Mom spent the morning making her favorite recipes for the brunch. At 11:00 we trooped over to the Hendersons’, where there was already more food than we could possibly eat – eggs benedict, scrambled eggs, sausages, French toast, waffles, ham, chicken, English muffins, milk, cocoa, orange juice and, of course, coffee. You name it, it was there.
We all filled plates and went into the dining room. Henry and I both took coffee. I was not allowed coffee at home, and my mom looked at me quizzically, but she didn’t say anything. The conversation was funny and fun, filled with laughter and underlying relief.
When we finished the first round of eating, we sat back, and Mrs. Henderson said, “Robbie, come over here.” He did, and she put him on her lap and hugged him. “OK, Robbie,” she said, “now tell us your story.”
He looked up at her and began as though he was telling it just to her. He said that he had just come out from school when a man came up to him and told him that he was a friend of his mom’s and she wanted the man to pick him up and take him to her work.
“He wasn’t, was he, Mom?”
He nodded. “OK,” he went on. “So after I got in the car and he started off, I knew he wasn’t going in the right direction to take me to Mom so I asked him to let me out. He pulled the car over and grabbed me, put some kinda gag in my mouth, lifted me out of the car, and threw me into the trunk where he used something to tie my hands and feet. I think it was like those things we use to close up the trash bags. I struggled, but every time I did, he slapped me, so finally I gave up. I was crying a lot, and the gag made it harder to breathe.
“I tried to keep track of the turns while he drove so I’d know where I was, but it just got too confusing. After a while he pulled the car into what sounded like woods.
He opened the trunk, lifted me out, hoisted me onto his shoulder, and carried me through the woods. I tried to kick him, but he was too strong.
“We went into some kinda cabin and he threw me onto a mattress on the floor. Then he said, ‘Listen, brat. The more you struggle and fight me the harder it will go for you. You’re gonna stay here until your brother gives me that camera, and he’d better not go to the cops if he knows what’s good for you.’
“I knew about the camera because Chad had hidden it in Teddy, but I didn’t know anything about what was on it until Henry told me last night while we were going to sleep. But I was really scared, and I hadda go to the bathroom real bad. It got so bad, I finally pissed myself. That got the man mad. He pulled off my pants and stuck them in the sink. Then he plopped me onto a smelly old toilet that was really just a seat over a hole in the floor and said, ‘Take a shit.’ I did, and before I knew it, I was back on the mattress, only now I didn’t have any pants on.
“Another guy came into the cabin and they talked quietly for a while. I couldn’t hear what they were saying. Then the first guy left. The other one came over and kicked me in the ribs a couple of times, but then he sat down and looked at a magazine.
“They fed me some beans and gave me some water a few times. They cooked their own food, which smelled really good. I was starving. There was always at least one of them in the cabin. My wrists and legs hurt awful and I couldn’t get any sleep.
“And that’s really about all until last night, when the first man came into the cabin real late and said, ‘I got it. We don’t need him anymore.’ They sat talking in low voices for a few minutes, and then the man picked me up. Suddenly there was a huge flash and a ginormous bang. Lots of people started shouting, and the man dropped me back onto the mattress.
“The next thing I knew, someone was undoing my gag and the things on my wrists and ankles and telling me I was OK and everything was gonna to be all right. I guess that’s when I started to cry. I’d been so scared, and then I was just so relieved.”
He was still looking up at his mom. “I’m sorry, Mom,” he said. “I know you told me never to talk to strangers, but, when he said he was your friend, I just didn’t think.”
“I know,” she said, squeezing him. “It’s all OK now.”
He had cried some through the story but had kept going. It was like everything was pouring out of him and he was getting rid of it.
Henry and I got up and went into the kitchen. “The poor kid,” said Henry. “He was still shaking last night in bed. I guess he’s gonna need some time to get over this.”
“And help,” I added. “A lot from you and your parents, but maybe with a counselor as well. Do you suppose he knows that they were gonna kill him?”
“Yeah. He told me he remembered what Officer Bryant had said about the men getting rid of him. I guess he’ll need help with that too.”
We got some more food and went back into the dining room. Robbie came over and climbed into Henry’s lap, where he sat with his thumb in his mouth, every once in a while taking it out so he could eat something off Henry’s plate. He hadn’t sucked his thumb for years, but I guess he needed the comfort.
After that day, life returned to normal. I don’t know who spoke to the bullies at school, but they never said a word, and they left us alone.
Brad was released to his parents. He had a court date and was put on probation.
Henry and I spent the weekend together. We took Robbie with us to the high school football game. Even though neither of us liked football, Robbie loved it and wanted to play it when he was older, although his mother had other ideas. Then we got some ice cream on the way home.
Officer Bryant told us that the trials for Sinclair and Wilson wouldn’t be for another year or so, but they were both being kept in the county jail in Springfield until then.
One evening a couple of weeks later, my parents and I were sitting at the kitchen table when Mom looked at me and observed, “Max, you seem to be pretty happy these days. Am I right?”
“Yeah, Mom, I really am. I mean school’s going well. Robbie’s OK, and, except for poor Chad, everything is back to normal.”
“We just want to warn you about one thing, Max,” my dad put in.
Uh oh! What’s coming now? I wondered.
“Max, you’re still pretty young. I know you think you’re grown up, but you still have a ways to go. Meanwhile, just remember that high school romances don’t always last.”
High school romances? Was he talking about what I thought he was talking about? If he was, how did they know? And how much did they know?
Finally, I nodded and said, “I know, Dad. Thanks.” We sat in silence for a while before I asked, “Can I go over to Henry’s for a while? My homework’s all done.”
“Sure,” he said. I caught a look between him and Mom, and I was sure they knew what I was going to do.
At Henry’s I urged him up to his room. As we went up the stairs, I heard the phone ring. I closed the door and told Henry what my dad had said.
“Oh, shit. They know! Do you think mine do?”
“I know your parents and my parents have been talking a lot lately, so, if my parents know, so do yours.”
We sat thinking for a few minutes before Henry finally blurted out, “This is killing me! I have to know. C’mon.”
Down the stairs we went. Henry’s parents were sitting in their living room, both pretending to read. I knew they were pretending, because his mom’s eyes weren’t on the page and his dad had his magazine upside down. They were both smiling, almost bursting.
“OK, Mom, Dad, what do you know about me and Max?”
“Well,” his mother began, “we know you are very nice boys. We know you’re both smart. We know…”
“No.” Henry interrupted. “What do you know about our…our…”
“Relationship?” I put in.
“Yeah,” Henry said, “that.”
His dad began to laugh. “OK. We’ll stop teasing because we know you’re serious. We don’t ‘know’ anything except that you are good friends, but we and your parents, Max, suspect that you two believe you are in love and further, we suspect that, on those nights when Henry sleeps over at your house, there is more that goes on than sleeping.”
After a pause, Henry said quietly, “We don’t believe we’re in love; we know we’re in love. And yeah, to be honest, stuff has been going on.”
“I won’t ask you what has been going on,” his dad continued. “We all have pretty good imaginations. All we ask is that you be careful, keep healthy, and take care of yourselves and each other. And remember, that, as your parents told you, Max, high school romances don’t always last. If there ever comes a time when you part, be very careful of each other’s feelings and don’t, whatever you do, break each other’s trust.”
“So you approve?” I asked, astounded.
Mrs. Henderson answered, “This is not something for us to approve or disapprove. What you do in private is your concern as long as it doesn’t hurt either of you or anybody else. So we don’t disapprove or approve. We understand. Remember, boys, all four of your parents were young once. And,” she added, smiling, “look how well we turned out.”
Both Henry and I hugged his parents and then went to my house and hugged my parents.
I asked, “Mom, Dad, can Henry sleep over tonight?”
My parents burst into laughter, and Mom said, “Of course.”
That night, Henry and I moved the little table between the beds and pushed the beds together. No more beginning the night in boxers. We climbed quickly into bed. Meeting in the middle was a bit uncomfortable because of the crack, but we barely noticed. We were so wrapped in each other’s arms, both literally and figuratively, that nothing would have slowed us down.
After we shared our passion, more than once I might add, we went into the bathroom together. I turned on the shower, and when the temperature was right, we climbed in together and enjoyed washing each other all over for the first but certainly not the last time. We dried each other off and went back to bed.
In the dark, we snuggled, which we enjoyed almost as much as the sex. “Henry,” I said.
“We have the coolest parents.”
“Good night, Henry.”
“Good night, Max. Sweet dreams.”
We snuggled even closer together and dropped off to sleep.