Warning Signs

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October 1, 1989

Dear Joseph,

How are you doing? Do you still like college? Will you be coming home for Halloween?

Today was not a good day. I got into a fight with Mom at home. She told me that I could not be Batman for Halloween again this year. She said I was Batman last year and the year before so this year she wants me to pick out something different.

I don't want to be something different. Ben told me he was going to dress up as Robin so I really really want to be Batman. This girl named Tonya sits next to me in math, she told me she loves Batman. She's really nice, she helped me with my math worksheet yesterday in class. I still have my black cape and everything.


I was disappointed when I got the call from Dr. Whitewater's office telling me he wouldn't be able to keep our appointment today. I was actually looking forward to talking with him. I wanted to tell him about the other night at Sarah's place.

I wanted to tell him how I got to play with Henry some more and how I got to sit at the table with Sarah and talk and laugh just like a real family. I wasn't sure if I was going to tell him about our kiss, worried that would tell me it was too soon for things like that, it probably was too soon but I couldn't help myself. Every time I was around her all I wanted to do was take her in my arms and keep her close to me.

So I would probably leave our kiss out, not mention it to him just yet. I mostly wanted him to help me analyze the events of that night to see if I was overreacting at what happened after.

So when his secretary called and said he wouldn't be in today it bummed me out and I wandered around my apartment trying to keep my mind off of Sarah. I tried watching aimless T.V. but of course that was hopeless, my brain refused to listen to me and I kept thinking about Sarah and Henry, wondering how they were doing today. Wondering if Sarah was pissed at me for kissing her or what happened next.

I fought against the urge to call her. I wanted to take a couple of days to think about what do next. To give her time to think because the next time we saw each other I wasn't just going to be able to tell her what I felt, and I was pretty sure she wouldn't let me kiss her again so easily.

No, the next time we saw each other I was going to have to prove it to her.

October 8, 1989


I got your letter yesterday. I'm sorry Mom is giving you a hard time about your costume. I'm not sure how you can prove to her you should be Batman? I don't see why she just doesn't let you be whoever you want. Maybe I can call and talk to her or Dad for you.

I won't be home for Halloween. Did you know that Roxy goes to school here too. She's still totally gorgeous and has the best looking body I've ever saw. She loves Country music and wears tight jeans to school every day. Wow! She invited me to her dorm party for Halloween. Everyone is going to dress up. I need to find me a costume that is cool and doesn't make me look like an ass in front of her. Can you think of any?

I will be home for Thanksgiving for sure. I promise we can go to the movies and just hang out. Save me some Halloween candy, will you?


P.S. If you do get to be Batman, and Ben is Robin, for God's sake don't wear tights with your costumes!

When I opened my door I was only half surprised to see Ben standing there at my step. My gut told me he might be dropping by, especially after what happened back at Sarah's the other night. I was actually glad that he was here. I missed talking to him, missed our friendship actually.

Ben didn't say anything at first, he just looked at me quietly for a few seconds, his eyes washing over me quickly before resting on my face.

"Steele?" He raised one eyebrow at me, "Wanna talk?"

I cocked my head to the side at his tone, not sure if he was pissed at me or not, but then I saw it, just a hint of twinkle in his eyes, his mouth turning up at the corners ever so slightly.

I grinned at him, "Come on in Moore, long time no see."

He brushed past me looking pleased as a Cheshire cat, and headed right for the sofa, spreading himself out, taking up more than half the space.

"Want something to drink?" I offered him.

He shook his head no and gestured me to sit down across from him, he was smiling openly now.

I leaned back into the small recliner trying not to chuckle, really glad that he was still the Robin to my Batman.

"I hear you had quite an adventure the other night." His eyebrows were still raised but he looked completely happy.

"Yeah," I tried to act casual not let him see how I was just dying to tell someone what happened. "How'd you hear about it?"

"Cassie." That's all he really needed to say. I could almost picture Cassie going a mile a minute telling Ben everything she heard from Sarah.

I let out this half chuckle and nodded.

"So," He tilted his head slightly, "What happened?"

I didn't bother trying to hide my grin. I wanted him to know. I shifted in my seat, resting my elbows on top of my knees. My mind raced through the events quickly, where should I start? There really was only one place, the beginning.

October 17, 1989

Dear Joseph,

Have you called Mom yet? It's almost Halloween and she hasn't told me anything yet. I already have my costume hanging in the closet ready to go.

Ben's mom took him shopping the other day for his costume. I saw it when I went to his house yesterday. It's really cool, it even has a real belt not just one made with velcro. And his mask looks real too. He'll be better looking than me at our Halloween party at school. I hope Tonya doesn't like Robin.

I hope you have fun at your party with Roxy, I remember her. You want to be something cool? I thought about it all last week. Why don't you go as a Cowboy? Since Roxy likes country music, she'd probably go crazy if you show up in some cool boots and a western cowboy hat. What do you think?


The first words that wanted to come out of my mouth were, "What the fuck do you want Owens? Get the hell away from my family."

Sarah was frozen behind me hanging onto Henry, she didn't try to stop me from stalking over to her front door and flinging it open. I was determined to get rid of Clay once and for all but instead I was stunned speechless because as the door opened, instead of coming face to face with Owens, there stood both my parents, staring at me dumbfounded.

Their faces quickly shifted from happy smiles over to fear. My Mom let out this tiny gasp, her hand flying to her mouth and her eyes immediately started scanning the background for Sarah and Henry.

My Dad had a little more control, he blinked rapidly at first but then tilted his head to the side almost with confusion, "Matthew?"

I didn't know what to say. I was prepared to fight Clay, not face my parents. I hadn't seen them in months, much less talk to them.

"Matt...wha?" My Dad tried again.

This time Sarah stepped in, she moved forward quickly, getting in between me and them.

"Jason, Lily, hi!" Her voice was high, way too high. "What brings you here so late?"

"We, we went out to dinner." My Dad still looked confused, he didn't take his eyes off of me as he spoke. "We were in the neighborhood and thought we'd bring Henry some goodies from the bakery." He held out a small white paper bad to no one in particular.

My Mom kept staring at me, looking like she wanted to cry, like she wanted to reach out and touch me to make sure I was real. I was still too stunned to say anything. We all looked at each other in silence until Henry broke the atmosphere by letting out this happy baby giggle and reaching his arms out to my Mom. She instantly brightened as she took him from Sarah, hugging him closely to her body.

"Thank you so much," Sarah took the bag from my Dad, "Why don't you come on in, I can put some coffee on."

"That's alright." My dad instantly lifted up his hand, "You have company, we should be going, right Lily?"

My Mom didn't look like she wanted to go, and she didn't answer my Dad right away. She just kept right on hugging Henry, trying to steal little glances my way.

"Please." Sarah tried to usher them in, "It's okay, come in, I was going to make some coffee anyways, please join us." She turned to me, "It's okay if they stay, right Matthew?"

I could see it in her eyes, she was trying so hard, trying to make everything okay. I instantly felt guilty, she shouldn't be the one having to do this, I should be doing this.

"Sarah is right." I suddenly found my voice, it surprised me, it sounded strong, "Please stay and join us."

My Dad looked right at me, he searched my eyes carefully, "Matthew? Are you sure?"

I stepped forward and placed my hand on my Mom's arm, "Please Mom, Dad, please stay."

My Mom's eyes instantly watered, and when I looked over at Sarah I could see her wiping away at her own eyes. I hesitated, not sure if I was causing them both pain somehow and could feel that old familiar panic begin to ensue me.

My Dad noticed the doubt in my eyes before anyone else. He stretched out his hand to me, his eyes reassuring me that it was okay, "Matthew, it's good to see you son. How are you?" He held tightly to my hand, his grip giving me some courage.

He smiled at me when I looked up into his face, and suddenly I felt thirteen again.

October 25, 1989

Dear Joseph,

I still haven't heard back from you. Are you okay? It's really almost Halloween now. Maybe your letter got lost in the mail? I am still mad at Mom. She came home today with this awful Peter Pan costume. She said she found it on sale in my size and thinks I will look adorable in it. It's green Joseph! Green! And it came with tights!

I told her I didn't want it. She looked so sad, so I said that green is not my color. She told me that it is too my color and it matches my eyes. I hate my eyes.

She made me try on my Batman costume and it didn't even fit anymore. It is too short in the legs. I don't know what to do, Ben still thinks I am going to be Batman and I already told Tonya during Math that I was going to be Batman. Tonya is going to be disappointed when I show up as Peter Pan and I bet Ben won't talk to me anymore after that.

Maybe I'll just stay home on Halloween and pretend I am sick. Sorry I won't be able to get you any candy.


"It was your parents at the door huh?" Ben was completely into my story, not interrupting me, listening to my every word. At first it felt kind of weird to be telling him everything, it had been a long time since we talked about important stuff. I was used to talking about things like sports or the weather with him, not Sarah, and definitely not my parents. He has this look in his eyes that made me think he already knew how the night turned out, and maybe he already knew a few things that I didn't know yet.

"Yeah, Mom looked completely shocked to see me standing there. I thought she was going to pass out."

Ben chuckled briefly but quickly became serious again, "Did they talk to you? Did you talk to them?"

I nodded, "Yeah, I talked to my Dad more than my Mom though, in fact, my Dad, Henry and I took a walk."

"Really?" Ben looked up at me in surprise, "You did? Just the three of you?"

"Just the three of us. My Dad suggested it, just a quick walk while the coffee was brewing." And as I kept talking to Ben, telling him about what happened, I suddenly stopped being so aware of who I was talking to. And for the first time in over a year, I wasn't lonely anymore.

My Mom looked really awkward standing next to Sarah in the kitchen. Sarah kept trying to make small talk with her but all she would say was "uh hmm" to everything. My Dad noticed it right away and he went and took Henry from her arms.

"Let me see my grandson." He swung Henry around before giving him a squeeze, making Henry squeal and giggle. He propped Henry up on one arm and turned to me, "Let's take Henry for a little walk Matthew, while we wait for the coffee, I think Henry could use a little fresh air, what do you say?"

I glanced over at Sarah trying to gauge her response. She shot me a quick smile and a little nod of approval.

"Sure." I moved towards my Dad and we made our way outside.

The night was warm, Fall just arrived but there were still signs of summer everywhere. The trees still held onto all of their leaves, and the birds and crickets still chirped at night.

My Dad was silent at first as we began our stroll, but just when we rounded the corner of the block he suddenly found his voice.

"It's good to see you son. You look," he paused trying to think of the right word, "Healthy."

"It's good to see you too." I answered honestly, "And thank you, I've been working hard at getting, healthy."

"Have you been visiting Sarah and Henry a lot lately?"

I shook my head no. "No, this is only my second time visiting them." I was starting to get nervous, wondering if my Dad was going to ask me about Sarah, or tell me about Clay.

"Sarah, she didn't, tell us that she saw you, not that she has to tell us, but..." his voice trailed away, he actually looked embarrassed.

"Well there's not much to tell." I tried to play it off as if it were something not very important, "The first time was only for a couple of hours."

Henry started to fuss in my Dad's arms. He made frustrated baby grunts and scrunched up his tiny face into a scowl.

"What's the matter little Henry?" My Dad bounced Henry in his arms but Henry wouldn't have it, he let out another cry and squirmed in my Dad's arms. My Dad struggled with him for a few more seconds and the looked over at me.

"Want to give it a shot?" He stretched out his arms and offered Henry to me. I took him readily, bringing my son up to my shoulder, letting his tummy press against my chest.

Henry cried for a few seconds more and I brought my free hand up to his back, rubbing gently, "It's okay son," I whispered near his ear, "Daddy has you."

Henry gave out this tiny whine and rested his head on my shoulder. His mouth opened into this huge yawn and he sleepily closed his eyes with a soft sigh.

My Dad shot me a brief smile before continuing walking. "Looks like he hasn't forgotten who his father is."

I smiled back still rubbing Henry's back. "Sarah invited me to dinner." I offered, picking up our conversation again, "And I accepted. It's good to see her, and Henry."

"Yes," My Dad placed his hands in his trouser pockets, "It's good that you see her and Henry. Makes your Dad proud."

My heart skipped at his words, but I didn't turn to look at him. He kept talking, "As long as you're not in a hurry, and you stay, healthy."

"There's no rush," I understood what my Dad was trying to say, "And I plan on being healthy from now on."

We almost rounded the block twice by now, we were just about to reach the house again when my Dad suddenly stopped walking, he turned to face me, "Do you need any help son? With anything?"

I took a deep breath, knowing that once I passed this point there would be no turning back. I couldn't, no I wouldn't, hurt any of them ever again. "I would really appreciate your help Dad, so that I can keep staying healthy. So I can get my family back."

My Dad brightened considerable at my words, a happy smile taking over his face, "Anything you need son, anything, you let me know, you let your mother know. We'll be here." He reached out and patted me on my free shoulder looking like he wanted to ruffle my hair too. He straightened up, a little hop to his step, "Now let's go see what your mother and Sarah are up to."


Not only was I having agonizing dreams of Matthew over and over again, I also found myself daydreaming of him throughout the day. It was driving me crazy. I kept remembering how soft and sweet his lips felt on mine. Kept replaying his apology over in my mind. The look on his face, his heartfelt words, it wouldn't let me concentrate, get any work done.

And then there was the way him and Jason walked in the door from their walk. It took my breath away, made my knees go weak. Jason came in first, pushing past the door with a look of pure contentment on his face. It even took Lily by surprise, her eyes widened and she almost poured coffee all over the counter.

But it was the sight of Matthew that made my hands tremble, and I gripped the counter as tightly as I could to keep steady.

You see I always knew Matthew was beautiful. Those eyes, that body, that killer smile. When we were younger I would tease him endlessly about all the girls who would giggle and flirt with him. A big part of his attractiveness was that he never gave any of those girls the time of day, in fact, he was oblivious to their antics most of the time.

But never once did he look as beautiful as he did walking through my front door with that gorgeous messy hair, wearing those dark blue jeans and white button down shirt with the cuffs rolled up. But the most precious part wasn't what he was wearing, it was who he was holding, because in his arms was our son pressed against his shoulder, Matthew's hand protectively over Henry's back. Henry looked completely blissful, his head nuzzled into Matthew's neck, fast asleep.

It was the first time since Matthew left that I saw him and our son together so peacefully, and I struggled to keep from sliding down the kitchen wall and onto the floor.

"We're just going to put Henry down for you Sarah, I'll go with Matthew, you two go ahead and pour the coffee." Jason's voice was deep and happy, he winked at his wife, "Lily honey, don't spill it." He chuckled as he and Matthew disappeared down the hall.

Lily turned to look at me just then, her face a mixture of shock and chagrin. "Matthew," She began, her voice just a little bit shaky, "Matthew, he looks, he looks good, doesn't he?"

I could only nod in agreement. Matthew did look good. Gone was the hollowness from his cheeks, the haunted stare from his eyes. He looked so good, there was only one word I could think of, he looked delicious.

"When are you going to see her again?" Ben was munching on a bowl of grapes I offered him. He had been at my place for over two hours and didn't look like he was planning on leaving any time soon.

"I'm not sure." I pressed my lips together, "I didn't tell her anything about seeing her again when I left the other night. I didn't want to ask her anything in front of my parents, you know."

"Yeah, you should keep the parents out for a while. Unless you need them to babysit for you so something." He winked at me.

"Hell, I wish I had the guts for that already." I leaped at the opportunity to discuss what been eating at the back of my mind, "But I think there's something in my way first."

"What's that?" Ben stopped chewing, frowning at me, "What's in the way?"

"Clay Owens." I wasted no time getting right to the point. I guess Ben wasn't prepared to go into conversation about Clay and Sarah because he nearly choked on his grape, coughing and gasping for air.

"Clay?" He coughed some more.

"He's dating Sarah right?" I pressed.

Ben eyed me, wiping at his mouth. He seemed to ponder whether to tell me the truth or not, he probably thought I would start drinking again if he told me.

"Are you sure you want to know Matthew?" He was stalling now. I could tell.

"Yes." I said, "I want to know. How long has he been dating Sarah?"

"Umm.." He wouldn't look at me anymore, "For a while, 'bout four months, umm, yeah."

"Are they serious?" I was eager to learn all that I could. Maybe I could figure out Clay's weaknesses and use them to my advantage.

"I think so. Well I know Clay is, uh, he comes around a lot. He's a big shot businessman you know. He entertains all kinds of clients, always takes them to Sarah's, uh, it makes him look like he's, uh, a family man, yeah."

I kept staring at Ben, why was he stuttering so much? He really thought I was going to start drinking again if he told me about Owens?

"Does he sleep there?" I moved my gaze over to a big black smudge on the wall behind Ben's head. I made that smudge on the night I saw Sarah at the park with Clay. I threw the first thing I could grab, a big ceramic pot that was supposed to be for plants, only the plant had died and there was just dirt in there. I threw it so hard against the wall it smashed into a billion pieces leaving dark smudges all over the wall.

Ben coughed again before looking at me. "He doesn't sleep there man."

"You sure?" I finally looked at him.

"I am one hundred percent positive, Clay Owens doesn't sleep there." And then he chuckled to himself.

November 1, 1989

Dear Joseph!

Halloween is over!

It was the best Halloween ever!

I know I said I wasn't going to go out but yesterday before school started Mom came into my room. She was holding a big box and she said it was for me, that it came in the mail.

Thank you for the Batman costume!

It fit me perfectly! Mom just sighed and rolled her eyes, she told me I could wear it. I guess you helped me prove to Mom that I really really wanted to be Batman. The cape was really soft and the mask was better than Ben's Robin mask. All my friends at school were jealous. Plus Tonya gave me a big smile and she touched me on the arm and told me I looked really good! She gave me a full sized Hershey bar! She didn't give anyone else Hershey bars, just me!

After school when it got dark, Mom and Dad let me go out with Ben Trick or Treating! We must have walked all over the whole town! I filled my entire sack to the top with candy! I will save you some.

You are the best brother in the whole world! I hope you had fun at your party! See you at Thanksgiving!


Ben's chuckle was still rolling around in my head before I went to bed that night. He wouldn't lie to me about Clay sleeping over at Sarah's would he?

I moved slowly through the living room shutting off all the lights. I glanced at the small picture I still kept on my side table. It was a picture of Joe and Roxy, back when they were still in college.

They were at a costume party, Roxy was a cheerleader in her short skirt and bright red pom poms, Joe had his arm around her, he was dressed up as a Cowboy in his jeans and with these leather boots, big huge buckle on his belt and this ridiculous cowboy hat. I grinned to myself to see them both looking at me happily.

I straightened the picture frame slightly before heading to my bedroom. I knew I was going to call Sarah tomorrow and ask her out again. If she said yes then I also knew I was going to ask my parents to watch Henry. I needed some time to reconnect with Sarah, just us two, that way she wouldn't have an excuse to get rid of me so easily. There was something there, some little spark, and I was pretty sure we both felt it, and the more time we could spend together, the more it would grow.

I also knew getting Clay out of the picture was going to take some work and very careful planning. I wasn't even sure where to begin, but it didn't make me panic this time around. Because this time I knew, I wasn't alone. I wasn't going to have to fight this alone. Because this time I had my parents, and Ben, and hopefully one day, Sarah.

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