On Saturday, 20 December, Brandon packed his boys, Daniel and Colby, into the Cadillac which had belonged to his father, and drove out to one of the malls. He gave Daniel and Colby each $200 so they could buy little presents for those they wanted to remember on Christmas. He told them it was a reward for being good the past month, especially during the Christmas Tour of Homes, and cooperating with the home schooling program Brandon had established. The Christmas Tour of Homes was a fundraising project of the Old University Neighborhood Preservation and Renovation Association (OUNPRA), during which three homes in the area are decorated early for Christmas, and tours are conducted on the first weekend in December. This year, the home shared by Brandon and Chris, and now also by Daniel and Colby, was one of the three chosen. The boys had been very helpful in acting as docents, putting up with silly or inane comments, and telling visitors about the decorations and the mementos from Brandon’s acting career and Chris’s horse shows on display. And they did it without making derogatory comments. As to their schooling, as anticipated, both boys were way behind their ideal age level, but, while not geniuses in disguise, they were also not stupid. Brandon listened with close attention to Zip’s account of his efforts years before with other boys in similar circumstances, and borrowed a lot from those experiences. At this point, while he was still establishing some level of trust with the boys, he decided to do all the teaching himself, with the aid of the computer, but eventually he would also call on the expertise of friends.
They had an enjoyable time at the mall, with the boys getting carefully selected gifts for those who had been good to them over the past month, and for each other. There was a lot of playing around about keeping their gifts to each other a secret. Finally, they all exited the stores, and came back to the car in the lot. They were putting their purchases in the trunk, and squabbling in a friendly manner over who was sitting where, when their attention was captured by a shout and then the sight of a boy running towards them.
When the boy passed under a light, Daniel recognized him. “That’s Bobby!” he declared. As the boy came near the car, Daniel called, “Over here, Bobby! Quick!”
The boy swerved in their direction. As he approached the car, Daniel caught him and shoved him in the back seat. “Get on the floor,” he ordered.
Bobby was barely inside when a mall guard came running by. “Did you see which direction a boy went running?” he puffed.
“That way,” Colby yelled, pointing across the parking lot.
“Damn!” the guard muttered, and ran in the direction indicated.
Brandon, Daniel, and Colby got in the car, with Daniel in the back with Bobby, and they pulled out, heading back home.
When they were a couple of blocks away from the mall, Brandon asked, “Do you mind telling me what’s going on?”
“Bobby’s kind of a friend of ours. We knew him when we were on the streets. He’s a good guy, and it kind of looked like he needed help. What’s up, Bobby?” Daniel responded from the rear.
A younger voice replied, “It’s been hell out there. Not to go into a lot of detail, I got beat up and robbed last night, so I had no money at all. I just kind of helped myself to a burger, but the owner objected to helping out a poor starving kid, so I had to hoof it. Thanks for the rescue. I think I could have outrun that cop, but I sure don’t object to a ride in a luxury limousine. You guys look a lot better than the last time I saw you.”
“Yeah. We ran into some great luck about a month ago. But you look worse than usual. I believe the getting beat up part for sure,” Daniel commented. “Besides, you stink something awful.”
Brandon, driving, chuckled. “No worse than you did when I first met you, Daniel.”
“Absolutely,” he insisted.
“Mind telling me where we’re going?” Bobby asked.
“This dude,” Colby said, indicating Brandon, “has a killer house in town, and we’ve been living there for the past month. That’s where we’re headed now.”
With some trepidation in his voice, Bobby replied, “I’ve heard about those places. Maybe you’d better let me out here.”
“No, man. Nothing like that, believe me. The only person I’ve made it with this whole month is Colby,” Daniel assured him. “Brandon – that’s this dude – and his partner Chris are just good guys. I promise.”
“Okay, if you say so,” a still cautious Bobby acquiesced.
“It’s good for you to be cautious, Bobby. Like Daniel said, we won’t make you do anything you don’t want to. Well,” he chuckled, “except mucking out stables and school work.”
That led to some talk about what mucking out stables involved, and by the time that was resolved, they were back to the Dowling home. Entering through the rear, Brandon introduced Bobby to Aunt Luisa, and told her he would be there for dinner.
“Goodness! Another dirty boy! No supper until you clean up,” she declared.
“About the same thing she said to me,” Daniel laughed.
“And you were just as dirty and smelly as this one,” Aunt Luisa firmly stated.
They took Bobby upstairs, and introduced him to the guest shower. While he showered, Colby took his clothing downstairs to be laundered, while Daniel remained in the bathroom talking to the newcomer, telling him about the life he and Colby had been leading for the past month.
“Do you think maybe there’s room for me here, too?” Bobby asked.
“I don’t know. I have no idea how long Colby and I will be here, or where this will all lead. But maybe. The way they operate, they get you all feeling good with a killer supper, and then after they start questioning you, so just be prepared. Based on what’s happened to us so far, I suggest that you be honest, and if they ask you something you don’t want to answer, just say so.”
“Simple as that?” an incredulous Bobby asked.
“So far, anyway, and, as I said, it’s been a month,” Daniel confirmed.
“Who’s the ‘they’ you talked about?”
“Brandon has a partner named Chris. He’s something else. I don’t know whether he’ll be around or not. Earlier today he took off for a Farm these guys have. He rides horses. Can you believe it, Colby and me rode horses!”
The shower finally stopped. “I thought I would never get the water to run clean. My hair must have been really filthy,” Bobby said as he stepped out of the shower. Then, noticing his clothes were gone, he exclaimed, “Hey! Where are my clothes?”
“Colby took them down to the basement to be washed. He should be back with something you can wear for now,” Daniel explained, as Bobby dried himself.
About that time, Colby returned. The boys had more than one change of clothes by this time, and their original ratty duds had been discarded. “I scrounged these things, but you’re a lot smaller than either of us, so they won’t fit very well,” he apologized.
“No problem for me, if it’s not for anyone else,” Bobby cooperatively asserted, as he donned the borrowed clothing.
As Daniel predicted, there was nothing said about the future until after a very satisfying dinner. Chris was not around, so that experience awaited the newcomer as yet. He was spending the night on the Farm. Then, Bobby was asked to step into the library. He looked apprehensive, so Brandon said Daniel and Colby could come, too.
“I’m guessing that Bobby is not your real name, just like with Daniel and Colby,” Brandon began.
“No, it really is my name,” Bobby dissented. “Well, I guess on my birth certificate it’s Robert. Robert Lee Ackerman, to be exact.”
“You’re a lot more forthcoming than these two,” Brandon chuckled. “It took me four days to get that much information out of them.”
“We didn’t have someone like us to tell us it was safe,” Daniel responded.
“Good point,” Brandon agreed. “Now, Bobby, will you tell me how old you are?”
“Just twelve! Wow! You’ve had a rough start. When’s your birthday?” Brandon continued.
“Be careful,” Colby cautioned, “if he finds out too much, you’ll have to do school work like Daniel and me.”
That brought mild laughter from the others.
“My birthday is 7 March. I was born in 1996,” Bobby answered Brandon’s question.
“Colby is right. I’m gathering information I need to begin home schooling. But maybe I’m going too fast,” Brandon said. “Let me ask you this: would you like to live here for a while, along with Daniel and Colby?”
“What do I have to do?” Bobby asked.
“Tell him,” Brandon addressed the two older boys.
“Tell the truth. Don’t cause Aunt Luisa any grief,” Daniel contributed.
“Basically, don’t cause any trouble. Oh, and if you use bad language around her, Aunt Luisa will wash your mouth out with soap,” Colby said, making a face which indicated he had that experience and did not enjoy it.
“The voice of experience,” Brandon confirmed the impression.
“Get along with the other people here. And sort of keep things private. Not a good idea to go around telling everyone you’re living here, as that might get back to the Welfare people and cause trouble,” Daniel said.
“And muck out stables,” Colby laughed.
“No sex?” Bobby asked.
“Colby and I have sex with each other, and nobody gets bent out of shape by that. Of course, we keep it in our room. But I know what you mean. No, you won’t be asked to provide sex for anyone. Brandon told us on the first day, nobody is to be pressured into anything he doesn’t want to do,” Daniel assured him.
“Oh, one other thing,” Colby said. “We go to the Catholic church on Sundays. Daniel was raised Catholic, and he went and confessed to a priest, and now he goes to communion, but I’m not Catholic, so I just go as a visitor each time. But Brandon said we don’t have to go if we don’t want to.”
“I guess I’m a nothing,” Bobby said. “Never went to church that I can remember.”
“That’s okay,” Brandon said. “Like Colby said, you don’t have to go with us. Why not give it a try tomorrow morning, and then decide what you want to do from then on?”
“Okay,” Bobby agreed.
“Then, to get back to my earlier question, will you stay with us for a while?” Brandon reiterated.
“Sure. This sounds like a good place to me,” Bobby replied.
“Okay, so tell me how you came to be on the streets,” Brandon requested.
“I don’t know where I was born. As far back as I can remember, my mom and my uncle traveled around all the time, first one place, then another. I remember being in Chicago for a while, and in Indianapolis for a while, and Seymour, and Terre Haute, and Dayton, and, I think, Cincinnati. I don’t know what they were doing, but I think it was something illegal. When I was eight, my mom died. I don’t know what the cause was, but she went into some kind of seizure, and then just died. My Uncle Ralph got real upset about that, and left her on the roadside and drove off. I didn’t like that at all. A day or two later, I’m not real clear, cause I was upset about my mom, he took me to a park in Indianapolis, then left me there. I never seen him again. That’s when I started to live on the streets. Some guy told me he would help me, but he kept me locked up, and pimped me out to older guys, so after a while, I ran away from there. That’s when I ended up in Clifton. I kind of helped myself to some of the pimp’s money, and bought a bus ticket to the farthest place the money would take me, after I spent some of it on lunch. I been here maybe two years,” Bobby recited.
“Gee, Bobby, you have had a rough time. Let’s see whether we can’t make the next times better,” Brandon said seriously.
“I could do with that,” Bobby grinned.
Bobby did not know about a Social Security number, but since they issued them to everyone at birth these days, Brandon knew he could probably get one by calling again on his father-in-law. Bobby was assigned his own room, which he did not object to at all. He told Brandon he put out because he had to, but he was not gay. Brandon assured him, once again, he would not have to engage in sex with anyone he did not want to, male or female. And so it was that Brandon’s Boys expanded.