Half an hour later, two sweaty and happy boys were at the kitchen door. The dogs headed for their water trough and Wade opened a drawer and pulled out two small towels. He handed one to Kelly and showed him how to put it on the chair before sitting.
"Don’t get too comfy boys, we’re going grocery shopping and we’ll see what else is open while we’re downtown. I think you guys should get showered if Wade wouldn’t mind showing you where it is and how the valves work. I’ll get one too and we’ll meet back here, Okay?"
"Okay, Uncle Rob, let’s go Kelly." Wade whooped.
"I put your suitcase in the same room Wade’s in unless you want your own," I informed Kelly.
"No, that’s okay," Kelly said over his shoulder. And two little bottoms disappeared from sight, up the stairs.
We headed into town and the first stop was the grocery store, then the cell phone shop. I added a line to my service with unlimited data and messaging. After that we went clothes shopping for Kelly. Everything he had to wear was too small, worn out or from a thrift store, if not all three at once. I didn’t want him being embarrassed in front of Ronny and he needed new clothes; probably the first new stuff he had in years. Underwear, T-shirts and socks were first. I saw him look at the boxer briefs and then reach for a packet of tighty-whities. I snatched at his waistband and gave him a mild wedgie in order to read the size. I told him he needed to go up at least one size and it was time to wear big boy underwear. He tried to argue that the cool stuff was too expensive. I explained the false economy of buying cheap clothes and Wade came to my aid, and helped convince him that it was time for Kelly to have some nice things. By the time we were done. we had selected quite a wardrobe for Kelly and he was almost in tears with happiness.
"I can’t take this stuff home, Lyle will take it and sell it or trade it for stuff he wants. I never get to keep anything good." Kelly lamented.
"I’ve been thinking about that. I need to do a little research and then I’ll tell you my plan," I told him
I declared it was time to eat and we piled out at Trudy’s diner. A modest place with excellent food, Barb welcomed us, pointed us to a big table and dealt us a few menus, then described the specials.
"Damn, Rob are you collecting kids as a hobby now? Who’s this little cutie here?" she asked.
"This is Kelly, he’s a friend and he needed some duds, so we went and got some today," I declared.
"Well, he’s got good taste in clothes. The outfit looks familiar, oh yeah, it’s the same as yours," Barb laughed.
I guess I hadn’t really noticed but both Wade and Kelly were wearing a version of what I had on. 501’s, a Dickey T-shirt and a Carhart canvas work shirt. Wade and Kelly sported Wolverine boots while mine were Redwings.
Both boys giggled and grinned at me. Wade came to my rescue.
"Uncle Rob just dresses practical Ma’am, just like my Dad, and Kelly is just learning how to dress for work. He’s a city boy and is just getting used to this place."
"Well, all of you look very handsome," she smiled.
As we looked through the menus, a boy not much older than Kelly came in and spoke to Barb. He was looking for some odd jobs to do and told her anything would be fine. She told him they had nothing, but offered him a meal if he was interested. He hesitated and shook his head, he picked up his bag and turned to leave. He looked gaunt and lonely and in need of a little caring. I walked out behind him and called to him. He turned and looked at me guardedly.
"I heard you say you were looking for some work son, is that right?" I asked.
He relaxed just a little and replied, "Yes sir, have you got any labor jobs you need help with?"
"I imagine most of us around here will have to take on a little help after this storm. Can you run a chain saw or swing an axe?" I asked him.
"You bet, Sir. I’m used to farm work and I can help you clear up," he offered.
"I figured you for a farm boy, your forearms and boots tell on you. Tell you what then, come join us for lunch and we’ll talk about what I need done and how best to approach it."
I could see him trying to overcome a little fear and reluctance, but he finally decided to join us.
"My name’s Rob, what’s yours?" I asked as I stuck out my hand"
"Brandon, Sir," and he shook my hand. That was a good sign. It meant he had manners and knew how to use them. That and he looked me in the eye. This was a decent guy and he had been having a rough time. My curiosity was really revved up.
"Well, you can drop the sir, Rob will do just fine. You’ve got a good handshake, Brandon."
"Thanks… um, Rob."
When we walked back into the café, Mattie had already put a huge basket of fries and four saucers on the table. Barb collared us and asked what we wanted to drink. I opted for iced tea while Brandon asked for a Coke in a tone of voice that was asking if that was okay.
We started for the table again and Mattie stopped us. "I sent the young’uns to wash up, now it’s your turn, get in there, both of you and use soap."
Mattie is a force to be reckoned with, not to mention the sweetest old lady I ever met.
We complied and I had a pee while Brandon washed his hands. I caught him looking and chuckled to myself. We just never grow out of that. He looked a little sheepish as he dried his hands. I washed up and we went back to the table. Brandon’s bag was still sitting by Wade’s chair right where he left it; I saw him check. I sat between Kelly and Wade and introduced Brandon. Both boys stopped eating long enough to be polite.
I handed Brandon a menu and his eyes almost popped out. At first he opted for a grilled cheese. I told him he would need more than that in him if he was going to be any use to me. He finally ordered the chicken dinner which is outstanding and spent the interim helping demolish the fries. We finished lunch and I loaded a couple of sleepy boys in the back seat of the truck. Kelly whispered a thank you and kissed my cheek. He was also unused to getting enough to eat. Both boys were out like lights by the time we got under way. Wade leaned against Kelly and Kelly pulled him as close as the seat belts would allow.
"So how long have you been on your own, Brandon?" I asked.
"About four months, I had to leave. It was just bad," he stated flatly.
"I’m sorry to hear that, maybe you’d like to talk about it when we get some time alone. Kelly is having a tough time of it himself. He’s being treated pretty poorly at home and I’m going to see what can be done to rectify that," I rambled on.
"He seems like a nice kid, it’s too bad there are so many bad parents out there. But yeah, I think it would be good to talk to someone about it,” Brandon murmured. He seemed relieved to be warm and safe for the moment.
"I have to ask for the sake of the little guys, do you use any drugs? "
"No sir, I hate that crap! My best friend got into pot and then other stuff and it just ruined him. He used to be so cool to be around. Then he got caught doing something bad to get more drugs and almost got me pulled into his mess just because I was walking with him when they caught him. Darby and I aren’t friends anymore."
"That sucks Brandon, but it looks to me like you have good character, you wouldn’t take a handout from Barb and you’ve got decent manners. How old are you if you don’t mind me asking?"
"I’m eigh…," he started to say, but then, I’m almost fifteen."
"So, did you have to run away or did you get kicked out?"
"Both, but I would rather not talk about it in front of your boys, if that’s okay Rob." His tone of voice said he was near tears and I tucked it in a bit and told him that would be fine.
He remained quiet until I turned on my blinker to turn down my road.
"This is your place?" Brandon asked.
"Yes sir, I am happy to say I rescued it from a fate worse than death," I chuckled.
"Brandon looked at me expecting more.
"I’ll tell you later," I grinned.
I activated the gate and we circled around and came up alongside Dennis and Cammie’s pick up.
I hopped out and roused the boys and Wade jumped out and headed for the nearest lilac tree to have a pee. I watched Brandon watching him with a slight grin.
He saw me watching him and blushed.
"I used to do that too, I didn’t care who was looking either. He must get a lot of sun; he’s the same color all over." Sure enough, Wade’s pants were around his knees and his lack of pale skin was obvious.
"Well, to be honest, I don’t have any tan lines either and neither do his folks whom you’re about to meet. Are you going to be okay if they’re nude?" I was actually asking both boys.
"I don’t know, it’s never happened to me before," Brandon said.
"I’ll be okay, but I’d rather not see Wade’s Mom naked just yet," Kelly added.
"I used to swim in a bend of the Willamette where there was a natural pool. We didn’t usually wear suits unless there were girls there and sometimes even then. But they were never interested in me, they went for the guys with the big… you know." Brandon muttered.
"Well then, Kelly why don’t you two go through the kitchen and Wade and I will go and talk with his Mom and Dad."
"Okay, Rob," said Kelly and he tugged Brandon along with him to the kitchen door.
Wade had finished and pulled his pants up, so we went in by the pool area. I had heard voices and figured I would find them in the Jacuzzi. I could tell by the pile of clothes on a chaise that I was right.
"Mommy, Daddy! Why are you here, you said you were staying down at Pat’s because of the storm?" Wade asked.
"The weather people said the storm had stalled and would arrive later, so we got on the road and came home. We just thought we'd let you know we were back, but you guys weren’t here, so we waited.
Besides, I like Rob’s Jacuzzi better than our old hot tub,” Cammie grinned.
"Oh okay, but I can still stay over here tonight can’t I?" Wade asked
"Sure honey, if Rob can stand you," Cammie joked.
"Aw Mom, you know he loves me," Wade replied, grinning.
"Yes sweetie, I know. He’s a very good uncle to you."
I blushed just a bit; both Cammie and Dennis smiled at me.
"There is another reason he wants to stay here tonight, I have a boy staying with me and they have gotten to like each other. Wade got Kelly to do the first impulsive thing I’ve seen him do." I didn’t elaborate though.
"Well, remember we have plans tomorrow, so be home around nine so we can get going," Dennis reminded Wade.
"Sure, Dad, I’ll be home earlier. I still have to do my chores before we go," Wade volunteered.
"I’ll do the alfalfa and oats and Julie said he would do your stall work," Dennis supplied.
"I just picked up another boy in the village; he’s going to help me with the storm damage and if you have anything for him, you guys can talk," I informed them.
"Well, I think we should get out and get dressed and go meet your guests. Thanks for the use of the Jacuzzi, Rob. Maybe if I say that enough, Dennis will get the hint and put one in," Cammie grinned.
"You're always welcome, oh, the boys aren't quite ready for naked adults yet." I informed them.
"Wade buddy, why don’t you get Kelly and Brandon to hang out in the kitchen, so they can meet your folks?"
"Dennis," I asked when he had gone, "you know Oxnard pretty well, I’m trying to find a motel down there that I can work a deal with." I filled them in on Kelly’s situation and that I wanted him to have a safe place to go to so he could change clothes and have a little privacy, at least until I could deal with Lyle.
"My Brother has the Motel 6 at Oxnard and Wooley. I can give you his number and you can talk it over with him," Dennis offered.
"That would be great, I hope I can work something out with him. I would certainly make it worth his while. Well, I’ll give you a little privacy to dress, I know it sounds weird, but I find it awkward to be around people who are getting dressed."
"You're right, but I feel the same way. I guess it’s because you’re quite vulnerable during the transition from nude to clothed, but thank you," Cammie speculated as she climbed from the Jacuzzi.
I entered the house through the French doors off the swimming pool area and made my way to the kitchen. I found Kelly and Brandon having a serious discussion about leaving home.
"I can’t tell you what to do Kelly, but running away isn’t the answer for you. I’m going to be brutally honest with you man, there are guys out there that just wait for guys your age and then they lure you in for a meal or a dry place to sleep or just a ride. When you get away from them, if you do, your asshole is going to be very sore and who knows what diseases they'll have pumped into you with their filthy dicks. I’m sorry but that’s how it is out there.”
Brandon continued, “I’m pretty strong and I’m wary and I’ve had some close calls. I’m not giving up my body to some pervert. I don’t care how hungry I am. I’d steal before I’d do that and I hate the idea of stealing. And that’s another thing; nobody will hire you except to suck their dick, so you’d have to steal to survive.”
“Brandon went on to say “Look, I left because my step-dad was an abusive drunk and he ran over the shed I was living in with a Combine. He said it was an accident, but he just didn’t want me on the place I guess. He wouldn’t let me live in the house after my Mom died and I moved in to the old foreman’s shack. Until my Mom died we had gotten along pretty good.”
“I hung around town and worked at a dairy part time, and slept in a friend’s garage apartment. I heard my old man was looking for me, so I left town. I got lucky and ran across a trucker who was trying to make a delivery to the Miller place, and unless you know the area, it’s almost impossible to find. I jumped in and showed him the way and even helped unload the equipment he was delivering. He gave me a lift all the way to Sacramento before he turned off for I-80.”
“Sacramento is where I got beaten and robbed and almost raped until an old homeless guy came and ran my attackers off. It was his alley they drug me into. They started off friendly and I asked where the bus station was. They said it was just a couple blocks away and they would show me. Well, they showed me alright.”
“They didn’t get off light; I broke one guy’s arm and I’m pretty sure I broke the other guy’s jaw. But one of them got me in the head with something heavy and got my wallet with forty bucks and not much else in it and my jacket.”
“Fortunately, I didn’t keep much in my wallet. It was all in a tobacco pouch under my nuts in my underwear. So I gathered everything I had left and headed off in the direction the homeless guy suggested. If it weren’t for him I’d be a murderer or dead. I would have tracked those guys down and killed them if they had raped me, and I’m not kidding.”
“Look Kelly, I could say I’m not trying to scare you, but I am. If more young guys knew what happens to runaways, there would be fewer of them."
"Hey guys, I’m sorry for eavesdropping, but Brandon is right, besides I’ve got a better plan. Kelly, what school do you go to?" I asked.
"Green Jr. High, I have to catch the bus at Ninth and Oxnard, but it beats Ocean View. It’s all gang bangers and mostly Latino," He replied.
"That’s pretty close to Wooley, right?" I continued.
"Yeah, I have to cross Wooley to get to my stop," he answered.
"Then you’ve seen the Motel 6 on Oxnard and Wooley?"
"Sure, I cut through their parking lot some days, why?" he asked.
"I’m going to have to tell you later, Cammie and Dennis will be in here in a moment. But you need to take what Brandon told you to heart. He’s been there," I told him.
"Will they be wearing clothes? asked Kelly
"Yes they will, where did Wade go?" I asked.
"I think he had to go to the bathroom," Kelly answered, "Do you want me to go check on him?
"That would be great Kelly, thank you."
To Brandon I said, "Thanks for setting him straight about life on the street. He needed to hear that and it’s better coming from someone closer to his age. But I’m sorry you had to go through that," I put my hand on Brandon’s shoulder.
He gave me a look of longing that was difficult to understand. Was he looking for somewhere to call home or someone to love him as a child should be loved? Despite his demeanor and the way he carried himself, there was still a scared confused little boy in there.