The changing room at the town pool was always a bit scary. Cody much preferred changing into his trunks at home, even if it meant biking home in a wet suit. There were enough older boys changing there to worry him. A lot of those boys liked to harass the younger ones. He was one of the younger ones.
It wasn’t that he was afraid of them as much as he hated confrontations. He’d rather be in the background of whatever was going on.
But Moody hadn’t wanted to wait to change at home. He was already on his bike, and Cody knew he wouldn’t wait, so grabbed his trunks and a towel and hurried downstairs after him.
“’Bout time!” Moody said, then laughed.
“Yeah,” Cody griped. “I held you up for about 17 seconds.”
Moody didn’t bother answering; he just started pedaling. The pool was about a 20-minute bike ride from Cody’s house. Well, Moody’s house, too, as they lived together.
There were only a few kids in the changing room. Two of them were older. Cody didn’t like their looks at all. He saw they were pulling on their suits when he and Moody walked in, and one of them gave him a look. He grabbed Moody’s arm. “Let’s go back outside for a couple minutes till these guys are gone,” he said very quietly.
Moody looked at Cody, then back at the boys, both of whom were now staring at them, and hesitated. He knew Cody well. Cody had a much different personality from his own. Moody was adventurous, outgoing, and entirely extroverted—a rough and tumble sort of boy. But he knew Cody as well as he knew anyone, and he knew Cody would be upset if he didn’t do as he was being asked. So, he let Cody pull him away from the door and out into the lobby where you gave your name when you came to use the pool and got a locker key.
They waited in the lobby for five minutes, then went back to the changing room. It was deserted. The two boys quickly changed into their trunks, took the quick mandatory shower and headed out to the pool.
Plenty of other middle-school kids were splashing around, and as they knew most of them, they joined into the fun. Even though Moody had only been living with Cody for several months, he was more an active part of the community of young kids than Cody was. That was just how things were.
The problem didn’t start till they’d decided they’d had enough for the day. Back in the changing room, they’d already stripped off and were taking their showers when the two older boys they’d avoided earlier came in at exactly the wrong time. Moody and Cody had been alone in the shower room, and it just happened that both were hard when the older boys arrived.
“Whoa!” said the shorter one. “What’s this?”
Cody was immediately frightened. Moody just smiled. “Nothing much. Just seeing who was larger. You never did that?”
The taller boy was frowning. “You two queers? We don’t like queers.”
“No, just friends,” Moody replied. He didn’t have to wait to see if Cody would answer. He knew he wouldn’t.
“Looks like it to me. Looks like you two’re queers. We hate queers. They don’t belong here. No faggots contaminating the town pool. New rule.”
Moody again denied it and shut off his shower, and Cody followed suit. They started to walk toward the door where the older boys stood. The taller one who hated queers wasn’t moving aside and, in fact, moved so he was completely blocking the exit.
It was unclear what would have happened next, but two young men who looked like college kids came in. They sensed the tension in the room and one of them said, “There a problem here?” The other managed to nudge the tall kid aside, making it look accidental and saying an almost apologetic, “Oops!”
Moody grinned. “Not now. Thanks.” Then he led Cody past the four guys and into the changing room.
It’s doubtful two boys ever dressed as quickly as they did just then. They were on their bikes carrying their shirts even before they were entirely dry.
They were being chased. Moody noticed the two boys who’d bothered them at the pool following them on their own bikes. When their pursuers saw Moody look back and spot them, they stood up on their pedals and began pumping harder.
“Don’t look back, Cody,” Moody said, now standing and pumping himself. Cody did the same, hearing the tension in Moody’s voice. “Those two assholes from the pool are behind us, and it looks like they’re trying to catch us.”
Cody did look back. The two boys were closing fast.
Both Moody and Cody were pedaling as fast as they could, but they knew they were in trouble; the boys who’d been picking on them at the pool were older and bigger. Stronger, too. They could ride much faster than the two younger friends could.
“Turn here,” Moody cried and veered into a smaller side street off the main, commercial street they’d been on. Houses with lawns lined the street. Moody had been hoping there’d be people outside, but it was getting toward dinnertime; the street was deserted.
The two older boys quickly caught up and rode alongside the younger boys. Moody was abreast of a driveway and used its sloped entrance to veer up off the street. The shorter boy followed, almost on top of him; the other rode past them, up the next driveway entrance onto the sidewalk and stopped. Moody was trapped. Cody wasn’t. He could have ridden off but didn’t. Cody was a reserved, generally quiet, thoughtful and mostly calm boy, but he wasn’t timid. There was no way he’d abandon Moody. He wheeled up onto the lawn as well.
The older boys got off their bikes and marched over to the younger boys, both still straddling their bikes with their feet planted on the lawn, breathing hard. Moody and Cody were both 13. It appeared to them the older boys were probably 15 or 16.
“Get off your bikes,” the taller one said. “You’re getting what faggots deserve. Teach you to stay away from the pool. Don’t go there again. You’re not welcome there.”
Moody looked at Cody, gave him a short, quick sideways nod rather than an up and down one, then turned to the boy who’d spoken. “Okay, sure thing.” Then he suddenly jerked his front wheel to the side, stepped onto one pedal, and started to ride up the lawn away from his captors.
Cody realized the nod had meant for him to be ready to get away, but that wasn’t in his nature. In any case, he didn’t have a chance. As soon as Moody took off, the non-speaking, shorter boy reached over and gave Cody a very hard shove. Cody and his bike went down hard. He tried to brace himself with his hand. Doing so, he felt a sharp pain when his weight and that of the bike came down on it. He let out a scream. The pain when he tried to push up off the ground and get the bike off him was too much. He screamed again in anguish, then just lay still, in agony, wanting the pain to stop.
The front door to the house they were in front of opened, and a man stepped out. “Jason? What’s going on? What’re you and Cal—oh, my God!” He was looking at Cody, holding his wrist, tears on his face. “What did you two do?”
The other boy was focused on Moody and ignored the man.
Moody had only one way to go. The boy was between him and the street. Moody could only go toward the house, which was slightly uphill from where he was on the lawn. Trying to ride quickly uphill in thick grass from a stationary start simply wasn’t possible. The boy who was after him was on his feet and could move quickly; Moody couldn’t.
The boy caught Moody before he’d gone more than five feet. He grabbed the bike and, not pausing at all, swung a fist and caught Moody on the side of his head. Moody simply collapsed, his bike falling on top of him.
“How’d you like that, faggot?” the taller boy sneered.
Moody didn’t move or make a sound, just lay on the grass under his bike, sprawled in a very unnatural-looking position.
The boy who’d knocked Cody down watched this happen, then watched as the other boy walked over, looking like he was going to kick Moody. “Hold it, Jase,” Cody’s attacker yelled. “I think he’s hurt. Could be bad. He looks funny. He’s not moving. We’d better get out of here.”
The larger boy looked down at Moody, who lay motionless. He shrugged, said, “Fuck you,” and spat at Moody. He pulled back his foot to kick Moody, then changed his mind and didn’t. Instead he said, “Yeah, let’s scoot,” and the two rode off.
Cody looked up at his dad, and his face wore such a pained expression that the man had a hard time meeting his eyes. Cody didn’t say a word, just looked. His dad was pretty sure he wanted reassurance. He was unable to give it to him. He was feeling the same emotions.
The machines beeped as they do, both showing life continuing but, at the same time, reminding anyone hearing them how fragile life was. The white, sterile walls seemed unfeeling if not antagonistic. The noises in the hall were entirely discrete—, of a different world, uncaring, uninvolved. There was a peal of laughter, a loud voice, the rattle of dinner trays being put on a trolley.
Moody lay in the bed, looking so much smaller than he did when awake and mobile. He normally had so much energy, so much spirit. They were missing now. A vastly different Moody: small and pale and inert.
A nurse had said he was asleep. Asleep was a euphemism; he was in a coma. Not asleep. One wakes up from being asleep. Sometimes one comes out of a coma. Not really waking up. Coming out. Sometimes. Sometimes not.
Cody reached out and took his dad’s hand. He hadn’t done that for years. He squeezed it. His dad squeezed back gently and didn’t let go. Cody needed more comfort than his dad could give him right then. Even if he could have, no matter how much he gave him, it wouldn’t have been what Cody really needed or wanted. He wanted reassurance from Moody, and Moody wasn’t able to give him anything right then.
There were four beds in the small ward. Each had a kid in it. There were curtains hung on tracks so each patient could be isolated from view. Not so much from sounds, but some visual privacy was possible. All the curtains were closed at the moment. Moody’s was, too. Cody and his dad were the only two inside them. A nurse would pop in now and then, mark something on the chart hanging from the end of Moody’s bed, then go away, not making eye contact with either of them.
They’d been there for an hour and a half, just looking down on Moody. He hadn’t even twitched in all that time. His breathing was shallow, barely moving his chest up and down, not enough to move the sheet that lay draped over him. Only the beeping showed he was alive.
They waited, Cody getting what peace he could from holding his dad’s hand. It wasn’t enough, but it was all there was. The doctor was supposed to stop in. The nurse had said he’d be in shortly. That had been over an hour ago.
The wait continued. They didn’t speak to each other. Neither had anything to say. All they had was worry, and each had their own. Talking wouldn’t have helped.
The curtain opened, and a man in a white coat stepped up and looked at Cody’s dad. He said, “Sorry for the wait. Let me just check this.” Then he picked up the chart and glanced at it.
He hung it back on the end of the bed, stepped over and pried up one of Moody’s eyelids, then let it close again. He didn’t need to feel Moody’s pulse; one of the monitors showed what that was.
“I’d like to tell you something encouraging, but I really can’t at this time. The depth of his coma doesn’t seem to be changing, which is a good thing, about the best news I can give you, even if it’s not much. Though his coma isn’t changing, Moody isn’t showing any signs of getting weaker. But when he’ll come out of it—I have no way of knowing that. I do feel he will come out of it. But his head injury was severe.
“He was hit in the side of the head around his temple. Then I understand he fell over and hit the ground on the other side of his head. Two sideways blows—with his brain being bounced and bruised each time. The head can resist front or back blows much better than ones from the side. That made this much more dangerous for him. We relieved the pressure on his brain within the first critical hour. A scan didn’t show bleeding. The injury then is classified as a bruise; it’s not as bad as it could have been. All we can do now is wait. I know that’s difficult.”
He stopped talking to Cody’s dad and looked down at Cody. “Is he your friend?” he asked.
“Yes. Well, yes, but more. He’s my boyfriend.” Cody said that like it was the most natural thing in the world. No shyness, no embarrassment, no pride, no presumptions. Just a normal thing. His dad was proud of him. Well, he was always proud of Cody. Cody didn’t show much of who he was to the world, but his dad knew who he was and what fortitude he had.
“You’re thirteen, too?”
“And how’s your hand?”
“Broken,” he said tersely. “But it’ll heal.”
“You were the one who called 911?”
“Yeah. First thing after those guys who did this left.”
“Well, you probably saved Moody’s life by not waiting around, knowing what to do. We got him here in time.”
Cody asked, tentatively, “You really think he’ll get better?”
The doctor hesitated, then said, “I simply don’t know for sure. I can’t promise that. When someone’s in a coma like this, sometimes they come out of it. Sometimes not. He’s young, and that alone means the chances are better than they’d be if he was older. Don’t stop hoping. If I had to guess, I’d say he’ll recover.”
With that, he nodded to both of them and left, closing the curtain behind him.
His dad looked at Cody. “We should probably go home. I’ll leave word at the desk to call us if there’s any change at all.”
That’s what they did. Cody was reluctant to leave, but he could see staying and watching wouldn’t make any difference. He’d come back tomorrow. He refused to leave until his dad promised him that.
“Cody, there’s something we need to do. You won’t like it. But, well, you understand, don’t you, that there are actions to be taken that are the right thing to do? Even if we don’t want to do them, they still should be done. Doing the right thing is a moral imperative. It shows our character, our integrity. The more often you choose not to do the right thing, the more you weaken the fiber of your being and your feeling of self-worth. You don’t ever want to lose that.”
Cody was looking at his father with a scowl on his face. Cody scowling was quite impressive. He was 13, but it was an emotionally mature 13. Maybe all fathers thought that about their sons, but with some of Cody’s friends, there was no way their dads could think they were mature. Cody was. Maybe growing up without a mother did that for a kid. His dad liked to think it had a little more to do with the fact that the two of them spoke all the time and had since the beginning.
He’d often told Cody that if people communicate fully and honestly with each other, many of what could turn into problems could be avoided. And that this was particularly true if one of the people was still growing up. Admitting your failures, celebrating your achievements, talking about what problems you’re having, your doubts, accepting that embarrassment was part of living our lives, that everyone made mistakes—all that was part of growing up. Of becoming who we’ll eventually be. And not being reluctant to share those things with your father was a sign of maturity.
Cody often didn’t agree with what his father had to say. Just like his father didn’t like everything Cody said. But they did talk, and they almost never got into real fights about anything because of that. What the talking had done was give them both something really important.
Respect. They each respected the other. The communication meant they knew each other intimately, and that was the basis of their respectful relationship.
Cody most always did the right thing as far as he knew what that was. But he didn’t always agree with what his father thought was the right thing, and he certainly didn’t right then. It was why he was balking.
His dad was telling Cody they now needed to do something that Cody didn’t agree with. At all. Vigorously.
“It’s the right thing to do, Cody.”
“Why? She didn’t care about him. He was even worse. They didn’t want him. They threw him away. So why do we have to tell them anything? They aren’t part of his life.”
“They’re his parents. You’re right, we don’t have an obligation to tell them he’s been hurt and hospitalized and that it’s possible he won’t recover. No real-life obligation, no legal one. But we do have a moral one. They’re his parents; they should be told.”
Cody was shaking his head. Thirteen-year-olds feel things deeply. They’re not as naive as they were even at twelve, but they still retain the childish notion that life should be fair. They don’t have many years of life experiences to dull or cushion their emotions. Cody hated Moody’s parents the way only a child can.
“They’re not his parents,” he said with fervor in his voice. “That judge took him away from them. Gave him to you. You have custody of him; he belongs to you. To us. You’re more his parent than either of them ever was.”
“You’re right, Cody. We have no legal responsibility to tell them anything about him. But there is this bothersome moral one. An English poet way back in the 16th Century wrote that no man is an island who stands entirely alone. He meant that we are all an integral part of the whole of humanity. It’s possible these people’s only child will die. They need to know this. They may not care. They may not be interested. But we know Moody. We love him. He’s a vital part of our lives. We have to do what’s right here. For him and for us so we can maintain our self-respect.
“We have to, Cody. We need to tell his parents about him.”
They were at the hospital the next day. And the one after. And again and again. Moody never seemed to change. The machine kept beeping. He never moved.
Sometimes a nurse would come in and manipulate his arms and legs, move his joints. Cody watched, and then began doing it himself. “He’ll want to be loose and able to walk when he recovers,” he told his dad very seriously. He seemed to have no doubt that outcome was on the horizon. But his dad knew Cody. He knew his body language, his expressions, all the signs. Cody wasn’t as sure as he was acting. He was being resolute to keep his emotions in check. Cody lived inside himself more than many kids his age did.
As they were leaving one day, an administrator stopped them in the hallway. “Mr. Earnshaw, isn’t it? I’m Bob Packer, an administrator here. Could I have a few moments?”
They went to the man’s office. Cody said he’d be back upstairs with Moody.
“Mr. Earnshaw, I see this boy we’re looking after has a different last name than yours. Morris Martin. But he has your address on the admittance forms, and there’s another for his insurance coverage. Is there a mistake here?”
“Oh, no, he lives with us. He’s in my legal custody; he isn’t my kid by blood but is in all the important ways.”
The guy frowned. “Do you have paperwork showing this?”
“Sure. I can bring it in if you need it.”
That brought a smile. “That would be good. What happened? His parents no longer alive?”
Mr. Earnshaw grinned at him. This question was pure nosiness and none of his business. But there was no reason not to tell him. In his experience, he’d learned you never know when being pleasant rather than confrontational would pay off.
“His parents found out he was gay,” Mr. Earnshaw said, watching to see how Mr. Packer took that info. There was nothing to see: the man didn’t react at all. Mr. Earnshaw continued. “They told him they didn’t want anything more to do with him and that he was on his own from then on. He was twelve years old! They told him to find somewhere else to live; he was no longer welcome in their house.”
Now Mr. Packer was showing some emotion. “That’s illegal. They’re responsible for him till he’s eighteen.” He moved in his seat as though it was confining him, as though he suddenly wanted to be doing something other than sitting. Mr. Earnshaw knew the feeling. In fact, he’d hung a light speed bag in his garage. Both he and Cody would go out and hit it on occasion to relieve stress. Moody had done so, too, back when he was able to do that.
“They were responsible for him until they weren’t. A children’s court judge rescinded their legal rights for his care but mandated they pay for his upkeep. He granted Moody’s custody to me.”
“Why you? Did you know him? Friend of the family?”
“No, nothing like that.” Mr. Earnshaw repressed a grin and decided again there was no reason to avoid explaining things to Mr. Packer, even while knowing it wasn’t necessary. Mr. Packer didn’t require this information. But Mr. Earnshaw decided if he explained a little, it might serve to make Moody more of a person than just a patient in a bed. That might work in his favor. He had no reason to hold back.
He got more comfortable in his chair and explained. “No, not a friend. I’d never met him when Cody, my son, told me we had to go get Moody. What happened was that last year when they were both twelve, they attended the same summer camp. They met there and became friends, and then, over the summer, they became very close. Very close friends as some boys become. When the summer was over, Moody went home and told his parents he was gay and had a boyfriend.”
He grimaced, remembering. “They weren’t at all happy about that. They’re Southern Baptists. That’s not the most forgiving of religious groups. Moody’s father is the pastor of their congregation. He is one of those pompous sorts who thinks he’s over-important and that his image in that community has to be unstained.
“Having a gay son would be more than a stain. It would be a blot that would be over him forever, something he could not tolerate. True to his nature, he chose their religion over their son; his wife agreed. They even told Moody if he ever told anyone he was gay and it got back to his congregation, they’d put an end to him. They said the insult of having him alive was almost too much of a burden for them to bear. Moody called my son, Cody, on the phone. I drove to get him and brought him back with me. His parents were happy to see him leave their town, feeling knowledge of his sinfulness would be less likely to leak out that way.
“I applied for custody and got it. He’s lived with us ever since. I think I love Moody as much as Cody does—though of course in another way.”
“Why ‘Moody’? The paperwork lists his name as Morris.”
Mr. Earnshaw laughed. “He hates that name. When he was little, he’d go into a petulant sulk when anyone addressed him that way. A friend commented on that once, told him he was moody, and somehow, that stuck as a nickname. He loves it.”
“I see.” Mr. Packer was smiling. It made Mr. Earnshaw more comfortable, seeing that.
“So Moody is gay. And Cody is . . . ?”
“You’re a nosy SOB, aren’t you?” Cody’s dad said, laughing to take any sting from the question. “You do persist in asking for more information than you need, don’t you?”
Mr. Packer smiled. “The more I know about our patients and their circumstances, the more I can help keep things running smoothly. Just so you know, I have a gay nephew, and I’m his favorite uncle. The kid has a passel of friends, and a couple of them are gay. All his friends are great kids, but I seem to have an affinity for the gay ones. I think those kids often need more support than straight ones, often a hug the others would shun. They get that and words of encouragement from me.”
Mr. Earnshaw nodded. “Yes, Cody is. They’re both gay and boyfriends, Cody and Moody. They love each other. Yeah, they’re young. But they’re together, and I’ve seen nothing that suggests they won’t be together always. Unless it’s something like this, like what’s happened now to Moody.”
“We’ll do our best for him. I’ll make sure.”
Over Cody’s objections, Mr. Earnshaw called the Martins. Mrs. Martin answered. Mr. Earnshaw often wondered, way later and after the fact, whether anything would have played out differently had Mr. Martin answered. But he didn’t think so. They were birds of a feather, the Martins.
“Mrs. Martin, I’m Jed Earnshaw. As you know, I have custody of your son. He lives with me and my son, Cody. I’m calling to share some bad news, I’m afraid. Your son was involved in an incident and was seriously injured. He’s in a hospital in a coma and has been for a few days now. His prognosis is uncertain. I felt it proper that you should be told.”
There was a pause, and then, “We saw a news report in our paper. We called the editor and they said they ran the report because the son of a well-known, local clergyman was involved. They published his name for all to see. Luckily, they only reported the accident and his name and nothing else. But, because of that, we already knew. Give me your address. We’ll come when we can.”
Now, Jed hesitated. Why did they need his address? If they came, they had no reason to visit Cody or himself. None at all. But he decided there was no harm in letting them come if they had some reason to speak to either Cody or him. Maybe they’d do that and then go see Moody in the hospital. So, he gave her the address. “Please call me if you plan to come to visit us so we can be home.”
“Thank you for calling,” was her only response before she abruptly hung up.
It was two days later, a Saturday, that the front doorbell rang. Cody was in the living room; Jed was in the kitchen, so Cody was closest and answered the bell. Jed peeked around the corner of the kitchen wall to see who it was. When Cody opened the front door, a man and a woman, both about Jed’s age, were standing there, each holding a suitcase.
“Yes?” Cody asked.
“We’re the Martins,” the man said, and to Cody’s surprise, he pushed his way into the house, bumping Cody aside to do so. The woman followed him.
Cody said, “Hey!” in a voice that easily made its way into the kitchen. Jed was already on his way, putting down the pan he was holding and hurrying into the front of the house.
“Where should we put our things?” the woman asked. She had a frown on her face, and her voice was hard. A sort of not-to-be-fooled-with voice, which matched her posture and body language perfectly. She was a force to be dealt with.
The man opened his mouth, but Jed spoke before he could. “What’s going on here? Why are you here? You were supposed to call before coming. And you certainly weren’t invited to stay here—or even enter.”
“That was implied,” said the man, sounding not the least bit apologetic. It was a deep voice, a voice practiced at projecting. The look on his face clearly said he did not expect an argument. “Of course, you wouldn’t have us come here and then not put us up. It’ll only be for a couple of days. He’s still in a coma, isn’t he? We’re too busy and have no reason to stay while he’s unconscious. We’ll leave shortly after visiting him. Then you are to call us when he comes around.”
He glanced at what he could see of the house. “You surely have to have a spare room, a house this size. Morris is not using his, so we could move in there. He does have a room here, doesn’t he? He’d better. Otherwise, we’ll notify CPS. We’re not having our boy corrupted. I see your son standing there. He looks to me like the sort who’d tempt an innocent boy like Morris. We’re here to see that isn’t happening and that Morris has proper living arrangements. And tell me, you’ve had clergy visit him in the hospital, praying for him. At least you’ve done that, haven’t you? That’s the absolute minimum you could do.”
His voice had been getting more and more aggressive as he spoke. Louder, too. Jed was having a difficult time believing what was occurring.
Mr. Martin simply ignored what Jed had said about being invited to stay and began a diatribe that Jed realized might be intended as a distraction. Perhaps that’s what the man wanted. The longer he ranted meant the longer he and his wife were in the house, the more the people hearing the rant would be persuaded that there was no point in arguing with him about anything, and the harder it was going to be to get rid of them. Jed certainly didn’t want to discuss anything with him concerning clerical support for Moody or anything else. What Jed wanted was the two of them out of the house. That had to be the focus here. No distractions at all.
Jed wasn’t a rude man. He was accustomed to pleasant, congenial, nonconfrontational discussions with strangers. He knew instinctively that wouldn’t work here. These seemed to him like people who got their way not with a light, smiling, feather-like touch but with a steamroller approach.
That was not Jed’s way. He could see he’d have to adapt.
When Mr. Martin had to stop to regain his breath, Jeb spoke. “Mr. Martin, Mrs. Martin, you shoved your way into our house. You weren’t asked to come in; you simply barged forward. Now I’m politely asking you to barge back out. You aren’t wanted here. Pick up your things and walk back out. Then, and only then, I will come out, too, and we can talk outside if talk is what you want to do. But first things first. You must leave this house immediately.”
Mrs. Martin was the one who answered. She wasn’t as red-faced as her husband was now nor as out of breath. “No. We will not. We’re staying here in this house till we’ve seen that our boy has adequate living quarters, that he’s not been subjected to perverted sexual activities, particularly from your son. Sex is only for married men and women and not for two boys together for perverted fun. He’s our son, and we’re afraid that sin has been ongoing here. If so, we’ll see it doesn’t continue. We have moral rights, God-given rights, no matter what some small-town judge might say, and we intend to exercise them. I suggest you don’t get in our way. We have righteousness on our side. As you’re not polite enough to show us his room, I’ll find it myself.”
So saying, she turned and headed up the staircase towards the bedrooms on the second floor.
Dumbfounded might be the appropriate word for what Jed was feeling. Were these people nuts? Or did they go through life this way, just browbeating anyone differing with them? He was stunned enough that she made it all the way upstairs before he reacted.
Then he did. “Cody,” he said, “call 911. Tell them we have a home invasion in process and need the police here now. Tell them we haven’t seen any weapons but can’t be sure there aren’t any.”
Cody grinned. That made Jed feel better. At least Cody wasn’t feeling threatened or intimidated. He nodded and reached into his pocket for this cellphone.
And now there was a problem. Mr. Martin didn’t want the police involved. “Stop that!” he said as he took two steps toward Cody. Jed wasn’t sure what his intentions were, but stopping Cody from making that call, physically stopping him, seemed pretty likely.
Jed managed to get between him and Cody. “Just what the fuck do you think you’re doing?” he asked, all pretense towards comity forgotten. Jed never swore. But he never was as outraged as he was right then, either.
Mr. Martin was a couple of inches shorter than Jed but probably 30 pounds heavier. Same age. Red-faced with anger. Jed didn’t know if the heavier man planned to walk right through him but thought he might try. He probably could succeed. Of course, that would be assault.
Which gave Jed an idea of what to say. “You touch my boy, you’re going down for assault.” Jed didn’t just tell him that. He screamed that at him, thinking maybe his anger would make Mr. Martin think twice about what he was about to do. “Cody’s calling the police; they’ll be on their way here. You touch Cody, you’ll be spending a night in a cell.”
Mr. Martin stopped walking. Jed saw he also thought yelling was a good idea because he shouted back with the same temper Jed was showing. “You get the police involved, we’ll tell them just what’s been happening in this house of perversion. How two boys under the age of consent are having sex. For all I know, you’re not just allowing it, you might be encouraging it, might even be joining in. I’ll tell the newspapers that you are, too, and your boss will find out and fire your ass. Maybe you’ll be in that cell. You’d better think about that.”
Then he paused. Jed wondered if he was wanting for a response. Perhaps. So he gave him one. He turned to Cody. “Are the police on their way? I want them here while these two are still in the house refusing to leave.”
Cody still had his phone to his ear. Jed heard him give their address and tell the operator to have them hurry. Then Cody took his phone from his ear, pressed a button, and slipped it back into his pocket. “She said five or six minutes,” he said. “She heard him shouting.”
Jed glared at Mr. Martin. “Stick your threat up your ass. Now get your wife down here and get out.”
“We’re staying.” He set his jaw like he was willing to fight. “I’ll speak to those cops, too.”
Jed didn’t know what to do other than wait for the police. Somehow, Cody did. Cody was clever. Confident kids aren’t swayed by much, and Cody had always been confident. Cody was soft-spoken and reserved, but he didn’t lack confidence. He was watching Mr. Martin and his dad face off, and then he did what Jed never would have though of in a hundred years. He looked down at the suitcases still sitting on the floor near the door, reached down, picked them up and carried them outside. Jed watched through the front window as Cody stopped in the middle of the front lawn, set the bags down on the grass and opened them up.
Jed couldn’t help but laugh. Cody began taking out the things inside the suitcases and throwing them helter-skelter up in the air so they floated in the breeze before settling on the lawn. Mr. Martin was watching, too, and suddenly yelled for his wife. “Tess, the kid is tossing your underwear on the lawn! Eveyone can see it! Get down here and stop him.”
By then, Cody was done with her suitcase and began with his. That made Mr. Martin mad enough to suddenly push past Jed and run out the front door. Mrs. Martin had thundered down the stairs and was right behind him.
Jed gulped. They were running right at Cody! Cody saw them coming and easily jogged away, making a large circle and ending up coming back to the house. He came inside, then pushed the door shut and, with a huge grin, locked it.
They both watched through the front window as the Martins ran around the yard picking up their things and stuffing them back into their suitcases. Then they stood up and glared at the house. That was followed by Mr. Martin then saying something to his wife and pointing to the car. His wife turned and started walking that way. He followed her. He opened the trunk and threw his suitcase into in, then did the same with hers.
They both got in the car and drove away. Jed was startled; he’d thought they’d both be angry. He didn’t see that in Mr. Martin’s face after he slammed the trunk shut. The man looked, well, he appeared almost pleased with himself. Was Jed misreading that? Still, it bothered him enough that he decided to make a phone call.
The police didn’t show up till after the Martins had driven away. Not even till after Jed had used his phone to call Bob Packer. He told the police what had happened with the Martins, but that they were gone now.
The call to Mr. Packer had taken some time to go through as he was out in the hospital. The Martin’s car was long gone by the time Jed was able to speak with him. He hoped it wasn’t too long.
“Bob,” Jed said after identifying himself, “I need your help. Moody’s birth parents might be on the way to the hospital. They left here about 15 minutes ago, so they’re probably nearly there. I’m not sure they’re coming there, but they could be. If they do, they have no rights concerning Moody at all; I have custody of Moody; they have no visitation rights. They might tell everyone they have the right to see their child, and they can be very persuasive. Demanding, even. But they do not have the right to see him. Can you make sure they aren’t told what room he’s in? Can you station someone at the door so if they do find out where he is, they can be stopped from entering? They’re not all that smart and didn’t seem very stable to me, but they are very insistent on getting what they want. They’re like an unstoppable force. Maybe put two people at the door!”
Bob was silent for a moment, then said, “I’ll do it right away. This would be much easier and more straightforward in the future if you could get a restraining order. Then there could be no arguments about our keeping them out. Why don’t you call the judge who gave you custody and try to get him or her to sign an emergency order and get it faxed to me? In the meantime, I’ll take what steps I can here to prevent them from seeing Moody.”
“Great! Thanks, Bob. I’ll call the judge right now.”
Jed did call the judge. It was Saturday, and he was home. Jed had his cellphone number; they’d had quite a few conversations back when Jed had applied for Moody’s custody and while the paperwork was wending its way through the legal process. The judge had given Jed his phone number then.
Jed told him what had just occurred at the house, about Moody being in the hospital and, because of how the Martin’s had acted, his feeling that they should be kept from seeing Moody. The judge said he’d sign an order immediately and send a copy to the hospital and another to Jed.
That done, Jed told Cody to jump in the car. They both did and headed off for the hospital.
“Stop grinning!” Mrs. Martin said. She was still fastening her seat belt and bumped up against the passenger-side door as they made a fast left turn out of the street they’d been on.
“We fooled them!” her husband chortled. “You had plenty of time, didn’t you? Where did you put it?”
“Under his underpants. That’s where kids always hide things. First place the cops’ll look. You know, now comes the hard part. We have to slip into his room unnoticed.”
“No, you have do. We’ve discussed this. It’s much less noticeable for a woman to enter a patient’s room than a man. Besides, I’m going to be busy creating the diversion. Shouldn’t take you more than thirty seconds in there at all. In and out.”
“I know, I know. You keep saying how: ‘Put a towel over my gloved hand so when blood spurts, it won’t get on my clothes. Pull off the glove as I’m leaving and take it and the knife with me wrapped in the towel. Just keep the bundle till we’re outside; we can find a safe place to dispose of it there.’”
Mr. Martin was nodding. “The more we go over it, the more you won’t be worrying about having any spur-of-the-moment interruptions. If you have to think of anything but your job, think of the problem we’re eliminating.”
She got more comfortable in her seat and smiled. “This’ll sure stop that Davis bastard from using Morris against us in the election. That was the only high card he had to play—us having a gay son—and with us mourning our son’s loss, how can he bring up the fact the boy was gay? He’d look like an insensitive ghoul, denouncing a young boy who was murdered. Even if Morris hadn’t been gay, his early death would have gotten us a lot of sympathy votes. But this is good for two reasons: you win the election for president and CEO of the church, and we don’t have any more support payments for Morris.” She smiled at the thought.
Mr. Martin just nodded and made the turn onto the street that would take them to the hospital.
“You brought the stuff for distracting people in the hallway?” she asked. She knew he had; she was just nervous and didn’t like sitting in silence.
He didn’t even bother answering, just nodded as they passed a sign showing the hospital was straight ahead.
Cody was looking at his dad as they drove to the hospital. Staring at him fixedly.
“What?” Jed finally asked him.
“I heard what you said on the phone to that guy at the hospital about not letting them see Moody. Do you think they might hurt him?”
“Honestly? I don’t know why they would, but you saw how they were. Better to take precautions that aren’t needed than to assume everything will be okay and then find that wasn’t true. I’m not sure those two are entirely sane. They didn’t act that way. Who acts the way they did in a stranger’s house? I don’t know; I just didn’t like the idea of them barging in on Moody like they did on us. For all I know, they might think they can wake him up by shaking him. That would be the worst thing they could do.”
Cody finally looked away, then quickly turned back. “Drive faster,” he said.
When we reached the hospital, Cody was dropped off at the door. His dad said, “If you see the Martins, don’t let them follow you to Cody’s room. I’ll be up as soon as I park.”
Cody burst through the entrance doors, then stopped just inside the vestibule. He could see into the lobby. It was filled with people milling about as usual, but he couldn’t see the Martins. The elevators were down a short corridor. He walked quickly to them and pressed six. He waited what seemed like forever for a car to stop and the doors to open, but one finally did. Then he waited again, thinking ‘come on, come on’ before the doors finally closed leaving him alone in the elevator car—something for which he was thankful. The car moved slowly but made no stops, and ultimately the door opened onto the sixth floor. Cody looked out. Only people wearing hospital scrubs were in view.
The stairway was located next to the elevators. He opened the door and hurried down to the fifth floor where Moody’s room was located. He peeked in both directions before stepping into the hallway. Moody’s room was about halfway down the hall. He didn’t see the Martins and took that as a good sign. He started to rush to Moody’s room, but then slowed to a walk with a smile on his face. He’d seen that the door to Moody’s room was closed and a man wearing a hospital-security uniform was sitting on a chair outside it.
When Cody arrived at the door, the man stood up. “Sorry,” he said. “No one’s to go in here.”
“The kid in there, he’s my boyfriend,” Cody said. “The people we don’t want going in are two adults, a man and woman, the Martins. He’s short and fat and has a red face; she scowls a lot. Don’t you have a list?”
The man smiled. “Don’t need a list. I can remember those two names, and you’re right. They ain’t getting in. You’re okay.” He reached down and opened the door for the boy, and Cody entered the room.
Mr. and Mrs. Martin were in the hospital cafeteria with a cup of coffee in front of each of them. Mr. Martin was talking.
“Damn it. I never expected them to put a guard on the door to his room.”
She shook her head. “In a way, it’s good. We know what room he’s in now. We only knew what floor it was before. At least we can be pretty sure that’s Morris’s room. Now we have to get the guard away for just a minute or so. You’ve got the stuff for a distraction. You sure it’ll make enough noise to get the guard away from the door?”
“Yeah, it sure should.”
“Okay, then. You get the guard to leave; I’ll get in easy enough. As usual, I’m doing the dirty work; you have the easy part. You do your job and I’ll have no problem getting into Moody’s room unnoticed. I don’t see an hang-ups here. Don’t you chicken out now.”
“Like I would! Okay. We’re doing this.”
They talked some more, both encouraging the other. They both knew what to do. They finished their coffee and stood up. Mr. Martin grabbed his athletic bag. It contained a Swiss army knife, a hand towel, a pair of latex gloves, a bag of transfusion blood, a Ronald Reagan plastic mask and a tennis-ball bomb filled with more than just match heads. They were ready.
Cody was sitting by Moody’s bed. He lay still looking the same . . . but, well, maybe not. Somehow, there seemed a bit more animation in his face. Cody took Moody’s hand and held it. The nurse had told him sometimes there was a reaction when patients in a coma felt their hand being squeezed; sometimes they squeezed back slightly, but that it was an automatic muscular reaction, not a conscious one, and it didn’t indicate anything other than that. Moody had never reacted that way. His hand had always remained completely inert. Now, for the first time, Cody thought he felt some motion in Moody’s hand. Not much, but something. Just like his face. Something.
“It’s time for you to wake up,” he said in as loving a voice as he could manage. “I need you.”
Moody didn’t say anything.
Jed found a place to park only after spending way too much time driving around. He parked and hurried into the hospital and up to the fifth floor. He could see a guard sitting at Moody’s door and tried to calm himself. A nurse at the nurses’ station in the middle of the floor—a place where all the nurses gathered and all the equipment in the patients’ rooms was monitored—stopped him as he was walking by. She had some questions for him. He didn’t mind stopping. He was sure Cody was in with Moody and that the Martins hadn’t come. Maybe they wouldn’t. Maybe his fears were just fears and groundless.
“You ready?” Mr. Martin asked his wife.
“Yeah, got everything I need. I’ll stand in the doorway of one of the rooms where a door’s open, and when the guard runs by, I’ll get to Morris’s room. In, do it, and I’ll be back out in less than one minute. Problem taken care of. You have your exit route figured out? Okay, good. I’ll meet you at the car.”
Jed was talking to the nurse when suddenly there was a commotion down at the end of the hall past Moody’s room.
There was a loud noise, then a yell, and people in the hall started moving in that direction, some walking, some running. Jed heard a couple of cries for help. Then he saw two things happening almost simultaneously and for a moment simply froze.
He saw the man guarding Moody’s room stand up, then sprint down the hall toward where the boom had emanated. That was followed almost immediately by Mrs. Martin walking swiftly toward Moody’s room. She’d come out of a doorway which was much closer to it than Jed was. There were numerous people in the hall between Moody’s room and the nurses’ station where he was standing, many of them standing, some walking toward the commotion. He couldn’t begin to hope to reach Moody’s room before she did. Still, he pushed away from the desk and started running, pushing between people, scared. Not only was Moody in that room, lying totally vulnerable in his bed, but Cody was there as well.
Cody was sitting next to Moody, holding his hand, when the door burst open. Mrs. Martin was standing there, holding a towel and a knife. She saw the two boys and frowned. Her immediate thought was, how am I going to blame Moody’s murder on this other boy if I have to kill him, too?
But she had no time for thought. She had to be in and out, and seconds were passing. She stepped into the room and closed the door.
Cody saw the knife. He had nothing to defend Moody with if stabbing him was her plan! Only himself, and getting between her and Moody would just delay her for the moment it would take her to stab him. That wasn’t enough. He had to stop her, had to protect Moody. But how?
He jumped to his feet as she walked toward him. In doing so, his chair was knocked back against the stand holding Moody’s monitoring instruments; that gave him the idea he needed. Cody didn’t hesitate. He reached down and picked up the chair by its arm, and when Mrs. Martin was a step closer and looking at Moody, not him, he used every ounce of strength in his body, legs and arm to swing the chair at her as hard as he could.
The chair was typical of the ones in many patients’ rooms: four square wooden legs, two arms, a lightly padded seat and a plain plastic back. It wasn’t a light chair, but Cody wasn’t even aware of its weight. He was full of adrenaline and acting almost on instinct. He also didn’t realize he was picking it up with just his one good hand, balancing the weight with the other. Holding the chair’s arm, he swung it. Mrs. Martin only realized what was happening at the last moment. She raised one hand and arm to protect her head, the hand that was holding the knife, and was only partly successful in defending herself.
One chair leg hit her wrist, and the knife went flying. Another leg crashed into the side of her face. Dazed, she dropped to one knee. She saw the knife lying on the floor and had the presence of mind to reach for it. Cody saw what she was doing, dropped the chair and kicked the knife under Moody’s bed.
Mrs. Martin rose to her feet, wobbling a little, said, “You little shit!” and reached for Cody.
Jeb finally reached Moody’s room. Yanked open the door. Saw Mrs. Martin rising from the floor and reaching for Cody. Took the two steps necessary and swung his fist hard, hitting her on the side of her face. She went down like the proverbial sack of potatoes.
Then he turned fast, expecting Mr. Martin to be there. No one was. He shut the door and locked it. Then he turned and Cody was in his arms. They hugged each other for a long moment, and then Jeb asked, “Did she get to Moody?”
Cody pushed back from him, looked up and said, “No. I thwarted her.” Then he broke out laughing—nervous, high-pitched laughter releasing the tension and fear he’d been feeling. Jeb grabbed him with one arm, fearing he might collapse, righted the chair and put him down on it. Then he picked up the phone and asked for security to come to Room 509.
One month later, the three of them were at home. Moody was still recovering but was well enough to be home now. What Jed liked was that his irrepressible spirit seemed unaffected. He was still the same exuberant boy he’d always been. He just moved slower and did less physically than before and fought the occasional headaches. But he was improving steadily and heading toward a complete recovery. The doctors had all been quite optimistic about that. Maybe another month, they said. Everyone was different.
Jed was still worried. Would this change Moody’s way of connecting with the world? He’d been fearless as only boys his age could be. He loved doing boy things: soccer, tennis, swimming, baseball, football. But he liked reading, too, and both boys seemed to have found a sanctuary at the town library. Would Moody still love to read and absorb what the words meant? Would he still be rough-and-tumble with his friends? Would he now be afraid to go back to the town swimming pool?
Jed didn’t see any of that, but it was early days still, and Moody hadn’t been up on his feet all that much yet. Jed just wasn’t sure.
Cody was doing all the mothering Moody would allow, which was less and less as the days passed. Cody’s hand had healed. Now Jed was the only one with a broken bone. He’d hit Mrs. Martin hard enough to give her a concussion but also hard enough to break a bone in his hand. One of the doctors had told him that the next time he was planning to hit someone in the head, he should use his elbow as it was much more effective and would save the more fragile fingers in his hand. Jed couldn’t tell if he was being whimsical or practical.
Soon after they’d come back home, Cody had found a knife buried under his underwear in his dresser. He brought it to Jed, and he’d called the cops. The Martins hadn’t been tried yet, and this looked like evidence of premeditated murder. It was easy to figure out how the knife had gotten in Cody’s drawer and why it had been put there.
Cody had been smart; when he’d seen the knife, he’d picked it up with the underpants it was lying under; he hadn’t touched it, so his fingerprints weren’t on it. Jed wondered if there was some DNA on the knife from Moody; he’d lived with his parents long enough that they may have been able to find something, perhaps even something having Moody’s dried blood. With the knife discovered in Cody’s possession and Moody’s DNA on it, the Martin’s plan apparently was that Cody would be suspected of killing Moody, perhaps because he couldn’t stand to see him in a vegetative state.
Jed figured the Martins had been trying to frame Cody not so much to get him in trouble as to keep anyone from thinking they’d had anything to do with Moody’s murder. It didn’t matter now. It was clear who’d been responsible for what.
Jed’s family of three was almost back to normal with just his hand and Moody’s further convalescence ahead to get them past the incident that had started all this. One night at dinner, Jed mentioned that, and Moody said he wanted to know what had happened after he was knocked unconscious on that front lawn. The aftermath for him was a long, insentient stay in the hospital. That was all he knew. Somehow, what had occurred next had never been discussed.
Cody told him. “I broke my hand. Then your real parents came here when Dad insisted we tell them you were in a coma, but you know about that.” Cody touched Moody after saying that. They did a lot of touching. They both were happy that things were getting back to normal and they still had each other. Their frequent touching showed that.
Cody was about to continue when Moody interrupted him.
“Dad’s my real parent, my only parent, the only one I want. Not those two. But go on. There had to be more than just what I already know about their visit and you saving my life in the hospital. What about before?”
Cody’s forehead wrinkled. “What d’ya mean?”
“I mean before all that. Those creeps who attacked us. What about them?”
Cody dropped his eyes. “Well, nothing. I didn’t know who they were. The police questioned me and even some of the kids who’d been at the pool, thinking someone probably saw us being hassled there. No one came forward. Maybe someone did see something but still didn’t want to say who it was. Maybe they were scared of retribution.”
Moody sat up a little straighter and put his fork down. “But . . . that’s nuts. Someone did know them.”
“Huh?” Cody raised his eyes again. “Who?”
“Don’t you remember? The guy at the house where we were hurt. He saw them and called them by name.”
Cody looked at him for a moment, trying to remember, then suddenly nodded. “Yeah! You’re right. He did! I was only thinking about you. I forgot all about that. I called 911 and they seemed to take forever, and you never moved a bit. I was crying by then. I wasn’t sure you were still alive.”
Moody wasn’t interested in that or the fact Cody looked about ready to cry again, remembering. He was still alive, getting better, and all that was past history.
“He knew them,” he said adamantly. “Didn’t the police question him?”
“I don’t know,” Cody said.
Jeb was already taking his phone out of his pocket. “But we can find out.” He called the police and asked for the detective sergeant who’d led the investigation. He spoke for only a minute or two, then turned to the two faces staring at him questioningly. “Turns out the house owner hadn’t been questioned. The sergeant said there’d been no reason to; he said he didn’t know the man had seen anything. Sounded to me like he was covering his ass. Sloppy police work, apparently. He did sound apologetic, though. Anyway, now he knows, and he said he’d be on it tomorrow.”
The trial for the two boys was brief. Moody and Cody both testified, as did the man who’d witnessed the attack. He did so reluctantly; it turned out he was the uncle of the boy named Jason. He admitted under questioning that his brother, Jason’s father, was a vitriolic homophobe. After they testified, the boys and Jed left. None of them really cared to hear what punishment the two boys would get. They all just wanted their involvement in the incident to be over.
By the time school was to resume the following week, Moody had fully recovered physically. No more headaches, full strength in all his activities, no apparent lingering effects from his ordeal. There was still the Martins’ trial ahead, but their three sworn statements were all that the prosecution needed; none of them would have to attend the trial in person. It would be a cut-and-dried affair. The two Martins were blaming each other and, in doing so, admitting everything. They’d both be going away for a long time.
Jed was still concerned about how the ordeal had affected Moody. Would he now become cautious? Would he no longer be the adventuresome boy of the past? Would memories of the boys at the pool still linger?
He learned that wasn’t the case when the boys came home from being out all day, Moody’s first substantial time out away from the house. He’d been arguing with Jed for several days that he was fine and that all restrictions should be relaxed. Jed had given in, seeing that Moody was as energetic as he always had been and thinking that as he would be going to school soon, extra activities now might be good preparation for that.
Jed was happy that both boys came home looking ruddy-cheeked and smiling. Uncharacteristically, it was Cody who, over dinner, enthusiastically broke the news of the excitement the two of them had had that day.
“Guess what?” he said, a crooked grin on his face.
“We went back to the pool. Moody said he wanted to see what it felt like, walking into that changing room again. So we took our stuff with us. I was a little worried, but it was all fine. We changed into our suits, showered, and it was no problem at all. Other kids were in there, even some older ones, but it was fine. Moody, being Moody, even joked about something with one of them.
“We swam for a while, had fun, and when it was time to leave, Moody had no problem at all walking back in there. I was right with him, but that was just me being protective. He didn’t need it. But this is the good part . . .”
Cody stopped to take a bite of food. Was he just building the suspense? Jeb wasn’t sure, but he was so enthralled that he didn’t notice his own dinner was getting cold. He was staring at Cody, thinking this was the most the boy had spoken all at once that he could remember. Excitement, Jed guessed. Maybe happiness, too.
After swallowing and taking a sip of milk, Cody grinned at his dad and continued. “We were on the way out when the pool manager stopped us. He asked Moody if he was the one who’d been in the hospital. Then, after Moody said yes, he just talked to us a while, saying he wanted to get to know us. The guy had us come into his office. After chatting, he told us how upset he was that Moody’d been hurt because of what had happened at the pool, and said he never wanted anything like that to happen again. So, he’d thought of a way to prevent that. He was adding something new, a new procedure for the pool. From now on, he was asking for kids to volunteer to be changing-room monitors. Kids doing so would be of all ages, and their job was to be available if anyone, any other kid or kids, didn’t feel safe going into the changing room or showers by themselves. The volunteers would all be given bright blue wristbands. That would make them identifiable as kids to ask if anyone wanted someone with them in the changing area and showers either before or after swimming.
“He wanted Moody to be part of that. But it was more than that even. He said most of the kids who’d want someone to be with them when they were changing would be Moody’s age, middle-school kids and younger. Older boys would probably be embarrassed to ask someone to accompany them. He said Moody would be perfect now that he’d seen how outgoing and friendly he was. So, he asked Moody if he would take the job of head volunteer. He’d have a blue wristband, too, but his would have an additions red stripe on it. He’d be the boss and other volunteers would follow his lead or ask him any questions they had.
“And you know Moody. He’s now the head volunteer.”
Jed was loving how animated Cody was and how Moody was blushing and looking down at his plate.
“That sounds wonderful, Cody,” he said. “And are you a volunteer, too, with a blue wristband?”
Cody grinned. “Moody said he’d only do it if I got a blue and red band, too! Co-leaders. And I got one!”
Jed grinned and finished his dinner smiling. Nope, nothing was wrong with Moody at all.
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