A promise is nothing if it can’t be kept. Promises made are done from the heart, and the emotions that go with them should not be taken lightly. That’s why it’s important to know what you’re getting yourself into when you give your word. An oath, once taken, is hard to break; a vow, once given, strengthens bonds and builds relationships. Sometimes it ends up being a give and take, and sometimes it needs to be restated, and the recipient of that promise needs to be assured that you are doing everything in your power to keep it. It’s not always easy, or as simplistic as it sounds, but broken promises can hurt just as much as a broken heart.
He didn’t know how he was going to accomplish it, he just knew it needed to be done. He had no clue how to succeed, or which direction to turn but he knew he needed to figure it out. And he would, for Bryan’s sake. Jeff’s sole purpose was to take care of the man who had captured his heart. He wanted to love him. And in order for him to do that he needed to help him regain his sense of self. Truthfully that wasn’t exactly right. He loved Bryan because he was Bryan…it wasn’t as if he needed Bryan to be different so he could love him. That wasn’t even a question anymore. No, he wanted Bryan to feel like himself again. He could sense that his best friend was not happy even though he tried to be. He was determined to make that happiness a reality and not just a glimpse seen here and there.
He had thought about this a lot in the past few days. It was becoming quite routine for him to be sitting in the room he shared with Bryan; his laptop on his lap, his eyes focused on Bryan’s sleeping form instead of the screen in front of him. He couldn’t help but stare at the man. The blond hair that always fell in his eyes. The boyish face that flittered through emotions in a blink of an eye. Jeff had already calculated that Bryan’s expression changed at least ten times in his sleep.
That fascinated him, but it worried him as well. He hated the thought of Bryan having bad dreams, and wished there was something he could do about them.
Not for the first time he returned his focus on the computer screen. In the last few days he had made some headway in his investigation of the Orr Foundation. He wanted to get a concrete idea of what he was dealing with before he mentioned it to Jenni and Thomas. He needed their help with this, especially Jenni’s since she would need to be a liaison between L.A and Washington. He wasn’t sure how that would work exactly, but he knew he couldn’t do it. It was too risky, and Thomas definitely couldn’t do anything that would alert Marianne to his whereabouts. It was risky enough actually asking Jenni, but he didn’t’ see that they had much of a choice.
He had discussed it with Thomas, and they decided that it was important that they were able to check out the letters that were exchanged. Bryan had mentioned them specifically, and Jeff thought it was fishy that Thomas never received Bryan’s detailed letters and apparently Bryan never got the long missives from Thomas either. Something was not right. He frowned as he continued to look at the computer screen. The information he had gathered was typed up in a file so he could show it to Jenni and Thomas when the time came. The puzzle pieces were starting to fall into place. Bryan’s actions in the hospital that day when he woke up, his fear of the tests and his absolute distrust of Thomas, it all made perfect sense to him now.
It was time to look away one more time. Another glance at Bryan would make him feel ten times better. This time his eyes met golden brown with flecks of green. Bryan was awake, and he was staring at Jeff. He wasn’t sure if Bryan noticed how quickly the frown dissolved into a shy smile, but the effect wasn’t lost on Jeff. He ducked his head away to hide the blush he knew would be there and only turned back when he was sure his face wouldn’t betray him.
“Are you okay, Jeff?”
“I’m fine, Bryan, just concerned about you. Did you enjoy your nap? I’m a little worried about how much you sleep, so I have been watching you to make sure you are just sleeping.”
“Oh,” Bryan said a thoughtful frown crossing his features. “You don’t think there are still drugs in my system, and that’s why I sleep so much? I don’t think I slept so much while I was away though. We weren’t really allowed to sleep all the time. And when I did sleep, I had bad dreams. And then if I slept too long,” He bristled and started picking at the blanket that covered him. “Are you looking for information on the computer again? Did you find anything?”
Just when Jeff thought he was used to Bryan’s abrupt change of subject, his best friend surprised him. He didn’t know what to think of what Bryan just said…except that it didn’t make him feel good. Was Bryan talking about the drugs at the hospital? That made the most sense. They did tend to sedate him whenever they saw fit to do so.
“Jeff?” Bryan inquired again. “Are you listening to me?”
“Oh, sorry Bryan. Yes I’m listening. I found some more information about where you were…and I am going to talk to you about it if you’ll answer some questions for me. Do you think you can do that?”
Bryan frowned. “Do I have to?”
“I wouldn’t make you answer questions if it wasn’t important Bryan. I only want to help you, you know that right?”
“I know,” Bryan said sulking.
“And you know you have to help me out here, right?”
“I don’t know what I can do really, Jeff. I feel like I don’t know how to do anything anymore.”
“That’s not true, Bryan. You can do a lot of things.”
“You’re a great best friend,” Jeff said softly. The smile that crossed Bryan’s lips was perfection in Jeff’s eyes and he wished he could capture it and put in a bottle for safe keeping. “Will you smile more often? He asked, his voice taking on a wistful tone.
“If I have something to smile about,” Bryan responded, though it was clear that he wasn’t sure why Jeff wanted him to smile. “I kinda missed smiling. I mean I never had anything to smile about last year. I used to, before I couldn’t write anymore. I would be happy for a little while with my pen, and a notebook. And when I got letters from home, until I looked inside them. Every time I got a letter, I was excited and then I read the letter and I got sad again. But for some reason you make me smile, Jeff and that’s dangerous.”
“Dangerous?” Jeff repeated with a frown. “Why is it dangerous that I make you smile? I would think that was a good thing.”
“I’m not supposed to be happy,” Bryan said sadly. “I don’t even think I remember what it’s like to be happy…let alone smiling. They frowned on that when I was away. I don’t deserve to smile because I sin and until I can stop sinning…”
“Bryan stop right there, that’s just not right.”
“But,” Bryan insisted, “if anyone knew I was comfortable smiling at you then I would be in...big trouble.”
“Bryan there is no trouble here, not with me by your side, okay?”
“You won’t be able to protect me forever, Jeff. You’ll tire of me sooner or later. I mean I know you are putting your life on hold for me, and I am grateful to you for that…but it won’t last.”
“Will you give me a chance to prove to you that I’m not going anywhere?” Jeff asked, thinking it wouldn’t do any good to protest Bryan’s statement at the moment.
“I’ll try,” Bryan kept his voice low as if saying it any louder would get him into trouble with someone.
“Okay, good…now do you want to talk to me about things, or do you want to hang out with your sister and your dad?”
Bryan decided he wanted to talk, and while he did so Jeff listened and took mental notes on all his best friend was saying. He listened as Bryan talked about his first few days at the foundation, and how Marshall had been around for those first few days. Jeff was sure that Thomas was not going to like that news at all. It certainly didn’t sit well with him that Marshall willingly put Bryan into this place, and had Bryan convinced that it was what Thomas wanted. Bryan was so caught up in what he was saying that Jeff was certain he didn’t realize how much information he was giving away. It was as if he was given a chance to speak freely and all the words that had been held inside, since he couldn’t write them down, came flooding to the surface.
“Are you sure I won’t get into trouble for telling you all of that?” Bryan asked when Jeff suggested they get something to eat. “It was good to see Bryan asking questions, it showed that on some level he was becoming more aware of things and he understood what was going on.
“No trouble Bryan. No more punishments and I’m hoping you will feel better about opening up as well. You have nothing to fear by talking to me. I just hate that you had to go through some of these things. I read about them…and they made me cringe. I can only imagine how you must have felt.”
“I’m just so scared, Jeff. I think the only things I know how to feel are fear and sadness. I-I-I...think the anger is there too somewhere, but that only comes out sometimes and something has to have happened first. Like when they tried to send you away from me, that made me angry. And the headaches they seem less frequent right now, but I don’t know how long that will last.”
“Did you have a bad dream last night? I thought I saw you twitching in your sleep.”
“I guess I couldn’t hide it this time. I had a bad dream every night this week, but I don’t let it show. I’m sorry about that.”
“No don’t apologize, Bryan. I want you to tell me when you have a bad dream. I can’t help you if I don’t know what’s bothering you okay?”
“Do you have to tell Dad and Jenni all of this?” he asked, changing the subject yet again.
“Yes Bryan…I have to talk to them about everything unless you don’t want me to. You know you come first with me.”
“I appreciate that, Jeff, but I don’t suppose I can be helped if they don’t know. I have to learn how to trust them. I want to trust Dad…I really do. I miss him. But I think about being sent away and it makes me cry inside.”
“When was the last time you actually cried?” Jeff inquired.
“Men aren’t supposed to cry, Jeff…though I think I was really sad when Mom fell down the stairs. I really didn’t mean to make her fall.”
“Is that why you agreed to go to the foundation?” Jeff prodded gently.
“When Marshall told me that Dad thought it was a good idea…and he showed me the paper I just thought he was right. That Dad blamed me for Mom’s fall and he wanted me gone. It hurt that Dad couldn’t tell me that himself. I mean…we used to talk about everything, Dad and I. I felt like he didn’t want me anymore. And the letters only seemed to confirm that and Marshall…”
“What about Marshall,” Jeff asked feeling as if he was on the verge of finding something out.
“Marshall said that my dad insisted that I do this. And that it would be better if he didn’t tell me himself. And he said that he tried to get Dad to change his mind but it didn’t work.”
“Okay,” Jeff said placing a hand on Bryan’s shoulder. “This is going to sound confusing…and I will do my best to help you understand, but I think Marshall has been lying to you. What you just described to me does not sound like your dad at all. Any more than it makes sense that you wanted to go to Rehab and you confided in Marshall about it.”
“Is that what he told my parents?” Bryan frowned. “Is that why they told you I was in rehab? Marshall told them that?”
“I’m beginning to think that’s the case, Bryan. There seems to be a whole tangle of lies going on, and I think Marshall is the spider weaving them.”
“Then that means he’s been playing with me for a long time,” Bryan said frowning. “I…I told him things about how I felt and he tried to make it seem like my dad didn’t want me at all. He knew I was…depressed I guess when I came home…Jeff,” Bryan suddenly got serious and he grabbed a hold of Jeff’s hand and held on tight. “He tried to make it seem like I should be mad at you because you took my place at home.”
“I never did trust that guy,” Jeff grumbled, and everything you’ve told me so far makes me like him even less. What’s wrong?” he asked as Bryan’s face seemed to fall and grow sadder. He could tell Bryan was trying not to cry. There were droplets of water just waiting to fall, but he was blinking furiously to hold them back.
“N-n-n-nothing,” Bryan said closing his eyes tightly to keep the waterworks from starting. “I-I’m okay, just…I’m okay.”
“No, Jeff it’s fine. I’m okay. I can’t cry. I just can’t, because if I start I won’t stop.”
“When was the last time you had a good cry, Bryan? A really good, cleansing your soul cry.”
“The last time I really let myself cry I got…in trouble for doing it,” Bryan said sounding like a five year old who just had his favorite toy taken away. Jeff hated hearing that fear in his voice, and he swore if he ever saw Marshall again it would be too soon.
He reached out to touch Bryan’s cheek, his hand gently against the smooth skin. Ever so slowly he began to stroke that cheek. Soft loving strokes as he watched blinking eyes. “The only people here are you and me. Your dad and Jenni aren’t even in the house. We’re all alone, no hospitals, no doctors, or wardens…there’s no one here to stop you from shedding those tears. You can tell me anything, Bryan. Just talk to me…let it out. Tell me what’s wrong.”
He could tell by the look on Bryan’s face that he wanted to give in. He bit his lip and his breathing became slightly erratic. Jeff cupped his face and continued the gentle stroking, knowing it would be any minute now before Bryan broke.
“Why…why would he do that, Jeff?” Bryan’s voice cracked as he spoke and took a deep breath. He was still trying to hold back the flood, Jeff wasn’t making that easy at all. “Why couldn’t he love me for me? I…I hate being so…so…”
And then it happened. The words caught in his throat and Jeff felt arms go around his neck, a head resting in the crook, tears immediately soaking his shirt, and a body racked with sobs. And Jeff just held him, his hand stroking his back, trying to soothe, even as he knew that this time calming Bryan down wouldn’t be that simple.
“Excuse me,” Jeff said stepping into the kitchen. Don’t mean to burden you sir, but I need to talk to you if you have a moment. Is Jenni around?”
“She’s in the other room,” Thomas responded, setting down the hand towel he held in his hand. “Why don’t we go in there and you can tell us what’s going on.” Jeff nodded and they headed into the parlor area where Jenni was shifting through magazines on the table.
“Jenni, Jeff has something he needs to tell us.”
Jenni looked up and frowned. “Jeff, what’s going on? You don’t look very happy.”
Jeff sighed as he took a seat. He had purposely waited until Bryan was sleeping yet again to have this discussion. Bryan already had to tell the story; he shouldn’t have to hear it again if it could be avoided. “It’s about Bryan,” He started looking back and forth between Thomas and Jenni. I finished my research and I talked to Bryan, and I am not very happy with what I found out. And if today was any indication this is not going to be easy by any stretch of the imagination.”
“What did you find out?” Jenni inquired, exchanging a look with her father.
“I’m not sure how much Thomas told you,” Jeff started as he looked at the notes he had printed out on Jenni’s printer. “But I checked out the place Bryan was sent last year and needless to say the cover page is very deceptive. On the outside the camp looks like a summer refuge for young boys to just enjoy being boys. There’s swimming, hiking, horseback riding and even sports and games too. However for the majority of time at this pace no one really gets to do any of those things,” He paused for a moment as he tried to find something. He had looked over this material several times before bringing it to their attention and he couldn’t believe this place existed, let alone that Marshall had allowed Bryan to go there.
“It’s a de-gaying camp,” he explained finally. “Parents send their kids here so they can be “helped” with their situation, and their problem can be fixed.” He had a bitter taste in his mouth just uttering the words but, there wasn’t anything he wouldn’t do for Bryan. “Basically, the idea is that in three months time, the parents would be told that it will take longer to deprogram or that due to an isolation period the patient’s time in the facility has to be extended. That’s what happened to Bryan; he had to be isolated several different times because he didn’t conform.”
“What the hell, Jeff,” Thomas exclaimed. “Are you sure about this? I would never have sent Bryan to a gay deprogramming camp. I never even knew something like that existed.”
“Oh they definitely exist,” Jeff sighed. “It’s just brutal reality sir.”
Thomas chewed on his lip and frowned as something occurred to him. “Wait, you said Bryan was in isolation. Is that why he is so hesitant to let any of us in?”
“Something like that,” Jeff replied. “He was put in isolation because there were distractions and he was being punished for not following the rules. And Thomas, I know you didn’t take him there. I’ve been trying to convince Bryan of that…and I think he believe me. IT’s just that He was told that you wanted him there…but get this,” Jeff glanced at both father and daughter before he continued. “The first three days of the camp are like an orientation period and Bryan had to stay in a hotel with his parent.” He waited for a moment as that news sank in. He could see the clarity in Thomas’s eyes and he nodded. “Marshall was there, he stayed with Bryan for the first three days.”
Thomas clenched his fists. “I’m going to kill that man. I swear to god I had no idea what this was about, or I would have went and gotten Bryan myself. I couldn’t care less about the fact that he’s gay. It’s just another part of who he is.”
“And you’ll have to tell him that,” Jeff asserted. “And Killing Marshall is out of the question…though I know you want to as badly as I do. I’ve said this before though…we have to focus on Bryan, and we have to help him. Right now I don’t think he even fully gets that I’m gay.” Jeff frowned. “I mean I’ve shared three kisses with him, but they were more of a comforting thing and I doubt he really correlated it. Otherwise he may wonder how you could accept me and not him.”
“Jeff are you sure that kissing Bryan is a good idea,” Jenni asked. “I completely understand your feelings for him, but might that not confuse him until he realizes that we are not judging him for being gay? I am not trying to demean what you are doing, I can see that you really do care for my brother, but I can see his confusion and I don't want that to get any worse.”
“I can understand your concern, Jenni and believe me I wouldn’t do anything that could upset or confuse Bryan in any way. Right now kissing him isn’t about anything romantic. I am only trying to offer him some comfort, some sense of intimacy that is soothing and that seems to do the trick. If I thought I was confusing him, I would explain it to him, but not stop…because to do so would make Bryan think he did something wrong. He likes feeling close to me and I want to do that for him. Is that okay?” he asked looking to Thomas for guidance on this.
“I have no problem with that Jeff,” Thomas consented, “however, I would like you to make sure you are watching for changes in Bryan's attitude toward you or your relationship. If he has been as damaged as we think, it is entirely possible that he may turn on you if he thinks you are getting to close. Just be careful. I don't want anything to happen to you either. You are a very important part of this family and I don't want you hurt anymore than I want Bryan hurt.”
“Thank you for that, sir. I promise, I’ll be careful. I only want to help Bryan. I’m not so much worried about me, or what will happen when this is all said and done. Right now Bryan thinks that the time will come when I’ll tire of him. Of course that’s not the case, and I am going to do my best to prove that to him.”
“So what do we do now, Jeff? I mean all the knowledge about the camp is well and good, but how do we repair all the stuff they did to my brother. I can tell just from the look on your face that this is not going to be easy and it's not going to happen overnight, but I, we, have to do something.”
“You’ve spent some time with him right? Just keep doing that. Show him you have some interest in spending time with him, and that he won’t get into any trouble if something goes wrong. That seems to be a big deal for him. I’m going to get him a new notebook and pens, and see what we can do about helping him write again. I know he misses it. Besides it may help if he can write things down, because Bryan likes to talk.” He smiled fondly as he thought of Bryan chattering on about anything and everything. “In time he will trust both of you…just don’t’ give him a reason not to.”
“Thank you Jeff,” Thomas said gratefully, “for all that you are doing. I know that Bryan is in good hands with you. I want my chatterbox son back that's for sure.” Thomas smiled and scratched the back of his neck as he looked at the man who had become his only link to his own son. “Whatever you need from us just let us know. If you need a break for any reason tell me, I don't want you making yourself sick working this out.”
“Bryan’s worth everything I’m doing, sir. I wanted to help him even before I fell for him.” He shook his head; it still blew his mind that that was the epitome of the feelings he felt. He couldn’t remember ever feeling like this before. He especially didn’t really know love from living with his father. Still the warmth he felt in his heart was very real and it only intensified when he was actually near Bryan, it could only be called love. “I’m going to go out around town tomorrow…to see what I can find, and get the notebook for Bryan. I will explain that he will be home with you two…so let’s see what we can do. We know we can’t help Bryan in a day, and only he can tell us how we can really help him…but at least he will know that none of us is giving up.”
“Why can’t I go with you?” Bryan asked for the fifteenth time as Jeff prepared to leave the house. “I don’t want to stay here without you.”
Jeff faced him and placed his hands on Bryan’s shoulders. “Your dad and Jenni are both here, Bryan. You won’t be alone, and we talked about you trusting them remember? I don’t want you to go with me, because I am going to surprise you. You can’t be there when I get your gift.”
“You want to buy me a present?” Bryan asked his eyes lighting up like topaz gems.
“Yes, now will you let me go…and try to spend some time with your dad?”
“Okay, I will try.”
Jeff left soon after that and Bryan was on his own. He knew he needed to do something while Jeff was gone. If he wanted to get better he needed to do some of the work. And he missed his dad, Jeff seemed to believe that he could trust him, and he believed that. His dad had gotten him out of the hospital, and his dad was the reason they were here, he had risked a lot to help him. Someone who would do that couldn’t be all bad.
He found Thomas in the kitchen cutting up vegetables on the counter. For a moment he leaned against the counter and just watched him work. What could he say? What would he do?
He didn’t have to think about it long before his dad turned and saw him standing there. “Hey there, son,” he said a smile crossing his features. “Would you like to help me with these veggies for Jenni?”
“Okay,” Bryan said pushing himself off the counter. He moved over to his dad and watched him rinse off a carrot before shaving off the ugly parts. He watched the process a couple of times before picking up a carrot, putting it under the cool water to rinse and then placing it on a cutting board. Thomas handed him a knife and he started to chop, still looking at his dad to make sure he was following instructions.
“So how are you settling in with Jenni?”
“She’s nice,” Bryan said as he concentrated on cutting the vegetables. “I wanted to talk to you about stuff, dad but I don’t really know where to start,” he told him a few minutes later. He frowned at the carrot he was cutting and put the knife down so he could look at his dad, who was focusing on cutting pepper slices.
“Son, I'm listening. I will listen to whatever you want to tell me. Good or bad, I am not going to judge you. I love you and I am going to do all that I can to repair and rebuild our relationship.” Silence followed his words, and Bryan allowed them to sink in. It was just what he needed to hear from his dad. He still didn’t know exactly what he wanted to say. What could he confide? Did he want to risk saying anything? Everything was so much easier when Jeff was around. He didn’t feel like he was going to mess up as much.
“I want that too dad,” he said as he started working on slicing into a tomato. The juice squirted out and hit him in the eye which made him blink. He placed the knife down and wiped his eye but he wasn’t sure if he helped the situation any.
“I hate this distance between us,” he heard his father say as he reached for a napkin to dab at his eyes, “but I am very glad that you have Jeff to help lead you through this. So whenever you are ready to talk I am ready to listen.”
Bryan put the napkin down and went back to cutting the tomato. “I don’t know what you want to know, Dad. I’m sorry I’m not as good at words as I used to be. I think when they took my ability to write they took my vocabulary too…and well,” he frowned and placed the slices of tomato on the plate in front of him, “I miss talking to you.”
“I want to know everything, Bryan,” Thomas replied softly, “but first I want to tell you that from what Jeff has been able to track down, I had no idea that the place you were going was anywhere other than a rehab facility for the alcohol problem. If I had had any inkling of the true nature I would have torn down the walls to get you out of there.”
“I…I don’t think that really matters, Dad,” Bryan said trying to make his thoughts piece together properly. “I know deep down that if you had known where I was you would have come for me…that’s why I wrote to you. I didn’t want to believe that you really would want me in that place. But…you never came, and it just seemed like you wanted to send me away. And I…I wouldn’t have gone away for drinking.” He frowned remembering how reckless his behavior had been prior to his coming out…and just after, when he went on that disastrous double date. “I was already seeing a counselor for that, she didn’t’ think I had to go away.”
He bit his lip and focused on the vegetables again. They couldn’t think about what his dad would have done if he had known. It was too late for that. Now was the time to move forward, he didn’t know how to do that really, but he wanted to try. He wanted to tell his dad about all the things that happened to him, but could he really do that? Could he convey all that he wanted to convey?
“I don’t want you to apologize to me,” he said simply. “I just want to be your son again. I want you to…to be my dad…I missed my dad.”
“And I missed my son,” Thomas’s voice was sad and reflective, and Bryan was startled to see tears in his eyes. He couldn’t remember ever seeing his father close to tears. “I missed our morning rides in the fields and working side by side in the barn. I missed telling you things that no one else but you would understand.”
Bryan smiled fondly. He missed all those things too. It was as if his dad was singing a song that his heart needed to hear and he was listening. He wanted to believe his dad’s words.
“Believe me son,” Thomas continued, “I want you back, well and healthy and whole, but I will take you just like you are. I don't care about anything else in the world right now but you. Your Mom and Marshall have a lot to answer for, but that can wait. The girls and Eddie I'm sure are missing us, but if we can take you back to them whole again that is what we are going to do.”
“I’m not really worried about going home, Dad. I…I just want to be with you and Jeff.”
“Well Jeff and I aren't going anywhere,” Thomas assured him. “Wherever you are is where we are.” Silence followed that statement, and Bryan just knew his dad was thinking of questions to ask him. He only hoped that he would be able to answer them. He wanted to answer…he had to face the fear he was feeling head on. That was what Jeff had told him. “So,” His father said a few minutes later, “this place, the Foundation, Bryan did they beat you? I only ask because I saw the bruises and scars on your back when I was helping with your shower in the hospital. How did those bruises get there?”
He looked at his dad for a long time before going to sit down on a stool. All pretence of cutting was gone and he rested his arms on the table and rested his chin in his hands. His dad followed his lead and sat across from him, waiting intently to see if he would get an answer. “You really shouldn’t ask questions you don’t want the answers to, Dad,” he said sadly. “I could answer that question, and it would break your heart. I don’t really want to be the reason your heart is breaking.”
“Son, if I didn't want the answer I wouldn't ask. I have had my heart broken before and I survived. If this is going to break my heart, then I can only imagine what it is doing to you. I can take it. Tell me about the bruises Bryan.”
“It depends on which bruises you want to know about, Dad,” Bryan said sadly. “The ones that won’t ever go away? Or the ones that will fade in time, if they stop getting reopened.” He closed his eyes for a moment and tried not to wince at the thoughts in his mind. He was only speaking to his dad…and there was no one there to harm him. If he could remember that he would be fine. He especially needed to stop thinking about the dreams.
“Which do you feel comfortable mentioning?”
“Yes,” he said in answer to his father’s earlier question. They did hit me. It wasn’t so bad thought until they used the whip…which was when Adam held me down and let them hit me.”
“Who was this Adam?” Thomas inquired.
“I thought he was my friend,” Bryan said lowering his voice. “He was my counselor…but he turned against me. I guess I was stupid to trust him…but…”
“You aren’t stupid, Bryan,” Thomas interrupted.
“Jeff keeps telling me that.”
“Well Jeff’ is right. He said they isolated you,” Thomas said after a brief silence. “For how long?”
“It depends on the time.”
“How many times did they do it?”
Bryan frowned as he started counting on his fingers. His face crinkled as he tried to concentrate on time and numbers to come up with the right answer. “Well the first time was when summer was over…in September. That one lasted just a week. Then it happened again around Christmas time…that was very sad actually. I think I was in there a month…but I’m not sure, I just remember thinking about all of you and wondering if Mom was awake, and if you missed me at all. It was five times all together…the last time…I ended up at the hospital.”
“Why were we never alerted when you were in the hospital?” his dad asked.
“I don’t know Dad. I think they already had permission from Marshall or something.”
“Was this Adam guy the reason you were in the hospital?”
Bryan looked up at his dad, but he didn’t answer the question. He bit down on his lip and averted his gaze. He didn’t want to talk about it anymore. He closed his eyes and tried to focus on the room with the bookshelf. The books were scattered everywhere, and he wasn’t so sure he could get them all back into place this time. Sometimes he wished there was just a lock on that door then he wouldn’t have to think about his emotions at all.
“Bryan I need you to talk to me,” Thomas’s voice reached his ears as he worked on getting his emotions back on the shelf. He had let his guard down enough…but he had to be careful…very careful. “Bryan,” Thomas’s voice again, “Did this Adam guy ever hurt you?”
“Don’t ask me things I can’t answer,” Bryan said sliding off the stool. “You can’t ask things I don’t know.”
Bryan,” his dad tried to soothe him, there was a hint of sadness in his voice.
“No,” he said shaking his head. “No, Dad…I can’t…I told you I didn’t want to talk about it and you keep asking me…and I don’t know.” He was practically yelling; his hands clenched as he backed away from the counter. He was walking backwards, not really paying attention to where he was going, and he bumped right into his big sister.
“Whoa, what’s the rush Bryan,” Jenni asked immediately frowning at the bewildered look in her brother’s eyes. “Are you okay?” She reached out to touch him, but he backed away from her and rushed out the room. Jenni exchanged a look with her dad before running after him. She found him in the bedroom clutching the pillow Jeff had been sleeping on the night before.
“Bryan,” she said coming further into the room. “Hey sweetie. Are you ok?”
He didn’t answer her right away, but he didn’t stop her from coming either. She took a seat on the bed; just far enough for him to be comfortable and she placed her hands in her lap as she looked at him.
“Did Dad do something to upset you?” she inquired. “I can see you are really upset and Jeff is going to be very angry with me if you are upset when he gets home, so can you tell me what's wrong?”
“Just too many questions,” he said frowning. “I’ll explain it to Jeff…he won’t be upset with you.”
“No more questions then, Bryan,” Jenni held her hands up in mock surrender. “You can explain to Jeff all day long, but he is still going to have my hide. So do you think maybe you could talk to me, I promise not to ask any questions, just talk. I feel like I have missed out on so much.”
Bryan squeezed the pillow tighter and looked at his sister quizzically. She just wanted him to talk? About what? Should he ask? Having a conversation was not supposed to be this difficult. Then again he could count on one hand how many actual conversations he had while he was away…and none of those had been very good…all of them had been with Adam.
“I’m not good at talking, Jenni. I used to be, but now I don’t feel like I have a lot to say. And when I do talk, I don’t make any sense so I just prefer to be quiet. Quiet is less troublesome anyway…you can’t be a bother if you are silent. Jeff says I have a lot to say though, and I should just say it. I wish I could do that, since he seems to think I can. And even Dad has said that I was a chatter box and you couldn’t shut me up. I’d do anything to be able to just talk about anything and everything. It’s not a good idea to keep things bottled up inside, but that’s all I was taught while I was away. To hide things and to keep my emotions in check.”
“You don't have to hide with us,” Jenni asserted, “but I understand that you aren't comfortable talking about your emotions right now. So how about you and I talk about the family. Dad showed me some pictures of the girls and Eddie, and I talk to Alden at least once a week, but pictures don't tell everything. I miss the little bugger a bunch. I should have come home more often, then maybe I wouldn't feel so out of touch with you and my sibs.”
“Honestly, Jenni I feel out of touch with them too. I missed a lot in a year’s time…and then I was in the hospital for a lot of time too so I am not really connected with them either.”
“But you connected with Jeff,” Jenni pointed out, “and I think that is wonderful. It's always nice to have someone you can count on to be there when the chips are down. Maybe when you are ready to go home, whenever that may be, I think I may go with you. A nice long visit with Grandma Annie would be really nice. Maybe I should call her and beg for a care package of goodies so we have some stuff from home. Would you like that? I promise I won't tell her you are here, just thinking maybe some of Grandma's goodies will put some meat back on your bones, you are so skinny that a good strong wind will blow you away.”
“Yeah, Jeff said I need to start eating more. I’m still trying to get used to solid foods again after being in the hospital for so long.” He stopped to think about what she had said. “I don’t guess it would be bad to get goodies from Grandma…but you know she will ask if you have seen Dad. And I don’t think Dad would want you to lie. You should talk to Jeff…maybe? He may know more than me if it would be a good idea or not.”
“I'll talk to Jeff when he gets back and see what he thinks.” Bryan was relieved that she didn’t argue with him about that. Over the past few days there had been some push and shove between Jenni and Jeff, and he didn’t want to make either of them angry. “Hmmmm,” His sister said, raising her finger to her lip, “maybe instead of calling Grandma I can just e-mail her, she is so tech savvy these days it's kind of scary. Our Grandma the romance novelist who now does her research on the internet. Hang in there Bryan; I'm on your side. I will do whatever I can to help and make you feel comfortable.”
“Will you tell Dad, I’m sorry?” he asked a frown crossing his features again. ”I don’t want him to be mad at me. I just didn’t want to answer any more questions, and then he kept asking and I know I should have been calmer but I don’t even know how to do that all the time. Everything is so messed up anymore, Jenni.”
“It's ok Bryan, Dad will understand, and yes I will tell him. He is not mad at you, and never was. He is just looking for answers and hurting because he feels like he let you down by not protecting you from what happened. We are going to work together to make everything un-messed up little brother. I love you.”
“Thank you for being my sister,” He said shyly as he bit his lip. He was really starting to Like Jenni, she didn’t seem to want anything from him. And maybe just maybe he could trust her.
“Awwwww, little brother, I kind of like being your sister. You were always my favorite sibling because no matter what we talked about you always had something to say. You are the only one I would trust my secrets with and that hasn't changed at all. I love you kiddo. Why don't you try and get some rest, I'm sure Jeff will be home soon. Just yell if you need anything.”
“Okay,” Bryan said putting Jeff’s pillow on the bed and resting his head on it. “Thanks Jenni,” he said before closing his eyes. He wasn’t going to mention the fact that he was worried Jeff wouldn’t come back. He wouldn’t even entertain that thought, let alone say it aloud and make it more of a reality. IT wasn’t that he thought Jeff would leave him…he would understand if Jeff did though. Everyone else did. He held on to Jeff’s pillow tightly and buried his face in it, trying to drown out those thoughts. He wished Jeff would just come back, as far as Bryan was concerned he’d been gone far too long.
It was late afternoon when Jeff returned to the house. He was glad to be back. Not surprisingly he had missed Bryan terribly. He wasn’t used to being away from him for this long of a time. It was worth the trip though…he had found the perfect gift for Bryan, and even found a Pen to go along with it. He had a few bags in his hand, and he spotted Jenni immediately when he entered the living room. “Hey,” he said placing the bags down on the inn table. “How did today go? Is Bryan alright?”
“Bryan is asleep,” Jenni replied putting down the book she had been reading.” He and Dad talked some after you left, but it didn't go as well as we would have liked.”
“What happened?” Jeff asked a frown settling on his face. “And how long has Bryan been sleeping?”
“He hasn't been asleep too long. He and Dad were working in the kitchen chopping some vegetables. I had walked past earlier, and saw that they seemed to be having a nice conversation so I didn't interrupt them. The next thing I know Bryan is running out telling Dad no more questions. I am assuming that Dad was gently trying to get Bryan to open up, but Dad was pretty upset and didn't want Bryan to see so he took a walk on the beach. I spent some time with Bryan just talking and not pushing and he seemed much better before he fell asleep.”
“I’ll have to check up on him in a minute. But I did want to talk to you. “I think we are going to need some information from back in Washington, so we can better help Bryan. He has a lot of prescriptions that need to be filled for his kidney medicine so we have to take care of that. Plus we have to find out about the letters that seemed to be transferred for other letters. I mean both your dad and Bryan commented on what they received as letters and what they wrote to each other. I think Marshall may have switched the mail or something.” He ran a hand through his hair and sighed. “Um, I don’t want to put you on the spot but it’s less suspicious if you contact someone back home…though risky at the same time.”
“Hmmmm,” Jenni said her expression thoughtful, “well I may have a solution to that problem. I told Bryan I was thinking of calling Grandma Annie and asking for a care package, but decided that sending her an e-mail might be a better idea. I don't want Gram to have to lie, so how about I send her the e-mail asking for the care package and then get in touch with Alden who I am sure can get Ali to help with the meds. If Gram is responsive to the e-mail and I think she will be, I can fib a little and see if she can do some digging on her computer to find at least Dad's copies of his letters. Do you think that would be of any help?”
“That’s a good idea actually,” Jeff said excitedly. “If you could do that, Jenni…I think it would be good for Bryan to have some things from home. It’s going to be awhile before he can go back…if he wants to go back. That’s going to be completely up to him. Was he okay after he talked to Thomas? I mean were you able to talk to him a bit too?”
“We talked for quite a while actually,” Jenni replied. “We talked about the kids at home and how much I missed them and he seemed to be much calmer when we finished. Dad's just trying to help, but he is so worried, he may have tried to push when Bryan just wasn't ready. I get the feeling that Bryan thinks that he is protecting us by not telling us what happened.”
“Yeah that’s the feeling I’m getting too actually,” Jeff agreed with her. “I think he’s also a little scared too. I mean if half the stuff I read about actually happened to Bryan in that place, then he must not want us to see him as anything less than human. And I know that none of us would dare do that…but that stuff makes me cringe. I can only imagine that Bryan must feel so weak to have gone through any of it. I’m glad you and he were able to talk. While I was out I picked up some things for him that will hopefully help. We will help him,” he said determined. “And in the mean time if he says anything of interest let me know. He is usually pretty open with me.”
“I will Jeff. I promise. I know we got off on the wrong foot, but I can see you really do love my brother and that's all that is important.”
“Thanks Jenni. I do love him,” Jeff glanced toward the bedroom for a moment before focusing on Jenni again. “And I know we got off to a bad start, but I think you’re pretty cool, and Bryan is lucky to have you for a big sister”
“I am the lucky one Jeff. Bryan is the best brother in the world. I wouldn't trade him for anything. If you ask me we are all lucky to have Bryan in our lives.”
“I don’t think a truer statement has been spoken, Jenni,” Jeff said smiling as he picked his bags up off the table. “I got some of Bryan’s favorite things,” he said handing her one of the bags. “And I promised him a surprise. I’m going to go see if I can wake him up. I worry about him sleeping so much during the day.” He started heading toward the back of the house when he turned to see Jenni heading for the kitchen. “Hey Jenni?” She turned and sent a smile his way. He smiled back. “Thanks, for the talk. I hope we can talk more, I mean we have one thing in common already…we love Bryan.”
“I’d like that, Jeff. I’d like that a lot.”
“Jeff you’re back,” he exclaimed startling Jeff out of his trance. Bryan had been sleeping when he entered the room, so he had set his gift aside and fiddled with the computer, answering emails and reading while he waited for his best friend to wake up. Now he put the computer aside and smiled as Bryan threw his arms around him and held him tightly
“Bryan, I can’t breathe,” Jeff said trying to detangle himself just enough to look into Bryan’s eyes.
“Oh I’m sorry,” Bryan said frowning. “I don’t know why I had that reaction, but you can’t leave me here like that again.”
“What happened?” Jeff asked keeping his voice soft and nonjudgmental.
“I think I upset Dad,” Bryan sighed sadly. “I didn’t mean to, but he was asking all these questions and then he brought up Adam…and I just didn’t want to talk about it. And I didn’t know all the answers to his questions, plus…I don’t know Jeff I just didn’t want to talk anymore but I think I made him mad.”
“I’m sure that’s not the case, Bryan. Your dad loves you…and he knows this is hard for you. It’s hard for him too. Because he has to deal with the fact that you were there and he couldn’t help you while you were there. You understand that right?”
“I think so.”
“You know how you told me you feel like you’re a failure as a son?”
“Yeah…you told me that wasn’t true.”
“It’s not,” Jeff said gently. “You aren’t a failure, Bryan. Your dad, he feels the same way you do. He feels like he failed you, and he just wants to make up for it.”
“That’s what he said,” Bryan explained. “But I don’t know…I feel like I talk, and he doesn’t really listen. I know he hears me, but it’s like he wants to get out what he wants to say without listening to what I’m telling him. And I guess that could just be me, and I’m not explaining it right…but you seem to understand.”
“So, you feel like he doesn’t really care?” Jeff asked, trying to surmise the situation. He knew that Thomas cared deeply for Bryan, but somehow that wasn’t coming across. “You think that he only wants information from you so you closed yourself off. Does that sound about right?”
“I knew you would understand,” Bryan said lowering his head.
“I care about you,” Jeff said reaching out to lift Bryan’s chin. “And I know how important trust is to you, Bryan. I am glad you trust me, and I won’t do anything to violate that.”
“He was asking about Adam,” Bryan explained, biting his lip as he looked at his best friend. It didn’t go unnoticed by Jeff that Bryan’s face seemed to get sadder, and there was pain clear in those brown eyes. Adam was at the top of Jeff’s list of people he wanted to hurt, right along with Marshall. “And he wanted to know about the bruises and the scars…I tried to explain that,” Bryan continued. “But I didn’t’ want to talk about him.”
“Did he do more than just hold you down so they could hit you with the whip?”
Bryan flinched and Jeff wished he could take back the question. But he knew that some of these things needed to be asked. If he didn’t try to push, just a little then he wouldn’t be able to help. It wasn’t okay that Bryan had been hurt like this, but the sooner they knew all the details…the better the chance Bryan had of getting past it. That was Jeff’s ultimate goal. He didn’t know how many relapses there would be before Bryan was fine again…but he had no doubt that day would come.
“Bryan, you know I’m not trying to hurt you with these questions right?”
Silence followed his question, but Jeff was acutely aware of what Bryan was doing. His even breathing hitched several times and then there was the slightest sniffle as he clung to Jeff. Jeff allowed his arms to encircle his best friend as he pulled him closer, his head resting against his shoulder.
“I…I know you won’t…hurt me, Jeff,” Bryan’s voice was trembling and Jeff was certain that the tears would be coming soon.
“Just tell me yes or no. You don’t have to explain it…okay.”
“Yes,” Bryan said before dissolving into tears.
Jeff closed his eyes and silently cursed for he had no doubt what Bryan was saying yes to. He held onto his best friend, having no care for his shirt which was already soaked from Bryan’s reign of tears. Now that Bryan knew he could cry, Jeff was certain there would be more moments like this. And he would be ready for them. He had a lot of promises to keep, and one day he hoped he could completely mend Bryan’s broken heart.
thanks as always Ryan for your help. and thanks to all the readers. i hope you guys continue to enjoy the story