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"This is Marc Stone." Marc said cautiously.
"What's wrong?" Collin asked his father with concern.
"I don't know. The guy just identified himself as a police officer and asked to speak to Marc." Galen said, as he watched Marc's expression.
Marc listened carefully and finally said, "Yes. I know where that is. We'll be there in about ten minutes."
Galen and Collin exchanged glances of question.
As Marc hung up the phone, Collin noticed that the color seemed to have drained out of his face.
"What's going on?" Galen asked in a small voice.
"We may need to be gone for a while. Go turn off the stove and I'll tell you in the car." Marc said with distraction.
Galen stared at Marc with concern for a moment, then rushed out of the room.
"Is everything okay?" Collin asked timidly.
"No. Far from it." Marc whispered, then patted his pocket to be sure that he had his car keys.
"I'm ready." Galen said as he rushed back into the living room.
Marc gave Galen a pained look and said, "Let's hurry."
* * * * *
"Can you tell us what's going on now?" Galen asked as Marc backed the car out of the driveway.
"It's Christian. He's in the hospital." Marc said and seemed to choke on the last word.
"Christian? MY Christian? How? What happened? Was he in a car accident?" Collin asked in panic.
"No. It wasn't an accident." Marc said darkly.
"Then what happened? Why is Christian in the hospital?" Collin asked desperately.
"If you'll give Marc a chance to answer he'll tell us what he knows." Galen said in a sympathetic voice as he looked at his son.
Collin nodded at his father, then looked at Marc in the mirror imploringly.
"I don't know much. All the police officer told me was that Christian's father beat him up. When they asked him if there was someone they could call for him, he gave them my card." Marc said quietly.
Silence fell over the occupants of the car as they thought about the words.
"He never said that his dad hit him." Collin finally said in a hollow voice.
Galen looked at his son and felt his heart break at the sight of Collin with tears welled in his eyes.
"He said that his dad's girlfriend treated him like he didn't belong here, but he never said anything about his dad hitting him." Collin said to his father in a whisper.
"It's not the kind of thing that you go around telling people." Marc said quietly from the driver's seat.
Collin looked in the mirror at Marc's eyes and saw the pain in his expression.
"You knew?" Collin asked cautiously.
"No. Not really... I just suspected." Marc said as his gaze met Collin's for an instant.
"But how? You didn't speak more than a dozen words to him." Galen asked in confusion.
"It wasn't anything that he said, it was something in his eyes. That's why I told him to call me whenever he was ready." Marc said honestly.
"I'm really glad you did that. I guess I'm still being obtuse and taking everything at face value. When I looked at Christian, I just saw someone that Collin had met while he was traveling." Galen said regretfully.
"And I wouldn't want you to be any other way. You tend to look at the surface of things and base your judgments on the things you know to be true because you've verified them with your own senses. I, on the other hand, am more likely to speculate on what's going on inside a person's mind and the motives behind their actions. The down side to that is that there are times when I'm wrong. Neither way is foolproof, but I think that between us we have everything covered fairly well." Marc finished with a gentle smile directed at Galen.
"Are we almost there?" Collin asked anxiously from the back seat.
"Just about. We're going to the Arnold Palmer Children's hospital." Marc said as he turned more of his attention to the increasing traffic.
Galen wanted to offer his son some words of assurance that everything would be alright, but without knowing more of the situation, he couldn't honestly make that promise.
"We're here." Marc said as he made the turn-off into the hospital parking lot.
Collin looked through teary eyes at the large hospital building in front of them and felt a fresh stab of pain, knowing that Christian had been hurt.
"Collin, I need you to listen to me." Galen said firmly.
Collin turned his attention to his father as Marc searched for a parking place.
"Remember that Marc and I are here to help you. Don't go in there and feel like you have to deal with this all by yourself. We're all a part of this, we're in this together." Galen said seriously as he looked into Collin's eyes.
After a moment for the words to register, Collin reluctantly nodded.
"Hang on. This is going to be tight." Marc said as he maneuvered the car into a narrow parking place.
"You're going to need a can opener to get out." Galen said as he watched Marc inch the massive car forward.
"Well, our other choice is to cruise the parking lot and hope that we can find a decent parking place before Christian is released." Marc said with annoyance.
"Go ahead. You're doing fine." Galen said quietly, knowing that Marc wasn't trying to make it difficult.
"I'll just get out on your side. There should be enough room for you to get out." Marc said as he stopped the car and set the parking brake.
"Good plan. Let's go." Galen said as he carefully opened his door.
* * * * *
"Excuse me, a police officer asked me to come down here. My name is Marc Stone." Marc said to the woman at the reception desk.
"Wait over there." She said curtly as she pointed, then pressed a button on the phone and said over the public address speakers, "Officer Bridges, please come to Emergency Admitting. Officer Bridges, Emergency Admitting."
"God! I hope they're treating Christian nicer than that." Collin said as he walked with his father and Marc.
"I'm sure they are." Galen said in a whisper as he stopped and waited.
"Mr. Stone?" A man asked as he approached the trio.
The man had a swollen lip and his left eye seemed to be a little bit puffed up.
"That's me. Officer Bridges?" Marc asked quickly.
"Yes. Come with me, we have a few things we need to discuss before you see Christian." Officer Bridges said, then motioned for them to follow as he walked away.
* * * * *
"Before we begin, I want you to know that I'm not 'officially' here. What I'm about to tell you, I didn't 'officially' tell you. And if things turn out the way I expect, no one can know that I had any part in these events." Officer Bridges said seriously.
"Okay..." Marc said reluctantly.
Officer Bridges looked at Galen and Collin and waited for them to agree before he continued.
"Alright. I was at the airport seeing someone off and just happened to be in the right place at the right time to see Christian's father haul off and hit him." Officer Bridges said cautiously.
Marc, Galen and Collin were all frozen by the statement.
"He got a few more good hits in before I could get over to them." Officer Bridges said with regret.
"How is Christian?" Collin asked as his eyes filled with tears.
"The doctor's in with him right now but from the look of him, I'd be willing to bet that he's going to be fine." Officer Bridges said with conviction as he looked into Collin's eyes.
Collin tried to restrain his tears and devoted his full attention to the officer so he would continue.
"Let's see... So it turns out that Christian's father was blind stinking drunk when he arrived at the airport. Something set him off and he started hitting Christian right there in the arrival gate in front of everyone. By the time I got across the room to them, there were already two or three uniformed officers on the scene."
Collin's eyes went wide as the tears started falling.
"I tried to get Christian away from him and... well, as you can see, I got pulled into the fight." Officer Bridges said shyly.
"So what happened to Christian's father?" Galen asked hesitantly.
"I was focused on protecting Christian, so I can't give you a blow by blow description of the fight. But it got pretty ugly and, well, let's just say that once Christian's father gets out of the hospital, he will be going directly to jail." Officer Bridges said frankly.
Galen and Marc both nodded their understanding as Collin looked up at Officer Bridges with large eyes filled with despair.
"Okay. So now you know the background. Here's the part you can't tell anyone." Officer Bridges said in a lower voice.
All three automatically moved closer to hear.
"Since I got knocked around a little bit, I had to go to the hospital to get checked out. Christian and I rode to the hospital in the same ambulance and we had a few minutes to talk in private. I don't know if it was because he was knocked senseless or if it was because I fought to protect him, but for whatever reason, I guess he felt like he could tell me some things... I can't... I can't repeat them..." Officer Bridges stopped and wiped his watery eyes before continuing.
"That boy doesn't have a single person in his life who really cares for him."
"What about his mom?" Collin asked as his tears freely fell.
Officer Bridges shook his head and said, "Christian knows that she uses him as an excuse to get child support and as a way to antagonize her ex-husband. He said that he tries to pretend that she's just busy and would pay attention to him if she had more time... but he really does understand the truth."
"Isn't there something we can do to help him?" Marc asked desperately.
"I was hoping you'd ask." Officer Bridges said with a weak smile that looked strange with his fat lip.
"What can we do?" Galen asked seriously.
"What would you be willing to do?" Officer Bridges asked in return.
"I don't understand what you're asking." Marc said slowly.
"Would you be willing to take Christian into your home? Would you accept financial responsibility for him? Would you love him?" Officer Bridges asked in a frank tone that almost sounded like a challenge.
"Please help him." Collin whispered as he looked from Marc to his father with imploring eyes.
"But he's a complete stranger to us. We don't know anything about him." Galen said carefully.
"We know he needs someone to care for him. Isn't that enough?" Collin asked desperately.
Galen looked into his son's eyes, then over at Marc with indecision.
"We're going to help him." Marc said decisively, then turned to Officer Bridges and asked, "What do we have to do?"
"Let me make a quick phone call, then I'll take you to see Christian." Officer Bridges said as he took out his cell phone and stepped away.
Galen turned to Marc and whispered, "Are you sure?"
"Look at Collin, then ask me again." Marc said frankly.
Galen looked at Collin who had his full attention focused on the police officer. The tears were still running down his cheeks and the anguish he was feeling could clearly be seen in his eyes.
"You're right. There's no way I could ever look him in the eyes again if I refused to help." Galen whispered.
Marc slowly nodded his agreement.
* * * * *
A moment later Officer Bridges walked back to the trio and said, "Someone will be here in a few minutes to help sort everything out. I'll take you in to see Christian now and when our help gets here you can make your final decision."
"Who are we going to be meeting?" Galen asked cautiously.
"I'd really rather not say at this point because I'm not sure if he'll come here himself or send someone else to take care of it. I just called him and let him know that there's a kid in trouble and that if someone doesn't do something quick, that he's going to be in even worse trouble."
"How do you mean?" Marc asked curiously.
"Let's just say that I know how the so called 'Child Protective Services' operate. They do fine for some kids in some situations. But putting Christian into their custody would be like a death sentence. He needs to be somewhere that he'll be loved." Officer Bridges said seriously.
"Then why don't you take him?" Galen asked quietly.
Officer Bridges looked away for a moment, then said, "I'd really like to... more than you know. But the God's honest truth is, if I took Christian into my home, chances are that I wouldn't be in a position to find other kids that need help. If everything goes right today, Christian will be the fifth child I've had a part in rescuing. Are we ready?"
"One last question before we go in." Galen said quickly.
Officer Bridges looked at Galen with question.
"Why us?" Galen asked hesitantly.
"Because Christian chose you."
* * * * *
"He's right in here." Officer Bridges said seriously.
"I'm sorry, but he can't have visitors. He's in protective custody until we can get CPS to send someone down here." the police officer at the door said seriously.
"I think that if you check, you'll find that Marc Stone has already been cleared to visit." Officer Bridges said professionally.
The officer looked down at his clipboard, then asked, "Is one of you Mr. Stone?"
"I am." Marc said and automatically showed the officer his ID.
"Alright, you three can go in." the officer said as he made a note on the clipboard.
"How's the father?" Officer Bridges asked quietly.
"Actually, the last I heard, he wasn't doing too well. I guess his liver wasn't in very good shape before the fight and it's a lot worse after. They're saying he's got about a fifty-fifty chance."
"Glad to hear it." Officer Bridges said coldly, then motioned for the others to follow him into the room.
* * * * *
"Excuse me, but how did my name get on that list?" Marc asked as they entered the room.
"I put it there. I'm also the one who is supposedly contacting CPS." Officer Bridges said quietly, then in a louder voice he said, "Excuse me Doctor Reynolds, would it be alright for Christian to have some visitors?"
The doctor smiled at the group and said, "Yes. I have a feeling that visitors will do as much good for Christian as anything I can do."
"Are you alright?" Collin asked as he ran across the room and pulled Christian into a hug.
"I'm about one hundred percent better now that you're here." Christian said as he hugged Collin desperately.
Marc and Galen stood just inside the door of the room and watched the two boys.
"I'll give you some privacy so you can visit. I'll return shortly." Doctor Reynolds said before continuing out the door.
"I need to go too. I have a few things to check on, and it would be best for me to be ready to escort our help in when he or she arrives. Remember, if anyone asks, you didn't talk to me." Officer Bridges said seriously, then hurried out of the room.
"I wonder what's up with that?" Marc asked curiously.
"I think it's all part of how he helps the kids. He acts like a heartless part of the system so he can find the kids who need to be rescued from it." Galen said uncertainly.
Marc thought for a moment, then said, "If that's what he's doing, then may God bless him."
Galen put an arm loosely around Marc and said, "I'm with you, love. God bless him."
* * * * *
"Dad! Marc! Come over here. Christian wants to talk to you too." Collin said with excitement.
"Shh. We're in a hospital." Galen said as he walked to Christian's bed with Marc at his side.
Marc took in a hitch of breath at the sight of Christian with a black eye and a bandage covering his left ear.
"How are you doing Christian?" Marc asked with concern.
"Well, my head is hurting like crazy, but things have stopped spinning and the ringing in my ears is almost gone." Christian said honestly.
"Would you mind if I gave you a hug?" Marc asked cautiously.
"Really?" Christian asked with surprise.
"Yeah. If that wouldn't be too weird for you." Marc said shyly.
"Sure. Bring it on." Christian said as he shifted to the edge of his bed and held open his arms.
Marc moved forward and gave Christian a firm hug.
"I'm glad you're alright." Marc said quietly into Christian's good ear.
"Thanks." Christian whispered in return.
Galen moved to Collin's side and said, "If I had any doubts if we were doing the right thing, that settled it."
"What are you talking about? What right thing?" Christian asked as he released Marc and looked at Galen expectantly.
"I... um... well, to tell you the truth. I'm not really sure." Galen said shyly.
Christian looked at Galen for a moment, then looked at Collin with question.
"There's supposed to be someone coming who will be able to help you." Collin said reluctantly.
"Social Services." Christian said with a roll of his eyes, then continued, "Just tell them that my case worker is named Melinda Ortega. They can probably phone it in."
"Actually, I'm pretty sure the help we're going to be getting isn't from Social Services." Galen said cautiously.
"That's good, because the kind of help I get from Social Services isn't any kind of help at all." Christian said frankly.
"How so?" Marc asked with concern.
"Mom does this thing every time I come down here. She calls social services on Dad and accuses him of abuse. We go through a bunch of hearings and BS, then everything gets put off when I get sent back up to Michigan." Christian said frankly.
"What happens when you get to Michigan?" Marc asked cautiously, having a feeling that he already knew.
"Same thing in reverse. Dad calls the CPS and accuses Mom of neglect. Then the CPS people make all kinds of promises and shit about how things are going to be better, then... I'm sent back here." Christian finished with a defeated shrug.
"It's definitely time for us to take you away from all that." Marc said seriously.
"How?" Christian asked incredulously as he looked at Marc with suspicion.
"If I knew more, I swear that I'd tell you. But we're trusting what a friend of yours said. He believes that the person who is coming is going to be able to give you some real help." Marc said as he looked into Christian's eyes.
"A friend? Of mine?" Christian asked uncertainly.
"Yeah. The guy that you rode with in the ambulance." Collin said seriously.
"Oh? I really don't remember him too well. From what the doctor was saying, my brain got kind of sloshed or something when I got hit. Some things are still kind of foggy." Christian said slowly.
A knock on the door stopped further conversation.
Everyone looked at the door and waited as an older man peeked in and asked, "Christian, would you mind if I come in?"
"Judge Robison?" Christian asked with surprise.
The man walked into the room followed by Officer Bridges.
"How are you feeling?" Judge Robison asked with concern.
"Okay I guess. But seeing you here, outside the courtroom, I'm starting to think that I might be hallucinating." Christian said in wonder.
"You're not hallucinating, I'm really here." Judge Robison said with an amused smile.
Christian reluctantly accepted Judge Robison's assurance, then glanced around the room before saying, "Um, Judge Robison, this is Collin and his dad and Marc."
"Galen Anderson." Galen said as he offered his hand.
"Judge Jamie Robison. You can call me Jamie if you like." Judge Robison said in a low voice.
"Thank you Jamie. This is my life partner, Marc Stone." Galen said as he gestured to Marc at his side.
Christian's gaze shifted to Marc and a mild look of surprise came over his face.
"It's a pleasure to meet you Mr. Stone." Judge Robison said seriously.
"Please call me Marc."
Jamie nodded that he would.
"I suppose we should get down to business... Officer Bridges, I have a feeling that you already know what you'd like to see happen here, so perhaps you could fill us all in?" Judge Robison asked in a tone that was more of a command than a suggestion.
"Yes Your Honor... I'm sorry, I mean Jamie." Officer Bridges said in a flustered voice.
"It's okay Maurice, just tell me what's going on." Judge Robison said in a more gentle voice.
"His father did that to him." Officer Bridges said as he gestured toward Christian.
Judge Robison looked at Christian, then back to Officer Bridges, knowing that there had to be more.
"Christian and I shared an ambulance ride and he told me a few things. I did some checking to verify them... then I called you." Officer Bridges said carefully.
"You've been spending too much time around the lawyers Maurice. Just say what you mean to say, we're not in court." Judge Robison said frankly.
Officer Bridges smiled and said, "Sorry about that. Christian is a victim of the system as much as he is of abuse and neglect. He has been in local courts seventeen times over allegations of abuse from his father. Two of those times were in your court..." Officer Bridges trailed off with apology.
Judge Robison looked at Christian again and was obviously trying to remember him.
"Due to the shared custody arrangement that his parents have, before a case can be resolved, he is sent to live with his mother."
Judge Robison nodded slowly.
"Unfortunately, the same thing has been happening in Detroit. There are eleven unresolved cases pending over allegations of criminal neglect." Officer Bridges said as a note of anger began to grow in his voice.
Christian clutched Collin to his side, and was in obvious pain.
"Do you need me to call Doctor Reynolds?" Marc asked with concern.
"No, I just have a headache and the loud talking hurts." Christian said with an apologetic look at Officer Bridges.
"Sorry Christian, I'll keep it down." Officer Bridges said more gently.
"So we have this boy being shipped back and forth across the country with pending investigations going at both ends." Judge Robison asked slowly.
"Yes your honor." Officer Bridges said seriously.
Judge Robison looked at Officer Bridges and waited.
"Oh. I mean Jamie." Officer Bridges said quickly.
Judge Robison nodded, then said, "So I'm guessing that you asked me to come down here so that I can try to break Christian out of this bureaucratic cycle where nothing is ever brought to resolution."
"Well, it would be great if you could do that, but what I had in mind was more immediate. Rather than call the CPS out and have them start up yet another case report that will likely never be completed, I thought you might consider giving Marc Stone temporary custody of Christian until there can be a hearing." Officer Bridges said in an imploring voice.
"Of course it would be possible for me to do that, but what is the sudden urgency?" Judge Robison asked suspiciously.
"It's only three days until Christmas." Officer Bridges said quietly.
Judge Robison looked away for a moment, then at Marc and Galen who were both listening with expressions of concern and anticipation.
"Are you sure you want to do this?" Judge Robison asked seriously as he focused on Galen.
"Yes Jamie, if there's any way you can arrange it, I think we'd all like for Christian to join us for Christmas." Galen said carefully.
Judge Robison looked at Marc with question.
"Before I answer, I need to ask you a question privately." Marc said apprehensively.
Judge Robison gestured to the far side of the room and asked, "Would this be private enough?"
"That would be fine." Marc said as he started to walk.
* * * * *
"What did you say to him?" Christian asked suspiciously as Marc and Judge Robison returned to his bedside.
"I said 'yes'." Marc said with a forced smile.
"Bullshit! If that's what you were going to say, you would've said it over here." Christian said firmly.
Marc looked into Christian's distrusting eyes and quietly said, "I'm sorry Christian. I shouldn't have lied to you. What I said to Judge Robison isn't something that I can talk to you about yet, but I promise that it's nothing bad."
Christian looked at Marc with an appraising eye for a moment, then looked at Judge Robison with question.
"Everyone, would you mind letting Christian and me talk privately for a moment? I promise that it won't be long." Judge Robison said as he looked around the group.
Officer Bridges looked at Judge Robison with question, wanting to know if that included him.
Judge Robison nodded, indicating that he could stay.
* * * * *
"Christian, do you understand what we've been talking about?" Judge Robison asked seriously.
"Yeah. You're trying to decide if I can go and spend Christmas with those guys." Christian said frankly.
"That's only part of it, but let's deal with that first. How would you feel about spending the holiday with them?" Judge Robison asked as he watched Christian's expression closely.
"Well, from what I've seen so far, they might be alright. The only thing that's bothered me at all about them is that thing about Marc talking to you over on the other side of the room. I don't like for people to keep secrets from me." Christian said frankly.
"Well, do you like getting Christmas presents?" Judge Robison asked casually.
"Sure, doesn't everyone?" Christian asked in return.
"One of the things that makes a present special is that you don't know what it is before you open it, right?" Judge Robison asked in a leading tone.
"Yeah." Christian said hesitantly.
"So try not to think about what Marc asked me as a secret, but instead, think of it as a present that he hasn't given you yet." Judge Robison said carefully.
Christian nodded slowly as he considered what Judge Robison was saying.
"What would you think if you stayed with Collin and his family during the holiday, then we could make some more permanent decisions in a formal hearing after the holidays?" Judge Robison asked in thought.
"I suppose we could do that. It would sure as hell be better than going to Dad's house or back to Detroit." Christian said frankly.
"Good. Then that's what we'll do. Maurice and I will work on gathering the facts and getting everything lined up so we can get some kind of permanent resolution for you when all else is said and done." Judge Robison said seriously.
Christian gave a defeated chuckle and said, "Good luck with that."
Judge Robison looked at Christian with question at the unusual reaction.
Christian's eyes revealed the depths of his emotional pain as he whispered, "Nothing ever changes."
* * * * *
"When I arrived, I thought Maurice might be overstating the need for me to get involved, but after speaking to Christian, I think he was exactly right in calling me here." Judge Robison said to the group just outside Christian's room.
"Please just tell us what we have to do to help him and we'll do it." Marc said seriously.
"Take him home with you and show him that he has a reason to hope for something better." Judge Robison said as he looked Marc in the eyes.
"Does he have a reason to hope?" Galen asked cautiously.
Judge Robison turned his attention to Galen and said, "That's going to be entirely up to you."
"But what if we decide that we want to..." Marc trailed off, then looked at Collin, obviously not wanting to voice his question.
"Trust me when I say that I have the resources to draw on to make sure that Christian never has to go back to either of his parents. What these next few days is going to determine is where he's going to go after the hearing." Judge Robison said firmly.
"Can't he stay with us?" Collin asked desperately.
Before Marc could answer, Judge Robison said, "That is a possibility, but now is not the time for you or him to make any long term decisions. All of you need to spend some time together and decide how you would like things to turn out. You might also consider what is the best thing for Christian... sometimes doing what's right isn't as easy as doing what you want."
Collin reluctantly nodded that he understood.
"Are we ready to go back in?" Marc asked hesitantly.
"One last thing." Judge Robison said, then turned his gaze toward Marc.
"About that matter we discussed, as soon as you decide... tell him. Don't wait until the hearing." Judge Robison said seriously.
Marc nodded slowly.
Collin looked at Marc with question, but knew without asking that Marc wouldn't talk about it until he was ready.
* * * * *
"How are you two doing?" Judge Robison asked warmly as he led the way into the room.
"Morris was just telling me about this other guy who he knows who got beat up by his grandfather and now he's got lots of friends and is studying to become an engineer." Christian said happily.
"It's Maurice." Officer Bridges said quietly.
"Oh, okay." Christian said without concern, then looked at Collin with question.
"Then I guess everything has been decided. You're going to be spending Christmas with us... Is that okay with you?" Collin asked hopefully.
"Sure, that sounds great... when can we go?" Christian asked hopefully.
"I think the doctor will want to check you over one last time before we can leave." Judge Robison said frankly.
"I'll get him." Officer Bridges said quickly as he started walking toward the door.
"Thanks Maurice." Christian called out, then winced in pain.
* * * * *
"Does it hurt a lot?" Collin asked with concern as he walked to stand beside Christian's bed.
"No. Just when there's a loud noise." Christian said frankly.
"Collin, are you going to have a problem sleeping on the couch? We don't have another spare room where Christian can stay." Marc asked with concern.
"I just kinda thought we could share my bed. It's plenty big enough." Collin said honestly.
Galen looked at his son with concern before reluctantly saying, "Christian may not be comfortable with that kind of arrangement. Boys your age... should have their own space."
Collin looked at his dad with confusion at the statement.
"He's afraid that we'll freak out if we sleep in the same bed and get boners." Christian said frankly.
Collin looked at Christian with surprise, then at his father with question, silently asking if that was really what he meant.
"Some people equate 'sleeping together' with having sexual contact. And sometimes when you share a bed... things happen. I'd rather not take the chance of a misunderstanding causing problems for you two when we can prevent it by planning ahead." Galen said carefully.
Even though Christian knew that Galen an Marc were gay, he couldn't be sure about how they would react to knowing that he was too. And besides, it wasn't his place to 'out' Collin to his father.
"We already had sex." Collin said as he looked his father in the eyes.
"You what?" Galen asked in a stunned voice.
"We. Had. Sex."
Christian smiled to himself at Collin's willingness to acknowledge their relationship so openly.
Galen stared at his son as a thousand different thoughts raced through his mind.
After a moment, Collin asked, "Which word didn't you understand?"
"But you just met for the first time today..." Galen said in an absent voice.
"Yeah. So?" Collin said as he stared into his father's eyes.
"Were you safe?" Marc asked with concern.
Collin had his full attention focused on his father and didn't seem to hear the question, so Christian decided that he'd do his best to answer.
"Well, it depends on what you consider safe." Christian said frankly.
Marc looked at Christian with full worry at the statement.
"Do you think we could talk about this later?" Christian asked, then looked over at Judge Robison.
"Oh, don't mind me." Judge Robison said with a smile.
"You don't have a problem with this?" Galen asked cautiously.
"Not at all. If your son and Christian are sexually active, then I think it's a good thing that they're with a committed couple who can give them some sound advice." Judge Robison said seriously.
"Oh, they'll be getting some advice alright." Galen said as he glanced at Collin.
* * * * *
The door opened to reveal Officer Bridges and Doctor Reynolds.
"Sorry that took so long. It *is* the emergency room." the doctor said as he walked to Christian's side.
"How are you feeling Christian?" the doctor asked more gently.
"It only hurts a little bit... except when there's a loud noise." Christian said honestly.
"Well, if you'll let me have a minute to look at you, I should be able to give you something for the pain so you can be on your way. Officer Bridges says that you have a safe place to go." the doctor said as he pulled a small flashlight out of his pocket.
"Yeah. These guys said I could stay with them for a few days until the judge here can figure out what to do with me." Christian said simply.
"It sounds like it could be fun." the doctor said casually, then held up his index finger and said, "Hold your head still and follow my finger with your eyes."
Christian followed the travels of the finger for about a minute before the doctor seemed satisfied.
"You can take the bandage off your ear tomorrow if you like. Just try to keep the wound from getting dirty." the doctor said, then picked up the cup of pills he had carried into the room with him.
"This is a mild pain reliever." the doctor said as he handed the cup to Christian, then poured a small cup of water.
"Are these gonna knock me out?" Christian asked cautiously.
"No, they'll just ease the pain a little. You can buy these over the counter." the doctor said gently.
Christian took the pills, then accepted the cup of water from the doctor and washed them down.
The doctor turned to face Galen and Marc as he said, "Christian is going to need some non-aspirin pain reliever for the next few days. Besides that, just see that he doesn't overdo it too much. His body has been through a trauma and healing takes a lot of energy."
"We'll take good care of him." Marc said with assurance.
"Judge Robison, may I assume that it's acceptable for me to release Christian into these gentlemen's care?" the doctor asked professionally.
"I'll have all the official paperwork filed first thing in the morning. You have my personal assurance that it's alright." Judge Robison said seriously.
"Will Christian have to come back for a follow up?" Marc asked cautiously.
"No. I think he should be just fine. But if he starts having serious pain or anything else that concerns you, then bring him in and we'll have another look at him." the doctor said casually.
"I will. Thank you Doctor Reynolds." Marc said seriously.
"Have a Merry Christmas... all of you." Doctor Reynolds said to everyone as he left the room.
Marc turned to look at Judge Robison and asked, "Do you need any kind of information or anything from us before we take Christian home?"
"I already have all of that." Officer Bridges answered before Judge Robison had the chance.
"You do?" Marc asked curiously.
"I did a basic background check before I called you. I wanted to be sure we weren't sending Christian off to stay with some escaped mental patient or anything." Officer Bridges said frankly.
"Okay. I can understand that." Marc said with resignation.
"So is that everything? Can we go?" Galen asked as he looked around the room.
"Yes. I hope all of you enjoy your holiday. Maurice will be contacting you as soon as we have everything squared away so we can have an official hearing." Judge Robison said in a friendly tone.
"Thank you Jamie, and I hope you have a very Merry Christmas." Marc said sincerely.
Judge Robison smiled and nodded.
"Jamie, if you and Officer Bridges don't have other commitments on Christmas Eve, you'd be welcomed to come over to spend it with us... I think you already know where to find us." Galen finished with a smile.
"Actually, I do have plans. But thank you for the kind offer." Judge Robison said sincerely.
"Well I don't have any other plans and I would be glad to attend." Officer Bridges said frankly.
"Good. How does 7:00 sound?" Marc asked happily from Galen's side.
"That sounds perfect, I'll see all of you then." Officer Bridges said with cheer.
"Here's my card in case you need to get in touch with me for anything." Judge Robison said as he handed his business card to Marc.
"Thank you Jamie." Marc said as he looked at the card.
Judge Robison smiled at the sincere thanks, then left the room followed by Officer Bridges.
"Then I guess that's it. Do you have anything that you need to get before we leave?" Galen asked as he looked at Christian curiously.
"Nope. This is it." Christian said as he picked up a jacket from the chair beside the bed.
"What about your luggage?" Marc asked with concern.
"It's still at the airport... we never made it that far." Christian said reluctantly.
"That's no problem. We could swing by on the way home and get it." Marc said as he looked at Galen with question.
"And we could also drive through somewhere and pick up something for dinner. I'm pretty sure that what I had cooking is ruined." Galen said apologetically.
"Can anyone think of anything else we need before we get on the road?" Marc asked slowly.
"Do you have the not-aspirin things that Christian is going to need?" Collin asked quietly.
Marc considered for a moment, then said, "I probably have some at the house, but I'm sure it won't be enough. We'll need to stop along the way and pick some up."
"It sounds like we have quite a bit to do. We'd better get to it." Marc said, then started walking toward the door.
* * * * *
"Excuse me, you there." A woman's voice called as the group walked down the hallway.
"Yes?" Marc said as he turned.
"You have some forms to fill out before you can leave." She said as she rushed to join them.
"Oh, okay." Marc said hesitantly as he accepted a clipboard from her.
He lifted the clipboard so he could write on it, then froze in mid motion.
Galen looked at the boys to find them as puzzled as he was.
Finally Galen asked, "Marc, is there something wrong?"
Marc held out the clipboard so that Galen could see it and pointed.
Galen blinked to be sure that he was reading it right, then turned to Christian and asked, "Your last name is Stone?"
I run the risk of causing MultiMapper's head to get so big that it won't fit through the door, but here goes; When I first read the short story that began this longer story, I fell in love with both boys, and I wanted to know more about them. I felt there was a much bigger story to tell about them and that we would be richer by knowing it.
I have to say that anyone that MultiMapper writes about is, at least, interesting, and almost always, someone that I instantly fall in love with.
These two boys, one wide eyed and innocent, and the other much more well heeled, so to speak, were no exception. They had things in common, and they both needed a friend. The last chapter left us wondering what had happened to Christian and this chapter leaves us wondering just who Christian is and why it is such a surprise to Mark and Galen that his last name is Stone. I certainly hope that can be resolved in some manner pretty soon, because I am not going to get much sleep till I find out.
Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher