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Jude was cut off and froze in his tracks along with the rest of the boys as a loud click could be heard from downstairs. A few moments later, the sound of the front door opening could be heard.
Brent quickly and quietly made his way over to the bedroom door, and gently closed it.
"This isn't good." Lance whispered as all the boys huddled next to each other as sounds of boxes moving around could be heard downstairs.
"The window?" Jude whispered as he glanced toward the only source of light for the room.
"Locked." Brent shook his head. "But if we can get across the hall to my dad's room, that window is never locked.
All the boys nodded in agreement to Brent's plan. However, before Brent was able to start walking toward the door, the sound of the stairs creaking could be heard.
"Sorry guys." Brent whispered as the door handle to Brent's bedroom started to turn, and a bright light shone into the room as the door swung open.
For an instant, time seemed to freeze as all 4 boys found themselves trapped in the corner completely at the mercy of whoever stood behind the blinding light which was now directly pointed in their direction.
Brent could feel his heart beating quickly and his breath becoming shallow. He thought about running, perhaps trying to catch whoever had the light off guard, and knocking him down so he and his friends could escape, but his legs would not move. It was almost as if his body had decided that if he stood still enough, he would turn invisible, and whoever was looking right at him would not see him.
Minutes seemed to go by with nothing at all happening, besides the fact that he could almost feel Greg wrapping himself tighter around Jude's leg. This thought made Brent briefly think about all his new friends. What had he gotten them into? It was his idea to return to his old house. Brent knew that it was a bad idea from the start, but he still insisted on coming. Not only that, but he had dragged three other kids along with him, kids who would now end up getting punished for something that was completely his fault. Finally, Brent's thoughts turned to the one person he had cared for the most, Randy.
As if on cue, Brent could hear the calm voice of Randy whispering in his ear, "It's okay Brent, he's not going to hurt any of you. This is actually a good thing, and part of what I couldn't talk to you about earlier this morning."
Brent wanted to turn his head to look at the face of the one person who could give him strength and inspiration, but his body still refused to cooperate. He knew Randy had meant his words to be calming and reassuring, but right now they were neither as he could not think of any way that this could turn into a good thing. Before he could think about these things much longer, time started to move again.
"I'm not going to hurt you", said the soft understanding voice of a young adult, "I just want to know who you are". The man then slowly lowered the beam of his light so that it was no longer shining directly in the eyes of the boys.
After giving his eyes a few seconds to recover, Brent could start to make out the figure of a tall and slender man. He had short brown hair, lightly tanned skin, and looked as if he couldn't be any older than his mid to late 20's. Since the guy was dressed in casual clothes, Brent could immediately rule out him being a cop or one of the home workers. Perhaps he was a robber, or maybe a neighbor that knew no one was living here, and came over to investigate when he saw 4 kids go inside?
"Why are you boys in here?" The voice of the man remained calm and patient as he waited for the boys to answer.
Brent was not sure what to say. He figured the immediate danger was over, and that the chance of them being killed on the spot was gone. However, he still was not sure exactly what to say as he still did not know who this guy was. "This is my house", he heard himself say.
The man in front of them was silent for several moments as if pondering what Brent had said. "You're Brent?" he asked finally, with his voice filled with sincere curiosity.
"Uh-huh." Brent nodded.
Several more moments went by before the man sighed and flipped a button on his flashlight which caused the light to go off only to be replaced by a white florescent light on the side of the flashlight which filled the entire room with a soft even glow making it much easier to see. "You do kind of look a lot like your father", the man said taking a step inside the room and looking at Brent closer, "But you definitely have your mother's hair."
"You knew both of my parents? But how? My mom died in a car accident when I was three." Brent blurted out his questions before he had a chance to think. Of course this guy couldn't have known his parents. He was most likely just saying this to create a false sense of security or something.
The man placed the light on the small bed stand at the end of Brent's bed and then walked a few more steps closer to Brent, where he knelt down on one leg and looked directly into Brent's eyes. "Brent, my name is Neal; I'm your father's brother."
Brent's jaw dropped in shock and amazement as he could feel the eyes of all his friends suddenly look directly toward him. Several moments went by as Brent struggled to find something to say, but no words came to him.
"Brent, that means he's your uncle!" Greg loudly whispered as he loosened his grip around Jude's leg and beamed with pride at the realization that he was the first person to solve the puzzle.
"How?" Brent croaked, "How can you be my uncle? Dad never said anything about you. I had an Uncle Ron, but he died 2 years ago."
Neal gave a curious look toward the smallest boy in the group before he glanced down toward the ground and sighed. After a brief moment, he glanced back up toward Brent, "That's a rather long story I'm afraid. I'm sure your dad had his reasons for not wanting to tell you about me."
Brent could feel his mind racing again. The fact that he had another Uncle that he was never told about was amazing in itself, but this also meant several other things. Mainly, it meant that he still had some family alive, and he was no longer completely alone in the world. But if Brent still had family alive... Suddenly another thought hit him which he found himself quickly blurting out. "If you're really my Uncle, Then why didn't you come get me? Why did I have to live in that group home thinking all my relatives were dead?"
"Your dad never told me that he and Sara had a son. Probably for the same reason that he never told you that you had another Uncle." A hint of pain seemed to cross Neal's face as he explained this, but it was only a moment before he regained his composure and continued, "I only found out about you last week when I first arrived and started to get the affairs in order and box things up for storage."
Jude softly guided Greg toward the bed so that they could sit down, while Lance stayed close to Brent's side.
Seeing the confusion in Brent's eyes, Neal continued. "When I first saw your room, I knew right away that James, your dad, must have had a son. It wasn't until I started going through the paperwork that I learned who you were. I've spent most of last week calling around trying to find out what had happened to you, but all I was getting was the run around. No one in social services seemed to know anything about you."
"But why? I knew about my uncle Ron, I've even met him a few times before he died. Why would dad not have told me about you? Why would he not have told you about me? Did I do something wrong?" A tear started to form in Brent's eye as he felt Lance move a little closer to him.
"You've done nothing wrong Brent, it was more my fault", Neal shook his head slowly. Seeing the confused and hurt look on Brent's face, he realized that he should probably tell his story now, and risk loosing the nephew he had just met, rather than keeping him in the dark any longer. "A long time ago, before you were born, your grandfather, your dad's and my father, disowned me. You see... well... they were interested in girls where as I wasn't."
"You mean you were gay?" Greg called out from sitting on Jude's lap on the bed, pleased that he had figured two things out in a row.
Neal nodded, "This was back in the 80's when being gay still wasn't that widely accepted, and shortly before he died, your grandfather kicked me out of the house and disowned me, completely refusing to accept that one of his sons could be gay. I think your father and your uncle Ron in a way blamed me for your grandfather's death, because after he died, we never talked much anymore."
"I think that's how I killed dad." Brent said softly as he glanced down toward the floor and allowed another tear to slip out of his eye.
"Why would you say something like that?" Neal moved a little closer to where Brent and Lance were standing.
Another tear ran down his cheek as Brent took a deep breath before continuing, "The night when my dad had his heart attack, right before it happened I came out to him, and I told him that I loved Randy. After he heard that he just blew up. He started yelling at us. I tried to explain... But then.... then it just happened.... he got so mad he had a heart attack, we had to call 911 and he was taken to the hospital."
Lance moved even closer to Brent, and wrapped his arm around him.
Neal gently lifted Brent's chin up so that they were once again looking eye-to-eye. "Brent, I need you to listen to me. You had nothing to do with your dad's death. I've been going through his paperwork, and he's been having a number of heart and other medical problems for the last few years, ever since your uncle Ron died. What happened that night was probably going to happen whether you had said anything to him or not."
Brent wasn't sure why, but at that moment it just felt right for him to reach out and hug his newly found uncle. As the two hugged, Brent sobbed softly in Neal's shoulder. Perhaps it was out of relief that the person who had caught them here in the house was not going to do anything to him or his friends. Perhaps it was from the reassurance that he was not the cause of his dad's death, something that had been nagging him at the back of his head lately. Or, perhaps it was because he was no longer alone in that he at least had one of his relatives still alive in the world. Regardless of the reason, the two continued to hug for two or three minutes.
Enjoying the hug as much as Brent was, Neal reluctantly pulled himself away a little. "Come on, let's go downstairs so we can call someone and let them know you are here."
"No!" Brent nearly shouted as he pushed himself away from Neal. "I mean, we can't go back. Not now."
Neal took a few moments to ponder Brent's sudden reaction. "Are you in trouble with the law?"
"Huh? Oh, no! It's nothing like that." Brent's voice was clearly starting to become more defensive.
"Can you tell me why you can't go back?" Neal asked calmly.
Brent stood there looking at the floor, trying to decide what he should or should not say.
Neal took a step closer to Brent, which caused Brent to take a step back. Seeing the defensiveness, Neal continued, "Brent, I want to be able to help you. But I can't if I don't know what's going on."
Brent remained silent.
"I just found a nephew that I didn't know I had. Now that I've found you, I don't want to loose you. I'll understand if you really don't want to tell me, but I really do want to help."
Brent sighed and spoke softly, "We ran away."
"Why?" Neal asked as he knelt back down close to Brent.
Brent glanced toward Lance who silently nodded his agreement. "I had just met Lance last week, and well he makes me feel special inside, kind of like..." Brent's voice trailed off for a moment as he took another deep breath. "Kind of like Randy did when he was still alive. But Lance and Greg's home burnt down last night, and they were going to split everyone up to different homes across the state and... well Greg needs Lance, and Lance needs me, and I need him and..."
Brent's ramblings were cut off as he felt the loving arms of his newly found uncle wrap around him once again. "Shh...", Neal softly cooed as he tried to re-assure Brent, "We don't have to tell anyone right now."
Brent seemed to relax a bit at hearing this, and continued to hug Neal for several more minutes.
"Will you guys at least come downstairs so that I can order us some dinner? You all look like you could use some food." As Neal said this, he immediately saw the eyes of all four boys light up.
Feeling somewhat re-assured that, at least for now, Neal wasn't going to try to send them back to their group homes, Brent agreed and the other 3 boys followed Neal and Brent out the door and back downstairs.
The boys were slightly surprised as they followed Neal downstairs to find three lamps and a small fan blowing.
"I thought the power was off?" Jude asked as he stepped off the last step carrying Greg.
"It is." Neal smiled as he motioned down toward a long orange extension cord. "Since I only have a short amount of time here before I need to head back home, the neighbor was nice enough to let me use some of their power."
"Where do you live?" Brent looked up to see Neal smiling at the amazement of him and his friends.
"In the desert?" Greg piped in. "Isn't it really hot there?"
"It is sometimes, but since it's so dry it doesn't feel as hot as it really is." Neal couldn't stop himself at chuckling a little. "Now, who here likes Chinese food?"
Immediately, everyone forgot about the fascination of the extension cord, and had their thoughts turned toward the direction of food. Taking the eager reactions of the boys as a hint, Neal took out his cell phone and a Chinese menu. After each boy had a chance to glance over it, and pick what they wanted, Neal called the order in.
The boys moved some of the boxes around so that they could use them as chairs to sit on while waiting for dinner to be delivered. They were softly talking among themselves discussing the events of the day when Neal re-entered what used to be the living room carrying some paper plates and plastic silverware.
Neal took a seat on one of the boxes opposite from the boys, and everyone remained quite still not sure what exactly to expect from each other. Finally, looking toward Jude, Neal decided to break the silence.
"So Jude, were you also living in the home that burnt down last night?"
Caught off guard, Jude hesitated slightly before answering. "No sir, I'm just here helping Greg a bit."
Neal nodded. "I'm not THAT old, so you don't have to call me sir. Neal will work fine. After getting a nod of understanding from Jude, he continued. "How exactly are you helping Greg?"
"Greg is blind, but he can see out of Jude's eyes." By the time that Brent had realized what he was saying, it was already too late. After getting piercing glances from Lance and Jude, all the boys looked toward Neal to see what his reaction would be.
Neal thought to himself for a few moments and then nodded. "Well, I guess that would explain why Greg was pointing out things on the menu that he wanted when Jude had it, even though he wasn't looking at it."
The boys all nodded in agreement with what Neal had said.
"That must make you a pretty special boy, Greg." Neal looked toward the small redhead that was attached to Jude's side, noticing for the first time, the slight hazy gloss that covered the young boy's brown eyes. "I don't think I've heard of that many people that are able to do things like that."
"That's nothing!" Greg said, realizing that instead of being looked at as a freak, he was being praised. "Brent can see and talk to the ghost of his dead best friend!"
Even though Brent had half expected this conversation to move toward him at some point, he was still rather shocked at Greg's open statement. But then again, he had just said something personal about Greg, so perhaps it was only fair.
The boys remained quiet as they waited to see what Neal's reaction to this latest piece of information would be, and just how much weirdness he would be willing to take.
"I see", was all that Neal was able to get out after spending a few minutes in thought.
Brent was starting to think about things he could say that might make his new uncle believe him when he heard Randy whispering in his ear. [Tell him that his full name is Neal Odus Knocks-Downing and that his husband's name is Richard Garret Knocks-Downing.]
"Husband?" Brent's shocked voice blurted out before he had a chance to realize that no one else had heard Randy.
"Husband?" Neal repeated with slightly more confusion.
"Oh, sorry." Brent's face started to blush a little, "Randy wanted me to tell you that your full name is Neal Odus Knocks-Downing, and that your husband's name is Richard Garret Knocks-Downing."
Neal's jaw nearly dropped onto the ground. "How did you...?" His voice trailed away as he was clearly lost in thought. It appeared that he was about to say something else when a knock came from the front door indicating that dinner had arrived. Still in shock, Neal slowly got up and walked out of the room to answer the door.
A few minutes later, Neal walked back into the room carrying two big bags of food which he passed out to each of the boys. For now, the uncomfortable conversation was done as the more pressing matter of filling their tummies took over.
The conversation through most of the meal was rather light and trivial. Jude and Greg realized that they both enjoyed Pokémon, so a large part of the conversation was centered around that, with the others occasionally injecting their very limited knowledge of the game.
About half way through the meal, as the Pokémon discussion seemed to be winding down, Neal got a more serious look on his face. "I know that we've just met each other, and that you've probably been through a lot today...", He stated as the boys all looked up toward him, "And I'll understand if you feel it's too soon for this, or that you might already have other plans..."
Seeing all four pairs of eyes firmly focused on him, Neal decided he should just get to his point. "Rick and I have already been talking about adopting for awhile now, and well, since we are family and all now... Brent, if you will have me, I would really like to adapt you."
A completely stunned and surprised Brent sat there looking at Neal as if he couldn't believe what he was hearing. He had only met this guy less than an hour ago, and already he wanted to open up his home and life to him without question or without even knowing him. As badly as he wanted to say yes, and get back to a normal life and put the last several weeks behind him, Brent's thoughts turned toward Lance and then toward Greg. Finally, with a small degree of reluctance and sadness he spoke up. "I can't leave Lance and Greg. That's why we ran away from the home in the first place."
Neal nodded in understanding. "After seeing how you guys have interacted together just over the last hour, I figured as much. Which is why I would like to adopt Greg and Lance as well if they will have me? The offer is open to Jude too."
"Really?" Greg said with excitement.
"Our place in Nevada is pretty big, so it would have no problem holding all 4 of you." Neal smiled
"Thanks, but I already have 8 brothers at home that would miss me if I left, not to mention my mom and dad." Jude looked down at the hopeful expression on Greg's face.
"Fair enough", Neal agreed, "But the offer is still open to the three of you. I know it's a big decision to think about all at once, and I don't really want you to give me an answer now. I just want you guys to think about it for a bit."
About the only thing that Brent could manage to do was to nod slightly and get out a rather weak 'Okay', as he was still in a considerable amount of shock. Not only was this mysterious uncle who he didn't know he had until an hour ago offering to adapt him, he was also offering to adopt two other kids that didn't have any relationship to him at all. Not only this, but this was being presented to him in such a way that it made Brent feel that he was the one that was going to make the decision. Through most of his life he was used to grownups making all the decisions for him.
Very little was said over the rest of dinner as everyone pondered Neal's offer. Finally, once every last scrap of food was cleared out of every box and container, and each boy was sufficiently stuffed Neal got up and started to collect the trash with each boy quickly jumping in to help.
Once dinner was cleaned up, Neal glanced around the room and then looked toward Brent, "You know, other than your room I just about have everything done here. I wanted to leave your room until last just in case I managed to find you. If you and your friends wanted to help finish getting things packed up upstairs, I can finish up down here, and we can have things finished up tonight."
Nodding in agreement, the boys took one of the lights and dragged it and its long extension cord upstairs into Brent's room.
When the boys re-entered the bedroom, Lance noticed that the flashlight which doubled as a florescent light was still sitting on the night stand at the end of Brent's bed turned on, so he turned it off and ran it down stairs to Neal, bringing a few empty boxes back up with him.
The boys started to put things that they had already gone through and decided not to bring with them, into the empty boxes. With all four boys working together, it didn't take long for the boxes to start to fill up. From time to time, Brent would still put something into the large backpack instead of putting it into one of the boxes.
"So what do you think?" Lance asked as he noticed what Brent was doing, but wasn't quite sure how to approach the subject.
Brent shrugged his shoulders as he continued to sort through a pile of clothes. "He seems like a great guy and all, and he probably wouldn't have a problem with you and I being close and all. But I don't know. It seems almost too good to be true. There has to be a catch here somewhere."
Lance nodded. "That's what adoption is all about sometimes. Just being lucky and having the right people find you that will care for you and love you. That's what every kid who's living in a foster home or group home is dreaming about, finding that one special family."
Brent sighed. "So you think we should go along with him?"
"I'm not sure." Lance answered a bit more cautiously. "He's your uncle, and the offer was primarily made to you. But Greg and I will be by your side no matter what you decide to do."
Brent seemed to understand the position he was being put in. "Maybe, but both you and Greg will need to be part of this decision as well, since this will also affect you two."
The small discussion which Brent and Lance were having was interrupted by Jude calling out to them from the other side of the room. "Hey Brent! Is this Randy?"
Jude and Greg were working on going through a box of old odds and ends that was at the bottom of Brent's closet when they found a rather old picture that Brent had completely forgotten about. Brent walked over to look at the picture from over Jude's shoulder. The picture showed two young boys standing next to a fountain of some sort, each wearing t-shirts and shorts. One of the boys, who slightly resembled Brent, had rather short light brown hair and was holding hands with another boy that had much longer, darker brown hair.
"That was a picture of me and Randy when we were 9 or 10 I think." Brent finally answered.
Jude nodded, and handed the picture to Brent, who took the picture to the other side of the room where he carefully placed it into the backpack.
About 30 minutes later, just as the last few items were being placed in the last box that had any room in it, Neal came upstairs and looked into the room. "Wow! You guys work pretty quickly."
All the boys smiled and nodded as they watched Neal glancing over the room admiring their work, until his eyes fell on the still filled backpack.
"Well, it's starting to get kind of late." Neal stated. "I just called a friend of mine who I've been staying with while I've been down here, and unless you've already made up your mind to leave, he said it would not be a problem to have a few more people spend the night. Then tomorrow, after you have had a good night sleep, you can decide what you want to do."
"We wouldn't want to be any extra burden." Brent said half-heartedly as he had already mostly decided to go along with Neal, at least for the night.
"Nonsense. He has an extra guest room with twin beds in it that you can sleep in. It won't be any problem at all."
Glancing toward Lance and then back toward Neal, Brent nodded his agreement.
"You're welcome to spend the night as well, if you would like Jude." Neal offered.
Jude glanced toward Greg and sighed. "Actually, I should probably head home before my parents start to get too worried."
"Okay." Neal agreed. "But it's already dark outside and I don't think you should be walking home this late at night by yourself, so how about you let us drop you off on our way?"
With Jude's agreement, the plans were settled and everyone headed downstairs to turn off the lights, and to pile into Neal's suburban.
It only took a few minutes for them to drive down the road and reach Jude's house. A trip that took them nearly two hours by foot earlier that afternoon. The boys all hugged Jude and said their goodbyes. Jude whispered 'Good Luck' into Brent's ear and gave a loving kiss on the forehead of Greg whispering to him to 'Stay Strong'.
Finally, after noticing one of his brothers looking out the front window, Jude reluctantly separated himself from Greg, got out of the car, and started walking toward his house. As Neal carefully backed the car out of the driveway and started to head down the road, the last thing that Greg could remember seeing clearly was the door to Jude's house opening, and two nearly identical versions of Jude greeting him at the door.
It took about 20 minutes for them to drive from Jude's house to where they were going. Although Brent didn't know exactly where they were, he knew that they had driven to one of the suburbs that were on the outskirts of town that contained some of the more up-scale neighborhoods.
Finally, they pulled into the driveway of a rather nice sized 2 story house. The house seemed to have large white shutters next to all the windows, but it was still a bit difficult to see because of how dark it was.
With the car parked, Lance picked up Greg, and everyone headed up to the door where Neal rang the doorbell. A few minutes later the door was opened by a slightly smaller and chubbier man who wore glasses and had a well defined reseeding hairline. The man immediately welcomed them and invited them in.
Neal introduced the man as his friend Rodney who he used to work with a few years ago, and then he introduced Brent as his nephew and Lance and Greg as Brent's friends. After taking a few minutes to get the normal pleasantries out of the way, and realizing that Rodney wasn't that bad of a guy after all, they were led upstairs to a spare bedroom that had two single beds in it.
"You have kids?" Brent asked as he noticed a few toys lying on the sides of the room, and a few models on one of the dressers.
"My son sleeps in here sometimes when he is visiting. But most of the time he lives with his mother." Rodney answered in a tone that was both courteous but conveyed that it was a topic that he did not enjoy talking about much.
Neal, who had followed the group upstairs decided to change the subject before the discussion got much further. "You boys can go ahead and get settled in up here. I'll be downstairs talking with Rodney a bit if any of you need anything.
The boys nodded.
"I put some clean towels in the bathroom in case you boys want to take a bath or shower later." Rodney added.
Seeing that none of the boys had any further questions or comments, both Rodney and Neal left the room closing the door behind them, leaving the three boys alone. As soon as the door was closed, Brent threw the backpack that he had brought up with him from the car onto one of the beds and quickly threw himself down beside it. Lance fell onto the other bed with Greg still tightly wrapped around him.
Brent wasn't sure how long they were laying there saying nothing to each other. It seemed like ages ago since they were sitting in the kitchen back at Stone Crest eating breakfast when they were told that Lance and Greg were each going to be split up and sent to other group homes far away. It seemed amazing how much could happen and how much his world could change in such a short amount of time. They had gone from being alone, to being homeless runaways, to nearly getting caught breaking and entering, to possibly finding a relative he never knew he had and who wanted to adopt him and his close friends all in the same day.
"I like that." Greg said softly breaking the silence.
Glancing up, Brent could see that Lance was gently rubbing Greg's back. "So what do you think of him?"
"Huh?" Lance asked, slightly confused.
"About Neal?" Brent looked up at the ceiling and watched the fan blades that surrounded the light slowly turn.
"He seems like a nice guy." Lance answered half lost in thought. "If he has a husband, then he definitely wouldn't have a problem with us liking each other and all. Not many families are like that."
"Yeah." Brent agreed. "And he's definitely a lot nicer than my other uncle who would always yell at me anytime we would visit him."
"Even though we could probably pull it off, having a loving home really beats trying to live on the streets." Lance continued, "I've been bounced around in the system for awhile, and I've seen what that kind of life can do to kids. It's not pretty."
"I like 'em." Greg added followed by a yawn.
Brent and Lance both giggled at the thought of Greg's simple comments being the deciding factor of the huge decision that was placed before them.
Everyone remained silent for a few more minutes until Brent finally sat up, apparently having decided on a course of action. "I want to do this, but only if both of you also agree. He will be adopting all three of us, so I think all three of us need to say yes. If any of us aren't sure, or says no, then we all say no."
Lance struggled to sit up with Greg still wrapped tightly to him. "I say we do it."
"I want Neal to be my dad too." Greg added.
Brent nodded. "Okay, let's go tell him."
With that, the boys headed out of the room, and downstairs in search of Neal.
The boys found Neal sitting in the living room watching TV and talking to Rodney. He immediately noticed the boys as they peered through the door. "Hi guys, you can come in and watch some TV as well if you want."
Brent hesitated for a few moments since it seemed that the two adults were talking about something important before they entered the room, "Neal, can we talk to you for a minute?"
"Absolutely!" Neal got up from where he was sitting and led the boys through the hall and into the kitchen. "What's on your mind sport?"
Brent looked toward Lance and Greg just to make sure that neither of them had changed their mind before he continued, "Well we've been talking a bit about stuff. You know, when you offered to adopt us and all."
Neal nodded and thought for a few moments before he responded. "Okay. It's a big decision, so you guys can take your time in thinking about it."
"We have." Brent continued. "We would really like for you to become our father."
Neal nodded. "Are you sure about this? If we go through with this you will be stuck with me until you're at least 18."
"We are." Lance added getting a nod from Greg as well.
Neal sighed and smiled. As he saw the unsure expressions on the faces of Brent and Lance, he opened his arms and embraced all three boys in a loving hug. Even Greg managed to let go of Lance's neck long enough to twist himself around and hug Neal as well. "You don't know how happy that makes me."
Everyone remained in the hug for several minutes. Brent hugging his new found uncle, Lance and Greg hugging the man they hoped would soon become their father, and Neal hugging the three boys that he hoped would soon become his sons.
Finally, Neal broke the group hug, and took a more serious attitude. "I really think we should at least give your group home a call to let them know that you are safe, and to at least get the ball rolling with being able to adopt you three."
"Yea, about that." Brent's face was filled with concern which matched the same expression on Lance's face. "We've were doing a little research earlier, and there is this really cool group of kids that put on this huge concert last month called Clan Short, and their mom is the head of the new Federation Youth Services, and they specialize in helping out kids like.... like us."
Neal smiled. "Well, it seems that you have certainly been doing your homework. But I think it might be a bit early to start thinking about having to involve the Federation in this. Would you mind if I at least tried to talk to your home first?"
Both Lance and Brent reluctantly shook their heads, and Brent gave Neal the number to call Stone Crest. A few minutes later, Neal had his cell phone out and was calling.
"Hello?... Yes, My name is Neal Knocks-Downing, I'm Brent Knocks' uncle. I would like to let you guys know that he is safe and currently with me, and I would like to know what I would need to do to start the process so that I could adopt him, Greg and Lance.. Yes... okay, I'll hold."
"What did they say?" Brent asked.
Neal put his finger over the mic hole on his phone, "He's going to get the home director."
"That would probably be Mr. Cane; he's a pretty nice man." Brent responded.
"Yes, hello. I'm Neal Odus Knocks-Downing. I'm Brent Knocks' uncle and I would like to know what I would need to do to adopt him as well as Greg and Lance... Yes, they are... It's already pretty late, and I really don't mind keeping them for the night until we can get this worked out..."
Suddenly Neal's expression changed to that of mild disgust.
"Now listen here. I don't know who you think you are, but Brent is my nephew and as his only living relative, it's my right to be able to adopt him. I was hoping to be able to work with you on this, but if I need to I'll go directly to Social Services... Really? Then perhaps you could tell me why your people have been giving me the run around all week with trying to find my nephew...?"
As Neal continued to talk, a small degree of anger crept into his face, but he still managed to remain calm and collected to whoever it was he was talking to on the other side.
"What do you mean? On what grounds...? What? So you're saying your sole grounds of refusal is because I'm gay...? I think my nephew was right. It was a mistake to think that we could work this out in a civilized manner. Perhaps I should call Federation Youth Services instead to deal with this matter... No, I'm simply pointing out your unreasonable and uncooperative tone and... We'll see."
Neal pressed the END button on his phone to end the call. The boys stood watching him very closely as he took a few seconds to regain his composure. "What was the name of that Federation Youth Services person you were talking about?"
Brent took out the paper from his pocket where he had written the information he had found earlier that day on the net about Teri Short, Clan Short, and Federation Youth Services, and handed it to Neal. A few moments later, Neal was once again punching numbers into his cell phone.
"Hello, Mrs. Short? My name is Neal Knocks-Downing. I'm sorry for bothering you so late but I just had a very hostile conversation with Social Services and wasn't sure who else to contact... Thanks Teri. This would be with the Iowa Social Services. My brother recently passed away, and last week I learned that he had a son, and that I was his only remaining living relative. Iowa SS has been preventing me from finding him, and now that I have found him, they are not only refusing to allow the adoption on the grounds that I'm gay, but they have threatened to have me arrested..."
Neal nodded and smiled as he was listening to the response of whoever he was talking to. "Okay, that sounds great... Yes, he's right hear next to me... Okay sure..."
Neal put his finger over the mic hole again and looked toward the boys. "Can you boys go back into the living room for a few minutes? I'll come and let you know what happens as soon as I'm done."
Both Brent and Lance nodded, and headed back out of the kitchen with Greg in tow, down the hall, and back into the room where Rodney was still sitting in his chair watching T.V.
"How you doing guys?" Rodney asked as Lance sat down in the love seat with Greg still clinging to him.
Neither boy said anything, and Rodney did not push them. Other than the sound of the TV, everyone remained quiet until Neal entered the room about 10 minutes later. Both Brent and Lance looked up at him expectantly.
"Would you boys be disappointed if the answer was no?" Neal asked as he sat down.
"Yeah." Brent replied as both his and Lance's head went down in dejection. Greg simply buried his face. "Teri can't help us, can she?"
"Well, I'm glad I don't have to disappoint my new sons then!" Neal waited for a few seconds until his words registered, and he suddenly had two pairs of eyes looking at him very intensely.
"Serious?" Brent asked with surprise.
Neal couldn't hold back a slight chuckle. "It's not 100% official yet, but that's how it looks now."
"Sweet!" Lance screamed. After a quick glance toward Brent, Lance set Greg down and both boys pounced into Neal's lap.
"We are so going to get you for that!" Brent giggled as both boys started tickling Neal, until a few minutes later the tickles turned into hugs until Neal thought he heard a small sob coming from the couch. "What's wrong Greg?"
"Brent and Lance are getting a new family and a new home." Greg started to sob more.
Lance started to get off of Neal to pick up Greg, but was stopped when he felt Neal's arm on his shoulder indicating to hold up.
"Greg, you know that I promised to adopt all three of you, right? I'm not going to let you guys get separated ever again." Neal walked over and knelt down next to where Greg was sitting.
"Yeah" Greg sobbed, "But I'll just be in the way all the time. I can't do anything anymore. And Lance won't always want to hold me everywhere."
"I don't mind carrying you everywhere!" Lance said defiantly from the chair that he and Brent were still sitting in.
"Besides, what makes you think you can't do anything?" Neal added.
"Duh! I can't see!" Greg stated coldly.
Neal thought to himself for a few minutes, and then moved himself so he was on the side of Greg. "Greg, go ahead and reach out and touch me."
Greg reached out to his side and touched Neal. As soon as he did, Neal shifted himself around again so he was on the opposite side of Greg. "Okay, touch me again."
Once again Greg reached out to the side where Neal was sitting, and touched him again.
"I thought you said you couldn't see? How were you able to touch me?"
"That was easy! I could hear where your voice was coming from, I didn't need to see you." Greg's voice was still pretty confused as he couldn't quite see what the two had in common with each other.
Neal smiled as he took Greg's hands, and pulled him onto his lap. "Exactly! Since you can't use your eyes, your other senses have become a lot stronger, so you were able to do with your ears what other people would normally have to do with their eyes."
As if a light went on, an expression of understanding filled Greg's face. "Wow, I never thought of it like that."
"I bet there is a lot that no one ever bothered to teach you. But there are lots of things you can do. You don't have to be totally helpless just because you can't see." As soon as Neal finished, he felt Greg's small arms wrap around him embracing him in a hug.
"Thanks Neal! I've never had such an awesome dad like you!" Within moments of Greg saying this, Neal nodded to Brent and Lance letting them know it was okay, and then all three boys joined in hugging their new dad.
After about five minutes of hugging, when the boys started to break from the hug, Neal handed Greg to Lance, and stood up. "Okay guys, it's getting late. Rodney has some towels out in the bathroom upstairs if you guys want to take a quick bath, but then you need to get to bed. Tomorrow is going to be a long day, and if everything works out well in the morning, I might have a big surprise for you.
"What surprise?" Lance tried his best puppy dog eye impression when he asked.
Neal smiled at Lance's attempt. "That's not bad Lance, put your shoulders down a bit more, and you should have it perfect."
Lance immediately put his face straight and folded his arms in defeat after being so easily discovered.
"I can't tell you just yet, since Mrs. Short asked me not to mention anything, but by the time you guys get up in the morning, there might be something really cool that we will be able to do in the afternoon. But not if you guys don't get upstairs and get a bath and to bed."
"Okay" All three boys said together as they headed out of the living room and headed for the stairs.
Once the boys were out of earshot Rodney turned toward Neal, "If that was any indication of how you're going to do with them, I think your going to do just great."
Lance and Brent stood in the doorway of the upstairs hall bathroom looking in and seeing the three sets of towels that had been laid out for them. The tub was a combination tub / shower that seemed big enough for all three boys to easy fit in. In addition to the normal shampoo and soap that could be seen sitting on the rim of the tub, a bottle of Buzz Lightyear bubble bath gave yet another hint that a boy occasionally visited this house.
Brent was holding Greg close to him with one hand, while using his free hand to run his fingers through Greg's light red hair. "So big guy, how do you normally take your baths?"
A hurt expression immediately filled Greg's face. "Doug use to take baths with me."
Brent nearly kicked himself. This was a stupid question for him to ask. He should have known better than to ask that.
"Would you like it if I took a bath with you?" Lance asked with a brief glance toward Brent, letting him know not to worry about it.
"Okay!" Greg immediately cheered back up. "Can you take a bath with us too, Brent?"
"Um." Brent swallowed hard as he was caught off guard by the directness of Greg's question. This could be a good chance to finally get to 'see' Lance, but with everything else that was going on, he really was not sure if that was something that he was ready for yet. "Nah, you two take a bath, I'll grab one when you get done."
"Please?" Greg pleaded.
Brent could see the dejected look in Greg's face as he handed him off to Lance, but it wasn't nearly as bad as the hurt and disappointment that he could see in Lance's eyes. Still not sure himself if he was making the right decision, he quickly walked off toward the bedroom as soon as he was sure Lance had a good grasp on Greg.
As soon as Brent had the bedroom door closed behind him, he let out a sigh and flopped himself on the nearest bed. "Great going Brent", he said to himself as he sat himself up and wrapped his arms around his legs, pulling them close to his chest.
Brent starred into space for a few moments thinking about everything and nothing. A few moments later, he could hear the water starting to run in the bathroom. Once again he let out a sigh, and let his head fall down and rest on top of his knees.
[Long day, huh?] The familiar voice of Randy could be heard coming from behind Brent.
Brent said nothing as he continued to sit with his head on his knees, and his arms wrapped tightly around his legs. A few moments later, Brent could feel two small, yet firm hands start to slowly massage his back as only Randy knew how to do.
"For a ghost, you sure feel pretty real." Brent said softly as he sniffled, and let his shoulders relax slightly.
[That's because I am real, silly! Well, at least as real as the ghost of a dead boyfriend can be.] Randy waited for a few moments after he spoke until he heard a barely audible chuckle come from Brent, which indicated his statement had the desired effect.
"I miss you Randy. I really do." Brent sniffled again.
[I told you, I will never leave your side. Even when you can't see me, I'm still here.] Randy started to work his way down to the mid-section of Brent's back.
"Oh wow! You think you could teach Lance this?" Brent sighed, letting himself loosen up more.
[No, but I bet he would really appreciate it if you showed him.] Randy continued to work in for a few seconds longer until he moved a bit lower down Brent's back. [Which reminds me, what in the heck do you think your doing?]
Brent's relaxed expression immediately changed to one of mild surprise. "What are you talking about?"
[I think you know exactly what I'm talking about Brent, you being in here while Lance and Greg are in there.] Randy stopped massaging Brent's back, and walked around Brent so that he could sit right in front of him.
Brent shrugged his shoulder. "I don't know. I kinda wanted to but... It just doesn't seem right... I mean... I don't want anyone to think... well, you know."
Randy lifted Brent's chin up so that they were looking eye-to-eye. [Brent, listen to me. I'm dead; nothing is going to change that. I'm not going to be upset with you or mad at you if you find someone else special to love. In fact, if you don't find someone special, I'm going to have to kick your butt!]
"I guess." Brent sighed and closed his eyes so that he was not looking into Randy's any longer.
Randy leaned in closer to Brent and wrapped his arms around Brent's neck so that both of their foreheads were touching each other. [Bro, your not only going to end up being mad at yourself if you don't do this, but your going to really hurt both Greg and Lance's feelings. You keep forgetting I'm a ghost now, which means I get to peek into the great book from time to time.]
Brent opened his eyes and smiled a little. "I thought that was considered cheating?"
Randy giggled. [Okay, so I still totally suck at following the rules.]
Brent giggled as well as he wrapped his own arms around Randy giving him a warm hug. "Thanks bro!"
[Don't mention it, now go get in there before the water starts getting cold!] Randy faded slightly, which caused Brent's arms to go through him, and land at his side. With that, and a playful shove off the bed, as Randy suddenly became solid again, Brent was on his way back out the bedroom door.
Lance and Greg were both sitting in the bubble filled bathtub as Brent stepped into the doorway which caused Lance to immediately look up toward him and Greg to stop what he was doing sensing that something was going on.
"You really think there is room in there for me?" Brent asked hesitantly.
"Lots of room!" Greg shouted as his arms went flying up into the air sending bubbles everywhere.
Lance nodded in agreement while smiling at Greg's antics. "Come on in, the water's great!"
With that, Brent quickly stripped off his clothes and jumped in the tub so that he was sitting right behind Greg.
Not another word was said as Lance and Brent went to work lathering up Greg, and making sure every part of his body was clean. After they had rinsed Greg off, he slid to the back of the tub and quietly started to play with the bubbles as Lance and Brent went to work cleaning each other.
Both boys were extra careful to make sure that they gave enough attention to cleaning every part of each others body, sometimes going over certain areas twice to make sure. Lance decided that he needed to make sure that the small number of thin black pubic hairs that he found on Brent were extra clean. Although Brent tried his best to try to find some on Lance, he decided instead that the same area on Lance needed to be extra clean for when Lance's hairs started to show up, which he assured Lance shouldn't be much longer.
When everyone was squeaky clean, the boys all got out, and made sure each other was completely dried off. Although Greg was starting to get into the spirit of things as he tried to help dry Brent off, Lance decided that Greg needed a hug instead to keep his hands occupied since Greg's drying efforts seemed to be more like hits into the face for Brent.
All three boys ran back into the bedroom so that Lance could find them some clothes to wear to sleep in. "Oh crap, we don't have anything for Greg to sleep in!"
"That's okay; I don't mind not wearing anything." Greg answered hesitantly.
Brent looked toward Greg and then toward Lance. "Lance, what do you say to all of us sleeping with no clothes on, so Greg won't feel out of place?e"
"Sure!" Lance answered immediately.
"You guys would really do that for me?" Greg asked with surprise.
Brent nodded. "You betcha buddy!"
With that, all three boys squished into one of the beds, with Greg snuggly positioned between Brent and Lance. Within minutes, everyone was sound asleep, completely tired out from the very long day's series of events.
The boys woke up in almost the same position that they fell asleep, except that both Brent and Lance had their arms protectively draped over Greg. Brent was the first to wake up. As he opened his eyes, he remained motionless as he looked at the peacefully sleeping faces of his two friends. It didn't take him long to realize that another part of him was not so peaceful, but was pressing firmly against one of Greg's legs. To try to avoid any unnecessary explanations, he decided to try to sneak out of bed and hit the bathroom before the other two woke up.
"Where ya goin'?" came the sleepy voice of Greg as he popped his head up trying to figure out what direction Brent was in.
"I'm just hitting the bathroom big guy. You need to go pee as well?" Brent tried to keep his voice down as to not wake up Lance.
Greg nodded, as Brent reached over and lifted him out of bed. Greg immediately wrapped his arms around Brent's neck for the short trip into the hall bathroom. By the time the two returned to the bedroom, Lance was already out of bed and making his way for the door.
"Watch out! I need to pee... bad!" Lance quickly walked past Brent and Greg as he slid into the bathroom and closed the door.
"I'm hungry, what's for breakfast?" Greg asked still clinging tightly around Brent.
Brent couldn't help but smile. "Hold on big guy. What do you say we try to find you something to wear first?"
"Oh yeah." Greg blushed slightly.
Lance came back into the room almost as quickly as he left, and made straight for Brent's large backpack. "It looks like Neal or Rodney must have found some clothes for Greg, since there are some laying on the other bed for him."
While Brent worked on getting Greg dressed, Lance got out some clothes for them as well. Once everyone was dressed, all the boys headed downstairs for breakfast.
Neal was already in the kitchen and in the process of laying 3 bowls out on the table when the boys walked in. "Morning boys, sleep well?"
"Yes!" All three said together as Brent sat Greg down in the chair on the far side of the table.
"Great! You looked pretty tired last night so I figured I would let all of you sleep in a bit." Neal grabbed a box of Frosted Flakes and a box of Wheaties and put both on the table. Just as he expected, Brent and Lance both went for the Frosted Flakes. What Neal wasn't expecting to see was how when Lance got the box of cereal, the first thing he did was to get Greg's bowl filled up before he started on his own.
"So what was that surprise you were talking about last night?" Brent asked with a half-full mouth of Frosted Flakes.
Neal chuckled. "You guys don't miss a beat. Do you?"
All three heads shook back and forth.
"Well, it just so happens that while all of you were still in dream land, Mrs. Short called me back with the news." Neal paused briefly as he knew what was going to come next.
"And?" Brent said quickly and impatiently.
"What did she say?" Lance got in almost as fast as Brent.
"It seems that social services were really not interested in letting you guys go, since they charged me with about 7 different crimes last night." Neal sat down in the empty chair at the table.
"What?" The surprised voices of all three boys again chimed together.
"Don't worry boys, Mrs. Short already looked into it, and has verified that they are all fake. However, while the mess gets cleared up, she said that it probably would not be a good idea for you three to remain in the state, so to make a long story short, she granted us tentative guardianship of all three of you and if you are interested, we can fly out from the airport after lunch and you can come live with me in Nevada." Neal sat back smiling to himself as he looked at the speechless expressions on each of the boy's faces as they tried to figure out what was just said.
Greg was the first to find his voice. "You're going to be our dad?"
"We're going to fly on a plane to Nevada?" Lance asked shortly after Greg.
"What do you mean by 'us'?" Brent followed taking the longest to digest everything that was said.
Neal couldn't help smiling at the excited expressions from each of the boys. "Greg, yes I'm going to be one of your dads. Lance, yes you boys will be flying with me in my Cessna back to our home in Las Vegas. Brent, you caught that pretty quickly. What I meant by that was that myself and my husband, Rick."
"What if he doesn't like us?" Greg asked slowly.
Neal stood up and walked around the table to give Greg a hug. "I had a long talk with him last night after you guys went to bed, and he is very excited about having all three of you. This is something both of us have been wanting for a very long time."
"What if..." Lance hesitated a bit before finishing his sentence. "What if, we don't like him?"
Lance was next on Neal's list to hug. "That's a great question Lance. That's why we only have tentative custody of you guys. Once we get settled, Mrs. Short is going to come visit us out in Vegas, and if you don't like either of us for any reason, all you need to do is let her know, and she will help you find other families.
"Okay." Lance returned Neal's hug.
Neal finally made his way around to the other side of the table and hugged Brent. "What about you, kiddo?"
Brent wrapped his arms around Neal and gave him a quick kiss on the cheek. "I think this all sounds way cool! Are you REALLY going to fly the plane all by yourself?"
Neal chucked and ruffled Brent's short blondish brown hair. "You betcha! But, if we are going to be able to get out of here on time, I have a little more paper work that I need to take care of to finish making arrangements to get the rest of the stuff from your old house put in storage. So Rodney's going to keep an eye on you guys here, then when I get back, we will have lunch and head for the airport."
"Awesome! Cool!" Brent and Lance nearly yelled.
"What if the police come to take us away while you're gone?" Greg asked in a small voice as he looked down toward the table.
"I don't think you will need to worry about it, they don't know where you guys are at. But just in case, I put Mrs. Short's number next to the phone and she said to give her a call if there are any problems." Neal made sure that he caught the eyes of both Brent and Lance to let them know that his statement was just as much for them as it was for Greg.
"Okay." Greg nodded, seeming to be a bit reassured.
Neal grabbed a stack of papers that were sitting on the counter, and then walked over to the sink to look at the small kitchen window that was there. "Ya know, it looks like there might be a few swings in the backyard. Maybe you boys could play out there for a bit this morning."
Hearing nothing other than the sound of scurrying feet, Neal looked over at the empty table and realized that he must have said the magic word.
Rodney's backyard was not overly big, but it was still big enough to have a small above ground pool near the back porch, a large tree near the back fence which looked almost perfect for climbing, and a swing set that was in the center of the yard.
Even with Greg latched on to him, Lance still managed to beat Brent to the swings and was able to claim the highest swing for himself and Greg to swing on. Brent was forced to take the lower of the two swings, although he didn't mind much.
The boys spent the first 10 to 15 minutes just swinging, and checking out the view. The backyard that they were in seemed to be surrounded on all sides by the backyards of other houses. Each house seemed to be nearly as big as, if not bigger than the one that they were currently staying at. Although it looked like the house to the right of them also had a swing set, they were not expecting to see any more kids that they might be able to play with since it was a school day.
Once the normal swinging started to become boring, Lance decided to start flying off the swing with Greg still in his lap. After the first flying leap was a great success, the new game was officially started with Brent and Lance taking turns leaping off their swings with Greg on their laps.
"You really think Neal's husband will like us?" Lance asked while he was waiting for Brent to get going enough in his swing to make another leap with Greg.
Brent leaped off managing to go a few inches further than Lance last landed and then handed Greg off to him, so that he could start his next turn. "You mean Rick? I don't know. I hope so. Neal seems to think so and I think we can trust him."
"I hope so too." Lance stated as he did a leap off his swing, but landed at a bad angle which caused both him and Greg to go falling to the ground.
Brent was immediately at their side, lifting Greg up off of Lance. "You guys okay?"
"I think so." Lance stood back up, and started brushing himself off.
"Yeah." Greg agreed.
"I think that's enough of that game." Brent got in as Lance took Greg back and was heading for the swing to try again.
"I guess." Lance agreed but still started to swing with Greg in his lap. He looked up just fast enough to see Brent walking over toward the tree. "What are you going to do?"
"'Nothing." Brent answered as he leaped up and grabbed the first big branch and started to pull himself up.
"Where did he go?" Greg moved his head to look up toward Lance.
"I guess he's going to try climbing the big tree that's behind us." Lance answered.
Greg looked down toward the ground.
Lance lifted Greg off his lap and sat him back down so that they were both facing each other. "What's wrong big guy?"
Greg let himself fall forward so that his face was resting on Lance's chest. "Nothing. You'll just laugh."
"Greg, I promise that whatever it is, I won't laugh." Lance wrapped his arms around Greg and let the swing start to slow down on its own.
Greg let out a small sigh. "I miss being able to see."
Lance said nothing for a few minutes and just hugged Greg tightly as the swing got slower and slower. "You remember how you were able to see through Jude's eyes yesterday? Maybe if you tried hard enough you could see through mine?"
Greg shrugged his shoulders. "I doubt it."
"Hey Lance, why don't you look up here toward me and give him something to work toward seeing?" Brent called out from almost the top of the tree.
Lance nodded and turned the swing slightly so he could get a good look at Brent who had to be at least 15 to 20 feet off the ground in the tree. He watched Greg scrunch his face a bit as he tried to concentrate as hard as he could. "See anything?"
Greg sat there for a few moments, and was starting to shake his head no, when a surprised expression filled his face. "I think I can see something!" Greg shouted.
Lance quickly turned his head back to look up at Brent in the tree. "Can you see Brent up there?"
Greg paused a few more moments. "I think so... it's a bit fuzzy... but I think I can see him waving."
"Sweet!" Brent called out has he started waving faster.
"Greg, that's awesome!" Lance hugged Greg while still looking up toward Brent.
"I thought you said the tree Brent was in was in our yard?" Greg pushed himself away from Lance a bit to try to concentrate harder.
Lance looked down questionably toward Greg. "It is, it's only a few feet away from us."
Greg tilted his head to the side slightly. "Then why does it look like he's one or two backyards away from us?"
Lance immediately looked up toward Brent as he had a feeling that he knew what this might have meant. Before he could say anything, he could already see Brent surveying all of the backyards that he could see for someone else.
"You just looked right at me!" Greg said, as he too had now caught on to the fact that he was not seeing through Lance's eyes, but someone else's.
"Oh crap!" Brent leaned forward a bit to make sure what he was seeing was correct. "Lance, look over in that yard that's diagonal to us. In the center of the yard under that big umbrella, does it look like that kid is chained up?"
Lance stood up with Greg and walked closer to the tree that Brent was in to get a better look. It didn't take long for him to see what Brent had spotted. In the yard that was diagonal to theirs, it seemed that a small boy maybe 9 or 10, dressed in a white jumpsuit had some type of collar around his neck and was chained up to a poll. "No way! Who would chain up a kid like that?"
Brent made his decent down the tree in record time, leaping from the final branch down to the ground. "I have no clue, but that's not right. Look at that kid's face; it looks like he's been there a pretty long time."
"We need to help him." Greg stated, which seemed to answer the question that the other two boys were thinking. Within moments, both boys were sprinting toward the back fence.
Brent was the first to hop across the point where the fences met into the yard where the boy could be seen. As he turned back around to look at Lance who was still holding Greg, it was clear they were both trying to figure out how to get Greg over.
"He's looking right at us, so I think I can get over the fence on my own." Greg answered the unspoken question as he reached out to grab hold of the fences. It took Greg a few minutes to get his hands and legs in the right position, as he clearly seemed to be having some issues coordinating his movements with what he was seeing, but he really didn't care as it was far better than seeing nothing at all.
Once Greg was completely over and holding onto Brent's side, Lance easily lifted himself up and over the fence to land almost on top of Brent. All the boys carefully approached the boy that was sitting close to the center of the yard.
Sure enough, the boy, who looked to be no more than 10, had a dog collar around his neck which was tied to a large black pole a few feet away. Brent was disgusted at the thought of how anyone could possibly treat such a beautiful boy like this. The boy had rather shiny collar length sandy blond hair which seemed to go along almost perfectly with his fair skin. What caught Brent's eyes the most was the captivating light blue eyes that seemed to be fixed on watching his, Lance, and Greg's every move.
"Hi! I'm Greg!" Greg smiled as he held out his hand toward the boy. "What's your name?" Greg could see the image of his hand outstretched as the boy was looking at it very intently.
"It's okay; we aren't going to hurt you or anything." Brent decided to jump into the conversation once it seemed clear that the boy was not going to answer or to take Greg's hand. "We saw that you were tied up over here and we figured we would come to see if you were alright."
Brent and Lance glanced at each other as they tried to figure out why the boy was not replying. He didn't appear to be frightened or scared, he just seemed to be intently looking at them, with his face filled with curiosity.
"Maybe he can't speak, or speaks a different language?" Lance asked after a few more minutes of waiting.
"Can you speak English?" Greg asked a little louder as he reached his hand out further to touch the boy's hand. As soon as he did this, he immediately pulled his hand back as if he was shocked by electricity and both Greg and the boy had very surprised expressions on there face.
"You okay bud?" Brent looked down at the surprised Greg to make sure that he was not hurt that bad.
"His name is Eric." Greg said slowly, as if he was remembering something that he had known a long time ago, but was just now recalling.
"How do you know that?" Lance asked with curiosity, and then turned to address the boy directly. "Is your name Eric?"
The boy gave Lance an unmistakable nod that it was, which caused both Lance and Brent to look back at Greg with a surprised expression.
"Did he tell you that in your head?" Brent asked.
Greg scrunched his nose a bit has he tried to figure out himself how he knew. "I'm not really sure, I don't think I heard words in my head or anything, it was just like I felt his name was Eric."
"Wow, that's awesome!" Brent's voice was filled with admiration for the newest ability that Greg seemed to have found, which gave him yet another reason to believe that Greg was an extremely special boy.
Lance also seemed to be equally impressed. "Can you find out anything else about him?"
"I'll try." Greg answered as he looked up toward Eric. As soon as he did this, Eric immediately turned his head to look directly into Greg's deep brown eyes.
Brent and Lance watched in silence as the two boys appeared to be locked in a staring contest. It only took a few moments before Greg pressed his hands onto his head and squeezed his eyes shut. "Ouch! Too fast! Stop!" Instinctively, Lance moved himself between Greg and Eric which caused Eric to turn his attention toward Lance.
Brent quickly reached down and pulled Greg up into his arms. "Greg, are you okay?"
Greg nodded as he wrapped his arms around Brent and buried his face into Brent's shoulder. "He made Eric do nasty things!"
"Who did bud? And what nasty things?" Brent started to gently rock Greg back and forth to try to calm him down.
"I don't know!" Greg started to sob more. "Some old man, maybe his dad I think, because he saw him a lot. And he did things with Eric's pee-pee, gross things."
"The kid's being abused by his own dad?" Lance's face started to turn red with anger at the very thought that someone would even consider doing something like that to the innocent kid that sat in front of them.
Brent continued to comfort Greg. "Shh... shh... It's okay Greg, don't think about it anymore..." As he was saying this, he continued to look around the back yard surveying the situation. "Lance, get that thing off him."
Lance nodded as he reached down to un-hook the collar around Eric's neck. "What are we going to do?"
"I don't know. Let's get him back to the house and we can call Mrs. Short and see if she can help him too." Brent thought out loud as Lance continued to work on the collar.
Once the collar was off, Lance looked Eric right in the eyes. "Will you come with us? We are going to get you somewhere safe where you won't be hurt no more."
Eric nodded his understanding as he looked in awe at the collar that sat on the bench next to him, which was no longer around his neck.
"How do we get him over the fence?" Lance asked.
Before Brent had a chance to think about a reply, a streak of bright yellow light flew a few inches over his head, and exploded in a nearby tree. Moments later, an angry voice could be heard coming from a man looking out of one of the open windows in the house. "You damn kids get the fuck out of here and leave my boy alone!"
Brent looked at the location where the phaser blast came from and grabbed Lance's shoulder just as Lance was starting to dash for the fence. "That's way too exposed; we need to go for the side gate!"
Lance started to sprint toward the side gate of the house with Brent quickly following while still holding Greg. "Come!" Greg shouted as he looked over Brent's shoulder and could see himself with Brent, and Lance getting further away. A few moments later, Eric seemed to get the idea and started to run with amazingly fast speed toward the other boys as a second streak of yellow energy whizzed past them.
Lance was the first to reach the small wooden gate that was on the side of the house. He started to try to work the latch when his worst fear had suddenly come true. "It's locked!"
"Watch out!" Brent shouted as Lance barely had time to move himself and Greg out of the way before he leaped into the air while running at full force and let the full weight of his body slam into the side of the gate. Fortunately the gate was no where close to being strong enough to take Brent's impact, which caused both the gate and Brent to go crashing down to the ground.
"Are you okay?" Lance tried to shift Greg's weight around so he could free up one of his hands to help Brent up.
"I'm fine! Run!" Brent shouted as he struggled to get back up on his feet.
Within moments, the boys were off and running down the front yard and toward the sidewalk. The entire time they were on the side of the house, they could hear the angry voice of an older man inside yelling and cussing at them.
"Where to?" Lance called out.
Brent looked ahead as he was running. "Let's try to cut through the yard of the next house to get back to Rodney's house."
[Bad idea, you guys will get slowed down too much.] The familiar voice of Randy sounded behind Brent.
"Oh sure, now you show up!" Brent shouted!
"What?" Lance yelled back.
"Nothing! Forget cutting through the yard, let's keep running around the block, which should get us back to Rodney's house." Brent hoped that Randy was right as he had serious doubts about the large strait paths they would be taking.
As soon as the boys reached the first corner, another streak of yellow light zoomed over their heads. Out of the corner of his eye Lance was able to see, a middle aged gray haired man reaching the sidewalk in front of his house, and starting to run down it toward them.
"He's chasing us!" Lance called out as the boys started to run as quickly as they could to the second corner. "And he doesn't look happy!"
The entire time that they were running, Greg had to periodically call back out to Eric to get his attention as he would start to slow down or even stop as he seemed to be very easily distracted.
When the boys were still about 10 yards away from the second corner, yet another streak of yellow light went past them. This time, Lance let out a yelp as part of the beam grazed his arm causing him to nearly stumble and drop Greg.
"Lance?" Brent spun around nearly falling over himself at the quick change of direction.
"I'm fine! Go!" Lance called out, having recovered from his near fall, and started running again.
The boys made it to the second corner and started to sprint down the final stretch of sidewalk that would lead them to Rodney's house.
The boys reached the door to the house and ran inside, almost immediately spotting Rodney with some paperwork spread out in the dinning room.
"No running in the house guys!" Rodney called out just as they were entering the room.
"There is a guy running after us!" shouted Brent as soon as he ran through the doorway.
"He tried to do bad things to Eric, and he's shooting at us with a laser or something." Lance added.
"He chased us around the block and is on his way here!" Brent continued.
Rodney stood up and held his hands up in the air. "Whoa, slow down guys! What are you all babbling about? There is no one here that's going to try to hurt you."
"He already hit Lance in the arm!" Brent shouted back as he motioned toward the scorch mark on the sleeve of Lance's shirt.
"Okay guys, slow down and tell me what's going on, and who is your new friend?" Rodney asked, making a noticeable effort at talking very slowly himself.
"There's no time, we need to do something!" Lance pleaded.
"Enough!" Rodney started to raise his voice. "I know you boys have been through a lot in the last few days, but isn't this going a bit too far?"
Before any of the boys had a chance to answer, several loud knocks came pounding from the front door.
"That's him!" Both Lance and Brent shouted.
"Okay, you boys wait here; I'll get to the bottom of this." Rodney gave a final glare to make sure they knew he was serious, before he walked out of the dinning room and went to answer the door.
As soon as Rodney was out of the room, the boys went out of the other door into the kitchen.
"What now?" Lance was starting to panic.
"We'll call the police!" Brent offered as he looked around the kitchen for the phone.
"They want to arrest us!" Greg cried out with his face buried in Lance's chest.
"Good point." Brent agreed as he spotted the phone, and also the small note next to it with the phone number to Terry Short. "Better idea, we can call Mrs. Short... Come on... upstairs!"
The boys ran for the stairs as quickly as they could while Brent was fumbling with the buttons to the phone in mid stride. During the brief seconds that they were in the hallway to get to the stairs, they could already hear the older man talking to Rodney demanding that he hand over the kids.
As it turned out, the first room that was reachable from the top of the stairs was the bathroom, so that is where all the boys pilled into as Brent finished typing in the final numbers and was putting the phone up to his ear.
"Hello? Mrs. Short? This is Brent, Brent Knocks, my uncle Neal talked to you earlier, we need help, they are trying to kill him, I don't know who else to call." Brent took a quick look around at Lance holding Greg, and their newest friend Eric who seemed to have a completely confused look on his face.
"Umm... Yes, sure... sorry, but we don't have much time, he's at the door." Brent talked back into the phone as he nervously glanced back and forth between Lance and the door leading back out into the hallway.
After a few seconds of listening, Brent continued talking, but at a somewhat calmer rate. "okay sure... umm... we are staying at my uncle's friend's house waiting for my uncle to come back and we were outside in the backyard playing and saw a boy in the other yard chained up outside so we went to see why he was chained up. He wouldn't talk to us, but Greg could talk to him, and we tried to unchain him, and this guy tried to shoot us with a phaser and we ran home, he followed us, Lance got hit in the arm we made it home but he's right behind us."
The entire house echoed with the loud shrilling sound of a phaser blast. Then there was the loud thud of a body hitting the wooden floor in the hallway below.
"Oh god! He's in the house!" Brent shouted as his and everyone else's heart started racing even faster.
"I don't know, Rodney was shot downstairs, we are upstairs, he's going to get us!"
Brent could see the panic on everyone else's face. What had he gotten them all into? As he listened a bit more on the phone, he started frantically glancing around in different directions. "I think so... in the closet in the bedroom at the opposite side of the house from the door."
A few more moments went by.
"Yea, hurry! Please...! Okay..." Brent threw the phone down and grabbed Eric by the arm dragging him out of the bathroom with Lance and Greg quickly in tow.
Brent led everyone to the bedroom that they had spent the night in and started making his way for the closet.
"What's going on?" Lance asked as soon as he had a chance to breath.
The closet door flew open as Brent started to push things to the sides as quickly as he could to make room for all of them. "Some guys are coming to rescue us, but it's going to take them a few minutes to get here, so we need to hide here until then."
Once some space was cleared, Brent motioned for everyone to get in. With everyone in, he reached out and closed the door, engulfing them all in total darkness. As soon as the door was closed, it seemed like all of the sounds from the rest of the house could very easily be heard
Someone was definitely walking around downstairs, and the sounds of chairs and other pieces of furniture being moved around could be heard.
After what seemed like ages, Brent's spirit was slightly lifted, as it sounded like things downstairs were getting quieter. 'Perhaps he gave up, and is going to leave us alone.' He thought to himself.
Those higher spirits were quickly quashed as footsteps could be heard coming up the stairs.
Brent felt Lance grabbing onto his hand. 'Man... What have I gotten us into? This isn't how things were suppose to end? Randy, where did you go? Maybe we could try fighting the guy? No way! Not when he has a phaser!' The thoughts continued to race through Brent's head a mile a minute.
Time seemed to slow down to a crawl as all 4 boys remained huddled in the closet. Brent had managed to silently move some of the clothes that were on the floor in front of them, but he knew that there would be almost no chance of them actually hiding them if the door was opened.
A few moments later, the door to the room opened up and heavy footsteps could be heard, slowly entering the room. Everyone seemed to hold their breath, as if that would prevent them from being found.
The footsteps continued to slowly walk around in the room as the sound of the bed being pushed could be heard. How long had they been hiding there? It seemed like it had been forever since he hung up the phone with Mrs. Short and her son. But he was sure that most likely it was only a minute or so. What if they didn't get here in time? What if they didn't come at all? He was definitely a kid, he didn't even sound any older than he or Lance. What if he was just fooling around and didn't really come at all?
Finally, the footsteps stopped in front of the closet door and the door handle began to turn. Brent felt the squeeze of Lance's hand on his own as the light from the bedroom started to creep into the closet with the door opening further.
The old man let out a small laugh as he immediately spotted the boys. "Game over kids!" The man stated as he raised his phaser up and pointed it directly at Brent's head.
'I failed them.' Was the only thought that came to Brent's mind as he closed his eyes and awaited the yellow beam of energy ripping through his body turning him into a pile of dust. Seconds later the high pitch sounds of the phaser firing could be heard, followed by a loud thud a second later.
"I'm still alive." Brent thought to himself, as his brain registered the fact that he was still hearing sounds, and that the amount of pressure from Lance's hand squeezing his own was suddenly getting less. "Oh god! He shot Lance!"
"Are you guys okay?" A young voice that Brent did not recognize called out.
Brent slowly opened his eyes to see that the old man was lying flat on his face on the floor in front of him and that Lance, Greg, and Eric were indeed still alive and unharmed.
"It's okay guys, we are here from Clan Short. We're here to help you." Another somewhat young voice called out.
Brent climbed out of the closet to see that there were five other boys standing in the room, four of whom had phasers drawn and trained on the old man lying on the floor.
"Who are you guys?" Brent asked with amazement as Lance made his way out of the closet next with Greg wrapped so tightly around his neck that he was almost choking him.
The tallest boy with collar length bright blond hair answered first. "My name is Cory, the teddy bear next to me is Sean, over there is JJ, Gabe and David. We'll give you guys a lot better of an introduction later, but we really need to get you somewhere safe first." As soon as he finished answering Brent's question, Cory turned toward the three boys standing in the doorway. "David, can you stay here with JJ and Gabe, and secure the prisoner and work cleanup while Sean and I get these guys back to the compound?"
"Sure thing Cory." David answered as JJ immediately moved toward the old man, pulling his arms behind his back.
"What about Rodney? The guy shot him downstairs!" Lance asked as soon as he gained the ability to speak.
"He should be fine." Sean, who had similar collar length hair as Cory, but auburn instead of blond, answered. "He was only stunned. But we really need to get you guys out of here."
"How?" Brent asked.
"Have you guys ever heard of a transporter?" Cory grinned as he immediately saw shocked faced on Brent and Lance.
"No way!" Lance nearly shouted as Eric managed to make his way out of the closet looking totally and completely confused.
"Yes way! Sean, get these guys ready to go while I call Terra Main." Cory couldn't help but smile at the surprised looks on each of the boy's faces.
Sean started to get everyone in position on the other side of the room. "Hey munchkin, No one can be carrying you during the transport, so I need you to stand beside Lance for a few minutes. Okay?"
"He's blind." Lance explained has he gently set Greg down in the position next to him that Sean had indicated.
Cory looked around at his group. "Is everyone ready?"
After getting nods from everyone, Cory took out his communicator. "Terra Main, this is Clan short. Requesting 6 to transport directly to the Clan Short CIC."
A few moments later, the communicator that Cory was holding crackled to life. "Clan Short, this is Terra Main. Confirming request to transport 6 from your location to Clan Short CIC. You are first in line. Ready to transport on your command."
Cory smiled. "Thanks Terra Main! Energize!"
A few seconds later Brent, Lance, Greg, and Eric found themselves engulfed in columns of shimmering light along with Cory and Sean as they slowly faded away to begin their new life.
Wow, getting chapter 5 out took even longer than I expected. Unfortunately both real life, and the need for me to re-read through the entire Memories: Part 1 again to make sure I don't mess up what's about to happen, made this chapter take a lot longer than I hoped. Because of this, I decided not to end the chapter in the cliff hanger position that I planned, which would have been at the point that Brent heard the phaser fire, but instead let it play out a bit further until everyone was being transported away.
I'm not expecting chapter 6 to take as long as it took chapter 5 to get out. However, I will be taking the next chapter a bit slower, as it will be covering a few key days in Clan Short history that are not covered in any of the CSU stories. As such, while you're waiting for Chapter 6, I would recommend reading over 'Memories: Part 1" by ACFan, as chapter 6 will be taking place a few days after Memories Part 1 ends, and a few days before 'One Door Closes' by Multimapper begins.
Finally, just to answer all the questions that I know I am going to be asked. The Eric that we just met is the same Eric that the story is named after. However, there is a lot more to learn about him before the full meaning behind the story name becomes clear.
Anyway, until next time, thanks for all the great comments and kind words!
P.S. Just wanted to throw in a quick word of things to both Willy and Some Weird Editor Guy for the great job both have done with helping to edit this and previous chapters. Thanks!
Wow, what an exciting chapter. I tell you, when I first read the description of Eric sitting there with the chain, I was ready to start throwing things. Love the way it is tying in with CSU so neatly. Now don't be so slow with the next one.
- Some weird Editor Guy
Well, about time, too! At least we finally get an introduction to a very enigmatic Eric! I'm as much in the dark as to where this story is going as the rest of you, so I'll be on tenterhooks waiting for Chapter 6, too. Anyone want a bucketful of surplus commas? What is it with CSU writers and commas? I hope I got all the spelling errors etc, as I do tend to get a little caught up in the story.
Until next time...