by Richard Norway

The wind was beginning to turn cold in late October; the white mists flowing silently through the trees during the black nights became the norm for California beaches. The houses along the deserted residential street instilled a sense of tranquility and safety as Nathan exited his house, walking his dog, Scooter, for the final time of the day.

The quiet was abruptly broken by yelling coming from the house next door to his. A young boy dashed into the street, furiously waving his arms. He was dressed in colorful beach shorts, a white tee shirt, and white and red sneakers with no socks. The exact pattern on the shorts was indiscernible in the dark.

The yelling quieted as the boy reached the street. Nathan could hear the sound … the sound of the boy's hysterical crying.

Nathan's sudden halt caused the dog to stop, and both watched the boy run down the street. Nathan wondered what had just happened. He edged closer to the street to watch the boy turn to the left and run out of his view at the corner.

Suddenly, three other young boys erupted from the house, slamming the front door open with a loud bang. Nathan quickly turned around, watching as the three boys ran past him, heading down the street in the opposite direction from the first boy; he stood still, wondering what the commotion was all about.

The town then became quiet, as quiet as it had been only moments before.

Quite shaken from what he had just witnessed, Nathan stood for a time, gathering his composure, and then he turned around and walked back to his own home, the dog trailing behind in confusion.

When Nathan walked through the front door, he found his husband, David, looking out the front window. David dropped the drapes he'd been holding open and turned to Nathan with a puzzled look on his face.

"What was all the noise about?" David asked.

Nathan let out a huge sigh and said, "I'm not really sure what I saw. A young boy ran out of the house next door. He was crying, and he ran down the street toward Longfellow. Then three other boys ran out of the house and went in the opposite direction."

"How old did they look? I didn't know there were any young boys living there." David said.

"I'm not exactly sure. It was dark, but if I had to guess, I'd say they were around sixteen."

David came up to Nathan and put his arm over Nathan's shoulder. "Well, don't let it bother you. Kids can be wild these days."

"The kid who was crying turned left at Longfellow Street, which is only one block from the beach. Maybe his folks live in one of those houses right on the Strand."

"Come on; let's get something to drink. How about a glass of wine?" David asked.

"Yeah, that sounds good." They both turned and headed toward the kitchen.

As David was pouring each of them a glass of Chardonnay, they could hear the noise of a siren getting louder as it neared. It was not unusual in this part of Manhattan Beach.

But the sound grew louder and didn't stop until its source reached the house next door. Nathan and David glanced at each other as they were illuminated by the red, white, and blue flashing lights coming through the drapes at the front window. They both headed to the living room as more sirens could be heard approaching. When they opened the drapes, they saw an ambulance drive up and park behind the police car. Shortly afterwards, an EMS van pulled up and drove into the driveway of the house the boys had left. A police officer joined the paramedics rush to the front door. By now, most of the neighbors were out on the street watching. Nathan and David stepped outside.

As they were watching, a second police officer came up to them and introduced himself as Officer William Bateman.

Officer Bateman pulled a small notebook and pen from his front shirt pocket and opened it, asking, "Did either of you happen to see what went down at the house next door?" he asked.

David looked at Nathan for a moment before turning toward the officer. "My name's David Castillo and this is Nathan Anderson. I didn't see what was going on as I was inside the house, but I heard some yelling. This is our house," he said, gesturing to the house they were standing in front of.

The officer nodded and then turned his attention to Nathan. "Did you hear or see anything, Nathan…is it?"

"Yes. Well, I had just started to walk our dog, and when I got to the property line, a kid came running out of the house. He was crying and seemed terribly upset."

"Did you get a description of this boy?"

"Not much, I'm afraid. It all happened so fast. From the quick glance I got at him, he looked like a typical surfer with brightly colored shorts, a white tee shirt, and red and white sneakers. He appeared to be maybe sixteen years old, but his exact age was difficult to tell in the dark. Shortly after he ran down the street, three other boys about the same age banged out of the house running and headed in the opposite direction. I don't know if it's important, but the first boy was the only one crying. He ran toward Longfellow and then turned toward the beach."

"What about the three other boys? Did you get a good look at them?"

"Not really. I had walked to the road watching the first boy run away crying when the other three showed up. They made a loud noise slamming the front door open. I turned around to see what the commotion was, but then they flew past me. The only thing I noticed was that they were dressed in baggy pants and open long sleeve shirts. I'm sorry I'm not being more helpful."

"Did you notice the color of their clothes?"

"No. I'm sorry. It happened so fast, and it was dark."

The officer nodded his head again. "One more request, though. Would you be able to come down to the station tomorrow to look through some photos? You might be able to recognize the first boy."

Nathan looked toward David, who nodded.

"Yes. I can do that. I'm retired, so my time is flexible."

"Thank you…Nathan. Would 10:00 AM be okay with you?"

"Yes. I'll be there."

As Nathan and David turned to retreat to their house, they heard faint squeaking sounds from the house next door. They both stopped and watched a gurney being lowered onto the sidewalk. On the gurney was a six-foot-long black plastic bag, zippered shut. They both turned back toward their house, as Nathan whispered, "Oh, shit."

Nathan had met David years ago as he entered his new dorm room as a freshman at the University of Southern California. Before entering, he knocked to see if his roommate might be there. Hearing nothing, he used his room key to unlock the door. As he tried to open the door inward, it was shoved back into him and closed forcefully. What the hell!? he thought.

From behind the door, he heard, "Who are you and what the hell do you want?"

Nathan was taken aback but screwed up the courage to answer. He yelled back to the closed door, "My name is Nathan Anderson, and this is my room. I live here. Just who the hell are you?"

There was no sound coming from the room for at least fifteen seconds, but finally the door began to open slightly revealing a pair of eyes showing through the opening. They blinked a couple of times before the door was opened completely.

"Come in. I'm so sorry," a boy said as he stepped back to let Nathan in.

Nathan picked up his overstuffed suitcase and walked inside. He set the suitcase down on the floor before going any further into the room.

"What was that about?" Nathan asked.

"Look, I'm really sorry about that." The boy looked and sounded embarrassed. "My folks told me since I come from Deming—it's a small town in New Mexico—I have to be careful around strangers in the big city. I didn't know you were my new roommate. Hello. My name's David … David Castillo." He stuck out his hand.

Nathan had to laugh. "Glad to meet you, David." He took David's extended hand, and they shook.

Nathan walked past David and looked around the room. The dorm was the oldest building on campus. It had been the old administration building, when built in 1912. The room had two beds against opposite walls, a dresser next to each bed and a desk and chair on the other side of each dresser. There was a door on each side wall next to the rear wall. Nathan, curious, reached to open one of the doors.

"That's a small closet for hanging clothes or whatever you have that's tall. The one on my side of the room is a small bathroom," David said from behind him.

"Cool," Nathan responded. The only window was on the back wall. Looking out, Nathan could see a basketball court between his dorm and the dorm next door.

When Nathan turned around, he studied David, really noticing him for the first time. David was just a little shorter than Nathan's 6'-0". and was thin, but Nathan could tell he was muscular. His hair was black, neatly trimmed, and he had the darkest, deepest brown eyes he had ever seen.

Nathan smiled and said with a bit of humorous sarcasm, "I guess that's my bed as it's the one that's not made and has sheets and a blanket still folded at the end."

"We can change if you want. I only chose this one cuz . . . well, I don't know why I chose this one." David said.

"No. This is okay with me."

David smiled, and Nathan noticed the deep dimples on his cheeks.

This guy is majorly cute and a little shy. I may have to be careful around him, Nathan thought to himself.

"Hey, David. Would you mind helping me carry up the rest of my stuff? It's still down in the lobby."

"Sure. Since the dorm is only two stories, I guess I can manage one floor. Let's go."

Nathan smiled as they left the room to walk downstairs. The building did not have an elevator.

It didn't take them very long to gather Nathan's stuff. It was just three boxes, although one was heavy. Nathan explained that it contained his computer and gaming consoles. David easily picked up the heavy box leaving the two smaller ones for Nathan.

When they returned to the room, David asked, "What do you want me to do to help you get set up?"

"Nothing, really. I know how everything goes, so it won't take me long," Nathan said as he began unpacking his computer.

"Okay. Suit yourself," David replied and then plopped down on his bed.

David watched Nathan work setting up his computer and gaming consoles, making his bed and putting away his clothes. He had never seen a white boy as cute as Nathan. He watched as Nathan's trim body moved, exposing his muscles. He was obviously a take charge kind guy and not very shy. Not like me, David thought as he enjoyed watching Nathan work.

When Nathan completed setting up his share of the room, David sat up on his bed and said, "It's getting late, Nathan. Why don't we get something to eat in the cafeteria? I haven't been there yet, so maybe we can investigate together."

"Sounds like a terrific idea, but I'd like to take a shower first. Can you give me a few minutes?"

"Yeah. Go ahead. I'm going to look at the school map and find out where it is."

Both boys laughed. "You don't know where it is? Well, neither do I. So, go ahead. I'll be ready in a few."

Nathan got out his towel and washcloth, clean briefs, a bottle of body wash and shampoo and headed to the bathroom, closing the door behind him.

David lay back on his bed thinking about his new roommate. He seems nice, very polite. I think we'll get along perfectly. Then he started to look through the campus map to find the place to have dinner.

It turned out that the main cafeteria was in the Student Union building, and it was only a short walk from their dorm. When they entered, they saw multiple food lines. One was for Italian food, another for Mexican food, and a third for burgers and fries. A large salad bar dominated the right-hand wall.

"Which would you prefer?" Nathan asked.

"I've had enough Mexican food in my life and I'm not sure they'd fix it like the authentic food I'm used to," David said. "I think I'd like to try Italian because I've never had any."

"Italian it is then. Let's go."

David wanted Nathan to go first in the line, but Nathan shook his head. "No. You first. I can help by explaining what's in each dish."

"Okay, if you insist, but you may have a lot of explaining to do," David said with a smile.

As they went through the line, David asked what the first dish he came to was.

"That's a simple penne pasta dish with a marinara sauce."

David looked confused. "What's marinara?"

"It's like a tomato sauce, but with various spices so it's tastier."

The next one David asked about was like a casserole with melted cheese over the top.

"That's called lasagna. It's layered pasta sheets with a meat sauce and ricotta cheese in between the pasta sheets. It's then covered with mozzarella cheese and baked. It's incredibly good but very filling."

The last dish caught David's eye.

"Those look like large empanadas. We have those in New Mexico."

"They're similar, but not the same. You've had pizza before, right? What kid doesn't like pizza?"

"Yeah. I love pizza," David responded.

"The outside is not pasta. It's pizza dough. They're called calzones. The insides are filled with sweet Italian sausage, ricotta, parmesan and mozzarella cheeses. They're then covered with marinara sauce."

"Sounds good to me. I'd like to try one."

"That's what I'm going to have, too," Nathan remarked.

They each took their plates and a carton of milk, swiped their meal cards and began searching for a place to sit.

As it was dinner time, the cafeteria was crowded and filled with other students. Nathan noticed an empty table for two on the wall on the far side of the room. Nathan pointed in its direction and led David to it.

They sat down to enjoy their dinner. Nathan stopped eating after his first mouthful and looked up at David.

"This may be a perfect time to get to know each other a little better," Nathan said. "You don't have to be too personal but tell me what you're comfortable saying about yourself."

"Okay. I'll try, but I'm not used to talking about myself."

"That's okay. We're going to become friends. I just know it," Nathan said, smiling at him.

David smiled back. "I was born and raised in Deming, New Mexico. That's about forty miles north of Puerto Palomas on the Mexican border and about sixty miles west of Los Cruces. It's not much of a town, so we do most of our shopping in Los Cruces. Los Cruces is large enough to have two Walmart's," he chuckled. "My dad owns a hardware store in Deming. My mom, well, she's a stay-at-home housewife. I have two brothers and one sister, and she takes care of us and does all the cooking cuz my dad was away at the store most of the day.

"I went to Deming High School. It's small, but they did have a soccer team. I tried to play in my sophomore year, but I wasn't good at sports. I made the team but spent most of my time on the bench, and so I didn't go back the next year.

"Without much to do in Deming, Mom made us read a lot. I really liked reading and I think I learned more from my reading than I did in school. I like to draw too. Mom says I'm good at it.

"Dad makes a good living with the hardware store. He saved his money, and when I finished high school, he sent me off to college. And here I am."

"Have you ever been in Los Angeles before?" Nathan asked.

"Once, when I was fifteen. Dad took our whole family to see Disneyland. I really loved that place. Have you ever been there?"

"Well, yeah. I've probably been there a half dozen times when I was growing up. We lived pretty close to it."

"That's so cool. Maybe I'll get to go there again now that I'm in LA."

"So, what's your major here at SC?"

"I'm still not 100 percent sure, probably Art or English. Right now, I'm going to be taking my core courses for both majors."

David sat back in his chair for a moment, then leaned in and put his elbows on the table.

"Now it's your turn, Nathan. Tell me about yourself."

"There's not much to tell. I grew up in Manhattan Beach here in Southern California. It's a beach town just south of Los Angeles proper. I went to Mira Costa High School. I ran cross country and played tennis there. I also was interested in English. I love the outdoors and do a lot of walking along the beach at night. I found that very relaxing, listening to the surf crash onto the beach. I've been to Mexico a few times, mostly to Tijuana, though. Mom and Dad liked shopping there. I did go down to Ensenada once. I was just out of high school when a few friends and I drove there. We had a few beers, and when we were walking the streets, the shoeshine boys would come up to us wanting to shine our shoes. Well, all I had on my feet were sandals, so I had him shine my toenails."

David then burst out laughing. "You didn't. Did you?"

"Yeah. It was stupid."

"It sure was," David remarked. "But, go on."

"Well, my dad is a lawyer and joined a law firm in Manhattan Beach. He does mostly corporate stuff and is now a partner in the firm. He wanted me to become a lawyer, too, but I'm not interested in it. My major is going be Journalism.

"My mom is an Interior designer. She worked for a small firm in Hermosa Beach and then opened her own shop a couple of years ago. As you can imagine, I don't see much of them. We have a housekeeper who comes in, cleans the house, takes care of me and my brother and cooks our dinners."

"You must be rich," David said.

"They do okay, but I missed the family doing things together. I'll especially miss having family dinners together."

"Well, from now on you'll have me to have dinners with," David said with a smile. "That'll have to do."

That was how Nathan and David met. Nathan graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism, and David graduated with dual Bachelor of Arts degrees in Art and English. They came out to each other after three grueling months of trying to hide their interest in the other. After graduation, they married. The wedding ceremony was held in Wayfarers Chapel, the glass church in Palos Verdes overlooking the Pacific Ocean that was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Nathan's parents footed the bill for the chapel and a grand reception aboard the Queen Mary in Long Beach. It was not cheap!

Nathan eventually became the Executive Editor for the Los Angeles Times newspaper, and David became a Professor of English at the University of Southern California.

After their experience with the police that night, Nathan woke at an early hour the next morning and started to make himself a cup of coffee. As he waited for the Keurig coffee maker to preheat, David came into the kitchen wearing his ruffled morning hairdo and his bathrobe.

"How about making a cup for me, too?" David asked. "But not that black stuff you like. Make mine a cappuccino. By the way, why are you up so early?"

"I couldn't sleep. I guess I'm a little nervous about seeing the police this morning."

"You shouldn't be. They just want to have you look at some photos in an album and see if you recognize any of the pictures.

"Okay. My coffee's ready," Nathan said and put his mug on the kitchen table. "When yours is ready, I'll join you at the table," Nathan added.

David turned around and made his way to the kitchen table while Nathan started his cappuccino.

When David's brew was ready, Nathan joined him at the table. Nathan only stared at the kitchen window, gathering in the sunshine streaming through, a pensive expression on his face.

"What's the matter, Nate? You seem really upset this morning."

Nathan finally looked at David.

"I really don't know. It's just a picture album, right? But Dave, I can't get the picture out of my mind of that body bag being pulled out of the house."

David thought for a while.

"Nate, we don't know what happened over there. We don't know the neighbors at all yet. How long has it been, only three weeks ago when they moved in?" David asked.

"But didn't you take a plate of warm chocolate chip cookies over to them?"

"I did, but…well, I told you, they seemed a little strange to me."

"I remember. But what do you mean, strange?" Nathan asked. "You never did explain that."

"I'm not sure. They were a young couple dressed in dirty tie-dyed clothes, long hair, maybe in their early 20s. They didn't tell me much about themselves. They were awfully quiet, and I got the impression they wanted me to go away. Well, I gave them the cookies, waited for a few moments, but they didn't thank me or say anything, so I turned away and left."

Nathan looked at David and then just shook his head.

"Maybe we'll learn a little more about them when we talk to the police," Nathan said.

"Well, we'd better get cleaned up. It's almost time to go," David said.

The police department was slightly north of the Manhattan Beach Pier, about a fifteen-minute drive from where they lived on Palmer Drive. As Nathan drove their car northward toward the police department, the silence in the car finally got to David and he turned his head toward Nathan.

"Nate, ease up, will you? Don't let it get to you. This is really nothing at all to do with us."

"David, something happened in that house. They pulled a dead body out of there," Nathan said somewhat forcefully.

David sat back, not knowing what else to say to Nathan to try to alleviate his anxiety. "Would you like me to go in with you?"

"Yeah. I'd like the moral support."

When they arrived at the police station, they saw there was only one parking spot left in the small parking lot, and Nathan eased their car into it. The building looked new, maybe less than ten years old. After turning the engine off, Nathan let out a loud sigh.

"Let's go, David, and get this over with."

When they entered the front door of the police station, they stopped at the front desk and asked to see Officer Bateman. The officer at the front desk looked at them with a quizzical look on his face.

"Officer Bateman is not here right now. He works the second shift. Is there something I can help you with?"

Nathan spoke up.

"I'm Nathan Anderson. Office Bateman asked me to come in this morning to look at some photos."

"Were you the gentlemen who witnessed what happened on Palmer Drive last night?"

"Yes, that was us," David responded.

"Okay. Detective Baker is the one who would like to talk to you. I know he's been waiting for you. Have a seat over there," he said and pointed to a row of chairs along the wall behind them. "He'll be with you shortly."

"Thank you," Nathan said. He turned around, walked to the chairs and sat down. David followed and sat next to his husband.

"I hope this won't take too long," Nathan said.

It was less than three minutes later when a young man came through a door at the back of the room and approached them. He was well-dressed in a dark blue suit and matching tie. He didn't look any older than maybe thirty.

The detective held out his hand and shook Nathans's hand as Nathan stood up. David, following, stood up and also shook the detective's hand.

"I'm Detective Baker, I'm the one handling this case, and I want to thank you both for coming in this morning. We still have a lot of questions about what happened last night and are hoping you might be able to fill us in on some of what happened. If you would follow me, we can talk privately in our conference room."

Detective Baker turned and put his arm out showing them the direction and both Nathan and David followed his directions. The detective picked up a photo album from a desk as they walked by. Nathan and David sat down in chairs on one side of a small table, while Detective Baker took the chair on the opposite side of the table. The room was well-lighted and had a very pleasant atmosphere, not like the interrogation rooms they had seen in movies. There was no bright light to shine in their faces.

"Would you like some coffee? For a police station, they make some of the best coffee in town," the detective added.

"No, I've already had more than I should have for one morning," Nathan said.

"Thank you, no," David said.

"Okay. Can you tell me what you saw last night?"

Nathan gave the same account he'd already given to Officer Bateman. He could see the detective's disappointment in how little it was.

"Could you describe the first boy you saw for me?"

"I'll try the best I can. It was dark out, but I could tell he was young, maybe sixteen years old. He was wearing a colorful pair of board shorts and a tee shirt. Oh, and he had on a pair of sneakers that were red and white."

"Did you get a good look at his face?"

"Somewhat. He was young, I could tell. His hair seemed to be blond by the way it shined in the streetlights, and it was long, past his shoulders. The shorts seemed to have a Hawaiian pattern, very colorful."

"How tall do you think he was?"

"He was tall for a sixteen-year-old, maybe 5'- 10."

"Then what happened?"

"He seemed hysterical and was crying, waving his arms in the air."

"David, did you witness this?"

"No, not any of it. I was inside our house when I heard the yelling from next door. I didn't see what Nate saw."

"Okay. Nathan, I'd like to show you some photos of some teenagers. These are not photos of anyone who has been convicted of any crime. We try to keep on top of anything that might happen, so anyone that might relate to or might know about something that has happened, we keep track of them. These are kids who are living on the streets. Is this okay with you?"

Nathan raised his eyebrows slightly. "Is this legal?"

"It is legal. It's part of our continuing background investigations. We ran this through the county attorney and a district judge to review our intentions, and they both agreed it was legal since it's under our 'investigations policy.'

"Okay, then I'll look."

The detective placed the photo album in front of Nathan and opened it to the first page. Nathan looked at David for reassurance, and David nodded his approval.

They began looking at photos of teenagers, and Nathan soon became tired of looking at so many kids. Although many of them seemed to look the same, some appeared to be only twelve years old while others looked to be eighteen. As the photos began to blur, the pages being turned over too rapidly for him, he suddenly slammed his hand on the album.

"Go back a couple of pages," Nathan exclaimed.

The detective began to slowly turn the pages backward, stopping at each one for a few seconds.

"There," Nathan said, pointed to a picture he recalled. "I think that's him."

The detective looked at the photo for a few seconds.

"Yes, that's him," Nathan again stated.

"Okay. That should be enough for now."

Nathan looked at David for a few seconds and then turned his attention back to the detective.

"Mr. Baker, could you tell us a little more about this boy? David and I are part of the neighborhood watch team for our neighborhood. I'm their captain, and I need to know what's going on in our neighborhood. Not just reporting to you what we see, but also knowing details of what is happening."

The detective looked at Nathan for a moment.

"We usually don't tell anyone about our investigations. But I also feel you might be of some assistance. Let me go talk to the police chief for a moment. I'll be right back."

The detective left the room, and Nathan and David looked at each other.

"That was some speech you gave him. I only hope the chief is reasonable," David commented.

"Yeah, me too. But I believe it's important for our neighborhood watch team to be informed."

After about twenty minutes, which seemed like hours to Nathan and David, the detective came back into the room.

"I had a very in-depth conversation with the police chief. At first, he wasn't willing to give out details of our investigations, but I made him realize that you guys could be of value. He finally relented and gave his permission for me to bring you up to date. Do you have a little time right now for me to go over what we know so far?"

This time it was David's turn to glance at Nathan, nodding his head up and down. Nathan agreed, also nodding his head. "Sure," he said.

"What can you tell us?" Nathan added.

The detective sat down in front of them. "The kid's name is Jerrod McKenny, and he is sixteen. He's homeless and has been living on the streets for the past two years. CPS, Child Protective Services, has been trying to get ahold of him for the past year and a half, ever since they found out about him, but he's been able to avoid them so far. His parents died in an auto accident two years ago, and he was left homeless. We've checked his school record, and his grades had been better than average. He had never been in trouble before. But, right now, he's not a perfect kid. He's been into drugs since he was fourteen, mostly pot, but we think he may have tried meth now that he's on the street. Other street kids help him get drugs, but we haven't been able to find out who. And we're sure he's been stealing to help his and the other kids' habits.

"CPS had tried to locate his relatives, but only found a grandmother who's living in Phoenix. They contacted her, but she wasn't able to take him in.

"Detective, what happened in that house? I saw a body bag being removed from there," Nathan asked.

"Well, that complicates things a whole lot. It seems someone overdosed on drugs in there. We won't know what he overdosed on until the autopsy results come back. But to complicate things even more, it seems Jerrod is gay and the person who died, Stephen Cranston, was his boyfriend."

"Now I understand why he was crying so much when he ran from the house," Nathan observed.

"Yes. What we don't know is what went on inside that house. There were obviously drugs being used. We also don't know if there were adults in the house at that time. We didn't see any when we were in there. As there were people on the street after Jerrod left and no one saw anyone else leave, anyone in the house must have left by a back door. If there were adults there, they may be criminally charged because of the minors involved."

Nathan turned to David and said, "I had no idea this was going on in that house,"

"Neither did I," David said. "We haven't spoken to them after I took some cookies over as a welcome to the neighborhood offering."

"Listen, you, guys. Please keep this information to yourselves and your neighborhood watch team. If you find out anything…anything more, let us know, please. Here's my card, and I've written my private cell number on the back. Keep my private cell number private, too. And please remember, you and your watch team are not detectives. That's our job. Just report to us what you've been able to find out, especially any information about the whereabouts of Jerrod, okay? I'll leave you with a photograph of him."

Nathan and David were obviously stunned by what they had just heard, thinking things like drug overdoses just didn't happen in their neighborhood. On the drive home, both were dead silent, not knowing what to say to each other.

Eventually, David turned toward Nathan, who was focused on driving.

"Nate. I think one of the first things we should do when we get home is to call a meeting of our neighbor watch team, get us all together. What do you think?"

Nathan didn't respond right away and kept his eyes on the road. But then he finally said, "I think you're right. But we may have to have a couple of sessions, because it's not going to be easy due to everyone's work schedules."

"True. It's Wednesday right now, so why don't we try to get everyone together this Saturday, say around 3:00 pm?"

"Okay. As captain of the team, I'll put out the call."

When 3:00 PM approached on Saturday, the neighborhood watch team started arriving at Nathan and David's home. The police barrier ribbons still surrounded the house next door, and a police crime scene van was parked outside. Six watch members were able show up with only one member missing. They gathered in the living room, many asking question as to what this was all about. Nathan and David spent most of their host time saying they'd be explaining everything when people had settled.

When everyone was seated on sofas or chairs, Nathan stood up and faced the gathering.

"I'm sure everyone noticed the police barriers around the house next door. There was some trouble over there on Tuesday night."

Nathan paused for a moment before continuing.

"A boy overdosed on drugs. We're not sure what kind of drug yet, but it's probably heroin. I witnessed a boy running out of the house crying, and on Wednesday morning I went to the police department and found his photograph in a photo album. His name is Jerrod McKenny, and he's only sixteen years old. His parents were killed in an auto accident two years ago, and he's been living on the streets ever since. David is passing out a photograph of him for you."

The photograph showed Jerrod walking down a vacant street, and he was wearing better clothes than when Nathan first saw him. He had golden blond hair and was just short of 6 feet tall.

"The police would like to find him, because he might be able to tell them what went on in that house. They've asked for our help."

Bob Hanson stood. "We didn't hear anything on Tuesday night until the police showed up, but we live two doors down from you and maybe that's why."

Katy Boone, while still seated, said, "I didn't hear anything either, but I live on the next block. I didn't hear anything but the sirens."

Nathan continued. "We don't know why Jerrod's homeless and not in foster care, and the police suspect he may be using drugs right now. If anyone sees him, don't approach him, because he'll run from you. You are to contact Detective Baker at the Manhattan Beach Police Department. David's now passing out copies of his card with phone numbers. Also, please contact me about what you see…where and when."

John Dillingsworth asked, "Is he dangerous?"

"I don't think so. One thing I haven't told you is that Jerrod is gay, and the boy that overdosed and died was his boyfriend. Jerrod, I'm sure, was pretty distraught about that."

As they were leaving the meeting, Nathan and David heard Katy Boon say, "Oh, that poor boy."

David had made copies of Jerrod's photograph, one copy for each for their cars and one more for their wallets.

Life went on normally for two weeks with no sign of Jerrod. Then, one day as Nathan was walking Scooter, he noticed a boy dressed as Jerrod had been dressed that night. He was one block ahead of Nathan walking down Longfellow toward the beach.

Nathan followed him at a distance. Jerrod turned and went into Bocatto's grocery store on the corner of Longfellow and Manhattan Avenue and disappeared. Nathan stopped, pulled his cell phone from his back pocket and dialed Detective Baker's number.

"This is Detective Baker. How can I help you?"

"Hello, Detective. This is Nathan Anderson. I think I just saw Jerrod McKenney.

"Where did you see him?" the detective asked abruptly.

"I saw him walking up Longfellow and he turned into Bocatto's. That was only two minutes ago, and I've been watching. I haven't seen him come out yet."

"Okay. Stay where you are. I'll be right there."

The call ended on the detective's end, and Nathan put his phone back in his pocket. He was about a block away from the grocery store's small parking lot near Longfellow and Highland Avenue. He slipped in behind a car parked on Longfellow, where he was still able to see Boccato's through the front window of the car in front of him.

Within ten minutes, a black car pulled in behind Nathan. He turned to see Detective Baker get out of what looked like an unmarked police car and approach him.

"Is he still in there?" the detective asked quietly.

"I haven't seen him come out yet, so I assume he's still in there."

"Okay. You stay here. I'm going to go in."

The detective crossed the street and slowly headed for the grocery store. He stopped at the storefront and tried to see through the front window. He shook his head from side to side and walked through the front door.

Just then another man came up behind Nathan. Nathan jumped when the man said, "Are they still in there?"

Nathan turned and almost shouted, "Who the hell are you? You scared the shit out of me."

"I'm Sargent Mathews. I'm Detective Baker's backup. And I'm sorry. I didn't mean to scare you. Have you seen them come out yet?"

"I haven't seen either of them since Detective Baker went into the store."

Just then Detective Baker came out of the store…alone.

"I didn't see him in the store, anywhere. He must have gone out the side door before I got there," Baker said as he approached the two men.

Just then, Nathan's cell phone rang.


"Nathan, it's John. I just saw our kid."

"Where is he?"

Nathan turned toward the policemen and mouthed, "One of my neighborhood watch guys just saw him," and then turned back to his cell phone.

"I was driving south on Ardmore Avenue, and a car in front of me stopped alongside of the Hermosa Valley Greenbelt. The kid in the picture got out of the car and walked into the stand of trees across from Boundary Place."

"Thanks John. I'm with the police right now, and I'm sure they'll be heading over that way right away."

"Okay. Bye."

"Bye, John."

Nathan told the police where Jerrod was located, and they took off. The police searched the area along the treed greenbelt but found nothing but an old worn quilt crumbled under a tree.

Another week went by with no sign of Jerrod. Sunday afternoon was bright and sunny with a light breeze coming off the ocean. Nathan and David decided to walk along the Strand, a concrete walkway which separated the beach from the houses. The beach was crowded with people enjoying the sun, picnicking and relaxing. Many surfers were also out, but one surfer was apart from the crowd, relaxing alone next to his surfboard. Nathan and David, dressed in board shorts, tee shirts and sandals were enjoying their leisurely walk.

"Do you see what I see?" David asked, suddenly stopping.

Nathan turned his attention to where David was looking.

"That single surfer looks like Jerrod," Nathan said.

"Yeah, doesn't he though."

"What do we do now?"

"Well, I have an idea. The police don't seem to have had much luck in finding him. Why don't we just go up and talk to him?"

"What?" David's voice was loud, and his face showed his incredulity.

"Look, he won't run leaving his surfboard behind, at least I don't think so. He doesn't know us from Adam. We could just walk up and sit with him."

"Okay but let me run back to the house and get a blanket and two towels. That way we'll just look like two men enjoying the beach."

"Good idea. I'll wait here for you."

David took off at a rapid pace; Nathan waited on the Strand keeping his eye on Jerrod.

When David returned, Jerrod was still lying on the sand looking at the sky. The two men walked toward the boy who was halfway between the ocean and the strand. When they were about ten feet from Jerrod, Jerrod looked toward them.

"Mind if we sit here? The beach is a little crowded," Nathan asked.

Jerrod raised up on his elbows and looked around. "No. I guess not," he said with suspicion in his eyes.

"Thanks," Nathan said, spreading out their blanket.

Both Nathan and David removed their tee shirts and applied sunblock to each other before becoming comfortable lying on their blanket. Jerrod eyed the two men, realizing they might be a gay couple.

Nathan was closest to Jerrod by ten feet. "Okay. Here goes nothing," Nathan whispered to David and then turned his attention toward Jerrod.

"How's it going, Jerrod?"

That startled Jerrod and terrified him. He knew the police were looking for him and now knew he had to run. He glanced at his surfboard for a second and then began to run at breakneck speed, across the sand heading for the strand. Nathan and David turned their heads to watch Jerrod ran up Longfellow Avenue and out of their sight.

"That went well," David said smugly. "We should have called the police."

"You're right. That's what we should have done."

David glanced at the surfboard lying on the sand. "And what do we do with that? We can't just leave it here to get stolen."

Nathan thought for a moment while looking in the direction Jerrod had just gone.

"I guess we should take it with us," Nathan said. "He can have it back if we ever see him again."

The next week, Nathan got a phone call from Detective Baker.

"Have you or your team had any sighting of Jerrod lately?" the detective asked.

"Well, we did see him last week on the beach at the foot of Longfellow."

"And you didn't call me?" the detective asked a little disappointedly, although Nathan could hear sarcasm in his voice as well.

"David and I thought that since he runs so easily, we, as just a couple of guys, might be able to just sit and talk to him.

"And how did that go?"

"Not well. He took off and ran before we could even talk with him."

"I'm not surprised." The detective said. "He's been avoiding us for two years now and knows when to run.

"I told you not to play detective, that's my job. Next time, please call me before you do anything stupid like that."

"We will, sir." Nathan said apologetically.

Another week went by without another sighting, and that was starting to bother them. David and Nathan habitually walked the Strand on sunny afternoons just to get out of their house. They were both early retirees from well-paying jobs and were starting to enjoy spending much more time in each other's company after leaving hectic work schedules. But this Jerrod thing had been playing on both of their minds.

"We must have really scared Jerrod off last week," David said as they strolled, the Strand.

"Yeah, he's one scared boy."

"I'm really starting to worry about him, Nate."

"Me, too. But what can we do about it?"

"Well, the next time we see him, and I know there'll be a next time, because he seems to be living around here, we won't just run up to him and scare him off again," David said.

"Are you saying we won't call the police? Remember what the detective told me on the phone?"

"I don't know, Nate. It just seems the way the police are approaching him is to quickly run up and take him. It's not working very well that way, and I'm not sure that's the best thing for Jarrod, either," David said.

As they continued their hand-in-hand walk up the drive at the northern end of the Strand, David said, "Nate?" and pulled Nathan to a stop. "There's Jerrod."

"Where?" Nathan asked.

"He's up there in front of FlurryMC's acrylic store.

"I see him, and I think he's seen us."

"What do we do?" David asked.

"Just wave at him, so he knows we've seen him, and then we just turn around and walk back down the Strand."

Both Nathan and David were sure once Jerrod had seen and recognized them, he would run again. But he didn't. Jerrod stayed where he was, watching the two men walk away from him.

"What was waving at him all about?" David asked as they walked back down the Strand.

"I wanted him to know we weren't after him and maybe to feel he might be somewhat safe with us."

Two weeks had gone by without a sighting of Jerrod, and Nathan and David were beginning to worry more about him, hoping nothing untoward had happened. Then, one afternoon Nathan said he had to walk to the grocery store to get a jar of tartar sauce he had forgotten to get at the supermarket for tonight's fish dinner. He liked Boccato's Groceries because it was close, their prices weren't too outlandish, and Juan, the owner, knew him. After he found the tartar sauce, he happened to glance toward the rear of the store, and he was shocked to see Jerrod standing next to the doors leading to the store's storage room. He didn't try to say anything to Jerrod but noticed Jerrod had seen him. As Nathan was paying for his tartar sauce, he asked Juan if he knew the boy standing at the back of the store. Juan looked toward Jerrod for a moment and then said, "He's some street kid who came in here last year looking to steal something to eat. I caught him and he started to plead with me not to turn him in and kept saying how sorry he was, but he needed something to eat. I asked him when was the last time he had eaten anything, and when he said it was two days ago, I almost cried. Since then, I've been letting him have produce that's too old or other things where the expiration date has passed. He seems to be a nice kid, very polite, but very scared."

Nathan looked up at Jerrod, noticing Jerrod was also looking at him.

"Do you have any more of those submarine sandwiches you keep in the deli?" Nathan asked.

"Yeah, there's plenty left. They just came in this morning."

"Would you give him one of those roast beef subs, a small bag of chips and a carton of milk and put them on my bill."

"Sure. I know he'll appreciate that."

"Juan, after you give him the sandwich, could you give me a call? I would like to know his reaction."

"Sure thing, Nathan," Juan replied.

Nathan left the grocery store with a smile.

"Dave," Nathan called out as he entered the front door. "Guess who I just saw?"

"Tell me it was Jerrod," David said as he entered the living room.

"Yeah. He was at Boccato's, and he gets free handouts there. I think Juan feels sorry for him."

"Did you talk to him?" David asked.

"No, but he knew I was there. I bought him a submarine sandwich, gave it to Juan to give to him. I asked Juan to call me. I want to know if he acknowledged my gift."

Moments after Nathan returned home, his cell phone chirped. It was Juan telling him that when he handed the sandwich to Jerrod, Jerrod looked again toward the front of the store and then just nodded his head.

Three days later, while Nathan and David were taking their usual walk along the Strand, they noticed a figure about two blocks ahead of them leaning on the concrete block wall separating the Strand from the beach. Sure enough, as they got closer to the figure, they recognized him as Jerrod. Jerrod didn't turn away and run but stayed against the block wall watching the two men approach. They could see him position himself to run if he needed to.

When they were abreast of him, Jarrod asked, "Who are you?"

"My name's Nathan, my husband's name is David," Nathan answered.

"What's with you two, and why did you buy me lunch the other day?"

"Don't worry, Jerrod. We're not the police or from Social Services. We live next door to the house where your boyfriend died last month. We're not here to hurt you."

"What do you want from me? I don't know you."

"Nothing really, except just to talk to you."

"But how do you know who I am?"

"We're part of a neighborhood watch team for our neighborhood. I was walking my dog when you ran from the house. The police asked me to look at some photos, and I was able pick you out. They told me a little of your story."

"I suppose you're going to turn me in, huh?" as he stepped one step further away from to two men in anticipation or running.

"No. We're not going to do that."

David looked over at Jerrod and asked, "Have you eaten anything today?"

Jerrod was silent for a few moments looking at the sand behind the wall.

"No," he said very sheepishly.

"Are you hungry?" David asked.

Again a few moments of silence.

"Do you want to walk up to Brother's Burritos and grab a bite? And don't worry, it's on us," David said.

"I don't know if I can trust you. I don't know you guys. You could be setting me up."

"Tell you what. Here's my watch," David said. "You keep it. If we do something wrong, it's yours. If we keep our word, you must give it back. Agreed?"

Jerrod looked down at the watch David had just handed to him. Then he looked up.

"Okay. And I am a little hungry."

Brother's Burritos was a medium sized burrito shop with about six tables for customers. All their burritos were made to order and listed on a large menu board on the wall behind the order and pickup stations. The menu was extensive and featured not only burritos but other Mexican dishes. Traffic was slow for a Sunday afternoon, and they each ordered a burrito and a soft drink before selecting one of the tables overlooking the street outside that was away from the other customers.

It was obvious Jerrod was hungry as he was taking large bites from his burrito. When he was half finished, he put the burrito down and took a large swig of his soda.

"So, why are you guys doing this? What do you want from me?" Jerrod asked.

David and Nathan looked at each other for a moment, then David said, "You go first, Nate. This was your idea."

"Okay." He turned to Jerrod. "First off, we didn't plan on finding you. We just happened to see you on the beach. I'm supposed to tell the police if I see you, but for some unknown reason, I don't want to do that. I just wanted to talk to you. We know you're living on the streets, so why don't we start with that. What's it like out there?"

"You want to know what it's like living on the streets? Well, I'll tell you. It sucks big time! I'm scared most of the time."

"We've never had to do that; I can only imagine how hard it would be. So, how did you wind up on the streets?" David asked.

"I didn't think it would ever happen to me until my parents were killed in a car accident. Then Social Services wanted to put me in a foster home. Well, shit, I've heard plenty of stories about kids in foster homes. That wasn't for me, so I ran."

"How do you eat and where do you sleep at night?"

"I sleep at a friend's house on the couch at night. Sometimes he feeds me a little, but he doesn't have much. Once in a while, Boccato's lets me have some food. Occasionally, I'll sleep in a wooded area in the Veterans Parkway. So why are you so interested in this shit?"

"I guess we're just interested in who you are," Nathan said.

"This may be a little personal, Jerrod, and you don't have to answer if you don't want to, but are you still using drugs?" David asked.

Jerrod suddenly sat up straight and moved his chair away from the table.

"That's none of your business," he replied angrily and started to stand.

"Hold on, Jerrod. Calm down, please. It's just something the police told us. I'm sorry if that got you upset."

Jerrod stood for a few moments, looking down, not moving away from the two men. He tilted his head to the left, obviously thinking.

"Why'd you ask that question?" Jerrod asked in a more civil but still defensive tone.

"I'm not sure why I asked it," David said. "I guess it's because, well, because we're interested in what's happened to you. How a good kid, and I may be assuming too much here, had his life jammed down his throat."

Jerrod thought for a while, but eventually sat back down. He seemed to relax somewhat.

"But why are you interested in me? No one ever has been." Then after a few moments, Jerrod said in a very soft voice, I'm trying not to use pot anymore."

Nathan decided it was time to explain.

"Here's the truth, Jerrod. David and I were foster parents for several years. It was a while ago, but that experience taught us something. It taught us that too many kids are thrown into foster families who don't care about the kids, only the money the state pays. David and I had a philosophy about what we were doing; we don't believe in "throw-away" kids. We never gave up on the kids that were entrusted to us. The police told us you appeared to be a good kid up until your folks had their accident. Your school grades were better than good, and you never got into trouble. We suspect you're scared to death right now and not sure what to do. Probably living day to day with no plan at all for your future."

Jerrod sat quietly for a long time starring at Nathan and David. Slowly a tear escaped his right eye and began its journey down his cheek. He wiped it away with his forearm.

"So, you care about me?" Jerrod said softly, but they could hear the disbelief in his voice.

"I guess that's hard for you to believe coming from strangers, right?"

"Yeah, it is," Jerrod said. "I've had to fight to survive for the last two years. It's been hard and no one seemed to care."

"This question, I know is going to be hard for you to answer, but what happened to Stephen?"

Jerrod was now emotionally upset, as the tears began to flood his eyes. He put his hands on the table and lowered his face into his hands.

David reached over and gently put his hand on Jerrod's shoulder.

"It's okay, Jerrod." Then David leaned closer and quietly said to Jerrod, "It may be good to just let it all out."

Jerrod slowly lifted his head, the tears still flowing down his face.

"I loved him, and he loved me," the words choking him as he tried to speak. "Stevie was always into drugs, but I only used marijuana. And he used meth sometimes. Stevie was always stronger, fearless, and I was always afraid of anything other than pot."

"What happened in the house that night, Jerrod?" David quietly asked.

Jerrod didn't answer right away.

"I've been going over and over that, and the thoughts won't leave me alone."

"It's okay, Jerrod. Just try to help us understand what happened to you."

"The two older people who owned the house had always helped us get drugs. Sometimes they just gave us some, but other times they had to charge us. Stevie always had money, so I didn't have to pay. That night, Stevie was high on meth as were the other kids there. Stevie wanted to get higher and asked for some more. They asked him if he'd like to try something different. Of course, he said he would. It was heroin and they said they had to inject it. But in Stevie's blurred mind, he said he didn't care. I watched them put that stuff in Stevie's arm, and he immediately reacted. He put his head back and his eyes lost their focus. He said he needed more, and they gave him another shot. Stevie just lay there, oblivious to the world around him.

"Then everyone left him alone on his high. I'd never seen him react like that before. After a while, someone noticed Stevie wasn't moving. They yelled for the two adults who came rushing back into the room. They checked him and then I heard the words that I'll never forget, ever. They said he was dead, that he'd overdosed."

Jerrod's eyes moistened again, as he stared at nothing for a moment. He then lowered his head into his hands and began crying uncontrollably.

Nathan and David immediately rushed around the table and wrapped their arms around him. They knew Jerrod had just relived the most anguishing moment of his past. It took a long time for Jerrod to calm down. The other customers in the room became quiet. They had stopped their conversations to look at what the nearby drama was.

Nathan and David helped Jerrod stand and turned him toward the front door.

"Come home with us Jerrod, cuz I think you need some time to relax and maybe some sleep. That was an awful story you just told us." Nathan was wiping his own tears from his eyes as he spoke.

With both Nathan's and David's arms holding Jerrod, they helped him walk the one block to their home. When they arrived, David went to get a blanket and pillow for Jerrod and they both helped him lie down on the couch. Within minutes, Jerrod was wrapped in the blanket and fast asleep. They had originally thought of letting him sleep in their spare bedroom but decided not to wake him.

After watching Jerrod for a moment, Nathan and David made their way into the kitchen.

"My God, Nate. That kid's been through a lot," David said. "After hearing what he's gone through, I need a glass of wine."

"Me, too. I'll get some glasses."

They began the discussion of what do to with Jerrod. It didn't take them long because they both knew what they wanted.

Four hours later, Jerrod woke up. He looked around not knowing where he was. It was a strange room he had never been in before, but the couch sure was comfortable. When he became a little more conscious, he heard voices coming from the next room. Jerrod slipped out from under the blanket and made his way toward the voices.

As he entered the kitchen, he noticed two men that he remembered had fed him. Nathan and David were seated at the kitchen table, each with a glass of white wine in front of them.

"Good morning," he said to the two men.

Nathan and David turned around and said together, "Good afternoon," but Nathan added, "well, almost good evening."

"Can I sit down? I guess I'm still a little shaky."

"Sure. Come on over," Nathan said.

"Thanks," Jerrod said as he made his way to the table and sat down.

"Have a good sleep?" David asked.

"Yeah, but I think I was tossing and turning a lot."

"I guess you needed it, Jerrod," David said.

"I want to thank you guys for the lunch and taking care of me. Not many people would do that. Oh, here's your watch back, David. It's a good-looking watch, but it's not mine."

David took the watch, admiring the honesty that was just displayed.

Jerrod stood up saying, "But I should be going," and headed toward the front door. Both Nathan and David rose to follow him, and Nathan stopped him before he got there.

"Jerrod, would you like to have dinner with us sometime this week? We've grown to care about you, and deep down, we believe you're a good kid."

Jerrod turned to face the two men but waited a few moments before answering.

"I think I'd like that. When would you want me?" Jerrod answered.

"How does the day after tomorrow sound?" Nathan asked.

"What time?"

"How about you show up around 4:00 PM?"

"Okay, I'll be here, then."

"Oh, one more thing. What would you like to eat? I'll have Chef David fix anything you want."

Jerrod thought for a moment then a smile returned to his face. "You know, my mom used to fix me hot roast beef sandwiches with gravy all over the top. I loved them, but it's been two years since I've had those."

"Okay, hot roast beef sandwiches it is," David said.

When Jerrod left, David asked, "How come so early? You know we don't eat until 6:00 or 7:00."

"It's because I want time to buy some new clothes for him. He's probably only got what he had on today."

"Funny you should mention that, cuz I was thinking the same thing myself," David said.

The next two days seemed to drag for the two men as they waited Jerrod's return for dinner. David took the time to make a supermarket run for what groceries he would need, while Nathan spent some time tidying up the house and vacuuming. You'd think the mayor was coming or something.

When 4:00 PM rolled around, the doorbell rang, and both men jumped up from the living room and went to the door. Jerrod was standing with a smile on his face. The smile was something that had been missing from Jerrod recently.

"Come on in, sport," Nathan said.

When they entered the living room, Nathan turned to Jerrod.

"Don't get too settled, because you and I are going to take a ride," Nathan said.

"What?" Jerrod said, his face showing his surprise and sudden fear.

"I'm going to do something for you, and you are not allowed to say no."

Jerrod now was confused. "What are you going to do for me?"

"First, you need to promise that you're not going to object," he asked very tentatively.

Jerrod was used to not trusting anyone, but these two men seemed to tell the truth and do what was right, so, with quite a bit of hesitation, he agreed.

"We're going to go shopping for some new clothes for you. What you're wearing has seen better days."

Jerrod looked down at himself for a moment with a frown visible on his face.

"I do look pretty bad, don't I?" Jerrod said.

"Let's put it this way, Jerrod. You look like you've been on the streets for a long time," Nathan said.

"Let's get going, and when we get back, Chef David will have dinner waiting, okay?"

Jerrod nodded his head and they both walked out the front door.

Nathan knew Jerrod would not be comfortable wearing expensive clothes on the streets, so he drove to Target on Sepulveda Blvd. They could find fairly inexpensive clothes there styled just right for a teen.

When they left two hours later, Jerrod had an arm load full of large plastic bags stuffed with jeans, a pair of cargo pants, shorts, sneakers, tee shirts, polo shirts, socks, boxer underwear, a ball cap and even a belt and a hairbrush.

On the ride home, Jerrod sat in the back seat with all of the bags of clothes. He wanted to look at them, and there wasn't room for him and his new possessions in the front. He kept going through each bag, pulling out each item and inspecting it, and then neatly returning it to the bag. When he had finished his inspection, he sat back and smiled as his eyes began tearing.

Nathan had been watching Jerrod from his rearview mirror and when he saw the expression on Jerrod's face and the tears, he had to ask, "Is everything okay, Jerrod?"

Jerrod looked up to see Nathan looking at him in the rear-view mirror.

"I don't know what to say to you, Nathan. No one's ever done anything like this for me. I don't know how to thank you enough," Jerrod said while sniffling.

"You don't have to say anything, Jerrod. "I'm just glad you like what you got. It makes me happy to see you smile. "

When they arrived home, David had the dining room set up for them, not with their best china, but with their everyday dishes. He didn't want to put on a show for Jerrod, who'd just come from the streets.

Jerrod asked if it was all right if he could change into some of his new clothes.

"Sure," Nathan said. "Why don't you use our guest bedroom. It has its own bathroom. You can take a shower if you'd like. We have plenty of time. Come on, I'll show you the way."

Nathan helped Jerrod carry his bags and showed him to the guest bedroom toward the rear of the house. It was rarely used and looked rather stark without the trappings of use.

When they walked in, Jerrod stopped suddenly, starring at what was leaning against the back wall next to the window.

"That's my surfboard, isn't it?"

"Yeah, it's yours. Remember when we first approached you on the beach, and I used your name? Well, that scared you and you took off, leaving your board behind. I knew we'd probably see you again, so we took it with us for you."

"You got my board for me?"

"Yeah, it's yours."

"I thought it was probably stolen. Thank you so much for that. And, if you don't mind, I think I will take that shower. I don't want to put on those clean clothes the way I am right now."

"Take your time and come out when you're ready," Nathan said.

It was almost an hour before Jerrod showed himself to Nathan and David.

David grinned and said, "Looks like we're having dinner at our usual time after all."

"My God, you look good, Jerrod," Nathan said.

Jerrod had dressed in his new dark beige cargo pants, a light tan polo shirt and his black and white sneakers and it was obvious he had used the hairbrush. Jerrod was all smiles.

"I don't know, Nate? This guy looks too handsome to be having dinner with us," David snickered.

"Well, let's go sit down. Dave tells me dinner is ready. Since it's just the three of us, you sit on one side of the table and Dave and I can sit across from you.

The dinner was served family style with the roast beef sandwiches, with a slice of cheddar cheese in the middle, served on a large platter in the center of the table along with a bowl of hot mashed potatoes. Steamed buttered broccoli had its own serving bowl and the beef gravy came in an ample gravy boat for everyone to help themselves.

Jerrod looked at the table and shook his head.

"What's wrong, Jerrod?" David questioned.

"I haven't had a feast like this in two years. This looks great."

The three men dished dinner for themselves, and Nathan and David started eating, but Jerrod hadn't touched his yet.

"Is something wrong with dinner?" Nathan asked.

"No. You guys remind me of what it was like back living with my folks. They always said grace before we ate."

David looked up at Nathan for a moment then turned his attention to Jerrod.

"Jerrod, some people say grace before they eat, and some people don't. We don't. But it's okay if you want to. We'll wait for you."

"If you don't, then I won't either." They then all started eating their dinner.

At one point, halfway through dinner, Jerrod put his fork down and looked up at Nathan and David.

"Can I ask you guys something?"

"Sure. What is it, Jerrod?" David asked.

"I keep thinking about Stevie. Do you guys know what happened to him?"

Both Nathan and David looked at each other for a moment.

"Jerrod, Stephen overdosed that night and died," Nathan said.

"I know. But I mean, what happened to him after that?"

"The EMS people declared that he had overdosed at the scene. They took his body to the hospital where a doctor issued a death certificate. Then they transported him to the county morgue," Nathan said, trying hard to be unemotional. "We're not sure what happened to his body after that."

"CPS contacted your grandmother in Phoenix hoping she would be able to take care of things for you, but she wasn't able to do that," David mentioned.

"Oh, okay. One thing I'd like to do is go see his grave if he was buried. I need to know where he is."

"I agree," Nate said. "But you're going to have to be careful. You know the police are still looking for you?"

"I know, and I'll be careful," Jerrod said.

Jerrod finished everything on his plate, sat back in his chair rubbing his full stomach.

"How was it?" David asked.

"To be honest, it was the best I have ever had, better than my mom's."

"Well, I do all the cooking and baking around here. Nathan's isn't too bad, but I think mine's better."

"I agree," Nathan added.

With that they cleared the table, and with Jerrod's help, put the dishes in the dishwasher and moved to the living room.

After sitting quietly for a moment, Jerrod said, "What is it with you guys? You've treated me like my mom and dad used to. I don't know how to thank you enough."

"I guess it's because we've gotten to like you, Jerrod," David said.

"But, I'm just a street kid. People see kids on the street and always look the other way. You didn't. Why?"

"Because you're not, Jerrod. Not just a street kid. You got thrown on the streets through no fault of your own except for your distrust of the foster care system, for which we don't blame you. Deep down inside you is a good kid who's trying to survive a terrible situation. David and I see that, and maybe we can help that good kid come back out of the shadows he's been hiding in."

Jerrod watched both men for a moment, looking at one and then the other, back and forth. Then his lips started a slight quiver and tears started to run down his cheeks.

"It's been hard trying to do what my mom and dad taught me. Then I met you two, and you've made me remember what my life used to be like. I want to be the kid I used to be..." Now the tears ran unabated down his cheeks.

Nathan and David quickly rose from their chairs, went to Jerrod sitting on the couch and embraced him in a hug, holding him warmly. Jerrod returned the hug while laying his head on Nathan's shoulder.

Through Jerrod's final sniffles, Nathan asked him, "Where are you going to sleep tonight?"

"I don't know, maybe at a friend's house," Jerrod croaked out.

"Why don't you stay here tonight? We've got that spare bedroom, you know? And you can get a good night's sleep there with no worries, and knowing you'll get a decent breakfast in the morning," Nathan added.

"It's okay with you guys?" Jerrod asked.

"It's okay with us, and there's a new toothbrush in the drawer in your bathroom," Nathan said.

"And tomorrow, we can go find out about Steve, and if he's buried close by, we can visit his grave, if you want," David added.

David had breakfast ready for them the next morning when Jerrod walked downstairs to the kitchen, followed by Scooter. He had made sausage gravy over homemade biscuits, along with over medium fried eggs and cold orange juice.

Jerrod looked at the table, smiled and asked, "Do you guys always eat like this? It just seems like a lot of food."

"Jerrod, breakfast is the most important meal. Without it, you can't keep up the energy you need to get through the rest of your day," David answered.

Just then, Nathan entered the kitchen. "Ah, you made my favorite. Thanks, Dave."

"Okay then, let's sit down and eat," David said.

Halfway through breakfast, Jerrod asked, "Are you still up for doing what you said about Stevie today?"

"I checked the cemeteries this morning. He was buried here, and I found out where," Nathan, said.

Jerrod's eyes lit up. "Where?"

"His grave is in The Pacific Crest Cemetery in Redondo Beach," Nathan answered.

"Can I go?" Jerrod's voice was almost pleading. Then, before Nathan could respond, the boy asked, "Will you come with me?"

"Of course. Get yourself ready and we'll leave around noon," Nathan answered.

At ten minutes to twelve, David knocked on Jerrod's bedroom door. When Jerrod said, "Come in," David opened the door and entered, he found Jerrod fully dressed in the best clothes he had; he was ready to go.

"Do I look okay?" Jerrod asked.

"You look just fine."

"I need to look my best for Stevie," Jerrod said while fidgeting with his hands.

"You look just fine Jerrod. Now, we'd better get going."

On the drive to the cemetery, Jerrod seemed nervous as his fidgeting had markedly returned.

"You okay, Jerrod?" David asked.

"No, I'm not okay. I'm scared because I know this will be the first time, I will be close to Stevie since he died. I'm not sure how that'll feel, just how it'll seem."

"Would you like us to go stand with you?" David asked.

"Thank you, but no. This is something I have to do alone."

When they arrived, Nathan parked the car alongside the curb of one of the roads snaking through the cemetery some distance from the cemetery entrance. Nathan pointed in the direction of a large oak tree. "Steve's grave is under the branches of that oak tree. The grave was provided by the county, so the headstone is a small stone plaque at ground level with Steve's name on it."

Jerrod got out the car but turned back to face Nathan and David, looking unsure of himself.

"We'll be right here if you need us," David said.

"Thanks." Jerrod began his walk across the cemetery lawn. The cemetery was well manicured with numerous full trees providing shade for Jerrod as he walked. He slowly walked up and down the rows of grave markers, reading each one until he stopped. At his feet was a grave marker reading "Stephen Cranston, 2005 – 2021."

Jerrod could not hold back his tears as he gazed at Stevie's final resting place. With short gasps of breath, he dropped to his knees, holding his hands across his stomach.

"Stevie? It's me, Jerrod. I'm sorry I didn't come to see you before now, because…well you probably know I've been running from the police."

Jerrod looked up toward the azure blue sky. "Why did you have to do it, Stevie? Why?" he asked before looking back at the grave. "I loved you, Stevie, with all my heart and soul."

In Jerrod's grief, his mind started seeing an image of Stevie's face in the grass just above the grave marker. He was smiling at Jerrod.

"Oh, Stevie," Jerrod said as his tears turned into a flood of anguish. "I don't know what I'm going to do without you."

'You're going to go on, Jerrod.'

Jerrod looked around to see where the voice was coming from, but finally realized the voice was coming from Stevie's image in the grass.

'You're going to go on, Jerrod. Have a good life knowing I will always be inside you. Keep my memories alive. We will be together again when it is your time.'

In his mind's eye he saw the beautiful face of Stevie. Stevie was smiling at him.

Jerrod croaked out Stevie's name as his tears would not stop. He watched Stevie's beautiful face wink at him.

Jerrod couldn't take it anymore. He jumped up and was barely able to say softly, "Goodbye, Stevie. Know that I will love you always." He turned and started running, across the lawn, out of the cemetery, across the street and past the houses. He wanted to become lost to the world, to no longer exist without Stevie.

Nathan and David watched as Jerrod ran past their car and out of their sight. Nathan started the car and drove off in the direction Jerrod had gone, but they could not find him. Nathan drove around for at least thirty minutes looking for him, but they finally gave up and went home. Both Nathan and David kept hoping Jerrod might be there.

Later that evening there was a knock on their front door. David looked to Nathan and opened his eyes wide. "Could it be?" he asked smiling. "No one else comes around this late in the evening."

Nathan jumped from his chair saying, "I truly hope so," and made his way to the door. He opened the door and when he saw what was confronting him, he realized that tragedy had just struck. Jerrod was standing on the front porch, shivering. He had blood from his nose and cheeks and bruises all over his face and arms.

"Oh, my God, Jerrod. What happened to you? Never mind that, just get in here."

David had already risen from his chair and was running to the door. They helped Jerrod into the house and helped him lie on the sofa. Seeing what condition Jerrod was in, David immediately ran to the kitchen to get a bowl of warm water and a cloth. They looked down at Jerrod, wincing at what they saw. David began to gently attend to his face.

"Can you tell us what happened to you?" Nathan asked.

"I got beat up and kicked. They hurt me."

"Who did this to you?"

"I don't know who it was. They came out of nowhere and started hitting on me."

"But why?" Nathan asked.

"One of them said it was because I owed them money for some pot they gave me over two weeks ago. I don't even remember getting anything then."

"Nate," David broke in, "I've cleaned him up the best I could. I've even checked if there was any pain when I pressed on his nose, cheek, jaw bones and ribs. There was no reaction, so I don't think anything was broken."

Nathan looked at Jerrod lying very still on the couch. "Where did you go after the cemetery? We were worried sick about you."

"I don't know where I went. I just had to get away. I ran here, but you weren't home yet, so, well, I'm not sure where I went. I just walked around, mostly going nowhere."

Nathan and David let Jerrod sleep on the couch that night and cared for his injuries most of the next day. Again, they let Jerrod sleep on the couch instead of trying to move him to the guest bedroom.

Scooter, sensing Jerrod was hurt, rested his head on Jerrod's leg, and stayed with him the entire night.

Around noon, Jerrod was up and walking. His face was healing, but he was still in some pain. Nathan and David were sitting at the kitchen table when Jerrod walked into the room.

"How do you feel today?" Nathan asked.

"I feel much better after a night's sleep. Thank you both for letting me stay here."

"How about some lunch? I can fix you some soup; that'll be better than something you have to chew on."

"If it's no trouble, soup sounds good to me."

"Come over and have a seat while I play chef," David chuckled.

David watched Jerrod as he limped slightly and took a seat at the table.

"Feeling any better this morning, sport?" David asked.

"Yes, thank you."

"Jerrod, why don't you stay here this afternoon? You can relax while you heal and feel better." Nathan asked.

Jerrod didn't answer right away, thinking.

"I'd like that. Thank you."

Life returned to normal while Jerrod spent a few days there; Jerrod was starting to return to the kid he was before his parents were killed in the auto accident. He was becoming trustworthy and much kinder, taking initiative to help with things around the house. And he had started bonding with Nathan and David. Jerrod's love for these two men was growing.

That evening, Jerrod asked what was for dinner. It seemed he was starting to feel almost like part of the household, comfortable in Nathan and David's presence.

"I think we should have cheeseburgers and fries. How does that sound?" Nathan answered.

"That sounds great, but why don't you let me make them?"

"You know how to use the gas grill outside on the patio?"

"Yup, I do. I love to cook on a gas grill. I used to grill burgers with my dad when I was still living there."

David eyed Jerrod for a moment. "You know cooking around here is my job, don't you?"

"Yeah, I know. But let me do this for you, please?"

"Okay," David said, then grinned.

"Medium rare, right?" Jerrod asked.

"You got it, son."

Days passed. Jerrod was in and out of the men's lives. He'd be with them for a day or two, then away for a few. When he was with them, they all seemed to grow closer. But then he'd get restless and be gone. The more Jerrod was trying to actually be a son, the more Nathan and David realized having Jerrod around made them aware of many legal ramifications. They had no legal guardianship over him. Jerrod needed to go back to school, but that wasn't possible without a guardianship in place. The police were probably still looking for him which restricted his traveling outside of the house. If he were seen, the police were duty bound to report him to social services, and if reported, their growing feeling of family was sure to dissolve.

Jerrod had become very close to them, and that feeling was mutual and still growing. However, over time, Nathan had started to become more and more sullen with each passing day. David sensed the changing mood in his husband, and finally decided to find out what was troubling him, although he had some suppositions.

While they were relaxing in front of the television one evening, David decided this was the time.

"Nate, why don't you turn off the TV? I can sense something's been gnawing at you all week, maybe we can talk about it."

"Yeah, something has been bothering me."

"Let me guess. It's Jerrod, isn't it?"

"Yes, it's Jerrod."

"You want to start by telling me what's been on your mind, although I think I already know," David said.

"Okay, but where do I start? Jerrod keeps showing up at our door every few days or so. It's his staying with us while we have no legal right for him to be here that's been on my mind. Jerrod needs to be back in school, but we can't enroll him. I'm afraid the police will see him, and then he'll be yanked from any control we have over him. Jerrod needs a safe place to live, but I'm afraid our desire to provide that has gotten us in a quandary. What do we do?"

"I've been thinking about that, too, and I think the only way to preserve our family is for us to get legal guardianship over him," David said.

"Dave, how do you feel about us doing that, of trying to get him to legally live with us permanently?" Nathan asked.

"This is exactly the thought that's been plaguing me for days now," David answered. "Nate, your brain has always been overshadowed by your heart."

"I think we need some legal advice, and soon. I'm going to call Mark first thing in the morning."

Mark Griswald had been their attorney, giving them legal advice for years. His office was in Malaga Cove Plaza in Palos Verdes.

Nathan was up early the next morning, thinking about the phone call he had to make. At 8:15, he sat on the couch with his cell phone and dialed Mark's number.

"Mark Griswald's office. May I help you?"

"Good morning, Betty. This is Nathan Anderson. Is Mark in?"

"Good morning, Nathan. You're up early. Mark's barely had time to have his first cup of coffee but let me put you through to him anyway," Betty said, chuckling.

"Good morning, Nathan. What's gotten you up so early this morning?" Mark asked.

"I hope I didn't call too early and ruin your coffee."

"No. That's okay. I've already spilled half of it on my tie, so I'm about finished anyway."

"Mark, David and I have gotten ourselves in quite a mess. Long story short, we've got a kid from the streets semi-staying with us, and we don't have guardianship."

"Oh, man. I guess you are in a jam. What can I do?"

"Well, to start with, we'd like to come in and sit down with you to tell you how this all happened."

"Hold on. Let me have Betty check my schedule." Mark put the call on hold and then called Betty to check his schedule.

He then took the call off hold. "This is kind of important, isn't it?"

"Very. We need your help right away."

"Okay. Can you come in around three this afternoon?"

"We'll be there. Thanks, Mark."

Nathan clicked to end the cellphone call just as David came in from the kitchen holding two cups of coffee.

"I knew the call was important to you and you'd not prepared yourself with fresh coffee. So here," he said and handed Nathan his black coffee.

"Thanks. We have a meeting with Mark at three this afternoon. I hope he can help us out."

"That may be difficult, but I've seen him work wonders," David said.

"I think we'll need a miracle this time," Nathan responded. We'll have to settle things with both the police and Social Services, and both can be a nightmare to deal with.

Around two that afternoon, David asked, "Is Jerrod going with us?"

"I think he should. Mark may want to ask him some questions."

"I agree," David answered. "Let me go get him so we can explain what this is all about."

Fortunately, Jerrod had been staying with them the past two days and nights.

David knocked of Jerrod's door.

"Come on in. I'm just playing a video game."

David opened the door and went inside to see Jerrod still in his boxers playing a video game at his desk. Scooter evidently had totally accepted Jerrod as his friend as he was curled up at Jerod's feet, and David suspected he'd spent the night in Jerrod's room and probably on his bed.

"Sorry. We weren't going anywhere today, so I didn't get dressed."

"That's okay, but we are going to go out, so you probably want to get dressed. When you're ready, come into the living room, and we can explain what's going on and where we're going."

Nathan and David waited for about fifteen minutes before Jerrod came down the hall dressed in jeans, a tee shirt and sneakers.

"What's up? Where are we going?" he asked.

"Have a seat, Jerrod. This is important. It's about your future."

Jerrod settled uneasily into one of the chairs across from Nathan and David who were sitting on the couch.

"We hope you've been happy here." Nathan said.

"Oh, you don't know how much. I feel we're almost a family, one I haven't had in two years."

"Thank you. We feel you're like a son to us," David said before adding, "and we love having you here.

"But there's a problem, Jerrod. We don't have custody of you, legal custody. Up until you're eighteen, for your own protection, someone must have legal custody of you. When you turn eighteen, you're an adult and can be on your own. But up until that time, someone needs to be responsible for you."

"I understand that, but I thought you had custody of me," Jerrod said.

"Well, that's the problem. We don't. Truth is you've been staying here illegally."

Jerrod eyes now showed concern.

"Does that mean you're going to have to turn me over to Social Services?" Jerrod questioned.

"Not at all. That we're not going to do," Nathan said.

Now Jerrod's eyes had a questioning look.

"We have a meeting at 3:00 PM today with our attorney. This is what we're going to talk about and try to come up with a plan to keep you here. David and I want very much for you to stay. We love you Jerrod and don't want you to go anywhere."

Now Jerrod's questioning eyes started to tear.

"You really mean that?"

"I think you should have realized that by now. We're a family and you're part of it. You belong here," Nathan answered.

"The problem is we've allowed you to stay here illegally. That's what we want to correct, to make your stay here legal. That's what we need a lawyer for. But I think a polo shirt would look better for the lawyer."

"Oh, okay," Jerrod said as he ran back to his room. When he came out, he was now wearing his new clothes, his cargo pants and a light blue polo shirt. Is this better?"

"Much," David responded. Then he grinned and said, "You probably have no idea how handsome you are." He was rewarded when Jerrod blushed.

"We'd better get going, or we're going to be late," Nathan said.

Nathan parked the car in the lot in front of a small, two-story strip mall. The style was of an old Spanish-style hacienda. "His office is on the second floor," Nathan said.

When they arrived at Mark's office, Nathan led the way inside. The office echoed the Spanish feel of the outside of the building with the décor in Mark's office. They entered a large reception area with a seating area for four people, a receptionist sat behind the front desk.

"Good to see you, Nathan and David, but who's this with you? I don't think I've had the pleasure of meeting such a fine-looking boy," the receptionist said as she greeted them with a wide smile.

Jerrod blushed for the second time in an hour.

"Betty, this is Jerrod," Nathan said. "He's the reason we need to see Mark."

"Okay. Have a seat. I'll let him know you're here,"

Nathan, David and Jerrod took seats in the waiting area. Within thirty seconds, Mark came out of his office and headed toward them.

"Good afternoon, Nathan. Good to see you again, David," Mark said as he shook hands with each. Then he turned to Jerrod.

"And this is…?" Mark asked.

"This is Jerrod McKenny. He's the boy I was telling you about when I called this morning."

"Good afternoon to you too, Jerrod," Mark said, and he shook Jerrod's hand, too.

"Let's go into my office so we can talk." Mark pointed toward the open door of his office.

The office was spacious with a large desk at the back of the room, a large round conference table towards the front and three chairs in front of the desk. The walls were covered with bookcases containing law books. Again, the décor was of the Spanish hacienda style.

"Have a seat, please." Mark went to his chair behind the desk. "So, tell me what's going on."

"Oh, where do I begin?" Nathan asked.

"I guess the best place to start is from the beginning." Mark replied.

"Okay. Here goes."

"As you know, David and I have an extensive background as foster parents. You know how we feel about kids, especially those without parents or family."

He went on to tell Mark about how they came to have Jerrod semi-staying with them and the boy's history they knew about.

He finished with, "The police are looking for Jerrod. They want to question him about what happened inside that house."

David took over. "Social Services will certainly want to take charge of Jerrod when the police are through with him. We want to prevent that."

"Didn't the police tell you to report seeing him and wait for them to arrive?" Mark asked.

"Yes, they did, but they didn't seem to have much luck in catching him. What we want to know is, can you clear this up so the police aren't involved, and we can keep him. We want custody over him," Nathan said.

Mark nodded. I'm glad you did call me because you guys could be in a lot of trouble."

Mark turned his attention toward Jerrod. "Jerrod, what do you think about all this? Do you want to be with Nathan and David? Do you want them to have legal custody of you?"

"Yes. I hope you can arrange that. I love them," Jerrod responded. Then he turned to look at Nathan and David. "This may sound funny, but, you two guys are gay, aren't you?"

"Well, that was out of the blue," Nathan said as he sat back in his chair.

But then he leaned forward. "Yes, we are, and I hope that's not a problem for you."

"No. Not really. I guess the police told you I'm gay too, huh?"

"They mentioned it, yes. And the fact you and Steve were boyfriends made it rather obvious, too."

"So, does that have anything to do with you wanting me to live with you?"

David now had to speak up. "You been living with us off and on for a while now. You should know by now there's nothing we want from you in that way."

"I really didn't think there was. But it happens to a lot of kids who are out there, and yes, the thought of that scares me. But you've never made me feel like that would happen at your house, our house if this can really happen, but I need to ask this. If it isn't that, what do you want from me if you're going to let me stay with you?" Jerrod asked.

"Well, you will have chores to do like taking out the trash and helping David put away the groceries after he goes shopping."

"That's all?" Jerrod said looking up at them, meeting their eyes.

"That's all I can think of right now. There may be other things, but I guess the point is you'll be part of the three of us living there. We'd want you to help around the house as needed. What we really want is you to be a happy part of what will now be a family of three. And to go along with you being with us and helping out when needed, we'll be giving you an allowance so you'll have some spending money to do with what you want."

Jerrod smiled. "I can do that. I can be part of our family, and I can do chores like most all kids do. I used to help my mom and dad out a lot when I was home."

Jerrod turned so he was directly facing Nathan and David. "You don't know how much I want what you're offering me. I've been homeless for two years, but you saw the kid inside me that I used to be. When I asked about you being gay, that's what happens when you've been on the streets; you learn to be suspicious of everyone, to be very slow to trust anyone. But I know you two. As I said before, I love you guys. I'm still learning to trust again, but I'm getting there. And I want to be that kid again, the one I used to be," Jerrod said, now with tears flowing down his cheeks.

Jerrod's eyes were still flooding, he stood up. "I don't know if you guys want this, but can we hug?"

Both Nathan and David stood. "Get over here kid," Nathan said, and then they all hugged each other.

Mark's smile was a mile wide.

"Let me work on this for a while. I'll call you tomorrow with what I've found out, okay?"

Nathan and David and Jerrod nodded their heads, shook hands with Mark and left the office.

On the ride home, David asked Jerrod what he thought about the meeting.

"I don't know what to think. I know I'm scared about what might happen to me. The police, you know? And Social Services."

"Mark's going to do his best to help us. His goal is to let us keep you, and that's what's important. Try to keep that in your mind, Jerrod," David said.

The next day was filled with concern over what Mark was going to tell them. Late in the afternoon, Mark finally called.

When Nathan answered the call, he put it on speaker so everyone could listen.

"Well, you guys put me through quite a wringer. I've been on the phone all day today talking to the police, Social Services and Judge Marsdan, then back to social services and then Judge Marsdan. In all, I think we have a plan.

"I'm going to petition the court to transfer custody of Jerrod to you guys. California has no problem with a gay couple having custody of a minor."

"That's wonderful." Nathan responded. "And there won't be any trouble with the police?"

"No, no problems there, just some questioning. But there is a slight hitch," Mark said.

Both Nathan and David looked at each other for a moment and then Nathan asked, "What's the hitch, Mark?"

"Okay, a court hearing may take up to two weeks to be put on the court's docket. During that time, Jerrod will have to go back to Social Services, because they still have custody of him. They will put him in a temporary foster home until the hearing."

Both Nathan and David turned their attention toward Jerrod. Jerrod was shaking his head from side to side.

"I can't go there," was all Jerrod said.

"Mark, let us talk about this among ourselves for a few minutes. I'll call you back, okay?" Nathan asked.

"Okay, but I leave the office in an hour."

Nathan pushed the red button on his cell phone and disconnected the call.

"Jerrod, we know you don't want to go into the foster system. But this is necessary. With you in legal custody status, the court can proceed with our hearing. Otherwise, they can't. They can't allow you to stay illegally. Does this make sense to you?" Nathan asked.

"It does, but I really don't want to go to the foster system. Like I've said, I've heard nothing but crap about them."

"I know, but this isn't the same as you being with a regular foster family. This is only temporary until we get our court hearing," Nathan said.

"Jerrod, please work with Mark on this. Remember it's only temporary until our hearing and Mark said it will be for only two weeks or less," David added.

"You guys promise?"

"Jerrod, we can't promise anything with the courts. We have our hopes everything will turn out right though."

"Okay, I'll go. But I won't like it." Jerrod announced.

Mark again put in a call to Mark's office.

"Hi, Mark, it's Nathan again."

"You guys reach a decision?"

"Yes, we have. Let's go ahead with your plan. Jerrod is not liking having to go into the foster system, but we've convinced him, based on what you've said, that it's only very temporary," Nathan answered.

"Okay, I'll submit our petition tomorrow and then we'll see what happens."

"Thanks, Mark, for all your help," Nathan said.

The next afternoon, Nathan got a call from Social Services. They said they understood a petition was before the court for Jerrod's custody. They continued with a statement concerning following the law, and they'd be by in an hour to pick up Jerrod. They added to please make sure he's ready to go.

Nathan didn't like the tone of voice of the caller but understood their position. He then went and informed David and Jerrod about the call.

David left them momentarily and went into his bedroom. When he returned, he looked at Jerrod.

Jerrod, there's something I want to give you, as he reached into his back pocket and pulled out a cell phone handing it to Jerrod. Nathan and David knew Social Services would be involved, so they planned ahead.

"Jerrod, whenever you feel lonely, you can call us, every day if you'd like. Even if you want to just chat, we're always her for you. Call us anytime, except in the middle of the night unless it's an emergency."

Jerrod accepted the phone with a frown on his face, realizing this meant he was really going away.

When social services arrived, they were accompanied by Detective Baker and another police officer. This surprised both Nathan and David,

"Why are the police here?" Nathan asked the social services worker.

Detective Baker spoke up. "Jerrod's not in trouble with us. He's been found now, though, and so, we're not looking for him anymore. I just want to make sure we can have an opportunity to question him. He's our only lead into what happened in that house."

"Well, you'll have to go through Social Services for that. They have custody now," Nathan answered.

"I'm only here because I wanted to make sure he's all right. You see, Jerrod has become personal for me," Detective Baker answered.

Nathan and David watched Jerrod leave their home. Tears were in the eyes of all three of them, but they tried to tell themselves it wasn't a case of "Goodbye" but instead, one of "See you later."

Mark called the next day to tell them the hearing date was set for a week and a half out. It would be at 9:00 in the morning.

Nathan and David spent a lonely week and a half waiting.

As the judge entered the courtroom, the bailiff stood and announced, "All rise. The District Court of Southern Los Angeles County is now in session. Judge Carl Marsdan presiding."

Everyone in the courtroom stood while the judge took his seat behind the bench.

"Be seated," he announced.

"This morning we're going to hear Docket Number 556-01. Are all those with standing in attendance?"

Mark stood from behind the defendant's table. "No, Your Honor. My name is Mark Griswald and I'm representing Jerrod McKenny for this hearing. Nathan Anderson and David Castillo are here at the table with me, but we're still waiting for Social Services to bring in Jerrod. He's the youth that this hearing concerns."

The judge turned to the bailiff. "Get hold of social services and find out where he is."

Before the bailiff had a chance to respond, the back doors of the courtroom opened, and Jerrod and two case workers entered the courtroom and they proceeded to walk behind the bar. Jerrod sat with Nathan and David at the defendant's table while the other two women went to the plaintiff's table. One woman remained standing. "Your Honor, we apologize for our tardiness as traffic was unusually rough this morning."

"Please state your name for the record."

"My name is Ann Folden. I'm the attorney representing social services. With me is Katherine Murrey, the Social Services case worker for Jerrod McKenny."

The judge turned his attention to Mark.

"I assume the youth that just took his place at your table is Jerrod McKenny."

"That's correct, Your Honor," Mark replied.

"Okay. Let's get started, Mr. Griswald. I've read your petition and it was quite lengthy and well put together. Is there anything you'd like to add?"

"Thank you, Your Honor. I'd like to add that Mr. Anderson and Mr. Castillo are two of the most upstanding citizens in Manhattan Beach. Their records are clean. However, they broke the law in allowing Mr. McKenny to stay in their home without custody. They are extremely sorry for that action, but they want the court to understand that the love and concern for this boy caused them to take the action they did. They also voluntarily, and without pressure, took action to see that Jerrod's custody would be made legal. I recall a statement Mr. Castillo said to Mr. Anderson. He said that Mr. Anderson's heart overshadows his brain sometimes. I believe that's the case here in protecting Jerrod."

"Thank you, Mr. Griswald. Does social services have any objection to allowing this transfer of guardianship to Mr. Anderson and Mr. Castillo to take place?"

"No, Your Honor, but I would like to add, though, that we feel Mr. Anderson and Mr. Castillo will be suitable custodial parents for Jerrod and feel he belongs there. For that reason, we have no objection to the motion."

"Mr. Griswald, any comment?"

Mark let out a sigh.

"No, Your Honor. No further comment."

"Then, with no additional comments, I approve this motion."

Judge Marsdan signed both motions within thirty seconds of each other.

Nathan and David, overjoyed, went home with their grateful and smiling new son.


Jerrod was adopted by Nathan and David within six months of the custodial hearing, which was an accelerated process due the extensive file on them held by Social Services. Now the term 'son' totally solidified their family. The spare bedroom no longer existed. I was now Jerrod's room.

The adults who owned the house have been arrested and were charged with selling drugs, child endangerment, manslaughter and fleeing the scene. Their trial was held the day after Jerrod's hearing by a different judge and they were found guilty. They are each serving fifteen-year sentences in the state prison. The house is up for sale.

The three boys that fled the scene were apprehended and are now spending time in a drug rehabilitation facility.

Detective Baker would occasionally stop by the house to check up on Jerrod. It appears it was the only case he had ever taken personally.

Jerrod is back in school, withs special tutors who are helping him get caught up. He's doing well and is expected to graduate with his class. He visits Stephen's grave often. He replaces the flowers in the urn every time they had any hint of fading. He doesn't have a boyfriend, yet, but he's looking.

Nathan and David continued to spend their time doing family things with Jerrod. Jerrod even goes to Disneyland a couple of times each summer.

The End

I must thank my editors for their many hours of work in editing this story. I am eternally indebted to him.

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