It had been a while since there had been any additions to Brandon’s Boys, but, since the facility was not part of a larger organization, new boys were added willy-nilly, as they happened to come into the sphere of Brandon, one of the boys, or someone else associated with the facility. The last new boy was Oliver, who had been brought to the attention of Brandon by his friend Ken van Meter, a social worker, because of his special circumstances, namely his refusal to identify himself. That was last fall, more than half a year ago, now. Meanwhile, Gene Hillebrand had put in a successful first year at the University, and had met a friend named Jack Young, who seemed like a good guy. Now, two more of Brandon’s Boys were graduating. In 2012, both Thomas Aquinas Eiden, the original Daniel, and his partner, Chester Everett Wallingford, known as Colby, graduated from Baltimore High. They were a year behind their age cohort, but were immensely grateful to be graduating at all. As Colby put it, “If it had not been for Brandon, by now we’d probably be either hopelessly addicted to something, or else dead.” Of course, Brandon would not simply turn the boys out on their own the day after graduation. Just as with Gene the year before, he made arrangements for them to board at the same rooming house as Gene, and they had jobs for the summer. Daniel wanted to be a science teacher at the secondary level, as he had enjoyed those classes more than any others at Baltimore, while Colby was more hands-on. Last summer, he worked with a master carpenter, and was fascinated at how he made pieces of wood into beautiful cabinets, woodwork, and other useful items. He wanted to do the same. So, this summer, while Daniel simply did manual labor for Harvey Brothers Construction, Colby would again be working with Adam Miller, the carpenter. In the fall, Daniel would enter the University, while Colby would begin classes at Madison Community College. But they would continue living at the same boarding house, and would continue as partners.
The next big event after Daniel and Colby’s graduation was Memorial Day. This was the respite before being condemned to a summer of hard labor, they groaned, along with all the other boys over 16. In the morning, there was a parade downtown honoring those who had served in the military, many of whom had lost their lives in the process. There were still a few World War II veterans, who always had a special place in the parade. They were the ones who had saved civilization from the most evil power the world had seen, as was clearly shown when such places as Dachau and Auschwitz were liberated. The cost had been horrendous, but it had been worth it, the alternative being a totally inhuman domination of the planet. It was a matter of interest to the boys when Gene, who was attending the parade with the other boys, told them that he learned in his history class that World War II was the last ‘legal’ war, in the sense that it was the last formally declared war in accordance with the provisions of the US Constitution, and was the last war which had almost complete popular support.
In the parade, too, the boys saw others whom they knew. There were kids in their classes in school who were in the Boy Scouts, or in the Children of the American Revolution. Then, the Marine JROTC battalion from Baltimore High marched by, and there was one of their own, Bobby, marching in his dress uniform, standing tall and proud. He grinned at his friends on the sidelines, but did not break step.
After the parade, Brandon and Chris and all the boys went out to a friend’s house where there was a swimming pool. Every Memorial Day and Labor Day, the Peake family hosted lots and lots of people at a pool party and cook-out. The father of the family, Tony Peake, who was also the head baseball coach at Baltimore High, gloried in his role as chef extraordinaire, and loved serving hamburgers, hotdogs, and chicken to all comers. The boys always had a good time, not only eating, but splashing about in the pool. There were too many people for any real swimming. They also liked spending time with their friends from school and elsewhere.
After being there about two hours, Leon decided he wanted to take a few pictures of his girlfriend, Anne Nicole, but he had left his phone in the van. Brandon had purchased a van for the time when all the boys wanted to go somewhere at once. So, Leon walked out to the street. As he did, he saw someone furtively ducking behind the van. It reminded him of his days on the streets, before he joined Brandon’s Boys. He quickly ducked back behind the house and recruited six of the boys who were at hand, plus two other guys who just happened to be available. They came back out front, and split into three groups, one going to the right, another to the left, and the third directly towards the van. As Leon, in the lead, rounded the van, he saw a boy trying to remove some stuff from the rear by way of a partially open window. He yelled, and the boy took off, but he was cornered by the boys who had gone to the right. After a brief struggle, the boy lay on his stomach on the ground, with Mike sitting on him, surrounded by the others.
“Okay,” Colby said, “what have we here? What’s your name, and what were you up to?”
The boy said nothing, but simply glared at them. He did not look happy, nor did he look ready to cooperate.
“I’ve seen this guy before,” Oliver said. “He’s the guy who swiped my hamburger when we were at the mall two weeks ago.”
“Told you not to leave anything unguarded,” Gene responded, but looked at the boy on the ground again. “Not the first time he swiped some food, I’ll bet. He looks kind of puny.”
“Now that you mention it, I’ve seen him before, too.” Trini Valderama said. Trini was one of the friends from school, and in the JROTC unit with Bobby. “And he wasn’t stealing food then. He was selling pot over on Lee Street after school, about a month ago.”
“Prove it,” the boy said, speaking for the first time since being captured.
“We don’t have to prove it,” Spencer said. “We’re not the cops, and we’re not a court. We’re just a bunch of boys who caught you trying to break into our van.”
“What’re you going to do, turn me over to the cops?” the boy asked.
“Much worse. We’re going to reform you,” Colby replied, to the laugher of the others. This caused the boy to look really worried, thinking they were going to do him serious harm. He began to squirm, but Bobby added his weight to Mike’s to keep him prone.
“Look, I’ve got some really good weed. You let me go, and I’ll give it to you,” the boy offered.
“Nothing doing. We might have taken you up on that before we encountered Brandon and Chris, but not now,” Colby said. He was the oldest boy there, and assumed the leadership position. He looked at the other boys. “What do you think? I suggest this guy needs to tell us his name, at least.”
“Right on,” several voices replied, but the boy got a stubborn look and remained silent.
“Okay, we’ll find out for ourselves,” Mike said, and reached into the rear pocket of the prone boy, where a bulge indicated a wallet. Sure enough, a shiny new looking wallet was extracted, despite the struggles of the boy. There was even a driver’s license in it, as well as a few dollars. The boys laughed at the driver’s license, which pictured a man with a mustache about 35 or 40 years old. But there was also another identification card which showed a younger and healthier version of the boy on the ground, identifying him as José Antonio Chavez.
When this was passed around among the boys, Oliver and Trini addressed the boy in Spanish. “If you will cooperate, you will really benefit from being captured,” Oliver told him. Trini said, “These guys won’t really hurt you. Just go along and see.” José was seen to relax a bit at that, but he was still wary, not really trusting his captors.
Nonetheless, under Cory’s leadership, they got him to his feet, and marched him across the street to the pool party.
“First things first,” Cody said. “This guy stinks. Let’s get him cleaned up.”
And so they took him into the Peake home, and into the bathroom, where he was told to strip and get in the shower. Cautiously, José did as he was told, having little choice in the matter. Mike then took his clothes, emptied the pockets, and headed off to the washing machine. Bobby ran out to the pool, and grabbed one of the spare pair of swimming trunks in the pool house. After a few minutes, the water was turned off, and José pulled back the curtain.
“Hey, where are my clothes?” he demanded.
“They stank as much as you. They’re being washed, too,” Colby told him. “Here’s your stuff.”
José looked over the pile of things from his pockets. Then he looked at Colby.
“Okay, not all your stuff,” Colby admitted. “We do not allow drugs anywhere in our homes, and that includes the Peake place here. Your pot has been confiscated. We’ll see what happens to that. Put on these trunks, and we’ll go feed you next.”
“Do I have to go out like this?” José asked.
He was pretty skinny, even emaciated looking.
“Rough time on the streets?” Spencer asked. “I can identify with that.”
“Yeah, Spencer looked even worse than you when we caught him and made him part of our group,” Mike grinned. “Here.”
With that, he took off his St. Rose t-shirt, and handed it to José. He looked pretty good in only his swim trunks. José immediately donned the t, and was escorted out to the grills, where he was treated to a choice of meals. José was really hungry, and so did not argue, just took what was handed him, sat at one of the tables, and ate.
While José was eating, Colby went looking for adult guidance. He could not find Brandon right away, so he asked Chris to join the group at the picnic table.
Chris popped up in his inimitable manner and sat across from José. “Well, well, well. What have we here? It’s been a while since we had a new recruit. What’s your name? How would you like to be adopted by Brandon’s Boys? Do you ride?”
“Geez, Chris, you’re going to scare the guy to death,” Colby protested, knowing it was useless. Chris was Chris, and meeting him was something akin to being caught up in a whirlwind.
José sat, mouth agape, and stared.
Colby grinned. “Chris is one of the guys who helps keep us out of trouble. He really is a good guy, even if he is a bit much to take all at once.”
“Who, me? Of course I’m a good guy. I’ve always been a good guy. Maybe I come across a bit strong, but I had to. I’m the youngest of five, so I had to learn early to assert my claims. Come on, fellow, eat up. You’re not eating. Did someone say your name was Joe? You look like you could use more than one burger, Joe. Let me get you a refill.” And Chris was gone, back to the grills, to get the newcomer a second helping.
While Chris was away, his mother, Sandy Todd, walked up. “Who’s the new boy?” she asked.
“His name is José Chavez,” Oliver told her, “and we just found him.”
“Chavez? Maybe he’s related to Aunt Luisa. That’s her married name. Anyway, welcome, José. I hope these boys are treating you properly,” she said.
At that, Chris returned with the second burger.
“Oh, good. Thank you Chris. Our guest looks like he could use another helping,” Sandy said.
“Just what I thought, Mom. But he doesn’t say much,” Chris said.
Several of the boys laughed.
“Chris did not give him much opportunity to say anything,” Oliver said, then ducked as Chris tried to capture him in a headlock.
Fortunately for the sanity of José, Brandon appeared about that time. As soon as she saw that Brandon had things under control, Sandy wandered off with Chris, talking about the Indianapolis Charity Horse Show later that week. Within a short time, Brandon had the basics, including an account of José’s capture, and the wallet and pot which had been confiscated from his stuff. He looked at the identification which seemed to be of the person before him, not the driver’s license.
“This is a Baltimore High identification card. It says your name is José Antonio Chavez, and you are a freshman, born on 13 March 1997. Is all this correct?” Brandon asked.
Seeing someone who made sense, and having a glimmer of hope, born of two burgers, that he would not be turned over to police or beaten up, Joe answered, “Well, I’m not in school any more, but the rest is true. But you can call me Joe.”
“Good. That gives us someplace to start. Do you mind telling us why you’re not in school any more?” Brandon continued.
“Uh, it’s kind of personal,” Joe hesitated.
Chris returned, and, hearing that, said, “It’s because Joe’s gay. My gaydar never fails.”
Joe looked frightened at that, but Brandon reassured him. “Being gay is not a problem for us, Joe. I’m gay, and so is Chris. He’s my partner. Some of the boys who brought you here are also gay. Is that what you find personal? Chris is the only person I know who really has gaydar, that ability to spot another gay person, but he’s never been wrong.”
“Uh, well, yeah. That’s what got me in trouble,” Joe admitted.
“Me, too,” Colby said, “but, like Brandon said, that’s not a problem here.”
“You’re really gay?” Joe asked Colby.
“Yeah. Stick around, and I’ll introduce you to my partner. For some reason, Daniel is making himself scarce at the moment,” Colby replied.
“Okay, if being gay is not a problem, then I admit, it was being gay that got me in trouble, and ended my school career. I started at Baltimore, like that card says. But back in October my fucking father found a note from a friend to me, and blew up. It wasn’t much, but it did mention the GSA and kind of hinted at a blow job. Anyway, Papa began hitting me and yelling at me and saying all kinds of nasty things about me,” Joe said, tears rolling down his cheeks now. “I tried to get away from him, but he would not stop hitting me. I ran out of the house. At first, I went to a friend’s house. Yeah, the friend who wrote the note. But he was scared that his father would do the same if he found out, so I could not stay there. I tried a couple of others, but nothing worked, so I ended up on the streets. And yeah, I stole some food. You get hungry after a while. And the winter was a bitch, so I stole a jacket. Then, I met this guy who said he would split with me if I would help him sell pot to the kids at Baltimore. You know those patrols and whatever make it difficult, so, like this guy said,” Joe indicated Trini, “I sold it. A guy’s gotta live.”
“Did you go all the way? I mean, some of us got to where we sold more than pot, if you know what I mean,” Colby asked.
Joe turned red, and hung his head. “Yeah,” he mumbled. “I couldn’t do it unless I was high, so that’s when I started using the pot myself. Now, I can’t quit.”
“It sounds like you can use some help,” Brandon said. “Here’s the situation. We run a kind of group home. The boys can tell you about what’s involved, but nothing illegal. No one is forced to do anything sexual, and no drugs. If you can live with that, we’ll see you’re safe, that you get fed properly, and that you get any needed medical attention.” That comment brought Joe’s head up. Brandon continued, “We’ll also see that you get back in school. It’s just the beginning of summer, so we have time to do some catching up on what you missed since October. But there will be no illegal drugs, Joe. None at all. The only drugs we permit are those prescribed by a doctor for some ailment.”
“I don’t know,” Joe said. “It all sounds great, but I’ve been using for months. I’m not sure I can quit.”
“You talk to the boys. Let them tell you their own stories, and what our place is like. Then, if you can’t hack it, you can walk away, and you’ll have been fed Coach Peake’s fine grilled burgers. But I will return this wallet to its owner, and I’m going to flush the pot down the toilet,” Brandon said, as he walked towards the house.
Joe looked distressed at the comment about flushing his dope. Seeing this, Colby got the other boys talking, telling Joe about the house and the life they led now, and something about how things were for them individually before. Daniel came up, and was introduced as Colby’s partner. He was dripping. He had been in the pool, being a pest, trying to pull down the trunks of other guys. He thought that was hilarious, but evidently some of the adults did not share his sense of humor, so he was now banished from the pool for the rest of the day. Hearing about Daniel’s antics seemed to distract Joe from his concern about his pot for a time, and someone came around with still another burger and a coke. Then some of the other boys chimed in, telling Joe about their lives before being rescued and becoming a part of Brandon’s Boys.
“Brandon’s rich, so he spends some of his money on us. I’m sure not complaining about that,” Bobby said. “And what he said is true. No putting out unless you just want to with a friend, like Colby and Daniel.”
“How strict is the no drugs rule?” Joe asked.
“Very. No leeway there,” Spencer told him.
“I don’t know if I can do it,” Joe moaned.
“Come on, Man. You’ve been using less than a year. Your whole future depends on this. Get some backbone,” Spencer said.
“It’s not that easy if you got hooked,” Leon said. “But it’s not impossible either. Look, we got this kind of board to run things, and one of the members is a counselor. You can talk to him. And if you really need it, I heard Brandon talk about a rehab place called Hazelhurst. But, Man, you can’t just walk away from a chance like this. We all thought there was no future, no way out. I thought the greatest thing in the world would be to become a street boss. Most of them die young. But now I know I’ve got a real future, thanks to Brandon.”
Joe looked troubled, but he gave a huge sigh. “Okay. I’ll give it a try. Uh, one more thing. I heard that lady who was here talk about someone called Luisa Chavez. What’s that all about?”
“Oh, Aunt Luisa is the cook and housekeeper at the place Brandon and Chris share, next door to our group house,” Colby told him. “She’s great.”
“I like her a lot. She lets me have breakfast over there, away from these slobs, because I can speak Spanish with her,” Oliver said.
“Effete snob,” Spencer provoked him, and before long the two boys were rolling on the ground.
“He’s not going to get hurt, is he?” Joe asked.
“Naw. Just horsing around,” Daniel I assured him.
“I can remember when I did things just for the fun of it,” Joe said. “Yeah. I’ll give it a try.”
And so, Joe went home with Brandon’s Boys. The next day, the normal round of visits took place. First, they went out to a mall, where Joe got some decent clothing. His original clothes had been retrieved from the washing machine, and they were clean, but that’s about all one could say about them. They were torn and scruffy, even clean, and did not fit right. His shoes were too small, too. After all, a fourteen or fifteen year old boy was still growing. He felt a lot better in new clothes, and with his own toiletries. Then came the visit to the doctor, Josh Castleman, a member of the Board of Brandon’s Boys. There, Joe confessed to a stinging in his penis when he went, so he was given especially careful checkups, and told to come back in three days for the results of the blood and urine tests. This was followed by a visit to Ben Spalding, the psychologist mentioned by Leon, who called him a counselor so as not to scare Joe away. By that time, the boy was worn out.
Oddly enough, he overcame that by trying to take part in an ad hoc soccer match down in Mansfield Park. Joe loved soccer. He had played on the school team in elementary school, and had begun the season at Baltimore before being chased out of his home. But, he found that, in his current condition, he could not keep up with the game. That probably was more influential in convincing him to try to stick it out than even the new clothing.
On that first day, he was also taken next door to the place where Brandon and Chris lived, and introduced to the housekeeper, Luisa Chavez. It took the woman known to all and sundry as Aunt Luisa only a moment to place Joe. Hearing his story, she responded, “That doesn’t surprise me. Tito was always a bully. Now, I admit when I first started working here I was a little uneasy about boys living with boys, you know. But these guys have been great, and real examples of Christian concern for others. Your father is my late husband’s nephew, and is an ignorant bully, only interested in showing off his machismo. You stick with these people, and you’ll be okay. And come talk to me in Spanish, like Oliver does. I like that, too.” And so Joe found an ally and source of comfort.
The following day, Brandon administered a series of tests to determine Joe’s academic standing. These, he explained, would be used to determine where Joe now stood, and so to try to make up for the lost months while Joe was on the streets, so he could begin his sophomore year at Baltimore in the fall. He looked very interested in that. It would be a real triumph if he could go back to school despite the way he had been treated, and despite being abandoned by his former friends when he needed it. Brandon explained that the boys who were 16 or over had regular jobs during the summers, but the younger ones did not simply lay about. They had a variety of projects. Bobby, Mike, and some others spent a lot of time on the Farm, practicing their equestrian skills. With a grin, Brandon said they could tell Joe all about mucking out stables. Spencer volunteered at the St. Alexis Home for the needy, serving meals to homeless folk. Oliver volunteered with the students who had to attend summer school because of failing grades, and would be helpful with Joe as well. Joe’s job this summer was to catch up with his class work.
Of course, he did not spend every hour, every day studying. That experience of weakness when he tried to play soccer struck home. He was pleased when he found that being one of Brandon’s boys involved membership in a gym, and he devoted much time to rebuilding his strength. He had to be restrained at first, wanting to do too much too soon, but he soon fell into a pattern, and set about repairing the physical damage his time on the streets had caused.
The hardest thing was staying away from the weed. Joe knew where he could get more if he really wanted. But he also knew Brandon was serious about the no tolerance policy, and that the other boys would support that policy. There were times when he felt like climbing the wall. He felt frustrated, empty, desperate. Recognizing Joe’s problem, Brandon scheduled him for regular sessions with Ben Spalding, who was able to suggest methods of coping, but in the long run, he just had to sweat it out. The longer he stayed at Brandon’s Boys was a double edged sword. Each day he went without, the craving increased, but each day he also became more convinced that he did not want to lose this chance to turn his life around. Gradually, the craving subsided, but it never went entirely away.
By the middle of August, when school began to gear up again, Joe was ready to return to Baltimore. His grades on the home schooling exams showed he was ready for the sophomore year. He was in much better physical condition, having put on weight and fleshed out some, and with the stinging in his penis no longer present. He had the craving for drugs under control. Most of all, he had friends, support, acceptance. He was now truly one of Brandon’s boys.