"I'm sorry Mikey, but I still don't understand what we're supposed to do." Devon said shyly.
Mikey smiled at Devon with sympathy and said, "I know. It's your nature to want everything spelled out in no uncertain terms. Here's as much as I can tell you at the moment. Deacon and Lawrence can let Aaron know that they're ready to go, that should get the others thinking about getting back over to Southcrest. Chief Tecumseh and Mr. T need to attend to some camp business and get things settled down after that security alert. Everyone else needs to go into the common room to have a house meeting."
"Does that include that Starfleet security guy?" Simon asked carefully.
"That's up to Dylan. Lieutenant Masterson's presence won't change anything for us either way so it should be Dylan's choice." Mikey said with a distant look.
"I still don't get what difference it's going to make." Devon said hesitantly.
Mikey looked around the room, then smiled and said, "Guys, if everything else has any hope of working out, you're going to need to become a team. The way you do that is with honesty. This is the first step on a new path and one of the most important. It's the foundation of what you will eventually become."
"Are you going to stay and help us?" Mouse asked curiously.
"No Mouse, I can't be here for this. My presence would interfere with the bonds that you'll be forming, and besides, Dylan couldn't handle dealing with an angel on top of everything else he's faced today." Mikey said honestly.
Mouse looked at Mikey with concern.
"I've told you what needs to be done. Now all that's left is to do it." Mikey said seriously, then vanished in a shower of sparkles.
"Guys, call us if you need anything. Day or night. We'll always be there for you." Deacon said as he looked around the group.
"Thank you. We'll do that." Devon said quietly.
"Come on, let's get Aaron." Deacon said and walked to the door.
"If you'll send Cory and the other guys out to the common room, I'll drive them over to Southcrest." Mr. T said as he also walked toward the door.
"Yeah. I'll do that." Deacon said with a smile as Lawrence walked to his side.
Lawrence looked around one last time, then followed Deacon out of the room.
"I need to get to my office and get the details from security about the alert earlier." Chief Tecumseh said as he slowly stood from his chair.
"I guess the rest of us need to head into the common room." Devon said uncertainly.
"Wait. Before we go, I'd like to say something." Jerico said seriously.
Everyone turned their attention to the young Shaman.
"I guess I'm going to be your house parent or something like that, but... I feel like when we do this house meeting that I shouldn't be in charge. Even though I'm the oldest one here, I'm not going to try to act like your leader, I'm just going to offer advice and help out wherever I can." Jerico said slowly.
"We'll work it out in the meeting. When everyone is together and talking, we'll just know who our leader is." Paul said seriously.
Jerico looked at his cousin curiously.
Paul shrugged and said, "At least that's how it works on Digimon."
A chuckle spread through the group as people started filing out of the room.
Jerico noticed Paul's downcast expression and asked, "What's wrong?"
"I'm sorry. I'll try not to say stupid stuff like that anymore." Paul said in a mumble.
Jerico turned Paul to face him and said in a firm voice, "What you said was exactly right. You learned your life lessons a different way than I did, but that doesn't mean that they are any less valid. If you want to quote something from Digimon or Gilligan's Island to prove a point, you go right ahead. It's not the source that matters, it's the fundamental truth that you derived from it."
Paul thought about the words, then reluctantly nodded.
"Come on cousin. Let's get this started." Jerico said as he put an arm loosely around Paul and guided him out of the room.
* * * * *
"Sorry about that. I never thought anyone could have to pee so much." Dylan said as he walked back into the bedroom, followed by Lieutenant Masterson.
"No problem Buddy." Jake said with a happy smile at Dylan's improved condition.
As Dylan was about to say something, the door opened again.
"Hey Aaron, do you think you could take us back to Southcrest? We've done everything we needed to." Lawrence asked quietly into the room.
Aaron smiled at Lawrence and said, "Sure. But before we go, I'd like you to meet Dylan. He just moved in here today."
"Hi Dylan. My name is Lawrence. It's nice to meet you." Lawrence said with an honest smile and offered his hand to shake.
Dylan cautiously shook the offered hand as he looked at Lawrence's pale blue eyes.
"This is my boyfriend Deacon." Lawrence said shyly and guided Deacon to stand beside him.
"Hey there. What happened to your face?" Deacon asked curiously.
"I got shot." Dylan said, stunned by the blunt question.
"Ouch. That sucks. Well, I'm glad you're here now where you'll be safe." Deacon said, finishing in a smile.
Dylan hesitantly nodded, then reluctantly broke into a grin.
Deacon looked at him curiously, wondering what was funny.
"You're the first person who didn't stare at my face, then try to ignore it." Dylan said with a full smile.
"Really? I wonder how they managed that. Half your face is bandaged, it's kind of hard to ignore." Deacon said frankly.
Dylan offered his hand and said, "Deacon, it's really nice to meet you. I think that if I ever need someone to be honest with me, I'll know who to talk to."
Deacon shook the offered hand while he tried to decide if he was being complimented or insulted. Finally he concluded that it didn't matter and said, "You can call me any time, day or night. Plus Lawrence and I will be going to school here so you'll be seeing us all the time."
"Good." Dylan said with a sincere smile.
"I need to be going too. I need to get these guys back to Southcrest before Dad goes ballistic." Jake said as he looked at his brothers.
"Mr. T said something about going out to the common room. I bet if you asked him he'd give you a ride." Lawrence said quickly.
Jake turned to look at Dylan and asked, "Do you think you're going to be okay here?"
Dylan looked around the room and noticed that Obie was looking at him hopefully.
"Yeah. I think so." Dylan said with a gentle smile.
"Ken, can you give Dylan your cell phone number in case he needs to call us for anything?" Jake asked seriously.
"Sure, I'll just need something to write on." Kenny said as he looked around.
"Here." Obie said and picked up a spiral bound notebook and a pencil from beside his bed.
"Thanks." Kenny said as he quickly wrote down the number.
"If you need anything at all, I want you to call me." Jake said firmly.
"Yeah. I will." Dylan said quietly.
"I want you to promise. Even if you just feel like talking or something like that; I want you to promise that you'll call me." Jake said seriously.
"Yeah Jake, I promise. If I need anything at all, even if it's just to talk, I'll call you." Dylan said as he looked into Jake's eyes.
"Good. Come here." Jake said and opened his arms.
Dylan looked at Jake with caution.
Jake stepped forward and pulled Dylan into a hug as he said, "We lived the same lives and did the same things. Both of us got through it and survived. I'll do anything I can to help you. Remember that."
"I will. Thanks Jake." Dylan whispered as he felt a tear starting to form in his eye.
"I'll probably be back in a day or two to see how you're doing unless you call me first." Jake said seriously.
"Okay. Sounds good." Dylan said with a peaceful smile.
* * * * *
As Obie followed the group out of his new bedroom, Mouse silently motioned for him to come to the sofa area of the common room.
"We're about to have a house meeting. Would you invite Dylan?" Mouse asked hopefully.
"Why me?" Obie asked cautiously.
"Because he's your roommate. He doesn't really know the rest of us yet." Mouse said quietly.
"Yeah. It's scary to be new, I'll get Trent and Jose to help me." Obie said, then looked to see where Dylan had gone.
Dylan was standing at the front door waving, watching Jake and the others walk away.
The preteen posse of Obie, Trent and Jose approached Dylan and waited until he closed the door and noticed them.
"Do you want to come over here and meet everyone else?" Obie asked hopefully.
Dylan glanced at the sitting area where most of the rest of the occupants of the cabin were taking seats.
"Sure. I guess." Dylan said uncertainly, then glanced to see that Lieutenant Masterson was only an arms reach away from him.
"Come on." Obie said with a grand smile and fell into step at Dylan's side.
Trent and Jose took up flanking positions behind the pair as they made the short walk across the room.
Lieutenant Masterson smiled to himself at the actions of the boys and quietly followed.
Dylan slowed his pace as he looked over the group that was assembled before him.
It was an odd collection of guys of all different ages and nationalities.
His gaze finally stopped on a blond haired, blue eyed boy, about fourteen years old that he recognized immediately.
"Oh my God! You're Steven!" Dylan said as he stopped in his tracks.
Simon's expression was pained as he said, "That was the name they used for me in the movies. I don't know what my real name is, but Cory and Sean helped me pick out a name. Now I'm Simon... Simon Smith."
"But... But you're really him! I've seen all your movies! You're the greatest!" Dylan said in amazement.
Simon closed his eyes and drew in a deep breath, trying to calm the shaking sensation that seemed to have overtaken his entire body.
"Dylan, if you'll sit down, maybe Simon will tell you about it." Jerico said with concern at Simon's nervous state.
Dylan looked around, as if just realizing that he was still standing, then took a seat on one of the chairs that had been pulled over from the table by the window.
Obie, Trent and Jose took that as their cue to find their seats and filled in wherever there was a place to sit.
"Lieutenant Masterson, you can have a seat too if you like. This might take a while." Paul said with a friendly smile at him.
Lieutenant Masterson hesitantly took the only seat that was left which was, coincidentally or not, beside Dylan.
"Simon, do you want to start?" Jerico asked quietly.
"Not really, but... I guess I should really explain some things..." Simon said in a diminishing voice.
"No." Uri said as he stood.
Simon flinched back at the sight of Uri towering over him.
Uri noticed Simon's reaction, and slowly sat down again.
"I know you too. You're Yusef." Dylan said in wonder.
"That was their name for me. My true name is Uriah Siyamak. In this cabin I am known as Uri."
Dylan hesitantly nodded.
"A little less than a year ago, I did something that... was wrong." Uri said in a quieter voice.
A moment of silence fell over the room as Uri tried to find the words to say what he needed to say.
"As I am sure you know, I was featured in some... movies." Uri said as he looked at Dylan, trying to keep his composure.
"Yeah, I saw them. All of them I think. Both of you were really great!" Dylan said quickly.
Uri cast his eyes down and said, "I have told myself that I had no choice. The men who forced me to do those things made me believe that it was the only way for me to survive."
"I don't understand." Paul said in confusion, as he looked from Simon to Uri.
"Uri and Simon were in some hardcore kiddie porn." Arlo said quietly.
Paul looked at Uri, then Simon with surprise.
"I saw them kill a child who was near Jose's age. All he did was refuse to follow their instructions and they slit his throat... From that day on, I did as I was told, believing I had no other choice." Uri said distantly.
"You didn't." Arlo said seriously.
Uri shook his head and said, "I did have a choice. I could have refused. I could have let them kill me. So much suffering would have been prevented if I had."
"You're wrong." Simon said, trying to keep the tremors out of his voice.
Uri reluctantly forced himself to face Simon and felt the shame wash over him again at what he had done.
"If you had died, they would have just got someone else to do it. You saved someone else from going through what you're suffering." Simon said in a voice that sounded more assured than he felt.
"Perhaps." Uri said quietly.
"I don't get it. Do what?" Devon asked from Uri's side.
"Uri..." Arlo began to say, but stopped at the feeling of a hand on his arm.
"Uri needs to tell it." Simon said quietly, as he withdrew his hand.
Arlo nodded and turned his attention to Uri again.
"I... beat and... raped Simon." Uri choked out as tears started falling down his cheeks.
Silence fell over the room at the statement.
Trent scooted a little closer to Jose and discretely put an arm around him.
Finally Uri continued, "There are some actions in this life that are beyond forgiveness. I did not understand this at the time, but I do now."
"Do you want to be forgiven?" Arlo asked curiously.
Uri looked at Arlo through teary eyes and barely nodded.
"Then ask." Arlo said firmly.
"I cannot." Uri said, as his gaze fell to the floor.
"Uri. Ask." Arlo said again, firmly.
Uri reluctantly brought his eyes up to meet Arlo's and saw the determination housed within.
Paul glanced at his cousin to find Jerico watching the proceedings intently, like a referee looking for a foul.
Uri slid out of his chair and onto his knees.
All the others in the room were transfixed as Uri fought to find the words he wanted to say.
Uri turned his body so he was facing Simon and clasped his hands together as he said, "Simon, I am so sorry for all the pain I caused you. If there were any way I could go back in time and take your place to take away your hurt, I would do so willingly. I know I don't deserve it, but I will ask none the less... no, I will beg. I am on my knees so I can beg for your forgiveness."
Everyone watched in silence and waited to see what Simon would do.
Finally Simon seemed to come to a decision and said, "Uri. I've known since it happened that you didn't have a choice. I was held captive by the same kind of men that you were. I think you know that the physical pain doesn't last that long, it's the emotional pain that never seems to go away."
Uri slowly looked up at Simon, devoting his full attention.
"If you will do one thing for me, I will forgive you." Simon said quietly.
"Anything. You have but to ask, and I will find a way to give it to you." Uri said quickly.
"Are you sure?" Simon asked cautiously.
"Yes. Ask me whatever you want, and I will devote my life to providing it." Uri said desperately.
"The thing that I want is something that you can give me today, that is, if you really mean it." Simon said seriously.
"Yes. Name it and whatever it is, it will be yours." Uri said as his mind raced over what he had that Simon could possibly want.
"I want you to forgive yourself." Simon said, firmly.
Uri froze at the words.
"That's it. As soon as you can look me in the eyes and honestly say that you've forgiven yourself, then I'll forgive you too." Simon said seriously.
"But... I cannot." Uri said in a helpless voice.
"You promised me." Simon said, as he looked deeply into Uri's eyes.
Uri could see the determination in Simon's expression, then hesitantly nodded.
"You're going to do it?" Simon asked, to be sure.
"Yes Simon. I will find a way. I do not know when I will be ready to stand before you and say that it is done, but I will do it." Uri said with certainty.
"I'll be waiting." Simon said seriously.
"So... do you mean you weren't acting?" Dylan said in a small voice as he finally grasped what they were talking about.
Simon turned to look at Dylan, then softly said, "No. The whip marks, the blood... all of it was only too real."
"I... I'm sorry. When you see stuff like that in a movie, you know it's just special effects and stuff. It's not real... It's never real... I didn't know." Dylan said in a diminishing voice.
"I understand. It's okay." Simon said quietly.
An uncomfortable moment of silence fell over the room as everyone waited to see what was going to happen.
"I guess I'll go next. I'm Devon Garr." Devon said, as he watched Uri go back to his chair.
"What happened to you?" Simon asked softly, glad to have the attention off him and Uri.
"My parents went to Africa to do Christian missionary work." Devon said quietly.
"They left me with my grandparents, my father's parents." Devon said as his gaze became more distant.
"I had this friend named Leon and we... well, we were just messing around, you know, like guys do..." Devon said hesitantly.
"Um, do you mean messing around like, playing baseball or messing around like having sex?" Mouse asked seriously.
"Um... Okay. We're being honest here, right?" Devon said nervously as sweat started beading on his forehead.
"Yeah. It's okay Devon. We're all your friends." Mouse said assuringly.
Devon nodded, then quietly said, "I was sucking his dick."
"You're nasty!" Mouse said quickly.
Devon looked at Mouse with shock.
"Just kidding." Mouse said with a giggle.
Chuckles spread around the room and relieved some of the tension that had been building.
Devon smiled and said, "Well anyway, when my grandfather caught us, he started hitting me and... well, he beat me up pretty bad."
"How bad?" Paul asked with concern.
"Bad enough. Then grandpa threw me out of his house and left me laying there, bleeding on the sidewalk." Devon said quietly.
"Did you have to go to the hospital?"
"Yeah. Someone called the police and when they showed up they called an ambulance." Devon said quietly.
"So how did you end up here?" Jose asked curiously.
Devon smiled at the young boy and said, "Well, that's the part that I'm really not sure about. My grandfather was put in jail for beating me up and I was taken before a judge so he could figure out what to do with me. There was some CPS lady there who wanted me to go with her but the judge sent me here instead. He didn't really explain why."
"How did you end up in Cabin One? I mean, isn't it for, um..." Dylan trailed off, not knowing how to ask his question.
"Cabin one is for people not interested in any kind of a sexual relationship. After what happened, I kind of figured that I'd be better off dealing with other stuff first and saving the sex stuff till later. Doing that stuff with Leon was... would have been... my first time." Devon trailed off weakly.
Dylan nodded that he understood.
"There's one other thing..." Devon said uncertainly.
Everyone remained silent as they waited.
Devon thought for a moment, then said, "I'll just have to show you. Someone else can talk and I'll be back in a minute."
"I need to go too." Dylan said shyly, and hurried to the bathroom.
Jerico watched as Lieutenant Masterson stood and walked to wait by the bathroom door.
* * * * *
Trent slowly moved his arm from around Jose, but the movement drew Jerico's attention.
Jerico looked at the pair of seven year old boys with concern and said, "I'm sorry you heard that, I didn't know it was going to get so graphic."
Jose looked Jerico in the eyes and said, "Me and Trent never got beat up like Simon, but we done all that sex and stuff since we was both little. We both had people do stuff to us and take pictures of us and movies and all that."
Paul stared in shock as Jerico quietly said, "I'm sorry to hear that, but I'm glad hearing what Simon and Uri went through didn't upset you too much."
"Knowing that Simon was hurt bothered me a little, I think it did Trent too. But we know about what all the rest is like and we're okay." Jose said seriously.
Simon gave a little chuckle and said, "I think you guys are handling it better than I am."
"When we got here they was gonna put us in cabin two with the little kids. But Cory and Sean stopped them. They said that we was old enough to be in cabin one." Jose said proudly.
Trent smiled and nodded his agreement.
"Well, as far as I'm concerned, they were right. If either of you ever need to talk about the stuff you went through, I'll always have time for you." Simon said with admiration for the pair.
"I too will help however I am able." Uri said quietly.
Simon glanced at Uri with surprise.
When Uri noticed, Simon gave him a small smile and an assuring nod.
* * * * *
"Sorry about that." Dylan said shyly as he returned to his chair.
"It's not a problem." Paul said with a genuine smile that put Dylan at ease.
Everyone looked around at each other until Mouse finally broke the silence by saying, "My real name is Harold Eugene Mauser, but everyone calls me Mouse. And what happened to Devon is kinda what happened to me."
"You were caught having sex?" Paul asked uncertainly as he looked at the ten year old boy.
"Yeah. With my neighbor. He was fourteen. Anyway, when my dad caught me he kind of... beat me... into a coma." Mouse said uncomfortably.
Both Jerico and Paul stared in horror at the statement because from Mouse's earnest expression, neither had any doubt that it was true.
"Anyway, It's okay, because when I woke up a couple weeks later there was a really cool guy in the next bed with a couple broken bones. He was really quiet, but he was really good at listening. So when I went to court and Judge Robison said that I was going to go here, I asked him if Luke could go too since he didn't have no one and no one ever came to the hospital to see him." Mouse said quickly.
Luke looked at Jerico with question and received a nod to assure him that he could talk without hurting anyone.
"My real name is Lucifer Balthazar Graves, but I go by Luke. My parents were Satan worshippers, like, to the extreme. They were trying to make me into a Satanic priest because I can... do things. It's hard to explain." Luke finished with frustration.
"Luke, if you want, you can show them your gift. I'll make sure it doesn't get out of control." Jerico said quietly.
"Okay, but I guess I'd better wait for Devon. It might freak him out if he walked in while I'm doing it." Luke said honestly.
"Good thinking." Jerico said with a smile.
Some of the others in the room looked at each other curiously, wondering what they were talking about.
* * * * *
"This is what I looked like when I got here." Devon said as he walked down the hallway wearing incredibly thick horned rimmed glasses, a horrible striped button up shirt and black and white checkered polyester slacks that didn't fit him correctly or quite reach his ankles. The pocket protector full of pens and pencils was the finishing touch.
"Oh my God. You're the nerdiest nerd I've ever seen!" Arlo said with wide eyes.
"Yeah. Let your grandparents shop for your clothes at the Goodwill and garage sales for you and see how you do." Devon said in a wounded tone.
"I'm sorry Devon. I didn't mean to hurt your feelings. You just always look really normal, kind of cool actually, so I was surprised to see you like this." Arlo said quickly.
Devon wilted with relief and said, "Thanks Arlo. When I got here, Cory and Sean took me to the optometrist for contact lenses. Then they made sure I got a decent haircut and helped me pick out some nice clothes. I've had a better life in the last month than the rest of my life put together."
"I love a happy ending." Paul said with a smile at Devon.
"That's the best part, this is only the beginning." Devon said with a contented smile.
"Do you need those coke bottles to see?" Arlo asked hesitantly.
"No. I've got my contacts in. I just put them on so you could see what I looked like before." Devon said as he put the glasses in their case then slid them into his front pants pocket.
"Okay guys. I'm going to do something that may seem a little bit freaky, but don't worry. I'm just doing it so you can understand." Luke said in concentration as he stood.
"Go ahead Luke... It's funny to hear you talk." Devon said with a smile.
Luke looked around the group until he came to Uri who seemed to be lost in his own thoughts.
In a firm voice, Luke said, "Truth is the path to understanding. Once we understand, forgiveness is possible."
Looks of surprise went around the room as everyone suddenly felt memories surface that were coupled to guilt.
"To know that you are forgiven brings peace." Luke said in concentration.
Uri's eyes went wide as all the conflicting emotions swirling inside him suddenly fell into place and everything became clear.
"I'm not a monster." Uri said in wonder.
Luke smiled and said, "You're a survivor. But you have to accept forgiveness so you can leave the past behind and face the future."
Even though the words were directed at Uri, everyone in the room felt their power and applied the meaning to their own lives.
Tears filled Uri's eyes as he whispered, "Thank you."
Luke nodded, then looked around the group to see how everyone was doing.
They were all frozen with distant looks ranging between wonder and profound joy.
As Luke was about to say the words to undo the suggestion, he felt a hand on his shoulder.
"Leave them like this for a few minutes." Jerico said quietly.
"Why?" Luke whispered cautiously.
"I get the feeling that all these guys can use some forgiveness and closure in their lives. Just leave them and let them come out of it naturally when they've worked out their thoughts." Jerico said seriously.
"Okay. Thanks." Luke said as he looked around the group again.
"No problem. You did that very well. You've got better control than I did at your age." Jerico said with a smile.
"Really?" Luke asked happily.
Jerico nodded, then turned at a movement.
* * * * *
Jose snapped out of his trance-like state and turned quickly to look at Trent.
Before he could think of what to say, Trent blinked his eyes and looked at Jose with concern.
"The other day I took a pair of your socks without asking. I'm sorry I stole from you. I really didn't mean to. I just kinda forgot." Jose said shyly.
Trent giggled, then struggled to say, "You rrrrran out b-b-because I b-b-b-borrowed yours."
Jose chuckled, then said, I guess that means we gotta forgive each other, huh?"
Trent happily nodded his agreement.
"I hope the rest of them can settle things as easily." Jerico whispered to Luke.
* * * * *
"What was that?" Lieutenant Masterson asked in a daze.
"Forgiveness." Jerico said quietly.
"No, I mean, was that mind control or telepathy? I've never felt anything like that." Lieutenant Masterson said in confusion.
"I suppose that if you have to put a label on it, you could call it empathic manipulation. The ability is telepathic, but it doesn't work in the normal telepathic range of activity. It works on a subconscious level. That's why we use spoken words to convey a message to the conscious mind. Otherwise, the emergence of strong subconscious emotions without warning could damage the conscious mind." Jerico said in thought.
Lieutenant Masterson thought for a moment, then asked, "Could you show me?"
Jerico nodded, then concentrated as he looked into Lieutenant Masterson's eyes.
Lieutenant Masterson went pale and began to shake.
"No! You can't!" Lieutenant Masterson said as he covered his eyes quickly.
"It's okay. Whatever you just saw was only for you. I don't have the ability to read your thoughts." Jerico said softly.
Lieutenant Masterson nodded shakily.
"I just brought up a feeling of humiliation. I don't know what memories are associated with that emotion for you, but I wanted to bring up something strong enough to recognize that wouldn't cause you any serious harm." Jerico said with concern.
"Just... Don't do that again." Lieutenant Masterson said in a shaky whisper.
"I won't. I promise." Jerico said quietly.
"Um, what were you saying?" Arlo asked in confusion as he looked around.
"Nothing important. Did you see what Luke's ability was?" Jerico asked with a smile.
"Um... I'm not sure. Did he make me go off into lala land like that?" Arlo asked as he looked around at everyone else's distant expressions.
"I suppose he did. He was giving Uri some encouragement and advice on forgiveness, and everyone else in the room was pulled into the suggestion." Jerico said with a contented smile.
"Oh. Um, yeah. So that's why I was thinking about back when I was living with my parents. I was feeling bad about..."
"You don't need to tell us if you don't want to." Jerico said quickly, before Arlo revealed anything he might regret.
"It's okay. I just felt bad about not missing my parents. I feel like I'm... I don't know... like there's something wrong with me." Arlo finished with a shrug.
"So you feel like you need to be forgiven for not loving your family?" Mouse asked in a whisper.
Luke smiled at Mouse and took a step away from Jerico to sit by his friend again.
"Well, yeah. I mean, as far as I can tell, they don't care about me either so... I guess I just feel bad because I *should* feel something for them." Arlo said with difficulty.
"Is there someone that you do feel close to? You know, the way you think that you should feel about your family." Jerico asked cautiously.
Arlo thought for a moment, then looked at Simon with concern.
"Yeah. Simon is closer to me than anyone ever has been." Arlo said with a nod.
"What about the others?" Jerico asked curiously.
Arlo looked around, then broke into a smile as he said, "I get it. *This* is my family. And I *do* love them."
Jerico chuckled at Arlo's look of wonder and relief.
"What did you do to me?" Dylan asked as he snapped out of his trance state.
"I'm sorry Dylan. I should have explained what was going to happen a little better. That didn't bother you did it?" Jerico asked with concern.
"Um... No. I'm fine. Whatever you just did made me realize something that I didn't understand before." Dylan said in a considering voice.
"I hope it helped you let go of something that was bothering you." Luke said quietly.
"Maybe it did. I don't know." Dylan said slowly.
"You don't have to talk about it if you don't want to." Jerico said seriously.
Dylan thought for a moment, then said, "No. I um... Maybe you could help me understand it."
"I'll do whatever I can." Jerico said softly.
"There was this guy named Johnny. He was kind of in love with me." Dylan said cautiously.
Jerico nodded and waited for Dylan to continue.
"Well, I didn't feel that way about him. I tried to get him to understand, but I don't think he ever really did." Dylan said with difficulty.
"That sounds tough." Paul said quietly.
"He kind of followed me around and was always trying to get me to notice him." Dylan said distantly.
"What did you do?" Paul asked with interest.
"Nothing. I mean, I let him hang around with me and tried to be his friend." Dylan said as he seemed to come out of his distant thoughts.
"That sounds like the right thing to do." Jerico said gently.
"I guess so. But I guess I've been feeling kinda guilty for not loving him the way he loved me." Dylan said as he looked down.
"You can't force yourself to love someone. The most you could do is lie to him and pretend to feel something that you don't." Jerico said with concern.
"Yeah. I see that now. And If I could go back and do it over, there's nothing that I would have done differently." Dylan said in thought.
"It's good to know that you don't have any regrets." Jerico said with a small smile.
"Well, I do have one. I wish I could have been there when he died so that in his last minutes he would have known that he had a friend." Dylan said sadly.
"I'm sure he knew." Jerico said softly.
Dylan nodded slightly.
"What was that?" Simon asked abruptly as he broke out of his trance.
"Luke used his ability to help all of you with forgiveness." Jerico said carefully.
Simon stood quickly and walked to Uri who was sitting with a vacant look on his face.
"Uri, wake up." Simon said firmly.
"He needs to finish this." Jerico said gently.
"I need him to hear this first." Simon said firmly, then turned his full attention back to Uri.
"Wake up Uri! I need you to hear me." Simon said more loudly.
Uri blinked and looked at Simon with confusion.
"Uri. I was wrong. I was trying to use your guilty feelings to make you do something that you may not be ready for. I forgive you for everything." Simon said seriously.
"No Simon. You had the right to ask of me whatever you wanted." Uri said quietly.
"Forgiveness with conditions isn't true forgiveness, it's just a deal that we made. I forgive you Uri. You don't have to do anything for me." Simon said firmly.
"You..." Uri trailed off in wonder.
"I forgive you. I'm not mad at you. I don't hate you. And if you'll let me, I'd like to try being your friend." Simon said sincerely.
"Thank you Simon." Uri said as he looked into Simon's eyes.
"Way to go Simon." Paul said with a smile.
Jerico glanced at his cousin, then back at Simon and said, "Yes. Good job."
Simon whispered, "Thanks." as he walked back to his chair.
Devon looked around the room in confusion but didn't say anything.
Paul noticed and asked, "Is everything alright?"
Devon blinked a few times, then hesitantly said, "I don't know."
"Luke just brought out your feelings about guilt and forgiveness." Jerico said as he watched Devon's expression carefully.
Devon shook his head and said, "It wasn't like that for me. I was thinking about my parents."
"What about them?" Luke asked quietly.
"I was thinking about how much I hate them for leaving me here. I was thinking about how I'll never forgive them because they couldn't love me enough to stay here with me or take me with them." Devon said angrily.
"Hating them only hurts you. You need to let it go." Luke said quietly.
"No." Paul said immediately.
Everyone looked at Paul with question.
"Devon has the right to feel whatever he feels. We don't get to decide that for him." Paul said firmly.
Luke and Jerico looked at each other as they considered Paul's words.
"That's it." Devon said with surprise.
"What's that?" Luke asked quietly.
"That's what I felt like I needed to be forgiven for. It's not that I feel like I should forgive my parents. It's that I feel like I need to be forgiven for holding onto the hate." Devon said in realization.
"I understand Devon. I hope that someday you're ready to let go of those feelings. But I won't think that you're a bad person because you feel that way now. You're just a person who's been hurt." Paul said as he looked into Devon's eyes.
Jerico was stunned by Paul's insights into Devon's revelation, but quickly recovered and said, "I agree with Paul. It's better to acknowledge your feelings than to try and feel something that you don't."
Devon smiled with relief.
"It's kind of the same thing that happened to me." Dylan said shyly.
Devon looked at Dylan with question.
"I felt guilty for not feeling something that I thought I was supposed to." Dylan said in a considering voice.
"I'm glad that I'm here with people who can understand." Devon said with a smile at Dylan.
"I think we're all happy about that Devon. So is everyone back now?" Jerico asked as he looked around.
"Mouse is still gone." Luke said with concern.
Mouse looked up at the sound of his name, then said, "I'm your anchor. It didn't work on me."
"Then why are you so quiet?" Luke asked, still sounding concerned.
"I've been thinking about what we're doing." Mouse said seriously.
"What are we doing?" Paul asked slowly.
"We're becoming a family."
This chapter had a lot going on in it. I think that everyone learned an important lesson. The lesson that I learned was that even though I had managed to read through nearly the entire chapter without actually breaking down in tears, (although I came very close several times) when Mouse answered Luke, and said they were starting a family, I lost it and tears were running down my cheeks. So I learned that I usually can't make it all the way through a chapter of a MultiMapper story without having a box of Kleenex nearby. That's a good thing, by the way.
On a completely different subject, I am going to commit to something here in public that I have already offered to do. I offered to help complete the information on MM's characters in the CSU Roster program. This is not a simple task and might take some time before I have finished it, but it is an important bank of information, not only for the readers who might find a lot of interesting information about each person, but also for the other authors who write stories that cross connect with MultiMapper's people. I try to use the word 'people' when I speak of people in stories about the CSU and not use the word characters. The authors of these stories have brought everyone in their stories to life for us and we always think of them as part of our extended family. I am so happy to be a part of that family.
Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher