Castle Roland


by Joe Writer Man


Chapter 18

Posted: 12 Jan 15


Copyright © 2012 - 2015 by Joe Writerman and the Revolutions Universe Partnership.

All Rights Reserved

Friday, November 9, 2012, 1:40AM

Centennial LogoChristian and Luke, after checking on Jordan earlier, grabbed an apple apiece to eat, then headed for the pool, anxious to relax enough so that they could go back to bed and sleep.

They didn't stay in the water very long. The chemicals, strong, burnt Christian's eyes making the experience very uncomfortable. Luke questioned him, remembering the salty waters off the coast of Florida, "So, did the salt water bother your eyes?"

"Sometimes. Somehow that was different, though. I can't really explain it."

Luke nodded. He gave a brief explanation of the different molecular structures, but this was way over Christian's understanding, though he tried. Their education was just different. Luke's was from the book while Christian's was from experience, exploring, questioning the Elders, and paying attention. He explained that his best education came from having his eyes peeled, and ears open for searching and finding answers to his questions.

Luke explained that he was learning how to do it, and went on to say that he was learning and retaining the most information in the same way. He went on to say that he was paying closer attention to people's interactions. His father's leaving and the horror show at the Retraining Camp taught him the opposite end of the spectrum – how people can hate one another so damned much. The opposite – coming to live with the Finnegan's was teaching him all about love, companionship and the ability to put others first over his own needs and wants.

Christian cautiously nodded his understanding, thinking that he didn't have the experience with that special love that partners share.

Satisfied with their one-on-one conversation, Luke swam a couple of laps while Christian watched him slice the water as though he were a fish.

A thought passed through Luke's mind just as he was about to do an underwater flip at the far end of the pool. He slid up and out of the pool then went to the changing room searching for a pair of goggles for Christian to wear.

A pair was hanging on a hook above the drawers, but he couldn't reach it, and there wasn't a chair to climb to the correct height. Undeterred, he went into the pool area to a table with chairs all around it. He grabbed one, then returned to the changing room. Not thinking clearly, he stepped up on it but when he reached out, his foot slipped sending him to the pavement, landing hard on his shoulder and hip, and smacking his head against the locker. He laid there for a second to get his bearings then, finding he was okay, got to his feet and forgot about the idea of getting those goggles, but he didn't give up.

Since there was one pair, he figured there were others. And there were several pair in a bottom drawer of a small metal cabinet close to the shower room. Happy, the boy took off and tossed them to Christian. They got them properly adjusted to prevent chlorine water from going into Christian's eyes. They then had hella fun diving to the bottom and playing grab-ass.

They soon tired from their activities, exited the pool, headed for the showers, washed away the chemicals from their bodies then took off for their respective rooms.

Luke stopped in at his bathroom, peed then eyed a bottle of lube sitting on the counter. He grinned.

Surprising to Luke was the fact that when he went to bed with his canal freshly prepared Jordan was lying on his back with his legs stretched up and out…

Topeka, Kansas

Although Ken had good feelings with the conversation with Jose's father, he didn't want the man speaking with his son until their interactions could be seen in person. It's one thing to talk about changes. It is completely another thing to witness those changes put into action.

Meanwhile, Mr. Sanchez spoke with his wife about their impending trip and that, for now, he thought, Jose was in good hands.

The man lay awake most of the night thinking about the relationship he and Jose had endured over the years, especially since his oldest son's death. When his eyes finally closed and he fell off into a slight sleep, his last thought was how unfair he had been with Jose's efforts to protect those who were being hurt and harmed. He remembered how Jesus, while walking the Mount Calvary, stopped and talked with beggars, fallen women, little kids, and the people who were meek and humble.

Kaydyn and Jose made their way to the hospital cafeteria and found it open, entered and headed to the coffee machine. Kaydyn wondered if the boy drank the caffeinated beverage. When he looked to the boy, he saw something much more sinister than a need for caffeine. The man said, "If you're hungry then, by all means, grab you something to eat. You've got to be hungry."

Jose shrugged, "I'll be fine, Sir. I have no money."

"Go ahead. Get whatever you want. The tab is on me. I'm serious." Kaydyn said softly, reassuringly.

Jose looked deep into Kaydyn's eyes searching for any sign of hesitation. When he saw none, he nodded and said, "Thank you, Sir. I will pay you back."

Kaydyn put his hand on Jose's back and said, "Son, you'll have opportunities during your lifetime to pay it forward. Just do that. We'll consider it payback. Besides, you owe me nothing. Go ahead."

They parted ways with Kaydyn getting a large cup of coffee and two bagels while Jose ordered the largest cheeseburger the hospital had to offer. It was a triple deck meat and bread affair with all of the trimmings. Once it was on his tray he took off for the soda fountain, grabbed a bottle of Coke then took his meal to the checkout counter where Kaydyn was patiently waiting for him.The man nodded and smiled. Jose's expression showed appreciation.

Kaydyn attempted to draw Jose into a light conversation about nothing that had happened during the day. Between bites, he received nods, grunts and or one syllable replies known all too well to teenagers.

Jose looked at the very last bite, wondering if it would go down. He took a deep breath, squirmed in his seat then put it into his mouth, chewed it thoroughly and then swallowed. He reached for the Coke as soon as he swallowed then showed relief as it finally went down his throat. The boy then stretched widely and yawned so far that his jaw popped. At the end of the stretch he belched loudly and looked at Kaydyn with fear, expecting a severe admonishment, or worse.

Kaydyn smiled and said, "Truthfully, I didn't think you'd eat all of that. You get a free pass. Don't think anything more about it."

"Thank you, Sir."

Kaydyn nodded then they took their trays to the window and took off to find Ken. On their way, the man said, "Jose, my dad is speaking with your father. There are a few things that need to be worked out."

"Like what?" Jose asked, thoughtfully.

"We are going to make sure you are safe. As you already know, we have concerns about, for instance, the bruises and the reasons behind why you are here in the first place."

Jose thought for a second before deciding the man's assessment was steadfast and not to be argued with.

The pharmacy was located along a long corridor close to the ER. There they met Ken waiting at the window for Jose's prescriptions for a combined antibiotic, anesthetic and steroid cream to be filled and paid for.

The pharmacist was kind enough to fully explain to Jose what was in the prescription and how to properly apply it four times a day, and reminded him that ‘stretching' the tissue was not only okay but needed to keep inner tissue strictures and scar tissue from forming. Assured with the instructions, Jose went to a restroom close by, peed then went to a stall where he applied the medicine. The stinging sensations immediately went away.

Meanwhile, Ken and Kaydyn were approached by two beefy security guards. After properly identifying themselves, they spoke freely.

"The media is all over the fucking place. They're vultures. Two things are going to happen, with your approval of course. First, we're offering to get your car, and second, we'd like to load you up downstairs at the dock. Down there is much easier to establish a perimeter."

Jose exited the restroom. Ken replied, "That is a very good idea. Thank you. Your hospitality is much appreciated." Turning to Jose, "You ready to go?"

"Yes, Sir." Jose replied while sizing up the two men dressed in uniform.

Kaydyn asked, "Is it possible to get an escort out of town? You know how they are."

Jose looked to Kaydyn, clearly confused at all the attention paid him.

Kaydyn replied to Jose's inquiring mind, "There are TV and Radio reporters all over the place. We do not want you talking with the media. Now is not the time. I cannot see you ever talking to them about what's happened."

The youngster nodded then an inquiring expression preceded the next question, "But why would they be here?"

"Well, Jose, it is like this: very little of what you see on TV or hear on the radio is based on all of the facts. They take tiny sound bites and spin them completely out of context… so much so that the truth never gets told."

"Besides that, children are afforded more privacy than adults. Before they could ever talk to you, your father, or in this case – Kaydyn or I would have to give them permission to question you. This is something we will not do."

"I've thought about going into journalism. I'm on the school newspaper covering sports. I see what you mean. I'm pretty good in football, but the administration has special athletes they want covered; the heck with the rest of the participants."

"Yup. That's about right. One other thing to keep in mind, as far as the media outside the doors, all law enforcement has to protect your identity – it is required by federal statutes. A breach can and will often land them into deep dung."

Jose nodded his understanding.

They were then quickly whisked away to the supply department where the loading dock was located. Ten minutes later, their car arrived. Ten minutes later they were being escorted out of the city by 4 unmarked police cars.

Five minutes after heading north on a little used state highway, Jose's eyes closed. Despite valiant efforts to stay awake, the boy fell off into slumber.

At hearing their protected passenger's light snoring, Ken briefed Kaydyn on the phone call with his conversation with Jose's father and how he thought that maybe he'd gotten to the man about how his methods of discipline had to change.

There was little traffic to slow their travels on northbound State Highway 75. By 2:00AM they'd arrived and passed through the intersection with State Highway 36.

The day's events were catching up to Kaydyn. His eyes and mind were having difficulty maintaining acuity as he drove up the dark lonely highway. Every now and again his father would snore lightly as he, too, was tired from the long day and everything that had happened.

Kaydyn, startled back into the present when Jose's voice quietly said, "Sir, I must stop at the side of the road, please. Please hurry. I'm sorry."

Sensing urgency in Jose's voice, Kaydyn slowed down to stop a safe distance from the main highway. He pushed a button to unlock the vehicle then Jose quickly exited the car leaving his door wide open. Kaydyn, opened the driver's side door to provide a blocking for Jose's privacy. The boy stood there for several minutes draining his bladder with force behind the stream.

Ken, awakened from his disturbed nap observed his son's facial expressions to see how very tired he was. He said, while opening the passenger side door, "I'll drive us on home. I feel pretty good."

Kaydyn agreed.

Jose got back into the car and closed the door. Kaydyn and Ken changed places then were back on the road heading north.

An hour later, at the junction of State Highway 2, just south of Nebraska City, a convoy of military vehicles blocked the road. The traffic stop affected both westbound State Highway 2 and northbound 75. Shortly after arriving, two soldiers carrying high powered military weapons approached.

Kaydyn, awakened by the vehicle's change in speed, sat up from a sleeping slouched position and stared straight ahead wondering what this was all about. He looked to Ken as their vehicle slowed to a stop. Their concerns heightened as the military officers brought their weapons to firing positions, aimed directly at them.

Jose, awakened from the sudden change in vehicle speed, leant forward to look out of the windshield. His sphincters tightened at seeing military grade weapons trained on them. Scared into complete submission, the boy remained death quiet.

Kaydyn whispered, "Jose, let us answer all questions. We've done this before. Nobody has done anything wrong. Can you do this for me?"

"Yes, Sir. What happens if they ask me questions, though? Aren't I supposed to answer when asked?"

"Yes you are. But… my dad or I have to be present. It's the law."

Ken pushed a button to lower the driver's side window. He was greeted with the first soldier's menacing words, "What is your business?"

"Ken Shaw. I'm retired military, special operations. We're headed home to Milliard."

"Let me see your id."

"I am going to reach into the glove compartment to get it."

The military man raised his weapon so that it was not directly pointed to the occupants in the car.

"Go ahead. Go slow. Before you do so, do you have any weapons?"

"Yes, Sir. We are heavily armed."

"Oh, and why is that?"

"Sir, we are returning home from a military sanctioned rescue. The mission is authorized by top brass. To be specific, we are on orders given by Mike Reynolds. Jack Bryce, of course, is heavily involved as well."

"Oh, really. Do you have paperwork that will provide proof of such a mission?"

"No. Not directly. Nothing is in writing."

"I see. Do you have any other verification?"

"With all due respect, you can obtain your verification from the Vice President Elect and or Jack Bryce, in person."

"And, I will do exactly that. Go ahead, get your ID; but go slow."

Without acknowledging, he reached across the console, opened the glove compartment door, pushed aside a loaded .38 special, retrieved his wallet, then removed his retired military and driver's license IDs then presented them.

Kaydyn, likewise, passed his IDs.

After the IDs were visually verified, the military man looked through the window to see Jose sitting with his arms crossed across his lap. The kid, he noted, was nervous, which, he understood, would only be natural given the circumstances surrounding him. "What's your name, Son?"

Jose looked to Kaydyn, needing permission to proceed with answering the man's question.

Kaydyn replied, "We're here. He's just trying to establish your identity."

Jose nodded and replied, "Jose Sanchez, Sir."

"How old are you?"

"14, Sir."

"Where are you from?"

"Woodward, Oklahoma."

"I have other questions to ask you. Please exit the car and come with me."

Ken countered, "The boy is 14 years old. He will answer no further questions unless my son or I are present."

The officer countered, "Sir, this country is under Martial Law."

Ken countered, "Do you have suspicion that the minor child has in the past committed, is now committing, or will in the future commit a crime against the US Government? This will be difficult to prove out since he is technically under the care and control of the US Government, just saying."

The officer shined his bright flashlight into Jose's eyes, blinding him. Naturally, he raised his hands to block the intrusion. Ken knew the man had every right to determine whether the child posed any threat so he didn't say anything.

The officer asked, "Son, do you have any weapons on you?"

"No, Sir." Jose replied then voluntarily pulled his front pockets inside out to prove his point.

"Would you raise your pants legs as far as possible? I'm just making sure you are not armed. It's my job. It's for my safety."

"Go ahead, Jose. He's just making sure you're not a threat."

Assured the boy was not armed, the officer returned to questioning Ken and Kaydyn. Most questions were answered, "That information is top secret. I cannot answer it without first asking for and receiving presidential or congressional approval."

The officer ordered Ken and Kaydyn out of their vehicle.

Ken responded, "Sir, we are no imminent threat. Would you guys take your weapons off of us? We'll cooperate. You are however, scaring the child in our custody. Quite frankly, I'm nervous as well. I have one small caliber handgun in the glove compartment. The rest of our cache is in the trunk."

The man regarded Ken for a moment before using his finger to gesture to the other man that he was to raise his weapon so that it wasn't pointed into the car.

Kaydyn exited and walked around to the front of the vehicle. He did this for two reasons: first, to comply. Secondly, to provide a shield between Jose and the other armed officer.

The first officer stepped back. Ken got out then positioned himself so that he was also a shield to Jose.

Jose, sensing that he was being protected, slouched in the seat and closed his eyes. Sleep was close, but he was determined to remain awake.

Ken was elected to receive and answer questions.

"I need to know at least the general outline of your mission and why this boy is traveling with men not his parents." The officer requested.

"Our initial mission was to bring a subject to justice, per our elected president and vice president of the United States. The mission rapidly deteriorated into a hostage situation. The boy in the back seat was the hostage. I'm afraid I cannot give you much more information until it is cleared by our commanders."

"Did you have collaboration and cooperation with civilian law enforcement?"

"We did. The commander's name is Charles Stryker, SWAT commander for the city of Topeka, county of Shawnee, state of Kansas."

Lt. David Howe, the first military man, obviously the officer in charge, raised his weapon into the sky and walked 30 yards to the west, pulled off his cell phone from his belt then punched in speed dial #4 and pressed SEND.

"Hello." A man very sleepily replied.

"Charles, this is David."

"Yeah, what's up?" Stryker answered, sleepily, as he sat up and put his feet to the floor. Receiving a call from his brother in law at this time of day was – unusual so he paid close attention.

Howe said, "I'm working a military blockade on state highway 75 at Nebraska City. A party, Ken and Kaydyn Shaw and a boy named Jose Sanchez are traveling by automobile to Millard, Nebraska. Can you verify their identities?"

"Of course. They came to do something we have been unable to do for years and years – take Frederick Phillips to justice. But. Their mission quickly turned into a hostage situation. The boy, Jose Sanchez, was the hostage. The child was injured. He received definitive treatment for those physical injuries."

"And… Mr. Phillips' disposition?"

"Dead. Let the kid go. He's been through enough today. I can't really say much more. At least not officially. Perhaps we could get together, say this Saturday. I'd like to see the Cornhuskers wax those candy assed snotty assed rich Jayhawk birds you call a football team."

"Fuck you. Bring the chips and salsa, asshole." Howe grinned, snickering. They were both diehard football fans, opposite spectrums, of course.

Stryker snickered then terminated the call, lay back down and went to sleep thinking with a clearer frame of mind than he'd had in years.

Howe's demeanor completely changed during the phone call with his brother-in-law. With his curiosity whetted, he wanted to know more.

He walked back to the two men standing, waiting for the word that would permit them to go on with their journey. When he arrived, he found the boy out of the car standing behind both Kaydyn and Ken, facing the car. He shined the light on Jose's back then turned it away after seeing telltale evidence of what exactly he was doing.

"Gentlemen, you are free to go on your way. Uhmm, well, we are under strict orders to control who goes into and out of Omaha. Offutt has had several attempted breaches. I cannot go into detail about them."

Jose put himself together then stood between Ken and Kaydyn. Howe could and did see fear in the boy's eyes. Howe said, "Son, I'm sorry that you had to experience hate and violence today. It's not right. It's not normal. A very bad man will no longer cause hurt and harm."

Thinking that he'd done nothing spectacular, Jose shrugged his shoulders to dismiss the praise, but Kaydyn spoke up, speaking particularly to Jose, "What he says is true. Lt. Howe, today Jose did what many adults have been unable to do for many years. He was in a position where he was being grievously hurt and harmed, however out of sheer desperation, courage and strength … well, we're going to make sure he is recognized for … perhaps he'll be a runner up for the Nobel Peace Prize."

Ken nodded. Kaydyn patted Jose's back and very lightly squeezed the muscle that runs between the outside of his shoulder and neck. The muscle was taut. The boy winced.

Howe said, "Well, my guys are going to provide you an escort all the way to your destination. There is one more roadblock up the road that you'll have to go through. I am going to radio ahead. With notification and the escort you will not be delayed any longer. Good luck."

"Thanks." Ken said then slowly followed Howe to the actual checkpoint. Howe spoke to a man sitting in a fully militarized Humvee land vehicle. The vehicle's engine started. Howe walked back to the Shaw car and said, "Stay in close proximity. He'll make sure you make safe passage."


Howe reached through the window and held his hand out to Jose. Jose shook the man's hand but didn't say a word.

Approximately 15 minutes later the military vehicles used to enforce the blockade moved away just enough for the party to pass through.

Thirty minutes later, they approached another military checkpoint, blocking the Platte River. This time, though, there was no delay other than for having the military vehicles moved forward to permit their passage. Now, not only did they have one fully equipped Humvee but it was joined by 3 other fully outfitted vehicles who escorted their passage past Offutt Air Force Base and on into South Omaha then west on State Highway 275 into Millard.

The military presence departed once Ken pulled into the driveway of his home. He respectfully saluted as they passed by to return to their duties.

Ken stretched wide as he, too, was bone weary tired from the very long day. Kaydyn exited their vehicle and headed to the house and entered. Ken stated, "Jose, this is my home. For as long as you are here, consider yourself just one of my family. If you need anything, just say so. I'm going to get you bedded down then you'll get to meet my beautiful wife, son and grandkids in the morning. There will be no hurry to get up, so feel free to sleep in until the afternoon, if you need to sleep that long. I know you're tired. We all are."

Jose replied, "I will stay out of the way, Sir. Thank you for your hospitality."

"You're welcome. Don't worry, you're going to fit right in."

They got out of the car. Ken escorted Jose into the house with his arm draped over the boy's shoulders. A light located over the stove provided them just enough illumination to enter the hallway leading to the bedrooms. One guest room was available. Ken led Jose into the room, closed the door and turned on the light, and said, "This is your room for as long as you need it. The bathroom is the second door on the right. Towels are located in a small linen closet close to the bathtub. Feel free to bathe. A good bath will help you to relax. Lastly, my wife and I sleep next door to you. If you have any questions, become afraid, or for any other reason, then just let us know. I'll leave the door open."

Jose nodded, "I think I'm going to take a bath, Sir. Thank you."

With that said, Ken made his exit, walked into his bedroom then went to the bed he and Nadine shared. Nadine was awake and reached her arms out to her husband. They tenderly hugged and kissed then when they parted, he said, "We had a very difficult mission to carry out. I cannot get into specifics as many details are classified. The mission dramatically changed, which is not all that unusual, in that a child was taken hostage and abused. We hadn't planned for that, but took care of the situation."

"Honey, I know you've done the best you could do. But, there's something different about you, now. What happened? Can you tell me?"

Ken looked at his wife of forever and ever. He touched her lips with his then said, "We brought the boy home with us. He's staying in the guest room until we get his parents straightened out. I'll talk with you more about it after we've had some rest."

Nadine interrupted as Ken thought she would, "YOU DID WHAT? That poor boy. He's probably starved half to death! What's his name, you ole oaf?"


"How old is he?" Nadine asked gruffly, as she tossed aside the covers and got out of bed.

"He's 14. We fed him last night before leaving Topeka."

"What happened to him, Ken? Why is he really here?" Nadine asked, putting on her robe all the while looking into her husband's eyes.

"The long and short of it is that he was captured and held hostage by Frederick Phillips. He was subjected to unbelievable mental, physical and spiritual abuse. Our mission, basically, was to bring the man to justice, but everything changed when he took the boy hostage. Our mission changed to a rescue operation. Both missions were accomplished, however Jose was instrumental in making the entire op successful."

"Where are his folks? How and why was he put into that position? They must be real works of art – NOT. I'll be damned – I won't permit it."

Without another word, Nadine exited their room and headed to the guest room.

The door was open, a bedside table light was on. A boy was standing with his back to her. He was just removing his jeans from his ankles. Jose sensed movement and quickly turned around to see Nadine standing there. Their eyes met. Nadine saw the same pain in Jose's eyes that she'd seen in Tomas the first time they'd met. It was the same thing all over again.

Jose reached for his shirt and used it to cover his briefs, the only piece of clothing that he was wearing.

"Jose, honey, my husband told me a little bit about you. Don't be afraid of me. You don't need to be embarrassed. I've raised a son and am working with another boy about your age."

Jose nodded then, knowing the shirt was long enough to cover his nakedness, quickly put it on and pulled it down. Nadine knew that boys his age were very modest and didn't want to be seen without clothes.

"Honey, do you want to take a shower or a bath before you lay down to go to sleep?"

"Yes, Ma'am. Thank you, Ma'am." Jose replied, respectfully. She showed him to the bathroom then closed the door. She heard him taking care of his business, then a couple of minutes later the sink turned on. The door opened. Jose, once again, looked into her eyes. Continuing, "Thank you. I think I'll take a shower, if it is okay?"

Nadine retrieved a large fluffy towel and a washcloth and handed it to Jose who took it and placed it on the vanity. He turned on the water spigots.

Ken approached, entered then looked into Jose's eyes, "Son, don't hurt yourself. Oh, I'll go to the car and get your medicine."

Jose nodded his appreciation, remembering that he'd forgotten it.

The two adults exited and closed the door behind them. Jose stripped off his clothing, got into the combined shower and bathtub and started bathing his tired, beaten and battered body with the nice soft washcloth.

Nadine cornered Ken before he went outside. She said, "Medicine? Is he sick?"

"No, he's not sick. When he showered at the hospital, he abused himself. After what he went through, he couldn't get clean 'enough' – honey, he was sexually abused. The medicine, well, it is for his penis. He rubbed it raw. A minor operation had to be performed… he underwent circumcision."

"Oh dear. The poor boy." Nadine said. Tears filled her eyes and she became speechless… a new attribute for her, not because she didn't have anything to say, because she did. Her question remained – why would such a beautiful child be subjected to abuse?

Ken kissed her lips and held her firmly as she processed through her emotions. Finally, calmed but with her maternal instincts running rampant, she released her husband of many years, the father of her child, and said, "I'm okay. He needs his parents, though."

Ken, not wanting to go deep into detail about the mission, said softly, "We will assume, for the time being, that his parents are us. I'll go get his medicine and be right back."

They kissed, then Ken took off.

Nadine, unable to stop herself, not wanting to put her motherly instincts to the wind, opened the bathroom door, entered, closed it, walked to the vanity, spread the towel out so that he could use its full length and width, and softness to dry his body. Be damned his modesty, now was the time he needed a safe woman to let him know that he was cherished. She said, loud enough to be heard, but not loud enough to terrorize the child, "Honey, let me wash your back then we'll get you dried off and into bed."

Jose, startled to hear a woman's voice, dropped the plastic bottle of shampoo to the floor. He stood there looking at it for a moment before bending over and picking it up. Knowing he had to be obedient and submissive to adults, he said, "Okay." He then spread the shower curtain and turned to face the wall thus exposing the back of his body to her.

Nadine silently gasped at seeing all of the bruises and belt buckle marks on his skin. Recovering quickly, intent upon relaxing his poor body, she reached for the washcloth and soap, put them together then gently washed his back, taking great care to not put too much pressure as she did so.

Jose felt himself relaxing with her ministrations.When finished, she said, "There you go. I don't want you to wash your hair. Going to bed with a wet head is not a good thing… you could end up with an ear infection or a bad cold. Rinse off then we'll get you dry and dressed." She closed the curtain then reached for another towel so that he could wrap one around his waist.

Two minutes later, the water turned off. He opened the door and stood before her and held out his arms, seemingly not afraid of showing her all that he had. She knew better though. The second he stepped out, she wrapped the second towel around his waist to afford him the privacy he was due as a young man, an adolescent boy. He nodded his appreciation then permitted her to dry his body.

He used the second towel to dry below his waist and above the knees. Nadine wrapped a third dry towel around him then led him to his room. Ken was waiting for them. He handed him the tube of medicine and he dropped the towel and applied it to his injury, put on his briefs then got into bed and permitted Nadine to pull up the covers. She leant down and kissed his forehead then told him to sleep as long as he needed.

Jose reached out his arms toward her then when she was down, hugged her and whispered, "Thank you, "Ma'am. I feel better, now."

"I'm going to leave the door open. If you need anything, just say so."

Jose nodded then rolled over onto his side and closed his eyes. Two minutes later, no more, he fell off into a deep sleep, feeling safe and protected.

Granger Resort
Jordan's Viewpoint

As usual, I awakened first. Luke, cuddled into my side with his head lying on my chest, barely moved when I slid out of bed and headed to the restroom to pee and shower. I was very sticky from gobs of lube and sweat as we'd made mad passionate uninterrupted love during the night. My prong, remembering those moments, wanted more and more of those delectable moments. Instead of ravaging his body one more time, I got into the shower and washed up, amongst other pleasurable activities…

Once dried, I hung up the towel, popped a small zit on the tip of my nose, washed it with a special soap that John had recommended and then took off to the canteen to see if there were any snacks remaining.

There were a few crumbs in the cinnamon roll basket. They didn't last long. Still hungry, I grabbed an apple, sat down and ate it, tossed the core into the trash then headed for the pool for an early morning swim.

The smells of chlorine and other unidentifiable chemicals were very strong. I walked into the changing room to snag a towel for use when it was time to get out.

While grabbing a towel, I noted several closed drawers in a built-in wall cabinet. Curiously, I opened a top one to find several types of body soaps and lotions. Others had swimming suits - boardies, boxer briefs, short briefs and Speedos. The last drawer had packages of athletic supporters in varying sizes. Most, but not all, were swimmer's jocks.

When we'd stopped to buy clothes, I'd measured for a 26 inch waist. According to the conversion chart, a size 10 jock would fit so I tore open the package and put it up and over my knees and hips only to find that the pouch was baggy and offered no support whatever.

A size 8 pouch fit perfectly, although the leg straps were a bit tight. My next thought was that Luke would look absolutely sexy wearing such a thing. Not wanting to wear the dang thing, I stripped it off, wrapped it in the towel then took them into the pool area, laid them on a pool table then took a flying leap into the deep end and swam to the bottom to touch the drain and headed up to the surface.

I looked to the high diving board. It was daunting. With the ocean always nearby, I'd never had the occasion to use a diving board. I recalled the conversation with mom. I realized that while we got onto each other's last nerves, things weren't so bad. Yeah, they were difficult, but we'd had good times, too… back before she got heavily into the drug and alcohol scene. Though we were never the Leave it to Beaver family, far from it, there was something about it – maybe it was the ocean that I'd been attracted to… which, somewhat, mitigated the other crap.

I felt a gas bubble in my stomach. I grinned. I pushed down, farted a big one and watched the bubbles rise up through my crotch and dissipate into the air. I know, it's juvenile, but… there are things that are just funny. Sue me. As John had said all along, and what Dale was impressing upon me and Luke – we're kids. We should be having fun and enjoying life as much as possible.

I must admit that every day I'm feeling more and more like a kid, whatever that may be. In any event, not having the world on my shoulders feels pretty damned good.

I have much to be grateful for. And, I realized how easy it is to take things for granted.

Never ever in a million years did I expect to have a huge family to love, respect me and to feel a part of… and to simply give of myself.

And never ever did I dream that my Luke would come along in my life. As challenging as the situation had been, what with his father abandoning him and my mother – Luke was always a constant. He was just always there. He never ran away, even when I used to beat on his back from my anger and frustration. He'd just hold me. I thought his doing that was weird. As much as I had hated mom, I was falling into her footsteps by taking out my bad feelings on the person I was growing to love more and more each and every day.

Being gay is not something I wanted to be. I was afraid of it. Since Luke and I became close, really close, I've come to realize and accept that love is love. And, yes, I am damn sure attracted to his body. Every time he makes love to me it just keeps getting better and better.

My trip down memory lane was interrupted by someone entering the door to the pool area. I looked up to find Lawrence entering, naked as the day he was born. He sure has a nice body. But not as nice as Luke's. With Luke's I can ravish him until we're spent utterly and completely, like early this morning. Better yet - we weren't interrupted!

"Hey!" I called.

"Hey yourself." Lawrence responded as he dove into the water and swam like an eel and came up right in front of me. He asked, "Whatcha doing?"

"Oh just waiting here for you to come. Seriously, though, I was just thinking about how good everything is getting. I'm grateful."

Lawrence nodded his understanding and approval. "Yeah, life is good. Bro, we've come a long way."

"You got that right. Hey, I need to ask you a question."

He looked into my eyes and nodded.

I turned toward the diving boards, pointed to the high one and asked, "Do you ever get afraid… you know… on the diving board?"

"Sometimes. Usually when I'm already nervous about something else. Not too often. I've gotten used to it."

"Uhmm, do you miss… I mean… sorry. I don't mean to bring up the past."

"No. No, I do not miss the competitions. They were all for my father. I was trying to get his approval and shit. You know."

I nodded in understanding. I was about to apologize for bringing his past back to the present, but his smile told me an apology was not necessary. "Yup, but we're here, now. I'm really glad that you're with us. And, thank you, again, for saving our lives. That's brave shit, Bro."

He contemplated for a moment before responding, "Then why don't I feel brave?"

"Because they tried to fuck you up. Yeah, they fucked our bodies and played with our brains until we submitted – cuz we didn't have a choice. The thing is we're alive and pretty much still intact."

"Thanks. I haven't looked at it that way. You're pretty damn smart, you know."

"Well… my middle name is Alec, as in Smart Alec Miller - that's me!"

Lawrence giggled, "True that!"

"Hey now, you're not supposed to agree with me. Just for that…" I grabbed him under his arms and started to dunk him, but he had the last laugh. Oh yeah, he's better in the water than I'll ever think of being.

Despite his being the water's Supreme Being, he made sure that I was okay, and I was just fine.

I looked at the low board. I guess that he saw that I might be interested. He said, "Come on, I'll show you how to dive from the board. It's not difficult."

"I guess." I replied, reservedly, while looking at the low diving board with skepticism.

He smiled. "Come on. Watch me then I'll help you along. When I first started swimming, I felt as you do now. Once you do it more often, you'll get used to it and it will be no big deal."

We pushed off the side and swam to the ladder on the opposite side of the pool. Instead of using the ladder, he used his arms to lift his body from the water. I decided to try the same method. It worked!

We walked to the ramp with stairs that lead up to the platform. When I hesitated at climbing those stairs, he took my hand in his. This calmed my fears.

Once up there, he urged me onto the board and we walked out to the edge. I felt as though we were on a gangplank. You know, being led to the jump of death. He saw that I was a bit shaky in the knees so he put his hands on my shoulders. I felt more assured that I wasn't going to necessarily - die.

"You can do it. Go ahead. If you get into trouble… I'm right here watching you."

I nodded. He removed his hands from my shoulders. I looked down, took in a deep breath then took the plunge. RAD! When I surfaced, he was clapping his hands and smiling.

Stoked, I repeated two more times before he said, "Watch this! Stand back."

With that said, he ran the length of the board then dove in a wide arch and sliced through the water like an eel, leaving no splash behind.

Good Lord, he made it look so easy.

As soon as he swam away from the middle of the pool, now feeling confident, I ran to the end of the board, tucked my chin and went flying in, trying to dive. The result – my body caught the water and catapulted pretty much into a back flop. Momentarily, I lost my sense of place but quickly recovered and swam to the surface. He was looking at me with a big smile on his face.

The second time was worse. Although I didn't do a back flop, the front of my body hit the surface resulting in a belly flop. Damn that stung my stomach and nearly beat my balls to death. I felt hands touching me. Lawrence said, "Ouch. Those hurt. Are you okay?"

"Yup, I'm not sure I'm cut out for this."

"I should have known that you would have busted your balls… we all do it from time to time. Let's go see what kind of swimwear they have available. The nads have to be supported and protected at all times."

I nodded. We got out. I stopped at my towel, grabbed hold of the strap I'd selected then followed him into the changing area. I put it on and modeled it for him… I don't know why I did that. He smiled, approvingly. Without a care in the world he put his finger between my thigh and left nut then tested it for strength. "It's a little tight, but it's better tight than floppy."

"Yip, size 10 is too big for me."

After pointing out the drawer the jock straps are kept in, he picked out a size 10 and put it on. It fit him perfectly. He looked to my goods and said, "Always point your dick downward into the material. This will keep it from getting slapped around."

My flesh was about halfway extended, and on its way to a full-fledged extension. He shook his head in the negative, grinning. Nevertheless, my thing fit perfectly, nestled into the confines of the pouch.

We then headed for the low diving board. He dove in first and I followed his lead. Instead of flopping, my body sliced through the water.

"Good, real good." He replied when I surfaced.

We practiced several more times. Each time, with his encouragement, instruction and examples, I got pretty good, he said.

"Watch this." Lawrence said.

Once again he ran the length of the board, sprang up then tucked his body tight and did a cannonball, sending a plume of water high into the air.

Feeling more confident with what I'd done so far, I followed him and ended up doing nothing other than a back flop, landing hard, sending a plume of water up inside my butt. Wasting no time, I swam to the ladder, got up and ran to the restroom, arriving just in time – with him laughing all the way. I saw nothing funny about it!

"Very funny, NOT!" I groused.

He just laughed all the more. I gave him a well-earned one finger salute.

"No, that's for Aaron and only Aaron. Sorry." He said, casually.

I took a quick shower to wash away whatever needed washing away. We returned to the pool, grab assed for a while then he turned serious and said, "This is what I was really good at. Watch. And, yes, it makes me nervous each time."

I patted his shoulder then when he was climbing out of the pool I smacked his wet bare butt. He turned around and said, grinning, "You will pay for that."

"Like I'm scared!" I replied, laughing.

That earned me a one-fingered salute causing me to laugh even harder at the irony of it all.

I went underwater and wrestled off my jock then surfaced just as he was about to do his stuff. His expression showed anxiety. I nodded, hoping that it sent him reassurance.

He nodded and walked to the back of the board. He thought for a moment, then, poised, he walked determinedly to the end of the board and sprung away and performed a perfectly executed two and a half somersault ending up in a dive producing absolutely no splash.

After showering off the chemicals, we headed for our respective rooms. I went to bed and snuggled into my lover and confidante and fell into a deep, deep sleep.

I awakened, looked at the clock. It read 7:10AM. I was alone. Needing to pee like a race-horse, I bounded out of bed feeling well rested. On my way I saw Luke sitting naked at the kitchenette table eating an apple. I ran in, took a bite then headed to the bathroom to attend to the usual morning needs.

Returning, he looked up, smiled and took another bite. I sat down, took his free hand in mine and said, "I saw Lawrence in action. He's a hella swimmer, and he makes diving look so easy. He showed me a few things… anyway, he got me more comfortable. I even dove in a few times. I'm sure I looked like a cow."

"Well, you're a really cute cow… but I know for a fact that you are not a cow!" Luke said, raising his foot and resting it in my lap. His big and second toes grasped hold of my appendage and squeezed lightly. When it began rising he added, "Nope. You definitely are not a cow. Try stud. It fits you better."

"A queer steer at that. Do you think there are queer cows and steers?"

"Boy are you messed up in your anatomy. A steer, my dear love, is a ball-ess wonder. In other words a steer is a bull that has been castrated."

"Oh shit." I exclaimed while reaching down to my ball sack and rolled the contents gently through my fingers.

Luke laughed and spat out a bit of apple onto the table. He nearly choked. His laugh was infectious causing me to fall out of my chair from laughing so hard after realizing that my statement was absurd.

Still giggling, he headed for the shower to wash away the evidence of our extended lovemaking last night. While he showered, I got us clothes to wear, dressed and waited.

We took off for the cafeteria intent upon eating quickly as we still needed to take Dog out for her morning romp.

After eating two bowls of cereal, we took off for the kennels to take Dog out for her morning romp.

She was more than ready. Her poor eyeballs had a yellowish hue to them.

After plowing through the space between my legs, nearly bowling me over, she tore out for the door. I scanned out, wondering if Dog needed a scan as well. Whatever. She walked about 10 feet from the door, squatted and looked back at us with utter relief emanating from her eyes.

Luke and I, while waiting for her to finish her morning business, took off, walking toward the ravine to see what it looked like. We found it to be deep. It appeared to be about 50 feet deep and got deeper the further we walked along its rim. Dog joined us then she ran to the fence line approximately 250 yards north. She got deathly quiet and looked intently at something past the fence. She then tore out and ran around the resort's property. We knew what was about to happen so we started heading for her.

At the same time, she tore out in our direction. Knowing what was going to happen, we sat down on the dry crunchy grass and waited. We didn't have to wait long. Her attack, from all outward appearances, was ferocious. I have no doubt that she enjoyed bowling us over, licking our faces, and sticking her snout deeply into our crotches then repeating her antics all over again.

Once we were begging for mercy, she tore out for the fence line once again. She looked back to see if we were following her.

When we arrived, she was standing at full attention with the hair on the back of her neck sticking straight out from her body. While she didn't bark, she was whining letting us know something was very, very wrong.

Approximately one-quarter mile away was a house, barn and two outbuildings. Two smoke stacks had smoke coming from them. Nothing really appeared to be out of the ordinary, but when Dog began growling from deep within her throat, we took one more look. Several figures were coming out of an outbuilding. They were too far away to make a positive identification. Thinking they were just farmhands, despite Dog growling, we turned and headed back to the main building. When we arrived at the door, Luke shouted her name. Reluctantly she came tearing out toward us. She went inside without too much resistance.

I filled her bowl with dog food while Luke took her water bowl to refresh it. Although she didn't want to comply with going into the kennel, she reluctantly did so after I promised her a romp later in the morning. She was eating when we made our exit, closed the door to the kennels and headed for the doors to go back inside to see what the others were up to.

When we turned to go from the main corridor into the residential area, we saw Michael and Eric about to take the stairway up to the second floor. We caught up with them, shared hugs then accompanied them to their room, scanned in then went into their kitchenette where we got drinks and sat down at the table.

Michael, once the tops were popped & a slug taken, looked to Eric and said, "We did it. We finally did it."

Luke, trying very hard to maintain objectivity, piped up, "Kewl. Errmmm, what did you do?"

Michael squirmed in his seat to let me know he was a bit uncomfortable with where this conversation was headed. Beneath the table I scooted my foot to his and rested it there. Michael turned to Eric.

Eric, sensing Michael's tension, thoughtfully replied, "We took our physical, relationship to the next level, if you know what I mean."

His mate nodded approvingly and added, "Thanks for your tips. They worked."

"Good for you guys. And this morning, are you having any problems?"

Eric grinned and shook his head in the negative then turned to Michael.

"Nope, all good here, other than for being a little sore."

"Kewl. Your dad told us that if we got a bellyache after doing ‘it' then he needs to know. Something bad could be wrong." Eric nodded his understanding.

We finished off our drinks and undressed to the skin. Luke folded our clothes and put them on the sofa. Our intents were to go find something to do but we heard the piano playing, so we went downstairs to the adult commons area.

Lawrence and Aaron were busily playing the piano and singing. We walked over to them. They were so happy. While their voices were strong there was a sense of complete love in them. I didn't recognize the song they were playing and singing, they sounded really good and practiced.

Christian and Dalton were sitting on a sofa in the corner of the room. They were deep into conversation. While Luke continued to watch and listen, I walked over to them, sat down and exchanged hugs.

Dalton whispered into my ear, "Me and Christian decided to move in together."

They'd spent a lot of time together so Dalton's news wasn't surprising to me. We bumped knuckles and returned to listening to the music being played.

Stephen, Matthew, Robbie and Carl, Jared and Bradley were playing a heated game of table tennis while Melissa looked on.

I got up and walked over to Melissa. We hugged then she said, "They've been playing for a while. It sounds really good. Did you know they were talented like that?"

"Nope. Lawrence never said anything about his piano and singing abilities."

Melissa thought for a moment. She stopped smiling, thought for a moment then asked, "Do you want to talk about what bothered you yesterday?"

For a moment I didn't know what she was talking about, but then I remembered my initial reaction to seeing her bare to the skin. A hot flash caused my face to become flushed. It passed on down my spine then traveled to my neck. I shrugged my shoulders as though passing my reaction off. At the same time, I really didn't want to talk about it but her soft kind eyes told me that she was available if I wanted to bring my concerns out into the air. "I guess. It's really no big deal."

"Come on. We haven't spent very much time together. I'd like to get to know you better. You are a member of the family."

I liked that thought. Her statement and smile put another nail into feeling comfortable with the decision Luke and I had made about joining their family, "Okay. Uhm, do you want to talk now or save it till later?"

I stood up, took hold of her hand then led us to Luke while Melissa went to Bradley. I said to him, "Melissa and I are going to talk for a while. Do you mind?"

"Of course not. Go, Baby." He said then took hold of my neck and brought us together to touch our lips together. He shot his tongue into my mouth then withdrew.

"Kay. Be back in a few."

Melissa was ready to go so we went upstairs to my room after she said that their room was a 'mess'. I showed her to the kitchen then took off for the restroom, closed the door, peed and washed my hands then returned and asked, "Want something to drink?"

"Sure. A Coke's fine. Thanks."

I grabbed two then sat down at the table opposite her. After popping the tops, she asked, "So, what's up, Jordan?"

I took in a deep breath and delayed speaking for a couple of minutes to get my wits about me. "Uhmm, I'm really sorry for making you uncomfortable yesterday. I don't normally… you know… do stuff like that… I guess that I had a flashback… sorry."

She patted the back of my hand and waited for me to continue, if I chose to continue. I didn't feel any pressure. I didn't feel any pressure because the experience wasn't all that painful, but, at the same time, it was troubling.

"Uhmm, well, Luke and I were… uhmm… held in that concentration camp and forced to do things that we didn't give permission… it was all stupid and crazy. I guess I shouldn't be worrying since we're all safe, and Luke and I are doing okay despite what happened. If anything, we're closer now than we were then… you know… well… before the crap was done."

"I can tell that you guys are close. Your love for one another is quite noticeable, which is a good thing… you two are great kids. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise."

"We're that obvious?"

Melissa giggled, "No doubt. Everybody deserves to be loved. Bradley loves me so much. I only hope that he knows that I love him to all ends of Earth."

"Yeah, you two got it bad." I snickered.

Her left eyebrow turned up in true Spock fashion. "That we do. That we do."

I cleared my throat then nervously foraged on after she squeezed my hand again, "Nobody, even John and Dale, knows about this so please… uhmm… don't say anything to anyone."

She replied, "Bradley and I share everything. But, he's as tight-lipped as I am about private things. We believe in being open with one another. We learned that we have to do it this way. So far so good."

I contemplated for a moment. I realized that Luke and I had secrets from one another, including what I needed to talk to her about. I debated on going downstairs to get Luke and bring him into this conversation, but decided not to, not now.

"When we were in captivity… I don't know how else to describe where we were… they had some kind of sick ritual that was performed on us… it was right after that Patriarch or whatever-the-hell he is hurt Luke… anyway I felt a sting in my back then it was darkness until… until… until I came to… I was… uhmm… screwing a girl… I'm sorry… I guess I had a flashback when I saw you… you know… sorry."

Melissa squeezed my hand then leant across the table and kissed my forehead then sat back down, looked into my eyes and said, "When I heard your story yesterday for the first time, I wondered why anybody would do that kind of stuff to you guys… it made no sense to me then… it makes no sense to me now. Thanks for telling me your secret… I'm sure those memories are painful. But, let me tell you this – I know this for a fact – the adults are looking for that man and those people who hurt and harmed you. They need to be held accountable and punished."

"Yeah, they do. I'll never forgive that man who hurt Eric… sorry…" I said as a lump of coal in my throat threatened to choke me, remembering, in vivid detail, the sores on Eric's back from being burned.

I put my head down on the table. At the same time, I heard sniffles from across the table. I looked up to see Melissa dabbing her eyes with a Kleenex.

"If it is the last thing I ever do, I will help you find him. I'm not a violent person, but let me reassure you that Patriarch will pay dearly for what he's done. Now that you've told me what happened, I understand why you got upset yesterday. If you would like, I will wear clothes… I don't want you to keep getting the flashbacks of what happened… will this help you?"

"No, please don't change. I'll work through this. I'm just glad, and thank you, for talking with me… I feel that you understand what I cannot understand. It's just fucked up, sorry, that they try to cure kids of their sexual desires by doing that crap… I just don't understand."

"Jordan, listen to me for a moment." I nodded. She continued, "Bradley and I have sexual desires for one another. We share those desires. You and Luke are attracted to one another, right?"

"Well, yeah. Definitely."

"That's my point. So what if Luke is a boy. As long as love is the centerpiece then who cares if it is guy on guy, or girl on girl, or guy on girl… it is really none of anyone's business. Look, those people are sick beyond words. Okay, I have a secret to share with you. Promise that you'll not say anything to anyone."


She took in a deep breath and looked deeply into my soul. I put my hand on top of hers just as she'd done to me. "When Bradley was 14 years old, some of his then friends jumped him on his way back from the swimming pool. They did horrible things… he was brutally raped. Please don't ever tell him I told you…"

I shook my head in the negative and reiterated, "This is between you and me."

"Sometimes we have problems. I'm pretty sure he has flashbacks. Add to that, his mother had him talk to that idiot preacher. Basically he was blamed for what happened to him."

"Yeah, I can understand. Been there, done that. It hurts, Melissa. It was almost like nobody could understand. John… well, he helped us a lot. And, Dale… well, he's trying to understand… even though he doesn't, I feel that he's trying. In any event…"

"Jordan, have you and Luke talked about it?"

I took in a deep breath and then said, resignedly, "No, not really. He's hurting enough as it is. I don't want to put this on him."

"I think talking about it will help a whole lot. It's something serious that you both experienced… now, just talk about it. It will help you figure things out so you can move on. It'll make you stronger."

Ken, sound asleep from complete exhaustion, failed to hear tones emanating from a special ops phone sitting on the dresser approximately three feet from the bed, but Nadine heard it. Instead of waking her husband, knowing that he was completely wasted from working nonstop for nearly two days, got up and walked to the phone, picked it up, pushed a blue button and spoke into the receiver, "This is Nadine Shaw."

"Hi there, Nadine. This is Mike. How are you doing?" Mike Reynolds inquired, happily and contentedly.

"Oh, we're doing ok, considering." Nadine said, then walked into the hallway and into the kitchen where she sat down at the table.

"Is the boy settling in?"

"I don't think he's really thought about it. He was so tired. After taking a bath, he went to bed and was out like a light. I expect them to sleep in. Mike, Ken is finally sleeping. He's not woken up one time since his head hit the pillow. Something's happened to him, and it is for the good, I feel."

"That's great to hear. I won't awaken him, then. Would you leave a message for him to call me?"

"I can do that. Mike, please, no more missions for a while. This boy we have, needs him. His natural father sounds like he beat Jose to a pulp with his actions and attitudes. He needs some time to wind down. And, I think the boy will be good for Ken."

Mike fidgeted in his office chair, pondered her statement for a moment before replying, "I do have a mission on the table, however, it can be put off for a day or two. Of course, I'm sorry, I can't go into it; not at this time. Another thing, and this disclosure is not top secret – Jack and I were sworn into office just this morning."

"Oh shoot, congratulations! It's about time somebody with some sense and knows what they are doing… starts leading this country! The last four years have been a complete nightmare."

"There are many things to do in order to achieve that goal. It's not, unfortunately, going to happen overnight as much as we would like, however, understand that it has already started."

"I know, Mike. I know. So much damage has been done to our great country by someone who is charged with upholding the laws of our land via the Constitution. I feel better, now."

Just as the word 'now' exited her mouth, a roar off in the distance outside of the window, came closer and then faded away. Then a sound, such as a sonic boom, was also heard to soon follow. "Damn air boys." She exclaimed, just above a whisper. Then louder, "Mike, the planes have been flying over and around the area for the past twenty four to thirty six hours. What's going on? Can you say?"

"Some terrible things have been happening all over our country, but the coasts are pretty much bearing the brunt of Ashwood's wrath; probably for losing the election. He's acting as though the election never happened. Anyway, all of our military installations, especially the Air Force, have upped their surveillance activities to protect their bases but to also add protection for the American people. That's probably what you heard."

"Is it that bad, Mike?"

"I'm afraid so."

"Mike, take care of us. We depend upon the administration to keep us safe and out of harm's way. You already know this. Too many people are being hurt. Ok, I'll have Ken call you when he wakes up, unless you need to speak with him right now?"

"No, it can wait. Yes, have him call me, though. Thanks."

"Tell Sam Sam hi for us."

"I will gladly do that."

"Ok, Mike. Take care. And, do tell Eric and the Trinity to behave themselves."

"Fat chance of that." Mike laughed. The line clicked dead.

She walked to their bedroom door, peered inside to see Ken still sleeping. She closed the door then walked to Tomas' room. The boy was facing the wall. Upon closer inspection, he, too, was out like a light.

The next stop was Jose's room. The door was partially open so she walked inside and headed toward the boy facing away toward the window. He was very quietly and incoherently mumbling something in his native language. He didn't seem distressed. She rearranged the covers which were partially off of the bed so that they covered him. He reached up and scratched his nose, then buried his hand beneath the covers, smacked his lips a couple of times then fell into deep, deep sleep.

As she watched him, she couldn't understand why anyone would treat someone in the manner he'd been treated, nor did she understand why a parent would exact such extreme expectations on their child.

Just as she walked out into the hallway, another aircraft flew overhead, and was soon followed by two more sonic boom like sounds. A peek into their room revealed, that although Ken moved, he was still sleeping soundly.

Although unsettled, she returned to bed and was soon sound asleep, cuddled into the back of her husband of many years.



Todd Hakins, also named Dovetail, a twenty seven year old Air Force pilot, one of three CAP pilots responsible for protecting their base, Offutt, and surrounding sectors, heard over the radio. The onboard radar screen showed six incoming cruise missiles.

"Six incoming. Copy." Todd barked into the microphone. They banked sharply to the left, put his fingers on the trigger and fired toward an incoming missile at one two hundred feet. It exploded and disintegrated over a populated residential area, scattering its remnants hitherto. One large fragment fell into the roof of a house in the Council Bluffs, Iowa, a sister city of Omaha.

Anne Weber, age twenty six, also known as Catwoman, hearing Tom and Dispatches' notifications, descended to five thousand and annihilated one incoming missile, a missile that was ascending and descending a five zero nautical mile Z path. "Way to go Cat!"

Meanwhile, Rodeo, also known as Steve Weber, age twenty six, Catwoman's brother, zeroed in on the two remaining incomings. He got one but another got away. He radioed, "OFFUTT! INCOMING. I MISSED IT!"

At the same time, four additional missiles came flying directly into their paths. Dovetail, repositioning his F22A missed all targets. While Rodeo got two, Catwoman intercepted one. The renegade missile ascended to two thousand then dove into Offutt, sending a plume of black smoke into the atmosphere.

The three pilots were joined by four more F22As at which time they performed a full crisscross sweep of one hundred nautical miles in all directions. At one hundred nautical miles Catwoman flanked north while Rodeo flanked south, while Dovetail went straight ahead in an easterly direction.

"Clear." Dovetail announced.

"Clear." Catwoman and Rodeo stated.

Ground control radioed, "We have a direct hit on a supply building. Unknown casualties. Good job."

After a pause, Dispatch gave the following orders:

"Dovetail, bank zero seven zero, ascend to one seven thousand at one eight zero for eight zero nautical miles. Copy."

"Dovetail, bank zero seven zero left, ascend to one seven thousand left to one eight zero for eight zero nautical miles. Roger."

"Catwoman, bank zero seven zero right, ascend to one six thousand for eight zero nautical miles. Copy."

"Catwoman, bank zero seven zero right, ascend to seven thousand for eight zero nautical miles. Roger."

"Rodeo, one eight zero heading east, ascend to six thousand for eight zero nautical miles. Copy."

"Rodeo, one eight zero heading east, ascend to six thousand for eight zero nautical miles. Roger."

The four intercept F22As were ordered to three thousand, one eight zero straight heading with a spread of one thousand to perform a grid search.

Jared and Bradley, the only ones not eliminated from the table tennis game, were oblivious to the fact that the other boys had taken off for the pool to swim for a while.

Downstairs in the adult commons area, the adults were sitting on sofas around a large conference room table with a phone in the middle of the table. Their expressions, strained and concerned as Peter Granger and Jim Blake laid out several pieces of new and additional information about what was going on out in the world, namely that the country was in the midst of a civil war – Ashwood supporters and loyalists vs. Bryce's camp.

The melancholy was shattered to pieces when Peter announced, "As you may or may not know, Jack Bryce was inaugurated as the President of the United States earlier this morning. Mike Reynolds was sworn in as Vice President. This means that while Ashwood and his administration are no longer legally in charge, their feet are dug in very deeply and they hold a great amount of control and are making things very nasty."

The group shared their enthusiasm by clapping loudly and exclaiming their pleasure over a change in command. This seemed to, at least for a while, calm their fears and tensions of a mad man still in office, though it did little to calm their fears and concerns that our country turned to war for a solution.

Peter, when the applause settled down, continued, "Letting the children know of this latest development could very well help them to cope with their fears about being basically locked away."

John picked up, "Lawrence continues to hold himself responsible for tearing apart our lives. I must say that I am seeing a side of the boy that I am very, very, very proud of… it's like his demeanor with the other children is giving them strength and hope to continue onward, to accept their situation as it is right now. He's giving them hope. In a way I see his strength equaling and even surpassing his father's actions, but in a way quite opposite Ashwood's."

"I've seen that, too, John." Dale said. "That boy is going to go far in his lifetime."

Steven and Bea nodded in agreement.

Tony spoke up, "Yes, I see him as a leader. He already is. But, at the same time, we must remember that he is a boy. As such, it is our responsibility to support him and guide him so that his energies are expended in a way so that he does not take the world upon his shoulders."

John thought a moment before saying, "He is realizing what it means to be a boy. Although they did not see me, I observed him and Jordan interacting in the pool this morning… Lawrence was doing what he likes to do despite his feeling that his father forced him into being a swimming champion. I see him needing to help others as he did for Jordan."

Dale looked to John and nodded. "Jordan and Luke look to Lawrence as someone to trust and to support. They are now and will forever be grateful that he took it upon himself to give them safe passage. I also think and believe that he's realizing that it took all three of them to survive their ordeal out in the woods. They are very, very close. I am glad we are here. I shudder when I think of them being separated by geography. This will be a tough one to work out."

John agreed, probably more than Dale realized. He'd seen the boys holding together even in the most trying of situations. They were never too far apart. He, too, worried about a separation that was imminent at some future time. He also knew that his other birth sons had bonded with the three, as well as Eric and Dalton.

Tony, after taking a deep breath, smiled, "Peter, I hope you do not mind if I forage ahead with sharing some very good news. As is with all situations and circumstances, there is always good present in any bad situation."

"Go ahead. This will be the coup de' grace."

Tony said, "This morning, we received credible intelligence that Frederick Phillips, also known as Patriarch, was killed in a special ops mission. Peter…"

"That's right. I have an operative within Granger who was sent out on assignment. He and two other men of high caliber did indeed infiltrate the den of all horrors. Rex told me, and his information has been collaborated, that a 14 year old boy who was being heinously abused, did directly cause the man's death. I am not at liberty to share his name with you. For now we will refer to him as JS."John, with tears running down his face, said, meaningfully, "If you can get word to him, please let him know that we are forever grateful for his courage and bravery. I cannot imagine that what he did, or had to do, will have far reaching effects on him and those all around him. If there is anything we can do, then please let those people know that we are here for him."

Dale nodded, "That goes for me, too. I cannot even imagine… is he okay? Was he hurt?"

"The only concrete information that I have about him is that he's safe. While he was injured, his injuries are not life-threatening."

"Good. That rests my heart on so many levels."

Peter continued, "Yes. My heart rests, too. Which brings me to another point – Kendrick and Russell Akers. We have learned their whereabouts. One of the other things that Ashwood has done or had done is the release of prisoners. These prisoners, including convicted rapists, murderers, drug dealers and other violent offenders, have been released on unauthorized pardons…"

Dale, his eyebrows arched wide and high, asked, "What about Kendrick and Russell's whereabouts? Do you know where they are?"

"I made contact, as I said I would, with the wardens of both penal institutions. I am afraid that I cannot offer any information about the two men – because their whereabouts and dispositions are unknown at this time. We believe they were released with Ashoods mass release of all Federal prisoners. Understand that people in high places are looking for them.

Dale said, "If there is anything that I can do to bring them home, then do let me know. I will do everything in my power to set that boy's heart to ease."

"That is assumed. We'll be in contact with you, Dale. Speaking of, how are the boys adapting to their situation and circumstances?"

"They seem to be doing well. There is one question that I have that needs an answer: we'd like to get the kids outside as much as possible so that they can let off steam. Is this a security concern?"

"Jim." Peter said.

"So long as the children stay on the property, I have no real concerns for their safety. We have every single square inch of the resort under surveillance. The missiles that struck Tulsa and Wichita, at this point in time, were isolated. Let me assure you that two military bases, close by to your location, are performing moment by moment scans, and that should there be any further ordinance – the safety and security of your location is one of their top priorities."

Startled and concerned expressions on everyone's faces told of the gravity the latest news brought to them. Hearing Jim's reassuring words kept them from saying anything, though, at least at this time.

John, when he regained control of his emotions, asked, "How much of this information can we share with the children?"

Peter responded, "I believe it would be safe to share all of the information except for the bombings. In regards to them, it would be safe to share with the children that the Resort is well protected… otherwise, I'd just leave it alone."

Dale asked, "Would it be safe to let Robbie know that his parents are being looked for and that there is a priority about it?"

"Yes. Perfect. He needs to know that their whereabouts are being determined as we speak. How that is happening and what is being done is secret."

All of the adults' heads in the commons area nodded their agreements. John said, "We understand. That's fine. What do you say about us getting together on a daily basis, or more often as events unfold? We need to be kept in the loop."

Peter replied, "Absolutely. Jim, is that an issue?"

"Nope. How about 7PM, your time, each evening?"

"That'll work." Peter replied.

Peter terminated the call.

John's eyes opened widely and his mouth drew up in a hearty grin. Everyone looked toward him and grinned as well. John said, "Guys, today is Dalton's birthday."

Dale's eyes lit up. "Then we'd better get busy."

Mister Masters quickly replied, "Please, allow me to make the arrangements. It's the least we can do."

John nodded his approval and understanding.

Seth extracted his fully extended rod of pleasure from Wayne's swollen and inflamed anal canal after yet another plunge into physical release. Once again, Wayne ran to the restroom to blast away remnants of their physical coupling. The chocolate skinned youth then got into the shower and held himself up using his arms to steady his gait against the clear glass shower enclosure.

He thought to himself, that maybe, just maybe he was loved as Joey had loved him. At the same time, he was not sure how much more of the physical violence he could take for this was over the top of what he'd ever experienced in his lifetime.

Seth, meanwhile, recovering from yet once again propelling his seed into Wayne who he was attracted to beyond all beliefs, turned himself onto his side, reached deep into the dresser drawer and pulled out a small cellophane container of white crystalline powder and glass tube. He sat up, filled the tube with the white powder, poised it to his nose and sniffed very hard by taking in a sharp intake of air into his lungs.

Adam, wondering where the boys were, after the meeting took off for their room to check on them.

The last time he'd checked on them, about an hour ago, he looked into their room to find them copulating, ranting and raving about wanting, demanding more and more and more until Wayne, with is stick firmly and frantically embedded and slamming into Tony's son's willing and able love canal, screamed his release. After picking up a small shiny black object from their bedside table, Adam quietly stole out of their room and headed for his own room, and, upon arrival, quickly walked to his laptop, connected both ends of a USB cable and began a data upload from the small object to the big object.

The transfer did not go unnoticed.

John and Dale walked to the swimming pool, went through the changing area to put on swimsuits thinking that their nakedness would be a detraction from their parental duties then took a shower. John, upon Dale's request, checked the man's bullet entry and exit wounds. They were healing nicely without any sign of infection.

In the meantime, Bradley, Jared, Lawrence and Aaron, Michael and Eric, Dalton and Christian, Matthew and Stephen went to the pool and started playing around. Lawrence and Bradley showed Matthew how to be out in the water without being too afraid. Matthew took to Lawrence's ministrations with ease and comfort. His big brother gave the little one encouragement and made sure he was touching him at all times… just to let him know that he was there.

The two adults entered the water and dog-paddled to the boys and perched on a ledge so that they could see all of the kids doing their things. They wanted the kids to expend some energy, have some fun and continue to get to know one another on a much deeper level.

Jeremy and Rachel joined Dale and John. Dale said to them, "We're going to have a family meeting here in a little bit. One of the good news pieces is that the man responsible for their abuse is dead. He was killed yesterday."

Robbie and Carl, walking through the corridor heading for the pool noticed a man, Adam, standing at the doorway to the changing room. As they approached, the man turned toward them. He had, in his hands, an object that looked like a digital camera. He snapped off a couple of pictures then stood aside as the two boys entered the room and headed for the shower area.

Robbie, very quietly said, "That's weird."

Carl piped up, "When we stayed at the hotel in Hawaii, one of the rules was that pictures could not be taken unless everyone in it gave their permission. I think they had to sign something, but I'm not sure. I'll talk to Dad about it."

The two boys continued then finished washing and rinsing then headed to the pool. They dove in first and swam to and joined the other boys playing and splashing.

Dale said, "How about we give them another half hour or so?"

The adults agreed.

Carlin with his eyes burning from being splashed from the chemicals left the group and started swimming toward Jeremy, Rachel and Dale standing on the ledge watching them play and swim. He gestured for his grandpa to lean down then said after he could speak privately, "Grandpa… aren't, I mean isn't there a rule that says a person taking pictures has to get permission?"

"That there is. Why do you ask?" Dale asked, listening carefully.

"When Robbie and I were coming here, that man, Adam, looked like he was taking pictures into the changing room."

Dale frowned and said, "I'll look into it. Thanks for telling me. We're going to have a family meeting here in a bit. Go ahead and have fun. I'll take care of the problem, okay?"

"Okay, thank you Grandpa." Carlin said then swam back into the melee and began participating once again.

With the shower jet relaxing his muscles, Wayne relaxed and recovered from the strenuous ordeals of being Seth's sex object. He was not used to the violence, yet, at the same time, enjoyed it to an extent.

In the bedroom, Seth prepared for and partook of another line of cocaine.

Five minutes later, feeling the full effects of getting high, he grimaced, dropped the razor blade to the floor, and fell forward, hit his head on the bedside table on his way down, then lay unmoving, other than for slight muscle twitches.

When the boys quieted down, John, Jeremy and Dale swam out to them and said that there was soon going to be a family meeting, to shower then meet in the adult commons area in 30 minutes.

Jordan and Melissa, walking down the corridor leading to the pool observed a man standing in the doorway leading into the pool area. He was intently busy. As they came closer, they heard snaps of what appeared to be a camera. Bradley, upon arrival, asked Adam, "What are you doing?"

"I'm just taking some pictures of the kids having fun. They are going to be used for a scrapbook of our adventures here in the Ozarks."

"Well, I think you need permissions." Melissa said, knowingly.

Adam countered, "I will get them. Of course, each child and adult will be offered the opportunity to accept or reject any picture. It's the law."

Jordan covered his genitals as he and Melissa passed into the changing room. He went left while she went right into the women's facility.

While taking his shower, the boys entered and told him that there was going to be a family meeting in a few minutes. Jordan got busy washing his boyfriend and forgot about the incident out in the corridor.

Carlin finished first, then dripping wet, went to Dale in the designated adult shower area. John and Jeremy were just finishing their rituals when the boy appeared. Jeremy asked, "What's up?"

"Oh, I just wanted to spend some time with you guys. Can I?"

"That's no problem. In fact, we're going to have a family meeting here in a little bit. Your mother and I've decided that we, as a family, will be having dinner alone each evening. Of course, Robbie is one of us.""Kewl. Is Grandpa going to be with us?"

Dale replied, "Not exactly. It's important for us to remember that we have families. You and Robbie will be with your mother and dad. I'll be with Christian, Jordan and Luke. Melissa and Bradley will be alone."Oh, okay."

Jeremy and John finished, then they took off leaving Dale and Carlin alone. The boy asked, "Grandpa, what about Skip? Where is he?"

Of all the things he was thinking of, Carlin's question caught him off-guard. He remembered leaving the dog at the vet's office, then felt ashamed that they'd not thought enough to pick up their aging pet and bring him along with them on their trip. He replied, "I'm sure he's okay."

"Yeah, probably. I miss him, though. I just can't help to think that their dog would get along good with Skip. You know, like they could become friends or something."

"That's true. I think, though, for right now, Skip is going to be just fine. When we go back home, he'll be the first stop. I'm sure he misses us just as much as we miss him, don't you think?"

"Yup. Grandpa?" Carlin asked, wringing his hands as though he was pushing water out of a washcloth.

"What's up, Little One? Don't be afraid of talking to me." The man said while pulling Carlin into his side and squeezing firmly, knowing what the boy was probably afraid of telling him, but he remained quiet until Carlin felt safe enough to speak.

"You're really okay with gay people, right?"

"I sure am. You already know it, though. Remember our talk on the beach down in Hawaii, when I said I'd love you no matter what."

"Yeah, I remember. I just wanted to make sure. We, Robbie and I, we have a problem. We don't know what to do."

Dale took in a deep breath then said, "I think I know what the problem is. Your mom, dad and I talked a little bit while we were out swimming. Why don't you tell me what's up so that I know everything about the situation?"

"Then you know that Christian was with us?"

"Yup. I sure do. And…?"

"Christian just helped us, Grandpa. We couldn't get it right. He just showed us a couple of things so that we, I mean Carlin and me could do it."


"Yeah, he showed us how to relax and stuff."

"Well, that's a good thing. I don't want you boys getting hurt, so if he helped you to relax and stuff… it's all good, Carlin. Don't worry. You're not in trouble. Nor is Christian."

"We didn't hurt each other. And we all said ‘yes'."

"That's what I was about to ask – there's only two rules, do you remember exactly what they are?"

"Don't intentionally hurt one another. The second – yes means yes; no means no. We're cool with it. Nobody got hurt. Besides we'd never hurt Christian… he just showed us how to relax. That's all."

"Okay, sex is a very beautiful way to share our deepest feelings for someone we love and cherish… did both you AND Robbie help Christian along so that he would feel okay?"

"Sort of. Maybe we did kind of… well… Christian didn't want us to do anything to him… but he did let me… uhmm… Robbie touched Christian's private place… I guess I gave him… geez… I sucked him until he felt – good."

"And, in the end, was he was okay with you and Robbie thanking him?"

"Yeah, definitely. He wasn't mad at us or anything. He did say that Robbie's and my love was between us, not between us and him."

"Do you want me to talk to Christian? Of course, whatever we talk about is between him and me."

"Maybe. I think he's okay, but, yeah, I think you should."

"We're going to have a family meeting. There's some news to pass along. How about you getting dressed then we'll meet in the first floor commons area. Later, I'll talk to Christian."

"Yup. Okay, I'll see you in a little while. Thanks." Carlin said then kissed Dale's temple and tore out but fell on his butt earning a "Don't run in the shower room or pool area… you'll fall and bust your head wide open."

Sheepishly the boy nodded then took off on a fast walk. Dale shook his head and smiled to let Carlin know that he wasn't in trouble. As soon as the boy was out of sight, the man frowned at knowing that the boys were being subjected to something that required parental permission, but wasn't requested.

Dale wrapped a towel around his midsection then took off for his suite to get dressed for the family meeting outside. As he strode through the hallway, Adam's door opened. Adam stepped out.

Dale's temper began rising at seeing the man. Without delay, he said, "Adam, I understand that you are photographing the boys, is this true?"

"Yes. I am taking pictures to put into a scrapbook. One day this adventure will come to an end. I thought it would be nice to have a history of where we've been, what we've done, and everyone's reactions. It is completely harmless."

Dale sized the man up. Seeing that there was sincerity in Adam's voice, he replied, emphasizing what was really troubling him, "That's all fine and good. I have one concern. That is: you have not received, nor do you now have, nor will you get permission to photograph my boys in any other dress state than fully clothed. Do you completely understand what I am saying? There is to be no room for misinterpretation."

Adam contemplated but for a few seconds before replying, "I understand."

"Good. I do not want to have to discuss this anymore." Dale reiterated then headed for his suite to dress for the family meeting, leaving Adam with a concerned expression.

Everyone met in the adult commons area. It was decided that because Robbie, Carlin, Jeremy, and Rachel were not directly involved, they would hold back and find something to do.

Dale decided to take Luke, Jordan and Christian outside. There were picnic tables to sit down upon.

Before they could go outside, Mister Masters and two ladies wearing white aprons pushing along a four wheel cart covered with linen cloths approached the group.

John clinked his coffee cup with a spoon to get everyone's attention. They looked to John then to the procession. John motioned for everyone to please be seated. Before Dalton could sit down, John motioned for the boy to come to him. Dalton, with a bewildered expression on his face, did so without question or delay.

John leant down to Dalton's ear and whispered, "Happy Birthday, Son. Congratulations." The man then kissed his new son's cheek then continued, "Hey everybody, we have a birthday boy. Dalton turned 15 years old today."

Hoots and hollers bombarded the teenager.

Aaron intently regarded the boy with whom he had escaped, marveling that Dalton was actually older than him, yet looked younger. Feeling a special kinship with Dalton, Aaron made his way over and whispered in Dalton's ear, "Happy birthday; I'm so happy for you. We've come a long way, huh?"

Dalton nodded, attempting to stop the tears from forming in his eyes. Unable to do so, he gave in, tilted his head up to look into Aaron's eyes. Aaron kissed Dalton's cheek then pulled Dalton up and began dancing with him in time with the music his boyfriend was playing on the piano.

Then everyone took their turns dancing with their brother and friend. John pulled him into his arms and held him firmly. He was clearly overwhelmed with gratitude and love at the outpouring of love and support.

On their way out, the boys went to the kennels, let Dog loose, then they took off outside with her. As was usually the case, Dog tore out across the field and squatted to do her thing. When she was done, she ran to the outer perimeter of the property and honed in her sights to the farm house far away.

As John and his boys were exiting and Jordan, Luke and Christian were busy chasing or being chased by Dog, the men met and decided to include both families into the discussion of Patriarch's death.

Dog stood steadfast at the corner of the Resort's property line after John and Dale called the boys to them. Once inside John's motorhome and everyone was comfortably seated, Dale announced, "Okay, here's the deal. We have some very important news to share with you. It's going to put some closure on some issues. Also, we have hope for the future. John."

Matthew shifted to Jared's other knee and received a pat on his back.

"Frederick Phillips. Also incorrectly titled 'Patriarch' is dead. He was killed yesterday."

Silence. Complete silence.

Christian broke the pregnant silence, "Sir, can we have a few moments to ourselves?"

"Yes. We'll be right outside. Take as long as you need." Dale said then he and John exited. They headed for the ravine to check it out for themselves. Dog, sleeping at the far end of the property next to the fence, caught up to them and quietly followed.

John said, "They didn't react like I thought they would."

Dale offered, "No, they didn't. But at the same time I'm not sure how they should have reacted. There's magic in those kids, though. Maybe now they'll open up. Perhaps they're just in shock. They may not know what they're feeling."

"Oh I know that Luke and Jordan, especially Jordan, have so much deep down inside of their young minds." John said introspectively.

Luke, seven minutes after being told that one of the most evil man on Earth was dead, took hold of Jordan's hand and said, "Guys, I'm not sure what to think. I really don't. Many of you were hurt a lot worse than me."

Jordan shrugged his shoulders and nodded, "I don't either." He got up and walked to the back of the motorhome, entered the restroom and closed the door behind him. He walked to the toilet and emptied his bladder then returned and sat down next to Luke.

Stephen said, "Father Mott would know what to do. We could call him, right Jared?"

Jared's eyes opened wide and said, "That's a very good idea, Bro. Guys?"

Everybody agreed. Stephen and Matthew jumped up then walked to the console, picked up John's phone and took it to Lawrence who held out his hand. Lawrence entered the passcode to connect with Jim Blake. It was answered on the sixth ring, "David Blake. Hi John. What can we do for you?"

"David, this is Lawrence Ashwood. Look, we just learned that Frederick Phillips was killed. We're having a bit of a … I'm not sure… we thought that it would help us if we could talk to Father Mott."

"Sure thing. Do you have his number?"

"No. He's a priest. Our last contact was at Breckenridge Hospital where Dad works, or worked."

David took in a deep breath, swallowed hard then replied, "Just a minute. Let me check it out."

How do you tell someone that the Hospital Lawrence mentioned is no longer on the map?

David got up and walked to the patio where Mom and Dad were sitting watching the guys playing a water game of a modified basketball. Dad looked up and gestured for David to come to him, "Ready for a break, Son?"

"Not really. Dad, uhmm, Lawrence is on the phone. They just learned that Phillips was killed yesterday. They want to talk to Father Mott, a priest at Breckenridge Hospital. Uhmm, I think you should talk to Lawrence."

Jim's eyes narrowed to mere slits. He swallowed deeply, nodded and replied, "Okay, I'll handle it. It's time for you to take a break."

David reluctantly nodded then sat down next to Mom. Jim got up and took off for his office, thinking of a way to tell Lawrence the hospital was no longer in existence and that, to his knowledge there were no known survivors. He sat down at his desk, picked up the phone and said, "Lawrence, this is Jim Blake."

"Oh hi, Jim. We were wondering if you could connect us with Father Mott at Breckenridge Hospital in Breckenridge, Texas. Can you do this for me?"

"I will try. Is John around? I'd like to speak with him first."

"Sure, he's outside. Let me get him. Just a moment."

Lawrence walked to the door and said, "Jim wants to talk with John then he's going to connect us." He walked outside and looked all around. He saw John and Dale sitting at a picnic table close to the ravine. He headed that way. He said, upon arrival, "John, Jim Blake wants to speak with you. Uhmm, we want to talk with Father Mott. We're not sure what to think and thought that he might be able to help us."

"That's a very good idea." John replied. Dale nodded though he didn't know the person. Lawrence handed John the phone. "Hi Jim. This is John Finnegan."

Jim said, "Hi John. I talked to Lawrence a few minutes ago and overheard him tell you what the boys want to do." Jim took in a deep breath. Exhaling he continued, "I will need to know if Father Mott has a phone number separate from the hospital. The reason I ask… oh, this is hard… Breckenridge Hospital was completely destroyed in the attack. There are no known survivors."

John braced himself as his body was about to shudder. Chills ran up and down his spine. The hairs on the back of his arms arose. He swallowed hard then looked deeply into Lawrence's eyes. "I do not know of any other number. I only know that he was semi-retired and working part time at the hospital as their chaplain."

"Do you know if he was living off the property?"

"No. The hospital gave him a room to sleep and live in. I don't know of any other arrangement."

"I'm sorry, John."

"Yeah, me, too. Is there any other information you can give me?"

"Yes. From all indications, I'm sorry to say, most of the town was destroyed. There is but little left standing. There is an abandoned Walmart on the south edge of the city that was untouched. This appears to be a refugee camp for those who survived. Likely, these people are from peripheral areas, not close to the epicenter."

John's expression registered shock and sadness. He and Dale stood then, sadly, John said, "Thanks, Jim. We'll be in contact." Click.

Jim looked at his phone as though it was going to bring Breckenridge back into being and all of the lost lives back to living. With a heavy heart, the man returned to the pool. The kids were having a blast. His baby daughter crawled onto his lap and nestled her head into his neck and kissed his cheek.

"What's wrong?" Lawrence asked as John put his arm around the boy's shoulders and led them to the motorhome. Dale walked with them, side by side.

"Son, I don't know how I'm going to say this other than to simply pass on the information I was given. As you know from the news reports, Breckenridge was attacked. The hospital was destroyed. There are no known survivors."

Lawrence took in a deep breath. His eyes narrowed to slits. His chest tightened as did his throat. He felt as though he was about to strangle on his own tongue. "Dad, and yes you are officially my dad at this very moment, I need to determine if President Ashwood honored my demands for release of the children and wrongly incarcerated prisoners. If he hasn't then the 8 hour timespan has passed. I am prepared to go to the press. Our country needs to know his true nature and what he's capable of."

Dale piped up, "Lawrence, this morning we received official word that Jack Bryce has been inaugurated into the President of the United States position. Your father is no longer in office."

Lawrence nodded, "It's about time this country came together. If anyone can do it, then Bryce will do it. Tony told me not to go to the press. Sir, I must proceed as my words to my father are no longer a threat. Instead, they are a promise. It is something I must do."

"We have no proof that he was behind Breckenridge's attack and destruction."

"My father is a stupid man. As I have told you more than once, he will stop at nothing to get what he wants; absolutely nothing. He is behind the catastrophe."

The trio followed Lawrence to the motorhome, entered and stood before the boys. Lawrence sat down next to Aaron. They joined hands and waited for the adults to speak.

Dale turned to John and nodded.

John said to the group of boys looking to him for information. All of them noted John's changed demeanor. After a few moments to gather his thoughts, the man said, "Father Mott is unavailable. He has passed away. I'm sorry."

Jared's eyes filled with tears and with nowhere else to go they rolled down his cheeks and landed in Matthew's hair.

Michael choked back a sob, then unable to hold in his emotions, broke down and cried. Eric reached for and pulled his love into his arms. Tears fell from his eyes over seeing and feeling Michael's unbridled pain.

Stephen walked to John, wrapped his arms around his dad and cried very hard.

Matthew joined Stephen and his dad. John's eyes, too, were watering. He and Father had so much history between them – births, baptisms, deaths, confidential shared information, laughs and tears; the whole gamut known to and experienced by human beings.

Jordan's eyes filled with tears, too. For the very first time, he had learned to trust a religious person. The man had helped him so much with accepting who and what he is. Mostly, though, the priest had opened his eyes and heart just enough to realize that maybe there was a God who would look upon them as His children – filled with love, tolerance, patience and acceptance – despite what mortal humans thought and how they acted.

Luke, seeing Jordan breaking down in yet more pain, pulled his love into his arms and held on firmly.

Dalton's eyes filled with tears, as well. Though he had no recollection of actually meeting the man that had died, he saw and felt the sadness emanating from his new brothers.

Dale, meanwhile, patted John's back then made his way out of the motor home. He walked to the building, scanned in and headed toward the administrative offices, intent upon speaking with Tony, Mister Masters and Marie.

They were located in Tony's office.

He sat down after they acknowledged his presence. Immediately their tensions increased exponentially as Dale filled them in on the latest news. He also shared Lawrence's desire to proceed on to the next level.

Tony, still, had reservations and voiced his concerns about the possibility of backfiring in their faces, especially now that Ashwood was no longer in office.

Wayne turned off the water, grabbed the last towel from the linen closet and used it to dry off, taking care to not brush his swollen, bruised, raw and sore anal opening.

He was almost afraid of entering the main room for fear of yet another copulation by the madman he was massively attracted to. Stealing a shot of courage, Wayne did step into the room but there was no Seth in it, nor was he in the kitchenette.

Now more curious than anything, sensing danger, Wayne walked into their bedroom. Seth was lying flat on the floor with his head hidden between the wall and bedside table. He wasn't moving and didn't respond when Wayne called his name.

Wayne's eyes then rocketed to their pillow at the top of the bed. There he saw an object used to snort cocaine into the nose. He knew it all too well.

Quickly, he stepped over blankets long ago tossed off the bed during one or more of their forages into violent sex. Seth did not respond to Wayne's demands to wake up. Sensing that something was terribly wrong, he reached for and grabbed Seth's arm then yanked his sex partner to a sitting position. It was then that Wayne saw the white powder scattered about Seth's nose and mouth.

He grabbed Seth's body and manhandled it into the bathroom, arranged it so that it sat up in the shower against the glass walls then turned on ice cold water to hopefully bring the dude to consciousness.

When Seth hadn't moved after a moment or two, Wayne jerked his sex mate onto the cold tiled floor and began haphazardly performing chest compressions and artificial respirations.

Thinking rapidly, Wayne's mind recalled seeing Adam showing him the red button next to the door, but high enough so that it was not accidentally pressed. He ran to the door, pressed the button repeatedly then returned to continue CPR.

He heard heavy running footsteps coming down the hall until they stopped just outside of the door to the room. He got up, ran to open it, but several security staff entered. Wayne pointed to the bathroom. One of the men got on his handheld device to request urgent medical response.

Bea heard the call and room number. She got up and ran to the second floor, saw the security staff congregated down the hall. Upon arrival, she announced that she was an RN and to let her in.

As soon as she entered and saw the boy lying flat and still on the floor, with his eyes staring straight ahead and his bluish tinged skin, she knew he was deceased, but she checked for a pulse and observed for respiration. There was none. The child was dead, and had been this way for some time.

EMS arrived four minutes later. Bea told them it was too late and that she would get a doctor to officially declare Seth's death. She then took off for the motorhome to summons Doctor Finnegan, the only physician on-site.

Wayne, distraught, ran to Adam's room and beat on the door and then fell into Adam's arms as soon as the door opened. Adam, not knowing why the child was torn up, could barely hear through Wayne's sobs that Seth was… dead. That can't be so, Adam screamed into his head.

Not wasting one precious second, Adam half-dragged Wayne upstairs to his room. He saw the security and EMS staff gathered around Wayne's door. Bea exited the room then when she saw Adam and Wayne, she walked to them and asked, "Where's Tony?"

"I believe he's in the admin office. Let's go." Adam said, resolutely. On their way, he asked for confirmation, "Wayne says that Seth is dead?"

"I'm sorry. Yes, he is." Bea confirmed, sadly.

Adam's world started crashing down. His best friend, perhaps his only friend in the world had just lost his son, but how, why, when – the questions continuously and constantly barraged within his skull where his befuddled brain resided. How do you tell your best friend that his son has passed away?

When the emergency was announced, John took off for the motorhome to be with his children. Dale took off for the second floor commons area. The children were not there. Neither was Steve. His next stop was the gym, bowling alley and pool areas. He found them in the pool goofing around having fun. He thought the best place for him to be was there with them so he sat down. Carlin approached, flicked droplets of water against Dale's face. The man threatened Carlin's wellbeing, all in fun of course.

Adam approached Tony's office. Mister Masters and Marie were headed to the incident location. They'd taken a quicker route, away from the main corridors. Upon entering the office, Adam saw Tony wearing headphones and busily working, oblivious to Adam's entry until Adam touched his shoulder. Tony jumped, startled. Immediately, he saw Adam's eyes flowing with tears. He tore off the earphones, stood and asked, "What's wrong? Wayne? What's wrong here?"

Brokenly, Adam said, "Come with me, my friend. I'm so sorry… It's Seth. He's passed away. I'm so sorry."

"What? When? Why? What happened?" Tony asked, rapidly, while choking back a wad of phlegm. It couldn't be true. It was all lies. "This can't be." They took off for the children's residential floor. Upon arrival they saw several people, some in uniform, some not, standing in the hallway watching and waiting for new developments.

They approached the men. The door was blocked, however when Tony identified himself, he was permitted access, but Adam was not. Adam saw Wayne sitting on the floor in front of Jared and Matthew's door with his head hung low, resting on his knees.

The boy didn't even acknowledge Adam's presence until the man sat down and pulled the boy into his arms.

Bea arrived to the motorhome. Without knocking she walked up the stairs, entered and walked to John. The atmosphere was tense. Sadness was in the air. She approached John, noting that his eyes were filled with tears and that his cheeks were wet. She said, "John could you come with me. I need to speak with you, in private."

John headed up front to the driver's compartment, turned to Bea and inquired while wiping his eyes dry, "I'm sorry. A good friend… we learned that he recently passed away."

"I'm sorry, John. I really do not want to share this with you… but… Seth, Tony's son was found dead in his room a few minutes ago. From all indications he appears to have died from a cocaine overdose."

"Shit. Okay, I'll be right there."

Bea exited and waited at the door. John went into the main cabin and said, "Boys, I need to attend to a medical emergency. How about taking Dog outside for a romp? I don't think it will take very long."

John exited then he and Bea headed inside. After scanning in, they took off for Wayne's room where they found a security detail blocking the door. The men stepped aside and permitted passage into the secured room.

Tony, inconsolable, was sitting at the kitchenette table with his head bent forward. Adam and Wayne were sitting at the table with him.

John seeing a youth lying on the floor next to the shower enclosure. It was obvious to John that the youth was deceased but had to make an official declaration so he knelt down and checked for vital signs – there were none. His pupils were dilated and fixed, and responded to no stimuli.

John certified death at 12:20PM on Friday, November 9, 2012.

The physician asked all of the security staff to please leave the room so that Tony could officially be notified of his son's death. Once they were out of the room and the door was closed, John and Bea approached Tony.

Tony was given, although he didn't need verification, official notification that his son was indeed deceased and that the medical examiner would have to be notified since his son died from suspicious circumstances.

John, having served as a Texas county coroner, performed a preliminary investigation. He found a large amount of bagged cocaine, tourniquets, needles and alcohol wipes in Seth's backpack, drug paraphernalia used to snort Cocaine lying on the floor and the prescriptions he'd prescribed when Tony had called in the previous day, prior to their journey to Peter's Ozark Resort to be with them due to very real concerns about their safety.

John closed the bedroom door. He approached a security man to have him protect the scene in the event of a coroner's investigation. John approached Tony, Adam and Wayne, sitting at the kitchenette table. He leant down and whispered into Tony's ear, "I need to speak with you, privately."

Tony nodded then got up, took hold of John's elbow and led them to a corner in the main living area. "My boy came asking me for help."

"Addiction is very powerful, my friend. You did all you could. I know it sounds trite, but please do not blame yourself. Kids made decisions that put them into harm's way all of the time. They think they're bulletproof. Sometimes they don't think. Sometimes their decisions are made without adequate experience. Then there is the fact that their brains aren't fully matured until their early to middle twenties."

"When you add immaturity and addiction together, well, it can be a lethal combination. An autopsy is mandatory in this situation. Although my son is deceased and nothing will change this fact, I'd like to know exactly what took him out at such a young age."

"Yes. My next stop is to contact the county coroner for further instructions as each locality is a bit different."

"I need to call my ex-wife and daughter. My parents need to know, too."

"I'll take care of the administrative team. And, I'll let the kids know, as well."

Tony choked then pulled himself back, "I doubt that anybody will remember him. He and Wayne… hibernated here or in Seth's room. It's not too difficult to figure out what they were doing most all of the time. Excuse me."

Tony quickly exited and headed to his office in the administrative area. Mister Masters followed him. When they caught up, the administrator said, seriously, "Tony, if there is anything you need… just say so, please. I am so sorry."

"Thank you." Tony took off leaving Mister Masters standing there. Mister Masters then returned to the incident location.

John returned to the kitchenette. He asked for and received permission from Adam to speak with Wayne, privately.

A new concern came to John when Wayne stood. He said to the youth, "I'll be back in a little while. There are a couple of things I need to do before we talk."

Wayne nodded. Adam nodded.

John took Mister Masters aside so that they could speak confidentially. "Sir, I need a couple of things from you. First, this is official business - I need access to Wayne McDonald's room."

"Yes. Granted. I have a master entry card."

"Thanks. Second, I will need to speak with the county coroner to determine the next course of action. Typically, their office investigates suspicious deaths. This is a suspicious death."

"Understood. What else, Sir?"

"I have another request. Would you please post guards at both rooms. Nobody other for than myself and the investigators are permitted access."

"Fine. Anything else?"

"No. Not at this time. Thank you."

"Think nothing of it. This is just terrible. I cannot even imagine what it is like to lose a child."

"I don't think we're ever prepared." John replied,

Mister Masters approached two security guards. They followed John and their boss to Wayne's room. John asked Mister Masters to wait in the hallway.

He entered Wayne's room and took a first glance around to see what or if anything was out of order. Immediately the smell of sex was heavy in the air. The sofa, arranged in such a way so as to be visible from the front door, revealed blood splotches on 3 seat cushions. Upon closer inspection, the degradations were blood and fecal material. The secretions appeared dry.

The kitchen was a complete mess, in that pizza cardboard boxes were scattered about. Old dry pizza remains filled the kitchenette table. A portion of the counter closest to the sink had similar smears on it as well. A sock was lying in a corner next to the refrigerator.

The bathroom sink vanity had similar smears. The imprint of a pair of buttocks was present in the sink itself. It was smeared, too.

The toilet had evidence of recent use. The shower floor was wet as were the glass surrounding walls. A clump of body waste was smashed against the tile-wall juncture.

Next was the bedroom. As was Seth's room, Wayne's was in complete disarray. Blankets and sheets were torn off and scattered about. The plastic mattress pad was similarly smeared. A bottle of lubricating gel was lying dead center. It was about half empty.

He saw no drugs or drug paraphernalia lying about. There was a bottle of prescription medication. He picked it up. It had Wayne's name on it. Upon closer inspection, it was the increased dose that he'd prescribed to limit seizure activity. He put it into his pocket after seeing nothing out of the ordinary with the bottle or its contents.

A pair of baby blue briefs hung from the door corner. They appeared to be clean. He saw another pair halfway between the edge of the bed and a pillow. Their color was burgundy with a black waistband. Size 28.

He knew the room would have to be shaken in order to retrieve and analyze all pieces of evidence. One thing he knew was that at least one of the boys, if not both, had injuries to their anal canals.

Nothing else appeared out of the ordinary, pending further investigation.

When John returned to Seth's room, he was informed that Adam and Wayne had been transferred to another room so that the scene could be properly secured. By happenstance, he walked into the kitchen and noted the chair where Wayne had sat had traces of smear on it.

Curious, he walked into the bathroom where Seth's body lay. He reached down and moved Seth's leg just enough to note that his backdoor was stained with blood and other materials.

With his preliminary investigation nearly complete he exited Seth's room and went to where Wayne and Adam had been relocated. They were sitting on the sofa. The boy was sitting on a towel, nervously tweaking his fingers. They looked up then approached John as he entered and closed the door behind him.

"Wayne assures me that he didn't use any drugs. I believe him. And, there's no way he could have brought any with him. Before we left, I had checked his bag to make sure he had plenty of clean clothes to wear."

"Good. I'll have to do a drug screen blood test to make sure. It's standard procedure in these circumstances."

"Understood. Do you know what happened?"

"I'm sorry. I have nothing concrete as far as a cause of death is concerned."

Wayne offered, "I didn't do any drugs, Sir. I'm off of them. And, I don't ever want to return to what they did to me. I didn't know that Seth was doing them, or had them on him… honest I didn't."

"The way we do things is that I'll need a tube of blood from you then we'll analyze it. We'll have the results in about 15 minutes. I'm going to ask Bea to obtain the sample."


"Wayne, I need to ask you some questions. They will help me to put together pieces of a complex puzzle. Adam, do I have your permission?"

"Yes, sure, of course. Anything that I can do to help you, just let me know. Rest assured, I will be more than cooperative. Do you want me to step out?"

"That's fine. I'm going to take Wayne to my room. My doctor's bag is there. Wayne, do you mind if Bea is present with us? She's a registered nurse."

"She's nice. Sure."

John had all of the necessary permissions to proceed. They found Bea sitting with her husband, Jeremy, Rachel, Bradley, Melissa, Carl and Robbie. Dale was sitting in another area with Luke, Jordan and Christian around him.

On their way to John's room, Bea offered, "The boys know. They are okay."

Before getting started, John had Bea draw the blood then she took off for the clinic to run it through testing.

"Wayne, you're not in any trouble here. Seth's death appears to be an unfortunate accident that nobody could have predicted."

"He loved me."

"Good." John said dismissively. Wayne didn't notice.

Wayne admitted that he and Seth had engaged in a lot of sex over the past 24 hours, and that it had been rough, and brutal at times. He voluntarily showed John his backside and how bruised and swollen it was. John was not all that surprised to see its condition. It was swollen internally, as was expected. The physician quickly determined their sexual activities were legally consensual.

Bea returned just as John and Wayne were about to rejoin Adam. The drug screen test was negative for Cocaine, marijuana and a whole host of other known illicit drugs.

Wayne took off to his room, forgetting that it was a crime scene, with the intent of getting dressed to go for a long walk. He needed to get away from everything, if only for a little while. They would not let him enter, but one of the security men, taking pity on the young man, did retrieve a pair of jeans, a t-shirt, a pair of socks, his jacket and shoes.

He dressed there in the hallway then started to head toward the commons area. Michael and Eric approached. Michael went on into their room, stripped to his skin then jumped into the middle of the bed and drew the covers up and over his head. He closed his eyes and cried softly from grief at hearing of Father Mott's death. The boy soon fell into a light sleep. He didn't hear Eric and Wayne enter the room to check on him.

"Let's go get away for a while. I need to take a walk." Eric said after making sure Michael was safely tucked away.

The two boys scanned out after telling Jared of their plans. He approved then turned his attention to taking Dog out. When Dog was released, instead of running through the grounds, she tore out down the road from which they had come from upon arrival to the resort.

Forty-five minutes later, Eric and Wayne arrived at the gate to the Resort. The ravine at that point was not very deep, in fact it was quite shallow; shallow enough that for quite some distance, their eyes, especially Wayne's because he was taller, could and did see the road surface as it descended toward the buildings.

They came upon a small crest covered by a canopy of still fairly green and non-hibernated foliage. Handing down they easily saw what appeared to be a spider web. As curious boys will do, they searched all around for a spider who claimed it as her or his own. Seeing no such critter, they stood back and then tore out to tear the thing down. Eric, being smaller and more agile struck first then Wayne a nanosecond later fell into a web that they could not get out of. The worse they thrashed, the more prickly sensations they felt, until they were so tired that they could no longer resist.***

Mister Masters made his office available to John to make proper notifications.

The Coroner for the area, located in Springfield, Missouri, was dispatching a forensics team to investigate the scenes and to bring Seth's body to the morgue for autopsy.

Tony sat in his office, digesting all of his emotions and getting up the courage to call his ex-wife, Margaret.

When he composed himself enough to actually make the call, using Jim as the intercessor, he found that she did not take the news very well, as expected, but she held no bitterness toward him, for which he was grateful.

His daughter, Jenna, on the other hand took the news surprisingly well. So much so, that the tone of her voice convinced him that their relationship was strained at best. Her parting comment was a request for increased child support by $1,000.00 per month. Tony's reply, "We'll see" dismissed her request. Margaret was agreeable to Tony's dismissal, and besides, now was not the time to talk about it, so it was let go. At the same time, her request drove a stake deep into his heart.

Next, Tony decided to give James the news. At one time, James and Seth were very close, nearly inseparable. James' adoption had hurt Seth to his core for he loved James very much. James was sincerely mindful of Seth's hurt feelings. They had talked on the phone once or twice a month just to get caught up on things happening in their lives. James and his boyfriend, Rocky, had visited the lake house a few times.

Once Seth made the decision to take the path he took, communication was next to nil, although Tony and James did share phone calls every now and then.

Tony made the decision to call James. He connected with Jim Blake to make possible the secure connection with the Richardson's.

Two minutes earlier Jim made available the connection between John and the coroner in Springfield, Missouri.

On the third ring, Vera Richardson, James' adoptive mother, answered the call, "Hello."

"Hi Vera, this is Tony. How are you doing today?"

"Oh, we're doing okay. If you need James, he's out in the barn doing chores. Rocky's here if you'd like to speak with him?" Vera replied while putting the final touches on a poultice to remove an infection from a cut on Rocky's thigh. The cut, sustained while operating a brush-hog, was deep and had required stitches to properly close the wound. Despite being on antibiotics the wound became infected.


"Just a minute." She covered the receiver and hollered, "ROCKY, telephone!" To Tony, "He'll be right here."

Rocky, wearing only briefs and a long t-shirt arrived. Vera handed him the phone, saying, "Hey Tony."

"Hey bud. How are you doing?"

"Okay. We're doing alright. I'm getting over strep throat. Today is the first day I actually feel human."

"That's good to hear… not that you were sick, but that you're on the mend. Just a minute, please." Tony said then pushed the mute button as yet another wave of shock and grief threatened to completely take over. He wished Seth was only sick and on the mend. He reached across the desk, retrieved a Kleenex and used it to wipe the tears from his eyes and blow his nose.

Composed, somewhat, he unmuted the phone and said, "Sorry. Something came up. Rocky, I'm afraid that I have bad news to share."

"Oh no, what's up?" Rocky said. Vera noted that his smile faded into concern.

Once again, Tony's eyes filled with tears. His voice, distant and faint, said, "Seth died today."

"Oh. My. God. Oh. My. God. Mom, Seth died today. Let me go get James. I'll be right back. Oh. My. God. This is terrible." Rocky handed the phone to Vera, essentially his mother-in-law-to-be.

Rocky went upstairs to the room he and James shared, grabbed his boots, haphazardly put them on and then raced through the house and headed for the barn.

Vera said, "Oh Tony, I am so sorry. What can I do? This is just horrible. What happened?"

"A drug overdose is highly suspected. He's had a very rough go of it over the past few months."

Rocky arrived at the barn. His boyfriend was in the process of tossing a bale of hay over the ledge. It landed on the floor with a thud. "Hey Rock!" When James saw Rocky's face he knew that something was desperately wrong. He climbed down the steep stairs leading to and from the loft, approached Rocky and asked, "What's wrong, Babe?"

James accepted Rocky's arms. Now he was highly on full alert.

Rocky said, "Seth died today. I'm sorry. Tony's on the phone with Mom."

"I knew that something bad was going to happen. I just knew it. Rocky, I let him go. I feel so sad for Tony."

James put on his jeans jacket then the boys headed to the house. They checked their shoes to make sure no dung was attached. Seeing there was none they walked into the dining room to find Mom on the phone. Vera looked up and said, "Here he is. I'm so sorry, Tony." She handed James the phone.

"Tony, I'm so sorry to hear the news. I don't know what else to do or say."

"I understand. I've got so much going on in my head. I thought you needed to know. I know you two were, at one time, very close."

"In a way I am still close to him. I believe that people come into our lives for reasons we sometimes do not understand. Seth was one of those people. Thanks for calling. If you'll let me know when the funeral is, I'll do everything I can to be with you." Vera nodded her understanding and approval.

"Okay, I need to go. As always, I love you."

Jose, normally a light sleeper, awakened, opened his eyes and looked all around the room to see where he was and what he was doing in a strange bed. Strange in the sense of it not being his bed, nor his room.

Memories were flooding through his mind of what had happened the day before, and exactly why he was here in this strange place. He was seeing blood spurting all over himself as he slashed and slashed and slashed. He awakened and saw his arm going back and forth and side to side. He sat up then violently shook his head to wake up, then sat on the edge of the bed and willed those memories to go away. He felt very unsettled, frightened… ‘Did I really kill someone?' He silently asked himself as the picture began to subside.

Morning duties were mandatory. Knowing that he was in an unfamiliar place, the boy reached into the sweat pants to push his boner to a side so that it couldn't be seen. It stung. Then another memory of why it was sore passed quickly through his mind. With his needs great, and his organ placed properly, he slowly opened to the door and peered down the hallway. He heard voices in another room. They sounded familiar. Without further delay he exited and entered the restroom, took care of his needs then flushed the toilet, farted loudly, then took off back to the room he'd slept in intent upon getting dressed before going to where those voices were coming from.

No sooner had he started to pad to his room than Nadine approached from behind. She said, "Hey, Sleepy Head."

"Good morning, Ma'am."

"Did you sleep well?"

"Oh yes, Ma'am. I sure did. Can I ask what time it is?"

"It's about 2:30. Come on, I'll get you something to eat. You have to be hungry."

His tummy intervened when he was about ready to say that he wasn't particularly hungry. She smiled then led the boy into the kitchen where Ken, Kaydyn, a woman who he'd never met before, as well as two young children were gathered.

Kaydyn said, "Good morning. Did you sleep well?"

Nadine sat Jose down at the table then poured him a glass of grapefruit drink to get his day started on the right foot.

Jose replied to Nadine, "Thank you." He turned to Kaydyn and said, "Yes. Yes, I sure did." He then took a large swig from the glass causing his eyes to scrunch from the bittersweet taste.

Ken said, "Jose, I'd like for you to meet Shelly, Kaydyn's wife. The little ones are Joaquin and Marie. They are Kaydyn and Shelly's adopted kids. Kids, meet Jose. He's going to be staying with us for a little while."

Joaquin approached the older boy and stared into his eyes for a moment before the little one patted Jose's arm and said, "Did you meet Tomas?"

Jose's eyes showed surprise. He replied, "No. Do you have an older brother?"

"No. He's my uncle. Dad, can we go see Tomas?"

"Of course you can."

Ken got up from the table then the three of them walked out of the kitchen and down the hall. Ken, not knowing what Tomas may have been up to, looked into the room to see his adopted son sitting up in bed watching TV. He said to Tomas, "Son, we have a visitor. Would you turn off the boob tube?"

Tomas looked past Ken to see a Hispanic boy standing beside Joaquin. Jose's attention immediately shifted to the boy lying in the bed.

Joaquin took hold of Jose's hand then entered Tomas' room. The younger boy said, "His name's Jose. Jose, this is Tomas." He looked to Ken for approval to see if he did the introductions just right.

Ken patted Joaquin's back. The boy smiled then said, "I've got to pee. I'll be back." He took off. They heard the bathroom door close.

Ken said, "I'm going to leave you two to get to know one another."

Tomas gestured for Jose to sit down on the edge of his bed. Jose hesitated for a moment before taking Tomas' invitation. When he sat down, Ken returned to the kitchen and accepted another cup of coffee from his beautiful wife.

Honey, Mike called earlier. He wants to talk with you. By the way, he and Jack have been sworn into office."

Ken looked to his wife of many years and said, "That's good. Did he tell you what we need to talk about?"

"Only that a non-mission critical assignment was waiting for you. He didn't say anything about it."

Ken nodded then reached for the cup of coffee sitting in front of him, picked up and took a sip, then said, "I'll call him later. Right now, I need a few hours of down time."

"One more thing is that I heard military aircraft flying close by followed by sonic booms."

"That's not unusual. The fly boys are most likely flying training missions. I'll call command to see what they're doing in heavily civilian areas."

Nadine nodded her understanding.

Jose saw a pair of prosthetic legs standing against the wall close to Tomas' bed. He wondered what those were there for.

Tomas turned in such a way so as to provide Jose ample room to sit. Jose scooted back a bit and was surprised that he didn't sit on Tomas legs. He looked down to see there was nothing to worry about for there was no indication that he would sit on anything. He looked to Tomas.

Tomas offered, "We're going to Walmart today. Can you go with us?"

"I guess so. I didn't know we were going to go, but then again I just got up. I must have been tired."

"I heard my father come home very early this morning. Were you with him?"

"Yup. I went to bed. I was so tired."

"Where did you come from?"

"Uhmm, I live in Woodward, Oklahoma."

"Wow, that's a long way from here, isn't it?"

"Yeah, it's pretty far." Jose replied, wanting to hedge off the true reasons for why he was in Omaha instead of home in school.

They continued small talk until Nadine appeared and said, "Jose, I have lunch on the table in case you're hungry. Tomas, you're welcome to join us, or I can bring lunch to you."

Tomas looked to Jose, deciding upon what he wanted to do. Nadine continued, "Just let me know what you want to do. I'll be back in a few." She then left their view and returned to the kitchen.

"We could eat here." Tomas added.

"Uhmm, I'm not permitted to eat anywhere other than at the kitchen table. Sorry."

Tomas thought about Jose's words for a moment before asking, "Would you get my sweats? I guess I'll go."

Jose found those words to be a bit odd. Did the guy have a choice on where he was to eat? He'd not been exposed to that choice. Nevertheless, he grabbed the article of clothing from a chair close to the bed, handed them to Tomas then was surprised when Tomas pushed away the covers exposing everything below his shirt.

Jose was taken aback at seeing that the boy had experienced amputations to his legs. He looked into Tomas' eyes hoping against all hope that he hadn't invaded private space, but, then, again, Tomas had voluntarily exposed himself so he let it go.

Tomas retrieved a box of safety pins and then began using them to close the empty legs of his sweatpants. Once that was accomplished, he dropped to the floor and used his stumps to propel himself toward the door. Jose got up and waited for the boy to continue. He didn't want to step on him.

Nadine appeared. She looked down at her son. A very surprised expression appeared on her face. The boy looked up and said, "When are we going to Walmart?"

She replied, "As soon as you two eat and have your baths."

"I'm hungry." Tomas said then continued propelling himself toward the kitchen. Jose followed with Nadine's hand gently rubbing his shoulders. She noted them to be very tense and tight.

When the boys arrived in the kitchen, Ken, clearly shocked to see his son, helped the boy to get up into the chair. Nadine had prepared Tomas' meal on his tray used for when he ate in his room, and sat it down on the table in front of him. She said, "I'm really happy to see you here, Tomas."

Tomas nodded and waited until Jose was seated before grabbing the sandwich and putting it to his mouth.

Jose closed his eyes and bowed his head, praying for thanksgiving. He soon finished then took his sandwich and began eating. He was hungrier than he'd originally thought. Soon, the sandwich was eaten. He nibbled on potato chips while Tomas finished his sandwich. Once his plate was clean and the juice was consumed, he turned to Ken, "Sir, may I take a shower, please?"

"Of course. My wife will get you a washcloth, towel, a clean toothbrush, and anything else you need. There's deodorant in the bottom vanity cabinet if you use it."

Tomas' eyes perked up. Without thinking he said, "I'm going to take a real bath today, Dad." He turned to Jose, "We could take a bath together. What do you think?"

Jose looked to Ken for his reply to Tomas' pronouncement. Ken replied, "It's up to you. Tomas, you should first ask permission. Jose probably doesn't want to bathe with you."

Tomas' head swiveled to Jose, "Sorry. My mouth goes faster than my brain. I'll just take my own bath."

Jose once again looked to Ken. Ken's expression failed to register approval or disapproval, though he looked at Tomas with surprise. Never before had his son expressed any desire to interact with anyone, even with his family he was distant and aloof. So this was all new to him, uncharted territory. Jose nodded his approval.

Tomas, instead of reaching out for help, bounced onto the floor and rolled onto his face. Ken reacted by reaching for the boy, but the child righted himself. He looked up to Jose. Jose got up and followed his new friend.

Nadine and Ken just looked at one another with disbelieving expressions on their faces, but they took it in stride. As the boys disappeared down the hallway, Nadine got busy cleaning up the kitchen.

Jose waited for Tomas to get inside before closing the door. The disabled boy scooted to the vanity cabinet, retrieved towels, washcloths and a clean toothbrush for Jose then without any apparent embarrassment removed his clothing and tossed the articles into a corner. He said, "Can you get the bath water running? I can't reach it."

While his attention was turned on turning on the spigots, Tomas hoisted himself onto the closed toilet lid then stretched out to use the sink and his toothbrush.

Somehow Jose felt comfortable with his new friend. Without delay he removed his clothes, folded them neatly then joined Tomas at the sink.

Tomas, seeing Jose's stitches for the first time, started shrinking into himself as he thought of the excruciating pain that injury must have been for his new friend. Jose, sensing Tomas' feelings, countered by asking very softly, "What happened to your legs?"

"I stepped on a bomb. My country was at war. It was terrible. I don't want to talk about it." Tomas said then concentrated on rinsing his mouth of toothpaste. Jose, seeing the difficulties, reached for and gave Tomas a cup of water.

"I don't really want to talk about my injury either. I agree, there are things that I do not want to look back on. It's too painful."

"My dad says that I didn't earn getting my legs blown off." Tomas said then spat a mouthful of water and other debris into the sink.

Jose regarded Tomas' statement for a full moment before responding, "Your dad told me the same thing. I didn't really understand what he meant until you just told me. You see, I went to a bad place hoping that they would change me. I want my parents to be proud of me."

Tomas barked, "My parents, my new parents, they will never be proud of me. I'm a freak. I don't give a fuck. I just don't give a fuck. Fuck it." Angrily, he dropped to the floor and scooted to the bathtub leaving Jose with his eyes wide open from astonishment.

Instead of not giving a fuck, he wanted his parents to love and be proud of him more than anything else in the world. He turned to the toilet, lifted the lid and peed and heard the other boy splash into the bathtub water. Jose looked back to make sure he was okay. Tomas was sitting up and appeared no worse for the wear, grabbed a washcloth and began soaping it up. Jose flushed then lowered himself into the bathtub. He felt compelled to say, "Tomas, please don't be mad at me. I just said that you made me look at something very different than what I've always thought."

Tomas, looking deeply into Jose's eyes, handed him a washcloth and the bar of soap. When he began washing his stumps he asked, "Why do you want your parents to approve of you?"

"I don't know. I just do." Jose pondered, putting voice to his wonderings. "By the way, you are not a freak. You didn't ask for your legs to be blown off, right?"

"Hell no. But they were. I'm now no good to anyone, not even myself." Tomas replied then turned around to face away from Jose.

Jose, absentmindedly, took his soapy washcloth and began washing Tomas' back from his neck down into the waterline. Tomas leant forward and Jose continued downward until reaching the forbidden zone, "All done." Tomas took the washcloth and finished his bath. Jose said, "You seem like a regular guy. I do not see you as a freak… no way."

Tomas swiveled around to give Jose a piece of his mind, but he saw Jose turn around and present to him his back. "You don't understand." Tomas said as he began washing Jose's back, taking care to not press too hard on the many deep bruises. "Is this what you get for making your parents proud of you? What a load of fucking crap. Lean forward." Tomas hissed, angrily.

"You do not understand. My father loves me. He's just not proud of me. He hates it when I protect my friends from being bullied and abused."

"That's fucked up. You call me a regular guy, well, what about yourself. Did he cut your dick, too?"

"No. I did it to myself.""Why?"

Jose swiveled around so that he could look into Tomas eyes. He said, "Because I am filled with a serpent that makes me selfish and self-centered. My father says I must save myself by not having bad thoughts and doing bad things."

"What are you – a rapist?"

"No. No way."

"Then… what the fuck. I can't stop myself from doing things to it." Tomas exclaimed then seeing that Jose's dick was making its presence known by sticking up out of the water, continued, "Heh, your thing is doing the same as mine… look at it." Then much softer he asked, "Does it hurt?"

Jose looked down to confirm Tomas' observation. "A little."

"I'm lucky my dick didn't get blown off. Sometimes, it is the only thing that gives me any pleasure. My legs hurt most all of the time, even though they aren't present." Tomas said as he took hold of his tool, leant back and began the ritual.

Jose, surprised at his openness, asked, "Are you hurting, now?"

"Not as much. Why are you looking at me? Am I, in your eyes, a sinner? I'm a freak, not a sinner. I hurt nobody."

"Shut your fucking mouth. I don't want to hear about your freak shit." Jose hissed between clenched teeth. He'd heard enough. Tomas opened his eyes and looked at Jose with a counter statement on the tip of his tongue, but Jose barked, "And, why the hell are you feeling sorry for yourself?" Without giving Tomas a chance to respond, he continued, "My friends, they are different but they keep getting up. They don't quit. I won't let them. They are slowly, day by day, learning to fight to maintain their dignity!"

Tomas let go of his organ then leant forward. His eyes sent daggers into Jose. He spat, "You don't understand. I have no legs. You take for granted that you can walk around and go anywhere you want to."

Jose, having reached his limit, spat back, "Then do something about it. As long as you do nothing, you will get nothing. As long as you feel sorry for yourself, you will be, as you describe, a freak. A freak of nature is someone who does not do what they are able to do!"

Tomas drew back his arm. Before Jose could or would react, the boy slapped his face hard, causing his head to swivel and face the tiled wall.

His reserves failed to cause a reaction. Instead, he stood up, grabbed the bar of soap and used it to gently wash his penis which was about half-hard. But he was now ashamed that he'd failed yet one more person in his life.

"I am so very sorry for striking you, Jose. You are right. I am wrong. See, I am a freak for hurting people who I do not want to harm."

"Then just see yourself as a hopeless person. I do not need to accept your apology, so forget it." Jose hissed then stepped out of the bath and began drying himself, facing away from Tomas.

Without saying another word, Jose wrapped the towel around his midsection, walked to the door and put his hand on the doorknob ready, more than ready to silently walk out and get on with his business. His mind was made up, he would no longer be a burden to a family that fostered feeling sorry for one's self.

He turned the doorknob and took a step out but stopped at hearing Tomas' voice say, "Stop. Please. You do not understand."

Jose, enraged, reentered the bathroom, slammed shut the door, took the few steps so that he was in front of Tomas' face then hissed, "You can do something about your disability. I can do nothing to stop my serpent! Despite everything it will continue to cause grief."

An evil smirk crossed Tomas' face. He lifted himself to a sitting position on the bathtub edge and said after Jose took a step back to keep their faces apart. Tomas said, "Your issue is different. There's nothing we can do about our wieners. It just is."

Jose knelt down so that their eyes were level. With a trace of smugness, he countered, "There's nothing I can do about walking around either. You have aids to walk with. I have aids for my demented mind – visions and imagination. You can use these same aids, too."

"Oh, so you use your mind to feed your natural desires." Tomas threw back.

Jose shook his head in disbelief. For just a second. Next, he said, "Use your imagination and determination to accomplish a goal."

Tomas countered, "Then use your imagination to stop imagining things."

Jose shook his head in confusion, then smiled at realizing what Tomas was trying to do to him, "Then stop imagining that you cannot walk."

Tomas was speechless. Jose grabbed a towel and handed it to Tomas, rearranged his own towel then took off for the guest room where he was staying for however long. He walked into the room, closed the door, locked it then took off the towel to see his penis three quarters hard and still rising.

Against all laws of man and nature he laid down lengthwise on the bed, drew his feet up so that they were resting flat on the mattress, looked to the ceiling then closed his eyes as his hand descended deep down into the forbidden zone…

Tomas, meanwhile, wrapped his stubs on either side of the tub wall for support, leant back, closed his eyes and began an age old ritual…

Thirty minutes later, both, having different perspectives, dressed with intentions of going to Walmart with Ken and Nadine, exited their rooms.

Thinking that maybe he'd been too hard on Tomas, Jose headed toward Tomas' room and then stopped on a dime at seeing the boy standing in his doorway, holding onto the door jamb as though his life depended on the support. The boy's face was dripping sweat from his nose. Yet there was something different. Instead of anger and rage, his expression showed determination to make whatever was going to happen – happen.

Jose said, flabbergasted, "I masturbated."

"It's about fucking time." Tomas retorted.

Jose countered, smiling, holding out his hand, "It's about fucking time – yourself."

"It's hard."

"Yeah… mine was hard, too. Now it is not. You'll get used to it."

"Are you ashamed?"

"Do you feel afraid? Because if you are, then so am I."

Tomas took a deep breath and said, "I'm scared shitless."

"As am I… my father will hear my squeaking springs… so to speak."

"Help me?" Tomas asked, slowly reaching out his arm toward Jose.

Jose took it. He asked, "I am gay. I can do nothing about the way I feel. I just am."

"And I have no legs of my own to stand on. There's nothing I can do to change it. I have to move on and use what I have. It is who and what I am."

"I can accept who and what I am, or not. My father will hate me. He already does."

"My parents will love me. Maybe you have the wrong parents. About your being gay, I am not, but I will help you to know what it is like to be accepted for who and what you are."

"You would do that?"

"I just said so. Look, I think about a girls' twat all the time, but I also think of boys in that way. I don't know which one turns me on more. We're different but very much alike. Now, let's get my ass to the kitchen."The boys were about three quarters of the way to the dining room which is adjacent to the kitchen. Nadine, intent upon pushing the boys along so that they could get to and from Walmart before rush hour took hold, was not even paying any attention to where she was going, simply because the path was one that she knew all too well. She stopped in her tracks at seeing what she never, in a million years, could have ever imagined seeing.

Her eyes immediately filled with tears then began flooding down her cheeks. She said, loud enough to be heard, "Ken, come here." She walked to the boys. She reached out her arms toward Tomas but he warded her away by saying, "I've got it."

Ken approached from behind Nadine. He then saw the fronts of two shaggy heads standing beside her. His heartbeat increased and his temples pulsed – could it be?

It was. His son was standing. He deadpanned, "Ready to go shopping?" Then he turned back to the kitchen and started walking so that nobody saw his eyes filling with tears. He walked to the sink, wet his glasses and used a paper towel to dry his glasses… and his eyes.

Tomas, while receiving quite a bit of help and guidance from Jose, they headed for Walmart and parked. Since they did not have a handicapped sticker or license plate, Jose ran into the store and procured a golf cart and showed Tomas how to use it without running over people.

They went through the store. Jose was purchased three pair of jeans, a package of colored briefs, a package of six pair of crew t-shirts, a pair of shoes that fit him perfectly, and three fashionable pull-over shirts to finish his wardrobe until he could get home.

Tomas, likewise, was outfitted with full length jeans. He liked Jose's colored briefs, so he asked for and was given a package just for him.

On the way home, they stopped at a local diner where they enjoyed a fine dinner. Tomas, animated, no longer feeling out of place as his legs appeared just like anyone else's, offered his glass of milk up as a toast to success. Jose smiled and felt okay within himself. In fact he felt very, very good at being able to help someone. He kept his mouth closed so as to not bring attention to himself. Giving something to someone else should not be heralded.

Ken, though, noticed a huge difference in Jose's demeanor. Despite what the boy had been through just 24 or so hours ago, he seemed to be handling the daily situations just fine. He knew that the boy would require extensive therapy to learn how to deal with the horrors. This was another point he would make to Jose's parents. There is absolutely no way to get away from those horrors without help.

At the same time, he decided that maybe, just maybe, he would enter into therapy offered by the government, post deployment, healthcare system, for him to work through his own inner demons.

After eating, they headed home.

When Ken turned onto their street, he noted a strange car parked on the street in front of his house. He set his jaw and clenched his teeth.

His concerns were then confirmed when Jose said from the back seat, "That is my parents' car. They're here." The boy then slinked into himself.

"Jose, I want you to lean over. I'm going to pull into the garage and close the door. Then, you and Tomas are to go to his bedroom. Your parents and I need to have a discussion to determine what happens next. Can you do this for me?"

"Yes, Sir. But, they will be angry at me for not greeting them."

"You'll get to see them. But, I am not going to take a chance. Trust me on this one."

"Okay, I guess. My father will be very angry, Sir."Ken clicked the garage door opener. It started raising. He saw Kaydyn's car parked inside. Once he pulled the car into the garage, the boys made their way out and into the house, albeit very slowly as Tomas was having difficulty negotiating the three steps leading up.

Meanwhile, Mister and Missus Sanchez exited their car and began walking up the driveway toward the open door.

Ken and Nadine exited then made their way to the garage opening. Mister Sanchez, Ken could read, was a very unhappy person, and was verging on anger. All too well, he knew the type.

"I want to see my son." Mister Sanchez more or less ordered. "I know he is in your house. He is my son, not yours."

"Your son needed to use the restroom. Why don't we go inside? We'll get you something cold to drink then sit down and talk for a while. I have some questions to ask and some information to give to you. These are adult issues."

Missus Sanchez was much more amenable to the suggestions than her husband.

Ken's abilities to size up strangers, learned and honed in from many military experiences, were in full swing. The man's anger was just under the surface of an increasingly pleasant outward demeanor.

Once inside, Nadine led them into the dining room then inquired as to their drink preferences. Iced tea was selected.

Meanwhile, the boys entered the bathroom to attend to their needs. Jose went first. When it came to Tomas, after quite a bit of learning how to negotiate the clothes, his prosthetic legs and the bowl, he sat down to take care of his own needs.

Jose, nervous within his skin, stood by the door and carefully listened for his father's voice. He heard nothing.

"I'm not sure how I'm going to do this, Jose." Tomas stated.

After one more very careful listen past the door, Jose approached Tomas.

He figured Tomas could very well take care of his own matters. He said, "Just lean forward and take care of it. You don't need my help." He then stepped back to observe Tomas' abilities. The legs, he could tell, were the biggest obstacles, but he remained quiet and did not reach out to help with the obvious.

Eventually, Tomas figured it out. The only thing Jose did was to offer Tomas his hand when he was ready to stand up. "Whew." The boy said, breathlessly, as he reached back to flush.

Jose smiled widely, as did Tomas. Slowly, step by step, Jose saw self-confidence building, and he felt that in due time, Tomas was going to be ok.

They washed and dried their hands. Jose then approached the door, unlocked it and checked the coast to make sure it was clear before they headed to Tomas' room. It was clear. With much support and guidance, in fact he pretty much pushed Tomas along, they made it to the bedroom. Tomas locked the door then made his way to the bed where he sat down. His grin was wide and all encompassing. Jose grinned, patted Tomas' back and sat down beside him.

Tomas sensed that Jose was way off into his own world. Without saying a word, the boy looked down to see Jose nervously kneading his fingers between one another. Brazenly, but slowly, he reached his hand across then grasped Jose's hand and squeezed lightly.

Meanwhile, Kaydyn and Ashley exited the little girl's room and made their way to the dining room where she saw her in-law parents speaking with a couple who she did not know. Ashley, having just gotten up from her nap, was quiet and subdued. They sat down next to Nadine, across the table from Mister and Missus Sanchez. Pleasantries were exchanged.

Ken initiated the conversation, "Mister Sanchez, your son has been through a whole lot of things that would terrorize most anyone. I want you to know that Jose handled himself bravely and honorably."

"Yes, yes, he is brave. I am pleased with that part of him."

"He is definitely honorable. He is very polite. His soul is very gentle, yet he has a tremendous amount of strength in his being, much unlike any other boy of his age that I know."

"He is strong. I gave it to him. He is weak in many areas. And, his honor is questionable."

"With all due respect, Mister Sanchez, Jose is a boy. He's in that magical transition between boy and man state where he is no longer a boy, but then again, he's not yet a man."

"I am curious. What did he do that makes you so sure that he is not weak?"

Ken contemplated for a moment before saying, "For starters, let's back up for a moment…" Ken went on to tell Mister Sanchez that his son wanted nothing more than to please him in every way so that he was someone to be proud of. In fact, he said, the child just about died trying.

"A son honors his father. It is just and right. It is a Commandment given by our Lord. He honored his father for the good of all mankind and died in the process."

"That's a very good point. Jose tells me that he has rendered aid to some kids that are picked upon for being different from the rest of the class. Is this true?"

"Yes. His friends, they are sinners. They go against all laws of God and our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ. He dishonors me by doing that."

"Helping people is what our Lord did, Sir. As I recall the sermon from Mount Calvary, Jesus stopped and talked with little children, beggars, whores and tramps. In other words, he brought peace and serenity to those less fortunate than us."

"You are twisting the truth…"

"I don't think so. Your son is brave and honorable to stand up to bullies so that those kids can be peaceful and serene, and safe as well. This is to be commended. So many children only think of themselves. Jose is quite exceptional. He thinks so little of himself. Think about it. How many times has he asked you for anything? I'd just like to know."

"He is stupid to think that I will approve of him serving and protecting sinners. To do so is approving that which is wrong on every level. Where is my son? We will get a motel room for tonight then leave very early in the morning. I am taking time away from my duties as a husband and father."

Ken looked to Kaydyn. This conversation was going nowhere. Kaydyn got up and headed for the back of the house. He was going to be a go-between the boy and the child's father.

Ken brought out the big guns, "Mister Sanchez, your son was subjected to horrific abuse. The church he was taken to was purported to cure children of their growing up years. It is my understanding they are specifically designed to cure children of changes due to their hormones, such as their sexual development into men and women. Their chief method is to subject the children to rape, electricity and torture. Let me tell you that prisoners of war are not subjected to that level of pain and suffering. I have interrogated many such rascals… there is a stopping point. There is a line that does not get crossed. Jose's line was crossed – by a mile.""My son would never permit such a travesty."

"Jose is a boy. Do you understand me? Jose is a child. He is completely innocent, but he valiantly fought back. He succeeded. Listen to me: yesterday, he killed the main person who treated or had children abused and tortured – in the name of God. Your son saved so many innocent children. I really don't care what you think of me saying this, but your son is a hero. There is nothing that will convince me otherwise."

"My son turned to murder? Where is he? He must be punished."

"Mister Sanchez, you have made up my mind. I must do what is right. I am going to ask you – one time – to leave my home, right now. Your wife and you can think all you like. I am not afraid of you. Law enforcement considers your son a hero as well. Get out of here."

"I will not leave without my son. This is final. I am his father – he will be obedient. Where is he? He will follow me."

Kaydyn, standing guard at Tomas' door, heard the last exchange of words and how heated they were. Very quietly, he knocked on the door. It opened a crack. Both boys were standing there wondering who it was. When Tomas saw Kaydyn, he opened the door wide after getting away from it. Kaydyn entered and quickly closed the door behind him. He said to Tomas, "I knew you could do it. I'm very proud of you. And I love you."

Tomas nodded.

Kaydyn turned to Jose, "Son, your father does not see your bravery, honor and strength. So much so, that we must protect you. I need to ask you a very difficult question, one that no boy or girl should ever have to answer."

"Go ahead. My father means well. He loves me. I have much to learn. What is your question, Sir? I will be honest with my answer."

"Harm will come to you if you go with your father and mother. My question is this: are you willing to return to a situation where you know you will be harmed. Are you willing to return to a situation where you will not be able to be the bright, strong, honorable and blessed person that you are? Are you prepared to suffer greatly for what you do not believe in?"

Tomas spoke up when Jose didn't, "Do you remember what we talked about?"Kaydyn looked on, completely oblivious to their understanding, yet he saw it in Jose's eyes as well as in Thomas'.

Jose took in a deep breath then looked into Kaydyn's eyes, "I must speak with him. This does not mean that I will go with him. I must speak my truth."

"On one condition. The condition is this: my father and I will stand beside you. Know this: we will not permit your father to hurt you. If you are agreeable, then you may speak with him. This is only right."

Jose nodded his understanding and approval, then swallowed hard.

Tomas spoke up, "I am here with you. We will walk through it together. You remind me of my older brother. My brother was my hero. He gave his life that I may live."

Mister Sanchez, finished with the conversation, stood, took hold of his wife's hand. They stood together. The man demanded, "I want to see my son, right now. My request is not negotiable. Where is he?"

"Right here, father."

The man swiveled around. He saw a man standing slightly in front of and beside his flesh and blood.

Beside Jose, on his other side, a boy approximately the same age stood, intently glowering into his eyes, daring him to make a move. This infuriated the man even more than the blank stare he was receiving from his son.

Ken, seeing the scenario rapidly escalating as each moment passed, came around the table and positioned himself so that he was between the two parties, although there was clear vision between all of them.

"This man, he tells me that you committed murder of a man of the cloth, a religious leader… is this true?"

The boy, clearly not expecting that question, stole his inner strength and sense of honor and obedience, "You taught me to defend my honor. You taught me that it is not right and just to cower down. I am weak. Yes I did."

"I could have taken you out so many times, My Son. But I gave your life. You will come home to be with your mother and me. It is the honorable way. It is the only way."

"Father, from your weakness I gathered strength."

"You do not know, you have no idea… I have no fear. When you placed the gun to my heart, I knew you would never do such a thing. You still won't. You know to honor your parents, above all else. Come. We must get out of this haven for criminals.""Sir," Tomas said clearly and convincingly, "your son Jose, taught me to stand on my legs. His strength gave me hope and stamina to do something that I would never have done on my own."

Captivated by the boys' lies, Mister Sanchez dismissed him and turned to his son, but then returned his attention to the mouthy boy as he unbuttoned then unzipped his pants and lowered them to the floor. Tomas then raised up his shirt to show the man his deformities and how he was using aids to be pretty much normal and to look normal… and to become free of his burdens.

"A freak." The man ceremoniously spouted. His demeanor turned dismissive. He honed in on Jose and said, "So, it is true, you are an el mariposo… look at yourself. You are taken by Satan. So be it."

Jose's eyes squinted tightly. His father breached that which is not to breached… he remembered how he'd been beaten for defending his friends. Everything came into place. He knew right then and there that he would never ever be allowed to do the next right thing and that he would always be under the control of his father. He didn't know how things were going to change, but he did know that the change would happen, when though?

Tomas screamed, "Gun!" In the same instant, he jerked Jose behind him.

Ken, standing slightly in front of Mister Sanchez saw the butt of a bun in the man's pocket. Instantaneously, he drew his weapon, but then Jose's father turning toward Nadine. Beside Nadine was the two younger children and Shelly. Also, behind the crazed man were Tomas and Jose. He could not get a clean shot no matter how hard he tried, but Kaydyn could get one.

Because Kaydyn had placed his weapons into boot holsters, he had to reach down for them. Meanwhile, Mister Sanchez, using speed as fast as light, pulled out the weapon and fired off round, striking Jose's forearm. Just as fast he fired three more rounds, striking low. Tomas went down to the floor, dragging Jose with him.

Kaydyn looked at his father and in the same instant Ken placed himself between Nadine and the shooter. He pulled her to the floor. Shelly had jerked the kids down to safety. Mister Sanchez turned toward him and fired a shot, his last one, striking the China cabinet, sending shards of glass and splintered wood down on those being protected. Kaydyn, fired off a single round into Mister Sanchez' right eye socket, blowing away three quarters of the man's head.

Missus Sanchez, receiving the brunt of her husbands' remains and nearly blinded from them, with her hand already in her purse, retrieved a 38 handgun from it and put it at her right temple. Before Ken could react, the woman pulled the trigger, but it misfired and dropped to the floor. Before she could try again, Ken slammed through the table and chair legs, grasped the weapon and pushed it away, out of reach. He then put her in a chokehold enough to make her unconscious. As her awareness began crumbling, she said in desperation, "Lo siento. Causé sus dificultades, y añadí a ellos por no defender a su padre. Perdóname." ("I am sorry. I caused your difficulties, and added to them by not standing up to your father. Forgive me.")

Ashley was screaming her little lungs out, frightened beyond anything imaginable. A small piece of white matter, brain tissue, rested on the tip of her bangs.

Kaydyn saw that his mother, wife and baby were uninjured. But, what about the others?

While holding his foot on the woman's lower skull and her entire neck, ready to kill her, if need be, turned to see Ken getting up from a prone position, protecting the boys from harm's way. He was frantically searching their little bodies for injuries.

Jose stood first. Blood was splattered all over his shirt and he was holding his arm, but he was alive.

What about Tomas?

The boy lay unmoving on the floor. His eyes were staring straight ahead, however they were nothing like Ken had experienced with a dead child. They were looking straight ahead from terror and fright.

Nadine, other than for having a few cuts and bruises from being struck by small fragments of glass and wood, arose from her seat, shaken and frightened, quickly made her way around the table and ran toward her son lying on the floor, apparently dead.

Jose, disregarding the bullet wound in his upper forearm dropped to the floor and cradled Tomas' head in his arms, be damned the blood oozing from his arm. He disregarded his own injury to be with and support his life saver.

Nadine crowded her way into the mass of arms and legs. She pushed them away then reached down and looked for blood and whatever else a shattered little boy's body has to show when mortally injured.

The boy coughed violently when she raised him to a sitting position. He didn't fight her, nor was he a quivering or dead piece of flesh. Instead, she saw bullet holes, three of them, that had rocketed and tore through his pants just above the knees.

"Wake up, Baby. It's all over now. We're safe. We're okay. You're okay. Oh my, Sweetie, you are such a brave little boy. I'm so proud of you. Please wake up."

But he didn't wake up.

Ken was holding Jose's arm as though it needed a tourniquet. The boy ripped his arm away then dropped to the floor and, once again, cradled Tomas' head in his arms. He said, "Wake up, dufus. You saved my life. My father was going to kill me, but he's dead. He'll never hurt me again."

Tomas' eyes began blinking. He set his jaw after licking his lips. He sent two muscle spasms into Jose and Nadine's arms as they held him firmly, but not tight enough to prevent him from breathing.

While they were taking care of Jose from the top side, Ken quickly knelt down and lowered Tomas' jeans to find both of the boy's prosthetics shattered and splintered, but a wave of relief washed over him as he realized the lengths of his natural legs, and what remained of them, were intact, uninjured. The boy's briefs were not bloody, but they were sopping wet from his losing control of his bladder.

The hallway was tight. Ken said, "Let's move out of here. Let's go into the kitchen. Tomas, wake up, Son. It's all over. The terror is over." The big man, once Jose and Nadine gave him enough room to maneuver, easily lifted Tomas and pulled him into his chest and then kissed his cheek with all of the fervor only a father can give to his child.

Tomas' wrapped his arms around Ken's neck and held on for dear life, not knowing whether he was dead or alive, all the while reliving the terror and horror of his brother's death, from having been shot to death. He felt blood and other bodily spatter dripping from his arms. He just knew that he hadn't protected Jose like his brother had done for him. He just knew it.

Ken and Kaydyn both knew that Tomas was in the midst of a flashback from the war that they had fought while trying to save what little peace and serenity they could bring to a horrific situation, surely caused by, or started by their president… Ashwood.

As children's lives passed in front of his eyes and within his skull, his only concern right then and there was Tomas' welfare. He knew Jose was okay, or was going to be okay, and that his family was alive, and that all threats were eliminated. Still though, he couldn't let this child in his arms suffer irretrievable separation from life itself. "Come back to me, child. The bad is gone. Don't go away. Everybody that loves you is right here. We love you so much. And we need you as much as you need us. We're a family. I'm so sorry that you had to see and experience another act of war, but this one is successful. We took out evil. One more step toward freedom. But you are just a baby. You shouldn't have to see this. But you did. Now it is over."

"Is Jose dead?" Tomas first words said.

"No. He's right here beside you. Focus your eyes. Look to your right to see for yourself."

The boy reached his hands up, rubbed his eyes and then turned to the right. Jose's eyes filled with tears at seeing Tomas looking directly into his soul. It was then that Jose knew in his heart of hearts that his weakness hadn't caused Tomas to die. Without any aforethought whatsoever, Jose leaned in and touched Tomas' lips with his. The touch was brief. He knew that Tomas did not share the same love he felt, but his feelings were true and came completely from within his inner being.

Unbeknownst to the trio, Nadine went to the master bathroom and gathered up roll-gauze wrapping materials then returned, kissed Jose's forehead and then led him into the guest bathroom and started tending to his arm wound. It was through and through, and she was able to determine that no bones were broken. She knew the boy would need to be seen by a doctor at the hospital, but not right now. He was in no imminent danger.

When her ministrations were completed, at least for the time being, Jose leaned his head into her bosom and began weeping, chiding himself for being weak and scared and ineffective, and saying over and over so how very brave Tomas was in the time of crisis.

Nadine was quick to remind him how strong and brave he'd been just the day before, and still was, and would be for as long as he lived. As a final resort, the thought just came to her… she said, "Jose, there is plenty of room for four brave souls in this house. Yesterday, you did your deed. Today, Tomas did his. And my husband and son have done theirs for a very long time. I am so sorry about what happened to your Daddy, but I know beyond any shadow of a doubt that his mind cracked, and that he probably did something he would never do in a million lifetimes had he had it together."

Jose nodded his understanding. Nadine brought the boy into her arms and she held on firmly.

Shelly, meanwhile, used the kitchen landline phone to call 911. She then took Ashley into her and Kaydyn's bedroom and put the child on their bed. Joaquin came running into the room then dived onto the bed and held his sister tight in his arms. She decided to stay with them.

One third of a mile east of the ravine was an abandoned farmstead with a house and several outbuildings, including a barn and chicken house.

The property, for years self-sufficient, lit from energy captured through special panels and a year-around-running waterfall downstream, fed through livestock raised on site, chickens, turkeys in season, fresh fish, apple, orange, plum and date trees scattered about, two milk cows, fireplaces for winter, corn and wheat. All labor was performed by rejected and wayward teens and pre-teens, preferably all boys, but girls were considered under special circumstances.

Despite ravages into sin and depravity by society's youth, the farm ran exceptionally well. It boasted high success rates. It found favor with Priests, and receiving honors from large cities such as St. Louis, Kansas City, Columbia, and Springfield. Even cities as far away as Little Rock, Jonesboro, Wichita Falls, and New Orleans, among others.

The normal population is twelve. Today it bumped from eleven to thirteen. One of the wayward youth is deemed Clean from all outward appearances and his eager willingness to obey and please the four adults in their charge is commendable, honored and revered.

Fox, observing his child working so hard for the refugees housed in the old Wal-Mart store, ached at seeing his child deal with his stress, hurt and pain by giving to others. At the same time, he knew his son would go far in this world. But, at the same time, he knew his son loved the wide open spaces with all of his heart and soul. Like him, the boy was enamored with the freedom from city life. He knew Matt was ‘out of place' in large crowds, preferring his own company. He knew the feeling. He was the same way. It was born and bred deep into his bones and soul.

Matt kept driving himself harder and harder, hoping against all hope that he would get tired enough to actually sleep tonight. The past two nights have been spent chasing away terror filled dreams, dreams that were relentless and unending. Though he knew he couldn't put much past his Pa, he tried. When he'd get tired of wrestling the bed he would get dressed and go outside to take a long walk through pitch blackness, unafraid because he knew the land just as well as he knew their home – the same home he'd grown up in, the same home his Pa grew up in, as well as several generations before them.

Last night, he thought long and hard about getting into his Pa's bed. Things were different now. The man was touching him, giving hugs and being available at any time of the day. But, he was afraid to even ask. Why? He didn't know. He just guessed that there are limits between even Pa's and their offspring.

For the second day in a row, after being told that all supplies, what little there was of them, were all put away and cleaning was accomplished, the boy took off down the street, on his own, not wanting to bother his Pa with such trivial matters. The town, darkened from no power, rolled up its carpets at about 6:30PM each night. Last night and tonight, he'd told his Pa that he'd be back in an hour or so, that he needed some time alone to think, to get his bearings.

What he actually did, and what Fox saw tonight was that he went to the foundation, or what was left of it, of the hospital. There was a slab of concrete jutting out from the ground that he named his own. It's where he would go to sit in physically quiet solitude. It was where he could smell the essence of his George, his love, his husband of a few minutes… while he didn't think solely on those last few moments, he did think of their times alone on the farmstead. They'd go off to the far reaches, hunker down in their ‘cave', which was not really a cave at all… it was a small hollow where an overhang of rocks provided them shelter from the hot days of summer, and was a wind break during the winter when the breeze was blowing from the north. There they would lay together, talking about their dreams, mourn the loss of George's mother then a few months later his father. His father's name was Pa, as well.

Sometimes they would make love. It's where they each lost their virginity to one another in the space of a single hour.

He was thinking of George's infectious laughter as tears began trailing down his cheeks and landing on his bib-overalls. He pushed them away, but more would come to replace the old ones. Every once in a while he would receive a stronger waft of George's essential aromas. He'd take in a deep breath, wanting more, and desiring against all hope that it would never leave. The times when his nose picked up the essences he would feel oh so close to his husband that it cannot be adequately described. It was as if Matt's mortal soul was joined with George's immortal one.

As was the case last night, his interlude into memory was interrupted by footsteps coming his way. Knowing his Pa was coming filled him with relief. If he let those memories continue, then they would become marred with disaster.


"Yeah, Pa. I'm over here."

The slab moved a little bit when Fox's large frame sat down. Matt knew his father's arm would be stretched wide awaiting it to be filled. Without delay, Matt relished scooting into the tight safe cocoon then felt safe and protected as his Pa pulled him in close and held him for as long as he needed it.

Fox felt his son's shoulders haphazardly shaking. The boy smashed against his Pa as his emotions let loose, yet again. Fox was ready. He pulled the boy onto his lap and held him firmly, whispering how much he was loved, that he was there for them, and always would be for as long as he lived.

Matt shuddered and quaked his grief and terror, seemingly from the tips of his toenails to the ends of his hair tendrils.

Ten minutes passed before Fox felt Matt's muscles relax. The boy was half-in, half-out of sleep, but would awaken startled. Matt would groan then repeat the measure.

Fox, all too well, remembered the day his wife had died leaving father and son alone in the world to fend for themselves. While her death wasn't unexpected, it was nonetheless devastating. At the same time, he could not imagine, in this world or any other, what it would be like to be the sole survivor of a holocaust such as was rained down on Breckenridge.

When Matt's body went limp and he began lightly snoring, effortlessly Pa picked him up and carried him to the truck and put him inside, securely fastening the ruddy and weather beaten seatbelt. Tonight, Matt laid down across the seat and used Pa's lap as a pillow. He wrapped his arm around Fox's belly and pulled himself in as close as they could get to one another.

Fox made a decision.

The old truck puttered and sputtered and clinkity clanked its way through the small debris still lying on segments of broken pavement. They were soon out of town on their way home. Although Fox could not hear Matt sleeping, the deep rhythmical breathing sent through his shoulders told him he was indeed sleeping soundly.

He was sure that Matt didn't know that he knew when the boy would get up in the middle of the night and be gone for hours at a time, returning shortly before sunup, to be in bed when Fox awakened. As a boy, he, himself had roamed the property when he couldn't sleep, which hadn't been very often. Although he didn't know that Matt and George had made the hollow their getaway place, he knew that he'd used it while he was growing up. On blistering hot days, that place was cooler than any other place, other than for the combined creek/pond. Fox violently shuddered over the memory of finding his son deep in its pits.

Thirty minutes later, Fox set the parking brake in front of their home. Matt, lying unmoving continued to snore loudly with his shoulders heaving up and down with each breath.

Fox pulled his rancher hat down over his face, leant his head back and after assuring himself that Matt was sleeping, probably and hopefully for the night, closed his eyes and went to sleep.

The elderly man, with many bandages covering many, but not all of his wounds, tended to and prayed with little children left parentless surely the result of a senseless act of cowardice.

To be continued

Editor's Notes:

With all the sadness and pain and death that has happened in this and previous chapters, not only because of Ashwood's power hungry attitude, but other reasons as well, this chapter showed warmth, love and bravery by lots of different people and brought to a close some very brutal situations.

I think I used up two or three boxes of tissues while reading this powerful chapter.

Thank you Joe Writer Man for another wonderful chapter.

Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher

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