Cheers for the reviews.

'You're wasting your time and money,' Ben remarks angrily.

'Well, it's my money to waste,' I point out.

He glares at the folder of information the psychiatrist sent us. 'It's disgusting how much she charges. If you're going to throw away that sort of money, then you should use it for something that's going to help people.'

'I'm hoping this will help you.'

Ben throws the folder onto the floor of the car and slumps into his seat defiantly. 'It won't. It's crap. You're giving her money for nothing.'

He is - rather obviously - angry that I organized for him to meet with the therapist. Yesterday, when I told him about the appointment, he accused me of 'going behind his back'. This morning before school, and for the past half hour since I returned home from work, he's been trying to convince me it's a waste of my time and money.

'I'm giving her money so that you have the pleasure of sitting in her office for an hour.'

Ben rolls his eyes. 'Stupid. Do you even know what therapists are like? Have you ever been to one?'

I confess that I don't. I've never been to a therapist, because there's never been the need for one.

'Then you don't know what you're talking about.'


He yanks at a loose thread on his shirt, pulling it out. 'Whatever, Brett. I know you're trying to do what's best for me, but this isn't going to help.'

I don't bother replying. I'm annoyed, because I hate it when my efforts to help someone are rejected – especially when my efforts are coming at a rather large financial price – but I don't want to lose my temper. I've said too many things that I regret, too many shitty, bitchy things, after losing control.

We arrive at the therapist's house, from where she also runs her practice, and park. I'm slightly cheered by the fact that Ben gets out of the car and follows me to the door. Lee wouldn't have done that. Lee would have sat in the car until I'd bribed, begged or physically forced him out.

'This is so dumb,' he mutters. 'Look at her house. It's huge. Why are we giving her more money?'

'Because I like you alive, and she's cheaper than a funeral.'

'You think I'm going to kill myself?' he asks incredulously.

'Well, you might.'

Ben rolls his eyes for the fiftieth time this hour. 'Suicide is hardly the answer. I'm pissed off not depressed.'

'How was it?' Michael inquires.

I pull a face. 'I wanted to kick him. You should have seen his attitude.'

'I think I'll pass. What did the shrink have to say?'

'She said he needs to come back. He sat in her office and refused to speak, except to point out that he thought visiting her was akin to throwing money into a bottomless pit.'


'Ouch,' I agree. 'I didn't make another appointment. I told I'd talk to Ben before arranging another session.'

Michael sighs and stretches his legs out before snuggling into me. 'Did Ben start gloating the second he found out you hadn't organized another session?'

I put my arm around Mikey and kiss his head. I'm mentally exhausted enough from today's visit with the shrink to be able to enjoy the peace and quiet of lying on the couch tucked up with my lover. 'Nope. He dropped the attitude and went back to his normal self.'

'Well, that's good I suppose,' he responds. 'I rang child services today. I asked what our chances were of organizing some sort of contact between Ben and Zan. They said they would contact Zan's adoptive parents and see what they could do.'

'You're kidding.'

'I'm not. I simply pointed out to them that Ben was extremely angry at the loss of contact, and that he was self-harming. I also pointed out that he was planning on suing them at the earliest possible opportunity. I expect they realize that organizing contact is a lot less painful than proving to a court that they had a need to separate the brothers.'

I shake my head in amazement. 'If I tried to tell them that, they would accuse me of threatening them.'

Michael smiles satisfactorily, obviously pleased with himself. 'That's why you have me then, isn't it?'

'Lee, can I ask you a serious question?'

'Brett, you can ask me anything in the world,' he grins. 'Whether I answer honestly, and whether or not I charge you for my reply, is another matter.'

I shake my head, and try and maintain eye contact with him without letting my gaze slip in the direction of the 'artwork' he's currently working on. Lee is an artist, an erotic artist. It's undoubtedly the kind of job that a lot of men envy, but it's not really the sort of work you imagine your children entering. Lee has real talent. It would be nice to see him painting someone with their clothes on, and not engaging in a sexual act, for once.

'It's about Ben.'

'I like Ben.' He eyes his work critically. 'This chick better like this, too. I've gotten rid of all her stretchmarks.'

My train of thought is temporarily redirected. 'Wait, wait, wait you saw her naked?'

'I see lots of people naked. Ask Michael; he'll know the sort of people I paint. I have no troubles at all imaging your boyfriend happily tugging on his willy during the Thursday night circle jerk at…'

I grab the paintbrush he's waving around in the air and yank it out of his grip. 'Quit it. You're doing this to get a reaction from me.'

'And it's working.' He observes.

'I don't care if it's bloody working Lee, stop being a smartarse.'

'Calm down, I was only messing with you.' Lee retrieves the paintbrush from my hand and places it in a cup of clear liquid. 'What's the deal with Ben?'

'He's angry. He won't talk to a shrink. I'm…concerned…that he's going to…well, I don't know what he'll do. That's the problem.'

Lee raises an eyebrow. 'Maybe you should ask Ben what he's going to do.'

'I have. He said he's going to move out when he finishes high school, and then he's going to sue the department for taking his brother away.'

'Doesn't sound too unreasonable to me. I wouldn't worry about it. He's thirteen, he needs something to fill in the times that he isn't whacking off.'

I glare at him. 'Would it kill you to stop mentioning sex?'

'Nope, but it would cut down on my enjoyment. You're squirming.'

'Because I don't want to talk about people masturbating,' I explode irritably. 'I don't care. Surprisingly, it is not particularly interesting to most people.'

Lee grabs his crutches and painfully pulls himself into a standing position. He has massive nerve damage in his back and although he can walk with the aid of braces and crutches, it's not physically easy for him.

'Brett, loosen up. Mikey's paranoia is wearing off on you. Ben is fine; he's just being a kid. He's thirteen. Did you like being thirteen? I didn't. It sucked. My brother killed himself and my mother went to jail. Ben's mother died, and his brother was adopted out. It's shit, and it fucks with you, but he'll be right. He's not like Victor was; he's not suicidal. He's sad 'cause he's lost his family, and he's pissed off because everyone makes stupid fucking Arab jokes, but if you're good to him, he'll make it. Trust me.'

I follow him out of his studio and into the hallway. 'You think so?'

He shrugs. 'Sure. He's smart, and everyone likes him. He also has a date lined up on Saturday. He's going out with a girl. He rang me and asked if I could drive him. I agreed, but you know, I reckon you could do it.'

'Why didn't he ask me?' I ask, confused.

'He said he didn't want to put you to any trouble.'

'But this way he's putting you to trouble.'

'Incorrect,' Lee smirks. 'He offered to pay me.'

I flip him the bird. 'If I ever hear of you taking money from a kid, I'm going to kick your arse.'

Lee finds my threat to be highly amusing. 'Would Daddy really hurt his crippled son?'

'You'd better believe it.'

I stare at Ben over the dinner table, trying to make sense of him. He's mature – extremely mature – when he's in control of the situation, but he loses his maturity when he's pushed into a corner. He can't yet comfortably negotiate himself out of a difficult situation. As I'm not eager to risk a repeat of his reaction to 'the race thing' or 'the shrink thing', I'm confused as to how to go about telling him I know he's going on a date.

Ben looks up and meets my eye. 'Is something wrong?'

'No,' I reply quickly. 'Nothing's wrong. Look, I saw Lee yesterday afternoon. He said you asked him to give him a lift on Saturday.'

'Uh, yeah,' he agrees uneasily. 'Has something come up?'

'Well, yes. He asked if I could take you. Is that okay with you?'

'It's fine with me,' he mutters, picking up his fork. 'I said I'd pick someone up and we'd go to the movies.'

'Is 'someone' a girl?' Michael inquires.

Ben nods shortly. 'Dragana.'

'Where did you meet her?' he prods.

'On the bus, on the way to school. She's the cousin of one of the guys I hang out with.'

Michael is pained by the reply. 'You're dating the cousin of one of your mates? What does your friend think about this?'

'I'm not really dating her,' Ben corrects. 'She keeps hanging off me. Branko said if I took her to the movies, I'd be doing both of us a favour because she keeps going on about how…um, saying stuff.'

Michael, Tom, Will and I exchange amused glances. Ben notices our exchange, frowns, and stabs at his food with his fork. For some reason, this makes me smile all the more. He's going to grow up to be a good-looking man, so it's funny to see him so modest and unassuming.

'She wears too much make-up,' he adds unnecessarily. 'My mother would have hated her.'

Michael rests his head on his arm and smiles in Ben's direction. 'Whoever dated a person their parents liked?'

Ben shrugs defensively. 'I haven't dated anyone. I'm not dating anyone. I am taking a girl who wears too much make-up and too many tight clothes to the movies. That is all. Really. Please stop talking about it.'

It occurs to me that he likes this girl, and that he's hiding his feelings because he's embarrassed and uncertain. The thought cheers me. If he's mentally well enough to have, and hide, an attraction to someone, then surely it won't matter if it takes me a week or two to convince him go back to the shrink.

'What time do you need a lift?' Will asks.

'Five o'clock,' Ben replies glumly.

'I should be back from work by then,' Will frowns. 'Would you rather I took you?'

Ben brightens considerably. 'Will, if it isn't too much trouble, I'd really appreciate it.'

I wrinkle my nose in distaste. Apparently I am no longer cool. Certainly, I am not cool enough to drive two kids to the movies on a Saturday night.

Yes, I realize how pathetic that sounds.