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Chapter 6

Ben awoke to the sensation of being wrapped in warmth and love.

He smiled before his eyes had even opened.

The house was quiet and he knew that, since it was Saturday, no obnoxious alarm would be waking them. Cliff was home for the rest of the weekend and JD...

His eyes snapped open as he remembered what had happened to JD the night before.

As he turned to look at Cliff, he noticed that a small tuft of brown hair was resting on the pillow between them. Hair and eyes were all that the blanket revealed.

Ben felt a moment of panic as he realized that JD must have crawled into bed with them at some point during the night, and that he and Cliff were both naked.

As he was considering how he might be able to sneak out of bed without waking JD, a pair of blue/gray eyes opened and focused on him.

Ben's concerns about being naked were forgotten in an instant as those steel blue eyes looked at him anxiously.

"Good morning." Ben whispered, then leaned in to give JD a gentle kiss on the cheek, wanting desperately to assure him that he was safe and welcomed.

JD smiled and shifted so he could hug Ben firmly.

"Can you still talk?" Ben asked quietly, hoping not to wake Cliff.

After a moment to consider, JD slowly nodded.

Ben smiled at the silent response, and couldn't keep from chuckling a little bit.

JD gave a little-boy giggle at the humor of answering that question silently. Ben laughed quietly and hugged him closer.

"I should wake up to happy sounds every morning." Cliff said with a smile as he turned onto his side to look at Ben and JD.

"Good morning, love." Ben said gently.

"Good morning. I see that we have company." Cliff said with a tender smile and appeared not to be bothered by it at all.

JD shifted himself around, onto his other side, then put his arms around Cliff and gave him a firm hug.

Cliff returned his hug for a moment, then got a curious look on his face.

Ben watched with concern as Cliff lifted the edge of the blanket and peered underneath.

Cliff had a considering look for a moment, then it faded as he returned JD's hug and finished by giving him a kiss on the top of his head.

JD finally released Cliff from the hug and rested back, looking like a happy little boy.

After a moment, JD's look became pensive, then he finally asked in a whisper, "Is my real name Spider?" directing the question more toward Ben than Cliff.

Ben was once again taken aback by JD's slight Irish accent.

"Do you want it to be?" Cliff asked gently.

JD turned to look at him curiously.

Cliff realized that even though JD could talk now, that he had become accustomed to speaking non-verbally, so they should expect a large share of his communication to still be silent.

Finally Cliff quietly said, "We've been calling you JD because that was what they told us they called you at the Home."

"I think that the name Spider was given to you by someone who loved you." Ben said thoughtfully. "Whether she was good or bad, right or wrong, she loved you. So I think that Spider is your... 'love name'. It's not like a regular name. Only the people who love you get to call you that."

JD seemed to be considering for a moment, then returned his curious gaze to Ben.

Even though Ben had become quite good at interpreting JD's expressions, he still couldn't read the boy's mind. "You have a question?"

"Do you have a love name?" JD asked cautiously.

Ben chuckled and shyly admitted, "My mom used to call me 'Sweet Pea'."

JD smiled, then said, "Since I love you, do I get to call you that?"

"You've already given me your love name. You call me Daddy." Ben said gently.

JD thought about it for a moment, then broke into a broad smile, which both Ben and Cliff had come to know as JD's agreement.

"You don't have to talk about this if you don't want to, but I've got to ask..." Cliff trailed off as he backed away slightly to get a better view of JD's reaction. "...last night, why weren't you afraid of your mother?"

"I was." JD said simply.

"But you were nearly paralyzed with fear from the encounter with the woman at the library, and she was a complete stranger. I just want to understand." Cliff said gently.

JD thought for a moment, then quietly said, "I guess, at first, I was too scared to be scared."

Cliff nodded slightly, indicating that he understood what JD was trying to say.

"But then I felt you holding me and Daddy was there, keeping her from getting too close. And she wasn't as big and scary as I remember her. She was..." JD trailed off, searching for the right word, finally he quietly said, "...pathetic."

"I just can't believe that you held her hand." Ben said frankly.

"Yeah. Well, that's because I remembered what Zeb told me." JD said shyly.

"What was that?" Cliff asked curiously.

"Zeb said that it's okay to be scared. But sometimes you need to make yourself go ahead and do things, even if you're scared of them." JD said frankly.

"Good advice." Cliff said warmly.

"When I saw her standing there, talking to us, I was still afraid, but it was different. I knew I was safe and I felt sorry for her because... She had to have had a momma and a pappa somewhere, but I don't know if she ever understood love enough to feel it. Maybe what I told her will help her to figure it out." JD seemed to be in discomfort and absently brought his hand up to massage his throat. In a whisper he continued, "I feel really sorry for her."

"So do I." Ben said honestly.

Cliff had about a million questions that he wanted to ask JD, but he knew that too much, too soon, would be overwhelming for him. And JD seemed to have reached the limit of his talking for a while, so he slowly said, "I don't know about anyone else, but I'm getting hungry and I could really use a cup of coffee."

JD looked at Cliff with wide, hopeful eyes.

"Of course you can help. You go ahead and get started and we'll catch up to you in a minute." Cliff said gently.

"I love you, Pappa." JD whispered as he pulled Cliff into a quick hug and kissed him on the cheek.

Without hesitation, he turned himself around and whispered, "I love you, Daddy." and gave Ben a firm kiss too.

Ben's eyes went wide when he felt JD's body press against him.

Before he could think of what to say, JD extricated himself from the blankets and climbed out of the bed.

Ben and Cliff watched silently as JD's naked little tattooed body hurried out the door.

"I know that Mrs. Usher wouldn't approve, but I think that JD was probably feeling especially vulnerable last night and needed to feel that he was accepted by us. I don't think we should make an issue of it unless it becomes a habit." Cliff said frankly.

"Yeah. There's nothing like skin on skin contact to make you feel safe and loved." Ben said gently, then leaned over to give Cliff a firm kiss.

Cliff responded to the kiss, putting all his welling emotions into the expression of love.

When the kiss finally broke, Ben was a little bit dazed.

"We'd better get going before JD ends up cooking the whole breakfast." Cliff said gently.

"Yeah." Ben said with a goofy smile.

Cliff chuckled at the expression as he got out of bed.

* * * * *

By the time Ben and Cliff made their way into the kitchen, JD already had the majority of the meal well underway.

Cliff took care of pouring coffee and juice as Ben took over the toast making duties, leaving JD with the eggs and sausages.

As they settled in around the table, Cliff watched JD carefully, looking for any signs that he was bothered at all or having any difficulty with what had happened the previous night.

Finally, he determined that while JD was unusually quiet for a child of his age, that he didn't appear to have any of the classic manifestations of a post traumatic stress disorder.

"JD, do you know why you weren't able to talk before now?" Cliff asked carefully, trying to sound casual.

After a long, thoughtful moment, JD slowly answered, "Not really. I could hear you and understand you, well, mostly, but the thoughts in my head didn't want to come out as words. It's not like I was trying to talk and couldn't. There just weren't any words there to use. I knew that I used to talk before, but I just couldn't remember how."

There was a note of frustration in JD's voice that told Cliff not to pursue the topic any further just now. After everything JD had gone through, he didn't need to be subjected to an interrogation and they had plenty of time.

He decided to make JD's first day as a full participant in the world to be one of happiness, filled with everything that he enjoyed.

* * * * *

Although Cliff would have been willing to pack the family up and go to Disney World on a moment's notice, JD and Ben seemed to be perfectly happy doing their rendition of dueling laptops while he sat on the couch and watched football.

Even though JD could talk, it seemed that they had fallen back into the familiar routine of being silent.

A few times Cliff was actually startled when JD would speak suddenly, asking Ben how to spell a certain word or about some obscure fact in mythology.

Of course Ben, being the scholar that he was, would usually answer the question in a monologue that was far beyond the scope of the original question.

Cliff had particularly enjoyed an impromptu twenty minute dissertation on the origin and symbology of the caduceus.

"What would you guys think about inviting Todd and Wil over tomorrow night?" Cliff asked curiously.

"It's the weekend, so they're probably working. But if they're available, I think it would be great." Ben said frankly.

"What about you, little man? Do you think you'd enjoy some company?" Cliff asked gently, warmed to the depths of his soul to know that his foster son could give him a response.

"Yeah. I love Uncle Todd and Uncle Wil. If they're coming, I want to fix something really nice for them." JD said happily.

"They love your cooking, so that would be great." Cliff said warmly as he picked up the phone.

* * * * *

Both Ben and JD seemed to have run out of steam at just about the same time and were sitting looking at their respective laptops.

"I think we need to take JD shopping." Cliff announced into the quiet room.

From Ben and JD's matching looks of question, Cliff would be ready to swear that they had always been father and son.

"Ben was saying that you didn't bring that many clothes with you, and those that you have are wearing thin. Now that you can talk, you can let us know what you do and don't like." Cliff said seriously.

"And while we're at the store, we can go down the toy aisle to see what else they have." Ben said with a happy smile.

"For him or for you?" Cliff asked with a grin.

"I'll let you know when we've seen the toys." Ben said playfully.

"What do you say, JD? Are you up to a trip to the store?" Cliff asked hopefully.

"What if I..." JD began to say, then trailed off.

Cliff could see the anxiety in JD's expression.

"Come on up here, little man." Cliff said as he held out his arms.

JD got up off the floor by the coffee table and climbed onto Cliff's lap.

After a long moment of hugging, Cliff gently said, "Just because you can talk now doesn't mean that we expect you to behave any differently. If you still want to be held, we'll hold you. I promise that we'll be here to keep you safe for as long as you want us to be."

"Thank you, Pappa." JD said into Cliff's shoulder. "I was afraid that you wouldn't want to hold me now."

"You never have to worry about that, my precious little Spider." Cliff said as he held JD firmly in his arms.

Ben noticed the beginnings of tears in Cliff's eyes as he fought to hold back his own.

* * * * *

"Do you want something short sleeved?" Ben asked gently, not pushing but wanting for JD to at least think about it.

JD looked at Ben curiously, obviously wanting to know more.

"I think a plain white t shirt would look nice on you. That would kind of contrast your tattoos." Ben said casually.

"I think a tank style tee would be good." Cliff said thoughtfully.

JD looked at Cliff with confusion at the comment.

"You know, scoop neck, no sleeves." Ben said casually as he looked around, then found what he was looking for.

"Here. Like this." Ben said as he presented the package to JD.

"Wife beaters." JD whispered as soon as he saw the package.

"Yeah. I guess some people call them that." Ben said with a chuckle.

"Why?" JD asked curiously.

"I'm not sure." Ben said evasively, not wanting to get drawn into the topic of domestic abuse in the middle of Target.

"Do you think you'd wear something like that?" Cliff asked casually, coming to Ben's rescue.

"Lock used to wear shirts like this." JD said thoughtfully, then quietly added, "I could try, but would you be mad if you bought them for me and then I didn't wear them?"

"No. We won't be mad at all." Ben said gently. "It'll be just like the gloves, another choice and entirely up to you."

"Okay." JD said quietly as he handed Ben the package of t shirts to put into the cart.

"I think we've had enough clothes shopping for one day. I don't know about anyone else, but I'd like to look at the toys now." Cliff said as he injected cheer into his voice.

JD's only response was to thrust his arms into the air.

"Touchdown." Ben said warmly.

Cliff picked JD up and held him firmly for a long moment before walking slowly with Ben to the toy department.

* * * * *

"You don't have to buy me stuff." JD said quietly, still in Cliff's arms.

"We like buying you stuff." Cliff said honestly.

JD pulled away slightly with a look of confusion.

"You enjoy cooking for us, don't you?" Ben asked seriously.

JD slowly nodded.

"It's kind of like that. You like doing something nice for us, we like doing something nice for you." Ben said happily.

After a moment, JD seemed to accept the words.

"Here we are, do you want down so you can look around?" Cliff asked gently.

It took a moment, but JD finally nodded.

Cliff let him down to stand on his own, then stood back so JD could easily see all his choices.

Once again, JD was drawn to the aisle where he had gotten his yellow dump truck.

Ben and Cliff shared a smile as they watched JD slowly work his way down the aisle, sometimes touching things with his gloved hand.

When JD reached the end of the aisle, he turned, seemingly without any real interest in any of the toys available.

Ben looked around, searching for something else that might be of interest to him when Cliff noticed the frozen expression on JD's face.

He hurried to JD's side, afraid that he might have seen a woman, or something that was causing him to flash back on a painful memory.

When Ben noticed, he hurried to JD's other side.

It only took a moment for Cliff and Ben to see what had caused JD to freeze in his tracks.

There, on the feature shelf at the end of the aisle, was a display of firetrucks.

Cliff and Ben watched as JD slowly reached out his gloved hand and carefully trailed his fingers over the ladder on top of one of them.

"Pick one out, JD." Cliff said gently.

JD turned suddenly and looked at Cliff with wide, disbelieving eyes.

Even though he could use his voice, JD's eyes could still speak as clearly as they ever had. Right that moment they were saying, 'Really!?'

"Pick out the one you want and give it to your Daddy." Cliff said gently.

JD quickly turned to face the shelf again, then began to look carefully at each one.

Although they couldn't tell what criteria JD had used to judge the firetrucks, neither had any doubt that before it was over that JD had indeed, found the best one.

As Ben accepted the firetruck from JD, he quietly asked, "Would anyone like some ice cream on the way home?"

JD seemed to think about it for a moment, then quietly said, "I don't really like ice cream that much."

"You don't?" Ben asked with surprise.

JD shook his head, then quietly said, "But I like french fries."

"Well, I happen to know of a place on the way home that sells ice cream AND french fries." Ben said happily.

"It sounds like we have a plan. What do you think, JD?" Cliff finished gently.

JD looked up into his eyes, then slowly nodded.

"Do you think you're up to going through the checkout?" Cliff asked JD, trying to sound casual.

"I think I can do it, if I have to." JD said quietly.

"Well, I'm glad to hear that." Cliff said warmly, then added, "But you don't have to. How about I take you out to the car?"

JD slowly nodded.

"Would you like to be carried?" Cliff asked gently.

JD looked up at him and seemed to be conflicted.

"You know how nice it feels to be held?" Cliff asked as he looked into JD's eyes.

JD slowly nodded.

"It feels nice for me too." Cliff said honestly.

"Do you want for 'me' to carry 'you' out to the car?" JD asked with a grin.

Cliff made a show of thinking about it, then said, "Maybe next time."

JD smiled at the idea.

"Why don't we try something a little bit different?" Cliff asked gently.

JD looked at him curiously.

"Climb on my back and I'll give you a piggy back ride." Cliff said as he squatted down.

JD was still looking at him curiously.

"Come on, it's fun." Cliff urged.

Finally, JD nodded his acceptance.

"Climb on up there and hold on." Cliff said as he turned slightly.

Ben watched as JD awkwardly draped himself over Cliff's back.

"Hold on around his neck, but don't choke him." Ben suggested carefully.

JD did as he was told, then instinct took over as Cliff slowly stood.

His legs wrapped around Cliff and he held on firmly.

"When we're outside sometime I'll let you ride on my shoulders. That's fun too." Cliff said as he made sure that JD wasn't going to slide off of him.

"I'll meet you two out at the car." Ben said with a smile at the sight of his partner and their son engaging in such a wonderfully 'normal' father-son activity.

* * * * *

Cliff and Ben were snuggled together on the couch, supposedly reading, but both had their full attention on JD who was playing with his new firetruck.

Even though the firetruck could make three different sounds when you pushed the buttons, they noticed that JD seemed to prefer to make his own sounds.

And wherever the firetruck went, the dump truck was soon to follow.

Cliff noticed something seemed familiar about the sounds that JD was making for the firetruck. As he paid more attention to the sounds, he realized that they were vocalization exercises.

At some point JD must have met with a speech therapist and been given exercises to do to prevent vocal chord atrophy.

Cliff's mind started to wander again as he watched JD happily playing.

He pondered the fact that nothing he could possibly say or do could make the moment they were sharing one bit more perfect.

* * * * *

"What's that smell?" Cliff asked curiously as he awoke.

Ben opened his eyes, then took in a slow, deep inhale. "Waffles?"

"Did you show JD how to make waffles?" Cliff asked curiously.

"Yeah. A few weeks ago." Ben said as he slowly sat up in bed.

"He really is something else." Cliff said with a tender smile.

"I'm not around kids very often, but I really think we hit the jackpot." Ben said frankly.

Cliff chuckled and said, "We did. Trust me."

"I guess we'd better get up. Breakfast will probably be ready soon." Ben said as he got out of the bed.

As Ben walked into the bathroom, Cliff watched his bare butt appreciatively.

* * * * *

There was a gentle tapping on the bedroom door.

"Come in." Cliff said quietly.

JD carefully toed open the door, then walked into the room carrying a tray of food.

"As much as I appreciate breakfast in bed, I hope that you don't feel like you have to do this." Cliff said honestly as he accepted the tray.

"I don't. But I like to do something special sometimes, just like Daddy likes to go on picnics in the backyard." JD said frankly, then walked around the foot of the bed, toward the door.

Just then, Ben walked out of the bathroom and didn't realize until he was two steps into the room that he was standing naked in front of JD.

After a glance at Ben, JD walked to the chair by the door and picked up Ben's robe.

He walked to Ben and handed it to him, then pulled him down for a quick kiss on the cheek.

"Good morning, Daddy." JD said gently, then turned and walked out of the room.

Ben quickly pulled on his robe, then looked at Cliff with question.

"I get the feeling that JD doesn't have any issues with nudity or, at least, male nudity." Cliff said thoughtfully. "I say we don't worry about it until or unless it becomes an issue."

"But if Mrs. Usher finds out, we could lose JD." Ben said anxiously.

"If she were to find out, hopefully she'd be fair minded enough to talk to JD about it first and realize that it's just one of those things that sometimes happens. JD's not being traumatized by it and there's absolutely nothing sexual going on." Cliff said frankly.

"You have more confidence in her than I do." Ben said honestly, then smiled when JD walked into the room with another tray.

"That looks good." Ben said happily as he accepted the tray.

"Of course it does. You showed me how to make it." JD said with a grin.

Ben smiled warmly as he watched JD walk out of the room again.

"You know." Cliff began playfully, "His daddy can do anything."

Ben turned to reveal the tears in his eyes.

"Eat your breakfast before it gets cold." Cliff said gently.

* * * * *

JD walked into the bedroom carrying his own tray and automatically handed it to Cliff before climbing onto the foot of the bed.

Once he was settled into place, JD asked, "What are we going to do today?"

"Todd and Wil said that they have to work tonight, so I told them that we'd have dinner at five. That way they can still have dinner with us before going to work." Cliff said thoughtfully.

"I just need to review the writing I did yesterday so I'm ready to start fresh in the morning." Ben said casually, then added, "It shouldn't take me long."

"What about you, JD? What would you like to do today?" Cliff asked curiously.

"I thought, maybe I could go outside." JD said hesitantly, watching carefully for their reactions.

"Sure, just stay in the back yard close enough where you can hear us call and be sure to stay away from the pool." Cliff said slowly.

"Can I take my trucks down to the rock?" JD asked hopefully.

Cliff thought about it for a moment, then said, "That would be fine. Just be sure to let one of us know if you're going to be anywhere else."

"I will." JD said happily.

* * * * *

"Hey, JD. Do you mind if I join you?" Ben asked as he walked down the path.

"I don't mind." JD said as he loaded loose rocks into the bed of his dump truck.

"Good. I just thought that I could do my work out here with you, then when I'm done we could go in and make lunch." Ben said as he climbed onto the rock.

"Where's Pappa?" JD asked curiously, keeping the majority of his attention on his playing.

"Doing things with the cars. You know, checking the oil and stuff like that." Ben said as he waited for his laptop to boot.

There was a long moment of silence and Ben got the feeling that JD wanted to say something, so he waited patiently.

"I'm glad you came out here." JD said, then looked up to meet Ben's eyes and quietly admitted, "I was kinda scared out here all alone."

"Being alone can be scary." Ben said gently, then added, "But it's just like Zeb told you, being scared is natural. It's okay to be scared. But sometimes you need to make yourself go ahead and do things, even if you're scared of them."

JD looked up at Ben curiously, momentarily back to his silent state.

"I guess what I'm trying to say is that being alone isn't always a bad thing. If you can learn to be comfortable in your own company, then you'll be a lot better off than most people I've met." Ben said thoughtfully. "Too many people let a fear of loneliness drive them to make choices that are bad for them and they end up stuck in a situation where they're not happy for no other reason than they're too afraid to leave."

"So it's better to be alone?" JD asked slowly.

"Oh no. I'm not saying that." Ben said with a chuckle. "What I'm saying is that if you can be comfortable being alone, then you'll never allow yourself to be controlled by someone else for fear that they'll leave you."

"Like a boyfriend?" JD asked curiously.

"Or a girlfriend." Ben said with a smile.

JD crinkled his nose, but didn't voice his thoughts.

"I guess what I'm really saying is that being alone isn't always a bad thing and you don't have to be afraid of it." Ben said frankly.

"But you said that a lot of people are." JD said slowly.

"Yeah. At least, in my experience." Ben said simply.

"They must not have had anyone to tell them that being alone isn't always bad." JD said thoughtfully.

"No. I don't think that message gets passed around too much these days." Ben said warmly, realizing that JD understood the point that he was trying to make.

JD seemed to be lost in thought for a moment, then quietly asked, "Would you like to play with me? You can have the firetruck."

Ben smiled at the offer and was about to decline, but then thought better of it and said, "I haven't played in a while. You'll need to show me what to do."

JD smiled a broad smile as Ben climbed down off the rock.

* * * * *

Ben and JD looked up in unison at the sound of a ringing doorbell.

"They're early." Ben said absently as he peeled potatoes.

"Are there any carrots left?" JD asked curiously from the island.

"I peeled all of them, but I haven't cut them up yet. Go ahead and take whatever you need. They're in the sink." Ben said, focusing most of his attention on his potato peeling.

"I can do without them if you need them." JD said cautiously.

"No. I'm just making a pan of roasted vegetables. I don't need a certain amount of any one thing. I'm just using up the last little bits of what we have laying around." Ben said casually.

"How's it going, Ben?" Todd asked cheerfully as he walked into the room.

"I'm good. How are you guys today?" Ben asked pleasantly.

"We had a good night at work last night. We both made good tips, so we'll have a place to live for another month." Todd said happily.

"Congratulations." Ben said with a smile.

"How are you doing today, JD?" Wil asked as he watched JD taking two carrots out of the sink.

"I'm doing good." JD said with a cheerful smile.

Wil stared at JD with disbelief for a moment, then looked at Ben with question.

"He started talking Friday night." Ben said happily.

"What can I get you guys to drink?" Cliff asked from the kitchen doorway.

"Anything..." Todd said as he stared at JD, then quickly amended, "No alcohol, of course."

"I've got just the thing." Cliff said as he went to the refrigerator.

"So, how did this happen?" Wil asked quickly.

Ben looked at JD to see if he wanted to explain.

After scooting his chair back to the island so he could work, JD said, "I just remembered how to talk. I guess I forgot for a while."

"How are you? I mean, are you doing okay?" Wil asked with concern.

JD put down his knife and wiped his hands on a towel before getting down off the chair. He walked directly to Wil and gave him a firm hug.

"I think that means that he's fine." Cliff said with a tender smile.

"And that he appreciates you asking." Ben added gently.

JD released Wil from the hug, then walked to Todd to hug him just as firmly.

"It's good to see you too, JD." Todd chuckled.

"Even though he can talk now, sometimes it's easier for him to express himself the way that he's used to." Cliff said frankly as he mixed two drinks.

"Good. Because I don't get nearly enough hugs." Todd said as he held JD gently.

"I was meaning to ask, how did things go with your nieces?" Ben asked curiously.

Todd smiled as JD pulled out of the hug and went back to work, then turned his attention to Ben and said, "Screaming, swearing, throwing food... they learned a few new anti-gay slurs since my last visit. One of them I hadn't ever heard before. I was kind of impressed."

Cliff handed Wil and Todd each a tall iced drink.

Ben winced as he said, "It sounds like a nightmare."

"About average." Todd said with a shrug, then added, "Wil told me what a wonderful time he had over here."

"Well, we'll probably be doing just about the same thing on Christmas Day if you'd like to see for yourself. You're both invited." Cliff said frankly.

"Yeah. It'd be great if you could join us." Ben added hopefully.

"My sister's probably going to be expecting me." Todd said hesitantly.

"If you say that you'll come, I'll cook something special for you." JD said seriously.

"You will?" Todd asked with surprise.

JD nodded.

"Well, my sister 'expects' me, but you 'want' me. So I think, just this once, I'll go where I'm wanted." Todd said gently.

JD smiled happily before turning his full attention back to his salad.

Todd took a sip of his drink, then looked at Cliff and asked, "What the hell is this?"

"Pomegranate juice and cranberry tea." Cliff said with a smile, then added, "You said 'anything'."

Todd looked at the rust colored drink in his glass, then back at Cliff uncertainly.

* * * * *

"This looks really great!" Todd said as he looked at the food sat out on the table.

Cliff smiled as he said, "When we were talking about inviting you over, JD said that he wanted to fix you something special."

"Thanks, JD." Todd said honestly.

"Where did you learn to cook?" Wil asked curiously.

"We used to live with a man named Lock. He was really nice and let me help him in the kitchen all the time." JD said distantly.

"He sounds nice. What was he like?" Cliff asked carefully, wanting to encourage JD to talk without making him feel like he was being questioned.

"Lock was nice. I remember him telling my... her, not to tattoo my face. He told her that if she ever did, it would ruin me." JD said distantly.

Concerned glances flew around the table, but JD's attention was focused on the memory and he didn't notice.

"I remember thinking that Lock was being weird saying that because he had tattoos on his face and he was one of the nicest people I'd ever met." JD said thoughtfully.

"What happened to him?" Ben asked quietly.

After a moment JD sadly shook his head and quietly said, "I don't know. I can't remember."

"It sounds like you were really lucky to find someone like Lock who cared about you." Todd said frankly.

"Yeah." JD said quietly. "I loved him almost as much as I love my daddy and my pappa."

"I grew up without a dad. When I was your age I would have given just about anything to have a man in my life who loved me." Todd said seriously.

"Me too." Wil said quietly.

"I thought you lived with both your parents." Ben said cautiously.

"I did. But I was never what my father wanted me to be." Wil said in a weary tone.

"What did he want?" Cliff asked curiously.

"A jock." Wil said frankly. "I was never an athlete and never wanted to be one. But my father had a dream that I would be a success at every sport and the captain of every team. Since I didn't end up with a major league sports contract, he sees me as a failure."

"What about your mom?" Ben asked with concern.

"She's a screaming bitch." Wil said simply, as though he were stating a known fact.

"That doesn't sound like a very good home life." Ben said cautiously.

Wil shrugged, then said, "Better than some, worse than others. But I can't believe that after the childhood I had, that I'm not in prison or a drug addict."

"You turned out just fine." Ben said gently.

"Thanks, Ben. It's good to know that you think so." Wil said quietly.

"So, do you have any brothers or sisters?" Cliff asked curiously.

"Yeah. A younger sister, Kirsten." Wil said casually, then added, "She's kind of hateful and self-centered. I wish there was something that I could do to help her, but she's built up such a wall around her that even if I could talk to her, I doubt that it would do any good."

"If she's growing up the same way that you did, then she'll probably come around." Cliff said seriously.

"I think it's different for her because she's a girl. My dad never had any expectations for her." Wil said thoughtfully.

"I don't know if that's better or worse." Ben said with a dire look.

Wil shrugged again, then said, "Sorry for being such a downer. By the way, this food is great."

"Thanks." Ben chuckled.

"JD, do you have any brothers or sisters?" Todd asked curiously.

Cliff and Ben shared a look of surprise that they hadn't thought to ask.

"No." JD said quietly, then timidly added, "I always wanted a brother, but now I understand what would have happened to him if I had one. So I'm glad that I don't."

"How did you get the tattoos?" Todd asked carefully.

"My... Mom..." JD said, choking on the word, "...she was nuts and thought that if she could make me perfect that she'd break a curse on me. She thought that giving me lots of tattoos and drugs would make me that way."

Wil's eyes went wide at the statement.

"I guess none of us really drew the lucky straw when it came to parents." Todd said frankly.

Wil couldn't hold back a laugh at the statement.

Soon everyone, including JD, had joined into the laughter.

* * * * *

After Wil and Todd left to go to work, JD and Ben cleared away the dinner dishes and cleaned up the kitchen.

Cliff went into the living room and rested back on the couch to start reading his book.

When JD walked into the living room, he asked, "Can we go downstairs?"

"Would you like to play some pool?" Cliff asked as he put his book down.

"No. I think I'd like to read and it's more comfortable down there." JD said honestly.

"You know, I think you're right." Cliff said with a smile. "Go tell your Daddy where we're going to be."

JD smiled, then ran back into the kitchen.

* * * * *

The sound of Cliff's alarm clock jolted Ben out of a sound sleep.

After turning off the alarm, Cliff quietly said, "Go back to sleep."

"I have work to do." Ben said as he forced himself to sit up in bed.

"Do you have a lot planned?" Cliff asked with interest.

"Well, first of all I'll have to see what's accumulated in my inbox. I haven't checked my email since I sent off my updated list of citations." Ben said frankly.

"I don't see why that couldn't wait for a while." Cliff said honestly.

"Well, after I have that taken care of, I want to get back to researching for my next book." Ben said shyly.

"Already? You usually take a week or two off before you dive into the next one." Cliff said seriously.

"Yeah. I know. But this time is different." Ben said shyly.

"What did you come up with?" Cliff asked curiously.

"Nothing solid. Let's just say that I'm going to do some investigating about what the aethers have to say." Ben said frankly.

"But didn't she just make all of that up?" Cliff asked as he shifted onto his side to look at Ben more comfortably.

"There are at least some elements of an established mythology. I'm going to do some investigating and try to track it down and put it into context with Megara's distorted world view." Ben said slowly, "She saw herself as something different than us, another tribe, if you will. I want to see if there's any mythological basis for her beliefs."

"So if you find what you're looking for, you'll examine the old mythology and apply it to the goths and punks of today?" Cliff asked speculatively.

"Yes. At least, that's my plan at this stage. Depending on what I find, I may end up taking it in another direction." Ben said seriously.

"If you end up doing it, I'd like to read it when you're finished. It sounds really interesting." Cliff said thoughtfully.

"Thanks, love. I'll let you know as soon as it's ready." Ben said with a smile, then leaned in to give Cliff a quick kiss.

"Mmmm... As much as I'd like to take this to it's natural conclusion... I have to get ready for work. There's no way I can afford to be late after a four day weekend." Cliff said regretfully.

"I know. Maybe we'll turn in early tonight." Ben said with a waggle of his eyebrows.

"I'm just worried that if we do that, JD might walk in on us." Cliff said quietly.

"Let's just play it by ear. If we can get him to bed early, we might be able to manage a little time for us." Ben said warmly.

"I'd like that."

* * * * *

When Ben started looking through his emails, he found that he had three messages from his literary agent asking for him to call her immediately.

Since the contracts had already been signed for his last book and he hadn't started the next one, he didn't know what she could want.

"Good morning, Mason Associates, how may I direct your call?" A perky voice answered.

"Julie, it's Ben. Is Beth Anne in the office yet?" Ben asked hopefully.

"Oh, hi Ben. Yeah. She told me to put you through as soon as you called." Julie said quickly, then asked, "What did you do?"

"I don't know." Ben said honestly.

"Hold on and I'll get her." Julie said quickly, and before he could respond, she put him on hold.

Ben waited somewhat patiently as he racked his brain, trying to figure out what she could possibly want to talk to him about.

Finally, the call was picked up.

"What the hell is wrong with you?" Beth Anne asked abruptly.

"Excuse me?" Ben said quietly.

"In all the years that I've known you, you've been so anal retentive that you take the sofa cushion up with you when you stand, then all of a sudden you send me something like this out of the blue." She said dramatically.

"What is it that I sent you?" Ben asked hesitantly.

"Anathema Mythique." She said sternly, "Does that ring any bells?"

Ben thought for a moment, then quietly said, "Not really."

"Look, Ben. I think it's great that you're finally taking my advice and writing something more mainstream. And I agree with you that using a pen name is a good idea to differentiate this from your collegiate work. Although 'JD Stone' isn't very imaginative." She said frankly.

"Wait. Did you say JD Stone?" Ben asked slowly.

"Yeah. What does JD stand for, anyway?" Beth Anne asked curiously.

"John Doe." Ben said honestly as he realized what had happened.

"You would think a writer would have more imagination." Beth Anne said in a tone of long suffering.

"Listen, Beth Anne, I think I know what happened. JD is my foster son and he must have accidentally sent you the file he's been working on." Ben said seriously, thinking that he should have removed the email contacts from the netbook before he let JD use it.

"Yeah. Right." Beth Anne said sarcastically, then quickly continued, "I'd love to sit here and play games with you all day long, but I have work to do. I wouldn't normally do this with a novella, but this thing reads like it's a novel and a half. I've already sent out three teasers to publishers. If you're going to go through with this 'JD Stone' persona that you've created, then I'm going to need a new bio, a head shot and new professional contact info, since I'm assuming that you'll want to keep your mainstream correspondence separate from your academic."

"You're not listening to me, Beth Anne. I didn't write it. My son did. His name is JD." Ben said firmly.

"Your son? You're not kidding?" Beth Anne asked slowly.

"No. I wouldn't ever joke about JD." Ben said seriously.

"But, are you telling me that a kid wrote that?" Beth Anne asked slowly.

"Yeah. He's kind of special." Ben said and couldn't help but smile.

"I read that thing three times and I'm still not sure that I know what it was about. All I know is that I cried my eyes out over a stupid headless monster all three times." Beth Anne said seriously.

"A headless monster?" Ben asked cautiously.

"Haven't you read it?" Beth Anne asked suddenly.

"No. I didn't know he had finished it." Ben said honestly.

"Read it, then call me back. I think you'll agree that it's got a shot at being a mainstream hit." Beth Anne said seriously.

"I'll ask him for a copy as soon as he wakes up." Ben said disbelievingly.

"Okay. I've really got to go. Make sure to give that man of yours a big sloppy wet one for me. Ta." She said, then hung up the phone before he could respond.

Ben sat and stared at his computer for a moment as he tried to absorb what Beth Anne had just told him.

* * * * *

"Good morning, JD. Did you have a good sleep?" Ben asked gently when he saw JD standing in the doorway.

JD nodded slightly and it was obvious to Ben that he wasn't fully awake.

"Why don't you come over here and sit with me? I want to talk to you about something." Ben asked gently.

JD shuffled over to him and seemed to be almost boneless when Ben picked him up.

After a moment of holding JD on his lap, Ben quietly said, "My literary agent called this morning and told me that she got the file that you sent her."

"Did she like it?" JD asked curiously.

Ben smiled at the question and said, "She loved it. She said something about crying her eyes out about a headless monster."

"Fvuva. Yeah, that part's sad." JD said thoughtfully.

"Can I read your story?" Ben asked hopefully.

"It's gone. I sent it away." JD said quietly.

"You deleted it?" Ben asked curiously.

"No. I 'sent' it." JD repeated.

"So you went to 'File', then 'Send To'?" Ben asked slowly.

"Yeah. I saw you do that a couple times." JD said seriously.

Ben chuckled, then said, "When you do that, you only send a copy of the file, the original is still on your computer."

"Oh, good. Because I'd like to read it again before I start on my next story." JD said seriously.

"Before you do that, do you think I could read it?" Ben asked hopefully.

"Yeah." JD said with a smile. "That's only fair. You let me read yours."

Ben leaned down and gave JD a quick kiss on the top of his head, then said, "Just let me make a quick copy of the file for myself, then we can both go into the living room and read where it's more comfortable.

"Can we have breakfast first?" JD asked hopefully.

"Sure. In fact, we can have whatever you want." Ben said peacefully.

"I want to try to make Pappa's cheesy scrambled eggs. Those were good." JD said seriously.

"That sounds nice. Just let me know if you need my help with anything." Ben said gently.

After a long moment of thought, JD quietly asked, "Do we have any ham?"

"Not lunchmeat style, but I think I may have a chunk of ham in the freezer." Ben said thoughtfully.

"I just think Pappa's cheesy scrambled eggs would be really good with some thick slices of ham." JD said honestly.

"Ham steaks." Ben said with a smile.

At JD's curious look, Ben clarified, "That's just another way of saying thick slices of ham."

JD nodded, then said, "If you can fix the ham, I can fix the rest."

"Okay, then let's go make breakfast."

To Be Continued...

Editor's Notes: It really is nice that JD is now able and ready to talk. It is also very sweet that he still sometimes uses his body language to convey what he wants to say. Those things are part of him, and they show his feelings, even better than words, sometimes.

It was nice to find out who taught JD how to cook. I hope we find out a bit more about him, sometime. He seemed to be a very caring person. Hopefully, JD will remember more about him, eventually.

I am glad that JD has been able to get to the point where he can at least begin to understand that his mother did love him, in her own twisted way. Whether he will ever be able to forgive her for what she put him through, is anyone's guess.

One of the most wonderful things about children, as a rule, is that they can rebound from terrible circumstances and still retain the ability to love, if given the opportunity to do so.

It really was cute that JD sent his story to Ben's editor. It must be a pretty darn good story, for her to make such a fuss over it. I certainly want to read it. I think I need to have a nice long talk with JD and see if he will let me read it. Of course, once it is published, we can all go and buy a copy of it. Grin. I am trying to picture the Monster without a head.

There are quite a few details in this chapter that I suspect will turn out to be very important, later on. We will just have to wait and see, won't we?

Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher
Proofreader's Notes: I am glad to see JD coming out of his shell and being a real little boy. The surprise is JD has a book in progress of being sent out to publishers, Yikes!

Like Darryl, I want to see the Monster without a head. Thanks MultiMapper for this chapter it was well worth the wait!

Privatecomm983 -" Robert