The sedan pulled up to the sidewalk and a boy quickly got out. Without saying goodbye, he turned up his collar against the cool wind and walked away with his head down. Sean always felt guilty and a little dirty after being with a customer. He called them customers because he hated to say the word john. Whores had johns and he wasn't a whore. He only did what he had to do to survive, and he did it as seldom as possible. He put his hands in his pockets to warm them, and to feel the crisp, new bills. This man had been especially nice and had given him an extra twenty for a tip. Now he had enough to carry him through for more than a week, if he only ate twice a day. Sean headed to the burger place, where he could get two cheeseburgers and fries. The guy at the grill liked him and always gave him extra fries. Sometimes he even slipped an extra burger in the sack, for later.
Sean had been on the street for six months, but because he didn't waste his money on drugs, and kept himself as clean as possible, he didn't look like he was homeless. Spending a little on decent clothing from the thrift store allowed him to look like a normal teen, and that meant he could charge more for his services. Men liked a clean-cut, all American type of hustler. Especially one like Sean, fifteen years old, short brown hair and a nice, cute face. He looked like he was just coming home from school. Instead, he turned down a side street toward an older part of town. Here the buildings were shabbier, and some were abandoned. A few blocks later he approached his destination, a vacant old garage. Looking over his shoulders to make certain that no one was watching, he pushed aside a piece of plywood and entered.
This was home, at least for now. He had made it as nice as he could with scavenged items. In a corner, behind some empty barrels, he made a bed off the floor with cement blocks and plywood. A pool float made a decent mattress, once he patched the holes. For some reason, the water had never been shut off in the bathroom, so Sean could use the toilet and wash up in the sink. The water was cold, but it felt great to be somewhat clean. The men he met usually let him have a hot shower before their business was transacted. Now he sat down on a box to eat his burger and read for a while. With no electricity he had to read during the daylight hours, and he loved to read. Thank goodness, he still had his library card.
Sean read for a couple of hours, but stopped when he heard voices outside. To his dismay, they were coming closer.
"This board looks loose," said one voice. It sounded like a boy. "Look, see? It pulls right up. I'll bet we can get in this way."
"Okay, Mateo. Do you think it's safe?" asked a younger voice.
"Don't worry, Blake. You know I'll take care of you. Come on."
Sean heard them just outside the door and he nervously asked, "Who's there?" He picked up a hammer, just in case he needed it.
There was silence for a moment and then the door opened slightly. A Latino kid poked his head in and said, "Sorry Dude. We didn't know there was anybody home. It looks empty. We just need a place to crash for the night. Are you camping out in here?"
"Yeah. This is my place. It's secret," Sean said.
"Look Dude, we don't want to get in your way, but we need a spot, and this doesn't exactly look crowded. You gonna use that hammer?" Mateo said.
Sean thought about it for a moment and said, "Naw, come on in, I guess."
Mateo entered and was closely followed by a younger boy. "I'm Mateo and this is my brother, Blake."
Sean snickered and said, "Brother? Sorry, but you guys don't look anything alike." Blake was obviously part Asian, while Mateo had the complexion and features of someone from south of the border.
"We were both from the same foster home. That makes us foster brothers, doesn't it, Blake? We escaped together, and we look out for each other," Mateo said defiantly. "What about you? You run away from mommy and daddy?"
"None of your business. Look, this part of the place is mine and you can make a bed over on that side. There's a pile of clothes from the charity box if you want to make a bed on them. Just don't bother me," Sean said. He was annoyed at the intrusion into his fortress, but he knew that he couldn't physically make them leave. He just had to be wary and hope they were not going to rob or kill him. He kept the hammer close at hand, though.
The newcomers set about making themselves at home. Mateo opened a backpack and took out a flattened sandwich and gave half of it to Blake. They ate it slowly and carefully, as if they wanted it to last. Blake licked his fingers and sighed.
"I'm still hungry, Mateo," he said softly, but Sean heard him.
Mateo said, "I know, little brother, but we'll find something tomorrow. Just go to sleep now and don't think about it."
Sean cursed himself for feeling sorry for the kid, but he said, "Here's an extra burger and half an order of cold fries, if you want them."
Blake looked surprised and said, "Really? Thanks."
He took the offered food and told Mateo to split it, but Mateo said, "No, it's okay. I'm really not hungry. You eat it, Blake." He looked at his brother kindly and Sean saw that he really did love the other boy. After Blake finished the burger, he stretched out on the pile of clothing and went to sleep.
Mateo looked at Sean and said, "He was really tired. We had a long day. Hey, you never did say what your name was."
"Nice to meet you, Sean. Thanks for being nice to Blake. Not a lot of people have been nice to him."
"Not a problem," Sean said.
"What are you reading?" Mateo asked.
"It's called Oliver Twist. Charles Dickens. It's an old story."
"Really? What's it about?" Mateo asked, dragging a box across the floor to sit on.
Sean started to object, but relaxed and said, "It's about a kid in an orphanage. He has a real rough time, but later on things get better. There's a lot of danger."
Mateo said, "I hope things get better for me and Blake. So, what's your story, Sean?"
"My story is my story," he replied defensively.
"Sorry, sorry. I was just asking. How old are you? Can I ask you that?"
"I'm fifteen. You?"
"I'm fifteen. Blake is thirteen. This is a pretty cool place you found here. I don't suppose you would be willing to share it for a while. I don't mind living rough out there, but Blake needs some place safe."
Sean looked at the sleeping boy and said, "I guess I can't stop you, now that you found it. Just be careful and don't let anybody else know about it. Okay?"
"It's cool, Dude. We don't want a crowd either. How long you been on the street?"
Sean found himself opening up some. "Six months now. You?"
"We split three weeks ago. Just couldn't take it anymore. Usually we sleep in the park or behind the dumpster at a restaurant. This is a lot better. Blake gets scared."
Sean knew that Mateo must have been scared, too. "I get you, Dude. There's some bad folks out there. How have you been eating? Not dumpster food, I hope."
"Naw, just a few times. Usually we swipe stuff," Mateo said, almost proudly.
"Stealing? Not from people, I hope," Sean said.
"No, just from stores. You wouldn't believe how easy it is. Blake looks so innocent and while he distracts someone with a question, I fill my pockets. Some stuff we sell, some we eat. It's bad, but at least I haven't had to turn tricks, yet. I hope that never happens," Mateo said, shaking his head sadly.
He didn't notice the way Sean's back stiffened or the way he changed the subject. "No offense, but you guys don't smell too great. There's a bathroom over there and the water is cold, but there's soap and a few towels. I wash every day and it makes me feel better, like a human instead of a homeless kid. There's no shower, but the floor drains so you can wash all over and not worry about the water. The towels are old but not too dirty. Help yourself."
Mateo took the hint and went to check out the bathroom. The door had been removed so there was no real privacy. Sean couldn't keep from watching as the tanned young man stripped off his clothes in front of the sink and soaped up a wash cloth. He scrubbed himself slowly, shivering at the contact of the cold water, but bravely pressed on, thoroughly cleaning every area of his smooth body. Sean admired his flat stomach and strong arms. He peeked over his book at the boy's round buttocks and nice, uncut cock. Mateo was a handsome boy, maybe even cuter than I am, he thought. He could make some good money hustling, but he seemed to be against the idea. At least for now.
Sean felt his cock swelling as he watched Mateo bathe. Once the other boy had dried off, he walked across the floor with his clothes in his hand.
"I hate to put these dirty clothes back on now," he said, standing boldly naked in front of Sean. "Is it okay if I look through the other things to see if there is something I can wear?"
Sean looked back at his book, trying to not show his interest in the handsome boy, and said, "Help yourself."
Soon it grew dark enough so that Sean could no longer see to read. He put away his book and started to get ready for bed.
"Don't you have any candles?" asked Mateo. "Or flashlights? I can get some tomorrow."
"I don't like lights when it's dark. Somebody might see and come to investigate, so no candles. No flashlights. Okay?"
"Okay. It's cool."
The next morning Sean woke up early and saw that the two new comers were still fast asleep. He decided to wait and wash up until after he went out for breakfast. He had given away the burger and fries that he had been saving, so it was time to get some fast food. He made certain that his few treasures were hidden in the secret place and slipped out into the foggy morning. There was a fast food place that had breakfast sandwiches for a buck, so he decided to treat little Blake to some hot food. There was something about the younger boy that made him worry. It was one thing for someone his own age to be living on the streets, but thirteen was just too young to survive alone. It was lucky he had Mateo to help him. Mateo, now he was a puzzle. He seemed to be a nice guy, but could he be trusted? It had been a long time since Sean had trusted anyone. If Mateo was homophobic, that could be a problem. Sean had had enough of bigots and he wasn't going to hang around with one now. Maybe the two of them would leave soon and Sean could go back to being alone.
He decided to go ahead and treat Mateo to a sandwich as well. By the time he returned to the garage, the others were stirring. Sean handed out the food and Blake took it enthusiastically, as if he was starving. As he reached out and took his, Mateo looked at Sean with suspicion, but nodded his thanks.
The food was gone quickly and the three were left with nothing to do but sit around. Sean finally decided to bathe. "Mateo washed up last night, Blake, but you need to wash too. You're still a little ripe. The water's cold, so I'll go first and maybe it'll warm up a little."
Sean had been undressed in front of plenty of men, so it didn't bother him to take his clothes off now. Through the open door, Blake watched him with interest as he applied the wet cloth to his skin. His yelps of discomfort as the cold water touched him, caused Blake to giggle and laugh. Sean came out, toweling off, and told Blake to go ahead. "You'll feel a lot better," he told him.
"Okay, but don't look," the boy said, shyly.
Sean assured him that he wouldn't, so he went back to his book while Blake washed up. Mateo smiled, and he also looked away, giving his brother a bit of privacy. Of course, both of them peeked. Blake searched through Sean's extra clothing looking for something cleaner to wear. There were no jeans or trousers in his size, so he settled for a tee shirt that was only a little too large.
Since Sean had scored so well the previous day, he decided to spend the day at home with his books. Blake and Mateo went out to do some shopping. They returned much later with some surprises. Both of them came in dragging stacks of cardboard which they placed on their side of the garage. Mateo opened his backpack and brought out a roll of duct tape.
"Dude," exclaimed Sean, "Did anybody see you lugging that stuff in here?"
"No, of course not. We were real careful, weren't we, Mateo," said Blake, sounding a little hurt.
"Okay, Good. What's it all for?"
"Just watch," Mateo said. He began unfolding pieces of cardboard and taping them together. In no time, he had put up a structure, a box that was big enough for several people to get inside. "It's a privacy room, for night time. Watch this." He pulled a flashlight from the backpack and took it in the box. "We can light it up in here and no one outside can see it."
"But...," Sean began.
"I know you said that you don't want lights, but Blake wanted to ask you to read a book to him at night. We don't have a TV anymore and going to bed when it gets dark is boring. Come on, no one will know if we're in the box," Mateo explained.
"Please, Sean. I get scared of the dark and I like stories," Blake implored, giving Sean his best puppy dog eyes.
"Okay, I guess we can try," Sean said, giving in. He found it hard to say no to the boy.
"Great," Mateo said. "Here, I got us something to eat. Pay you back for the breakfast." He brought out a pack of buns and a package of salami. Blake reached into his pockets and pulled out packets of mustard and mayonnaise. The three of them made sandwiches and Sean shared some warm cans of soda that were stashed under his bed.
The rest of the afternoon and evening was spent reading. Sean gave Blake a couple of Goosebumps volumes that he had scavenged from a bookstore dumpster. Soon the youngster was deep into the story and Sean thought it was funny when he would sometimes gasp or seem scared. Mateo, on the other hand, picked up a book and flipped through it before putting it back down.
"We can go to the library and find a book that you like better, if you want to," Sean offered.
"No, that's okay. I'm not much for reading. I like to hear stories, though. Will you read out loud?"
"Okay, for a while, I guess."
Even though it was the middle of story, Mateo listened attentively, seeming to enjoy it. He asked a couple of questions, but had no trouble understanding the plot. After an hour or so, Sean said that he was tired of reading aloud and asked Mateo to read for a while. Mateo looked embarrassed and said, "That's okay. I don't like to."
Sean caught on at once and said, "Dude, don't worry about it. It's cool if you can't read good. There's lots of stuff that I can't do too good. It doesn't matter to me, I know you're smart. Besides, all you need is practice."
"It's not that," he said softly. "They kept me out of school when I was little, so I got behind. Then when I tried to read I couldn't do it too good and everybody laughed at me. I gave up trying."
"Well, that sucks. Here, practice with these comic books. You like Spiderman, don't you?"
"You got comics? Yeah, Spiderman," Mateo said, eagerly taking it. Sean smiled as he watched the other boy enjoy reading the story. He realized that it was nice to have company for a change. He seldom had a problem with loneliness, but sometimes he wished for a family, if only he could find one that would love him.
When darkness came they went into the new cube to try it out. Sean made the other two turn on the flashlight while he inspected the outside for any trace of light. Seeing that it was safe enough he joined them and brought a book that he thought they would enjoy.
"Since Christmas is only a week away I thought you would like this story by Charles Dickens. It's called A Christmas Carol, and it's about a mean man who gets haunted by ghosts at Christmas time," Sean said. The boys sat back and listened as the tale unfolded. Some of the words they didn't understand, but it was exciting. As Sean described the city of London at that time of year, Blake said that he wished they could have snow sometime.
"I've never seen real snow," he said. "Just on TV."
Mateo squeezed his shoulder affectionately and said, "We are too far west for that to happen. I'm just as glad that it doesn't get really cold. It's tougher on the streets when the weather is cold."
"I know, but it would be pretty. Mateo, can we get a Christmas tree?" the young boy asked.
Mateo looked at Sean, passing the question to him. Sean said, "Maybe. But it can't have lights on it. I'll see what I can find." Then he realized that he had committed himself to having the others around for a while. It didn't seem wrong.
The next morning, Sean told Blake to write down the sizes that he wore in jeans and shirts. "I'm going to go find you something better to wear at the thrift store. We can't have you looking like a homeless kid. You would draw too much attention."
Blake thanked him. He and Mateo went out to find something to eat while Sean went to buy some breakfast. There was a limit to how much money he wanted to spend on the other boys. He was going to have to turn another trick soon, as it was. After eating, he visited the thrift store where he found two pair of jeans and a pair of slacks that were in decent shape. He only found two nice shirts, but picked up another two tee shirts. It would be enough for Blake.
While he was there, he took a look around at the housewares stuff and found a small artificial tree that wasn't too ratty looking. It was only three dollars, so he bought it. It made him feel good to think about Blake being happy to see it. Mateo could worry about getting decorations for it.
When Blake and Mateo came back from foraging, they were delighted to see the tree and the clothing. Blake went to the restroom and gave himself a bath before trying on the new things. "It feels so good to have clean clothes again," he said happily. "Thanks, Sean." He threw his arms around the boy's neck and kissed him on the cheek. Sean blushed.
As the week went on, the three of them developed a stronger friendship, based on their mutual need for companionship and shelter. They made themselves a home, humble as it was. Blake had made the modest little tree into something pretty with some found ornaments and gold garland. They shared food, read stories, laughed and enjoyed being with each other. It was a welcome change from the dismal past they had endured. One thing they never discussed was their past. It was over and there was no use dwelling on it. Their future was their focus, and their hope.
Trouble came a couple of days later when Mateo saw Sean getting into a car with an old man, and he realized just how Sean made a living. At first he was disgusted, and saddened that his friend was gay. Then he felt angry, as if he had been somehow deceived. On the way back to the garage he thought about what to do, and wondered if it was worth losing their new home over something like this. It wasn't like Sean had been mean to them, it was just that Mateo had a bad history with a homo. A real bad experience.
When Sean returned, Mateo seemed distant and quiet. "Is something wrong?" Sean asked.
Mateo said softly, "I saw you today. You got in a car with an old dude. Why didn't you say you were gay? All this time you've watched us wash up naked. You could have said something."
Sean looked hurt. His friend's words cut him, and he replied in anger. "So what? It's none of your business what I do. How the hell do you expect me to get by out here on my own? At least I'm not a damn thief." Just when he was beginning to like this guy, he pulls this shit.
Mateo was taken aback by Sean's anger. Blake came out of the cardboard hut and stood between them. He looked frightened and sad. "Don't fight," he pleaded. "Mateo, I don't care if Sean is gay. He's my friend. Our friend. Don't be mad at each other. Please." Tears ran down his face. "Mateo, you're my brother and I have to tell you..., well, I think I'm gay, too. You don't hate me, do you?"
Mateo realized suddenly that he had always known that Blake was gay. His brother, who he loved. It made a difference to him, so he turned back to Sean and said, "I'm sorry. I was wrong. It's just that, well, there was a man..."
Sean understood right away. "I know what you mean. I had one of those too. Look, I just do what I have to do. It doesn't mean that's who I am. We both do what we can to keep going, so I'm sorry I called you a thief."
They remained friends and quickly forgot their dispute.
Mateo and Blake were wandering the neighborhood, looking for something to give Sean for a Christmas gift. Christmas had not always been a time of good cheer and beauty for any of them. They knew from watching other people how Christmas was supposed to be, but they were just not lucky enough to have experienced it. Now that life was a little better, Blake wanted to make it a happy holiday for the three of them, so he suggested that they exchange gifts.
Mateo had lifted Blake up to look inside a dumpster behind an Old Navy store when they heard a noise. It sounded like a baby crying. They were startled and got down to look behind the dumpster. There, in a cardboard box, wrapped in a blue, flannel blanket, was a red-faced baby. It was angry and loud.
The boys were astonished. They immediately went to help it. Mateo picked the baby up in his arms and held it closely, while hushing it and rocking it. Blake looked at it astonished, unable to comprehend that someone would leave a baby behind a dumpster.
"Who would do it, Mateo? How can somebody just leave a little baby out here? Look at the poor little thing!"
Mateo said, "I think he's hungry. He smells bad, too. He probably needs a new diaper."
"How do you know it's a boy?"
Mateo said, "Blue blanket. It's probably a boy."
"What are we going to do?" Blake asked, holding the baby's tiny hand in his and examining it in wonder.
"We have to take him to somebody. The police, I guess," Mateo said.
"What'll happen to him?"
"They will find a home for him, somewhere."
Blake looked alarmed. "A foster home?" he said. "What if it's a bad home? Mateo, what if we keep it?"
"We can't take care of a little baby, Blake. It's too complicated," Mateo said, but he too hated to think of the possible future that was in store for such an innocent baby.
"Well, we don't have to give him away right now, do we? I mean, tomorrow's Christmas. He deserves to have his first Christmas with somebody that loves him," Blake said longingly.
"Do you love him already? We just found him."
"Yeah, I love him. Don't you?"
Mateo smiled because he did feel something for the baby. Against his better judgement, he agreed to try it for a day or two. "We have to see what Sean says, though. He might not like it."
Blake assured him, "Oh, he will. I know he will."
"Okay, let's get him back and I will see about getting some food and diapers."
"What are we going to call him?" asked Blake.
Mateo laughed and said, "It's Christmas. How about we call him Jesus." He used the Spanish pronunciation.
"No," laughed Blake. "How about Tiny Tim? You know, from the story."
"Sure, Tim it is then."
Tim had stopped crying and now looked at the two rescuers with interest. They carried him, in his box, along back ways to avoid the notice of other people. Tim cooperated by remaining quiet. Back at the garage, Mateo said, "Okay, first things first. This kid needs a new diaper. We can use an old tee shirt for now, until I can get some real diapers. Let's get this one off him."
He spread a couple of shirts on top of a barrel and placed Tim on it. Blake watched him open the soiled diaper, but he recoiled and gagged when he saw what was inside it. Mateo laughed and told him to get the soap and a bowl of water. Tim didn't seem to mind that the water was cold.
Mateo said, "Well, we were right about him being a boy. Here, take this dirty diaper and get rid of it."
Blake held it gingerly in one hand and found a plastic bag to tie it up in.
"Stay here and take care of the baby," Mateo said. "I'm going to go get supplies for him." He spent the last of their meager cash at a discount store and returned with a bottle, some milk, and a small package of real diapers.
When Sean came back he was shocked to see the other two feeding an infant. While he stood with his mouth open, trying to think of something to say, Blake blurted out, "Merry Christmas, Sean. We got you a present."
Mateo was laughing and shaking his head. He hurried to explain the situation and Blake pleaded with him to let Tim stay for a few days. He convinced Sean to hold the baby for a bit, and that seemed to seal the deal. Sean touched the baby's hand and saw him wrap his tiny fingers around his huge finger. It was magical.
"Hey, he's smiling at me," Sean said. "He likes me."
Sean explained all the reasons why keeping a baby was not a good idea, and Blake countered with reasons why it would be a great idea. Finally, Sean gave in.
"I'm pretty sure that babies need formula, not milk. I'll get some tomorrow. They were surprised at how quickly the package of diapers was used up that evening. Blake called him a poop machine. Mateo was the only one of them who could change Tim's diaper without getting sick, so that became his duty. Sean fed him, and Blake played with him. Together they made it through the night and now it was Christmas morning.
Sean had put away some cash and had hidden it from the others when they first joined him. He took some of it now and went to buy more diapers. At the store he saw things like baby lotion, baby powder, baby wipes, baby oil, and other things. He picked up some of each, just to be sure, and added a can of powdered formula to the cart. He couldn't resist getting a toy, a set of plastic keys on a ring.
He also got some new comic books for Mateo and some used sneakers for Blake. He returned home and found that Blake was babysitting while Mateo was out. There were some packages under the tree. Sean added his gifts to the pile and said that it was a shame that they couldn't make them look nicer with wrapping paper and bows.
"It's still a good Christmas, though," said Blake.
Mateo returned later with a Christmas feast loaded into his backpack. "Look," he said proudly, "I got us some apples, some ham, a loaf of bread, chips, and... Ta-da, a pie. It's pumpkin."
"Pumpkin pie? I love pumpkin pie," proclaimed Blake.
"I know you do, little brother."
Sean looked concerned. "Did you swipe all of this stuff? Aren't you afraid of getting caught?"
Mateo didn't look at him as he prepared the meal. "I didn't swipe any of it. I bought it. With money."
"Where did you get the money?" Sean asked.
"I found it, okay? I found it."
Sean let it drop. There was no use getting into an argument on Christmas day. He showed them the things he had picked up for Tim, and Blake mentioned that the baby needed a fresh diaper.
"I was saving it for you, Mateo," he said with a smile. "Merry Christmas."
Tim had been good and had not cried very much. He laughed as his diaper was changed and welcomed the bottle of formula that Sean prepared for him. After they had eaten their fill, they opened the gifts that they had given each other. It was a happier time than they had known in a long time.
Blake said, "Can we sing some Christmas songs? I remember that Momma used to sing them with me. I miss that."
Mateo and Sean both felt a tear form in their eye as they were reminded of a sweeter time in their own lives. "Yeah," said Mateo. "We can sing. Do you remember the words to any of them?"
Blake started singing, "Silent night, holy night..." and his voice was beautiful. Sean was surprised that Blake could sing that well, and he found the words coming back to him, so he joined in. His voice was not as pretty, but he stayed on key and it was good enough. Mateo sang along with them and together they did justice to the song.
After a few more carols they rested, and Mateo said, "I have a surprise. We need a little something to celebrate with." He pulled a bottle of wine from his backpack. After he unscrewed the cap, he offered some to the others. Sean took a cupful and so did Blake. Sean wasn't a big fan of drinking, but since it was a special occasion, he decided to partake. Blake had never tasted wine and wasn't sure he would like it, but he tried. It was cheap wine and the portion they drank was enough to make them glow and giggle.
Blake said, "I have something for us too." He brought out a bent joint from his shirt pocket. "Anybody want to get high?"
The older boys were surprised and upset by his offer. Sean said, "Blake, don't start doing drugs. It leads nowhere, Dude. I've seen so many people waste their money on that stuff and it only brings bad times. I don't want it in here, but mostly I don't want to see you get started on it."
Mateo agreed. "Little brother, you remember Darrel at the Watson house? He used to get high all the time. You don't want to end up like him, do you?"
"Oh, sorry. I didn't think. A guy in the park gave it to me and told me Merry Christmas."
"You were going to smoke something that a stranger gave you? Little brother, you have to be more careful. There's no telling what's in that thing. Toss it for me, okay?"
Blake was embarrassed as he threw the joint away, but the other boys assured him that everything was good, and he soon felt better.
For the next few days, everything went well. They had enough to eat, they were safe and warm, and Tiny Tim kept them amused. It felt good to take care of someone who needed them, and to feel love again. Their trouble began when Mateo went out to get some diapers. A pack of baby diapers is too large to hide easily, and a young assistant manager caught up with him as he fled the store. Mateo was turned over to the police. Fortunately, Blake had seen the arrest and ran to tell Sean.
Sean looked up from the baby as Blake rushed in, crying. He managed to get enough information out between sobs that Sean caught on to the situation. He put Tim down and hugged Blake.
"Look, it's going to be okay. Don't worry, I'll take care of it. You stay here and see to Tim. I have to go see somebody," he said. Before he left he went to his stash of money and took some of it. Considering the amount for a second, he decided that he might need all of it. Sean went over a couple of blocks to a pay phone outside a gas station. It was one of the few remaining phones in that part of the city. He dialed a number.
"Zack Novak," a man answered.
"Zack, it's Sean. Sean Miller."
"Sean, how's it going, Buddy?"
"Not so great, Man. I need your help. Can you meet me at the diner, you know the one, and I can tell you about it?"
There was a pause. "I guess so. Is a half-hour alright?"
Sean said, "That'll be great. Thanks, Zack."
When Zack showed up, Sean was having a burger. He sat down and said, "It's great to see you again, Sean. You're looking good, did you have a good Christmas?"
"Yeah, thanks. You too. Listen, a friend of mine is in trouble. He got arrested and needs a lawyer to get him out of jail."
"Arrested for what?"
"That's nothing. Is it his first offense? Then bail won't be much, and he'll probably get by with a warning from the judge. Why don't his parents take care of it?" Zack asked.
"What parents? He's like me."
"That complicates things. If he doesn't have a guardian the state might want to take charge of him. How old is he?"
Sean said, "Fifteen, like me. Look, I've got the money to bail him out. Just let me know how much it is."
"Don't worry, I'll cover it. I owe you, remember. That's why I gave you my number. You know, I still regret sleeping with you that time. If I had known how young you were, I never would have stopped for you. I still feel guilty about it. I'm really not that sort of man."
"I know. I knew then that you were different. Thanks for helping Mateo."
Zack picked up Sean's check for the burger and shook his hand. "How can I reach you?" he asked.
"I'll be back here or sitting across the street in the park. How long do you think it will take?"
"I'll come back in less than an hour, with your friend or by myself."
Sean thanked him again and watched the handsome young man walk away. Zack was not the sort of man who usually went out looking for boys, but one evening, after his lover had left him and he had been drinking some, he saw Sean and thought he looked a lot like his ex-lover. He took him home and slept with him. When he woke up the next morning, sober, he immediately regretted what he had done. Sean almost got tired of hearing him apologize.
He found out at breakfast that Zack was a lawyer. Zack gave him his card and an offer to help at some future date, if Sean needed it.
Sean had returned to tell Blake that Mateo was going to be home soon. It took Zack a little more than an hour to return, and when Sean saw that Zack was alone, he began to worry. Zack smiled and said that Mateo was home, waiting for him.
"It wasn't a big deal. I didn't lie to the police, but I let them think that I represented Mateo's parents. They didn't ask too many questions and all I had to do was pay the bail and take him out. He has to go before a judge in a few days. Don't worry. I'll be with him and he'll walk out. Just tell me something though. Why was he stealing disposable diapers?"
"I can't tell you just yet. Later on, I'm afraid I may need your help again. I hope not, but I'll call you," Sean said. He was worried about Tim because he had felt hot that morning and Sean worried that he might have a fever. A happy baby was one thing, but a sick baby was beyond their ability to take care of, and Sean was smart enough to know it. He wanted to see how Tim felt that evening before making any decision.
He was happy to see Mateo and Mateo was grateful for his help. Sean said, "The thing is, you can't keep on stealing stuff. If you get busted again it won't be so easy to get you out."
"But how will we live if I don't swipe stuff? I can't do what you do," Mateo said sadly.
"I can," Blake said quickly.
"NO!" both boys shouted at the same time. There was no way they were going to let the kid get into a car with a stranger. Sean said that they would figure something out. He knew that he was going to have to work more often to make up the difference in their income. He couldn't let his friends get in trouble any more.
Sean sat down and picked up the baby. Again, Tim felt hot. He sent Blake to buy a thermometer and some baby aspirin. They found that Tim did have a fever, so they gave him an aspirin and hoped for the best. The next morning the baby was even hotter and there was no denying that he was sick. He didn't look well, either.
"We have to tell somebody," Sean said. "I don't want to, but this is important. I'm going to call Zack again and give Tim to him."
"Oh, do we have to?" Blake sighed.
Mateo placed his hand on Blake's shoulder and said softly, "Tim might die."
Later that day, Sean sat at the diner with Zack once again. "We have a different problem this time and we don't know what to do. Mateo and Blake found a baby, abandoned behind a dumpster, and brought it home. We've been taking care of it for a week now, but it's getting sick and we don't know what to do."
"Wait, you're telling me that you kids have the baby? The missing baby?"
"What missing baby?"
"Good Lord, Sean. Haven't you been watching the news? The Purcell baby got kidnapped. Everyone has been searching for it," Zack said excitedly.
"I don't have a TV. I didn't know about it. We didn't kidnap anybody. We found the baby and we took good care of him. Tim had a great Christmas with us."
"We named the baby Tim. You know, Tiny Tim. It was Christmas. Oh shit, Zack. Are we in trouble?"
Zack thought for a moment and said, "Maybe, but I don't think so. They caught the kidnappers when they came for the ransom. The pair said that they had left the baby behind the Old Navy store, but when they went to find him, he was gone. The whole city has been up at arms over it. The Purcells have been offering a reward for their son's return. Look, take me to the kid. Did you say that the baby's sick?"
Sean said, "He has a fever. I wanted to get him help before it turns into something serious. Zack, I am about to show you where I live. It's been a secret and I hate to give it up, so maybe you can keep quiet about it."
"I wouldn't worry too much about it," Zack said. He had an idea.
Zack was impressed with the home that the boys had made. The garage had been abandoned for years and it didn't look as if anyone was interested in renovating the property. The boys probably could have stayed there for a long time, but that was about to change.
He checked on the baby and saw that it was healthy but in need of some attention. The boys watched as he took out his phone and called for an ambulance and the police.
"The cops?" cried Mateo. "Why did you call the cops? I thought you were our friend."
Zack explained quickly and assured them that he could clear up the confusion when the police arrived. Still, they waited nervously. The next few days were crazy. After going to the police station to give statements, the boys were assaulted by the press. Everyone demanded to know their story. Their pictures were in the papers and they were on every news channel. People called them heroes. It was a great human-interest story, especially coming at Christmas time.
The Purcells were overjoyed at the return of their son, whose name was Cedric, not Tim. (Blake raised an eyebrow and said, Cedric?) They gave the reward to the three boys in the form of a trust fund for when they turned eighteen. When the public found out that the boys were all homeless, offers poured in to adopt them. Children's Services wanted to put them in one of their group homes, but Zack said that they could live with him until other suitable arrangements could be made. He had a large home with a pool and plenty of room for the boys.
The first of them to leave him was little Blake. A woman showed up, claiming to be his mother. She had been searching for him for two years, since he had run away. "I didn't run away, Mom," Blake said. "Your boyfriend told me that you were dead. He threw me out of the house. I was too upset to think that he was lying and there was no way I was going to stay there with him, so I left. I thought you were dead. They put me in foster homes, and they were awful."
"Oh Blake, my sweet boy. I should have left that man long before. If I had known what a vicious snake he was, I would have shot him. He's long gone now, so come back with me baby," she cried.
"Oh Mom. I will, but Mateo has to come too. Mateo is my brother, and I love him."
It was decided that Blake's mother would foster Mateo and eventually adopt him. Meanwhile, Zack put the wheels in motion to adopt Sean.
"I want to treat you as a son, and try to be a father to you. I can't bear to think of you living in that old garage, turning tricks. You'll never have to do that again," Zack said.
They all continued to see each other frequently over the next few years and there were plenty of invitations to visit Cedric at the Purcell's estate.
Every year, the three boys would arrive at Cedric's house at Christmas time, bearing gifts.