This story is a sequel to "The Eye of the Storm" which was entered in the "What" writing challenge. Many of the characters are the same, and events described in that story are referred to in this story. So you may find it helpful to read "The Eye of the Storm" first if you haven't already done so. If you click the left arrow in the left hand margin you wil be taken directly there
Dave Connors was feeling very, very happy. It was a Friday night so he'd gone to the football game with his girlfriend Jessica along with the normal bunch of seniors who went as a group to every home game. Then Dave got into Jessica's car and they'd gone off to the local hangout for kids who wanted to make out. They used Jessica's car because she had an old station wagon that had a big back seat and that gave them enough room to fuck each other without getting into unlikely positions and risking cramp or something worse. And they had done exactly that, with a break for a beer between, and Dave felt he had been on good form that night judging by the intensity of the orgasms they'd both had.
Jessica dropped Dave off in the school parking lot so he could pick up his Miata convertible – great for driving but hopeless for fucking. She was in a hurry to leave because she was right on the margin of her midnight curfew, so he just hopped out of the passenger seat and she drove off. Dave realized he needed to pee after having had that beer and didn't want to wait until he got home. So he stepped off towards the bushes that were planted along the side of the parking lot fence, unzipped, pulled out his slightly sore dick, and with a sigh of relief he let go a good stream. He shook off the last couple of drops, zipped up and just as he turned to go back to his car something a few feet away caught his eye.
Walking over, Dave turned on the light on his phone and was shocked by what he saw. There was a kid lying face down wearing nothing but a tee shirt that was hiked up to his shoulders and he wasn't moving at all. So Dave immediately called his Dad because his Dad was an EMT and would know what to do.
Even though it was midnight, his Dad answered on the second ring. I guess EMTs are trained to do that.
"What's wrong, Dave?"
"Dad, I'm down at the school parking lot and I found this kid lying in the bushes and he's not moving and he's mostly naked and I don't know what to do."
"Can you tell if he's breathing? See if his chest is moving or if you can feel breath out of his mouth."
Dave looked down at the kid and saw that he was breathing.
"He's breathing, Dad. And I think he's been raped. There's blood on his ass."
"Oh shit! OK, stay right there, I'll call the Station and see if they can send someone seeing I'm off duty tonight. When you see the EMTs coming coming, wave your phone light at them so they know exactly where they are. Call me if anything changes. They ought to be there in less than seven minutes."
Dave sat down next to the kid and watched and waited. Meanwhile his Dad was on the phone to the EMT dispatcher.
"Mac, I've got an unconscious kid by the high school. My son Dave is there. He says he thinks the kid's been raped. Can you get someone down there right away?"
"Charlie, I'm sorry," said the dispatcher, "it's not your night tonight. We've got three crews downtown where there was a huge bar fight and several people have been stabbed, and then a three car pile up on the Interstate, so it's going to be a while. We've got crews coming from a couple of other towns to help us but we're really backed up, maybe an hour unless he's really dying. And the ER is backed up as well so they won't look at him unless he's critical."
"Fuck! We can't just leave him there!"
"Charlie, if he's not critical, maybe you could go down and look the kid over and then if it's really a matter of life and death we'll see what we can do."
"So much for my night off! Thanks, Mac, I'll let you know what the situation is when I get there."
So Charlie Connors got out of bed, threw on some sweat pants and a tee shirt, grabbed his emergency first aid kit, got some sandals and headed for the high school where he found his son waiting near his car next to the prone kid.
"No, Dad, he hasn't moved."
"OK, let me look at him. And can you look around and see if you can find his clothes."
Charlie went into his normal evaluation sequence and it wasn't long before he concluded that the kid was dead drunk but nothing else seemed life threatening. He took some pictures of the kid, turned the kid over so he was lying on his side and took pictures of his face. There was some vomit on his chin where he'd thrown up so he cleaned that up a bit.
Dave came back with a pair of athletic shorts and some blue check boxers and an empty bottle of vodka.
"I found these. There's nothing in the pockets, no ID or anything."
"Do you know who he is?"
"No. I sort of recognize him, I think he's a freshman, but I don't know who he is."
Charlie looked again at the kid. He had a mop of brown hair that was almost in his eyes but otherwise was pretty unremarkable except it was clear that he'd been working out some. He had well defined muscles, not bulging or anything, but clearly he was into some form of sport.
"Dave, I think what I'm going to have to go is this. The ER is all backed up so if I take him there he might have to wait hours. It doesn't look like he's in critical condition or anything, I think mostly he's completely hammered and passed out from drinking too much. I think we should take him home and let him sleep it off and sort it all out in the morning. Help me get him into my truck and we'll go home."
With a little pulling and shoving they got him stretched out on the back seat of Charlie's truck and Dave followed Charlie back home. His Mom was up waiting, and they got the kid out of the truck and into Dave's bedroom and laid him on the bed.
"Dave, we'll have to use your room, we can't put him in Seb's room. He's too young to see this."
Sebastian was Dave's younger brother who was in eighth grade, and still a bit immature for his age.
"Oh, the poor thing, "said Dave's Mom, "let me clean him up a bit."
"No, wait, my dear. I need to get someone to take sample specimens of his vomit and from his ass. He may have taken some drugs on top of all that alcohol, and if it is rape we need to preserve the DNA."
Mrs. Connors cleaned him as best she could without destroying evidence, then they got a pair of boxers of Dave and a clean tee shirt and put those on him, and then laid him back on the bed. The kid never woke up but he did groan a lot and flopped about a bit.
"Make sure he's not lying on his back. If he throws up again he could choke. And put some towels under him in case he does throw up."
"OK, Dad. I'll sleep on the airbed and I'll let you know if he wakes up."
Dave's Mom took one last look at the kid. "You know, I'm sure I've seen him before. He seems familiar. Are you certain you don't know who he is, Dave?"
"No, I don't, although I've seen him at school a few times."
And that's where they left it for the rest of the night. In the morning Dave woke up, looked at the kid and thought that maybe he was trying to wake up. He was moving around a bit and groaning a bit, so Dave got his Dad who came in and looked at him.
"OK, let's sit him up and see if we can wake him up."
The kid couldn't sit upright without support as he kept falling over to one side. Charlie patted him lightly on the cheek.
"Come on, wake up!"
The kid groaned, and opened his eyes a little, and then started to heave and Dave managed to get a towel in front of the kid's face before he threw up.
"Good, you'll feel better for that," said Charlie, "get rid of all that crap you've been drinking!"
"Christ, my head hurts, I think I'm dying!" gasped the kid, before throwing up one more time.
They wiped off his face and then Charlie tried to get the kid to answer some questions.
"Can you tell me your name?"
There was no response other than a groan as the kid lurched again to one side.
"Did you do any drugs last night?"
There was just the slightest shake of his head. "Just booze. I'm dying. Just let me die!" And the kid just lay back down and closed his eyes.
"We'll leave him alone for a while, and try again later" said Dave's Dad, and they went off to the kitchen to get some breakfast.
Across the hallway Dave's younger brother Sebastian switched off his alarm clock, jumped out of bed and got dressed in his soccer kit which white shorts and socks and a red shirt. He had a game at nine, and he was excited because Dave was taking him in the Miata. He was worried Dave wouldn't be awake yet, so he crossed the hall, opened the door and rather than his brother, he saw the kid. So he closed the door and went into the kitchen where Dave and his Dad were eating cereal.
"Dave, what the hell is Steven doing in your bed? Have you turned gay or something?"
"You know him?" asked his Dad
"Yeah, he was in eighth grade last year, he's Steven, ummm, Steven Richards, no that's not right, ummm, Steven Roberts, that's his name."
"But what's he doing here in Dave's bed?"
"Dave found him unconscious down by the school football field last night, probably he'd had too much to drink, so we brought him home to help him sober up. Do you know where he lives?"
"Pity. Any idea what his father does?"
"I think he works in the hospital."
"You mean, like a doctor?"
"No, I don't think so. I think he said once his Dad runs the hospital."
"That must be Jack Roberts' kid then. Thanks, Seb, you've been really helpful. Now eat some breakfast and Dave will take you to the game. Dave, if you need to you'll have to stay until the game is over, but maybe one of Seb's friends parents can arrange a ride home. OK?" Both boys nodded.
Sebastian got out a bowl filled it with cereal, added milk, and started shoveling it in to his mouth in normal teenage speed eating style. Then he watched in horror as his father got out a glass, half filled it with tomato juice, cracked in a raw egg, added a couple of dashes of Tabasco and finally a slug of vodka, then stirred it all up.
"What the hell are you doing, Dad?"
"Watch your language, Seb! I'm making something called the hair of the dog. It helps people who drank too much start to feel better. They need protein and liquids."
"Dad, you're going to kill him if he drinks that!"
"No, this is the tried and tested Charlie Connors cure for really bad hangovers. And if I ever see you drinking, you'll get one as well!"
Sebastian went back to inhaling the rest of his cereal, while Dave and his Dad took the magic potion into Dave's room. They shook the kid awake and then handed him the drink
"OK, young man, you're going to drink this. And drink fast, don't sip, just gulp it down. Understood? This will help you feel better very quickly!"
The kid just looked at Charlie and scowled.
"Look, either you help me help you, or I'll throw you out on the street! OK?"
The kid glared back, mumbled "whatever" but held out his hand, took the glass and chugged.
"Oh, GOD, THAT'S DISGUSTING! You're trying to kill me!"
But he didn't throw up and Charlie made him sit like that for a couple of minutes until it looked as if he wouldn't throw up, then he gave him a Gatorade and a couple of aspirins. The kid took the pills and washed them down with a slug of Gatorade.
"OK, now the best thing for you to do if you lie back down and go back to sleep if you can. Do you need to pee?"
The kid shook his head, lay back, turned to one side, curled up, and Dave and Charlie watched while his eyes closed and eventually he started breathing steadily. Then they headed to the kitchen where Sebastian was on his second bowl of cereal.
"Seb, how come you know this kid, what's his name, Steven, was it?"
"Well, his best friend Nick, well his boyfriend actually, was on the soccer team at our school last year, and Nick and Steven did everything together so Steven used to come watch him play, and anyway most of the middle school kids know each other."
"Seb, you're going with your brother to your game, OK? I'm going to try to get hold of Steven's mother or father. I'll make a couple of calls and see what I can do. Mom, you're staying here. If Steven wakes up, then try to get him to drink some more Gatorade or a soda, the more he drinks the better he'll feel. And give him another couple of aspirins if his head is really bad. Call me immediately if anything bad happens. Everyone on board?"
They all nodded, Sebastian and his brother went to soccer, and Charlie tried to get hold of Jack Roberts. So he called the hospital where an assistant in the administration told him Jack Roberts was tied up in meetings and wouldn't be available for a while. Charlie insisted it was urgent but he just got blown off by the assistant.
Charlie decided that a trip to the hospital was the only way to deal with this, and he chose to wear his EMT uniform because it was a lot easier to get around the hospital if it looked like you were on duty. People in street clothes got stopped and questioned, but official looking people were mostly ignored.
So about twenty minutes later he got to the hospital, walked into the administration wing and found out where Jack Roberts was having his meeting. Ignoring the assistant who tried to stop him, he knocked on the meeting room door, walked in without waiting for an answer and looked around at the ten people sitting around the conference table.
"I'm looking for Jack Roberts. It's very urgent."
"I'm Jack Roberts and I'm busy and we can't be interrupted. Go away!"
"Sorry, Jack, it's about your son, and it's very personal and you'll be extremely embarrassed if I have to speak up in front of everyone in this room, but I'll speak out loud if you won't come outside with me."
Jack looked as if he was about to explode, but one of the others said they could all do with a five minute break and everyone agreed, so Jack came out in the hallway and glared at Charlie.
"What the Hell is this all about? It better be important or I'll have you suspended for charging in like that."
"Jack, my son found your son naked and unconscious in the school parking lot last night, completely drunk and sexually assaulted. If Dave hadn't found him and called me your son might be dead. Right now he's OK, he's recovering and may be OK physically once the booze wears off but I don't know about his mental state."
Jack Roberts appeared to deflate and suddenly he looked really tired and old and defeated.
"Is he here in the hospital?"
"No. The ER was overwhelmed last night with bar fights and traffic accidents, so my son and I took him home and he's recovering there."
Jack Roberts sat down in the nearest chair, put his head in his hands, and it looked like he was about to start crying.
"Thanks! I'm sorry I yelled at you. Everything's all come to a head and I'm having trouble coping. You see, about a month ago Steven's boyfriend Nick was killed in a car accident and it's just ripped our family apart. Steven can't cope with life, I know he's been able to get hold of alcohol somehow, I think he's smoking pot, he ditches school all the time, and he's just angry at everyone and everything. He won't speak to anyone. My wife couldn't stand it any longer, she blames herself because she was driving when she got t-boned by a drunk driver, so she had a breakdown and has gone off to Boston to stay with her sister, and I've got all sorts of crises to sort out here in the hospital so I don't have time for Steven."
"Jack, I'm sorry. I know about Nick Mancino, in fact I helped pull him out of the car when he was killed."
"Did he suffer?"
"No, he was killed instantaneously. He would never have known what happened."
"Jesus, what a mess!"
"Jack, when someone's killed like that we all remember them as the victim. But the real victims are the people and families who survive because they have to live with the loss for the rest of their lives."
"Tell me about it! But I don't know what to do!"
"Look, Jack," said Charlie softly, "let's do this. Why doesn't Steven stay with us for a couple of days until he's feeling well again. We've got a lot of support with me and my wife and my older son who's a senior at the high school, and even my younger son who knew Steven's friend Nick a bit. Then when you get on top of things here, we'll see about getting him back home to you. How does that sound?"
"Would really do that? I can't thank you enough! But you need to know something first. Steven's gay, and Nick was his boyfriend, and they'd been together for about a year and Steven's just devastated and full of grief, so looking after him isn't going to be simple."
"Yeah, I know. But I need you to do something else, please. It's a bit embarrassing but you have to give permission for a S.A.N.E nurse to come and take samples for a rape kit, and I'll arrange for a police officer to come along as well and take custody of the kit. Will you do that!"
Jack nodded, stood up, walked to the door of his office and asked his assistant to come in.
"Mary, can you find out if we have a male S.A.N.E nurse on duty who can go with the EMT to take a rape kit sample? Thanks."
While they sorted that out, Charlie called the police dispatcher and found out there were two officers at the hospital waiting for suspects to undergo surgery. He was able to borrow one for about half an hour to accompany the S.A.N.E nurse and take immediate possession of the rape kit.
"Jack, when you get out of this meeting, then either try come over to my house or call me and hopefully Steven will be feeling a little better and we'll try to work out how to look after him. OK?"
"I'll call first because I fear I'm going to be working really late today. Thanks again!" And Jack Roberts gave Charlie his number, and then he gave him a big hug. "Now, I better get back in there and see if we can't get this new communications system up and running! Goddamn millennials and their crazy ideas! The old system worked fine, and the new improved system doesn't fucking work at all!"
Charlie went back home. It was almost lunchtime, he was hungry and he wanted a nap before heading to work. He found Dave in the kitchen rooting around to make a sandwich, his wife was cooking something that smelled like chicken soup, and Sebastian was in his room taking a shower after soccer.
"How's the invalid?"
"He was sleeping a couple of minutes ago. He looks better."
Charlie poked his head into Dave's bedroom, and indeed Steven did look better. There was more color in his face, and he'd lost some of the dark circles under his eyes. Charlie thought it about time Steven woke up so we went over and gently shook him by the shoulder.
"How you doing, Steven?"
Steven stirred a bit, opened his eyes and squinted.
"Who are you and where am I?" he mumbled.
"I'm Charlie, I'm an EMT, and you're in my house because we found you last night by the football field and brought you home. How are you feeling?"
"My head hurts and my mouth feels horrible. What happened?"
"I think you got really wasted last night. We found an empty vodka bottle near you."
"And I think you got raped as well."
"My ass hurts a lot."
"Steven, I've got a S.A.N.E. nurse here, and I'd like him to take some samples."
"Huh? What's a sane nurse mean?"
"It's a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner, and if there is evidence of sexual assault all EMT's are obliged by law to get a S.A.N.E nurse to take samples so we can test for DNA. And I'm afraid you qualify because you've got blood and what looks like dried sperm all around your asshole."
Steven just shrugged again. "Whatever you want, I don't care."
The nurse and the police officer came in, and quickly got the samples needed, sealed the rape kit, and they headed back to the hospital.
"OK, Steven, I think you need to get up, take a shower, and then we'll see if you can get some food inside you. That will help you feel better and it's better than taking aspirins on an empty stomach. Do you think you can manage that?"
Steven just shrugged but nodded.
"Stand up real slow, I'll catch you if you fall, and we'll get you to the bathroom."
Steven stood up, Charlie steadied him and then walked him to the bathroom. He turned on the shower, waited for the water to get warm enough, and then turned to Steven.
"OK, get undressed. I'll wait until you're safely in the shower before I leave you alone." Charlie waited for Steven to get undressed, but nothing happened. "Steven, when we found you last night you were more or less naked, just a tee shirt. I'm an EMT so I've seen everything you've got and more. I want you standing upright in the water before I leave because once you're under the water you'll suddenly feel a lot better and able to keep your balance. Now, strip! I'll put some clean clothes out for you. When you're ready you'll find us in the kitchen. OK?"
Steven nodded, and then very slowly took off the tee shirt, then he turned away from Charlie and slipped off the boxers. Charlie was impressed by Steven's body, he clearly had been working out. Steven opened the shower door, walked in and let the water stream over him.
"OK, I'm leaving," said Charlie, "Yell if you need anything."
Charlie headed for the kitchen. Dave was stuffing a very large sandwich into his mouth, Sebastian was trying to do the same, and Mom was ladling out some chicken soup for Charlie, together with a more modest sandwich and some chips.
A few minutes later Steven walked rather shyly into the kitchen.
"Come in, Steven," said Dave's Mom, "I'm Mrs. Connors and you've met all the others. I made chicken noodle soup, that'll make you feel better than that disgusting stuff Charlie made you drink earlier!"
Steven blushed, sat down and very gingerly started eating a little of the soup. Sebastian excused himself and went off to his room to play some video games. Dave busied himself picking up the other dishes, loading the dishwasher, and cleaning the kitchen.
Steven didn't say a word, just mechanically spooning soup into his mouth. When he'd finished the bowl, Mrs. Connors pointed to it, and raised her eyebrows, and Steven gave a slight nod so she ladled more soup into his bowl and he started to eat that as well. When he'd finished he just sat there without moving, and then put both hands on his head and grimaced.
"You'll probably feel shitty most the rest of the day, Steven," said Charlie, "so you may want to take it easy this afternoon because you'll feel really tired. Why don't you go back to bed and try to sleep a bit more?"
Steven didn't say anything and just sat there. Charlie got up, took his arm, got him to stand up, led him back to Dave's room, got him to lie down on the bed. He shut his eyes and in a little while he was asleep again.
Back in the kitchen Dave and his Mom and Dad looked at each other.
"Dad, he looks like a zombie. Do you think he's OK?"
"Yes, probably. He needs a lot of sleep, and his body is still getting rid of all the booze he had last night, and he feels shitty, and he's probably embarrassed although when people get that drunk they don't always remember what happened. Dave, promise me you'll never go on a bender like that, its really bad for you and it's very dangerous. But there must have been some reason to get that wasted, that's what worries me."
The afternoon passed slowly. Charlie went to take a nap before he had to go to work, Dave played a video game with Sebastian just to keep himself occupied, and Mrs. Connors started cooking dinner.
When Dave heard Steven using the bathroom, he went across the hall, knocked on the door, and found Steven sitting on the bed staring into space.
"Feeling any better?" Steven didn't say anything but gave a very slight nod. "My Dad's going off to work in a few minutes but he'd like to talk to you before he goes. Do you think you could do that?" Steven didn't move or say a word. "Come on!"
Charlie gently took Steven's arm and led him into the kitchen.
"Well, you look a little better, Steven. I hope your head's not hurting so much." Steven just shrugged and sat there staring down at the table. "Look, Steven, I know this isn't easy for you and I expect you're still feeling like crap and you're really embarrassed and you just want to go home and forget about everything." Steven gave a small nod. "Well, I'm sorry, Steven, but that's not going to happen. I went to see your Dad this morning and he and I agreed that because he's working until late tonight and because your Mom's not home and because you're in bad shape, you're going to stay here tonight and maybe another day or two depending on your Dad's work, and Mrs. Connors and me and Dave are going to get you back on your feet. And your Dad might come over here if he gets off work at a reasonable time. OK?"
Steven didn't say anything but he did look up at Charlie and just shrugged, then very softly he said "Whatever!" and got up and shuffled back to Dave's room and closed the door behind him.
Charlie leaned back in his chair and looked at his wife and son, shook his head and said very quietly "We've got a really messed up young man here. We're going to have to tread very carefully. I think there's a lot more going on here than just a hangover."
"Dad, you never asked him about, ummm, you know, the blood and stuff?"
"No, I don't think he's ready for that, Dave, let's wait on that until he's a bit more communicative. Now, I've got to go to work. I'll be back tomorrow morning about seven, then I've got twenty four hours before switching to the day shift Monday morning. Can you two handle it? Good. Dave, maybe after breakfast tomorrow you could take Steven home and get him some of his own clothes. That might make him feel better. And try to keep Seb away from this as much as possible, he's too young still." Dave and his Mom both nodded, so Charlie picked up his bag and headed out to work.
"Mom, maybe we should just have something like nice comfort food tonight, nothing fancy, but something he might like?"
"How about meatloaf and mac and cheese, would that work?"
"Sounds good! I'll wake him up about seven, OK?" And Dave left to go and keep Sebastian entertained so he wouldn't get antsy and disturb everyone.
A few minutes before dinner was ready, Dave went into his room and found Steven lying on his back staring at the ceiling. "Hi, Steven, it's time for dinner. You want to get up and come along? You must be hungry. I mean, Mom's chicken soup is really good but that's not enough to keep a teenager alive!"
Steven shrugged but did let Dave take him by the arm and get him sitting up, and then they went into the kitchen. Dave was right. Steven was hungry and he ate a great deal of meatloaf and mac and cheese and had a second helping. Mrs. Connors smiled at him. "Looks like that hit the spot, Steven!" Steven shrugged again but did give her a nod, a little bigger than before, which gave Mrs. Connors hope that they might be able to get him to communicate.
After dinner Dave and Sebastian and Steven sat in the den watching a movie. Steven didn't react to it even though it was very funny, he just sat there and stared at the TV. When the movie was over Steven stood up and without saying a word walked out, went to Dave's room and shut the door behind him.
Sebastian looked at Dave. "What's wrong with him? He doesn't say anything!" Dave turned to his younger brother. "I know, Seb, it's a bit difficult, isn't it. He's had something really bad happen to him and he's really upset about it, and it may take him a while to get over it, but let's just pretend everything's normal. OK, can you do that?" Sebastian nodded. "OK, Dave, but seeing you're sleeping in my room tonight we're going to play video games all night and I'm going to whip your ass!" Dave just laughed. "Dream on, squirt, I'll thrash you at whatever game you want to try!"
The next morning Charlie came home about seven and took a long shower and sat and had a cup of coffee with his wife, and then they started making breakfast. This was a Sunday tradition in the Connors household whenever Charlie wasn't working, and they always had a big feast of scrambled eggs and bacon and hashbrown potatoes and sausage patties and toast and juice.
The smell of bacon was enough to wake Sebastian because he hadn't reached that age when teenagers want to sleep until noon and he made sure Dave was awake by jumping on his bed because he wanted to get to breakfast quickly because he was starving. Dave wanted to sleep more but his young brother wasn't to go let that happen, so he got out of bed and then quietly went into his own room to see how Steven was.
Steven was lying in bed. He was awake, staring at the ceiling, and didn't react when Dave said good morning to him. So Dave pulled off the covers and helped Steven get out of bed, pointed him towards the bathroom, waited while he heard him peeing, handed him a clean tee shirt and shorts, told him breakfast was almost ready and he was expected to come and eat as soon as he was dressed.
Steven looked at him blankly, shrugged, turned round, pulled on the shorts, tugged the tee shirt over his head, combed his hair with his fingers, and followed Dave into the kitchen.
"Good morning, Steven," said Dave's Mom, "are you feeling alright this morning?" Steven shrugged but gave her a tiny nod. "Good, you must be hungry. I know everyone else is. Here you go!" And she put a plate of the famous Connors breakfast in front of him.
Steven looked at it, and then hunger got the best of him, and he picked up his knife and fork and started eating. Nobody said anything, but that was because they were all eating as well.
Charlie looked at Steven when he had finished everything. "Better?" Steven shrugged, but gave him a small nod also. "Good! Seeing you're here for a couple of days, Dave's going to run you over to your house and get some of your clothes and your phone or iPad of whatever. Is that OK?"
So they got into Dave's Miata and went over to Steven's neighborhood, which was a bit more fancy than Dave's. But when they went into the house, Dave was shocked. It was filthy and messy. The kitchen was full of unwashed dishes and takeout carton and pizza boxes and empty beer cans and a couple of empty bottles of vodka, and what looked like joints stubbed out on a dirty plate.
"Steven, why don't you go to your room and you get some clean clothes, and I'll look for a garbage back or something to put them in, OK?"
Steven didn't move, so Dave took his arm and gently led him down the corridor until they reached what looked like Steven's room. It was no better than the kitchen. There were dirty clothes all over the floor mixed in with soda cans, beer cans, an empty bottle of vodka, his desk was just a heap of books and folders and other school stuff.
"OK, you pick out what you need for a couple of days, and I'll be back," Dave said. "Want a soda?" Steven didn't say anything, so Dave went off and found some soda and brought it back to Steven's room. Steven was standing where Dave had left him.
"OK, let's do this. You pick out some clothes you'd like washed, and grab anything else you need, like your iPad or phone or laptop or whatever, and I'll go find a trash bag and we'll take some clothes back to my place and run the washing machine. OK?"
Steven just shrugged, so Dave went back to the kitchen and eventually found a trash bag and went back to find Steve. He was just standing where Dave had left him.
"I tell you what, I'll just pick a selection of stuff and we'll take that and wash it. It's not like we're formal at home, so some tee shirts and shorts and underwear and some socks should be enough."
Steven just stood there and watched while Dave filled the trash bag with dirty clothes. Eventually Steven went over to his table and picked up his iPad and found his phone and his wallet, and they went back to Dave's place. Steven did say a word the entire trip.
In the Connors household, if you wanted clean clothes you did your own laundry. So Steven stood as Dave sorted out the clothes into dark pile and a light color pile, and did the light clothes first and when they were in the washer they got some soda and went and sat in Dave's room.
"Feeling OK?" Steven just shrugged. Dave took a deep breath. "Look, Steven I don't know what's happened to you and I know you're feeling shitty and angry at everyone and all that, but you need to at least be polite to my Mom and Dad, they're trying very hard to help you."
Steven looked up at Dave, and then tears started running down his cheeks and he started to sob, so Dave sat down next to him and hugged him and let Steven cry.
It took a long time, but eventually Steven stopped crying, and Dave got him a clean washcloth and wiped off his tears and got him to blow his nose. Steven looked at Dave and then very quietly he whispered "Sorry. Thanks, Dave."
"It's OK, Steven. Let's go deal with the rest of the laundry." As they walked through the kitchen to the laundry room Dave caught his mom's eye and gave her a little nod and a wink.
They put the washed clothes in the drier, loaded the washer a second time, and went to the kitchen. Mrs. Connors had made then a snack with some fruit and cheese and crackers. Steven sat at the table, then he looked up at Mrs. Connors with tears in his eyes and said very softly "I'm sorry I've been so rude, Mrs. Connors, you've been very kind."
And Mrs. Connors smiled at him and reached over and gave him a little hug. "That's OK, Steven, don't worry about it."
After the boys had finished their snack, Dave looked at Steven and said "Look, Steven, I think we need to get out of the house and do something different. It's a beautiful Florida day, not too hot. How about going and playing Crazy Golf?"
Steven looked at him rather blankly and shrugged. "Whatever. I mean, if that's what you want, I guess it's OK."
Although it wasn't an exactly enthusiastic endorsement, Dave took it as a 'yes', went to Sebastian's room "Get your skinny little ass out here, squirt, we're going to play Crazy Golf!"
"YEAH, I'm ready, I'm going to be champion!" Dave asked Mom to lend him her car because the Miata wasn't big enough for three, and they went off.
At first the Crazy Golf seemed like a really bad idea. Sebastian was all enthusiastic and trying to find every way to cheat and really enjoying himself, Dave was playing along with Sebastian and trying to make it fun, but Steven just went through the motions without seeming to have any fun at all. Then Sebastian started playing tricks on Steven, including kicking his ball way just when Steven was about to hit it, and eventually Steven started to smile and be a bit more animated because Sebastian's enthusiasm and excitement were pretty contagious. And they decided to play a second round where nobody was cheating and Steven showed he was quite good and was able to win most of the holes, Dave let Sebastian cheat a little bit so he could win some holes, and by the end of it they were all enjoying themselves.
By the time they got back to Dave's house, Charlie had woken up and so he took the three boys out into the yard where they arranged a type of game of touch football, Charlie and Sebastian against Dave and Steven, and it turned out to be mostly a game of more than touch football because it included a lot of tickling, especially of Sebastian who was very ticklish. And eventually they ended up all hot and sweaty and had to go and take showers, and then they had cold sodas and ate dinner and while Steven didn't say very much at least he said a little, and the Connors all behaved as if it was all perfectly normal and nothing was out of the ordinary.
After dinner Charlie took Steven aside into the living room. "Steven, tomorrow's a school day and Dave and Seb will have to go. But I think you can decide if you want to go or if you want to stay home. After all, there's only school up until Tuesday and then it's Thanksgiving break and school's out for five days. What do you think?" Steven sat and thought for a while. "Mr. Connors, I think I'd like to stay home, if that's OK. I don't think I can face going back yet."
"That's fine, Steven, I understand. Can I tell your Dad so he doesn't get worried?"
"OK. He'll need to tell the school I'm sick or something."
"Shouldn't be a problem. Do you want to talk to your Dad?"
"Not really, but I guess I ought to."
Charlie called Steven's Dad to explain everything and tell him what was going on. Jack said he thought they had got through the worst of the system upgrade, but he was staying late at the hospital while they ran some more tests. They agreed that maybe Jack could drop by the following day when he got off work and see Steven, and Steven nodded his approval. Then Charlie said that maybe he could talk to Steven, and handed the phone to him.
"Hi, Dad…….I'm OK……I got a lot of sleep and I'm feeling better…..the Connors have been very kind……I don't know…..well, OK, if you come over tomorrow we can talk about it…….OK, see you tomorrow, Dad….Bye….Me too, bye."
Charlie and Steven went back to the den where Dave and Sebastian were watching TV.
"OK, you three," said Charlie, "it's a school night so no staying up late, you understand?"
"Sure, Dad" and Charlie left them alone.
Then Steven spoke up. "I think I should move into Seb's room, Dave, you need to have your own room back. Is that OK, Seb?"
"Wow, yes, I'd love that, it'll be fun, we can play…"
"Seb, you little squirt, it's a school night so normal bedtime. Remember what Dad said!"
"Yeah, I know, but maybe just one game or two?"
"OK, just one. Is that OK, Steven?"
"Yeah, OK. Let me get my stuff from your room." And Steven disappeared for a few minutes. "OK, I'm all set. Now, Seb, if you want to play a game we better get going because it'll be your bedtime soon."
Dave looked at him. "Thanks, Steven, that's really nice of you."
It was really nice for Dave, because now he could FaceTime Jessica before she and her family took off for Thanksgiving with relatives up in Georgia, and maybe they could do something naughty because Dave was feeling pretty horny, and that's what they did, and then Dave took another shower to clean himself up.
In the other bedroom Sebastian was doing his best to beat Steven at FIFA 18, but he didn't know that this had been one of the games Steven and Nick had played a lot. So it was pretty one sided until Sebastian started to get frustrated so Steven began to make a lot of mistakes and finally let Sebastian win. Suddenly the effects of Crazy Golf and Touch Football and exercise and fresh air took its toll and Sebastian began to yawn. So he got up, and without thinking pulled off his shorts and underwear and put on his sleeping shorts, and Steven got a very good look at Sebastian and realized he really was still a kid with a fairly small dick and maybe the first signs of just a few pubes starting to grow.
In almost no time Sebastian was fast asleep. Steven lay on the other bed thinking hard about how kind the Connors had been to him, and what he was going to do about school and his Dad and everything and he started to get a bit depressed but eventually he fell asleep.
Steven was woken up by an alarm clock, and lay in bed watching Sebastian drag himself out of bed and go take a shower and get dressed for school.
"Aren't you getting up, Steven? You'll be late for school!"
"No, Seb, I've got the day off!"
"Asshole. Why can't I stay home then?"
"Because. Tough shit!"
"I hate you!"
After he'd heard Sebastian and Dave head for school and heard Charlie leave for work, Steven decided to get up and take a shower, get dressed, and see if there was some breakfast.
"Good morning, Steven, there's cereal. That's weekday breakfast around here."
"Thanks, Mrs. Connors."
"You're welcome!" And Steven spooned cereal into his mouth and drank the juice that Mrs. Connors put in front of him.
"Do you have any plan for today, Steven?"
"No, Mrs. Connors. Well, I guess my Dad might come round but that's in the evening."
"Yes, he said he'd try to be here for five. I invited him for dinner."
"You're very kind, Mrs. Connors."
"Steven, it's part of being a human being. You have to go and help others because that way when you get into a mess, others will come and help you."
"Oh, the 'Golden Rule' thing."
"Yes. Unfortunately it seems to be going out of fashion as everyone becomes more self-centered, but Charlie and I both believe in it, and I hope Dave and Seb will be the same. Now, are you any good at gardening?"
"No, not really."
"OK, I'll teach you. I need to get the flower beds in good shape before Thanksgiving and I've been neglecting them."
For the next couple of hours Steven and Mrs. Connors got down on their hands and knees and weeded and pruned and made the flower beds look a great deal better. And while they worked they talked about different things, nothing personal because Mrs. Connors didn't want to upset or scare Steven. And eventually Mrs. Connors called for a break.
"Wow, thanks, Steven, you've really helped. It's much quicker with two than one. We've broken the back of the front flower beds!"
Steven looked around and felt he had indeed accomplished something, and he felt good because it was a little bit of payback to Mrs. Connors for her kindness. "Yeah, it looks good, doesn't it!"
"OK, sit down on the patio and I'll get us some cold drinks." And she came back in a couple of minutes with lemonade and cookies.
"Steven, I don't want to pry or anything, but I'd like to ask you a rather personal question. Do you mind? If you don't want to answer, it's OK, and I'll shut up."
Steven thought for a moment, and absent mindedly ate a cookie. "Well, I guess you can go ahead as long as I have the choice not to answer."
"After Nick was killed, have you been able to talk to anyone about it?"
Steven looked at Mrs. Connors for a long time, and then he started to speak very softly. "No, not really. My Mom was completely out of it because she was driving when Nick was killed, and Nick was like a second son to her, so she kept blaming herself so she couldn't function properly, so she left to go to stay with her sister in Boston because she couldn't cope any more. And my Dad and I don't have a very intimate relationship, I mean we get on OK but we've had some really bad times before we came to Florida and we're still learning how to deal with our relationship, and he's buried in his work all the time anyway. My Dad did try to get me to see some therapist from the hospital but that didn't work, I didn't like the woman at all, so I only went once."
Mrs. Connors could see tears in his eyes, but she was determined to keep going. "Did you ever talk with Nick's parents?"
"NO, THEY HATE ME!"
"Why do you think they hate you, they knew you and Nick were completely in love with each other."
"BECAUSE I FUCKING KILLED HIM, THAT'S WHY!"
"Steven you didn't kill him, some asshole of a drunk driver killed him!"
"BUT I MADE HIM COME TO WATCH MY GYMNASTICS MEET AND IF HE HADN'T COME HE'D STILL BE ALIVE."
Tears were streaming down Steven's face but he didn't make a move to get up and leave.
"Steven, did you go to all of Nick's soccer matches."
"Yes, of course, I'd never miss a game, I loved watching him play."
"And did he come to all your gymnastic meets?"
"Well, I guess."
"You mean that he came because you forced him to? That doesn't sound right. I think he loved watching you."
Steven was sobbing hard. "But if he hadn't come that day he'd be alive."
"Yes, that's true, but the accident wasn't your fault. You can't take the blame for something that you didn't do. Nick wanted to be there with you, and then shit happened."
She stood up and walked over to Steven's chair and knelt down and hugged him, and Steven wept and wept and wept and Mrs. Connors just hugged and patted his back and let the poor boy grieve until he was exhausted.
When Steven seemed pretty much cried out, at least for the time being, she led him inside and got him into the bathroom and cleaned off his face and then got him to sit on his bed.
"Steven I know you're fourteen, almost fifteen, and boys your age aren't supposed to cry, but when you're full of grief and sadness, it's the best thing to do. You can't hold everything inside and pretend everything is well because that makes it worse. And the more you can talk to people you trust, so much the better. And your problem is that you haven't had anyone you trust to talk about all of this, so I hope you'll trust me just a little bit."
Steven sat there, looking pale and drained and very tired. "Mrs. Connors, you've been so kind and patient, and I do trust you. Thanks for listening to me."
"Steven, I'm so happy to hear you talking. That's absolutely the best thing you can do."
Steven nodded and sat quite still. Mrs. Connors sat there next to him, not knowing if he was going to say anything more or whether she should get up and leave him alone to sort out his thoughts. She decided to get up, but as she started to stand, Steven pulled her down.
"Mrs. Connors, there's something else I need to tell you. But it's really embarrassing so I'm not sure how to start."
"Just take your time, we've got all day."
Steven nodded. "You know that your husband and Dave think I was raped that night?"
"Well, I wasn't."
"But they saw blood and stuff…."
"It wasn't rape. I told the boys who did it that if they would give me some weed and booze then they could fuck me. And that night wasn't the first night that happened, it happened lots of time, except for some reason I really got wasted that night. I hated what they were doing but it was the easiest way to get weed and booze because I don't have a big enough allowance to pay for all of that."
Mrs. Connors just kept quiet and let Steven work through this. "I wanted to kill myself when I learned Nick was dead but I'm a chicken and I couldn't do it. So the only way I could think of surviving was to get high and drink myself stupid. I could get through school most days by smoking dope, I mean nobody really notices, but at night I needed something stronger and those boys could get me booze in exchange for having my ass. And that's why Dave found me like I was."
And then Steven broke down into tears again and Mrs. Connors just hugged him and patted his back and got him to lie down and before long Steven was asleep.
Mrs. Connors went downstairs, made herself a cup of very strong coffee, and sat and went over everything that Steven had told her. Then she called a friend who worked as a therapist to get some advice, and then she called Charlie and told him what had happened, and both of them felt Mrs. Connors had done absolutely the right thing because Steven needed to get all this stuff out of his head and into the open.
Knowing Steven would feel drained and still very emotional when he woke up, she let him sleep. Finally he woke, and she heard him in the bathroom, and when he came out she asked him if he was OK, and he nodded, and then she gave him a bowl of her famous chicken noodle soup and Steven ate that. And she didn't say a word because she had no idea what Steven's state of mind was.
Steven finished his soup, and looked very remorsefully at Mrs. Connors. "I'm sorry to drag you into all of this shit."
"Steven, don't beat yourself up. Just take it day by day, hour by hour, and we'll work this. OK? Trust me?"
Steven nodded. "I don't know what to do next. I need some space to think about all of this."
"I understand, but I do know what you're going to do next."
"What?" said Steven, with a trace of panic in his voice.
"We're going to go back outside and finish off those flower beds, that's what we're going to do. Gardening is a great way to think."
And they finished off the weeding together. Not a word was spoken, but Mrs. Connors just felt that some of the dark clouds had been pushed aside and there was a little glimmer of light for Steven.
Dave and Sebastian got back from their school while Steven and Mrs. Connor were still working in the garden.
"Why do they have to give us homework when it's only two days of school this week. They're just sadists!" complained Sebastian as he staggered into the house with his bulging backpack."
"Seb, you didn't have to stay home with your Mom and do weeding and stuff! Want to swap?"
"No way, school's much easier."
After he'd taken a shower and got dressed, Steven waited for his Dad to come. When he arrived, just about five o'clock as he'd promised, he greeted Mrs. Connors, said hello to Dave and Sebastian, and then turned to Steven.
"Come and give your Dad a big hug. I've missed you and I feel really bad about it!"
"Mr. Roberts," said Mrs. Connors, "why don't you and Steven go out and sit on the patio and catch up on things, and I'll bring you something to drink. Mr. Roberts, iced tea or beer?"
"Beer would be wonderful, Mrs Connors, and my name's Jack, please."
"OK, Jack, I'm Helen, and I want to tell you how much we've liked having Steven here."
"Well, I'm really grateful, Helen, for everything you've done for him, and me. I can't thank you enough. Come on, Steven, let's go sit outside."
They sat down and Helen bought them out a tray with their drinks. "Dinner is in about an hour. Charlie will be home by them. Is that OK for you, Jack?"
"Wow, thanks, Helen!"
At first there was a little awkwardness between Steven and his Dad because it was like neither of them knew how to start what might be a very difficult conversation.
"Ummm, Dad, how's it going at the hospital?"
"I think we're finally getting there. Today's test was successful, and we've got a complete test tomorrow, which will show if it's working properly or not. I hope so, because I'm sick and tired of the whole mess. I need a vacation."
"You've spent too much time there."
"You're telling me? And it's meant I've really neglected you, and I feel bad about that because I haven't been there for you when you needed support."
"Dad, I understand, it's been tough for you and Mom as well as for me. And, let's be honest, you and me haven't exactly been very good at talking to each other about serious stuff for quite a while."
"Steven, I'm sorry, I'll try to do better."
"Dad, I'm not blaming you. It's just who we are. And today I've been able to talk to Mrs. Connors about stuff I could never talk to you about."
"Has she been helpful, then?"
"Yes, she let me just talk about what's happened to Nick and to me, and I guess she's made me realize that it wasn't my fault he got killed. But I still feel guilty."
There was a long pause. Jack was pretty impressed with what his son had said and needed to think it over. "I'm sorry, Steven, I hadn't realized you blamed yourself for Nick's death because I just assumed everyone knew it was an accident. But grief is very strange and people get all messed up because of it."
"Yeah, I guess. And I guess talking about it has really helped me because it was all bottled up inside and I pushed everyone away as a result."
Slowly the tension began to lessen between them. "Dad, what's going to happen with Mom? Is she going to come home?"
"Yes, I wanted to talk to you about that. I talked to her yesterday and I think she's had the same problem as you. She blamed herself for the accident when she did nothing wrong and she felt she was responsible for Nick's death and your despair. But her sister has helped her a lot. So I asked her if she was going to come home, and she said she wasn't sure yet, but she said if things between you and me got better, and you were beginning to cope, then maybe she needed to be back here with us."
"I think she needs to come back, Dad, because if she stays too long she may never come back."
"I agree, Steven, and that would be awful. So I suggested to her that if my work gets cleared up tomorrow, and if she wants to have Thanksgiving with her sister, then she could fly down on Friday. I've taken a long weekend of vacation starting at noon on Wednesday, because if the system works tomorrow they don't need me, and if it doesn't work then we're back to square one and the software designers will need a week or more to rewrite sections of the programming. So that gives all three of us time to spend as a family and try to piece our lives back together again. Is that OK?"
"Yes, Dad, that's good. I promise I'll be on my best behavior when she comes back."
"Thanks, Steven, I really appreciate that!"
There was another pause in the conversation. Then Steven started fidgeting. "Dad, I guess I've learned something today I didn't want to recognize."
"Well, I realize that when Nick and I were together we sort of shut everybody else out because we were so happy together. And now he's gone, I realize I sort of lost touch with a lot of my friends and I didn't have anyone to talk to about it. So I owe a big debt to Mrs. Connor for letting it all hang out this morning."
"Well, I don't know what you talked about, and I'm not going to ask because it's up to you to decide if you want to tell me or not. That's up to you. What's important is that you have someone you can talk to and I bet that even after you come home, she'd be willing to listen to you if you needed to talk."
Mrs. Connors came out. "Jack, Steven, Charlie just got home so if you want to wash your hands and stuff, dinner's in about ten minutes."
"Thanks, Helen, that's very kind of you. Come on, Steven, let's go."
Dinner went well. The conversation kept going and they didn't talk about Steven or Nick or the hospital. There was some conversation about Thanksgiving and which football matches they were going to watch, and how much pie Dave and Sebastian thought they'd be able to eat. After they'd finished eating Charlie asked for everyone's attention.
"Look, I know we're all thinking of Thanksgiving. Jack, you haven't told us your Thanksgiving plans."
"Well, I don't really have any other than I took time off from work. You see, there's just a chance my wife will come back on Friday and the house is a mess so I fear Steven and I will be spending quite a bit of time cleaning so she doesn't take one look and go straight back to the airport."
"That's no way to spend Thanksgiving. So what I'm going to is this. Helen here has to cook on Wednesday to feed the two horrible monsters we call our children, and I'm working until Wednesday evening. So I'm delegating Dave and Seb to come over to your house on Wednesday afternoon and they can you help clean and do laundry and stuff, and if you're lucky you'll be finished Wednesday evening and if not they'll come back Thursday morning and you'll all be finished by noon, and then you and Steven are coming here and we can watch the first football game and have a beer or two and then we'll all eat Thanksgiving dinner together. Any objections?"
"No way I'm doing that," said Sebastian.
"Overruled. Or no pie for you on Thanksgiving."
"I hate you, Dad."
"Fine. Suck it up. You're doing it to help Mr. Roberts here who runs the best hospital in this state, and if you think I'm bullshitting, go ask anyone and they'll tell you that our hospital is the best and most efficient, and it's all due to Mr. Roberts here who's been working eighteen hours a day to make everything happen, and I'm proud to have him here to share Thanksgiving with us."
"Charlie, that's very kind of you and very generous, and I promise we'll make it up to Dave and Sebastian, won't we, Steven?"
"Damn right, we will, Dad! We need all the help we can get to make the house ready for Mom!"
Jack Roberts left shortly after dinner, but not without thanking the Connors for their kindness and generosity and for everything they'd done for Steven.
"I'll see you Wednesday just after noon, Steven, and bring the two slaves with you, OK?"
The day started pretty much like Monday. Sebastian was pissing and moaning about having to go to school while Steven got to lie in bed all day, despite Steven reminding him that he'd spent half the day weeding and having to talk to Sebastian's mother, and that there was more of the same for him today. Sebastian didn't buy that, but he cheered up when he realized it wasn't a school night today and he could stay up late and play video games with Steven.
After Dave and Sebastian had left, Steven ate his cereal and then they started on the back garden, which didn't have many flower beds so there was much less to do. They worked quietly, without talking, until Mrs. Connors called for a break. It was ten o'clock, and she thought juice and cookies were called for.
After washing his hands, Steven sat outside admiring his handiwork when he heard to doorbell, and Mrs. Connor greeting someone. A couple of minutes later she came out with a tray with a coffee pot and a glass of juice and a plate of cookies.
"Steven, I've got a visitor here, and she'd like to meet you. Don't be worried."
When the visitor stepped out of the backdoor, Steven wasn't worried, he was terrified. "OH MY GOD! NO" he shouted standing up. It was Mrs. Mancino, Nick's Mom.
Mrs. Mancino walked over to Steven. She didn't say a word, she just opened her arms wide and nodded to Steven who looked like a rabbit in the headlights. And then he gulped and looked at her, and his eyes started watering and he rushed into her arms and started crying his heart out, and Mrs. Mancino started crying and they hugged each other as hard as possible with tears streaming down their faces. Very quietly Mrs. Connors went back inside the house and hoped she'd done the right thing in arranging the meeting, but she knew in her heart that Steven needed to do this as part of his healing process. And her therapist friend had thought it was in order as well.
It took a long time for Steven to stop crying. Mrs. Mancino just stood there while the poor boy wept. She didn't need to say anything so she just hugged him and patted his back and let the grief pour out.
Eventually Steven stopped crying, and Mrs. Mancino got out a handkerchief and cleaned his face up a bit from all the tears and snot.
"I've missed you so much, Steven. I know you didn't want to come and see me because you felt so much guilt about Nick's death, but it wasn't your fault and I think you're beginning to understand that, right?"
Steven nodded and gave her a big hug. "I'm sorry, I've missed you so much but I thought you'd never want to see me again."
"I know. But Steven, you know we loved you just as much as we loved Nick, and we've felt as if we didn't just lose one son, we lost both our sons. So I'm so happy to see you again. We've really missed you, our house is so empty and we'd love for you to come over from time to time. We love you for who you are, not just because you were Nick's boyfriend."
Steven started crying again, and they hugged each other until he managed to get control again.
"Steven, I know how hard it is to cope with losing Nick, and so suddenly and in such a horrible manner. At first Dad and I didn't know how to cope either, but we've managed to find a way which is that whenever we start to feel sad and depressed because Nick is gone, we try to talk about something we remember about Nick that made us happy and proud to be his parents. And we think of you when we do that because you were the best thing that ever happened to Nick. You made him so happy. He never stopped talking about you, and he was miserable whenever you two couldn't be together."
Steven didn't say anything but he gave a big squeeze.
"So, Steven, I think you and I need to try to see if we can't try to remember some really good times with Nick. We'll never forget him, and we want to keep him in our minds by keeping the best memories of him right there."
Steven still didn't say anything but he kept hugging Mrs. Mancino.
"I remember the first time you came to our house to finish off that science project. After you left, Nick couldn't stop talking about you, and he had this stupid grin on his face, and he said he couldn't wait for you to come over again. He was so happy, and it was clear to me that he'd fallen in love with you."
Steven looked up and a small smile appeared. "Yes, I think we both knew right away that we were made for each other."
"And then he got so angry when we evacuated before the hurricane and you stayed here and you couldn't have your first sleepover together as planned. I mean it was pretty clear that he was expecting to sleep with you so he was really frustrated. Dad and I had to pinch ourselves to stop from laughing because he was so upset it was almost funny. And he worried all the time until he heard you were safe."
Steven's smile got a little bigger. "I remember him telling me he forgot to ask you to get the spare mattress for me, and we had to sleep in the same bed, and then later he confessed he'd planned it that way all along."
"And when you two came down for breakfast the next morning you were both radiantly happy and it was clear that you two were really in love with each other."
And slowly, over the next hour, they swapped stories about Nick and Steven began to realize that it was possible to remember Nick and all the good times they'd had together without getting sad and depressed.
Mrs. Connors got Mrs. Mancino to stay for lunch, and while Steven didn't say very much he was more communicative than he'd been since Dave found him. Inside Mrs. Connors felt relieved that getting Mrs. Mancino to meet Steven seemed to have worked out really well, and when Steven spoke again she knew she'd done the right thing.
"Ummm, Mrs. Mancino, I wonder if we could do something together this afternoon. I think I need to go to see Nick's grave. Could we do that?"
"There's nothing I'd like to do more. I'm so happy you asked. I was going to suggest it, but I didn't want to force you to do something you weren't comfortable with."
Then Mrs. Connors had another idea. "What are your plans for Thanksgiving? If you and Mr. Mancino are going to be by yourselves that would be terrible. Steven and his Dad are coming and we'd be thrilled if you two could join us. After all, we're all part of Steven's family now!"
"Well, that's really kind of you, Helen. We don't have plans but we don't want to intrude."
Steven immediately butted in. "No, you must come, please, I want you to be here. You've helped me so much this morning and it's the perfect way to thank you. So please say 'yes'!"
And she did with great joy in her heart. And then the two of them went to the cemetery, and they sat on the grass in front of the grave, and they continued to swap stories about Nick and all the good times they'd had. And when Mrs. Mancino dropped Steven off he was smiling and gave her a huge hug, but this time it was a happy hug and there were no tears at all.
With no school the three boys slept in. Steven had gotten used to sharing a bedroom with Sebastian and didn't feel awkward about just lying in bed once he'd woken up. Eventually the smell of bacon made him realize they needed to get up, so he got out of bed, shook Sebastian awake, and told him to get dressed because breakfast was ready. Seb moaned and complained, so Steven pulled off his sheets and started to tickle him. That woke Sebastian up and during his futile efforts to escape, Steven saw he had a normal teenager's morning wood. It wasn't very big, but it showed Sebastian was slowly starting to grow up physically.
Once out of bed, Sebastian went and woke up Dave, and it wasn't long before the three kids were stuffing bacon and eggs and home fries into their mouths like there was no tomorrow.
Charlie looked at the three eating machines. "You all better fill up because you're all going to have to work hard this afternoon cleaning Steven's house and stuff. His Dad will be here in a little while and we don't want to keep him waiting. Steven, you have a pool, don't you? Why don't you all take swim trunks so once you're done you can relax a bit."
Sebastian started to whinge about spending a day off school cleaning a house, but he was quickly put in his place. "No pie for whingers, remember, and you're doing this to say thank you to Steven for being so nice to you the last few days!"
Steven's Dad turned up just after noon as promised. Mrs. Connors made him a sandwich which he ate quickly, and then he got the three boys and all the cleaning materials and detergent and mops and everything else they needed, and as they set off Mr. and Mrs. Connors looked at each other and winked.
They arrived at Steven's house and all of them looked at each other and grimaced because they knew what it looked like inside. "OK, everyone, let's get this over with!"
And with that Jack Roberts opened the back door into the kitchen, and stopped dead in his tracks. "WHAT THE HELL?"
The kitchen was spotless, the floor was gleaming, all the dishes were put away. And on the kitchen table was a bunch of flowers and a note.
Everyone was speechless as they walked through the house. Steven hardly recognized his own room it was so neat and tidy, and all his clothes washed and ironed and put away more or less in their right places.
When they got back to the kitchen it was Sebastian who spoke first. "Yeah, no cleaning! Let's go swimming!"
And the four of them spent about an hour swimming, and then they had a snack and drinks, and then Jack got an Uber to take Dave and Seb home because Steven decided he needed to sleep in his own bed again. And later Steven and his Dad went out for a big steak dinner, and they talked about all sorts of things and slowly began to bond again. Steven felt a little sad his Mom wasn't there, but his Dad said she really wanted to have Thanksgiving with her sister's family as she hadn't done that for a while.
Dinner wasn't until three o'clock so Steven and his Dad had a lazy start to the day, ate a modest breakfast, and rather than going to the Connors to watch the early football game, they went down to the beach for a walk so as to get their appetites up for the feast they'd been promised.
Then they took an Uber to the Connors house because Jack wanted to have some wine to drink with dinner and they they found everyone else had arrived. Jack and the Mancinos had a long, long hug because they hadn't seen much of each other apart from Nick's funeral, and soon everyone had something to drink and stomachs were growling.
It wasn't long before everyone had a full plate of turkey and stuffing and gravy and cranberry sauce and green beans and mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes. There wasn't much conversation because everyone was eating.
Eventually, when everyone had had second helpings and stomachs were bulging, and there was a much needed break from eating before the pies came out, the conversation started to pick up. There was an agreement among everyone that they shouldn't talk about Nick because Steven might get upset. If Steven wanted to talk about Nick, that would be OK, but nobody else was supposed mention his name. Obviously Steven wasn't party to this agreement.
But it was inevitable that someone would say something, and as you might expect, it was Sebastian who was the first person to mention Nick. It came about because someone asked him how things were going at school.
"Well, it's school. It's OK, I guess. There's nothing very exciting happening. Halloween was sort of a bust at school this year because everyone remembered what happened last year when Steven kissed Nick in front of everyone…...OH SHIT! I'M SORRY".
Ans Sebastian ran out of the room and into his bedroom and slammed the door and you could hear him crying. There was a stunned silence, then Mrs. Connors started to get up.
"No, let me go," said Steven, "I think I know how to calm him down."
Steven went into Sebastian's room and found the poor kid bawling his eyes out. He sat down and put his arm around Sebastian and started to try to console him.
"Steven, I'm so sorry, I really fucked things up! I mean everyone asked me not to mention Nick's name in case you got upset, but I blew it!"
"Seb, it's OK, it didn't bother me. Mrs. Mancino and I spent a lot of time talking about Nick and now I think I'm over the worst. So don't be upset!"
Sebastian slowly stopped crying, but he didn't want to go back to the dinner table because he was so embarrassed.
"Seb, there are some pies out there with your name on them. And if you come back, I'll tell everyone a secret about me and Nick that almost nobody knows. So you'll be in on something. But it has to stay a secret. Could you do that?"
Eventually Sebastian calmed down enough to go back to the dinner table.
Steven sat down and looked around the table. "Look, everyone, it's OK by me to talk about Nick. Mrs. Mancino has been wonderful to me, and we've talked a lot about all the good times Nick and I had together. So don't worry, Seb, it's all fine. And while you all eat pumpkin pie and apple pie, I promised Seb I'll tell you all a secret about Nick and me."
The pies were brought out and everyone tucked in.
"You all know how Nick and I made a deal that we would kiss each other in front of the whole school and try to do this without anyone knowing. Well, the day after the performance, we got called to the Principal's office, and we both thought we were going to be in trouble. So without telling Nick, I decided to confess to Mrs. Tanner what we had done because I didn't want her to hear it from anyone else.
"Well, when I started to own up about lying to Mrs. Tanner, you should have seen Nick's face. I thought he was going to crap himself, ooops, sorry, but Mrs. Tanner cut me off and told us we had done a wonderful job and everyone had enjoyed the show. And she said she wanted to thank us but wasn't sure how. Then I did tell her how we'd planned the whole thing together. She gave us that steely eyed stare that puts the fear of God into you, and told us to sit still and not say a word and walked out of the office.
"Nick and I were terrified she was going to punish us. Then we heard her announce over the loudspeakers that the last class was cancelled, and we'd have an ice cream social to congratulate Nick and me on a great performance. When she came back, she shut the door, and told us never to tell anyone else about what we planned, but she was glad we'd been honest with her and owned up to lying to her, and that if she'd found out from somebody else that we'd lied to her she would have been really angry. And she asked us not to tell anyone about this, because if people found out we'd lied to her and she didn't punish us, she'd lose face in front of the school. So we agreed, and that's the first time we've told anyone else. So please keep it as a secret, everyone, and especially you, Seb, because you're still at school there."
Everyone was laughing by the time Steven had finished his story, and the tension that had sprung up when Sebastian first mentioned Nick's name had disappeared.
So Mrs. Mancino said she'd like to tell a secret about Nick and Steven. "The first time Steven came to our house to sleep over it was just after the hurricane last year. Normally when Nick had had friends over we'd put out an extra mattress on the floor and make up a bed for his friend like that. So before Steven came over I asked Nick to help me with the mattress but he said we'd do it later so we'd have enough space to play games and stuff before we made up the bed. I was a bit dubious because kids stay up late playing video games and stuff but I agreed. And it was only later that I found out Nick had planned the whole thing because he wanted to sleep with Steven and thought if there was an extra mattress Steven might chose that option."
Steven was bright red by this stage, but he managed to speak. "Yeah, Nick told me about it later. At first he just said he'd forgotten to get the mattress but later he said he'd engineered the whole thing. Ummm, and I'm glad he did!"
And the rest of the evening passed with people telling stories about Steven and Nick and things they'd done together. And so the evening became a celebration of Nick and Steven's time together. And as the party started to break up, Steven stood up and asked for everyone's attention.
"Not long before Nick was killed, we had an assignment in Social Studies to discuss the phrase 'It takes a village to raise a child'. And in discussion there were lots of different viewpoints about the role of parents and families and the community in helping raise kids.
"What I've learned these past few days is that it takes a village to help a broken hearted boy heal and start the long process of becoming whole again. All of you here are my village. You've all helped me begin to climb out of that pit of despair into which I fell. I couldn't get out by myself, and even my parents weren't able to get me started on the road to recovery. So it was up to the Connors and the Mancinos to start the process
"So I want to thank everyone here for everything they've done. I'm looking forward to Mom coming home tomorrow so she can be part of the healing process, and we can help her heal as well, and I'm looking forward to getting back to school again. I need to catch up, but perhaps more important is that I try to make some friends of my own age. Dave and Seb have been great, and I need more friends like that. And by 'friends' I don't mean boyfriends. I'm not ready for that. At some point I'll be ready again, but it's just too early.
"I know this is only the beginning of a long road for me. But you all are special. I don't know how to thank you all for your help, so the only thing I can do is to promise to try to continue recovery along the road which you've helped me start to travel. I know now that when I get depressed and miss Nick that I can come and talk to any of you and you will continue to help me. I've learned a lot about human concern and kindness from all of you, and I owe you a promise that I won't shy away from coming to talk to you when I need help. So thank you all for being Steven's village. Happy Thanksgiving!"
There were no dry eyes around the table when Steven finished, but there were lots and lots of smiles and hugs, and everyone went to bed feeling this had been the best Thanksgiving ever.
This story is part of the 2018-2019 story challenge "Recovery". The other stories may be found at the challenge home page. Please read them, too. The voting period of 4 January to 25 January 2019 is when the voting is open. This story may be rated, below, against a set of criteria, and may be rated against other stories on the challenge home page.
This challenge is to write a story based on the recovery of one or more of the cast from a dark place. There is no picture. Instead we are looking for tales which are able to paint a dark word picture and show recovery and hope.
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