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Crossroads: Tales from the Heartland - 1. Bed, Breakfast & Boys

“OK,” the lawyer said as she pointed to the page in front of me. “There are just two more places you have to sign, and then we’re done.” My husband, who was himself an attorney, had gone over the documents with a fine-tooth comb and he’d had one of his associates go through them as well, just in case he’d missed something important. He’d assured me that everything was in order and so I signed without hesitation, where the lawyer was pointing.

“And here as well,” she added as she pointed to the final line that needed my signature.

After I finished signing and put down the pen, the lawyer shook my hand as she said, “Congratulations, Ms. Goldstein. You are now the proud owner of the property at 4516 North Meridian. Good luck in your new endeavors.”

“Thank you, Ms. Thomas,” I replied. “I never expected to return to Indiana but, when I heard that Aunt Alice left the property to me, I realized it presented a new opportunity.”

“And even though I grew up in New Jersey,” my husband chimed in as he got up and shook the lawyer’s hand, “I was more than ready for a change. Don’t get me wrong… Short Hills is beautiful, but the daily commute into the city is insane. With the crazy hours I work, there’s no way I can rely on a Path Train or an express bus, and the daily trip through the Holland Tunnel has been taking me up to two hours each way. We may still be in our forties but, when you start looking forward to retirement, it’s definitely time to look for a new career.”

“My life may not have been as strenuous as my husband’s,” I added, “but it was no less busy or stressful. Nursing isn’t what it used to be. Saint Barnabas is a nice hospital, but the shift work, the increasing patient load and the abuse we get from both doctors and patients made it far from the calling I thought it would be. I’m just glad we never got around to having children. There would have been no way either of us could have given children the love they deserve.”

“Well I’m sure you’ll find Indianapolis offers a refreshing change of pace,” the lawyer responded. “Now, you have a lovely house on the city’s main street, within an easy drive of downtown.”

“It’s not a house… it’s a mansion,” my husband pointed out. “A six bedroom mansion with a maid’s quarters and a butler’s suite. It’s way more house than we need, and it needs a lot of work.”

“I’m sure you’ll have a lot of fun fixing it up, making it truly a place you can call home,” the lawyer replied.

“Thank you so much for making the process so painless,” my husband added as we got up to leave. “Back in New Jersey, what took you a few days would have dragged on for months!

“Indiana may seem a bit backwards at times, but I think you’ll find that Hoosiers are very practical people,” Ms. Thomas replied. “We don’t believe in creating a lot of unnecessary red tape.”

“It can’t be all that backwards if you can get bagels and lox like what the ones you served us,” I countered. “That breakfast was nearly as good as anything you could get in New York.”

Laughing, she responded, “My dear, surely you haven’t forgotten Shapiro’s, have you? Shapiro’s has been serving the best deli food in the Midwest for more than a century.

“Truly, I had forgotten,” I admitted, and then added, “at least that’s one less thing we won’t have to miss about the East. Anyway, thanks again for a wonderful breakfast, and for meeting us so early in the morning.”

“Don’t mention it,” she replied. “Seven AM is not so early for me. I usually start my day at five AM and sometimes even earlier.”

“Well thanks again,” my husband said one final time, and then we left the lawyer’s office and returned to our car, ready to begin our new life in our new home, but then I remembered just how much work there really was ahead of us and I sighed deeply as we exited the garage where we’d parked.

Yeah, we probably should have had our heads examined. We just had to get away from our hectic lives in New Jersey. We had to. I’d always liked my Aunt Alice and I was just about the only family member who bothered to visit her after she went into the nursing home. When she finally passed away at the age of 93, I figured we’d probably receive a small inheritance - maybe even enough that Rick and I could cut back on our hours and finally start to enjoy life.

Aunt Alice had married a member of the Lilly family and, even with their prenuptial agreement, she still inherited millions when her husband died of a heart attack at the age of 62. She also inherited their house, a stately, turn-of-the-last-century mansion on North Meridian Street. For close to thirty years she stayed in that house, fixing what needed to be fixed, but doing little else in the way of maintenance or modernization. Inside it still looked like something out of the 1960s, but it had suited her just fine and she liked it the way it was.

Then her hip broke and everything changed. After a short stay in Methodist Hospital, she was sent for rehab to a nursing home up in Carmel. As nursing homes went, it was actually quite nice. When she completed her rehab, however, it quickly became evident she could no longer take care of herself and, hence, she stayed at the nursing home for another three years until eventually she came down with the flu. Sadly, the flu turned into pneumonia and she passed away in under a week. Of course she could never think of selling her home and so it had been vacant the entire time.

Although Aunt Alice had three children and seven grandchildren of her own, not to mention four nieces, two nephews and a smattering of grand nieces and nephews, apparently I was the only family member that had ever bothered to visit her in the nursing home on a regular basis. I fully expected that, if we inherited anything from her, it would be just a small stipend. After all, her children should have come first. However, Aunt Alice didn’t see it that way. It meant something to her that I bothered to fly across the country and visit her, not just once, but four times a year. She was a wonderful aunt and I cared about her.

Still, it came as a complete surprise when we learned that Aunt Alice had left nearly her entire estate to me alone. To each of her children and grandchildren, she left a paltry fifty thousand dollars, and to each of her nephews and nieces, she left a mere twenty-five thousand. She did so with the provision that they get nothing if they contested the will. Aunt Alice was smart - she knew just how much it would take to keep them from doing anything more than squabble, and squabble they did, but not one of them contested the will.

After all was settled, that left my husband and me a mansion on North Meridian worth at least two million, an art collection valued in the upper six figures, thousands of dollars in jewelry, and stocks, bonds, bank accounts and other investments worth well into the eight figure range. Needless to say, with inheriting that much money, there was little reason for Rick and I to continue working at jobs we hated.

At first we thought we might sell Aunt Alice’s house and invest the money, continuing to live in Short Hills and enjoying retirement but then it dawned on us. We were only in our forties and we had perhaps another forty or fifty years ahead of us. What were we going to do for the rest of our lives? The last thing I wanted to do was to became a lady of leisure and Rick sure as hell didn’t want to spend his life on the golf course. Hell, he didn’t even play golf! We could have travelled, and probably would, regardless, but we couldn’t do that full-time or we’d exhaust my Aunt’s inheritance well before we got old.

After much discussion, Rick and I decided that we wanted to keep working, but not in any kind of job having something to do with the law or with medicine. We wanted to do something we could do together, but something that didn’t involve long hours. As much as I liked to cook, we quickly decided that owning a restaurant was out. Restaurant owners never seem to have any time to themselves. No, we needed something that would be as much of a hobby as a job.

Then it dawned on us. We had a lovely mansion back in Indianapolis, the city where I grew up. With six bedrooms, each with its own bathroom, it would be perfect as a bed and breakfast. Rick and I could live in the butler’s suite, which was a full apartment unto itself, and we could hire a live-in maid to occupy the maid’s quarters and to take care of the cleaning. I could put my cooking skills to work, preparing a gourmet breakfast every day for ourselves and our guests. Rick could serve as our gardener, doing something he really loved to do. Even if we averaged only two guests a week, they would bring in enough money to cover the maid’s salary and benefits, and the profit from the investments we inherited from Aunt Alice would easily cover the cost of maintaining the house as well as our basic living expenses. It would be perfect.

However, the house needed a lot of work and the last thing we wanted to do was to spend a sizable chunk of our inheritance on renovations. Therefore we decided to do most of the work ourselves, bringing in contractors only as needed for the technical stuff such as heating and cooling, plumbing and electrical wiring. By doing our own plaster, dry wall, paint and wallpaper work, we would save a fortune, although it would likely delay our opening for business for at least a year. However, Rick and I loved doing things ourselves. Renovating the house ourselves would be fun!

So, from the lawyer’s office downtown, we headed to our beautiful, stately mansion on North Meridian Street, a short drive away. I couldn’t help but admire the neighborhood as we crossed 38th Street, leaving behind the more commercial, urban part of the city. Even though Meridian is a very busy street, it’s lined with old trees that form an archway over the road, giving the appearance of a country lane. Many mansions lined the street, including the governor’s mansion, which was less than a block from our new home.

Turning into the narrow driveway, we drove our Escalade around to the back of the house, where the original ‘carriage house’ was located. Unlike with so many of the city houses, however, it was not a detached garage, even though it was at the back of the house. The garage was physically attached and connected directly to the kitchen - a definite plus in inclement weather. Unfortunately we would need to extend the driveway to take up much of the back yard to provide off-street parking for our guests, once the B&B was up and running.

Clicking on the remote for the garage door opener, nothing happened. I tried it again and, still, there was no response.

“The electricity was never turned off,” I commented, “so I hope it’s not broken.”

Shaking his head, Rick said, “The remote probably just needs new batteries. After all, it’s been a few years since it last saw any use.”

“You’re probably right,” I replied thoughtfully. “I guess we’ll just have to open the garage door from the inside. I’ll add batteries to our ever-expanding list of things we need to pick up.”

Leaving the Escalade parked in the driveway, Rick and I made our way up the back steps and I inserted the key into the lock. Turning the door knob, I pushed open the door to the kitchen and we walked inside. I quickly located the keypad for the burglar alarm and was preparing to enter the code the lawyer had given us, when I noticed that the alarm was already off.

“That’s strange,” I stated out loud. “The alarm system’s turned off.”

“The lawyer must have forgotten to turn it back on when she left to meet us this morning,” Rick suggested.

“I suppose you must be right,” I agreed, “but how negligent of her. It makes you wonder how well she’s been watching the place, doesn’t it?”

Flipping the light switch that was adjacent to the door, the kitchen was suddenly bathed in bright light. I heaved a sigh as I looked around, taking stock of all that needed to be done. This was not the original kitchen and, in fact, had the original kitchen been left in place, it would have been far preferable. No, what greeted us was something out of the sixties with Formica countertops, winged, ‘space age’ light fixtures and appliances that had obviously seen better days. It was evident that we were going to have to gut the kitchen, replacing everything. I expected that fully half or more of the cost of renovation would go into the kitchen, with nearly as much going into the en-suite bathrooms upstairs. Curiously, it would not be until later that I’d realize that the kitchen was spotless. Not a speck of dust could be found in spite of the house having been closed up for the past few years.

Off the kitchen was a small pantry that seemed to be well-stocked with a variety of canned and boxed foods. I wouldn't have been surprised had I found mice in there but, fortunately, everything seemed to be clean and neat. Behind the kitchen were the maid’s quarters, which consisted of a small living room, a bedroom and a bathroom. With the exception of not having its own kitchen, it was a full apartment unto itself. Also behind the kitchen was a back staircase, giving the maid her own access to the second floor.

Leaving the kitchen behind, we entered the formal dining room, which was painted red with white trim. I liked the color scheme and thought we might actually keep it. The dining room table itself was rather large - easily large enough to seat twelve comfortably and, with its traditional design, it would be more than suitable for guests staying at the B&B. Along one wall, the buffet would be a perfect place to set up serving dishes so that our guests could help themselves. Above the table was a crystal chandelier that was heavily tarnished. Unless I wanted to spend much of my life polishing the brass fittings, it would probably need to be replaced with something more practical. Again, it wouldn’t be until later that I realized the table and buffet were polished and completely free of dust.

The living room was almost palatial, with furniture that seemed far too formal for a B&B. The sofas and chairs were more appropriate for a museum - they practically screamed at you, ‘Don’t sit on me. I’m expensive.’ The carpeting was white, which would never do, and the walls were covered with a dull green wallpaper that made the whole room seem dark, even with the lights all turned on. There would be a lot of work to be done in this room. We were going to have to take up the carpeting, refinish the hardwood floors that were undoubtedly under the carpeting, strip the wallpaper and paint the walls a nice light color, and of course buy all new furniture.

The main entrance to the house consisted of a double set of doors and a large foyer with stained glass windows and an elegant chandelier. A grand staircase led from the foyer to the upstairs, but there was another door off the foyer and opening it revealed a very cozy den. Inside the den was an old nineteen-inch tube television that looked to be thirty or forty years old. Attached to it, surprisingly, were an X-Box and a Wii. Undoubtedly this was for the grandchildren or perhaps the great grandchildren that never came to visit. The TV would be thrown out with the trash. We would be getting a large flat-screen TV for the living room, for the use of the guests. The den would be the perfect place to have our office.

Finally, we headed up the stairs to look at the bedrooms. There were six bedrooms located off a central hallway, each with its own en-suite bathroom. In addition, there was a butler’s suite over the garage, which had its own living room, bedroom, bathroom and a small kitchen. The back set of stairs led back down to the kitchen.

Opening the door to the first bedroom, I sighed in exasperation as I imagined the work that lay ahead. The room had evidently last been used as a teenage girl’s bedroom. The furniture looked like it was made from a cheap laminate on particle board. A small tube TV was present, as was an ancient-looking stereo with a turntable. There was wall-to-wall shag carpeting that would have to be torn up and disposed of. The pink wallpaper would also have to go.

Making our way to the bathroom, it was evident that there was still hope for the place. The fixtures were dated to be sure, but they were original to the house. Thick ceramic tiles predominated that were cemented in place rather than merely glued on as was done in more modern construction. That was undoubtedly a good part of the reason why the bathroom had been left alone. There was an original claw-foot tub and a pedestal sink. The toilet was old fashioned and undoubtedly a water waster, but replacing the toilet with a more efficient, period piece, would be a lot easier than gutting the bathroom. The original cast-iron plumbing would have to be replaced and, for that, we’d hire professionals.

Across the hall was a bedroom that had evidently last belonged to a teenage boy, as football posters of long-forgotten heroes were plastered on the walls, and there were even some athletic trophies that the occupant of the room had apparently won himself. It was like taking a trip back in time and would have undoubtedly been a lot more enjoyable had it not been for the realization of how much work was needed before we could open for business. Again, I failed to notice just how spotless the rooms were for a house that had been closed up for years.

As we went along through the other bedrooms, clues were building up that this was a house that was lived in and, yet, we were still oblivious. Aunt Alice had been in a nursing home for the past few years and, hence, there was no way the clues made any sense, so we simply ignored them.

Our ignorance came to a screeching halt when we finally opened the door to the master bedroom and waltzed right in, never giving a moment’s thought to whether or not we were alone. It came as an utter shock when our entry was greeted with a pair of screams. I know I screamed too, and Rick must have jumped about twenty feet into the air. Sitting bolt upright in the bed were a couple of boys, one black and one white, who looked like they couldn’t be a day over twelve. They weren’t wearing anything, at least from the waist up, and they were huddled together in the center of the king-size bed.

“Please don’t hurt us,” the black boy began in a shaky voice that was clearly that of a boy who’d just started puberty. “This ain’t our home. We’re just stayin’ here. Take what you want. Just leave us be.”

“Who are you?” I asked.

“What does it matter?” The white boy answered. “Please, just leave us alone. We won’t tell anyone you were here. I swear. Just don’t hurt us.” He was literally shaking as he spoke - he was terrified.

“We’re not going to hurt you,” Rick tried to assure the boys. “We just want to know who you are. This is our house.”

“No it ain’t,” the black boy responded. “This is Miss Alice’s house, but she’s in a nursing home.”

“Honey,” I explained, “Alice was my aunt. She passed away a few weeks ago and left the house to me.”

“Miss Alice is dead?” the black boy asked.

“I’m sorry but, yes, she is,” I answered.

“Oh,” the black boy replied as he looked downward, and then I noticed a solitary tear escape his left eye.

“Did you know my aunt?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he answered. “She was real nice to me. She always let me stay with her when things was bad at home. That’s why I thought it was OK to stay here while she was in the nursin’ home.”

“I guess this means we’re gonna hafta leave,” the white boy said, sounding dejected.

“While you can’t stay here,” Rick began, “we aren’t going to throw you out onto the street either.” That was certainly news to me. What did my husband expect us to do with two boys who were squatting in our home?

“I know you boys probably have a good reason to be here,” Rick continued, “but we can’t simply let you stay under our roof, now that we know you’re here. I’m a lawyer and I know there could be all kinds of trouble if we don’t follow proper procedures. The first thing we need to do is to contact Child Protective Services…”

Before Rick could even finish his sentence, the black boy was out of bed and running, seemingly ignorant that he was in the nude. A fraction of a second later, the white boy shouted, “Tyler!” and then took off running after the black boy, also in the nude. Shrugging his shoulders, Rick took off after them.

It seemed like only a few minutes had passed when Rick returned, ushering the two boys back into the bedroom ahead of him. Although I tried not to stare and ended up turning away to give the boys some privacy, I couldn’t help but notice the boys’ level of development. They both were a lot farther along than I’d originally thought, with wispy pubic hairs and low-hanging testicles.

“I told them we wouldn’t contact anyone until we heard them out,” Rick explained.

“Would you like me to leave so you can get dressed?” I asked.

“Don’t matter to me,” the black boy answered. “You’ve already seen it all.”

“Speak for yourself, Ty,” the white boy countered. “I can’t believe I took off like that, not even thinking about being naked.”

Laughing, Rick said, “If you were trying to avoid being turned in to CPS, streaking down North Meridian would not have been the wisest move.”

“OK, Lady. You can turn around now,” the white kid called out.

When I turned around, I saw that he’d put on a pair of shorts and was in the process of slipping a wife beater over his head. The black kid, on the other hand, was still pulling on his boxers. “Hey!” he shouted out.

“You said you didn’t care,” the white boy countered.

“Yeah, I guess I did,” the black boy responded, “but that don’t mean I wanna flash the lady,” he added as he pulled on his shorts and a muscle shirt.

“You boys hungry?” Rick asked. I'd offer you breakfast, but we haven’t had a chance to go shopping and I guess it’s getting closer to time for lunch. Maybe we could send out for pizza or something and you can tell us what’s going on.”

Rolling his eyes, the white boy answered, “We’ve been living here the last three months. You think we don’t have food in the house? Why don’t you let us make you breakfast and we’ll tell you ’bout us.”

“Fair enough,” I answered, “but we don’t even know your names. I’m Barbara, by the way, and this is my husband, Rick.” Then looking at the black boy, I continued, “I take it your name is Tyler?”

He nodded back at me and then the white boy responded, “and my name’s Rick, too. I guess maybe you can call me Ricky like Ty does.”

“How old are you boys?” I asked.

“I’m fourteen,” Ricky answered, “but Ty’s still a little kid. He’s only thirteen.”

“Asshole,” Tyler responded as he gave Ricky the finger, then blushed when he remembered they weren’t alone. “You’re just jealous ’cause I’m twice as smart as you.”

I was expecting Ricky to come back with some sort of immature retort but, instead, he surprised me by replying with obvious admiration, “And don’t I know it, my straight-A hero.” Then he added, “C’mon, let’s get these folks some breakfast after we make the bed.”

My mind was reeling. Teenage boys have to be told to make their beds. They don’t do it automatically. They just don’t, yet here these two young adolescents were working together to make the bed in a house that wasn’t even theirs. I’d seen enough teen bedrooms to know this wasn’t the norm. My nephews were total slobs. Come to think of it, my nieces were no better. Unmade beds and clothes strewn about were the norm. Then slowly I realized what my eyes had seen throughout the house, but what I’d been ignoring up to now.

For three months these boys had been living in my aunt’s house. That was three months during which two boys, barely into adolescence had the run of the place. I’d seen college-age kids manage to trash a place in less than a day, yet my aunt’s house was spotless. There wasn’t even a crumb on the kitchen counter, much less a series of dirty dishes in the sink, pizza boxes left out or stray items of clothing. Even the X-Box and the Wii were neatly put away. What’s more, there weren’t any cobwebs or dust bunnies, or any of the other things I would have expected to see in a house that had been closed up for a few years.

“Just give us about twenty minutes to get breakfast ready, and then we can talk,” Ricky suggested as he and Tyler finished making the bed and then straightened up a bit. “It’ll go faster if you let us alone.”

I was about to protest, thinking of how they might mess up the kitchen, but then I thought better of it. If they were going to mess up the kitchen, it would have been messed up when we first walked in the door. Somehow I knew I could trust them, but my Rick raised an important point I hadn’t thought of.

“How do we know you won’t take off?” he asked.

“It was stupid of me to try to run off the first time,” Tyler answered, “especially wearin’ no clothes,” he added with a laugh.

“The thing is, we have nowhere to go,” Ricky chimed in. “Just don’t go calling the police or CPS on us until we’ve told you what’s happened. Please promise.”

“We promise,” I answered, somehow knowing they’d never try to pull a fast one on us. The way they’d cared for Aunt Alice’s house, I just knew. These were good boys who had somehow gotten caught in a bad situation. I wasn’t going to pass judgment until I heard their side of the story.

After the boys had departed, Rick commented, barely loud enough for me to hear it, “They make a really cute couple, don’t you think?”

My eyes flew open wide as the obvious suddenly came into focus. They were gay. They were boyfriends. Now, it was so obvious to me, the way they interacted, the sideways glances, the fact that the two of them had been naked in bed together, cuddled up when we entered the room. That must have been the reason they ran away from home. Their parents, obviously, hadn’t been accepting. Although I’d never been a mother, my maternal instincts kicked in and I wanted to keep them safe from harm and protect them.

“I can’t believe I didn't realize it before but, you’re right,” I replied. “Their cute as can be… they’re adorable. And did you notice how they’ve kept the place spotless? How many teenage boys do you know that will make a bed without being asked? How many teenage girls, for that matter?

“It breaks my heart to think of what these boys must have gone through in their young lives, to be living on their own like this. They must be throwaway kids, like you read about, you know? Why would any parents turn their backs on two such wonderful kids, just because they’re gay?”

“We don’t know that’s what happened, Barb,” Rick countered. “It may, in fact, be that they were thrown out of their formerly loving homes, or it may be something else. Kids have been running away from home since time began…”

“But these are good kids, Rick,” I challenged. “These aren’t kids who ran away because they thought their parents were too strict, or because they were caught stealing or using drugs…”

“Perhaps their parents thought they were too young to be in a relationship,” Rick interrupted.

“Or perhaps their parents wanted to send them to one of those places that attempts to turn kids straight,” I suggested as well. “No, these are great kids. They’re kids that would make any parent proud… any normal parent, anyway.

“Rick, we can’t let them go back to their parents. We can’t let them end up in a group home, or in foster care. We especially can’t let them be split up.”

“What are you saying, Barbara?”

“Why don’t we let them stay?” I suggested. “Look how beautifully they’ve kept this place. We could give them room and board, and maybe eventually adopt them. In return they could keep doing what they’ve been doing - cooking, cleaning, doing the laundry. We were going to hire a maid anyway. Maybe we could hire them.”

“Barb, there are so many things wrong with that, it’s hard to know where to begin,” Rick countered, and my face fell. Rick was an attorney. His specialty might not be family law, but he almost certainly knew what he was talking about.

“First of all, they’re too young to work. They’re minors, and Tyler isn’t even fourteen. Ricky could potentially work with a permit and the permission of his parents. In the absence of his own parents, it would be the state, not us, that would make the determination as to whether or not it would be in his best interest.”

“But children work in B&Bs all the time,” I pointed out. “Often the whole family pitches in, including children too young to work. How is making a guest’s bed different from having a paper route. Children as young as twelve can do that!”

“Those are all good arguments,” Rick acknowledged, “but you forget that the boys aren’t ours. Once again it would be the state that has to make the determination and the top priority would always be their studies. School must come first.”

“Of course it must,” I agreed, “I wouldn’t have it any other way, but isn’t it usual for foster kids to help out with chores?”

“Yes, and there are regulations that govern that sort of thing,” Rick noted. “I don’t know how things work in Indiana, but you can be sure that a social worker would be making frequent visits and if there were even a hint that we were exploiting them, the boys would be taken away from us faster than we could blink.

“Besides which, are you really ready to be a foster parent?”

I couldn’t believe it when I heard myself answer, “More than anything… with these two.”

“But we don’t even really know them,” Rick countered.

“But Aunt Alice did, and she offered them hope. If Aunt Alice could love them, then surely I can.

“And Rick, I don’t care if they help with the B&B or not. I just was thinking it would be something for them to do… something they might enjoy. We can still hire a maid, but maybe only part time to fill in when the boys are at school. Now if we adopted them, there wouldn’t be any problem with them helping out around here.”

“Even if we adopted them, the state could still take them away from us if they thought we were exploiting them,” Rick explained. “Besides which, it can take a long time to adopt. Often more than a year.”

“It’ll be at least that long before the B&B is ready to open anyway,” I pointed out.

“Which brings up another important point… the renovations,” Rick added. “What would we do with the boys while the house is torn up?”

“We were going to renovate the butler’s quarters first, and then live there while the rest of the house is being renovated,” I pointed out. “We could do the same thing with the maid’s quarters for the boys.”

Scratching his head, Rick said, “I don’t know about this. You’re getting way ahead of yourself. The boys may not even want to live here when they hear about our plans for the place.”

“I know, but…”

“First things first, let’s hear what the boys have to say about . . .”

A shout of “Come and get it!” rang out from Tyler, interrupting our conversation for the time being.

Walking down the stairs, I was shocked to see what the boys had arranged for us in such a short time. The extra leaves had been removed from the dining room table, which was covered by a fine linen table cloth and set with Aunt Alice’s good china. A steaming pot of coffee graced the table, as did a carafe of orange juice. On each of four plates there were servings of eggs Benedict, hash browns and sliced tomatoes. Half a grapefruit sat in a bowl at each place as well. Having prepared a meal such as this one myself, I knew exactly what was involved. I could scarcely believe they were able to do it in so short a time. I could hardly believe they had the ingredients on hand!

The tension in the air was palpable as we approached. Both boys had looks of apprehension on their faces, perhaps even wondering if they dared share their secret with us.

Smiling at them I said, “Don’t be so nervous, boys. This is an amazing breakfast you prepared for us; I do a lot of gourmet cooking myself… it’s a major hobby…”

“More like an obsession,” Rick interrupted with a laugh, and the boys laughed as well.

“Anyway, I know what’s involved in making something like this,” I continued. “You did a fantastic job here!”

The radiant smiles on the boys’ faces told me how much they appreciated the compliment.

“So why don’t we all sit down, and we can talk,” Rick suggested.

The looks of apprehension returned to their faces as they sat down on the side of the table closest to the kitchen, and we sat down opposite them. The high-backed chairs seemed to swallow them up.

Sitting across from Ricky, under the light of the chandelier it became evident that although he was a bit short for his age, he was definitely fourteen. He had the start of a mustache forming on his upper lip and his cheeks had a fine dusting of dark peach fuzz that matched the nearly black color of his longish hair. Ricky needed a shave!

Tyler, on the other hand, although about the same height as Ricky, had a face that was as smooth as could be without even a hint of facial hair. Tyler looked like a young boy.

“First of all,” my Rick began, “I want to assure the two of you that Barbara and I are fully supportive of gay rights…”

The change in the looks on the boys’ faces was immediate and complex. What they showed was a combination of a look of surprise with one of amazement, and, on top of that, a look of relief. Definitely a look of relief.

“So I guess you figured us out,” Ricky responded.

“It was pretty obvious,” Rick answered. “After all, how many ‘best friends’ would sleep naked together in the same bed?” The two of them blushed so deeply that it was even noticeable on Tyler’s dark skin.

“Seriously, we’re not so old that we don’t remember what young love feels like,” Rick continued. “The little glances, the looks shared with each other. It’s pretty obvious you two are a couple, and deeply in love with each other.”

“You have no idea, Rick,” Ricky interrupted, taking Tyler’s hand in his own and placing both on top of the table. “Ty means everything to me. He’s my life. I’d rather die than have anything happen to him.”

“I feel the same way about Ricky,” Tyler added as he turned to look at his boyfriend with adoring eyes.

“Of that I have no doubt, boys,” I responded, and then asked, “So tell us how you came to be living here.”

“That’s a long story,” Ricky replied.

“Take all the time you need, boys,” I responded.

“Tyler and I may live in the same neighborhood, but we might as well live on opposite sides of the planet,” Ricky began. “I live on the next block over to the east, on Pennsylvania Street. It’s not like Meridian… not by a long shot, but the houses are nice and the neighborhood is pretty stable, mostly white and middle class. It’s part of the Broad Ripple neighborhood and, in fact, we both go to Broad Ripple High School.”

“On the other hand, I live on the next block to the west, on Illinois Street. The neighborhood’s pretty much all black, and it’s not so nice. It’s part of the Butler-Tarkington neighborhood, named after Butler University and Tarkington Park, both nearby. It’s gotten a lot better than it was when I was a little kid, but you’d never know it from lookin’ at our house.

“The one thing we have in common, is school…”

“Speaking of which, why aren’t you in school?” Rick asked.

Looking down, Ricky answered, “We got into a fight a few weeks ago. Some kids were pickin’ on Ty. I couldn’t stand for that. We all got a two-week suspension, but they won’t let us back ’til our parents show up. That ain’t gonna happen.”

“Were they picking on you because you’re gay?” I asked.

“I’m sure that was part of it,” Ricky answered.

“Ever since my dad outed us, everyone knows we’re a couple,” Tyler chimed in.

“Yeah, but it’s not like we’re the only gay kids who are out at Broad Ripple,” Ricky countered. “Broad Ripple’s a magnet school for the arts, which pretty much makes it a magnet school for gays. There’s an active GSA and all. Ty and I don’t even think twice about holding hands, now that we’re out.

“But this is Indiana, after all, and there are plenty of Bible thumpers that give us a hard time… and the jocks. It was a group of jocks that was givin’ Ty a hard time. They were shovin’ him around ’cause he has a white boyfriend and ’cause he’s so smart…”

“The boys were African Americans?” I asked.

Rather than say anything, Tyler just nodded, and then said, “They even told me my name is a white boy’s name. They said I’m really white inside, but it’s really ’cause I’m smarter than they are.”

“Ty’s a genius,” Ricky stated with obvious pride. “He skipped the fourth grade!”

“What are your plans now that you’ve been suspended,” my Rick asked the boys.

“Well, like I said, we can’t go back without our parents showing up,” Ricky replied. “We really don’t have a plan. I mean we want to go to school and all, but we can’t exactly tell them we don’t live with our parents anymore. If we did, CPS would get involved and they’d prolly put us back with our parents. Ty’s dad would beat the living shit out of him and my folks would make good on their threat to send me to the Culver Military Academy.”

“Culver’s supposed to be a good school,” I threw in.

“Yeah, but a military academy is no place for a gay boy, and it would mean Ty and I couldn’t be together. What’s worse, especially now that Miss Alice isn’t around, there’d be no one to protect Ty. The kids would beat him up. His old man would beat him up. It’d be a fuckin’ disaster.”

Ricky must have noticed the sour look I got on my face, as he added, “Sorry, I didn’t mean to use the ‘F’ word like that. Sometimes I just get so upset, ya know?”

“Yeah, and that’s how we got suspended,” Tyler pointed out.

“I guess I’ve got a bit of a temper,” Ricky responded. “When it comes to Ty, sometimes I just can’t help it.”

Deciding it might be a good idea to change the subject - we’d come back to the issue of their suspension and going to school later - I asked, “So how did the two of you meet?”

“We always went to the same school,” Tyler replied. “Up ’til last year, it was the William A. Bell Magnet School, Public School 60. It’s a K-through-8 Montessori school but, with me bein’ a year younger than Ricky, we never really saw each other there. That all changed when I skipped the fourth grade. Suddenly I found myself in with a bunch of kids that were all bigger and stronger than me. I was just nine and everyone else was ten.

“Ricky was smaller than most of the other boys, and he was cute too! Somehow I just knew he was someone I could trust…”

“You knew you were gay back then?” I asked incredulously.

“I’ve always known I’m gay, Barbara. Always. Some kids don’t figure it out until they’re older, like in their teens; some don’t figure it out until they’re adults. I just always knew I wanted to grow up and be with a boy. I think my dad realized it too, and that was a problem. A big problem.”

“Did your dad give you a hard time?” I asked.

“He was always on my case,” Tyler replied. “He couldn’t understand why I didn’t want to play sports like the other boys. He couldn’t understand why I spent all my time readin’. ‘Readin’s for sissy boys and faggots,’ he used to say. He made me try out for Little League, but I really sucked. He put up a basketball hoop in our driveway and tried to get me to play with the other boys in the neighborhood. You could hear the sound of boys playing outside at all hours, but I just wasn’t interested.”

“Ty’s dad used to push him around a lot,” Ricky interrupted. “He smacked him all the time, but not enough to leave marks or anything. He just wouldn’t leave him alone.”

“What about your mother, Tyler?” I asked.

“She died when I was real small,” Tyler explained. “I don’t really even remember her. It’s just been me an’ Dad practically since I can remember.”

“So anyway, Ty and I became friends,” Ricky went on. “He sat next to me in class and he was cute as could be. I didn’t really think about bein’ gay or anything. I mean I got funny feelings when I looked at other boys, but I was only ten and I had no idea what those feelings meant back then.

“So we started hanging out after school. We hung out a lot. We both liked to read, so we sometimes spent hours just sittin’ together, each of us reading a book, and then we’d discuss the books we read.

“Then it all changed when we had our first sleep-over.”

“It was forever before Dad would let me stay over at Ricky’s,” Tyler broke in, “an’ he’d never let a white boy spend the night. I guess you could say my Dad’s a racist. So it wasn’t ‘til the summer before we started middle school that he backed down.”

“Yeah, it was a hot July night when Tyler first slept over at my place. We have an older house of course, and they never put in central air. My parents have a window unit in their bedroom, but I guess they didn’t think their kids needed air conditioning for their rooms.”

“You have brothers and sisters?” I asked.

“I have a sister, but she’s four years older than me and away at college,” Ricky answered. “Anyway, it was a hot July night and my room musta been over eighty degrees, so we stripped down to our boxers and just lay on top of my bed, talking.”

“We started talkin’ about sex,” Tyler explained and they both colored up.

“Well, I was eleven,” Ricky went on, “and I was starting to have these funny feelings more often, especially when I looked at Ty.”

“And I’d always had funny feelin’s when I looked at Ricky,” Ty added. “By the time we’d had our first sleep-over, I was in love with him. I may have only been ten, but I knew I loved him and wanted to kiss him. I knew I wanted to do other things too.”

“So we got to talking about sex,” Ricky continued. “I suppose we talked some about girls, but neither one of us was interested in girls, though we would have never admitted it before that night. We talked about sex in a general way. We talked about the changes in our bodies. Things like when we’d get hair and when our voices might change. And we talked about how we got hard all the time and how good it felt to get hard.

“Pretty soon we took off our boxers and started comparing ourselves to each other. That of course led to touching and the touching led to more touching.”

“Then we kissed,” Tyler admitted with a blush.

“Boy, did we ever kiss,” Ricky agreed. “We made out like crazy all that night. It was the first time I admitted to myself what I’d been suspecting ever since I met Tyler, that I was probably gay. By the morning, I knew I could never feel with a girl the way I felt with Ty.”

“I’ll never forget how nervous you were the first time you told me you loved me,” Tyler interrupted.

“I wasn’t sure how you’d take it, but then you told me you loved me too, and that led to even more kissing… and other stuff too.”

I had to admit to myself that I didn’t really know a lot about gay sex, and I wasn’t about to ask the boys for specifics. I assumed that by now they’d almost certainly had anal intercourse. I didn’t like to think of boys that young doing those sorts of things, but that didn’t change how I felt about them. Lord knows, kids can be incredibly sweet without being innocent.

“At school we did our best to keep our relationship a secret,” Ricky continued, “but I’m sure a lot of kids figured us out. A few of my other friends asked me outright if I was gay and Ty was my boyfriend. I never answered them directly until… well, we’ll get to that in a minute. Tyler and I always used to answer by not answering. We never denied it… we just threw the question back in their faces and that was usually the end of it.”

“In the meantime, my dad was getting more an’ more abusive,” Tyler related. “He kept at me, asking why I never went out with girls and why I never went out for sports. Many times he told me I couldn’t see Ricky, but I just ignored him. With him having to work, there wasn’t a lot he could do to keep us apart.”

“I never expected my parents to be homophobic,” Ricky interjected. “After all, we lived in the city, in a liberal neighborhood and they even have some gay friends. I even thought about telling them, but then I didn’t have a chance to.”

“They walked in on you the way we did?” my Rick asked.

“Worse,” Ricky responded. “They caught Ty and me in the midst of a 69. You wouldn’t believe how the shit hit the fan.

“My dad called Ty’s dad, and Ty’s dad beat the living shit out of him. My parents grounded me… I had to come directly home from school and they took away my cell phone and my Internet access. Then they told me they were enrolling me in Culver.

“I knew that Ty was taking a hell of a beating from his Dad every night, and he was getting beat up a lot at school. His dad saw to it that every homophobic parent in the neighborhood knew we were a couple of fags. If it wasn’t for Tyler, I’d have probably gone off to Culver, but I couldn’t leave him behind to face all that alone. That’s when I told him I thought we should run away and stay here.”

“What made you think of coming here?” I asked. “How did you know my aunt?”

“Everyone knew Miss Alice,” Tyler responded. She walked everywhere, every day. You could always find her at the local market or the library. She used to volunteer at Clews Hall and at the Starlight Theater over at Butler University, and at the Children’s Museum. She’d walk there, too, even though it’s two miles away.

“You shoulda seen what she did every year for Halloween. Kids came to see her house and get candy from all over the city… not just from the neighborhood.

“Anyway, when things started gettin' really bad at home, she asked me what was going on. She was always doin’ stuff like that… talkin’ to the neighborhood kids and she could tell when somethin’ was wrong or when we were in trouble.

“She let me stay with her anytime I wanted. Dad didn’t even seem to care when I didn’t come home. I guess it was one less night he had to see me.”

“Even though things were OK at my home, I used to visit with Ty sometimes,” Ricky chimed in. “To her it didn’t matter that he was black and I was white. She treated us exactly the same.

“The first time we saw her after, you know, our first sleep-over, she took one look at us and she smiled. She knew! She said she always knew we were gay and in love with each other. She told us we could drop in anytime, day or night, when we wanted some privacy. She even said that, when we were ready, she was gonna get us some condoms!”

“It was only a couple of months after that when she broke her hip,” Tyler added sadly. “We visited her while she was in the hospital, but then she went to rehab up in Carmel and ended up staying there. We never saw her again. I can’t believe she’s dead.” I noticed that tears were streaming down both boys’ cheeks. I guess I was crying a little too.

“So when things blew up at home, you decided to come here,” my husband went on. “How did you get in here? The house was supposed to be locked up tight.”

“She showed us where she keeps her spare key,” Tyler explained, “and she gave us each an alarm code so we could shut off the burglar alarm.”

“We also knew where she kept her spare cash,” Ricky added. “I really hated to use it… it kinda felt like we were stealing from her… but there was no way we could get to our own bank accounts - not that we have much money in them - and, unless I had my parents’ permission, I couldn’t get a job. We had to eat…”

“There was no way we were going to be sellin’ ourselves to get money for food,” Tyler added. The thought of the boys selling their bodies made me shiver inside.

“We always figured we’d pay Miss Alice back someday,” Ricky went on. “We only spent what we had to. We found we couldn’t get by on less than a hundred a week though. Food is expensive! We’ve spent about fourteen hundred so far. There’s still more than twenty grand left, but we feel guilty about it. At least we cleaned the place up for her and we keep the place clean. It’s the least we can do.”

“You two have done a phenomenal job,” I added.

“Thanks,” Ricky responded with a shy smile.

“What’s gonna happen now?” Tyler asked as a look of fear returned to both boys’ faces.

“That’s a very good question, Tyler,” my Rick responded. “We discussed it a little before we came downstairs and we agree that we’d like to find a way for the two of you to stay here…”

Tyler pumped his fist into the air and Ricky lit up like a Christmas tree. It broke my heart knowing what my husband would say next. They were so hopeful - too hopeful under the circumstances.

“However, you may not want to stay here when you hear what we intend to do with this place. We also can’t have you stay here unless we do it legally, and that means getting your parents involved.”

“Fuck!” Tyler practically shouted. I wanted to remind him not to swear, but I understood how he felt under the circumstances.

“Have either of you had any contact at all with your parents since you ran away?” Rick asked.

“None at all,” Ricky answered and Tyler shook his head.

“As far as you know, have your parents made any attempt at all to find you since you ran away?” my husband then asked.

“How would they have?” Ricky asked.

“Well, up until recently the two of you continued to go to school, right?” Rick asked and both boys nodded yes.

“If they enquired at your school, the school would have notified them that you were still attending,” Rick answered. “In fact if you hadn’t attended, the school would have notified them when you failed to show up, much as I’m certain they did when you were suspended.”

“Double fuck,” Tyler said under his breath.

“The bottom line is that if your parents had attempted to find you or even merely reported you missing, you would already be in the custody of CPS,” Rick explained. “They would have picked you up long ago at school. Assuming you’ve been out and about in the neighborhood, doing your shopping and so on, if they’d reported you missing since you were suspended, it’s highly likely the police would have found you by now.

“I think it’s safe to say that we can treat this as a case of child abandonment. We have no choice but to get CPS involved, but it could be tricky, particularly if either of you have relatives who might be willing to take you in.”

“Crap, I have an aunt in Chicago and grandparents in Florida,” Ricky related.

“I don’t have nobody that I know of,” Tyler added.

“This could get pretty messy,” Rick responded, “but we’re going to do everything possible to keep you two together here in Indy. Fortunately, my firm back in New York is very well known and I’ll get our top specialist in family law right on your case. Unless Indianapolis is flush with foster parents willing to take in gay kids, which I seriously doubt, we should be able to get an emergency placement for at least tonight, if not longer. In the meantime my firm will employ investigators to track down all the family members that may exist and to make preliminary overtures to them. Believe me, I’m not going to let anyone take you away from here if there is even the slightest evidence they will provide anything less than a nurturing, loving environment for a gay teenager.

“In the meantime we are going to make contact with your parents. If there’s any chance of reconciliation at all, that would still be preferable…”

“But what if they still want to send me to military school?” Ricky asked.

“Your parents do have the right to send you to the school of their choosing, but the fact that they effectively abandoned you means they would have an uphill battle regaining custody of you in the first place. Still, it’s a possibility and, if that happens, we’ll make sure that Tyler has the funds to go to the Culver Academy as well. I know it wouldn’t be the best situation for a couple of gay teens, but at least you’d still be together.

“Boys, I can’t make promises, but if there’s any chance of you staying here with us, I’m going to do that, if you still want to live here after you hear of our plans, that is.”

Taking over, I began, “We came here to renovate this house and turn it into a B&B…”

“A B&B?” Tyler asked.

“A bed and breakfast,” I explained and, when they still had blank expressions on their faces, I went on to explain, “A bed and breakfast is like a small hotel. With six large bedrooms, each with its own bathroom, this house is ideal for the conversion. Each of our guests would have a comfortable bed for the night in a private room with a private bath and all the luxuries travelers have come to expect and, in the morning, they’d be served a gourmet, home-cooked breakfast in the dining room. That’s why they call it a B&B.”

“That sounds really awesome!” Ricky replied. “Imagine having all those people coming from all over America, or maybe the world, stayin’ right here. Imagine getting to meet all those people from far-off lands and getting to learn about what life is like where they come from. And Tyler and I could keep doin’ what we’re doin’, making the beds, cleaning the rooms, doin’ the laundry and maybe doin’ some of the cooking in return for bein’ able to stay here.”

“But where would we live?” Tyler asked. “I mean, if you’re gonna fix the house up and rent out all the bedrooms, where would we stay?”

“We figured we’d fix up the current butler’s quarters over the garage for ourselves and live there, and we’d fix up the maid’s quarters and hire a maid to take care of the place. If you stayed here, we’d fix up the maid’s quarters just for you. It would be like having your own apartment.”

The look of sheer delight on the boys’ faces was a wonder to behold, but I knew it wouldn’t be that simple and Rick confirmed it in his next breath.

“Just remember that there are a lot of ‘ifs’ here. We have to confirm that your parents don’t want you to live with them anymore and that you don’t have other relatives willing to take you in. We have to arrange foster care with us in the interim and, if we want to make the arrangement permanent, we would have to adopt the two of you, assuming the courts would allow us to adopt you.”

“You want to adopt us?” Tyler asked.

Putting up his hand, Rick interjected, “We would love to adopt you, but that depends very much on you getting to know us better, and on us getting to know you better.

“I should also point out that if there’s even a hint that we are exploiting you, the state will come in and take you away from us in a flash, adoption or no adoption. We would be delighted to have you help out with the B&B, but only as long as it doesn’t interfere with schoolwork and school-related activities. Growing up would have to remain your number one priority.”

“So what happens now?” Tyler asked as I polished off the last of my breakfast.

“Now, we clear the table and do the dishes,” I responded with a laugh.

Shaking his head, Ricky responded, “That’s our job, Barbara. We’ve been doing our own cooking and cleaning all along. You and Rick need to spend your time figuring out how we can stay here. That’s much more important than cleaning up.” What a wonderful kid!

I was amazed at how efficiently the boys went about their work as they cleared the table and started cleaning up from breakfast. In the meantime Rick retreated to the den to begin making a series of phone calls. That left me to ponder the future. As I wandered about the first floor of the house, I soon discovered that there was a small library tucked away behind the living room that I hadn’t noticed before. It had floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, a large bay window with a window seat and a couple of comfortable leather chairs.

“This has always been my favorite room,” I heard a young adolescent voice from behind me. “I used to come here often,” Tyler continued, “whenever my dad beat me. I’d pick out a book and start reading until I couldn’t keep my eyes open any more.

“There are some really great books in here,” he continued, “Books like A Tale of Two Cities, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, The Grapes of Wrath…”

“You read The Grapes of Wrath, at your age?” I asked in surprise.

“I read it when I was nine,” he replied, surprising me even more. “There wasn’t anything in it that I hadn’t heard or read before. Did you know that as controversial as it was at the time, Steinbeck won the Pulitzer Prize for it? It’s no wonder, too. His writing is amazing. I think I read maybe three other historical books after reading The Grapes of Wrath, just so I could better understand the horrible tragedy of the dust bowl that led to the events in that story.

“Of course I like Steinbeck’s other books too. Of Mice and Men is such a short book, but it’s so poignant.”

This was a whole other Tyler I was seeing now, the real Tyler who skipped fourth grade. Gone was the ghetto talk and the dumbing down of his speech. It was no wonder Ricky fell in love with him. How many thirteen-year-olds even know what poignant means, let alone use it in a sentence? He was brilliant, but he was a kind, sensitive boy too.

Turning around, I pulled him into a hug and he hugged me back for all he was worth, tears streaming down both our faces. Somehow we had to find a way to keep these boys in our lives.

True to his word, Rick managed to arrange for a temporary foster license and an emergency placement for the boys with us for the time being, until their relations with their parents and relatives could be sorted out. Fortunately, my Aunt Alice had a foster license and I didn’t even know it. That meant that the house had already been inspected, saving us an important step in the process.

It was later that night that Rick sat down with us and told the boys about what he’d been able to find out so far.

“Ricky,” my Rick began, “Your parents are having a tough time dealing with your being gay. They still love you very much and would like to visit you, but they just aren’t sure how to relate to you and aren’t willing to have you live with them for now. I’m sorry, Ricky. I know how that must hurt but it’s your parents, not you, that have the problem. They’re willing to sign over temporary guardianship to us, which makes things so much easier as we don’t have to worry about whether or not you have other relatives interested in taking you in.

“If it ever comes to adoption, that will be an entirely different issue, but we’ll cross that bridge if and when we come to it. For now there should be no problem with your staying here as our foster son.

“Tyler, there’s no easy way to tell you this, so I’m just gonna tell you what happened.” Sighing, Rick went on and said, “After finding out you’re gay, your father went on a drinking binge. I take it he’s always had a drinking problem and it was only magnified when he couldn’t handle the news. Three nights after you ran away, he drove his pickup onto Interstate 65, making a right turn from Meridian into the southbound lanes.”

“Fuck!” Tyler responded, just under his breath.

“The police estimate that your father was going close to ninety miles an hour when he hit a tractor trailer head on, killing both himself and the driver of the truck, instantly. The truck was a tanker filled with gasoline and it jack-knifed, spilling fuel all over the roadway and sending a fireball high into the sky. It was truly a miracle that no one else was on the roadway at the time. As it was, the surrounding neighborhood had to be evacuated and the interstate was closed for more than two weeks while repairs were made to the bridge where the collision occurred. The heat of the blaze literally melted some of the bridge supports in both directions.

“Apparently it was a major story on the news,” Rick concluded, “but I’m sure you had other things on your mind at the time, like survival.”

“My dad is dead?” Tyler sobbed as tears started to overflow his eyes. Ricky had him in his arms in a nanosecond as he held his boyfriend tightly. I cried too - I couldn’t help it.

“I’m sorry, Tyler,” Rick continued. “Just know that it wasn’t your fault…”

“But someone else died because of it!” Tyler sobbed.

“Someone else died because of your father… not because of you.” Rick clarified. “To put it politely, your father was a fuck-up and he fucked up. The one thing right he did in his life was to have you.”

“I guess I know that… that it was his fault, I mean,” Tyler responded with a blush, “But it doesn't really change the way I feel. And didn’t your momma tell you not to swear?”

“Shit, I guess she musta forgot,” Rick replied, giving us all a laugh.

“If my dad is dead,” Tyler asked, “Who is gonna take care of me?”

“For the time being, we are,” Rick answered. “You do have relatives, however… a lot of them… but we’ll fight any custody disputes tooth and nail unless one of them steps up and proves that they can provide a loving, nurturing, gay-friendly home. We’ll be there for you, Ty, every step of the way.”

“I love it when you call me Ty,” Tyler interjected. “Just like Ricky does. You’re the only ones that do.”

“Then Ty it is,” I responded as a smile lit up his face, even as the tears continued to fall.”

I would have liked to have said that we lived happily ever after, but real life is seldom like that. It turned out that Ty had three half-sisters and four half-brothers he didn’t even know about, not to mention two grandmothers, fifteen aunts and thirteen uncles. Since most of them lived out of state, it took months to track them all down, but the courts insisted we do so before they would even consider a petition to adopt Ty. In the end, none of them had even the slightest interest in caring for a teenager, much less a gay teenager, except for an aunt in Milwaukee.

I would have never guessed one woman could cause so much trouble. The fact that she belonged to a Pentecostal Church with a blatantly homophobic pastor made us question her motives, but she insisted that she intended to provide for all of Ty’s needs and to be accepting and loving even if he was gay. Our hearts fell when the case fell to an ultraconservative judge. I was certain we were going to lose the young man we’d come to accept as our son. Ricky was beside himself.

It was only with the investment of countless hours of a private investigator’s time that we learned the truth of the situation. Ty’s aunt was up to her eyeballs in debt and had gone so far as to apply for a mortgage on Ty’s house - a house she didn’t even own. The thing was that Ty’s father’s house was in foreclosure at the time of his father’s death for failure to pay taxes.

Rick and I did a little investigating of our own and discovered that, fixed up, the house would be worth several times the amount of the taxes owed, so we paid off the taxes and Ty inherited the house. We then spent fifty thousand dollars redoing the kitchen and bathrooms, replacing the plumbing and wiring and putting in central air. After refinishing the original hardwood floors, stripping the woodwork and repainting the walls, we realized we had a gem of a house. The original plan was to sell the house for what we could get and put the money aside for Ty’s college fund but, when we saw how well the renovation came out, we decided to rent the house out and to keep it in case Ty wanted to live there some day. The Butler Tarkington neighborhood was gentrifying rapidly and that ‘crap house’, as Ty put it, was now worth over a half-million dollars.

Unfortunately, his aunt had other plans for the house. Even with the evidence we presented, however, the judge awarded custody to the aunt, going so far as to cite biblical references. Ricky nearly attacked the judge and had to be physically restrained. Needless to say, we filed an immediate appeal based on judicial misconduct, an iffy basis at best. Once Ty left the state, it would be nearly impossible to get him back and so desperate times required desperate measures. The aunt’s old clunker of a car mysteriously sprung a radiator leak and, of course, we were more than happy to recommend an excellent mechanic to fix it.

‘Sadly’, the more things our mechanic fixed, the more things seemed to go wrong with the car. Once the radiator was repaired, the water pump failed. Once that was replaced, the head gasket blew, and then the timing belt broke, requiring a complete engine rebuild. Needless to say, she didn’t have the money to even pay the initial repair bill, let alone pay for an engine rebuild or a new car. What was originally supposed to be a minor delay turned into a couple of weeks as she desperately tried to push through a mortgage application on Ty’s house - a mortgage for which she couldn’t qualify.

In the meantime we posted a petition on Change.org calling for the ouster of the judge on the case and a new hearing. The petition took off and garnered far more signatures than we ever expected to get but, in the end, it wasn’t even necessary. We offered the aunt fifty thousand in cash to simply go away. She left town the next day, driving a brand new Toyota Landcruiser. True to form, she spent every last penny of the money we gave her to secure a loan she could never hope to repay on a vehicle she couldn’t afford. Free of any custody claims from any of his relatives, our petition for adoption sailed through and Ty officially became our son.

The situation with Ricky resolved itself with considerably less ardor as his parents slowly came to accept their son’s sexual orientation, but it was a process that took another two years. By then Ricky was sixteen and legally capable of making his own choice as to where he wanted to live. It was nice to see his parents once again a regular part of Ricky’s life, but he chose to continue living with his boyfriend and his boyfriend’s adoptive parents.

The renovations of my Aunt Alice’s house took more than two years to complete, even with the boys doing a substantial part of the work at their own request. Not surprisingly, CPS inserted themselves directly into the process, insisting on reviewing all of the plans to make sure they met with their approval. It was all supposedly in the name of making sure the house was safe and appropriate for young teens. With the delays we were incurring, however, the 'young teens' part of the equation would soon become irrelevant.

In the end, the only thing CPS really objected to was having the boys share the maid’s quarters. Had they been true brothers it wouldn’t have been an issue but, because they were known to be boyfriends, it was very definitely a problem for them to share a bed. CPS was happy when we agreed to put in twin beds, but Ricky and Ty were most decidedly not. Ultimately we found a bedroom ensemble that included a set of bunk beds in which the lower bed was a double. The boys liked it because they could share the lower bunk whenever they pleased. CPS liked it because, at least in theory, the boys each had their own bed. Needless to say, the upper bunk went unused.

Two years to the day after we acquired my aunt’s property, we opened the B&B for business, albeit with only two guest rooms at first as we slowly renovated the rest of the bedrooms. Thanks to Ty and Rick, we barely needed to hire a maid for twenty hours of work per week. The two boys were beyond a doubt the most industrious teens I had ever met. Not only that, but the guests loved them. Why wouldn’t they?

In time, Ricky was elected the president of the Broad Ripple GSA and Ty started a very successful book club that remains active to this day. All too soon it was time for the boys’ high school graduation. We couldn’t have been more proud as Ty gave the Valedictorian address.

What could have been a very sad time for us became a time of joy when Ricky and Ty decided to go to school at nearby Butler University. It was close enough for them to walk to classes so, naturally, they chose to stay put and continued to assist with running the B&B, too.

It was partway through their junior year that they decided to adopt an African American boy named Jerome. Jerome was eleven years old… and cute as a button. His parents couldn’t accept him because he liked to wear his mother’s dresses. Little Jerome quickly wormed his way into our hearts.

Adopting children in Indiana is not an easy process to begin with, but laws, rules and regulations make it especially difficult for gay couples to adopt and, particularly, for gay couples to adopt gay kids. Most couples would have given up any hope of adopting early on, but Ricky and Ty were persistent. Before long, we were proud adoptive grandparents.

With a need for more space, Ricky, Ty and Jerome moved into Ty’s old house and we hired a full-time maid. That arrangement lasted scarcely three months until one cold, rainy night when a young, fifteen-year-old boy named Kevin and his thirteen-year-old boyfriend, Lance, showed up on our doorstep looking for a kindly old lady they’d heard lived there who sometimes helped gay teens. Then again, that’s another story.

Copyright © 2021 Altimexis; All Rights Reserved.
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Everyone should have an Aunt Alice! :yes:

Bagels and lox in Indiana? Who knew? (My Sunday breakfast for decades!) 

"Renovating the house ourselves would be fun!" Ok, Barbara, now you've done it!

Ty and Ricky are very lucky to have had Aunt Alice in their corner and, subsequently, Barbara and Rick. Would that all gay teens wind up with as happy an outcome.

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Those who preach/spout ignorance deserve their own special spot in H E double L!!! Thank goodness for Barbara and Rick, not to mention Aunt Alice!!!

I had a wealthy Aunt Alice, whenever she came to visit, she would give us a dime not to touch her shiny new, I mean brand spanking new, Cadillac!!!

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