Mike and I had both turned to get a last glimpse of our guide as he closed the door. This was not lost on the man in the office.
"Good evening, gentlemen. Welcome. Please sit down, and we can have a chat," he said. He stepped from behind the desk and came forward to shake hands with us. He looked a little older than our dads, but not that much, and I immediately noticed that he had a wedding band on his finger. "My name is Carl Hensworth. I'm a lawyer with a practice in town. I do some pro bono work for the advice centre some evenings, which is why you needed to make an appointment. I work here because that young man who showed you in is my son. He suffered a lot growing up simply because he didn't know his rights and was too scared to talk to his parents. When we eventually discovered what was happening to him we were horrified and did what we needed to do to help him. Back then this advice centre didn't exist. It was partly through Simon's case making the headlines that concerned gay citizens started it up. Simon works here full time during the day. He basically runs the centre and ensures that when the professionals come in they have what they need to be able to help those in need. There's a telephone help line, manned twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, and when you leave here you will have that number. Okay, enough of the background. Let's get down to why you are here. But before that, I have spoken with both of your fathers over the phone and know what they want. If you would rather talk to me without them present I'm sure Simon will be able to rustle up a coffee for them in the waiting room," Carl explained.
"Oh no, we're fine with having our dads with us. I don't think there's much that they don't already know, so there shouldn't be any gasps of surprise," Mike said.
"But I could do with a glass of water if that is possible, please?" I added.
"That can be arranged, but is water alright or would you prefer something a little stronger, like tea or coffee?" Carl asked.
"Two glasses of water would be great. I feel very thirsty and don't really want anything hot," I said.
"Right that's two waters for you and how about the rest of you? Tea, coffee, or water?" Carl looked at each of us and we all plumbed for water.
Carl moved around his desk again. Leaning forward, he pressed a button on his intercom. Without waiting for an answer he said, "Simon, we have some thirsty guests here. Could you please bring us some glasses and a large jug of water, son."
"Sure, Dad," a not quite so tinny voice responded.
"While Simon is organising that, let me get sorted out who is who out of you four."
"Oh, sorry. I'm Dan and I'm the father of this one, who is Mike, and foster father of this one, who is Steve."
"And I'm Dick, father of Steve and foster father of Mike. Ahh, that is really presumptive foster father, as there is nothing legally making us that. We just love both boys as if they both were our own sons," Dad explained.
"Good! I am glad. You two boys should consider yourselves very fortunate to have fathers who care that much about both you and your friend. There are not many gay teens who enjoy that luxury. Believe me; I've seen many who would give almost any part of themselves to have half of what you have," Carl told us.
"We know that, and we do appreciate it. When I see what some of the others at school do to keep things hidden from their parents I am so glad that I don't have to do that. I also like that I don't have to keep anything hidden from my boyfriend's parents either. Our being here tonight is an example of that," I said.
A knock on the door interrupted the conversation and Carl called out for Simon to enter. Neither Mike nor I could keep our eyes off his body as he carried a tray over to the desk and put it down. Then he turned the glasses over and began to pour water into each one and pass them round. As he handed Mike and me our glasses he made sure to let his finger slide over our hand that was holding the glass as he pulled his hand away. This was not lost on his father who reprimanded him, "Simon, behave yourself."
Simon turned to look at his father with a little grin on his face and then shook his head. Turning back to look at Mike and myself he said, "Nice to meet you." Then he wiggled his butt out of the office, closing the door behind him once more.
"Sorry. Simon likes to play that game with me because he thinks I get embarrassed by it, but actually it shows me that he is healing and that makes me glad. So what I need now is to learn exactly what you know about this boy and his sister, as well as what you have heard but have not witnessed for yourself. Steve, I would like you to begin. Mike, you can add anything else that you know that Steve doesn't mention. Please use the real names of anyone that you talk about. This will all remain confidential." Carl refilled my glass with water; I had already drained it.
"I think it would be easier for me to tell you what I know from the beginning and you will be able to tell what is third hand and what is first hand knowledge, if that is okay?" I asked.
"Yes, that will be fine. Just give me the chance to get behind my desk so that I can make some notes," Carl said.
"You mean you're not taping it?" Mike asked in astonishment.
"This centre runs on donations and a small contribution from the council. We can't afford things like recorders and a person to transcribe the recordings. So we make hand written notes of interviews, and I take them back to my secretary at the office to transcribe," Carl explained.
"Dad …" Mike began, looking at his father, only to see his father shaking his head and putting a finger over his lips.
"Let Steve tell the story," Dan said.
I began by explaining the setup between us and the girls and how I had ended up as the only one of the three of us at Carrie's sleepover, where the girls first talked about Jay. Then I went on to explain in as much detail as I could remember what had gone on at our house while my parents were in Paris, including my private chats with Jay. I also mentioned how I had offered to let Jay talk to me if he wanted and that I was very concerned about how I would control my urges if he presented the opportunity.
"Steve, that sounded very comprehensive to me. Mike, is there anything you want to add?" Carl asked.
"Only that I am in the same boat as Steve, very worried about how I might react to any advances Jay might offer. But as to the rest I can't add a single thing. I think Jay needs to be relieved of this situation and allowed to be an innocent ten year old," Mike said.
"I think we are all agreed about that. Now let me explain how each of you stands legally," Carl began. He explained how the law worked and how doing nothing is not always the best option as it could be construed as aiding and abetting a criminal act. "However, by coming to see me tonight you have that covered. The solution to the main problem, though, is not that easy. Can you confirm that all the girls whom you know to be involved are under the age of eighteen?" Carl asked.
I looked at Mike. We both nodded, and he said, "I know that all those names we have mentioned are definitely either just a few months past their seventeenth birthday or younger. But I don't know if there are any other people involved who might be older." I nodded to indicate that I agreed with him.
"Good. That gives me a little leeway. This is what I'm going to propose. I'll use my own law firm's stationery so that there's no direct link with the centre and through it to the two gay boys that these girls know. I will write a letter to the parents of Judith and Jay and advise them that allegations have been made that Judith is molesting Jay and allowing other girls to do the same. I will also tell them that as Judith is still legally a minor she can escape being handed over to the police if the parents can give me definite assurance that they have taken action to ensure that Jay is never in a situation where he can be taken advantage of by Judith and her friends. I will further advise the parents that if they fail to provide that assurance within the next three months I will be obliged to give the authorities all the information I have. Their response would definitely involve interviews under caution and criminal proceedings, possibly even in adult court rather than juvenile. And I will suggest to them the form the assurances should take to satisfy me so that I do not take it further.
"Now it's out of your hands. Now let me offer you boys some advice: if Jay comes to you to take you up on your offer to talk, do not let yourself be alone with him in a private place. Take him to the mall and sit in a coffee shop, someplace like that where you can talk privately but there is no chance that you can do anything illegal with him. Jay might need to know he has someone he can talk to who will not condemn him or accuse him of lies, or worse, hate him. He might just need a friend he knows he can trust. It would be good for you to explain to him that you are taking him to public places for both his and your safety."
"Wow! Thank you. I certainly did not expect it go like this," I said. I felt Mike squeeze my hand as I said it, indicating to me that I had once more mirrored his feelings. "And thank you for your advice concerning talking with Jay. I really did not want to let him down."
"There is more," Carl cautioned us. "There is the possibility that the parents might seek advice from their own lawyer and I might be forced to release to that lawyer the identity of my source. In that eventuality the two of you might be asked to attend at that lawyer's practice to be interviewed. You cannot be forced to attend such an interview, but it would be in both your and Jay's best interests to do so. If that happens, get in touch with me first. I will accompany you to make sure you are properly protected and not tricked. As you are both minors, your fathers will also be allowed to be present, and I would recommend that very strongly."
"Would that still be pro bono or would there be some solicitor's fees involved, as it is a matter of our choice?" Dad asked. "I mean, we would certainly pay the fees, but just so that we can get prepared for it if that should happen."
"No, I started this as a pro bono case because it involves gay minors who were simply seeking advice for themselves and it will continue as such. Also I am appalled by the way Jay is being treated. I would give up my house if it meant that he could be protected from this. I told you my son suffered and was persecuted terribly just because some people thought he was gay. They did not even know for sure that he was gay. What I have learnt from him and the evidence I have seen as the case unfolded leaves me sick to the stomach. I will do all that is in my power to stop anything like that or like the molesting of this boy from happening to any young person. Whether it be from that person's peers, friends or family makes no difference. I cannot tell you just how strongly I feel about this and how sorry I am that it took something happening to my own son for me to see it for what it really is and start to take action. However, if you would like to, this place would not be ungrateful to receive any donation you might choose to make, but you need not make any donation at all."
"I know it is none of our business, but could we know what happened to Simon, and if there were any indications that we could look out for in others who might be suffering something similar?" Mike asked.
"I can't tell you what happened to Simon. If you come and visit here, he might tell you himself, but he might not, so don't be upset in that case. As to signs, it is very difficult, but if you see a change in someone's demeanour or character then you can be reasonably sure that there is some underlying problem that needs some attention. It doesn't mean that the person is being persecuted or anything; it might just be something as simple as he or she thinks they might be gay and are worried about it, or something totally different, like their parents fighting or splitting up, or one parent is an alcoholic. The best thing you can do for such people is to be a friend and let them share what they want with you when they want. But there are other counsellors who come here who can help in those sorts of cases more than a lawyer can."
"Well, I think we have taken up more of your time than we expected to. I just want to thank you for being so helpful and encouraging. We are proud of our boys and were really concerned for them in this matter. Is there a chance you could let us know if you have received the assurances you need so that we can let Steve and Mike know that it has all been settled?" Dan asked.
"I can't tell you what those assurances are, but I will give you a phone call when it all gets sorted or if it has to go to the authorities. And of course if it has to be taken further then you two boys will be questioned again. I will be willing to represent you again, because I'm proud of you for taking the stand you have even when you feel tempted yourselves," Carl told us and then spoke into the intercom
. "Simon, please can you bring some information packs for these folk, and then they will probably be leaving. Thank you."
"Thank you again. We really do appreciate your seeing us and advising us, but also for taking this on and going forward with it," Dad said.
"Well, like I said, I have a vested interest in this and here he is now," Carl said as Simon knocked on the door and entered.
He had two packs in his hands and gave one each to Mike and me. "If ever you want to have a chat just pop in. I'm in the office from nine o'clock every morning Monday to Friday and then at times over the weekend also. If you want more than just a chat give me a call and I will see that you are put with the right person to help you. So don't be strangers, please," Simon offered.
"Thank you. I think we might just pop in for a chat or two, but it would probably have to be during the school holidays," I said.
"Yeah, that is a bummer, having to go to school when you could be out chatting with a nice guy like me," Simon said, grinning and giving us a wink.
"Now, don't tempt them to cut school for a chat," Carl told his son.
"No, seriously, I would love to see you two guys some more, but in those packs there is a little card you could carry with you in your phone case or wallets or wherever that has a number on it. You can call that number free from any phone, including mobile phones, twenty four – seven and someone will answer it within thirty seconds. If you're in danger they will get help on their way to you immediately. It's not a 999 number but it's the next best thing, and we are always discreet. The card is nondescript, so if your friends see it they won't know it's a gay advice centre that mans the call room. Not that you have to be gay to call that number. It could be for anything from a problem with a drunken parent to being battered by your big brother, or being bullied at school," Simon said.
We heard a buzzing sound and Simon moved to the intercom on his father's desk, saying, "This could by your next appointment, Dad." Then he pressed a button on the machine and asked who was there. A tinny reply told him that his presumption was correct. "I'm sorry, but we try not to let clients see each other, just in case one recognises the other and it could cause some embarrassment. If I could ask you to follow me and wait in the waiting room, I'll show the others into Dad's office and then let you out."
"Of course. We understand. Lead on. Thank you both for all your help," Dad said as we all stood and shook hands. Simon led us to the waiting room and assured us he would be back soon.
Simon was true to his word and only a minute or two later he was back. "Can I offer you something more to drink or do you want to get on your way?" he asked.
Before anyone else could answer I said, "I would like another glass of water please."
"And then we will get on our way, but these two will come back and visit. I can see it in their eyes," Dan said, chuckling at knowing he had caused Mike and me a little embarrassment.
Simon checked if any of the others wanted some water and then went off to get mine. He brought it back and I downed about half of it without stopping for a breath. "Thank you. I don't know why I'm so thirsty today," I said and then finished the glass.
Dad stepped forward and held out his hand to shake Simon's. "Thank you, young man. We do appreciate all that you've done for us, and your father too."
Dan was next with the handshake and thanks, then I stepped forward and pulled Simon into a hug and gave him a quick peck on the cheek and said my thank you before I gave him another peck on the lips. Mike followed my pattern and Simon beamed.
"Now I definitely want you to come back for a visit. How about tomorrow?" Simon laughed and we laughed with him. He led us down the passage to the front door and pressed a button near the door to open it, then stood to the side, holding it open so that we could pass out. As I walked past him he slid his hand over my butt and mmmed. Mike got the same treatment, and we smiled at him as we stepped out into the cool night air.
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