Bullies by Colin Kelly

Mike was attacked by two bullies. Trouble is, he knows who they are.



Tuesday Afternoon

Jerry arrived home at 4:30 after the lacrosse team practice was over. He was tired. It had been grueling. Coach Reynolds was unhappy with what he called their lack of focus. Jerry didn’t agree, but that didn’t mean anything. Coach was in charge, and his solution to lack of focus was to drive them until they were so tired they wouldn’t be able to move the next day.

Jerry pulled into the extra space at the side of the driveway. Not as good as a space in the garage, but their house, like almost all houses in the area where they lived, didn’t have a garage for more than two cars. Parking in the extra space at the side of the driveway was better than having to park on the street.

He grabbed his gym bag off the passenger seat and got out of his car, shut the door and set the car alarm. He walked to where the keypad was at the left side of the garage and started to key in the code to open the garage door. Entering that way meant he could go from the garage directly into the laundry room and dump his dirty gym clothes in the wash on his way to his room.

An unusual noise stopped him; it sounded like a moan coming from the front porch. He stepped back and listened; he heard another moan. He turned to the left and walked toward the front porch, slowly because he wasn’t sure what was causing the moans. When he got close enough he saw a boy lying on the concrete deck of the porch. He rushed up to him to see what was going on.

The boy looked like he’d been beaten. His head and arms were bruised and bloody, his hair even more bloody and matted. He held his right arm on his chest with his left hand. There was a pool of blood under his head.

Jerry pulled out his cellphone, took a picture of the boy, then keyed in 911.

“What is the nature of your emergency?” the dispatcher asked.

“I came home and there’s a badly beaten boy on our front porch. No one else is home. I don’t know who he is or what he’s doing on our front porch. He’s still alive because I heard him moan a couple times and I can see him breathing. Please send an ambulance and the police. I’m going to stay with him.”

“What is your location?”

“436 Wilton Avenue. That’s in Walnut Creek.”

“I’ve confirmed your address and dispatched an ambulance and the police. Is the injured boy conscious?”

“I don’t know. I don’t want to move him, but I’ll kneel next to him and see if he can hear me and answer me.”

“Alright,” the dispatcher said. “I’ll stay on the line with you until the ambulance arrives.”

Jerry crouched next to the boy, and turned on the voice recorder on his phone. He’d seen that done on a cop show on TV; it meant he’d have a recording of the conversation he’d have with the boy. He held the phone where the dispatcher could hear him talking to the boy.

“Hi, can you hear me?” he asked.

The boy moaned, then opened his eyes.

“Hi. Can you tell me your name?” Jerry asked.

“Uh-huh.”

“What is your name?”

The boy tried to lift his head, but couldn’t and he groaned. Tears were flowing from the outer corners of both of his eyes down the sides of his face. “It hurts,” he whispered.

“Don’t move,” Jerry said. “You’ve been injured. Stay still. Just tell me your name, even if you have to whisper it. I’ll be able to hear you.”

“Mike. Mike Everett,” the boy mumbled.

“Mike, can you tell me your home phone number?”

Mike told him the number; that was followed by another moan.

“What’s your home address?”

“156 Parkview.”

“Do you know who attacked you?”

“Uh-huh.”

Based on seeing how badly Mike was beaten, Jerry thought that there probably had been more than one attacker. So, he asked, “Mike, can you tell me their names?”

“Lyle and Camron Sanders.”

“You know them?”

“Uh-huh. I’m fostered by the Sanders. Lyle and Cam are their sons. They go to Los Arcos.” Mike gasped. “Oh… god… my head really hurts.”

“Mike, do you go to Los Arcos High School?”

“Uh-huh. Ninth grade. I’m fourteen.”

“I’m Jerry Harris. I go to Los Arcos, and I’m a senior. Where did these boys attack you?”

Mike opened his eyes and stared at Jerry. “They grabbed me after school, dragged me to Collier Park, began hitting and kicking me. They’re a lot bigger. I couldn’t stop them.”

“Why’d they attack you?”

“I don’t know. We’ve always liked each other. Maybe they found out I’m gay.” Mike’s expression changed; now he looked afraid.

“That’s crap. No one should care whether you’re gay or straight.”

Mike’s expression eased.

“How’d they find out?” Jerry asked.

“Maybe they saw me go into a GSA meeting.”

“What assholes!” Jerry growled. “How’d you get away from them? How’d you get to my front porch from Collier Park?”

“A man saw them and chased them away. I got up and went the other way. I was sore all over and it was real hot and I was dizzy. I wanted somewhere shady and turned onto your street and saw your front porch. It’s real shady and cool. I laid down because I felt like I was going to faint.”

Jerry heard sirens in the distance. “Mike, the ambulance will be here in about a minute. They’ll take you to the hospital and they’ll get you fixed up.”

“Good. Thanks.”

“You’re welcome, Mike. I also called the police so they’ll want to talk to you about what happened.”

“Will you come see me in the hospital?”

“I’ll try. I think they only let close relatives see patients.”

“Tell them that you’re my cousin. Maybe then they’ll let you in.”

Jerry grinned and nodded but didn’t say anything. For some reason Mike wanted Jerry to visit him in the hospital, even if he had to lie to get in. Jerry realized he wanted to see Mike, to make sure he was going to get better. After all, he was the one who found him and called for an ambulance; for some reason that made him feel responsible.

The ambulance backed into the driveway and two EMT’s rushed to the porch. Jerry stood up and moved back to give them space. They carefully checked Mike and explained what they were doing so Jerry — and the dispatcher, who was still on the line — would understand. One of the EMTs took Mike’s vital signs, asked him where he hurt, asked him how many fingers he was holding up. The other EMT returned to the ambulance and brought up a gurney and a stretcher. They cautiously lifted Mike’s head and put some gauze pads underneath, and then put the kind of stretchy tape they used in hospitals and doctors’ offices around his head to hold the gauze in place. They carefully moved Mike onto the stretcher, then gently lifted the stretcher onto the gurney and strapped it down.

“What’s his name?” one of the EMTs asked.

“Mike Everett.”

“You related?”

He remembered what Mike told him to say. “I’m his cousin.”

“When you get to the hospital you can fill out the registration papers for him.”

“I’ll need his insurance card,” Jerry said. “It’s probably in his wallet, unless it was stolen by the guys who attacked him.”

“If he has it you can get it when he’s in the emergency room. Does he live here?”

“No. He lives on… Parkview.” He thought for a moment. “156 Parkview.”

“Thanks,” the EMT said as he wrote the information on a card. He put it in a plastic bag like one of those evidence bags they have on TV cop shows, and strapped the bag to Mike’s right ankle.

“Which hospital are you going to take him?” Jerry asked the EMT.

“John Muir Walnut Creek.”

“Thanks. I’ll follow you to the hospital.”

“Don’t follow us. We can go through traffic signals and stop signs. You can’t. He’ll be taken to emergency first and then I assume to the ICU. So, when you get to the hospital go to the emergency entrance. Going east on Ygnacio Valley the entrance is on your right, the next signal after La Casa Via.”

“Okay, thanks,” Jerry said.

“You’re going to go to John Muir now?” the EMT asked.

“Yeah, but I’m going to try to call his parents first.”

“Okay. Good idea.”

Jerry looked at the pool of blood and decided to take a picture of it. After doing that he realized that the dispatcher was probably still on the phone.

“Hello,” he said. “Are you still on the line?”

“I’m still here. I heard your conversation and it’s been recorded.”

“The ambulance just left,” Jerry told her.

“Alright. There’s a police car that will arrive shortly. Please wait so you can relay what you found out from Mike Everett to them. I’m sorry about your…” then, chuckling, she continued, “…cousin.”

Jerry laughed, knowing he’d been busted. Just as he ended the call, a police car pulled up to the curb in front of the house. Jerry watched the officer walk up the driveway to the front porch.

“I’m Officer Brett Owens. Did you place the 911…” he paused as he looked at the pool of blood on the porch. “What’s that from?” he asked Jerry, pointing at the blood.

“I came home and found a boy named Mike Everett lying on our front porch. He’s a freshman at Los Arcos High. I go to Los Arcos, too, but I don’t know Mike. I’m a senior. He was badly beaten. He told me his foster brothers, Lyle and Camron Sanders, did it. Mike’s being fostered by the Sanders. The dispatcher has a recording of what Mike told me. I also have it on my phone and can email the MP3 audio file to you right now if you want.”

“Okay! Go ahead and email the recording to me.” He pulled out a business card and pointed to it. “Send it to this email address.”

Jerry sent the email. “Check that the audio’s legible,” he suggested.

The officer waited until the email arrived, then he played the beginning of the attached audio file. “That was very clever, recording your conversation. Thank you for doing that.” After listening for a while he looked at Jerry. “I heard Mike Everett say who his attackers were, and his address. I’m going to turn this over to the district attorney’s office and they’ll file the charges and issue a warrant and then we’ll arrest the two Sanders boys.”

“If you’d seen the way Mike looked… wait a minute, I took a picture of him as soon as I saw him and took one of the pool of blood on our porch after the EMTs left with him. Let me send them to you.” Jerry sent another email with the two pictures he’d taken.

When the email arrived the officer looked at the pictures. “It was amazing that he was conscious. This is a lot of blood.” He looked at Jerry. “This is very good. It’s more graphic than the pictures that they’ll take in the ER after they’ve cleaned him up. Thank you a second time.”

“How long will it take to get an arrest warrant?” Jerry asked.

“Could be anywhere from a couple days to a couple weeks. It depends on how much additional evidence we need to prove it was those two boys. I’m going to interview Mike Everett at the hospital tomorrow if his doctor says it’s okay and I’ll also try to find and photograph the location where he was attacked in Collier Park. The files you provided are a big help.”

 “I’m glad that what I did will be helpful. Now I’d like to see those two guys get arrested. You know why they did it, right?”

“Yes. I heard it on the recording. He said it’s because he’s gay,” Officer Owens said.

“Yeah. It really pisses me off,” Jerry said. “You’d think by now that gay bashing would be something that was in the past. But… we can see that it’s still alive and kicking. And Mike was the one getting kicked.”

“I’m leaving now,” Officer Owens announced. “Please don’t clean the blood from the porch until the crime scene techs arrive to obtain samples.”

“When will they get here?”

“Could be later this evening, but more likely first thing in the morning.”

“My folks won’t be happy until it’s cleaned up. Tell you what, can you put that crime scene tape across the entrance of the front porch? That’ll keep people off of it, and I can tell my folks that it’s not to be cleaned off until the tape is removed.”

“Any other adults or kids at home now?”

“Just me. My younger brother Scott isn’t home from school yet, and my mom and dad are at work,” Jerry replied

“Will you be going into the house through the front door?”

“Sure, since I’m on the front porch that’s the fastest way.”

“Then I’ll get the tape and once you go inside I’ll put it across the front door and then across the entrance to the porch.” He walked back to the patrol car. Jerry unlocked the front door and went inside.

The first thing he did was phone his mom. He gave her a short version of what happened, and that the porch and front door were taped off until the crime scene people could do their part, and they’d probably be there in the morning. He told her he was going to the hospital to be with Mike and she said that would be a nice thing to do.

“Where’s Scott?” he asked.

“He went to Tom’s house to finish some project they’re working on for one of his classes. I’m going to pick him up on my way home.”

“Okay. Please make sure no one tries to walk on the front porch until the crime scene people are finished.”

His mother agreed to do that.

When he finished that call, he phoned the Sanders home number Mike had given him. There was no answer, and he realized that he shouldn’t leave a message in case Lyle or Cam got home and listened to it. He was glad they hadn’t answered the phone.

Then he got in his car and drove to John Muir Hospital and found the parking lot for the emergency department. After parking he ran inside and checked in. He had to wait a few minutes before his number was called. He said he was there to register Mike Everett, and that he wanted to go in and see him in the ER. That started a long process that involved having a hospital security guard retrieving Mike’s wallet; Jerry looking for and finding Mike’s insurance card; Jerry showing his own identification; and Jerry filling out admission forms leaving most of the health related fields blank because he didn’t know the answers for Mike.

Finally, the process completed, a stick-on badge was given to Jerry which he stuck on the left side of his jacket above the pocket. He was directed to ER room 23 where Mike seemed to be sleeping. He had a large bandage around his head and across his forehead, and his right arm was in a sling. Jerry didn’t want to wake him, so he sat down and pulled out his phone and began reading a science fiction novel, Catseye by Andre Norton.

A nurse came in and told Jerry she was there to take Mike’s vital signs.

Jerry asked, “Is he sleeping or unconscious?”

“Sleeping. He’s receiving pain medication through his IV,” she said. “He’ll probably wake up when I take his blood pressure.”

She was right; Mike woke up and smiled when he saw Jerry. “You came!” he said.

“I wouldn’t leave my cousin languishing in the ER without coming to be with him.” Jerry grinned. “Oh, I have your wallet. The guard said he got it from the bag where they put your clothes and phone and other stuff. I had to find your insurance card so you could be admitted. If you know where the bag is, I’ll put it back.”

The nurse overheard. “It’s the yellow plastic bag on the shelf under the bed.”

Jerry saw Mike’s cellphone, so he turned it on and checked the phone number and added it to the contacts on his cellphone then added his number to Mike’s cellphone, telling Mike what he was doing. He put Mike’s phone and wallet in the bag then put it back where he’d found it.

“How are you feeling, Mike?”

“My headache is better. They’re giving me something that helps with the pain; it’s making me feel sort of spacey. They bandaged my head. They said my right arm is broken and has to be X-rayed. They’re going to X-ray my ribs, too. A doctor put on this sling. He said it’s temporary. It helps a little, but my arm still hurts like mad.”

“How long are you going to be here in the ER?”

“I don’t know. The doctor told me that they are going to take the X-rays and then do some sort of scan to get a picture of my brain and scalp. They sucked out some of my blood already.” Mike grinned, but it was shallow. “He said they were getting a hospital room ready for me. After the X-rays and scan they’ll figure out if they can set my broken arm or if they’ll have to operate. Then they’ll move me to the room.”

“What about your head?”

“He said they’ll figure out what they’ll have to do after they see the scan.”

“I tried to call your house, but there was no answer. I didn’t leave a message so the guys who attacked you wouldn’t find out where you are.”

“Thanks. Could you phone my CPS case worker instead? Her card’s in my wallet.”

Jerry retrieved the wallet, found the Child Protective Services Contra Costa County business card with the case worker’s name, Maria Thompson. He dialed the number and she answered.

“This is Maria Thompson. How can I help you?”

“Mrs. Thompson, my name is Jerry Harris. You’re the case worker for Mike Everett?”

“Yes. Does Michael have a problem?”

“Yes.” Jerry summarized what happened and that he was at John Muir Hospital in Walnut Creek with him. “So, Mike asked that I not phone his foster parents and call you instead.”

“Can I talk to Michael?” she asked. That’s when Jerry noticed that she always called him Michael, not Mike.

“Let me ask if it’s okay.”

Jerry asked the nurse and she said it should be alright, but it was up to the patient.

He turned to Mike. “Do you want to talk to your case worker, Mrs. Thompson? She asked to talk to you.”

“Okay. I’m a little groggy, though. So maybe I’m not talking very clearly.”

“Here’s my phone.”

Mike talked with his case worker for several minutes, then he handed Jerry the phone. Jerry said goodbye to Mrs. Thompson, saved her number to his phone, then put her card back in Mike’s wallet and returned the wallet to the bag with his clothes.

“Can I ask what Mrs. Thompson told you?” Jerry asked.

“Sure. She said tomorrow when I’m in a hospital room she’ll visit me and decide whether to call my foster mother and tell her I’d been injured and was in the hospital. Depending on Mrs. Sanders’ attitude, Mrs. Thompson will decide whether to tell her it was Cam and Lyle that attacked me.”

“I think it would be better if Mrs. Thompson talks to the police and finds out when Cam and Lyle will be arrested before talking to your foster mother.”

“Okay, I’ll tell her that when I see her tomorrow.”

“So, now the only question is when you’re going to be moved from the ER to a room.”

“Can you wait with me?” Mike asked.

“Yes, as long as they’ll let me. I talked to my mom at her work and told her what happened and that I was going to be here with you.”

Mike stared at Jerry for a few seconds. “You didn’t know me, but it’s like you’ve become my best friend. Thanks for staying with me. This whole thing being in the hospital is scary. Especially because I don’t know if I’m going have an operation on my arm and where my skull was broken.” Mike, with tears in his eyes, looked away from Jerry.

“You’re welcome, Mike. I’m going to be with you here in the hospital as much as I can.” He smiled. “I think we’re best friends, too.”

“Thanks. If it weren’t for you I’d have been all alone.”

A few minutes later a doctor came in and checked Mike’s vision and asked him a bunch of questions about how he felt. He said they were going to take him to the imaging department and take X-rays of his right arm, his ribs, and his skull. What they saw on the X-rays would determine what was done next.

Then the doctor turned to Jerry. “You might as well go home. My guess is that Mike won’t be moved to his room until sometime tomorrow. You can call tomorrow and find out where he’s been moved and when he can have visitors. Just call the main hospital number and ask for the nursing station for Michael Everett’s room. They’ll connect you with the nursing station that covers his room, and the nurse will give you the room number.”

Almost immediately a technician from the imaging department arrived and said they would be moving Mike, bed and all, to have his X-rays and scan.

Jerry squeezed Mike’s hand and they said goodbye, then he left the ER.

Jerry figured that the next step was to find out if and when Camron and Lyle Sanders were going to be arrested. He had the card from the police officer. That would be a good place to start. He’d do that in the morning. Right now he was exhausted and hungry. It was time to go home.


Tuesday Evening

Of course, his folks and his brother Scott wanted to know about everything. So Jerry spent most of his dinner talking and trying to eat at the same time.

“Tomorrow, I want to go to the hospital as soon as seventh period is over,” he said. “I’m going to need a note so I can get a permission slip from the office to get out of lacrosse practice after school.”

“Alright,” his mom said. “What do you want it to say?”

“Would you mind fibbing? Just a little bit?”

“What? Fibbing? Really? Cool!” Scott exclaimed. He had a big grin. Like most twelve-year-old boys, he could easily relate to fibbing about things. That was always a lot of fun and often exciting!

“I assume you want it to say your cousin is in the hospital, right?” their mother asked.

“If that’s okay with you.”

“Cousin? What cousin?” Scott asked.

“Don’t you remember that I said that to get in to see Mike in the hospital I’d have to be a relative? Mike told me to say I was his cousin. So, my note should say that my cousin was seriously injured and is in the hospital and I have to go see him right after school, and that’s why I can’t be at lacrosse practice tomorrow. Anyway, it’s not an important practice. Our first match isn’t until two weeks from Friday, and coach had us working our butts off during seventh period today.”

“Alright, I’ll include that Mike Everett is your cousin in the note,” Mrs. Harris agreed.

“Can I go to the hospital, too?” Scott asked Jerry. “You could pick me up in the front of my school.”

“You’re too young, Scott,” Mrs. Harris said. “You have to be at least thirteen years old to visit a patient in the hospital.” She wasn’t sure if that was accurate, but it kept Scott from begging to go.

“Aww!” Scott groused.

“Do you have homework, Jerry?” she asked.

“Yeah, but I finished almost everything during my classes today. All I have left is to read a story for American Literature. We have to write a response during class tomorrow.”

“How about you, Scott?” their father asked.

“I still have stuff to do. Algebra and California History. Tom and I finished our science project this afternoon.”

Jerry thought he might have problems falling asleep that night, that picturing Mike lying on the porch in a pool of blood might keep him awake. But the day had been exhausting and he fell asleep within a minute of laying his head on his pillow.


Wednesday Morning

The next day Jerry wondered what he should do about Mike. Before going down for breakfast he dialed Officer Owens’ number but got his voicemail. He decided he wouldn’t leave a message because once he got to school he couldn’t answer a return call. Thinking about Camron and Lyle Sanders gave him an idea.

When he got to school he went to the library and got the school yearbook for the prior year. There were pictures of all the Los Arcos High students. There might be a few that were missing, but he hoped that the Sanders brothers would be included.

He was sure they weren’t seniors, so he started with the freshman class pictures looking for the last name Sanders and found Lyle Sanders name. His was the fifth picture from the left in the seventh row. He wrote down the page and location on a piece of paper from his notebook. There was no one else named Sanders in last year’s freshman class.

He checked last year’s sophomore class pictures. Camron Sanders was third from the left in the sixth row. He wrote down that page and location.

He carried the yearbook to the copier. Students were allowed to make copies for schoolwork at no charge, but they had to enter their student ID number. He set the copier to maximum zoom to enlarge the images, then made copies of both of them from last year’s class pictures. They came out great. He wrote their name and current year on each of their pictures.

He returned the yearbook to the reference shelf and sat down with the two copies he’d made. Camron Sanders looked vaguely familiar. He wasn’t in any of Jerry’s classes, but he might have seen him in the halls between classes. Or maybe in the cafeteria. Lyle Sanders didn’t look familiar at all. He studied the pictures of the two brothers, memorizing what they looked like so he could spot them. He wanted to actually see what these two bullies looked like in person.

He didn’t see either of them between classes, but at lunchtime when he went into the cafeteria he saw them sitting together at one of the small round tables at the back of the room. Camron looked about the same as his picture, but Lyle looked a little older and wasn’t as fat as he looked in his yearbook picture.


Wednesday Afternoon

After school Jerry went to his car and called Mike’s cellphone.

“Hi, Mike. It’s your cousin.”

Mike laughed. “Hi, Jerry. It’s nice to hear from my favorite relative and best friend.”

“I’m surprised that you’ve got your cellphone and that you answered. And that you actually sound rather chipper. I’m just about to leave school. I was wondering if you wanted me to talk to any of your teachers and let them know you’re in the hospital, and whether you wanted any of your textbooks and stuff.”

“Why don’t we wait ’cause it’s kind of complicated. You can find out why when you see me. You are coming to see me, right?”

“Right! That’s a good idea about your classes. I’ll bring a notebook so I can write down what I need to know about your classes. I’ll see you in about fifteen minutes. Oh, one thing, what’s your room number?”

“Room 565. Fifth floor. It’s a private room. Thanks, Jerry.”

“What’s the thanks for?”

“It’s because you’re actually coming to see me. You’re the only one who’s come to see me so far.”

“That’s what best friends do! Besides, no one else at Los Arcos High knows you’re in the hospital. I’m going to head out now. See you in a few!”

“Okay. Bye.”

Jerry had to get in line and register at the information desk at the main entrance of the hospital. He was asked to show his driver’s license and say who he was visiting.

“I’m here to visit my cousin, Michael Everett. He’s in room 565.”

A stick-on visitor badge was printed; he was told to wear it where it would be visible. Like in the ER, he stuck it above the pocket on the left side of his jacket. The clerk told him which elevator bank to use and to go to the fifth floor. Jerry thought that was sort of obvious, but he didn’t make any comment.

He took the elevator, and after exiting, he walked out of the elevator lobby to a hall that led to the left and the right. He saw ranges of room numbers posted on the wall; ‘560-580’ was posted on the right so that’s the way he went until he came to room 565. He walked in and stood looking at Mike. He was asleep. Jerry grinned. It was the same as when he went into the ER examination room to see him the day before. He walked past the bed to a chair and sat down.

He pulled out his phone and opened the story he’d been reading and picked up where he’d left off. After about ten minutes a nurse entered.

“Oh, hello. I didn’t know that Mike had a visitor.”

“I’m his cousin Jerry. He was asleep when I got here.”

“Well, I’m about to wake him to take his vital signs.”

“I guess there’s a rule that you can only do that when the patient is asleep, right?” Jerry asked.

The nurse laughed. That was enough to wake Mike.

“Hi, Mike,” she said. “Time to take your blood pressure and temperature.”

“You’re not going to suck all my blood out this time?”

“No. I wouldn’t want to scare your visitor.”

“Visitor?” Mike asked.

Jerry stood up and moved to the side of the bed where Mike could see him without having to turn his head.

“Jerry!” Mike called out. “You’re here!”

“Yup. As advertised.” He held Mike’s left hand. “How are you feeling?”

“My right arm hurts. They had to operate and put in some kind of metal bar to hold my bone in place so it’ll heal. My head hurts where they put stitches in my scalp where I have cuts. There’s a big bump on the back of my head where the biggest cut is, and I have a headache. But at least my skull isn’t busted open. They said my brain is okay, even if my nurse doesn’t agree.”

The nurse laughed. “Now, now, be nice, Michael.”

Mike smiled, then continued, “I have a cracked rib, but all they did for it was put a strap around my chest in the ER. After taking the X-ray they removed the strap and said it would heal on its own. It hurts when I cough or laugh or take deep breaths.

“I have lots of bruises and scrapes and they hurt and some are starting to itch. Besides that, the food sucks. I’m on what they call a partial liquid diet. The only good thing today is that you are here! I can’t tell you how happy I am to see you.”

“I’m glad to see you too, Mike. I’m sorry that you’re having so much pain.”

“Yeah. They gave me a pain killer but it made me throw up so now I’m getting something else. It’s in the IV drip.”

“And,” the nurse said, “it’s time for another pill.”

She had a little paper cup and a plastic cup of water with a straw. She turned the paper cup over into Mike’s left palm. He tossed the pill into his mouth, and the nurse held the cup so he could drink water through the straw.

“What’s this for?” Mike asked her after he’d swallowed the pill and all the water.

“It’s an antibiotic to prevent infections caused by dirt that got in your wounds. Now I have some good news for you,” she said. “You have been switched to a low-sodium standard diet. Your meal will be delivered at about six-thirty. Right now you can have a snack. Crackers or cookies with Seven-Up or ginger ale.”

“What kind of cookies?”

“Shortbread.”

“What kind of crackers?”

“Saltines.”

“Cookies and ginger ale, please. Can Jerry have some, too?”

“Would you like the same?” she asked Jerry.

“Yes, please.”

“I’ll be right back with your snacks.”

“So, when will your arm be healed?” Jerry asked.

“Twelve weeks.”

“Wow, that’s a long time. I suppose you’re right-handed.”

“Unfortunately. Not much I can do about it. It’s gonna be hard and very slow to type with my left hand which is really typing with one finger. And I can’t write with my left hand worth a damn. After Mrs. Thompson gave her verbal okay for my surgery they wanted me to sign a form saying they told me what the surgery was for. I signed because they did tell me. My signature looked like an undecipherable squiggle. They didn’t seem to care, though.”

“If you use Word there’s a dictation add-on that you can use to speak and it will be translated into text. Then there will only be a few typos to fix,” Jerry suggested.

“Hmm,” Mike mumbled. “I wonder how good a job that software really does. I can see how it could mix up words like their and there. Then I’d have to view it or print it out so I could find and fix the typos. And it would hafta have a way to put in punctuation.”

“I suppose it depends on how clearly you can say each word. I wonder if the school district has a way for someone help you. Like, to sit with you and key in fixes to your typos, or so you can dictate what you want and they transcribe it like a secretary used to do in the old days.”

“That’s a good idea. I’ll have to find out about that.”

The nurse returned with their snacks. The cans of ginger ale were the stubby kind, and each had the pull tab opened and a straw inserted. She moved Mike’s tray table so he would have somewhere to set down the can; she opened his pack of cookies, too.

“Has a police officer come to see you?” Jerry asked.

“Not yet.”

“Have you seen your CPS case worker? Mrs. Thompson?”

“Not yet. She said she’d come by later this afternoon. I did call her around noon and told her what you’d said about talking to the police before talking to Mrs. Sanders. She said she’d do that.”

“So, does that mean Mrs. Sanders doesn’t know you’re in the hospital? Wouldn’t she wonder why you didn’t come home yesterday?”

“Mrs. Thompson told me that Mrs. Sanders hadn’t called her to report me missing. I would’ve thought she would’ve at least done that.”

“Maybe she found out that Cam and Lyle attacked you.”

“How would she have found out? The police wouldn’t have told her, would they?”

“What if the police went to her house to arrest Cam and Lyle?” Jerry asked. “Maybe she found out that way.”

“I suppose,” Mike replied, but Jerry could tell that he didn’t believe that.

“Could she have reported you to the police instead of calling CPS?”

“The rules are that foster parents have to report a foster kid to CPS first. And if the foster kid didn’t come home for twenty-four hours then they absolutely have to be reported to CPS.”

“Haven’t the twenty-four hours run out already?” Jerry asked.

“Yes.”

“So, it seems that your foster parents are screwed.”

“Yes.”

“Man, this is a freaking mess. Tell you what, I’m going to call the policeman that came to my house after the EMTs took you to the ER. I’ve got his card. His name is Officer Brett Owens.”

“Okay.”

Jerry pulled out his phone and found Officer Owens’ number in his contacts.

“Hello, Officer Brett Owens speaking.”

“Officer Owens, this is Jerry Harris. You came to my house yesterday afternoon because I’d found Mike Everett on my front porch.”

“I remember you, Jerry, and I remember Mike Everett. I suppose you want to know the current status of the case.”

“Yes. I’m at the hospital with Mike. Would it be okay if I turn on my speaker so we can both hear the status and if I record this call?”

“Yes, to both. Let me know when you’re ready.”

Jerry turned on the speaker — and turned on the voice recorder as well — then moved closer to Mike. “We’re ready now.”

“I’m planning to come to the hospital and interview Mike. When I called this morning I was told he was in surgery. So I put that off until this afternoon. I’m planning to be there around five or five-thirty. Is that okay?”

“That’s okay,” Mike said. “Jerry will be here. Is that okay?”

“Yes. I left a message for Mrs. Thompson and she called back and said she’ll be there at the same time. We need an adult to be present who has guardianship responsibility for you, Mike. You can have an attorney present as well, if you want.”

Mike looked at Jerry. “An attorney?” he said. “I don’t have an attorney. Mrs. Thompson being there is enough for me.”

“This is Jerry. Is there any reason Mike would need an attorney?”

“It’s his right if he wants an attorney to be present. That has to be his decision, and he should consult with Mrs. Thompson to find out what CPS can provide.”

“This is Jerry again. Did Mrs. Sanders call the police reporting Mike as a run-away or a missing person?”

“Not to my knowledge. To continue, once I’ve conducted the interview I’ll present it to my sergeant and then we’ll take it to Assistant District Attorney Christopher Lynch. It will be the DA’s office that will issue the arrest warrants for Camron Sanders and Lyle Sanders assuming there’s enough evidence. Then we’ll locate them, either at home or at Los Arcos High School, and arrest them. They will be taken to a juvenile court judge where they will be indicted and will be scheduled to have an arraignment hearing. The judge will decide if they will eligible for bail.”

“This is Mike. After you interview me, how long will it take until you get the arrest warrants?”

“Tomorrow is Friday, so it will probably be sometime next week. There’s not a lot of urgency because the Sanders brothers aren’t considered flight risks, and since you’re in the hospital it’s unlikely that they would be able to harm you again.”

“This is Jerry. What’s to prevent the Sanders brothers from coming to the hospital and doing something to him if they find out that Mike is here?”

“Hospital security has been notified that Camron Sanders and Lyle Sanders are not to be given visitor badges nor to be allowed past the information desk at the entrance to the hospital. If they make an attempt to enter without authorization they will be restrained by hospital security.”

“Jerry again. What if their mother comes to visit Mike?”

“Hospital security has been notified that if Victoria Sanders or Jacob Sanders or both come to visit you that they are to be allowed to have access but are to be accompanied by a hospital guard at all times that they are inside the hospital.”

Jerry looked at Mike and raised his eyebrows.

“They are my foster parents,” Mike whispered. Jerry nodded.

“What about the man who chased Cam and Lyle Sanders? Did he call or come to the police station?”

I’m not sure. I’ve been in the field and just returned to police headquarters. I’ll check before I leave. If we have a reliable witness who comes forward things can proceed faster. Do you have any other questions?”

“No,” Mike said. “I guess I’ll see you later, then.”

“I will be there, and so will Mrs. Thompson.”

“Thanks,” Mike said.

“Thanks, and goodbye for now,” Jerry said, and he ended the call and saved the recording.

“That was pretty informative,” Mike said.

“Yeah. It just seems to be taking a long time to get those two arrested and off the street.”

“Now, I have something to show you,” Jerry said. He pulled two sheets of paper from his backpack.

“I found Lyle and Cam’s pictures in last year’s Los Arcos High yearbook. I made these copies of them in the school library. I used the pictures so if I saw them I’d recognize them. They were in the cafeteria today sitting at one of the small tables by themselves, talking.”

“Wow, those are great. How’d you get them blown up so much?”

“The copier in the library lets you zoom in and out. I had to play with it a bit to get the pictures big enough and centered at the same time, but these aren’t bad. I outlined their pictures in red marker so they won’t be confused with any of the other kids in their classes. One thing, in the picture Lyle is a lot fatter than he is now. It looks like he’s lost a lot of weight.”

“Not enough!” Mike growled. That was funny, and Jerry laughed.

“Okay, let’s get your school stuff finished,” Jerry said. “Tell me the class period and for each one the name of your teacher and the homework assignments you haven’t been able to finish and turn in.”

Jerry put the pictures of the Sanders brothers away and pulled out a spiral notebook and a pen, and sat back. “Let’s list your classes by period. I’ll put each one on a separate page so there’ll be a lot of room to write down what the teachers say about your classes. What do you have first period, who’s the teacher, and what’s the room number?”

They got started and in about thirty minutes Jerry had all of Mike’s classes listed with the names of the teachers, the class periods, and the room numbers, along with notes about the teachers and what homework Mike hadn’t finished as of the day before.

“I’ll go see each of your teachers tomorrow and make sure they know you’re in the hospital and can’t do homework yet.”

“Thanks, Jerry.”


Wednesday Afternoon
Mike Tells How He Was Attacked

“You know,” Jerry said, “there’s something I don’t know and it’s what happed to you before I found you on our front porch. So I have some questions and I’m going to record them and your answers. Is that okay?”

“Sure, why not?”

Jerry pulled out his phone and turned on the voice recorder. Then he got started.

“Where were you when they grabbed you and where in Collier Park did they take you?”

“I was walking to the bus stop. Cam and Lyle walked up. Cam was on my left and Lyle on my right. They grabbed my arms and forced me to walk to Collier Park. At first I thought it was some kind of joke. I tried to struggle and get away, but they’re a lot older and stronger than me. As soon as we got into the park they dragged me to where the picnic tables are. There’s a small area behind the tables that has lots of trees and bushes. That’s where they took me.”

“Was there anyone around?”

“No. Maybe it was because the time of day. I’ve never been in the wooded part, so I don’t know about that. Anyway, there was nobody there, either.”

“I know this is going to be uncomfortable for you, but can you describe exactly what they did to you? Like, did one of them hold you and the other punch you, or did they knock you on the ground and then they kicked you, things like that.”

“Lyle held me by my arms. He pulled them in back of me.”

Jerry stood and faced away from Mike’s bed. He moved his arms in back of him and clasped his hands together.

“Like this?” he asked. Then Jerry turned his head around to face Mike.

“Yes, except my hands weren’t together. Lyle had his arms crossed under my armpits so his right arm was under my right armpit and he was holding on to my left bicep, and vice versa. He’s a lot taller than me so he was pulling me up and my feet weren’t on the ground.

“Then Cam started saying things about how queers are all going to go to hell and me being a queer and a cocksucker and he was going to beat the queer out of me and I wouldn’t be able to tell anyone who did it because I was going to be dead. Then he started punching me in my stomach and face and head and chest and my balls and…” Mike started sobbing, but continued, “…and I guess I passed out. When I came to I was on the ground face-down and Cam and Lyle were kicking and stomping on me. I was crying and screaming and yelling ‘stop, stop, please’ but they just kept doing it.

“A man, not too old looking, maybe in his twenties, must have heard me screaming because he and his dog ran up and I heard him shout ‘What the fuck are you doing?’ Cam and Lyle ran off. The man and his dog ran after them. I rolled on my side and saw him catch up to Lyle and grab him by his shirt collar and Lyle’s shirt pulled right off. I guess he kept chasing them after that.”

“I wonder if that man called the police,” Jerry said. “It’s important that you tell Officer Owen about that when he comes to interview you.

“What did you do after they ran away?”

“I was still laying on my side on the ground trying to catch my breath. My right arm felt like it was broken. It was real painful. Just breathing was, too. Then I thought maybe they’d come back so I struggled to get up and just stood there for a while because I thought that if I started walking I’d pass out and fall down. I tried taking a deep breath, but my chest hurt when I did, so I just took little breaths. Finally I started walking. I went in the opposite direction of the way Cam and Lyle had run.

“I got to a street and the sun was really hot and I was hurting everywhere and I wanted to get into somewhere shady. I saw houses and walked down that street. I guess that was your street. The first house didn’t have any shade in the front. The next house had a lot of trees making the front porch shady and cool looking so I got there and was going to push the doorbell button but I got real dizzy so I laid down. I must have passed out. That was your house.”

“Did you have a backpack or book bag with you when you were attacked?”

“Yeah. I forgot about that. I don’t remember where it was after they ran off. Maybe they took it with them, or it’s still in that part of the park. I’d really like to get it back ’cause it’s got all of my school stuff. I guess I should tell the policeman about it.” He paused for a moment, taking shallow breaths. Jerry could see how talking this much was wearing him out, how the amount of breathing he had to do to talk was hurting him.

“The next thing I remember is laying on something hard and cold. It was your front porch. You were asking me what my name was and I was crying because everything hurt so much, especially my chest and right arm and my head. You saved me, Jerry. You saved my life.”

Mike started to cry.

Jerry took Mike’s left hand and held it, stroking the back with his other hand.

Mike’s crying and sobbing continued for about a minute. A nurse must have heard him and came into the room, looking concerned.

“Is he in pain?” she asked Jerry.

“I think his pain’s about the same. That’s not why he’s crying. He just told me the details about what happened to him. He said the guys who attacked him told him that he’d be dead when they were finished. Mike’s really a brave kid.”

“Crying often is part of the recovery process from injuries like those Michael has, especially for someone his age,” the nurse said. “He’s lucky that he has a good friend like you who can be with him.” She patted Jerry on his shoulder and left the room.

Mike looked at Jerry. “I’m real tired. Is it okay if I take a nap?”

“Of course! I’m reading a science fiction story. I’ll sit here and do that while you sleep.”

“Thanks.” Mike closed his eyes and it looked like he fell asleep immediately.

After turning off the voice recorder Jerry opened his Kindle app and returned to the story he’d been reading.


Later Wednesday Afternoon

After he’d read for almost an hour a nurse stepped to the doorway. “There’s someone here to see you,” she said.

Jerry stood up and put his phone in his pocket. He assumed it would be Officer Owens or Mrs. Thompson. But he was shocked to see who walked into the room.

“Mom! What are you doing here?” Jerry asked, speaking softly. “Mike’s asleep.”

His mother’s reply was almost a whisper. “I didn’t have anything more to do at the office, so I left. As I was on my way home I decided to stop and see the boy who you rescued from our front porch.”

“Let’s go out in the hall and talk so Mike doesn’t wake up.”

Mike opened his eyes. “You can stay here. I’m not asleep now,” he said.

“Oh… sorry I woke you up,” she said.

“I’ve been awake for a while, but it felt nice to keep my eyes closed. You’re Mrs. Harris, Jerry’s mom?”

“Yes. I’m glad to meet you, Mike. I’m so glad that you’re able to speak so clearly. Jerry has been talking about you non-stop.” She walked up to the side of the bed, looked at Mike up close. She took a deep breath and shook her head.

“Whoever did this to you should go to prison. I want to let you know that we are willing to do whatever we can to help you. That’s not only Jerry, but me and my husband as well. And Jerry’s brother Scott, too.”

“Thank you. That’s very kind of you, Mrs. Harris,” Mike said softly.

She turned to Jerry. “Can you tell me how this happened to him?”

“Mike told me a little over an hour ago and I recorded it on my phone. I’ll play it back for you later. I don’t want to do it now. I don’t think Mike needs to experience it again so soon after telling me what happened. It was pretty emotional for him to relive it.”

“Alright.”

“Mrs. Harris, I want to make sure you know that Jerry saved my life.”

“I don’t think so,” Jerry said. “You saved your own life by finding the strength in yourself — despite all of your injuries — to walk from Collier Park to our house. I’m just glad that when I got home yesterday I heard you moan and went to the front porch and saw you.”

“I don’t care what you say. I say you saved my life, and in more ways than you know.”

“I agree with Mike.” It was a woman’s voice. She was standing at the open door. She smiled. “Hello. I’m Maria Thompson. I’m Mike’s CPS case worker. I just arrived. I overheard your conversation. You must be Jerry Harris, the one who called me about Mike.” They shook hands.

She looked at Jerry’s mother. “And you are?”

“I’m Barb Harris, Jerry’s mother.”

“Nice to meet you Barb. My name is Maria.” They shook hands, too.

“Hello, Mike. How are you feeling?” Mrs. Thompson asked.

“Sore, aching, hurting, in pain, depending on what part of me it is. But I’m alive.”

“I talked to your doctors,” Mrs. Thompson said. “Did you know that you needed a transfusion of two pints of blood?”

“No. What’s that mean?”

“It means that if Jerry hadn’t found you and called 911 immediately that you could have bled to death on their front porch. So, the doctor’s conclusion, and mine, too, is that Jerry Harris did, in fact, save your life.”

Mike grinned. “Hey, that means now he’s responsible for me, right? I read in a story that’s how it works.”

“I’m afraid that’s fictional, not literal.” Mrs. Thompson said, with a chuckle.

Jerry had to sit down. The seriousness of what he’d just heard made him dizzy. He leaned back and closed his eyes. He thought about what he’d done and how Mike almost died and it took his breath away. When he could, he stood up and stepped next to Mike.

“Michael Everett, I accept that I’m responsible for you.” Then he grinned. “We’ll just have to define exactly what that means when you get out of here.”

“Works for me,” Mike responded.

There was some shouting outside the room. Mrs. Thompson turned around and looked out at the nursing station. She left the room.

Jerry guessed what was going on. He got up and walked toward the door. “I’ll be right back. You two get to know each other. Mom, tell Mike about Dad and Scott and where we live and that sort of stuff.”

He exited and closed the door. Leaning against it effectively blocked anyone from entering. At six-foot three and one hundred and ninety-six pounds, Jerry became a formidable obstacle.

Mrs. Thompson was talking softly to a heavy-set woman, but the woman was yelling in response. She was being restrained by a hospital security guard, and one of the nurses kept asking them to please be quiet because they were disturbing patients and to go to one of the meeting rooms to talk. Officer Owens was standing nearby, watching the argument.

“This is your fault!” the woman yelled at Mrs. Thompson. She poked her finger toward Mrs. Thompson, but the security guard grabbed her arm before she was able to reach her.

Jerry’s guess that she was Mrs. Sanders was confirmed when Mrs. Thompson took over the conversation.

“Mrs. Sanders, CPS had nothing to do with the arrest of your sons. My understanding is that they attacked Michael Everett yesterday after school was out. Michael is in serious condition and will remain in the hospital until he’s released by his doctor. As a result of what happened, your fostering license for Michael has been revoked and you and your husband no longer have any responsibilities for him nor any role as his foster parents. You cannot see him without explicit permission from, and accompanied by, an agent of CPS or an officer of the court. We sent a CPS agent to your house this afternoon while you were there when the police officers arrested your sons. Our agent had a court order to remove all of Michael’s belongings including his clothes, books, computer, medications, and miscellaneous items, which he did. Once Michael is released from the hospital he will be moved to a foster facility on a temporary basis, then to a new foster family if one can be found. Do you understand?”

“I insist on seeing Mike!” Mrs. Sanders shouted. If you prevent me from seeing him I will sue you personally! My husband is an attorney. Do you understand?”

“Mrs. Sanders, as Michael’s CPS case worker my only responsibility and consideration is for his well-being. CPS was advised by the Walnut Creek Police Department and by the Contra Costa County Assistant District Attorney that Camron Sanders and Lyle Sanders were being charged with felony assault on Michael Everett.”

“They couldn’t have done it! They said they came right home after school yesterday and were doing their homework. The police came to my house today when I wasn’t home and held my sons; then they called me and when I got there they Mirandized them — and me! — then took them away! They had no right to do that!”

Officer Owens stepped forward. “Mrs. Sanders, we have a witness who saw your sons attack Michael Everett. He chased them and caught the shirt collar of one of your sons and pulled off the shirt. He brought it to Police headquarters. There was a bus pass in the pocket. It has your son’s name, Lyle Sanders. I’m sure if we check the DNA from the shirt we’ll find it’s a match for your son. The witness also described the other boy. We checked the student registration database. The witness said the picture of your son Lyle is the boy wearing the shirt he turned in to the police. He said the picture of Cameron looks like the other boy who had attacked Michael.

“We have a voice recording of Michael Everett stating that Camron Sanders and Lyle Sanders are the boys who attacked him.

“Michael Everett is in this hospital in serious condition with a broken arm that required surgery, a broken rib, damage to his skull, and a large number of cuts and bruises. I understand that he lost enough blood that he had to receive a transfusion.

“As a result of this evidence we were able to obtain a warrant and arrested both of your sons for felony assault and battery on a juvenile.”

“I can’t believe this. It must all be some sort of horrible mistake. I need to talk to Mike and find out what really happened,” she said, and for the first time she wasn’t yelling. She started to sob quietly.

Jerry raised his hand and stepped forward. “Excuse me. I’m Jerry Harris. I was in with Mike this afternoon and asked him to tell me what happened. I used the voice recorder on my phone and I have that recording. I can play it back right now. I think you’ll recognize Mike’s voice. Do you want to hear it?”

“Alright, but if it doesn’t sound like Michael then I’m going to tell you to stop it,” Mrs. Sanders said.

“Why not take it into Mike’s hospital room and play it in there?” Mrs. Thompson suggested. “Then Mike can verify whether the recording is exactly what he said.” Then she looked at Officer Owens. “Assuming that there’s no objection from the police officer.”

“I have no objection,” he responded. “As long as I can be there to listen to the recording.”

“Is that acceptable, Mrs. Sanders?” Mrs. Thompson asked.

“Yes. Of course it is.”

Jerry raised his hand again. “It might bother Mike to hear the recording and relive what happened to him. But since he’ll only be listening, it might not be as emotional for him. I think I should ask him before we play the recording in his room. If it’s okay, I’ll go check with him.”

“That’s a good idea, Jerry,” Mrs. Thompson said.

Jerry opened the door to Mike’s room and left it open. He walked to the right side of the bed.

“I hope you and my mom have been having a nice conversation.”

“We have,” Mike said. He grinned. “I learned a lot of things about you and your brother Scott. What was all that yelling in the hall?”

“Mrs. Sanders, Mrs. Thompson, and Officer Owens are out there and were having a… I guess you could call it a loud discussion. Well, Mrs. Sanders was the one who was loud. Turns out that Cam and Lyle have been arrested because the man who scared them off grabbed Lyle’s shirt and tore it off and took it to the police. It had Lyle’s bus pass in the pocket. He also identified Cam and Lyle from their school ID pictures.

“Mrs. Sanders wants to talk to you about what happened. She’s positive that Cam and Lyle didn’t do it. Instead of having her question you, I suggested all three of them come in, along with me and my mom, and listen to the recording of you telling me what happened. I said it might bother you to hear it, so it’s up to you. Is it okay for them to come in and listen to the recording here in your room?”

“Yeah, it’s okay,” Mike replied.

“This way Mrs. Sanders will be able to see how badly Cam and Lyle injured you. Is that okay?”

“Yes, she should see my injuries.”

“Okay, I’ll ask them to come in. I’m going to ask Officer Owens, Mrs. Sanders, and Mrs. Thompson to stand next to me at your right side. That way we can all hear the recording when I play it. I’ll also ask Officer Owens if he wants me to email this recording to him. I think he’ll say yes.”

“That’s all okay. Sending the recording to the police is a really good idea. Let’s get started,” Mike said.

Jerry walked to the door. “Please come in.” He noticed the hospital guard was no longer there.

After they came in Jerry closed the door. He walked to the head of the bed and said, “Officer Owens, Mrs. Sanders, Mrs. Thompson, please stand next to me here. That way you’ll all be able to hear the recording when I play it back. For you who don’t know, that’s my mother standing on the other side of the bed.”

“I have a question,” Mrs. Sanders said. “Who are you and why is your mother here?”

“I think you’ll understand that after we play the voice recording of Mike describing what happened to him. Mike, if you want to interrupt and say something just let me know. Now, should I start?”

“Yes, please,” Mrs. Thompson said.

They listened to the recording. There were no interruptions or discussion because the volume on Jerry’s cellphone, like most, wasn’t very loud for a group to hear without paying close attention.

When the recording ended Mrs. Sanders was crying softly. “I’m so sorry, Mike. I don’t know why Cam and Lyle attacked you. I never knew that they hated gay people. Their father and I have nothing against gays. Now we’ve not only lost you, but we’re about to lose our sons as well. They’ve been arrested and… and I don’t know what’s going to happen to them. I hope you recover quickly. If you can believe it now, I do love you, Mike.”

“Mrs. Sanders, you asked why my mother and I are here,” Jerry said. “It was our front porch where Mike ended up. When I get home from school I normally enter our house through the garage door so I can dump my gym clothes in the washer. It was lucky that I heard moaning and walked to the front porch to see what was making that noise. I immediately called 911 and asked for an ambulance and the police. The ambulance arrived and took Mike to the ER. None of our family comes in or goes out through the front door. If I hadn’t heard him moan he could have been laying on our porch for a long time. He’d already lost a lot of blood — Mrs. Thompson said his doctor told her that he needed a transfusion of two pints of blood — and if I hadn’t found him right away he could have bled to death.”

Mrs. Sanders looked shocked. “I need to sit down,” she said. Mrs. Thompson helped her to the chair on the other side of Mike’s bed.

“Can we step out of the room for a minute?” Jerry whispered to Officer Owens. He nodded and they walked to the nursing station, and Jerry closed the door to Mike’s room as he exited.

“Let me send you the recording of the questions I asked and Mike’s answers. That’s what I just played in his room.”

“Thanks, Jerry. I want to say that everything you’ve done has been a big help for me and for Christopher Lynch. He’s the assistant DA assigned to this case.”

“Thanks. I appreciate that.” Jerry composed the email, attached the file, and clicked send. “When it arrives please open and listen to some of it to make sure it’s legible.”

Officer Owens received the email and listened to about fifteen seconds of the recording. “The quality of the recording is very good. I had to turn up the playback volume, but that’s not a problem. It’s obviously the same transcription that we just heard in Mike’s room.”

“I have a question,” Jerry said. “Have Camron and Lyle Sanders actually been arrested?”

“Yes. Because of the statement and shirt from the witness the DA’s office was able to issue an arrest warrant immediately. The two boys are being held overnight in Juvenile Hall in Martinez. Then they will be taken to juvenile court and charged with felony assault and abuse of a minor.”

“What will happen to them?” Jerry asked.

“I don’t know. The charges are up to the Christopher Lynch, the assistant district attorney assigned to the case, and by a judge in the juvenile court to decide. This is probably going to be a serious charge on both of the Sanders boys. The only ameliorating factor is neither boy has a juvenile record. However, they could be sent to Martinez Juvenile Hall and incarcerated there until they are 18.”

“Aren’t teenagers who are sent to juvie supposed to receive rehabilitation?” Jerry asked.

“Yes, the staff at both the Martinez Juvenile Hall and the Orin Allen Youth Rehabilitation Facility do their best.”

“What’s the Orin Allen Youth Rehabilitation Facility?”

“It’s a much better environment for teens than Martinez Juvenile Hall. Juvenile Hall is basically a maximum security detention facility for serious offenders. The Youth Rehabilitation Facility is for teens who the court considers are not a threat to society and who will have a positive response to rehabilitation. It’s in a country setting in Byron.”

“Where’s Bryon?”

“It’s about thirty miles east of here.”

Jerry decided he’d have to Google it. “What would they do about school?” he asked.

“There are middle school and high school classes offered at both the Martinez Juvenile Hall and at the Youth Rehabilitation Facility. The Sanders brothers would be evaluated and scheduled to receive most of the same classes they were taking at Los Arcos High School. Not all electives and lab classes are offered. If they finish their high school education in one of the juvenile facilities and pass the exam they’ll get a GED at a minimum. If they’ve completed one or more full year in high school they’ll get credit for the classes they completed. In that case they could actually graduate from high school and, if necessary, they take and pass the CHSPE, then they’ll get their high school diploma instead of just getting a GED.”

“Exactly what is a GED? I’ve heard of that, but I’ve never heard of the CHSPE. I don’t know what either of those abbreviations stands for. What are they?”

“GED is the General Education Diploma. CHSPE is the California High School Proficiency Exam.”

“You seem to know a lot about these things.”

“That’s because I’m in the juvenile division and I work with kids. It just happened that I was the nearest officer to your address yesterday when the call was taken by dispatch. They assigned the call to me because you told the dispatcher that Mike was a teenager and because I was close. I was also trained on the policies and procedures and resources at the Martinez Juvenile Hall and the Orin Allen Youth Rehabilitation Facility.” He looked at Jerry. “Neither facility is a place where you’ll ever want to be sent. Incarceration for teens is not pleasant.”

“Say, Mike told me he had his backpack when Cam and Lyle dragged him to Collier Park. But he didn’t have it when he was on our front porch. Did you or another policeman go to the park and find his backpack?”

“The man who brought in Lyle’s shirt said he’d gone back to where the attack had occurred looking for the boy who’d been attacked and found a backpack. He brought it in with the shirt. While it’s evidence that Mike was in the park at that location, we don’t need the contents of the backpack. When Mike needs them he can contact me and I’ll have them delivered to him. I assume that will be after he’s discharged from the hospital.”

“Yes, I guess so,” Jerry replied.

“Any other questions?”

“Yes, one. I assume you still want to interview Mike.”

“Yes, I do. I should do that now, and I want to do it with Mrs. Thompson present and no one else.”

“Would you do me a favor and tell Mike that you have his backpack?”

“Sure, I can do that.”

When they returned to Mike’s room he seemed to be asleep. But Jerry saw him open one eye then close it with a grin. Mrs. Sanders was talking with Mrs. Thompson and Jerry’s mom was sitting looking at her phone. Jerry assumed she was reading a story. All four member of the Harris family were avid readers.

Office Owens cleared his throat, getting everyone’s attention, including Mike’s. “I’m going to interview Mike. Mrs. Thompson will be here as Mike’s CPS case worker. I’m afraid everyone else will have to leave until we’re finished.”

As they left, Jerry suggested that he and his mom go to the Vista Café, the hospital’s cafeteria for staff and visitors. Mrs. Sanders asked if she could join Jerry and his mother. “I need some coffee. And a couple aspirin tablets. I have a terrible headache.”

Jerry’s mom held up her purse. “I don’t have any aspirin, but I have some ibuprofen tablets. I can give you a couple of those. Is that okay?”

“Yes, thank you.”

“There’s a water fountain where the elevators are,” Jerry suggested.

After taking the ibuprofen tablets Mrs. Sanders got on the elevator with them. It was obvious that she was going to the café. Jerry wasn’t thrilled; there were things he wanted to talk about with his mom — but not in front of Mrs. Sanders. He’d have to save them until they got home.

Jerry got a bottle of something that was labeled lemonade that had zero grams of sugar. He picked it because it was much larger than the other drinks and was the same price. He also picked a chocolate chip cookie that looked homemade.

Jerry’s mom and Mrs. Sanders were sitting at a small table back near the windows. The both had coffee and Mrs. Sanders also had a glass of water. He sat down. While picking something to drink and munch on, he had come up with some questions for Mrs. Sanders. It would be interesting to see how she responded to them.

“Mrs. Sanders, how did your sons and Mike get along?”

“I thought they got along really well. They rode the bus to and from school together, and all sat at the dining room table doing their homework. Sometime Mike would have a question, especially about geometry, and they’d help him with it.”

Jerry wondered if she was looking at things through rose-colored glasses.

“Did Cam or Lyle tell you that Mike hadn’t come home with them yesterday?”

“No. My husband Jacob and I went to Stockton early yesterday morning. My mother fell and was in the hospital there. I told Cam that he was in charge and to make sure that they got their breakfasts and there were leftovers for dinner. I called home at around five-fifteen and they said everything was okay. My mother was just bruised so we took her to her home and spent the night there. This morning my mother was feeling fine so we left early and drove to Walnut Creek. We got back at about eight-thirty. Jacob dropped me off and went to work. I checked the house and everything seemed fine, so I got my car and went to work. I got a call from the police this afternoon that I needed to come home because Cam and Lyle were being arrested. They didn’t say why, and when I asked if Mike was there they just said I had to come home immediately. I was frantic. So I talked to my boss and she told me to go and I got home and… well, you know the rest of it.”

“Have you talked to your husband yet?” Jerry’s mom asked.

“No. Jacob’s secretary said he was in court this afternoon, so I left a message for him to call me and that it was an emergency. He hasn’t called back yet. Right now I think I’d better go home. I can’t do anything more here. Jacob and I need to sit down and talk. He’ll know more about what the charges mean and what we can do. Then we’ll go see Cam and Lyle. They said they were in Martinez Juvenile Hall.

“I want to see Mike on my way out and tell him how sorry I am that Cam and Lyle attacked him, and how sad it makes me that Mike was so brutally attacked.” She looked at Jerry. “Can you come with me? I don’t know if Mike will trust me if I go to his room alone.”

“Okay,” Jerry said. “Mom, why don’t you come too?”

“Alright. Then I should drive home and get dinner started.”

“I need to drive home and do my homework and have dinner. Then I’ll come back and see Mike later.”

When they got to Mike’s room they saw Mrs. Thompson was sitting and talking with him. She looked up when they walked in.

Mrs. Sanders told Mike what she’d said she’d tell him, and Jerry was surprised that Mike teared up and let her hold his left hand. Apparently he didn’t blame her for what happened. Then she left.

Mrs. Thompson was chatting with Jerry’s mom. “I need some coffee,” she said. “Barb, why don’t the two of us go to the cafeteria for a few minutes and I can just sit and chat for a few minutes before you go home?”

“That sounds like a good idea,” Jerry’s mom said. “Jerry, I noticed a sign that says visiting hours on the fifth floor are over at eight p.m. except for parents. You should keep that in mind.”

“Okay,” Jerry said. The two women left, and Jerry pulled the visitor’s chair close to the side of Mike’s bed. He reached over and took Mike’s left hand in his both of his hands.

“I really don’t think Mrs. Sanders knew about what Cam and Lyle did to you,” he said. “Did you know they went to Stockton yesterday morning and didn’t get back until this morning? Then they went right to work.”

“Yes, I knew that. Yesterday morning she’d left me a note on my desk at home. What used to be my home.” He teared up and looked at Jerry. “What’s going to happen to me now, Jerry? How long am I going to be in the hospital? Where am I going to go after? What if they move me to a foster facility that’s not near Los Arcos High and I’ll have to change schools? What if I’m too far for you to come visit me?”

“I don’t know the answers to any of those questions, Mike. You should talk to Mrs. Thompson and tell her what you just asked me and see what she says. I want to talk to my mom and see if she has any ideas.”

“What kinds of ideas would your mom have?”

“I don’t know. Remember, she told you she and my dad — and me and Scott, too — would do everything we can to help you.”

“You’re doing your part, Jerry. You saved my life….”

Jerry interrupted Mike. “Like I keep telling you, you saved your own life. I found you, and that was luck on my part because I heard you moaning. But you stayed awake and were able to moan when you heard me come home.”

“Balderdash!”

Jerry laughed. “What’s balderdash mean?”

“You’ve never heard that before? It means nonsense. Mrs. Weston, my World History teacher, says that when one of us answers one of her questions with a silly answer. What you said was a silly answer. Anyway, I say you saved my life and I’m sticking to it.”

“Okay, okay! I might disagree, but I can tell that I’ll never change your mind. So, I have a question for you. Has anyone told you when you’ll be released from the hospital?”

“No, nobody’s told me,” Mike replied.

“I can answer that,” a man’s voice said. Jerry turned around. It was a doctor. He walked up to the right side of the bed.

“Good afternoon, Michael. I’m Doctor Steven Woods. I’m here to see how you’re doing.” He looked up at the screens on the monitors that were above Mike’s bed for a few seconds.

“You’re progressing on schedule. Your blood pressure and heart rate are near normal. Your temperature is near normal, just a little low. Now, to provide you with an answer.

“Our first concern was the injuries to your head. You’re recovering from those. However, you needed and received two pints of blood and we’re watching to make sure there is no negative reaction. Even though blood type is matched, having a transfusion is considered a serious procedure. You have stitches in your scalp. Those will need to be removed about one week from now. You can go to your family physician, or go to the John Muir outpatient clinic on Treat Boulevard, to have that done.”

“The next concern was the fracture in your right arm. There are three bones in a human arm. First is the humerus, that’s the bone from your shoulder to your elbow; second is the ulna, that’s the bone that connects to the humerus at the elbow and goes straight down to your wrist; third is the radius, that’s the bone that’s curved slightly and, with the ulna, allows your arm to rotate from your elbow to your wrist.

“What’s unusual is that the only bone that was broken in your arm was your humerus. That’s because it’s a larger bone and it takes much more effort to be fractured. You suffered an open oblique humerus fracture; that means the bone fractured and was displaced. In other words, the bone wasn’t just cracked; the bone was broken and the two pieces at the point of the fracture shifted.”

He used his index fingers pointing vertically at each other to show what he meant.

“The X-ray of your arm showed the displacement and an orthopedic surgeon recommended surgery using FIN. That stands for flexible intramedullary nailing. What that means is a short titanium rod is inserted in the bone at the fracture. There are screws through the bone into the top and bottom of the rod to allow the bone to heal and to grow together at the fracture. It is most often used in children because it allows continued bone growth and extension of the humerus, and because it is minimally invasive compared to other surgical procedures. For adults, inserting a rod inside the humerus or attaching a plate on the outside of the humerus are used. The problem with those procedures in someone your age is that bone extension is compromised, meaning your right arm could end up being shorter than your left arm.”

“That sure doesn’t sound like something I’d want!” Mike said.

“The FIN surgery sounds like a very serious operation,” Jerry said.

“It is serious. Even though it is a less invasive surgery, he recovery period will be about twelve weeks. Michael’s age is fourteen and that works in his favor. His bones are still growing and the FIN procedure will not impede growth of the bone.

“The third concern was that one of your ribs on the right side was fractured. A flexible tape was wrapped around your chest in the ER until the X-rays were taken. The fracture is what you would call a hairline crack in the bone, which, while painful when breathing or coughing, is not serious and will heal on it’s own. The tape was removed prior to the X-ray and was not replaced.

“You also had numerous cuts and scrapes. They will require application of over-the-counter medications to prevent infection. The larger cuts should be bandaged. You’ve been taking antibiotics and those will be continued while you’re here. You’ll receive a prescription for an oral antibiotic when you’re discharged and you must follow the instructions for taking them.

“You will receive instructions on how to care for injuries of your injuries. Follow-up visits to the orthopedic department to see Dr. Kelvin Wong who did the surgery on your arm, and to see Dr. William Ferguson who is a concussion specialist, have been scheduled and will be in your discharge instructions.”

“I could have a concussion?” Mike asked.

“Dr. Ferguson will do an evaluation and make that determination. That can’t be done now because you are on pain medication and that interferes with concussion protocols. A concussion protocol is a series of tests for physical, cognitive, emotional, behavioral, and other more serious symptoms.”

“Okay. So, when do I get out of here?” Mike asked.

“You will remain in the hospital at least through Saturday to make sure you have no infections or reaction to the blood transfusion. You could be discharged on Sunday or perhaps on Monday. I assume you’re looking forward to going home and getting back to school. You will receive discharge instructions. Your discharge instructions will include the date when you can return to school. It will also include how long you will need to be excused from your physical education class. That will last until Dr. Wong clears you based on how your humerus facture is healing.”

“How long will that be?”

“You should ask Dr. Wong. He is scheduled to see you tomorrow.”

“When will I see the concussion doctor?”

“That will be after you are discharged. Appointments for both Dr. Wong and Dr. Ferguson will be scheduled and will be in your discharge instructions.”

“What about pain medication? My right arm, chest, and head all hurt, and you said I’m on pain medication now. What happens after I’m discharged? Will I have pain medication to take then?”

“You’ve been on pain medication in your IV drip. That will be stopped this evening and you will be switched to oral pain medication — pills. Your discharge instructions will recommend that you take Panadol or ibuprofen for pain relief; both are over-the-counter pain medications. They should be used only when they are absolutely needed. If your pain increases to the point that those medications provide no relief, you should phone your family physician or go to the emergency room immediately. However, you are going to have pain in your arm and your chest, and mild headaches and pain from where the stitches are in your scalp.

“Michael, do you have any other questions?” Dr. Woods asked.

“None that I can thing of.”

“If you do have questions, ask a nurse. She will pass them on to me.”

“I have do a question. What kind of doctor are you?” Mike asked.

“I’m a hospitalist. I’m like a general physician for you while you’re in the hospital. I interface with your surgeons and other doctors who’ve worked with you. I also coordinate with your family physician and send all reports for the procedures and medications you received while you are here at John Muir Hospital.”

“Okay. I guess that’s it then. Thanks, Dr. Woods,” Mike said.

“You’re welcome, Michael.” Dr. Woods left and Mike closed his eyes.

“You tired?” Jerry asked.

“No, just trying to remember everything he said.”

“No worries. I turned on the voice recorder on my phone. I’ll email the MP3 file to you right now.” Jerry did that.

“That is so cool of you! You’ve recorded a lot of stuff for me. All part of you saving my life.” Mike started to chuckle; he was laughing at Jerry’s expression.

“I’m not even going to respond to that!” Jerry said, then stuck his tongue out at Mike.

Mike cast his eyes down. “I get out Sunday or Monday or whenever, and I don’t have any idea where I’m going or who’s going to do all of the things that the Dr. Woods said I’d have to have done, like go see the other doctors and get medicine and have a concussion test and… it’s a big mess, Jerry.”

“I’d say you should start with Mrs. Thompson. Call her tomorrow morning after she’s had time to figure out some of these things on her own, including the most important which is where you’re going after you’re discharged.”

“Okay. You’re right. Now I’m feeling tired. You should go home and do your homework and eat your dinner and then come back to see me if you have the time.”

“I’ll have the time. Maybe I’ll bring Scott with me. He always has something funny to say. But only if laughing doesn’t hurt you too much. In that case I’ll borrow some of that stretchy tape and tape his mouth shut.”

Mike laughed, and started to moan, “It hurts, it hurts, it hurts!” then he grinned.

Jerry lightly poked him in his left shoulder, making Mike giggle. “I was sort of hoping to see what your low-sodium regular dinner was like, but I do need to get home, do some homework, eat dinner, and get back here so I can see you before they kick me out at eight o’clock. If you really want to see Scott, I’ll talk my mom into letting me bring him with me when I come back tonight.”

“Sure, I’d like that. It’ll be interesting to see how much he’s like or different than your mom’s description.”

“Okay. Enjoy your dinner, and remember it has to be better than cafeteria food!”

The last words Jerry heard as he left Mike’s hospital room were, “God, I sure hope so!”

On his way out he stopped at the information desk. “My brother would like to come with me when I come back later to see our cousin, Mike Everett, in room 565. He’s twelve years old.”

“The age to visit a patient is eleven. So he’ll be admitted. He will need identification showing his age.”

“I think his birthdate is on his school ID.”

“That’ll be fine. Visiting hours on the fifth floor end at eight p.m.”

“Thank you,” Jerry said.


Wednesday Evening

When Jerry got home he went directly to the kitchen. His mom was busy fixing dinner.

“Hi, Mom.”

“Hi, Jerry. Do you have much homework tonight?”

“Nope. Nothing. None. Nada. Got everything finished at school today. I have a question for you from Mike.”

“Really? What question did he ask?”

“When I go back to the hospital to see him tonight, he’d like me to bring Scott. If Scott wants to go.”

“Hmm. You’ll leave when visiting hours are over at eight?”

“Yes. I want to be back in time to see a new Nova that’s on PBS at nine. And I know Scott likes it, too.”

“Alright. Go ask him when he’ll have his homework finished, and if he says before or by dinner, ask him if he’s like to go with you.”

“All done! And yes!” Scott burst out laughing.

“Where did you come from?” Jerry asked.

“I was in the living room watching TV. My homework is all done, and yes, I would like to go to the hospital and see Mike. What’s his last name?”

“Everett.”

“Cool. We’ll leave right after dinner, then?”

“Yes. As soon as we clean up the kitchen,” Jerry said.

“I’ll give you a reprieve on kitchen cleanup tonight. That’ll give you about an hour to visit with Mike. And if he gets tired before visiting hours are over, please leave and let him go to sleep.”

“Okay, we will,” Jerry said.

Directly after dinner Jerry and Scott left for the Hospital.

“Thanks, Jerry!”

“For letting you come along?”

“Uh-huh. I’ve never been in a hospital. Except when I was born.”

“Didn’t you have your tonsils taken out?”

“No. I’d sure remember that if I had.”

“That’s weird.”

“Did you have yours taken out?”

“Yeah, when I was six or seven years old.”

“Did it hurt?”

“I actually don’t remember.”

“You’ve got EOA! Oh, that’s so sad!” Scott said.

“EOA? What’s that?”

“Early Onset Alzheimer’s.”

Jerry laughed. “Where do you pick up these things?”

“I learn something at school every day!” Scott laughed like what he’d said was the funniest thing ever. After he calmed down he said, “I am so going to tell that one to Mike, that you have EOA.”

“Scott, please don’t make Mike laugh. I’m serious. He has a broken rib and laughing or coughing or taking deep breaths makes it hurt. A lot.”

“Wow. I’ll keep it on the light chuckle or dry side, then.”

“Thank you.”

“So, what should I talk about?”

“When Mom visited Mike today he said she talked about me… and you.”

“I wonder what she said? About moi, of course!”

“See, that’s one of the things you can talk about. Ask Mike what Mom said.”

“Okay. What grade’s he in?”

“Ninth. He’s a freshman at Los Arcos.”

“I can ask him which teachers he likes and which he doesn’t like so I can plan my classes for next year.”

“Good idea, that’s something useful to find out,” Jerry said.

“Is he into any sports?”

“I don’t know. We’ve never talked about sports. You can talk to him about that, too.”

“Is he straight or gay or bi?”

“What!?” Jerry growled. “Why are you asking that? That’s too personal.” Jerry had never mentioned that Mike was gay to his family, nor had his Mom who’d heard it on the recording Jerry had played earlier that day.

“I want to find out if there’s a GSA at Los Arcos and what it’s like. If I ask someone straight like you all you’d be able to tell me is yes or no and nothing about what the meetings are like and how many kids go to the meetings and if there are any girls at the meetings, stuff like that.”

“Why do you want to know? Are you gay?”

“I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe not. I’m only in the eighth grade and I haven’t decided yet. I just want to find out more about the GSA.”

“Well, don’t ask Mike if he’s gay. Ask him if there’s a GSA.”

“Wouldn’t he wonder why I didn’t find out that from you?”

“You never asked me.”

“But I just did. Well, maybe sort of because you didn’t tell me. So, is there a GSA at Los Arcos?”

“Yes. I don’t know anything else about it.”

“So, I’m going to ask him. If he knows, he’ll tell me. If he doesn’t, he’ll tell me that, too.”

“Scott Harris, you’re incorrigible,” Jerry said in an annoyed tone of voice.

Scott could tell Jerry was exasperated. He turned to his right and smiled while looking out the passenger side window. He thought about how kids at Valley Middle School didn’t care about being gay or straight or bi or trans, and talked about it a lot and got together with whomever they were interested in at that moment. If Jerry knew that, he’d probably have a heart attack.

Scott looked at Jerry. “Is Mike a gamer?”

“Don’t know. There’s another safe subject to ask him about.”

“What’s his favorite classes?”

“What are his favorite classes, you mean?” Scott stuck out his tongue at Jerry for being a grammatist. “He said all of them. I think. So ask him about that.”

By then they’d arrived at the hospital and were able to find a parking space in the lot in front.

“You do have your ID, right?” Jerry asked.

“Of course I do!” That made Scott think, ‘Jeez, sometimes older brothers can be a pain in the ass!’

They entered the hospital. It was ten after seven; that meant they had a little less than an hour to see Mike. They registered without any problem for either of them, and Jerry led Scott to the elevator bank. There were quite a few people already waiting and, as they got in line, the doors opened. When they got to the fifth floor, the hospital’s main floor for children, they were the only ones left in the elevator. Jerry found that strange. He thought that parents would be coming to see their kids if they were in the hospital.

Scott followed Jerry to room 565. The door was open and Mike was sitting with the back of his bed raised up about forty-five degrees. Jerry realized that was the first time he’d seen Mike when he wasn’t flat on his back.

“Hey, Mike!” Jerry said.

“Jerry, you’re back! And I’ll bet you’re his brother, Scott. Right?”

“That’s me,” Scott said, pointing both thumbs at his chest. He saw that Mike’s right arm was in a sling, so he walked to the other side of the bed. He put his right hand on Mike’s left shoulder and gave it a squeeze. “I was telling Jerry that this is the first time I’ve ever been in a hospital except when I was born. It’s interesting… all of the computer stuff on the wall above your bed. How are you feeling, Mike? Does your arm hurt? Jerry didn’t say you were sitting up. I thought you’d be lying down. Did you already eat dinner? How’s the food? You have much pain? Jerry said your arm and one of your ribs is broken.” He stopped to take a breath.

Mike looked at Jerry and grinned. “Scott’s a motormouth. I like that!”

“I’m going to let the two of you talk. Scott has a lot of questions he wants to ask you, most about school since he’s going to be a freshman next year.”

There was a second visitor’s chair in the room, this one on Mike’s right. Jerry took that chair and Scott pulled up the one on the left so he was close to Mike.

“So you have lots of questions for me?” Mike asked.

“Yeah. I’m going to go to Los Arcos High next year, and I need to know which teachers are great and which teachers I should avoid.”

Mike told Scott about his classes and the six teachers he had. “I like all of my classes,” he stated. Then he talked about the four best teachers.

“The other two are okay, but not my favorites. That’s Mr. Murphy, my computer programming teacher and Mr. Flynn, my geometry teacher. They are sort of dry. They don’t make the classes fun. I can’t tell you anything about PE; we have different coaches depending on what we’re doing on that day. I guess I won’t have to worry about that for the next twelve weeks until my arm is healed. I don’t have any teacher that I hate, so I can’t tell you who to avoid based on personal experience. One teacher some of my friends have who they say they hate is Mr. Peterhurst. He’s supposed to be a real dick, always picking on kids and putting them down. He teaches math and physics.”

“What’s your favorite class?”

“There are three: Biology, Spanish 3, and Computer Programming 1. And yeah, you’re wondering why computer programming is one of my favorite classes when I kind of dissed the teacher, Mr. Murphy. Sometimes it works out that way. My least favorite class is Geometry. I just don’t get it for some reason.”

“Is that because of the teacher?”

“Maybe. But if so, it’s maybe one-third on the teacher and two thirds on me.”

“Do you go out for any sports?”

“No. Being a foster kid means I could be yanked out of Los Arcos and sent to some other school. That’s a possibility now; I’m not going back with the Sanders.”

“You a gamer?”

“Oh, yeah! I have a PS4 and a bunch of games. You a gamer, Scott?”

“Yeah, on and off. Depends on the game and who I’m playing. It’s better if the other guy is into the game as much as I am.”

“What I want to ask you now is probably sort of embarrassing. What did my mom say about me when she was here today?”

“My lips are sealed,” Mike said, and made a zipper motion across his lips.

Scott and Jerry both laughed.

“Are you in any clubs?”

“You mean like chess club and things like that?”

“Yeah. What I’m most interested in finding out about the GSA. We don’t have one of those at Valley Middle School.”

“Yeah, I go to the GSA meetings. They have some really interesting speakers. Like, why it’s important to report bullying when you see it, the importance of safe sex, information about STDs, why we shouldn’t have sex —that was presented by an outside abstinence-only until marriage organization, why vaping is worse than smoking, services and organizations for gay kids, gay literature, what it’s like to be gay at the University of California, and lots more.”

“That really sounds interesting. Do you have to be gay to go to the meetings?”

“No. I’m gay, but GSA means Gay Straight Alliance, so there are a lot of straight kids who come to the meetings. Also, you’re not supposed to ask someone if they’re gay or straight or bi at the meetings.”

“Girls go to the meetings, too?” Scott asked.

“Yeah, girls too. One thing we learned is a lot of gay girls don’t want to be called lesbian. They want to be called gay. And guys don’t want to be called queer or homo or fag. Are you gay?”

“I don’t know. I’m only twelve, so I have a lot of time to figure it out. At my school no one cares whether you’re straight or gay or bi or trans. So most kids do whatever they want to do with whomever they want to do it with.” He grinned because that was almost exactly what he’d thought on their way to the hospital.

After a second or two, Scott continued, “So, what’s the sex and gender thing like at Los Arcos?”

“I think sort of like you described, but Los Arcos isn’t quite as open as Valley Middle sounds. Is it really that open?”

“Oh, yeah,” Scott said. “There’s no PDA allowed in the halls and cafeteria, anywhere in the buildings. When they catch a couple doing something, even just holding hands, they are told to stop, and they’ll get detention if they don’t. But when we’re outside kids hold hands and hug and they don’t stop that. Never any kissing, anywhere, though! That’s an automatic detention. There’s a whole section in our student handbook about personal displays of affection. It’s mostly don’t do it. But, other than that, the kids are mostly very open with each other. There are some religious kids who keep to themselves, and a few troglodytes who are homophobes.”

“That’s about the same at Los Arcos, except I see lots of kids holding hands in the halls.”

“How about bullying at Los Arcos?”

“There isn’t much,” Mike said. “When it happens kids will almost always turn in the guys who did it. It’s amazing that just doing that stops most bullying. Don’t you agree, Jerry?”

“Yeah, I do. There are a few exceptions, but they’re off-campus like what happened to you.”

“So, Jerry, what’s your take on teachers and classes at Los Arcos?” Mike asked. “You’re a senior, so you’ve had almost four years there. Any teachers that Scott should avoid?”

They spent the rest of the time talking about Los Arcos High. Jerry told them which teachers he’d had that he liked and a few that he didn’t, what classes he liked and didn’t, and other things like sports and assemblies and block scheduling. Then they heard the announcement that visiting hours were coming to a close. That gave Jerry an opportunity to ask Mike how he was doing.

“Not bad. I can tell you some good things. First, you see how they’re letting me sit up. Also, they are letting me go to the bathroom to pee and poop instead of having a catheter and using a bedpan. I have no idea how anyone can use a friggin’ bedpan. It’s impossible! And it’s really, really embarrassing having a female nurse wipe your butt!”

“TMI! TMI!” Scott shouted, putting his fingers in his ears. However, he was laughing.

“Anyway, being able to walk is fantastic. They said tomorrow they want me to walk up and down the hall so my leg muscles won’t get out of shape.

“Also, the regular food that I had for dinner tonight was actually good. I had soup, salad, pasta with chicken and veggies, and vanilla ice cream and a cookie for dessert. And milk and hot tea. A lot better than the liquid diet I had at first.

“I’m still sore, especially my broken rib and my arm. They’re giving me a pain pill now, it’s called Pana-something. Oh, I remember, it’s Panadol. Tomorrow they’re going to give me ibuprofen instead and see if that works better. I’m also getting an antibiotic, but they haven’t told me what it is. That’s to make sure none of my cuts and scrapes get infected.”

“Doesn’t sitting up the way you are make your rib hurt more?” Jerry asked.

“It doesn’t. I thought it would, and it did for maybe a minute at first. Now it actually hurts less. The doctor said sitting this way isn’t pulling my broken rib bone pieces apart like lying down does and that’s why it doesn’t hurt as much. They’re going to move a special chair in here tomorrow morning and they want me to start sitting on it when I don’t feel like sleeping.”

“Do you watch TV?” Scott asked.

“Yeah, but they don’t have a lot of cable channels so daytime TV sucks. I wish I had my tablet so I could read books and surf the net.”

“You want me to call Mrs. Thompson?” Jerry asked. “They picked up all your stuff from the Sanders’ house, so your tablet should be somewhere at CPS.”

“Would you do that? That would be great.”

“I’ll do it right now. I don’t think she’d be working this late, so I’ll leave her a message.”

Jerry called Mrs. Thompson’s line and was surprised when she actually answered.

“Hi, Mrs. Thompson. This is Jerry Harris and I’m visiting Mike in the hospital right now.”

“Hello, Jerry. What can I do for Mike?”

“Since CPS picked up all of his things, would it be possible to get Mike’s tablet with the power adapter and cable and bring it to him so he can read stories and surf the internet? He said the daytime TV shows are terrible.”

“I’ll see we can find it. What brand is it?”

“What brand tablet do you have?” Jerry asked Mike.

“Samsung. I think the model is S2 or something like that. I only have one tablet.”

“It’s a Samsung, maybe a model S2. Whatever it is, it’s the only tablet he has.”

“Okay, we’ll find it and have someone bring it to him tomorrow.

“Jerry, there’s an interesting piece of news about Cameron and Lyle Sanders. When their father went to Juvenile Hall and saw them he became concerned about their aggressive attitude and behavior. He said that isn’t like them at all. He asked for them to be tested for drugs. Both Camron and Lyle Sanders were found to have methamphetamine in their urine. That is a powerful drug. For someone who’s never used it before overdosing is likely to cause paranoia, delusions, and violent behavior. That could be the cause of what they did to Mike. Mr. and Mrs. Sanders and Camron and Lyle all say the boys have never used drugs of any kind.”

“Do they know where they got it?”

“I’m not sure. The police say they are looking for the source based on some things the two boys told them. They didn’t tell me anything else.”

“Is it okay for me to tell Mike?”

“Yes, please tell him. Now I need to take another call. I’m on phone duty tonight. So, I’ll say goodbye.”

“Okay, bye.”

Jerry told Mike what Mrs. Thompson had told him about Cam and Lyle.

“Where would they get methamphetamine?” Mike asked.

“That’s a very good question. There are probably drug dealers in Oakland that sell crystal meth on street corners. I’ll try and remember to talk to Officer Owens tomorrow and ask him about it,” Jerry said. “Oh, I almost forgot, Mrs. Thompson said they’ll look for your tablet and someone would bring it and the cable and power adapter to you tomorrow.”

“Thanks, Jerry.”

They heard the second announcement that visiting time was over.

“Scott, I like talking with you. Come back and see me sometime, okay?”

“Nice meeting you, Mike. I liked talking with you, too. I’ll bug Jerry to bring me each time he comes to visit.”


Later Wednesday Evening

On the way home Jerry asked Scott what he thought about Mike.

“He’s nice. I think what he said about the talks they have at the GSA meetings was really interesting. I also thought it was interesting that no one is supposed to ask if someone’s straight or gay or bi at the meetings.”

Jerry glanced briefly at Scott. “Why all of this sudden interest in the GSA and gay kids?”

“Like I told Mike, I might be gay or I might not. So I want to figure it out when I get to Los Arcos and the GSA sounds like a good place to start.”

“If you ever want to talk to me about that, or anything else, just ask me. I’ll keep it private unless you tell me that it’s not private.”

“Thanks. You’re a good big brother. I like that you’re not giving me that lecture about why I might just be curious or I might be gay or I might be bi and that kids my age might experiment or not so you’re probably straight and yadda, yadda, yadda, like they did in my Sex Ed class.”

Jerry chuckled. “You made it almost sound boring.”

“That’s what it was. If you were to ever hear Mr. Clausen talk you’d start to fall asleep. He could be used as the star on YouTube about how to be totally boring.”

“Did they talk about using condoms?”

“Yeah. But they didn’t show how to put them on. There were just some drawing in our textbook. They didn’t even show us a real condom. I guess a lot of parents don’t want their kids to learn anything much about sex so they pressured the school board, or something like that.”

“Maybe they thought middle school kids are too young,” Jerry said. “I don’t agree with that. When you have your Sex Ed class at Los Arcos they’ll give you more information and they’ll demonstrate how to put condoms on.”

“Whoa! That sounds totally hot! Who do they get as the model for that? Do they ask for volunteers?” Scott laughed.

“Get your mind out of the gutter, Scott! They used a piece of wood, sort of like the top of a broom handle. And they gave each of us two condoms to try out at home. In private!

“Man, that’s so cool! Did you try yours on? Did you actually use it?”

“I’m not answering those questions. Like I said, it’s private.”

Scott stared at Jerry for a while. “Since you’re not telling me anything, I have to assume the answers to my questions are yes and yes.” Scott closed his eyes. “I can see with my little eye you putting on a condom.” Scott opened his eyes, wiggled his eyebrows, and burst out laughing.

“That’s so bad in so many ways! You shouldn’t be thinking about me that way. For God’s sake, we’re brothers! Maybe Mom and Dad did find you abandoned on the freeway.” That was a family joke about Scott when he was acting silly.

“Can you buy me some condoms so I can try putting them on?”

NO!” Jerry growled. “Don’t be ridiculous.”

“I’m not being ridiculous! I read that some kids put on a condom when they jack off. That way there’s no mess to clean up.”

“That really sounds like a great idea. Not! You think mom wouldn’t see a used condom or the condom wrapper in your waste basket?”

“No, because if you’ll remember I’m the one who dumps the waste baskets every day. Besides, I’d just hide it under something that’s already in my waste basket, or wrap in in some tissues.”

Jerry rolled his eyes and asked, “How did we even get started on this conversation?” He shook his head.

“Because I’m trying to find out about these things. Big brothers are supposed to teach their younger brothers all about sex. That’ll be less embarrassing than Dad trying to do it!”

Jerry chuckled. “Where did you hear that it’s a big brother’s responsibility?”

“I read it in a story. Hey! I’m hungry. Can we stop at Cheesecake Factory and get some cheesecake? We can take it home. Or we can eat it there.”

“I could go for some cheesecake. Trouble is, Mom’s on an ‘eating sweets is bad for you’ kick, so let’s eat it there,” Jerry said.

“When we get home do we have to confess to Mom about what we ate?”

Jerry looked at Scott for a second then shook his head. “Of course. Not telling would be a lie.”

“How’s that a lie?”

“It’s a lie of omission. That’s not telling Mom something that we should have told her.”

“Okay. Who’s going to tell her?”

“Well, who’s idea was it to go to Cheesecake Factory? Yours, I believe.”

“But you’re the one driving. If you’d said no and driven straight home there isn’t anything I could have done about it. So you’re in control. The one in control is the one who should tell Mom.” Scott leaned back, looked at Jerry, and smirked.

“Okay, I’ll tell her. But I’ll also tell her that you were the one who suggested we go to Cheesecake Factory.”

“And I’ll tell her you were the one who said we should eat it there instead of taking it home. Sounds like a standoff to me!”

“Then let’s get it and take it home,” Jerry countered. “That solves the problem.”

“We should buy four slices so we don’t look cheap. And that way we won’t have to share.”

“Sounds like a plan.”

They got four slices of key lime cheesecake to go, but without the extra scoops of whipped cream. Jerry paid and Scott gave him five dollars to help out.

Their folks were pleased that they’d bought enough cheesecake for everyone. Their mom didn’t complain about eating too much sugar, either.

While the family was eating their cheesecake Scott talked about visiting Mike.

“He’s a really nice guy. Easy to talk to, and he didn’t treat me like I’m just a little middle school kid. If Jerry goes to visit him tomorrow afternoon, I’d like to go, too.”

“It’s okay with me,” Jerry said.

“What did you talk about?” their mom asked.

“School. Mostly about Los Arcos,” Scott replied. “Like teachers and classes. Mike and Jerry talked about other things at Los Arcos I didn’t know about, too. Like block scheduling, which sounds really complicated but they both said it really isn’t.”

“Hey!” Jerry interrupted Scott as he was finishing. “I forgot. I called Mrs. Thompson because Mike wanted his tablet — his computer tablet — and she told me something.” He told his folks what she’d said about Camron and Lyle. “Methamphetamine is a really bad drug. She said that it can cause aggressive behavior and if someone takes a big dose and they aren’t used to it they can be completely out of control and not react normally. That could be why those two attacked Mike.”

“Jerry told Mike so he knows about the meth thing,” Scott said.

“Mr. Sanders is the one who had them tested. They found methamphetamine in their urine.”

“Well, this is all very interesting,” their dad said. “There are two questions. First, what’s going to happen to the two Sanders boys. Second, what’s going to happen to Mike.”

“Mrs. Thompson said he’d be moved to a foster facility when he’s released from the hospital,” she said. “That’s probably not a good situation. I don’t think those places are equipped to handle kids who are recovering from injuries like those Mike has.”

“Can he stay with us?” Jerry asked.

“Yeah! That would be cool,” Scott added.

“I don’t know if that’s possible. We’d have to become certified as foster parents,” she replied. “I think that’s a complicated process.”

“Maybe I should meet him before we make any decisions about suggesting that we foster him,” their dad said. “I’ll take the boys to the hospital tomorrow evening.”

“That’s a good idea,” Jerry said. “I think you’ll like him.”

“I agree,” Scott said.

“I agree with both of you,” their mom said. She looked at her husband. “Rob, I’m sure you’ll like him. I found that he’s a very likeable boy.”

“That reminds me,” Jerry said. “I have lacrosse practice after school tomorrow. I won’t be able to go to the hospital until after dinner. I’ll have to call Mike and let him know.”

“Why don’t you do that now,” Scott suggested. “Before lights out, or whatever they call it in the hospital.”

“That’s a good idea. He has his cellphone which makes it easy.”

Jerry got up and went to his room to place the call.

“Hey, Jerry!”

“Hi, Mike. I wanted to tell you that I have lacrosse practice tomorrow right after seventh period PE. So I won’t have time to go to the hospital before I have to be home for dinner. Then we’ll come to see you, probably at around seven.”

“Who’s the we? You and Scott?”

“Yup, and our dad. He wants to meet the famous Mike Everett since the rest of us have been talking about you so much.”

“I hope you’ve left out all of the bad things about me.”

“Nope. I made a list but ran out of paper.”

Matt laughed, though it was more like a chuckle but louder.

“You can laugh now?” Jerry asked.

“Yeah, as long as I don’t laugh a lot and keep it light. Anyway, that’ll be okay. Assistant District Attorney Christopher Lynch is coming to see me tomorrow, but they can’t tell me what time. Just that it’ll be in the afternoon.”

“That’s interesting. I’m going to school early tomorrow to see your teachers and find out about your classwork. I’m also going to see your counselor, but I realized that I don’t know who it is.”

“Cynthia Briggs. She’s nice.”

“Did you get your tablet?”

“Yes! A guy from CPS, Ted Richards, brought it to me just before lunch. It works great. The hospital has free WiFi so I’ve been going online and reading stories.”

“Kindle books?”

“No. I don’t have a Kindle account. I’d have to have a credit card and I don’t. I go to some of the free gay story sites.”

“I didn’t know there were any websites like that.”

“Ah, the naivety of straight boys!”

“So be it,” Jerry responded. “How did you find the gay story sites?”

“Google.”

“Google? I wouldn’t expect them to have links to that kind of website.”

“Of course they do. Google has everything.”

“I’ll take your word for it.”

“By the way, I got on Blackboard and found the list of homework I haven’t done by going back to the day before yesterday. I’m not that far behind.”

“That’s good. I’ll still check with your teachers and your counselor and see what can be done to reschedule your homework and tests. Problem is, we don’t know when you’re going to get out of the hospital, and once you’re out we don’t know where you’re going to live. So that means it’s not going to be easy to plan what to do until we know the answers to those two questions.”

“About question one. I asked my doctor when I saw him this afternoon and he said it depends on how my arm is healing. Tomorrow morning they’re going to X-ray my arm again to check the rod they put in. About question two. We’ll have to ask Mrs. Thompson. All I know is I won’t be going back to the Sanders.”

“So, you don’t know any more than I know.”

“That’s pretty much it. Sorry. But thanks for what you’re going to do for me with my teachers and my counselor tomorrow.”

“You’re welcome, in advance. Scott and I and my dad will see you tomorrow night.”

“Okay, see you then. Bye, Jerry.”

“Bye, Mike.”

Jerry reported what Mike told him about the X-ray tomorrow and his doctor’s name.

Scott and Jerry missed seeing Nova and didn’t complain about it. They could always watch the episode when it went to rerun.


Thursday Morning

Jerry got to school early and went to see Ms. Briggs in the counselor’s office. He introduced himself as a friend of Mike Everett and explained that he was in the hospital because he’d been attacked in Collier Park on Tuesday and had a badly broken arm and a broken rib and other injuries as well, and he’d lost a lot of blood and had to have a transfusion.

“I’m so sorry to hear that,” she said. “Michael is an exemplary student. Despite that he’s in the foster system he has been a straight-A student here and when he was at Valley Middle School. Do you know when he’ll be able to return to school?”

“No. His arm injury is serious. He had a titanium rod inserted in the large bone in his right arm; it’s called the humerus bone. The problem is Mike is right handed and his arm will be immobilized for twelve weeks. So, he can’t write. He said he can’t read his own writing that he’s tried with his left hand.”

“Oh, my! That certainly complicates things,” she said.

“There’s a dictation add-on for Microsoft Word that he could use to speak and it will be translated into text. That will help him with English 1 and maybe World History, but probably won’t help with any of his other classes.” Jerry thought for a few seconds. “Thing is, I don’t know if Mike has his own computer, and I don’t know how much that software costs, either. I know he has a tablet, but it probably doesn’t have that kind of software available.”

Ms. Briggs looked at Mike’s schedule. “I know what not being able to write or use a keyboard means. What we can do is get walk-with tutors. What that means is that there’ll be a tutor who will go along with Mike to each of his classes. It probably won’t be the same tutor for the entire day. We might have students who are in his classes act as his tutors for those classes, like Biology and Computer Programming 1. I’ll begin recruiting tutors so we have them ready for Mike’s return to school. Do you think he’ll be back by Monday?”

“I don’t know. That’s going to be up to his doctors at John Muir Hospital. If I was going to guess, I’d say probably not. Mike’s in a lot of pain both from his broken arm and his broken rib. They’re giving him pain medication and antibiotics so he won’t get an infection.”

“Alright. The only class I can be sure about is PE. He certainly won’t be able to participate for twelve weeks.”

“I can agree with that!” Jerry said.

“He has PE first period; that makes it easier for him on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays. He won’t have to come to school as early as usual those days.”

“I was going to talk to each of his teachers. Is that something you’d rather do?”

“I’ll schedule a meeting with all of his teachers during staff period tomorrow morning. That way you won’t lose any class time going around to talk to them individually.”

“Okay. That’s probably better,” Jerry said.

“Can Mike have visitors? If he can, I’ll go the hospital and talk to him sometime tomorrow after I have the meeting with his teachers.”

“Yes, he can have visitors. You might call first and talk to the nursing station in his section. They should know, or can find out, if he’ll be out of his room. He told me they’re going to X-ray his arm again tomorrow.”

“What hospital is Mike at?”

“John Muir in Walnut Creek. He’s in room 565. The nursing station is just outside of his room.”

Jerry heard the bell for first period. “I better get to my AP Calculus class. If there’s anything you need me for, you can call me on my cellphone. It should be in my school records.”

“Why don’t you give it to me now. That way I’ll have it with the notes I’ve taken about Mike.”

Jerry told her his cell number. “I better get going. Mr. Parrington dings us if we’re late.”

“Okay, here are two things for you. First, a late slip for first period. Second, an authorization so you can take calls to your cellphone. That’s so I can reach you during school hours in case I need too. Be sure to show each of your teachers the cellphone authorization. It’s good through the end of next week.”

“Okay, thank you, Ms. Briggs.” Jerry got up and left for his class.


Thursday Evening

After they’d finished dinner Mr. Harris drove his sons to John Muir Hospital. “I’m going to ask Mike questions that might embarrass him, so I’m going to ask him if he’d prefer that you leave his room. Alright?”

“Okay. But I don’t know what could be more embarrassing than knowing that he’s gay,” Scott said.

“There could be many more embarrassing questions all related to that topic,” Jerry said.

When they got to Mike’s room he was sitting in a large padded chair with a tray table in front, eating his dinner.

“Hi!” Mike said when they walked in. “Sorry I’m still eating. They took me to imaging for the X-ray on my arm just as they were about to bring me my dinner. So, when I got back they had to get one from the kitchen so it would be hot.

Hi, Jerry; hi Scott.” He waved at them. He smiled and looked at the boys’ dad.“I guess you’re Mr. Harris. Nice to meet you.”

“Yes, I’m these two guy’s dad. I’ve heard so much about you from them and from my wife that I decided I should come and talk to you.”

“I’m glad you did. Mrs. Harris told me the kind of work you do at Twitter. It sounds real interesting. I’m taking Computer Programming 1 this semester. Well, I was taking Computer Programming 1. Not sure how I’m going to that with this.” He pointed to his right arm that was in a sling.

“I see you’re able to eat with your left hand,” Mr. Harris said.

“It was necessary to figure out how to eat things without spilling them everywhere except in my mouth. I saw an OT — that’s a occupational therapist — and she taught me how to do it. So, at least I won’t starve. She also taught me some other important things, like how to wipe myself when I do a number two.” He laughed.

Scott looked perplexed for a couple seconds, then he caught on. “Oh!” and started to laugh. “I never thought about that.”

“There’s other things, like how to wash my left hand without having a right hand to help. How to put toothpaste on a toothbrush. How to brush my teeth with my left hand, but that’s actually very easy. How to have someone wrap my right arm so it won’t get wet when I take a shower. How to take a shower without getting my head wet. How to take a shower with one hand. How to have my bed set up so I won’t roll onto my right side when I’m sleeping. How to scratch an itch on my left arm and shoulder. How to write with my left hand, which I’ve found I absolutely cannot do. And other stuff, too.”

“It’s interesting how having something like a broken arm can result in so many restrictions on things that we consider as normal daily activities,” Mr. Harris said. “I never thought about most of those things.

“Well, let’s sit down,” he continued. “Jerry, can you go to the nursing station and ask if we can have another chair?”

“Sure, Dad. I’ll be right back.” He returned in about fifteen seconds with another side chair and sat down.

“Mike, I talked to Ms. Briggs this morning,” Jerry said. “She’s going to arrange what she called walking tutors to go with you to your classes. For classes like biology and computer programming she’s going to find kids in the class who can help you. She’s having a meeting with your teachers tomorrow during Staff period, so I didn’t talk to your teachers. She wants to know when you’ll be returning to school and I told her nobody knows yet.

“Nothing has changed. I still don’t know when I’ll be back at school.”

“Also, she’s going to come by to see you sometime tomorrow and discuss your classes and what resulted from her meeting with your teachers. She said she’d call first to make sure you’ll be available.”

“That sounds okay. It’ll be good to talk to her.”

“Mike, I have some questions to ask you,” Mr. Harris said. “Some will be personal and some might be embarrassing. If you’d prefer, I can have Jerry and Scott go down to the café and I’ll call them when I’ve finished.”

“After having to use a bedpan while I was in bed and having a woman nurse wipe my butt, nothing will embarrass me.”

All three boys laughed, but Mr. Harris didn’t. He stared at his sons. Scott noticed that.

“Dad, Mike already told us about that and we laughed about it then!”

“My question stands,” Mr. Harris said. “Mike, would you rather have Scott and Jerry leave while we talk?”

“As far as I’m concerned they can stick around. It’s up to them.”

“I’m good,” Jerry said. “Me, too,” Scott added.

“Alright. Then here we go. Why are you in foster care?”

Jerry and Scott sat waiting for Mike to answer. Jerry wondered why he’d never thought about asking Mike that question.

“Soon after I was born I was left at Kaiser Hospital here in Walnut Creek. There’s a state law that a mother can anonymously leave their baby at a hospital if they don’t want it or can’t take care of it. They never knew who my mother was, so my birth certificate reads ‘Unknown’ for both the mother and the father. I’m a 100% orphan and my birth certificate is coded NKR — that means No Known Relatives. I’ve been in foster care all my life.

“I’ve had a bunch of foster families, bouncing from one foster family to a foster facility to another foster family, and so on. The reason is that when I was little I had a lot of health problems, asthma and allergies. Because of that there weren’t many foster families willing to take me. So I spent a lot of time in one foster facility or another.

“When I was seven I was placed with a foster family but then they moved to Europe because of the man’s job. The next foster family was terrible, and CPS pulled me out of there after I complained and my case worker listened to and believed me. The next foster family was okay but then the wife got pregnant and they decided they didn’t want to foster me any longer. Finally I was placed with the Sanders when I was eleven and I’ve been there ever since; it’s been three years. And then this happened.” Mike raised his left arm and pointed at his right arm.

“Other than what happened to you this week, how are the health problems you had when you were younger?”

“They’re gone. I don’t have asthma, and I’m not allergic to citrus fruit, eggs, and tomatoes anymore.”

“How did you get along with the Sanders?”

“It was all good. Cam and Lyle were friendly, and we’d do things together like shoot baskets and play video games. They’d help me with my geometry homework and to study for tests. So what they did to me was a huge shock. At first I thought it was some sort of joke. But it wasn’t.”

“What I was told is that they told you they attacked you because you’re gay. Is that true?”

“Yes. Cam started punching me and said queers are all going to go to hell and I was a queer and a cocksucker and he was going to beat the queer out of me and I wouldn’t be able to tell anyone who did it because I was going to be dead. Those were the exact words that he said to me. I’ll never forget what he said.”

“Are you gay?”

“Yes.”

“Did they know you were gay? Had you told your foster parents or their two sons that you were gay?”

“No.”

“When did you realize that you’re gay?”

“When I was twelve. We started having to shower in PE. I realized that I liked to look at other boys, when they are naked but mostly when they are fully clothed. What I like to look at are boy’s faces.”

“Do you have a boyfriend?”

“No. Never have. For me it’s too soon for something like that. What I’d like is to find a guy I can go out with without any pressure to have sex. Go to the movies, go out to eat, go hiking, ride our bikes somewhere, just to have fun with someone who’s gay and so we can talk about being gay.”

“Well, that sounds reasonable.” Mr. Harris looked at Jerry and Scott. “That’s what I’d expect from my sons. They could have a girl who they go out with but who isn’t a girlfriend.”

“I have a question,” Scott said. “Is there more pressure — or expectation — that a guy who has a boyfriend is going to have sex than a guy who has a girlfriend?”

“Well, that’s an interesting question. What do you think, Mike?” Mr. Harris asked.

“I’d say yes. I think for gay guys the meaning of the word boyfriend is ‘boyfriend with benefits’. Another thing, for gay guys both of them are called boyfriend but for straight kids they’re called boyfriend and girlfriend.”

“I agree with Mike,” Jerry said. “There’s something else. Some girls are gay. In that case they’d both be called girlfriend, don’t you think?”

“Yes, all those answers make sense,” Scott said. “And boys can’t get pregnant. That makes two boys having sex together a lot less complicated”

Mr. Harris started, “We’ve probably exhausted the gay topic…” but he was interrupted by Scott.

“Dad, what would you say or do if I came home and told you that I’m gay? Or if Jerry did?”

“What I’d do is tell you — or Jerry — that it doesn’t make any difference with me or your mother. You’re both our sons and we love you regardless. You know, there’s way too much focus of sexuality and labels and who it is that a person prefers to love. What I’d say is that at your ages, especially you, Scott, that you shouldn’t make up your mind too soon.

“Now I’d like to paraphrase what Mike said earlier.” He turned to face Mike. “You said you’d like to find a guy to just go out with and have fun without any pressure to have sex. Change that a little and it becomes you’d like to find someone to just go out with and have fun without any pressure to have sex. That someone could be a gay or straight guy or girl. Does that make sense?”

“Yes,” Mike replied. “A way it could be done is to go out with a group of friends, mixed guys and girls, gay and straight. The problem is how to find the gay guys and gay girls.”

“That could be a problem,” Jerry said. “I think most gay guys at school are in the closet. And, being a guy myself, I have no way of knowing how to find a gay girl.”

“You find one gay girl and she can be the representative for the group,” Scott said. “She would probably know some other gay girls.”

“But trying to find a gay guy is almost as difficult,” Mike said. “I go to the GSA meetings and I get the impression that the guys I think are gay are there with another guy. And I’m not even sure they’re gay. Except for a few flamers.”

“Are there many flamers at Los Arcos?” Scott asked.

“Not many,” Mike replied. “The thing is, they are obvious and, honestly, they give the wrong impression that all gay guys are like that. I’m not interested in that kind of gay guy. I think that I’m a straight-looking gay guy, and that’s what I’d like to meet, another straight-looking gay guy. That’s the kind of guy I’ve been looking for in the GSA, and like I said, the ones there who I think are gay seem to be with another guy already.”

“I don’t understand something,” Mr. Harris said, “why can’t you make friends with those guys, even if you think they’re together? If they are gay maybe they have another gay friend who isn’t with someone else.”

“That seems obvious,” Scott said. “Why haven’t you tried that, Mike?”

“Well, you’re not supposed to ask someone if they’re gay in the meetings. But I suppose there’s no reason I couldn’t just walk up and introduce myself and talk with them. Find out if they’re into gaming, or hiking, or if they’ve seen some new movie I want to see.”

“Like Love, Simon,” Scott mumbled.

Mike continued, “Anyway, I might make a friend or two, and maybe find out they are gay or maybe not. I wonder why I never thought about doing that.”

“Excuse me, is this a boys’ night out group?”

They all turned to see who’d just walked in.

“Hi, Mrs. Thompson,” Mike said. “You know Jerry. This is his brother Scott and their dad, Mr. Harris.”

She shook hands with Mr. Harris and waved her hand at Scott. “Now I’ve met the entire Harris family. How are you doing, Mike?”

“Better. My rib isn’t hurting as much today, but my arm is. They X-rayed it and moving it to get the part with the rod in the X-ray machine made it hurt a lot more. My headache is mostly gone. They said they would X-ray it again tomorrow.”

“Mrs. Thompson, I talked to Mike’s counselor at Los Arcos High today,” Jerry said. “She’s going to arrange tutoring for him when he returns to school. Of course, that depends on when he’s released from the hospital, and that’s when the doctor says it’s okay. But there’s another problem and that’s where Mike will be when he’s released. If he’s not in the Los Arcos attendance area he’ll have to switch to another school and that’ll probably mess up the rest of the school year for him.

“So, my question is when will he find out where he’s going to be fostered?”

“That’s being worked on right now. I was here seeing someone else and I thought I’d just drop by and see Mike before visiting hours end.”

As if she’d caused it, they heard the announcement that visiting hours were over.

“Well, it looks like time for us to leave,” Mr. Harris said. He walked over to Mike and lightly squeezed his left shoulder. “You’re an amazing young man, Michael Everett, and I am so glad that I had this opportunity to meet you and talk to you.” He grinned. “And to interrogate you, too.”

Mike smiled. “I enjoyed your interrogation and your suggestions, and I’m glad that I was able to meet you.”


Late Thursday Evening

As soon as they got in the car Scott started talking.

“Dad, you asked more questions about Mike being gay than anything else.”

“Was I wrong to do that?”

“No, but I still wonder why you focused so much on the fact that he’s gay.”

“That’s because if he moves in with us he’s going to still be gay and I want to make sure that’s not going to be a distraction for you and Jerry. And for your mother and me, too.”

There was maybe five seconds of silence, then it was Scott who spoke first, again. “Mike is going to move in with us? We’re going to be his foster family?”

“I said if he moves in with us. This whole thing assumes that he’s going to be willing to move in with us.”

“Good,” Jerry said. “He’ll be willing.”

“Hot damn!” Scott shouted. “Fan-fu…mm …TASTIC!” The last part was an even louder yell.

Jerry leaned forward from where he was sitting in the second row seats. “Good recovery,” he whispered in Scott’s ear. Apparently their dad heard the comment because he chuckled.

“We better get the guest bedroom set up and ready for him. He’ll need quick access to the bathroom, so I think we should move the bed so the left side is adjacent to the bathroom door. He’ll need a computer, a laptop so he could use it from his bed. He’ll need a recliner chair sort of like the one in the hospital. He’ll need a tray table like they use in the hospital. There’s a TV in there, but we’ll need to check that it has a cable box because he’ll need it for the internet connection. We’ll have to get his clothes from CPS and whatever else they got from the… whomever was fostering him, I don’t remember their name. I guess that’s it for now,” Scott said.

“What sort of monster has evolved in the body of my second son?” Mr. Harris said.

Jerry laughed.

When they got home they sat down with Mrs. Harris.

“Mom, we found out something very interesting about Mike Everett on our way home from the hospital,” Jerry said.

“Something very cool,” Scott said.

“A plan of action was presented, too,” Mr. Harris said; then he smiled and suppressed his laughter.

“And, what might that be?” she asked.

“That we’re going to foster Mike Hewett.”

“Well, I hate to disappoint you, but that’s not going to happen.”

“What!? Dad said you’re going to be Mike’s foster parents! What do you mean, that’s not going to happen? What happened?”

“It’s not going to happen because Mike has no known relatives, and his parents are both unknown. So, instead, we’re going to adopt him which because of his circumstances means it can be done quickly,” their mom said.

Mr. Harris added, “I never said the word ‘foster’ and you’d know that if you’d paid attention to our conversation in the car. All I said was Mike was going to move in with us. Scott was the one who said ‘foster’ because that’s what he thought we would do. Your mom and I and Mrs. Thompson thought this would be a nice surprise for you two. Jerry gets another little brother, and Mike gets a little brother, and Scott gets another big brother.”

Both Scott and Jerry were silent, typical for Jerry but an anomaly for Scott though he did grimace.

“When?” Jerry finally asked.

“We’ll have to go to court. CPS is supporting his adoption. Mrs. Thompson has visited our home and has approved converting the guest room to be Mike’s bedroom.”

“What do you mean by converting?” Jerry asked.

“He will need a desk and a desk chair and a couple side chairs, and like Scott suggested, we’ll move the furniture around to make it more convenient for him, we’ll be moving all of his things that CPS has into the room, but we’ll let him decide where to put it in the dresser and desk drawers, in the bookcase, and in the closet. You two will do the moving and placing since Mike won’t be able to do it himself. We’ll get him a laptop computer and a printer and you two can set it up and get him connected to the internet.”

“Wait a minute, wait a minute! Dad said Mike would have to agree,” Scott said.

“He did agree,” she said. “Mrs. Thompson went to the hospital to see him and after you three left she talked to Mike and he agreed. As she said, whole-heartedly. Then he started to cry because, he explained, he was so happy.”

“When do we get him?” Scott asked.

Jerry burst out laughing. “‘When do we get him?’ This isn’t like getting a puppy. It’s a teenage boy, a person, who will be moving in with us and will become our brother. I assume it will be as soon as he’s released from the hospital. Right, Mom?”

“That’s correct. We’ve been issued a ninety-day temporary fostering license for Michael Alan Everett which will also expire when the adoption is finalized. It’s expected that the adoption will be completed in two to three weeks. It’s being fast tracked by CPS.”

“What about the Sanders, the people who were his foster parents?” Jerry asked.

“They lost their fostering license for Mike. He would not return to their home even if their two sons are found innocent of the attack.”

“Why would those bastards ever be found innocent?” Scott asked.

“Watch your language. If it can be shown that they ingested the methamphetamine unknowingly — which, Mrs. Thompson said, appears to be the case — they would probably be found innocent but have restrictions like regular drug testing. In any case, living in the same home as the Sanders’ sons would not be allowed because they did attack and beat him resulting in serious injuries. Living there would be traumatic for Mike,” she said.

“So, Mike knows about the adoption. I think we should go back to the hospital tonight and see him, even if it’s just for a few minutes,” Scott suggested.

“That is a good idea. Let me check with the hospital and see if it can be arranged,” Mr. Harris said. He went into his home office to place the call. When he returned he nodded. “Yes, we can go right now, but they don’t want us there for more than a half-hour.”

Mike was sitting in his special chair, bouncing his feet on the floor because he was excited. He’d been told that the Harris family were all coming to see him. His new mom, dad, and two brothers. He’d begin thinking about it and each time it would cause him to start crying. ‘Why do people cry when their so happy?’ he pondered. He went into the bathroom and washed his face with cold water for about the third time so they wouldn’t think he’d been crying, then he sat down again.

He heard voices and looked up. The Harris’s were standing in the doorway. Mike jumped up and immediately started crying again. “I’m happy, I’m happy, I’m not sad,” he said through his sobs as he ran to them. What he wanted was to hug each of them, one at a time, then all together.

“Be careful of your arm and your ribs!” Mrs. Harris said.

“I want to hug each of you. Mom first. Can I call you Mom and Dad?”

“Yes, you can,” she said. He could see she was crying, too. But smiling, a happy smile, too. He hugged his new mom.

Then he hugged his new dad.

Then he hugged Scott, his new younger brother.

Finally he hugged Jerry, his new older brother.

“See, I remembered what you told me, Mike,” Jerry said.

Mike pulled back. “What did I tell you?”

“That because the doctor said I saved your life, you said that I was responsible for taking care of you. And I accepted that responsibility and that we’d have to define exactly what that meant. Looks like I did a pretty darn good job of it, don’t you think?”

“That’s right! That was when I was in my room and you were there and Mrs. Thompson came in. She said that was a fictional idea, not something that was literal. I’ll have to tell her she was wrong. It was literal after all.”

“You know that other people arranged for you to be adopted into our family. Mrs. Thompson and my… no, our mom, and our dad, too, did all the work,” Jerry said.

“Especially Mrs. Thompson,” their mom said.

“Still, you were the catalyst, Jerry.”

“Okay, I’ll accept that definition, Mike.”

“Now, I want to tell Scott something, but it’s private. I’ll sit down and you come over here so I can whisper it in your ear.”

They did that, and when it was done, Scott was grinning and gave Mike two thumbs-up.

“Well?” Jerry asked.

“It’s private,” Scott replied in a stage whisper.

As they drove home Scott thought back to what Mike had told him. He had to turn and look out the window. He wanted to make sure that none of his family saw that he was leaking a few tears. He smiled as he remembered what Mike had whispered. Still, he wondered how Mike knew.

“I’ll never call you my little brother. You’re just my brother.”


The End


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