard to breathe, he was so thirsty he thought his throat would seize up, he was hungry, and he needed to crap badly. The door opened. His mom came in. She had a plastic mug full of water and some dry bread.

"Do you need the bathroom?"

Josh nodded.

"Go. Don't try anything stupid, your father's at the bottom of the stairs."

Josh very slowly got off the bed, and crawled into the bathroom where he managed to get his shorts down and take his much needed dump. He washed his face, dried it off, and crawled back to his room.

"Eat your breakfast. If your father's in a good mood you might get dinner."

She turned, slammed the door, and Josh heard the lock click on the other side. He drank half the water, ate the bread, finished the water, and lay back on his bed to assess the situation. He knew he had to escape. His dad wouldn't relent, he was too pigheaded for that, and he knew that while his mother had tried to be nice to him and had probably made some sort of deal to be allowed to bring him bread and water, she wasn't ever going to challenge her husband.

And then his escape plan came to him. If he'd be allowed to go to the bathroom again, and if no one was actually watching, he could steal the nail scissors and use them to cut up his sheets and make some form of rope to help him get down out of the window.

It took him two days to get the scissors because each time he'd been allowed to go to the toilet, his mom or dad stood just inside the door. That made it impossible to open the drawers of the vanity and find the nail scissors, and it also made peeing very difficult. He hadn't need to crap again because he'd had so little to eat, just a couple of slices of bread each morning and evening.

It took him another day to make the crude rope. He had to cut the sheets lengthwise into three strips each, make a knot between each strip and try to make them as tight as possible so it might bear his weight. Under normal conditions this might not be too difficult, but when you were hurting as much as Josh, it was, literally, painstaking work. His hands were swollen where he'd been kicked, he thought several ribs must be cracked or broken, and he was pretty weak because he'd had almost nothing to eat and drink for three or four days.

So it wasn't until Wednesday night that he was ready for his escape attempt, but as things turned out, he couldn't do it. His father came in on Wednesday evening and started to interrogate him.

The interrogation lasted a long time because Josh tried his best not to answer questions, but every time he refused his father would hit him. Eventually he'd told his father everything. Yes, he was gay, yes, he had a boyfriend, yes, he'd met him at a picnic for gay kids, yes, he'd been told about the picnic by his teacher, yes, his teacher had taken him there in his car, yes, his teacher's name was Mr. Moore, and so on.

"WHAT'S THIS COUNTRY COMING TOO? GAY TEACHERS TURNING KIDS GAY AND TRYING TO SEDUCE THEM! THANK GOD I'VE SAVED YOU FROM THAT, YOU FILTHY SLUT, BECAUSE WHERE YOU'RE GOING ON FRIDAY THEY'LL CURE YOU OF ALL THIS GAY SHIT!"

Finally it seemed to be all clear on Thursday night. Josh knew he had to escape that night whatever happened because if his father was sending him to one of those gay conversion camps he'd never survive. He kept himself awake as long as possible so he was sure that both his parents would be asleep, managed to slide the window open, tied one end of his rope around the leg of his bed, this being the heaviest object he could find, lowered the knotted sheets so that they nearly reached the ground, climbed up onto the window sill, and facing into the room he tried to abseil down the side of the house.

Josh was in agony. The strain of taking his whole body weight on his arms meant his chest was being stretched, and his broken ribs felt they were on fire. But he persevered, got out of the window, and actually made it about seven or eight feet down before he couldn't hold on any longer and fell onto the ground below. Fortunately it was grass, not concrete, but unfortunately he landed on his right arm and shoulder and he felt something snap and again he passed out.

He thinks now he couldn't have been out too long. Once he got his bearings he started to crawl away from the house toward the neighbors at the back. They had planted a hedge between their house and Josh's, so he felt if he could make it there he'd be hidden. He had absolutely no idea where he was going to go or what he was going to do, he just hoped and prayed he'd find someone or somewhere better than what he was escaping from.

He half crawled and half limped for a long time. He had no idea where he was, and he began to feel very weak and dizzy. He knew he was on some grass, but he had no idea where. Then he blacked out.

Officer O'Grady was nearing the end of his night shift. He'd had a peaceful night, nothing untoward or out of the ordinary, one drunk driver, a small fight outside one of the late night bars, but really nothing. As he only had about an hour left before he could go back to the station and then go home, he decided a quick coffee and donut would be just right. So he stopped at the local donut shop which always treated the police well and in return got special treatment if there were any potential problems.

He chatted with the lady who always opened the shop at five every morning, and then he decided he take one last cruise round the neighborhood and head for the station. There was absolutely nothing going on. It was that period of grey light before dawn, most people were still asleep apart from the odd early commuter driving to work. Then out of the corner of his eye he saw what looked like a bundle of clothes or something. So he stopped, got out, took one look at the bundle and he was all action. He called for the medics and support because he had no idea what he'd found, but it looked like murder because there was a body in the clothes. He checked, quickly established the body was still alive but only just.

While he waited for the medics to arrive he looked around with his flashlight but he couldn't see anything that might be some form of evidence. He couldn't tell if the person had been dumped there or any other sign of why he was lying there.

The medics came racing down the road. O'Grady was always impressed how quick and efficient they were. It only took them a few minutes to do an initial examination, get him onto a stretcher and into the truck, hook him up to an IV and then head directly for the emergency room.

The emergency room doctor took one look, and ordered all sorts of tests and equipment. After he'd got the clothes off he saw he had a youth who had been given a terrible working over. One eye was closed, he had bruises all over his legs, arms and body, he suspected some internal bleeding, probable broken ribs, a broken arm and dislocated shoulder, burns on the palms of his hands, possible concussion, and on top of all that it appeared the youth was completely dehydrated.

Even though there was no identification and no evidence of insurance, the hospital policy was treat first, then find out who was going to pay. And so it wasn't too long before the youth was wheeled into the ICU, hooked up to all the different machines, and the healing process could begin.

When Josh's father went into Josh's room on Friday morning, he went ballistic.

"WHAT THE FUCK?"

He could see the makeshift rope leading out of the window, and it was clear Josh had escaped. He ran downstairs into the yard, and looked around in his yard and in all the neighbors' yards. He didn't find anything, and that surprised him because he thought he given the kid a good working over and he'd not get far. Then he jumped in his car and circled the neighborhood, but still didn't see any sign of him.

Now, Josh's dad may have been a bigot but he wasn't stupid. He knew that if he went to the police or the hospital he'd likely be a prime suspect. So he went home and had some coffee and thought what he was going to do. He was really angry that the kid had escaped because the people from the gay conversion camp were that morning and he knew they would be able to make the kid straight again. They were known to be good at that. At least, that's what everyone at his favorite bar had told him.

And that made Josh's dad even angrier about the teacher who had turned his son gay and taken him to some gay orgy. And as he got angrier and angrier, he hatched a plan of his own to get revenge.

Chapter 8

John Moore had had a blissfully uneventful week. His classes had gone well, the poetry module was over for the eighth grade kids and they'd ended up being quite interested in what he'd done. He'd noted Josh's absence, but the school office said his father had called him in sick on Monday with suspected pneumonia so he wouldn't be in school for a few days.

When school was over for the week, he decided he could take it easy. He was ahead of the game with his lesson plans and preparation so he didn't need to work have the night to keep ahead of the students, Phil was coming back later in the evening from another red tide observation trip, and they had plans for a peaceful weekend together. So it was with a feeling of relief and freedom that he decided to stop at the Pink Elephant for a beer before going home to prepare something for him and Phil to eat.

The Pink Elephant was one of those neighborhood bars where, if you went in more than a few times, you were recognized as a regular, and other patrons and the bar staff would talk to you if you wanted. John had become a sort of regular, certainly not everyday but may once or twice a week, and he always tried to make Friday evening Happy Hour because the drinks were cheaper and the regular crowd was always there.

He'd finished his beer, declined a second because he was driving and needed to get home to cook, so he got up, said goodbye to all the barflies, opened the door and walked towards his car. He never really knew what hit him, and in a second he was in a crumpled heap at the rear of his car while someone hit him repeatedly with a tire iron.

"GET THAT YOU FILTHY FAGGOT! I'M GOING TO KILL YOU FOR TRYING TO FUCK MY SON!"

And he went on raining down blows on the now limp body.

The shouting aroused the barman and he looked out the window, called 911 to ask for police and ambulance, and he and several people ran out to try to help John. By incredible luck a police cruiser was driving by, and the officer leapt out and tasered the assailant and handcuffed him. All of his actions, and all of the sounds, were captured on his body cam.

The ambulance arrived shortly afterwards, and very gently they managed to get John onto the stretcher, into the ambulance and off to the Emergency Room.

One of the barflies who knew John and Phil managed to get a message to Phil's marine research lab so as soon the boat docked he got into his car and drove straight to the hospital. There was almost no news for him. John was in emergency surgery and they didn't know if he was going to make it or not. He had two fractures of his skull that were life threatening because they were worried his brain was going to swell, he had one arm broken in two places, he had several fractured ribs and almost certainly internal bleeding. He was in a coma and they were going to keep him that way for a while to help him heal. And they told Phil there might be permanent brain damage. The doctor told Phil to go home. There was no prospect of John being out of surgery for several hours, and he'd be in an induced coma for a couple of days.

Steven and Landon were oblivious to what was going on. Being Friday night they were happily in bed together at Steven's house. It had been Steven's turn to cook and he wanted to get Landon to help so that if they ever went camping again they could do something a little more imaginative than hotdogs and instant mashed potatoes or burgers. Landon was learning but it was difficult. He was really a scientist and that showed when he followed a recipe. He'd follow every instruction down to to the last detail, spending lots of time measuring out things absolutely precisely, cooking things for the exact time and temperature, and getting frustrated with imprecise instructions like 'low heat' or 'cook for a few minutes until it looks right'.

Steven was much more creative, and tended to cook by throwing in things and seeing what happened. He seemed to have a good sense of what went well with different foods, and frequently didn't use a cookbook at all. The results were always unexpected, usually really good, but sometimes near disasters. Landon's efforts resulted in simple, straightforward things that tasted just as you'd expect. Ying and yang.

They teased each other about this as they were getting ready to go to sleep, and then when Steven's hand snaked its way down Landon's treasure trail and into his pubes and then up and down Landon's rapidly expanding dick and over his balls, all thought of food was replaced by thoughts of love and it wasn't long before Steven was gasping for air again as Landon steadily thrust into him and stroked his prostate and then Steven gave a little yelp and came all over himself and very shortly after that Landon came as well, and they fell asleep linked by Landon's slowly wilting erection.

They spent a lot of the weekend in the pool, alternating that with slow and languid activities in the bedroom. They emerged for meals, as you would expect, and spent an appropriate amount of time talking to Steven's parents, watching movies, playing a few video games, and just enjoying being two boys in love. And Steven's parents were equally happy watching the two of them grow closer together, to the point they also spent more time in bed together than they'd done in recent months. Love and happiness are contagious, aren't they!

By Sunday evening, when Landon went home, leaving behind a rather fragrant pair of red running shorts but taking an equally fragrant pair of black Adidas shorts with him, both boys were completely satiated, and they probably would benefit from a couple of days sleeping by themselves to recharge their bodies.

The only thing that spoiled their quiet and blissful weekend were a couple of communications from Jose. Jose was going crazy. He'd tried to get hold of Josh and couldn't. His text messages didn't get through, when he called he just got a busy signal, and his emails remained unanswered. He had managed to get hold of someone at Josh's school who told him that they were told Josh had pneumonia and would be out for a few days.

Jose thought it was odd that by the weekend Josh wouldn't answer, surely he'd be well enough to speak on the phone. And what bothered him even more was that on Friday he got a 'unknown recipient' message when he emailed, and a 'this number is no longer in service' message when he phoned. So he'd called Steven to see if Steven had any advice, and Steven didn't. He said maybe Josh would be back in school on Monday, but other than that he had no advice. It didn't help that none of them could remember Josh's last name, and none of them had his street address. Steven told Jose that if they hadn't found out anything on Monday he'd talk to the teacher in charge of the LGBT club because they knew he was a friend of Josh's English teacher, Mr. Evans, who they'd met at the picnic.

Monday brought no news. Steven decided to approach Mr. Evans the next day and see if he could help. He finished his homework and was sitting by the pool reading when his dad came out with a stiff drink in his hand.

"Hi Dad! Tough day at work?" Steven asked, nodding at his father's drink.

"Yea, it was. There are days when I hate my job!"

"No you don't, you love it!"

"Well, yes, mostly, and there are times when you have to make tough decisions and it's really difficult because sometimes people really suffer."

"I thought hospitals were there so that when you were sick or hurt you went there and you got mended or cured and then you went home."

"Well, that's the overall idea. But sometimes it's complicated. For instance, we've had this kid in the hospital for a few days. He came in badly beaten up, concussion, broken arm, cracked ribs, bruises all over. We've stitched him up and got him eating and drinking properly, but on Wednesday he'll have to be discharged because we need the bed."

"So, what's the problem?"

"It's very strange. He hasn't spoken a single word since he regained consciousness. He seems to understand everything perfectly well, follows instructions from nurses and doctors and so on, but won't talk."

"Maybe he's dumb?"

"We don't think so. He doesn't understand sign language."

"Maybe he's a foreigner."

"No, everything's been done in English and he watches English language TV. We just have absolutely no idea who he is. And that's the problem. We can't keep him in the hospital, so we have to hand him over to Child and Family Services and they'll put him in one of their CFS homes, and because he's not completely healed he's going to be very vulnerable with all the other kids there. They're rough places, those homes, so it'll be really hard. Especially if he won't talk because they'll pick on him even more. And nobody has reported a missing child to the police, even though he seems to be local, it's all very peculiar. And he doesn't really seem to be a runaway from somewhere else because his clothes looked to be fairly new and recently washed, at least until he got beaten up. It's all very frustrating."

"Why can't you keep him until he's fully recovered?"

"Because it's costing us money. There's no insurance or anything, and our policy is that when he's well enough for the doctors to discharge him, we have to throw him to the mercy of CFS and use the bed for a paying patient."

"That really sucks, Dad!"

"Yes, it does, and there's nothing I can do. And there's nothing I can do for another patient who came in Friday. He was beaten up outside a bar and he's in a coma and we'll probably have to move him to some rehab center because we're going to need his bed. He's in bad shape but he's going to live, at first we thought he'd die but he's past that. Oh, yes, that reminds me, Steven, we know it was a hate crime. He got beaten up by some guy with a tire iron who was shouting all sorts of homophobic statements. I wanted to warn you so that you and Landon don't ever go places where you might get caught up in things like that."

"Dad, we're very, very careful. We don't make out or have other public displays of affections when we go out, and we don't go to bars, and we don't go to teen clubs because we know that those are targets for people who like gay bashing. That's one reason why I came up with the idea of the gay social thing because we'd be safer like that."

"And what a success that's been! We're really proud of you for coming up with that idea, even if you don't like taking credit for it."

"Whatever! Anyway, who was this guy who got beat up?"

"Some teacher. He went to Happy Hour at the Pink Elephant on Friday evening."

"Teacher? Which school?"

"No idea!"

"Mom might know, she watches the news all the time, I don't because it's too depressing! MOM! MOM!"

His mother poked her head out. "What's all the noise for, Steven?"

"Do you know anything about that teacher who got beaten up the other day?"

"Yes, that's terrible. And it was a hate crime! You and Landon better be careful!"

"Yes I know! Dad already gave me the lecture! Do you know which school that teacher works at?"

"Hmm, let me think. Hmm, it was a middle school, I think, maybe Roosevelt, no, it wasn't there, hmm, yes, Jefferson! Definitely Jefferson!"

"Jeez! Do you know his name?"

"No, but I expect it'll be on the TV news website."

Steven grabbed his phone and in a few moments he started swearing.

"Holy Crap, that's Mr. Moore, he was at the picnic with us. Fuck, oops, sorry, mom, and you know what, he brought Josh to that picnic and Josh is missing. Oh Jesus Christ Almighty, there must be a connection! Mom, have you been drinking?"

"Don't be rude, Steven!"

"No, I mean Dad has so he can't drive, but maybe if you haven't had anything to drink you can drive us to the hospital."

"Steven it's almost dinner time!"

"No, this is much more important! Let's go and see if that kid is Josh. I have a hunch it is. Come on, we've got to go NOW!"

Steven's parents were completely taken aback. Not only was he choosing to miss dinner, almost unknown for a teenager unless there was the chance of sex, but here he was ordering his parents around. But they gave in.

Steven's mother drove, very carefully and slowing down at intersections because she wasn't fully confident after the crash that killed Nick, and parked in the employee lot at the hospital. Steven's dad led the way to reception.

"Oh, hi, Mr. Roberts, sir, I thought you'd gone home!"

"So did I, but I'm back. Can you tell me where to find that kid who doesn't speak and who we don't know who he is?"

"Let me see." She clicked her mouse a few times. "Yes, John Doe, 317."

"Hmm, how original! Thanks!" Steven's dad led them to the elevator, while the receptionist surreptitiously called the third floor nurses station to warn them that the CEO was on his way.

At the nurses station Steven's dad asked about the boy in 317.

"No, sir, he hasn't said a word. It's so frustrating. And he gets no visitors except the police and CFS and other people who ask him questions and they get no response either. At least he's healing well. Do you want to see him?"

"Yes, well, my son Steven does."

"Hi Steven, you're everyone's hero around here after your speech on TV! You were fabulous! Everyone's talking about you! It's a privilege to meet you!"

"Umm, thanks, now can we go?"

The nurse led them down to Room 317. The door was closed but she looked in through the window.

"He's awake, he's watching TV. That's all he does all day long, poor thing!"

"Let me see!" Steven pushed his way to the window and looked in. "Yes, Dad, it's him!"

"You know who he is?" asked the nurse. "Oh, that's wonderful! At last!"

But as she went to open the door, Steven stopped her.

"Umm, I know who he is, and I think I know what happened to him, and maybe what he needs is to see a face he knows and a person he trusts, rather than just another bunch of strangers. So, can I go in alone?"

The adults looked at each other and shrugged.

"I guess so," said his dad, "if it's OK with you, nurse?"

And when the nurse nodded Steven slowly walked into the room. He could see his friend, one arm in plaster, his shoulder bandaged up, a drip in his other arm, two gorgeous black eyes that were turning multicolors, lots of bruises on his face and his arms. The boy just went on watching TV.

"Hi, can I come in?" asked Steven softly. The boy went on watching TV.

"Josh, it's me, Steven!"

Slowly Josh turned his head, looked at Steven, and then he broke out in a huge smile.

"Steven! What the fuck are you doing here?"

Chapter 9

From that moment on, all the pieces started to fall into place. After Josh had burst into tears and told Steven he was so happy someone he knew had come to see him, Josh managed to get out most of his story. When he'd finished, Steven was in tears as well.

"Oh, Josh, that's awful! But why didn't you tell anyone who you were?"

"Because they'd send me back to my family and this time he'll kill me because I ran away and everything! I thought if nobody knows who I am the best they can do is send me to some home or something, and however bad that might be, it's better than going home!"

"That must have been tough!"

"It was terrible! I've never felt so lonely! But now you're here and that makes me feel much better!"

"Hmm, thanks! Look, would you like me to stay and chat for a while?"

"Yes, I'd love that!"

"OK. Look, my parents are waiting outside. Let me go and tell them that I want to stay with you for a while. I'll be right back!"

Steven went to the door, saw his parents had been watching through the window, along with the nurse.

"Umm, dad, mom, I'd like to stay with him for a while, please? He needs company and he's talking to me and it's just awful. It was his dad who did all that to him, except his arm he broke that falling out of a second floor window escaping from his room where he'd been locked in. Umm, could you get me something to eat, I'm starving?"

"No problem! But I've got two questions."

"What?"

"Do you know his father's name, and do you think he wants something to eat or drink, as long as that's OK, nurse."

"He's on normal diet as of today."

"OK, dad, let me ask!"

Steven bounced back into the room. "Yes, I can stay for a while! My dad's going to to get me something to eat, I'm starving. Do you want anything?"

"Yes, please, something really nice, please. Today's the first day I can eat real food!"

"OK. Umm, Josh, can you tell me something? What's your father's name?"

"Jackson, just like me, except he's Earl Jackson and I'm Josh Jackson"

"OK, hand on!"

Steven ran back to the door. "Yes, he's starving, and he wants real teenager food, please dad, and his father's name is Earl Jackson."

"Thought so! He's the guy they've arrested for beating up that teacher. He's going down for a long long time!"

Steven went back into Josh's room and sat on the bed close enough to him that he could hold his hand.

"My dad's getting us something to eat. It'll take a few minutes. The nurse says I can stay and talk to you for a while."

"Thanks, Steven! But how did you find me? Nobody knows my name!"

"Well, it's a long story and I'll tell you later. But first I need to tell you some things."

"OK, spit it out!"

"Josh, I've got really good news, and really bad news and really good news. Ready?"

"Can we start with some good news, please, I've been short of that recently."

"Yeah, I understand, I've been there. Well the first piece of really good news is that your dad is not a threat. He's been arrested for trying to kill someone, and he's been locked up and they'll never give him bail, and the chances are that he'll be in jail for years and years!"

"WOW! That's FANTASTIC! Now people can know who I am again. As I told you earlier, I was hiding because I didn't want him to know where I was. GREAT! But hang on, how come they arrested him when they don't know who I am? That doesn't make sense!"

"He wasn't arrested because of what he did to you. They'll add that to other charges against him, so he'll probably never get out of jail if they add that sentence to the one he's likely to get. But I'm afraid that's the really, really bad news I've got to tell you. I'm sorry. Ready?"

"OK, I guess so."

"It seems that after you escaped he got really mad and he somehow found out where Mr. Moore, your teacher was, and he attacked him outside a bar and he's very badly hurt. They thought he might die, but he made it through several operations and now he's in a coma. They have no idea if he'll come out of the coma or if he'll have brain damage or what. I'm sorry, Josh, I know you like him."

Josh had started crying when Steven told him this. Steven held his hand and squeezed it, and got some tissues and wiped his face.

"Oh, Steven, that's terrible! It's all my fault. My dad tortured me and I ended up telling all about Mr. Moore and how he took me to the gay picnic and everything. Oh, Jesus Christ."

Josh cried some more and it took a while to calm him down this time.

"Josh, don't blame yourself for saying stuff when you're being tortured. Nobody can resist for ever!"

"Is he here in this hospital?"

"Yes, he's in the ICU on the next floor."

"I'd love to go see him and maybe he'll recognize my voice or something and wake up."

"That would be great but don't raise your hopes. The doctors have no idea what's going to happen. He might come round today or it could be years. But when dad comes I bet he can arrange it unless the doctors really object."

"I hope he can. Mr. Moore has been so nice to me, and he helped me to come to terms with being gay and then taking me to the picnic. And that's how I met Jose."

"And that's the other piece of really good news, I think. I've been talking a lot to Jose. He's desperate to find out what's happened to you. He's tried calling and texting you and emailing you dozens of times a day but he couldn't get through. And all he did find out was that your dad told the school you had pneumonia and would be absent for a while."

"Yeah, he probably made that up to give him time to get me into a gay conversion camp or whatever those places are. Bastard. But what about Jose."

"He really misses you, Josh, and he so wants to get you back. I think his mom knows what's going on by now and he hasn't had any negative vibes. So when you walk out of here you've got yourself a boyfriend!"

Josh smiled. "That's wonderful. Thinking about Jose was the only thing that kept me going! I can't wait to see him."

"I'll see if we can get him here tomorrow. He'll be so excited when I tell him later on!"

At that point the door opened and Steven's mom and dad came in together with the nurse and a couple of orderlies who were carrying two trays of food and soft drinks for everyone.

The nurse looked at him "Here you go, Josh. Don't eat too fast because you'll throw up!"

"Thanks! And thanks, Mr. and Mrs. Roberts, that's really kind of you!"

The two boys looked at the trays which had a juicy hamburger, french fries, mac and cheese on the side, and a slice of chocolate cake.

Josh looked up. "Wow, I didn't know they had food like this in hospital!"

The nurse laughed. "Normally they don't but because Mr. Roberts is here, we'll do anything, won't we, sir!"

"Huh, I don't understand!"

"Josh, my dad runs the hospital, he's the big boss!"

"Oh, now I understand when you said maybe he could get me in to see Mr. Moore!"

"Steven told you about that?"

"Yes, sir, he did. It's terrible, and maybe after dinner I could go and see him and talk to him. He might hear me and know who it is."

"OK, let's see if the doctors will let you. Now eat!"

The two boys didn't need any further encouragement, and Steven's parents watched with smiles on their faces as the two plates of food disappeared. Josh did eat fairly slowly, but that was mostly because he couldn't use his right hand because it was in a cast.

"Oh, that's so good after all the crap they've been feeding me. Oh, oops, sorry, Mr. Roberts, I mean the food here in your hospital is wonderful!"

Steven's dad laughed. "I don't think there's a person alive who hasn't complained about the food when they're on one of these special diets! And the ones who didn't complain died before they could! But that's in the past. Now you can eat normally again!"

"Good, I'm already feeling better!"

The doctors gave permission for Josh and Steven to visit Mr. Moore, at least for a few minutes. Josh sat there with tears streaming down his face and spoke quietly into John's ear for several minutes. There was absolutely no reaction and all the machines keep beeping away and drawing their wiggly lines without any changes at all.

When their time was up and they went back to Josh's room, the nurse came along with his evening dose of medications. He swallowed them, then yawned.

"Steven, I can't thank you enough for coming. I think I need to go to sleep now. But you'll come tomorrow, and please bring Jose if you can."

"Once he knows where you are it would be impossible to stop him. I only hope he doesn't try to ditch school and come and see you instead."

"Oh no," said Mr. Roberts, "school kids who try to sneak in to the hospital during regular school hours get put in the basement and given enemas. He better not try!"

Steven gave Josh as big a hug as he dared without hurting him, the Roberts both said goodbye until tomorrow, and Josh lay back and closed his eyes.

When they got home the older Roberts fixed themselves something to eat. Steven went upstairs and called Jose.

His mom answered. "It's too late for Jose to take calls on a school night. Sorry, Steven, you'll have to call tomorrow."

Steven gave up and went to bed, he called Landon and got him up to date, and soon after that he was sleeping peacefully, holding a pair of red running shorts and dreaming about him and Landon sitting on a beach together."

Chapter 10

The next morning Steven managed to get hold of Jose while he was having breakfast. He could hear whoops of joy over the phone when Jose got the news, and then again when Steven said he and Landon would pick him up from school and take him to the hospital, as long as his mother gave them permission. He got that permission in about three milliseconds.

Then Steven went down for breakfast and said good morning to his parents.

"We were talking about how clever you were to put all the pieces together and work out it was Josh in the hospital. The police and CFS didn't link the two things together."

"Thanks, Dad, I guess it suddenly came to me. I wasn't conscious of any effort to link things, it just seemed to come to me out of the blue."

"Well, congratulations! Did you get hold of Jose and tell him the news?"

"Only just now. His mom said it was too late to call him when I tried last night. I think she must take his phone from him at bedtime so he doesn't spend all night talking to his friends or surfing the web or whatever."

"I wish more parents would do that!"

"Don't try that with me, I'll leave home and go live with Landon and you'll never see me again!"

Steven ate some of his cereal, then he looked at his parents.

"Mom, Dad, I've been thinking about Josh and I've had an idea and I want to see what you think."

"OK, but it seems every time you get an idea it becomes a crisis!"

"That's not true! Sometimes I get ideas that are OK! Anyway, I'd been wondering about what was going to happen to Josh tomorrow when he gets out of hospital. He can't go home because he doesn't have one, and he doesn't have relatives nearby, so it looks like he's going to have to go into a CFS home whether he likes it or not.

"So I thought about what happened to me when I was found on the football field after Nick's death, and then I thought that if the Connors could do that for me, maybe we could do that for Josh. I mean it wouldn't be for ever because CFS are sure to find him a foster family before too long, and it would be better for Josh to stay here rather than in a home."

There was a long silence only broken by the sound of Steven spooning cereal into his mouth. Steven's parents looked at each other, and although they didn't say anything it was clear they were communicating and thinking over what Steven had said.

In the end it was his mom who spoke. "That's a very nice idea, Steven and we'd be willing to do it as long as we get proper permission from CFS. But I suspect they'll agree as their homes are always full, and they know who your dad is, so that will make it easier to approve it. So, yes, we're willing."

"But, Steven," added his dad, "please don't say anything about this to Josh. It might not work out and then he'd be really disappointed."

"OK, I guess you're right. But do you think CFS can move quickly?"

"Yes, I do. I've seen it before. If they know the prospective temporary foster parents already, then they can actually make a decision almost on the spot. I'll work on it first thing when I get to the hospital. I think they'll be delighted. But, Steven, please remember it's only temporary foster care, it's not a long term plan."

"I know, dad, and I don't think we need another kid in the family other than me and Landon. Two's company, three's a crowd, right?"

The three boys arrived at the hospital straight after school and rushed into Josh's room. Steven and Landon held back while Jose almost leapt into Josh's bed and right there and then gave him a kiss. It was very chaste and very quick, but it was a kiss and it was clear that both boys enjoyed it. And they sat there making cow eyes for a while until Steven and Landon suggested that Jose just get undressed then and there and get into bed with Josh, and they'd stand by the door and stop any nurses coming in until they were finished. And both Jose and Josh turned bright red and then they laughed.

"Sorry, we we're just doing what we'd learned from you two, you can't keep your hands off each other!"

And there was lots of happy chatter and laughter and giggling. At some point the nurse came to see what all the noise was about, and was so thrilled to see Josh so animated she went and called her colleagues over and they all came in and said how happy they were to see Josh recovering.

In the midst of all this celebration Steven's dad turned up. He looked at the boys and laughed.

"Hey, we're not supposed to have parties in people's rooms! I'll have to throw you all out!"

But because he was laughing nobody took him seriously. Then the doctor came in.

"OK, Josh, I've got news for you. We've decided you're well enough to be discharged, so tomorrow you're going to have to go home. No more parties in the ward!"

Immediately Josh looked crestfallen and he started to cry. "But I don't have a home any more. CFS is going to put me in one of their homes and, to be honest, I'm dreading that!"

Steven's dad looked at Josh. "Who says you don't have a home? This morning Steven came up with an idea and asked if I could talk to CFS about where you are going to stay, and my wife and I talked about it, and I'm pleased to say it's all been agreed, so tomorrow after school, and only if you want to, of course, you're coming with me and we're going to our house and you're coming to stay with us as long as it takes to find you something more permanent. So our home is now your home, and you're most welcome! So say hi to you new brothers, Steven and Landon. And Jose is welcome to visit at any time!"

The four boys looked at Steven's dad, mouths and eyes wide open. "DAD, YOU DID IT! Did I ever tell you I love you?"

"I don't think so, or at least I can't remember! But, yes, we did it and it's all settled!"

Josh was crying but now they were tears of joy and not of sorrow. "My God, I can't believe this! It's wonderful! Oh My God! THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU! Jose, can you imagine! I love all of you! You're the best people in the world!"

Later, when all the excitement had died down and everyone had gone home, Josh got permission to go and see John Moore again. He sat by his bed and held his hand and spoke gently to him for a long time, telling him everything that had happened. And he wasn't sure, you can never really tell with these things, he thought that John had squeezed his hand ever so slightly.

On Wednesday Josh managed to go once again to see John. He didn't know when he would be able to come back, but he was sure that with Steven's dad working at the hospital it ought to be possible to arrange. And this time he was absolutely sure John squeezed his hand, and he went and told a nurse. At first the nurse thought he was being silly, but when he came back into the room where John was and held John's hand while Josh talked to him, he agreed that maybe there was a slight movement. And when they called the doctor, he agreed as well but cautioned that that didn't necessarily mean John was coming out of his coma.

Knowing that Josh was leaving that afternoon and knowing that Josh seemed to have some impact on John, the doctor agreed that they'd call Mr. Roberts the moment John showed any further signs of recovery and get Josh to come and see if he could manage to communicate with John. That made Josh feel a little less guilty about leaving John alone.

So it was a happy group of people who left the hospital that afternoon. They got a wheelchair and Josh beamed as he he was wheeled out into the sunshine together with his two temporary brothers and his temporary dad, and drove to his temporary new home. They agreed that Josh didn't need to go back to school until Monday, giving him a few more days to rest and lose his bruises.

On Friday afternoon, although it was supposed to be a weekend at Landon's house, everyone agreed to let the two boys stay at Steven's, at least for one night, so as to keep Josh company. Jose came as well, and they all had dinner before Jose had to go home. And although Josh was now healing rapidly, he still got tired quickly, and that meant his presence didn't eat into Landon and Steven's private time together very much. So all of them slept really well. But before he fell asleep in Landon's arms, Steven suddenly had an idea and it had to do with Josh.

Saturday morning they agreed to spend the morning at Steven's house so as to spend more time with Josh, Jose would come over, and then after lunch they'd all go to Landon's house to introduce Josh to the girls and Landon's parents. Then Steven's parents would come for dinner and take Josh home while Steven stayed over with Landon. So they ate the normal Roberts breakfast and spent much of the morning out by the pool. Because his arm was still in a cast Josh couldn't go swimming so he sat by the pool while the other three horsed around. When they got out, Steven looked at Landon.

"Umm, would you mind if we stopped at the Mancinos on the way to your house after lunch. I've never given them their Christmas present. And Josh, you'll come with us because it's on the way. The Mancinos will be happy to meet you, Landon, and I'm sure they wouldn't mind if you came too, Josh."

"Who are the Mancinos?"

"Oh, yes, you don't know, do you, Josh. Their son Nick was my boyfriend for over a year, from middle school until last September when he was killed in a car crash. We got hit by a drunk driver. Mom and I were OK, but he died on the spot. And I've kept in contact with them on and off ever since."

"Oh, I'm so sorry, Steven."

"It was terrible. But the Mancinos helped me to get over it, and of course I've met Landon since, but I do still miss Nick. You're first real boyfriend is always going to have a special place in your heart. You'll find that out, Josh, maybe sooner than you think."

Josh blushed and looked at Jose, who was also blushing, but they were both grinning. It seems that they were both thinking about tomorrow when Jose was coming back to be with Josh, and the Roberts were going out to lunch at Jack's golf club, and Steven would be at Landon's house. And they'd have the place to themselves for several hours.

The visit to the Mancinos was a very low key event. Steven game them their Christmas present and apologized for waiting until early February to give it to them. They said they didn't mind, and anyway they didn't need Steven to give them presents, but they gasped when they opened their gift to find a beautiful drawing of Nick and Steven based on the photo of the two of them in front of the Christmas tree the year before.

And they had juice and cookies to eat, and they talked to Landon and told him they were so happy Steven had found a new boyfriend and had started over again after Nick's death. And the Mancinos talked a little to Josh, who seemed a bit shy but slowly warmed up and talked a little bit more easily to them.

Mrs. Mancino asked Steven if she could have a word with him, so they went into the kitchen.

"What happened to that boy?"

"Umm, he got beaten up."

"That's what I thought it looked like. Why is he staying with you?"

Steven quickly explained that Josh had been beaten by his own father because he was gay, that he'd been locked in his room but managed to escape, had been taken to hospital where nobody knew who he was, and how Steven had managed to work out who he was. And that Steven had suggested he stayed with them until a proper foster family was found.

Not long after that they thanked the Mancinos and went on to Landon's house, and Josh got to meet the girls and Landon's parents, and they kept busy with games and stuff until dinner, and then after they'd eaten Josh got picked up and went home.

Before they went to sleep, Landon looked at Steven with a puzzled look on his face.

"Why did you lie to the Mancinos?"

"What do you mean?"

"You told them you had had that present lying around since before Christmas, but I saw you working on it not long before we went to visit them."

"Well, it wasn't really a lie, I had the idea of doing that but I never actually got round to finishing it."

"Steven, I've gotten to know you really well. That visit had a hidden agenda, didn't it? The gift was merely a pretext!"

"Dammit, you have gotten to know me too well!"

"OK, spill the beans!"

And Steven told him about the idea he'd had.

Sunday morning saw Landon and Steven in bed until the girls got impatient and banged on the door. They showered and got dressed, and while doing so, Steven grinned at Landon.

"I wonder how Josh and Jose are doing? They've got the house to themselves for several hours."

"I'm going to bet they're taking full advantage of the opportunity. They've been leering at each other for the past few days!"

Landon was right. Jose had arrived shortly after breakfast, and he and Josh hung out by the pool while the Roberts got organized to play golf and have lunch at the club. When they were finally alone, Josh moved closer to Jose and looked right at him.

"Jose, do you remember when you came to see me in hospital the first time, you bounced in and gave me a kiss?"

"I'll never forget that, Josh!"

"Umm, would you like to do it again?"

Jose didn't answer, he just leaned in and gave Josh a long kiss, and even put his arm round Josh's head and pulled him in, and their mouths opened a little and they ended up having a really long kiss. When they came up for air, they were both panting and they could both sense they were at a tipping point in their relationship. It was Josh who spoke first.

"Would you like to come inside and see my room?"

"Umm, yes, Josh, I think I would!" rasped Jose. His voice seemed very thick.

So they went inside and into Josh's room and they lay down on the bed next to each other and had another long kiss.

When they pulled apart, Jose looked at Josh. "I'm scared, Josh, I really want to do something with you, but I'm so nervous I don't know what to do!"

"You're scared? I'm terrified! I've never done anything like this before, but I know that I want to do something with you because you're special. I've never felt like this about anyone else before, and if I'm going to do something for the first time, I want it to be with you!"

"That's the way I feel about you, Josh. What do you think we should do?"

"Don't ask me, I don't know! But maybe we should just bite the bullet and take off our shirts first!"

They did that. Josh was larger than Jose with more defined muscles even though he was a year younger. But he loved the milky coffee color of Jose's skin, and slowly put out his hand and ran it up and down Jose's chest.

"Umm, that feels nice, don't stop!"

And then they kissed some more and they both enjoyed feeling skin against skin, and they rubbed each others' backs, and they could feel each other's erections through their shorts. And it was clear that they wouldn't be able to stop there.

"Shall we take off out shorts and underwear as well?"

"I think so! But you first!"

"No, you go ahead."

"Then let's do it at the same time so nobody chickens out! On the count of three?"

And Jose started counting and both boys grabbed the waistbands of their shorts, and lifted their hips off the bed, and when Jose reached three they both pulled off their shorts and underwear and they froze.

"Wow, you're beautiful!"

"No, you are!"

And they looked at each other for quite a long time. Jose was fairly short, maybe four inches and thinner and had fairly straight pubic hair in a tight little bush. Josh was a little longer and a bit thicker and somewhat more hair. Both boys were circumcised, and the heads of their dicks were both purple and fully engorged, and both had precum leaking out.

"Can I touch?"

Jose nodded, so Josh reached out and very gently took hold of Jose's throbbing dick and holding it in his fingers just like he held his own dick when he jerked off, he moved slowly up and down.

Jose gasped, and flinched slightly when for the first time in his life someone touched his dick, and almost immediately he started breathing harder.

"Josh, that's fantastic! I've never felt anything like that before! But I'm going to come so quickly, I'm so horny!"

Josh slowed down and let Jose take his dick in his hand, and he too gasped as he felt someone else's touch on his dick for the first time. "Yes, Jose, it is fantastic! And yes, I don't think I'll last too long either!"

And they didn't. Soon Jose started breathing harder, and his hips thrust upward, and his face scrunched up, and he held his breath and then with a huge gasp he spurted three large trails of cum from the top of his chest down to his navel. And Josh followed suit almost immediately, not as copious and not as thick and not as far up his chest, but more than he'd ever done before.

And, as much as Josh's cast would let them, he turned to each other, and kissed again and hugged, and got all messy between them, and it was the greatest moment of their lives. They didn't say anything, but just lay there savoring the moment with huge grins on their faces.

The rest of their time passed like a dream. They explored each others bodies with their hands and started to enjoy using their mouths as well. For two boys who'd never read the manual on how to have sex for the first time they did pretty well. They both came twice more, and each time was better than the last because they weren't so nervous, and eventually they got up and showered and went to the kitchen to find something to eat. Oh to be a teenager again!

Chapter 11

On Monday, after she'd taken Josh to school, Steven's mom came home to enjoy some peace and quiet. She didn't mind having an extra boy in the house but she also liked some time to herself, and mornings were the best. She grumbled when he phone rang but was happy to see it was Mrs. Mancino.

"Hey, how are you!"

"I'm great thanks! And thank you for letting those boys come over on Saturday. We loved meeting Landon, he's perfect for Steven, they're going to be really happy together."

"Yes, they are! It's almost sickening to see how much in love they are!"

"Anyway, I didn't call about them, they're doing just fine. No, I called about that other boy, Josh, right?"

"Yes, Josh is right. Why, was something wrong?"

"Oh. no, not at all. First, I wanted to say how wonderful it is of you to offer him a place to live instead of sending him off to some miserable CFS home. That's really generous!"

"Oh, not really, Steven and Landon are friends with him, and now he's going back to school, it's not much more effort for me. And it's only temporary until he finds some foster parents."

"That's why I called. I really liked the boy although he didn't say very much. Steven and Landon talked all the time, and he sat and listened. So I wondered whether there might be a time when he could come back, and maybe spend a little time with Mario and me without the other two."

"That's very sweet of you, he's had a really tough time and I don't like to leave him alone much. Let me think. What about tomorrow after school. He's got nothing to do, Steven's off to gymnastics, Landon has a tuition class on Tuesdays, and the only other boy he knows, that's Jose, he's at Boy Scouts."

"Jose, you mean the same Jose that Nick knew?"

"Yes, the same! Jose and Josh seem to be becoming friends!"

"That's nice. I always liked Jose, and such a good dancer, too! Yes, tomorrow would be perfect! And maybe he can stay for dinner and meet Mario!"

"It's a deal!"

So on Tuesday Josh ended up at the Mancinos and spent a lot of time talking to Mrs. Mancino and enjoying her cookies. And she asked Josh if he'd like to look at Nick's room, so they went and did that.

Nick's room was pretty much as when he'd been alive. It had all the normal stuff teenagers have, with a computer and game console, and a desk and bookshelf full of books and DVDs and a couple of soccer trophies, and posters of famous soccer players including several from Liverpool because that was his favorite team, and several pictures of him and Steven grinning into the camera, and a drawing of Nick that looked like Steven's work.

"I haven't had the heart to throw things away. It's like the only thing we've got left. But I'm beginning to think it's time to let go a bit. I'm so happy Steven's got such a nice boyfriend, that makes me feel very relieved, and I think it sends me a message to move on as well."

Josh didn't say anything, but turned round and gave her a little hug.

When Mr. Mancino came home from work they sat down for dinner, and Josh began to open up a bit more and told them about school and poetry and some bits and pieces of his home life. And then he found the confidence to speak very frankly.

"Please forgive me for saying this, but I hope it's OK for me to say that I hate my parents. They were horrible to me, not just when they found out I was gay, but for a long time before that. It's wonderful to be with Steven and Landon and Jose and see them in loving and friendly homes. I get worried about what the future holds for me because who knows where I'm going to live. But it can't be worse than what I had before."

"For someone who's been to Hell and back, you seem very philosophical about things."

"Well, when I was in hospital I was very depressed, and I wouldn't talk to anyone so they didn't know who I was, and then when Steven found me it was like a ray of sunshine in a dark place, and I followed that sunshine and suddenly my life is so much better."

Eventually they had to take Josh home, but he'd had a happy afternoon and evening with them and was pleased that Steven's mom had let him go there.

Later that evening Steven's dad called Steven into his office.

"Steven, have you been cooking something up with the Mancinos and Josh?"

"No, Dad, I went there to give them a late Christmas present, and it was convenient to take Landon and Josh because we were going to Landon's anyway, and we stayed a little while and chatted with Mrs. Mancino and had juice and cookies and then we left."

"That's bullshit! Don't lie to me!"

"I'm not lying, Dad! That's exactly what happened!"

"OK, then if you weren't lying, you were extremely economical with the truth. Now, what's really going on, because unless you're stirring something up, I don't understand why Josh went to the Mancinos this afternoon and stayed for dinner."

Steven looked at his dad and then he sighed.

"OK, Dad, here's the full story. On Friday evening just before I fell asleep, I had this idea. I know that the Mancinos are very lonely after Nick died and I thought they might like another son. And suddenly there's this gay teenager who needs a home. I was really worried he'd have to move to another town and then he'd have no friends and a new school and a strange environment, and maybe the new foster parents wouldn't like him or treat him well. But we know the Mancinos and they'd be wonderful foster parents, and they know and understand gay teenagers because of Nick, while lots of other foster parents don't which would make it even harder for Josh to get offered a place. So I decided to try to see what would happen if I put the Mancinos and Josh together. And that's all I did. Honest."

"Did you say anything to Josh about this."

"Jeez, Dad, I'm not stupid. Of course I didn't. If I did and the Mancinos weren't interested, then I'd screw him up and he doesn't need that. Not from me. Not from anybody. So, yes, I kept my mouth shut!"

"What about the Mancinos. Did you say anything to them?"

"Not really. Mrs. Mancino took me aside and asked me two questions. She asked what had happened to Josh to be all beaten up, and I said his dad assaulted him when he found out Josh was gay. Then she asked why he was staying with us, and I said it was because he was going to have to move into a CFS home until a foster family could be found, and we decided to take him in temporarily because he knew me and needed a friend. That's all I did!"

"So if I understand correctly, you put Josh and the Mancinos together and hoped that the Mancinos would offer to be his foster parents?"

"Yes. I did nothing to promote it, it had to be their decision and nobody else had any business trying to force them into a decision. Am I in trouble?"

"Oh, no, you're not in trouble because you were smart enough not to say anything other than tell the truth to Mrs. Mancino about Josh. That's public knowledge, and your mom and I would have said the same thing. No, you're not in trouble!"

"Good!"

"But tell me one thing, Steven. You're still a freshman in high school and here you are putting two and two together and coming up with an idea that will make three people extremely happy if it works out, and all the professionals and adults around, like me and your mom and CFS and all the other people who've been helping Josh, can't seem to come up with such a simple and obvious solution. I don't know how you do it!"

"Dad, I don't know either. I get ideas. I don't know where they come from, really I don't. They just pop into my head. I guess it's some hidden talent I have but I don't do it on purpose, the ideas just form in my head and then I have to do something because I feel driven to make it happen. I really can't explain!"

"Steven, it's a wonderful talent, whatever it is! Don't lose it! We all love you for it, and that's one of the things that makes you special. And I'll bet that this plan will work! It's just too perfect not to!"

And Steven's dad walked over and gave his son a huge hug.

Wednesday morning saw Steven's mother just sitting down with her coffee to enjoy some peace and quiet when the doorbell rang. With a large sigh, she stood up, opened to door and found Mrs. Mancino there.

"Do come in! I've just made coffee, would you like some?"

"Lovely, thank you! Just black, please!"

"So why do I have the pleasure of your company? It's always so nice to see you!"

"It's about Josh. Mario and I talked late into the night after his visit yesterday. We've decided to ask you and Jack to help us because I know you've got connections. We want to foster Josh."

Steven's mother almost dropped her coffee cup. "Oh my god, that's absolutely wonderful! It's perfect! I had no idea you were thinking of fostering someone. Oh, wow, he'd be able to stay near his friends and everything, he'd be delighted, I can't think of anything better! Did you say anything to him?"

"Oh, no, I mean we both knew we liked him, but it was only when Mario and I talked afterwards that we decided to pursue this. But maybe CFS won't approve us, so we wouldn't want to raise his hopes and then dash them. That would be cruel!"

"I agree. But I can't imagine CFS wouldn't approve you, because you've been parents to a teenager, and a gay one at that. I think they'd leap at the opportunity. Would you like me to call Jack and ask him to sound CFS out? He's well connected with them. And they approved us as temporary foster parents just like that!"

"Would you? That would be really helpful!"

"Sit right there!" Steven's mom picked up her phone, called her husband, explained everything and after listening to him, she said goodbye and hung up. "He's calling them right now. He also thinks it's a wonderful idea, and expects there wouldn't be much resistance. But because it's permanent and not temporary there are several hoops to jump through we didn't have to do, you know, proper background checks and credit checks. They'd have to interview you to see if you have enough experience, inspect your house, get references, and stuff like that. But given your history with Nick, I can't see a single reason for them to refuse."

They sat and drank their coffee and talked about this and that. Eventually Mrs. Mancino stood up and said she'd better go. But as she did the phone rang.

"Hi Jack, what's up!" She listened and carefully motioned to Mrs. Mancino to sit back down. "Hang on, I'll ask her, she's still here! Will you and Mario be home tomorrow evening? You will? Good! Jack, she's says they will….what time?.... OK, hold on! Mrs. Mancino, could CFS come over to your house tomorrow at six thirty? They want to interview you and Mario and inspect your house. They think it's a wonderful opportunity as long as you meet their requirements, which you will!. Jack, that's perfect, they'll be home waiting...No, of course we won't tell Steven or Josh until CFS have done their stuff and come up with a final decision….See you later, then...yes, I love you too, bye"

"How did he do all that in just a few minutes? That's unbelievable!"

"He's had lots of contact with CFS, you wouldn't believe how many kids he's had to send there after they leave hospital, just like Josh, because there's so much child abuse these days. So for them to have one less to kid to find a home for is a godsend for them."

The next few days passed really slowly for the Mancinos and for Steven's parents. They were really anxious about the interview and house visit and were desperate to hear of a positive result because they had all come to care for Josh and didn't want him to have to leave town and his friends. But the wheels of bureaucracy turn slowly and one just has to be patient.

Steven and Landon were oblivious to all this. They went on with their lives, going to school, doing homework, and spending quality time together at the weekend. Josh continued to heal, he had had a wonderful reception from school friends and teachers when he first went back, nobody seemed to care he was gay, he enjoyed living with the Roberts, and he had time together with Jose at the weekends. Regrettably they didn't get to be alone in the house again but nobody showed any concern when they found ways to sneak into Josh's room a couple of times and continue their study of the manual of how to have sex with your first boyfriend.

The only thing out of the ordinary was the news that John started to show more and more response, although he was still outwardly unconscious. He couldn't speak or do more than move his hands very slightly. Josh visited several times and become more and more convinced that John understood him because he got hand squeezes in response to questions.

Then one day Jack got an urgent call from John's doctors, saying they thought John was coming out of his coma. Jack rushed to Josh's school, got him out of class, rushed to the hospital and went straight up to John's room.

"He opened his eyes a little while back!" said the doctor excitedly. "I'm sure he'll do it again, that's one of the first signs of recovery. I'm really optimistic!"

Josh looked at the doctor. "Can I talk to him?"

"Sure, go ahead, he seems to respond better to you than anyone else!"

Josh moved to the bedside, held John's hand, and moved so he could look into his eyes if they opened. "John, it's Josh. Can you hear me? I know you can, you squeezed my hand, didn't you! Do you think you could open an eye?"

They waited and then John did open an eye. What followed was even better. He gave a tiny little smile, hardly noticeable, but definitely a smile!

"Oh, John, that's wonderful! Now your going to get better and better and I can't wait!" Josh was crying as John managed to open a second eye and his smile got slightly bigger. "Oh, I'm so happy to see you alive, John! We all are!"

Then the doctor intervened. "Josh, we mustn't tire him out. His brain's probably in overload right now. Little by little, OK?"

Josh nodded, sniffed, blew his nose on a tissue and looked at the doctor. "Do you really think he'll come out of the coma now?"

"I don't see why not. If he can control his eyelids, he should be able to control lots more things. His brain will just have to work out what to do and how to do it, and that takes time. It won't all come back at once."

And the doctor was correct. John slowly regained most of his senses, started to be able to move different parts of his body. Rehabilitation would take months, he still had some speech issues, but he began to think he'd be able to get back to school when the new year started in August.

Chapter 12

Finally the wheels of the State bureaucracy moved and the Mancinos received a phone call from CFS saying that their application to be foster parents had been approved, and that they had permission to contact Josh and see if he would accept them as his foster parents. They immediately called Mrs. Roberts and asked if she could bring Josh over to their house after school that afternoon. She agreed on the spot. She asked whether the other boys could come, but Mrs. Mancino said she didn't want that because there was always the possibility, however small, that Josh would refuse.

So without telling him why, Mrs. Roberts dropped Josh off at the Mancinos and said that the Mancinos would bring him back later on. When she got back, Steven was waiting for her.

"Where's Josh? I was looking for him"

"I took him to the Mancinos. They wanted to talk to him."

"Oh my God! Is it what I think it is?"

"I don't know what you think it is, Steven."

"Mom, I'm not stupid and nor are you. You know perfectly well that I think the Mancinos will foster him, and you know perfectly well that I tried to set the whole thing up!"

"Yes, your father did say something to that effect!"

"And we've been waiting for ages since Josh went over to see them, and nobody said anything which is weird because you'd think we all had a vested interest in trying to get Josh settled, and nobody from CFS has ever contacted him to sound him out of potential foster families, so I deduced from all of that they they're waiting for approval from CFS. So, am I right?"

"I don't know what to tell you, Steven. I think if it is that then it's up to Josh to say something. In the end it's his decision whether he accepts an offer of a foster family, and we shouldn't second guess him."

"But he loves the Mancinos! He thinks they're both wonderful! And he told me that Nick's old room was like a piece of heaven on earth, he'd never had anything like that, and it would be like a dream come true to live there. So he'd never refuse an offer from the Mancinos! You know that as well as me!"

"Maybe! I guess time will tell, Steven. You'll just have to wait and see."

"I hate you! Damn tyrannosaurus!" But Steven was laughing when he said that so his mom didn't take offence.

Then he tried another tactic. "Will Josh be home for dinner?"

"I have no idea what plans the Mancinos have, just like I have no idea what they want to talk to him about."

"Mom, you're a lousy liar, I know you know something and you won't say! It's not fair!"

And Steven pretended to be really angry and stamped off to his room and slammed the door. But he was so excited because he knew in his heart that his scheme had worked, and having Josh go and live with the Mancinos would be perfect for everyone.

Josh did come home for dinner at the Roberts, mostly because he was bursting to tell them what had happened.

When he arrived at the Mancinos, he was a little surprised to see Mr. Mancino there because he thought he'd be at work.

"Hello, Josh," he said, "We're so pleased you could come at such short notice!"

"No problem! I got out of doing homework! But I'm surprised to see you here, Mr. Mancino, I thought you'd still be working."

"Well, I was but then I got this call from Mrs. Mancino here so I dropped everything and rushed back home. You see, Mrs. Mancino and I want to ask you a question. You don't have to answer it right away, you can think about for as long as you want, there's absolutely no need to rush into a decision."

"Umm, OK, I guess."

"Shall I ask, my dear, or would you prefer to ask Josh?"

"No, you go ahead, Mario!"

"OK. Then here goes! Josh, we've enjoyed meeting you and getting to know you a little since you moved in with the Roberts. But we know that's only a temporary solution to your problems. So this morning we got final approval from the authorities, so Mrs. Mancino and I would like to ask you if you'd like us to be your foster parents!"

Josh stared in amazement, then he gave out a huge yell. "YES! YES! YES!" and burst into tears and soon the three of them were in their first official family group hug, and all three were crying madly and it took ages for any of them to calm down.

Eventually they all managed to stop crying.

"I can't believe this! It's perfect! After I visited the second time I thought what a wonderful thing it would be to live in a place like this. But I never thought you'd be foster parents to me! It's like all my dreams and wishes have come true! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!"

"So I take it you're going to accept!"

"Yes, of course I am!"

"Well, there's one condition you need to consider before making that final!"

"What's that?" said Josh, suddenly rather nervous.

"You have to call us 'Mom' and 'Dad' from now onwards! I hope that's OK!"

"YES! Oh thank you! MOM! DAD! I can't believe it!"

And then they had juice and cookies and the Mancinos asked Josh lots of questions about what he needed and everything but he couldn't focus very well because he was too worked up.

"OK, Josh, would you like to go and look at your room?"

"Yes, but I think I remember it in every detail from my last minute."

"Maybe, maybe not! Let's go!"

And when Josh walked in to his room he was amazed. All the personal things that had belonged to Nick had been removed, the room had been repainted and there was a new carpet, there were new sheets and covers on the bed, new curtains, the closets had been cleaned out, and there was a brand new computer and iPad and phone on the desk. And on the desk was a big sign that read 'WELCOME, JOSH! WITH LOVE FROM MOM AND DAD!"

"I don't understand! If you only got approval today, how did you do all of this in a few hours? That's impossible!"

"Josh, after you came last time, your new dad and I decided that we would try to foster you. You're the perfect person for us, and we've had experience with a gay teenager before so it was an easy decision for us. And we told CFS the next day, and they came and interviewed us and inspected the house to make sure you would have proper living conditions, and one thing they said was that this room looked too much like Nick's room, so we gave it a makeover in anticipation of you coming here. And if it didn't work out between you and us, then we might have decided to foster someone else because we realised how much we liked having a son in the house. So now it's your room and you're going to have to personalize it with your own stuff!"

Josh looked at his new mom, and immediately burst into tears again, but they were still tears of joy and the second official family group hug took place in Josh's room.

"Would you like to move in tomorrow?"

"Oh, yes, please, can I!"

"Of course! We'll sort it out with the Roberts. Now, would you like to stay for dinner?"

"Umm, well I would but you know I think I'm going to explode if I don't tell Mr. and Mrs. Roberts and Steven and Landon and Jose, I just want the world to know how happy I am!"

"OK, we understand! I'll call the Roberts and let them know we'll drop you off in half an hour or so. But before you go back, we'd like to see if there's anything you need before you move in."

After Mrs. Mancino called Mrs. Roberts and told her Josh would be home in about thirty minutes and that he would have very good news to tell them, Josh and his new parents sat down at the kitchen table and they started to make a list. At first Josh was reluctant to ask for anything, partly because he'd never ever been asked anything like that before, and partly because he was worried they'd spend too much money on him. And he felt he had all the essential things like clothes and school stuff and so on. But gradually he began to realize that this was what it was like to have two loving parents.

"Could we do this, mom and dad? Could we make two or three lists? One for a few things that I wouldn't mind having pretty much right away because all my own stuff got trashed by my former dad, and one for things that aren't urgent but which we might get over time, and then maybe a wish list for birthdays or Christmas or something?"

"That's a great idea, Josh, let's do that! Now, the urgent things. Shall we start with clothes?"

And in a few minutes Mrs. Mancino had a list of items she could buy tomorrow before Josh arrived, and a plan for doing some clothes shopping at the weekend.

"Talking of the weekend, mom, dad, am I allowed to have friends to visit?"

"Of course, it's your house as well! Our house rules are very much like the Roberts. On school nights you don't have visitors, but Friday and Saturday nights you can have people over, or go to their houses. Did you have anyone in particular in mind?"

Suddenly Josh seemed very nervous and he started blushing and spoke very quietly. "Well, umm, yes, I guess I do. Umm, I mean I'd like to invite all my friends to see my new place, but I mean, umm, what about having a friend over for, umm, a sleepover, or something like that! "

The Mancinos looked at each other, and then the penny dropped.

"Josh," said his new mom, "I don't want to pry or anything, but are you talking about a boyfriend because if you are that's absolutely fine with us. We're used to that!"

"Umm, thanks, umm, yes we are talking about a boyfriend. You know him, it's Jose!"

"Oh, he's such a nice boy! Steven and Nick were good friends with him! We like him! Oh that's great!"

"I don't know if he will be allowed to though. I'll have to ask him. His parents are pretty strict, although they've come to terms with him being gay and everything. But a sleepover is sort of a different level, isn't it?"

"Yes, but he's fifteen so I think they'll have to let him loose at some stage."

"OK. Look, I think I better go home and tell them the news. Do you mind?"

"No, that's fine. Let's go!"

"Thanks, Mom, Dad! I can't wait to move in tomorrow!"

When they got to the Roberts house Josh's new mom just dropped him off, saying she thought it would be nicer if he broke the news by himself. And she asked Josh to invite the Roberts over to his new house on Saturday and they'd have a welcome party.

So Josh went into the Roberts house and found Mrs. Roberts in the kitchen.

"Hi, Mrs. Roberts, is Mr. Roberts here? I've got something I need to tell you both."

"OK" she said, "Jack, come into the kitchen. Josh wants to talk to us!"

"Hi, Mr. Roberts! Umm, I've got something to tell you both. You know I've been really happy here and I can't thank you enough for everything you've done for me, taking me in and everything, but this afternoon the Mancinos asked if I'd like to live with them permanently and I accepted!"

There was a huge scream of joy as Steven and Landon and Kyle and Jose all rushed in from the dining room where they'd been hiding, having been called by Mrs. Roberts and told to come over immediately. And so seven really happy people had a huge group hug.

And later that evening, just before bedtime, Josh knocked on Steven's door.

"Steven, can I ask you a very private question, just between you and me and nobody else?"

"Yes, of course! Josh, you and I are friends, and we're getting to be really close friends, and that means we have to be completely honest with each other and if we have to ask something difficult, or say something that the other might not like, then that's what we do because we're close friends. Fire away!"

"Well, it's like this. You know I'm the happiest boy in the world right now because all my dreams have come true. Ever since I met the Mancinos I dreamed of living with them in that house, and it's all come true. But something's bothering me, and you're probably the only person I can ask to find the truth. So please don't be upset with me for asking but I need to know one thing."

"I'm listening and whatever it is you want to ask, I won't get angry. I promise."

"OK, I trust you. Here goes! Did you do anything and say anything to the Mancinos about the idea of fostering me?"

"I'm glad you asked me that, Josh, because other people have thought I'd done something to push the Mancinos into thinking about fostering you. And here's my answer: yes and no."

"You need to explain, Steven, I don't understand!"

" OK. So yes, I also dreamed of you being fostered by the Mancinos, I confess that idea came to me even before you met them because I know them so well. It seemed an obvious and absolutely perfect fit: a gay teenager looking for a home, and a now childless couple who were lonely but had experience of raising a gay teenager.

"And so, yes, I decided to take you there, and I used the late Christmas gift as an excuse to go see them, and made sure you and Landon came along so they could meet you. And yes, when Mrs. Mancino asked me why you got beaten up I told her your dad had found out you were gay, so I'm sorry for outing you to her but it's public knowledge why he beat you up and she'd have found out pretty quickly. And yes, when she asked why you were living with us, I said it was just temporary because we didn't want you to go to a CFS home where you didn't know anybody.

"But, no, I didn't do any manipulation. All I did was put you and the Mancinos together and see what would happen. I had no idea they were thinking of fostering anyone, and it was them, and only them, who met you and liked you and came up with the idea of fostering you. So yes, it was my idea but I didn't try to influence their decision in any way. Is that what you needed to hear?"

"Yes. Thank you for being so honest, Steven. It's absolutely what I wanted to hear. I didn't want to hear that anyone had pushed them into fostering me, I wanted to know it was their decision and their decision only, because it only reinforces what I already knew, which is that they love me and want me for who I am, not because someone asked them do. But you've put my mind at rest. Thank you!"

"Josh, like I said earlier when everyone was here, we're all so happy for you. You deserve everything you're going to have with the Mancinos, your life is going to be wonderful, and I'm happy because you're not going anywhere and we're going to be best friends for ever. I love you, Josh!"

"And I love you, Steven! You're a fucking genius!"

And they hugged and Josh went back to his room in the Roberts house for the last time, and all was peaceful in Steven Roberts's world.

The End

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