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"Should we, maybe, go into his dream and talk to him?" Mark asked cautiously.
"I do not know if that is possible. I have only ever been able to draw you into the dream place that I created." Enoch explained carefully, then added, "And I do not see what favorable thing we might be able to accomplish by revealing to your father where we really are."
"Yeah. You're probably right. I guess I just feel like I should be doing something to make him feel better, since he's here, looking for me."
"Is it not as it was with your mother, a matter of him just having to 'get over it'?"
"No. Dad didn't back me into a corner and force me to choose. None of this is his fault."
"Even so, I cannot see anything to be gained by revealing our presence, even in dreams."
"You're right, E. I know you are. I just don't have to like it."
"If I can think of a way that we can offer your father some sort of consolation, I will tell you immediately."
"Yeah. I'm sure that if we both think on it, that we'll be able to come up with something." Mark said as he held Enoch close to his side.
Enoch closed his eyes and enjoyed the sensation of holding and being held.
"Thanks, E. I was about to make a stupid mistake and you stopped me. And besides, we already promised Oz that we wouldn't do anything to draw attention to ourselves." Mark said gratefully.
"Do you believe that Oz will be able to arrange matters so that I may return to the 'real' world?"
"Yeah. I really think so." Mark said assuringly, then added, "He's an angel, after all."
"A fallen angel."
* * * * *
Derek woke from a deep sleep, feeling foggy and confused.
He had a morning erection that was demanding his attention. Since the divorce, Derek had been forced to take matters in hand, so to speak, and usually did so simply as a matter of relieving his tension.
However, in this circumstance, not only was there the worry that he was feeling over Mark's disappearance which was weighing heavily on him. But also there was the fact that he was sleeping in his son's bed. Even though he believed himself to be completely alone, giving in to the urge in his current location would be beyond creepy.
Finally he forced himself to get out of bed and glanced down for a moment at his erection, obscenely tenting out his boxer shorts. He once again considered giving himself some relief, but finally decided that he needed to get on with his day. He opened his suitcase and gathered some clothes before leaving the room to shower.
* * * * *
"It seems that your physique is not all that you inherited from your father." Enoch said in astonishment.
"Yeah. It looks that way." Mark said, equally stunned.
"You know, now that we can touch each other, we are able to do things that we were unable to do before."
"Oz told us to keep calm and I noticed that even when I kiss you, my light gets brighter. I'm starting to loose my cool just thinking about doing more. Besides all of that, my dad could walk in on us at any moment."
"He would not be able to see us."
"Yeah. But I'd be able to see him."
"Yes. I simply..."
"I know. I want to do it, too. We just can't, not right now."
"You're right, Mark. I know you are. I just don't have to like it."
Mark recognized his own words being turned back on him and smiled before moving in to give Enoch a loving kiss.
* * * * *
After finishing his shower and dressing for the day, Derek returned to the bedroom where he had spent the night and decided to take another look around, this time with the aid of the light of day.
He didn't discover anything more than he had the night before. However, now that he had better light, he took the time to more thoroughly examine the folder that had been on Mark's desk, when he had arrived.
It was a series of test results, all negative, that was dated only a few days previously. Derek made note of the name and address of the LGBT resource center.
"Derek? Oh, good. You're awake. I'm going to be making breakfast, would you care for any?" Pat asked from the bedroom doorway.
"Sure, if it's no extra trouble."
"No trouble at all. If you'll come downstairs in a few minutes, I should have coffee ready." She said before walking out of the room.
Derek put the file folder back on the desk, then walked to the dresser and once again examined the uneven series of circles on the slightly dusty surface and tried to imagine what might have created that pattern.
However, before very long, the idea of coffee called out to him, even though the aroma of the fresh brew hadn't found it's way upstairs, yet.
* * * * *
"Should we follow him?" Mark asked cautiously.
"The farther we stray from this room, the more likely it is that we will lose our bearings and not be able to find our way back."
"Yeah. And besides, Oz is trying to work things out for us. If we leave, he might not be able to find us when he needs to."
"Perhaps, if your father were aware of our presence, it might be different. He could see to it that we did not get lost and could return here. But until such a time, I believe it would be best for us to remain where we are."
After a moment Mark quietly said, "I guess I'll just have to trust Dad to handle things without me. It's not like I don't have a lifetime of experience doing that, anyway."
"Why were you and your father not closer?"
"I don't know. We just never were. It's funny, when I talked to him on the phone the other day, I felt closer to him than I ever did when we were living with him."
"Well, maybe now that he thinks that he has lost you, it might make him reconsider your relationship."
* * * * *
"That really smells good." Derek said honestly as he walked into the kitchen.
"Thanks. Coffee's ready." Pat said as she gestured vaguely toward the coffee maker before going back to her cooking.
"Do you think we did the right thing?" Derek asked thoughtfully as he walked to the coffee maker and poured himself a mug.
"You mean the divorce?"
"Yeah. Should we have tried harder to make it work?"
"Make what work? For the past few years, the only thing we had in common was Mark." Pat said simply, then added more quietly, "I didn't realize until we came here that we didn't really even have that, not for a while now."
"How do you mean?"
"He's grown up so much. He's so much more mature and responsible than I gave him credit for... Since we've been here, I've realized that I hardly know him anymore."
"At least you can hang on to the fact that you know the person that he was, even if you aren't quite up-to-date on the person who he is." Derek said as he looked at his ex-wife with a weary smile.
"You should have seen Mark when you told him about wanting to meet his 'cowboy'. You don't have to worry. He adores you. Just... be there, and make some sort of an effort. If you'll do that much, I'm sure that Mark will do the rest."
"I've been such a fool." Derek said as he walked across the room and took a seat at the table.
"Maybe you could try thinking about it this way..." Pat said as she returned the majority of her attention back to her cooking. "...all this time, you've been working and training and devoting every minute of your life toward becoming the best detective that you can be. Even if you lost sight of Mark at some point along the way, now you get to use those skills that you've developed to help him."
Pat walked across the kitchen and placed a plate, filled with bacon, eggs and toast, in front of him.
"Thank you, this looks great."
"Do you want any milk or juice, while I'm up?"
"No. The coffee's fine."
As Pat carried her plate to the table, she quietly said, "I remembered something that happened day before yesterday that might be significant."
"While we were at Emmylou's birthday party, Mark received a phone call on my cellphone. He left the room and took the phone with him, so I don't know any of what was said, but the caller identified himself as... Boyce... I think." Pat strained to remember.
"Maybe one of Joe Bob's kids knows who that is. Did they happen to say when they would be coming over?"
Derek glanced at the clock on the microwave, then nodded.
"I have quite a few things that I need to take care of today, if I'm going to be starting work on Monday. I don't know how long my errands will take. But you can reach me on my cellphone, if you need anything." Pat said, then thought to ask, "Have you checked to see if you've got a decent signal?"
"No. I hadn't thought about that." Derek said as he took out his phone.
"If you're going to be staying in Mark's room, you might want to set your charger up in the study." Pat suggested between bites of food.
Derek looked at his phone for a moment, then said, "I should have enough battery to get through today and it looks like I'm getting three bars."
"Good. Then call if you need anything. I might not be able to come back and get you right away, but I should be able to work you into my flight plan." Pat said with a smile.
"I'll keep that in mind." Derek said with a grin, then added, "And if it comes to it, I can always call for a cab."
Pat nodded her agreement, since her mouth happened to be full at the moment.
* * * * *
"Hello, Sir. Are you Mr. Taylor?" Joe Bob Jr asked cautiously.
"That's right, but you can call me Derek."
"I'm afraid that wouldn't be proper, Sir. But maybe we could call you 'Uncle' Derek." Joe Bob suggested cautiously.
Derek smiled and said, "That would be fine. Would you like to introduce me?"
"Yes, Sir. Uncle Derek, I'm Joe Bob, you can call me Junior, if you like. These are my brothers Jim Bob and Beau."
"It's very nice to meet all of you. Please come inside so that we can talk."
* * * * *
"Is Mark really missing?" Beau asked with concern.
"Yes. That's why I wanted to talk with you. You don't happen to know where he is, do you?" Derek asked as he led the boys into the living room.
"No... Um, no, Sir. But I really like Mark, so if he's missing, I want to help you find him." Beau said honestly.
Derek gestured toward the furniture before taking a seat in one of the wing backed chairs.
"Do any of you have any idea where Mark might have gone, or if he has any friends that he might have gone to stay with?"
"No, Sir." Joe Bob answered for all of them.
"My ex-wife, your Aunt Pat, mentioned that Mark had recently received a phone call from someone named 'Boyce', do any of you know who that is?"
"Yes, Sir. I do." Jim Bob timidly answered.
Derek waited expectantly for him to continue.
Jim Bob was wracked with indecision, not sure if he would be betraying Mark by divulging what he knew.
"Well?" Derek prompted.
"Boyce works at the LGBT resource center where Mark and I went to get our blood tests." Jim Bob answered shyly.
"Do you have any idea why he might have been calling Mark?"
"It was probably to let him know that our blood test results were in."
"Did any of you notice if this 'Boyce' person was showing any particular... interest... in Mark?"
"No! Boyce is a good guy. He was really nice and he helped us!" Jim Bob said with offense at the implication.
"Sir, I was there with Mark and Jim Bob. Neither of the men working at the resource center said or did anything improper. They were friendly and professional." Joe Bob assured him.
"I see." Derek said thoughtfully, then quietly added, "I'd still like to speak with them, just the same."
"I don't know the address, but I can tell you where it is." Joe Bob offered.
"I think I have the address on the paperwork up in Mark's room. I'll check on that before you leave. But before I do that, do you know if there's anyone else that Mark's had contact with since he's been here?" Derek asked cautiously and noticed Jim Bob stiffen slightly at the question.
Both Beau and Joe Bob seemed to look surreptitiously at Jim Bob, presumably to see if he were going to respond.
"Anything you tell me might turn out to be something important." Derek persisted, focusing his statement at Jim Bob.
A few seconds of silence with Derek looking directly at him, waiting for an answer, finally caused Jim Bob's resolve to crumble.
"Well, just after Mark first got here, he went with me to, um, someone's house and talked to him for a few minutes." Jim Bob said nervously.
"Who were you visiting?" Derek asked in a leading tone.
"My... um... piano teacher." Jim Bob said anxiously and from the sound of his voice, it seemed that his mouth must have suddenly gone as dry as all of West Texas.
"Why would Mark want to talk to a piano teacher?" Derek asked cautiously.
Jim Bob had taken on the appearance of a deer in the headlights by this point and by the way his eyes were shifting around, he was trying desperately to come up with a satisfactory answer.
"Jim Bob was having a problem with Lonny, and Mark helped him sort it out." Joe Bob said simply.
"What kind of problem, if you don't mind me asking?" Derek probed.
"I really couldn't say." Joe Bob said honestly.
Beau was looking back and forth, as though he were watching a tennis match. From the guileless expression that he wore, Derek was fairly certain that the boy had no idea.
"It didn't have anything to do with Mark." Jim Bob finally offered.
"But Mark helped you to sort it out?" Derek asked to confirm.
"Yes. But... he didn't... it didn't... Mark just helped me. That's all." Jim Bob stammered nervously.
"I suppose that if you don't feel like telling me, I can ask Lonny for myself." Derek said simply.
"No! Please don't!" Jim Bob begged.
"My son is missing. I have to follow every lead that I come across to try and reconstruct what happened to him since he arrived here." Derek said seriously.
"Uncle Derek, you're a police officer, aren't you?" Joe Bob asked to confirm.
"A police detective." Derek gently corrected.
"There might be things that Jim Bob could tell his uncle that he couldn't tell a police detective, because it might end up hurting someone else." Joe Bob said carefully.
Derek nodded, then said, "I'm a police detective in Battle Creek, Michigan. I have no jurisdiction or authority here."
"But, if you found out that someone did something that... they shouldn't. Would you call the police on them?" Jim Bob asked cautiously.
"I guess it would depend on what they were doing. I certainly wouldn't overlook something serious. But I suppose that if it were something like someone cheating on their taxes, that I might be able to look the other way." Derek said thoughtfully.
Jim Bob was lost in thought for a moment as he chewed on his lower lip.
Finally he seemed to reach a decision and shook his head.
"If I ask Lonny, will he tell me?" Derek asked cautiously.
Jim Bob wouldn't meet his eyes as he said, "There's nothing for him to tell you. It was just some stuff about my piano lessons."
Derek looked at Joe Bob curiously, but got the sense that the young man had already said as much as he was going to.
After a moment to think about it, Derek decided to change tactics.
"What could I say to you that would get you to tell me what's going on?" Derek asked quietly.
"Say that you're not going to call the police, no matter what." Jim Bob muttered.
"I can't do that." Derek said simply.
Jim Bob slowly nodded that he had heard.
"You said before that you don't think that this has anything to do with Mark. Do you still believe that's true?" Derek asked cautiously.
"Yes. Lonny and Mark only talked once, for a couple minutes. And when I left, Mark went after me. Him and Lonny don't even know each other, really." Jim Bob said seriously.
Although Derek had some suspicions by this point, it wasn't enough for him to base any decision on. Finally, he reluctantly said, "Mark comes first. If a situation arises that I have to call the police to protect him or rescue him, I will call them without hesitation. But until or unless that is the case, I will promise not to call the police based on anything that you tell me."
Jim Bob mulled over the words for a few minutes before quietly responding, "Lonny was my boyfriend for... a while. Mark could see that I wasn't happy and asked Joe Bob to drive us over to Lonny's house."
"I dropped them off, then took Beau to the library." Joe Bob added.
Jim Bob nodded his agreement, then continued, "Mark talked to Lonny and... I don't know what he saw or how he figured it out, but Mark told Lonny that I wasn't happy and that if he cared about me at all, that that would mean something to him... That's pretty much it. I left after that and Mark followed me. I'm pretty sure he never talked to Lonny again after that."
"Are you alright?" Derek asked with concern.
"Yeah. I've had some time to think about things since then. What Lonny did might be wrong and illegal, but... he can still do the right thing. He can have a good life. But if you call the police on him, then he can't." Jim Bob said frankly.
Derek slowly nodded, then quietly said, "I won't call the police and report this unless I have a good reason to."
"Thank you." Jim Bob said sincerely.
"Can any of you think of anyone else that Mark might have had contact with since his arrival?" Derek asked carefully.
"What about Greg?" Beau asked suddenly.
"Who is that?" Derek asked curiously.
"He's a friend of mine that I work with." Joe Bob said quietly, then added, "I brought him over here to meet Mark a couple days ago."
At Derek's questioning gaze, Joe Bob reluctantly continued, "Greg hit on me a few months ago and things have been weird between us ever since. I brought him over to talk to Mark because... well, I know Mark's gay but I'm still comfortable around him. I thought that maybe if I got Mark to talk to Greg, then maybe I could be comfortable around him, too."
"How did it go?" Derek asked cautiously.
"Whatever Mark said must have worked. After they talked, it was like I got my old friend back." Joe Bob said frankly.
"Do you think that there's any way I could talk to Greg for a few minutes?" Derek asked hopefully.
"Sure. He's at work right now. If it won't take too long, he should be able to take a break to talk to us." Joe Bob said thoughtfully.
Derek nodded again.
"Greg's a good guy. He wouldn't ever even think about hurting or abducting anyone." Joe Bob said firmly.
"I'll keep that in mind, but I'd still like to talk to him for myself." Derek said honestly.
"Okay. But I can tell you, he's not interested in Mark." Joe Bob said frankly, then added, "Believe me, I know what Greg looks like when he's interested."
"Is there anyone else that you can think of?" Derek asked cautiously as he looked at all three boys.
After a moment to think about it, Joe Bob finally answered for all of them, "No, Sir."
"I just need to go up and make sure that I've got the address to the resource center, then I'd like to get the addresses where I can locate Lonny and Greg." Derek said seriously.
"I'm off work today. I can drive you, if you want." Joe Bob quietly offered.
"That's very nice of you Joe Bob, but I wouldn't want to put you to the trouble." Derek said honestly.
"You're family." Joe Bob said simply, as though he had just shot down Derek's objection with incontrovertible evidence.
After a moment to consider, Derek supposed that Joe Bob actually had.
He patted his pocket to make sure that he had his phone, then said, "I'm ready when you are."
Joe Bob stood from his place on the couch and led the way out of the living room.
* * * * *
"Do you think Lonny's going to be home?" Joe Bob asked into the back seat as he drove.
"Probably. He doesn't go out much. And since he's a music teacher, he's off for the summer. But he might not be alone. He might have a student, since he gives piano lessons to make extra money." Jim Bob said a bit anxiously.
"How old is Lonny?" Derek asked cautiously.
"Thirty." Jim Bob quietly admitted.
"How sure are you that he's not doing to his other students what he did to you?" Derek asked as gently as he could.
"I always trusted Lonny, the whole time I was with him. It wasn't until Mark figured out that he'd been lying to me about some stuff that I ever thought anything bad about him..." Jim Bob said quietly.
"And now?" Derek asked quietly.
Jim Bob shrugged, then said, "Maybe, I guess. I never saw anything to make me think that he might be seeing someone else. But I guess he could be."
"Jim Bob, if we find anything to suggest that he's in a sexual relationship with someone underage, it's really important that we report it." Derek said frankly.
"But you promised!" Jim Bob said as his eyes welled with tears.
"And I plan to keep my promise." Derek assured him, then added, "But if we find any reason to believe that Lonny's involved in an inappropriate relationship, we need to do what's right for the next person. Not every kid is going to be able to handle it as well as you have. This could end up destroying their entire future."
After a moment, Jim Bob finally nodded his agreement to the reasoning.
"I intend to keep my promise. I won't do anything without talking to you about it first. But if we find out that there's a child in danger, then I may ask you to release me from my promise to you so that I can do the right thing for them." Derek said seriously.
"Yeah. Okay." Jim Bob finally relented.
* * * * *
"Do you want us to all go in?" Joe Bob asked as he surreptitiously glanced toward the back seat.
Derek glanced at Beau, then said, "I think that Jim Bob and I can find out everything that we need to know."
"If you want to go to the library, we can walk down there, when we're done." Jim Bob said decisively.
"Sounds good. That alright with you, Beau?" Joe Bob asked his younger brother.
"Yeah! I already read all the books I got last time!" Beau happily announced.
"Did you bring them with you?" Joe Bob asked cautiously.
"Yeah! I got my books and my comics and my army men." Beau said proudly as he held up a tattered backpack.
"That's good, Beau." Joe Bob said with a smile as he pulled up to the curb.
* * * * *
Derek was impressed that Jim Bob was able to make himself walk to the front door without hesitation, even though it was obvious that he really didn't want to.
Jim Bob glanced at Derek nervously, then knocked firmly on the door.
"Go away!" A voice called from inside.
"Lonny. Can I talk to you for a minute?" Jim Bob called in return.
Derek and Jim Bob could hear movement in the house, then the door slowly opened.
"What do you want?" Lonny asked bitterly.
From all appearances, the man hadn't shaved or bathed in several days.
"You remember my cousin Mark, don't you? He's missing. This is his dad. He just wants to talk to the people that Mark had contact with since he got here and ask them a few questions." Jim Bob said seriously.
"He's missing?" Lonny asked quietly.
"Yes. Do you have any idea where he might be?" Derek asked firmly.
"No." Lonny said simply, then pulled the door open and said, "Please, come in."
* * * * *
The smell in the house wasn't especially pleasant, but it wasn't so bad that it couldn't be tolerated.
"When was the last time you saw Mark?" Derek asked seriously.
"Last week, when he came over here with Jimmy... I'm sorry, Jim Bob." Lonny said with a regretful look at him.
"So you haven't seen or spoken with him since?" Derek asked to confirm.
"No. I talked to Jim Bob once since then, but I haven't spoken to your son at all." Lonny said honestly.
"Okay. I'm sorry for bothering you. I'm just trying to do whatever I can to track down my son." Derek said frankly.
"Of course. I understand. And if you can think of any way that I can help, please let me know." Lonny offered sincerely.
"Thanks. I will." Derek said gratefully.
"How are you, Lonny?" Jim Bob asked cautiously.
"Sorry." Lonny said simply.
"Are you going to be alright?" Jim Bob asked with concern.
"Yeah. It might take some time, but I'll get there." Lonny said confidently.
"Let me know if there's anything I can do to help." Jim Bob said quietly.
"Just be happy. If you can manage that, it'll help me out a lot." Lonny said frankly.
"Okay. You can count on it, then." Jim Bob said in the tone of a vow.
"Are you ready?" Derek asked quietly.
"Yeah. Let's go." Jim Bob said as he turned to leave, then suddenly stopped.
"I forgot to give this to you last time I was here." Jim Bob said as he took his keys out of his pocket and took one key off the ring.
"You can keep it, if you want." Lonny said quietly.
"No." Jim Bob said as he took a step forward and placed the key in Lonny's hand.
"Goodbye." Lonny said as he remained in place.
"Take care of yourself, Lonny." Jim Bob said in response, then turned to leave.
Derek glanced back at Lonny one last time before following Jim Bob out the door.
* * * * *
"Do you believe him?" Jim Bob asked as they walked down the block.
"Yes. I think I do." Derek said consideringly.
"Me, too." Jim Bob said resignedly.
"Feel like talking?" Derek asked carefully.
"If Mark were here, I might." Jim Bob said simply.
"How is that?" Derek asked curiously.
"Mark's good at figuring things out, sometimes. But other times he'll just listen and let me figure things out for myself. I usually feel better about things after I've talked to him." Jim Bob said thoughtfully.
"I can't even remember the last time I sat down and talked with him." Derek quietly admitted.
"When you get him back, make sure that you make some time for that. It's worth it." Jim Bob said seriously.
"I'll do that." Derek said as they continued to walk.
To Be Continued...
Well, I have tears running down my cheeks, again.
That seems to happen a lot when I read MultiMappier's stories.
It really is wonderful seeing a new chapter in this terrific story, after so many years. It won't be too long before he's going to put out another chapter of this story.
Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher