True As It Can Be - 21. Epilogue
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It’s been a year since that awful night. We tried our best to return to life as it was, but many things have changed in a year.
Initially, Brad’s withdrawal symptoms got progressively worse on Friday. Cook had warned me this could happen, but Brad held himself in check better than I had seen him initially last week despite receiving additional wounds. He was lucid enough to unlock and give me his phone. I used it to contact Peter Brownlow, his lawyer. I told Mr. Brownlow the entire story and he came within hours to the beach house with a doctor, Henry Losberne, to treat Brad’s wounds. We were able to retrieve Brad’s patient records from Keller Hall, luckily Mr. Brownlow knew where Cook secured the records. Dr. Losberne used those records to calibrate Brad’s dosage requirement to continue weening him off the Methadone as a pain management regiment. Throughout it all, Brad clung to me as a friend, partner, and lover drawing on my strength, which I freely offered. At times it was a bit embarrassing to be pinned by him, like a teddy bear needing to hug his boy, while other people watched and spoke with Brad.
Even after the immediate shock wore off, the lingering pain and loss were present. Keller Hall would take several weeks to repair and renovate to proper conditions. While items and luxuries could be replaced, Cook’s death had haunted all of us. He was a mentor to many of us, a psychological professional who understood emotional pain and could help us work our way through it. In the end, he gave his life to save the residents of Keller Hall. Brad forced me not to dwell on the feelings because guilt was very close to my heart as I left the keys that allowed the front door of Keller Hall to be open for a violent mob. Cook absolved me before he died, but I was responsible for it. While Brad needed me physically in his arms to support him during his emotional instability, I needed him to alleviate the feeling of guilt as the emotions of the event settled.
Mrs. Potter was charged with assault and battery, unlawful entry, and several other crimes. She was sent to county jail before her arraignment, which was scheduled for January. As she did not have the financial means and Brad was preoccupied with various health issues, she could not make bail. Gary Gaston was charged with child kidnapping, aggravated assault on a minor, and several different molestation charges by the state. The preliminary trial was scheduled for March, but Gary was able to make bail. Sadly, as he claimed, he did not have to spend any time in jail, before his arraignment due to his fancy lawyers and seemingly unlimited resources. I wished Mr. Brownlow could have been Mrs. Potter’s lawyer, but his specialty was civil law, not criminal. Chip was sent to live in a state-run group home with children of varying psychological and abuse-related issues because Mrs. Potter as his mother was incarcerated. She had designated Cook to be Chip’s guardian in case something happened, but he was dead. We didn’t have any legal grounds to claim guardianship for Chip. Brad pointed out that Chip would be given needed psychological help that none of us were equipped to provide. I knew Brad was unhappy with the circumstance and felt personally responsible for what happened to Chip at Gary’s hands. It was a guilt that neither of us could find absolution for until Brad’s parents came to visit at the beach house.
My meeting with Brad’s parents was awkward at first, but they were supportive and kind without any semblance of arrogance I would expect from billionaires. His mother and father took a flight to see Brad 3 weeks after Thanksgiving, spending the entire week of Christmas with all of us.
They got an eye full of me and Brad. I think they both appreciated that we loved each other based on their positive feedback about how affectionate we were. Brad’s mother doted on me most of all. There was something special about her when you spoke to her. Like her son, it made me want to tell her private things and be open, knowing she wouldn’t judge me. She cried with me when we spoke about my family throwing me out, she laughed with me when we spoke about Brad’s habits, and she acted like a mother to me, when I asked for advice about life and my relationship with her son. I knew that Brad wanted her to one day be my mom, too, but I didn’t want to think that far ahead initially. However, by Christmas, I was ready to change my last name to Brooks.
Brad’s parents also spent a lot of time with the other guys from Keller Hall, along with Morris and Sammy, who came by often. We had all taken part in what we now think of as “The Siege”. His parents promised financial and medical support to everyone, who stood by Brad’s side. I think beyond the money, it was moments they spent with each guy that made a huge impression on all of us in just that week. They offered Paki some praise for his artwork and showed him examples of various styles at a local gallery. They taught goalball to Francis, who was shocked to learn there was an actual sport for the blind. Brad’s father and Warren were enjoying pool table matches with playful banter from Warren that Mr. Brooks made his fortune by being Pool Hustler. Brad’s mother spent time playing matchmaker with Min and Sammy, arranging things from serendipitous coffee dates to a romantic night in Boston. As for Morris, his biggest concern was being a young father and his family did not want handouts even if the Brooks were generous. Instead, Mr. Brooks had Mr. Brownlow discreetly make a substantial payment to the girl with the catch that she would not pressure Morris into marriage or demand child support while granting Morris full parental rights upon the birth of the child. Morris was beyond grateful when he learned what Mr. Brook did for him.
However, the biggest gift that Brad’s parents delivered was to their son. Brad wept on Christmas Eve when his parents arranged for Chip and Mrs. Potter to join us for Christmas Dinner. They were able to get a judge to grant Mrs. Potter limited release pending trial. They also paid for Mrs. Potter’s full bail. They persuaded the caseworker in charge of Chip’s group home to allow a supervised visit by paying the extra holiday overtime with Sammy’s dad acting as the police officer on call. Seeing Chip in our midst again was beautiful, he wasn’t as bright and cheerful as he used to be, but I could see that his personality wasn’t destroyed by Gary Gaston’s torture.
At the sight of us and his mother, Chip beams with his old frenetic speech pattern, “I didn’t believe them when they said I could stay with you guys from Christmas to New Year. I didn’t think they’d let mom get out of jail. They tell me stuff all the time trying to get me to tell them about Gary and what he did. They lie to me a lot about letting me play video games or dress up. The other boys act weird and want to do things with me at night, stuff that makes me think about Gary. I want to go home with you guys at Keller Hall, but this place is nice, too.”
Everyone went out of their way to give Chip hugs, encouragement, and anything he wanted. I had salvaged his Nintendo game system from Keller Hall, along with most of his outfits, for storage. Mr. and Mrs. Brooks were kind enough to redecorate an empty room in the beach house to match the décor of Keller Hall for Chip. Mrs. Potter was beyond words in terms of how grateful she felt for their generosity and support.
At dinner, Brad gained strength from the sight of everyone around him, seeing them happy. He was more than just a wealthy former high school athlete or a disfigured emotionally unbalanced beast.
Brad’s words will be etched in my memories forever.
“I want to thank you, all of you for being here and being back there at Keller Hall. When I was beaten down by Gary, I hated myself and hated how weak I was, because it was how he made me see the world. You’re either strong or weak, a winner or a loser. You guys through your persistence and sacrifice have shown me that the world isn’t binary. Cook taught me how to be better and think critically about my emotions. Mrs. Potter offered her motherly support, while I navigated those emotions. Chip was the first person to come to me without fear of prejudice, he shared his innocence with me. Francis, Paki, Warren, and Min showed me how friendship is supposed to be. You should have faith in each other and share your burdens. You should also be willing to tell your friend if they’re acting idiotically too,” he turned to look at me and held my hand tighter, “Beau showed me love when he didn’t know what love was anymore. I wanted him to be happy and safe, he wanted that for me too. Our love grew from that. My humanity grew bigger from that love. It’s not perfect like some fairy tale, but I wouldn’t trade the happy times or the sad times for anything. What we gained and lost was real, it was life.”
With his mind healed and his heart full of more than hate, Brad went in for surgery to fix the rest of his internal injuries and cosmetic repairs in the last week of December right before New Year’s Day. He still has a few scars from both times Gary went after him, but his features were as good if not better than the pictures of him in high school. I could care less about whether he looked like a model or monster, Brad was beautiful in whatever form to me.
Mr. Brownlow did not take Cook’s death well as Cook was his dead son’s partner. His old-fashioned stoic façade was gone in my encounters with him, replaced instead with the visage of an old world-weary man. He promised to help us in a civil suit against the university, which he believed we would win. It wasn’t about the money; though the amount Mr. Brownlow sought, $397 billion based on the lifetime earnings of Brooks’ family assets that Brad would inherit, made headlines. By doing that, he forced the University’s Board into an untenable situation without additional support from Gary Gaston. We won the lawsuit against the University without any contest in May when the conservatorship was granted. Mr. Brownlow is handpicking new members of the Board of Trustees.
Things seemed to be going well until the unexpected happened. First, Mrs. Potter was served with an out-of-state custodial challenge based on a charge as a negligent parent by Mrs. Margaret Mann, who was the sister of her husband. She petitioned the courts to take custody of Chip. Then, amid Mrs. Potter’s trial, during which time she had to go back into the county jail, another disaster struck. I do not know how it happened, but she caught a deadly disease from one of the other county jail inmates and fell severely ill. Being a former nurse, Mrs. Potter would have known how to avoid contagious diseases, so it was odd. By mid-February, her condition had worsened beyond hope and she passed away. She had tried to pass guardianship to Brad, who had the means to support Chip, but the paperwork was making its way through the legal system as she died. Upon Mrs. Potter’s death, the courts ruled for Margaret Mann, who took Chip under the living relative guardian rule out of our state to her native state of Virginia. Brad tried to fight the ruling with his claim made by Mrs. Potter’s dying wish, but when the judge saw the paperwork, Chip had already left the state.
In March, we learned that Margaret Mann, beyond being Chip’s paternal aunt, was an associate director of SG Foundation, also known as Sikes-Gaston Foundation, headed by Melinda Sikes, formerly Melinda Gaston. The courts didn’t pick up on this association between the petitioner, the abuse victim, and his abuser being on trial. Anger, fear, and despair filled us, amplified when the judge in Gary’s case dismissed the case as the victim of the assault were not present and the evidence, I gathered with my bodycam couldn’t be used under 4th amendment violations, which Mrs. Potter’s incomplete trial was used as justification for dismissal.
Brad explained the Gaston family’s entire plot to everyone at Keller Hall. To keep Gary out of jail, his sister manipulated a series of consequential events including the timing of the 2 trials, the death of Mrs. Potter, and Chip’s aunt taking him out of state. We were all shocked that justice could be abused that way like a game and a man like Gary Gaston really could walk away with only the damage that Mrs. Potter left him.
In June, Warren, who had received major skin grafts and reconstructive surgery himself thanks to the Brooks’ family, told us he would not be returning for another year at our university. We pleaded with him that Gary wouldn’t be welcomed back, but he said after seeing how cruel and unjust this world can be to people like us, he had decided to choose a different path in life. I stayed in contact with him and I knew he was looking into the possibility of joining the Armed Forces, which made me worry as he is a transgender person and the record of the US military to transgender people wasn’t great.
Brad had launched his app in April. He was right about the distributive nature of crowd transport being a brilliant idea. It had cut off a significant source of shipping companies’ income streams and undermined powerful mid-range players like the Gaston family. Brad was making a name for himself in several major publications like Wired and Wall Street Journal as a result. His side business had ballooned in a few months into a thriving potentially billion-dollar tech company, similar to Uber or Tesla. What was more important though was his rising influence among the same powerful circle of politicians, judges, and media people, who gravitated towards him instead of the Gaston family. Brad could charm these powerful people or intimidate them, but he more often just used the raw power of his creation to leverage their interest to match his own. On the business front, we were making huge leaps against the Gaston family, driven by the losses we suffered over the year.
Paki, Francis, Min, Sammy, Morris, Brad, and I spent the summer together, camping and hiking in Vermont. We needed some time alone to deal with everything that has happened in the last year. We had major victories and devastating losses, so it felt like we only wounded Gary Gaston.
On the second to last day of our month-long camping trip, everything was normal. Min and Sammy left for another day fishing, Francis and Morris practiced goalball, and Paki was painting. I was lazily reading aloud a new fantasy novel about a gay sorcerer in Brad’s arms. My smartphone rang and I took a quick peek to see who called. It was a New York number, which seemed odd. I knew Mr. Brownlow had offices there, so I thought it might be him.
I turn the speakerphone on, “Hello, Beau Cocteau speaking.”
The voice sounded familiar, though deeper and raspy, “Beau, it’s Chip. I ran away from them. I got to New York city and I borrowed this phone from Jack. I want to come home, can you help me.”
Brad rouses to attention and replies before I could, “Chip, where are you, I’ll get Peter to pick you up. We’ll get you home.”
A spark was lit with Chip’s request for help. We didn’t know where this would lead us, but we owed it to Chip to find him and bring him home. In the back of our minds, we knew there was hope. Brad now had influence and contacts; in addition to his massive resources. Gary’s power was far reduced. If Chip were to ever return to our state and get on the witness stand, we could get justice for him, his mother, Cook, and everyone else Gary and his family has ever hurt.
I know I ended it with a minor semi-cliffhanger, but I will reveal something major if I do write a sequel
Time for the big reveal: Yes for all the players at home, if and when I do write a sequel to this story, it would be a reinterpretation of Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist
I've been hinting at it for a very long time.
Chip's full name is Christopher "Oliver" Potter- revealed in chapter 10
Sikes, the titular villain of Oliver Twist, is the name of the Dean, who is husband to Melinda- Chapter 15
Brownlow, another important character in Oliver Twist, is the name of Brad's lawyer- Chapter 15
Nancy, a minor villain in Oliver Twist, is mentioned among the mob as University Office Admin- Chapter 19
Three more names added in Epilogue
Dr. Losberne, a minor character in Oliver Twist, Brad's new doctor
Mrs. Mann, an early villain of Oliver Twist, Chip's paternal aunt
Jack, I am hinting at the name of the famed "Artful Dodger"
If this sequel occurs, Chip would be the protagonist and narrator, but it really depends on what readers feel about this realist re-interpretation of the classic Beauty and the Beast story.
Have you had enough or will you echo the famous line:
"Please Sir, I want some more"
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