Castle Roland


by Joe Writer Man


Chapter 14

Published: 8 Apr 14


Copyright © 2012 - 2014 by Joe Writerman and the Revolutions Universe Partnership.

All Rights Reserved

Breckenridge Hospital,
Wednesday, November 7, 2012, CST 1:45pm, EST 2:45pm

Centennial LogoThe elderly man, Father Mott, walked through the darkened hallways from the Emergency Department heading to the General Surgery wing to see patients before he retired for the day to the one room bungalow he called home.

Mrs. MacGruder was the first patient he wanted to see. Just that morning, she'd taken a turn for the worse. Diagnosed with pancreatic cancer two months ago, she refused chemotherapy after John's 'open and close' surgical operation to determine the extent of the disease and to hopefully perform a definitive procedure, however the exploration revealed cancer had spread to every major organ system.

When he visited her that morning, he threw away the 'order' to cease and desist performing the sacraments of the Catholic Church by performing the Sacrament of the Sick, and praying with her to have God receive her spirit.

She was distraught over the prospect of leaving her five children. The youngest was two. The oldest was thirteen. They were a tightknit family. Mr. MacGruder worked the oil fields as a supervisor, a job he loved because he got along well with the men working for him, simply because he would see the good in them, support them, and he wasn't too proud to roll up his sleeves and join in the work.

The second patient, George Englewood, was an eighteen year old brought in by ambulance three days ago injured in an industrial accident. He was a healthy strapping young man who had sustained an open fracture of his femur when a dirty filthy augur bit belonging to a sewage treatment machine broke and sent part of a workbench into his appendage. While the augur didn't touch him, the muck did, opening him up to all kinds of infection probabilities. Yet his attitude was positive and hopeful, despite the doctors telling him there was the definite possibility of losing his leg to save his life should the infection raise to dangerous levels.

Father Mott was worried about the young man, as were the doctors. His temperature had spiked to one-hundred-two-point-six just that morning. The antibiotics were doubled up to toxic levels.

The priest arrived at the nurse's station. The surgery schedule had been heavy. They were hustling and bustling around efficiently performing duties for their patients. Father Mott was always amazed how they did so much and kept going.

"Father Mott, good afternoon. How are you?" Sandy, the charge nurse, asked, pleasantly.

"Oh, I'm good. Thank you. I came to see Eileen and George, and anyone else that you recommend."

Sandy walked around the nurses' station. They hugged. When they were close, Sandy said, "Mrs. MacGruder is very close to passing away. I'd say within the next two hours. The family is here. It's hard for them."

They hugged firmly, then Sandy took a step backward, looked into the priest's eyes and said very quietly, "We're going to be transferring George to the ICU. He's probably going to the operating room later this evening. Doctor Gadson plans to irrigate and drain pockets of infection. Amputation is not out of the question. He's such a pleasant young man."

"Yes, agreed. I'll go see George first, then, before he gets transferred. Thank you."

The smell of infection ran deep in George's room. Father Mott had smelled it before… usually patients with the type of infection that caused the odor succumbed to the disease. But George, along with a younger boy were playing video games. They both looked up when the priest entered the room.

"Hey, Father." The older of the two said very softly, just above a whisper.

The younger boy, fourteen or fifteen years old, got up from his seat next to the bed. He pointed to it hoping the elderly man would sit. He did. The teenager then found a place on the air conditioning vent that goes along the window sill.

"Father, they're going to take my leg. The infection is spreading all through my system. I've made the choice to live. The doctor says that prosthetics have come a long way over the years, so much so that I can probably live an almost normal life."

"You have a good attitude, George. It will carry you long and far. Who's the handsome young man?"

"Oh, I'm sorry. Matt, come shake Father Mott's hand. Father, this is Matt. He's a friend." George said while looking nervously at Matt walk around the bed while taking care to not jiggle the traction equipment affixed to George's lower extremity. Father Mott noticed the change.

Matt, however, walked to Father Mott and extended his hand. They shook hands. Matt said, "It's nice to meet you, Sir." To George he continued, "I'll see you after a while to give you time to speak with him alone."

"Matt would you please stay? I need to talk with Father Mott, but I need to talk to him about us. I'd like you here, please."

The youngster looked between George and the priest, then said, "Are you sure?"

"I'm sure. Whatever we talk to him about is considered confidential." George said, looking to Father Mott. The priest nodded in the affirmative, then motioned for Matt to pull up a chair so that they could sit together.

When Matt was seated, George opened by saying, "Sir, what we are about to tell you needs to stay in this room and in our hearts, okay, please?"

Matt got up, walked to the door, closed it and returned to his seat. Father Mott's eyebrows rose, then returned to their normal state, nodded and said, "That's true, Matt. We are speaking in confidence. The only times I am obligated to notify the authorities is when a person is actively hurting or harming another person, such as rape, murder of course, and the like. Otherwise, if asked, I keep a confidence that even the devil, if you believe in such a malevolent creature, cannot get out of me."

"I don't believe in a devil." Matt said assuredly.

Father Mott smiled, "Neither do I."

George thought for a second before offering, "I've struggled with that, uhmm, the devil thing. But, in the end I don't believe in it. It's fiction."

The priest nodded knowingly. When both boys looked to the man, he continued, "The Bible is filled with many parables, often conflicting with one another. On one page you can read or interpret hate and wrath, then on the next page unconditional love is found. Unofficially, and don't quote me on this… oh heck, quote me all you like (all chuckled)… I believe what we are taught has many untruths for you see the Creator of my understanding represents love and strength, not hate and vengeance. I'm afraid that most of the organized religions teach the hellfire and damnation to control us and to fill us with fear of love. Let me give you an example. Recently I've met some kewl young guys. They've been to hell and back, and I'm not talking about some distant place at the center of Earth. I'm talking about their hell on earth. Their hell told them that their love for one another is wrong and sinful, and that they will likely be punished for generations to come. I believe differently. I believe better days are ahead for them. In fact, I know this is true – because it has already started."

The young people thought about what Father Mott had just said. The younger of the two turned to Father Mott and was about to speak. He then turned toward George.

George said, softly, "Go ahead, Matt. You've got something to say."

Father Mott turned to the boy and caught him wiping his eyes. The priest gently put his hand on the child's arm and silently waited for him to regain his composure. Three times he tried to say something, but the words would not come out. The priest reached behind him, retrieved a Kleenex box and handed it to Matt. Matt took two and blew his nose and wiped his eyes dry.

"Are you afraid of what I will think, Matt?"

The boy nodded, then took a deep breath, "I love George. We're together, if you know what I mean – we're together – we're boyfriends."

Father smiled, "Good. Everyone deserves to be loved. Love takes many forms. I'm very happy you've found someone to love. George, do you love this young man as much as he loves you?"

All eyes turned to George. He reached for the Kleenex box which Matt gave to him after pulling two more tissues from it.

"Yes, oh yes. I love him so much it hurts. I've never said the words out loud to anyone other than Matt… it feels so good, Matt. I'll love you for thousands of millions of years."

The youngster arose from his seat, walked around to the other side of the bed and kissed George's lips.

A wave of concern passed Father Mott's mind. The boy, Matt, was quite a bit younger than George. But, seeing their interaction tempered his concern. Then it was further relaxed when Matt stated, "George worries so much about our being found out." Matt leant down to touch George's lips with his, then retook his seat.

George said, "Father, Matt and I have been intimate in every way. We've enjoyed our sex. I don't feel it is wrong, neither does Matt, but at the same time - I know it's wrong."

"Love is love. Since God is love, your love is not wrong. The law may say differently, however. How old are you Matt, if I may ask?"

"Fifteen. I mean fourteen; I'll be fifteen in eleven months. Sorry." Matt replied, sheepishly.

"Just be careful. Yes, I'm afraid that what you are doing is technically illegal, but while you are bound by man-made laws, your love must live freely by unwritten spiritual laws. Matt, I have to ask you – are you being hurt or harmed in any way?"

"No. No way. George would never hurt me. Ever."

"When you engage in physical love, are you a willing participant?"

George snorted. Matt blushed fiercely and covered his embarrassment with his hands, or attempted to. George chuckled, "Yes, I do believe he is. Yes, without a doubt. You see…"

"Be quiet. Isn't anything sacred?" Matt replied, giggling. Turning to Father Mott, the youngster answered the outstanding question with words, "Yes, Sir. Anything we do is consensual. It's beautiful."

Father Mott nodded, somewhat reservedly. He had received his answer long before he asked that question, but he needed to hear the words come directly from them, especially from Matt. "Guys, while I cannot condone what the State of Texas deems illegal behavior, the love you share, and the responses you've given are enough to convince me of your love. I am not compelled to disclose any information to anyone about our conversation today. Just be careful."

"Father, Matt and I have talked about something that we've wanted to do for a few weeks." George said then turned to Matt.

Matt continued, "We want to get married. Actually, we're already married. It happened on Saturday… I mean we did it… I mean we made our commitments, but we talked about getting really married."

George cleared his throat, "It'll never happen; not in Texas. We talked about running away to Iowa. I've got an Uncle that lives there. He lives with his partner. They were married two years ago. He said we could come live with them. But, he doesn't know Matt's age."

"Then there's my Pa. I really can't leave him. It wouldn't be right."

George nodded.

The boys then turned to the priest. Their expressions told Father that he needed to give them an answer. "Okay. While I'm no longer permitted to perform the marriage ceremony in the Catholic Church, I do still have a license to conduct marriages. Regardless, license or not, the sanctity of marriage belongs to the people who come to Him. When were you thinking of?"

George spoke when Matt looked at him. Obviously, it wasn't something they'd talked about. "Father, Matt, I may not survive the infection and what happened to me… the doctors said so Matt… can we get married soon, maybe even today?"

Matt's expression went from sad to angry. "What do you mean – not survive? You're going to get well, and you're going to kick my ass all over Breckenridge!"

The hurt in George's eyes was clearly evident. He turned to Matt, "I was just saying… the doctors have been straight up with us. Kiss me."

Matt, ashamed of his outburst, quickly complied, then looked at Father Mott and said, "I'm sorry. I don't believe it, not for one second." Turning to George, "You're going to be okay. You've got to believe it. The doctors also said that a positive attitude will help you just as much as their medicine. I'm not giving up on you."

George regarded his lover very carefully. Nodding, the young man responded, "You're right." He cupped Matt's cheek and brought his soul mate to his lips and kissed them tenderly.

When they parted, Father Mott said, "There's no reason that I can see to delay your decisions. Would you like to do it now?"

The younger one of the two boys wiggled his frame into bed so that he could lay next to George. They joined hands and waited for Father Mott to begin.

The elderly man arose from his chair, "Have you two decided the words you want said for your ceremony?"

They looked at each other, then turned to the priest, shaking their heads in the negative. George said, "No, not exactly. I know what I feel. I can't put my feelings into words, though."

Matt had the same expression on his face.

Father Mott took the cue. "Let us pray. God, bless these boys all the days of their lives. Hold them. Comfort them in their time of need. Give them strength to overcome their challenges. Bless George's health and wellbeing. May they stand together in your love and guidance as they forage on day by day through their lives. Matt, do you take George as your husband? To hold? To love? To cherish? To be by his side all the days of your life, until death do you part?"

"I do."

"George, do you take Matt as your husband? To hold? To love? To cherish? To be by his side all the days of your life, until death do you part?"

"I do."

"Since there are no rings…" The priest began to say, then Matt's eyes lit up. He bounded out of the bed, walked to the patient schedule board, grabbed a green Magic Marker, returned, and then said, "Okay, I've got a plan."

Father Mott looked at the boy with curiosity in his eyes, but nodded appreciatively. "Matt, since you have the idea, would you like to go first?"

The boy grinned and nodded.

"Rings are a symbol of commitment, love and cherishment between two people about to be married. Matt, would you please display the ring so that I may bless it before the ring ceremony."

Matt grinned and held out the Magic Marker.

George was clearly 'in the dark' about what Matt was about to do. But when Matt took hold of his hand, the young man grinned… just as Matt put the object to his ring finger on his left hand. Matt busily circumferentially painted the form of a ring on the outstretched knuckle. "This'll have to do until we get enough money together to get real ones." The boy looked to Father Mott for approval.

The man nodded, grinned, and continued, "Say after me: George, I take you to wed. This ring is a symbol of my love and commitment to you."

Matt repeated the words, adding, "You can't wash this off until we get real ones."

Turning to the priest George repeated the words.

Matt handed his nearly wedded husband the Magic Marker. Once the ring was completed on his hand, Father Mott repeated his instructions for George to follow. Matt and George joined hands.

Father Mott didn't linger. He walked to the side of the bed where George was lying, put his hands on both almost husbands' heads and announced, "By none other than God's authority, I now pronounce you husband and husband. May your lives be fruitful, prosperous and filled with joy and happiness for as long as you both shall live. God bless you both."

The married couple passionately kissed to seal their vows. When George's hand went up under Matt's shirt, Father Mott silently took his leave and closed the door behind him.

The priest walked to the Nurse's station. Sandy looked up from the computer screen to see Father Mott smiling warmly. There was a glint of orneriness in his eyes, she saw. "If it is at all possible, could you make sure they have a few moments alone? They're talking… about serious stuff."

Sandy replied, "We're about ready to make the transfer, but we could wait for a while I suppose."

"They'll appreciate it, as will I. Thank you so much. Well… I shall go see Mrs. MacGruder."

Father took two steps out of the station when Sandy said very softly, "Love has no boundaries. We can put off the transfer for thirty minutes or so." The priest smiled as he strode down the hall.

The MacGruder family was gathered around the bed with their mother and wife. Mr. G. looked up to see Father entering the room. Tears were freely flowing from his eyes and rolling down his cheeks, "Father, my wife just took her last breath."

Father Mott noted the time displayed on the old-fashioned clock with hands: 3:07pm.

The children made a place for him to sit on the side of the bed. They gathered around him. He put his arms around the children and began praying, "God, to you we commend her spirit…"





The quiet intimate moment was shattered by the sound of high powered weaponry… then a scream… then POP! POP!

Meanwhile, George accepted Matt's love into his oral cavern, while Matt accepted George's life-saving and life-giving fluids within his most intimate place. At the peak of their travels, their trajectory crashed and burned at hearing the terrifying noises; so much so that Matt fell off the bed, striking his head on the air-conditioning register, slightly dazing him.

The door to their room was slung wide open causing it to crash against the clothes closet, then immediately POP! POP! POP! Matt scrambled for cover, but when his body became parallel with the edge of the bed… whoever had done this exited the room; he saw their boots walk outside and disappear down the hallway.

Matt, terrified, looked up. His vision was filled with the sight of his George lying mortally wounded, all bloodied and with his head splintered wide open.

The boy fell to the floor from total and complete shock.

Something caught Matt's attention. Movement from the doorway. He saw two pairs of boots standing just outside the door. Their toes were pointed toward the front of the ward, then they walked in that same direction and disappeared from sight.

Matt gave the situation a few minutes before reaching for his pants that had been tossed aside to the floor in their urgent needs to consummate their marriage.

Despite being riddled with stark-raving terror, bone fragments and spattered blood, he quickly pulled on his pants and snapped the snap. His shirt, lying beneath the bed was shredded. It was then that he noticed blood dripping from holes in the mattress and landing on his shirt.

The boy wanted to scream from the tops of his lungs, but sheer determination kept him from doing so. Instead, he reached for and put on his shoes, knowing he had to get the hell out of there, and now.

Matt waited for several more minutes, waiting for the murderers to return. He prayed that they would come take him out. His life no longer mattered.

Despite the almost totally encompassing suicidal thoughts, he managed to get to his hands and knees and crab-walk to the door. There he stopped to listen, however it was then that he realized his hearing sense was of no use.

Steeling an inner strength, which surprised him, he slowly broke the plane of the doorway, then quickly looked left then right. Seeing the coast appeared to be clear, he stood up and ran to the doorway of the linen room. There he watched and waited for several more minutes, before turning right. Stealthily, with his back to the wall, he walked the hallway until arriving at the Nurse's station. There he dropped to the floor, belly first. He willed his body forward until he could see inside of the office where the staff did their paperwork.

Several bodies, mutilated beyond recognition, were lying scattered about on the floor, obviously dead.


Matt heard those gunshots. Immediately, he scooted into the Nurse's station where he pushed his body beneath the desk and up against a wall to be, hopefully, out of sight.

The two men who had left the ward to arm the explosives and rig their detonators, returned. The one man pointed his assault rifle to the door and pulled off two shots, nearly destroying the door.

They entered and set two canisters at the front of the Nurse's station. The one man looked at his watch. It read 3:47pm. He then set the detonator to trigger at 7:30pm. All hell would break loose. And they would be long gone.

Instead of racing away, the men went into the lounge where they each lit up cigarettes. One of the men walked into the restroom while the other man channel surfed the TV.

Something, intuition perhaps, told Matt that he needed to leave, and that he needed to go; and that he needed to go – now!

But before he would permit himself to go, Matt looked around the edge of the Nurse's station, looked all around, then seeing that the coast was clear, sprinted through the shattered door and then tore out for the front doors to the building. As he made the last turn that would take him to the lobby, he was stopped on a dime by a man, a security guard holding a 9mm Sig pointed directly into his face.

The man, seeing that Matt was but a boy spattered with blood and other bodily fragments, and without a weapon, quickly whispered, "Get out of here. Go. Don't look back. Run." The child, even though he couldn't hear what Bert was saying, knew that the man was telling him to get the hell out of there, and to do it now.

The boy said, "There are two men in the ward. Everybody else is dead."

The man nodded, then pushed the boy toward the lobby area. Matt, not needing to be told twice, ran toward the front of the hospital.

Bert held his weapon at the ready and slowly made his way to the door of the ward Matt had told him of… he was ready for anything.

Just then, two men, both wearing fatigues, exited the double doors. Both had their weapons drawn. Both men saw Bert approaching. For one of them it was too late. His head exploded and he fell to the ground, dead.

The other man turned toward Bert and just as he fired a round, so did Bert. Both men, mortally wounded, fell to the floor. Bert, still conscious from a heart shot, emptied his weapon into the man, still somewhat flopping from death seizures, then Bert fell back to the floor, face up. Against the white colored ceiling tile, he saw a hologram of his deceased baby girl holding her arms out for her daddy. She was giggling and all excited at seeing her daddy. Bert grabbed the little child up in his arms, as his life on earth ended.

Matt, meanwhile, ran through the corridor to the lobby area. There he saw no less than twenty bodies of men, women and children all laying mortally wounded. Blood was everywhere. Even the windows were spattered, as were a couple of places on the high ceiling.

He walked to within ten feet of the windows. There he saw two men standing on the steps outside smoking cigarettes. He turned on his heels and retreated to the back of the hospital, hoping against all hope to make his exit, to where he wasn't sure, just somewhere, anywhere away from here.

A red sign with an arrow pointing toward 'Emergency Room' was hanging helter-skelter from the ceiling. Matt, after searching for additional assailants, and finding none, took off down the hall. By the time he'd reached the ER, he passed or stepped over 19 bodies lying on the floor in various positions, all dead, all mutilated beyond recognition. At the mouth of the ER he saw two men standing in the ambulance bay just outside the door. He ducked into the security guard shack within the ER, quietly closed the door, and crouched down low so as to not be seen. It was then that he saw two holstered 9mm Sigs sitting on the floor next to the wall adjacent to the door he'd just entered.

For the first time since the ordeal began, Matt felt a little bit confident that maybe now he could get to safety. Quickly he checked each weapon to find that they were both fully loaded. He whispered, "I hope I do this right, Pa."

The boy had nothing to worry about concerning his abilities with a weapon. His father had taught him well, and Matt had taken in everything his father had said about handling a weapon. His Pa had told him that in military circles he would be considered a Marksman. That had made Matt extremely proud and grateful. Now, it was a matter of survival; the real test.

Fox was worried that his son hadn't arrived home. Something inside of his head and heart told him that something was desperately wrong. Matt knew that his father wasn't pissed about his being gay and having a boyfriend, not at all. In fact, the day when Matt came out to him, he fell to his knees and thanked his God that his child found his truth before it was too late.

One of Matt's classmates had committed suicide in August, right after school had started this term. The revelation had knocked Matt on his ass. Fox had to tell Matt the news. The boy took it hard. That night, Matt confided that he was thinking of the same thing, but didn't have the balls to actually do it. At Fox's urging, using borderline threats to thrash the child as only a father can do, Matt opened up and told his dad his secret.

Matt looked out the window from the ER guard's shack, paying close attention to the doors leading into and out of the department. Fifteen minutes passed before the boy opened the door and stole toward the wall that separated outside from inside, knowing that knowing where the enemy was located was a principle his dad had taught him from the very beginning. While Fox was quick to point out that their shooting was to be defensive, Matt got the feeling that he was also being taught to protect himself should an occasion arise where his life depended on awareness and know-how.

That training was coming into play right here, right now, in the present, not tomorrow nor the next day after that.

Matt, a small boy as far as height was concerned, was, nevertheless, stout and muscular from working the property and taking after his dad who was a brute of a man. Although Fox was one of the biggest men in that part of Texas, people weren't afraid of him, rather they were respectful. Fox had never given anyone reason to be afraid. Truth be told, despite his rough exterior, the man was a gentle person. Anger was not something that traveled through his blood stream; it was a waste of time and space the man had told his son on more than one occasion when the boy would get a bit more rowdy than he needed to be.

Matt crouched low, tripped the safety, placed his finger squarely on the trigger, readied it, took in a deep breath, pushed away the terror that was threatening to show forth, and then quickly, deliberately, stealthily, without wasting any time, busted through the doors. Both men carrying assault weapons turned on him, but before they could pull the trigger, they, too, were lying next to one another with blood spurting in all directions from their heads. Three other men, running to the scene, met similar fates.

Matt, feeling confident that immediate danger had passed, at least for the moment, quickly made his way to the parking lot. While walking through it, intent on simply walking the twenty-seven miles home, he saw a Porsche with its door open. With his weapon at the ready, he debated on taking the long way around the vehicle, however when he scuffed his foot on the pavement, there was no motion of any kind from that vehicle. From a safe distance away, he saw a man sprawled half in and half of the car, obviously dead.

His father had long ago taught Matt how to drive a stick shift transmission. With considerable effort, Matt heaved the dead body aside, climbed in the vehicle and found the keys missing. He looked at the body, then without delay got out of the vehicle, rifled through the man's pockets, found the keys, returned to the car, started it, backed out of the parking spot and was just about to tear out to home but the sight of flames, embers and smoke billowing up into the sky made him even more intent upon getting home. He had to tell his dad. They had to get to safety. Soot and ash began descending upon the car. Afraid for his life, Matt tore out squealing tires and throwing bits of gravel into the air behind him. What he did not realize was that his eyes, while staring straight ahead and paying attention to the road, were leaking tears, and that they were draining down his cheeks and landing on his bare chest as though a fire hydrant was their origin.

For a brief moment, the child's awareness returned. He was coming up on what's known as dead-man's curve, a very sharp bend in the road that required slowing down to less than twenty miles per hour if it was to be made successfully. Many, many people, mostly outsiders, had met their Maker there.

Something, a voice maybe, told Matt to stop the car. At the same time, the vision of George lying dead crowded into his mind. The sights of all of the dead people in the hospital and in the parking lot… everything… everything was descending. It was more than he could take. With his arms and legs shaking uncontrollably, and his mind experiencing a kaleidoscope of terrorizing emotions… he decided to just go for it; punch it; join his George in whatever cypher there was on the other side, if there was another side.

The people of religion had said that there is another side – God's kingdom. But you had to earn it for God's love is conditional. They say that God hates gay people.

Father Mott, though, told him that God loves everybody, no matter what, and that man has the concept of God's love all screwed up.

George's bloody, lifeless body passed before his eyes, showing him each and every little intimate detail.

Matt popped the clutch to kill the motor at the same time he opened the door. He jumped out, fell to his knees at the same time his stomach violently heaved. Those spasms were relentless and shook his entire body to its core, until he was too exhausted to fight them any longer. "Please, Dear God, whoever you are, please take me to my George. I've tried to be a good boy, someone my parents are proud of. My mom, she loved me. My dad, although he doesn't use the words 'I love you' – shows me every day. I'm sorry. It's too much; I can't take it."

With that said, Matt, using every ounce of remaining strength, crawled on his hands and knees. The car door was already open. With considerable difficulty, he was soon in the driver's seat. With his legs and arms feeling weighted down by a ton of steel, he managed to disengage the clutch and start the luxury sports car. He revved the engine to 4,000 rpm, let off the accelerator and looked down the road toward the curve that would take him to wherever it is that a soul goes after it leaves this earth, if it leaves. Maybe you're just dead.

His shirt, he remembered, was at the hospital. He used his fingers like a squeegee, cleared his eyes and wiped his fingers on his pants. He then reached out and closed the door, took a deep breath into his lungs. His vision cleared. A warm peaceful feeling coursed through his veins. The world slowed down, as did his mind. He sat there looking down the road for about five minutes, before jerking the gearshift into first gear, and then punched the accelerator and popped the clutch. Dirt, gravel, bits of tire fabric rebelled over the sudden unleashing of massive energy.

Matt's eyes never left the road, for he was intent upon taking the chance of being with George, the love of his life, the sole purpose for existence.

But then… "Matt, do you remember me rocking you in my arms when I told you that I was going away. You were so upset. I love you, baby, but your time hasn't arrived yet. George is right here with me. Let me take care of him until you arrive. Let off the gas, slow down and pull off to the side of the road. Your dad will be along shortly. Please don't do what you're doing – to your dad. He's so sensitive. Your dying would kill him, but not like this, he would die a slow death one day at a time. Stop – for me, Matty."

Matt's eyes opened wide. While the boy did not hear one single solitary word, the feeling, the knowing that this was all real shot all through his strong adolescent body and mind... his entire being.

Even though the car was now careening at 60 miles per hour in third gear, he punched both feet into the pedals; the right foot on the brakes, and the other one to disengage the clutch.

The car slid sideways, then around and around, and then slammed the passenger side of the vehicle into the small bridge. The digital speedometer stuck on 38 miles per hour. Matt, not strapped in, slammed into the console in the middle of the car.

The Porsche's engine was still running at idle speed when everything around him stopped, seemingly in suspended animation.

As though nothing had happened, Matt purposefully reached his hand to the ignition and turned the key into the 'off' position, killing the low rumbling noise emanating from the highly powerful engine.

The adrenalin rush left his body. It was replaced with peace and serenity. 'Is this what it's like to be dead?' The boy whispered quietly as he collapsed from sheer exhaustion. His eyes closed. Soon, his breathing was deep, regular and rhythmical. His eyes fluttered a few times as a newfound sensation gripped his body. Although his eyes didn't open, the skin of his forehead arched high and the muscles in his body tensed as though he were in the throes of passion.

Ninety seconds after the tension began, the boy lay still, deep in relaxation. The warzone that had nearly taken his mind into the final gates of insanity - stilled.

Nagging thoughts about his son were taking their toll on Fox. The boy not calling, not being home for chores, and definitely not being home for dinner was: unusual, highly unusual.

Unable to take the silence any longer, the man reached for and put on his coat, grabbed the keys to the dilapidated truck that was on its last leg, and headed toward town, driving faster than normal, but not dangerously so. The man, thinking that maybe Matt was walking home kept his eyes intently watching both sides of the road, while at the same time paying careful attention to driving the dirt and gravel road.

Due to darkness, he was not able to see for longer than a mile, so he passed through crossroad stop signs without stopping, throwing caution to the wind.

Due to the number of fatality accidents where a large creek runs beneath a rickety bridge, the State finally put some of those yellow and black indicators as fair warning. While the accidents had slowed considerably, there were still one-car crashes every now and again. They are investigated. Invariably, they are found to be suicides. Then there are times when a stranger who does not know the terrain comes through and loses control… but these are rare.

Having grown up in the area, and having driven the roads since he was eight years old, he knew the roads like the back of his hand. Still, he slowed down at the bridge to carefully make the jag to the left, but not as slow as usual. He had to get to town to find his son.

As he passed across, something, he didn't know what, barely caught his attention. In any event, once on the other side, he upped the pace, intent on getting to town.But… about a mile down the road, the nagging thoughts about that light or reflection, or whatever it was, was enough for him to release the accelerator pedal. When the truck slowed to a speed that required a change in gears, Fox pulled wide to the right, and then shifted into first gear and performed a U-turn. About halfway to the curve, Fox saw tire marks, lots of them, in the middle of the road. His heart sunk at the thought of a driver taking his own life. With trepidation fiercely running through his veins, he continued down the road toward the curve. Approximately one-quarter of a mile east, the acceleration marks turned into swerves and severe braking. The car had lost control. Fox took in a deep breath when he saw the tell-tale signs of a car's rear end far off the side of the road, and it was up against a small bridge that crosses the creek below.

He pulled up behind the vehicle, set the parking brake, left the engine running and the bright lights on, so that he could see where he was going.

"Is there anybody in there?" Fox called out toward the car as he continued walking toward the vehicle.

There was no response. He kept walking, stepping off the road and into the edge of the field. He repeated himself.

Matt, meanwhile, sitting alone in the car, not wanting anybody to see him in his condition, remained quiet… until he heard his father's voice. Everything changed. How could he possibly tell his dad that he had tried to end his life?

That thought was replaced by another terrifying vision of – his George, and all of those people who had died from being shot. The boy's eyes once again filled with tears that were originating from terror. His arms and legs began shaking, once again. Once again, his stomach heaved, but there was nothing left to heave.

"Is there anybody in the car? I'm here to help." Fox called out, arriving at the rear bumper. He didn't recognize the car, so was cautious approaching a stranger at this time of night.

A sound. A sound that perhaps someone was alive after all…. It sounded almost like someone was choking. This put aside all caution. Fox gingerly stepped through the semi-marsh, approached the driver's side and rapped on the window, "Is anybody inside there?"

Now fully convinced that the man approaching was his dad, Matt released all attempts to control his emotions… everything was coming back fast and furious. He saw what happened to George's head. He wondered why or how he was still alive.Fox, hearing his son's wailing voice, attempted to open the driver's side door, but it was locked. "Unlock the door, Matt. It's Dad. Open up."

Matt, with his face resting on the steering wheel, complied by reaching his hand down and lifted the door mechanism handle. He looked to his side. Fox opened the door. Matt looked into his dad's eyes, then slumped forward, desperately trying to bring his emotions under control.

Fox, seeing the blood spattered and smeared all over his son frantically stated, "I'll be right back. I'm calling the paramedics…"

"Don't. I'm not hurt. Besides, there's nobody left to call. They're all dead."

"Whatever are you talking about, boy?"

"Can we just go home, please?"

"Answer me: what are you talking about? What do you mean – they're all dead?" Fox said, leaning into the car. He began running his hands across Matt's chest, but Matt pushed them away, or attempted to, but Fox's big hand gently rested on his shoulder, silently telling the child that he was the boss.

Matt took in a deep breath, slowly exhaled and then grabbed hold of Fox's shirt, wiped his eyes dry and then used the tail to blow his nose into it.

"Matt, I asked you a question." Fox's tone of voice took on a sharp edge of parental authority. Surprised by his dad's change, and feeling yet another wave of terror descending into his being, Matt stared straight ahead, silently.

Even though his wife's, and Matt's mother's death had torn Matt apart, he'd never seen the terror in his son's eyes that was now there – ever before.

***Near Fort Worth, Texas,
Wednesday, November 7, 2012, CST 3:45pm, EST 4:45PM

Aaron and Lawrence stood at the sink in the restroom of the motorhome. The motorhome was sitting in the parking lot of a western apparel store where the family, all but John, insisted that he transform his normally conservative business attire to that of a Texas cowboy, black Stetson and all.

The boys came together. Lawrence pulled Aaron into his arms and rested his chin on Aaron's shoulder. A violent shudder of The President's Son's body confirmed his "I'm scared shitless" statement made just moments ago.

Aaron, intent upon giving his boyfriend enough strength to go forward with the call to his father, outgoing President Ashwood, even though his mind thought it would probably not be the right thing to do. His mind, instead, was playing and replaying the visions of seeing his parents enter the smaller watercraft which headed for a larger boat approximately two-hundred-fifty feet away. The smaller boat, once it was clear of the craft he and Lawrence sat on, suddenly took off at a very high rate of speed. It was cool to watch the rooster-tail, but then terror filled his every pore when the smaller craft wasn't slowing down as it approached the larger craft. The worse possible scenario presented itself when the small boat his parents were riding on turned slightly so that it was aimed directly at the rear section where the engines and fuel were located.

Then it happened.

The boat his parents were riding on hit the craft. Immediately both boats exploded. The explosion was fierce. It sent shards of broken, twisted and splintered pieces of wood, aluminum, fiberglass all over the place. The fire, at first confined to the two craft, then shot at least fifty feet into the air.

Both boys stood there transfixed, watching the inferno but not believing that it was actually happening. But it was happening. The next memory was feeling a sharp stabbing pain at the base of his neck. The sensation was similar to a sting from a great big bumblebee. Then came total powerlessness as his body felt as though it had been placed in suspended animation. Initially there was no pain, but then as though he was returning to earth from a trip far away, he had been gripped in unimaginable terror, and then if that wasn't enough, streaks of a raging white hot fire shot though his penis, taking complete control of all sensory perception, overshadowing all else.

As if their returning memories wasn't enough to drive them completely insane, arms, lots of them, were holding them steady. Lawrence, in the cipher of Aaron's memories, shot his arms out and connected with something hard. Little did he realize that the trajectory was dead on with the side of John's face.

Despite the ringing in his ear and the pain and surprise, John, with Jared coming to his aid, wrapped their arms around the two boys. The two boys continued to struggle to get away as memories of being forcibly restrained against their wills passed through their minds – until John's voice permeated into their ears and on into their brains. Having felt John's arms around him on previous occasions, Lawrence recovered somewhat, first.

Aaron, now becoming aware of his surroundings and the strength emanating from his soul mate, slowly calmed. At least he stopped fighting.

But, the damage was done. His body, once filled with raging adrenalin, quickly collapsed to the floor. His already weak and depleted of nutrients frame, washed of all strength and stamina, was limp as a rag doll. John and Jared, knowing the younger boy's transition to docile and wasted, had no trouble moving the child into the hallway so that they could pick him up and carry the youngster through the mass of waiting children in the main part of the cabin. John sat the youngster down on a narrow sofa at which time the boys all congregated around the youth.

Meanwhile, torn in half by the magnitude of Aaron's upheaval, Lawrence leant into the wall to regain a modicum of control. His body, violently shaking and trembling favorably responded to arms going around his torso and leading him into the main cabin. His face and neck were covered and dripping beads of sweat, soaking his shirt. Yet he calmed at being sat down next to Aaron, and then the younger children converged their love and strength onto and into both Aaron and Lawrence.

Seeing that the boys were safe and in good hands, John took the phone sitting on the table to the forward section of the motorhome, sat down, and spoke, "Guys, I'm positive the boys, Aaron and Lawrence, experienced flashbacks of their prior experiences. Now is not the time for either one of them to be further terrorized and traumatized by Lawrence speaking with his father. I didn't think it was a good idea from the beginning. I've decided that we're going back home where the boys know that they'll be safe for the time being. Maybe they'll be okay later on. I've been waiting for Lawrence to visit and experience his old memories. It was bound to happen."

Dale, listening intently, offered, "That sounds good. I'm so sorry those boys had to be treated so badly."

A new voice added, "Sir, this is Christian. I think I may be able to help. But I need to see them in person. We'll just go from there."

John, highly concerned about his charges mental health at first balked, but the calm reassuring tone in Christian's voice told him that perhaps the child was correct. Yet, the father in him said a different story.

The boy continued, "Some of the kids, three to be exact, back home, had been terrorized in their prior lives. The Elders and I were able to work them through the aftermath of their ordeals. I wasn't going to say anything, at least not at this time, but I think it is appropriate. I have two special abilities. First, I am a high level empath. The second attribute is that I have certain low-level telepathic abilities. I do not know if you have any knowledge of these abilities in another human being. I can at least try. To do this, I must physically be with them."

John fiddled with the phone as though it was some kind of foreign object.

Looking into the main cabin he saw his boys, all of them, huddled around Lawrence and Aaron, both sound asleep, exhausted from their emotional upheavals.

He'd seen children traumatized in some very bad ways, however nothing had prepared him for treating and or taking care of children so heinously abused and brainwashed into believing they were nothing as they were. Doubt crept into his mind, wondering if he would be able to meet the children's needs, at least until he could get them into deep therapy to process through their past lives in a more controlled manner, so they could work into the deep, deep bad experiences in a safe environment with professionals trained to handle such matters. But then again, how many counselors had specialized training in the type of abuse those kids had experienced in their young lives?

Not many.

"I'm going to think about it. Thank you, Christian. This has been so hard on all of the boys. They've heard bits and pieces of the horrendous abuse. Lawrence, Aaron, Eric, Dalton, and to a lesser extent, Jordan and Luke experienced it firsthand."

"Good. I think I can help."

Finnegan Home

Another caravan of highly trained explosive experts arrived at a brick single-story-ranch home located on the outskirts of Breckenridge. The driveway was empty, and there was no sign of life on the property.

Three of the twelve men flanked the stairs leading up and into the house. The front man listened for any sound emanating from the interior. Hearing none, he nodded. The second man swiveled and used a battering ram to splinter the door in all directions, and off of its hinges.

While two men maintained their positions outside, the rest entered the house with their weapons drawn and at the ready. Their orders were to leave with no survivors – except for The Target.

Being highly experienced in such matters, the entire house was silently searched in less than a minute.

The ten men met in the living room. The commander ordered, "Search everything. Leave nothing unturned. The Target was here; we know he was, but proof is needed. Fall out."

They broke up in two's and took off to the back part of the house where the bedrooms were located. Two went downstairs. They proceeded to ransack everything that wasn't solidly fixed to the floor.

"Bingo!" One of the soldiers yelled while rifling through the basement bathroom.

The other man entered. The first man held up a tube of medicine with Lawrence J. Ashwood named as the patient. The second man retrieved an evidence bag from his pocket. The first man dropped the tube into the bag and sealed it and carried it to the stairs where he sat it down, and then he tore into the bed. Several hairs were retrieved from the sheets. They, too, were bagged because the hair textures were different. When he tossed the mattress, a half-empty tube of personal lubricant dropped to the floor. He picked it up. Finding it was slimy, he put it into another evidence bag.

Next was the laundry room. The stacks of clean clothes on the folding table did not queue their radar screens, but the dirty laundry did. They found and bagged several pair of underwear for evidence, for the lab to perform DNA testing to determine ownership.

Upstairs, in a bedroom across the hall from the master bathroom, a soldier methodically picked through dirty clothes, gathered hair samples… he found two different textured hair samples. These were bagged into evidence. Seeing that the sheets were stained and crusty, he proceeded to bag them into evidence, knowing all too well that the substances were likely semen.

Another man went through the bathroom. The medicine cabinet was methodically inspected. Two tubes of steroid cream were retrieved. One had 'Dalton Finnegan' as the patient name on the label. The other was for patient 'Aaron Zumwalt'. Yet another tube of antibiotic/steroid cream had the patient name 'Eric Finnegan' on the label. He bagged each tube.

Two pair of underwear were found on the floor next to the toilet. Both had dark yellow stains on the front and the backs were marked with dark brown railroad tracks with a few strands of red. Blood. Dried blood. Perfect for DNA analysis. They were bagged.

Meanwhile, the Commander was busy ransacking the kitchen. When the cabinets were emptied, he sat down at the table in front of the laptop computer. It had gone into sleep state, and was surprised when he 'awakened' it to find that it was not password protected.

He found the usual stuff on a home computer – games, spreadsheets, letters, and other such things.

The Commander, already starched stiff, sat up and his eyes opened wide at seeing an open window with Doctor Finnegan's name at the top, along with a patient chart. The patient's name was none other than "Lawrence J. Finnegan".

At the same time, his men entered the kitchen, ready for their next assignment. The men from the basement joined the rest.

The Commander accepted the pieces of evidence and placed them into a larger bag, and said, "Phase 2 is in effect."

Six of the men exited the house and went to the large truck they arrived in. They retrieved canisters that were securely fastened to the front wall, taking care to not joggle them anymore than absolutely necessary.

The other four men in the kitchen with their Commander awaited further orders. They didn't have to wait more than 3 minutes before he said, "Tear the garage apart. Dismissed."

Once the men were on their way to follow his orders, the Commander closed the lid on the laptop. A wan smile crossed his face, but then was replaced with a determined expression. He pulled out his secure sat phone, pressed 1, and then heard his boss say, "Yes."

"Sir, the Target cannot be too far away. All of our Persons of Interest are, from all indications, together as a family. We have no reason to believe otherwise."

"Find them. Get that kid. Bring him to me." Click.

Wichita, Kansas

At the entryway of the estate, Adam was dismayed to see that the gates didn't respond to the electronic device signal used to trigger the powerful motors that open the heavy steel barrier to his and Wayne's sanctuary.

It's happened before.

Nothing malevolent was ever found to be the root cause.

Wayne knew the deal. He reached for the keys to the control panel that Adam was holding out, got out of the vehicle, easily scaled the six foot wood privacy fence, opened the door to gain access to the override switch, pushed the button, and then watched the gates open as they normally did.

Adam pulled forward. Wayne opened the passenger side door and entered. Adam, knowing the panel door was still open with the keys in the lock said, "Bud, I need the keys…"

Wayne's eyebrows arose, then recognizing Adam's words he quickly exited, closed the panel door, locked it and returned to the Porsche, entered and handed Adam the key with a smile on his face, proud that he remembered what he was supposed to do.

They found the same scenario with the garage door. Adam nodded inwardly, silently, realizing that the area had most likely experienced a power failure that reset the mechanisms. Easily taken care of. Wayne grabbed his gym bag. Together, they walked around the house to the front door and unlocked it. The older man entered. Wayne tossed the bag to the floor and took off for his room to take care of urgent needs.

Adam walked into the kitchen to begin dinner preparations. Due to their need to get on the road he'd mentally planned for something quick: cold cut sandwiches, leftover potato salad, and cantaloupe cut into bite size chunks, all the while thinking of how much work laid in front of them to load the travel home with the provisions he'd purchased.

Adam had just put the plates on the bar when Wayne appeared. The boy had changed into loose silk boxers and his favorite well-worn t-shirt that was way too small for him. Adam figured he'd wait until after dinner to drop the news they were taking a trip.

The boy wolfed down the one sandwich and gobbled up the potato salad and fruit, then looked into Adam's eyes with continued hunger written in his expression. Adam got up to make Wayne another sandwich. Wayne eyed Adam's sandwich with interest, but refrained from grabbing it.

In short order, Adam returned with the last remnants of the cold cuts sandwiched between the last two slices of Whole Wheat bread. The boy wolfed them down as though he'd never eaten before, or as though Adam was guilty of child abuse by starvation, which, of course, was not true.

The dishwasher was filled. Without being asked, Wayne, after he'd rinsed their plates, fired up the dishwasher and looked to Adam for approval.

Adam motioned Wayne to come join him in his office. There, after they were both sat, Adam said, "Wayne, we're going to take a little trip to the Missouri Ozarks. I want you to put three or four pairs of jeans, several pairs of underwear and socks in your overnight bag, and then get your toothbrush and toothpaste, and anything else you want to take along. If you need some help, just let me know. Meanwhile, I'm going to load up the motorhome with provisions. You can then come and help me."

"Jeans, underwear, socks, toothbrush, toothpaste… how about shirts? Can I take some shirts, too?"

"Yes. I forgot those. How silly of me."

Wayne grinned then took off for his room.

Adam laid his head down on the desk, wondering how Wayne would do with the changes about to wash over them. The boy, used to being on a regimented schedule would not do well at all, he thought to himself, silently. The man took a deep breath, then slowly exhaled as he got up to go into his own room to grab his bag, which he'd already packed.

When Adam passed by the door into Wayne's room he saw the boy sitting still in the middle of his bed staring straight ahead toward the book shelves on the opposite wall. "Wayne, are you with me?"

The child turned toward Adam and nodded his understanding, then the boy got up and began retrieving clothes. Assured Wayne was okay, Adam walked through the house and into the garage. He reset the system, clicked the switch on the wall next to the big garage door. The door opened on command.

Later, after loading up the motorhome, while they were sitting in Adam's office Wayne said, "We're not coming home, are we?"

Those words shocked Adam to his core. He had no idea that Wayne was or would be that perceptive. Adam recovered and said, "I hope so. We're going to be gone for a few days, maybe longer. It all depends on how things go. Don't worry, okay?"

The boy shrugged his shoulders, looked around Adam's office, then even more shocking to Adam was when Wayne reached across the man's desk and retrieved the picture of Adam, his wife and son from a small shelf. He handed it to Adam, "Don't forget this. You may need it."

Adam's voice, thick with emotion, "Thanks. I want you to go get dressed now. Wear something comfortable. Your sweats will be just fine. Go ahead."

Wayne got up but didn't leave. Instead, he took hold of Adam's arm and urged him to stand. Adam did so. When he was standing, uncharacteristic of Wayne, the boy pulled the man into a deep, deep hug and kissed his cheek. Then and only then did Wayne take off to follow Adam's instructions.

Adam wiped away the tears threatening to fall, took a deep breath, picked up the picture, and then walked out to the motorhome, put it into a small secure cabinet for safekeeping and closed the door just as Wayne bounded up the stairs wearing nothing but a smile, however he had his clothes in his hand. Before Adam had to say anything, the boy was soon dressed and ready to go.

The man had to smile. After locking the house, he set the alarm system. They were soon on their way, stopping only to top off the fuel tank at a truck stop on the east side of Wichita on State Route 54.

Delay after delay prevented Dale from hitching up the last of two trailers of supplies destined for an obscure location deep within the Missouri Ozarks. The plan to relocate there was a good one, better than holing up in Wichita. Though he liked Adam, he could not see how so many people could reside under the same roof and still get along.

Rachel, driving Robbie's parents' large cross-over SUV, having left an hour and a half ago was about three quarters of the way to Tulsa. Much to her son Carl's dismay, Robbie, Christian and he would not be permitted to ride shotgun with his Grandpa in the big rig. His initial reaction, pout coupled with resentment earned him a scolding from his mother. At first, his reaction to the admonishments only fueled additional resentment, however Rachel's getting into his face to remind him that he IS a child and acting like one shut his resentment down very quickly. Adding to the misery was Robbie's statement, "You're a dork. Would you just stop?!!!"

He couldn't be pissed at Robbie. Truth be told, Carl soon realized that he was being, or at least acting like an ass. An apology to Rachel mended their communications. At the same time, his mother piled on the responsibilities of properly loading the large vehicle to capacity, while directing Robbie to perform other tasks. Jeremy, his dad, was of no help to him. The man was busy loading their keepsakes, perishables and glassware.

The very last thing on the list of things to do was to check the weather forecast. Earlier in the day the weather service said that a fast moving clipper was heading south, that there wasn't much moisture to work with, so it was going to be one of those no big deal situations – just cold, very cold.

Finally, the loading dock foreman brought bills of lading for signature. Dale signed the load trip ticket. He and Bradley were ready to begin the trip.

Due to the late evening hour, little traffic kept them from making pretty good time out of Oklahoma City on Interstate 44 headed for Tulsa where they would meet up with Jeremy and Rachel.

The toll road between Oklahoma City and Tulsa is very narrow for being an Interstate highway. The cold front was bringing very strong winds as it passed through. Dale was completely occupied with keeping the rig on the road, in one of the two lanes, while maintaining speed. Every once in a while the truck would respond to a very strong gust of wind by touching the wheels of the second trailer against the Jersey wall. He, in his own way, prayed the rig didn't have a tire go bad. He was pretty sure they wouldn't since they'd just had new rubber put on the tractor, but that didn't say much for the trailer's tires that upon inspection showed many superficial pits.

Darkness had arrived. The kids were settling down from the upset. John went up front, sat in the Captain's chair and fired up the rig. Jared joined him in the passenger seat. As they pulled out of the parking lot, they saw, to their right, way off in the distance, a faint red glow in the sky. The night was pitch black dark, save for the lights coming from the buildings behind them. Jared asked, "What's that, Dad?"

"I don't know. Why don't you turn on the radio? I would think something that big would be deserving of a story."

Jared reached past the console, pressed the 'On' button. Country and western music, his dad's favorite type of music, Jared's most hated, blared out a Willie Nelson tune. He switched from the Sirius station to a Fort Worth station. The broadcaster said, "We'll keep you up to date on this very important breaking news. Once again, Breckenridge is, from all indications, under attack. Early reports put the death toll at over seven-hundred. Stay tuned. This is Jack Unger, KERA news, your leading breaking news outlet."

"Oh my God, Dad. Oh my God."

John leant forward, pushed favorite #5, a local affiliate talk show, "… roads into and out of Breckenridge are completely closed to all traffic, including locals. Repeating, the town is under lockdown. Nobody is permitted inside the town. Our news crew is sitting in the parking lot of Lake Mineral Wells Park and Trailway awaiting DPS permission to go west. To recap today's events: at 3:20pm school busses taking children home from school were commandeered. Our latest report reveals that one-hundred-six children were on those busses, several are reported killed. We cannot independently verify this number as first responders were not permitted on-site until approximately 5:15pm this evening. This is just terrible. Ted, tell us what you see in the field."

"That's right, Bill, Texas DPS will not allow us to enter Breckenridge. In fact, they have us parked at the Park approximately forty-five minutes east of Breckenridge. DPS has State Highway 180 blocked about a mile west of us. Several travelers have stopped in here wondering what they're going to do to get home. DPS cannot give an estimate. News chopper reports seeing a bright red glow over the city some sixty miles away. Due to strict airspace restrictions, they are unable to get close up accounts to our listeners. Surprisingly, an air of calm is present at our location. Back to you, Bill. This is Ted Smith, WBAP."

"Not being able to report fully the news of our area is unprecedented. As soon as we know something, we will break in. Now to sports. Bill Teeters, WBAP. Stay tuned."

John reached across, turned off the radio, looked to Jared sitting in the passenger seat, staring straight ahead, and biting his lip. John felt so powerless. The news was horrible, terrible, totally and completely unfathomable. Knowing that he had to do something, he pulled his cell phone from his pocket, pressed speed dial #4, the Hospital. The hospital was located in the middle of town. They would surely know what was going on, how many casualties, the severity of injuries, and the like. There was no answer. The phone kept ringing and ringing and ringing. Finally, on the thirty-seventh ring he disconnected the call, then called once again thinking that maybe the phone lines were jammed. Same result.

Next on the list was Cynthia. From memory John called her number. The phone rang six times before going into Voicemail. He tried two more times; the result was the same. The last time he left a message, "Cynthia, this is John. Please call me just as soon as you can. It's urgent that I speak with you." Click.

John knew that they were between seven and ten miles from the roadblock. Traffic was backed up when they hit the one mile mark. He knew exactly where they were simply because they had to stop there each and every time due to Matthew or Stephen's requirement to use the restroom.

From the back of the coach, John heard Stephen call loudly, "Gotta stop, Dad!"

Half a mile from the Park, John had no alternative but to stop. Backed up traffic prevented any further progress. He said to Jared, "Son, I'm going to walk to the staging area. I want you to stay here with the kids. Maybe we can get into town since I'm affiliated with the hospital. They will need me, I'm sure."

Jared reluctantly nodded. John didn't know that he was scared shitless, worried, concerned, mainly frightened, but he maintained. Instead of replying, Jared unbuckled his seatbelt and went back to the main cabin area and, flicked on the light.

Michael asked, "Why are we stopped?"

Jared thought about what to say, "Uhm, there's a bad accident up ahead. Traffic's backed up for miles. For now, for those who need to use the can, just stay close to the motorhome, do your business, then get back in here."

Stephen whined, "I've gotta go number two." Jordan nodded as did Eric.

"Grab a roll of toilet paper from the bathroom. Go ahead, I'll be out in a minute."

"Can't we use the bathroom back there?" Aaron inquired.

Stephen, unable to wait any longer, ran to the facilities, dropped his pants and barely made it before relieving himself.

Aaron got up, walked to the restroom and waited for Stephen to finish. The rest exited the vehicle, brandished their flesh then watered the side of the rig.

Jordan, finished first, looked to the horizon to see an intense glow emanating from the city several miles ahead. Lawrence then Michael then Eric then Matthew joined him. Matthew grabbed hold of Luke's arm and held on tight. The boy, trembling, asked, "What's that?"

Nobody knew the answer. They just continued watching, mesmerized by the red glow in the sky in front of them.

John called Dale. Bradley answered on the second ring, "Hello."

"Bradley, I need to talk with your father. Can he talk?"

"Just a moment, I'll put us on Speaker. We heard the news."

"Dale, we have a major problem here…" John then proceeded to tell Dale everything he knew, which wasn't very much. He concluded by saying that he couldn't leave, not yet, that he was sure his services would very likely be required due to the many reported casualties.

It was decided that John would take out when they were able, not before. John relayed his sense of duty to the town they lived in. Dale understood and promised to call Adam and Peter to give them the news, if they didn't know already.

John exited the vehicle. The boys were pulling up their pants, ready to leave or do something different. John saw the confusion in their eyes. He said, "Boys, something bad is going on in Breckenridge. I need to go see what I can do. I want you boys to stay here with Jared. He's in charge. Whatever he says – goes."

Matthew, unafraid of his dad, approached John, "Daddy, I'm scared." The man pulled Matthew up into his chest to kiss his youngest son's cheek. Matthew put his arms around John's neck and held on for dear life.

Lawrence handed the roll of tissue paper to Aaron, snapped the snap on his pants, zipped them up while approaching John; worry and concern clearly evident in his eyes, "Sir, I need to go with you."

John replied, while putting his arm around the boy's shoulder, "Son, I want you to stay here. It's okay to be afraid. Besides, Aaron needs you to be around. He's not well enough to walk that far. Can you do this for us? Please?"

The boy nodded, reached for Matthew. The younger child accepted Lawrence's invitation by pulling his older brother's arms around his shoulders. Lawrence looked into John's eyes, "Sir, I don't know what's going on. It's gotta be bad. Just remember what I have been saying about my dad all along."

Aaron joined them.

John admonished, "No man would ever do something of this magnitude, and this includes your father. Get the idea out of your head. Now, I'm going to walk to the Park. I may be needed."

Lawrence carefully regarded the man, the only man that he loved and trusted with his life. At the same time, the nagging thoughts about his dad maybe having something to do with the situation played in his mind. John leant in, kissed Lawrence's cheek then took off walking down the road.

Not too long after leaving the boys, he arrived at the staging area to find DPS's presence clearly present. He walked to the man who appeared to be in charge, at least several officers were with him. He approached, "Officer, my name is John Finnegan. I'm a trauma surgeon at the hospital. I've been unable to contact them. I need to get there. I have my sons with me… they're sitting in a large motorhome about half a mile away."

"I'm sorry, Sir. No person is allowed to enter or leave the town. Orders are coming from people far above me. The town is on lockdown, I'm afraid. No exceptions. Please return to your vehicle. If I were you, I'd get your kids to a hotel in Fort Worth or Dallas. I would just imagine the town is going to be closed for several days to come, until the investigation is complete. I wish I had better news for you."

"Sir, the hospital is not answering their phone. I don't think there is an outage, else the phone wouldn't ring and ring without an answer."

The officer stated to his men, "I'll be right back. No traffic in. No traffic out. Use force if necessary."

This further unnerved John. The commanding officer led John across the road so that they could be alone. Not everyone knew the full magnitude of what had happened in the city. When they arrived, the law enforcement man said, quietly, "Sir, a local law man got into the hospital. I'm afraid the hospital was one of the places hit the hardest. No survivors were found, anywhere. I cannot let you go there. We've been authorized to use lethal force. As I said, I suggest that you get your children out of here, to the city and bed them down. This could take a while to unravel. The big dogs are on their way as we speak. I wish I had better news."

"So what happened? More importantly, who and why?"

"I'm sorry, Sir. All I can say is that it was a large scale military like operation. Other than that, I cannot say anything further about it. And, I don't know why."

John thanked the officer for disclosing what he could. Knowing that he would receive no further information, the man turned and headed back to the motorhome to be with his children. He mulled over a decision to completely leave the area, follow through with the plans, or wait out the blockade.

As he approached the vehicle, the sight of seeing his children huddled together, afraid, worried, concerned and confused, made his final decision very easy.

Inside the rig, John, after the boys had sat down and somewhat settled in, said, "Boys, we can't return home. What this means is that we're going to follow the plan that we talked about earlier today, only that it starts today, right now. I'm sorry, we cannot get your belongings or anything else. They have the road completely blocked."

As the boys digested the information, Michael spoke up, "Dad, Mom's stuff… are we going to just leave it?"

"I'm afraid so. We'll return in a few days, maybe in a couple of weeks… I'm not exactly sure how long we'll be gone."

John walked around to each of the boys, kissed their cheeks, and whispered into their ears, "We're going to be okay. Hang in there. The important thing is that we're together, unharmed, even though we're worried. You are just as worried as I am about what's happening, but, at the same time, I have hope, as should you."

"Dad, I'm staying back here." Jared said resolutely, then reached into an overhead, retrieved a board game then set it out on the table so that they would stay occupied.

After a series of tight manipulations, John had the rig turned around and was headed back to the big city to catch Interstate 35 headed north. Before starting the long part of the journey, he stopped in at the truck stop to fuel. The boys all clambered out and followed John inside to purchase hamburgers, fries and drinks. Of all things, considering, he didn't want to be accused of, arrested for, or convicted of child endangerment due to hungry boys.

Soon they were headed north on the Interstate passing through the suburbs of Halton City, the exit to Saginaw, Keller, Roanoke, heading toward Denton, and then on to Sager.

Lawrence was not paying a whole lot of attention to the game. Instead, he was thinking in the dark recesses of his mind about what his father was or could be capable of. He knew that the man would not be taking very well to defeat. His father did not know what the word 'loss' meant… it only happened to other people, not himself; the expense of his own family was not taken into account, and never would. This knowledge was very disturbing.

Not knowing what else to do, Lawrence put on his public happy face, joined in the game – as though nothing was wrong. Inside, he was an emotional wreck.

Luke noticed the nearly instantaneous change in Lawrence's demeanor. Up until now, he'd not seen the transformation into Nothingness. Rather, Lawrence, if anything, had worked very hard on being Real. Lawrence looked into Luke's eyes, then quickly shifted his gaze to the House on the Monopoly board. His friend didn't even notice Matthew's handing over money that he'd won to keep Lawrence in the game.

As soon as Luke's turn passed, he whispered into Jordan's ear, "I'm going to talk with Lawrence, in private. He's going into that place where he had to be with his father… I can't let it happen. I just can't."

Jordan looked around Luke to see Lawrence happy, smiling, lively… but like Luke thought, Lawrence wasn't being the Lawrence they knew and loved. They saw that he was just moving pieces around from one place to another. The other guys noticed as well. Jordan gave Eric a playful elbow in the side, then whispered, "Move." Eric then gave Michael a playful elbow. When Michael got the message and stood up, Eric moved out of Luke's way. Luke walked around the table, took Lawrence's hand and squeezed it firmly enough so that his friend dropped the money he had finally accepted from Stephen. Lawrence looked into Luke's eyes, then to Aaron's. Luke whispered into Aaron's ear, "Is this what Lawrence was like?"

Aaron tilted his head toward his boyfriend. His boyfriend smiled then leant in to kiss Aaron's lips – passionately, then he turned his attention away, returning to the game. Aaron turned to Luke and nodded affirmatively.

With considerable reluctance, Lawrence wormed his way from behind the table and followed Luke and Aaron to the back bedroom area, taking care to accommodate the swings and sways of the moving vehicle. Luke closed the door, walked to Lawrence and playfully shoved his friend onto the bed, then Luke's playfulness ended right then and there. He said, forcefully, "Don't even go there."

"What do you mean, don't go there? I'm here."

Aaron, his voice much more subdued, stated, "Babe, we're not there. We don't have to put on the fucking happy smile. I've only been with these people for a day, yet I feel different here with them. Yesterday, you weren't being your father's son… you were being who I loved and cherished so much, the one I knew before all of the shit happened."

Luke calmed down from his fear, sat on the bed next to Lawrence, took his friend's hand in his, and said much calmer, "Dude, I don't know what happened to you… but… don't go away from us. That's your old life. We love you. Look, I don't know what's going to happen, but, I feel okay with trusting the adults, especially John. He's never lied to us, ever. And, he's not going to start now. When he said he doesn't know what's going on, then he doesn't know."

Aaron took over. Almost to himself, as he recalled the events of that fateful day on the lake a year ago, he said, "Lawrence, your dad will not stop at anything. When he has his mind made up – it's set in stone. Nobody or nothing will change the way he sees things."

"I'm a weasel. I'm a coward for not standing up to him. I've been thinking and thinking and thinking what I would say to him, if given the opportunity. I pussed out when the opportunity arose earlier today."

"You're no damned pussy. You put your life on the line to get me and Jordan out of there. That takes balls, heavy balls at that, dude. What are you thinking about? Let us in. Don't push us away." Luke said semi-forcefully.

Lawrence regarded Luke for a moment before saying, "If I talk to him, it will put you in danger. He will stop at nothing. I can't get you guys and John involved."

Luke turned to Lawrence, reached his hand around Lawrence, then slapped the back of his head, "We're already involved, Dufus. We're here. We're not going anywhere. You're stuck with us. Tough luck getting rid of us."

"That goes double for me. If you don't talk to him then I will. I'm not afraid of him. Never was. Never will be. How you turned out to be the kind, considerate, caring and loving person you are – beats me. But you are. Instead of thinking of the bad shit, maybe you could think about what good your call to him would be – to all of us, yourself included. Especially you."

Luke offered, "John told me that the bad things in our lives make us appreciate the good things that happen. You have to admit the past weeks have been really good to us. Who would have ever thought that we'd be riding in some big ole motorhome with people out there who really give a shit about us? We've got a bunch of blessings, Lawrence."

Aaron took over, "I don't know these people, but for the little time I've been here… they care… I can just tell. Let me ask this question?"

Lawrence, looking at the floor, tilted his head up to look into Aaron's eyes. Lawrence nodded. Aaron asked, "What do we have to lose? I'll talk to him, too. I've got a thing or two to say. You won't be alone."

"That's right. All you have to do is to give the word… we'll be all over you like bees on a honey cone. So whatcha gonna do, ole hippy boy?" Luke said, smiling.

Lawrence stood. Very carefully, because the rig was swaying quite a bit, walked to the mirror and looked at the guy looking back in the mirror. Instead of seeing a very old man, as he'd seen so many times during the stay at John's, he saw a youthful version of his father, makeup, spiked hair, piercings to his eyebrows and earlobes. He played with the ball of steel in his mouth, swishing it back and forth, feeling a little discomfort, but not much; he'd been through so much before. Next, he straightened his shirt to see the Metallica emblem on it. He became aware of his butt hanging out from above his jeans that were way down on his hips. His father would disown him, the boy thought to himself.

Then it dawned on him. John had asked him to be his son, more than once. Being disowned by his dad wouldn't be a bad thing, would it?

Then other thoughts came swirling into his mind. He was selfish to make the call only for himself. He was self-centered, egotistical, uncaring, out for himself…

Aaron, having seen Lawrence close his eyes, stood, swayed back and forth as the rig took a fairly sharp right hand turn, walked to Lawrence, held onto the shelf and put his hand up under Lawrence's shirt and rubbed his bare back. He knew his boyfriend had liked for him to do that before the ordeal on the boat. He trailed his hand down and permitted his fingers to very gently caress the top of the twin globes, then ran them up Lawrence's spine to his neck.

Luke intuitively knew this moment was theirs, quickly got up, walked out of the room and closed the door behind him to give them their privacy. He sat down next to Jordan. Everyone was looking at him for answers to their unspoken questions. "They're talking. He's struggling about talking to his father. He's afraid of the man. But you know what?"

Without waiting for an answer, he continued, "He's got balls. He'll do the right thing, whatever that is."

Aaron took Lawrence into his arms to hold him close, to let him know that he'd always be there no matter what. His boyfriend slightly trembled as Aaron slid his hands down into the deep dark valley, splayed his fingers out to lightly squeeze each globe with his strong hands. At the same time, he pulled Lawrence into him fully. Nothing was said. Nothing needed saying. As though they had done it thousands and thousands of times, their lips found their mark, intimately joining. Without even thinking about it, their mouths opened slightly permitting entry. Both boys shuddered at the first touch of their tongues, then their oral flesh began dueling. Aaron found the nubbin from the piercing to be highly seductive. Lawrence, caught up in their intimacy, wrapped his arms around Aaron, hugged deeply and permitted his hands to explore Aaron's back, being bold enough to place his hands onto his boyfriend's lower cheeks. Both boys shuddered with the intimate and innate desire to engage fully within their love. Lawrence broke their oral contact. "I want you inside of me so badly that it hurts. When they were doing me, I dreamed it was your organ that was inside me. When they stopped, when the stuff ran down my legs – I dreamed it was yours. It hurts, Aaron. It hurts so badly. I didn't know that love would make me feel this way. Just hold me, will you?"

Aaron readily complied. This time, though, he didn't hesitate with sliding his hands inside of his love's underwear, gripping those lower cheeks firmly, allowing his finger to pave the way into the valley of darkness. Gently, he exerted pressure against the hem of Lawrence' jeans, causing them to slide to the floor.

Lawrence, totally and completely caught up in the moment, sent his hands directly to the lump in Aaron's pants. It was there that he more or less forced them down. They landed on the floor. Unable to stop themselves, not wanting to hold back, they came together, they joined. Without even thinking about it, without permission, without chastising – it happened. What they had long dreamed of came true. Despite the horrendous pain their fully erect fleshes were experiencing, came joy, pure unadulterated joy that permeated each and every cell of their bodies.

When the joy turned to excruciating pain, the boys parted, with tears freely flowing from their eyes. But, the tears weren't evidence of their pain and history, rather the tears were coming from finally feeling complete. Lawrence opened his eyes to see Aaron looking into his. He saw so much love emanating from his soul. He also saw uncertainty and wonder if they had done the right thing, but those thoughts were fleeting. They soon passed. Then more pressing matters became important. Lawrence swayed his way to the corner where a box of plastic wrapped rolled paper towels was located. He grabbed a roll, opened it and took three segments for himself and passed it to Aaron.

After putting themselves together, Lawrence stated, assuredly, "I'm going to do it. I'm going to talk to him."

The two boys made their way up front to the cab where John was driving the huge vehicle.

Jordan and Luke, then Michael and Eric nodded at seeing the silly grins on Lawrence and Aaron's faces. Also noticeable, surely they'd lost track of what they'd been doing, was that their pants weren't sagging any longer.

All four boys arose at the same time, but Michael and Eric were faster. They headed to the back bedroom and quickly closed the door behind them.

Aaron and Lawrence both sat in the front passenger Captain's chair and haphazardly managed to get the seat belt in place and locked.

John noted their arrival and was just about to admonish their walking about the motorhome against the rules, but he didn't have a chance to say anything, at least not then. Lawrence announced, confidently, "I'm going to talk to my dad. I have to. It's time."

Without delay, John reached into the console, retrieved a cheap throwaway phone, turned it on. Once it was up and running, he called Dale's number from memory. Dale, in turn, called Peter after he knew what was planned. Once Peter came on the line, he called Jim Blake in Hawaii to establish the secure connections. John handed the phone to the boy. Lawrence gave Jim his father's private cell phone number.

Lawrence asked, "Is this connection totally secure? I don't want to give away our location no matter what."

"Yes, it is secure. Your father will see caller id reading a phone number with Singapore's country code. That's where it starts and ends. Due to technology developed by my company, I cannot disclose how the connections are made, but I will assure you that there are many before landing in Singapore." Jim explained, hoping to allay the child's fears. Continuing, "Just let me know when you're ready. If you wish for me to make a digital readout of your conversation, it's no problem, I do it all of the time for official purposes. Since you are a member of a Presidential family, you are afforded certain rights and privileges, one being private phone calls using a secure network at any time. I am simply making the call possible. I can also make a record of the transaction, but this is completely up to you. Also, for you to know, a complete transcript has been admissible in courts of law, both here and abroad in European nations."

The boys looked at one another. Without consulting John, Lawrence replied, "Yes, Sir. Please do. Thank you."


Tony said, "Lawrence, as your attorney of record, I recommend that you permit me to be a part of the conversation. If legal issues come up, then I'll be here. If you do not wish for me to be present, just say so and I'll leave."

"You have my permission. Jim, will you please make it happen."

"No problem. In fact, if you'd like, and with your permission, I can send a live transmission of the transcription to him." Jim replied.

"Yes, please. Consider it authorized."

Tony spoke up, "Lawrence, what are you hoping to accomplish with this call to your father?"

"Freedom." Lawrence replied, not even hesitating. Adding, "Freedom for my family here, freedom to be adopted, freedom for the kids being held hostage and tortured… I do not know what powers are afforded me as the President of the United States' son, but let's call this 'Operation Passage'."

"Perfect. If nobody has told you recently, I'm very proud of you. What you are doing is bravery. It is to be commended."

"Thank you, Sir."

"Let me know when you're ready."

Lawrence leant forward so that he could see John's profile driving down the road. The man, catching Lawrence from the periphery of his vision, turned toward him, nodded and said, "I agree. You are very brave, indeed. I, too, am very proud of you. Just know one thing: you do not have to do this. I understand why you are; I am behind you one-hundred-ten percent."

Dale chimed in, "That goes for us, too."

Peter added, "That goes for me as well."

Tony stated, "You're doing the right thing. Do you plan to use a blackmail strategy?"

The group of men and Aaron cracked up. Lawrence sat there wondering why that tactic would even be brought up. While he was an Ashwood, it didn't mean that he'd stoop to that level. Controlled and calculated the boy stated factually, stately even, "Only if I have to. I've done it before, but I hated myself for doing it. I am not my father. If he plays hardball, then bring it on. I'm ready."

Absent mindedly, Lawrence reached up to his shirt to straighten it so that it looked presentable. He sat straight up in the seat, slightly pushing against Aaron's hips causing him to squirm to give Lawrence more room to get comfortable and poised. He dialed in a normal phone number followed by a second phone number after the series of beeps. Being a direct secret line, the NSA didn't want someone accidentally dialing the President of the United States after all. On the sixth ring, the President growled, "Who the hell is this?"

There was a lot of background noise on the other end of the phone – people talking in not so hushed tones, papers being shuffled around, even music from a group that Lawrence didn't recognize.

Lawrence swallowed hard before replying, "Hello to you, too, Sir. This is LJ, you know the one touched by Allah Himself, the one your yacht owning friend said should be seen by all. We need to talk." He heard a deep intake of breath, and "For the love of God, this can't be," then the man covered the phone, or at least it sounded like he did because he yelled for everybody to get out and to stay out until he told them it was permissible for them to return. The last words were even harder to make out, but it was clearly his father telling someone else to stay. In his heart, Lawrence knew this phone call was now being traced.

A minute or two later, the man uncovered the phone, however it dropped into what sounded like a metal trash can. The boy heard a resounding shifting of a large table or desk and the sounds of something hitting the floor followed by a muted, "Fuck! God Damn it! He is supposed to be in rehab."

Ashwood fished the phone out, Lawrence heard it clank against the side of the metal can. His father said, "Sorry about that. Where are you?"


"No, I asked you where you are. I mean 'precisely' where are you?"

"Where I am does not matter. Where I've been does matter a whole lot. Why did you kill or have killed Aaron's parents?"

"You are delusional, young man! I did no such thing. Mr. Z was one of my top notch cabinet members. We worked well together. It was such a tragedy. Not a day goes by that I don't think…"

Uncharacteristic for Lawrence, at least until this point, his jaws set so hard to show his resolve that John was concerned that the boy would break his teeth. At the same time, Aaron flinched from strong negative vibrations coming from the dude he loved with all of his heart and soul, the dude responsible for keeping him mentally and spiritually alive through all those brutal times in captivity. Lawrence took in a shallow breath, then forcefully, without his voice creaking and crackling, said, "Sir, I am going to coin your most favorite phrase: bullshit. That's nothing but horseshit. The Secret Service killed his parents, and you know damn well they did. By the way, Aaron's sitting right next to me. We're together, Father." Lawrence turned his upper body just enough to see Aaron squirming. Lawrence nodded, placed his hand over Aaron's thigh and gently squeezed.

The phone went dead silent for a space of about thirty seconds before the elder Ashwood said, diplomatically, "That's simply not acceptable. You know how I feel about those matters. No son of mine sinks to that level of depravity. Come home. We will talk about this like grown men."

Lawrence, shaking his head in the negative caught John's glance. John mouthed, "You're a boy. I'm proud of you." John raised his eyebrows and used his hand to signify terminating the conversation.

Lawrence faced forward, unclenched his jaws. Both John and Aaron heard Lawrence speak as a child, "No Father, I am 12 years old. I'm a boy." Then, once again, Lawrence's voice became steady and even, "I know what happened. I saw it. So did Aaron. One thing you never called me was a liar. I'm not starting now. Do you want me to lie and say it never happened?"

"LJ, you may as well get your facts straight. What happened was an accident and the Secret Service managed to get you and your degenerate friend out before it was too late, nothing more."


"Hello Mr. Ashwood. This is Aaron Zumwalt in case you can't recognize my voice. I beg to differ with your assessment of the facts and the relationship my father had with you. He told me otherwise. And, yes, I am with Lawrence. We're together."

"First off, you little sexually corrupting piece of filth, it is Mr. President, even to you. You are a citizen of MY country and you will speak to me with the RESPECT due me!"

Lawrence heard a voice in the background, "Well that's a crock of crap!" He looked to John, horrified. Meanwhile, Jim stated, "That wasn't heard by The President. All voices you hear in the background are muted on his end of the line."

Aaron stated, now in control of himself, "One thing my dad taught me is that respect is earned. So far, Sir, you've yet to do that. What Lawrence says is true. All of it."

"You always were a strange one. I told your father that there was something seriously off with you. Even above and beyond your desire to drink piss and lick shit, I was kind and kept it quiet, but like it or not, he agreed."

"Bullshit. The facts state differently. The truth of the matter is that I told Dad about Lawrence's and my relationship. The truth is that he was so very happy, but at the same he was so worried about us. Now I know why."

Without giving the man a chance to retort, Lawrence stated, "The concentration camps didn't work. Fact check, obviously, I'm still alive. Now, about those places…"

Ashwood interrupted, "Your mother and I talked about the issue of your sexuality… we decided… to have your depravities converted to strong Christian principles as part of your physical rehab. After all, you are an Ashwood. We have high principles to uphold. It's way past time for you to learn how to be respectful toward your God, your elders, and the Army."

"Or what? If you do not believe me, and I really do not care one bit if you do or do not… then maybe you should speak with Frederick Phillips. He'll give you the complete story, I'm sure."

Silence. Total… Complete… Silence.

Lawrence seized upon the moment, "So, I'm close to the truth… in fact, I hit the nail on the head. Did you know that I was mutilated? Do you know that my, as you say it – depravity was treated with being repeatedly raped and tortured?"

Without giving the elder Ashwood a chance to break in, the boy continued, "It's all true. Back when I was living at home, I heard you talking to a Sheik named Imir. That's right, Imir. In fact, I met him up close and personal. Fact check: I was sold to him. Fact check: He used me as a rag doll. Fact check: I was forced to accept his penis in any way he chose. You probably heard that I was of no further use to them…"

The President attempted to voice over Lawrence, however the young President's son, not yet finished, raised his voice... commanding attention, "Not only did he fuck me, yes, I said fuck, so spank me, you'd probably love it, but pictures of me being abused are all over the net. How could you? You are no father to me. Get over it."

John jerked his head toward Lawrence. He had so hoped the boy didn't know those pictures existed. Forced to return his attention to the road, he frowned. He so much wanted to say something, but Ashwood bellowed angrily, "You filthy vile… he would never ever do that to a child – EVER! Your bald faced delusional lies further corrupt and taint the good blood running through your veins! If there are photos of you, then this must have been Aaron's idea! He had them taken to destroy all of my hard work to return this country back to a God fearing nation under MY authority! Tell me where you are and I will get the best and the brightest to return you to innocence in the eyes of the Elders!"

"Father, the Patriarch taught me The Way. He, himself, The One, prepared me for sale. In fact, he negotiated the transaction; I heard him speak of $40,000.00, but the Elders told him that was not enough. Imir, himself, told me that he'd paid hundreds of thousands of dollars. I wasn't supposed to have heard that. They thought I had succumbed to the medicine the doctors were giving me after I was torn."

President Ashwood snickered, actually snickered, "Oh, you poor lost soul you. You have come up with outrageous stories and have pointed the finger at those above you to hide your own failures of the Innocent. No person I hold in good regard would ever harm an Innocent. Such acts are forbidden."

"That's absolutely correct. He would never do that to an innocent child, however, by the time I got to him, I was already used goods. Fred Phillips trained me. He forced me to accept the unacceptable. Then, when I was broken, I was bought and paid for. That makes it different, right? Right. But we're getting off the track here…"

"Your words are meaningless, my little lost soul. You have nothing but your twisted words, corrupted by one of the Unclean, nothing more. What do you take me as – a fool? You get your ass home. We will talk this over."

"No. No, I am not coming home. Here's the first of my demands…"

"Demands?" the President roared with laughter, "Demands my ass. You are in no position to demand anything of me. You ungrateful little piece of unholy, deprived, cock loving, faggot piece of less than human filth…" The man spewed into the air and through the communication transmissions for all to hear.

John, unable to restrain himself any longer, snarled, "You are sorely mistaken. You will listen to your son…"

"Just who the fuck are you? This is between my son and me. What the fuck… God-damn-it, Lawrence, how the fuck many other people do you have listening into this… Why isn't this personal and private between you and me?"

"You lost any and all such privilege when you sold me into slavery. You gave it away. My first demand is this: release me. Relinquish parental rights. Acceptance of this condition will be a starting point of my silence to the media. Have Mother sign them, too. Do it legal. Make it permanent. This is a non-negotiable demand."

"Denied. You may see yourself as a piece of man or boy meat, but those thoughts and actions can and will be fixed. You are my son and will not bring further disgrace to this family line. Period. I will not give you up so you can attempt to make me look bad. No way, no how, period, final, the end!"

Having heard enough of the filth spewed upon his soon-to-be-son, John wrenched the steering wheel sharply to the right for a last second ditch into the exit ramp from the Interstate. This sent the boys in the back sitting on the left side of the rig into the laps and arms of the boys on the right side.

Halfway up the right side of the ramp John stopped the rig, unbuckled the seat belt, worked his way around the console and more or less forced Lawrence into his arms. The boy's muscles were quivering, not from fear and sadness, but from built up anger. Lawrence noticeably relaxed.

By then, all of the boys from the back had walked to the front of the rig to see what the problem was. John, seeing the boys crowding around, signaled for them to remain quiet by using his index finger resting gently upon his lips.

Lawrence took in a deep breath and opened his mouth to begin speaking, but stopped when Tony stated, "Mr. Ashwood, my name is Tony. I am a practicing attorney. I represent Lawrence in this action and any other action that he may bring against you or anyone else. I have before me a signed and sworn statement, and a petition to the US Supreme Court to have your parental rights terminated with cause. I have certified medical records that precisely detail the extent of his injuries, what treatment he underwent, and all current treatment that he continues to receive. I am prepared to transmit this to the Court. I do have the ear of the Chief Justice, in case you are interested. I represent Lawrence, not you. It would be in your best interests to immediately honor Lawrence James Ashwood's official request for parental rights termination."

The President sat straight up in his chair, banged his hand on the desk so hard that something glass was heard on the other end of the phone falling off and breaking into many pieces. Lawrence shrunk back, now clearly afraid. John touched Lawrence's left temple with his right hand, then leant up and whispered into the boy's ear, "This is going to work out, Lawrence. You're doing fine. Your brothers are all around you, just take a look for yourself." Lawrence did look back. Jared gave him a thumb's up. The rest followed.

Michael spoke up, barely above a whisper, "We've got your back."

The President railed so loud that even the boys in the doorway overheard, "You arrogant child loving piece of shit! The Supreme Court answers to me. I've got them by the short hairs. Fuck you and know I will have a voice print of this and will find you, hunt you down and put you with someone who can enjoy those who love children, got me?"

"Fine then." Tony said. Two clicks were heard then a steady hum. Continuing, "The petition is now being submitted to the Court. Complete with all sworn statements – and your comments as of right now."

"You can't do that. They have no jurisdiction."

"Oh, but I can, and have, and yes they do. Actually Mr. Ashwood, Lawrence is first and foremost a US citizen, and as such has certain inalienable rights and privileges, notwithstanding additional rights and privileges afforded him as a member of the President's immediate family. Lawrence, if you wish to leave this call, then please do so at this time."

"No, I'm not finished. This is not just about me. Father, my second demand is this: you will release and have released all children held by you or held by others under your control from captivity – immediately."

"That's impossible. First off, I know nothing of what you speak! Second, I do not have control over what people do, and you know it."

"Oh but you do. You are the President of the United States of America. You can make anything happen." Lawrence argued.

"Well, this great country of ours has democracy in action. We do not control any private enterprise, much less quibble in church and state affairs, nor do we capture and torture children. You are not in a right frame of mind, just like your Mother."

"Sir, what about all of the women you've slept with over the years. You think I didn't know about it… but I know. Does Mother know?"

"Where are you? You're just like her. Delusional. Schizophrenic."

"She's an addict."

Tony interrupted to bring the conversation back to the facts at hand, "I have four sworn statements from four different individuals, all minors, all male, stating, swearing that one Frederick Phillips did, in fact, remove their freedoms afforded to all Americans, young or old, by the Constitution of the United States of America. In their statements, they independently confirm Lawrence's assertions. I have ready a transmission to the Department of Justice. And, by the way, I have been very busy this afternoon. I was able to trace official financial instruments between your charity of choice – Burroughs West Baptist Church and an account in Lawrence James Ashwood's name. So therefore you did and do still now have control over funding of a child trafficking operation. I also have the ear of the Chief Justice in this matter, and by the way, I went to law school with the assistant US Attorney. I've taken the liberty to speak with him, personally. All in all, Lawrence's demand is not out of the ordinary. It is proper."

"Denied. I admit no wrongdoing. As a matter of fact, you're wasting everyone's time. As a matter of fact, you are about the dumbest man I have ever heard speak, or do you forget who heads the Justice Department?"

"That's your prerogative, Mr. President. Just know, too, that $47,793,482.77, as of yesterday, has been funneled through the aforementioned account and into several of yours. Also, since it is listed as a not-for-profit organization to benefit disadvantaged children, contributions to your many campaign accounts is not copasetic, wouldn't you agree?"

"You can prove no wrongdoing. I was not the one handing out any donations to myself, and you will find no single transaction over $2,500,000.00 from any PAC nor over $5,000.00 from any individual. I know campaign finance laws, jackass."

"Sir, since you and Lawrence are the only account holders on said account… and he has been held captive for almost a year… it only makes sense that you did and do now have complete control over it. Do you wish to change your mind, Sir?"

"No. He is a minor and those funds WERE for his future. I admit no wrongdoing."

"Very well. I will counsel my client as to his rights and privileges to the account. I would expect you to continue funding it, as you have, otherwise, he will be counseled to file a fraud complaint."

"That is acceptable. I've nothing to hide. What else do you want?"

Lawrence, his strength returned, stated, factually, "To speak on your terms, to get your attention, my third demand is: free all of those kids in captivity. They do not deserve to be mutilated and tortured. I have struggled… never mind, this isn't about me, free those kids. The next step is to take my story to the media. I will give you eight hours. At eight hours and one second, if you haven't come through, then I go, I talk."

"Are you threatening me?" Ashwood bellowed.

"No, Sir, not at all. I promise. I swear."

"Fine. How do I know you won't go to them anyway?"

"You don't know for sure, but I do. My word's good."

"Can you prove it? Of course not. You don't have the balls…"

"Think of it like this: would you rather deal with me, or do you want to deal with the shit that would hit the fan if I were to take this public? I see that you have but two options. It's as simple as that."

"How dare you talk to me like this!!!"

Tony spoke up, interrupting the not so 'friendly' exchange, "Mr. President, the sworn statements have been transmitted and their receipt is acknowledged. Lawrence, I recommend terminating this conversation at this time."

Lawrence tilted his head toward John. The man nodded in agreement.

"Hold." President Ashwood ordered hastily. Muffled voices were heard. He returned to the call. "So, Lawrence, you've lied to me. Now, where are you? In case you're wondering, I have your location pinpointed to within a gnat's ass… what the hell are you doing in Adak, Alaska?"

For the first time since connecting with the President, Lawrence laughed into his father's ear. "Freezing my ass off, which is a whole lot better than getting it sunburned and beaten by your Imir buddy. Eight hours. You have eight hours. JB, would you please transmit this conversation to my father. He may need a reminder of what we've talked about."

Jim Blake, immediately recognizing that he was being talked to, quickly acknowledged, "Roger that. He can't hear me, by the way. You've done a very good job. Just let me know when you want to terminate the call with your father. Just use the code word 'Eskimo'."

At almost the same time a much calmer voice came over the phone, "Son, if you have any more demands now is the time to speak them. Just so you know I have a couple of aircraft headed your way. Stay put so they can pick you all up, at least what will be left of you."

"Now, that is an interesting statement, Mr. President. I was hoping we could come to an amicable agreement, however we have heard a clear and distinct threat against another human being. By the way, I have Mr. Chief Justice listening into this conversation. We just connected him. He heard your threat upon a dignitary's life. Good day, Sir."

Lawrence nodded appreciably, "Oh, yeah, there's one more thing: release all of the parents, gay or straight, that are charged with kidnapping their legally adopted children – all of them – everywhere. Eight hours. You have eight hours. None of the kids and none of the adults are to be hurt in any way. Meanwhile, a man is at the door, probably telling me it's time to leave. I bet it's an Eskimo."


Peter, sitting at his desk in his office, seething mad that any child would have to endure what those kids went through, kept his mouth shut lest he cause those children more harm from listening to the rage and built up anger nearly overtaking him utterly and completely.

The young man he'd groomed for takeover of the Oklahoma City warehouse came barging into Peter's office. He said, urgently, "Sir, Adak has been bombed. It's all over the news."


"Approximately twenty minutes ago. I didn't want to bother you, Sir."

"Our people?" Peter asked resignedly.

"No word, Sir. Brent is on the phone trying to locate our employees. He's starting from the top and working down."

"Help him. We're having an emergency meeting at 11:00PM. Get everybody together. Everybody."

"Yes, Sir." The young man took his leave.

Peter walked across his office to the stereo system, turned off the elevator music and switched it to a non-commercial laden nationwide all-news station.

"Once again, ladies and gentlemen, this is Tim Brinkley with breaking news. It's been reported, and is now confirmed, that some type of military aircraft has, according to the DOD, accidentally released a bomb taking out a large section of the small community of Adak, Alaska. The aircraft is now missing and presumed down. At this time, we have no confirmed reports of death or injuries. Now, on to other breaking news from Breckenridge, Texas…"

Matt valiantly fought the visions passing through his mind. He saw grave concern in his dad's eyes. He wanted to jump into his father's arms, but his strong constitution kept him from doing so, until Fox reached one arm under his thighs and the other behind his back. Gently, Fox lifted the boy from the seat and removed him from the car, then let him stand.

Fox supported his son with one massive arm while his other hand gently turned the boy's eyes to look into his own.


"I'm right here." Fox replied as he reached into Matt's hair to find it greasy. His hands felt small dry, sharp, and jagged objects throughout.

Suddenly Matt pulled out of his father's grasp, went down to his hands and knees. He began dry retching. Fox knelt down, put his hand on Matt's shoulders and rubbed it in little circles. The sickness didn't last more than a couple of minutes, but the boy was spent. He didn't argue or push away when his dad helped him to stand. "Pa, when two guys get married and one dies, what's the one that lives called?"

Fox's eyebrows furrowed, "What… why ever would you ask such a question? Is George okay?"

The boy shrugged his shoulders, then unable to stop himself, closed the distance, put his head against his father's muscular chest, limply hung his arms down toward the ground, bit his bottom lip so hard that it bled, all to keep from being less than a man by crying. But, Fox, knowing better, felt his son's body violently shudder. Then his answer was answered – Matt slowly shook his head in the negative, "He's dead. Everybody's dead, Dad."

"Oh for the love of Jesus." Fox groaned, realizing the gravity of what Matt was going through, or worse, what he'd experienced. Matt put his arms as far around his dad as his arms would go. Fox encircled his son's shoulders, squeezed firmly to let Matt know that he was there for him.

"Matt, let's go home. We need to talk. You're my boy. I'm here for you. I'll always be with you."

"I know. But, Dad, God must not like me because I should have died, too. I was right there… Does He really hate gay people?"

"You're not dead, Matt. You're here for a reason. And let me tell you one more time – God don't make no junk. So just get that out of you head right now."

Matt took in a deep breath and let it out slowly as yet another wave of nausea threatened to make itself known, but he fought it off. He didn't know what else to say or do, so, together, they walked to the truck. Matt got in on the passenger side, which, to Fox, was strange. The boy had driven that truck since he was nine or ten years old. When Matt was seated, Fox said, "I'm going to lock up the car. Be right back. Are you sure you're not hurt?"

"I'm not hurt." Matt replied woodenly, suddenly annoyed that he would continue to ask the same question over and over again, not realizing his dad was having a hard time understanding what had happened, or why.

Fox took care of securing the car, even though it wasn't theirs. Just as he reached the driver's side, out of the headlights, a brilliant flash of light off on the western horizon grabbed hold of him and held him mesmerized. Matt, seeing the refection in the mirror which he was using to see why his dad was so worried, jumped out of the truck and watched the ball of fire retreat into a glow. Two, maybe three seconds passed before a very deep muffled explosion was heard.

The silence after seeing and hearing 'that' was deafening. Both were thinking about what that conflagration could do to the town they knew so well, having lived in the area all of their lives. "Get in the truck, Matt. Let's go."

In short order, they were on their way to the homestead. Silence reigned as each was lost in his own thoughts.

Arriving home, Matt split from his father, headed for the outhouse in the pitch black dark, entered, sat on the splintered boards used to keep one from falling into the trench, and took care of business. He tore off and fashioned a page from the local newspaper…

Fox used the ladle to scoop out two large bowls of freshly made vegetable stew started that morning and allowed to simmer all day. "Lord help me say the right words. Lord, you know I ain't tellin' ya what to do, but would you bring some peace to my boy?"

Fox was setting the bowls on the table when Matt entered. Fox pointed to Matt's chair. Dutifully the child took his seat.

Matt normally said grace, but Fox said, "Lord, bless this food and our bodies which are about to receive your gifts. Bless our minds so that we do the right thing. And, sorry Jesus, but I got to talk to Your Father about… Dear Father, lift us up so that we know what to do to make this world a better place. Hold my son in Your arms. And tell me what I can do to help him. Amen. Matt. Say a few words while we've got the Lord on the phone."

"Can't, Pa. He doesn't listen to weaklings. He doesn't love people who don't protect their husbands. Excuse me, Pa."

Without waiting for permission, Matt got up from the table, pushed the chair to its rightful place under the table, then quickly walked out of the room, exited their home, and then tore out for his place of refuge.

The boy knew their place like the back of his hand, better even. After walking for fifteen minutes, he arrived at the fence, easily lifted himself over it as only a youthful person could do. He landed on his feet at which time he took off running as fast and graceful as a deer.

Fox, sensing his son was in deep trouble, turned off the stove, and headed to the place where he knew the boy would go. The boy had done it more than once, but this time was different.

Matt, already cold and shivering from the brisk night air and shock reactions, quickly shed his pants, shoes and socks into a heap beneath the old gnarly mesquite tree. In the silence, he heard footsteps off in the distance, but they couldn't stop him, not now, not ever… knowing only that he had utterly and completely failed his George… and being so scared and oh so very alone, he walked out into the frigid water, then at the underwater ledge drop-off dove headfirst into the bone chilling water.

With his intentions to free himself from the guilt of surviving and not protecting his husband clearly etched in his mind, Matt's muscles immediately began locking up into tight knots and tendrils as he wildly flailed his legs to position his body so that it went to the bottom as a submarine would do. He had swam to the bottom many, many times on those scorching hot summer afternoons. The water was cooler down there, almost chilly even when compared to the upper layers.

Fox arrived on the scene with lantern in hand. He madly searched all around for his boy. Dead silence. Something white on the other side of the tree caught his attention. He bent down, and with the ample light to see what it was. Matt's underwear! His boy was in the water. He would die there.

The man kicked off his shoes while tearing off his coat at the same time. Knowing the water would be ice cold water, he worried not about himself, but nearly panicked at thinking his boy was under the surface, for reasons only God knew. Not ten seconds passed before Fox, knowing the creek just as well, if not better than his son, jumped into the water, ran to the ledge and dove in headfirst. He knew he had to act quickly, before his muscles seized up from the cold. If he were to falter, then his son would die.

Using all his willpower he quickly descended while groping hand holds on jagged pieces of rock and tree roots.

After what seemed like forever, Fox, while flailing his arms out in front of him to keep moving, and to keep muscle spasms to a bare minimum, felt a firm cylindrical object which he immediately recognized as a leg. He ran the surface just to make sure. When he felt Matt's ankle, the man lunged forward and grabbed Matt's torso, then kicked off the bottom surface with his still functioning legs. When they got to the top surface, Fox immediately began pounding his hand on Matt's back to dislodge any water that was in his lungs. Matt's survival mechanisms kicked into high gear after being vigorously stimulated. He began violently coughing. When that happened, Fox kicked furiously and used his free hand to take them toward the light given off by the lantern. Matt was dead weight. Which was no problem, as Fox was twice and half bigger and stronger than the 14 year old.

Knowing they had but little time before the cold would take its toll on their wet bodies, Fox easily manhandled Matt across his shoulders. He grabbed the lantern then took off running as fast as he dared. The fence was a huge obstacle. He gently laid Matt onto the ground then returned to the tree where he'd left his coat, ran back only to find Matt standing by, leaning against the fence. Fox draped the coat over the upper strand, then said, "Just go with this, Matt. I'm going to lift you up; you'll have to take it from there. Fall if you need to… it's not that high up; you know it well; you know what I'm talking about."

When Matt didn't move, the man lifted Matt and laid the boy onto his coat. He went over the fence at the next post so as to not jiggle the wire.

Inside of the house, Fox immediately carried Matt to the fireplace. He laid the boy on the carpet, grabbed an afghan off the sofa to wrap around his son.

Fox then went to his room and stripped off his clothes. Knowing that he was close to hypothermia, the man put on a pair of boxers and returned to Matt after grabbing towels.

Matt was violently shivering, which after what he'd gone through, was a good sign that his body was trying to return to a normal state, albeit slowly.

Fox dropped to the floor, removed the afghan and began drying Matt's body as vigorously as he dared. Knowing his son was modest to the extreme around him, made no difference. No surface of Matt's body was left untouched as his dad frantically did everything he knew how to do to get a body temperature to rise to more normal levels.

Finally, Matt started responding to his dad's gentle voice telling him to wake up, that he was now safe, and that he needed to come back to the living.

When they were mostly dry, Matt more so than Fox, the man sat against the sofa and drew his son's back into his chest where he put his arms around him and held him tight, as only a father would do. He decided to leave them fully exposed to the fireplace heat to warm them slowly but surely.Matt, despite being naked with his father, made no effort to cover his exposure, in fact, he relished being held by his dad who he loved with all of his heart and soul. In fact, he reached up and pulled his dad's arms around him tighter. Unable to stop what was about to happen, Matt's eyes filled with tears, and for the first time in his life – he didn't fight them.

As they sat there, the man started thinking about the relationship he and his son had had over the years. Although they were very close, there had been but little physical interaction, meaning they hardly ever touched one another other than to bump into each other when passing by. Never before had Fox held his son as he was now holding him.

And, for the first time in a very long time, Matt felt much younger than his present day age.

Matt began having trouble breathing. Thinking that Matt was trying to expel water trapped in his lungs, Fox quickly attempted to turn the boy over his legs, but Matt held Fox's arms even tighter. Then Fox realized his son was crying; not only was he silently crying, but he was sobbing.

Paternal instincts took over. The man manipulated Matt so that the boy rested on his lap. He wrapped his arms around his son and urged him to lay into his chest. Matt didn't argue, not one bit, even when Fox touched his bottom to bring them even closer together.

Unable to stop himself, Matt wailed into his father's neck, "Pa, I should have died, but I didn't. I should have jumped on George to save his life, but didn't. I should have taken my gun, but didn't. George is dead because I'm a coward. Right now, I'm a damn baby. I'll never be strong and brave, Pa."

Fox had never heard his son talk such foolishness before, ever, even when the child was a little baby. Sure, he'd jibber jabbered like all little babies and toddlers do, but his son's words cut him to the core.

As if some force was guiding his arms, they wrapped around Matt's quivering and quaking body, pulled him in tight and held on as if there would be no tomorrow. The thought passed through Fox's mind that, after seeing the inferno in the direction of Breckenridge, there may not be a tomorrow. From his own pent up emotions came, "When your momma passed, I thought my life ended at the same time. I loved her so much. She made me whole. When she went away, the pain itself ripped the soul right out of my body. Your momma, Matt, she picked me up when I came home from Desert Storm. I've never talked about this to anyone. Oh, I told her bits and pieces here and there, but mostly I just kept going, doing what I'm supposed to be doing from one day to the next. What I'm about to tell you will never be told again for as long as I live."

Matt rearranged himself so that he was facing Fox, not caring one way or another that he sat naked in on his dad's lap. Always modest to the extreme, something was washing through his blood vessels that, after a fleeting thought to cover himself, told him his exposed skin didn't matter one way or the other.

Continuing, "One night over there in that desert, everything that could go wrong started going wrong. You don't need to know the details of exactly what lead up to what happened, but you need to know what transpired." Fox gathered his wits, barely hanging on as those memories were resurfacing and strangulating his throat and burning his lungs. Matt looked into Fox's eyes. Something told the youngster to remain quiet, that his father would speak when ready.

Five minutes passed, "Son, my best lifelong friend was killed by sniper fire. We were hunkered down into a foxhole and were about as close as you and I are right now. Like you, I lived with profound guilt over not saving him… I didn't take the bullet for him, Son. I know what you're going through. Unlike you, I didn't say anything to anyone for fear that I would be labeled a weak man, unable to handle my own problems. What you've done is brave. Don't ever think of yourself as a coward. There's something that you need to realize, and is something you'll come to your own terms in your own time. Don't let me put ideas in your head, but, last summer when you deliberately took that snake bite to keep me from getting bit, in my mind you became a man that day… yet, you are still a boy, a strong boy at that."

"Then why don't I feel that way, Pa?"

"When you left out of here, I knew what you were going to do. You made up your mind, and you nearly did it. This tells me that you're brave, yet, at the same time, your youth just about failed you; you just about made a mistake that can't get fixed and amended. From now on, boy, you leave when we leave this planet in God's hands."

Matt thought on that for a moment before replying, "Dad, George is no longer my boyfriend. It changed when the Priest married us. I was afraid that George was going to die from the infection… they were going to cut off his leg…"

"I'm sorry that I wasn't there for you and George, Matt. I know how much you loved him. You still do. I can see and hear it in your words, and I feel the intensity through your being… I'm sorry. Do you want to tell me what happened?"

Matt wiggled out of Fox's arms, got up, shuddered violently and then took off at a rapid pace toward his room. When there, he grabbed his house coat, put it on to cover his flesh that had decided to wake up. He walked to the front door, put his hand on the knob and said, "I'll be right back. I promise." Before Fox could say anything the boy stepped outside in the cold night air, pointed his spear through the wrought iron porch support and relieved himself.

Two minutes later, nearly frozen again, he dropped the housecoat to the floor not caring about his arousal state and then rejoined into his father's arms, feeling somewhat safe against the terror that he was about to share.

"Pa, it was terrible. Everybody was dead. Doctors. Nurses. Patients. George. Everybody. Even the hospital police – dead."

Matt was finished. Fox didn't prod into what Matt had actually seen, for he already figured out what it was all about – carnage. Truth be told he didn't want to know the gory details, but would listen if Matt needed to talk about it. Images of his Desert Storm buddy, Wilfred's dead and mutilated body passed through his mind. He was about to lose all control, but was brought back when Matt caressed his cheek, saying, "Pa… you know everything else because you experienced it, too."Fox nodded, then pulled his son in tight as he choked back a sob that threatened to escape. Matt continued, "Why wasn't I killed?"

Fox turned the tables and asked the same question, "Why wasn't I killed? The answer, I've come to terms with is this: I had to stick around to have a son - you. Your mother and I always loved one another, ever since we were in diapers. We married. Then. Then you blessed our lives. Every day of my life is a blessing, Matt. I don't know what it's like to be a father. Mine ran off when I was a baby; I never knew him, and my mother wouldn't tell me about him. Then came Clyde, your grandpa. I called him Dad from day one. I say this only because I want you to have a son one day. You're being gay really shouldn't stop you from being a Pa, at least I don't think so. You probably know more about that stuff than I do… but… I'd like to learn."

"Well, Pa, and I haven't told this to anyone, and never to George… when I was little, even though I knew then being with another boy was something I thought about all of the time, I could see myself married to a woman. Father Mott told us that love is love, and that love knows no boundaries if we're open to it."

"That's right. Matt, I don't say this to hurt you anymore than you already are, I could see you and George being together for a very long time. What's this about your getting married? It can't be done in Texas."

"Texas law don't mean squat to God." Matt said while standing up. The warmth felt good as he was still bone deep cold. Fox got up and joined his son. Together they stood there watching the flames dance their waltz, casting off irregular tendrils of light that reflected off their faces and torsos. Matt put his arm around Fox's midsection. Fox put his across Matt's shoulders. They stood there for a few minutes, fixating on the sight before them, and the closeness to one another that they were experiencing.

Something that he'd never before done to his son, he leant down and kissed the top of Matt's mostly dry head. He smelled pond water. A violent shudder passed through his body as his mind returned to the creek, and how close he'd come to losing his son. Things were going to be different in their lives. They were going to spend more time together, just being father and son.

"Dad, we're going to be different, aren't we?"

"Yes. I'm not sure how I'm going to do it. Like I said I don't know what it's like to be a Pa, but I'm willing to learn. So long as you do your school work, act decently toward other people, and carry yourself around as a young man… a boy… you're only 14…"

"No, Dad, that's not what I mean… I mean you and me. I want to be your son… I'm confused… I'm not sure what I'm trying to say, do you?"

"Let me try this, for practice." Fox chuckled. Matt looked into Fox's eyes. In them he saw… what was it? Orneriness, maybe?

"We haven't had the birds and bees talk, have we? Nope."

"Pa… it's not necessary. It works just fine. Can we change the subject?"

"I'm not going to go there, but I am going to ask you one question. I expect an honest answer."

"What's that?"

"In my eyes, George, for all practical purposes, was a man. I know you loved him, and I know he loved you with all of his heart and soul… what I need to know is this: did he hurt you? And I do not mean unintentionally."

"You really want to know, don't you?"

"You're my son. It's my job to protect you from getting hurt. At the same time, you have a mind of your own… it is still growing, and will continue to grow for the rest of your life. Yes, I do want to know."

"Dad, I'm going to practice being a son. I've always been honest with you; I've never ever lied. I didn't think my love life was any of your business… but I see that it is. So… I'm going to answer your question: yes, it hurt. Why I did it with George is because I loved him, and because he was very, very, very gentle. We had a code word. If I said the code word, then he stopped. Sometimes I didn't even say the code word… he said that my body talked to him to tell him when to stop."

Fox nodded, "Good. That tells me everything I need to know. He was a good man. Of course, I knew that about George the first time we met. I have to ask you one more question about you and him: do you need to see a doctor?"

"No. I'm all good. I'd tell you if I needed one."

Fox grinned as he leant in and over Matt's shoulder. Matt looked into his father's face. He noticed that his dad was looking down. Fox chuckled, "Boy, you're mighty bare down there… you should be growing a bunch of hair."

Matt grabbed his robe and pressed it against his sex as he felt a flash of heat hotter than the fireplace could ever think about becoming travel through his veins at his dad's question. Fox just laughed, patted Matt's covered butt and offered, "That's not a fair question, but now I know why my razor is always dull."


Fox laughed. He was getting into this business of 'bonding' with his son, and liked it. No, he loved it. And so did Matt.

They were both hungry, so, in companionable silence they set the table, ladled ample quantities of the homemade stew into bowls, and ate heartedly.

After kitchen cleanup was performed, Fox proceeded to teach his son the game of Cribbage late into the night, taking breaks every now and again to stoke the fire, eat another bowl of stew, or to just get up and stretch their muscles. Matt was good. Really good. In fact, Fox taught his son so well, and because Matt is a quick study – beat his father hands down, more than once.

"Okay, you've beaten me fair and square. It is time for bed. We'll get a late start on chores, but it is okay… there aren't many to do during winter, so sleep until you wake up. One more thing…"

Matt and Fox stood up from the chairs; both stretched their arms and legs widely, then turned to one another. Matt waited for a moment before Fox touched his shoulders with both hands and said, "I don't remember telling you that I love you; I really do."

"Oh that's easy, Pa. You tell me every day. You're a good Pa." They then embraced. Matt turned and went to his room, closed his door about halfway, shed his robe and shinnied his way under the sheets. Once the light in the kitchen went off, and after he heard his dad stoke the fireplace, he reached his hand down beneath the covers, looking for and finding…

Fox smiled as he heard his son's mattress squeaking in a very familiar rhythmical fashion. As he lay in bed listening to his son's primal happiness, he closed his eyes, heard the pace pick up, and then silence. Just as he was drifting into sleep, his son's voice said loudly, "I love ya, Pa!"

To be continued

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