Chapter 5

by Bubba

This story is a work of romantic fiction involving gay people of all ages. Copyright Notice - This story is Copyright by DaBeagle and DaBeagle’s Doghouse site owner/operator retains all rights. You may distribute, copy, print, staple or spindle this story however you like, provided this copyright notice remains intact and you do not change the story in any way. Also you may not charge any fee to anyone to distribute or access this story.

It was a beautiful day for flying, and it was nice to have company on board this time, although I had flown most of the way home alone while Rich and the two boys were talking in the back. I was hoping Rich was getting them to talk about why they had hitched a ride with us, maybe finding out what they were running from. I began my approach into the grass landing strip when the younger of the two boys climbed into the cockpit, and watched me through his big hazel eyes.

"Hello there young man, why don't you have a seat right here?" I pointed to the co-pilot's seat. I didn't think those eyes could have gotten any bigger, but they did. Without saying a word, he sat down. "Oh, and put the seat belt on, we are getting ready to land." He did as he was told and then watched my every move as I was flying. I made an announcement for Rich and the other kid to buckle up, then extended the flaps to slow us down a little bit. "Hey, my name is Bubba. What's your name?" Still no answer. I hoped Rich had better luck. I continued with my checklist, extended the flaps again, then the landing gear. The young boy was looking out the window. He looked down first, at the lake, and his left hand grabbed the armrest of the seat. His right hand was bracing him against the side of the aircraft. He then looked straight ahead, and noticed there was no runway, just a grass field.

"Where are you going to land, mister?" he spoke for the first time.

"Right there, it's okay, I have done this a few times." I said and smiled, but he didn't relax a bit.

I came in for another perfect landing. Well, we all walked away from it, so I guess it was perfect enough. We hit a small bump and bounced a little. I swore to myself that I would find that hole one day and fill it. I pulled in and cut off the engines.

"Well, do you like flying?" I hoped he would give me his name, but no luck.

"Yes, sir! It was fun."

It was the first smile I had seen on his face, and I hoped it wouldn't be the last. "Good! Come on, let's get off this thing." We both stood up and disembarked, and Rich motioned for me to come over. "Hey boys, since you guys loaded it up, why don't you unload it?" I turned to the older boy. "Uh, how old are you?" I asked.

"Sixteen, sir."

"Do you have a name and can you drive a car?"

"Yes, sir. My name is Ian, and this is my little brother Jeremiah. I can drive, but I don't have a license."

"Okay." I thought for a second, and then reached into my pocket. "Here are my keys, the car is around the other side of the house. Unload everything, but put the lights in the hangar over there."

"Yes, sir!" He ran off to my SUV.

I walked over to Rich and he had this "you dummy" look on his face. "You are going trust that kid with your wheels?" he asked.

"I figure if I show that I trust him he’ll open up to me a little easier."

Ian looked younger than sixteen, but not by much. He had short brown hair and dark blue eyes. There wasn’t a visible ounce of fat on his body. His little brother, Jeremiah, looked like he was eleven or twelve, with blonde hair and hazel eyes.

"Good point. Well, I didn't get anything but first names and the news that this is their third attempt at running away. He did all the talking. I have a funny feeling about this Bubba, but I can't put my finger on it just yet. Hey, look, I have to run downtown for a little while, call me if you get any more information."

"Yeah, sure. Oh, and thanks for coming along today!" Rich turned and left, waving to Ian as he walked past the boy driving my vehicle out to the aircraft. I watched as they started unloading, then went and opened the hangar and prepared to put the aircraft inside.

Not too long after that, I asked. "You guys done unloading?" I asked.

"Yes, sir" they said in unison.

"Okay, put the car back where you found it and come on back here."

"Yes, sir" they said, again in unison. They both climbed in the truck, and I got really nervous. I didn't know if they were going to try and bolt, but they had an opportunity to do so right now. I watched them pull around to the front of the house, but I didn't start breathing again until I saw two heads moving back towards me. Relieved, I hooked up the hand-operated tow tug and pushed the aircraft back into the hanger. I showed them how to operate the hangar doors and after they were closed, we all went into the house.

As Rich was driving through town, he noticed Pastor Creed walking down the street. He slowed down and offered a greeting out his window, but he got no response other than a suspicious glare. "Strange fellow," he thought to himself, and continued on towards the lake to see what else was happening in his town.

He arrived at the Town Hall to find that Mayor Eggland was in his office, so he stopped in to say hi there, too.

"Howdy Mayor, how is everything going today?"

"Pretty good, for the most part. Pastor Creed called to say he was irritated about some boys playing loud music in his neighborhood. I recall telling someone they didn't need a permit unless it was after 6pm when they practiced. But I guess there’s a rotten Egg in every town." Both laughed at the pun.

"Yeah, I saw him out walking on my way in, and he didn't even acknowledge me!"

"So, it looks like our town is in for some growth this summer. Is your staff ready to deal with it?" Mayor Eggland cut right to the chase sometimes. He was a little more than concerned about what effect the influx of non-taxpaying citizens would have on an already too small town budget.

"It would be a lot easier to deal with if we had a place to put these kids other than my two jail cells! I already have the foster families in town on alert, all four of them.” We laughed together. “Oh, and Mayor, two more kids showed up today. They hitched a ride in the back of Bubba's plane down from Canada." Rich continued to fill in the Mayor with what few details he had.

"Great, now we have International fugitives to deal with, too. Where are we going to put them?"

"Well, I guess Bubba is going to keep them tonight. I’m getting ready to start some paperwork on them, and in the morning we can worry about a more stable residence. I am sure the Judge can find a place for them. But if Bubba can get them to talk, it’ll be easier to help them."

"Good, looks like you have it under control for now. I knew I found the right guy to run for this job! Hey, it's Saturday, and I am in the office. What’s wrong with this picture? I'm heading home; call me if you need me," the Mayor said as he got up to leave. Rich got the hint and was heading to his own office across the street when it hit him.

"Dammit, it IS Saturday! What am I doing here? It is MY day off, too!" He tossed his notes on the desk and left for home.

"Hey guys, you hungry?" I asked.

"Yes, sir." They chimed again in unison.

"Well, if you stop calling me sir, and start calling me Bubba, then you can help yourself to the refrigerator, deal? Good, I am going to go upstairs and take a shower, so help yourselves to whatever you need. There is a bathroom over there so you can wash up before you eat." I was beginning to think like a parent would. As I went upstairs, I wondered if they would still be there when I was done.

"Ian, do you think he is going to make us go back?" Jeremiah asked.

"I don't know yet, but he sure trusts us for some reason. He let me drive his car, and he's leaving us alone now. It's like he is giving us a chance to keep running."

"Are we going to keep running? I don't want…to…go…back?" he stammered as tears began flowing down his cheeks.

Hugging his little brother tight, Ian said, "I won’t let them take us back, so don't cry. I like this place, it has good vibes. Let's play this out and see what happens. If we have to run, Bubba is giving us every opportunity to do it."

"Okay," came the reply as the tears slowed down. "Now I got to pee..." Jeremiah went to the bathroom while Ian went to fix them both something to eat.

Jeremiah came out of the bathroom expecting a big sandwich, only to find a box of Wheat Thins and a can of Pepsi waiting for him on the breakfast bar. "What's this?"

"The only thing he had to eat, and he has orange juice or something called Bailey’s Irish Cream to drink."

"I'll keep the Pepsi!"

"Cool, little bro. It’s all yours. Now come on, look at that view." They both proceeded outside to the porch overlooking the lake. "This is a cool place. I wonder where we are."

"Ian, is he going to make us…"

"NO! No one will ever do that again."

"But, I'm scared."

"I know you are - I am too - but I will never leave you or let anyone hurt you ever again." Ian said firmly, trying to be strong for both of them. "You are my only family, and family sticks together."

"Yeah, I remember when she told us that. I wish she was here with us now." Jeremiah hugged his brother.

I finished up with my shower and was dressed in just a few minutes. As I headed back down the stairs, I didn't hear any noises in the kitchen. When I reached the bottom, I looked out the front door. The car was still there. "Whew," I thought to myself. I looked into the kitchen area, and it was also empty. So was the bathroom, although I could tell it had been used. Only boys can miss a toilet while aiming right at it! I turned around and saw them standing outside looking at the lake, drinking and munching from a box of crackers. "Oh shit, I need to go to the store!" I grabbed a Pepsi out of the refrigerator as the phone rang. I answered, and it was Craigers.

"Woo Hoo, we are partying tonight, dude."

He gave me all the details, and I told him that since I had some guests, I wouldn’t be able to make it to Willie Lee’s this time.

"Oh, come on, I’m sure your company would be welcome too! Are they cute?”

"Never mind about that, horn-dog! I’ll catch up with you later. Thanks for calling." I said and hung up. I walked outside to join the boys.

"Hey Bubba, you didn't have much in the way of food. Sorry we ate all your Wheat Thins!"

"It's okay, I’m the one who should be sorry. I forgot about the food situation in the house. I just got back in town myself. We’ll go take care of that soon, I promise. So, you boys like the view?"

"It's awesome. Do you live here by yourself?" I nodded yes. "Why?"

"Because I am not married.”

“Why?” I smiled as I remembered that boys always want to know why about everything.

“I just haven't found the right person yet.”


“Are you guys trying to avoid talking about yourselves by asking me all these questions?” I smiled again so they wouldn’t think they were going to face the Spanish Inquisition. “So, what about you boys, can you tell me what's going on?"

Jeremiah looked at Ian, but both boys were quiet.

"Look. I can't help you if you don't talk to me."

Ian spoke up, telling me everything he had told Rich earlier today. Now I got to hear it first hand. He told me of their previous attempts at running away, and how their father found them each time. "Please don't make us go back. We’ll just have to run again."

"But why are you running away?"

Both boys were quiet for what seemed like an eternity. Their shoes suddenly became very interesting objects of study.

"Hey, look here, I am not going to hurt you, or send you somewhere you don't want to be. I can help you, but you have to let me help you. So, let's start from the beginning: Why do you need to keep running away?"

"Because he does things to us, ever since Mom died." Ian's words trailed off and he couldn't seem to get any more words out. But he pulled up his shirt, inviting me to look at his chest. I gasped in shock and swore right then and there that they would never be taken back to that sadist. I looked at Jeremiah and asked, “You, too?” Ian shook his head yes, and Jeremiah’s shirt slowly came up. My heart broke again, and I tenderly turned him partway around so that I could see his back, too. All three of us were blinking back tears all of a sudden, and I’m not known for wearing my feelings on my sleeve, let me tell you.

It’s not easy to sort out the wave of feeling that welled up in me. Shock and grief and outrage and sadness and righteous wrath swamped me. Then I was left with just one emotion; the strongest sense I’d ever had in my life of needing to protect somebody. I embraced them both, ever so carefully. I didn't want to cause them pain, only comfort their souls.

We remained like that for a while, until they both seemed to stop crying so hard.

"Look boys, I know this won't be easy to answer, but, um…” Even though the boys were waiting expectantly for the question, I just couldn’t face the possible answers right then.

“I guess it can wait until tomorrow," I said.

"You're going to make us go home, aren't you?" Jeremiah yelped.

"NO! I will never send you back there, believe me, even if I have to hide you somewhere. He will not lay one hand on you two ever again. Do you understand me?"

"Do you promise?"

"I promise. You won't be going back there, that's for sure," I said. They both looked slightly relieved, and I could also see a wave of exhaustion roll over them, too.

"Hey, why don't you two go upstairs and take a shower. I left some towels for you up there. Ian, I have a robe that should fit you hanging by the shower. Jeremiah, I left a tee shirt and some old swim trunks up there for you to change into. They aren't too far from the right size, so I hope they’ll do for tonight. Toss your clothes over the rail and I’ll put them in the washing machine, okay?" They both went inside and up the stairs. I watched them enter the bathroom, then turned around and stared out at the lake.

I was looking for answers. I was looking for help. I thought I had better sleep on it as well, and make a decision in the morning about what to do next. I knew I would go to the ends of the earth to protect these two boys.

I turned around a few minutes later and looked up at the bathroom door. It opened up, and out came Ian, butt naked, bruised and scarred all over. He dropped the pile of filthy clothes over the railing and watched them fall to the floor, then turned and went back into the bathroom, closing the door behind him.

I went inside and grabbed the clothes, tossed them into the washing machine and started it. I threw everything in together. The washing machine was set on cold/cold, so it wouldn't interfere with their shower. I ordered pizza, then went upstairs and put a clean set of sheets on the bed for them. I figured I would sleep on the couch. I heard them talking in the shower, but I couldn't make out their words. I went back downstairs and put a sleeping bag and a pillow on the couch.

As they reached the top of the stairs, Ian said, "I wonder why he sent us together to take a shower?"

"Why, it's not like I never seen you naked, Ian! Besides, I don't want to be alone right now. At least sit in here while I take my shower, and then I'll wait for you too."

They walked part way in and stopped dead in the doorway. Neither of them had seen a shower so big.

"Wow, this bathroom is huge! That shower is bigger than our old bedroom!"

They both started getting undressed. Ian walked over to the shower controls and studied them for a minute. "I wonder how it works," he mused, looking at his brother. "I guess we can figure it out."

"We could always go ask him."

"Really? You go ask, Jeremiah." Ian smiled for the first time in ages.

"No way, I'm naked! You go!"

"I'm naked, too, you nitwit! I'll just turn it on and see how to adjust it until it’s right. You take the clothes out there and drop them over the rail like he asked."

"Nooo, he’ll see me!" Jeremiah whined.

"Look, I see you all the time. A lot of people have seen you, so what's the big deal?" Frustrated with his little brother, Ian gave in. "I'll be right back, you check the water to see if it's too hot or cold." Ian grabbed all the clothes, opened the door and walked out to the railing. He dropped the clothes, watched them hit the floor, and came back into the bathroom. "See how easy that was? How is the water?"

Jeremiah had already started to wash his hair. Ian joined him in the shower area and turned on another showerhead. He started to bathe himself, trying to be careful of the bruises and scars he had received from his stepfather.

Both boys finished up and gingerly toweled off. They dropped their towels on the floor and looked in the full-length mirror at themselves and each other, taking note of all the marks and bruises on each other's body.

"Ian, my butt kinda hurts still."

"I know, little bro. Mine does too, but it’ll be okay after a while."

"I put my finger in it once, and I liked that. But when he did it, it hurt bad.”

Ian just nodded and put his arm around his brother’s skinny shoulder.

“Ian, did you ever do anything to yourself that you liked, too? I promise I won’t tell…”

“Yeah, I have. I think everybody does. But that’s not the same thing. He made it hurt on purpose. Don't worry, I won’t let anybody do it like that again."

Ian grabbed the robe and put it on while Jeremiah put on the tee shirt and trunks. The shirt was too big for him, and it went down to his knees. The shorts also fell off him no matter what he did. He tried to tuck the shirt in and tie the trunks up, but that didn't work either.

"Ian, what am I going to do for pants, I can't walk around like this."

"Oh, come on. Stop being such a baby. Your clothes will be clean and dry soon." Ian said as he left the bathroom.

A moment later, Jeremiah heard his favorite word, and didn't care anymore about the shorts.

They sure took a really long shower! The pizza arrived before they were done. As Ian came downstairs, he could smell it.

"PIZZA!" he yelled.

Jeremiah was downstairs in a flash and with the swim trunks in his hand. He handed them to me. "They don't fit, but the shirt is perfect."

"Okay then, eat up. I hope you guys like meat lovers' pizza." I took the trunks back upstairs and put them away, then cleaned up the bathroom. "I hope I wasn't this messy when I was a kid," I thought to myself, but I knew the answer to that one already!

We finished off the pizza, of course. I got two whole slices out of two pies. These kids were animals! After that I asked them to clean up the kitchen and put their clothes into the dryer, which they did. Then they joined me out on the porch. I was sitting in a chair with my feet propped up on the bench. Ian sat on the bench near my feet, but Jeremiah crawled up on my lap.

I was a little shocked at first, but then I figured that he just needed to feel safe. "Look at those stars, boys, aren't they just beautiful out here?"

Jeremiah laid his head on my shoulder looking up at the sky. "What's that bright star up there?"

Before I could answer, Ian replied. "That's Mom watching over us."

"She must be happy, 'cause it's really bright."

Well, I didn't want to ruin the moment. It was actually Venus, but it served its purpose very well tonight. I also didn't want to approach the Mom comment, but I saw a lone tear form in Jeremiah's right eye and start a slow trail down his beautiful face. I gently wiped the tear away. "She will always be there when you need her."

I didn't know what happened to her, but I figured they would tell me in their own time and way. What was on my mind though was making sure these two didn't keep running when they didn't need to run anymore. "Boys, I understand what you are going through a little bit, and I will try to understand it better as the days go on. I am going to trust you two to make good decisions. OK?” Both boys looked at me and nodded affirmatively.

“Right now I’d like to offer you a place to stay, for as long as you wish. I’ll have to make a few changes here, adding on a room for each of you and making sure there is enough food around for you two to eat. But I want you to know that I am willing to offer this to you, just as if you were my family. All I can do for you I will. If you feel uncomfortable and want to move on, I will try to understand. But I just don't feel two boys your age should be running around this country hiding from a madman. I guess, what I am getting at here, is, well, would you like to stop running?"

Jeremiah rolled over and placed his arms around my neck. "I don't want to run anymore, I’m tired of running."

I heard Ian sniffle a bit. He reached out and rubbed Jeremiah's leg, trying to comfort him a bit. "Okay Jeremiah, we won't run."

I felt the need to add something important. “If you change your minds and decide to leave, would you agree to tell me first so we can discuss it before you go?”

The two bothers studied each other in the evening darkness, and then turned to me and replied, “Yes, OK Bubba, we can agree to that.”

"Now we have to set some boundaries. No restrictions unless you understand why we need to impose them, ok? And we need to respect each other, yes?”

Two nods of heads in unison. I hoped they were beginning to see how I thought about things. And I was frantically trying to recall what had worked with me when I was their age.

“So, here are some ground rules, they are simple and easy to live by. One, we clean up after ourselves. Two, we tell each other the truth, no matter what happens. Three, we respect each other and our differences." I hoped that by including me in the ground rules, it would make them feel more comfortable, and it must have worked. "Tomorrow, we have a big day. I’m going to take you to see Dr. O'Connor. I need to know that physically you are okay. Then I am going to run some errands and make some phone calls. Do you guys trust me?" I didn't tell them about everyone they were going to meet, but I didn't feel the need to overwhelm them with all the details. I figured I would take it one step at a time, and give them every chance to slow it down if they felt the need.

"Yes, sir!" they both chimed in again, and yawned at the same time.

"Well, okay then, you two can sleep upstairs tonight. I put clean sheets on the bed for you. It's about 10pm now, and it’s been a very long day for us all. So why don't you boys go ahead hit the sack?" I brushed the hair off of Jeremiah's forehead and kissed it lightly. "You two are safe here. Get a good night's sleep; we have a lot to do in the morning." Jeremiah stood up and waited for his brother.

"Jeremiah, go ahead and go to bed, I'll be up in a minute."

He obeyed and went inside. Ian and I watched as he climbed the stairs and disappeared into the bed. "He's my only family and I‘ll do anything to protect him."

"I know you will, and I will do anything to protect both of you that I can. But something is on your mind, something you haven’t told me yet."

"I can't, not yet. I just can't tell you now," he said, and began to leak tears again.

"Hey, when you feel the time is right, then you can tell me." I stepped over to him and brought him into my arms. He held onto me quietly for almost ten minutes. I just rocked him a bit and rubbed his back softly. He finally broke the embrace and stepped away, wiping his tears and nose on the sleeves of the robe.


"It's okay, we can wash it, no big deal."

"Thank you for everything."

"It's nothing, really."

"Yes it is, it means a lot to us. You don't have to do this, but you are. I am gonna go to bed now." He gave me another hug and said good night before walking inside, wiping his face again on the now soggy sleeve of the old robe.

I watched him ascend the stairs and stand beside the bed, looking at Jeremiah. Without saying a word, he pulled back the covers, slipped out of the robe and into bed. I guess I could have found another shirt somewhere for him to sleep in, but unfortunately I didn't have very many tee shirts in my wardrobe. That was another thing to do something about tomorrow.

I decided to sleep out under the stars. It was beautiful outside: the air had just the right nip in it. I went inside and grabbed the sleeping bag and pillow I had put on the couch earlier, and returned to the porch for a good night's sleep.

The following day, Sheriff Rich arrived at Doctor O'Connor's place as soon as he'd gotten the call. It had only taken a minute since he was already in the Bronco. Upon arriving he went around the back of the Bronco and pulled out his evidence bag. Rich was a little worried at what he was about to see, having been involved in only a few abuse cases - which was what he suspected about the two boys in the first place.

Dr. Lisa O'Connor met Rich at the door. "Sheriff, I'm glad you got here as fast as you did. I've never seen anything like it, except in pictures. These boys have both old and fresh marks on them. I know something has happened to them recently."

"What kind of stuff are we looking at, Lisa?"

"There are bruises, scars, cuts, burn marks, scrapes: you name it, they've got it. The older one, Ian, has had a rib busted too. It's pretty much healed now, but he says it's still a bit tender. Said it happened about a month ago. He's not coming up with any details, either. They just don't want to say anything."

"That's normal, you know that. They haven't found anybody they really trust yet, and of course, bringing up bad memories - past or present - doesn't make them feel any more comfortable. Plus they’re embarrassed as hell, if I’m not mistaken."

"Yeah, I know, I was at the same abuse seminar from Dr. Dave that you were. I just want to help these boys as much as I can, and I don’t want to make any mistakes with them psychologically, medically, or legally."

"Your best will more than do the job, Lisa! Let's go in. I want to take a look," Rich said, knowing it was a lie. He had never liked this aspect of the job. Drunks, drugs, and danger were what the job was to him, but abuse was not part of his psyche. Rich thought back to his childhood days and remembered his own experiences with an abusive father… He shuddered at the memories, and vowed to be strong for these boys and the doctor.

Lisa entered the first room where Jeremiah was sitting on the examining table. The boy jumped as the door opened. Still nervous from all that had happened in such a short period of time. His only goal was not going back from where he came. He swore he wouldn't do it.

"Jeremiah, you remember Rich, don't you? Well, he is the Police Chief in town, and he is going to ask you some questions, okay?"

"Yeah, I guess…"

"He's also going to need to get some pictures of all this, are you okay with that?”

"Do you have to?" Then followed a short explanation of the rules of evidence.

“So you can see it’s all to make sure we can keep the bad man away from you in the future, so he can’t do this again. OK?”

Jeremiah heaved a big sigh and muttered, “OK, but I don’t have ta like it…”

Lisa then motioned for Rich to come on in the room. Rich took one look at Jeremiah, and his heart swelled up in his chest and he couldn't help but think how difficult life had been for this kid so far. "Jeez, the little guy's only 14 and looks 11 or 12. No kid should have to experience this, EVER." Rich thought to himself. And then out loud, he said, "Jeremiah, I'm glad to see you again. How're you feeling?"

"All right, I guess. You didn’t tell us you were a cop."

"I was undercover yesterday,” he said with a smile and a wink. “Just all right? Can I do anything to make you feel better?" Silence. Jeremiah just looked at Rich with puppy dog eyes. "Oh, shit kid, don't do that," Rich thought. "I'm not going to be able to do this," he continued saying to himself, taking a deep breath and trying to relax.

"Jeremiah, I guess Doctor O'Connor told you I need to get some pictures, okay? I need them as evidence, so I can help you. I know you might not feel comfortable about it, but believe me, it's necessary."

Rich pulled out the Polaroid he kept for quick shots and the Nikon 35mm camera with the zoom lens for better quality pictures.

"Jeremiah, I 'm going to take a couple of shots of your torso, that means your chest and back. I need you to drop the gown around your waist." He complied and Rich immediately saw what Lisa was telling him about. The boy was covered in bruises. "Oh, God give me strength," Rich thought.

He got the shots he needed of the boy’s chest and back, then of his legs.

“Jeremiah, can I ask you to put up with just a few more shots? You see, I have to get pictures of everywhere there might be marks and bruises…even on or near your private areas. So can you be brave and let me do that? I’ll trust you to tell me where the other marks are.”

You promise not to show the pictures to anybody except the judge, right? I mean…that’s my privates, and, well…I’m shy!”

“Absolutely 100% promise, Jeremiah. It’s the law, and I’d have to protect your privacy even if I didn’t want to for some reason. OK?”

Jeremiah heaved a big sigh, but said, “OK. What do I gotta do now?”

Just tell me where else you have marks so I can take the pics, and we’ll be done.”

Jeremiah pointed downwards and behind him. Then he turned around and raised the gown. Once again Rich felt his blood pressure rising with rage as he snapped a few pics of the boy’s butt. Both cheeks were mottled black and blue with angry red welts all over. Rich also counted five small round scars. “Cigarette burns, Jeremiah?” The boy nodded affirmatively.

“Any more that I need to get, little buddy? You’re being super brave, I hope you know that.”

“No. No more. Nothing on my front parts. Thank God…”

Rich’s response was heart-felt. “I have to agree with that for sure! OK, go ahead and sit down again. We’re almost finished. And the hard part is all over already. You did good, Jeremiah, real good.”

Rich organized his Polaroid and 35mm shots, noted each one in his note pad along with what the shot was. Then he motioned for Lisa to follow. “Hang tight, Jeremiah, we’ll be right back.”

Once outside the examining room, Rich looked at her and said, "I want David over here right damn now. I want to find out what the hell happened with these boys. Tell him I don't give a shit if he needs a court order or what. You tell him to call the Judge and get one. These kids are going to need a psych-eval, and some therapy now. I don't want any surprises popping up on us because we didn't intervene soon enough. You get me?"

"I hear that. But Dr. David is already on his way. Bubba called him earlier at my request."

"Good. Where’s Bubba?"

"He is in the waiting room on his cell phone, something about calling a contractor."

"Oh. Well, let's get on with it."

In the next room, Ian was pacing around looking at things and trying not to be so bored. He jumped up on the table as soon as Lisa and Rich came in.

"Hey Sir, what's new?"

"Wow, you seem like you're in a better mood today. I'm glad to see that!" Rich said.

"I'm just glad to be someplace else."

"Well, we all need a vacation every once in a while."

"Yeah, I just hope this one lasts longer than I thought it would."

Rich, trying to get a little more information out of the boy, "Well, why did you think it wouldn't last long?"

"Well, I just figured, you'd have...taken us...err, back, and well..."

"Now that you're here, I think I'm going to make sure you stay for a little while, before we decide anything else. You know why I'm here, don't you?"

"Yeah, the doctor said she was going call the sheriff; I guess that's you."

"Good, I just talked to Jeremiah, and he didn't say much. So, the first thing I need to do is get some pictures... “

"Oh, you want me to strip for you, too, huh…?"

"Of your... What do you mean?"

"Oh, ummm…nothing." Ian looked away.

"Ian, I don't know what’s happened to you boys. Jeremiah doesn't seem too talkative, and if you want us to help you, you've got to be straight with me. I promise I can help you, but I need to know."

"Not yet, Sheriff, not yet...I need to make sure..."

"Of what?" Rich was getting close to a nerve.

"I can't say, yet. Just give me some time, and I'll talk to Jeremiah, okay?"

"All right, but I can't wait too long...please Ian...please, trust me."

Ian, with tears starting to stream from his beautiful blue eyes, just looked at Rich. The sheriff thought for a quick second how they reminded him of the Mediterranean Ocean before he reached up and ran his fingers through Ian's short blonde hair saying, "Ian, you're going to be okay, I promise. I won't let anything happen to you here. This is MY TOWN, and anybody wanting to hurt you has got to come through me first."

Ian reached up and put his arms around Rich's neck, holding him tight and cried like a three-year-old who'd lost his mother in a crowd. Rich couldn't hold back anymore himself. The floodgates opened and they cried together, their tears mixing together on the floor. Finally they were able to gain control of themselves and wiping the rest of the water from their faces, Rich said, "Ian, I need to get some pictures of your injuries for evidence. You understand that I'm not making you do anything else, okay?"

"Yeah, I get it now."

“Jeremiah was really brave and he’s finished already and waiting for you.”

Rich then took the same shots of Ian as he did with Jeremiah, placing the Polaroids in a plastic bag, labeling it with the date, time, place, and report case number. He thought, "I'm going to crucify whoever did this to these boys. The pictures speak for themselves, and no jury would ever let them walk for something like this. I'd kill them myself if I had the chance."

Rich's pager went off. He quickly looked at the message telling him to call Bubba. "Shit, doesn't he know I'm busy?" Rich picked up the nearest phone to call dispatch. He made sure the case number was right, as he knew they hadn't given out a new one since the last time he called for one.

"Lisa, are you done with them?" Rich enquired next.

"Yeah, I'm just going to write up a prescription for a multi-vitamin and mineral to help nurse them back to health. They both were malnourished a bit, but not badly. I already gave them each a shot of gamma globulin."

"Where did Bubba go?"

"David's car broke down, and he went to go pick him up."

"Give me the prescription, I'll go fill it. When did they eat last?"

"Dinner last night. I think it was pizza."

"Okay, ask them to get dressed, and I'll take them for a bite to eat. It's lunch time and I'm starved, too."

The boys were dressed and out in a flash. "Okay boys, where do you want to eat?"

"Seriously?" Ian was the one with the smile from ear to ear, but Jeremiah just seemed so solemn.

"Yep: my treat, your call."

"Where's good?"

Rich could only answer one place. "Well, there's Lusiad's."

"If you like it, then we will too, right Jeremiah?"

"Yeah, I guess."

Rich, now thinking it a little comical, "I guess we're going to have to teach you a new response, other than, 'Yeah, I guess.' You ready?

"Yeah, I gue…” And he giggled, which sounded pure and fresh and wonderful. “Sure."

Rich, walking out of the back door of the doctor's office, looked back and said, "I want a copy of your medical report on my desk A.S.A.P., and when you hear from Bubba and David, tell them to call me. I'll be on my cell phone."

They drove over to Lusiad's and just as they walked through the door, Rich's cell phone rang.

Dr. David and I arrived at the Doctor's Office to find the boys had left a few minutes ago with Rich to get something to eat. "So Lisa, did you find anything else out?"

"No, not really. They haven’t been eating too well. Jeremiah seems a l ittle behind in growth, but nothing serious yet. I gave them a few shots, and started a file on each of them. I gave Rich a prescription for them, too."

I asked for the bill from Lisa and dialed Rich's cell phone number. "Hey Rich, it's me. Are you at Lusiad's?" David and Lisa began to chat so I stepped a few feet away.

"Yeah, and I have the boys with me." Rich said, walking back outside so he was out of earshot out the boys. "Bubba, when did you find out about this?"

"Last night, why?"

"You should have called me immediately. This is serious stuff."

"I know, but I had to think about it, and I wanted the boys to relax a bit. I didn't think a grilling is what they needed at that particular moment. They have already been traumatized. I think we can handle this without getting too excited. Hey, David and I will be there in about ten minutes, order us each a special with tea."

"Yeah, no problem, see yah in a few."

"Hey Brian, I think we are going to need a bigger table, can we put these two together?" Rich asked the waiter.

"Yeah, sure, who's coming?"

"Bubba and Dr. David will be here in a few minutes, oh and I need to order..."

"Two specials with tea, I know," Brian finished the sentence for Rich as he was putting the chairs in place. The boys helped and sat down together reading a menu.

"You boys know what you want yet?" Rich asked. "The specials are usually the best bet here," he said encouragingly.

Both boys nodded and put down their menus. "Very well, that will be five specials with tea." Rich said to Brian.

A few minutes later, Dr. David and Bubba walked in. Bubba handed Chris his keys and asked the manager to get some help to unload the back of the SUV. David took his seat at the table while Rich introduced him.

"Hey Ian and Jeremiah, this is David, he is going to help us out a little bit."

"Help us out with what?" Ian asked as Bubba came back in and took a seat at the table.

David smiled at the two brothers. "Yeah, I know! Another strange guy you never met before, huh? Well, Bubba and Rich and Dr. Lisa and I have known each other for a long time, and you guys aren't the first kids who have needed our help to get themselves out of rough spots. Right, guys?" He looked at Bubba and Rich for confirmation.

Rich spoke up, "Yup, he's right, dudes. We've known Dr. Dave for years. Dr. Lisa is gonna help get your bodies back in tip-top shape, and Dr. Dave is gonna try and help you with feeling better about all the stuff that's been happening to you." The brothers glanced at each other again, and then back at the adults.

Bubba added, "Look, guys, Dr. Dave won't be doing anything except talking with you. He knows how to answer your questions about what's been going on around you, and what you think about it all. If you have questions about anything, he'll be able to help figure out answers to them. That's what he does for his work, because he really cares about people. I trust him completely. He knows things about me that nobody else does. He's helped me, and he never tells my secrets unless I say he can."

Rich raised his eyebrows and said, "Oh, really, Bubba? You got secrets? Does he have secrets, David?" But he smiled as he asked the question.

Dr. David smiled and said, "Yup, he sure does, Rich. But, like Bubba says, I can never, ever talk about what he tells me. Not even if ya torture me!" He chuckled, looking at the boys to see if they were taking it all in. Ian and Jeremiah were paying very close attention indeed!

David turned his attention back to the brothers. "So, guys! You must be Ian, the older brother, right?" Ian nodded and smiled shyly. "And the little guy next to you here must be Jeremiah?"

Jeremiah sat up straighter and said, "I'm not THAT little. I'm fourteen, ya know!"

Everybody at the table had a laugh at that. Dr. Dave said, "That's the spirit! I like a fighter. You two must look out after each other pretty well, huh?"

Ian and Jeremiah replied, "YEAH, we do!" in unison. Then they looked at each other and giggled. Ian put his arm around Jeremiah's shoulder.

Dr. David said, "Ok, guys, here's what we're gonna do. I'll ask Chris to bring us our food over there," he said, pointing to the corner booth, well out of everybody's earshot, "and we can get to know each other better, okay?"

Jeremiah looked at Ian for advice, and Ian looked at Bubba. Bubba said, "Sure guys, go ahead. We'll be right here, and we won't go anywhere. David is going to ask you some things so he can help you better, and there are some things that we don't need to know about, unless you want to tell us yourselves sometime. You can trust him with anything, and he won't tell anybody, even us. Not even if Rich tortures him, right David?" Rich looked a little vexed, but smiled. David nodded affirmatively, and looked at the boys. "Shall we?"

The brothers looked at each other. Ian shrugged, and the two got up as David did, and the three moved over to the corner. Ian and Jeremiah took the bench against the wall, so they could sit together as well as see the rest of the room and have Bubba and Rich in view. Bubba nodded encouragement and waved. Ian smiled faintly and Jeremiah waved diffidently back. Chris brought their food and drinks immediately. David said, "Thanks, Chris. Now we're gonna have us a private chat, so keep other people away from the tables near us, OK?"

Chris nodded and grumbled good-naturedly, "Jeez, another professional shrink session here, and I'm going to start charging you for consulting space..." David chuckled and told Chris he'd leave a bigger tip.

The three of them started eating, everybody waiting to see who would talk first.

David broke the silence, "So, Ian, you're sixteen and Jeremiah is fourteen? I'm 48 myself, so that makes me a pretty old Geezer, huh? When are your birthdays?"

Ian replied, "Mine is April 14th, and Jer's is October 31st. He's a Halloween spook!"

Jeremiah harrumphed and said, "Am not! Halloween is a cool birthday! At least I'm not an Easter bunny like YOU!" And he stuck his tongue out at his big brother. Then more quietly, Jeremiah said, "Mom used to give us the coolest birthday parties..." And then he lapsed into silence. Ian quickly put his arm around his little brother in concern and comfort.

David picked up this clue immediately. "Those parties sound really terrific. But you said, 'used to give them...’ You mean she doesn't give you these parties anymore?"

Ian thought about whether he'd answer that or not, and decided to see what would happen if he told the truth. They needed these peoples' help, and they seemed trustworthy so far. Out loud he said, "Ummm...our Mom...died...more than a year ago. Neither of us had birthday parties this year...."

Jeremiah leaned into his brother's side and tears began to leak from his eyes. Ian sniffled too, but tried to keep the tears inside, just clearing his throat.

David put his fork down and leaned forward intently, replying, "Jeez, guys...That's terrible. I'm really sorry if I reminded you of something so sad... But it sounds like you both really miss her a lot."

Jeremiah buried his head in Ian's shoulder and sobbed. Ian tried to look brave despite eyes brimming with tears and said, "Yeah...we's been hard since then. She couldn't help it, I know but...she left us...with...with him..." and his voice broke a bit as he looked down at his plate, the food still only half eaten.

Dr. David thought for a few seconds, and then asked, "Is it okay if I ask you whom she left you with?"

Jeremiah sat back up in his place, and dried his face with the napkin. He said under his breath, "Fucking Karl..."

Ian quietly looked at his brother, and then said, "Mom was married to a really awful man. We had to stay with him after...after Mom...died..."

David said, "Your stepfather's name is Karl?"

Ian was immediately furious. "DON'T call him that! He's no kind of father to us!"

His voice was loud enough that it voice carried over to the table where Bubba and Rich were seated, trying to chat while all their attention was really focused on the other three in the corner, but they couldn't actually make out the words that Ian had so loudly exclaimed. Bubba looked over, and David just motioned with his arm for them to stay where they were.

"Ian, I'm sorry about that. I won't call Karl your stepfather again. I promise. Okay? The more I learn about you, and the people in your life, the better able I'll be to say things the right way for you. Okay?"

"Okay. Sorry I got mad. I just can't help it..."

"I understand completely. Really, I do." he looked the two boys right in the eye, each in turn. The brothers took each other's hands, holding on tightly for mutual support. But they were able to nod agreement and continue looking at David. That was a good sign to the astute shrink, a very good sign indeed.

David continued, "Okay, guys. I think I need to hear some more about 'fucking Karl'. Is it okay for me to call him that, Jeremiah?"

Jeremiah blushed, saying, "Oh, you used the 'f' word. Is it okay to talk about him, like that, I mean? I thought it was a bad word to use...with adults, I mean..."

David laughed out loud and said, "Boys, please, this guy sounds like a true asshole for sure, so why not call him 'fucking Karl'? Keep it more polite when you're not talking to me, but with me, be my guest. My policy is to always speak the plain truth, and I don't give a good Goddamn about insulting fuckwads like Karl any time of the day or night! Okay with you two?"

Ian had been taking a drink of his tea as David had made this proclamation, and he just about snorted the whole mouthful all over the table. But both he and Jeremiah had a gleam in their eyes as Jeremiah said, "All right! Fucking Karl," and Ian followed right along with, "What a fucking asshole."

David knew that this favorite ploy of his had worked once again. He was beginning to get through to them. They were beginning to make friends a little, and he could now push the envelope even further.

So he said, "Look guys, I have to tell you some things now. Serious things, OK?"

The brothers sobered up pretty quickly, and each nodded. Ian said, "Yes, sir..."

David continued, "I have seen the photos that Rich took a little while ago of the marks and bruises on your bodies. I hope you don't mind, but it's part of what I need to do to help you the best I can. Can you please tell me if the person that did all that to both of you. Was that Karl or was it somebody else?"

Ian and Jeremiah looked at each other, and Ian spoke. "Um... what'll happen if we tell you?"

"Nothing will happen to you two boys. You will probably have to make statements to Rich about it, when you're ready, because he's the Law here. You might have to go testify in Court about it, and that will be hard for you because it's kind of embarrassing. But you two boys have done nothing wrong. Nothing wrong at all, ever. All that will happen is that we hope to be able to get bad people who do things like this, and put them where they can't harm anybody anymore. You will have protection, and they can't get to you anymore. That's all in the past. So, again, please... Who did all these things to you?"

Jeremiah whispered, "I'm afraid...Ian...can we...?"

Ian hugged Jeremiah tighter. "I'm afraid, too...Do we really have to...?"

David decided he needed to use the heavy artillery now. "Ian, Jeremiah...I know your mother loved you very much, and that you loved her more than anything in the world. Just think for a minute. Think about what your Mom would say if she were here listening to us talk right now. What would she want you to say? What would your Mom want you to do?"

Ian didn't have to think at all about that. "She'd want us to be brave. She'd want us to stand tall and do the right thing. She'd want us to do our duty." He looked down at Jeremiah, who nodded his agreement, tearing up again.

Ian looked back across the table, squaring his shoulders, and firmly said, "Yes, sir. It was Karl. Karl did all the bad stuff to us. He beat us, with his fists and with whips and with other stuff. He was always angry and drunk and he always said bad things to us and called us all sorts of ugly names. He scared us to death, and he beat us..."

David nodded encouragingly, "Was it only Karl? Karl alone, all the time, or were there others as well?"

Ian replied, "Karl. Fucking Karl, never anybody else..."

David continued, "I also think that he burned you with cigarette butts. Did he do that, too?"

This time it was Jeremiah who spoke up. His voice quavered, but it was clear: "Yes, sir. Cigarette butts, too...I already told Sheriff Rich about that."

David said, "Thank you, boys for trusting me with this information. You are both very brave, and I admire that. Now, here comes the tough question, a really tough one. Are you ready for it?"

Jeremiah gulped hard and looked at Ian. Ian got a little pale, but looked determined. Both the boys nodded in unison.

"I think that Karl also did some other bad things to you as well. Some sexual things. Am I right?"

Jeremiah started welling up again, and Ian asked, "How did you know about that?"

"I talked to Dr. Lisa about her examination of you. She keeps secrets completely the same as me, but she and I have to share information sometimes, to help you better. She said that your...bottoms...were sore when she touched you down there. She said that your anus, that's the medical term for your butt holes, were all red and bruised and puffy. She said that it looked like somebody had been doing things to you down there. Are we right about that?"

Ian responded, "You won't tell anybody about this? Please, we just can't...if anybody knew about that...I don't know...I couldn't stop him...I tried, but I couldn't...he was too strong...and it hurt so bad, and he wouldn't leave me alone...and Jeremiah...I think I was screaming...I didn't want Jeremiah to know. I tried to keep him away from Jeremiah...better it was all me having to take it...but he wouldn't leave me alone...and....he got to Jeremiah, too...and then Jeremiah was screaming and yelling too...and." Ian was gasping quietly and shaking like a leaf. Jeremiah grabbed him and was trying to give him strength, while he was crying hard himself.

"Ian!" David barked. He didn't move, but his voice was commanding.

Ian took a deep breath and looked up at the confident looking older man across the table. Jeremiah was looking too.

"Ian, Jeremiah. Nobody is going to hurt you anymore. Everybody around you right now is your friend. We all will help you. We all will protect you, and make sure that things like this never happen again. Now, concentrate, please, for another minute or two. This is difficult, but we're almost through for now. Was it Karl who did the sex stuff to you? To both of you?"

The boys took deep breaths. Surprisingly, it was Jeremiah who spoke first. "Yes, sir. He fucked us. He stuck other things up us, too. But mostly he fucked us. Ian was first, but I could tell that's what he was doing. Ian was very brave, and tried to keep Karl away from me. It worked for a while, but he finally got me too. Ian couldn't stop him. I couldn't stop him. I couldn't help Ian, either. He did it to both of us. He did it again the night before last, and that's why we decided to run away as soon as we could, even though we'd tried before and it hadn't worked. We just had to try again. When Bubba came with the plane that next day, we just got into it and hid. We couldn't think of anything else to do... Ian?...Is it okay that I told?...I know you said we should never tell about that part...but I think he knew already...and the doctor lady...what should I.....?"

Ian just hugged his little brother harder. "S'Okay, little bro...he asked us...we need these people to help's okay..."

David spoke again, very gently and soothing in tone, "Jeremiah, thank you for being so brave and so honest. Ian is right, you needed to tell me the truth. I need to know everything about all this, even if it's scary for you to tell me about it. Ian, are you okay?"

The older brother said, "Yeah...I don't have to tell the others, do ya?"

David replied, "Nope, like I said, I have to tell Rich at some point soon, but the timing is somewhat up to you. I can tell him for you, or you can tell him if you want, or we can do it together. But Bubba never has to know, if you choose not to tell him. Nobody else needs to know, ever, unless you choose to tell, or unless you need to tell a Judge about it in Court someday. Did you know that there are other kids like you here in Baysville?"

Ian asked, "What do you mean?"

"Well, Baysville has a lot of kids who come here, running away from very bad situations. They run because they are being physically or sexually abused, like you were. They come here because they know this town is a safe place to be. They come because it's okay to just be yourselves here, and nobody's ever gonna judge you or condemn you for what happened to you in the past."

Jeremiah asked, "Other kids have had all this happen to them, too? stuff...and everything...?"

David nodded firmly, "Yes. Just like you two guys. Only most of them weren't lucky enough to have a brother to protect them and be with them like you two boys. Mostly, they all had to go through it all alone."

Ian said, "Holy shit...sorry...I mean...what do they all do about it...?"

David replied, "Well, if you want, you can talk to some of them about it in person. All totally in confidence, I mean. Nobody else will ever know what you talk about except you and me. I want you to come and see me in my office for another talk, on Tuesday. After that, I'll tell you about a group meeting that I lead, every week. Some of the other kids get together with me in a group, and we talk about what happened to each of them, and what they felt like, and what they thought about, and what it's like to be out of it now, and what to do now that that's all over with. They help each other and support each other, because they understand exactly what you went through. Would you like to be a part of that group?"

Ian and Jeremiah looked at each other pensively.

David said, "Never mind about making up your minds about all this right now. We'll have a chance to talk about it on Tuesday, after you've had a chance to think about everything and talk with each other about it privately, okay? For now, let's just get to know each other a little better first. I wanted to tell you about the group, so you could think about that too, and realize that you're not the only ones who have had to deal with this. You're not alone. Other people will understand about it, because the same things have happened to them, too."

Ian said, "Jeez, I never knew about any of this stuff before...I never thought...I mean, talking about it like makes it seem...I dunno.... Maybe not so scary...maybe...But you won't tell anybody else about it, right? We aren't ready for that..."

"No problem, guys. I will keep all this just between us, top secret for now. We can talk on Tuesday about how we tell Rich about it. Dr. Lisa already knows not to talk about it, too. Okay?"

The two boys looked at each other and then back at David, and said, "Okay" in unison. They looked exhausted, and for the first time since their arrival, they hadn't finished all their food. But they looked thoughtful, and not quite so anxious as they had.

David continued, "Okay, then, guys, let's go back over and join the others. Mum's the word, and I'll tell Bubba to bring you round to my place on Tuesday morning."

Rich and I had talked while David and the boys were in the corner booth at the other end of the dining room. Chris came by to return my car keys. "Bubba, here are your keys back. Luis says thank you, and he will settle up later."

"Yeah, great, thank you Chris." I said as we began to separate the tables we had put together earlier.

"If I had known David was going to have a session here today, I would have made my special meat loaf!"

"Well, the chicken was great. Right, Rich?"

"Sure hit the spot for me!" Rich added.

"Ok, Chris, what's our damage today?" I reached for my wallet to pay for the bill when Rich spoke up.

"Hey, it's my turn, put that away. What do we owe you, Chris?"

"Um, let's see, five specials? Give me thirty and we'll call it even."

"Here is forty, give the change to TJ for a tip, okay."

"Wow, big spender today!" I laughed.

"Least I could do, besides, you'll be spending enough money later on today."

"Speaking of which, we need to get to the mall in town. They need some clothes and other stuff." I said as I stood up a looked over at David.

Rich and Chris stood up also. Chris walked over to the register and settled the tab, leaving out the extra ten for TJ.

"Hey Bubba, what's this about you calling a contractor earlier?"

"Oh yeah, I called the guy that built the house, it was originally designed as a three bedroom home. I cut out all three bedrooms because I liked the loft idea so much. But with these two here, it’s kinda crowded. So I am going to go ahead and build the three bedrooms and the additional bathroom. He already has most of the materials, and he will start tomorrow morning. I told him the faster it gets done, the bigger his bonus."

"Great idea, and it will increase the resale value of the home."

"I don't plan on selling it anytime soon babe," I added with a smirk on my face. "I am not moving away from here." This time I winked at Rich, and he blushed. I looked over to the booth where David and the boys were still seated, and slowly made my way over. "Excuse me guys, I hate to interrupt."

Ian got up and walked over to Rich standing by the register. Jeremiah remained seated. I noticed his eyes were a little puffy from crying.

David spoke up. "Oh, no problem, we were just finishing for today. I would like to see them again, say, Tuesday morning?"

"Tuesday morning, what time?"

"How about 9am, they can be the beginning of my day."

"Sure, I think Rich can drop them off."

With that said, David and Bubba got up and waited for Jeremiah, but he didn't move. "Hey David, I think Rich is going to give you a ride back to your car." I sat back down next to Jeremiah, and waited for a sign that he was ready to talk. David walked over to where Rich and Ian were standing, and then all three walked outside together to wait for us.

I finally got the signal I was waiting for, when he took hold of my left arm, and rested his head against it. He spoke first.

"I miss my mommy." He cried and buried his face in my arm.

I reached my arm around him and hugged him into me. "Hey, what's this all about? You know she is with you all the time, right here in your heart. I can see her in you eyes. She will never leave you."

"I hope not, but I miss her so much. Will you ever leave me?"

"No, I will never leave you, or your brother. I promise."

Jeremiah cried for a few more minutes then collected himself. I took this opportunity to try and cheer him up.

"Hey, you ready to go to the mall? We need to get you two some new clothes. And new everything else, too." It worked a little bit, enough to get him up and walking to the door. I walked behind him, with a hand on his shoulder.

We got outside with the others and Rich and David left in the Bronco. The boys and I left for the mall. Ian was a little more excited about getting some clothes. He noticed how sad his brother seemed and climbed into the back seat with him. Almost immediately, Jeremiah laid his head down in Ian's lap and closed his eyes while Ian gently brushed his hair with his fingers. Thirty minutes later we arrived at the Colchester mall.

We spent the afternoon shopping for clothes and shoes and toothbrushes and hair jell and everything else under the sun. We generally had a good time making like it was Christmas in the springtime. Jeremiah's nap had served him well on the short ride up here. He was as lively as ever now. When we were done at the mall, we stopped by the grocery store and got mountains of food and other supplies to take back with us. On the way home, they both napped again in the back seat. I wished I had had my camera with me. It was definitely a Kodak moment.

We arrived back at the house to find Rich waiting for us on the couch. The four of us unloaded the car and began putting away the groceries. After spending three hundred dollars at the grocery store, you would have thought that the cupboards wouldn't look so bare still.

The boys brought in their new clothes and started to wash them immediately.

"Wow, check out the new duds you two have! You guys are going to look great in those!" Rich said a little more enthusiastically than necessary. I knew what he was thinking! "Hey Bubba, the Mayor wants us to go downtown to city hall for a quick meeting."

"Oh, really, what for?"

"Someone is coming in from out of town to present a proposal for the new shelter."

"Yeah, sure, what time?"

"Like five minutes ago!"

"Whoops, I guess we are fashionably late again! Hey guys, do you mind if I leave you two alone for a bit tonight?"

Ian and Jeremiah looked at each other, not saying a word.

"Look boys, I trust you, and no one will find you here, you’re safe. Only a few people know where you are. I'll be home in a few hours too, I won't stay out late."

"Oh, yeah, sure, that's not a problem, we can handle it, right Ian?"

Ian nodded.

"Guys, here are all the numbers you will need. Just call if you need anything." Rich added. "We can be here in less than five minutes."

"Believe him guys, he drives like a madman!" Turning to Rich, I suggested: "I guess we should take separate vehicles?"

"If you're going to insult my driving you better drive yourself!" Rich laughed and we left, in separate cars.

Monday morning came early for some reason. I was still exhausted, half a sleep, and outside on the porch again. I was suddenly awakened when Ian came outside and dropped his bowl of cereal. I was in the middle of realizing what had just happened when I heard Rich's voice mutter, "UH OH!" I couldn't think of anything to say, and Ian was just standing there, eyes wide open, and his jaw on the floor.

"Good morning, sunshine! Are you inviting some ants to breakfast, or are you going to clean that up?" Rich asked.

I had closed my eyes at this point, hoping that I could wake up all over again. This was not how I wanted to start today.

"Oh, yeah, I guess I better clean this up?" Ian was now walking backwards, still watching Rich and I lying together, under the blanket. A moment later, he turned and went back inside to the kitchen.

Rich pulled me in tight and whispered in my ear, "I think he took that rather well." Then he nibbled on my earlobe.

"Hey, I am not your breakfast, too! Come on, let's get up before he gets back!"

"I guess we need to have a talk with the boys now!"

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