Chapter Twelve

Help from the Enemy

Over the course of the next few weeks Brian and I hung out quite a bit. I liked the fact that we seemed to be getting close so quickly. He'd told me that he was so happy to have finally met his brother, and I was more than thrilled to know that there was actually someone in the world that was actually related to me. Ian and Tyler seemed to be getting to know each other as well. I was happy for that. Tyler and I were spending as much time together as possible without shutting out our other friends. I liked him a lot but I wasn't sure exactly where our relationship was going.

Tyler and I were having quite a bit of fun together. He'd even joined me and Greg a few times to study. Not much studying ever got done during those sessions though. Greg and Tyler, TJ, as he instructed me to call him after our third "date", seemed to feed off each other's prankster images. I was growing used to getting myself covered in spit balls and finding silly things in my text books at any given time. I'd even gotten in on the fun a time or two myself.

The problem with these little bouts of playfulness was that I was starting to see TJ as a good friend. He was completely gorgeous and lusty thoughts could overtake me from time to time with him as the star. We both seemed to be attracted to each other but the more we saw of each other the less romantic we found ourselves. It was becoming clear that we would be nothing more than great friends. I just hoped that I wasn't the only one who felt that way about our relationship.

"But I thought you liked him," said Leo one day while I was polishing glasses at the coffee house. He was seated on a stool at the bar with a steaming cup of coffee in front of him. We'd been discussing the lack of romance between me and TJ.

"I do like him," I replied. "It has nothing to do with not liking him. I just don't see myself liking him any more than I already do."

"Is this because of Steve?" he asked, and I was forced to remember just how perceptive Leo could be at times. This time he was wrong though.

"No," I replied with a chuckle. "This has nothing to do with Steve. This is about the fact that I only see TJ as a friend. Maybe a good friend but still only a friend."

"Well then you'd probably better tell him that," advised Leo. "I think he might just have other ideas about where your relationship is headed."

"You think?" I asked, leaning against the bar. "I really thought he was feeling the same way I am."

"He might be for all I know," he replied. "I may not know him well enough to interpret the way he's been acting around you. I have to say though; he really seems to like you so much more than as just a friend."

"Shit," I sighed, making Leo blanch. "Sorry."

"No foul," he said, putting up his hands. "Just haven't shrugged off the teachings."

"I hear you," I said. "I hear you on both matters. I'll talk to TJ."

"Just try to make sure that you listen, Tommy," he replied.

That request gave me pause. Is that the way he saw me? Was I someone that just didn't listen? I worried over that one for at least an hour after Leo left. At around an hour after that interaction the coffee house got really busy. I was about to call Dean when Jamie came in to help. He seemed to have a way with people and everyone was happy while he was around. I wondered about him from time to time. He was awfully attractive but I also knew his lover, JD.

"Well that's that," he said, coming up to the bar with a tray of cups as the last of the customers left the coffee house. "It was fun while it lasted."

"It was because you were here," I replied. "I was about to freak when you came through the door. You were my salvation."

"I thought Dean and Drake were going to hire someone to help out," he said, looking around at the dirty tables.

"I thought so too," I replied. "I recommended my friend Leo but they never got in touch with him."

"Well I'll remind them when I get home," he said, looking at his watch. "If you'll just stick around long enough for me to wipe these tables down I'd appreciate it."

"Sure," I said, glancing at the clock. I was shocked to see that I was supposed to have gotten off work twenty minutes earlier.

"Thanks, Tommy," he said, smiling at me. "I'll have you out of here in twenty."

"No problem," I said. I didn't have any other plans but another study session with the practical jokesters.

True to his word I was out of there twenty minutes later. I made it back to the dorm and into my room to find TJ and Greg in the middle of one of their debates over who was better at balancing a textbook on his head. I shook my head and opened my English book as I slid onto my bed. These two would most likely make studying impossible.

"Tommy, I'm so glad you finally made it," said Greg. "Tell this hair brain that he can't possibley hold his book on his head longer than me."

"I'll tell you both to shut up so we can actually get some studying done," I replied, trying not to laugh. "Come on guys. I have an exam in three days."

"Ooh," said TJ, grinning like crazy. "He's in a mood. What to do?"

"We could show him the error of his ways," replied Gregg in a mock menacing voice.

"And how do you suggest we do that?" TJ asked.

"Oh I don't know," he said. "We could just fire spit balls at him until he realizes that we mean him no harm."

"You two are insufferable," I said, closing my book and getting off the bed. "I'm going to hang out with Brian for a while. I'll talk to you guys later."

I didn't give them a chance to protest. I just left the room and headed downstairs. I met Leo in the first floor hall. He didn't look happy. I wondered what Thad had done. They'd been getting along so well all semester long, but that didn't mean that they liked everything about each other. I sighed as I realized that I wasn't going to get any studying done.

"Tommy, I need to talk to you," he said as he walked up to me.

"Let's go get something to eat," I replied, putting my arm over his shoulders and turning him toward the door.

We went straight to my car but Leo hadn't said anything by the time we drove out of the parking lot. He was silent all the way to the diner and I wondered just what could have him so upset. It was clear that he was upset by the tense way he was sitting. His neck would hurt him soon if he didn't relax. Whatever it was that Thad had done it had Leo stiff as a board. We were seated at the diner and had given our drink orders before he said anything.

"I think my brother needs to talk to you, Tommy," he said, confusing me to no end. What did Noah have to do with Thad?

"Is Noah all right?" I asked slowly.

"I'm not sure," he said with a sigh. "He told our foster parents something that has them very upset."

"What did he tell them?"

"That he was gay," replied Leo with a startled look on his face. "I don't know why he said it. It can't be true. He knows how..."

"Leo," I said, stopping him before he got any further. I was sure he was going to say something about how much of a sin it was. I didn't want to have to get angry with him. It had been so long since we'd argued over that.

"Sorry," he said, looking down at his soda. "Will you talk to him?"

"I'll talk to him if he wants to talk to me," I replied slowly. "What exactly are you wanting me to say to him?"

"You have to make him understand how hard it is to be a homosexual," he said, looking at me with pleading eyes. "You know how difficult your life has been since you acknowledged that you are gay."

I had to think carefully about what to say in response to that. My life had become difficult all right but it was his grandfather and a few other bigoted people who had caused the difficulties in my life. Leo and I rarely ever discussed his grandfather. I knew how hard it was for him to think of the man that his grandfather had become and compare him to the man that he'd once been before the anti-homosexual crusade had began. I didn't want to fight with him at all, but this statement about homosexuality making my life difficult really didn't sit well with me.

"Leo, the life of a homosexual may be difficult but it isn't much more difficult than the life of anyone else," I said. "My life became difficult because of other people and their twisted views. If Noah really is gay then telling him his life will be difficult won't make him change his sexuality. It can't be changed, Leo. This isn't something as simple as putting on a red shirt or deciding to eat grapes."

"I know that," he snapped and then sighed again. "I'm sorry. This is just something I never expected."

"I know it's unexpected, but does this mean that you love your brother any less?" I asked.

"Of course not," he said. "I love Noah just as much today as I did yesterday. I'm just worried about him."

"Well I'm sure you're worried about him," I replied. "Leo you have to understand that if you don't accept this and be there for him you will make Noah's life more difficult than necessary."

"That's just it," he said quickly. "He won't talk to me about it. His foster parents are ready to throw him out of the house. They have another foster son that isn't dealing well with the news either. He's already threatened to beat Noah."

"Then Noah doesn't need to be in that foster home anymore," I said. "Leo, this is serious. You have to contact Noah's social worker and alert her that Noah isn't safe in his residence."

He looked at me blankly for just a moment and in that moment I wanted to punch him in the face. I knew that in that moment he was considering the possibility that maybe Noah deserved to be in danger where he was currently living. In that moment he believed that if Noah could just see the folly of his decision he would change his mind. In that moment he was the same Leo Hartman who had made my life at Storyville High School difficult and I wanted to hurt him.

"Will she move him because of this?" he asked, and I had to shake off the thoughts I'd been having.

"She has to," I replied. "Who is his social worker?"

"Ms. Bennet," he replied. "She never really seems to be interested in anything but hearing that everything is fine."

I remembered Brian telling me how cold Ms. Bennet had been to him. I didn't think that she would do much for Noah. I wondered if there was anything I could do about it. Then an idea came to me. It was an idea that made my stomach uneasy. It required me to ask for help from a person that I had no respect for. I knew that I had to do something though. This was the only thing that I knew of that I could do.

"Come on," I said, reaching into my pocket to put money on the table to pay for our sodas. "We're going to talk to someone who I hope can help."

He followed me out of the diner and back to my car. He didn't ask any questions as we drove across the city. I was glad for that because if he had I might have changed my mind. I just had to keep Noah in my mind and remember that if he stayed in his current foster home he was in danger. I knew that a threat of being beaten up wasn't necessarily dangerous but if the threat went unchecked what else might this foster brother do? We pulled into the driveway at my house and I looked at the house next door. I didn't really want to do this but there was nothing else that I could think of to help Noah. I got out of the car and barely noticed that Leo followed me to the Andrews house. I could see Sharon's car in the drive so I knew that she was home. We stood on the porch for a few minutes before I touched my finger to the button of the doorbell. I really didn't want to do this.

"Tommy," said Sharon in surprise when she opened the door. "What are you doing here?"

"Sharon, I need your help," I said and inwardly winced when I heard myself saying those words.

"Well come in," she said, stepping aside. "Hello, Leo."

"Hello, Mrs. Andrews," he said as we walked into the house I hadn't set foot in for two years.

"What can I help you with?" she asked when we made it to the living room. "Have a seat, boys."

"Leo's brother, Noah, is in a foster home where he isn't exactly safe," I said. "It's kind of like the foster home that Jeremy used to live in."

"That's awful," she said. "Have you talked to his social worker?"

"His social worker is Sarah Bennet," I said. "Do you know her?"

"I know her well enough to know that she doesn't belong in her position," said Sharon as her face darkened. "What can I do to help?"

"Well I was hoping that you could talk to Mrs. Bennet," I said, realizing that I didn't really know what it was that I expected Sharon to do. "Maybe you can get her to see that Noah needs to be moved."

"Well I can call the Social Service office," she said. "But I don't know that my voice alone would make them understand. Maybe I can get Mike involved in this. He'll be home soon."

"Thank you, Mrs. Andrews," said Leo. "I don't want my brother to get hurt."

"Maybe you should tell me exactly what is going on," she said, looking from me to Leo and back.

It gave me an uneasy feeling as Leo tried to explain about how his brother had told his foster parents about his sexuality and the other foster child had heard what he'd said. He told Sharon that the foster parents had grounded Noah to his room and the foster brother had came to his room and told him that he would beat him senseless. I watched Sharon's face as Leo talked. I hoped that she wouldn't try to use this event in any way other than to help Noah. She didn't have a clean track record with this sort of thing but she had worked with Mike to get Jeremy out of the Cox house. I hoped that she would do the same thing this time.

Mike came home shortly after Leo finished telling Sharon what was going on in Noah's foster home. He was outraged by what he'd heard and went straight to the telephone to call Social Service. I left Leo with Sharon and Mike and went next door to talk to Andy about the situation. I thought that if they got Noah to a better foster home maybe Andy could talk to him the way he'd talked to me when I had first come out of the closet.

"Tommy, that was different," he said when I asked him. "I had known you since you were in kindergarten. I don't even know Noah Hartman. I'll talk to him but he has to want me to for it to work."

"Well I don't know Noah that well myself," I admitted. "I've only hung out with him a handful of times in the past. I just don't want him to get the idea that he's bad because of this. You know where he comes from."

"I do," he said. "I'll do what I can, but this can only happen with the permission of his foster parents."

I understood that but before we could say more Leo came in the side door. He looked excited and I wondered just what Mike and Sharon had done. It wasn't long before he told me that Mike had called Social Service and they had agreed to look into Noah's case. Noah was getting a new case worker because Ms. Bennet was being transferred to a different office. That was good news but would his new social worker be any better?

For the next several days I waited on word about what would happen. Leo hung out with me as much as he could. That meant that Thad was around a lot too. I was continually shocked by his attitude. He was angry about what was going on with Noah and he assured Leo that any time he needed to talk about it he was there for him. I was shocked by this side of Thad.

It was two weeks before the end of the semester that Noah was moved to another foster home. I was shocked to learn that it was Mike and Sharon Andrews who were now his foster parents. When I'd taken Leo to Sharon to ask for her help I hadn't thought that she would step in that far. Leo said that Noah was happy with the Andrews family and he was very happy to be around Thomas. Jeremy was in and out most of the time and Noah told Leo that they rarely talked. That didn't surprise me because Jeremy rarely talked to anyone.

Storyville 3