Rousing from his sleep, Dmitri opened his eyes in the dim light and smiled - seeing again the gorgeous man he’d come to love, sleeping peacefully in his arms. He glanced over at the clock and seeing it was 3:09 am, wondered why he was awake. Then he heard a loud knocking at the door.
“Oh come on,” Dmitri muttered, pulling away from his partner, throwing on a pair of boxers, the first pair of slacks he could find and a white cotton t-shirt. The knocking came again and he could hear his lover, Garret, stirring in bed. Now Dmitri was annoyed. He got to the door and opened it just as the knocking came again. There in front of him was someone he never thought he would see again, and a frown immediately fell over Dmitri’s face. Then Dmitri saw the little boy, now five years old, awake and holding Dmitri’s ex lover’s hand, and Dmitri knew there was something very wrong. Nothing good could come of this.
“What’s going on Sabin? Why are you here?” he asked.
“Can we come in? Please?” Sabin pleaded, with what seemed like a sense of urgency in his voice.
Taking a moment to think about it, and vaguely remembering a promise made long ago, Dmitri stepped to the side and waived the two of them in. Speaking to the young boy, Dmitri asked “Would you like something to drink, Aaron?” Aaron nodded his head yes, and Dmitri got a small cup from the cabinet. “Is he allergic to any fruit juices?” Dmitri asked Sabin, who shook his head. Dmitri poured the child a cup of grape juice and looked back to his ex-lover. Sabin was now visibly calmer than he was before, but still seemed reluctant to give any explanation for why he was there. Dmitri looked back at the child, who in turn looked up plaintively into Dmitri’s eyes. It was not fear Dmitri saw there, but Dmitri could tell there was something a bit off. The child had a certain vulnerability to him, like he badly wanted to be held, but at the same time didn’t know who he could trust and was trying to decide if he could trust Dmitri.
Dmitri looked at Sabin again, and still seeing no explanation there, looked back at Aaron.
“Do you like video games, Aaron?”
The boy nodded.
“I’ll tell you what… I have a bunch of the latest racing games if you want to try them. Does that sound fun?”
For the first time, Aaron smiled, and nodded his head happily. “Okay, come right this way then,” Dmitri said, and walked from the kitchen down the hallway, to the game room.
Dmitri and Garret shared a two bedroom apartment. Originally, they split the apartment with another roommate, but he had moved away and they just covered his part of the rent to keep the apartment to themselves. Since they shared a bedroom, they used the second room as a game room. They turned the living room into an office, since from there they could look through the sliding glass doors over the balcony. It may have been a bit pricey, but it was decidedly worth it to have a place all their own.
Turning on a light and setting up the game machine, Dmitri told Aaron to have fun. Aaron looked at Sabin, who smiled and nodded to his son. Sabin looked back at Dmitri, who was watching Aaron with a pensive expression as Aaron sat back in a bean bag chair and started playing the game. Shaken from his thoughts of memories that never happened, Dmitri stepped out of the room and motioned for Sabin to follow him, then closed the door behind him. They walked back into the kitchen, each taking a seat at the table and began staring at each other. Sabin broke the stare, and was the first of the two to speak.
“I’m surprised you remembered his name.” He said.
“You twice deceived me into believing I would be a father to that boy; of course I remember his name.” Dmitri replied with remembered anger, causing a twinge of guilt to pass through Sabin.
“I deserved that,” Sabin answered, “but don’t think I came here to be yelled at.”
Annoyed and tired as he was, Dmitri summoned up all the bluntness he could muster “Then what are you doing here, Sabin?”
Sabin sighed, then smiled and said “I thought you might like a chance at fatherhood!” in an a tone that seemed almost humorous, but Dmitri was not amused; in fact he felt a further swelling of an old bitterness rise up in him. Unwilling to unleash that anger, Dmitri just continued to stare at his ex-lover. “Look I just need a place to stay the night,” Sabin said.
“Well you can’t stay here.” Dmitri said incredulously. “You don’t talk to me for four years and you show up at my doorstep with Aaron and you seriously think that’s all the explanation you need to give?”
“You didn’t give me a chance to finish!” Sabin said, as Dmitri sighed and rolled his eyes. He’d been through this kind of conversation before. Sabin would tell him something, stop talking and leave off at some point like that was the end of what he had to say. Dmitri’s quick mind would take whatever it was Sabin had said and go with it, then get yelled at for not reading Sabin’s mind to know Sabin still had more to say. Dmitri knew by now never to trust Sabin to tell him everything he deserved to know, but he also knew that waiting for an answer that would never come would be of no use to him either. Prodding Sabin was the only way to get anything out of him. Instead of saying anything more as he would have a lifetime ago, Dmitri just stared at Sabin with an eyebrow raised, his mouth shut, and with an expression on his face that just screamed “Go on, then and quit wasting my time!”
“Look, Dmitri, you don’t want to know the whole story, okay.”
Dmitri stared at him. No words seemed to be coming, and Sabin’s eyes seemed to be looking for Dmitri to say something. Eventually, Dmitri spoke, “Alright, if you’re not going to tell me what’s going on, I’ll tell you how I see things. You’re the one who came here, Sabin. You’re the one that left things between us badly. I moved on with my life and if you’re the same man you were when you left me, I don’t want you back in it. You came to me because you have no where or no one else to go to. You also brought Aaron and it’s clear from the middle-of-the-night-ness of this visit that you aren’t here to be social and there’s something urgent going on. You wouldn’t have brought him if this didn’t have to do with him in some way, either.” Dmitri paused, looking for a reaction. “Now, do you want to tell me what’s going on?” Sabin just stared back at Dmitri incredulously, a range of emotions passing through his eyes.
“You’re wrong about some things but mostly right.”
Typical answer from Sabin. Dmitri thought.
“But I’ll get to the point.” That wasn’t so typical, but probably wouldn’t actually happen. “I left Heather a long time ago, you were right about her. I just never had the nerve to call you and tell you, especially after you met someone else. I’d already hurt you so much I couldn’t try to get back with you when you were getting on with your life and besides, we lived a thousand miles away and even if I wasn’t with Heather, I would never move away from Aaron and there was no future with you that didn’t mean moving away from him.” Sabin paused, giving Dmitri a chance to consider this information.
Dmitri liked the answer… but it was exactly the kind of answer he would like, and realizing that, he suddenly didn’t like it as much. It was all perfectly plausible. It could also just as easily be a pack of lies made up because Sabin would know it’s the kind of thing Dmitri would want to hear. Dmitri wanted it to be true. He wanted to believe it, but he knew from experience not to trust his heart when it came to Sabin. Sabin was manipulative, and Sabin knew how to get to Dmitri. “Again, why are you here now?” Dmitri asked.
“Heather stopped letting me have Aaron. It started slow, she wouldn’t let me have him one weekend, then two, then she’d only let me have him once a month. Then she stopped letting me visit and demanded I pay her more in child support. She got mad when I asked her why it was that I was giving her so much in child support but Aaron didn’t have anything new. I paid her every dime I owed her and I have the bank records to prove it, but it just didn’t matter. She wasn’t spending that money on Aaron, and wasn’t taking care of him either.”
Something clicked in Dmitri’s mind and his eyes went wide. “Tell me you didn’t kidnap your own child.” Dmitri said as evenly as he could manage.
Dmitri could see the answer in Sabin’s eyes, and rationality took a back seat to reaction. “You can’t stay here, Sabin, and I ought to call the police right now. What they hell were you thinking bringing him here? I am not going to jail for you!” The words flowed from Dmitri, his mind rapidly filling with all the things that could happen if the cops showed up.
“Dehmi, please, stop!” Sabin pleaded. “You don’t know what’s going on!”
Dmitri barked his next words through a clenched jaw. “Then tell me, Sabin. Why shouldn’t I call the cops right now?”
“Fine, I’ll tell you but I warned you, you wouldn’t like it.” Calming himself and mentally rolling his eyes at that long tired refrain, Dmitri took a deep breath and tried to brace himself for whatever was coming next. “I went to her place earlier tonight and I noticed strange bruises on Aaron. We got in a big argument and she finally let me take him with me. When we got back to my place, I asked Aaron what was going on and why he had those bruises. Her drunkard of an uncle, Alan, was beating him the same way my father beat me, Dmitri, and it gets worse. I’ve talked to some people, he’s done the same kind of thing Keegan did to me.” Dmitri narrowed his eyes. Sabin was right; he didn’t like what he was hearing. “As far as I know he hasn’t done that to Aaron yet but I will not give him the chance.”
Both of them breathed deeply. The anger Dmitri felt toward Sabin had evaporated and was replaced by a far deeper, far stronger rage against this Alan person. This rage Dmitri felt had built up over the course of a lifetime. There were few things which could bring Dmitri to hurt, much less kill another person. Sexual abuse of a child was one of them. There was a time when Dmitri was on a path that would have had him doing just that… hunting down and killing sexual predators in a blaze of glory that would have culminated in his own self-destruction. He had Sabin to thank for having a better path to travel.
Dmitri and Sabin had met online, in a gay chatroom. Dmitri had been in a very dark place from all the pain that came with carrying a dark secret for three quarters of his life. He was only then tentatively accepting the fact that he was attracted to other guys. He told Sabin about what happened to him when he was a child. Sabin was the first person he’d ever told, and Sabin had helped him to overcome his demons, by sharing with Dmitri his own haunted past. That was the beginning of their relationship. Months later, Sabin was pulling away from Dmitri, and Dmitri soon learned why. Sabin confessed that he thought he might be a pedophile, but had never touched a child and never would. Dmitri told him another dark secret, that this was something else that they shared, something else that he had struggled with, to make sense out of …but, that if they were as alike as he thought, what was going on in their heads was a trick. They had both been abused as children, this created an emotional trigger, what they felt for children when they say them now was not sexual desire, bet a deep empathy and urge to protect those children from what had happened to them, mixed with the memory of their own abuse. What they felt when they saw children was a resurgence of the memory of what happened to them, and because that memory was sexual, it could confuse a person into thinking they were attracted sexually to the child. It could put a person back into the same mindset they were in when they were molested, but the idea of doing that to a child so disgusted both of them, that there was no way it could be a desire. Their psyches had been warped by what happened to them as children. Understanding that was key to making sense of how they felt at present, and having that understanding they could finally be at peace with themselves, knowing they were not that which they most despised and never could be.
Dmitri held a deep hatred of anyone who would so harm a child. There was a time when he considered joining the military for no better reason than to be trained as a sniper, so that on his return to the states he could hunt down and kill pedophiles. His relationship with Sabin, though it ultimately failed to last, had taken him off that path of inevitable self destruction. Yet, there were still times when the unique rage he felt would reawaken and it took an enormous amount of self-control to keep it from boiling over.
After taking a few minutes to calm himself and consider what he was told, and remembering how manipulative Sabin could be, Dmitri said “If you can’t convince Heather’s grandparents to kick him out, you should be taking this to social services and file charges against this… Alan. Either way, it should result in the courts granting you custody. Why haven’t you yet?”
“It’s not that simple Dmitri,” Sabin responded. “When Heather’s grandparents died, they left the house to Alan. He’s been using the place to advance himself in the drug trade. He’s deep in deep now, exactly how high up the chain he is I’m not entirely sure. Nobody is. What I do know is there are a lot of people working for him, including the local police and sheriff’s departments. If I try to file charges against him, I’ll be dead in a week. Heather’s going to figure out I disappeared with Aaron soon, and she’s going to know why. She’s dumb enough to think he’ll get Aaron back for her but he’ll know what I’m doing and if he gets his hands on Aaron he will use him as a hostage against me.”
Dmitri frowned at hearing this. “What exactly are you doing, Sabin?”
“You’re better off not knowing.” He answered.
“Alright, fine. What are you doing here besides waking my ass up in the middle of the night to tell me you’ve kidnapped your own child?” Dmitri said, fatigue allowing his exasperation to flow free.
“I can’t take Aaron with me where I’m going, but I couldn’t leave him with Heather to be hurt again, and damn sure wouldn’t risk that asshole robbing him of his innocence. I need some place for Aaron to stay for a while, some place they won’t know to look. I knew he would be safe with you. Look, as long as I’m with him he’s in danger. I’m sorry for the way I treated you, I’m sorry for not talking to you for so long, I… I kept reading your online journal and the e-mails you sent me. I know you didn’t deserve the way I treated you and I’m sorry… As long as I have him, he and I will both be in danger. If he’s with you, he’ll be safe, and maybe I can find a way to deal with this.”
Taking a moment to absorb all this information, Dmitri considered what he could do, and the promise he had made so long ago. When Sabin broke up with him, claiming a need to fulfill a promise he made to an ex-girlfriend when she broke up with him, that he would always love her and would wait for her to free her heart to him again, Dmitri made a promise of his own. He would never take Sabin back, but if the child he’d twice brought himself to love as his own ever needed anything, he would do whatever he could to help.
“Okay, Sabin. The last time you were speaking to me, there were no official custody arrangements. Is that still the case?” Sabin nodded. “Then, here’s what you’re going to do, write and sign a letter authorizing me to take care of him for the indefinite future. I’m assuming Alan and those looking for you won’t know you came here and that this is the last place they expect you would go. The letter will allow me to act as his guardian while you get as far away from here as possible. It won’t take them long to figure out that you took him and report you as having kidnapped him. The police will be looking for you and if they find me, this letter combined with whatever story I come up with will protect my ass legally and buy some time to file a suit here, where Alan doesn’t own the legal system. It will buy more time… I’ll lose, not being a blood relative and with your custody arrangements unclear, but it may buy you enough time to put together a custody suit and file it here because Aaron will be here. I’m warning you though; things may not work out well there. With the history that house has, simply alleging Alan is a child molester may be enough to get the court to assign custody to you while they do an investigation, but with your own criminal history they may assign him to foster care instead. I have friends there; they might be able to get him placed with me, but there’s no guarantees.”
“I can’t be involved,” Sabin answered. “If they find me, I’m dead. I’ll sign the letter you’re talking about, but I’m dead if I try to do what you're suggesting. When I leave here I’m going to disappear for a while, I’ll try to contact you to check on Aaron, but I can’t be here and I can’t be a part of any lawsuit or I’ll be putting his life and your’s in danger. Alan is a powerful man. He may not have dominance here but he does have a lot of friends. If they learn you’re pulling the kind of thing you’re saying, they’ll kill you. Just… take care of Aaron. I’ll contact you when I can.”
“How long?” Dmitri asked.
“I don’t know. A few weeks… a few months… God help me I hope not longer than that.” Sabin answered.
“What if something happens and Aaron needs medical attention?”
“I’ve e-mailed myself copies of his medical records. I can pull them up for you online.” They went over to Dmitri’s computer, printed the records, and Dmitri placed them in a new file, then typed up a letter granting him guardianship of the boy he once called his son. With a distant expression, Sabin signed it, and with that Dmitri was charged with the care of his ex-lover’s son.
Sabin and Dmitri stood up and walked back to the game room, where little Aaron was quietly racing an ATV around a mountain track. He looked up at them, with bloodshot, tired eyes. Sabin walked over to him and Aaron stood up. Sabin bent down to put his arms around Aaron and whispered to him, “I love you, Aaron, and I’m sorry but I have to go away for a while. This man’s name is Dmitri, he’s going to be your new daddy now, okay? He’s a good man and you can trust him. Behave yourself, while I’m gone, alright?” Aaron nodded his head, tears welling up in his eyes, as Sabin stood back up and walked past Dmitri, who had been standing in the doorway. Sabin turned around to take one last look at his son, and with more sadness in his voice than Dmitri had ever known was possible for a person to have, he said good bye, and closed the door behind him.
Dmitri walked Sabin to the door to the apartment. “Thank you for doing this for me, Dehmi…”
“I’m doing this for Aaron, not for you. You know that.” Dmitri interrupted.
“I know you’ll take good care of him, Dehmi… I always knew you would be a good father. I… I wish things could have been different. ” Sabin said softly.
“So do I.” Dmitri answered. “So do…” This time it was Dmitri who was interrupted as Sabin pressed his lips suddenly to his in a surprise kiss.
“I’m sorry,” Sabin said, pulling away, “Goodbye, Dehmi.” And with that, Sabin was gone almost as suddenly as he had come.
Shaking his head and wiping his lips, Dmitri closed the door and wondered what he’d just gotten himself into. He looked at the paper still set out on his desk, granting him guardianship of the child he had twice before fallen in love with only to have him ripped away. Now he was opening himself up to having that happen again. He picked up the paper, walked over to his desk in the next room, opened a drawer to the new file labeled “Aaron.” Slipping the paper into the file alongside the medical records Sabin had left with him, Dmitri closed the drawer and stared out through the sliding glass doors, over the balcony to the city below. His life had just gotten much more complicated. Standing up, he walked back to the game room and opened the door to look at the child he’d once called his son. Aaron had fallen asleep on the couch, lying on his side, with the TV still on and the game still running, ATVs lapping the stationary rider. Dmitri turned off the TV and game system, and left the room. Pulling a blanket and pillow from the linen closet, he walked back into the game room and lifted little Aaron’s head to place the pillow under it, and covered him with the blanket. He stirred a little, but remained silent. Dmitri kissed his forehead, “Sleep well and sweet dreams” he whispered. Standing up, Dmitri turned out the lights, walked back to his own room and climbed into bed, falling asleep next to the man he’d come to love, while the man who had stolen his heart disappeared into the night. His last thought before passing out was wondering how to explain everything to Garret.
The next morning, Dmitri woke with a start. Garret was yelling. Rolling over and looking at him, Dmitri realized why he was yelling.
“Dehmi… why is there a child eating cereal in our kitchen and why does he think you’re his father?”
Oh… Shit, Dmitri thought, remembering everything that happened that night. How the hell do I explain this?