By the time Bruiser and Rapper were settled at Brandon’s Boys, it was time for the new school year to get started. Brandon had been working with the boys since they came to live at his place, beginning with Daniel and Colby last fall, almost a year ago. Not surprisingly, each of the boys was behind where he ideally should be when he first came to Brandon. The most behind was Mike, who had never been to school. Fortunately, he was intelligent, and actually liked learning things. Brandon had called on some friends, who helped with the tutoring, and thought he had things pretty much under control when he left on the European River Cruise at the beginning of August. Then, while he was away, Lamar arranged for two new boys to join the group.
Technically, Rapper and Bruiser had been in school last year. As their grandmother could not afford the Catholic schools, and none of the rest of the family was willing to take them on, they were registered at the closest public school. As this was a school in a poor black neighborhood, it had lots of bells and whistles to show off for the press or the Councilman’s newsletter, but very little substantive attention to learning. When tested, they, too were below where they should be, but not as much as some of the others.
Brandon made it clear that all the boys would attend school, every day, no skipping, unless genuinely sick, at which they would be taken to see a doctor. He did not want goofing off. The high school boys would be at Baltimore, and the grade school boys at St. Rose. According to their birthdates, Daniel and Colby should be juniors, and Rapper a sophomore. Bobby should be in the eighth grade, Bruiser in the seventh, and Mike in the fifth. They were all registered and had attended a week of classes by the time Brandon returned to Clifton on 22 August. He found the boys in full rebellion. They were hopelessly out of their depths in the grade with their age group, even Daniel and Colby. They even muttered about leaving.
And so it was that on Sunday afternoon they all gathered for a group discussion. Brandon apologized, which got the meeting off to a good start. “I intended to take care of this before I left, but I guess I got caught up in packing and everything and neglected you guys. I know you’re not ready to work at your age level yet.”
“So, you went off on a jaunt, enjoying yourself, and abandoned us boys to the horrors of a week in hell,” Bobby accused him.
“Kind of looks like it. And I apologize. What can I do to make it up with you?” Brandon asked.
“No school!” several guys yelled.
“Not an option,” Brandon replied. “So, we’ll put off the compensation until later. Now, let’s talk about what we can do about school.”
There was a lot of talk, most of it complaining about not understanding what the teachers were talking about, and not being able to do the assignments. There were also comments about being made fun of by fellow students when they failed to understand a question from the teacher.
“How much teasing can you guys stomach?” Brandon asked.
“I had enough to last me the rest of my life,” Rapper insisted.
“Even if it gets you through school easier?” Brandon put it to them.
“How can being teased more get us through school?” Colby asked.
“What I have in mind, and what I intended from the beginning, was to start you guys one grade below your age level. I think, with some work on your part, you can do that. But I screwed up, and now you’ve put in a week already, so there might be some teasing from kids in your present grades if you drop back one,” Brandon explained.
There was an uneasy silence for a couple of minutes following this suggestion. It was Mike, the youngest of the bunch, who broke the logjam.
“Hell, I don’t care what those bozos in the fifth grade think. And the ones in the fourth grade haven’t met me yet. I’m for it.”
The other guys fell into line. And so it was decided, after a good deal more discussion, that on Monday Brandon would accompany the boys who went to Baltimore and see to the grade change, while Mrs. Sandy Todd (who was a member of the Parish Council and well known at St. Rose) would accompany the boys to the elementary school and see about the same changes.
But before they broke up, the boys insisted on discussing the compensation, or what they called Brandon’s punishment. This is where the visits to the World Championship Horse Show on Wednesday evening, and the Centerline Dressage Classic over the weekend, came into play. But that was only part of the deal. They got taken out to ZeeZee’s Pizzeria for dinner once that week, and each boy got a personal gift. It might be an item of clothing, a video game, or something similar. For Rapper and Bruiser, it was cell phones, as the other boys already had those devices. And so, satisfied with their deal, everyone was happy when they broke up. When they met again on Monday, August 31, after their return from Springfield, they expressed their satisfaction with the new arrangements.
As Bobby put it, “I never expected school to be easy, but what we had was impossible. This I can do.”
Brandon’s Boys, Inc.
Brandon’s Boys, Inc. was now a legal non-profit corporation, able to received gifts, charged with the governance of the group home at 1322 S. Chestnut for abused and abandoned boys. The house was transferred to the ownership of the corporation from Brandon’s personal ownership. Also, an endowment of a million dollars was set up, invested with Holloway & Lynn under the supervision of Ted Williams, a Todd cousin. The agency was governed by a board of six, consisting of Brandon Dowling (Chairman), Josh Castleman (physician), Anjali Pennington (lawyer), Ben Spalding (psychologist), Lamar Todd (priest), and Nathan Winter (policeman). Most of the Board was male because Brandon thought the boys would trust other males more readily, but Anjali was included because of her specialization in family law. Everything was checked for legality, and authorized by the Clifton Bureau of Child Welfare in the Department of Public Welfare.
Brandon had each member of the Board speak to the boys on an evening during the fall. This was not quite as impressive as having the Mayor, Senator Seagraves, or Captain Hernandez visit, but it was even more important, as these people would be regularly involved in decisions which affected the boys, so it was important that the boys trust them. When Rapper asked why a policeman, Brandon told him he was going to be dealing with the legal system all his life. Anjali Pennington was one side of that, but the police were another, so it was best that he get comfortable with having police around. Rapper griped, but when Nathan came, he won over even the ‘hardened criminal.’
Because of long-standing connections with the Todd circle, Brandon was also able to get some additional public figures to visit for an evening. Eugene Aubrey, Chief Magistrate of Madison County; Tim McQuaid, member of the County Court; Leonard Fenwick, Judge of the Chancery Court; Stephanie Williams, Director of Child Welfare; Joshua Harvey, Pastor of St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church; Michael Endicott, Director of Madison Forest; Matt Simmons, Commander of the JROTC battalion at Baltimore, and Peter Morin, Commander of the ROTC battalion at the University, together. Matt and Peter came in uniform, which impressed the boys, although they joked that they came together for safety sake. In this manner, not only did the boys learn about many public institutions they would encounter in life, but they began to feel comfortable dealing with such agencies as well.
There was always the possibility of an expansion of Brandon’s Boys. As Brandon told the original four when they talked about taking up residence at 1322, they were not the only boys on the streets. The next addition came in October.
It was two days before Hallowe’en, always a tense time for the police, as it provided many opportunities for the ill-intentioned to take advantage of the celebrations of others to do mischief. Nathan Winter was on patrol in the Berlin neighborhood, located to the northeast of the Neighborhood, and surrounding St. Boniface Church. He was attracted to shouts coming from an alley, and just turned into it when he was run into by a boy in a hurry. Nathan latched on to the boy, who struggled until he saw Nathan’s uniform.
“Shit! Just my luck! I run into a copper.” the boy proclaimed, as a panting man in an apron ran up.
“What seems to be the problem here?” Nathan asked.
“I found that boy rummaging through our disposal bin, and scattering garbage all over the place,” the man accused.
“What do you say to that?” Nathan asked the boy in his grips.
“Uh, it was just some other boy who looks like me?” the boy joked, knowing he had no defense.
“Uh, huh,” Nathan said. “I think a little repair work needs to be done.” He walked the boy, accompanied by the man in the apron, back down the alley, to where there were bits and pieces of trash and garbage scattered on the ground. “You,” Nathan said to the boy, “will pick up every bit of this garbage and put it in the containers in the bin.” To the man he said, “Can you supply some garbage bags? It looks like some of these are split open.”
“Yeah, sure,” the man said, and disappeared into the restaurant rear door, and returned in only a minute with a handful of garbage bags.
“You have a men’s room inside, I guess?” Nathan asked.
“Sure,” the man said.
“When he finishes, I’ll want him to wash his hands. Do you want us to come through the front or the back?” Nathan enquired.
Looking at the scruffy boy, the man said, “Back. Just let me know, so he doesn’t touch anything in the kitchen.”
So the man went back inside, and Nathan supervised as the boy picked up all kinds of trash and garbage, including some pretty disgusting stuff.
“Why were you going through the garbage?” Nathan asked while observing the boy work.
“Because I just love the smell of rotting food,” the boy insouciantly replied.
“Had lunch today?” Nathan asked.
“Sure. I dined at the Madison Country Club with my buddies,” came the answer.
“What’s your name?”
“Little Lord Fauntleroy VI.”
Nathan smiled. He liked the boy’s spirit. So he gave the question of what he should do with him some thought as he watched him work. When the boy had cleaned up the area, probably better than it had been in weeks, they went in through the back, and he washed up in the men’s room. But Nathan got the distinct impression he would not be welcome as a customer, and Nathan was on patrol. He called in, asking for a half hour personal time. When the boy came out of the restroom, marginally cleaner, Nathan accompanied him to his patrol car. Nathan frequently parked his car and walked around the neighborhood, which he felt gave him a better rapport with the people he was supposed to be serving.
“I can put you in the back, where the doors lock and the windows don’t open, or you can ride up front with me if you promise not to try anything stupid,” Nathan put it to him.
“Front,” the boy said.
Instead of going to the police station, Nathan drove to Brandon’s Boys. It was about 2:00 on a Thursday afternoon, so the boys were all at school for another hour. But Nathan called ahead, and had Ben Spalding there awaiting them along with Aunt Barbara, and Brandon was on his way in from the Farm.
“What’s going on?” the boy asked.
“I have to get back to work,” Nathan said. “But I think you might profit more from Brandon’s Boys than from juvenile detention. What do you think?” Nathan said.
The boy grinned. “I’ve been in juvie. It didn’t do me any good at all. Let’s see what this place can do.”
So Nathan left the as yet nameless boy in the hands of Ben Spalding, the Psychologist, and Aunt Barbara, the housekeeper. The first thing they did was send him into the shower, telling him to wash thoroughly and shampoo his hair. While he was in there, his clothes were taken to the laundry room, while others were scrounged from the belongings of the boys. When he emerged, a little surprised to find clean clothes awaiting him, along with everything from his pockets, he was fed. He had been scrounging in the dumpster because he was hungry, of course, so he very much appreciated that. Until he finished a generous lunch, Ben, who had a few hours free from obligations at his office, simply sat and talked to the boy about Brandon’s Boys. They were still talking in the breakfast room when Brandon arrived.
“Ah, and here is Brandon himself,” Ben said.
“I see you’re feeding the boy. Much more effective than the third degree to get boys to talk,” Brandon kidded. Turning toward the boy, Brandon said, “I was told by Nathan that your name is Little Lord Fauntleroy. Do you want me to call you Little or Lord or Fauntleroy?”
The boy grinned. “You can call me Lord if you like.”
“Okay, Lord. It looks like you’ve finished your lunch. Let’s go into the library,” Brandon said.
“Is that anything like the interrogation room?” the boy asked.
“Yep,” Brandon replied.
The library at 1322 Chestnut featured a row of computers along one wall, and shelves of school books and the Encyclopedia Britannica, as well as some leisure reading for the boys. There were also some comfortable chairs, where boys actually sat and read in the evening, at least some of the time. The three took the chairs, but before they could get down to business, there was an uproar as three boys burst through the doors. As they had been taught, before heading to the breakfast room for after school snacks, they brought their book bags to the library. There, of course, they encountered Brandon, Ben, and ‘Lord,’ and those three encountered Daniel, Colby, and Rapper.
There was a moment of silence when the two groups collided. Then Daniel yelled, “Gene! Great to see you! Are you joining us here?”
“Oh, so Little Lord Fauntleroy is named Gene, is he?” Brandon grinned.
“Oops. Did I say something I shouldn’t?” Daniel wondered.
Brandon laughed. “Who you? You’d never do anything like that,” he commented in a teasing voice.
Daniel blushed. “Sorry, but, well, are you joining us?”
“That remains to be seen,” Gene said.
“I think things will go better if we leave Little Lord Fauntleroy alone with Daniel, Colby and Rapper for a few minutes. What do you think, Ben?” Brandon posed to his partner.
“Seems like a good idea,” Ben replied, and so the two men left the teenagers to their own devices for about fifteen minutes.
They were actually in the little used parlor sipping Bourbon when Daniel appeared, saying, “I think Gene is ready to talk to you guys.”
“Thanks, Daniel. I knew I could count on you guys,” Brandon said.
“Even when I do spout off too much?”
“Yeah, even then.”
Brandon and Ben returned to the library. By this time, the St. Rose contingent had arrived, and could be heard in the breakfast room. Diplomatically, Colby said, “It sounds like the juniors are getting all the goodies. I think we need to go defend our interests.” And so Daniel, Colby, and Rapper departed for the breakfast room.
“So,” Brandon began, “you know some of our boys, do you?”
“Yeah. I know Daniel and Colby. We went through a couple of rough times together. They said I can trust you guys, and what Dr. Spalding here told me before you arrived about this place sounds great. Any chance I can be a part of it?”
“That depends,” Brandon said. “First of all, if you are going to be accepted, you have to answer some questions, and I mean truthfully.”
“Yeah. They told me that.”
“Okay, first question: have you committed a felony offense,” Brandon asked.
“What’s that?” the boy asked.
“Really serious things, like murder, rape, major robbery, things like that,” Brandon informed him.
“Then I can truthfully say ‘no.’ Not that I have been a perfect angel,” the boy replied.
Brandon smiled, “I didn’t think you had. After all, Nathan Winter brought you here.”
“That’s the cop, right?”
“Yes. But he’s also a member of the Board here, and so is Dr. Spalding, and so am I,” Brandon informed him.
“So I got brought here, and showered and fed, instead of being taken down to juvie. For a change, I lucked out,” Gene said.
“Well, there are more questions, but if you’ve answered that one honestly, I think we can work out anything else,” Brandon said. “Let’s see. How about your real name?”
Gene reached into his pocket and withdrew his wallet. “You mean you guys didn’t go through my wallet while I was in the shower?”
“We did not,” Ben assured him. He gave little chuckle. “We kind of figured you’d open up anyway once you learned what we were all about. And it’s much better this way. After all, we do want to establish trust.”
“Makes sense,” Gene said, and handed his wallet to Brandon.
Brandon extracted a student identification card from Baltimore High, to his surprise. It featured a photograph, which was about a year old, but was undeniably of the boy sitting before him. The card identified the boy as Eugene Frederick Hillebrand, age 16, a member of the junior class. That caused Brandon to look surprised, and he passed it on the Ben without a word. Ben, too, looked surprised.
“What?” Gene asked, afraid something was screwing up his chances to stay here.
“I admit you have surprised us, Gene. Assuming this card is valid, you’re a Hillebrand. I’m acquainted with some of that family,” Brandon said.
“Oh shit! Not my fucking father!” Gene looked worried.
“No. I don’t think I’ve ever met your father. But I am acquainted with Frank Hillebrand, and with his mother, who is now Gertrude Logan, and his young nephew, Rocco. Also with Carl Hillebrand, now a student at the University, and his mother Theresa, now Mrs. Tremoyne,” Brandon enumerated. “Why don’t you tell us about your father? I think that might also answer the question about how you came to be on the streets as well.”
“Right. Okay. My dad is Fred Hillebrand. Frederick Anthony, if you want to look him up. He’s something like a Nazi Storm Trooper. I mean, it’s all orders and do things by the books. His books. Among his other attractive features, Fred Hillebrand is a fucking homophobe, and I’m gay. From what Daniel and Colby tell me, that won’t torpedo my chances here.”
“No. Daniel and Colby are correct. We do not subscribe to that particular prejudice,” Brandon announced in terms which made both Ben and Gene smile.
“Well, my dad does. Big time. I knew that all along, so when I decided I was gay, a few years ago, I did all I could to hide this from my family. But,” he sighed, “I guess truth will out. One day I was minding my own business, out at the mall on Brighton Pike, with a ... ahem ... a friend of mine. We were arm in arm, and stopped for just a friendly kiss, when who should show up towering over us, yelling at the top of his lungs, but my dad. To make a long and not very interesting story shorter, he told me not to come home, he disinherited me, and he no longer recognized me as his son. Security came and escorted Dad out, as he was making such a ruckus. But, when I tried to get back home, I found that he meant it. I drove up after dropping my friend off, and Dad met me at the door with a shotgun. A shotgun! I ask you! I was turned away, and that was that. I did have my car, but I sold that, as I needed cash to live. All this was in September of 2008, so the money from my car has long since disappeared. I know, I haven’t had it as hard as some. Probably not as hard as Daniel and Colby. But I really did not look forward to another winter on my own,” Gene brought his narrative to an end.
“Thanks, Gene. It’s a shame that more people don’t face the reality that being gay is a natural condition, but I know the reality. A few more questions,” Brandon said. “Your birthday on this card is February 10, 1992. Is that correct?”
“Yes, Sir. Everything on that card is correct, except that it’s over a year old. I got it when I started my junior year, and I got tossed out about a month later. I actually tried to continue in school for a week or so, but it just didn’t work,”Gene affirmed.
“Are you willing to suffer the humiliation of going back to school at Baltimore?” Brandon asked.
Gene got a smile on his face which indicated he was up to something. “I’d like nothing more. There are a few people whose faces I’d like to see if I show up there. I couldn’t be a senior and graduate this year, like I should, since I was out for a year, but yeah, I’d like that.”
“Then that’s what we’ll do,” Brandon promised. “One more thing. Most of us here are Catholic. After your experiences, how are you set with the Church?”
“I honestly don’t know,” Gene said with all seriousness. “I tried my home parish after I got kicked out, and all the pastor there said was that I should patch things up with Dad. Fat chance. I liked Father Hoff at school. I think I still believe, at least in the essentials. Would any parish want me, now that I’m out as gay?”
“Yes. Assuming you don’t act out every chance you get, you’ll be welcome at St. Rose, where we attend. And Peter Hoff is an assistant there, as well as continuing at Baltimore. Would you like to talk to him?” Brandon asked.
Gene took a couple of minutes to respond. “You’re gay, right?”
“Yes,” Brandon replied.
“And you too?’ he asked Ben.”
“Yes, I am,” Ben replied.
“And you both attend at St. Rose?”
“We both do,” Brandon said. “And there’s something else for you to consider. I usually don’t approve of outing other gays, but under the circumstances I think this is justified. The policeman who brought you here is Nathan Winter. His partner is Frank Hillebrand.”
“His partner? Hillebrand?” Gene wondered.
“Yes, and the Carl Hillebrand I mentioned is also gay,” Brandon revealed. “And all of them attend at St. Rose.”
“Then, it’s practically the family parish,” Gene brightened. “Okay, I’m on. What’s next?”
“Usually, we have a new boy visit a physician, just to prevent any spreading of disease. Let’s see who’s available,” Brandon said, glancing at his watch, and calling Todd Medical Clinic.
He was told that Dr. Castleman senior and junior, and Dr. Seagraves were still at the clinic, so Brandon asked to speak to Josh Castleman, as he was a member of the Board of Brandon’s Boys. He explained the situation, and Josh agreed to delay his departure until he had seen Gene. Consequently, they left right away, so as not to inconvenience Dr. Castleman junior any more than necessary. This necessitated Gene admitting he had sold himself for sex when he got desperate for cash, but only over the past few months. Brandon reminded him that only one time unprotected could have dire consequences. Ben took the opportunity to go home.
On the way to the Clinic, Gene said to Brandon, “You know, I recognized you as soon as you came in this afternoon. You spoke to an assembly at school during my freshman year. That was one of the events which convinced me I really was gay.”
Brandon grinned. “Then I guess I have to take some responsibility for you, don’t I?”
“Seems like it,” the cheeky boy replied.
Gene was given a thorough physical examination, and told to come back on Tuesday for the results of the blood test. He was in better shape than most street kids, but still had some problems, but they could easily be corrected with exercise, regular diet, and regular bathing. By the time they left the Clinic, it was nearly dinner time, so they returned to the house. Brandon accompanied Gene to the rec room, where he announced that Gene would be joining them. There was a warm welcoming from the other boys, including the three elementary school kids he had not yet met. Claiming the need for a period of rest after dealing with boys, Brandon departed to his own place next door, while the boys talked and played video games until dinner time.
A little before eight, Brandon called over and asked to speak to Gene. When the newcomer answered, he asked, “Are you ready to talk to Father Hoff?”
“Now?” Gene asked.
“Yeah. He came to dinner over at Todd House, and was told about your appearance on the scene, so he’s available if you’re ready,” Brandon said.
“Todd House? Never mind.” He took a deep breath. “Yeah, I’m ready.”
“Okay. It’s probably too noisy over there, so come over here,” Brandon said. “Just next door, where I live, blissfully free of the doings of teenage boys.”
“Yeah, right,” Gene expressed his opinion. But he went next door, where he was left with Peter Hoff in the library. They spent over an hour, but when it was over, Gene had confessed, and was ready for Mass on Sunday at St. Rose.
On Friday morning, Brandon accompanied Gene to Baltimore High, where he was re-enrolled as a junior, more or less picking up where he left off after being kicked out of his home a year ago. Before the day was over, he had the satisfaction of confronting two of the guys who had made things unpleasant last year. His teachers included Father Hoff. It was too late for him to resume his activity with the soccer team, but he talked to Coach Roberts, and began working out with the team, intending to return in the spring. On Friday evening came the ritual trip to the mall, where Gene’s supply of clothing, toilet articles, and the like was considerably expanded. On Saturday afternoon, Gene participated with the other Brandon’s boys in an ad hoc soccer game in Mansfield Park.
Saturday evening was given over to Hallowe’en celebrations. The high school kids were invited to a party at the Kossakoff place on the Square on that evening. While a regular student Gene had envied those invited to the Neighborhood celebration, but now, as one of Brandon’s Boys, he was an invited guest. Of course, it was a costume affair, and everyone had costumes except Gene, but the others helped him improvise. Then, on Sunday the elementary school contingent had their party, after doing the usual thing of going from door to door the evening before trick or treating.
Before that, on Sunday morning, Gene attended Mass at St. Rose for the first time. It was not Father Hoff’s early Mass, as he went with everyone else to the 11:00 service. But he saw lots of kids he knew, and no one said anything nasty to him. He also appreciated the liturgy. Mike and Bobby were actually serving. The music was great. Father Harvey’s sermon was uplifting. He had no regrets about affiliating with this parish.
At Mass, Gene recognized Nathan Winter among the congregation. He also noted the man next to him. That must be his second cousin, Frank. After Mass, Nathan approached with Frank in tow. They greeted each other, with mutual excoriations of Gene’s father. Frank consoled him with the fact that his own father had been every bit as bad. Then, Carl Hillebrand was also introduced. Carl was only five years older than Gene, and was also a great soccer fan, so they had much in common. As a result of these meetings, Gene was invited to the home of Col. and Mrs. Tremoyne for Sunday dinner, which he gratefully accepted, after checking with Brandon.
Things were definitely getting better for the latest of Brandon’s Boys.