Peter’s expression was still one of anger and frustration as he threw his bag onto Steve’s and Keidan’s couch. “Thanks for letting me stay here, guys,” he said in a quiet tone.
Keidan grabbed Peter and gave him a long bear hug. “This is all so fucked up.” He let go and then grabbed Peter’s chin to look him in the eye. “You can stay here as long as you need, got it? You don’t need to find somewhere else to stay.”
“I can’t ask you to do that!”
Steve stepped up and slipped a hand around Keidan’s waist as he smiled at Peter. “You’re not asking; we’re offering.”
Keidan shook his head. “We’re not offering; we’re telling.” He smiled at Peter. “This will all be sorted out, and you’ll be back with Alan, Troy and Bradley sooner than you know.”
Peter grimaced and dropped onto the couch. “Sometimes I wish that the Lyntons had taken the boys off our hands. Alan and I would be better off if the boys hadn’t come into our lives.”
“And what about the boys?” Steve asked in a hurt tone. “Would they have been better off? They lost their dad, and their mum’s in hospital. They needed someone to love and care for them, and that was you and Alan.”
Peter dropped his head. “I know, but their grandparents could’ve done that, too.” He sighed. “When this nightmare is over, I never want to be around kids again.”
Steve and Keidan exchanged glances. “Stay with him,” Keidan whispered before heading to their bedroom.
Steve sat down next to Peter. “You said in the car that the police would like to see you again later in the week after they’ve done some more investigations.”
“Yeah…” Peter’s resignation was clear from the drawn-out word. “I’ve got to take time off work to go see them and more time off to see a lawyer first. Shit, I hope my boss doesn’t simply sack me. I can’t even ring him because the fucking police took our phones and our computer. That’s another thing I have to do: get Alan and myself new phones.” Peter raised his head and gave a self-deprecating snort. “One good thing about being a communications salesman: I can get new phones for us quickly and easily while keeping the same numbers.” He immediately frowned. “Shit! Will the police let me do that? It’ll mean that the SIM cards on our current phones will become inactive.”
“Ask them in the morning,” Keidan said. “In the total scheme of things, that’s not that important.”
Peter’s head dropped again. “And the worst part is I still don’t know what it is that I’m supposed to have fucking done!”
Steve wrapped an arm around Peter’s shoulders. “They didn’t give you any indication?”
“All they said is that Troy indicated I’d played with his penis. The bastards kept accusing me of molesting him!” Peter looked up, his eyes wide. “I never did that! You believe me, don’t you? It never even crossed my mind to do anything like that. I’ve got Alan, and I don’t want anyone else.” His head slumped. “I had Alan…”
Keidan returned, carrying a manila folder. “Of course we believe you! You’ve only had eyes for one guy for as long as we’ve known you.”
“And now I’ve lost him.”
“Have you?” Keidan smiled down at Peter. “To me, he’s still exactly the same person you started to date six years ago, doing exactly the same thing he did then. Remember how you met?”
A weak smile appeared on Peter’s lips. “If I’d known that having my car break down would bring me a hot stud to help me get it started again, I would’ve had my car break down a lot more often.” He sighed and stared down at the coffee table in front of the couch. “I know what you’re trying to tell me. Alan’s always been one to help people, and now Lisa and her boys are the ones needing help, and they’re his family. I don’t want him to change, but Troy and Bradley are pulling him away from me. Because of them, I’m here and not with Alan. I hate kids. After this is all over I never want to see another one again.”
Keidan scowled as he dropped the folder onto the coffee table. The loud thud as the folder landed was punctuated by Keidan’s outburst. “Bullshit!”
Peter’s head snapped up in response. “What the…?”
Keidan pointed at the folder while glaring at their guest. “This isn’t just about you, Peter. What you see there are the application forms and other paperwork for Steve and me to become foster parents. For the last few weeks, we’ve seen two young boys that needed help, and we’ve seen two friends step up to the plate and give them that help. At least that’s what we thought we were seeing. Alan’s doing what we all expected him to be doing. We thought you were doing the same.”
“Keeds, be nice.” Steve used the arm still around Peter’s shoulders to give him a squeeze of reassurance. “What the big lunk is trying to say is that the boys’ plight touched us, and we realised we want to do something, too. Yes, the boys have disrupted the life you and Alan had, but you’ve made a difference to their lives, and that’s important. That’s something to be proud of, even if the current situation is a pain in the arse. We want to make a difference, too, hence the foster-parent application forms.”
Peter’s gaze shifted from Steve to Keidan and then back to Steve. “I…”
Keidan squatted in front of Peter, smiled and put a hand on Peter’s shoulder. “The reason you’re here tonight isn’t because of the boys, it’s because of the Lyntons. They must’ve spent the weekend coaching Troy to say something, and you’ve been caught up in the net. Don’t blame the boys for what their grandparents have done.”
Steve nodded his agreement. “Peter, why don’t you use our phone to ring Alan? I’m sure he’d like to know what happened at the police station.”
* * *
Mr. Crawford, the owner of Crawford Phones, raised an eyebrow as Peter entered the shop the next morning. “What are you doing here on a Sunday?” He grinned. “Did you forget it’s your day off?”
“I’ve got a problem.” Peter took a deep breath. “Can we talk in private?” He knew that his boss would find out what was going on sooner or later, especially since he’d have to take time off to see a lawyer, and he thought it would be better if he were the one to tell him.
Mr. Crawford stared at Peter and then at the only other employee present. “Kathy, can you look after things for me? If something crops up, we’ll be in my office, but knock before you enter.”
A short time later, Peter and Mr. Crawford were secluded in the small corner office. Peter had never understood why the store owner hadn’t used one of the larger rooms for his office, as the room was always filled to almost overflowing with papers and files.
Over the next ten minutes, Peter explained what was going on, ending with the fact that both his and Alan’s phone had been seized by the police. “They said we’d get them back, but we don’t know how quickly that will be. I’m hoping we can borrow some handsets until we get ours back. I went to the police station before coming here, and they’re fine with porting the numbers to new SIM cards; they just want to check the phone contents and don’t need to keep the phones active.”
Mr. Crawford leant back in his chair, his gaze never leaving Peter’s face. “I’ll be up front, Peter. You’re putting me in a very difficult position. While I’d like to believe you when you say you haven’t done anything wrong, the accusation is out there, and having you work here could end up damaging the business’s reputation.”
Peter grimaced. “I understand. I’m fired, aren’t I?”
“Let’s not be hasty.” Mr. Crawford reached for his laptop. Peter forced himself not to fidget as he waited to learn his fate. A minute later, Mr. Crawford looked up. “You’ve got a couple of weeks of annual leave owing to you, so why don’t you take some time off and concentrate on clearing your name. I’ll lend you a couple of handsets and organise the SIMs, and in exchange you keep me informed as to what is going on.”
It wasn’t as good as Peter had hoped, but it was better than he feared. “Thanks, Mr. Crawford.”
“Don’t thank me, Peter.” Mr. Crawford’s expression was stern. “You’ve got two weeks. If charges are laid, you’re fired. If the police come here looking for more information, you’re fired. If your name and the accusations make the news, you’re fired.” He sighed and his expression changed into one of almost sympathy. “You’ve been a good employee for over two years, Peter, and I don’t want to lose you, but I have to protect the business. A scandal, especially one of this nature, could destroy what I’ve spent ten years building. I can’t afford it. I’ll hold out for as long as I can, but if there’s trouble, I’ll have to cut you loose.”
Peter nodded. “I understand.” He wasn’t happy, but he knew his employer had to put the business first. If the business went under, others, including his friend Scott, would also be out of a job.
* * *
It was late on Sunday morning when Alan answered the door.
“Keidan, Steve?” Alan stepped back to let them enter. “Is Peter okay?”
Keidan smiled as he handed over an older-model smartphone. “He’s fine. He’s organised a new phone for you. He said that it’s got the same number as your old one, and he’s restored your contact list from the last online backup, but you may be missing some recent numbers.”
“Thanks.” Alan hesitated before continuing. “How is he?”
“Missing you.” Steve gave Alan a hug. “I’ll leave you with Keidan while I keep the boys occupied.” Steve stepped back and winked. “I didn’t get my playtime with Troy on Friday night, and I want my Troy fix.” Alan stared as Steve called out to the boys while walking down the hallway.
Before Alan could do anything else, he was grabbed by Keidan and led into the kitchen.
“Alan, if you want to see Peter, we’ll look after the boys for an hour or two. We’ll even organise lunch for them.”
“Where is he?” Alan almost stumbled on the words in his haste.
“He’s waiting at Greensborough Plaza.” Keidan smiled. “You can ring him, if you want. He’s hoping you will.”
Alan pulled out the phone that Keidan had given him but hesitated before calling. “How is he, really?”
“Feeling pretty down and confused. He doesn’t know what he’s done wrong, and he didn’t know how to call your lawyer last night. He’s now worried that he did the wrong thing talking to the police without a lawyer present, but he didn’t want to refuse to answer questions, either; that would’ve made him look guilty.”
Alan grabbed Keidan in a bear hug. “Thanks for letting him stay with you guys last night.”
Keidan chuckled as Alan released him. “He’s staying with us until this gets sorted out. I know him—I’ve known both of you for years—and I know he’s innocent. We just have to convince the police of that.”
Steve appeared at that point with two young shadows. “We’re going out to play soccer.” He pointed a finger at Keidan and then beckoned. “You’re coming with us, Keeds.”
Keidan grinned and gave Alan a light punch to the right arm. “Go see him. We’ll look after things here until you get back.” Not waiting for a response, he grabbed Bradley—who immediately started giggling—and draped him over his shoulder. “I’ve got my teammate; let’s go!”
A weak smile appeared on Alan’s face as the four disappeared into the backyard. With the sound of laughter following him into the living room, Alan took a deep breath and rang his partner. “Peter?”
“Alan!” Peter’s tone of relief put a smile on Alan’s face.
“Keidan said you’re at Greensborough Plaza.”
“I’m in the food court up on Level Three.” There was a pause. “Can I see you?”
“Of course! I’ll be there soon.” Alan didn’t hang up immediately. His eyes had become blurry, and his legs felt weak. “I’m so sorry, Peter.”
“I just want to see you again, Alan. Just in case I don’t…” The sound that came over the phone sounded like a stifled sob.
Alan swallowed. “I’m heading to the car now. I’ll hang up once I’ve got the engine started, but until then, I just want to hear your voice. I love you, Peter.”
“I love you, too, Alan. Even if I can’t see you when I want to, I still love you.”
Alan resented hanging up, but the last thing any of them wanted was for him to be pulled over for driving while on the phone. Suburban speed limits were another thing he suddenly found himself resenting, as were traffic lights.
* * *
“Where’s Uncle Peter?” Troy asked on Sunday night as Alan tucked him into bed. “Why didn’t he play soccer with us?”
When Alan had returned from his visit with Peter, he had joined in for another round of soccer with Steve, Keidan, and the boys.
“He’s gone away for a while.” Alan thought that was the most appropriate way to describe what had happened.
Troy sat up, a fearful expression on his face. “He’s coming back, isn’t he? He’s not going away like Mummy and Daddy?”
Alan pulled him into a hug. “Yes, he’s coming back. I don’t know when, but like your mummy, he’ll be back.” Alan couldn’t bring himself to mention Craig.
Troy had his arms wrapped around Alan’s neck. “I don’t want him to go. Can he come back soon?”
“I don’t know, Troy. I hope he’s back soon, but I don’t know.” Alan struggled to keep Troy from sensing his fears. He also struggled to stop himself from questioning the young boy on what he had told the psychologist. He knew Troy was tired, and it was the wrong time to interrogate the boy. There was also the danger that any questioning could be construed as interference in the police investigation. He gently lowered the boy back onto his pillow. “It’s time to go to sleep, Troy. I know you’re tired, and you have school tomorrow.”
Troy yawned and smiled. “Love you, Uncle Alan.”
“I love you, too.” Alan leant forward and kissed Troy’s forehead. “Now, go to sleep.”
Alan moved back to the bedroom door, his eyes never leaving Troy, and switched off the light. He paused for a moment longer before closing the door most of the way. He left it partly open, just like he had done earlier for Bradley, so he would be able to hear if something happened during the night. He still didn’t know if the weekend experience had traumatised Troy or if the young boy had taken it in his stride. Alan was hoping for the latter and that Troy didn’t understand what had really happened.
Knowing he would be busy the next day, Alan headed to his own room. He stopped and stared at the empty bed. A sob escaped his lips as it continued to sink in that he wouldn’t be sharing his bed that night…and for an unknown number of nights to come.
He sat on Peter’s side of the bed and grabbed the nearest pillow. With tears trailing down his face, he cuddled the pillow as if it were his life partner. He didn’t have a choice as to what was going to happen. With the Lyntons in police custody after kidnapping Troy, the boys only had him to look after them. That would change when his mother and father returned from Queensland, but until then—unless the police said otherwise—he and Peter couldn’t be together. He had to look after the boys.
* * *
“…and that’s where things stand. Is there anything you can do?” Alan’s focus was on the lawyer sitting opposite him and not on the now-too-familiar conference room.
Helen Chambers pursed her lips as she thought. “Why isn’t Peter O’Gorman here? You said that the police didn’t hold him—and I see I have an appointment with him at 12:30—but why isn’t he here with you?”
“Because I didn’t have anyone I could call on to babysit Bradley. The police told us that Peter wasn’t allowed to be with the boys, and since I had to bring Bradley with me…” Alan shrugged.
“We’ll need to see exactly what’s in the protection order, but from what you’ve described, it sounds like he’s not allowed to be alone with the boys, not that he’s to have no contact. However, we can get to that later. The higher priority is to try to prove Peter’s innocence. For that, I’m going to need as much information from both of you as possible. You’ve given me the big picture, but what exactly is he accused of doing, and when?”
“Peter told me that he’s not sure. He’s supposed to have touched Troy inappropriately, but he didn’t say when this was supposed to have happened. He said the police were vague as to the details.”
Helen frowned. “I’m not happy that Peter spoke to the police without a lawyer, but there’s nothing we can do about that now. While it may’ve given the impression that he had nothing to hide, it also means that he was vulnerable to being trapped into saying something that wasn’t strictly the truth. Once I see a copy of the police report, we’ll know if that’s the case.”
Alan felt a chill. “Do you think that the Lyntons have made Troy say something that isn’t true to get Peter into trouble?”
“Unlikely. If they were going to do that, they would’ve targeted you, not Peter. You’re the registered guardian, and if you were being investigated on child-molestation charges, the Lyntons would’ve had a chance to be granted custody of the boys despite what they’ve done.” Helen pursed her lips again. “What I think is more likely is that there has been some incident, probably innocuous, that the Lyntons have tried to build on and then coached Troy to make it sound worse than it really is. Can you think of any incident that would fit that scenario?”
“No.” Alan thought for a moment. “Both of us have helped the boys with their baths at times. Could that be it?”
Helen made a face. “Let’s hope so, because that’s something that would be easy to get thrown out, but I doubt it. If that’s what the accusation is based on, the Lyntons would’ve gone after you, not your partner.”
The two continued to talk until Alan’s appointment was over. Helen promised him that she would work to ensure the best possible outcome for Peter, but that didn’t make him feel any better. The way she was careful not to say she would get Peter off worried him. With a child-molestation charge hanging over Peter’s head, Alan knew that this could affect the rest of Peter’s life.
* * *
Helen stared down at the policeman at the front desk. “Helen Chambers and Peter O’Gorman to see Detective Sergeant Greg Collins. He’s expecting us.”
“Just one moment.” The policeman picked up the phone and started to speak in a low voice.
Helen turned to Peter. “This shouldn’t take too long, but you never know. It’s just as well you’ve been given leave from your employment.”
Peter nodded. He had gone to see the lawyer for his lunchtime appointment, but with the information she had already gathered by the time he arrived, it quickly became apparent that a trip to the police station was in order. Helen hadn’t wasted time and had organised it while Peter waited.
Greg Collins entered the foyer area through the secure door next to the reception desk. “Ms. Chambers, Mr. O’Gorman, please come this way. I’ve reserved Conference Room C for the next hour.”
“It shouldn’t take that long,” Helen said in a frosty tone.
“It mightn’t, but it’s better to have it booked for too long than not long enough.” The detective smiled. “I’m also hoping it won’t take that long.”
Once they were in the conference room, Helen wasted no time. “According to the information I’ve received, all you have is the unsubstantiated statement from a six-year-old boy with no collaborating evidence of any illegal conduct. Given that prior to the statement Troy Lynton was being held illegally by two people who have previously indicated homophobia towards my client and his partner, there are strong grounds to believe that his statement has been unduly influenced.”
Greg Collins stared impassively back across the table. “We are aware of that possibility, which is why your client is not currently under arrest.”
“And he shouldn’t be.” Helen pulled a stapled set of three sheets of paper from her briefcase and placed them in front of the detective. “After we were informed of the details of the accusation—something that should’ve been done Saturday night when you were interviewing my client—my client has prepared a statement. It explains what happened on Friday morning—and why. As you’ll see, it was a completely innocuous occurrence.”
Peter fidgeted in his chair while the detective read the statement. Until Helen had told him earlier that day that he was being accused of molesting Troy on Friday morning before taking the boy to school, he had forgotten about the incident while getting Troy dressed. He still had trouble understanding how accidentally getting the zipper caught on Troy’s briefs could be taken as sexual abuse.
Detective Sergeant Greg Collins placed the statement back onto the conference-room table. He stared at Peter first and then Helen. “I’m going to need to get this story confirmed.”
“Of course.” Helen’s smile was professional. “If you have someone neutral interview Troy, armed with the content of that statement so they know what questions to ask, I’m confident he’ll confirm the details.”
Greg Collins rose. “Can you please wait here? I need to make some phone calls.”
Helen nodded her acceptance. Once the detective was gone, she smiled warmly at Peter. “I don’t believe it’ll be much longer. Unless they find something incriminating on your computer or phone, a new interview with Troy should clear you.” Her smile faded. “However, we need to ensure they do that interview as soon as possible. The longer it takes, the higher the probability that Troy’s memory of the incident will fade. He’s your only witness as to what really happened.”
Peter sighed and dropped his head. The nightmare was continuing, though Helen gave him hope that it would soon be over.
* * *
Keidan looked up as Peter entered the apartment. “G’day! Your text said things went well with the lawyer.”
Peter dropped into the nearest chair. “It did, though things could’ve gone better.”
Keidan frowned. He didn’t like the despondent tone he was hearing. “Care for a beer?” he asked as he clambered off the couch.
“Yeah, that’ll be perfect.” Peter brought both hands up and covered both eyes with his palms. “Fuck, I really need a drink.”
A minute later, the two were sipping from their open cans. “Where’s Steve?” Peter asked.
“He won’t be here for another thirty minutes or so. He goes to the gym on the way home on Monday nights.”
Peter grunted and then sighed, his shoulders slumping.
“What happened?” Keidan asked after a short mental debate as to whether to wait for his boyfriend before starting the interrogation. He decided that it would be better for Peter to get whatever it was off his chest as soon as possible.
Peter took a deep breath. “After talking to Troy again, the police have said that they’re not going to charge me. I’m free, and I’ll be staying that way. They also rang my boss for me, and so I’ll be back at work tomorrow.” He raised his beer can. “Hip, hip, and fucking hooray.”
Keidan winced at the complete lack of joy in Peter’s salute. “Something’s still wrong, though. What is it?”
Peter took a large swig from his can and then let out another heavy sigh. “Despite the police clearing me, the child-protection order is still in place. I can’t be with Alan if the boys are there.”
“Yeah, but that’s going to be fixed, right?” Keidan felt a chill when Peter just gave him a blank stare. “They’re going to fix it, aren’t they? It’s not fair if you’ve been cleared that you’re still considered a risk to the boys.”
“Tell me about it.” Peter closed his eyes for a moment and then gave Keidan a sardonic smile. “But to fix it, I have to go to court. They’ve told me that won’t be for another two weeks.” He looked at his can and then sculled the remaining beer. “Two…fucking…weeks…and even then, there’s no guarantee the order will be lifted. I was told that the Children’s Court doesn’t require the same level of proof as the criminal courts, so even though I’ve been cleared, if they think I’m a risk, they’ll make sure I still have to keep away.”
Keidan immediately put his can down and moved over to put an arm around Peter’s shoulders. “You’re not a risk! As soon as they realise that, you’ll be back with Alan. Just be patient.”
Keidan was hoping what he said was true. He was worried that the mere accusation, even though it didn’t lead to any charges being laid, might be enough for the court to keep the child-protection order in place.
Copyright Notice - Copyright ©February 2017 by Graeme.
The author copyrights this story and retains all rights. This work may not be duplicated in any form -- physical, electronic, audio, or otherwise -- without the author's express permission. All applicable copyright laws apply.
Disclaimer: All individuals depicted are fictional, and any resemblance to real persons is purely coincidental.
I would like to thank C James for providing feedback on the early drafts, and rec for his invaluable editing. I would also like to thank Ricky for that crucial final review before publication.