What happens when two lonely boys meet in a shopping mall food court?
When the boys went to bed that night, Bryan was in a somber mood. He’d been that way since they’d got back from the mall. As soon as they were in bed, he wriggled back into Josh, and when Josh slipped his arm over Bryan’s chest, Bryan grabbed it and pulled it over him tightly.
“You okay?” asked Josh softly.
“Not really. I’m really scared, Josh. I don’t think I could take it if I had to leave now. It just feels like home. I’ve only been here a few weeks, but I feel so good living here. This is where I belong. I don’t even want to think about leaving. Your dad sees how much you’ve changed, and he’s right; you have. But I’ve changed too. A whole lot. No one seems to notice, but I have. I’m happier now and I don’t worry so much. All that tension I was feeling is gone. I’m doing better in school because you make sure I do all my homework and help me if I don’t understand something. The teachers treat me with more respect, too, but the important thing is, I respect myself more, now that I’m doing so well. I feel so much better about myself in general. I think I’m heading somewhere now, and I didn’t feel that way before.
“But this thing with my father. It scares me. I just have this feeling, I don’t even know what it is, but it’s bad. I think it’s because I’m afraid that when they find him, if he says I have to come back, even with what your father says, I’ll have to go back. Kids always get given to their parents if their parents want them. That’s the way it seems to work. I’m scared, Josh. I just have this bad feeling and I’m scared.”
Josh tightened his arm around Bryan’s chest, and tried to speak soothingly. “Bryan, my father’s pretty smart. If he says he’s looked at this and figured it out and has a lawyer and all, I think you can trust him. Remember, kids don’t always go to their parents. There are children’s agencies that get involved and decide if the parents are fit or not. There’s a whole agency that does that, and they have the power to remove children from bad homes. I think it’s different, too, if the child is older, like you are. I think the courts listen to what that kid has to say, a lot more than they do if the child is six, or even ten. Dad looked into all that. Besides, if he wants you here and is determined you’re going to be here, I’d bet on him any day. He loves you, Bryan, and cares what happens to you. He’s not going to let anyone take you away, father or not.”
“My head tells me to trust him. My body feels like running away again.”
“Well, don’t do that. Then Dad would have to put his private investigator to work looking for you, and how do you think I’d feel? If you’re scared now, I’d be ten times as scared. You do that, when they find you, I’d have to kill you.”
Bryan chuckled, and with his hand being held tightly across Bryan’s body, Josh could feel it as much as he could hear it. “Well, if it’s you, I guess that’d be all right. Good night, Josh.”
“Good night, and stop worrying. Everything’s going to be fine.”
----  ----
After school, Josh and Bryan went to Eric’s as usual and went for their run. Bryan was still being quieter than usual, and Josh was concerned. When they had been jogging for a while, Bryan suddenly started running faster and steadily pulled away from the other two.
“Where’s he going? What’s he doing?” asked a confused Eric as Bryan kept running faster. He was now in a full-out sprint and was rapidly leaving them behind.
“He’s worried. I think we’re seeing the emotions he’s feeling. Dad’s looking for his father, and Bryan’s really scared he’s going to have to leave us. Dad doesn’t think so, but Bryan’s upset by it.”
“Is his dad missing?”
“A number of people have been trying to call him and no one is ever there. Dad hired an investigator to track him down.”
“Oh.” Bryan was now out of sight, and Eric’s brow wrinkled. “Do you think we should speed up, try to stay with him?”
“At that pace, he can’t go more than a couple minutes. I think he’s just burning off frustration or fear or something. I think we’ll catch up to him pretty quickly, but yes, let’s go a little faster.”
They sped up. They had established a pace they were comfortable with over the last week and just naturally fell into it every day. They now found to their surprise that they could run a little faster and it didn’t tire them any more than their usual pace.
After about a mile, Josh saw Bryan quite a ways further on, sitting on the curb, his head hanging, his chest rapidly expanding and falling. It took them another two minutes to get to him, but they got there and stopped in front of him. He was still gasping for breath, and tears were running down his face.
Josh sat down next to him and put his arm around him. Eric immediately did the same thing on the other side.
“It’ll be all right, Bryan. It will. You’re okay. You’ll be okay. We won’t let him take you. Come on. Relax a little. Calm down. You’re okay.”
Eric then said similar soothing words. They continued to hold Bryan. He continued to gasp and sob at the same time.
Finally, after several minutes, Bryan cried out, “I’m so fucking scared! I’m scared and I can’t stop being scared.”
“It’s okay, Bryan. It’s okay. We’ll just sit here till you’re calmer.” Josh pulled him tighter, and Eric slid even closer so he was pressing against Bryan side. Tears had formed in Eric’s eyes.
Eventually, Bryan’s sobbing eased. His breathing slowed. His head remained slumped.
“Come on, let’s head back,” said Josh, and stood up. He reached for Bryan’s upper arm and helped pull him to his feet.
“Sorry guys. I guess I’m a wuss. I’ve just been worrying. It got to me.”
“Don’t apologize,” said Eric, sounding a little provoked. “You’ve got all sorts of shit to worry about. It’s natural. Hold it all in, you go crazy. Hey, how fast do you think you were going?”
Bryan grinned through his tears. “I think I set a new world record for land speed. It sure felt like it. I thought my heart was going to explode so I had to stop. When I did, the waterworks started. I feel sort of foolish. Hey, I love you guys. You’re always here for me. Thanks.”
“Thanks, huh? Thanks? Come on, you soaked this shirt and I think it ran over onto my shorts. I can’t keep this stuff now, it’s contaminated. Thanks doesn’t cut it. I need all new running gear,” Eric growled. Then he grinned at him and punched him lightly in the shoulder.
“So are we swimming?” asked Josh. Of the three of them, he loved swimming the best. He struggled the most at running, but was a fish in the pool.
Eric looked at Bryan, who said, “Sure, why not. I feel better now, but if I start crying again there, no one will know.”
----  ----
When they stopped off at Dr. Warren’s office after the swim, he was waiting for them in his secretary’s outer office.
“Come on in, guys. I have some news.”
Josh and Bryan each took chairs in the office and Dr. Warren took one too so he didn’t have to sit behind the desk when he spoke with them.
“Bryan, the investigator tried calling your father several times today and didn’t have any more luck than anyone else. He checked tax records and found where your father works, and called them. He’d been on leave, and when that time ran out, he never came back. They haven’t seen him and don’t know where he is. So the investigator went to your house. It was all locked up. He went around looking in windows, and then he saw a man at the dining room table. He knocked, but the man didn’t acknowledge him.”
He stopped and moved he chair closer to Bryan’s, then softened his voice. “The investigator kept knocking for a while, then he got worried that maybe the man needed help. He had some lock picks, and though it’s illegal, he picked the lock on the front door and went in.
“Bryan, this is hard, but your father was dead. He was sitting at the table, but had been there for a long time. He had a bottle of whiskey on the table with him and it was empty. He also had a bottle of Vicodin tablets, half full.
“He left a note, Bryan. The note didn’t say much. All it said was, ‘Sorry, Bryan.’ That was all it said. I’m really sorry too.”
He slid over and put his arms around Bryan.
Bryan looked dazed. He wasn’t crying, he was just staring ahead of him. Josh couldn’t tell if he’d even heard everything.
Dr. Warren moved to his knees so he was about at Bryan’s height. Josh got up and knelt next to him too, laying a hand on his shoulder.
They stayed like that for a couple minutes. Then a tear trickled down Bryan’s face. “I killed him, didn’t I?” he asked no one in particular.
“What do you mean?” asked Dr. Warren.
“I killed him. He was going to rape me, I ran away, and when he realized what had happened, he felt guilty. He felt so guilty, he wrote a note apologizing and killed himself. If I’d gone to the police, if I’d called someone, he’d be alive. He might have had to go to counseling or something, some agency might have had him jump through some hoops, but he’d be alive.”
“Bryan, it’s okay for you to be upset. It’s okay to cry. But it’s not okay for you to feel guilty about this. You didn’t kill him. You don’t even know when he wrote the note or what it means. I think it’s more likely he meant, he’s sorry he let you down by killing himself. I think, probably, he couldn’t get over your mother’s death, it was just too hard for him, and he killed himself because of that. He didn’t want to live without her. No, he was apologizing to you for taking his life, not for what happened in your bedroom. He might not even have remembered that. The investigator said he’d probably been dead for about two weeks. So he didn’t do this right after you left. From the empty whiskey bottles he found in the house, and how gaunt your father looked, the investigator thought he’d been drinking pretty steadily for a long time.”
Bryan didn’t speak again for several minutes. Dr. Warren kept holding him, as best he could with Bryan in a chair. Bryan eventually leaned over so he was resting in Dr. Warren’s arms.
“What will happen to me now?” Bryan finally asked, his voice very soft and sounding like a young child’s.
“You’ll live with us, if you want to. You can stay with us forever. We wanted you to do that before we knew about this. You know that. This is tragic, but it doesn’t change where you’re going to live. You belong with us.”
“But what about, well, I don’t know how to say it. This was a whole life, a family, a house, all this and now it just doesn’t exist any more. What happens to all that?”
“I’m not sure what you mean exactly. But yes, there’s a lot to settle. You don’t have to worry about anything, though. You don’t have to do anything. You don’t suddenly have a lot on your shoulders that wasn’t there before. I’ll have my lawyer look at all the things that have to be taken care of. There’s probably life insurance, I don’t know if he was renting or buying the house but it has to be seen to, safety deposit boxes found and disposed of if they exist, outstanding bills have to be paid, bank accounts closed out, yes, there’ll be things to see about. But someone else will do it. All you have to do is come back with us, and decide if you want to live with us from now on.”
“I don’t have to decide that at all. I know where I want to live—with you and Josh. If I didn’t have you guys now, I think I’d go crazy. I don’t know why you’d want me, but I sure want you.”
“Because we both love you, Bryan. We love you. You’re one of us now. The three of us are a family. If you want me to, I’ll adopt you. If you don’t want that, but would like to use our name and change yours to Warren, that’s okay too. You can do whatever you want. And we’ll be here for you. Maybe we can help you like you helped Josh. I hope you’ll let us.”
“You already have. I was telling Josh that last night. Can we go home now? I want to lie down.”
----  ----
It was a week later that they met with Dr. Warren’s lawyer in his office. During the week, there had been a funeral which had been sparsely attended. Bryan had listened to the service, and been driven to the graveyard and watched his father being lowered into the ground. He didn’t cry during any of it, which worried Josh. Josh stayed as close to him as he could the entire time, trying to keep some physical contact with him constantly. He noticed, if he moved away slightly even for a second, Bryan leaned into him to reestablish the contact. He didn’t say anything, but obviously needed and appreciated the closeness.
Dr. Warren’s lawyer had a large, expensive looking office in a new building downtown. He was a short, stout man with only a fringe of hair remaining on his head. He had a dour expression on his face when he walked out of his office to greet them, but smiled as they all shook hands. He led them into his office, then closed the door and asked them to sit.
“I guess I should address myself to Bryan. Or should I call you Mr. Fletcherson?”
Bryan smiled. “Bryan is fine.”
“Great. Okay. I can make this pretty brief. There isn’t too much to cover. First, your dad had life insurance, and you were the dependent listed on the policy. It was for a sizeable amount of money, but was voided because it specifically excluded payments if the cause of death was suicide. Of course, if you want to, we could contest that, but this is pretty standard language and policy that’s been tested in court and I wouldn’t recommend that. Secondly, the house. It was being purchased, and by my estimate he had about $50,000 equity in it if you wanted to sell it right now. However, that is moot because it had an insurance policy attached to the mortgage which said if the buyer died, the mortgage would be paid off by the insurance. Again, a pretty standard policy, but this one did not include the suicide exclusion. So, instead of just receiving $50,000, you, the sole heir of your father’s estate, now own the house free and clear. Except you have to pay taxes on it.
“Next. Your mother died with a life insurance policy that has been funded in favor of your father. We’ll never know, but I think it’s possible that the existence of that money was why he walked away from his job. He knew he’d be solvent for several years without needing to work. The insurance policy was for $500,000, and a check had been drawn for that amount and sent to your father. We found the check in his bedroom, not cashed. With that much money, the probate people get interested. They would like to put a sizable tax lien on it. I would like them not to. This is an area I think you should hire me to pursue, me or another lawyer, of course. Even with a lawyer’s fee taken out, you’ll almost certainly end up with more money than if you just allow them to do as they’d like with the money.
“Next. There was no will, but you are the sole surviving heir, and the effects of the estate belong to you, after probate. The probate is tricky. You were the secondary dependent on your mother’s policy, and as the check was never cashed, a case can be made that the check isn’t part of your father’s estate but comes directly to you as the surviving dependent at the time the cash is tendered. All this will have to be worked out.
“All right, and finally, the last financial matter. Dr. Warren authorized me to close out all debts owed by your father. He paid for them out of his pocket, and when I told him they should come from the estate for tax reasons, he told me he’d argue with you about that, that it wasn’t my concern, he simply wanted to get settled what could be settled, so I am stepping away from that. All the assets of the estate, which are not large but include his car, will be tied up while we settle probate, but eventually will belong to you.
“Bryan, no matter what happens, you now have some substantial wealth.
“Now, the last item. I looked at your status. As a minor, you need a guardian, or someone to look after your interests. That can be handled in a number of ways. Dr. Warren has stated that, at the moment, you are legally assigned to him by the CPS based on his emergency foster parent credential. I can almost certainly get that changed from an emergency assignment to a permanent one. Dr. Warren has notified me he is willing to make that commitment a legal one. He has also told me he is willing to adopt you. The choice is yours. Again, if you’d like to hire your own attorney, that is fine. Do you wish to tell me what you’d like to do in this matter?”
Bryan had known this was coming. Dr. Warren had told him what they were going to talk about, and that he’d be given the choice of what he wanted to do. He hadn’t asked him what he had decided, just prepared him for the question.
Bryan spoke up, his voice showing no nervousness, his decision causing him no vacillation. “I would like to be adopted. I would like to be Bryan Warren. And I would like to do it as soon as we can. I’m tired of calling him Dr. Warren. I want to call him Dad.”
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