Until HE Showed Up Part II

Can Dreams Come True?

By Grant Bentley

If any person, place, event, happening, thing, sport, nice person, or nasty person, seem familiar, it is purely coincidental.

A lot has happened since you last saw us relaxing and reminiscing after our first year of college. After completing college, Josh worked for an advertising agency for a few years and I worked for a small computing company that created web sites and software programs for small businesses. We were both earning good salaries and were living quite comfortably.

Between the two of us, we also created a number of online high school courses which we were able to market to several school boards in the province. It was working on those projects that opened our eyes and changed our perspective on everything. The process of creating and marketing our own product gave us the chance to be independent and in control. It made us realize how restricted we were, working for someone else. We had both presented unique ideas to the companies we worked for, only to have them shot down by upper management. Usually by some guy who couldn’t see much past the end of his nose. We were both convinced that we had some great ideas but no one wanted to take a chance. ‘What we’re doing now and how we’re doing it, works just fine—so why change?’ seemed to be their attitude.

After months of deliberation, we decided if no one would take a chance with our ideas, we would. We took our savings, borrowed way too much money from the bank and decided to start our own advertising agency. We knew that, between the two of us, we had all the skills we needed—graphic arts, photography, business administration and computer programming.

We created a website, which incorporated some of our ideas, and was pretty awesome, even if I do say so myself. We then emailed every company, business, and person we knew involved with local companies, letting them know we existed, and giving them a link to our website. Within days, we had fourteen appointments to demonstrate what we could do. In less than two weeks, we had fourteen contracts to do ad campaigns.

To make a long story short, within five years, we were an established, agency with twenty five employees. Employees with drive, ambition, and ideas. Employees who were listened to and allowed to express their ideas and opinions. Employees who felt appreciated, respected and empowered.  Given another five years, we were a million dollar operation with the same twenty five employees plus thirty more. We had some of the largest corporations in the country as clients and some of our ad campaigns were worth several hundred thousand dollars each. Best of all, our clients were happy and satisfied that they were getting what they were paying for. And yes, we still had the original fourteen clients.

One of the things we were very conscious of was the fact that, we wouldn’t be where we were if it hadn’t been for other people within the community. People who saw us, saw our work, and gave us a chance. We felt that we owed it to them to give back. If the community supported us, then we should support the community. We ran ad campaigns for any local charity at no cost. We also donated to numerous charities and sponsored numerous local groups and functions. We were very active in the gay community as well, supporting gay groups and programs in the city. We became well known for our community involvement and in fact received several humanitarian awards.

We also hired local people as models and actors in most of our campaigns. Too often, bringing in high-profile professional models was more trouble than it was worth. Consistently, we would spend more time pampering them and serving their every little whim than we actually spent doing the photo-shoot. Most of them, both male and female, gave a whole new meaning to the word bitches. Local amateurs were very often better looking and certainly far more ready to cooperate and listen to the photographer or director. For that reason, we had a full-time ad on our website and in our local newspaper, inviting local people to audition.

One day, a young man came into my office which was nothing unusual. He looked very familiar, but it had been a long day and I wasn’t at my brightest at that point. He introduced himself as Brice Johansen. He was well dressed, extremely handsome, actually, downright gorgeous, and looked like he could easily have been a professional model.

After we made our introductions, his first statement was, “I want to be totally honest with you.”

“Well, thank you,” I responded, “I appreciate that when interviewing future employees.”

“I hope you still feel that way when I’m finished,” he replied.

“We’ll see,” I said before asking, “So how can I help you? Are you are applying for a modelling position?”

“Not really. I’m sorry, but I really don’t know how to put this,” he responded looking like he was ready to start crying at anytime, “I’ve seen you and your partner quite often and I know you’re really nice guys and do a lot of community work to help people.”

“Okay, I guess that’s true,” I said, wondering where this was going.

“I really want to be able to work for you but…I guess I need more than just a job,” he said hesitating as his eyes began to fill with tears.

“More than just a job?” I inquired.

“I’m sorry, this is really hard and I don’t know how to ask this, so I guess maybe I should just come right out and say it. I’m not a model. I want to be a photographer and work for you but that’s not the only reason I’m here. I’ve been living on the streets for a year and a half and what I need more than anything right now is help,” he said as his voice almost dropped to a whisper. It was then that the little light came on and I realized he was the cutie we saw once in a while panhandling on the corner.

“I have no one else to turn to and you guys seem like you care,” he added, “I’m really sorry, I don’t want to be wasting your time, so if you want, I can just leave.”

My first thought was, ‘There is no way we want to get involved with this kid.’ I was almost ready to tell him he was right, he probably should leave, but the look of total desperation in his eyes stopped me.

“Look, I don’t want you to leave. I’d like to hear your story.” I said as I gave him a weak smile and wondered what I was about to get myself into.

If we were his last hope and I blew him off, who knows what his next move would be? I didn’t even want to think about that. I decided I was going to hear him out but I didn’t want to be in this alone, for obvious reasons, so I asked him to give me a minute, picked up the phone and called Josh. I told him I had a young man I was interviewing and I was really going to need his assistance.

A few minutes later, Josh walked into my office. I introduced him to Brice and he immediately pulled me to one side.

“He’s…” he whispered.

“Yeah, I know,” I responded quietly before he had time to say it all. “Please, let’s hear him out,” I asked.

He glanced back at Brice and I know he saw the same desperation in his eyes that I had seen. He looked back at me with ‘What the hell are we doing?’ written all over his face. I just smiled at him.

Josh sat down on the corner of my desk and said, “Okay Brice, tell us about yourself and why you would be an asset to our agency.”

Brice was definitely honest, as he said he would be, and he told us everything.

He was seventeen and would be eighteen in two weeks. He was a farm boy from a very religious family. He had been outed in high school by someone he thought was a friend and had trusted with his secret. After his ‘friend’ made sure the entire school was aware of his secret, he went running to Brice's parents.

They were devastated. Still, there was none of the ranting and raving about "How could you do this to us?" that you might expect. Instead, he was simply told that having a gay son was not an option for them, but not to worry, because they could get him the help he needed to overcome his demons. Within a week he found himself booked into a Spiritual Deprogramming Centre called Hope House. His mother packed his backpack for him and the next morning, the pastor of their church would be driving him to the centre.

Brice had heard enough about these centres and their methods of deprogramming that there was no way he was going to Hope House. That night, he grabbed his backpack and quietly slipped out of the house, withdrew what little money he had from the bank machine, and left to hitch-hike into the city.

Within a couple of days, he met a young man who befriended him. Once again, he trusted someone he thought was a friend and within a month his new 'friend' had him addicted to heroin and under his control. For the past year and a half, he panhandled and sold his body to feed his addiction.

At that point he stopped and looked at us, I think to gauge our reaction. Josh and I just stared at each other with looks of total astonishment on our faces for a few seconds. This was not a kid living on the street who wanted a job and help getting himself together. He was a male prostitute, addicted to heroin, and basically ‘owned’ by another man. How could we possibly help him no matter how much we wanted to?

But we had promised him we would hear him out, so at the very least, that is what we would do. After we recovered from our initial shock, Josh smiled and asked him to go on. I think by asking him to continue, we had kept his little spark of hope alive as he smiled a very weak smile back before continuing.

He went on to tell us that both Josh and I had given him money on more than one occasion, no strings attached, ‘to buy food’. We had always been nice to him, acknowledged him and said, “Hi,” whenever we passed him on the street. He decided that we were the ‘good guys’ and would often lay awake at night and daydream that we would come to his rescue and save him from his life on the street.

He made it a point to find out who we were and what we did. Upon discovering we had an advertising agency, it gave him more material to add to his daydream. His life-long ambition was to become a photographer. Now in his daydream, he would imagine what it would be like to design and set up photo-shoots for our agency. It was the one thing that kept him going—the dream that, one day, he might be working for us. He never really thought it would happen for him. His life was no longer his and probably never would be, but as long as he could dream it, it gave him hope.

Then everything suddenly changed the day before yesterday. The young man who befriended him and two others had been shot and killed apparently over a drug deal gone wrong. Brice only survived because he had been with a ‘client’ and was not in the deserted warehouse at the time. At first, he panicked when he realized what had happened. As bad as his life was, it had structure. He belonged. Now, suddenly, he was alone. The man who told him what to do and when to do it for more than a year was gone. Worse, his source of heroin was gone.

It wasn’t until later, after he had time to calm down and look at things rationally, that he began to see it as his chance to escape the streets. But to do that, he needed help. He thought about his daydream. Could it possibly come true? Was there a chance we would actually help him? There was only one way to find out. He took almost every cent he had, went out and bought a complete new outfit. One that he hoped would show off his appearance and impress at an interview.

Now, here he was, sitting quietly waiting for us to respond. He had managed to keep himself together as he told us his story, but as he sat waiting, he broke down and the tears began to flow. Josh moved into the other chair in front of my desk and slid it over so he could put an arm around Brice’s shoulders. At this point, Josh gave me a look that was almost a desperate as Brice’s had been. It was at then I knew we were in this for the long haul. If I’ve learned anything about Josh over the last thirteen years, it’s that he can’t pass up an injured stray. This boy was definitely an injured stray.

It’s not that I wasn’t feeling a deep need to help, but I was still a little sceptical. I had been paying very close attention to Brice as he spoke. There was little doubt that he was a determined young man. However, I was not unaware of what time on the street can do to someone as young as Brice. The street has a way of changing a person. The social mores of the street are a far cry from the social mores of mainstream society.  Could Brice step out of that social system and back into ours, even if he wanted to I wondered. But, Josh’s look, combined with Brice’s plea that he was so desperate to get off the street that he was willing to do anything, got to me. That, and Josh’s reminder that, if my family had not been there to help him, there is no telling where he would have ended up.

Once we declared our willingness to help, and got through the tears and hugs that followed, we spent the next hour discussing how we could help him and how he was going to help himself. Josh and I both knew there had to be a deep and honest commitment from Brice as well as one from us. It was going to require a lot of effort on his part if he was going to make this work. He readily admitted that he knew how hard it was going to be, but he was determined to do it. We were giving him an opportunity he may never get again, and he was not going to waste it.

Together, we drew up a contract. Basically, it stated that he would be admitted to a drug rehab centre at our expense, and when he was ready to be released, he would be trained as a photographer’s assistant and given a job. He would carry out his duties as a photographer’s assistant and remain clean and sober. After all three of us had gone over it thoroughly and agreed to the terms, we all signed it. As soon as Brice put down the pen he looked at us, smiled and immediately broke down again. It was one of the most touching moments in my life, seeing this young man crying while still having a huge smile on his face.

We immediately contacted our family doctor and explained the situation and asked him to help us get Brice into a rehab program. We made it very clear that it had to happen now, not tomorrow or next week, but now. Brice had not had a fix for at least six hours and it wouldn’t be long before things would begin to get a little scary for all of us. Within two hours, Brice was at our doctor’s office and an hour later, he was admitted to Central Memorial Hospital where he would be held and treated until they could get him into the clinic.

We went to the hospital to see him everyday until he was admitted to the clinic. While he was in the hospital, they started him on a methadone treatment program. Methadone is a non-opiate used to treat people with addiction to opiate drugs such as heroin. You don’t get high from methadone, but it helps remove the craving for heroin. People being treated with methadone can carry on normal lives, work, drive, and so on. Quite often they may receive treatment for an extended period of time and be gradually taken off it so they are eventually drug free.

Brice was in the rehab centre for three months where he received intensive counselling and his methadone treatment was monitored and adjusted to fit his needs. He would continue the methadone treatment and counselling as an outpatient after his release. Also, while he was there, and considering his situation, he was tested for HIV and other STD’s. Miraculously, all of the tests came back negative.

We had been to see him regularly while he was in the centre and we had become very close. He was without doubt one of the sweetest most caring young men either of us had every met. He was an angel on earth. I was sure if he took his shirt off, we would see wings carefully folded across his back. I will never comprehend how parents can turn against kids like Brice simply because they are gay. And I will never forgive those who entrap, use and destroy them for their own gain.

While Brice was in the clinic, Josh and I had fixed up the largest spare room in our house. It had been a ‘catch all’ storage room for the last six years, so it took us almost a week just to clean it out and find a place to put everything. We ordered a bed, dresser, desk, computer, and stereo and spent a few days getting it all set up for him. He had no idea we were doing that. He assumed that when he got out, they would have social services help him get a cheap basement suite or something similar to rent. Where he lived didn’t matter to him though, as most importantly, he would be clean and sober and would be working for us as a photographer’s assistant. He couldn’t have been happier.

When his three months were up and the doctors at the clinic were convinced that he would be able to function normally, he was released. Josh and I were there to pick him up and had told him we were treating him to a BBQ he would never forget. We had spent the entire morning setting up for the best BBQ we could put together—steaks, stuffed potatoes, three different salads, corn on the cob, four kinds of freshly made juice, and of course three kinds of cheesecake. We had it all set out and ready to go as soon as we got home. His first day out was going to be one to remember.

“Hi,” he greeted as he came through the doors and his smile couldn’t have been bigger as he pulled first Josh and then me into a big hug.

“So you ready to get out of here?” I asked as he released me.

“Oh, yeah. I’ve had enough of this place for while,” he said laughing.

“You’re ready to go home then?” Josh asked him with a grin.

“Absolutely,” he replied before asking, “Where is home by the way? Nobody would tell me exactly where I would be living after I was released. They just kept telling things were being taken care of and I would probably really like the place.”

“Well, it’s kinda small,” Josh replied, “But for one person it should be okay. It’s nicely furnished. Just needs your personal touch to make it yours.”

“Yeah, I’m sure you’ll be comfortable there,” I added.

“I’m sure I will be,” he responded, “I haven’t had a place I could call home since I got to the city. Anything bigger than a cardboard box would seem like home at this point.”

“It’s definitely bigger than a cardboard box,” Josh said laughing.

“You’ll get to see it later though,” I told him, “First, we’re taking you to our place and treating you to the best BBQ you’ve had in years.”

“I can’t believe you guys are doing all this for me,” he stated, “No matter how great my dreams about you were, the real thing is a million times better. I don’t know if I can ever pay you back.”

“Just being here, clean and sober, is payback enough,” I told him.

“Thanks,” he replied as his eyes filled with tears and a big smile appeared on his face.

At this point, we were just arriving at our place. The house wasn’t huge by most standards. It was a single story ranch style and only 1800 square feet, but we had a gigantic yard with a tennis court, Olympic size pool and a huge deck. When Brice saw the house he was more than a little impressed. Just seeing it from the front, he said it was twice the size of his folks house.

We pulled into the garage and led him into the kitchen.

All of a sudden we heard him exclaim, “Oh my God!”

We both spun around to see what was the matter and saw him standing in front of the patio doors staring out into the back yard.

“You like that?” I asked him.

“I can’t believe it,” he exclaimed, “It’s huge—and the pool. Oh wow, it’s amazing.”

“Yeah, we kinda like it,” Josh said with a grin.

“No kidding. Can we go swimming later?” he asked.

“Of course,” I told him.

“But you have to wait at least an hour after you eat,” Josh said jokingly.

“Yeah, no problem,” he responded before asking, “What can I do to help?”

Josh grabbed the steaks and potatoes and headed for the BBQ as he replied, “Maybe you can help Chad carry everything else out to the deck.”

“Okay, what has to go out?” he asked looking at me.

I showed him what was to go out and within fifteen minutes, we had everything set up and were sitting back with a large glass of cold juice waiting for the potatoes to cook a while before putting the steaks on.

“How do you like your steak?” Josh asked him.

“Medium rare, please,” he replied, “More on the rare side. If that’s okay.”

“Perfect,” Josh responded, “They’ll all be ready at the same time then.”

Twenty minutes later, we were all sitting down to one of the best meals I have eaten in a long time. Everything turned out perfectly. It was a treat to watch Brice. He took his time and seemed to savour every mouthful.

“I can’t believe how good this is,” he finally said, “I don’t think I’ve ever tasted anything like it. Maybe after my first pay check I can hire you as my cook,” he added looking at Josh and laughing.

“You better get another job then,” Josh laughed, “The guys you’re working for are too damn cheap to pay you enough to hire ME as your cook.”

“You open to visitors dropping by about this time everyday then?” he asked.

“Depends how cute they are,” I replied causing him to blush.

The evening was perfect in every way. The meal, the company, and the conversation couldn’t have been better.

Almost exactly one hour after we ate, Brice asked, “It’s been an hour now, can we hit the pool?”

“Absolutely,” Josh replied, “You look about the same size as Chad so you should be able to wear one of his suits. Let’s get changed and go for it.”

Once we changed, Brice ran straight to the diving board, climbed up to the top and performed a perfect dive. There wasn’t even a splash when he entered the water.When he surfaced, both Josh and I applauded him. He blushed even brighter this time. As it turns out, Brice was on his school’s diving team at home and had won numerous trophies for his efforts.

We dove, swam, dunked and got dunked, raced and played tag. We were like little kids again. It was the best time I think we ever had in all the years we had had the pool. We were in the pool for at least three hours but it seemed like only minutes and it was time to get out.

Josh announced that since we had work tomorrow, it was probably time we took Brice to his new place. It was going to be his first day of work and he would probably want to be well rested. The change in Brice’s mood was instant. Suddenly the happy, bright little kid disappeared and an almost fearful young adult emerged. The three of us quietly entered the house and started down the hall to change. Brice went into the bathroom while Josh and I went to our room. About four minutes later we met up again in the hall.

“I can’t thank you guys enough,” a teary eyed Brice announced as he hugged me and then Josh, “This has been the best day of my life.”

Josh looked at me and smiled before saying, “You know, I don’t think you’ve seen the whole house yet have you Brice?” as he opened the bedroom door in front of us.

I thought Brice was going to pass out as suddenly his knees started to give way and he almost slumped to the floor before catching himself.

What he was looking at was five foot long sign on the far wall of the bedroom that said, ‘Welcome home Brice!’

It took him at least a minute before he got himself sorted out and finally looked at us with tears pouring down his cheeks. He was absolutely speechless. Finally I pulled him into a hug and said, “Welcome home kiddo.”

That did it. Suddenly he was sobbing and I thought he was going to suffocate me he was hugging me so tightly. Josh moved in and wrapped him in a hug from behind and the three of us stood there for at least three minutes. Finally his sobbing slowed down and I felt his arms begin to release their grip as he turned around and wrapped his arms around Josh reversing our group hug. Another couple of minutes and he released his grip on Josh.

“Like I said, it is a little bit small,” Josh said with a chuckle, “But hopefully you’ll like it.”

“Like it? I love it,” he exclaimed.

“Good, we hoped you would,” I said.

“I don’t believe you guys. This is everything I ever dreamed it would be and more. What can I say? I love you guys. You’ve done more for me in a few weeks than everyone else put together has in my whole life. Thank you doesn’t come close to covering what I feel right now,” he managed to say before the tears started again.

After a few more minutes, we finally got him into the room and began to show him all the things we had set up. Every time we showed him something, he would reach out and touch it, look at us and either grin from ear to ear or start crying again.

To say things went well with Brice would be an understatement. He fit right in and couldn’t do enough to help out, both at home and at work. His methadone treatment went perfectly and within two years, he was off the methadone and totally drug free.

At work, within six months, we had him doing some simple photo-shoots for us. His talent as a photographer was immediately evident. He not only had an eye for detail, but an uncanny ability to see and capture the unusual. His unique approach made him an instant favourite with all of our clients.

Today, at twenty three, he is our top photographer and has clients who pay up to twenty five thousand dollars a day for a one week photo-shoot with him. In fact, he has been wooed by some of the top agencies in North America. Some have offered him several times what he earns with us but nothing would ever get him to leave.

We are family—actually more than family. What he has with us, money could never buy. He has unconditional love, acceptance, and support, as well as self respect, dignity, and a great pool with ten metre diving board. As he says, he has everything he ever wanted and more and he often reminds us, dreams can come true.

Speaking of dreams, maybe I should just mention another really sweet young man, Kevin, who seems to be spending a lot of time at our home lately—and I don’t think it has anything to do with Josh’s cooking.

A very special thanks to Azy and Colin for their time and effort editing and posting this story for me.