Castle Roland

Journey of Love

by The Journeyman


Chapter 26

Posted: N/A

Sometimes you just know that you dont have to repay kindness. I know that about my lover and his family. I know they have done what they have done out of love. But I also know that I will repay them. Not in any specific way; not in any specific act, but in being the best, kindest, most considerate person I can be. Theyve shown me that. Its sort of like paying it forward. You dont repay a kindness, you pass it on. Kindness, love, charity and hope can be given to the next person. These people Im living with, they already have that stuff. It would be a waste to give it to them. I mean, Ill certainly be nice to them. Ill give them all my love. But the best way to repay them is to do for others what they have done for me. And I know I can do that.

The bus came three hours later, late as usual. The total fare was $85, which was $35 more than I had. A ticket to Vegas was $13. The bus driver let me pay that amount and I climbed aboard, glad for the air conditioning. When we got to Las Vegas I went to buy the rest of the ticket, but it cost $80, because I hadnt bought the whole trip at once. I was about $45 short, and I needed to eat.

Youre not even going to believe this. I mean, Las Vegas is really a trip. There are slot machines everywhere. I mean, everywhere. I guess they even have them in grocery stores. Well, they had them in the Greyhound station, thats for sure. And youre supposed to be, like, 18 to play them. But whos gonna check in the bus station? I figured I didnt have enough money to buy a ticket anyway, so why not take a chance? I put a dollar in the machine, looked around to see if anyone was watching, and hit the button. Nothing. I took another dollar. Nothing. Third dollar. Nothing. Fourth dollar. Three bars came up. Fifty bucks. I paid for the bus ticket and sat down to wait. While I was waiting I fished around in my pocket for a quarter and put that in a slot. Ten bucks. Ha ha. I was on a roll. But I was also scared to gamble more. I was more interested in eating, and thats what I did. Hamburger and fries with a Coke never tasted so good. With that nourishment, my thoughts returned to Danny. I was going to make it this time. Nothing would stop me like before.

The bus was pretty crowded when it finally arrived. A lot of people got off, but there were a lot of us waiting to get on, too. I sort of wondered how many were reduced to taking the bus because they had gambled away their airline ticket, or worse, their car. Since I didnt have any luggage to look after I could get on quickly. I found an unoccupied seat and grabbed the window side. I figured Id take my luck with whoever sat next to me. People filed on to the bus, and a young Mexican girl, who looked about my age, sat next to me. But she didnt say anything to me when I smiled at her, and I didnt push it. We rode in silence, and I watched the desert and scruffy land rush by.

It was a seven hour ride to Los Angeles, my next transfer point. Some guy loaned me a newspaper, which I read for a while. Then when a lady got off at San Bernardino she left a People magazine, which I read. I dozed for a little while, and just sort of vegged out. I mean, how much can you do on a Greyhound bus? Okay, okay. I know there ARE some things you can do (join the 70 mph club?), but not when youre traveling alone.

But I no longer really felt alone, I suddenly realized. I felt like I was whole again. My purpose was to see Danny. I could almost feel his presence. I looked out the window and relaxed a moment. Was I losing my mind? Was I becoming obsessed?

Five hours in Los Angeles after 10:00 at night. It wasnt boring, thats for sure. It wasnt exactly terrifying, although it was on the same sliding scale. It wasnt pretty, by any means. Lets start with the bathrooms, because I had to pee like a racehorse when we got off the bus. I have no idea when they had last been cleaned, but it wasnt any time during the Bush administration. I mean the FIRST Bush administration. I think even the paper towels were dirty. The ones still in the dispenser. I spent some money on a book and started to read. Ive read Catcher in the Rye a couple of times, but I still love it. I find something new every single time. Around 1 a.m. I started to get drowsy, but no way was I going to fall asleep in that place. People were all over in and out, coming and going. Someone could snatch your stuff, climb on a bus and be out of the state before you ever woke up. I got a Coke and some chips from the machine and walked around a little. Not much. Damn. I wanted to leave. I needed to get to Danny, and this fucking bus was never going to go.

When my next bus finally loaded it was about 4:30 in the morning. I slipped into the front row seat across from the driver, but I didnt stash my bag overhead. I slipped one arm through the strap, reclined the seat, and was asleep before the bus left the terminal. I actually dreamt of Danny. I could feel him holding me. I woke with a start as the sun was coming up. I was hard and I rolled onto my side to hide it. The guy next to me was asleep too. We were an hour from the end of the line for me. At least, the end where the bus would let me off. I wanted to ask the driver to go faster. I needed all the speed I could get. Jeez, almost five months after I left, I was going to see Danny. I couldnt sit still.

The two-lane highway widened to four as we approached the town. We hit just after rush hour traffic, but there were still a lot of cars to maneuver through. Finally the bus terminal came into sight. The driver called out the name of the town as the bus came to a stop. I stood and squeezed past the man sitting next to me. I hadnt said a word to him. I shouldered my backpack and was the second person off the bus. It was 9:30.

Inside I found a map of California and then one of the town I was in. I found the highway that led to Dannys town. Fifteen miles to go. I could do that. I figured out the shortest route to the highway and began walking. After being in a bus all that time, not able to move, not even in the Los Angeles terminal, it felt great. I walked to the highway and followed it to the edge of town. It was already warm, and I began to sweat. It had been 24 hours since I showered, so I probably didnt smell too great. I took off my shirt and tied it around my waist.

I walked west about five miles when a car passed and slowed down and pulled onto the shoulder. The driver waved at me and I trotted to catch up, slipping my shirt back on. As I got to the car he asked where I was going. I told him. He said he was going that way, but had to turn off the highway just before town.

Hop in, he said, Ill give you a ride that far.

I did, and immediately knew Id made a mistake. The car reeked of alcohol. He had spun the tires on the gravel shoulder and careened back onto the blacktop before I could get out.

Pull over, I said.


Youre drunk. I want to get out. Please pull over.

Naw, m not drunk. You jush smell likker, thash all.

He was concentrating real hard on the road, trying to keep the car straight. It wasnt working.

I only had one r two. I akshully drive better when Ive had one r two.

Well, maybe, but I want out anyway. Please stop.

Aw, cmon. m fine. I can drive.

I didnt want to argue and make him mad. He was having enough trouble with the car as it was. I rode in silence a couple of miles, and then I saw my chance. The road came to a T-intersection ahead and there was a stop sign. I quietly unhooked my seatbelt, but didnt retract it, and I put my hand on the door opener.

But he wasnt slowing down.

Hey. Theres a stop sign there, I said as we approached at highway speed.

Oh, shit, he said. I didnt see it. He slammed on the brakes and the car tipped forward, then began to skid. The rear end fishtailed around to the left. He over-corrected and we hit the shoulder. He pulled back onto the blacktop and the rear end broke to the right. As the speed bled off I threw the door open and when I thought we were going slow enough I threw myself out of the car. I landed on my left foot and tumbled to the roadway, rolling over and over until I came to a stop.

The car continued to fishtail, slid sideways through the stop sign and lined up perfectly into the southbound lane. He hit the gas and sped away. I dont know if he even realized I had bailed out.

Well, I had hit hard. I sat there for a moment on the pavement, and realized Id better move my butt or risk getting hit by some other drunken prick. I stood up fell down again right away. My left ankle gave out on me.

FUCK in HEAVEN! I screamed to no one there. What the hell else can go wrong?

I stood up again, put all my weight on my right foot and hopped off the road. I sat down on a discarded tire by the roadside and began to inspect myself. A good road rash on my right arm. Tenderness on my left cheek probably more road rash. No broken bones, except maybe my ankle. Left knee skinned through the blue jeans, which were torn. Ow! And a spot on the side of my head. More road rash, but this one was oozing blood.

Great. Now I looked like some homeless thug ready to beat the shit out of people. Thats gonna get me a ride. Sure. Plus I smelled like a mens locker room.

I stood up on my good leg and gingerly put weight down on my left foot. I could stand on it. I went to take a step and pain shot through. I couldnt walk on it. I sat down again and took off my shoe and sock. The aroma was powerful. Day and a half old sweaty white sox. I think the goldenrod in the ditch wilted.

Yep. Sprained ankle. It was starting to swell. As a baseball player, Id had several, so I knew the symptoms. I also knew the prognosis, and I quickly put my sock on (now try this: a sweaty, damp sock on a sweaty, damp bare foot and an ankle that is angry at the slightest pressure. Yeah. New experiences in pain), then my shoe and laced it tight before the swelling made it impossible.

Well, maybe I could walk it off.

I started off in the direction of town. Five miles.

It was 11:30 by now. And I figured I had found the most deserted road in California. I could have done all of this right where I had landed, in the middle of the highway, and been perfectly safe. No car had come past in that whole time. I had five miles to the edge of town, and a bad ankle. Five miles. Bad ankle.


Thats all the thought it took. Danny. I was going to see Danny by the end of this day. I needed no more motivation than that. It could even make the pain in my ankle go away.

No, it couldnt. That motivation may have counted for a lot, but it was not a pain killer. Still, gritting my teeth, I hoisted the backpack that had tumbled with me from the car, and learned how to walk all over again. For the third time in my life. I put my normal weight down on my right foot, but stepped only on my toes, sort of hopping so as not to put my full weight down, on my left. It was the slowest I had walked since I began Kents physical therapy after the baseball accident.

I had to stop and rest about every 500 yards. My right foot really started hurting from bearing the load of the walk. I made a mile in 40 minutes, which, under the circumstances, I thought was pretty good. The next mile took an hour because I had to stop more. The last three miles took four hours. God, I was thirsty by then. I had been in the hot sunshine for seven hours not counting the few minutes I was in the car. I was exhausted. There was a gas station on the edge of town, and it had a little picnic area next to it. I sat down on a bench there in the shade. Nearby was a water fountain, and when I saw it I stood and tried to rush toward it. I forgot about the ankle. I didnt fall, but lord sakes did it hurt.

I drank and drank from the fountain, then went back to the bench to rest. I had done it. I was in Dannys town. He was close by. I knew it. At least I thought I knew it. But I hadnt seen Danny, even talked to him, for five months. What if they had moved back? I started to giggle at that thought, and then belly laugh. Wouldnt that be the funniest thing? Like a bad sitcom. Hahahaha. Here Id come all this way to see Danny, experience life, death, fright, sickness and a bum ankle, and finally, when I get to the doorstep, they had left the day before! I actually howled with laughter.

I knew if I stayed there for any length of time Id go to sleep, and it would be too dark to do anything. I fished in my pocket for some change and came up with some coins. I walked into to the station to buy a Coke and ask directions.

I opened my wallet and took out the address and phone number. Inside there was a pay phone. I called the number on the address.

The answer was chilling.

The number was no longer in service.

I listened to the message twice, stunned. Gone. No longer in service. If they had changed their phone number the message would have said This number has been changed and given the new one. What had happened? Had they actually changed the number and the phone company just had the wrong message? I knew Danny was here. I knew I was within a few miles of my lover. I knew my lifeline was right here. I knew this was the end of the lifeline. The end of the line. The end of the rope. I could feel the panic set in. I was confused. Desperate?

I could feel the hyperventilation coming on.

You okay, son? the old guy behind the counter asked suspiciously.

No, Im, uh, yeah. Yeah, Im okay. Yeah.

I think youd better leave.

Yeah. I mean, I just want to buy a Coke.

I think its best if you just go.

I really need a Coke. I just walked five miles on this bad ankle. Im really thirsty. Please, just let me get a Coke.

Water would be best if youre dehydrated.

Yeah, water. Let me get some water.

Its back in the cooler. Keep your hands where I can see them.

Im not . . . Im not on drugs. Im not going to rip you off. I got off the bus in San Luis Obispo and came here from there. Im trying to find a friend of mine.

Where does he live?

Heres the address.

Hmm. Thats a nice neighborhood. Whats your friend do?

His dad runs a bank. Can you tell me how to get there?

He gave me directions, but I asked him to write them down. I asked if I could go get the water now, and he said sure. I brought it back and paid for it. He saw me limping.

What happened?

I twisted my ankle walking along the shoulder. Hurts like hell. Heck. Sorry.

You want some aspirin?

I dont think I have enough money.

No, I got a bottle back here. He poured three into my hand. Take all three. Itll help the swelling.

I thanked him, shouldered my bag again, and took off.

Seven blocks. Thats all. Seven blocks. Three blocks down this street. Take a right. Two blocks. Left. One block. Right. This was the street. My ankle was throbbing. My heart pounded. Just a few steps. The numbers on the houses were going in the right direction. Across the last street. First house. Second house. Dannys house.

I stood and looked at an empty lot.

The weeds were up to my knees. Two nice middle class houses stood on either side. There was a driveway and, interestingly, a sidewalk that both led into the weeds, but no house. As if they were waiting for a house to be built. But at the address Danny had given me, there was no house.

Panic started to rise. This was even the address listed in the phone directory when I looked up his number. But no house. I waded into the tall grass. An older lady working in the yard next door looked up from her gardening and watched me.

Be careful, young man. Theres still a basement hidden among those weeds. Youll hurt your other leg or worse if you fall in.

Huh? Great. I was going to make a stellar first impression.

I mean, they didnt fill in the foundation. I didnt want you to fall into it.

I dont understand.

That house burned down about five months ago. They cleared away the wreckage, but the basement is still there.

Burned down? It burned down? I limped toward her, making sure to avoid where I thought the basement would be.

Yes, she said as I got near her yard. It burned to the ground and everything in it. I felt so bad for the family. They hadnt lived there very long, but I think they were just renting anyway.

Burned down? What happened . . . the family . . . the Shaws . . . were they . . . I couldnt bring myself to actually ask.

Oh, no. They were home when it burned down, but they got out. Well, I guess Danny had to go to the hospital for a few days because of the smoke. He wasnt really hurt, they just wanted to observe him. Hes fine. They said it was bad wiring. They lost everything. They were pretty broken up about it. Danny, the oldest boy said hed lost some very personal things. But, then, they all did.

Where did they . . . It was too much for me. I couldnt process it. I had found Danny, then lost him for good, I thought briefly and now there was hope again.

They moved across town. They had been building a house and it was enough finished that they could move in. Its nice.

Where is it?

Are you a friend of theirs?

Im a friend of Dannys from back home. I came by bus.

The bus stops in San Luis Obispo.

Yeah. I walked from there.

Are you Justin?

Yes. Im Justin.

Oh, Danny used to talk about you all the time. He really misses you. Hell be so happy to see you.

He talked about me? Really?

Yeah, all the time. When he first got here he was pretty sad. Well, I guess any young boy would be leaving his friends behind, but he was especially sad. Refused to go to the beach or do much of anything. He and I used to talk, and he told me all about the gang back home. But he said he and you were the very best of friends. Sort of like soul mates. He thinks the world of you. He used to come over and tell me every time you two talked.

I was in heaven. He really talked about me? Wow, thats soo cool. Yeah, were best friends. We have been since we were babies. We grew up together.

Yeah, he told me.

How do I get to their house?

Well, Id take you, but my car is in the shop. But it isnt far. About 15 blocks.

Maam, Ive come 1500 miles. I can do another 15 blocks.

She gave me directions and a glass of lemonade, and then I set off. The sun was beginning to set. It took me about 45 minutes to go that 15 blocks, because I had to keep resting. The aspirin hadnt done much good.

Once again I turned up the street. First house, second house, third house, Dannys house. And there it stood. Nice, big (his dad must have gotten a huge raise) and dark, except for the porch light, which was lit. It didnt look like anyone was home. I walked up to the welcome mat and rang the doorbell, and of course, no one answered.

I retreated back across the street to a clearing in the wooded park. There was some playground equipment, a few picnic tables and a water fountain. Unfortunately, his house wasnt close enough to the ocean to see it. I was really eager to see it. One way or another, I would.

I waited until dark. My stomach growled with hunger, but I didnt want to miss them coming home. But they didnt. The house stayed dark. At midnight, I was at the point of exhaustion, from the heat, the physical exertions of the day, the lack of sleep over the past 36 hours and the mental stress. I knew I couldnt sleep out in the open, so I walked a ways into the woods, put my backpack on the ground, and used it for a pillow. I lay there, painful ankle, protesting stomach and restless thoughts. This was the final decline. I was officially homeless. I had slept in a garage and a storage shed, but at least I then I had a roof over me. Here I was sleeping in a park with a backpack for a pillow. Not even a blanket. Waiting for someone who I wasnt sure even wanted to see me. But the conversation with that lady this afternoon was encouraging. He talked a lot about me! I smiled. Then I thought of something. His house had burned down. Now why the hell hadnt he told me?

It hit me with such force that I actually curled up tighter. Five months ago. Thats when I left home. And I left home because Danny had stopped writing me. Maybe I should go find the ocean right now and throw myself in to rid the world of one incredibly stupid person. Or, if not, I could just wander around town and be the ready-made village idiot. Danny had stopped writing because he was in the hospital. I didnt deserve his love. I had simply assumed he was through with me. I had so little faith in that love of his. And I had done that before, with him and Greg. I assumed he no longer loved me. Why could I not trust his love? My love for him had become undying. Why would I expect less of him? Becky had pinned me on that one last year. It was Danny who first pledged his love, and who always had after that. It was he who sat for days in that hospital waiting for me to wake up. It was he who encouraged me every step of my recovery. It was he who took the biggest chance of all and showed me what love could be. Not the sex, but the whole package. My parents had never shown me what love could be. But from the time he was six years old, Danny had shown me. Every day of his life he had shown me. How could I be so shallow as to let a couple of days of not getting any email question that. I was scum. I should just get up and walk away. I didnt deserve him. I wasnt sure what I deserved.

But something kept me there. An attraction I couldnt identify. I could not have left if I had tried. With all that going on, I was restless. I dug into my backpack and pulled out an old T-shirt. It was the one Kevin had cried on so long and hard after Jonathan was diagnosed, the one I have vowed never to wash. I used it as a security blanket that night, and I dropped off to sleep.

Traffic woke me the next morning. The sun was up, but shaded by the heavy canopy of leaves. I had actually slept late. People were headed off to church. I rose and stretched and wondered if there were a church near by. Any church. I took my shirt off and changed it for one in my backpack, and I became aware of how bad I smelled. I slipped on a clean T-shirt, hefted the backpack and began to walk down the street the way most of the cars seemed to be heading. My ankle was even more swollen and very, very stiff.

About three blocks down was a fairly busy street with several fast-food restaurants. My stomach contracted at the sight of them. Still, it was about 9:30 and I did want to get to church. I found one and went in. Several of the ushers looked at me suspiciously. I quickly found the mens room and discovered why. I was a mess. My hair was matted with dirt and caked with blood from the scrape the day before. There was dirt on my face, the road rash from jumping out of the car the day before had scabbed and there was some color around my left eye. My jeans were torn and had dirt on them. My sneakers were filthy. I ran some water and washed my face the best I could, peed, washed my hands and then went to the sanctuary.

I sat in the back, as far from others as possible so as not to overwhelm them with my smell. The building was cool, the service was okay, the sermon was about forgiving. For some reason the preacher emphasized atoning for ones misdeeds and then being sure to forgive ones self as well when the atonement had been completed. I think he was telling me that I had to make it up to Danny, and then I had to forgive myself if Danny forgave me. I liked the message.

After church I spent most of the money left in my pocket and bought a bite to eat. Then I hobbled back to the park. I tried their door first, but no one was home yet. So I sat and waited. Noon came and went. One oclock. Then two oclock. I sat in the park and watched kids come and go. They were happy, laughing and having a great time. We used to be like that, I thought. The five of us. Me, Danny, Kyle, Greg and Richie used to be like that all the time. Two young boys were trying to see how fast the could make the merry-go-round go, and they giggled as they hopped on and off. We giggled endlessly when we were young. What happened? How had I turned out this way? Why had I left? I knew Richie, Greg and Kyle were all home, nestled in warm beds, ready to get up and live their nice, Midwestern lives today. I would be too if I had stayed. But where? I couldnt let Kyles family put me up. I had to leave, because I had no place to go. Tears leaked out the corners of my eyes, and I angrily wiped them away. No. This wasnt going to happen. I pulled myself together and continued to sit, waiting.

A few people looked at me sort of funny as I sat there, but screw em. I wasnt moving from the spot.

I got hungry again, but I knew my ankle wouldnt stand another trip to McDs. and I only had a dollar left, so I waited. But not quietly. I fidgeted. It was agonizing. I was sweating and I felt like hyperventilating. Time dragged. The breeze of the afternoon vanished about 5:00 and the air got still. Not a cloud in the sky. Very little traffic on the street. The park emptied about then, too, as people went home to Sunday dinner. The town seemed utterly quiet. Almost deserted. I glanced at my watch and saw it was 5:21. A minivan was coming up the street from the busy street where I had been earlier. It had California plates on it, and it slowed as it got near Dannys house. I held my breath. It turned into Dannys driveway.

They were home.

I couldnt breath. The tears were building. I didnt know what to do. I was a mess. Could I let them see me like this? No. I had to find a place to clean up. I had to make myself presentable. Still, I was drawn to the curbside as the doors of the minivan opened. Mrs. Shaw was the first one out. A tear slipped down my cheek. Charlie came out the rear side door. Mr. Shaw got out of the drivers side. Then, from the rear drivers side sliding door came Danny.

I started shaking uncontrollably. I was fixated. He was as beautiful as I remembered. More beautiful. He was smiling at something Charlie had said. I was standing right on the curb and I couldnt tear my eyes away. I was staring at them. I wanted to feel the life flow back into me, the life that had forsaken me no, that I had forsaken. I picked up my backpack, still staring, so I could find a bathroom and clean up. I was looking at Danny as he got some luggage out of the rear compartment. Then I heard Charlie yell something.

Take a picture, why dont ya?

I realized he was talking to me, sort of aggressively.


I said take a picture. Why are you staring at us?

I . . . um . . . I.

Who are you? What do you want?

Charlie? I said. I started across the street.

Yeah? Who are . . .

He didnt get a chance to finish.

JUSTIN! Oh my god. JUSTIN! Is that you? Danny dropped the luggage at the front door and ran across the lawn. He got to me at the sidewalk and grabbed me in the tightest bear hug Ive ever had. He buried his face in the crook of my neck.

Danny, I said. Danny, I . . . I sank to my knees and hugged his thighs, sobs overtaking every single nerve in my body. Danny, I love you. Please let me stay, Danny. Please let me stay.

Justin, oh, my god, youre alive. Oh, Justin, Ive been so worried. Justin, I thought you were dead. Oh, Justin, dont cry, Danny said through his own tears. Charlie came over and helped me to my feet and I clung to the two of them. Charlie, crying just as hard, turned me toward Danny, who grabbed me again and began kissing me all over. He just kept saying, I thought you were dead, in between the kisses.

George and Fran rushed over and suddenly I found myself in the middle of a five-person hug. We just hugged and cried on the front lawn, not caring who saw us. I was too overwhelmed to say anything at all. I couldnt even move. I tried to catch my breath and couldnt for a moment. The sobs were almost causing convulsions. My heart felt like it would burst out of my chest. My arms and legs were shaking with emotion. With something I couldnt identify.

It was life.

Life was flowing back into me so fast my weary body couldnt take it. My muscles contracted with the rush. I sagged in Dannys arms. He and Charlie helped me inside and to the family room. I started to sit on the floor because of my filthy clothes, but Danny guided me to the couch. He held me and we cried together, long and hard. Fran and Charlie stayed with us, close by, rubbing our backs. They didnt say anything except words of comfort. We finally spent our tears, but still clung to each other. George sat nearby, silently watching us.

Are you hungry? Fran asked after while.

I nodded, and in a flash there was food.

My heart slowed a little as I ate the sandwich and drank glass after glass of lemonade. Danny held my hand the whole time. As I finished the sandwich and chips, Fran got up and went back into the kitchen. From there she called, Charlie? George? Would you come here and help me with something?

What do you need help with? Charlie asked.

With something she said with emphasis.

Oh, Charlie said, the hint sinking in. The two of them left, smiling.

They left. Danny smiled and scooted close on the couch. He looked into my eyes. I looked into his. They were, as always, a window to his soul. And what I saw in his soul was relief, and love. The deepest, most intense love I had ever seen there. Stronger and more sure than those eyes had ever revealed. A more mature love than I had known.

He kissed me.

Strong, firm and sure.

And I kissed him back

Strong, firm and sure.

A fire erupted in me, igniting my passion as it had never never been lit before. I was hard, but it wasnt time for that. It was time to demonstrate my love, not my lust, but my love. Then everything went black.

I woke on the couch, everyone crowded around. Fran had her hand on a cold wash cloth on my forehead.

Are you all right? she asked. You gave us a scare. What happened?

I was, er, kissing Danny and I just passed out, I guess. Nothing happened. I was just, um, I dont know how to say it. I just, it was, I mean, Ive missed you all so much, and especially Danny and I didnt know if he still loved me and if Id ever see you again and when I did and you still loved me and wanted me, and its been such an overwhelming, um, intense emotional hour that, well, I guess I, I dont know. Im sorry.

Nothing to be sorry about, honey, Fran said. We should have realized how overwhelming its all been. How long have you been on the road? Wait. Dont answer that. Lets get you cleaned up and let you rest. You can tell us about it when youre ready.

Lying there I realized how bad I smelled. I smell really bad, I said. Im sorry.

Sweetheart, please stop apologizing. Nothing can diminish this moment. I have my other boy back, she said, her voice cracking, and I dont care what he looks like or how he smells.

I started to tear up.

Danny helped me up to a sitting position and gave me a glass of water. I realized I was probably somewhat dehydrated, and I drank it all down.

Danny, Charlie, why dont you help Justin up the stairs and show him where things are so he can take a shower if he wants and put on some clean clothes. I think some of yours will fit him. Maybe the sweats.

Sure, mom.

Danny and Charlie both helped me as I limped up the stairs on my painful ankle. Danny showed me his room. It was spectacular. The whole house was gorgeous. Then he took me into the bathroom he and Charlie shared, and began to strip me. He kissed me as he worked up the shirt to under my armpits. I raised my arms and he slid it up and off, bending down to kiss my nipples. He kissed and licked all over my chest, then started on my jeans. He opened my belt and the snap and kissed me on my tummy just above my exposed underwear. How he could stand the smell I dont know. He was sweet and pure and clean. He followed the tops of my jeans down my legs, kissing my thighs, knees and calves. I lifted one foot so he could take the jeans off that leg, and he kissed the ankle and my foot, still in a dirty, smelly sock. Then he took the sock off and kissed each toe. Then he did the same to my other foot (well, I put the first one back down, of course).

He kissed me on the bellybutton as he hooked his thumbs and forefingers in my briefs, then slid those down and off, too, but he didnt kiss all the way down this time. He stopped at my cock, which was incredibly hard by now, and kissed all around. He nibbled at the base of my cock, while his fingers teased my nipples. I was ready to fall down again my knees were so weak. He nipped at my ballsac, then kissed the head of my cock before taking all the way into his mouth. I was a little bigger than last time maybe not quite six inches, but, okay, five and a half.

It took about 30 seconds. I exploded into his mouth and he caught me as my knees buckled. I pumped out my soul to him, and he drank it in. I wanted to sleep just then. I wanted him to carry me to bed, hold me in his arms and let me sleep.

We showered together. I know he was horny, but he never pushed me. I knew he loved me now, because he had taken care of me already, and asked nothing for himself. How could I have doubted that? To this day, and Ive thought about it a lot, I do not know. I was simply stupid. When we were dry we went back into his room and he got out some sweats for me. Downstairs, Mr. Shaw had an Ace bandage ready and wrapped my ankle.

Before we do another thing, Fran said, we have to call back to the guys. Theyre panicked, Justin. You have to talk to them.

I dreaded that. I didnt want to. I could see how selfish I had been, and I knew what I had put them through. But as I started to protest, she held out the phone to me. It was already ringing.

Hello. It was Kyle.

Tears coursed down my cheeks again. I tried to find a voice.

Hello? he said again.

I finally squeaked out, Kyle.

There was a split second of silence. Then. JUSTIN! Oh, my god. JUSTIN! WHERE ARE YOU? MOM! ITS JUSTIN! MOM! MOM! GET GREG AND RICHIE. MOM! JUSTIN! Where are you? Are you okay? Ohhhh. I could hear him sniffle.

Hi, Kyle. Im sorry.

You sonofabitch. You bastard. Do you know . . . you selfish jerk. Ive been worried sick about you. Everyone has. Do you know what youve done? Did you think it was funny? Where are you?

Im at Dannys. Im sorry. I know. But I couldnt . . . I told him all about my feelings, my reasons for doing what Id done. He listened without saying a word. When I was done, he said simply, But we love you, Justin. We would have done anything for you. You could stay here forever.

No, I couldnt. It just wasnt right. It still isnt, but I have to make things right. With my mom, and with you guys, too.

By then all the guys were there. We chatted a little more, and I said Id tell them all about it the next time I called. They said theyd call tomorrow, and I laughed. We were still friends.

Around the dinner table there was nothing but small talk. It was afterward, back in the family room, where I began to tell my story. I told them what happened after I left. They knew most of it until then because Danny and I had talked so often on the phone. It took three hours of almost non-stop talking. Danny sat in the corner of the couch, his legs spread, and I sat between them, resting against his chest. He kept his arms wrapped around me the whole time. When I admitted my doubts and Dannys love for me, he buried his face in my back and cried. I tried to apologize to him, but he wouldnt let me. He kept apologizing to me.

I tried to convey some of the love I had felt living with the Wilsons. I described Kevins inherent goodness and Jonathans bravery in the face of his disease. I sobbed when I told them about Jonathans death, and Danny held me tighter while Charlie scooted over and held my hand. And both of them cried with me over Kevins suicide.

And when I got to town yesterday I found your phone number and called, but the phone company said that phone had been disconnected. I thought you had moved again and Id never find you.

Oh, that damn phone company, George said. Weve tried to get that message changed to our new phone number. It has something to do with the old phone being disconnected before our new one was connected and they cant put a new message on. Its been frustrating.

So it had simply been a wrong message.

The guy at the store gave me directions to the address, and I thought Id die when there was no house there. But some lady next door said it had burned down. And then I imagined the worst. I thought you had all been killed and thats why I didnt hear from you, I said. But she said you were all okay, but that Danny had been in the hospital. I turned to him. Im soo sorry I wasnt here for you, bud. Im soo sorry I doubted you. I dont know if you even want me, Danny. I thought you had abandoned me for someone else, when in truth you were in the hospital, and I was too selfish to think anything else. Im soo sorry.

It was nearly 11:00 when I finished. I was exhausted. Fran and George both sat stunned. I was still snuggled against Danny, and Charlie was leaning against me. Finally, George spoke up in almost a whisper.

Youve seen a lot more than a 16-year-old boy ought to see, Justin. Youve had a couple of bad breaks. I hope you can begin to heal.

Me, too.

Ill be here for you, Justin, Danny said. Every moment that you need me. Ive missed you so much.

Fran chuckled quietly. Thats an understatement. Hes been frantic, Justin. Why didnt you just tell us where you were? We could have sent you money to come here.

I didnt. . . I choked, didnt know if Danny still . . . I couldnt finish. I know it was stupid. I wasnt thinking. I didnt know how to think. I should have let someone know. But if I had let anyone at home know, they would have had to tell someone, and then I would have been picked up and taken home.

And you would have known about the fire and why no one had written, George said.

I know. It just . . . it made sense at the time. Im really, really sorry I did this to you. It wasnt fair.

Stop, Justin, Fran said. What isnt fair is what has happened to you these past few months. What is fair is that you are going to stay with us. We know whats going on at home. You can stay here.

You always do this, I said. I was hoping you would still be here for me. I keep letting you down and you . . .

Justin, youve never let us down, George said. Never. Coming 1500 miles to see Danny, is just well, its truly amazing. It shows how deep your love is, for Danny and for us. Ive never seen dedication like that. Danny just squeezed me.

Come with me, Justin, Fran said. I stood up and winced as I put weight on my ankle. Charlie was up in a flash to support me. We followed her to the front door. She opened it and stepped outside. I stopped just inside the door.

The porch light was on. Weve never turned it off, Charlie said. Never.

Fran bent over and lifted the door mat. Underneath, just where it had always been, was the key to their front door.

See? Weve been expecting you, she said quietly, and laid the mat back down over the key. Can you imagine the love I felt just then? What selfless people these are. It was probably the most meaningful gesture of love and hope I have ever, ever seen. All I could do is mouth a silent, Thank you.

Danny and I made love that night to each other, exploring each others bodies like it was our first time. It was lustful at first, passionate as we went on, loving at the very end. We picked up where we had left off nearly a year before. Afterwards, Danny lay on his side and I scooted against him, my back to his chest, his still slick cock, half-hard, nestled in my crack. He pulled me close, kissed me on the nape of my neck and said, just before we drifted off to sleep, Welcome home, bud.

I went to summer school to catch up with Danny, and at the end of the summer we went home. The guys were so happy to see us. We all tried not to, but it turned into a big cry fest. There were cook-outs, sleep-overs and a huge party at Beckys. She and Kyle are still dating (and theyve done it!) Greg and Richie both have girlfriends, and Frank is out of Moms life. She still has problems, but were getting her into treatment, and hoping shell be okay. Please pray for her. She needs so much help.

George thinks he might get transferred back home. That would be so great. It would be wonderful to graduate with the guys, all of us together. But its not a done deal. I hope so. As much as I love Danny, I miss those guys.

Ive had to have a lot of help. George said Id seen more than 16-year-old guys are supposed to, and maybe hes right. Ive been unmanageable at time, as I guess you can tell. But my counselor was right writing this has helped enormously.

So Im fine. And when Im not fine, I have a wonderful family here to support me. Just like my physical wounds from the trauma of the baseball accident, Ill have to live with the emotional trauma of my parents, Frank, hitch-hiking, Jonathan, Kevin and all the rest. But just like the baseball injury, I can recover from this.

And yes, for all you who wondered, Danny is my lover. How could it be any other way?


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