by Nick Brady
Tony and his roommates were bored. Danny clapped his hands. "OK guys, this is our last day of freedom. We should try to find something fun to do today."
Tony complained. "The snow has all melted and there are a hundred kids playing basketball already. You can't even squeeze into the gym. They sure aren't going to let us go for a hike. What else is there to do?"
"How about a Gin Rummy tournament? We could play four handed. Prizes for the winners," Danny suggested. "What prizes?" Tony wondered.
"Hey, I am friends with a couple of the nice ladies in the cafeteria. I bet I could come up with something," he bragged
"Kind of lame, but it might be better than sitting down in the lounge picking our noses," Jermaine admitted. "Do I hear a better suggestion?"
Danny clapped his hands again. "Gin Rummy it is. Come on guys. It's a fun game," three boys shrugged their shoulders and nodded.
"OK then. Let me see what I can come up with for some prizes and we will meet back here in the room after lunch," Danny told them.
Tony and Bobby were walking back from lunch with Bobby's new friend Arlo. "How do you play Gin Rummy?" Arlo asked. "I don't know many card games."
"I don't know how to play it either," Bobby admitted. "You guys will have to teach me."
"Danny taught us before Justin left and Bobby moved to our room," Tony explained. "It was kind of fun, I guess."
"Can I watch?" Arlo asked. "I would like to know how to play. I mean if that is OK."
Bobby liked Arlo. They were both eleven, and both liked music. Arlo was a small boy, even smaller than Bobby. He looked a little frail but was quietly enthusiastic about most things. He was the sort of boy who was easy to overlook, with mousy brown hair and large gray eyes. He was quiet, a little shy, and Bobby felt a kind of kinship with him. Bobby found it difficult to trust most people and had not made many friends at the boys home. He wanted Arlo to be his friend.
"Maybe we can both learn. Danny loves to play Gin Rummy and you can play with us I bet," Bobby encouraged him.
Once back in their room, Danny, Jermaine, Tony and Bobby pulled their desk chairs around to one of the lower bunks and discussed the card game. Arlo sat cross legged on the floor and peeked over the bed to watch.
"Only three of us know how to play now that Justin is gone," Danny said. "We will have to teach Bobby to play. It is more fun four handed."
"Teach Arlo too," Bobby requested. "He wants to learn," Arlo nodded.
"OK, it as easy to teach two as one," Danny patiently explained the rules of the game, then played a two handed game with Jermaine, laying the cards face up so that Bobby and Arlo could see. "Get the idea?"
Both of the younger boys nodded. "Lets just start playing and we will get the idea if you let us ask questions," Bobby suggested.
Jermaine offered to watch and do some coaching so Bobby and Arlo could both learn.
Danny, Tony, Bobby and Arlo played several hands, keeping score mostly to show how it was done. Jermaine looked over their shoulders and made suggestions to help them make the right plays. Bobby and Arlo were sharp boys and began to pick up the game very quickly. They were enjoying the attention of the older boys as much as the game itself.
When they seemed ready to play, Arlo sat back, expecting to be excluded. Tony could see that Bobby wanted his new friend Arlo to play, so he opted out. "Go ahead Arlo. I will watch."
Arlo was delighted and quickly agreed. Bobby was pleased that his new friend Arlo was having fun.
The foursome was ready as Danny dealt the cards. "OK, Jermaine and Bobby will play me and Arlo. Ready?"
The cards were dealt and the game was afoot. Bobby and Arlo were new at the game and leaned over to Tony fr his advice several times. Tony helped as best he could but the two younger boys were soon making their own plays.
The game concluded with Bobby and Jermaine triumphant.
"We won!" Bobby cried. "What are our prizes?"
"Yeah, you promised us prizes," Jermaine reminded Danny.
Danny grinned and pulled a brown paper bag out from under his bed. "How about a dozen chocolate chip cookies?"
Bobby took the bag, helped himself to a cookie then handed the bag to Jermaine, who took one then passed the bag to the others. "It's nice to share, I guess," he said with a smile.
As the Tulsa Boys Home was concerned, Tony had been doing very well there. He had befriended and defended Bobby and earned the respect of his roommates and of the administration. He had sincerely tried to avoid trouble and was in most ways behaving very well. But he had begun to see his sexual nature as the cause of many of his problems. He had never felt inclined to show any restraint in this area but was now beginning to question many of the things which he had accepted as normal for himself. He wished there was someone who could help him with his concerns but could not think of anyone he could confide in. He was sure there was no one who would understand his dark secret.
Tony was alone in his shared room. He had leaned back against the wall on his lower bunk with his legs crossed and his head in his hands. He was very depressed and did not want to be seen, when Danny came in the room and found him.
"What's the matter Tony? Are you OK?" Danny asked.
"Hey, it's nothing, man," he said, looking away.
Danny sat down next to him and looked at him with concern. "Something is the matter. I don't think I have ever seen you like this before. Is there anything I can do to help?"
"No, you can't help. I can't talk about it. You wouldn't understand."
"Try me. I will help if I can," Danny promised.
Tony sighed deeply. "No, you can't understand. You are not like me. I am just a bad person," he put his face in his hands. "Man, when I think about who I am, I don't like who I am – I hate who I am."
Danny put his arm on Tony's shoulder. "Maybe I could understand if you would talk to me. And even if I can't understand completely, I can listen. No matter what it is, it will stay between you and me. I think you need to talk to somebody. Can you trust me?"
"But if I tell you, you will hate me too."
Danny's heart went out to him. "No I won't, I really won't. Please trust me. Maybe it's something I already know."
Tony looked at him. "You don't know. If you knew all the stuff I did, you wouldn't even be talking to me."
Danny rubbed his shoulder and looked at him with compassion. "You got to trust somebody Tony. Have you ever known me to lie to anybody? I promise you can tell me anything."
Tony was very quiet. Trust was something strange to him, but he desperately wanted to share his burden with someone.
"Well see, I kind of like guys. Not like just friends, but, well.... I know you can't understand that," Tony felt desperate.
Danny nodded. "I already know that. And I know that you love Bobby in a good way and have not messed with him. Am I right?"
"No, I would never do anything to hurt Bobby."
"I figured that, and I respect you for that," Danny told him. "And I know that you have messed around with some other guys, but it was because they wanted to. I don't think you took advantage of anybody."
Tony looked at Danny with surprise. "How can you know that?"
"Because I'm not stupid," Danny said. "I mean, we sleep in the same room, use the same shower, eat together. It is really hard to keep anything a secret in this place. I'm guessing that you and Thomas have sort of paired up with each other, right?"
Tony looked down. "You really don't hate me?"
"No, I don't hate you," Danny assured him. "I have an older brother who is gay. It surprised me when I first found out, but I got used to it. He is a cool guy and a good brother," he went on. "I know some people claim they hate gay guys, but that is just ignorance. I figure you look at some guys like I look at some girls. Besides, I know you had a hard time before you came here. We all did. I'm not going to judge you."
"You know about me? About me and Thomas and stuff?" Tony was amazed. "Man! Does everybody know?"
Danny shrugged. "I don't think so. Jermaine and I have talked about it some. I think he might have been down on you at first, but has come to respect you."
Tony was moved. "I don't think I am a very good guy. Why would Jermaine have respect for me?"
"Don't be so down on yourself. You do your chores, you stay out of trouble, you get along with most people. You're doing good here," Danny explained to him. "But the thing that won over Jermaine was the way you treated Bobby."
"Hey man, I never messed with Bobby."
"No, and that's the point," Danny said. "When we saw you palling around with Bobby I guess we figured you were planning to get in his pants. But you didn't. You became his friend, his protector, his big brother even. The boy idolizes you and you have kept it on the right level. Correct me if I'm wrong, but you have done right by Bobby. When you saved him from Jase we all got to see who you really are."
This was not the conversation Tony had expected. "You are right about Bobby. I really love the guy, you know?"
Danny smiled. "There is a lot to love there. Bobby is a real sweetheart. You two are good for each other."
"Damn, man. You know everything?" Tony was amazed.
"Look, I am your room captain and it is part of my responsibility to keep track of things. Besides, I like you Tony. You have changed a lot since you came here and I have to respect that."
"You respect me?" The words were sweet to Tony's ear.
"I do," Danny tried to explain. "We all come here because we need to change. Some of us have messed up really bad, some of us have been messed with. Some guys don't seem to be able to get past their old lives. Justin couldn't, Jase couldn't. They didn't make it and now they are gone. Maybe they will get another chance and maybe they won't. Not everybody makes it."
Tony was nodding, trying to take all this in.
"I know a little about where you came from. Not everything, but enough to know it was really tough. You came here and tried to make it work. I think you saw this as a chance to make a better life and you have done a pretty good job. Some things you just can't change, but you have done your best. I see that, a lot of people have."
Tony's eyes were filling with tears. "I never thought of things that way. You make me feel real good, man."
Danny chuckled. "Well, I think you're a good guy. At least you're getting there. I don't know everything that goes on in here, but I think some really good things are getting ready to happen for you."
"What? What do you know?" Tony asked.
"I don't really know anything for sure and I probably shouldn't be saying this, but I think, I hope, some good things are going to happen to you." Danny confided with a smile. "Don't give up too soon."
Tony felt very close to tears. "You are my true friend, Danny. I didn't know you were really my friend, but you are. You always have been real fair with me. I guess I should thank you."
Danny smiled and gave his shoulder a squeeze. "You are OK Tony. You can't change who you are, but you can change who you become. Just remember Bobby, and the way that friendship has changed you, and has changed Bobby."
Danny stood as if to leave. Tony asked him. "Where did you come from? I mean, what happened to get you in here? You never talked about that. You seem different from most of the other guys."
Danny hesitated. "I guess I was one of the guys that was messed with more than I messed up. I have been here five years and I'll probably be here until I'm eighteen because I don't really have anywhere to go. I was a pretty angry guy when I first got here. Probably you wouldn't have liked me very much. But I changed, and I don't plan to go back to where I was. Can't I just leave it at that? We can all change, Tony. So can you. You can be a better person than you were when you got here. That's up to you." Then with a smile, Danny left Tony alone to his thoughts.
In the days that followed Tony kept more to himself. He was polite and friendly to Thomas, but kept his distance from him. Rather, he devoted himself to his friend Bobby, playing basketball with him, spending time talking and encouraging him as best he could. In a few more weeks, Tony was called into the superintendent's office. He walked in to see Mr. Johnson and Danny. Tony was scared. He was afraid he was in trouble.
Mr. Johnson was smiling. "Have a seat Tony, I have some news for you. Don't worry, I think it will be good news."
Tony looked at Danny and saw that he was smiling. Danny gave him a wink.
Mr. Johnson began. "You came to us last summer with a lot of baggage. The details of your history are well known to me, and I know you had a rough time. But since then you have done quite well. You have demonstrated generally good behavior and have reached out to others, particularly your friend Bobby. It is very clear that you have been a very positive influence on a very troubled boy. You have earned our respect," Tony felt tears begin to roll down his cheeks.
"You are the youngest of four brothers. Your brother Carlos was with us briefly and has since been placed in a foster home. I am happy to say that he is well and has made the best of his situation. Your older brothers have been sharing an apartment while the oldest brother Pablo is a student at the University of Tulsa and is excelling in school. Juan is working and also doing quite well."
"We have recently been contacted by an attorney who is acting on behalf of a friend of your brothers. It seems that the immigration status of the four of you has been in question. I am happy to tell you that there are some legal proceedings in place which might resolve those issues."
Tony's tears were now flowing freely.
Mr. Johnson continued. "It seems that your your brother's friend Jack has obtained the status of sponsor for all four of you. In this regard, it appears that you will have permission to be reunited and share a joint living arrangement. Your participation in this arrangement is contingent on my approval on behalf of the Tulsa Boys Home," he paused. "Can you think of any reason that this would not be acceptable to you?"
Tony tried to find his voice. "Does this mean that I can live with my brothers?"
"That is the plan. My concern is that you do not resume your previous behavior. I am aware that you have certain inclinations that might be a problem for you. I want very much for you to avoid any behavior that might result in a repeat of the incidents that brought you here."
Tony struggled to speak through his tears. "Yes sir, I think I understand. Please sir, I think I have changed. I don't want to go back to where I was before. I will try, I will really try," Tony thought for a moment. "Maybe I can't change who I am, but I can change who I become."
He glanced at Danny, and saw for the first time that Danny also had tears in his eyes. Danny was nodding.
Mr. Johnson smiled warmly. "I see no reason to hold you here, Tony. I wish you well, and Godspeed. It will take some weeks for the details to be worked out. In the meantime, prepare yourself and resolve the relationships with your friends here, especially with Bobby. Your leaving will be difficult for him."
Tony was now shedding great tears of joy.
Mr. Johnson had a final question. "Before we conclude. I would like to give you the opportunity to share any thoughts you may have. What would you like to say to us?"
Tony sat quietly for a moment. Danny passed him a handkerchief and he blew his nose and wiped his face. What could he say?
He took a deep breath. "Mr. Johnson sir. I guess I want to thank you. I got to be honest. I think the time I have been here has been the best time in my life, so far. It was not easy, but this place has been pretty good to me. I got to eat regular, you gave me what I needed, and you treated me fair. Maybe the best thing is I have made some real friends. I never had friends before I came here. The guys in my room were really good to me, Danny and Jermaine." He looked at Danny. "I will never forget you guys. Thank you. And Bobby.... I never knew anybody like Bobby."
Tony looked like he wanted to say more, but he choked up and could not continue. He hung his head and let the tears fall over his knees.
Mr. Johnson sat quietly and waited to see if there was more. After a few minutes he stood. "Thank you gentlemen. Tony, you are free to go."
Tony stumbled from the office into the corridor outside. He saw Jermaine and Bobby there waiting for him. He dissolved into sobs as all three friends surrounded him in an embrace. "Oh Jeez, I'm gonna miss you guys," he sobbed.
Bobby looked a little stricken. "Are you leaving? Oh Tony, I will miss you so much. But I am happy for you too."
"We got to talk, little brother," Tony sniffed.
The four friends walked arm in arm back to their room. They had a little time before Tony would leave them. They wanted to make the best of it.
Tony was terribly excited about living with his brothers after so long, but he was very concerned about leaving Bobby. He would miss him terribly and worried about him. He spent as much time with his little friend as possible and they had some long talks.
"I am sure going to miss you Bobby," he told him.
"Bobby sighed. "I will miss you too Tony, but I am really happy for you. You and your brothers will get to be a family again."
"Really, we were never a family before. It was really messed up Bobby. Maybe this will be the first time for us," he said. "But I really worry about you. I wish I could take you with me."
Bobby smiled. "That is nice of you to say, but you can't do that. They wouldn't let me anyway."
"But I love you so much. I almost wish I was staying here with you."
He hugged Tony and kissed his cheek. "I love you too Tony. I will never forget you and I know I see you again. But don't worry about me. Danny and Jermaine will look after me. They are my friends too. I really am not so scared anymore. I think you helped me with that."
He took Tony's hands in his and looked very serious. "I think everybody deserves to be happy. You taught me that. I want you to be happy too, Tony. I wish we could stay together, but we will just have to learn how to be happy on our own."
He leaned up and kissed Tony gently on the lips. "You taught me how to be brave, Tony. I will never forget you. Please be happy."
They held each other close. "Thank you Bobby. I got to be brave too. I love you little brother.
When the time came for Tony to leave, he was surprised by Danny, Jermaine and Bobby bringing him a cake with candles.
"Hey, man, it's not my birthday," he protested.
"No, but it is the only kind of cake we could get the cooks to make," Danny told him. "We sort of had to fib about it being your birthday."
"Me and Jermaine wanted to say goodbye, and make you a promise," Danny said. "We are adopting Bobby as our little brother, so you don't have to worry about him, OK?"
Bobby was smiling from ear to ear. "Now I have three big brothers!"
Tony's eyes filled with tears. "You guys are the best friends a guy could ever have. I love you guys. Thank you."
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