Jack and Mary greeted me cordially, Jack offering his hand as we approached. Mary gave Mike a brief hug as she asked if he had enjoyed his stay. She cupped the back of Carl's head pulling him against her before ushering the boy's into the back seat of their car, climbing in behind them.
Mike dominated the conversation during the fifteen or so minute drive to their house. With Carl's help he described to his parents in great detail our flight. I had to look away several times as Carl skillfully sucked Mary into his charm Each time Mike told anything about his flying ability he acted embarrassed but immediately expanded on each turn or maneuver, of course presenting himself more as a Space Shuttle commander than a student pilot with about five hours flight time.
Their house was a modest but very comfortable single story situated on the edge of the small community they lived in. I was immediately impressed, almost jealous, with their location at the edge of their subdivision. The front of the ranch style home faced a quiet street, the back deck offered a view of beautiful rural land complete with a lake's shoreline a hundred yards or so beyond their yard. I felt slightly ashamed that I had not informed them the twins would not be joining us. I had told them I could only stay long enough for a cup of coffee and a quick conversation but she had prepared cupcakes and snacks to feed my ever hungry mini-army.
The boys had no problem with the surplus food problem. Carl and Mike each downed a couple of cupcakes before each loading a saucer with additional treats and departing so Mike could show Carl around.
"Did our son behave?" Mary asked after I filled them in on why the twins were not here and the latest on the mail box incident.
"He was an angel." I replied. I had rehearsed several statements to breach the subject of the animosities between them and their son but suddenly could not remember any of them. "You have a wonderful son. I wish Carl had come out of their misfortune as well as Mike. Emotionally I mean." I chastised myself for stumbling over my words.
"Does that mean you think he is okay?" Jack inquired almost grilled.
"I think given time he's going to be fine. I doubt any of us would be strong enough to snap back from what either boy has been through as well as they have. I really respect and love both of them." I wondered if love was the appropriate word for the moment but had already said it.
"So you don't think he's quee, , , I mean homo, , , ah gay." Jack almost begged stumbling over his words worse than I. I peeled one of Mary's cupcake's stalling while I collected my thoughts.
"I have no idea. I don't think Mike does either. Right now he is trying to get his life back together and wishing his parents would support him while he does." I exclaimed. Telling myself to chill, not to lose control, I continued
"Mike asked to talk to me yesterday. He read your animosity and is not sure either of you love or want him anymore. He scared the shit out of me when we talked and the one thing he cannot handle right now is rejection especially from you, his parents. I think you should be very careful. You better accept your son for whatever, , ." I stopped in mid sentence as Carl and Mike entered the den.
"Mom, can we go ride the Quadtracker?" Mike asked. I stiffened slightly seeing each boy holding a helmet and gloves. "I wanta show him the lake and stuff." Mike added.
When Mary looked over to me I reluctantly agreed. I reminded Carl we had to leave in about a half hour. I trembled slightly when Jack told Mike to stay away from the 'jumps' but waved at the boys as they rushed away.
"But we do love him." Mary exclaimed. After a second she gave her husband a rather demanding glare.
"Yeah we both do." He grumbled. "I love him but if he needs help I want to get it for him."
"Help for what? What do you think he needs help for?" I asked. I was tempted to check my back pocket to see if Tim was in it speaking for me. I waited for several seconds without getting a response.
"Let's review, tell me if I am reading this correctly. You caught your son downloading porn from the internet. Porn that involved males. Your son was kidnapped and abused, abused in probably the most terrible ways I can think of. Based on these two factors you have decided he is gay. Am I correct?"
"I don't think that is all there is to it." Jack retorted.
"Great! What did I miss? Fill me in."
"Well, well I don't think you understand." He looked at his wife as if for support. He stammered unintelligibly before continuing "How do you know, well why did he allow himself to be. I mean he could have just run away or something. Why did he let them pick him up in the first place? We raised him better than that!" He almost growled
"He didn't allow himself to be picked up, he was forced into a car at the bus stop, remember?" I got no response. "These are not kind hearted folks that stole your son. Remember they stole him - he was kidnapped! I was with a Senior FBI agent when he received the report that Mike had been recovered. His agents recovered him from inside a locked room. He was a prisoner." I began digesting his last statement as I spoke. "Are you saying you think Mike is tainted goods now?" I regretted say that as soon as it slipped out.
"I'm not saying that he is, well but he's different now. He's not, , ," He drifted off without completing his statement.
"He's not tainted goods Christian. I'm shocked you put it that way." Mary injected. "But he's not the sweet little boy he was before he, left."
"No he's not and never will be. Carl isn't, my twins that I thought were still innocent little boys aren't. This hasn't been a picnic for anyone. I think I've aged ten years in the last month. Is he still your son?" She nodded.
"I saw two thin long scars on Mike's lower back. Did he have those before he was abducted?" Mary informed me she hadn't noticed them. "Carl has a couple. I listened in on Carl's interview with the FBI and I know how he got his, would you like to know? His were caused by being whipped with an electric cord and or a belt.
"No, none of the kids involved are the innocent little darlings they were before all this. But thank God they are safe now. Let me relay a story to you, something I didn't snap to until a few minutes ago." I suggested interrupting both their responses.
I described the to them the artificial duck pond where Mike and I had talked. I informed them that I had been to their small town before and had seen the lake but had no idea they lived within walking distance of it. They stared at each other as I told them how emotionally Mike recalled the outings he used to enjoy at the lake.
"That used to be our special place." Jack commented in a soft voice. "When he was little I used to carry him down to the cove on my shoulders. He used to wait for me to get home from work so we could, , , could go feed the ducks." He all but whimpered.
"We own lakefront rights. We used to spend a lot of time down there. We were about to buy a boat when Mike, , ," Mary added.
I excused myself asking to use their restroom. I left more feeling they needed a minute alone, and wanting to make sure the tears in that had welled in my eyes did not show, than out of necessity. When I returned the den was empty. With a little exploring I found them on their back deck.
"I'm sorry if I was too harsh earlier." I began. "I'm not always a very tactful person."
"I appreciate your frankness." Mary responded. ""Do you have any suggestions?"
"Yeah, first of all if you love him show it. Show it by supporting him and talking to him. Let him know he is still your son.
"You found out he's been on porn site. Clearly you disapprove, let him know that you do." I directed toward Jack. "Don't nail him to the cross but let him know you care enough about him to guide him toward learning right from wrong.
"We both have very fragile youngsters right now. I'm sure both have very low self esteem I know my new son does. Carl and I have had several really heavy discussions about his past. I still am not sure I have gotten him to believe he didn't do anything wrong, that things were done to him not that he did things.
"Rejection is not something Mike can handle right now. If I only made one suggestion it would be DON'T reject him, don't make him think he's being rejected. Again forgive my bluntness but you very well could lose him."
Jack looked at his wife for several seconds before turning toward the lake. The expression on his face told me he was staring off into space instead of at the water. Unthinkingly I glanced at my watch.
"They should be back soon." Mary commented looking toward the lake. "Jack maybe you should call them."
He looked at her for a second then back toward the lake before walking to a wooden pole at the corner of the deck. To my surprise he began pulling hard on a rope ringing a large ship's bell mounted at the top of the pole.
"I haven't done that in a long time." He proclaimed.
Five minutes or so later a four wheel motorcycle appeared on the horizon racing toward the house. Just as it sprang into the air all four wheels off the ground I saw who was driving easily identifiable by his wide silver grin. I shuttered as the vehicle skidded into the Snyder's garage. It bounced off the wall with its right wheels in the air probably at a 45 degree angle almost two feet off the ground. It bounced several times before stopping at the edge of the yard.
"These things are TOTALLY BAD!!! Can we get one pop?" Carl howled as he climb off.
"NO!" I snapped. I surveyed his thin body for exposed bones ends or other injuries. "Our yard is too small. It would tear up the grass." I added much more gently after hearing Mary and Jack's snickers.
I resisted my urge to ask if they wanted to trade kids as everyone went back into the house. Mary said she was not going to escort us back to the airport offering to send some cupcakes to the twins. Carl answered for me he and Mike grabbing another cake each. They disappeared into Mike's bedroom.
"In a couple of weeks it will be the Martin Luther King holiday a three day weekend." I began. "My boys and I are going to take a trip, can Mike join us? I'm not sure where we are but I'd like to pick Mike up and take him with us."
"Well when do I get Carl?" Mary asked. "We'd like to have him visit us."
"I think that would fine, let us know what Mike needs to bring." Jack interceded. "Of course I'll pay his share of the expenses." He turned away from his wife's glare before adding "But the next time we'd like Carl to visit here."
Carl then Mike bounced back into the room before we could say anything more. Carl looked around sheepishly as if he knew they had interrupted us.
"Go start the car for me son. It needs to warm up." Jack instructed handing his son the keys.
"Here Carl, take your cakes." Mary added offering a paper sack.
"You two wait in the car, we will be right out." Said Jack.
"Thanks Christian." Jack said offering his hand. "You have given us a lot to think about. A lot to work on."
"Let me know if I can do anything else. Feel free to call me or write if I can help." I replied.
"We are going to be a few minutes honey." Jack informed his wife as we started toward the door. "Mike and I have do a little shopping."
I called Tim before beginning my pre-flight check. I told him to stand his troops down and that we would talk more when I got home but felt comfortable with the situation.
"Go over to my house and have dad get a box of sausage out of the freezer." I added. "Oh and after you start your barbeque pit run down to the beer store, you're cooking this time."
"Hey dude I'm at work! Remember some of us have to work for a living" He replied.
"Shit you don't work you suck on the state tit! I've been doing your job for you all morning! Hey, we're going to talk about one of your kids so put the beer on the State's plastic!" I countered. He made a couple of snide comments and agreed to meet me at the house saying he needed to talk to me anyway.
Carl was all around the aircraft as I began my checks. I was impressed how well he had learned the routine. He darted ahead of me knowing what was to be inspected next. I was about to send him into the cockpit, confident he could operate the lighting and other equipment I needed turned on when he froze in his tracks. He quickly ducked under the wind hiding behind one of the landing gear members.
"What's wrong?" I asked. He just tuned toward me putting his finger against his facebow telling me to be silent. The evil grin on his little face worried me. I asked again what he was hiding from.
"Shhh." He hissed. He looked around the wheel strut toward a nearby hanger again before widening his sinister smirk. "Ski Patrol!" He whispered. "When they come back out I'm gonna attack."
I stood for several seconds trying to figure out what on earth he was talking about, there wasn't snow or ski slopes for hundreds of miles. I was about to ask what he meant when three line boys stepped out of the hanger wearing bright orange jump suits.
He immediately stuck his arms out from his sides and began growling like a jet engine. He darted out from under the wing but I was able to grab him by his belt as he rushed past me.
"Sorry turkey but you're over your bag limit." I exclaimed throwing him over my shoulder. He was squirming and giggling so hard I almost dropped him before I could sit him on the aircraft's wing. "There's plenty of prey out there for later." I added shooing him toward the cockpit door. 'Oh shit, what did I say?' I asked myself.
He had settled down by the time I climbed aboard next to him. After I checked his harness I let him power up the plane while I buckled in.
"Do I get to fly?" He asked, casting his puppy dog eyes up at me.
"Well I guess. But I think I better taxi us out, until we're past the ski patrol anyway." I answered earning a sincere 'stuff it dad' glare.
Carl completely occupied the conversation during our short flight relating in great detail his adventure at the lake. I learned the exact layout of Mike's bedroom along with a complete list of Mike's music and game collection. We had hangared the aircraft and I was steering my truck out of the FBO's parking lot when he fell silent.
"Did you get to help Mike? With his parents I mean?" He asked after a minute or so. "Do you think they are gonna want him again?" He added after a pause.
I tried to decide how I should answer him so he would understand, well trying to decide if I had helped or not. I glanced over at him. He was looking back at me patiently waiting for an answer like a colleague in a business discussion.
"I think I helped." I began. "Mike's parents are still adjusting to everything that happened. Maybe I should say they are trying to come to grips with what happened. Right now I hope, with time, everything will work out."
"What happens to Mike if it don't? He told me how bad that shelter was. He said he wouldn't go back there." I was about to reply when he continued. "I would freak if he ran away or did something stupid, if he can't stay home will you help him? He promised he'd tell me before he did anything I just hope he will."
His maturity surprised me. As I tried to formulate an answer I glanced over at him. His facial expression very clearly depicted the adult concerns his boyish voice conveyed.
"I don't think its going to come to that, I certainly hope not." I replied. I relayed the discussion Mike's parents and I had on their patio emphasizing their emotions regarding things they used to do together. His face wrinkled into deep thought as he digested my story.
"Let's give it a few days. I think it could be interesting to see how Mr. and Mrs. Snyder respond. Will you keep me informed about how Mike feels he is doing?" I added.
"If you will me." He answered.
'13 going on 30?' I asked myself.
Tim's truck was already home when I pulled into our driveway. I started to walk over and tease him about being overworked but decided to check on Dad and the twins. Carl followed me into the house and set the sack of cupcakes on the kitchen counter as I got a beer from the refrigerator.
I noticed him looking around the kitchen seemingly in deep thought. After a couple of seconds he opened the pantry then a couple of cabinet doors until he found what he wanted, a covered plastic tray. I found myself beaming with pride as he carefully removed each cake from the sack arranging them on the tray. He surveyed his work for several seconds making small corrections inside the tray before starting to put the lid on. After another pause he looked at me then the tray a couple of times before setting the lid back on the counter and walking toward me.
"Ah, pop, well Mrs. Snyder said these are for Jeff and Jerry." He said.
"I think she really meant some of them are for the twins, they are for everyone." I suggested presuming he wanted to eat one. He considered my statement for a minute before continuing.
"Well but they can't get them while they're locked in their room. I mean grounded in their room sir." He glanced back at the tray. "Well I was wondering if maybe I could well I mean maybe if you might want to take them some sir." He added a fresh set of sad puppy dog eyes for effect, the twins had trained him well.
"I'm very proud of you for thinking about them. Of course you can take them a couple of cupcakes." I agreed. His concerned look made me correct myself. "A couple each. But they are being punished, give them their cupcakes and leave. No more than one minute." I got a quick hug and bright smile as a reward.
"And tell them I will come talk to them in a few minutes." I added as he rushed back to the counter top. I started to tell him to be careful how he presented the cakes so he didn't lose any fingers but bit my lip.
Shortly he was back. He stumbled over a couple of attempts before informing me the twins wanted some milk. I was about to go chat with them anyway so suggested he pour their glasses and I would deliver them while he enjoyed a snack.
Jeff and Jerry's identical expressions make it clear their confinement had gotten their attention. They timidly accepted their drinks looking as if their fate was about to be pronounced.
"Having fun guys?" I rhetorically asked. I was rewarded by the glare of facebows as they stared at the floor. "Hey school starts day after tomorrow that's not all that much longer to sit in here."
"We're sorry dad." Jerry told the carpet more than me.
"We were just playing a joke we didn't mean to be bad." Jeff added. "Please sir we won't do it again!"
"You screwed up and now you have to pay for it, right?" I more answered than asked. I got a pair of meek nods. "Are you two getting the message, am I going to accept the kind of behavior you chose yesterday?" They whimpered 'No Sirs' in the perfect unison only twins could.
"Gramps Carl and I are going over to the Young's house and barbeque in a minute, what should I do with you two?" I paused for effect watching their faces fade further into despair. "If I let you two go do you think you can behave?" I only allowed enough time for their eyes to dart at each others before continuing "You guys are on probation, how well you behave tonight decides what happens tomorrow understand? You guys get a shower and get dressed we will meet you there."
"Thanks dad, we're sorry really." Jerry exclaimed
"Yeah we wont do it again we promise!" Jeff added. "Well but ah" He almost whined. I followed his eyes to the milk glasses and half eaten cupcakes sitting next to them. My snicker was all they needed to attack their snacks. As I left the room I thanked God for giving me the wisdom to separate my limbs from their food before starting our talk.
Tim was checking the fire in his barbecue pit as Dad, Carl and I entered the back yard. Carl and Dad went inside dad suggesting he help Judy and Carl off to find Timmy. After getting each of us a fresh beer, he gestured toward the patio chairs. Tim listened intently as I filled him in on my conversation with the Snyder's. He slid to the edge of his seat and leaned forward as I relayed Carl and my conversation.
"What do you think?" He asked.
"I'm not a social worker but I'm somewhat pleased. I think I got their attention at least, I'd love to know what Jack and Mike went shopping for but I liked Jack's face when he announced the trip. Right now I just hope this AIDS thing don't screw everything up. That might fuck over Jack's head royally."
"That might have chilled; that's part of what I wanted to tell you." He replied. "We think the tests I told you about are tainted. We got 10 positive tests in the same day." I'm sure he read my confused look but took time to take a swallow of beer before continuing. "Something is screwed up big time. Well we hope it is. Usually we get one positive out of about 5,000 tests but this week we're getting one in 200 from this lab. We think someone fucked something up."
"So, , , what happens now?" I asked. I downed a large swallow of beer hoping I understood him correctly.
"We're getting everything retested even the Feds are involved, but I think it's a false. Shit I hope it's a fuckup! We might get some results tonight but no telling, when they come out they come out." I downed the last half of my beer in a single swallow as I tried to digest his words.
"What should I do now, what about Carl? What about Mike?"
"Right now you need to get Judy to bring the sausage out the pit is ready. Tell her to bring the chicken too."
"Cut the shit Tim talk to me." I demanded as we loaded the pit with the meat I had gotten from Judy.
"Like I told you, it's a long ride. I don't think anyone from Carl's group is HIV positive right now. Some lab tech fucked something up but that's for today. Remember we're playing a ten year hand dude. I'm gonna get all the CPS kids retested maybe you should Carl, but I'm comfortable they are okay.
"Did you watch the news? You had the tube on?" He asked. "Be careful Carl's dad was on and he got hung by the balls for his shit. So did a bunch of them. Check it out, but his dad is on the TV so be careful." He suggested.
Judy came outside with a large platter of deviled eggs. Dad followed with a mountain of chips and dip. Almost as if on cue the twins appeared around the corner of the house. They rushed to the snack table but to my surprise just stood staring at the food, glancing several times at me.
"Go ahead, dig in!" Judy exclaimed. "They're not getting sick or anything are they Christian?"
"No, just being polite." I replied almost gagging to keep from laughing.
"Those two polite when food is anywhere nearby, they are sick!" Tim quipped. The twins hunched over slightly clearly being careful not to look at us.
Carl and Timmy came out of the house and were not at all shy about diving into the treats. Tim stepped over to the table popping an egg into his mouth. I noticed he was watching Carl in the corner of his eye.
"Wow these are great! You must have used those turtle eggs we bought." He commented as Carl slipped an egg under his facebow and bit into it.
Carl froze in mid bite his face ashen. After a second or so he slowly lowered his wide eyes to the piece of hard boiled egg still in his hand. His face tinted toward pale green as he slowly looked over toward Judy.
"I'm sorry honey but I couldn't find any shark eggs" Judy exclaimed, tousling Carl's hair.
"Yum, these are good." Jeff chimed in with an almost evil snicker. "Dad, can we start having turtle eggs for breakfast?" Earning him a harsh 'up yours!' glare from his younger brother. His color faded from green back to ashen as he looked back at Judy then the platter for several seconds.
"Yeah, can we pop? Or can we get some shark eggs?" Carl asked stuffing the rest of the egg in his mouth. It would have taken a grinding wheel to remove the snide grin from his face as he stepped over to investigate the chip tray.
The rest of the evening went well everyone enjoying mounds of food. I managed to get the kids into bed before the news on the pretense that school started in two days and they should start getting used to going to bed on time.
The newscasters replayed the story Tim had told me about. Carl's dad had accepted a plea bargain and plead guilty. So had most of the other names I recognized from Colorado and five more I did not know. The only holdout seemed to be Ricardo. According to the reporter everyone was facing at least 30 years behind bars. It was also supposedly the biggest child porn ring ever busted including, as Gordon had suggested, several other major cities.
I was disappointed in the weather forecast. A high temperature only in mid thirties with freezing rain all day. 'Yeah well, so fitting for my last day of freedom' I thought as I headed for bed.
To Be Continued…