Brian stared at Justin for a long moment, and then his eyes closed. Justin realized he wasn’t clenching his jaw, no vein throbbed at his temple, he was just utterly, utterly still.
“Brian?” Justin whispered, afraid to touch him, fearing to set off an explosion. He couldn’t predict this one; Brian’s reactions tended to be icy, but erupting beneath until all hell broke loose.
Brian’s hand came up, though, to rub across his cheek, and over his eyes, and then his head was falling into his hand, his other arm moving to hug himself at the waist. He simply slumped into himself. Justin’s initial alarm underwent a quick and unexpected turn; he reached out, scooting across the bed to sit, thigh to thigh, his hand resting against Brian’s upper arm, but still not ready for the weight when Brian suddenly turned into him, burying his face against Justin’s chest, so Justin was looking down at the top of his head. Woah. “Brian…”
“Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck.”
Justin found himself squeezed too tightly in Brian’s grip; arms had snaked around Justin’s waist and hands dug into the skin of his back. “Fuck, fuck, fuck this family. Why…” He stopped, breathed deeply.
“Brian…” Brian never asked why. He just dealt. Reacted, sometimes forcefully, oh hell, always forcefully, but he always just dealt.
Brian raised his head, and Justin drew in his breath at the bleak look. “It never ends. I can’t…” He shook his head, looked away.
Justin got it then. He could practically feel his heart pounding as it picked up speed, and Brian’s head lowered to his shoulder. “What can I do, Brian?”
“Tell me what to do.” Very muffled against Justin’s shirt. “I can’t kill a priest. And that’s all I can think of right now. But then, your fucking voice comes into my brain, telling me, that’s not a solution.”
“That’s not a solution,” Justin murmured, hand stroking Brian’s back.
“Fuck, where’s John?” Brian’s head came up suddenly, eyes sharpening.
“I don’t know, he just took off.”
Brian stared into Justin’s face, the bleakness clearing, and then gone as if it had never been. He took a deep breath. “Okay. Here’s what we’re going to do. I think I know where he might be. I want you to go out to the car, and wait for him.” He reached into his pocket and fished out the keys. “Take John to the loft as soon as he gets there. Go rent some movies or something, keep him occupied. Don’t let anyone up, or anyone in. Nobody, not even Michael. Just pretend you’re not home.”
“You think John’ll go there? With me?” Justin took the keys, but looked at Brian skeptically.
“Yeah he will. I want him out of the way. I’m going to raise some serious hell.” He saw the look on Justin’s face. “Don’t worry, Justin. I’ll take care of it. Don’t I always?”
“Wait a second. Just a minute ago, you asked me to tell you what to do.” Justin ignored the answering look of chagrin on Brian’s face, and pressed, “You can’t always be the one to fix everything, Brian, this might be beyond that.” Another look. “That’s not what I mean, I get this is serious and we just can’t let it go. But maybe we should call in an outside authority.”
“Maybe we should talk to Horvath, at least.”
Brian did not dismiss this immediately, and the tension leached from his face. He leaned forward and kissed Justin’s lips softly, then pulled back. “How about we just see what’s going on first? And then maybe we’ll see if we have to call in reinforcements.”
He felt that kiss softening him to go along with Brian’s reasonable words, and knew Brian was manipulating him. So Justin held onto his worry, even as he felt himself reluctantly agreeing with Brian’s plan. “I’m concerned about you,” he repeated. “You’re in enough of an emotionally charged situation…” He saw Brian’s grimace, and caught his lover’s face in his hand, held him so Brian was forced to look back at him. “Brian, you admitted you haven’t been exactly in great emotional control this week. And now this, on top of all the other stuff. You’re at least used to carrying that other stuff around with you, this extra stuff is, well, maybe too much. I just worry…”
“I know. I know. Didn’t I just tell you, it’s your voice in my head telling me not to just go off? You think I’m going to let my sunshine give way to storm clouds? I know what that does for my sex life.”
Justin held him there for a moment, searching his eyes for something, completely ignoring the teasing tone, knowing Brian was really pushing for his way. But then Justin nodded. “Okay. Okay, you go find John, and I’ll go take him to the safe house.”
Safe house. Brian liked that; it summed up the loft so well. He stood, took Justin’s hand and hauled him up. “Trust me.”
“It’s not you I don’t trust.”
Brian exited through the kitchen door, which opened out behind the house, and walked to the bottom of the lawn. The yard sloped down, ending in a tangle of overgrown hedges that separated Joan’s property from the neighbors’. Ignoring his suit, he dropped to his knees and pressed through a slight thinning in the thick branches that grew all the way to the ground. It was harder to do that than when he was a kid, so much smaller and skinnier, but that small, protected space where four of the hedges grew so closely that the branches couldn’t grow inward, that hidden area in the midst of the hedges, it was still there. And John was sitting in the middle of it. The young man started, and looked up, his breath hitching.
Brian stopped as soon as he saw his nephew, and balanced himself into in an awkward squat. “This was my spot when I was a kid too. When I had to get out of the house. I came in here a lot.”
“What the fuck do you want?” The kid unfolded his arms from around his knees, ready to flee, but unfortunately Brian was at the only accessible exit point.
“Look, I’ll stay right over here, okay? I just want to talk to you.”
John didn’t look at him, but he made no further moves to bolt, either. Brian took that as an encouraging sign. “John.”
John turned his face toward his uncle.
“Want to tell me what’s going on?”
John took a deep breath, but then his face twisted, and he just looked away again.
“Justin told me he heard Father Steven threatening you. Is that priest hurting you?”
Nothing, the face burying in the knees.
Brian hung back, trying to figure out a way to reach John, to encourage him to open up. Not as if he had great experience with kids, and this wasn’t just any kid, this was a Kinney kid. Just great, Brian thought, like I know how to communicate with anybody anyway, to say nothing of a belligerent 13-year old, to say nothing of this particular belligerent 13-year old. He moved himself a bit closer, and reached out to touch his nephew’s shoulder. John flinched.
“Fuck, John, you know I’m not going to touch you like that!”
“You flushed my head down a toilet!”
“You…” asked for it, Brian stopped himself from saying by biting his tongue. He thought for a moment, and then said, “Okay. Not my finest moment. But you know I never touched you in any other way.”
“But you hurt me.”
Oh, fuck, fuck, fuck!! He stared at the curled up boy for a moment, and realized they were getting off track. Deflection. He knew this tactic, far too well.
Well, shit, he did know this tactic, the avoidance maneuver John had just deployed, didn’t he? Who the fuck did this kid think he was playing? Time to cut through the bullshit, and if anyone could do it, that would be me, Brian told himself, before saying to John, “So fine, then, just listen. Don’t say anything. Just either nod or don’t. Okay? John, listen, okay? Are you listening?” Patience, he thought to himself, feeling his too-quick temper rise. He heard Justin’s voice in his head, and the emotion receded.
John nodded, his head still buried against his knees.
“Can you look at me, at least?”
John lifted his head, and Brian caught his breath, not because the face was red and swollen from crying, but because something was suspended in that face, and something else was peeking out. Pain, sure, but… the usual scowl was missing, and Brian saw just a 13-year old, bewildered kid. Not demon spawn. Just a scared, hurt kid. Had he ever looked like that? But even he hadn’t been through this. And sure as shit, no one had been there for him. This was worse than his experience, and he’d be fucked if he abandoned this boy to it.
“Okay.” He thought for a second. “When you sent me to jail…” John looked away, but Brian reached out and touched his shoulder with the tips of his fingers again, and John looked back, not jerking away this time. “It’s okay, I just need to ask this. All you have to do is nod if what I say is true, or shake your head no if it isn’t. Okay?” John nodded, so Brian continued, “The report you gave the police was fairly detailed.” Yeah, and he hadn’t thought about how a kid would know all about blow jobs, testicles, leakage, what some sick fuck might demand from a kid, or how a kid would know about gagging from a dick being shoved down his throat. At the time, he’d just figured John had picked shit up on the internet. But he hadn’t exactly had time to do research between Brian’s… uh, chastisement, and the police report. And Brian hadn’t stopped to think of why a homophobe in training would cruise those kind of web sites, anyway. This was starting to make more sense. Awful, horrendous sense. “Did you know about that stuff because of Father Steven?”
John hesitated, but then he stared straight into his uncle’s eyes, and nodded.
Brian had to force himself to remain in a crouched position, to not just get up and go find the good father right then.
“Does your mother know?”
“Did your grandmother know?”
Hesitation, then the tears, and John choked, “…she didn’t… until… until…” He stopped, and swallowed, began whimpering.
Shit, he needed Justin for this. “Okay, listen. Here’s what we’re going to do right now.” John watched him, warily. “I’m going to take care of a few things here. But right now, we need to get you away from all these people. Right now, I’m going to go back into the house. And you’re going to go back to my place with Justin, who’s waiting for you by my car. You go right down there, I’m parked in front of the house. My place is in a secure building, Justin won’t let anyone near you. Okay?”
John frowned, and bit down on his lips. “But… but you guys…”
“John, you know I never did anything like that to you. Justin never would either. Anyone who touches children is sick. It has nothing to do with whether they’re gay or straight. Gay men don’t molest children any more than straight men do. Only sick shits do that.” He watched John struggle with this, and he added, “I’m going to help you.”
“That’s what Father Tom said.”
So I am going to kill me two priests, Brian thought. But for now, he just said, “Well, this is me. And I’m never wrong. You’ve heard of how successful I am, right?”
John nodded again.
“That’s because I always get my way. And right now, my way is to make sure you’re safe, away from all these people. So? will you go meet Justin by the car? Don’t worry, I’ll take care of everything back here for you.”
“So you believe me?” John whispered.
“Yeah… Justin believes you. And I believe him. You can trust him, he’s a really good guy.”
“He helped you.”
“He’s like that. He’s a good guy. Are you okay with going with him to my place?”
“But…” John stared at his uncle, the emotions crossing his face too variable to read, but fear certainly predominating. “But what’s going to happen to me?”
“I don’t know. But I don’t want to see you hurt anymore. And I’m pretty sure you don’t want to be hurt again.”
John shook his head.
“Yeah, okay, so we’re on the same side.” John still hesitated, and Brian pushed, “Look, I know you don’t have any reason to trust me. You just have to decide whether you will or not. But those priests aren’t. And your mom’s not doing a great job of being on your side either.”
“No.” John stared at Brian for a long moment, and his face set. “Okay. You got that Corvette, right?”
“Yeah. Right out front.”
“Can I drive?” A peek of the kid again. Maybe even a glimpse of a sense of humor there.
Brian smiled, a little sad at how young John seemed. “Maybe when you’re my age.”
“That long?” Cutting smirk. Definitely, his nephew.
Michael was actually reading one of the comics in the box he had discovered tucked way in the back of the attic, where Brian found him. He looked up as Brian approached, his eyes filled with an awe that bordered on worshipful. “Do you know what you have here? And they’re almost perfectly preserved in this dry attic.”
“Well, whatever it is, it’s all yours.”
“No way!” Michael started to jump up, but then laid the comic carefully back in the box. Then he did spring up, and hugged his friend. He stood back, realizing Brian’s return hug was less than heartfelt. “You okay? I mean, besides...” He looked embarrassed, realizing what he had just asked.
“I’m fine,” Brian said, “But I sent Justin home. Time to deal with family stuff, and you know how that is in the Kinneyland. Why don’t you just take that stuff and take off yourself?” Best way to get around the truth, just omit certain information. It wasn’t exactly lying.
“Really?” Michael returned. “Do you need me to stay, help you out any way?”
Brian shook his head. He knew Michael would, and he certainly appreciated that fact. But he really did not want him involved. Shit, he didn’t want to be involved, but he had no choice. “No, I’ll be fine.”
“You sure? I mean, with Justin not around…”
Michael’s genuine concern, and his acknowledgement of Justin’s role, made Brian actually regret having to send him away, not having that sincere support to hold him up. But Michael could do no good, and this was not something he needed to add to his list of worries. Lord knew, Michael seemed to collect them, like other people collected coins, sometimes. “I’m sure. You go home to the hubby, fuck your brains out, celebrate life. Isn’t that what you do after a funeral?”
“I’m sure it’s what YOU do after a funeral,” Michael chuckled, picking up the box. “And after the wake, and after breakfast, after lunch, after work…”
Brian hugged him briefly as he passed. “You’re a good friend, Michael.”
Michael stared at him for a second. “You sure you’re okay?”
Brian sighed. “I’m fine. Go. I’ll give you a call later.”
“Okay. You take care, try not to destroy your sister’s fragile psyche.”
The snort in reply to that was not the joke that Michael certainly took it as. After Michael had left, Brian paused, looking around. There were three boxes waiting for him. He’d take them back to the loft after this was over; he did not want to stay in this house one second longer than he absolutely had to.
“All right, that’s it, funeral’s over, everyone out.”
“Brian!” Claire’s shocked voice resonated through the living room, as Brian’s announcement took the old women lingering about by surprise.
“Time for a family conference, which means everyone out, except,” he turned to the sofa, where the priests were sitting, “you two.” He glared at Steven, who looked over at Tom, who had gone still as he watched Brian.
As Claire ushered the last of the guests to the door, apologizing and casting worried looks over at her brother, Brian walked over to the coat rack and picked up John’s coat, patting it down until he found what he was looking for. He crossed the room to Peter, who was looking out the window, bored. “Hey, Peter.” The kid looked over at him. “Here, take John’s game. Go up in your grandma’s room, there’s a tv up there. We gotta talk boring stuff down here. Okay?”
Peter looked at him suspiciously. “Where’s John?”
“He took off with a friend.”
“That lucky shit,” Peter grumbled. “Mom said I should stay down here for now.”
“That was then. NOW, you can go upstairs. Your mom said it’s okay, right, Claire?” he asked his sister who was slowly returning into the room, now that the last of the guests had been escorted out. Only Uncle Mike and Liam were left, lingering in the doorway.
“Yes, Peter, you can go watch t.v.” Peter needed no second urging. He grabbed the Gameboy Brian held out to him, and raced up the stairs.
Brian turned to Mike and Liam. “You don’t need to stick around, this is nuclear family business.”
Liam nodded, and seemed ready to leave, but Mike shook his head. “You said family business, we’re family.”
“Don’t you ‘dad’ me! Forget ‘nuclear,’ we’re family. We may not get along all the time, but I’m not going anywhere. And neither are you. Grow up and get with your responsibilities, boy.” Mike sat in the hard-backed chair that had recently accommodated some old lady, and crossed his arms over his chest. Liam sighed, and leaned against the doorframe.
Brian hesitated, glanced at his uncle and cousin. Well, fine. Fuck it. “Sit down, Claire.” Brian held John’s jacket in his hands, gripping it so hard his fingertips began to go numb.
“Sit the fuck down!” he yelled, then bit his tongue, trying to calm down.
“Brian, do you think that’s any way to talk to your sister?” Mike asked, eyeing his nephew.
Brian’s hackles came up, recognizing Mike playing alpha dog, as he always did, when he was as far from in charge of this. Hell, he didn’t have any idea what this was. Time to dispel Mike’s illusion of his position as all-knowing. He answered Mike’s criticism by saying, “It is when my sister allows Father Steven there to molest her son.”
That little declaration had Liam straightening right up. Mike stared at Brian blankly, then half-rose out of his chair with a roar, “WHAT?”
“Sit the fuck down, Mike,” Brian said. “You want in, fine. But I’m in charge of this particular family business. And right now, we are going to have a little talk. So sit. The fuck. Down.”
“Where’s John, Brian?” Claire asked, watching him warily.
“Oh, now you’re concerned with your son’s welfare?”
“Maybe I should…” Father Steven began to rise, making his break for it.
“You will sit down before I slowly dismember you,” Brian interrupted, curtailing the priest’s flight. If that wasn’t enough, Mike made a counter move that mirrored Steven’s, effectively blocking the priest, while Tom murmured, “Sit down, Steven.”
Brian turned back to his sister. “John is with my partner. In other words, he’s safe. Which is something he isn’t with you.”
Claire looked down at her hands. There was a silence. Mike flexed and unflexed his hands. Finally, Liam spoke up. “Brian, want to fill us in?”
Brian stared at Father Tom as he answered, almost casually, belying the effort it took to maintain a façade of calm. “Sure, Liam. Justin was in the guest room closet pulling out some of my old shit when Steven brought John into the room and told him to keep his mouth shut, or he’d end up like Joan. Tom here came in next, and made clear that Steven was being transferred out to avoid a scandal. Doesn’t take much to figure this out, does it? But, I spoke to John about 15 minutes ago, who basically confirmed some fairly nasty details, although I didn’t want to press him too hard. For obvious reasons. I have no such compunction with these sick fucks. So, how did my mother die, Tom?”
Tom maintained Brian’s gaze. “She saw. Claire came to me after John came to her. I arranged for Steven to be transferred out.”
“Your own, child, Claire!” Mike turned to his niece, deeply shocked.
Claire’s white, strained face dissolved, and she burst into tears. “I didn’t know what else to do! I just, I just found out, in five minutes, that my son is being molested, and my mother died running out from seeing, from seeing…” She gestured, unable to go on. “And it’s bad enough that she left everything to Father Tom in the first place, then her own church kills her! What the hell was I supposed to do, Tom tells me that the scandal would be bad for John anyway, but ending up in a hole in the wall…”
Brian interrupted what was turning into a babble. “Wait, what? She left Tom everything? What’s that?”
Claire spun her head around, the pleading, pathetic look directed toward her brother. “Yes, that bitch! You think I hated her for no reason! She left everything to him!”
“I thought you said she had no will?”
“Oh, there was a will, there is a will, Tom has it…”
“She left everything to the church?” Why did this not surprise him?
But Tom was shaking his head. “No. Not to the church. To me.” He reached beneath his jacket to an inner pocket, and pulled out a sheaf of papers. He handed it to Brian, who did not even open the document, but eyed it.
“Don’t you see, Brian?” Claire pleaded. “If that didn’t come out, we’d at least get something after the hell she put us through, all our lives! And what was I supposed to do, put John through the hell of a scandal? He begged me not to, he begged me to just get him away from that priest, and that was it, we’d get the house, Tom was going to get rid of Steven, and I promised John he’d never have to go to church, never again, and with the money I could get him into counseling…”
“You better be right there with him, Claire,” Mike interrupted, “to let him know why his mother was willing to sell him out and forego justice.”
“We thought it was best for John,” Tom put in, quietly, “but obviously, it was wrong. God put your young man in the closet. I was never easy with this…”
“But, Tom,” Steven finally spoke up at last, meaning to continue, but Liam told him to shut the fuck up, and he did, mouth closing with a snap.
Tom sighed, closed his eyes. “We thought it would be best for John and Claire, best for the Pittsburgh church. But I will abide whatever decision John’s family wishes. I relied on Claire as his representative. Clearly, though, if Steven is threatening John still,” he glared over at the man sitting next to him, but Steven’s head was bowed and he was saying nothing, “then clearly I made a wrong decision. And God is correcting that.”
“No, Justin corrected that,” Brian corrected the priest. “The question is, what are we going to do?”
“Call the police!” Mike barked. “Up in Boston, they have a zero tolerance policy, the Church locks those guys up!”
“When the church leaders aren’t refusing to release personnel records, and that doesn’t stop the victims from suicide, feelings of lack of worth, depression, and shame at the onslaught of publicity. Yeah, Mike, I read the news,” Brian told him.
“What, are we just going to let this guy go? To what, track John down and threaten him?”
“He won’t get near him,” Brian said.
“I’ll make sure of that,” Tom added.
“Your word isn’t exactly too great right now,” Brian shot back.
“Brian,” Mike spoke, “you know damn well if we let this guy go, we won’t see him again.”
“If we choose to call the police,” Brian answered, “They’ll be able to track him down wherever the church sends him.”
“Then you’re not following the news that closely. Boston, at least, has a zero tolerance policy. They’ll fire the guy as soon as Father Tom calls in the report, and you think he’s going to stick around?”
Brian chewed on his lower lip, and glanced over at Liam, who grimaced, and nodded in agreement with his father. “Hate to say, he’s probably right.”
Brian stared at his cousin. He thought for a moment. “Let me make a call,” he said, taking out his cell phone.
They entered the loft, and heard two voices over the sound of shots and grunts, clearly from a video game.
“You are so dead! I thought you said you were better at the X-box!” John’s voice.
Justin’s responding. “I am! I thought you’d never played this before!”
“Oh, I am the master of all gaming,” John answered, laughing. Brian shut the door, and walked over to where the two were sitting on the floor in front of his big screen, so intent on the game they did not notice him and Liam entering the room. Strewn at their feet were pizza boxes, soda cans, and four other games that hadn’t been opened yet.
“I thought I told you movies,” he said, making both guys jump, and look over their shoulders.
Justin shrugged, and flashed a guilt-free smile. “Always wanted one.”
“Hah! Rule 512! Never remove your eyes from the action!”
“Shit!” Justin exclaimed, turning back to the screen.
“Uh, boys?” Brian asked, vaulting over the back of the couch, and placing his hands on Justin’s shoulders. “Ready to take a break?”
John stared down at his controller, putting it reluctantly aside after Justin paused the game. Then John looked up at his uncle and cousin.
Justin asked for him, aware of the young man’s discomfort. “So, what’s going on?” He hadn’t spoke with John about this, telling him as they drove back to the loft that they didn’t need to talk about it. John had shrugged, not saying much. He had been almost invisible, until Justin had asked what he’d want to do, if he wanted to see some movies, and John had asked if he had video games, since he had mentioned his skill with the X-box. Justin had had to admit that it was Daphne’s system… But maybe they should stop by the Best Buy and get a set-up? So easy to light the kid’s fire, and the next thing Justin knew he was sitting in front of the tv, wondering why he hadn’t gotten one of these things a long time ago…
Now, Brian answered his question, “We wanted to talk to you first, John. Me, your mom, your Uncle Mike and Liam, in other words, your family, all tried to figure out what was best for you. But we thought we should talk to you first.”
John looked up reluctantly, and nodded. “Am I gonna have to…” he took a deep breath. “Am I gonna have to see Father Steven again?”
“No.” Brian’s voice brooked no possibility of disagreement. “You won’t.”
“So, what’s gonna happen?” John seemed to loosen up some, and Brian took this as a good sign.
“The options are fairly straightforward. We can press charges against the priest, and he’ll go to jail. Or we let him go, the way your mother wanted in the first place, and he leaves town, you never see him again.”
“But then he’d be free,” John said.
“Then he’d be free, but he would never bother you again.”
“But he might bother other kids.”
“Yeah.” Brian wasn’t going to lie about that one.
John bit his lip. “Can’t he get away now, though?” He sounded as if he almost wished the priest would, indeed, just disappear. Brian cursed to himself; maybe he should have let the priest go. Take the decision out of the kid’s hands. Christ, he was only 13!
“He’s in jail.”
“But… but!” John’s response was almost panicked. “But that means the cops know!”
“No, John, it’s okay, he’s not there for what he did to you,” Liam jumped in, hastening to assure him.
“Is he there for killing grandma? Can I be arrested for that to?”
Justin reluctantly broke the silence that followed that question. “John, what happened to your grandmother?”
John took a deep breath, glanced at the men in the room, each in turn. “I was in the confessional with, with…”
“You don’t need to talk about it,” Brian quietly assured him.
“Okay, so, Grandma, she opened up the door, and, and… she turned and ran, and next thing I know, she’s on the floor, with blood all over…” The boy broke off.
“So she ran out and tripped?” Brian clarified.
John’s eyes were closed, but he nodded.
“That wasn’t your fault. John! Open your eyes, look at me.” Brian held his nephew’s gaze. “It was an accident. Besides, you ever think that maybe your grandmother’s death was God’s way of making sure you got taken out of that situation?”
John gaped at him. Clearly, he hadn’t thought of that. But then the mouth snapped shut, and the vague look descended again. “God wouldn’t kill anyone.”
Justin almost laughed, but didn’t. But hell, didn’t these kids read the Old Testament?
Then, John mumbled, “He wouldn’t, not for me.”
Brian continued, “God works in mysterious ways, right?”
“What do you know about it?”
“Lot more than you think I would. Maybe God realized that what was going on with you was fucked up. And even if people found out about what was going on, people like Father Tom and your mother, maybe God realized that even after you told your mom, and Father Tom, about what Father Steven was doing to you, maybe God knew all those people would make the wrong decisions in protecting you, so Father Steven could still at least scare you, like he did this afternoon. So maybe he had to make sure that Justin overheard Steven threatening you, and the only way Justin would be there to hear that was if he had to be at your grandmother’s funeral.”
“Why would God have chosen those people who were supposed to protect me, if they were just going to fail?”
Shit, this kid was smart. Brian was, for the first time in his life, glad he’d had this religious crap shoved down his throat. He could answer this one. “Free will. You know that, God gives us free will, we know we’re supposed to do the right thing, right? But following that rule is a choice. So, unfortunately, all the people around you chose wrong.”
John studied him for a long moment, then nodded. He took a long breath. “Okay… so you’re saying, Father Steven’s not in jail for what he did to me? So I can still decide if I want to have him arrested for that?”
“We want to know what you want for yourself. Fuck Steven, don’t you worry about him.”
“What’s he in jail for?” Justin asked, curious.
Brian shot him a look that told him this was not the time, but Liam answered nonetheless. “Patriot Act violation.”
“The Patriot Act?”
Liam started laughing. “It would be funny if it weren’t so appalling.”
Brian couldn’t help explaining. “It seems Horvath has reason to believe Father Steven was told something potentially related to money laundering for possible terrorist organizations in confession. Only suspected, of course. So they’re holding him for 48 hours.”
“They can do that?”
“Horvath seems to think it’s enough. The magic words, possible ties to terrorism. And even if it doesn’t come to anything, they’re just holding him. Apparently, they don’t need any more than that. But it gives us time.”
“Time for what?” John asked.
Brian was glad to hear John speak up. The kid seemed a little more engaged. “To decide what you want to do. Look, John, what happened to you… that really sucked. And we’re worried it’s going to mess you up. If Steven goes free, you may feel scared for years that he’d come back, and we don’t want you feeling that way. But we’re also worried that if we have him arrested, you’ll have to be in a trial. And that’ll be really hard for you too. But,” Brian continued, “everyone also knows, what happened to you is not your fault.”
“Yeah?” John asked, fiddling with the controller. “But…”
“…he was so nice to me. He took me to baseball games. My own dad… he’s kind of an asshole. I never see him. Father Steven… I mean, I liked him. So when he, he…” John paused, then continued, “I didn’t want to stop hanging out with him. So I let him.”
“He should never, never have done that to you, John,” Liam jumped in here. John turned slightly to look over at the other end of the couch, where Liam sat. “Seriously, John, the guy’s nice to you, of course you’re going to like that. We all like it when people take interest in us. But Steven knew that you were probably lonely for a guy who could do what your dad never did for you, and he took advantage to take something that he knew damn well you’d never want. He wanted it for himself, not for you. What he did was not good for you, and he knew it, but he didn’t care. And that’s just wrong. And we’re gonna try to keep anyone else from ever doing that again.”
“Your Uncle Mike says you can live with him in Boston, if that’s what you want to do,” Brian added. “And Father Tom knows some boarding schools in New York, they’re not church-affiliated, so no priests. But you can go away to school if you want to get away from here.”
“And I live in New York, so I’d be close by to check in on you,” Liam said.
“Or, you can stay here.”
John was fiddling with the controller again. “Do I have to decide now?”
Brian shook his head. “No, you have plenty of time.”
John looked over at Justin. “Do you think Father Steven should be arrested?”
Justin nodded, reluctantly. “But it would be public. And people would know.”
“But if he gets away, he could do this to other kids.”
Again, Justin nodded.
John took a deep breath. “I want to lock him up. For a long time.”
“You don’t have to decide right now,” Liam reminded him.
“I want him locked up,” John repeated, his voice beginning to sound stressed. “I want to stay with my mom, and Peter. I like my school. I just want to be normal.”
“That’s why I’m saying you don’t have to decide right away, John. If there’s a trial, you probably won’t have that normal life you want. At least, not right away.”
John really did look ready to cry then. “Why can’t he just be locked up, and I can be normal, and nobody else know?”
Shit, who said life’s fair? Brian cynically thought, but he kept that to himself, even as Justin shifted under the tightening pressure of Brian’s grip at his neck. “Why don’t you just think about it, John? And tomorrow, we’ll come up with something. We’ll see what we can come up with.”
“Promise?” The boy’s eyes, that spark of hope through desolation.
Brian had to turn his own gaze away. “I can’t promise. I wish I could. But we’re going to try to do what’s best for you. Not for the church. Not for your mother. Not for us. For you. Okay?”
“Okay.” John stared at his uncle for a while, then at Justin, who had leaned into Brian’s legs. “Okay.”
“In the meantime,” Brian continued, more than thankful to change the subject, “You’re going to spend tonight at the hotel with Liam. That okay with you?”
“I can’t go home?”
“You’re mom’s a little upset. She wants you there, but we think it would be best if she has time to recover from the funeral, and from this afternoon. And we think it would be best if you have a place to chill out, away from your mom. She didn’t do the right thing, John.” He couldn’t wait to tell Justin Claire had used John’s molestation as a means of subverting Joan’s will and claiming the house for herself. “Unless you want to go home, and Liam can stay there with you? Or one of us?”
John snickered. “Yeah, there’s no room in that place. Besides, I think you guys want to be alone.” He eyed Justin’s position, comfortably tucked between Brian’s legs. Brian looked at his nephew sharply, but realized there was no malice in the statement. In fact, John might even be teasing him.
“So okay, hotel. Cool. Can we get room service?” John asked Liam, who replied with a hearty, “Of course!”
“But,” John continued, “Can we hang out here? Just for a little while? I gotta finish kicking your boyfriend’s butt.”
“I don’t think so!” Justin answered, picking up his controller, and turning back to the game, taking it off pause.
Brian winced at the noise, and turned to Liam. “How’d you feel about a drink?”
“I think we might become kissing cousins if you were taking it out in trade.”
Brian rolled his eyes, and moved toward the whiskey, Liam right behind him.