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Christmas for Joshua

By Rick Spencer

Email ricks@codeysworld.com

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Copyright © 2006 – all rights reserved

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The tall businessman strode west down Denver’s 17th street, having just left Republic Plaza, the tallest building in the city, his face showing his irritation that this key meeting had been postponed until after lunch. Again. ‘Isn’t it bad enough that I have to be downtown in this weather, on the day before Christmas Eve?’ he thought. Quickly crossing the street, he continued down Tremont street, taking care to avoid the icy patches on his way to a solitary luncheon at the Trinity Grille. Arin Quinn shrugged his overcoat more tightly around him, and raised the collar, in an attempt to keep the large, wet snowflakes from settling on his neck. “I knew I should have taken an umbrella today,” he muttered to no-one in particular.

His reverie was disturbed by the sudden wail of a siren as a Fire and Rescue unit went tearing past, no doubt on its way to one of the many accident scenes caused by the cold and snowy conditions. Arin’s eyes momentarily focused on the red and white vehicle as it rushed past, failing to notice the ice his foot was about to land on. As he passed the entry to the old Brown Palace hotel, his shoe located the ice, slid out from under him and, just like in the cartoons, he found himself flat on his back, the breath whooshing from his lungs as he impacted the cold, icy concrete of the sidewalk.

Stunned from the sudden change in conditions, he was momentarily semi-conscious until he felt the warmth of a body kneeling next to him, and a pair of hands gently feeling the back of his head for any signs of damage.

“Are you alright, sir?”

Shaking his head to clear it, he drew a shuddering deep breath as he realized he was starved for oxygen, before looking into the emerald green eyes of the Good Samaritan who had stopped to check on him. Seeing concern written all over the young man’s face, Arin replied, “I think so. I just had the wind knocked out of me for a moment there.”

The young man’s face broke into a wide grin at that pronouncement, showing off a set of straight and even pearly whites, as he stood, extending his right hand to help Arin up. Grasping the youth’s hand, Arin allowed the surprisingly strong youth to pull him to his feet as he took in his rescuer’s worn, faded, and undersized clothing. Frankly, the contrast between the two men couldn’t have been more pronounced: the youth’s mismatched combat fatigues, layered sweatshirts, and shaggy, curly brown hair, and the sharply dressed businessman, in his silk suit, cashmere overcoat, and highly polished Italian loafers, with not a lock of his blond hair out of place.

The youth began brushing the snow from Arin’s overcoat when a doorman from the Brown Palace rushed forward, physically pushing him away from Arin. “You, lad, get along with you. We’ll not be having any pockets picked here today.” Turning his attention to Arin, he continued, “Are you alright, sir? No damage done I hope. The hotel will, of course, pay to have your coat cleaned,” he added.

Nodding that he was fine, Arin observed his young rescuer out of the corner of his eye. Arin watched as the young man’s shoulders slumped, and the bright grin faded from his face; literally withering under the doorman’s verbal assault, before turning away and heading towards the 16th street mall. Wanting to at least thank the young man, Arin shouted, “Wait a moment!” as he followed the slim form back down Tremont.

Catching up to the youth, Arin placed a gentle hand on the youth’s shoulder, which was angrily shaken free before the youth turned, a hot retort hovering on his lips until he saw who was accosting him. “I’m not a thief, sir, honest.”

Arin stared into the youth’s intense emerald green eyes, and, seeing something that he thought he could trust, replied, “Look, I’m sorry about what just happened. I feel I owe you something more than a brush off for taking the time to help out when everyone else just kept walking. My name is Arin, Arin Quinn, what’s yours?”

The young man looked into Arin’s blue eyes for a long moment before he quietly replied, “I’d give most people a fake answer, ‘cause they really don’t care, but you actually seem to want to know, so the name is Josh.”

“No last name, Josh?”

“Just Josh for now, sir,” he replied.

“Okay, Josh, I guess a little caution on your part is a good thing the way things are these days. Look, I was just going to have a bite of lunch at the Trinity Grille across the street. The least I can do is buy you a good lunch. Will you join me?” Smiling warmly, Arin continued, “A little company would be appreciated.”

Josh pondered the offer for a second before his obvious hunger got the better of him, “Will they let me in, sir? I mean, the Trinity Grille is a pretty high class place. Most of the people who go there are business people, lawyers, or politicians from the Capitol building. I’m not exactly dressed for the occasion.”

Arin grinned at the question, “Don’t worry, Josh, the maître d’, Michel, is an old friend of mine. Let me do the talking, and just flash that smile of yours and everything will be fine.”

“Okay, sir, you lead and I’ll follow.”

Seeing the beginnings of a smile re-emerge on Josh’s face, Arin guided him across Tremont street, past the haberdashery, and through the vestibule entrance to the Grille. The maître d’ glanced up and spotted the pair, opening with, “Mr. Quinn, it’s good to see you again. Table for one?”

“Not today, Michel. Could I get a quiet table for two somewhere close to a window?”

Glancing at Josh for a moment, Michel replied, “Of course, Arin, this way if you please.”

The pair were quickly seated, water poured, with fresh bread and whipped butter placed on the table while the duo pondered the mystery of the menu and the day’s specials. Glancing to the blackboard near the host’s station, Arin noted that the special of the day was blackened catfish, and that the dessert was his favorite, shortbread with fresh berries, topped with whipped cream. Arin put his menu down to see Josh eyeing him with a question plainly written on his face.

Smiling, Arin ventured, “I can’t answer the question I never hear, Josh. What’s on your mind?”

Josh cast his eyes down to the spotless linen tablecloth before he replied quietly, “Sir, everything looks wonderful, but it’s all far too expensive.”

Arin paused a moment, unsure how to proceed. He wanted to reach across the table and lift the young man’s chin back to eye level, but suspected that level of familiarity wouldn’t be appreciated. Quietly, Arin followed up with, “Josh, I invited you to lunch here, and I don’t recall putting an arbitrary limit on how much you could spend. All I ask is that if you order it, you eat it. Is that fair?”

Josh slowly raised his gaze from the tablecloth and studied the face of the man across from him for a moment. Seeing the open, earnest gaze meeting his inquiring one, the youth finally decided he could believe what he had been told. Besides, he thought, he had been hungry for so long, a good meal sounded wonderful, almost like back when he had a home and family. “Okay, I guess. May I ask what you are getting, sir?”

“I’m getting the special of the day, the blackened catfish, along with the dessert special.” Grinning, Arin continued, “That’s enough food to feed a small army, but it’s delicious. And Josh?”

“Yes, sir?”

“Could you please call me Arin?” he replied with a broad smile. “I get enough of ‘sir’ at work.”

“Okay, ummm, Arin. Can I just get the same thing you are?”

“Sure, Josh, I think you’ll like it a great deal.”

Josh excused himself after finding out where the restroom was, ignoring the questioning, and almost hostile, looks he got, as he figured that he needed to wash up a bit.

Arin ordered for the two of them and patiently waited for Josh to return, quietly watching the snow fall and accumulate on the brick flower beds just outside, thinking how peaceful a layer of snow made the city seem. Hearing the opposing chair move, Arin noticed Josh had returned and was looking hungrily at the fresh bread on the table. Smiling at how hungry the young man was, Arin ventured, “The bread is really quite good Josh, they bake it fresh every morning here. Dig in, I can tell you’re hungry.”

With a glance that plainly said ‘Thank you’ Josh unfolded the cloth covering and began buttering the warm, fresh, bread found within. Arin had intended to avoid the bread, but there is little in the world more intoxicating than the scent of freshly baked bread, so both men were shortly working their way through the basket of bread when lunch appeared. Arin couldn’t help but grin on watching Josh’s indecision: he clearly didn’t want to put the bread down, but the heavenly scent of blackened catfish was warring for his attention.

Finally, Josh crammed the last of the bread into his mouth before reaching for his utensils. It seemed but a matter of moments, and Josh had cleared his plate, and was mopping up the last of the delicious sauce with the remaining bread. Arin was puzzled as he watched the young man decimate his meal. Josh ate quickly, but demonstrated proper table manners, something clearly marking him as coming from a family that had once cared enough to teach such things, yet this simply didn’t square with his clothing and generally disheveled appearance.

Finally, the dessert course arrived, and shortcake with berries was a house specialty. It was a huge piece of shortcake, literally buried in blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries, and topped with a huge mound of freshly whipped cream. When Josh finally pushed himself back from the table, the look on his face could best be described by the word ‘sated’, as he pulled the linen napkin from his lap and delicately wiped the corners of his mouth. Arin pulled his antique pocket watch from his waistcoat and noticed he had ten minutes before his delayed meeting was to start.

Waving the server over, he handed off his AMEX card with a request for the bill. He then pulled forty dollars and a business card from his wallet, and quickly added some information to the back of the card. Setting that aside for a moment, he glanced at the bill and left the server a generous tip as thanks for the quick and attentive service. Having served time as a waiter in his youth, Arin knew that wait staff were generally poorly compensated, and depended on tips for their livelihood. He had also learned over the years that being a good tipper generally led to better service, especially when one frequented an establishment enough to become known.

Pocketing his credit card after signing the bill, Arin stood and pulled on his overcoat and gloves before picking up the cash and the business card. Seeing that Josh was ready to go as well, he led the young man to the entrance of the restaurant and outside before gently pulling him off to the side of the patio.

“Josh, I don’t know what’s going on in your life, but I can tell that there’s a story there waiting to be told. I can’t stay right now, since I have an important meeting in a few minutes over at Republic Plaza, but I want you to have this,” he said and he handed his business card and the cash off to the younger man.

“Keep some of this as an emergency fund, Josh, and the card has every phone number I can be reached at if you ever want to talk. I know the streets aren’t the safest place to live, so if you decide you want off, call me, please? If you decide you want to talk today, I’ll probably finish my meeting around 3 PM. If you’re in the lobby, we can find a quiet place to talk. No pressure here, just think about it, alright?”

Seeing the wariness return to Josh’s eyes, Arin knew he had pushed his point as far as he was able and reached out to pat the younger man on the shoulder before turning away for Republic Plaza and his much delayed meeting.

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Arin’s meeting with this particular client was a slow and agonizing affair under the best of circumstances, and this time of year, with the weather the way it was, made it anything but optimal. Arin was outnumbered seven to one in his office, with a literal cast of thousands on the polycom in the conference room. ‘These guys couldn’t make a decision if their life depended on it,’ Arin thought to himself, as he reiterated his conclusions and the rationale behind them for what seemed the hundredth time.

He had to suppress a laugh as he realized just how much his client reminded him of the pointy-haired boss in the Dilbert comic strip. These guys had some good engineers working for them, Arin knew, but the management team still had to have an outside opinion from a consulting engineer before they would act on what they had already heard from their own staff. ‘Insanity,’ Arin thought. ‘Still, it pays the bills.’

After what seemed an interminable amount of time, the client finally bought into the results of his analysis, agreeing that it did, indeed, line up with what they had already suspected. The local participants all shook his hand as they filed out of his office, wishing him a very Merry Christmas. ‘Hmmph, Yeah right. Single gay guys and ‘Merry Christmas’ just don’t mix very well,’ Arin thought, as he cleared his e-mail prior to closing the office for the balance of the holiday season. While waiting for the elevator to arrive at his 52nd floor office, he again pulled his pocket watch from his waistcoat and checked the time. Seeing it was after 5 PM, he cursed quietly to himself, knowing that the boy would be long gone, even if he had wanted to talk with Arin any further.

Arin quickly checked the lobby and, finding it deserted except for security, walked to the security desk and handed the guard on duty his traditional Christmas gift before wishing the young man a Merry Christmas. Arin left via the south entrance and crossed the granite portico, heading for Barnes & Noble thinking, ‘If I have to spend Christmas alone, at least I can curl up with a good book.’ An hour later, Arin left the bookstore with four thick volumes of science fiction and fantasy, hoping that would get him through the holidays.

The drive to his Cherry Hills home was miserable. Holiday traffic combined with eight inches of snow meant that his normal half hour commute took three times that long. Knowing he was going to be late arriving home, he called Eliza, his housekeeper, and asked her to just leave his dinner in the oven on warm. Despite the traffic, and less than cooperative road conditions, he felt a great wave of relief as he pulled his snow caked Murano into the garage. Gathering his new acquisitions, he entered his kitchen, where something smelled wonderful.

Opening the oven, he found enough lasagna for a week, and a foil wrapped package of garlic bread. Setting this on the counter, he couldn’t help but smile as he read the note telling him there was a tossed green salad and dressing in the refrigerator. ‘Perfect,’ Arin thought with a grin, ‘comfort food and a good book.’

Arin pulled the cork on a nice crisp Silver Oak vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, and poured a glass, which nicely complimented his rather rich dinner. Finishing his evening meal, Arin quickly cleaned up, put the leftovers away for later, and went into his den to start a fire before he went into his bedroom to get out of his monkey suit.

As he changed, Arin ran his fingers over the deeply engraved pocket watch: a very old gift from his grandfather, after the balance of his family had turned their backs to him on finding out he was gay. Opening the watch, Arin gazed on the inscription with love for the old man, as he had so many other times: ‘To Arin, the finest Grandson one could wish for.’ The old gentleman had worked hard to turn around the rest of the family’s attitudes over the issue, but had died before the work was fairly begun. Arin had long since buried his bitterness at his family, allowing instead the warmth of his grandfather’s love to fill the cold and empty space where the balance of his family had once resided.

Arin smiled with a warm feeling of nostalgia as he wandered back into his den with a new glass of wine and a new novel to enjoy. He had elected to start with an old story the clerk had recommended, Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s War, which combined the stories Ender’s Game and Speaker for the Dead. Arin figured any pair of stories that won both the Hugo and Nebula awards back to back had to have something going for them. Arin quickly found himself drawn into the world of Ender, Peter, Valentine, Bean, and the Buggers, paying no notice to the hour he finally slipped off to sleep in his favorite recliner.

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The shrilling of the telephone jolted Arin awake, and he reached for the phone for no other reason than to shut it up. Knowing he sounded exasperated, he growled out a gruff, “Hello?” before focusing his eyes on the glowing LED’s of the clock face. 3:18 AM? Who in the hell would be calling him at this hour?

“Is this Arin Quinn?”

“It is, unless the ungodly hour you are calling at has done something to me,” Arin replied.

“Mr. Quinn, I understand the lateness of the hour, and I apologize. Sir, I’m Detective Sergeant Tom Wentz, with Denver P.D.’s street unit. I’m calling because we have a teenage boy in the hospital suffering from hypothermia with no ID on him. The only thing we found was a business card with several phone numbers, and forty dollars. We were hoping you could shed a little light on what is going on here.”

“Can you describe him, Sergeant?”

“Sure, he’s about fifteen or sixteen years old, has an olive complexion when it isn’t frozen, has curly brown hair, a slim build, and the greenest eyes I think I’ve ever seen,” the policeman replied. “Does that description ring a bell, sir?”

“Actually, Sergeant, it sounds a great deal like a young man who helped me this morning when I slipped on the ice and wound up flat on my back. Despite all the people around when it happened, he was the only one who actually stopped to see if I was okay.”

There was a pause on the line as the officer evaluated what he heard before he continued, “What else can you tell me, sir?”

“Well, after he found out I just had the wind knocked out of me, he helped me up and was brushing me off when one of the doormen at the Brown Palace charged up and, for all intents and purposes, accused the boy of being a thief.” Arin paused before continuing, “I don’t know if it was the truth or not, but I saw that the accusation completely crushed the boy. I chased him down and thanked him for helping and bought him lunch at the Trinity Grille. I could tell that some things didn’t add up, but didn’t press the young man about them.”

“Why not?”

“I didn’t feel it was my place, and the one time I did approach the subject, he became very wary, like a cornered animal. I told him I’d be willing to listen if he ever decided he wanted someone to talk to, gave him my card, and the forty dollars, since it was obvious to me that he’d been living on the street,” Arin replied. “Is he going to be alright, Sergeant?”

“We think so, Mr. Quinn, but obviously, we now have an obligation to find out what is going on. I can’t just release a minor back onto the street.”

“Is there anything else you can remember, a name perhaps?”

“Oh, yeah, he told me his name was Josh. He told me that he normally gave people false names, but that this was his real name. I don’t know whether it’s his real name or not, but it’s the best I can do,” Arin responded.

“Okay, Mr. Quinn. If you remember anything else, let me leave you my cell number,” Tom Wentz stated, before rattling off a ten digit number that Arin was challenged to get written down.

“Sergeant, would it be possible to visit Josh? He just might talk to me, where I bet he’ll just clam up if you press him too hard.”

“That’s actually not a bad idea. He’s in Denver Health Medical, and I’ll clear you to visit him with the staff and the guard rotation.”

“Sarge…. Tom, when could I see him?”

“Visiting hours start at nine, but with the roads being the way they are, I strongly suggest you take your time.”

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Arin had spent an hour early in the morning making his way to the hospital, figuring he could kill some time at the hospital reading, rather than fighting the traffic. For the umpteenth time, he thanked whatever gods had steered him to the Murano with its all-time four wheel drive. The biggest hassle had been making it to the interstate, and then the downtown portion of the drive. Still, the road crews had been working hard, and Arin figured things would look a great deal better by mid-afternoon. One of the great unknown truths about Denver: you could get a foot of snow and it would all be melted within a couple of days, due to the perennial sunshine the region enjoyed.

Arin entered Denver Health Medical Center and was quickly directed to the room where Josh was staying. As he approached the door, a voice behind him asked, “Mr. Quinn?”

Turning to face his interrogator, Arin stuck out his right had and replied, “Yes, that would be me. I take it you are Sergeant Wentz?”

The Sergeant firmly shook his hand before introducing the woman standing at his side, “You got it, Mr. Quinn. May I introduce Kate Leland, with Denver Social Services?”

Acknowledging the woman with a nod and firm handshake, he stated, “Nice to meet you Kate, and would you both please call me Arin?” He continued with a grin, “I’m never quite sure who ‘Mr. Quinn’ is.”

“Could we talk with you for a bit before you visit with Josh? We’ve developed some additional information since last night, thanks to the answers you provided.”

The group headed over to a waiting area and had a seat on the couches before Kate continued, “We were getting nowhere fast with his description alone, there are, at any time, some 800,000 missing children in this country, and a high percentage of those reports will key on the same identifying information to make sure we don’t overlook someone who has grown in the time since they went missing. Still, there were only two Josh’s in the system with fairly similar features, and only one with green eyes. We took the boy’s fingerprints and his footprints, and sent them into the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and they came back with a positive match on the fingerprints about a half hour ago.”

Sergeant Lehrer picked up the thread of the conversation, continuing with, “Arin, Josh was born Joshua Paolo Giancomo, and is from an old line fundamentalist Baptist family in Georgia. Roughly two years ago, they found out that he was gay when his mother caught him kissing another boy on the back porch when she came home unexpectedly. It would be fair to say that the boy was, in good, bigoted, redneck, fashion, beaten by his father to within an inch of his life, and then subjected to a ‘purging’, where he wasn’t allowed anything other than bread and water while being worked half to death.”

Tom shook his head in disgust and took a deep breath before continuing, “Eventually, the teachers at his school noticed something was wrong and got the state authorities involved. The state people removed the boy from the family two years ago, when he was 13, and when it looked like the Georgia Family court was going to order him restored to his abusive parents, he panicked and ran. How he wound up in Denver, we’ll likely never know, but we can all guess it wasn’t through any legal means.”

“Oh my God, that poor kid. Is there anything I can do to help?” Arin inquired.

“Well, first off, you need to know that the court didn’t order Josh back with his birth family. The Judge took one look at the photos of the abuse the boy suffered and immediately terminated the birth parents’ rights, along with any rights from the rest of the family group. In discussions between the Georgia Court and our own Family Court, the Georgia authorities have gladly allowed us to handle this locally, which leaves us with a small problem,” Tom concluded.

Kate picked up the thread again, “Arin, it’s almost impossible to find a foster family who would take Josh in who wouldn’t want to ‘fix’ or ‘convert’ the boy. Our policy in social services is to place gay children with stable and successful gay role models, where possible, but it’s rare for us to have any gay certified foster parents, and it’s getting harder to find gay men or women willing to go through the process of becoming certified as a foster parent, in light of the way gay people have been attacked and stigmatized by the right wing in this country.”

Arin nodded in agreement, “And the point to all this discussion is what, exactly?”

“I guess what we’re asking here is this: would you be willing to take Josh in and give him the kind of home life he should have been able to expect from his birth family?” Kate asked.

Arin was a bit taken aback at the request, but saw the logic of it fairly quickly. Still, he knew that accepting this challenge would change his life in ways he couldn’t yet imagine. Then there was the small matter of Josh. What would he want? Was this something he’d even be willing to consider? Arin admitted he liked the young man, or at least as much as Josh had been willing to share. The key issue was simply whether Josh could and would accept Arin as an authority figure after the things he had gone through and having been independent for most of the last two years.

The silence had drawn out while Arin had been thinking things through: neither the police officer, nor the social worker wanting to step into what they knew to be a difficult decision. Eventually, Arin shrugged his shoulders as if readying them for a new burden, and then took a deep breath before continuing, “Has anyone talked with Josh about any of this?”

Kate locked her gaze with Arin’s before replying, “I talked with Josh this morning and brought him up to speed on what happened in Georgia, and that we were going to do our best to find someone to take care of him. He knows we’re looking for a gay professional to place him with, but we never mentioned you directly.”

“How did you come to the conclusion that I’m gay? I’m out, but don’t go waving flags or marching in parades,” Arin inquired.

Here, Sergeant Wentz grinned, “The Internet is my friend. Kate and I did an admittedly fast background check and found that you are the membership chairman for the Greater Denver Area Gay and Lesbian Professional’s Association. We know your entire criminal history consists of a parking ticket and a couple of speeding infractions. We know you live in Cherry Hills, one of metro Denver’s best neighborhoods, and have more house than you really need. Your credit report came back clean and indicates you make enough to be able to provide for Josh. It also turns out that one of your neighbors clerks for our Family Court Judge. Does the name Tim Bonilla ring a bell?”

Arin could only nod his head numbly. He had taken care of Tim and Sherry’s kids many times over the years.

“After we briefed the court, and Tim spoke to the Judge in chambers, Judge Thane thought this was a great idea, even to the point of being willing to grant an emergency custody order placing Josh in your care if you agree,” Tom stated.

Arin shook his head at the unreality of the situation. If he had been trying to adopt or foster a child, it would likely take months or years. Since Child Services found themselves in a pinch, they were practically pushing Josh his way. “I think I need to talk this over with Josh before anyone does anything else. He has to be willing to accept me as an authority figure for this to work. If he isn’t willing to go along, this simply won’t work, despite the best of intentions,” Arin stated.

Seeing the pair of government officials grinning at him like loons, Arin rose and approached the door to Josh’s room. Feeling a bit apprehensive, he took a deep breath, squared his shoulders, and forced a smile onto his face before knocking and easing the door open. Stepping into the room, which was brightly lit by reflected sunlight from the surrounding snow, Arin was finally able to see how small Josh’s frame was, and the toll taken by a lack of regular meals. Clearing his throat to get Josh’s attention, he walked to the side of the bed and wrapped his hands around the chromed bar on the side of the bed before locking gazes with its occupant. “Hiya, kid. How are you feeling this morning?”

“Arin? Is that really you?”

“Unless getting woke up at three in the morning did something to me, yep, I think I’m still Arin.”

“What are you doing here, not that I wouldn’t mind having some company that wasn’t flashing a badge in my face,” the young man inquired sadly.

“Well, I’m here because they found that business card I gave you yesterday, and called me up to see if I knew anything about this half-frozen kid they found last night. Josh, they’ve told me about what happened in Georgia, and I can certainly understand why you don’t trust people very easily, but sometimes you have to take a chance on people. Instead of you nearly freezing to death last night, I could have given you a good dinner, and a warm place to sleep,” Arin stated quietly.

“I did try, Arin. I waited until the security guys rousted me out of Republic Plaza, and even then, I waited around outside until almost five before they chased me away from the back patio area. When I didn’t see you, I figured you didn’t really mean the things you said yesterday,” Josh sobbed quietly. “I figured you were like everyone else who has lied to me in the past.”

Arin quickly lowered the side rail on the bed and eased his frame onto the edge of the mattress, opening his arms for the sad and sobbing young man, who slowly made his way into the comfort of Arin’s embrace. Arin rocked back and forth with the boy, crying silently for the abused youth in his arms and slowly stroking the hair on the back of Josh’s neck until he gradually stopped crying and began to push out of Arin’s arms.

Arin wiped at the tears on his own cheeks as he told the young man, “Josh, my afternoon meeting ran until after five last night, despite my best efforts to hurry it along. I can’t have missed you by more than a few minutes: I’m so sorry.”

“You actually looked for me?”

“I did, Josh, and was really disappointed when you weren’t there. Still, I have something else to talk with you about this morning. I gather that Kate Leland talked with you about placing you in a good home here in Colorado?”

“Yes sir, she said they would try to place me with a gay professional so that I’d have a good role model. Why do you ask?” the curiosity on the young man’s face evident.

Aric took a deep breath before he began, “Josh, I’m the gay professional they have in mind,” and here Arin paused before quietly continuing, “Could I interest you in coming to live with me? I have a house that is way too quiet, and way too empty. It could use a bit of life and noise, and perhaps a teenager might just add the right amount of energy to the old place. I’ve never been a parent before, Josh, and I know I’ll make mistakes, but I’m generally pretty good about admitting to them, and working to find a better solution. We’ll have to work out the rules as we go, but you’d have to agree to two rules up front.”

Josh cast his eyes down towards the floor before timidly asking, “What are they? Do I, like, have to sleep with you or something?”

Feeling a bit unsure of himself, Arin slowly reached out his hand and gently raised Josh’s face until he could look directly into his emerald eyes. “Josh, if I have anything to say about it, you’ll never have to do that with anyone you don’t want to, ever again. No, these are two simple rules: the first is simply that I’m in charge. I understand that you’ve been on your own for two years, and I promise I’ll do my best to keep that in mind. Generally, though, I operate on the principle that I trust people until they prove they don’t deserve it, and I want you to know that if there are things that require a decision that affects both of us, I promise that I’ll discuss the issue with you and get your input. Is that fair?”

Josh thought about this for a moment before nodding as he said, “Yes sir, that’s fair enough. What else?”

“The second rule involves your education. I know you’ve missed most of two years of school, and it will take time to catch up. We’ll invest the time and energy into getting you caught up, but I want your promise that you’ll put your best effort into your schoolwork, even after we get you caught up. When you boil it right down, Josh, an education is the one thing that no one can take away from you. Are you willing to commit that you’ll do your very best in your education?”

Josh didn’t have to even think about this one, “I love going to school, Arin, so it’s real easy for me to promise this. I’ll work harder than ever to get caught up, I promise!”

Arin was ruffling Josh’s hair and grinning widely when the door swung open and Josh’s Doctor strode into the room, “I see we’re looking a good deal less like an icicle than when I saw you last, young man. How are you feeling this morning?”

“Pretty good, Doctor, I think I just got a new dad this morning,” Josh ventured with a small smile.

“Good, perhaps your new dad will do me the favor of keeping you out of my emergency room?” the Doctor replied with mock sternness. “We don’t need any more boycicles in Denver.”

“I’ll do my best, Doctor.”

“Good, now can I ask you to step outside while I examine my patient?”

“Certainly, Doctor. I suspect there is a large amount of paperwork waiting for me in the waiting room. Josh, I’ll be back as soon as I can. Is there anything I can get for you?”

“I could use something to read, just sitting here is pretty boring.”

Arin pulled his book from under his arm, and, handing it to Josh, stated, “I brought the book, Ender’s War, in case I needed to kill some time, why don’t you go ahead and read it instead?”

“Are you sure? I mean, this book looks brand new,” Josh asked.

“Josh, I have several others to read over the holidays, and besides, I really doubt I’m going to have much spare time until the paperwork gets filled out. You go ahead and enjoy it,” Arin offered.

“Sounds good to me, Arin, err, Dad?”

Arin choked down his sudden surge of emotions at being called ‘Dad’ before replying, “Whichever you are more comfortable with, Josh. I hope some day you trust me enough to call me Dad, but let’s just plan on taking things slow, alright?”

“Okay, thanks, Arin.”

Arin waved as he stepped out and, as predicted, spent the rest of the morning and a fair part of the afternoon with Kate Leland, filling out forms from the Department of Social Services to get the ball rolling on making him an ‘official’ foster parent. The Doctor stopped by and informed them that Josh could go home tomorrow morning, and it was agreed that Kate would bring Josh to Arin’s home as early as possible. Arin, meanwhile, called in a number of favors from his housekeeper and friends to prep his home for its newest resident, his foster son. Presents needed to be bought, and a special treatment needed to be put in place to make the welcome official.

Arin finished the paperwork and received his emergency placement order just as visiting hours were wrapping up, which was just as well, since Josh had read until exhaustion had caught up with him. Arin had checked on Josh before leaving, and seeing him asleep, had placed the book within easy reach on the bed stand before covering the young man’s slender form with the blankets and carefully running his fingers through Josh’s hair. Visiting hours being up, Arin left for home and confirmed that the arrangements he had called for had been completed to his satisfaction before having a bite of dinner and then hitting the hay earlier than usual.

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Christmas morning dawned as one of the many glorious, crisp winter mornings that the front-range of the Rockies are known for, and Arin was up with the sun, again ensuring that everything was just right to receive his new son. Breakfast was prepared and placed in the warmer, and the table set, just before his cell phone warned that Kate and Josh were mere minutes away.

Arin stood off to the side of the house as Kate and Josh pulled into the circular drive and stopped in front of the house. Josh’s jaw was nearly dragging on the ground when he took in the large home, the brightly lit Christmas tree in the front window, and the huge three foot wide scarlet ribbon wrapping the entire house, terminating in a huge bow over the front door, which had been covered in gold foil paper. Stepping over to Josh’s side, Arin quietly stated, “I haven’t decorated the house for Christmas in a long time, Joshua, because I never had a reason to – until now.”

Arin faced Josh directly, handing him a pair of oversized scissors, as both began blinking the excess moisture from their eyes. Both men, the young and the old, had tears running down their cheeks when Arin asked, “Would you do me the honor of cutting the ribbon, Josh? It’s my way of saying, Welcome home, and a very Merry Christmas.”

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