Will Dye was plagued with very mixed emotions after his encounter with Aaron in the downtown park. He couldn't believe Ted would have had sex with other guys – at least not in the way Aaron had suggested. He could picture Ted forcing a weaker kid to suck on his big cock, but he couldn't see it happening the other way around. Ted had started to force Will to do it once when he was younger, but had backed off unexpectedly. That was one of the few times Ted had ever said he was sorry.
So, Will couldn't imagine Ted in the more submissive role. Yet, Aaron had seemed truthful. Aaron hadn't backed down from the claim in private even when he was trying to apologize to Will. He had claimed to have received those services himself. It was a lot to think about.
That night, and the following one, Will had been awakened in the wee hours by disturbing dreams. The first night Will had a wet dream in which Ted was sucking him. It was very messy and left the boy feeling guilty for dreaming of his brother in that way. The second night, it seemed as if Ted were trying to warn him of danger. He couldn't shake the eerie feeling even in his waking hours.
His mother seemed to be sensitive to his out-of-sorts behavior. He told her it was because he was missing his brother. She let it go, but felt like there was something deeper going on.
Will had brightened considerably when his father had offered to take him on a fishing and camping trip. They would spend the weekend alone away from civilization. It could be a time for just the two of them. Will had always been in awe of his father as well as frightened of him. He had also hoped to be as close to the man as Ted was. This seemed to be an opportunity for it to happen, but Will felt a little uneasy about being happy to take Ted's place in their father's eyes.
When Hunter and his family left for California the following day, it was a different scene than any previous departure. He had stayed with Zeke and Bryan and was picked up from there fairly early in the morning.
The Zrudskys were there about 15 minutes before Zeke and Bryan had to leave for their jobs. Al was taken aback by the emotional farewell Hunter received. The other two seemed genuinely sad to see him leave as they hugged the boy. He would have to look into this. He hoped the other two hadn't corrupted his son. Then he mentally chastised himself for thinking like his mother. What if they HAD done something sexual together? He had played around with his best friend when he was a young teen. He smiled in remembrance of those experiences. It might not be the worst thing in the world if Hunter had had sex of some sort with his cousin. And, he shouldn't discriminate against gays and lesbians. After all, he worked with any number of them in Hollywood. The world was far different from the black and white the one he'd grown up in as a boy.
At work that day, Rusty and Bobby joined Bryan and Zeke for lunch in the shade away from the other workers. They were still grinning about the recent fun in the pool house. Zeke was still puzzled by one thing.
"Hey, Shrek, how come you let Trey hang around with you guys after what he did with Bobby?"
Bobby blushed at the reference to his short sexual interlude with Trey, but it was Rusty who spoke about it.
"I don't hold it against either of them. Bobby didn't know I still had feelings for him deep inside. I was out fucking girls trying to prove I wasn't gay. I can't blame Bobby for trying to have fun. I can't blame Trey for helping him out. They were fuck-buddies for a little while. But Bobby loves me and Trey has become a friend. He'll remain one as long as he remembers we're both PRIVATE PROPERTY!"
Zeke grinned at the emphasis Rusty put on the final part of the statement. Rusty was possessive of Bobby, but it worked both ways. Bobby was just as protective of his "property." After all, they had sealed their relationship in many ways.
On July 7th, Fr. Jerry sat bold upright at 5:00 a.m. Something was bothering him. It had been niggling at the edge of his mind for several days. Just now, he had had a disturbing dream that he couldn't quite remember. In a mental flash, he saw the letter he was supposed to have given to the younger Dye boy. He would see that it was done immediately.
When Fr. Jerry called the Dye house, he was pleased that it was Noreen who answered and that her husband wasn't home. She told him that Will was there and they would be happy to have the priest drop in. She indicated it would be best for him to come soon - before Will went to ball practice and long before his father was due home from work.
Will appeared sullen when the young priest came to call. His father had told him to stay away from religious people. Will's mother had begun to attend church again; Will didn't need that bunk – at least that's what his father had said.
The teen did sit at the kitchen table with the adults while they had coffee. Will drank some too. It wasn't that he liked it, but he thought it made him look more grown up. He wanted to be as big and bad as his brother had been. Maybe his father would let him have some beer this weekend.
After a few minutes of conversation, Fr. Jerry asked if he could speak to Will in private, and Noreen went into the bedroom to be out of earshot. That is when he gave him Ted's letter. Will opened it at the table and began to read it silently.
"Hey, Little Brother,
Please understand that I did what I had to do. Don't do stupid things like I did. If you hear something bad about me, it's probably true. I hurt a lot of people and I did some sex things you probably wouldn't approve of.
Some bad shit happened to me in here. That and my talks with Father Jerry, made me understand how mean I was to others. I just hope kids like Aaron and Bryce don't take it out on you for what I did to them. I don't think they're bad guys, but who knows what they might do?
Please take care of yourself. Be careful around Dad. Don't be alone with him where other people aren't around. If he wants to take you camping, don't go. I can't even write about what he did to me on those trips because it makes me sick to think he would use me like that. Don't let him force himself on you.
You can trust Father Jerry. He's been a real friend to me, but I didn't even tell him about the things our father did to me.
You'll probably think I have gone soft in the head if I say I love you, but I do. If God lets me, I will always look after you.
Will sat reading with tears running down his face. His hands shook as he handed the letter to Fr. Jerry who read it rapidly.
"I feel very bad for Ted and I understand a lot more about why he acted like he did. Should I let your mother read this?"
Will only nodded because he couldn't speak.
When Noreen came back into the kitchen, Fr. Jerry handed her the letter. Her eyes widened as she got to the third paragraph.
"I remember how quiet Ted was when he came back from that first camping trip with Howard. He begged me to let him stay home from the second one. He never said why. I thought it would be good for him to bond with his father. After that, he seemed to go willingly. I figured they had become close. I never suspected."
Noreen was sobbing by the end of her reminiscing.
Will was now terrified about going anywhere with his father. What could he do? Fr. Jerry suggested that Will tell Howard he couldn't go camping because there was a youth activity on the weekend he wanted to attend. Will was afraid of what his father might do if he crossed him. He knew his mother had sometimes suffered the consequences of disagreeing with his father.
It didn't take long to find out Howard's reaction. There had been a power outage at his job. He came home early from work to find his wife and son sitting around the table with the priest.
"Who the hell invited you?" Howard sneered at the cleric.
"I did!" Noreen responded with uncharacteristic strength. "What do you have to say about this?" she demanded, showing him Ted's letter.
Howard blanched as he read Ted's references to his molestation. Then his face turned bright red. He looked like he would explode. He turned toward Fr. Jerry.
"Get the fuck out of my house, you meddling asshole. I'll straighten out my family. I loved my boy and he loved the times we had together. Will is going to love being close to his father too. You aren't welcome here."
"What you did to Ted is sick. Will is not going to go through that as long as I have any power to stop it. I'm not leaving until and unless I know your family is safe." Jerry stated calmly.
When Howard attacked the priest, he had no idea what he was fighting against. Howard was out of control. Jerry was cool and focused. He had trained in marshal arts for several years. He used the force of Howard's attack against the larger man sending him flying to the floor.
Will's father got up again seething in rage. The calmer Jerry appeared to be, the more enraged Howard became. If it hadn't been so serious, it would have been laughable. Howard was charging like a bull, but unable to do any damage to the younger man.
Noreen had experienced abuse at the hands of her husband, but had never seen him like this. However, she wasn't standing idly by. She was on the phone calling 911 to get the police to come.
Sgt. Danforth arrived about 15 minutes later with siren howling and lights flashing. Having met Howard Dye before, Danforth had wasted no time getting there. He was sure Ted's father was capable of destroying anyone or anything that got in his way.
Danforth was not expecting to find the big man on the floor gasping for breath. Howard Dye had become so overwrought that he appeared to be having some sort of attack. An ambulance was quickly requested.
Perhaps this one time it was a good thing that Cosgrove's ambulance service had become notoriously slow in the past couple of years. The paramedics didn't arrive in time to prevent Howard from meeting his Maker.
Noreen's tears were those of relief more than sadness at Howard's passing. Of course, the crew kept working on him, but it was obvious their efforts were of no avail.
Will didn't rush to his mother's side for comfort. Instead, he clung to Fr. Jerry as if he were his life-support. In a way, that was exactly what the priest was. Will's whole world had been rent in two in a little over a week. He just cried himself out in the arms of the man who had protected him from his own father. He shuddered when he realized how close he had come to going on a "special" weekend with his dad.
News of Howard Dye's sudden demise didn't make the evening news, but it was broadcast by morning. As with his elder son, his passing was viewed with a variety of emotions; most people were not particularly broken up over it.
Howard was neither well liked at work nor in the community at large. People felt sorry for his wife and son since they would be living on a smaller income, but few felt bad that the man was dead.
After the autopsy, his body was cremated and his ashes sprinkled in the woods. Noreen didn't feel comfortable about having a service. Howard was so anti-Christian she thought it would be a mockery to have Father Jerry or some other minister pray over his ashes.
It turned out that Howard's employer had provided a rather substantial life insurance policy as part of the benefits package. Noreen and Will would not be living extravagantly, but with care, they could live above the poverty level. She decided to sell the house and move into a smaller one closer to the high school so Will could walk or ride his bike to school in the fall. That would allow her to work longer hours without having to worry about his need for transportation.
Their present house had too many bad memories anyway. If she could sell it at its market value, she could pay cash for a smaller one and save the extra money for Will's schooling after he graduated. Noreen was determined to carve out a new life for them.
The little house she purchased happened to be across the street from Bryce's place. It had been on the market for several months because of its condition. It wasn't in need of major repairs, but it did need a lot of updating. The main rooms were carpeted in an orange shag carpet that was matted and nasty. The kitchen looked like it hadn't been redecorated since the 70's, and the reason for that was because it hadn't been.
Noreen had some idea of what to do, but she didn't completely trust her own judgment in picking colors, etc. Howard had kept her down so long that she had little self-esteem. She couldn't afford the services of a professional like Fran Jacobs. She would just have to do her best, starting with a neutral- colored carpet.
Bryce's mother, Sally, was working in the flower bed in front of her house on the Saturday morning in late July when Noreen pulled up dressed in her work clothes and ready to attack the place. Not knowing anything about the woman who was moving in, Sally walked over to welcome her to the neighborhood.
Around 10:00, Sally invited Noreen over for a coffee break. When Noreen entered Sally's house, she knew that she had met a person who could help her decorate. This place looked like it came out of an interiors magazine.
By noon, the two women had a list of things that needed to be done as well as some thoughts on color schemes. Sally promised to go to Menard's with Noreen on Sunday afternoon to look at paint samples.
Will came riding his bicycle and looking for his mother to feed him, so Sally invited them both to lunch. As they all came into the kitchen, Bryce's eyes widened.
"What are you doing here, Will?" he demanded.
"Bryce! What has gotten into you? Where are your manners?"
"Mom, don't you know who this is? This is the brother of the guy who choked Aaron and me. He's just like his brother. He attacked Aaron at the Freedom Festival."
"Will, what did you do?" Noreen asked sternly.
Will remained silent as a number of emotions played across his face. He wanted to be bad like his brother and punch this kid, but Ted had told him in the letter not to be like that. He wasn't sure what to do, so he just hung his head. Finally he spoke to Bryce.
"I'm sorry about what I did that day. I blamed you guys for what happened to Ted, but I know now it wasn't your fault. Ted said in his letter you and Aaron might take it out on me for what he did to you."
By this time, Bryce's adrenaline rush was over and he was feeling shaky. He knew he was judging Will for what Ted had done and it made him feel bad. But he couldn't forget what had happened in the downtown park. His boyfriend could have been badly hurt if Will and his buddies had had their way.
Just then, Aaron came to the door looking for Bryce. When he saw Will, he stiffened involuntarily. Will's head bowed further. He felt like shit. Unbidden tears were forming in the corners of his eyes. He was about ready to bolt out the door when Aaron spoke to him.
"Hi, Will. What's up?"
Will was so surprised at Aaron's greeting that he smiled just a little. At Aaron's suggestion, the three teens went out in Bryce's back yard to talk out of earshot of the women.
Inside the kitchen, Noreen was sobbing and Sally was comforting her.
"Will and I really need to get out of here for a while. I had no idea it was your son that my Ted hurt. I am so sorry."
"There, there…" Sally crooned like her grandmother used to. "It isn't your fault. You didn't do anything to hurt anyone. You can't be responsible for what your adult children do."
"Yes, but if I had been a better parent, none of this would have happened."
It seemed as if all of the grief of the past few months was coming to a head in that moment. Noreen cried until there were no tears left.
In the backyard, Aaron was taking charge of the discussion. It had been established that Will was moving in across the street and would be Bryce's neighbor. It was evident that their mothers had hit it off. They needed to make some sort of truce.
"If you two are going to live this close, you have got to get along. Will, what your brother did to us isn't your fault. You're a different person than he was. I know how your brother died and I have heard rumors of why he took his own life. This is a small town."
Will stiffened at the mention of Ted's death.
Aaron continued, "I'm going to tell you something I don't want told around. I'm going to take a chance that I can trust you."
Will looked at Aaron with curiosity. Why was this guy whom he had tried to beat up going to tell him a secret?
"I can understand why Ted took his own life. I tried to do that too. No one did to me what they did to him in jail, but my father had verbally abused me for the past couple of years and Ted was bullying me at school. I couldn't face it anymore, so I tried to kill myself. It may not be the smart answer, but sometimes it is the only one you can see at the moment. I didn't like your brother, but I didn't wish for him to die. He wrote Bryce and me letters saying he was sorry and Fr. Jerry told us he had changed."
Will couldn't keep his emotions in check any longer. He tried to run before he made a fool of himself by crying in front of the other guys, but Aaron held on to him. Will struggled to get free, but then the dam burst and Will's young body was wracked with sobs. Aaron did the only thing he could think of. He embraced Will and patted his back like he would have done for a little child. Seeing the tenderness his boyfriend was showing toward Will, Bryce felt his heart soften too. He came up and put his arms around the backs of both boys.
Sally saw the scene out the kitchen window. She beckoned Noreen to look too. The two women watched through tears of their own.
"I don't think there's any reason why you can't stay for lunch," Sally ventured. "If you don't mind giving me a hand, we can pull something together to feed those three bottomless pits and maybe have a little left over for us."
Noreen smiled at Sally's words. Maybe this move was going to be a good one after all.
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