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Sunday, July 16, 2017

Phoenix from the Ashes Part 3

Thanks to PJ and Rosemarie for their great advice and beta, and to JL of JL's Junction without whom Joaquin might never have existed.

Warning for some foul language

‘Keen slouched in the back seat of the car as well as he was able with the seat belt on. His arms were crossed sullenly, one hand beneath the shoulder strap to keep it from digging into his neck.  He was quickly regretting having trusted these men. He was angry because he felt that they'd given him no other real choice in the matter. He'd be damned if he was going to end up in some home for runaway boys. If he'd wanted to be a prisoner he would have stayed home with the Drug Rugs, his term of disaffection for the adults in his life who usually ended up passed out on the floor on any given evening.  Or he would have taken his chances with the good people from CPS.  His stomach began to knot with anxiety and he just knew he had to get away.

Once again, it was just a matter of timing.  He didn't have Sammy or Mikey to help distract these supposed do-gooders, so it was merely a matter of waiting for the right time.  They had to stop somewhere to eat and use the facilities, and that was where he'd make his move. With that plan in mind, he settled into the back seat of the car as though he didn't have a care in the world, although he was peeved that Gideon had sent Killer ahead so he didn't even have the dog to play with to pass the time.

"We've only got to get as far as Kansas City, Missouri," Gideon reassured the boy, glancing into the rear-view mirror at him, but he got no response from the child.

Shorty turned in his seat as well as he could and called gently, "Phoenix."

‘Keen was wrested out of his own thoughts at the intrusion.  "What?" he asked nastily.  He was immediately sorry.  He hadn't meant to respond in that manner as it was counterproductive to his plans.  "I'm sorry.  I was... thinking.  You just surprised me is all.  What did you say?" he replied in a more respectful tone.

Shorty nodded acceptance but with a guarded expression that he was glad the boy couldn’t see with the early morning light behind him. "Gideon was just mentioning that it's about two hours before we reach Kansas City."  

"I'm thirsty,” ‘Keen announced randomly, ignoring the man's words.

"There are bottles of water in the cooler on the floor back there,” Gideon pointed out.

"I need to pee,” ‘Keen tried again. 

"You went over an hour ago,” Gideon replied, arching his eyebrows and giving Phoenix a knowing look in the rear-view mirror.

‘Keen flushed and turned his gaze back to the terrain rushing by and dove back into his own thoughts.

He weighed his options.  No way to run if they wouldn't stop anywhere. He could make a break for it when they stopped or even slowed down enough.  Wherever that was, he just worried that there would be a lot of people where ever 'there' was.  Chances are if passersby saw him running they would just brush him off as an unruly kid, do nothing more than give him dirty looks and silently berate the parents who had raised him.  He didn't see any point in telling anyone the truth about his age just yet. Not that anyone would believe him.

Then of course, there would be Shorty and Gideon who would most likely sound the alarm by yelling or running after him.  Perhaps someone would try to be a hero and grab him or trip him up as he ran. There was still a good chance he'd be able to get away before they got to resort, because once he was at the resort, there was the possibility of security.  He was sure that this resort had seen its share of runaways trying to make a break for it and they’d be ready.   He was also sure that they’d have to stop at least once in the following hours, but worried that it would be too late by then.  

His opportunity came sooner than he'd hoped.  Gideon began to slow down as they came up on a construction site. He perked up slightly as he realized that there was no traffic either in front or behind them at the moment. Making up his mind quickly, he put his plan into action. He quietly unbuckled his seat belt and pulled the door handle, stunned and angry when nothing happened. Again. They'd locked him in again!  He fought with the handle and tried pushing the door with his shoulder, beginning to grunt with the effort.  He felt more than saw Gideon slow down more and he increased his efforts to escape.

Shorty felt as though his heart would jump out of his mouth when he heard the boy fighting with the door handle in another attempt to jump out. 

Gideon's heart was racing as well, even though he knew that he had activated the child proof lock.  No matter how safe people thought a car was, there was always the chance of something going wrong. He pulled over, turned his emergency lights on and his engine off, before unbuckling and turning toward the boy.

Panting with exertion, ‘Keen fought with the door for a few more seconds until he saw Gideon reach toward him.

Both men's hearts nearly broke as the boy's demeanor changed from frantic to still and scared. 

‘Keen saw the man turn toward him.  He knew what was coming.  He’d just known that Gideon wasn't as nice as he tried to make himself out to be!  The other guy, Shorty, was probably just as bad.  In his experience, adults rarely had time to deal with children without using their fists or yelling.  And he had just been, unsuccessfully, trying to jump out of a moving car.  If that didn't deserve a beating, he didn't know what did.

‘Keen curled into a ball, protecting his stomach and privates while using his hands and arms to cover his head as best he could.  He turned his face and body into the corner created by the back seat and the door so that the only target he presented was his back.

‘Keen huddled there, silent and still, swearing to himself that he wasn't going to cry when they began to beat him.  He wouldn't give them the satisfaction.  In fact, if they beat him... or worse... it just strengthened his resolve to get away as fast and as far as possible.

His heart was pounding in his ears but he still heard the car door open and close, a short spate of footsteps, and the door opposite him being opened.  He curled into an even tighter ball, clamping his arms around his head so that whoever it was couldn't pull his arms away and punch him on the face or head... or at least he'd make it more difficult for them.

He felt the left side of the seat go down as someone got in.

There was no yelling.  No one hit him, yet.  But he knew, ‘they'd’ done it before, waiting nearby or walking away as though they'd given up and then punching him when he wasn't expecting it.  He wasn't falling for that again, and he shoved himself further into the corner.  He expected any moment for the other one to open the door he was using as a shield and then watch and laugh as he fell out onto the highway.

"Phoenix," said a soft, gentle voice.  "Phoenix.  Look at me, hon.  Look at me.  I'm not going to hurt you, Phoenix.  Gideon isn't going to hurt you,” Shorty’s voice.

‘Keen shook his head slightly but said nothing as he braced for the first blows.

The driver's side door opened.  ‘Keen felt the car bounce a bit as Gideon got out of the car, heard the door close.  Footsteps.  But the man didn't open the door he leaned against.  Instead he heard the trunk open.

Oh, God, no! His mind screamed.  They weren't going to put him in the trunk, were they?  With that in mind, ‘Keen uncurled and began to fight with the door handle again, going so far as to beat his hands against the window once more in the hopes of breaking it and breaking out.

Strong arms pulled him backward and wrapped around him, pinning the boy's arms into an X across his chest.

‘Keen yelled and despite his earlier resolve began to cry.  He pitched and bucked and twisted, kicking the seat and door violently, trying to make Shorty let him go.  He drew his head forward and slammed it back hard, hoping he'd catch the man in the nose so that he'd release him.

Shorty was expecting the move and the boy's head only impacted with his collarbone.  It still hurt but his grip on the boy never wavered.  He had learned the restraining technique from the self-defense classes that James, the resort’s owner, insisted that all of his friends learn after Mutt's brush with a cowardly bully that Jax, with much reluctance and embarrassment, admitted was his step-father. He never stopped whispering gentle reassurances into the boy's ear.   It took several minutes for the boy to realize that no one was yelling.  No one was slapping or punching him.  No one was harming him at all.

Someone was talking softly to him.  Someone was holding him tight, but not to hurt him.  Someone was holding him so that he didn't hurt himself.  At least that's what the soft voice said.  The soft voice continued to reassure him that he was safe, that no one was going to hurt him.

‘Keen 's breathing slowed down.  His mind stopped whirling.  His heart stopped trying to tear its way out of his chest.  Finally, the words began to sink in.  Safe?  Something clicked in his mind.  A memory.  Being held after a bad dream.  Being assured by a calming male voice that he was safe and that the monsters had all been swept out of the house.  Safe.

He had no idea when he'd done it, but he'd somehow turned toward the man who was holding him, burrowing now into the warm embrace rather than the cold vinyl of the seat and door.  Not for protection from fists and belts but for comfort.

Shorty held the slender boy as he cried.  Heart wrenching cries which the child tried hard to keep in but which insisted on being released after all these years.

Gideon, who had gone to get a blanket out of the trunk of the car came back and sat on the opposite side where the boy had been huddling earlier.  He carefully wrapped the blanket around ‘Keen, then sat quietly until the boy's shaking and crying subsided.

The child hadn't realized it but while Shorty had been calming him down, he'd been rocking him side to side, slightly, but still rocking.  Then it hit him.  He was crying.  He was being held gently by someone.  Someone hard as a rock and yet still somehow comfortable, and a very soft voice.  Someone with strong arms. Someone who called him honey.

"No,” he protested faintly, fatigue taking it’s toll. 

"Here Phoenix, have a little water and then you go to sleep for a while, alright?  Here you go,” Shorty said as he helped the tired boy drink some of the water before the child fell asleep in his arms.  Gideon carefully buckled the boy in as well as he could, then he and Shorty exchanged looks.  Gideon nodded, got out of the car and closed the door as softly as he could and got back into the driver's seat.  He worried that the sound of the engine starting would wake the boy but other than shifting position slightly, the child didn't awaken.

Shorty kept his arms around the boy for warmth and safety and nodded silently to Gideon that all was well, and the three of them resumed their journey. 

Shorty wondered what would happen when they arrived at the airport. Would he make a scene and draw attention to them?  Would he try to run?  Not for the first time, he wondered if he and the others had made the right decision to take in the runaway.  Any child who would try to jump out of a moving vehicle might have something more wrong than having come from an abusive or broken home. With that concern weighing on his mind he spent the rest of the ride in silence, looking out of his window and seeing nothing.

Gideon dropped the rental car off and the three travelers headed for the terminal.  ‘Keen woke long enough to walk into the airport with the two men, still bleary eyed and tired beyond words.  The tickets were ready and he was asleep again as soon as they were seated and buckled in. He slept during the entire 4-1/2-hour plane ride.  Gideon was the only one with luggage so once he retrieved his bag, Shorty gently guided them to the van waiting outside. 

Despite his worries, once they reached the resort, the child was still too weary to cause a fuss, and sleepily allowed Shorty to guide him into the bunkhouse and onto the couch, where he leaned his head against the older man's shoulder and fell right back to sleep. The child kicked in his sleep, frowning, as Bo tried to take his sneakers off, so despite their dilapidated condition, the two men left them on. 

Bo had to pick up Killer to keep him from jumping on the sleeping boy, shushing the dog and petting him until he settled down.

Once Shorty and ‘Keen were settled on the couch Gideon took Killer from Bo. Gideon said his goodbyes then he headed to Masonville and home where his own soft bed awaited him. He was sure that his partner would be home by now and he looked forward to making up for lost time.

Reluctantly, Bo went upstairs to go to bed by himself. He knew that the child would need Shorty nearby when he awoke.

When ‘Keen finally awakened, he sat up and looked warily at the man beside him.  "Where's Gideon?"  he asked suspiciously, looking around and out the windows to gauge what time it might be.  "How'd I get here?  Where are we?"

Ever patient, Shorty answered all of the boy's questions.

‘Keen sat back on the comfortable couch, frowning at the man next to him, while mulling over the information he'd been given. Maine. Yes. Somewhere in Maine. He vaguely remembered... Yes.  He remembered it now, though he'd expected Gideon to stay with him.  How could the man just leave him with someone he didn't know? How did he know what kind of man Shorty was? How did he know that the older man wouldn't start beating him as soon as they were out of Gideon's sight? 

What would this resort be like?  They'd said it wasn't a work camp for runaways... but he... Shorty, had said that many of their family had been runaways.  Had they run from the resort, or to the resort?  Or had they been runaways and sentenced to the resort? Would there be guards?  Electrified, barbed wire fences?   Vicious attack dogs?  Was it a cult of some sort?  Was Shorty the guru and Gideon one of his recruiters? 

His stomach knotted.  He knew that perhaps none of it was true and that he was letting his imagination create all these worst-case scenarios, but he was suddenly afraid.  More afraid than he'd been when he had been trying to jump out of the car.  More afraid than he'd been when he had been certain that they were going to beat him. 

"I need to use a bathroom,” he said suddenly.  

"I’ll show you…”

“No!" he said quickly. Too quickly he knew. A little more sedately he said, "I mean, I can get there by myself if you just tell me where it is.”

“It’s across the hallway from here, hon," replied Shorty, who smiled in a friendly manner as he pointed in the general direction. He handed the boy clean clothes and suggested that he might feel better after a shower as well.

"Everything you'll need you'll find on the bottom shelf in the cabinet beneath the sink.  If you don’t find anything you like, just use what’s there and we’ll get you your brand when we go shopping,” Shorty replied.  "In the meantime, I'm sure you'll be fine."

‘Keen used the facilities, sighing in relief as the pressure decreased.  He washed his hands and looked out of the bathroom window.  Nothing but a stable and horses.  No barbed wire.  No attack dogs.  Just sunshine, grass and trees.  He turned on the shower and stood beneath the warm spray, feeling as though he were losing a pound per second as the dirt of his travels flowed down the drain. He washed his hair three times, reveling in the feeling of being completely clean once again. While he felt much better, though still a bit hungry, his thoughts were in a muddle.   

Now what?  What was going to happen to him?  Where was he really going to end up?  Was Shorty really going to keep him on the resort or was this a layover to somewhere else?  Was it a home for runaways as he'd first thought?  Or a foster home, one of those places that Ick had warned him about?  His stomach knotted and he felt sick.

‘Keen stepped out of the shower and looked around the bathroom as he began to towel himself dry.  It was very clean and smelled nice. He sighed in frustration.  A well-kept bathroom meant that there were no cracked tiles in the floor, no dusty air vents, nowhere to hide the sandwich baggie with the rest of the large bills.  

What was he going to do?

"Phoenix?  Is everything all right, hon?" came Shorty's voice from the other side of the door.

"Oh, uh, yeah Shorty.  I'm just finishing up," the boy said, "I, uh... don't recognize these clothes..." he said to gain some time as he stood on the lid of the commode to check the top of the cabinets for a place to hide the baggie with his money.  ‘Damn,’ He swore to himself, ‘They even clean up here!’

"Little Jake loaned you some clothes until we can get you new ones, I'm afraid the things you had were unsalvageable," Shorty said apologetically as he remembered the filthy socks sagging over the ankles of an equally filthy pair of beat up sneakers.

‘Keen tried not to huff in frustration.  He had intended to put the baggie somewhere in the house if he could find just one neglected spot to hide it in.  It would make for a speedier exit once he was ready to run.

'Alright then,' he thought, 'I'll just have to figure out another hiding spot. I can't keep it in my socks, not while I'm trying on shoes with Shorty there.'  With that he put the baggie into the back pocket of the borrowed jeans, tucking it down as far as he could to avoid losing it.

He felt a pang of guilt for not telling the man that he had more than enough money to buy himself new clothes.  He'd never felt good about stealing even when he felt it was necessary, and to let this man buy anything for him when he had money to buy his own felt like stealing. But then, he thought, he hadn't wanted to be 'rescued' in the first place.  He hadn’t asked these men for anything.  

A knock on the door woke him from his thoughts.

"Phoenix?  Are you feeling sick?" came Shorty's concerned voice from the other side of the door.

‘Keen reluctantly got up and opened the door.  "Yeah, my stomach is bothering me some," he admitted.


‘Keen only shrugged.

"We'll get you some ginger ale.  That should settle your stomach.  You go on and relax and I'll get it,” Shorty offered.

‘Keen responded with something between a shrug and a nod and returned to the couch.

Shorty returned moments later with a can and a glass with ice cubes in it.  "Would you please pull the table toward you, hon?" he asked with a friendly smile.

"Why do you do that?"  ‘Keen asked as he did as Shorty had requested.

"Do what?" Shorty asked, perplexed.

"Call me hon." 

"Well, for two reasons," Shorty said with a smile, "First, it's what I call people that I care about, and second, it's what I call people when I don't know their name," he continued slyly.

‘Keen's body stiffened slightly and he swallowed nervously.  That was all Shorty needed to see to know that he'd been right, and that the boy had given them a false name.

He cleared his throat and turned his face up towards Shorty's.  "I did tell you my real name."  He'd had something of a crush on Joaquin Phoenix and had been pleased that they shared the same first name. He, just like the actor, planned to change his last name to Phoenix when he was old enough, so, in his mind, he had given the men his 'real' name.

"No hon.  Don't.  Please.  Let's not start our relationship out with more lies," Shorty said kindly.  "For now, your name is Phoenix, as you prefer. Then when you feel more comfortable and secure, you can tell me your real name.  Do we have a deal?"  the older man asked gently. 

‘Keen looked into the warm blue eyes, seeing nothing but kindness and sincerity there.  He was tempted to tell the man his real name on the spot but he was afraid that if he did Shorty would put him on the next plane back to Washington where, perhaps, he would be placed in foster care or an orphanage, or worse, back in the custody of his mother.  He could live with the Drug Rugs if he had to, he knew how to survive, and how to make himself scarce, but he knew he couldn't face his brothers if they were there.  He knew he couldn't live with the knowledge that it was his fault if they weren't. 

Getting no more response from the boy, Shorty said, "Come on, Phoenix, I'll introduce you to the others."

It was only then that ‘Keen smelled coffee and bacon, and heard the voices in the next room.

After what had to be the best breakfast he’d ever eaten, surrounded by a friendly group of garrulous men who all seemed to want to talk to him at the same time but thankfully not seeming to expect much by way of response, Shorty took ‘Keen up to the room that would be his.  It was a small but comfortable looking room, with a twin sized bed covered with a maroon, white and warm brown bedspread.  There was a small closet, a dresser, a bedside table with a lamp, and a full bookshelf.  Everything smelled of fresh air and fabric softener.  The plain warm brown curtains fluttered a bit as Shorty closed the window.

“How many others?”  ‘Keen asked distractedly as he looked around.

“In the bunkhouse, only the five of us. On the resort?  Well, you'll get to meet everyone eventually.  Jake and Jare share a room across from you, and Bo has a room down the end of the hallway near the bathroom.  My bedroom is across from his,” Shorty explained. He didn't bother to mention that Jake had moved into his brother's room so that Phoenix would have a place to sleep.

“So, the bed is all mine?” the boy asked in mild disbelief.

“The bed is yours, hon.  You don’t have to share it with anyone.  Why do you ask?”

“No reason…,” he trailed off.  

“The room will warm up in just a minute.  We had the window open to air it out some.”

Having been cold on more than one night, huddled in bed with his brothers for warmth when the Drug Rugs had forgotten to pay the heating and there’d been no money in the house so that ‘Keen could do it, the idea of a cold room had no effect on him in any way. Hadn't he been sleeping in trees and walking at night in the cold all this time? 

"Just to let you know, Phoenix, any bedroom that doesn't belong to you is off limits unless you're invited in.  You keep your own room clean, bring down your dirty laundry, and make your own bed. Understood?"

‘Keen thought for a moment.  "Then that means that my bedroom is off limits to everyone unless I ask them in?"

"You give respect, you get respect. Understand?"

"Yeah, I understand," ‘Keen said.

Shorty smiled.  “So now all that's left to do today is go shopping.”

“Shopping...,” ‘Keen repeated dully, “For what? I really don't want to go anywhere, Shorty. Can't I just stay here and... I dunno... watch TV or something?"

“No, I'm afraid that right now, getting you some clothes that fit is more important than watching television. As I said, the clothing you had was just... well... there was no way we could have washed everything enough to make it safe to wear,” the older man said apologetically.

“Di'ja throw everything away?”  ‘Keen asked, trying to sound nonchalant.

“No.  I did manage to salvage up one thing I'm sure you'd like to keep,” Shorty said, holding a small, glittery item.

‘Keen snatched it away from Shorty, blushing that the man had seen the small wood and silver music box he’d taken from the house when he’d run away.  He opened the top drawer of the small bedside table and put it in quickly, head down and shoulders hunched as he waited for the man to start calling him names for having such a 'girly' thing.

He was very much surprised when Shorty did nothing of the sort. Instead he acted as though nothing had happened and said, “Well, looks like I was right, you and Little Jake are close in size, at least in the waist. Just roll the cuffs up a little, I think. He also gave you socks and a pair of sneakers to use for the time being. Yours are worn to the woof.”

“Are there any other inmates?”  ‘Keen asked, putting on the new items and tossing his manky and now cash free sneakers into the trash.

“We don’t have inmates here,” Shorty replied, trying not to laugh as he handed the boy a slightly over sized jacket.  "Everyone here is here voluntarily.  They work hard, they sleep hard, and they get paid for their work.  Anyone who wants to leave is free to go, but considering that a lot of us have been here since we were teenagers, I doubt anyone plans to leave."

“So, it is a camp for runaways?”  ‘Keen asked uncertainly.

“It’s a resort, hon, nothing more.  While we have taken in runaways in the past, it is not meant as a camp of any sort.”

“Then why am I here and not in a foster home or an orphanage or something?”  ‘Keen asked, confused.

“Gideon asked us to take you in because everywhere else he called was full.  He also saw something special in you, and he felt that a place like this was better than an overcrowded foster home or shelter where you would get lost.  Not only that,” he continued with a sparkle in his warm blue eyes, “Killer took right to you and that’s not a dog who likes people on sight.”

“Sooooo... the dog liked me, and I end up on a resort?” ‘Keen asked in disbelief.

“That’s basically it.”  Shorty smiled.

“Great.  I passed the dog test and essentially ended up a pound puppy,” ‘Keen replied wryly.

The analogy to a pound puppy was apt and amusing so Shorty didn’t try to deny the accusation. “If you hadn’t, you’d've have been in jail somewhere in Council.”

"Fuck that. I am in a fucking jail," he muttered.

“And we’ll have no swearing here.  Understood?” the older man scolded gently.

With a derisive mock salute, ‘Keen said, “Yes, Sir!  No swearing, Sir!”

“And I’d stop with the smart mouth, little boy, or you’ll get your wish to stay home while you stand in the corner thinking about your attitude.”

“Co… c…  Corner?!  Are you shitting me?”  the boy asked, astounded and sure his leg was being pulled none too gently.

“One more word like that out of your mouth and you’ll find out.  Now, you’ve wasted another five minutes arguing and cussing. Let's head out.”

‘Keen muttered under his breath again as he turned to follow the older man.

“Care to repeat that, little boy?” Shorty asked.

“No, sir.  I just sneezed is all,” ‘Keen replied, lying through his teeth.

“Mmmm hmmm.  God bless you, Phoenix, now stop the malarkey and get a move on, it’s just about 9:30 now and times a-wastin’.”

"Do we have to go right now?"  ‘Keen asked again.  "I'd really just like to watch some television." The Drug Rugs may have forgotten to pay the heat and even to buy food, but they always made sure the cable bill was paid, and ‘Keen and his brothers had come to count on the time that they could watch a show or two to keep their minds off of their empty stomachs.

"Not right now, hon. It's more important that we get you some new clothes." Shorty repeated.


“No, hon. Not right now.”


No, Phoenix. Not right now," Shorty replied firmly.

“That’s not…”

“Say that’s not fair and its corner time for you,” Shorty warned.

‘Keen shut his mouth, stunned once again at the ultimatum. Maybe it was time to tell Shorty how old he really was. He was only a few months shy of his 18th birthday and hoped that he could stay out of the foster care system until then.  Cooperating with Shorty seemed to be the best plan for the time being.

"Ok, Shorty," he replied, trying to sound contrite.

The veterinarian raised an eyebrow, not fooled for a second, but smiled instead and gestured the boy to go with him.

He then proceeded to walk with the older man to the parking lot where they got into his 4 x 4 and headed out.  His eyebrows rose when he saw the security guard at the gate but other than that he didn't see anyone or anything else that would make him uneasy.

He spent the day with Shorty, first buying all new clothes, sneakers, and a winter jacket and boots before they took a break for lunch. He looked at the bags that they'd placed on the floor near their table.  All new clothes. At all new jacked up prices.  

‘Keen had never been much of one for shopping, mostly because his five finger discounts kept him on the alert so that he could get in and out as quickly as possible with his ill-gotten gains.

With Shorty, he’d been able to take his time, look at the clothes, take note of the colors, the feel of the different fabrics.  ‘Keen couldn’t believe how stiff new jeans were since he’d never, as long as he could remember, worn anything new.  Even when his parents had still been together he'd often gotten his older cousin's hand me downs, and that had been fine with him. Then his uncle and aunt had broken off all ties with 'Keen's family and had just seemed to have disappeared.

Shorty had made ‘Keen try on several pairs of jeans and button down plaid flannel shirts.  He'd even allowed ‘Keen to throw in a few t shirts that the teen called 'Goth' and which Shorty called hideous, but they made the boy happy so he agreed to three of the less grotesque patterns ‘Keen had chosen.  The happy smile on his face was enough payment for Shorty.

As they sat down to eat, ‘Keen sighed, trying to relieve the guilt that ate at him.  "Can we return all this stuff?" he asked quietly. He felt horrible that he hadn't told Shorty about the money and that he could have bought his own clothing, but he was still afraid that if anyone else knew about it, they'd demand he give it to them and then his only chance to escape would be gone.

"Buyer’s remorse?" Shorty joked.

"No, it's not that... well, maybe, yeah. I mean, we can go to a consignment store.  It’s a lot cheaper and I can get twice as much stuff for half the price.  The only things I’d have to get new are underwear and socks. And it doesn’t matter if I get sneaks a little too big.  All I have to do is wear extra socks.  And I’ll work hard to work off the cost of whatever you buy for me.”   ‘And I can leave you enough to pay whatever socks and shorts cost if I don’t work the cost off before I run again,’ he thought.

The idea was constantly on his mind.  He'd thought more than once about making a break for it but then he remembered that he really had nowhere to go.  It was a sure bet that Shorty would call the police to bring him back, or worse, send him to jail until the right authorities were called in to claim him.

Shorty smiled at the boy, pride and affection clear in his expression, "Don't worry, Phoenix, everyone deserves a treat now and again, and I'm happy I could be the one to give it to you."

'Keen had smiled, still feeling guilty for so many different reasons, but also feeling a great sense of... he couldn't quite put a word to it, but all he knew was that he was happy for the first time in a long time.

When they arrived back at the resort, Shorty helped him put away his new clothes and then they toured a little more of the resort by taking one of the trail rides led by Bo. Even though it was chilly, it was a beautiful day. ‘Keen was thrilled at the chance to ride on one of the horses and was mesmerized by the scenery.  If he had to be in a prison, this was the way to go, he thought.

Bo made steak and potatoes for dinner. ‘Keen couldn't remember when he'd eaten as well as he had in the last day and a half. Then he was hit with the memory of his little brothers crying with hunger the times he hadn't been able to buy or steal something for them to eat.  There were times when the food supply was low, and he'd always given them his share, preferring to go hungry than to allow it to happen to them.  He swallowed down the guilt that he felt about abandoning them to God only knew what and hoped that they'd ended up with nice people. He couldn't stand the thought that he was enjoying himself if they were in any pain or discomfort.

Shorty mistook the boy's silence for fatigue. He glanced at his watch and realized that he'd had the boy up and running all day. He looked at his boys and said, "I think it's time for Phoenix to go to bed guys. Start the cleanup and I'll be down in a little while to help with anything that's left."

"No worries, Shorty." Bo smiled. "There's not that much to be done.  Good night, Phoenix."

"I'm not tired," the boy said, confused.

"Shorty, can't he stay up and watch TV with us for a little while?" Little Jake asked.

"Yeah, Criminal Minds is going to be on soon," Jarrod added.

‘Keen looked up at Shorty hopefully.

"You've had a long, tiring time of it from what Gideon told me," Shorty said. "I think you need to rest more than anything else at this point."

"I'm rested!" the boy said, doing jumping jacks and kicking his legs out energetically to prove his point.  He had to stop as fatigue and dizziness hit and he thought for sure he was going to fall over.

"Awww, c'mon, Shorty, let the kid stay up a while longer," Little Jake protested.

"It's gonna be a really good episode. You wouldn't want him to miss a great episode, would you?" Jare cajoled.

"Wash and brush and to bed, Phoenix,” he said before turning to the twins. "Any more comments from the peanut gallery and you can go to bed as well," he said to them.

“I’m not tired though!”  ‘Keen protested once again.

“You can read a book for another half hour, but its lights out after that,” Shorty responded.

‘Keen looked again at his new watch.  “It’s 8:00!  By the time I get done washing up it’ll be eight thirty, and by the time I pick out a book it’ll be time to go to sleep!”

“Then I suggest you go about it quickly but thoroughly.  Lights out at nine.  No more arguments,” Shorty said in a no-nonsense tone.

With a final disgruntled look at Shorty, ‘Keen turned on his heel and stomped up to his bedroom where he threw off the new clothes he'd been wearing and slid into a tee shirt and sweat pants. He'd been grateful that Shorty hadn't insisted that he buy those ridiculous pajamas that would have looked more at home on somebody's grandfather.

He peeled off his socks and jumped onto the bed where he haphazardly pulled the blankets up and laid there fuming.

Shorty came in a few minutes later, smiling to see that the boy had obeyed, despite his protests.  "Now that wasn't so hard, was it?" he asked with a trace of amusement in his voice.

‘Keen rolled over onto his side so that his back was to Shorty but he didn't speak.

Shorty adjusted the blanket over the boy’s shoulders. “Good night, Phoenix,” he said.

The boy closed his eyes and pretended he hadn’t heard a word.

Shorty couldn’t help but to smile a little at the boy’s obstinacy before leaving the room.  He waited outside the door for five minutes before he heard the light snap on.  He walked casually into the room, unplugged the lamp, wished the boy sweet dreams and left, ignoring the sounds of the boy getting angrily back into his bed.

‘Keen stayed awake, furious at the injustice of it all.  He’d gone from having no supervision at all, and doing a great job of not only taking care of his brothers but of himself as well, to being supervised every moment of every day from now until they found out who he was and sent him back.  He laid on his back with his arms crossed, fighting fatigue, determined not to sleep at all that night just to spite Shorty.

At three o’clock by his watch, the house was quiet.  He got out of bed, slid his hand under the mattress and pulled out the baggie where he’d stashed all of his remaining money.  He walked as stealthily as he could down the carpeted steps, put on his new sneakers and jacket and went outside into the early December cold.  He went into the barn and found a gardening shovel.  Rather than search outside for a likely looking place that might be hard as a rock and resistant to the shovel, he went into the wood shed, which he’d noticed had a dirt floor.  He moved aside a stack of kindling and dug into the soil.

Two feet down he felt was far enough to hide the baggie containing the money. 
Besides, his hands were cold, he was getting very sleepy, and frankly he didn’t want to dig down any deeper.  He put the baggie in the hole, covered it up carefully, spread dry dirt and shavings over the freshly turned earth, and replaced the stack of kindling.

By the time he got back inside his face, fingers and toes were completely numb.  Trying to dig a hole quietly in the dead of night took a lot longer than if he’d just been able to do it in broad daylight, but he knew that if he’d started to dig holes on the property word would get back to Shorty who would ask questions he’d rather not answer.


No Copyright Infringement Intended

JoaquĆ­n Rafael Phoenix, known formerly as Leaf Phoenix, is an American actor, producer, music video director, musician, and activist. 
Born:  October 28, 1974


  1. Thank you for the new chapter. Looking forward to what is going to happen next and what the guys reaction will be when they find out Keen is almost 18 or is 18 ( depending on when they find out) as I think they believe he is much younger.

  2. More to come, dragonquest! So happy that you're enjoying the series so far.
    Thank you for continuing to follow it. :D