Ben awoke, immediately sensing that something was... out of place. Not necessarily wrong, but just not as it should be.
He glanced at the clock beside his bed to find that it was 5:30 in the morning. Cliff was beside him and was sound asleep.
Ben sat up and listened, trying to determine what had awakened him.
Slowly and quietly, Ben got out of the bed and pulled on his robe as he walked to the door to investigate.
In the hall, he noticed a faint light under the door of his bedroom which he recognized as being from the reading light by his bed.
Suddenly there were soft clicking sounds coming from the room. Ben walked to the door and slowly opened it to investigate.
JD was sitting at the computer desk, typing on the little laptop computer like an old pro.
Ben could see that JD wasn't wearing his gloves and seemed to be completely absorbed in his work.
"It's not even six in the morning. What are you doing up?" Ben whispered as he slowly walked into the room.
JD jumped at the sound and quickly hid his hands under the edge of the desk.
"You don't have to hide yourself from me, JD." Ben said quietly. "Remember last night when Todd was here?"
JD watched uncertainly as Ben slid into the other chair at the desk.
"I saw your tattoos then and I didn't say 'Oh! You poor baby!' or make any kind of fuss at all, did I?" Ben asked seriously.
JD's unblinking stare was the only answer he received.
"This is your home, JD. And I want you to be comfortable. I want you to know that you can walk around this house in just your underwear if you want to." Ben said gently.
JD's eyes widened a little as his look became more cautious.
"That was just an example. I don't expect it." Ben chuckled, "Please, just try to relax and be happy here."
JD's gaze fell to his lap for a moment, then he slowly raised his hands to the keyboard of the little laptop computer.
"I tell you what, little man. I still need another hour or so of sleep. Stay in the house, remember that you're not allowed to use the stove and, most important, that I love you very much." Ben said, then leaned in to give JD a quick kiss on the cheek.
"I'll be in Cliff's room if you need me for anything." Ben said as he slowly stood.
Ben saw JD looking up at him, but couldn't get a clue as to what was going on behind those intense eyes.
"I'll see you in an hour or so." Ben said then gave a little wave before exiting the room.
* * * * *
"Did you make coffee?" Cliff asked groggily.
"I set it up last night, but I haven't started it." Ben said into his pillow.
"I think I smell coffee." Cliff said slowly, sounding confused.
Ben turned his head slightly and took in a slow, deep inhale, then said, "Yeah. That smells like coffee."
"But how... JD?" Cliff asked uncertainly.
"Yeah. He was up about an hour and a half ago, typing something. He must have started the coffee maker while he was making himself breakfast." Ben mumbled.
"Do you think he's okay in the kitchen all by himself?" Cliff asked with concern.
"Yeah. He knows what he's doing and how to be safe." Ben said, then flopped over in bed to look at Cliff.
"We should really be in there to supervise him." Cliff said as he scooted to the edge of the bed.
A sound outside the bedroom door drew their attention.
The door opened slightly, then stopped.
"JD? It's okay if you want to come in." Ben said gently.
Ben and Cliff shared confused looks and waited for what was going to happen next.
Finally, JD slowly pushed the door open with the corner of a tray that he carried.
"What have you got there, little man?" Cliff asked with surprise.
JD walked to Cliff's side of the bed and held out the tray, offering it to him.
Cliff and Ben looked at the tray to find fried eggs, buttered toast, smokie sausages and a cup of coffee.
"Is this for me?" Cliff asked with surprise as he accepted the tray.
JD smiled briefly, then turned and walked out of the room.
"Thank you." Cliff quickly called after him, then turned to Ben and said, "He made me breakfast in bed."
"And it looks good." Ben said in an impressed voice.
"Yeah! I can't wait to try it." Cliff said seriously, then shifted around on the bed so that he could put the tray on his lap.
Ben smiled at the wonderful, thoughtful thing that JD had done for Cliff. He was so caught up in his thoughts that he didn't noticed that JD had returned until he felt something touch his elbow.
"Oh! Thank you, JD." Ben said happily as he accepted a tray, identical to Cliff's.
As soon as Ben had the tray, JD hurried out of the room again.
"I wonder what prompted this?" Cliff asked curiously.
"I'm going to take it as a sign that he's happy here." Ben said frankly.
"I hope so." Cliff said consideringly, then took a bite of his breakfast.
"This looks so good." Ben said with almost child-like enjoyment.
"The eggs are absolutely perfect." Cliff said in a low, appreciative voice, then noticed JD walking into the room, carrying a third tray.
It took a moment for Ben to realize what JD was doing, but when he did, he happily said, "There's plenty of room. Come on up."
"Hand me your tray, so it won't spill." Cliff said quickly as he reached forward.
JD handed him the tray, then climbed onto the foot of the bed.
"Here you go." Cliff said happily as he handed JD's tray back to him.
"You made a very good meal, JD. Everything is just right." Ben said with a smile.
"And the eggs are absolutely perfect." Cliff added seriously.
JD cast his eyes down to his own plate and timidly smiled.
"I'm so glad that it's finally Friday. It'll be nice to have a few days off so that we can relax together." Cliff said honestly.
"Well, it looks like I've accomplished everything that I need to for this week, so you can count me in." Ben said happily.
JD looked at the two men curiously, then turned his attention back to his food.
"There must be a million things that the three of us could do this weekend." Ben said thoughtfully.
After a moment, Cliff quietly asked, "You can't think of anything either, huh?"
Ben chuckled, then quietly admitted, "Not a thing."
"Well, we have all day to make plans. You can call me at work if any of the plans involve me picking up anything on the way home." Cliff said thoughtfully, then took a long, slow drink of his coffee.
"Hey, JD." Ben said gently.
When the boy looked up, Ben continued, "Thank you for making breakfast for us. It's really good and we appreciate it."
Cliff nodded his agreement.
JD smiled as he ducked his head shyly.
"So what are my two favorite people in the world going to be doing today while I'm slaving away at work?" Cliff asked to draw attention away from JD, not wanting him to feel too uncomfortable.
"Well, I think JD was typing something, so he'll probably go back to work on that. I have the household stuff to do, you know, laundry, vacuuming, that sort of thing." Ben said frankly.
"If you want to wait until tomorrow, I can help you with the household stuff." Cliff offered.
"I'd rather we all three have our extra things finished so we're free to enjoy the entire weekend together." Ben said with a smile.
"That does sound nice." Cliff admitted.
"Don't worry. I've got JD to help me if the chores get to be too overwhelming." Ben said with a grin at the boy.
"I won't worry. I know you're in good hands." Cliff said with a smile.
"How are you doing for time?" Ben asked as he glanced at the bedside clock.
"I have plenty of time to enjoy this breakfast before I have to get ready for work." Cliff said happily.
Ben sat for a moment, seeming to want to say something and at the same time, seeming not to.
"Something wrong?" Cliff asked cautiously.
"I have to go to the bathroom." Ben said frankly.
"Okay..." Cliff said slowly, not seeing the problem.
"I don't want to get out of bed in front of JD... like this." Ben said urgently.
"Oh!" Cliff said in sudden comprehension, then looked toward the foot of the bed and said, "JD, would you hand your daddy his robe? It's right over there on that chair. I'll hold your tray for you."
JD quickly handed his tray to Cliff, then scrambled off the bed and hurried to get Ben his robe.
"Thank you, JD." Ben said gratefully.
"You'll have to forgive Ben, he's shy." Cliff said to JD as he handed the boy his tray of food.
"I don't think it's necessarily being shy to cover myself in front of a child." Ben said frankly, then as he walked to the bathroom, he added, "I'm sure Mrs. Usher would agree."
"I'm sure she would." Cliff called after him, then whispered to JD conspiratorially, "He's shy."
JD smiled, then went back to eating his breakfast.
* * * * *
"Hey, Little Man, are you ready to take a break from typing?" Ben asked from the bedroom doorway.
JD looked up from his laptop and seemed to be considering the question.
"I'm making some chicken soup for lunch and thought you might like to make us some grilled cheese sandwiches to go with it." Ben said simply.
JD looked at Ben curiously, then stood and raised his arms.
"Yeah. I'd like that." Ben said as he picked JD up.
* * * * *
From the way JD reacted to Ben's prompts, he had apparently never made grilled cheese sandwiches before. It took a little extra instruction, but JD was able to make the grilled cheese sandwiches in his electric skillet.
When they sat down to eat their lunch, JD was all smiles at the simple, yet tasty, new food he had made.
While they were cleaning up from lunch, the ringing phone interrupted them.
After checking the caller ID, Ben quietly said, "Hi, love."
"How are my two favorite people in the world doing today?" Cliff asked gently.
"We're good. We just finished our lunch and were cleaning up." Ben said happily.
"Well, what would you think about dinner and a movie tonight?" Cliff asked happily.
"Um, I'm not sure how JD would do with going out..." Ben said hesitantly.
"Actually, for what I have planned, we won't have to go out at all." Cliff said frankly. "I thought it might be nice to swing by the video rental place on the way home, then drive through for something to eat. You won't have to bother with cooking or clean-up. You can devote your entire evening to enjoying the movies."
"The movies sound great, but I was planning to have leftovers tonight." Ben said slowly.
"Will the leftovers hold for a day or two?" Cliff asked hopefully.
"Yes. I'm sure everything will last that long." Ben said thoughtfully.
"Good. Then be ready to kick back and relax when I get home. Tonight is officially going to be a family night." Cliff said happily.
Ben smiled, then said, "I like the sound of that."
"Can I talk to JD for a minute?" Cliff asked hopefully.
Ben didn't even hesitate, he just held out the phone and said, "Your Pappa wants to talk to you."
JD smiled as he accepted the phone.
Ben watched as JD's eyes lit up and his smile glowed.
A moment later, Ben accepted the phone from him and said, "I love you. Hurry home."
"I'll be there as soon as I can. I love you too." Cliff said warmly, then hung up the phone.
Ben smiled, then, on impulse, picked up JD and gave him a kiss on the cheek.
"You're a good kid, did you know that?" Ben asked warmly.
JD looked at Ben with uncertainty.
"You just are." Ben said happily. "I just thought that you should know how I felt."
JD seemed to consider for a moment, then leaned in and gave Ben a firm hug.
"You're welcome." Ben whispered.
* * * * *
"How was your day?" Ben asked as he greeted Cliff at the door.
"Actually, very good. Do you remember me telling you about a boy named Jay Sean?" Cliff asked as he walked in, carrying three very full plastic bags.
"Isn't that the little boy with leukemia?" Ben asked, then quietly said, "Here. Let me help."
Cliff handed him one of the bags, then said, "That's right. Except now I suppose you could say that he's the little boy 'recovering' from leukemia."
"Recovering?" Ben asked as he stopped in the kitchen doorway.
"It looks like it's going to be a complete remission." Cliff said happily.
"That's wonderful!" Ben said with a grand smile.
"Days like today are why I became a doctor." Cliff said dreamily, then turned his attention to the bags he was carrying. "Where's JD?"
"In my bedroom on the computer." Ben said frankly.
"I hope he's not visiting any inappropriate sites." Cliff said as he started unpacking the bags.
"No. I stop in every so often to check on him. So far as I know, he hasn't even opened the browser. He's been completely focused on the word processor." Ben said seriously.
"Oh? What's he writing?" Cliff asked curiously.
"I don't know." Ben said slowly. "I haven't wanted to ask to see it. I mean, it seems to me that he's expressing himself, even if it's only to himself. I don't want to take the chance of interfering with what might end up being a bridge for him back to our world of communication."
Cliff considered for a moment, then nodded his agreement.
"I see KFC with all the trimmings. What movies did you get?" Ben asked curiously.
"Just a few of the classics." Cliff said shyly.
Ben raised an eyebrow, then went to the bag of videos to see for himself.
"Pinocchio, Toy Story, Shrek... I think one of us will be entertained tonight." Ben said with a tender smile.
"Would you have chosen something different?" Cliff asked with a grin.
"No. This is perfect." Ben said quietly, then gave Cliff a slow, lingering kiss.
* * * * *
"Come on over here and sit on the couch with us. We're going to watch a movie." Ben said as Cliff loaded the DVD player.
JD hesitantly walked to the couch and was picked up and snuggled as soon as he was within reach.
"Your Pappa picked out some good movies. I hope you enjoy them." Ben said as he settled JD on the couch beside him.
"Is everyone ready?" Cliff asked as he took his seat on the other side of JD.
"Ready when you are." Ben said happily.
Cliff pressed 'play' on the remote, then settled back to watch the movie.
* * * * *
After about five minutes of 'Pinocchio', Ben noticed that JD was restless.
"Is something wrong?" Ben asked curiously.
JD gave him an urging look, then got up on his knees and looked over the back of the couch, toward the bedrooms.
"Do you want to go back to your writing?" Ben asked sympathetically.
JD's eyes silently spoke his response. 'Please!'
"Well, tonight is for the family to spend time together, so I don't want you in the other room." Ben said seriously.
Disappointment filled JD's eyes.
"But, if your Pappa doesn't mind, I could bring the netbook in here and you could type while we're watching the movie." Ben said cautiously, then looked at Cliff for his reaction.
"Since JD doesn't seem to be enjoying the movie, I suppose that would be a reasonable compromise." Cliff said cautiously.
"Pause the movie and I'll get the laptop." Ben said as he stood.
"Do you want to keep watching it? I can put something else on." Cliff said seriously.
"I haven't seen this since I was JD's age. I'd like to see it again." Ben said, then walked to the bedroom with JD at his side.
* * * * *
Ben and Cliff sat, cuddled together, watching Pinocchio while JD was sitting at the coffee table, typing away, oblivious to all that was going on around him.
"That must have been a really good typing tutor program. Look at him go." Cliff commented absently.
"Yeah. But I think JD deserves most of the credit. The program showed him what to do, but it was his determination that got him to this level. He really worked to learn it." Ben said honestly.
"Good part." Cliff said quickly as he pointed at the TV.
Ben turned his attention forward and became engrossed in the movie again.
* * * * *
After the movie ended, Cliff hesitantly asked, "Do you want to try another movie?"
"Only if you want to. I don't think JD is interested." Ben said frankly.
"Maybe we'll try another one tomorrow." Cliff said, then turned off the TV.
"So what would you like to do now?" Ben asked curiously.
"I'm kind of interested to see what's going to happen next in the book I was reading." Cliff said with a shrug.
"Yeah. I've got a book that I've been meaning to read for a few weeks now, tonight would be the perfect time to start on it." Ben said happily.
"JD, we're going to read now. You're welcome to join us if you'd like." Cliff said seriously.
After a moment, JD looked up from the laptop and seemed to be considering.
"It's completely up to you. You can keep writing if that's what you'd prefer." Ben said gently.
JD thought for a moment longer, then gave Ben and Cliff a quick smile before going back to his typing.
"I'll be right back." Cliff said with a chuckle, then gave Ben a quick peck of a kiss before walking toward the basement stairs.
Ben walked to the stereo and put on some soft, instrumental music before going to his bedroom to retrieve the book that he wanted to read.
* * * * *
In the course of time, Ben ended up cuddled into Cliff's side as they both read. JD continued to type on his laptop on the coffee table, just as content as he could be.
"Does anyone want some popcorn?" Cliff asked suddenly.
JD looked up from his computer as Ben looked up from his book.
"I was planning on it for movie night, but nothing says that we can't have it anyway." Cliff said honestly.
"Yeah. Popcorn sounds good." Ben said with a smile as he sat up, to allow Cliff to stand.
"I'll be back with it in a few minutes." Cliff said with a smile.
* * * * *
Ben was always impressed with Cliff's ability to make popcorn.
No matter how he tried, and even though he imitated Cliff's every move, his popcorn never turned out to be quite as good.
"I thought that rather than have all of us stretching, I'd just make JD his own bowl." Cliff said as he placed a small glass bowl on the coffee table. He took a larger bowl to the couch and handed it to Ben.
He waited for a moment for what he knew was to come.
Ben took a bite of the popcorn and smiled with appreciation. "Perfect. As always."
Cliff smiled, then asked, "So, what would everyone like to drink? I'm having root beer."
"That sounds good to me." Ben said casually.
Cliff looked at JD to find him looking back with a vacant stare.
After a moment to wait for more of a reaction, Cliff finally said, "Three root beers, coming up!"
"How's the writing coming along?" Ben asked quietly.
JD gave Ben a considering look, and seemed to be on the verge of answering, like a response was perched on the tip of his tongue. Finally, the look faded and JD got up and walked out of the room.
Ben considered the reaction and made a mental note to discuss it with Cliff later, when they were alone.
JD returned to the living room a moment later, carrying a book.
Ben was surprised when JD sat on the couch beside him, rather than going back to his place at the coffee table.
After leafing through the book for a few seconds, JD finally stopped and pointed to a passage of text.
Ben read it, then considered his answer carefully.
"Yes. I was using examples from Phoenician and Greek mythology to emphasize the drift in perception regarding love and war." Ben said slowly.
JD looked at Ben with aggravation, then pointed at the passage of text again, stabbing his finger at one particular name.
"Astarte? What about her?" Ben asked curiously.
JD's expression spoke as clearly as words, saying "Exactly! What about her?"
Ben chuckled, amazed by JD's ability to communicate only through facial expression. "Just wait here for a minute. If you're interested in Astarte, I have just the book for you."
JD's reaction was to break into a delighted smile.
Ben rushed out of the room just as Cliff came in carrying three tall glasses of root beer.
"JD, I think you're going to like this. I bought the good stuff." Cliff said happily as he sat the glasses on the coffee table. He hurried to the side table beside the couch and got coasters, then sat out the glasses of root beer where they were within easy reach for everyone.
After a moment of hesitation, JD went to the coffee table and picked up his glass.
He looked at Cliff, as if asking, 'Are you sure?'
Cliff nodded to encourage him to continue.
JD took a hesitant sip, then stopped to consider the taste.
A smile of wonder slowly filled his expression.
"Yeah. I know." Cliff said happily, then took a sip of his own root beer.
* * * * *
"Here you go, JD. Chapter five will probably have as much information as you're ever going to find on Astarte." Ben said as he offered JD the book.
"Homework?" Cliff asked teasingly.
"He had a question, so I'm helping him find the answer." Ben said simply, then sat and picked up his glass.
Cliff watched JD leafing through the book, then stopping at chapter five.
After taking a sip of root beer, Ben smiled and said, "Mmm. I'm glad you got the good stuff."
"Yeah." Cliff said with a grin, then asked, "Is that another college level book that he's reading?"
Ben considered for a moment, then responded, "Actually, I think most libraries would classify that book as reference material. It's not organized to be read like a story, it's more a collection of facts put into order so they can be quickly referenced."
"Is it one of yours?" Cliff asked curiously.
"Yes. One of my early ones." Ben said slowly, "When I was working on my Master's, there were some gaps in reference materials for certain ancient cultural belief systems, so when I graduated, I worked to fill the gaps."
The sounds of clicking drew their attention to JD at the coffee table.
"I guess he found what he was looking for." Cliff said as he rested back.
"Yeah. But I can't imagine what that might be." Ben said slowly.
"I'm sure we'll find out eventually." Cliff said without concern, then offered the popcorn bowl.
Ben snuggled back into Cliff's side and took a small handful of popcorn.
Most of the remainder of 'family night' was spent with the two men sitting comfortably alternately reading and watching JD type.
* * * * *
"Good morning, sleepy head." Ben said as he sat on the edge of JD's bed. "I didn't want to let you sleep any longer. Sometimes sleeping too much can feel worse than not sleeping enough."
JD looked at Ben curiously, then broke into a smile.
"Good. I'm glad you're not angry with me for waking you up." Ben said gently, then leaned in and gave JD a quick hug.
"Don't bother changing clothes. Just grab your blanket and come with me." Ben said as he stood.
JD was obviously surprised by the request, but picked up his blanket and followed.
* * * * *
"I don't know if you've ever had the pleasure of goofing off on Saturday morning, but when I was your age, this was the most wonderful day of the week." Ben said as they walked into the living room. "Go ahead and get comfortable."
As JD climbed onto the couch, Ben turned on the TV and flipped through the channels, finally settling on one. "Here we go, this looks good."
JD looked at the television curiously, then at Ben with question.
"You can go ahead and wrap yourself in the blanket if you like. Just wait here for a minute." Ben said quickly, then raced out of the room.
JD glanced at the door, then cocooned himself in the blanket.
* * * * *
"Here we go. Saturday morning isn't complete without some ultra-sugary breakfast cereal." Ben said as he handed JD a bowl of brightly colored hoops.
JD hesitantly accepted the bowl, then looked at Ben with uncertainty.
"Just give it a chance." Ben said as he took a seat on the other end of the couch.
JD took a bite of the cereal, but didn't give any reaction.
Ben watched as JD slowly ate and noticed that he didn't seem to have any interest in the cartoon that was playing.
"Here's the TV remote if you'd like to watch something else." Ben said as he passed the remote to JD.
After a moment to look over the remote, JD pointed it at the TV and turned it off.
"Not a fan of TV. I'll remember that." Ben said quietly.
JD looked at him for a moment, then sat his half-finished bowl of cereal on the coffee table.
Ben watched curiously to see what JD was going to do.
It took a moment for JD to untangle himself from the blanket, but finally he got off the couch and stood before Ben with a serious look in his eyes.
Ben couldn't begin to guess what JD wanted him to do until JD slowly held out his hand, with his index finger extended.
"Sure, come here, little man." Ben said and pulled the boy onto his lap, then made a point of kissing his index finger before also kissing him on the cheek.
JD snuggled into Ben's side, then stretched up a little bit to return Ben's kiss.
"I think I understand now." Ben said contentedly, "You're not a fan of TV, and you're not a fan of sugary cereal, but you are a fan of me."
JD responded by snuggling tight into Ben's chest.
* * * * *
"Good morning." Cliff said as he shuffled into the living room.
"Good morning, love." Ben said gently. "Did you have a good sleep?"
"Yeah. Thanks for letting me sleep in." Cliff said as he sat on the other end of the couch. "What's going on in here this morning?"
"We're just having a little cuddle time." Ben said warmly.
"It looks comfy. Is there coffee made?" Cliff asked hopefully.
"Yes. And I think all of us could do with some breakfast." Ben said frankly.
JD shifted to look up at him hopefully.
Ben smiled at the reaction and said, "If JD wouldn't mind helping me, we'll have breakfast ready in no time."
"It sounds like a plan." Cliff said happily as he stood.
* * * * *
It seemed that JD wanted to make fried eggs, but Ben was finally able to convince him that they needed more variety. He showed JD how to make an egg wash and then demonstrated making a piece of French toast in the electric skillet.
That was all it took. After that, JD was a French toast making machine.
While JD made a mountain of French toast, Cliff fried some bacon and Ben cleaned and sliced a variety of fresh fruit.
"That looks perfect, JD." Ben said as he looked at the platter of French toast. "But it needs one final touch."
JD watched curiously as Ben dusted the French toast with powdered sugar from a shaker.
The look on JD's face was one of pure delight.
* * * * *
"You've been teaching JD a lot of cooking. I think it's my turn." Cliff said slowly while they enjoyed their breakfast.
"I think JD must have cooked before, because I haven't had to teach him that much." Ben said honestly.
"Either way, I'd like to show him how to make my world famous chili tonight." Cliff said with a smile.
Ben gave him an incredulous look.
"What?" Cliff asked defensively.
"I'd hardly call it 'world famous'." Ben said hesitantly.
"Well, maybe not. But it's good." Cliff relented.
Ben considered for a moment, then nodded, "It IS good."
"So what do we have planned between now and then?" Cliff asked curiously.
"Well, I was thinking that, if no one had an objection, we could go to the library later today."
Ben and Cliff both watched as JD's eyes lit up with delight.
"I'll take that as approval." Ben said tenderly.
"Do you think we'll need to worry about 'female trouble'?" Cliff asked cautiously.
Ben chuckled at the choice of words, then said, "JD's been able to get through Target and the grocery store without any problems, so I don't think the library should be too much trouble. He'll probably be so focused on the books that he won't even notice who's around him."
"I don't know. I've noticed that the women at the library seem to circle like vultures when a man walks in." Cliff said thoughtfully.
"Maybe if we go in holding hands, they'll leave us alone." Ben suggested helpfully.
"I'm not so sure. Having a good looking guy like JD with us is probably going to draw them full force." Cliff said playfully.
Ben considered for a moment, then slowly nodded.
"I'm not saying that we shouldn't go. I'm just saying that we need to be prepared." Cliff said frankly.
"We can do the blocking routine, like we did at Target." Ben said with a nod.
"And if that doesn't seem to be working, one of us can take JD to the car while the other checks out the books." Cliff said slowly.
"It sounds like we've got a plan." Ben said happily, then noticed that JD was watching and seemed to be happy with their preparations.
* * * * *
JD had spent the majority of the morning in the living room working on the laptop on the edge of the coffee table. After about an hour, Ben got the power cord so that JD wouldn't have to worry about running low on battery power.
They enjoyed a light lunch of tuna sandwiches and salad, then piled into the car and left for the library.
JD held tight to Cliff's chest as they entered. When they were finally well away from the collection of three middle aged women at the front desk who Ben internally dubbed 'the Graeae', JD finally relaxed enough to be let down.
Ben and Cliff watched with matching smiles as JD's excitement escalated at the seemingly endless supply of books to choose from.
After the initial wonder wore off, JD went to work, searching for the books that he wanted.
Since it seemed that JD wasn't having any problems, Cliff ventured off to see what audio/video materials were added to the collection since his last visit.
Ben followed JD, allowing him to choose his own course.
When JD finally came to a stop, Ben was surprised to find that it was a section of the library that he was very familiar with.
At home, it didn't strike him as odd that JD seemed to have an interest in mythology, since the majority of reading material in his library was on that subject.
A touch on his arm drew his attention and he found JD looking at him hopefully.
"What is it that you need?" Ben asked quietly.
JD pointed to one of the upper shelves urgently.
"Oh, you need a little boost?" Ben asked with a smile, then picked JD up onto his hip.
JD looked down the row of books for a moment, then finally made his selection.
"Actually, I have that one at home." Ben said quietly.
JD looked at him curiously, then carefully put the book back on the shelf.
He ran his gloved finger down the row of books, then began to take another one.
"I have that one, too." Ben said gently, then added, "In fact, I wrote it."
JD looked at Ben with question.
"See there, the author's name? That's me, Benjamin Stone." Ben said quietly. "It's just like my book that you were reading on your laptop, except that this one has been published."
JD's eyes went wide as he seemed to REALLY get the concept that Ben was trying to convey.
Slowly, JD pointed at Ben, then at the book with question.
"That's right. I wrote it." Ben said slowly.
JD glanced at the shelf, then pointed at another book, further down.
Ben looked to see which one it was, then shyly said, "Yeah. I wrote that one too."
JD grinned at the admission.
"How about, since I'm familiar with the subject, I help you pick out a book?" Ben asked gently.
JD didn't give any reaction, so Ben started working his way down the shelf, muttering to himself all the way.
"No, I've got that one at home. That one's rubbish, there's not a single new idea in the whole thing. This one's better, but not by much. I wrote that one... Here, I think you'll enjoy this one, it's a good read." Ben finally said as he selected a book from the shelf.
JD smiled at him as he accepted the book.
* * * * *
"Are you finding everything you need?" one of the three ladies from the check-in desk asked as she approached.
JD held tightly to Ben and buried his face into his chest.
"Yes. We're fine." Ben said immediately.
"The children's section is over this way if you'd like to find something for the boy." She persisted.
"No. We're fine. Thank you." Ben said shortly, hoping she would take the hint and leave them alone.
Apparently, she didn't take hints. She seemed to be about to take another step closer when Cliff turned the corner and saw what was going on.
"Excuse me, but I just saw some teenagers making out over in the gardening section. It looked like the boy was rounding second base and about to steal third." Cliff said gravely.
The woman looked at him with surprise, then hurried away.
"Thanks." Ben said with relief.
"Are you about done looking around?" Cliff asked with a smile.
"Yeah. I get the feeling that JD would be more comfortable if we went home now." Ben said with concern as he felt JD's tense little body clinging to him desperately.
"Do you just want the one book?" Cliff asked curiously.
"Yeah. We picked it out before... She arrived." Ben finished with a glance in the direction the woman had gone.
"If you want to take JD to the car, I can check the books out and meet you there." Cliff said gently.
"Thanks, love." Ben said with a grateful smile, then hurried to get JD out of the library.
* * * * *
"JD, please come back to me." Ben whispered as he stroked the boy's straight brown hair.
Ben waited but got no hint of a response. JD's large, usually expressive eyes were vacant, staring sightlessly at some distant nothing.
The encounter in the library hadn't been bad. Cliff had interceded before she even had a chance to get close, so Ben couldn't understand what had bothered JD so much.
He finally decided that it was probably something he would never know. There was a chance that JD didn't even know what had caused this reaction. The tone of her voice, a hint of her perfume, or maybe a particular phrase she used when she spoke had triggered one of JD's painful memories.
"It's okay, JD. You're here with me now and you're safe." Ben said gently.
"How's he doing?" Cliff asked as he opened the passenger side door.
"Nobody's home. The porch light isn't even on." Ben said frankly.
"Do you want me to drive?" Cliff asked uncertainly.
"Yes. Please. I'm going to stay back here with JD." Ben said as he handed Cliff his keys.
Cliff watched JD and his complete lack of response for a moment before starting the car.
* * * * *
Once they arrived at the house, Ben guided JD into the living room and sat him on the couch.
When Cliff walked in a few minutes later, Ben quietly asked, "Is there anything we can do for him?"
"No." Cliff said simply. "Medically, there are things I could do that might snap him out of it, but he's in this state for a reason. He's either protecting himself or healing from something. Until I determine that this is actually hurting him, I'm reluctant to do anything that might make matters worse."
"I just feel so helpless. It's killing me to just sit and watch him like this." Ben said in anguish.
"Well, sometimes, things that are pleasant or familiar can draw a person out of a catatonic state." Cliff said thoughtfully.
Ben thought for a moment, then dashed out of the room.
"Please JD. Your Daddy needs you to come back." Cliff whispered as he gently stroked JD's much smaller gloved hand.
"I brought you your truck." Ben said as he carefully placed the yellow dump truck on JD's lap.
Cliff fought not to react when he saw the slightest movement in JD's eyes.
He couldn't be sure that it wasn't just wishful thinking on his part until he felt JD's hand starting to pull away from his.
"JD?" Ben gasped.
"Don't hover. Let him be for a minute. I think he probably needs to get his bearings." Cliff said quietly, then gestured for Ben to sit beside him.
JD slowly bent his head and looked down at the truck in his lap.
Cliff and Ben both held their breath and watched as he brought up one gloved hand to feel along the plastic truck's bed.
Finally Cliff quietly said, "If you remember, Mrs. Usher told us that he's been unresponsive for a full day when something like this happened before."
"Yes, but I thought he was getting better." Ben said as tears filled his eyes.
"I think he is." Cliff said reassuringly, "But I think any mental health professional will tell you that the road to recovery is rarely a straight one. There are twists and turns and usually a few bumps along the way."
Ben slowly nodded that he understood.
JD looked up from his truck, then around the room slowly, as if trying to determine where he was.
"You spaced out a little bit at the library, but you're home now, where it's safe." Cliff said with an encouraging smile.
JD's curious look turned to concern when he noticed the tears in Ben's eyes.
"Your Daddy was worried about you. Actually, we both were. But now that you're at home and safe, we're both going to be fine, so don't worry about us." Cliff said gently.
JD seemed to be deep in thought as his gaze slowly fell to the truck in his lap.
"Well, if we're going to be having chili for dinner, I should get it started soon. It's going to need to cook." Cliff said as he stood.
JD hesitantly looked up from his truck, not quite meeting Cliff's eyes.
Cliff leaned down a little, then quietly said, "If you want to help me, I'll show you my secret recipe."
"I thought you told me that you got that recipe out of a magazine when you were in college." Ben said with a grin.
"The foundation recipe, yes. But I've made improvements since then." Cliff said, then looked at JD with question. "Who knows, maybe JD will help me to improve it even more."
JD glanced from Ben to Cliff, then slowly put his arms into the air.
"That's what I had hoped." Cliff said happily.
Ben leaned in and took the truck from JD's lap so Cliff could lift the boy onto his hip.
"Now remember, JD. When you're making chili, the recipe is just to start you off..."
* * * * *
Ben was content to sit at the kitchen table and quietly watch Cliff and JD making the chili.
He hadn't really had the opportunity to see JD and Cliff interact much. The two of them together were a sight to be seen.
Cliff knew how to talk to JD on his level without being patronizing.
And it was obvious to Ben that JD was listening to his every word.
* * * * *
Ben was able to maintain a feeling of underlying serenity through dinner and the games of pool that followed. At the end of the night, as he stood in JD's bedroom doorway with Cliff at his side, a feeling of clarity washed over him.
They had taken their first real steps as parents today.
Keeping JD clothed and fed and even relatively happy were things that anyone could do. They were things that Mrs. Usher could have arranged for JD without too much trouble. But today, when JD hit one of the 'bumps' on his road to recovery, Cliff and Ben had helped him past it. They had reacted with love and concern for their child... and it had been enough.
As JD lay sleeping, one arm curled around his yellow dump truck, Ben couldn't help but feel a sense of awe at the responsibility that they had taken on. Were they strong enough? The sight of that little boy, so withdrawn and damaged, was more than enough of an answer.
They had to be.
* * * * *
The following week turned out to be much less eventful than Ben could have imagined.
During their days together, JD and Ben had fallen into a comfortable and familiar routine. While Ben was answering questions for his editor about his latest book, he was also forming the outline for his next book.
All the while, JD was working on the small laptop, with single-minded determination. Ben was understandably curious about what JD was writing, but he felt strongly that it was JD's own personal business and as sacred as a diary. All Ben needed to see was JD typing without his gloves, and he knew that even though the gains were slight, JD was, indeed, making progress.
There were a few tense moments when Ben took JD to his first therapy appointment. They arranged it with Ron so that Ben would drop JD off with him, then Cliff would pick him up when he got off work. JD's wide, soulful eyes watching Ben leave nearly tore Ben's heart out. But by the time Cliff brought him home, JD seemed to be perfectly happy.
When Friday night came around again, they tried another movie. This time JD was able to tolerate over five minutes of the movie before he left, and returned with the netbook.
After the event at the library, they decided to hold back from taking JD out in public, as much as possible, just to give him time to build up a sense of security and work more things out.
Occasionally, Ben and JD did have to visit the store for necessities, and each time, they would stop by to visit with Zeb when they checked out.
With Thanksgiving approaching, Ben was in need of a few items that he didn't normally keep in the kitchen. As Ben carried JD into the store, he noticed that the boy's grip wasn't quite as tight as it used to be. As long as no women approached them, he would be fine.
Ben quickly added the items he needed to the cart, then went to the checkout, hoping beyond hope that Zeb was working that day.
"Look who's there." Ben said happily as he pointed toward the check stands.
JD timidly looked up from Ben's chest, then followed his pointing finger.
Ben was pleased to see a smile come over JD's face. Zeb had been friendly to JD and called him a kindred spirit when they first met. It seemed that JD had accepted those words, because every time they met, since, JD was happy to see him.
* * * * *
"Good afternoon, Zeb. How are you doing today?" Ben asked pleasantly.
"All is well with the world." Zeb said casually as he began to scan groceries, then smiled at the boy clinging to Ben's chest, and asked, "How are you doing, JD?"
A timid smile was the boy's response.
"I'm glad to hear that." Zeb said with a smile at the boy, then glanced up and said, "I'm sorry ma'am. I'm closed."
Ben looked up to see that Zeb had already turned off the light on his check stand.
JD's gentle tapping drew Ben's attention.
"Did you need something?" Ben asked gently.
JD pointed to Zeb.
"Yes. That's our friend, Zeb. What about him?" Ben asked cautiously.
JD looked around, then pointed at a magazine just past the register.
"Is something wrong?" Zeb asked curiously as he rang up and sacked their groceries.
"I don't know. JD wants something, but I can't tell what it is." Ben said slowly.
Zeb followed JD's pointing finger and finally took the magazine from the rack.
"Were you wanting to buy this magazine?" Zeb asked slowly as he looked at the traditional Thanksgiving dinner depicted on the cover.
JD got a look of frustration, then pointed forcefully at Zeb, then at the magazine cover. He gave Ben an urgent look, stressing the importance of his message.
"Oh! I see." Ben said with sudden realization, "JD wants me to invite you over to our house for Thanksgiving."
Zeb glanced down at the magazine, then smiled at JD as he said, "Thank you, JD. It's very nice of you to ask."
"I suppose you're already planning on spending Thanksgiving with your family." Ben said in a leading tone, giving Zeb a way to gracefully decline if he wanted to.
"Actually, my family doesn't celebrate it." Zeb said uncomfortably.
Ben was surprised by the admission, but quickly said, "We're not going to be doing much more than having a special meal, but you'd be very welcome to share it with us."
"No. It's a time for you to be with your family." Zeb said quietly.
"Maybe for some. But for the rest of us, it's for spending time with the people we enjoy. Please think about it, I know JD wants you to come, and you honestly would be welcome." Ben said, then noticing the total on the register, he swiped his debit card.
JD looked at Zeb with pleading eyes, begging him to accept.
"I don't have a car... I probably can't make it." Zeb muttered as he accepted the tender on his register.
"Here, let me write down my phone number and address. If you can't find a ride, call me, and I can come and get you." Ben said as he wrote quickly.
Zeb accepted the paper from him, then said, "Hey! This is only about two blocks from here."
"Yes. It's practically around the corner." Ben said happily as Zeb walked around the check stand to take their cart.
"Since you live so close, I won't need a ride. What time would you like for me to be there?" Zeb asked with a trace of excitement.
"The actual dinner is going to be later in the day. But I'm going to have things set out to snack on all day long. Let's say that anytime after noon would be fine." Ben said thoughtfully, then pointed toward his car in the parking lot.
"Like I said, I've never celebrated Thanksgiving before, so I don't know what it is that you do... can I bring something?" Zeb asked cautiously.
"I already have everything for the dinner. But if you'd like to bring something for dessert, that would be great. I have pumpkin pies, but you're welcomed to bring anything else that you'd like." Ben said as he opened the trunk of the car.
"Yeah. I'll do that." Zeb said happily.
"What do you think about that, JD? Zeb said he'd join us for Thanksgiving." Ben asked the boy in his arms.
JD gave a beaming smile in response.
"Thanks for inviting me, JD." Zeb said with a gentle smile at the boy. "I'll see you on Thursday."
"We'll see you then, Zeb." Ben said happily as he opened the car door.
Zeb pushed the empty shopping cart back toward the store, then paused and waved at JD before going inside.
"Thanks for inviting him, JD. I think the holiday is going to be a lot more fun with him around." Ben said casually as he let JD down, so he could get into his booster seat.
* * * * *
After carrying the groceries into the house, Ben noticed that JD seemed to be lost in thought.
"What's going on, Little Man?" Ben asked curiously.
JD considered for a moment, then started to roll up his sleeve.
Ben froze in place as JD revealed the stark, sharp black tattoos on his pale skin.
When JD had the sleeve rolled up to his elbow, he started to trace one particular design with his fingertip.
Ben couldn't make sense of what the symbol could be. He could tell that it was the abstract representation of something, he just couldn't quite figure out what.
When JD saw Ben's confusion, he tapped his finger on the tattoo, then tapped his bicep.
"Oh! You mean Wil!" Ben chuckled. "That's the tattoo he wants to get!"
JD smiled with relief, then pointed at the kitchen table.
"You want to invite Wil to dinner?" Ben asked cautiously.
JD slowly nodded, as if waiting for something more.
Ben thought for a moment, then the pieces came together in his mind, "You want me to invite Todd and Wil to have Thanksgiving dinner with us."
JD nodded with a big, happy smile.
Ben looked at the clock, then said, "I might still be able to wake Todd if I call him right now."
JD looked at Ben curiously.
"Ask your Pappa, it's kind of a running joke between him and Todd." Ben said as he picked up the phone.
After a moment to find the number in the phone's internal phonebook, Ben pressed a button and it dialed.
"Hello?" Todd's weary voice answered.
"Hi Todd, it's Ben. Did I wake you?" Ben asked quietly, not wanting to be abrasively cheerful.
"No. I've been up for about three minutes. I'm just waiting on the coffee... what's up?" Todd asked in a raspy voice.
"I was just calling because JD wanted me to invite you and Wil to spend Thanksgiving with us." Ben said with a smile at the boy who was listening to every word.
"Did he start talking?" Todd asked blearily.
"No. But he finds ways to let us know what he wants." Ben said frankly. "So, can you make it?"
"Um... Let me think..." Todd drifted off, then finally said, "No. I already told my sister that we'd go to her house."
"Oh. I'm sorry to hear that." Ben said slowly.
"Hang on. I'll let you talk to Wil. I think he'll probably jump at the chance not to have to go to my sister's house. Her kids drive him up the wall." Todd said bluntly, then started knocking.
"Wil. Get your ass up. Your cousin's on the phone." Todd bellowed, then said gently into the phone. "He'll be right with you."
"Thanks, Todd." Ben chuckled.
A moment later, Wil said, "What's up, Ben?"
"JD wanted me to invite you and Todd over for Thanksgiving dinner." Ben said frankly.
"Yeah. Um, Todd's already made plans." Wil said regretfully.
"He said that you'd probably enjoy spending the day with us more than with his family." Ben said simply.
"You got that right. His nieces are the illegitimate spawn of Satan." Wil said as though it were a simple statement of fact.
"Oh... In that case, would you like to spend Thanksgiving with us?" Ben asked as he tried to restrain his chuckles.
"Yeah, sure. Can I bring anything?" Wil asked automatically.
"You can bring something for dessert if you like. I'll have pumpkin pies, but you're welcome to bring anything else." Ben said happily.
"Yeah. Okay... What time?" Wil asked curiously.
"We'll be having dinner later in the day, but anytime after noon will be fine." Ben said happily.
"Hang for a sec." Wil said, then set down the phone.
A moment later there was a clatter as he picked the phone back up, then he said, "Todd said he'll drop me off on the way to his sister's so I'll probably be there around one."
"That sounds great." Ben said happily.
"Yeah. Thanks for inviting me. This is going to be a whole lot better than listening to Todd's sister try to explain away whatever the hellspawn did to their latest puppy." Wil said frankly.
"I'll pass your thanks along to JD. It was his idea." Ben said proudly.
"I'll remember to thank him when I get there." Wil said fondly.
"Wil?" Ben said quietly.
"Yeah?" Wil said cautiously, recognizing Ben's serious tone.
"I'm glad you're coming. It's nice to have family again." Ben said gently.
After a moment, Wil quietly said, "Yeah. For me too."
"See you Thursday." Ben said quickly.
"See ya then." Wil responded before hanging up.
"Todd couldn't make it, but Wil said he'd love to have dinner with us." Ben said as he watched for JD's reaction.
JD smiled at the news.
"Is there anyone else that you'd like to invite, while I'm at it?" Ben asked curiously.
JD's response was to go to Ben and hug him firmly around the waist.
"You're welcome, JD. It's your home, too, so you should be able to invite people over if you want." Ben said as he gently returned the hug.
Editor's Notes: One of my favourite things about reading a story written by MultiMapper is the way that we get to know all the people in his imagination, and then in our lives. As many stories as I have read, through the years, I have found very few people who can pull me so completely into a story, the way MM can. I don't find myself thinking of the people in his stories as characters; they are very real, and I find myself caring deeply about them and what is happening to them. I haven't known JD very long, and I already would do anything for him. Ben and Cliff are being wonderful parents for him, and even though I know the road is going to be a bumpy one, I know in my heart that somehow they will find a way to get him past his troublesome past, and that he will work through his issues. He is a wonderfully complex youngster, and I know he will someday be a fine young man.
Thank you again, MultiMapper, for another wonderful chapter of a wonderful story.
Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher
Proof Reader's Notes: I agree wholeheartedly with Darryl, MultiMapper has a very unique style of writing which does more than tell the story, he brings each story to life. While allowing the reader's to get to know the characters like most people know their friends and family.
Thank you for another enchanting story MM.
Robert AKA Privatecomm983