Let Them Eat Cake

by Ricky

This is a work of fiction. No person, place or thing is meant to represent or imply any endorsement or acceptance of anything in real life.

"You look pretty new out here, what happened?"

"What makes you say that?"

"Clothes are still pretty clean, your hair was recently styled and you don't stink."

"Oh, well just give me a bit, I'm sure I'll ripen up. The clothes are the thrift store's finest and a shower compliments of the home I just left."

"Why'd you leave. Pretty cold time of the year to hit the streets."

"Wasn't a matter of choice really, how about you?"

The boy held out his hand, "Jakes the name. I don't mind sharing my bit of heaven with anyone but I prefer to know their names first at least."

He took it and shook it confidently, "Uhm, Win. They just call me win."

"Thanks win, well my story isn't that unusual, No Dad, divorced, mom's boyfriend saw me as a rival for Mom's time, money and attention. So we got into it and Mom took his side. I left her a note telling her I was going to live with Dad and here I am."

"Why didn't you go to live with your Dad then?"

"He hates my guts. There's no way in hell I'd go to live with him and my mom knows that. But her boyfriend has her brainwashed so she's choosing to pretend that I really went."

"But what about school and stuff?"

"Enrolled in the school of street smarts at the moment. Gotta make money where I can. No time for studies."

"You've got a job then?"

"You really are new aren't you. Gotta place to sleep yet?"

"Uhm no. Hadn't gotten to that part yet."

"When was the last time you ate?"

"Well, before my departure this morning. Why?"

"How did you plan on eating? Do you have any money?"

"I have a few dollars, why?"

"What were you planning to do after that ran out?"

"Hadn't really gotten that far either. So how about you?"

He looked up and saw a car cruising by slowly, Jake took his hood down to uncover his head and smirked at the car and gave a little wave. The car pulled into the parking spot a few yards ahead. "Wait by the coffee shop in about 20 minutes. I'll be back in just a bit." He went and climbed into the front seat of the big black BMW and they pulled away from the curb and sped off up the street. Win thought about the boy. He wasn't bad looking. He needed a haircut, that was for sure. And using the sniffer scale he knew Jake was not fresh on the streets. But he had kind eyes, sorta pretty looking. And his lips were a perfect cupid's bow. He pushed his thoughts back from his mind, that's not what he was here for. He turned and started walking back towards the coffee shop. A black car pulled up next to him and paced him a few yards, the window rolled down and he approached the car, leaning into the window a little to hear the driver. He shook his head no and the driver rolled up the window and sped off. He was not angry, he was determined. He made his way back up to the coffee shop and got a hot chocolate and sat on the bench outside to wait for Jake. It was about twenty minutes and the car pulled up and Jake got out. He put his jacket back on and walked over to where Win sat sipping on his hot chocolate. He froze looking at him for a moment and gave a half shake to his head and an unpleasant smirk of disapproval as he approached. "I can't believe you spent money on that. They charge a fortune for a freaking cup of coffee." He sounded angry.

Win looked at him for a moment. "It's cold, you told me to wait here for you. I can't very well wait in their chair without a purchase can I?"

"I told you to wait BY the coffee shop, not IN it."

"Would you like one? It's very good."

Jake looked at him astonished. "Dude, they're gonna eat you alive out here. You are flat clueless." He took a breath, "Win, what are you going to do when that money runs out? How are you going to get more?"

"I hadn't "

"Gotten that far yet, ya I thought you'd say that. Look, Win, when you are out here you have to watch every penny you have. There's no mommy and daddy out here to just pass out a few bucks every time you need it. Come on." He stood up, "And finish that hot chocolate quick. You can't go into the shelter with that or they'll have a fit and you'll be marked as fresh meat, you don't want that."

Win handed him the cup, "Would you like to finish it? I've had enough, it's rather tepid now and pretty sweet." Jake turned up the cup and drank it like it was the nectar of life. "And what shelter are you talking about?"

"Kings street mission. It's warm but you have to get there early or they'll be full up and you don't want to be on the street at night if you can help it. It's cold and the cops will hassle you unless you find a place to get out of site. Besides, they'll give us dinner and breakfast. Now look, you'll need to give them a phony name and since this is your first time they'll try and give you a lecture and try to get you to go back home. They'll push pretty hard too. And for you that's probably a good thing."

"Why do you say that?"

"Dude, the street is a really rough place and you won't make it out here alone very long."

"But I'm not alone, I'm with you."

"No, Win, you don't get it. I'm doing my best just to take care of me. I like you and all but I can't take care of you too. Out here everyone has to take care of themselves. And trust me, you're not ready to take all that on." He looked at Win and win looked at him like he had just been punched in the gut."

"I thought we rather became friends."

"Friends yes. But I can't take care of you. You need to go home Win. You don't belong out here."

"I don't seem to have a choice right now either."

"Why. You seemed to skip that part?"

"I'll tell you later. Shouldn't we be getting to the mission? You said we needed to be there early. We have all night to talk about me and why I'm out here." He forged ahead determined to put off this conversation until later.

"Uh Win?"

"Yes?"

"It's down this way. Come on." Jake wasn't sure what to make of this boy. He was too well mannered to make it on the street, too well groomed to not come from money and he was clueless about life. He knew he had to get him to go home or he'd never make it. They walked until they had reached the mission and got in the long line. Jake looked ahead and was counting in his head. He stepped back in line and moved Win in front of him.

"Hey! No cuts."

Jake responded, "Cool your jets, we're together here, I just put him on the side away from your stinking ass so shut up, you're no further ahead or behind."

"Look punk!"

"No YOU look. You want to get thrown out before you even get in? Keep it up. You know what'll happen if they catch you bitching. Especially since you're twice my size. So shut up and take a chill pill." He had gotten louder and it was drawing the attention of the security guard. He approached, "Is there a problem here?" He asked Jake, Jake just turned and glared at the guy behind them. "I don't know, IS there?" He asked the guy behind him.

"Nah, I got no problems." Jake looked back at the security officer. "No sir. No problems at all." He switched his eyes back toward the guy behind them then back to the security guard. His eyes told the guard a story that his mouth didn't. He got the message. The guard merely said "Good, it looks to be a cold night coming." He stepped back away from the line but stayed close to the boys.

Jake glanced back at win who was shivering and pasty white. He put his arm around Win, "Hey, you alright?" Win shook his head and glanced down, the confrontation had scared him so much he wet himself. Jake got the guards attention, "Look, he's new and he just got really scared. I need to get him inside and cleaned up. I think we can get this one off the streets. The guard looked at Win's face and knew Jake was alright. He'd seen him around. "Hold on a minute," he said. "I'll be right back. Don't lose your place in line."

The guard walked up to the front of the line and spoke to a guy with a clipboard. He leaned out to try and get a look at the boys. He gave the guard a nod and the guard returned "come with me." "Hey, no cuts!" The guy protested again but this time the guard looked at him. "Look you caused this in the first place. If you want a chance to be inside where it's warm you'd do well to want me to forget your face. One more problem with you and you'll be out, got it!" But he didn't wait.

The guy with the clipboard saw the boys, "Hey Jake, who's your friend here. Jake said ,"This is Win . . . uhm, Doe." The guy looked at Jake, Your friends name is Window? Jake, you're usually more creative. Get him inside and cleaned up. Find him some trades in the laundry, put his discards in the wash pile. Get him some food and stake your place then I'll want to see him. You know the drill." He placed a hand on Win's shoulder, "You listen to Jake, he can help you, we'll talk later." Win just numbly nodded as Jake led him inside. Jake led him to the back where the showers were. He motioned for him to go into a stall. Strip and shower. I'll find you some stuff to wear. Any of this stuff important to you? He said picking the stuff up and emptying the pockets he pulled out a wad of bills. His eyes grew, put this in your coat pocket, keep it hidden. He pulled out a wallet and a key and handed them to the now naked Win. Get cleaned up. I'll be right back." He pulled the curtain and headed over to laundry to swap out the wet pants and underwear and shirt.

"Hey Jimmy, you got some stuff about this size? These will have to be laundered before trading."

Jimmy looked at the sizes, "Sure, hang on."

Can you hook me up too? I need to trade up to something warmer that won't hurt my business, ya know what I mean? Then I'll bring you my trade ins back after my shower."

"Sure, here ya go. I found some corduroy pants and wool socks that even match for a change. Only had boxers. We don't keep the tighty whities, nobody wants them so they pile up. And for you, how about some dockers and a flannel shirt? Got some that'll really bring out the green in your eyes." He winked at him. "And here's a couple of towels one for you and one for your buddy. A couple of wash cloths too."

"Perfect, thanks Jimmy. Back in a bit." He took the clothes and walked back to the shower where he left Win. "Hey bud can I come in? I got your clothes." He didn't wait for an answer and stepped into the dressing area of the shower There was a second curtain which gave privacy to the person inside the shower and kept the water in. A face peeked around the curtain, saw it was Jake and he launched himself wrapping his arms around Jake. "Hey, take it easy, you're alright. Here, take the wash cloth and get clean, then here's a towel. I'll be right next door. Win looked panicked. "OK, look, you get cleaned and I'll wait here, when you get done I'll use your shower and you can get dressed and wait here."

"Hey, no two in a shower. You know the rules." A voice outside the curtain said, Jake motioned Win to get back in and finish his shower. Jake stuck his head out of the curtain. "Hey Bob, it's not like that. Gotta new kid, just really scared. First night. When he gets out I'll be getting in. He's gonna change and wait here. Nothin' going on, I swear." Bob knew Jake, they all did. "Alright, just keep it all above board, you know the rules, we can bend them but don't break them. You can't be naked together in there."

"No problem Bob, thanks."

The boys switched places and Jake made short work of it. He came out and dried himself, he grinned when he saw Win's eyes glued to his midsection. He paused, Win glanced up and realized he was busted, he blushed and diverted his gaze. Jake finished getting dressed and they made their way back to laundry and got sheets and pillows before returning to the hall. Mattresses were placed in rows on the floor. "Come on we're going to get about three rows in and in the center of the room. You don't want along the walls and never in a corner. The whackos and the junkies feel safer against the walls. The biggest and badest like the corners because that's two less avenues they have to watch. Out here we have neighbors who will watch our backs, we sorta hang together." He leaned in closer, "Take that money and put it in your front pocket take about eight bucks and put it in your wallet. That's in case you get mugged. If there's money in your wallet they won't look for the rest. I'll block everyone's view, do it now." Jake turned around and opened his coat making his profile as large as possible while Win made his transition. Win cleared his throat indicating he was done. They made their two beds up and headed for the dinner buffet where serving had begun.

Jake took his tray and handed one to Win. Then he leaned in and whispered, "Take a serving of everything even if you don't like it."

"That would be waste. I'm not going to do that. There are hungry people who need it."

"You're right, and we trade and share, wait and see." Win looked at him questioningly. But followed his advice dutifully. Jake watched him as the dollop of cream of something was slopped on his plate are the mashed potatoes, then the lima bean mixed vegetable medley, the apple crisp that had rolled oats on the top and the small pile of salad filled in the last section of the tray. "Coffee or iced tea?" Jimmy from the laundry asked. He had obviously changed hats for dinner.

"Tea please." Win mumbled. Jimmy placed the cup of tea in it's home on the tray and they picked up the paper napkins and plasticware and made for the table where they sat down.

"OK, what is on your tray that you would normally not eat?"

Win looked over the tray, "Pretty much all of it. This looks worse than school food."

Jake chuckled, "That's because it's leftover school food. They donate to the mission. Look, you're going to get hungry, you're going to have to eat. But look, if you're not going to eat that salad, Tony over there has gluten allergies, he's not going to be able to eat the entre or the apple crisp because the gravy has glutens and so does the topping of the apple crisp. Sonya over there is a vegetarian. She'll be happy to take those veggies off your hands. Toney hates Lima beans. So I'll give him the salad too." Win seemed intrigued by what Jake was telling him and he watched as the exchanges took place. They were looking out for each other making sure nothing went to waste and that each of them received the vital nourishment that would see them through another day. Win picked at his food. It was obvious that it was less than his normal fare. "Eat up." Jake admonished. "This is good food and it'll keep you alive. You never turn down food that is free and clean. You could be picking through a dumpster." Win looked at Jake appreciatively before digging in to finish his plate. He looked around and there was nothing left on any tray he could see. They sat and chatted a few minutes before people got up and started taking their trays to the window of the scullery to be washed. Jimmy again; Win managed a smile and "Thanks." Jimmy smiled and winked, "You're welcome," Was the simple reply. Win Blushed and followed Jake.

"Ok, now we have to go and you need to talk to Bill. He's going to try and get you to call home. Look, Win, you might listen to him. You don't belong out here. I don't know what your story is but it can't be as bad at home as it is on the streets. It's dangerous out here. It's not a game. What we have to do just to stay alive out here is beyond anything you can dream of." Win scowled at him. "Come here, sit down with me for a minute." Win followed him to an empty table and sat down next to Jake. Jake turned his chair around to look at Win eye to eye. Win did the same. Jake glanced around him quickly and then back to Win. "Win, do you know why I got in that car today?" Win shook his head. I went with him so I could give him a blow job for money." Win looked at him stunned. Jake went on, "It's what I can do," he paused, "It's what I HAVE to do to stay alive out here."

"You don't have to do that." Win said a little louder than Jake was comfortable with. He looked around again and put his finger to his lips, "Not so loud ok?" But it wasn't a question. Jake realized that it wasn't really a secret. They all knew what he did. But nobody talked about it.

"Ya, I do."

"You could get a job."

"How?"

"You put in applications." Jake smiled.

"Win, nobody wants to hire someone under 18 for anything that can keep us alive. And even if I got a job flippin burgers, it's at least two weeks before you get a paycheck. How do I stay alive for those two weeks? And if I miss the mission line and have to stay on the street do you think they'll let someone stinking serve food? You have to have an address, a social security card. Do you have trustworthy transportation? Here have your parents sign this; You'll need a work permit from your school. Win, it's just not possible." Jake watched as Win absorbed the information. He watched as the wheels turned churning the words around in his head, trying to find an answer. He waited until he could see the lack of resolution start to surface before he went on. "I've been lucky so far. All I do is blow them or they blow me. No one's tried to forcibly fuck me, or to beat me up. But You have to be smart. You have to see their license number before you get in, you have to be able to recite it too them if they don't want to pay or they don't want to take no for an answer. And you have to be ready to bail from a moving car if you have too." He put his hand on Win's knee to get his full attention back to his eyes. "Win, you can't do this and when that money runs out you're going to be in trouble."

Win looked up at him, "You're gay then?"

Jake took a breath, "It doesn't matter if I am or not, it's what I have to do to stay alive."

Win looked at him, "Why are YOU out here?"

Jake's eyes dropped to the floor, "It doesn't matter. The fact is I don't have a choice, and you do."

"What about child protective services, they can find you a foster home."

"Even worse there," Jake said quickly. "You get fucked and don't even get paid for it. You're a prisoner and can't even escape just so they get their monthly checks. There may be a few good ones out there but I've never seen them. No, I'll take my chances on the street, at least there I can run. And out here, well some of us sorta watch out for each other. We help each other when we can. You can't count on it but it's there. But not everyone out here is your friend either, you have to remember that. Like Otto, that guy who was behind us in line today, you have to watch out for him and guys like him. They're not right upstairs and they'd hurt you as easily as they look at you. To them it's survival of the fittest and you're in competition for the resources that keep them alive." He looked around and saw that Otto was not in there and sighed. Otto would be pissed that they got in and he didn't. He knew he'd have to watch out for Otto until his attention was shifted to someone else. "Looks like Otto didn't get in. He'll be looking for us the next couple of days. We took his spot."

Win looked around and then back to Jake questioningly. Jake explained, "Win, there are only so many beds. We got in, he didn't. He's got to be going off some place out there. He's really scary when he's angry; And he's always angry."

"But you got right in his face and he didn't do anything."

"Ya but I've had a lot of practice dealing with him and his kind. If I let him push us around it would have been us sleeping in the cold tonight. He knew if he made a scene he'd be thrown out. So I knew how far I could push him. And the guard, I treat him with respect, he likes me. He doesn't like Otto and Otto knows that. It's like a very dangerous never ending chess game. You lose and you don't just get to set the board up again. You just hope you're able to make your next move. You don't want to meet him on the street where you're not protected. And now he'll be looking for us. I don't know if he was thrown out because we filled up here or if he acted up but it won't make a difference to Otto, whatever it was is our fault in his head. So we'll have to watch ourselves." He looked at Win, "So you want to tell me why you're out here?"

Win took a breath, "No. Not yet. I mean, I will, just not yet ok?" Jake gave him a weak smile. He wouldn't push. Everyone had their own reasons. He'd do his best to watch out for his friend. But life would be more difficult now. He had to work too. He allowed himself a sigh, he could only do so much. He'd try not to get too close because watching him get ground up by the street would hurt. But he had to survive first. He patted him on the knee and said, "Come on, we need to go let Bill have a go at ya." Secretly he hoped there was a missing person notice out on him. Someone had to be looking for this boy. If there was then Bill would have it. The cops always dropped them off to Bill because he was likely to see them early. Before the street ate them up; Unless it was too late already.

"SO, Window."

"Just Win please. I think he meant Doe as in John Doe."

"Oh, so your real name is Win?"

"Perhaps."

"Got a last?"

"Obviously."

"Care to share it?"

"Obviously not." Win replied casually.

"What's your story?"

"I'd rather not say."

"Are you not safe at home?"

"There is no danger to me there."

"Then why leave?"

"I had to."

"And why is that, if you're not in danger."

"I just did."

"Is it because you are afraid that if they find something out about you the situation might change?"

"No, they know everything there is to know about me." Bill looked at him puzzled for a moment.

"Help me to understand then why you would be on the streets where it's very dangerous when you could be home safe in your own bed."

"I just had to that's all." Bill looked through his clipboard at the notices for the last few days and saw nothing to indicate that anyone had posted a missing persons report. This was unusual to say the least. This boy was well bred and articulate, his hair and nails were manicured. Surely someone had to be missing this boy.

"Where are you from?" Win remained silent for a moment, he hadn't anticipated the question.

"I'd rather not say."

"Were you thrown out or did you leave?"

"I'd rather not say." Bill was frustrated as well as worried.

"Would you like me to call someone? They must be worried."

"I'm sure they're not. No, there is no need to call anyone."

"Would you be able to go home if you chose?"

"I can make that choice I suppose."

"Then I urge you to consider it Win. You don't realize how dangerous the streets are."

"So I'm told. Is there anything else?"

Bill looked at him for a moment, "No, you're free to go back to what you were doing. Could you ask Jake to step in for a moment please? You two are together aren't you?"

"We just met. He's showing me the ropes. He's a very kind boy."

"Yes, he is. And he's smart. You would do well to listen to him. He knows how to survive out here. I wish that there were safe places for kids like you and he. I worry about all of you kids."

"Thank you. I'll ask him to attend you momentarily." Win stood and extended his hand to Bill. Bill took it and shook it gingerly. This was a most unusual boy and he was at great risk on the streets.

Moments later Jake was standing in front of Bill, "You wanted to see me?"

"Ya, close the door, have a seat. How are you?"

"You know. Things don't change much for me."

"I do I'm sad to say. Are you ready to get off the streets yet? You know there are places you can go."

"Thanks Bill. Been there, done that. I'm doing alright."

Bill took a breath and leaned forward, "What about your friend? Anything you can tell me?"

"I wish I could Bill, he doesn't belong out here. Somebodies gotta be pulling their hair out over him right now. Nothing in the notices?"

"Not a word. It's puzzling me too. Unless he's from a family that would be embarrassed by their son being on the street I can't think of a reason why there wouldn't be a notice. Perhaps they don't know he's gone yet?"

"No clues Bill. But I'm working hard to get him to go home. The streets will eat him alive, you know that. He is flat clueless. I just don't know what to do."

"Well maybe if he gets hungry or dirty enough he'll go home."

"Not likely Bill. See that's the problem. He's got a wad of bills that would choke a horse. If he manages it properly he could live for months on what he's got in his pocket. Luckily he's not that smart about it but I don't know what to do. That actually puts him in more danger if anyone finds out." He paused for a moment, "Bill, I don't know what to do. I have to take care of business but I'm afraid to leave him on his own."

Bill thought for a moment and looked at Jake, "I see your problem. I don't have any answers. Perhaps you can forgo your business adventures for a few days and get him to help you out. You get a break and it helps him use up his funds faster."

"No! I don't want his money. I'm not going to use him that way." Jake's look was angry.

"Jake, I know you're not. But it's the only answer I can think of to get him to use up his resources. Better that he does that faster than slower. The slower it happens the longer he's on the street, the longer he's at risk." Bill thought for a moment, "It's better than someone mugging him for it."

Jake scowled, "There has to be another way."

"Alright, but do me a favor and try and keep an eye on him would you? He looks like a really nice kid. And whatever it is that's keeping him on the streets is greater than his fear of it. I mean, he scared himself to the point he pissed his pants and he's still not giving in. See if you can get more out of him would you please? I think we can save this one if we act quickly enough."

"I can't make any promises Bill, I have to take care of myself first, you know that. But I'll do what I can."

"Thanks, that's all anyone can ask. If you find anything out that can help me help him you'll let me know right?"

"I will if it's not presenting a greater risk to him."

"Fair enough. Keep him close."

Jake returned to Win. "So what do we do now?"

"We're in for the night. Keep your stuff close to you and if you go anywhere take it all with you. Trust nobody."

"Not even you?" Win asked. Jake took a breath before answering. He knew he would never steal from him or hurt him or allow anyone else to, but he had to teach him, "Not even me Win. When you're on the streets, you can only depend on yourself. And that means you have to look out for yourself first too."

"I can see I have a lot to learn if I'm going to make it out here."

"You have no idea Win."

"Then you'll teach me?"

"I can't win. I have to focus on my work, on staying fed, clothed and alive."

"I'll pay you to teach me."

"Win, you can't do that. This is what I'm talking about. That has to last you as long as it can. Once that runs out . . . well you'll have to do whatever you must to stay alive. And the sooner it's gone, the sooner you'll have to start doing things that are dangerous."

"I'm sorry, I thought you were a businessman. I'm offering you commerce. Safe commerce. Why are you being stupid?"

Jake recoiled, "I'm stupid? Look, I have to be here, you've already told me you are here by choice and you call ME stupid?"

"I should think that is rather obvious. I have a need and you have knowledge. I have finances and you need finances. This sounds to me like you are not looking out for yourself as well as you should. If it is that difficult to earn money then I should think you'd jump at the chance. You're not, so yes, I'm calling you stupid. How do you expect to survive on the streets when you are turning down easy money when you have the chance?"

He had him and Jake knew it. It looks like Bill is going to get his wish. "Look, let's get some sleep. Morning will come early. I'll think about it."

"Fair enough. If you choose not to help me learn what I need to then I will pay you to direct me to someone smarter then you who will. I'm not tired, yet, any suggestions?"

"They have some books over there on the shelves. If you like to read they are available. Just remember to bring it back when you're done reading it."

He got up and started for the shelves, "Win?" Jake said, "Take your stuff." Win looked at Jake, "No, it's alright. I trust you." And he turned and made for the shelves. Jake just stared at him. Win read him as honest and he was right.

Morning came early and the soft clanking of pots being placed quietly into the steamers brought the crowd to their feet. People started to strip their bedding and stuffed their linen in one hopper and the plastic covered pillows in the other. They started packing their belongings in their various bags. As they did, a line slowly formed for the breakfast. Powdered scrambled eggs, bacon and oatmeal. Apples and oranges and some bananas were available. Win looked for the boy of many hats, he was missing. Probably at school. Win took the serving of everything and followed Jake to the spot where they ate dinner. The trades began. Win had opted for coffee this time. It was strong but hot. He had added sugar and nondairy creamer. There was no milk. Win Picked at the eggs and bacon. It was food and he was a teen. He ended up with extra eggs and bacon but lost his fruit. Nobody was trading the hot gooey oatmeal. It was cold out and it provided hot nutrients. They took their trays to the scullery and Win looked at Jake for direction. "Bathroom," Jake said. "You'll want to take care of that now. Public places restrict the use for patrons mostly. There are a few places like the mall if you aren't too street looking. If your clothes are filthy and you stink mall security won't let you in."

Jake went and returned, as did Win, they made for the door. Bill smiled and winked at Jake. They went outside and the brisk morning air told them it was not going to be pleasant. They were going to have to find someplace warm to be.

Win started first, "So it's about looking respectable then to keep the security off your back."

"Pretty much. Ya. They don't like backpacks a lot either because they think you're there to steal. It also depends on the time of day."

"What do you mean? What's the time of day got to do with it?"

"Well kids our age should be in school or with a parent. If we aren't then we're not supposed to be there are we?"

"That's pretty smart."

"How old are you Win?"

"I'll be fourteen in about a week."

"You ready to tell me why you're out here?"

Win thought for a moment, "I'm looking for something." He took a breath, "I'm looking for something important and I won't go home until I find it."

"Something you've lost?"

"You could say that. It's actually something of my father's. I'll not return home until I find it and secure it."

"What is it. I'll help you find it."

"Thank you. I'm counting on that. I can't tell you yet. I need more information to keep it once I've found it. But I'll tell you when the time is right. Please, trust me. I need your help. You know it and I know it. But I must not fail in this. It's too important."

"How am I to help you find it if I don't know what it is?"

"You'll know when the time is right. But I have to learn the streets first. If nothing else the basics."

"Win, I'm not going to teach you to do what I do."

"Fine. I just need you to teach me things like where do you go if you miss the line, where can you be warm and safe during the non-shelter times, how do you fool them into thinking we're respectable. That kind of stuff. Can you do that?"

"I have my clients Win."

"Jake, I'll pay you whatever they would. Just stay with me and keep me safe. Teach me what I need to know."

Jake thought for a moment, "I can do that but I still need to work. I need to keep my few clients that I know won't hurt me. Your money will eventually run out and you'll find whatever it is you're looking for and go home, then what will I do." It wasn't a question. "Win, living on the streets means thinking about tomorrow, how will you eat, where will you stay. You screw up once and you may die on the streets."

"You're right. I'm seeing that. And I have much to learn. And I'll need you around 24-7 for a long time. Please, I need you. This can be important for both of us."

"I don't get it. Why is it important to me? My life is pretty much this."

"I'll need to trust you to keep me safe and to teach me what I need to know right?"

"You would be trusting me yes. But you shouldn't trust anybody, I told you that."

"You did. And now I'm asking you to place your trust in me. I promise you that when I find what I'm looking for you'll never have to go with them again. So where do we go until the mall opens? I'm a bit cold."

Jake thought about what he said, he'd need to digest it. He was a kid, he wasn't street smart. And Jake thought he was being a little naïve. But for now he would go along with it. "Come on, I know a place where we can sit and be warm." Jake led him up a few blocks and into an alley behind a restaurant. He stopped and looked around before jumping up and grabbing the retractable ladder of a fire escape and pulled it down. It made a screeching sound as it struggled against the counterweights that held it up until it was needed. Jake pulled and wiggled but he didn't weight enough to counter the weight, "Grab my legs and pull me down." Win did as asked and the ladder tilted down until both boys climbed onto it and started up it towards the first landing. It came up as they advanced up the rungs. After only a few steps they were walking on the front of the stair treads because it had retracted. They got to the landing and started up, crossing each landing as they traversed each staircase until they reached the roof. "Walk softly; we don't want them to know we're up here." Win nodded his understanding and they made their way over to the chimney. There was a utility room that blocked the wind and Jake sat down next to the chimney. It was warm and with the wind being blocked it was almost pleasant.

"How did you find this place?" Win asked when they had settled.

Jake thought for a moment before speaking. "I had a friend who showed it to me once when I first got on the streets."

"What happened to him?"

"I don't know. He missed the line one night and I've never seen or heard from him again. I don't know if he moved on or got arrested, got killed, I just don't know."

"I'm sorry."

"That's how it is out here Win. People just disappear. It's hard. I don't like to think about what could possibly have happened to him. It takes your mind to sad places."

"What would you do if you didn't have me to pull your legs down?"

"I would have pulled myself up. I have a couple other places but this one is the safest. It's up high and people like Otto don't generally look up. Their focus is on the ground level where danger can exist. So they watch the ground for a dropped dollar or something they can steal or someone hiding that could be a threat to them. Anything above ground level is of no threat and has no benefit."

"Wow, what a horrible way to live. You'd never see the stars." Jake looked at him. He was so pure and innocent yet. But he wasn't stupid. He was able to negotiate. His thoughts were interrupted by Win, "Why does your Dad hate you?"

"I don't know really. I never met him. Mom told me he split the second he knew she was knocked up with me. I wouldn't even know where to begin looking. My birth certificate says unknown under the father heading."

"So how do you expect your mother to believe you went to live with your father if she never told you who he was?"

Jake looked at Win, "Mom said he was a manager at some factory. That's all I know. And I told her that on the note to rub her nose in the fact that she kept him a secret and that I'd rather live on the streets without anyone then with her anymore. She knows I don't know who he is. That was the point."

"I see. I'm sorry I asked."

"It's ok. I'm used to it. I still get mad sometimes when I'm really depressed. I mean what kind of guy skips out the second he knows he got her pregnant. I think even if I found out who he was and he walked up to me this moment I'd just have to punch him in the face."

"Is it possible he doesn't really know about you? Maybe your mom lied to him or never told him."

"Doesn't matter; it's long in the past. Come On, the mall should be opening. We can go hang out."

Win followed him as the returned to the street the same way they came. Returning to the street meant returning to the cold as well. They made their way up the street towards the all too familiar coffee shop, "Come on", win said pulling him towards the door.

Jake stopped him cold in his tracks, "Win, haven't you been listening?"

"Yes, intently. And now we're getting some hot chocolate." He pulled him inside and to the counter, "Two hot chocolates please, extra whipped cream." He pulled a twenty dollar bill out and handed it to the guy behind the counter and handed one to Jake. Jake stared at him for a moment and took it, "Thanks." And he reveled in the warmth that passed through the paper to his hands.

"Come on, it'll keep us warm as we walk to the mall." Win said making for the door. Jake followed and they enjoyed the walk. A Guy leaped out from around the corner and grabbed Jake and slammed him against the wall, the lid flew off his cup and Jake threw the contents in the face of a very angry Otto. He scream in pain as the still hot chocolate scalded his face, " Run! " Jake said sidestepping Otto and grabbing Win's coat they took off up the street running as fast as they could, Jake glancing back over his shoulder. Otto wasn't following. Winded they came to a walk their chests heaving for breath as they looked back A black car turned the corner blocking the view of where they had just come from momentarily, Jake craned his neck waiting for the car to make the corner so he could see if Otto was following. The car passed out of line of site and Jake relaxed as he saw they weren't being pursued. He turned and walked on. He looked at Win who was smiling, "What's so damn funny? He would have killed me and maybe you too." Win's smiled faded, "but he didn't. And see! It's a good thing we got the hot chocolate. Here have some of mine." He handed his cup to Jake. Jake just took it and shook his head.

"We'll really have to be on guard now. Otto is not going to take that without some retaliation."

"Perhaps someone saw it and reported him to the police."

"Boy, have YOU got a lot to learn. Win, we're the invisible people when trouble hits. He could have been beating us to a pulp and people would just walk by not seeing anything. They don't want their perfect little worlds to be interrupted. There's no help for us. And the only way a cop would step in is if he thought he could get a freebie off of me for the rescue."

"A freebie?" Win asked.

"Ya, a free blow job. It's how you keep the cops off your back."

Win stopped slack jawed, "But they're supposed to be helping."

Jake laughed, "Right. Look Win, I don't pay any taxes so they don't work for me. Maybe your Daddy can get away with stuff but out here, nothing is free."

"That's just awful."

"Not so much. It can be useful if you need saving and you see one who knows he can have you. He looks the other way when I get out of a car or into one. Then he stops me later for a chat. There are a couple that would even take care of Otto for me. I might just have to do a favor to get him off our backs."

"No. I don't think Otto is going to bother us much anymore."

"What makes you say that?"

"Just a feeling, here's the mall. Good thing too, it's getting cold again. Come on."

They entered the mall and made for the food court. Security saw them and headed for them. Jake saw them coming and diverted Win to a table with a middle aged man and woman, he sat down in the chair next to them and asked, "Excuse me can you direct me to the hair stylist?" The man smiled and pointed in the direction past the guards, Jake stood up and said loudly, "Thanks Pops! We'll catch up with you later." The guards relaxed; obviously they were with the couple. Jake lead Win past the guards giving them a, "hey" as they passed.

Win just looked at him, "That was brilliant! You made them think we were with them didn't you."

"Ya, works every time." Jake grinned.

"Well perhaps not so well," Win said looking back over his shoulder at the two guards watching them. "Looks like you're getting a much needed haircut."

"Nah, we'll just stick our heads in and ask how long of a wait it will be. Then we'll tell them that we'll come back. They won't know the difference."

"Except the mall just opened and there's no one in the chairs yet," Win grinned, "Excuse me. My friend needs a shampoo and a cut, make him handsome, he has a date later today." Jake just stared at Win who grinned, "I'll just have a seat over here until you're done." Jake started to protest when he saw the guards walk by and glance in. They smiled and gave a nod and kept walking. There was nothing for it, Jake plopped down in the chair only to be ushered back to a chair in front of a sink. He leaned back and rested his neck in the groove and enjoyed the gentle washing, warm water and the messaging of the shampoo.

Win stepped out in the corridor and walked over to a man sitting on a bench. They spoke briefly and Win returned to his seat awaiting Jake. The man got up and walked away to a nearby store and spoke to a young man who nodded his understanding. The man slipped him a bill that made the boy's eyes light up and he smiled giving him a slight bow. The man returned to the bench outside of the salon. He picked up a discarded magazine and began to thumb through the pages glancing up at the salon only occasionally.

The stylist worked quickly clipping and drying Jakes hair until he handed a mirror to Jake and turned the chair so that Jake could see his work, Jake smiled and looked at Win who just stared open mouthed until he realized that he was caught gawking. He closed his mouth and blushed as he pulled out the bills for payment and a generous tip and handed them to the stylist who smiled and win said, "come on we have lots to do yet." Win walked out and past the man on the bench who waited until they passed him and he stood and walked into the salon to speak with the stylist.

"What do you mean we have a lot to do?" Jake asked.

"I have a plan. Just go along with me on this and perhaps tonight I will tell you what I'm looking for. Right now, we have a place to spend the night but we can't go there dressed like ragamuffins."

"Wait, where?" Jake stopped.

"Look, Father keeps a place in town for when he's at the office. He's in New York for the next several days. We can use it for free and it's safe with no Otto to worry about. And there's food there and everything we need for a few days while Otto finds another victim. But we've got to look the part. So humor me. We'll keep these things for when we go back to the mission ok?"

Jake just looked at him. "Look Jake, I've just come into information about what I'm searching for. I should be able to secure it in about four days. That's all we have to hang on for. Will you trust me? Please?"

"What information could you get? I've been with you the whole time."

"Exactly! Now come with me." He drug Jake along with him into Macey's where a young man approached them.

"May I help you?"

"Yes, we need a couple sets of clothing, business casual. Nose to toes. Can you do that?"

"Most certainly, step over here and let's get some measurements." He reached in a drawer and pulled out a tape measure and asked, "Who's first?" Win pushed Jake forward by the elbow. The boy took all of his measurements and wrote them on a pad of paper, "your name sir?"

"I'm Jake," was the uncomfortable reply. He wrote his name on the slip and then motioned Win to step forward and repeated the process.

"Ok, so let's get to work. They started with boxers and undershirts and socks, then pants and shirts." It took them almost two hours to get through it. We'll be wearing these out, can you put our old things in the shopping bags please?" Win asked the salesman.

"Certainly." He collected the tags and headed for the register and Win smiled at Jake who looked anything but comfortable. He was near panic when the register rang up five hundred and eighty-seven dollars. And Win pulled out his wad and counted out six crisp one hundred dollar bills.

As they stepped into the mall again Jake stopped him, "Win, we have to talk."

"Fine," Win said. "But not here. Come one." He headed for the mall entrance and stepped out on the curb and spoke to the valet who looked up and motioned and a taxi pulled up. The young man opened the door and win slipped him a five dollar bill and looked at Jake, "Get in." Jake was numb but followed Win's instructions. He had a plan and Jake was in for the ride where ever it took him. Win was operating with confidence now and Jake was amazed at how he took over control. "Courtner Towers on Broadway please." The driver dropped the flag and drove. It was about twenty minutes of silence before they pulled up in front of the portico and Win paid the fare.

They got out and a doorman opened the door for them and Win said "Thank you Mark. Will you let the house know we'll be here for probably four days?"

"Certainly Master Courtner" he replied. Win winced at that but proceeded to the elevator and pushed the button. The doors opened and win stepped in followed by Jake who was just staring at Win. Win punched in a number in the keypad and a green light came on and he pushed the button for the 19th floor. There was silence as the box ascended and the doors opened into a vestibule. Win pulled out the key from around his neck and stuck it in the door and opened it. He stepped in and closed the door and turned to the alarm pad behind the door and keyed in a code. A green light appeared. He walked over to a small table with a drawer and opened it and withdrew a cell phone. He poked the message app and poked a few numbers into it and pushed send.

"Come on, make yourself at home. This is our nest for the next four days. I'm hungry. How about burgers fries and a shake?" Jake just nodded, what kind of shake?"

"Chocolate please."

Win picked up a phone and punched four numbers, "Yes could we get a couple cheeseburgers medium well, fries and two chocolate shakes please?" He paused for a moment, "Excellent, thank you." He hung up and looked at Jake. He was still holding the bags, "Let me give you the tour," he said taking the bags and walking down a hall lined with windows looking over the city. He came to a door and opened it into a sitting room, he went in and opened another door and was in the bedroom. "This is my room, he pitched the bags on the bed. It was a huge bedroom and a queen sized bed. The tasteful dark wood said money. Everything Jake looked at said 'this costs way too much.' He went across the sitting room and opened another door to a room equally as beautiful. "This is the guest room. You can sleep here or we can share if you're still freaking out when we get tired." Win was grinning widely, he was glad to be back where he was comfortable.

"Why are we here?" Jake asked sitting on the edge of the bed.

"I told you, we needed a place to be where Otto can't get to us and to wait until I can secure what I am searching for. That will take three to four days. This is a perfect hide away spot. We have no worries at all now. So relax and enjoy. Come on and I'll show you the rest." They walked into the sitting room again and went through another short hall to a door. Win opened it and there was a huge bathroom complete with a deep Jacuzzi, a shower and a very ornate sink and vanity. "I don't know about you but after we eat I want to soak in a hot tub until my flesh falls off my frozen bones." Win wrapped his arms around himself and swooned as he said it. The look of bliss made Jake smile. The doorbell chimed. Win smiled, "Come on, I'm starving." He walked back down the hall and across the living room and into the dining room where a young man was setting out their order.

"Hi Gordon, its good to see you again. Thank you. We should be done in about a half an hour. Then we're going to soak in the tub."

"Very well Master Courtner." He said with a slight bow.

"Oh Gordon, stop it. This is Jacob, he'll be staying with me. Relax would you."

Gordon smiled, Gladly Win, Jacob, be welcome. If you need anything just let me know."

Jake smiled, "It's just Jake Gordon, thank you. I'm pleased to meet you."

"Would you like me to draw the bath for you Win?"

"Would you please? That would be wonderful. Hot please."

"They began to eat and it was plain at the rate at which the food vanished that it was superb. The last fry was being munched and Win stood and took his milkshake with him, "Come on, bring it along." And he headed for the bathroom again. The steam coming from the tub called to them. There were towels set to the side along with two dressing gowns. Win undressed with indecent haste and climbed in and Jake was keeping pace as they sat down win reached over and pushed a button on the control panel and the pool erupted with champagne like bubbles that caused Jake to bust out in laughter and he started to climb out, "Where are you going?"

"They tickle."

"Ah! So you're ticklish, he touched another button and it turned to jets of bubbles, he looked at Jake, "Better?"

Jake settled back in and said, "Ah, oh yes." They sat in comfortable silence until Jake sat up, "Uhm, Win?"

Win knew what was coming, "Yes?"

"Master Courtner? Isn't that the name of the building we're in?"

"Oh, you caught that did you?"

"Ya, so talk."

Win stood up striking a regal pose and in his snootyist voice said, "Winston Avery Courtner, at your service," he said with a courtly bow splashing his face into the water as he did so.

Jake busted up laughing.

"Well?" Win said expectantly.

"Well what?"

"It's your turn. You know who I am."

Jake paused for only a moment before rising striking a pose, Jacob Willingham Gardener, at your beckoned call!" With an amplified bow, also splashed his face into the water. Win laughed.

"Oh this feel so good, I'm actually almost thawed. I thought I was never going to get warm again. And as cold as I was, I knew what sipping a milkshake in a hot tub was like. It cools you off inside so you can stay in longer." He made yummy sounds as he sipped his milkshake and moved over next to Jake. "A guy could get used to this eh?"

Jake became uncomfortable, "ya, a guy could." The wind was leaving his sails as he remembered, this was temporary.

"So your dad owns this place?"

"Father has a significant interest in it. But I don't think he owns it outright. I don't think he owns ANYTHING outright. It's all wrapped up in trusts and corporations and the such. Its protection from litigation I think. Grandfather was in steel and oil in the beginning. So when he passed on it fell to my father. He has a brother as well. You'll Like Uncle Mac he's a lot of fun."

"I'll like him? Why would I ever meet him."

"When I find what I'm searching for you will. You're helping me to find it after all."

"And what is . . . it?"

"Ah, yes, well it's not time yet. But I promise you that in less than four days we shall have an answer to that. So for now, what do you say to a nap?"

"A nap sounds like heaven."

"Do you want to sleep in your own room or just mess up one?"

Jake smiled, "Are you trying for a freebie?"

Win frowned, "No. I just thought you might not want to sleep alone in a place you're not familiar with. I'm sorry if I led you to a wrong conclusion."

Jake was saddened at the thought that he had killed the happiness in the room. "Look Win, I'm sorry. I was teasing. Actually I'd like very much to cuddle up with you."

Win's toothpaste smile was eclipsed by the full moon of his departure from the tub. He hit a button and the tub began to drain while he was drying himself. Jake followed suit. Donning their robes they made for Win's room. They entered and Jake could see that the bags had disappeared and the bed was turned down, he glanced behind him and saw the bed in the other room was also turned down. Win disrobed and hung the robe on the valet chair beside the bed, Jake did the same. The sheets were soft but cold and Win actually shivered as he got in. Jake climbed in and Win cuddled up against him placing his head on Jakes chest. Jake extended his arm around Wind and pulled him close. They drifted off to sleep.

The stress of the previous day and a half had taken its toll and their midday nap was welcome. The dinner hour came and the door chimed again and the intercom sounded, "Win, this is Gordon. Dinner will be served in 30 minutes. I thought you would like to have some time to wake up. Your clothing is in your dressing room."

Win reached over and pressed a button, "Thank you Gordon. We'll be there shortly." He rolled back over and cuddled up to Jake again, "Thanks, this was nice." They enjoyed the warmth of each other a few more minutes and then decided they had better dress for dinner. They stepped into the dressing room and found their clothes cleaned and pressed waiting for them.

"Win?"

"Yes Jake?"

"Is there someone here besides us?"

"Why do you ask?"

"Well the bags were gone off the bed and it was turned down and it wasn't when we were in the tub. We took our clothes off to get in the tub and here they are cleaned and pressed and neatly hung waiting for us."

"Oh, yes, Gordon is fantastic isn't he?"

"But how does he do that without being seen?"

Win smiled, "He's my valet. He's been my friend as well for many years." And he's always within ear shot I think. Gordon?"

"Yes Win?"

"You'll be joining us for dinner?"

"Thank you sir, I've already imbibed."

"Very well, but tomorrow night please plan on attending would you please? I miss your company."

"Certainly sir, thank you. I've missed you as well."

Win looked at Jake and whispered, "See? He's like magic sometimes."

"Thank you sir." Gordon chimed from the other room. Jake smiled widely.

They sat at the table and Gordon served them. This time it was salad baked potatoes loaded with sour cream bacon crumbles and chives and rib eye steaks cooked medium rare. Jake was mesmerized by the flavors. Water glasses were filled and chilled milk.

"I think this is the best steak I've ever eaten."

"Thank you Master Jacob, I'll pass those pleasantries on to the chef. Win, I've prepared some snacks for later in the kitchen."

"Thank you Gordon. That was kind of you.

"Their meal finished Win looked at Jake, how about some fun?"

"What did you have in mind?"

"Follow me," Win commanded. He went back in the sitting room and went down the hall to the left that Jake hadn't notice when they came in. Win opened the door at the end of the hall to the rec room. We have DVD's gaming consoles, internet, library, pool table. And air hockey. We also have board games like chess, Parcheesi, checkers or cards. What do you feel like doing?"

"Can we watch a movie? It's something I've really missed."

"Sure pick your poison." He grabbed the remote and brought up the selection menu and handed it to Jake. He went over and opened a mini refrigerator, "coke?"

"Sure thanks." He sat down on the couch.

"Stretch out, get comfortable," Win said as he grabbed a couple pillows and a blanket. He tossed a pillow to Jake and then climbed on the couch and positioned the pillow between him and Jake and covered them both up. It was heaven.

"What would you like to see?"

"You choose; whatever you want."

"Well I'm stuck with the ex-men or the hobbit or the harry potters. I haven't seen the last two."

Win looked at him, "We have three more days to kill, watch them all." Jakes eyes lit up as he pressed the button to start the first movie.

They continued for three days, eating sleeping and watching movies until the doorbell rang. "I'll be right back," Win said and he got up and headed for the door. Jake could hear whispers in the hallway, then a scream of glee, " YES! " Jake jumped up and ran down the hall where Win wrapped his arms around him, "I've found it!" He stepped back from Jake, tears in his eyes, "Gordon!"

"Yes Win."

"We'll be going to Rothford in the morning. Can you make the arrangements?"

"Certainly sir should we make it a noon arrival sir to make sure everything is ready?"

Win thought for a moment, "Yes, but not a minute longer."

"Yes sir, I'll have the car around about 10:30 then."

Win turned around to the man who delivered the news. "You're sure! You're absolutely sure?"

"Yes, we're absolutely sure." He said smiling.

"Then please could we organize phase two please? Dark Blue here I think. Have them pull up the records, I want it to match mine precisely, the rest at Rothford."

"Very well sir. I'll get right on it."

"Remember, complete secrecy! Father is not to know."

"Of course sir; and if you'll excuse me I have much to get on with." He turned around and left. Win turned to Jake, "This is incredible!"

"Are you ready to tell me what it is you've found?"

The smile momentarily left his face. "I'm not sure I know how. I think it's best to explain it when we deliver it to father tomorrow. Come on, let's raid the kitchen. I'm suddenly starving." And he bolted for the kitchen. Jake just shook his head. He was a little sad; his time in paradise was over.

He followed Win to the kitchen where Win had poured him a glass of milk too and he shoved a plate of sandwich triangles towards him.

"Thanks but I'm not very hungry." He sipped his milk. "Win, thanks for this time. It's been the best in my life."

"What are you talking about?"

"Whatever it was that you've been looking for, well you have it now. Tomorrow I'll be going back to the mission and you'll be back here where you belong. I just wanted to say thanks."

Win broke into a huge smile as he took his hand and lead him back into the rec room. "Sit" Win said. He set his glass of milk on the table and took Jakes and set it next to his. He took both of Jake's hands in his. "Jake after tomorrow you'll never be going back to the streets again, I promise."

Jake looked bewildered, "Why Win. What is it that you've found that would keep me from the streets. I don't understand."

"I know you don't. Please, just trust me one more day. Please?" Jake sighed in frustration.

"Alright Win. But tomorrow I want a full explanation. I'm getting really tired of this carrot on a stick."

"Jake, it's no carrot on a stick, just go along with me on this and I promise, your life will be better. I promise!"

"Let's watch the rest of the movie, then we'll get some sleep. Tomorrow is going to be a huge day."

Sleep didn't come easily for either of them but sleep did come. And they were once again cuddled up in Win's bed, his head on Jakes chest. The chimes rang and the intercom when off, "Good morning Win, good morning Jake, Breakfast will be ready in 30 minutes If you'd like to get a shower and come down in your dressing gowns then while you're eating I'll lay out your clothes."

Win reached over and hit the button, "Thanks Gordon. We'll be down shortly." Win realized what day it was and was suddenly wide awake, "Come on we'll get a shower together. This is going to be the best day ever!" He threw back the covers and scrambled for the bathroom. Getting a shower together did not prove to be faster but certainly proved to be a lot more fun. Getting out and drying each other was almost a call for another shower but they knew time was fleeting and put on clean boxers and their dressing gowns and headed for the kitchen. Breakfast was ham and cheese omelets, home fries and toast with a bowl of mixed fruits in a sweet syrup. They ate like two teenagers and made short work of it.

They made their way to the dressing room where Gordon was waiting for them. "I've taken the liberty to lay out Jakes things in here as well. Is that alright sir?"

"Of course, thank you Gordon." Jake was looking around for his clothes, "yours are here sir."

"That's not mine; I've never seen those before in my life."

"Yes sir, let's try them on and see if it fits." Jake slipped the pants on and the shirt. Gordon fitted the collar stays as he helped him dress. Everything fit perfectly.

"I don't understand." Jake said. "Where did this come from?"

"Maceys sir. They had your measurements and prepared this for you."

"But I don't get it. Why was it done for me?"

"That's a question for Master Win sir. Let me fix your tie."

"Win what is going on?"

"All will be revealed shortly Jake. You'll see it's going to be great."

"You'll understand when we deliver what I've found."

"The car will be downstairs in about ten minutes sir."

"Thank you Gordon. You'll be riding with us?"

"I wouldn't miss this for the world sir."

"Excellent! Jake, lead the way."

Jake resigned himself to whatever was before him. He tugged at the collar. It was uncomfortable. Win wore it like he lived in it. Win looked at him, "You look breathtaking. That color brings out the green in your eyes. Father is going to be speechless. I can't wait."

"I wish I could say the same thing. I don't even know why I'm here." Gordon grinned and turned to look out of the window. It was a long drive to Rothford; nearly an hour and a half. But they finally arrived.

Win bolted from the car and bounded up the steps only to reverse his steps and take Jake by the hand and rush dragging him along. A footman opened the door, Smiling broadly win spoke, "Is he here?"

"Yes sir, he's in the study."

"Does he know?"

"No one has said a word."

"Excellent!" He drug Jake forward to a set of large doors, he opened one and motioned for Jake to go in. Jake stepped in and saw a middle aged man sitting behind a desk. He was a handsome man and he looked up slightly bewildered until he saw Win. Win walked in and took Jake by the elbow and ushered him in to stand before the man, Win spoke.

"Father, let me introduce, Jacob Willingham Gardner Courtner, your son and my brother. Jake's jaw dropped and he staggered back sitting in a chair. He tried to speak but just made fish movements with his mouth. Win ran to his side, "Jake your mother lied to you. Father never knew about you. When your mother died," jakes eyes flashed to Win, "Oh dear, you didn't know. Oh Jake I've made a mess of this, look, it was a note to father in her will. Don't be angry with me please Jake."

Jake had a flood of emotions roll over him, his mother was dead and the man he hated didn't know about him. The man came over and knelt beside the chair. "Jacob, had I known I would have been there for you. I'm so sorry. And I'm sorry your mother never told either of us. And I'm sorry your mother is gone. I know you have a lot going through your mind right now, you'll need time to sort this all out. But I'm here for you now, and Win's here for you and you'll be loved from now on I promise. He extended his arms to Jake and Jake found himself falling forward into the man's arms. Win sighed in relief as his father rocked him and hugged him tightly. "Cry it out now son. Let it all out." As Jake dried his eyes his father stood up, "This calls for a celebration!"

"Already arranged father."

"Well you've really planned this all out. Sit and tell me how you found Jacob for us."

"Well I sent Mr Garrity to their house to get pictures so we knew who we were looking for. Then he went and canvassed the missions and soup kitchens until he found a boy that could be him. Then I went undercover and made friends with him. It was really scary father but he protected me. He didn't even know me and he protected me. I had to find a way to get dna samples to verify it was the right boy. It was difficult but I got him to the mall and tricked him into getting a haircut. Mr Garrity went into the salon and bribed the stylist to give him his hairbrush that had just been used to brush out his hair. He rushed the samples to the lab and they compared and verified he was my brother, your son. That was just yesterday."

"But why didn't you tell me?"

Win turned to Jake and took his hand, "I knew you were angry with father, you didn't know the truth. I was afraid you wouldn't come. I knew as soon as you met him and found out how truly great he is it would be fine." Win looked at his dad as he said this and the man's eyes filled with tears and he hugged Win. He turned to Jake. "Son, I don't know why she didn't tell either of us. We'll probably never know now. But you're here and you're my son and I want you. I know this has been an awful shock, but if you'll give us a chance we can make a great family. I know you've been through some rough times but those are over. Welcome home."

Jake looked at Win, "So what you found, what you were looking for was . . . me?"

Win smiled and pulled him to his feet and hugged him, "I love you Jake. And I'm proud to call you my brother. Now, let's go upstairs and I'll show you your room. We can change into something more comfortable and them we have a party to go to. Uncle Mac will meet us at the club." He led Jake upstairs where the staff was waiting in a row, smiling. Win introduced them as they went along. This is your room Jake. Mine connects to yours through that door over there."

Jake walked into the room and was floored by the décor. "Of course we'll work to make it yours. You can put up posters or whatever you want. He lead him over to the walk in closet and opened the doors and walked in. These are your clothes. There's a laundry chute right here. Jake stood there in shock, there was a full wardrobe.

"Where did these come from?"

Win smiled, "The guy at Macey's is going to have a great paycheck this week. He had your sizes so we had him fit you with a wardrobe. That's why we waited downtown so they could get all this done in time."

"But you weren't even sure until yesterday."

"Ya, I was. I've looked into those same green eyes as long as I can remember. There was never any doubt for me. We needed the DNA for the courts. Dad wasn't listed on the birth certificate. When you told me that it solidified any questions I had. Now we have the DNA comparison, the note from your mother and dad openly claiming you as his. No court in the world is going to question paternity."

Jake looked at Win, "How did she die?" Win sighed, "She was driving drunk. She ran into a guard rail and didn't have her seatbelt on. They said it was quick, I'm sorry Jake. I didn't know that you didn't know."

"She wasn't a good mom, but she was all I had."

"No, you had us; you just didn't know it yet. And we didn't know it yet. As soon as Dad read the note he called Mr Garrity and put him on it. Dad had to leave for New York for a meeting he couldn't get out of. He told Mr Garrity to work with me on it and I was supposed to keep Dad informed. But I couldn't wait for Dad to get back, so I went out to find you. Mr Garritty was watching over us the whole time. Otto by the way is in a psychiatric hospital now. Mr Garrity called the cops and they stuck him in for 72 hours of observation. He was so out of control that they are petitioning to the courts to have him committed. He won't be seeing the streets again for a long time. By the way, the mission is having a party too. Dad's going to make a huge donation to make the mission larger and better equipped. And it'll be able to help more through some new programs that will help support people until they get on their feet. I've ordered a feast for them tomorrow night and desert will be cake. I even made sure we have a gluten free cake and a vegan carrot cake. I'm hoping to go tomorrow night, would you like to come?"

Jake wrapped his arms around Win and kissed him. That wasn't a brotherly kiss either.

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