What happens when two lonely boys meet in a shopping mall food court?
It was a week after that Wednesday afternoon when they’d visited Ryan in the hospital. During that time, they had learned that two of Ryan’s attackers had been released into the custody of their parents awaiting the upcoming trial. They had been released with a restraining order preventing them from coming within 100 yards of Josh or Ryan. Both Tom and Pan were still being held in a juvenile center. After questioning all four boys, it had quickly become apparent to everyone that Bill and Sam were followers and they were not the threat the other two were. Because of the extent and nature of Ryan’s injuries and the taped incriminating conversation held by the police, a substantial bail had been set for Tom and Pan and no one had come forward to pay it.
What had happened at the mall that Saturday had spread through the student body of Taft carried by the jet stream of high school gossip. Everyone had heard about it by noon on Monday. There had been several Taft students in the food court when the police had rushed in and taken custody of four boys who had been sitting at a table with Frank and Josh. While Josh was relatively unknown at Taft, almost everyone knew who Frank was. And Frank had knocked down one of the boys, one who had then been taken into police custody.
On Monday when Josh, Bryan and Frank sat down for lunch, they immediately had a crowd around them. Because they knew them, kids had asked questions mostly of Eric and Bryan and Frank, but kids being kids, they had pretty quickly made Josh’s acquaintance and asked him things, too. People knew he’d been with Frank.
Because of this, because of the interest and excitement, and because of Bryan’s and Eric’s outgoing personalities, in the following days, the lunch group had grown. Originally, it had been Bryan, Cal, Kass and Kenny. Josh had been added to the group and then Eric had joined them. Very soon thereafter, Frank had as well. Now, that group of seven was sitting at a table for 12 every day, and all the seats were taken. Everyone at the table was a freshman and it was a noisy group. Three of the newcomers were girls, so Cal had some feminine support. Josh was amazed. He’d never been part of a group like this and couldn’t imagine, thinking back to a couple of weeks earlier, that if he had been, he’d have been a fully participating partner in it all. Now, he was. The shouting back and forth, the insults, the gibes, the serious conversations—he was part of it. His opinion was elicited; people listened when he spoke. It was more than amazing. He was finding his confidence growing every day as people responded to him as they did to other kids, and the more he accepted the fact he was liked and respected, the more his demeanor opened up, and that openness and confidence drew more kids to him.
Josh and Bryan were still sleeping together, still dropping their boxers before climbing into bed, still one spooning the other as they fell asleep. They still were experimenting with each other, too, although it hadn’t progressed much beyond their initial fun. They knew each other’s body pretty thoroughly by now, they knew what each other especially liked, they could tell when each was getting really excited by both the subtle and manifest reactions of their bodies and the sounds they made, but they hadn’t progressed past bringing each other to orgasm with their hands and bodies. What they were doing felt right to them and was fulfilling. Neither yet felt he needed to go further.
They had been running with Eric almost every day. They would ride to his house after school, change into running clothes and set off. They had built up to running four miles each time after the first week. Eric lived near the university athletic fields and they would sometimes jog to the track, then run on it. They were all improving.
Eric’s house had shocked Josh as much as it had Bryan. Eric’s father was a physician and his mother a full professor at the university in charge of the credentialing program for nursing students. Both drew substantial incomes and Eric’s house reflected it. The house was in an exclusive area where lawns were large and green and manicured, landscaping old and lush, the houses large and impressive. Eric’s house fitted in with its neighbors. It was spacious and attractively decorated and somewhat secluded due to the way it was situated on the large property. What Josh especially appreciated was the swimming pool.
“Can we use that?” he’d asked when Eric had shown Bryan and him the pool. The water sparkled in the sunlight, clean, blue and alluring.
“Sure. We can go in now if you want.”
“Yeah! Let’s! Bryan, you want to?”
“No suit. Eric, I don’t suppose skinny-dipping is allowed? Anyway, it isn’t private enough.”
“Actually it is. You’d be surprised. I do it all the time, when no one’s home. Someone could see from our upstairs windows, but not from the sides or back of the property. I’ve checked. The trees and where the garage is screen it. Right now, nobody’s home, so we could. Are you brave enough? I think Josh is up for it.”
Before Josh could reply, Bryan had said, “I’m afraid I would be up. Swimming in the nude seems pretty, uh, stimulating. Even the thought is. Don’t you have a problem, you know, that way, when you do it?”
“Well, yeah, but I’ve only done it alone so no one’s been around to see, so it’s never been a problem. I’ve never done it with anyone else, but it would be fun, especially with you two guys. What, you’re worried because I’m gay?”
“Eric, I am not worried about that. I don’t even think about it unless you remind me. But, now that you brought it up, if you’re gay, and you like me like you say, then if we go skinny dipping will I have, let’s say, visual proof of this attraction?”
“You won’t know the answer to that unless we go.” Eric raised his eyebrows twice, suggestively, a grin on his face. “Anyway, Josh wants to.”
And Josh had wanted to. He’d looked at Bryan and used his practiced hangdog expression. “Pleeeeease, Bryan?”
“Okay, okay, if you guys insist. Where do we change, uh, undress. Wow. This is different. Being naked outdoors in front of people. Maybe that’s why you want to do this, Eric. You want to perv on me, and I’ll probably be hard.”
“I certainly hope so! That, dear boy, is my plan. Heh heh heh heh.” Eric’s eyes had been large, and Josh had noted his pants were starting to swell.
Eric had told them he’d get some towels and they could just undress and jump in the pool. Josh had started to take off his shirt, then had paused. He trusted Eric, he really did, but getting undressed outside and Eric not being there, he suddenly realized he might be being set up. He decided to wait. He looked at Bryan and saw the same fleeting awareness and uncertainty in his eyes.
Eric came back with towels, then looked at the two boys simply standing by the pool. He smiled. “Ah, I see. Chicken, huh. Okay, we’ll all do it together.”
And he began undressing. When he got down to just his boxers, he turned away just a little, slipped them off and with a yell, jumped into the pool.
He’d been fast enough doing this that Josh and Bryan still had had their socks and boxers on. Eric, treading water, watched eagerly.
Bryan looked and saw the expression on Eric’s face, and he something to Josh that Eric couldn’t hear. Then, both Josh and Bryan slowed down and their movements became much more deliberate. Josh sat down in one of the pool chairs and Bryan bent over him and began slowly removing his socks for him, sliding one hand a bit up each leg as he did so. Josh slightly wriggled his body and thrust his midsection out and back as though the contact was turning him on. They changed places and then Josh had repeated the erotic removal of Bryan’s socks, sliding his hands even further up Bryan’s legs.
“Now the boxers,” Bryan whispered to Josh. “Take it real slow.”
Josh walked suggestively to the pool’s edge, then begun tugging at the elastic waist band of his underwear. First he pulled the front out, looked in for a second, then grinned at Eric. Then, he lowered one side as far as he could while holding the other in place, revealing just the edge of his pubes. Then he began pulling the other side down, slowly. Eric’s eyes were bugging out.
Bryan stepped to the pool next to Josh and began sensuously rubbing his hands up and down the sides of his body, his face upturned and showing erotic rapture. He brushed across his nipples and gasped loudly. He turned his back and pulled down his boxers so his rear was fully exposed, then slowly slid them back up. He turned back around facing Eric and rubbed across his boxer-clad front, smiling seductively.
Then, he and Josh both simply yanked down their boxers together, giving Eric a quick, full-monty view, stepped out of them and flipped them at him as they jumped into the pool.
Eric had been so hard he hadn’t thought he could move. Josh swam over to him and dunked him, and Bryan swam under water and tweaked his protruding member. Eric gasped, then remembered way too late he was under water and came up choking and sputtering. Bryan popped to the surface and joined Josh’s laugher.
They swam for an hour. That had been the beginning of a continuing ritual. Since then, swimming together after their run had become part of the program. They were all used to being together naked now, and rarely would any of them get hard. If someone did, and they all had had that happen, it sometimes engendered a comical remark, but no feelings were hurt. They liked and trusted each other, and their time together was fun. They were young teen boys, young teen boys got hard occasionally, they all knew that, and usually no one even commented on it now.
Bryan had indeed begun going through Josh’s science fiction collection and was now reading Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land. Now, Wednesday, amid the jibber-jabber of its other occupants, he was talking about it at the lunch table with Eric. The cafeteria was full of clattering plates and chattering kids, but the gentle pandemonium this created didn’t prevent conversations; it instead seemed to provide an ambience of background noise for them to speak privately within. Bryan was enthusing to Eric over the book.
“I can’t believe it! It’s one of the best books I’ve ever read. This guy comes to Earth and he doesn’t know anything about it even though he’s human; it’s all new to him, he’s been raised by Martians and thinks like them, the government is out to get him because they want to take stuff that’s his, there’s only one government for the whole world, and he meets this guy named Harshaw, and. . . .”
Josh, sitting beside Eric, had been watching Cal while Bryan was enthusing about the book. Cal had been attracting his notice more and more recently, possibly because she seemed to be going out of her way to ignore him. Now, he saw her surreptitiously listening to Bryan’s and Eric’s conversation. Josh was sitting across the table from Bryan and Cal was sitting next to Bryan. She was chatting off and on with Julie, a pretty, dark-haired girl sitting on her left, but Josh could tell most of her concentration was on them.
Josh interrupted Bryan’s passionate book report without looking her way but with her firmly in mind. “That’s Jubal Harshaw. Have you come to his law, yet?”
“His law? I didn’t know he had a law?”
“Yeah, and it’s a pretty good one too. Very true. Very wise.”
“Oh yeah? What is it?”
“Harshaw’s Law. It says daughters can use up to ten percent more money than a man can make in any normal occupation, regardless of the amount. I think that’s probably right for most girls. Greedy little things. Avaricious and never satisfied.”
Cal’s head shot around, and she caught him smiling at her. “I thought maybe someone was listening to us, Bryan. Hey, Cal, how are you today? You didn’t respond when I waved earlier. Nice to see you.”
Cal knew she’d been had. But Cal had spirit. She met Josh’s gaze, then asked, “Do you really want to talk about girls? I can easily talk about boys, you know. You don’t want me to do that, do you?”
Josh grinned. “Sure Cal. Why not? Have we been doing some reading, maybe storing up? I wouldn’t want to deprive you of an opportunity. Go ahead. Bring it on. Give me your best shot.”
The table had quieted. Everyone was looking expectantly at Cal. Several had grins of anticipation on their faces, especially the girls.
“Boys,” said Cal, feeling the attention and raising her voice slightly, “aren’t often made out to be heroes in literature. Old and recent literature. Charles Lamb, the English essayist, showed his disdain for them when he wrote, ‘Boys are capital fellows in their own way, among their mates; but they are unwholesome companions for grown people.’ And Mary Wollstonecraft, who was an 18th century feminist who died at the hands of an incompetent doctor, a male doctor, wrote, ‘At school, boys become gluttons and slovens.’ She might well have been referring to guys like you.” She looked around the table, including all, but then focusing on Josh. “But the modern writers seem to do just as well. Erma Bombeck said that boys decorate their bedrooms in Early Bus Station Restroom. And Camile Paglia, a respected author and researcher, said, and I must quote, ‘Teenage boys, goaded by their surging hormones, run in packs like the primal horde. They have only a brief season of exhilarating liberty between control by their mothers and control by their wives.’ I kind of like that one. And together they seem to sum up boys pretty well.”
Josh began laughing. “Very good, Cal. I just wonder how long you’ve been saving this, getting ready for your big moment.”
“What are you babbling about? That’s just been residing in my head. I didn’t memorize any of that. I just happen to recall it from some casual reading I’ve been doing.”
“Uh huh. Casually reading Charles Lamb’s essays? Just glancing through Wollenstonecraft’s pamphlets and magazine pieces? I know her book, Thoughts on the Education of Girls, is considered the first feminist manifesto, but I doubt you’ve been poring through it. You’ve been gathering ammunition, Cal, that’s what you’ve been doing.”
“Nonsense, you don’t know anything at all. And what does your bedroom look like. A bus station rest room?”
“One thing for certain, Cal. You’ll never know!”
“Good. I’d hate to get anything on me.”
Bryan roared with laughter, and the rest of the table’s inhabitants followed. Josh grinned at Cal, then licked his pointer finger and made an imaginary mark in the air, signifying she’d scored a point, and after a glowering moment, she sheepishly grinned back.
----  ----
That night, Dr. Warren asked Josh and Bryan if they could talk in the living room after dinner. They’d had a beef stew Josh had made and Bryan had helped with. He’d told Josh he’d been cooking dinner since his mother had died until he’d run away, and he had, but his cooking skills were very rudimentary and he’d been learning a lot working with Josh. Tonight he’d browned the meat while Josh was chopping up the vegetables, then been responsible for thickening the stew when the original flour they’d added had proved to be insufficient. The stew had been a success. Dr. Warren had had three helpings.
Now, when they were all sitting in the living room, Josh and Bryan on the couch and Dr. Warren in his favorite chair, Dr. Warren spoke.
“Bryan, I’ve been looking at your situation. Since you told me what happened, I did some thinking, and then started doing some investigating.”
Bryan suddenly didn’t feel so well. He’d eaten a lot of stew, he’d been happy and relaxed, and now suddenly his stomach was tight and he was scared. He was really scared. Was his life about to change?
Dr. Warren saw the worry in Bryan’s face and immediately said, “Bryan! Stop fretting. Everything’s okay. Nothing has changed and it won’t without your blessing. Relax.”
Josh saw the look on Bryan’s face and scooted over on the couch and put his arm around him.
It took a moment, but Bryan did settle down. He trusted both Josh and Dr. Warren.
“Okay. That’s better. Sorry for scaring you. I should have realized what would happen when I said that. I’m going to talk, but don’t be worried, okay?”
Bryan nodded. He couldn’t help but worry. He just tried not to panic.
“OK. What I’ve done is spoken to a lawyer, talking about you, what happened to you, and what the legal ramifications and possibilities are. Bryan, I love having you here, and you’re really good for Josh. You bring life into our home that was missing before. And as I’ve grown to know you, I’ve gotten to love you for just you, too. I wanted to find out about the possibility of you living here permanently. Now I know you might not want that, you might want to go back to your father someday, and of course if that’s what you want, that’s what you can do.
“But I was curious. I was wondering, what would happen if your father suddenly surfaced and said you had to come back, and if at that time you weren’t ready? If you didn’t want to go back yet. What would happen then? I wanted to be able to protect you. So I called a lawyer.
“We’ve spoken several times now. It’s an interesting case, according to him. I won’t go into everything he looked at, just the main things.
“Bryan, it’s your word against his, if it ever came to that, that he tried to rape you, but the fact that you ran away and he’s done nothing to find you for well over a month certainly lends credence to your story, and if he denies it, what he’s done could be called child abandonment. So if he wanted to force you back, and you didn’t want to go and were willing to cite the rape attempt as the reason, he wouldn’t necessarily prevail.
“Furthermore, if this came to that point, the court would almost of necessity put you in temporary foster care. When the lawyer told me that, we discussed it. I want you to know, as of yesterday, I’m now the proud owner of a temporary emergency foster care certificate. Which is the reason I’m able to talk to you about this tonight. Now, if the legal system required you to be put in foster care, and you’re already here and tell them you wish to remain here, it’s almost certain you’d remain here.”
Bryan wasn’t sure if he was supposed to say something or not. Somehow, he felt the significance of some of what he was hearing was going right over his head. His thinking wasn’t as sharp since he’d had his original fright a few minutes earlier. He didn’t respond, even though Dr. Warren paused.
“Anyway, I got the certificate, and if I ever need it, it’s in place. I didn’t want anything to happen where suddenly the CPS was involved and you’d be yanked out of here. It’s extremely unlikely that could happen now.
“So, moving on, here’s the next part. I want to know how you feel, Bryan. I want to know what you want. You’ve been here for a while now, and both Josh and I would hate to have you leave, we both want you here, but you’ve certainly had to do some thinking about it, and I want to know how you feel. The reason I ask is, it’s been long enough that I think we ought to be getting this settled, not have it all up in the air with you not having your life at all stable with the possibility that someone else could disrupt it. I think you need to know where you are now, where things are going to be tomorrow.
“You’ve told me you’ve now tried to call your father three times, each time getting up the nerve to do so, and each time there was no answer. You told me the mall security man you’ve dealt with said he tried to call him and couldn’t get him, too. Well, I think it’s time we contacted him. What I can do, only if you want me to, but what I can do is hire a private investigator to find him so you, or we, can talk to him.
“I think we should do that. I’m very sure it won’t compromise your living here. I think that choice is still going to be yours, and I’ll fight to keep you here if it comes down to that’s what you want and that’s what it takes. But I think you need to know what’s what, and I think we ought to start moving in that direction. You don’t have to do anything but tell me if that’s okay with you.”
Bryan didn’t know what to do. He looked at Josh, who squeezed him a little tighter. He thought, then sat up straighter, and Josh took his arm away.
“Dr. Warren, did you mean that?”
“What?” he answered, confused.
“When you said you loved me? You said you loved me staying here, but then you said you loved me. Really?”
Dr. Warren got up, walked to the couch and sat down next to Bryan. He put his arm around him, pulled him to his chest, and said, “Of course I meant it. You’re a wonderful boy. I love you, Bryan, and I want to make sure things are good for you. I love what you’ve done for Josh, but I love Bryan Fletcherson for who he is, too.”
Bryan didn’t know what to say. He didn’t know he’d had any tension within him, worrying about where he was going to stay. He’d pretty much pushed that to the back of his mind and was living in the present. Now, however, he felt relief, and knew he must have been at least subconsciously worrying about it.
He pushed himself closer into Dr. Warren’s hug. Then he pulled back and said, “I love you too, sir. I love Josh, too. And I love living here. I don’t want to leave. I don’t want to live with my father again. I’ve thought about it. I don’t want to go back. It isn’t easy, thinking about just not living with your father any longer, but what I have here is much better than what I had there. And you guys both care about me more. Even when he wasn’t drunk, even before he tried to rape me, he wasn’t mean or anything, but we didn’t have much in common. We didn’t spend much time together. We rarely talked. Here, we talk all the time. Here, I feel part of a family. I hadn’t felt that since my mother died. Till I was here. I love both of you.
“I trust you, Dr. Warren. If you think hiring someone to find my dad is the right thing to do, then do it. If I have a choice of living with you guys or him, I’d rather it be with you, but if not, I’ll survive it, and still see Josh at school. And maybe I can spend time with you too, Dr. Warren. I’d really miss you if I didn’t get to do that.”
“Bryan, if you want to stay here, even if your father disagrees, I’m pretty sure you can stay. Otherwise I wouldn’t be doing this. But okay, we’ve made the decision, and I’ll call an investigator my lawyer has recommended tomorrow.”
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