It was nine o'clock when I awoke, alone. I walked downstairs to the smell of fresh coffee and bacon. I found Jason and Wesley sitting at the kitchen table, drinking coffee.
"Granddad will cane whip us when he discovers we have waited until after nine to take care of the animals."
"Relax, lazy boy," Wesley said. "The chores were taken care of before 8:00. See, there is an advantage to being an early riser. Saved your butt."
"And a beautiful butt it is," Jason said, his arms around me, each hand holding a cheek." I bent and kissed him "good morning."
"Wes still asleep?" I asked as I poured myself a cup of coffee.
"Out and gone before we got up," Wesley answered. "Left a note that he'd be checking on us later."
"By the way, I suspect you forgot you were scheduled for a lesson in Asheville yesterday," Jason said. "Wesley remembered when we were talking about all that has gone on in the past two days. If Professor Jamison watches the news at all, he knows where you were."
"Yeah, there was that bit on the 6:00 news," I agreed.
"The 11:00 was something else," Jason said. "Channel 13 re-ran all of it this morning--in bits and pieces. Some had been shown before we got the chores done, but we saw enough to know there was almost as much time spent on Jonathan's rescue as on the suicides and kiddie porn segments. The reporters really played up the 'teenagers to the rescue' aspect of the story."
"Well, I guess Professor Jamison will excuse me since I did have a good reason to miss my lesson. I'll give him a call later."
"Think he'll be at school? It's Saturday, you know," Wesley asked.
"Yeah, he has a full morning of private pupils Saturday."
"Well, it's after nine so's not going to be morning much longer," Jason said. "Go ahead and call him--while we get breakfast finished."
Professor Jamison had seen the news--all of it--and was very excited that a student of his had actually been on a rescue mission--but then he had to add--"I do hope you are taking care of your hands." I assured him I was and that I could see him Monday. "New Year's Day, Douglas. No lessons for me on New Year's Day." I acknowledged the holiday and said I'd see him Wednesday.
When I got back to the kitchen, breakfast was ready and, as I sat down, it struck me that it was Saturday and the grandparents were getting back to Charlotte the next day. "Do you know we need to pick up the grandparents tomorrow?" I asked.
"In all the excitement, I forgot," Jason said.
"Me too," Wesley said. "When were they getting in?"
"Not sure. I'll check after breakfast," I said. "Their itinerary is in the den."
We had finished breakfast and cleaned up before I looked at the itinerary. "They land at noon. We'll need to leave here not later than 8-9 I think."
"Guess we get up, do the chores and leave," Jason said.
I was still looking at the itinerary, making sure I had read it right, when the phone rang.
I picked it up and said, "Hello."
"Douglas, your granddad," Granddad said. Thought I'd call and let you know you don't have to come for us. We have a ride from Charlotte tomorrow."
"You sure?" I asked.
"Very sure," Granddad said. "Anyone use the guest room while we've been gone?"
"As a matter of fact, it has been used. John Wesley Bushyhead spent a couple nights here. After the raid."
"Raid? What's been going on?"
"Haven't seen the news?"
"Haven't had... hold on here." I guess Granddad put a hand over the mouthpiece of the phone, because all I could hear was garbled speech. "Douglas, just had a paper handed to me about something going on in Sadies Cove. You in on that?"
"Yeah, but we're ok and will tell you all about it when you get home."
"Fine, and see to the guest room. Think we might have a surprise for you. Bye now."
"Goodbye." I hung up the phone, wondering if the events in Sadies Cove hadn't made it to Florida or why Granddad, who was almost neurotic about keeping up with the news, hadn't heard about it.
Hank rode his bicycle to our place. He said his dad and mom were really worried about Jonathan. "Dr. Alexander finally had to be pretty graphic with dad. He just couldn't accept the fact that a boy could be raped, Jonathan had been raped. He didn't want Jonathan told, but Dr. Alexander asked how else the tearing to his rectum was to be explained. They were having a staff meeting at the hospital this morning to discuss future treatment. Given how he responded to his beating, everyone is worried about depression and he is on suicide watch again."
"Well, he can depend on us doing all we can," Jason said.
"And I hope we do a better job than we did protecting him from that crowd," I said, feeling enormous guilt.
Jason agreed, but Hank reminded us that we needed to keep a clear head and not spend all our time and energy worrying about being guilty about something we couldn't change.
Wesley had been very quiet, sitting with his head down, not saying a single word while we were talking. He raised his head and said, "You know what scares the living shit out of me? You know what keeps running thorough my mind and has, ever since I saw Jonathan lying on that bed, naked? AIDS, that's what. What if those two bastards infected Jonathan? That's all I can think about, that and the fact that we didn't keep it from happening."
I guess I had led a pretty sheltered life because the question of disease had not crossed my mind. Now I was suddenly terrified. What if Jonathan had been infected?
It was a very sober quartet that headed for the hospital. As soon as we arrived, we made a beeline for Dr. Alexander's office. She was with a patient, her nurse said, and told us to wait and she would see if Dr. Alexander could see us. When she came back, all she said was "Wait."
Half an hour later, the nurse answered the intercom and said we were to go into Dr. Alexander's office.
"Doctor, we are concerned about Jonathan and what we can do to help him," Jason said.
"I'm really concerned about HIV, about AIDS," Wesley said quietly.
"To answer your concern first, Wesley," Dr. Alexander said, "It usually takes three to six months between exposure and a positive HIV test. We have DNA samples from the rape kit, so we can identify who raped Jonathan, and the suspects were tested last night on order of a judge in Asheville. No way we can be 100% sure for a while, but none of those involved tested positive. I think you can safely put that concern aside."
"It takes three to six months before you can be tested for HIV?" Wesley asked. "Three to six MONTHS?" Wesley seemed overly concerned in light of Dr. Alexander reassuring us.
"Yes, the virus has to reach the point where the body produces antibodies. The test is actually for the antibodies. I don't think our major worry with Jonathan is about HIV. And, frankly, I don't think it is about his physical condition. He is not the scrawny kid who came in here in November. It is obvious he has been eating well and getting exercise. Physically, he's in good shape. There was tearing when he was raped and that hurts like everything, I'm sure, but he'll recover. My concern is for his mental health."
"So far as I have heard, his rape was not reported by the news media but, sooner or later, it will become common knowledge. Sad to say, I suspect there will be some taunting at school. I'm also concerned that he might feel, as often happens, that he 'asked for it'. I'm sure you will stand by him and, where possible, prevent his being taunted."
"But my biggest worry, based on having known him last November, is that he will go into a tailspin, that he will become very depressed. Keep your eyes open on that account. I'll see that you get information on how to spot depression, since it is often overlooked. For one thing, watch out for him being overly happy as a cover for his depression, anything. I'm here, call on me."
He has been told about the deaths at the compound. He remarked that the children were probably better off. He has done his grieving for his sibling--at least he seems to have.
We thanked the doctor and went up to see Jonathan.
He was sitting up in bed, obviously not interested in the TV since he had the sound off. As soon as he saw us, he started crying.
Hank sat on the edge of the bed and put his arms around Jonathan's shoulders. "It's ok, Jonathan, it's ok."
Jonathan leaned against Hank, his head on his brother's shoulder, and cried great sobs. When he regained control, he said, "Hank, what's happened to me?"
No dodging the issue any longer, I suspected as we all glanced at each other.
Jason nodded at Hank who sighed and said, "Jonathan, there's no use hiding anything from you. It'll do no good, but I sure wish it hadn't happened. Lil' Bro, we let you down."
We all were gathered around Jonathan's bed as Hank told him how he had been abducted and drugged. "We let you down Jonathan. We should never have let you out of our sight."
Jonathan was hugging Hank, patting him on the back. "Hank, I should have had sense enough to ask one of you to go for the bulbs or to go with me. I didn't think about it but if I had, I'd probably gone on anyway, proving I was a man. Well, I guess I'm not the man I thought I was."
"Hold it right there, Jonathan," Jason said. "Look, there's no manhood question here. What do you remember?"
"I was walking down the street when a Humvee pulled up beside me and two men got out. They walked up to me and when I recognized them, it was too late. They grabbed me and put something over my mouth and nose. That's the last thing I remember before I woke up here."
"Jonathan, if it had been any one of us, the same thing would have happened. Two men could have overpowered any one of us, especially since they used something to knock you out."
"But what happened? Why does my butt hurt like heck?" Jonathan paused, got a horrified look on his face and said, "They fucked me, didn't they? Those bastards Abel and Noah fucked me, didn't they?"
Ok, the big issue was on the floor and there was no way to dodge it so far as I was concerned. Hank looked up, his eyes pleading for help. I wasn't surprised when Jason answered, since he had barely escaped a similar fate.
"Jonathan, you were raped. There's no nice way to say that and it's a terrible thing. I managed to fight off the man who attempted to rape me. I was older, stronger and conscious. You could have handled one of the sons of bitches, I'm sure, but there were two. You were drugged, Lil' Bro. You were violated. Remember that! You did nothing to deserve what happened to you. You COULDN'T do anything to deserve it. Now, your job is to heal and our job is to care for you, even given the sorry job we did before."
"Hey, we all were more than a little bit careless and I have a sore ass, but we'll all heal sometime, won't we?" Jonathan gave us a weak smile.
I was sure Jonathan's question was only partly rhetorical and partly a real question.
"Sure we will," Hank responded, and I was sure there were five silent prayers asking for just that.
All that was, as if anyone wouldn't know it, heavy stuff, and after Hank's statement, we were all silent for a few minutes and then Jonathan said, "Since I was playing the captured princess, tell me all about how you knights in shining armor rescued me from the awful dragons."
What followed was a very animated conversation as we told Jonathan about John Wesley Bushyhead and how he had made possible our brother's rescue.
"I guess Mr. Bushyhead is my real knight in shining armor," Jonathan said, "or an Indian warrior."
"Definitely the Indian warrior," I said.
As I spoke, I heard a voice just outside the door say, "I don't know. I kinda like the knight in shining armor bit myself," as Wes stepped into the room. "Sir John Wesley Bushyhead at your service, M'lord," Wes said, bowing to Jonathan.
Jonathan smiled and said, "Thanks, Sir Knight."
Jonathan had a thousand questions for Wes and, after a while, Wes said, "If you guys would step outside, I'd like to have a few minutes with your brother."
We did as Wes asked. He was with Jonathan for at least half an hour, and when he left we went back in to the room, but Jonathan said nothing about what he and Wes talked about, and none of us asked.
We were about ready to leave when a whirlwind swept into the room. Cody had arrived again. He was barely in the room before he hugged Jonathan. That done, he sat on the bed holding Jonathan's hand. It looked like Jonathan had found a lover. Well, they sure were a cute couple. On the way home, Wesley, Jason and I all agreed that it looked like Hank was getting a brother-in-law.
Hank wasn't exactly at ease with the thought, but then he said, "Hell, I didn't ask anybody if it was ok to fall in love with Beth, so why would Jonathan ask about falling in love with Cody. But don't you think they are kinda young?"
We talked about that a bit agreeing, again, that what we thought probably made little difference. Finally Wesley said, "Look, I didn't even ask myself about falling in love with old what's-his-name. Jason, Douglas, same with you two. Just hope Jonathan and Cody are more like you two--I mean if they are lovers--than like me and Dwight. Right?" We all agreed.
When we got back to our place, Hank said he'd ride his bike home. "I've got to do some work cleaning up," he said. "Josh will be back tomorrow. He'll sleep in the guest room, but I suspect we'll spend some time upstairs and it's a mess."
"And why am I not surprised?" Jason laughed. "Where has Josh been?"
"He went skiing with Brad and Jeremy and then called to say he was taking a trip and wouldn't be back until Sunday before New Year's. Very mysterious, but I guess we'll learn more tomorrow. Laters."
The three of us had been pretty good about cleaning up as we went, but we were not Grandmom. I suspect she'd say nothing if the house remained as it was, but then she would pitch in and get it "up to snuff." We all agreed that we knew how she'd have the house had she been home, and that was the way she'd find it.
While Wesley started on the kitchen, Jason and I stripped the bed in the guest room and re-made it. That done, Jason vacuumed while I stripped our beds and started washing the bedclothes.
It wasn't Epiphany--called Old Christmas here in the mountains--yet, so the tree was still up. The three of us debated leaving it up but it was very dry and shedding needles like mad, even though we had cut it fresh, so we took off the decorations, putting them back in their storage boxes, then took down the tree. Jason suggested we leave it out by the firewood stack and cut it up later. A bit in the fireplace will smell good," he said.
It was well past noon before we stopped. We were pretty bushed when we sat down at the table with glasses of juice. "It's sure a good thing we kept the house clean," I said, "or we'd be a week getting things in order."
"True enough," Jason agreed, "but we could have just given it a lick and a promise and Grandmom would never had said a word."
"You know, I think that's the most important lesson I have learned thus far," Wesley said. "I mean it would never have occurred to me to do ANY cleaning if I had been left in my parents' house for a week. What Cassandra didn't get done before they got back would have to wait until she got around to it. What's even stranger, to me at least, is that it would never occur to me now to leave a mess for someone else to clean up."
"Yeah, know what you mean," I agreed. "You guys hungry? I sure am."
A lot of head nodding, then we got the stuff out of the fridge. There was plenty there to make sandwiches, and we each made our own.
While we were eating, we talked about the situation with Jonathan--nothing new to be added--and tried to guess what surprise the grandparents had. "I think we can pretty well guess it involves guests," Wesley said, "since Granddad made a point of wanting the guest room shaped up, but beyond that...."
We also tried to figure out why Wes had wanted to speak to Jonathan alone. "If he just wanted to know how he was doing, why would he ask us to leave?" Wesley mused.
"And if he had some great wisdom about how to deal with Jonathan's future, seems he'd also want us in on it," Jason said.
Finally, we just admitted we were curious as cats, but had absolutely no idea what was going on anywhere.
Since everything was in pretty good order, I decided to get in some practice time since I had been missing too much lately. Wesley and Jason went upstairs to practice as well. I wondered if they found it as difficult to keep their minds on what they were doing as I did. I kept reliving the whole crappy mess Jonathan had been put through.
Sunday morning we were up in plenty of time to take care of the chores before getting ready for church. Wesley had asked if we were going, which took me by surprise since I hadn't thought about NOT going for a good long time. Jason had responded, "We're going, but whether or not you go is your decision."
"I know that," Wesley said, sounding a little peeved. "I just wanted to make sure you were, because if you weren't I was going myself."
When we went to pick up Hank for church, Josh's Miata was parked in the drive. Before we could get out of the Jeep, Josh and Hank came out to meet us.
"Good morning, fellows," Josh said. "Hitch a ride?"
"Sure," I replied. "Drop you off with the Baptists?"
"Nah, I'll go with you guys."
"Great, then I get the Miata," Hank said and Josh tossed him the keys.
"You sure you trust Hank with your car?" Wesley laughed.
"Think I'd trust you guys with my life," Josh answered. "Guess that sounds pretty melodramatic, but I mean it. Dad and Mom have told me all about what you did for Jonathan. I'm serious, I am so proud of Hank I could pop a gut. You guys as well."
I think Jason, as I, was pleased Josh had such praise for us, but kinda embarrassed as well. We both blushed and Jason quickly changed the subject, "So what have you been up to over the holidays? Hank said you went skiing, but for a week?"
"I'm sure I could have stayed a week because I love to ski but, no, I only skied for a couple days. I haven't told the parents yet, and it's kinda embarrassing. I mean religion is not something people--I--like to talk about. But then there's religion and there's religion."
"Anyway, I met a girl just after Thanksgiving and all the talk about relationships. You know, when Hank set me straight on one-night stands. Anyway, to tell the truth, I was not reformed by my brother's speech and so all I was interested in was getting her in the sack--as always--but I made no progress. At the same time, I was attracted to her more and more. One night when I was lamenting my lack of progress, Brad said, 'Glad I don't have that trouble.' I asked him how he handled his urges when he was at school without Jeremy. He told me he certainly had them, but before urges was his commitment to Jeremy and their relationship. 'When I get too horny, Mr. Right Hand is my friend while I dream of Jeremy.'"
"Since our conversations Thanksgiving, I was really doing some thinking about relationships and commitment. Anyway, one night Kathy--she is the girl--said, 'Josh, you're a lot better guy than you give yourself credit for being. I think you are an even better guy than you act.' That provoked an all-night discussion of relationships, commitment, sex, religion--all sort of things."
"When she started talking religion, I told her all my objections and was shocked when she said, 'Couldn't agree more, but there's another way to look at religion.' She talked some more and I really thought what she was saying made sense. As I said, Mom and Dad don't know it yet, but I went on a week's retreat to start sorting things out. Not there yet and hope to hell I can avoid becoming a pious religious asshole, but I'm enjoying the journey if you can say you enjoy a struggle. Never did get the woman in the sack, but she sure has got me somewhere even if I'm not sure where. Hank and you guys have to take some credit and/or blame as well for where I am right now."
"Thank you--I guess," Jason laughed as we pulled in to the church parking lot.
When we walked into the parish house, everyone was anxious to speak to us, and when Hank and Beth arrived the same was true of him.
During the prayers of the people, Miss Ella, the intercessor, prayed for Jonathan and for those who had died in The Circle of God's Chosen's mass suicides. She also offered thanksgiving for those of us who had rescued Jonathan.
Jason had got to know Miss Ella very well. After his grandmother burned to death, Miss Ella took a special interest in him. When she saw him Sundays or ran into him somewhere else, she asked how he was doing in school, how he was being treated by the grandparents, and often had some small gift for him--a bookmark, piece of fruit, just about anything. She had asked him to Sunday dinner shortly after his grandmother's death and he had learned her story.
Seems her sister, with whom she lived, was burned to death as well. She was in an automobile accident and couldn't get out when the gas tank ignited. After that, Miss Ella became a recluse. "I had seen her a couple times right after I came to Coldsprings," Jason said. "She was a real sight. She was so depressed she didn't take care of herself, her house, anything. She seldom ventured out other than to go to the grocery store."
"Fr. Hansen wanted to introduce intercessors into the service and when he said they were expected to pray daily for those they had prayed for on Sunday, there were no takers. Quite by accident--maybe--he ran into Miss Ella at the grocery and told her his problem."
"Out of the clear blue, she said, 'Sounds like something an old lady could do,' and did."
It wasn't long before she started taking care of herself, calling on people she could help, doing all sorts of things, all revolving around her prayer list. "I have never thought prayers amounted to much unless you were willing to put legs on them," she often said.
After church, we went home and changed into more comfortable clothes and headed for the Dennisons'. Mrs. Dennison had insisted on fixing Sunday dinner for the whole crowd. Josh told us Mr. Dennison had gone to the hospital to check on Jonathan about 9:00 and wasn't back when we left for church at 10:00. "Dr. Alexander told Dad last night she suspected Jonathan could come home today. The tears in his ass weren't as serious as she first suspected. He'll have medicine to use, along with sitting in a hot bath for a while, but she saw no reason for him to stay in the hospital," he said.
Hank and Beth were right behind us as we drove into the Dennisons' drive. When they got out of the Miata, Hank said, "We should have beat you here, but Beth wanted to go home and change clothes, and you know how that is."
"As a matter of fact, I don't," Wesley laughed.
Inside we were met by Mr. Dennison. When we asked about Jonathan, Mr. Dennison said "Dr. Alexander planned on releasing him early this morning, but there was a hold up on something so he wasn't released until around 11:00. She gave us instructions for taking care of him and medicine. He's doing well and will be ok shortly. Right now, of course, he's in a great deal of pain..." Mr. Dennison paused, looked at Beth and said, "Well, you know."
As he was talking, Mrs. Dennison came out of the guest room. "How's the boy?" Mr. Dennison asked.
"He's still sleep. I suspect he will be for another hour or so. I guess that was a pretty strong pain pill he took when he got home. Well, I've got to finish up dinner."
Beth went into the kitchen to help with dinner while Hank and I set the table. Soon we all sat down to Sunday dinner, but we were not a happy bunch. To make matters worse, about halfway through dinner Jonathan groaned loudly enough for us to hear him and immediately we all stopped eating, frozen, ready to leap to his defense. Mrs. Dennison pushed her chair back quickly and went to check on him. When she returned she said, "Jonathan is still asleep and was groaning in his sleep, poor child."
When we finished dinner, Beth said she needed to get home as soon as we cleaned up. I said, "Hank, you go ahead and take Beth home. We'll clean up." Hank gave me a high five, grabbed Beth around the waist and was out the door in the shake of a lamb's tail.
Jason, Wesley and I cleared the table and washed the dishes. Josh put things away since he knew where Mrs. Dennison kept everything. When we finished, Wesley said, "Josh, why don't you come along with us? Don't think there is anything for you to do around here."
"Why not?" Josh replied.