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  2. Valkyrie

    Perseverance

    Something was wrong with Davey. And I had no idea what. Neither did the slew of specialists I’d taken my son to over the past few months. I felt like I was on an out-of-control roller coaster, careening toward an unfinished drop-off. I hoped like hell we could stop it before we reached the end. I propped my head up with a pillow and reached for my iPad. I hadn’t had a good night’s sleep in months and figured tonight wouldn’t be any different. I tapped the button to access my videos and chose one of the recordings I took on our vacation to the Adirondacks last summer. Davey loved camping. Hiking was a good way to use up a lot of his energy. Keeping up with my hyperactive, autistic son forced me to stay in shape. The screen lit up with the vibrant green of the northlands forest, sunlight streaming into the clearing I’d found—a good spot to stop and break for lunch. Davey paced in circles around the small space, waving his hands. “Twelve o’clock. Time for lunch. Today’s Tuesday, July seventeenth. Peanut butter and jelly. Twelve o’clock. Peanut butter and jelly. And corn chips. Time for lunch,” he said in a sing-song voice, over and over. “Davey, look over here. Where are we?” He ran over to me and stopped right in front of the iPad—his face so close to the camera only his caramel-brown eye and flushed, red cheek were visible. “Adirondack National Park. Indian Lake. Tuesday, July seventeenth, two thousand eighteen.” “Back up a bit, buddy, so we can see your face.” He took a step backward, and I did the same. He smiled and looked past the iPad instead of directly at it. “It’s twelve o’clock. Lunchtime.” “Yes, it is. This is Alan and Davey, signing off, so we can eat our peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.” The video playback stopped. I sighed and closed my eyes, remembering what happened next. I sat on a log and unpacked our sandwiches and chips. “Here you go, Davey. Come sit next to me.” He ran over and plopped down in front of me, sitting cross-legged. I broke off a piece of peanut butter and jelly sandwich and placed it, along with a few corn chips, on a plate and handed it to him. He grabbed it and stuffed it all in his mouth at once, then held out the plate to me. “Easy there, bud. Remember to eat one thing at a time.” If I gave him an entire plate of food, it would be gone in about thirty seconds flat. That was a lesson learned the hard way, after he choked on a chicken nugget he failed to chew, and I had to call 911. I placed another bite of sandwich on the plate and decided to wait on the chips. It still took less than ten minutes for him to finish everything. After resting a few more minutes, I stood. “Ready to go?” Davey ran over to me and hugged me clumsily. “I love you, Davey. You, too.” He let go and walked quickly toward the trail. Even though he said his own name, I knew he meant me. He frequently mixed up names and pronouns. Once I recovered from my shock, I had to run to catch up to him, letting the wind dry my happy tears. It was the only time he ever said he loved me. I opened my eyes and grabbed a tissue from the box on the nightstand. Davey had started changing only a couple of months after that trip. Watching the video only drove home how much he’d deteriorated. Davey did everything fast—eating, speaking, walking. It was exhausting. He talked constantly. The technical term is “echolalia”. He repeated everything he heard, which meant I had to watch what I said. That was another lesson learned the hard—and embarrassing—way. About two months after our trip, Davey slowed down. It started gradually. At first, I thought I was getting in better shape, since I was able to keep up with him easier. Then, I found myself having to slow my own steps in order to walk with him. That’s when I started noticing other things. He talked less—sometimes not at all. I’d ask him a question and he’d stare at me instead of answering. I thought maybe he wasn’t feeling well, so I took him to the doctor. Puberty. The fucker actually had the nerve to blame it on puberty. He said there was nothing physically wrong with him and recommended a follow-up in six months. I immediately looked for recommendations for other doctors who specialized in treating people with autism. The answers I got from them weren’t much better. So here I was, feeling like I was on that damn roller coaster. I’d never forget what the last “expert” had told me. I balled my hands into fist and clenched my teeth. Thinking about it made my blood boil. “Your son has experienced a psychotic break. Sometimes the symptoms manifest as a withdrawal into one’s self. The mind just snaps—there’s no known cause or cure. People who already have a mental defect are at higher risk. All we can do is treat the symptoms.” Mental defect. Snapped. No. I knew my son. The doctor’s diagnosis of schizophrenia was wrong. I knew it in my bones. I refused to fill the plethora of hardcore anti-psychotic medications the quack had prescribed. And continued my search for answers. I found a promising lead in an online support group for single parents of autistic children a couple of weeks ago. One of the members highly recommended a doctor in a neighboring state. I called right away and was lucky enough to get an appointment next week. I was trying not to get my hopes up, but desperately hoped this guy would give us the key to Davey’s issues. I yawned and stretched. I needed to stop these thoughts and try to get some sleep. Throwing the covers off, I sat upright, my heart pounding. I’d had one hell of a nightmare. My son was being attacked by velociraptors and screaming his head off. What can I say? I had a strange subconscious. Or maybe it was because Davey loved dinosaurs and watching the Jurassic Park movies. I decided I might as well take a piss as long as I was up, so I stood and started walking toward the bathroom. My blood ran cold when I heard Davey scream—the same sound from my nightmare. I darted down the hall and into my son’s room. He writhed on the bed, screeching and hitting his head with his hand repeatedly. I ran to him and grabbed his arm. “Davey! Stop!” It took all my strength to stop him from hurting himself. I’d never seen him like this before. Fear flooded through me—I had no idea what the fuck was happening. And my fucking cell phone was on my fucking nightstand in my fucking bedroom. Fuck. I needed help. I let go of Davey and ran to my bedroom, snatched up my cell phone, and continued back to my son’s room. I managed to call 911 while keeping him from hurting himself. I paced up and down the hallway of the hospital’s psych ward, wondering if I could share a room with Davey. If my blood pressure didn’t kill me first, that is. Fucking doctors. The ER doc had taken one look at Davey’s history and pumped him full of sedatives, then shipped him off to the looney bin, despite my objections. Now I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t bear to see Davey restrained in his bed, catatonic from all the crap they pumped into him. “Mr. Grantham?” I stopped pacing and faced the young man addressing me. “Yes, I’m Alan Grantham.” The man smiled and held out his hand. “I’m the resident on duty today, Dr. Green. I’m here to check on David.” I shook his hand briefly. Great. He looked like he was barely out of high school. “Look… I know you have a job to do, but Davey’s not crazy. Something is very wrong with him and nobody can figure out what!” “I’ve reviewed your son’s history, but let’s go sit down and you can fill in some of blanks, then I’ll examine Davey.” I nodded. “Yeah, sure. OK.” We headed to a small office, and I repeated everything we’d been through since Davey first started changing. Dr. Green made a lot of notes as I talked and asked questions occasionally. He frowned when I described what had happened last night and Davey’s horrible screaming. For the first time, I felt like I was being taken seriously. We headed into Davey’s room, and Dr. Green performed a physical exam, which included shining a penlight into his eyes and checking his reflexes. He turned to the nurse assisting him. “Alice, when was he catheterized?” “About an hour ago. I’ve emptied it once. His bladder was really full.” Dr. Green frowned and turned to his computer and quickly typed something. “Mr. Grantham, I’d like to send Davey for some tests.” I nodded. “What kind of tests?” “A CT scan and lumbar puncture, and possibly an MRI.” “Lumbar puncture? Is that really necessary?” “It might be, depending on the results of the scan.” I stared at him and realized this was the first person to take Davey’s symptoms seriously. “You suspect something, don’t you.” He hesitated before responding. “I don’t want to say for sure until we have the results, but I’m guessing you’re right about your son not having a mental illness.” “Thank you,” I replied, my voice shaking. “You’re the first doctor who’s taken me seriously.” He smiled. “I have a brother with autism. I know how hard it can be to get answers when something’s wrong.” I nodded and turned toward Davey. I brushed his hair back from his forehead and kissed him. “You’ll be OK, bud.” Dr. Green returned an hour later with the results of the testing. Encephalitis. Swelling of the brain. It had a name. Davey wasn’t crazy. And neither was I. And it was treatable. I was getting my son back.
  3. Puppilull

    Chapter 1

    The desert wind softly caressed his face, its warmth and fragrance ghosting gently over his skin. The heat of the day was finally waning. In the distance, he could hear the camels rustling as they slowly chewed on their dinner. His legs were starting to hurt slightly from staying in a kneeling position for too long. The floor of the tent was covered by soft, colorful carpets, but even that wasn’t enough. He tried once more to shift his position so he could sit on his side, but the restraints which connected his wrists to his ankles were too short to allow such movement. The collar around his neck was strapped to a tent pole, making it impossible to simply fall over. Not to mention the embarrassment of being found in such an undignified position. It had been a long, stifling day even in the surprisingly dark tent. After being cooped up for hours in the stagnant air, he longed to feel the freshness of the evening breeze. The hint of a draft that wafted in through the flaps of the tent was not enough to bring any freshness. His clothes itched, both from dried sweat pulling at the tiny hairs on his body, and from the garb so foreign to him. Gone were his uniform and weapons and with them a sizeable chunk of his pride. Instead, they had dressed him in what he could only describe as a simple cotton night shirt. He was unaccustomed to wear such things other out of the privacy of his bedroom. It just wasn’t proper. The clothes made him feel like a child or, worse, like a mere woman. The fact that they all wore them made no difference. They were the enemy. Savages, the lot of them. Destined to be conquered. However, despite the superiority of his regiment, the resistance had been unexpectedly fierce. In the midst of battle, he found himself thrown from his horse and in the mayhem and chaos, he got separated from his troop. As a lonely soldier wandering the battlefield, he was easy prey and swiftly captured. He was sure they were going to kill him, since he held little bargaining value as a mid-ranking officer. Steeling his resolve, he vowed to himself he would face his death valiantly. Moments before the deed was to be done, already a fearsome sword glinting in the setting sun raised above his head, something stopped his executioner. A single shouted order in their garbled language changed his destiny. They had stripped him of all things familiar and forced him to a tent. There, in the obscure recesses he had met him. That damned demon, who, little by little and in astoundingly good English, whispered poisoned words into his ear, luring him to abandon his beliefs, his morals and his country. Quiet steps outside made him shiver. Sandals on sand. He was coming back. The flaps of the tent rustled. He hastily straightened his back, placed his hands on his thighs and sat up properly on his knees. All the while hating himself for it, but unable to resist. He had to be good. “Very good. You please me.” The voice he hated and yet longed for sent a bolt of desire through his body, ending up in his crotch. That damned man. The devil incarnate. He forced his eyes to remain trained on the carpet in front of him, trying to ignore his captor. His resilience only earned him a low chuckle. “So stubborn.” Fingers grazed the back of his head, making every hair on his body stand up as if to salute. Then those fingers tightened in his hair and tilted his head back. The darkest eyes trapped him with a searing gaze, setting his body aflame. “You will submit to me.” “Never.” His voice wavered from lack of conviction. His nostrils filled with the spicy scent of his captor. Their eyes dueled fiercely, and he couldn’t look away. So close. They were so close. Heat from the other man’s skin made his body respond with a passion he had never experienced before. He had to be strong. He had to resist this devil of the desert. But he couldn’t move. Helpless, he had to let it happen. Fate would have her way. As their lips finally met in a crushing kiss, he tumbled over the edge of lust. Morals be damned! All he wanted was to feel the heat of their bodies as they joined in the need of the flesh. He needed… ---- “It’s burning.” A slightly annoyed voice penetrated his thoughts. “Huh?” Devon blinked as if he only just then realized he was in his own kitchen and not in a faraway desert about to be seduced by a sheik. “The toast. You’re burning it.” With an obviously suppressed sigh, Fabian reached past him and retrieved the two slices from the toaster. They were indeed black. Inedible. A slight frown between Fabian’s eyebrows appeared. “These won’t do.” He discarded them in the sink with a flick of his wrist. “I’ll make some more.” Rushing to put new slices in, Devon fumbled and dropped one of them on the floor. “It’ll be quick.” After a glance at his watch, Fabian shook his head. “Never mind. No time. I’ve got to go.” He gave Devon a peck on his head, downed half a cup of coffee and headed for the door. “See you later, sweetie!” And then he was gone. The silence in his wake made Devon deflate. His appetite was gone, and he figured he might as well get going. He exited the kitchen without having any toast. In the hall, he paused for a moment. School would start soon, and the kids would already be waiting for him. The mere thought of his work stirred the usual feelings of unease. Pushing the sense of impending doom to the back of his head, he pulled on his jacket, grabbed his bag and left the house. In the car, he went over the day’s schedule in his mind. The usual kids with the usual problems. Some merely skipping school on occasion, while others were in more serious trouble with violent outbursts and severe attitude issues. All in a day’s work. Save the world. Nothing major. He hurried through the halls of the school, wanting to have at least a few moments to himself before the parents of his first student showed up. “Hey, Mr. Twitcher!” The shouted greeting caused giggles to flare up all around. He flinched and then ducked his head, as if the move would make him invisible. “Made you jump!” More giggles erupted. “That’s Mr. Treacher, and you know it.” He bit his tongue to make himself shut up. Answering them was not a good idea. It led nowhere, except letting them know their name calling bothered him. Strangely enough, it did. He knew he should be over it by now, after doing this for almost ten years. Somehow, it still brought him down. He was only trying his best to help those in need. Since his method was therapy sessions and not the physical correction or shouting more commonly used in this neighborhood, the kids had deemed him weak and therefore suitable to pick on. They never picked on the PE-guy. Lengthening his stride, he left the group of kids behind. Their laughter followed him. As he came in to his room, he dumped his bag on the floor and hung up his jacket. After grabbing the folder lying on his desk, he sat in his stuffed chair to read. The same story as always. Boy, 12 years old, repeated instances of disruptive behavior. Teacher at her wits end and asking for him to intervene. No severe physical violence, but there were mentions of the odd, brief altercation with a few class mates. A knock on the door told him his prep time was up. After greeting the parents with a smile and only getting a terse nod in return, Devon prepared for the worst. They sat down at his mock-homey couch set and the silence quickly became oppressive. “So, I asked you to come here to talk about Ryder.” Nothing but hostile stares met his words. “There’ve been a few incidents lately and Ms. Fulham was concerned there may be something going on with Ryder that the school isn’t aware of. Something at home perhaps…?” A fist hit the table so hard it made the tea cups rattle. “At home? So, it’s our fault you can’t keep the discipline in the classroom!” The father turned red-faced instantly. “There’s nothing going on at home. Work takes up all of my time, and with the amount of taxes we pay we should be able to rely on school to provide a structured environment where Ryder can feel safe to express himself.” “Express himself…?” Devon tried to gather his thoughts quickly. “This is about Ryder yelling profanities at his teacher.” “He should feel free to express his thoughts without fear of oppression.” Righteousness tinted the man’s words, contrasting strangely against the angry expression on his face. “I’m sure you realize we can’t allow–” “So you seek to censure the children in their formative years? What sort of institution are you running here?” Leaning forward, the father appeared to be challenging Devon. For a moment, Devon was speechless. Then fatigue hit him hard and unexpectedly. He had to trudge on, despite wanting to simply go home. “Calling a teacher the c-word does not fall under freedom of expression.” “So what is your plan for Ryder? How will you ensure this sort of thing doesn’t happen again?” “Me?” Devon shuffled the papers in the folder in front of him. “I was hoping you could discuss this with your son.” “He never uses that sort of language at home. You need to deal with his behavior here. That is your responsibility.” The father stood up, prompting the still silent mother to follow suit. “I expect this to be the end of this nonsense. Don’t bother us again about issues that are clearly your business.” He turned and left the room. The mother gave an apologetic smile and hurried after him. Devon was left with a sense of emptiness. How had all this suddenly and exclusively become the school’s problem? It wasn’t the first time he had heard similar arguments. As if parents had no other obligations than to pay taxes. Paying taxes apparently made troubles or rather responsibilities go away. He sank back against the couch, closing his eyes to retain what was left of his sanity. ------- “Doctor, we’re losing him!” That annoying hint of despair laced his voice as he struggled to keep even steps with Dr. Lauden. The man was going through clamps and scalpels at lightning speed and he struggled to keep the supply coming. The doctor’s hands were almost a flurry of activity. Still, it didn’t seem enough. There was too much blood lost, most of it smeared on their scrubs and gloves. “Not on my watch!” A flash of that devilish smile accompanied by a wink made his stomach do a flip. He wished, as many times before, he could remain as calm and collected when faced with such terrible odds. “BP’s dropping again.” The anesthetist raised the alarm, spiking the stress levels even further. “I’ll save him, if it’s the last thing I do!” Dr. Lauden stuck his hands further inside the patient’s body. “Where is that bleed…?” He shook his head. “Wipe!” Sebastian jumped forward and blotted the man’s forehead. Thanks to their closeness, he got a whiff of the man’s cologne. Powerful and impressive. Just like the man himself. He suppressed a sigh, but not well enough. A glance filled with meaningful mischief out the corner of the doctor’s eye let him know he had failed in his attempt to be unperturbed by the man’s excellence. Damn it! Why couldn’t he keep his defenses impenetrable? It wasn’t professional to let himself be distracted. A loud beep directed his attention firmly back to the patient. “V-fib!” The tension in the room ratcheted yet another notch. “Commence CPR. Prepare to shock him!” Orders were yelled across the room, all of the staff working together like a finely tuned machine. It made Sebastian proud to be part of such an amazing trauma team. And it was all due to Dr. Lauden. He had trimmed their performance until it ran as the tight ship he demanded. A perfectionist with the skills to back it up. If only he wasn’t so dashingly handsome. There were regulations on inter-staff relationships. Sebastian did not want to lose his job, but it was getting increasingly difficult. “Shocking! Everyone step away!” They watched the monitor with bated breath. “Sinus rhythm!” “I’ll close that bleed and then let’s get him off to the OR.” Dr. Lauden dove back in, fearlessly continuing his fight for the patient’s life. With a final few stitches, he made sure the guy would be stable enough for surgery. As they watched the man being wheeled out of the ER, Sebastian could feel the doctor’s presence next to him. He busied himself with some paperwork but could not concentrate due to the feeling of electricity permeating the room. “How long will you keep me waiting?” Dr. Lauden was standing much too close behind him, his warm breath against his ear sending shivers through his body. His instincts told him to run, but instead he froze in place. “I’m not sure what you mean.” “Yes, you do. Don’t lie to me.” Strong hands grabbed his hips from behind. “You drive me crazy acting so coy. Don’t think I haven’t noticed the way you look at me. The longing in your eyes.” The doctor pressed his body against Sebastian’s back, making sure he could feel the outline of his very hard cock grinding against his ass. “Doctor!” Sebastian spun around, his flushed face burning. The man didn’t move, didn’t back off. Instead he leaned in and forced Sebastian to meet his eyes. Electric blue piercing his light hazel. “I will have you and you will let me.” Their lips were so close now. Breaths mingled. Far too close. Sebastian struggled with his conscience and his work ethics. This was wrong. But why did it feel so right? He was painfully hard and leaking. “Kiss me!” With a yelp, Sebastian turned and twisted out of the doctor’s grasp. He ran out of the room and didn’t dare to stop until he was safely in the nurses’ lounge. Why was he so weak? Why did Dr. Lauden make his knees so wobbly? ---- “What’s for dinner?” Fabian dropped his keys in the little bowl on the side table next to the fridge and plugged his phone to the charger. Absentmindedly, he leaned over and gave Devon a peck on the cheek, not really taking his eyes of the screen of his phone. “I just made some pasta. Wasn’t in the mood for cooking.” Staring at the creamy chicken sauce, Devon shrugged. He hadn’t been paying any attention to the meal he was preparing, as his mind was wandering to more exciting places. Fabian crinkled his eyebrows. “I thought we said we were going to cut back on carbs?” It wasn’t exactly reproach, but enough to send Devon’s mood in a rapid downward spiral. As if sensing this shift, Fabian hastily put downs his phone and embraced Devon from behind. “I didn’t mean it like that. I’m sorry.” A soft kiss at the base of Devon’s neck smoothed some of his ruffled feathers. Fabian’s warm breath against his skin eased the tension in his body. “One of those days?” “Yup.” “You should quit that place. It’s wearing you down to a nub.” Devon’s shoulders locked in position once more. He leaned away from Fabian, pretending the sauce needed stirring. “But we need the money.” The words barely made it out between his clenched teeth. “No, we don’t.” “Well, ok. I need the money.” Devon turned in his boyfriend’s arms but couldn’t quite bring him to stare Fabian in the eyes. “You know I don’t want to be dependent on you like that. I need to work. I need to have my own life.” “But what kind of life is it if you constantly feel depleted of all energy? You don’t even like those kids!” “I do too!” “Let’s just eat and try to have a nice evening, please?” Fabian kissed him on the tip of his nose, effectively ending the discussion. Dinner was eaten in the silent wake of the low-level argument. The exchange of words was one they’d had many times before. It didn’t help that Devon realized Fabian was right. His current place of work was definitely more woe than joy at the moment, but he couldn’t seem to make a change. Maybe because deep down he knew he was making a difference. If not for all the kids he saw, then at least for some. However, the perceived inertia only grew as time passed, and it threatened to pull him down if he couldn’t break out of his gloomy and restless state of mind. He felt as if he should have more in his life. He couldn’t figure out what, though. ---- Rex Carrington leaned back in his chair, a pleased look plastered across his annoyingly handsome face. “I told you not to play with the big boys, Czar.” Oh, how he wanted to wipe that smirk from his lips. Those luscious lips, hiding perfect pearly whites paired with an enticing tongue that snaked out on occasion to wet the lips. Almost like a feral beast, watching its prey. He shook his head to clear the unwanted images. “And that would be you?” Making sure to keep his facial expression under control, he sauntered casually over to his briefcase, which he had deposited on a coffee table as he entered the awe-inspiring and spacious office of his sworn enemy. “Tell me, how many big boys have lost the control of their company through sheer stupidity?” Triumphantly, he withdrew the share certificates and returned to his position in front of the huge glass topped desk. He waved the documents in Rex’ face. His actions had an immediate effect. The smugness drained from his opponent’s face like water down a sink. “What are those?” Rex rose behind his desk. If Czar wasn’t mistaken the man’s attractive feature had turned a few shades paler. “Just what you think they are.” “He wouldn’t sell to you!” Disbelief was written across the handsome features of his archenemy. “If the price is right, everyone is selling. You’ve told me that yourself.” He allowed himself a little smugness but kept from counting his chickens before they were hatched. This still was not over. Rex bolted around the desk and lunged for the papers. Czar kept them out of reach above his head but had to take a few steps back to avoid the attack. He tried to keep Rex at a distance by placing his free hand on the man’s chest. “Give me those!” Rex pushed him across the room and up against the wall. Pinning him to the wall, Rex grabbed him by his wrists and pushed his hands up over his head. The papers got crumpled in Czar’s hand as he did his best to hold on to them. A knee between Czar’s legs immobilized his lower body. Anger shone from Rex’ cool blue eyes. Anger and something else. “Fuck off!” Czar tried to squirm out the man’s grasp, but Rex had always been the bigger and stronger man. “Take your hands off me!” “You’d like that, huh? Just walk out of here with my future in your hands. I can’t let that happen. I can’t let you go.” They stared into each other’s eyes, gazes locked. Their labored breathing mingled as their chest rose and fell, both from the promise of a fight and from that strange feeling which seemed to grow between them. Czar could feel the heat from the other man as their bodies pressed against each other. Suddenly, those unwanted thoughts flooded his mind again. He tried to push them away as always, but their closeness made his attempts futile. Without thinking, he angled his hips ever so slightly upwards, grinding deliciously against Rex’ leg. The other man licked his lips. A fraction of a second later, their mouths crashed together. The documents fell to the floor as Czar grabbed hold of Rex’ neck, pulling the man closer. As they slid downward against the wall, Rex clawed at their belts and buttons. “Damn it!” It was the last conscious thought to cross Czar’s mind before both men were taken over by pure lust. ---- “I doubt that pot is going to get any cleaner…” “Huh?” His boyfriend’s voice shook Devon out of his daydream. Fabian smiled and pointed to the kitchen sink. Looking down, Devon saw the pot he had been scrubbing. He turned his confused face to Fabian. “You’ve been washing that pot for over 20 minutes.” Fabian tilted his head. “Are you feeling OK?” “Yeah, sure. Just distracted by my thoughts.” With a shrug, Devon tried to dismiss the topic. “What were you thinking of?” “Have you ever wondered if there’s supposed to be more to life? More than this routine, day in and day out. Everything happening as before. No surprises. No grand romantic adventures left.” The words poured out of Devon before he could stop them. His brain still seemed to be offline and didn’t stop him until it was too late. Or was it? Fabian stared at him, but had he actually listened? “What are you talking about? You aren’t making any sense.” So, no. He wasn’t listening. Both relieved and disappointed, Devon shook his head. “It’s nothing.” Fabian sighed and deflated as if he would drop the subject, but then he squared his shoulders. “What is going on?” Before Devon could answer, Fabian held up his hand. “And don’t say ‘nothing’ again. I’m sick and tired of that damn word. I find you all over the apartment, a glazed look in your eyes and miles away. And you say it’s nothing? As if living with half a person is nothing!” Fabian had gradually raised his voice, something he never did. Devon tried to think of something to say, but his mind went blank. Frustrated, Fabian rubbed his face with his hands. “You’re just going to stand there silent? Is that it?” “There’s nothing to say…” “Don’t say that bloody word! Of course, there is something! Or you wouldn’t be miles away!” Fabian stared at him. “Is it that school? Those no good kids aren’t worth your health.” Anger sparked in Devon. “It’s not the kids!” “Then what is it? Are you seeing someone else?” “What? No!” Devon couldn’t believe Fabian had asked him that. Cheating? “Well, what am I supposed to think when you are so distant all the time? You are shutting me out and won’t even tell me what’s wrong.” How would he explain the feeling of wanting something else, something more? He didn’t even understand it himself. The situation at work didn’t help, but this vague sense of missing something or needing something came from some other place. “I know it’s stupid, but I see movies and read books filled with the adventures of other people’s lives. Then I look at my own, dull existence.” Devon gestured toward the sink filled with dishes. “It’s not as if I seriously expect anything extraordinary to happen. I just wonder if this is how it’s supposed to be from now on? All routine and no more surprises.” “Surprises?” The look on Fabian’s face said it all. He had no idea what Devon was talking about. “You know, the thrill of seduction, forbidden romance, excitement, mystery, wooing.” Seeing the look in Fabian’s eyes, Devon shook his head. “I told you it was stupid. But that’s what I’m thinking about.” Instinctively, Devon rotated the ring on his finger. It still felt new and foreign. Of course, Fabian didn’t miss the action. “I honestly don’t understand what you are talking about. You regret getting engaged? Is that it? You just have to tell me. We can work this out.” “No, it’s not that.” It hurt to think Fabian would believe he didn’t want to wear his ring. It was all just so final, when it was supposed to be the start. Could it be cold feet? “Then what?” Fabian pressed on. Before Devon could stop himself, the answer crossed his lips. “Nothing.” It was easier to let that one, spiteful word slip out than to verbalize the complicated and muddy thoughts of his innermost self. Did he even know what was wrong? Was anything actually wrong? In exasperation, Fabian threw his arms up and then hastily left the kitchen. Devon followed anxiously. He watched Fabian grab his jacket and head out. “Where are you going?” “Just out for a walk.” ----- In the dark, he spun in the sheets. Something had woken him up, stirred the far recesses of his mind. The sweat was cooling off his exposed skin, sending shivers down his spine. Or did those tremors originate from somewhere else? Someone else? Out of the corner of his eye, he spotted an unexpected movement and he sat up straight in the bed. The air felt thicker, almost syrupy and drawing breath became harder. “Who’s there?” Narrowing his eyes, he tried to penetrate the dark but in vain. He realized he had not seen the movement as much as felt it. There was a presence in his room, looming at the edge of his consciousness. Soft rustle of fabric startled him. The presence had positioned itself by the bed. He reached to turn on his lamp, only to be stopped dead by a hand gripping his wrist. “Leave it off. We don’t need the light to know this is meant to be. There’s no escape. And if you look into your heart, you know you don’t want to run.” The scarce light glinted on a self-assured smile, revealing teeth ready to strike. His pulse sped up from fear of the unknown laced with an undercurrent of excitement, but he made no attempt to retract his hand. Was that the truth? Did he want this? The pull was so strong, almost magnetic. Yes, he wanted this. He needed this. To ever think he could resist was ridiculous. A depression of the bed next to him told him he wasn’t alone in bed anymore. Slowly, he reached out with his free hand and touched the man beside him. The warmth from the body next to him was alluring, but there was something in the way. What was that? His fingers got tangled up in too much fabric. Ruffles? Were those ruffles? And velvet? He reached over to the lamp and turned it on. The sight made him giggle and break the mood. “What are you wearing?” Fabian was sitting next to him on the bed, dressed in some velvet frock coat and a white shirt with ruffles running down his chest. He looked utterly ridiculous. “Trying for a part in the new Anne Rice movie?” The giggles grew to outright laughter and Devon collapsed back on the bed, clutching his stomach. “Well, I was just thinking of what you said. Maybe you’re right. Maybe we need something new.” “Wait, is that a ponytail? With a ribbon?” Devon was overtaken by more laughter. “I have to look the part!” Fabian flipped the faux-tail with mock haughtiness. “And I totally pull it off.” Shaking his head and still giggling, Devon sat up and reached for the ridiculous add-on. With a swift move, he snatched it away. “Hey!” “If you think something new entails you dressing like a loon, you are sorely mistaken.” A soft kiss took the edge off the words. The men fell silent as they regarded each other. “I don’t want you to feel like this is routine, because what I feel for you will never be routine.” Fabian caressed his cheek. “At times, we will lose sight of what actually matters and not be as close as we can and should be. That doesn’t mean I don’t think sharing my life with you is anything but amazing. It hurts to think you want something else, and that I may not be part of that future.” Fabian’s words hit Devon straight in the gut. “But that’s not it. That’s not it at all!” He searched for the right way to explain himself. “I think we both need to remember to make an effort to be exciting. Then I won’t lose myself in those silly fantasies.” “And I won’t treat you like part of the furniture.” The contrite look on Fabian’s face was another punch to the stomach. “But you don’t!” “All too often, I do.” Softly, Fabian traced his fingers down Devon’s cheek. They regarded each other in silence again. “I do love you, you know.” “I know.” Devon played with the ruffles of Fabian’s shirt. Once again, he was overcome by the ridiculousness of Fabian’s idea for added excitement and the giggling bubbled up inside him. He leaned in and gave Fabian another kiss. “If we could just get you out of this shirt…” Devon fumbled with the buttons, only to be helped by Fabian. The fumbling brought them closer together and the proximity sparked a need in them. The giggling stopped abruptly as breathing quickened and heat rose between them. This was a dance they had performed many times before, but somehow it felt new and exciting. Maybe playing dress up hadn’t been such a bad idea after all. The next morning, his steps up to the school gates were not as heavy as they had been lately. However, Devon realized things would not magically be all better just because the previous night had been one of passion. It was a first step, though. A way to break down walls and open lines of communication. Taking their relationship to a better place and moving forward. He raised his eyes and stared at the school gates. If only the same could be said about his work. “Mr. Treacher?” The voice reached him from behind and he turned, expecting to see the usual disgruntled parent or insolent kid. Instead, he saw a young man biting his lip and nervously twisting a cap in his hands. There was something vaguely familiar about him, but Devon couldn’t place him. “Yes?” He took a few steps towards the man, unsure of what to expect. “I don’t know if you remember me…” Suddenly, a memory flashed through Devon’s mind. “Samuel?” Bits and pieces of their joint past surfaced. Long talks in his office, with anger and frustration on both sides. A drawn-out struggle to get through to a bright, but troubled kid. Parents at the end of their rope and taking it out on him. “Yeah, it’s me.” He approached Devon. For a moment, he stood there silent as if unsure of how to continue. “I’m in town for a few days visiting my parents and I just wanted to come by and say thank you.” “For what?” “For not giving up on me, when so many others did. Without you, I would never have graduated and definitely wouldn’t have gone to college. I’m graduating soon and it looks like I have a job waiting for me.” “Wow, that’s great. I’m really happy for you.” Devon was surprised at the emotion that rose in him. “But it’s your achievement, not mine.” “But it is yours as well. You saved me. So thank you.” Awkwardly, Samuel stuck out his hand. Devon grasped it. They regarded each other in silence, no words needed to express the feeling between them. Then as suddenly as he had shown up, Samuel turned and walked away. Devon was left with a smile on his face and a warm feeling in his gut. The final few steps up to the entrance of the school had never felt lighter. Maybe he did make a difference. Maybe life was brighter than he realized.
  4. He discovered artifacts that no one can explain--twin stars and a solar system carved thousands upon thousands of years in the past--that are just now being photographed and sent back to Earth by a space probe that has gone farther than any other man-made object before. So how did those early people know? Professor Trestan has to go back, but is the grant offer too good to be true?
  5. Something was wrong with Davey. Alan didn't think he was being taken seriously by the medical professionals they visited. So what was he to do? The only thing he could: persevere, and hope to find the right answer before it was too late.
  6. Devon is struggling with feelings of life slipping through his fingers, which in turn causes his mind to slip away to far more romantic places. But what does he actually want out of life? And will it include his boyfriend Fabian?
  7. I was already in a foul mood when I entered the gymnasium. It was only days before the start of the Winter Break, and I was not looking forward to that. As much as I disliked school, home was worse. Much worse. Winter Break meant spending two weeks with my family… two weeks of constant abuse. The one saving grace was that both my older brothers would be home for the holidays. With luck, Dad would be on his best behavior. Like me, Dad was a big SOB who more often than not settled his arguments with his fists. I guess that’s where I got my temper. I guess that’s why I got in trouble all the time. Picking on littler kids and fags was the only way I knew how to react. It was the only way I could get back at my dad for what he did to me. I wasn’t sure if it was ’cause I was the youngest of the litter, but I seemed to catch the worst of it from Dad. Joseph, the oldest one of us, used to tell me he had it bad too, but by the time he was my age, he was even bigger and stronger than Dad and could hold his own in a fight. He saw to it that Dad left the rest of us alone, but that didn’t stop Dad from pounding on me when Joseph wasn’t around. Dad slapped all of us around, but he never took his fists to the girls. He never used his belt on them either. No, the belt he saved for the boys, Joseph, Scott and me, but then Joseph got to be big enough to fight back, and Scott learned early on how to stay out of trouble, and how to blame me for it. When Joseph left for college, things really got bad for me. With Scott still in the house, anything bad that happened got blamed on me. Whereas Joseph had held Dad in check, Scott made sure I took the brunt of Dad’s anger, right up until he left for college. Sarah had already gone off to college, and Kristin soon followed, so that left five of us O’Malley’s still in the house, plus our parents, but I was the only boy. Yup, all together there were eleven of us – Mom, Dad and nine kids. Dad would never touch the girls, so even with Scott out of the house, I was still blamed for everything and ended up getting beatings and whippings, pretty much every day. I wondered why no one ever reported Dad for abuse, but the nuns at school always seemed to look the other way. Only more recently did I come to understand the connections Dad had, with the politicians in the city government, with the Church, and with the mob bosses that seemed to run things where he worked, in the Department of Sanitation. Dad knew all the right people and by the time I came along, he was already a shift supervisor and a major player in the union. When the Mayor ran for his first term, Dad was quick to support him, even though he was a dark horse candidate – one of many running in the Democratic primary. I wondered why Dad would support an ultra-liberal Democrat when we were staunch Republicans, but when I asked Scott, he told me it was none of my fuckin’ business and if I couldn’t figure it out on my own, I was too dumb to understand it. So I did the next best thing and asked Mom. “Clarkie,” she replied, “You have to realize that your dad’s a union boss, and the support of the Sanitation Workers can help to make or break a candidate’s chances of winning an election. Sooner or later you’ll understand that politics is more about who you know than what you believe in. It’s a thousand times better to have the ear of a Democrat in power than a Republican on the sidelines. It’d be great to have another Rudy Giuliani, but he only won because of Dinkins’ incompetence, and because Dinkins was black. Bloomberg was a Democrat who switched parties, and he only won because all the Jews all voted for him. Once he was in office, he acted like a Democrat in every way, and he was the biggest fag-lover of them all, perhaps next to Koch, who everyone knows was a faggot. “So the bottom line is that in New York, the only way you can become the mayor is if you’re a Democrat or if you know how to exploit race and religion to divide and conquer. Your father saw right away that a liberal white Democrat with a black wife would be a winner. The fact that he has nothing between the ears was a bonus. Your father knew it meant that he could easily be manipulated into doing our bidding, and he was right.” It was a while before I really understood what Mom meant by all of that, but as I entered my teens, I slowly began to understand just what she was talking about. We weren’t poor by any means, but with Mom staying home to raise all of us, even with Dad’s supervisory and union positions, it had been a struggle to make ends meet. We lived in a very narrow house in West Brighton, a traditionally Irish Staten Island neighborhood. We had no front yard and the entire back yard was taken up by an above-ground pool. When I was old enough, I got stuck with the yard-work, which amounted to little more than taking a weed-wacker to the green stuff that grew wild along the sides of the house. We had five bedrooms, which meant I had to share a bedroom with Scott until he went away to college. Sharing a bedroom with Scott was pure Hell. Anything an older brother could do to a younger brother, he did to me. He jerked off with me in the room, all the time, and he even made me blow him once – it was the stuff of nightmares. Thank God he left just as my hormones were beginning to kick in. When the mayor won the election for his first term, both my parents were rewarded for their support with positions in his inner circle, so money was no longer a problem and we could afford a much nicer house. We moved into a large house nearby in Randall Manor, with a real yard and a large in-ground swimming pool in the back. It might have been only a few miles from where we used to live, but it was a world away, even if it still was in a traditionally Irish Catholic neighborhood. I still had to share a bedroom with Scott at first, and I still went to Catholic schools, but that was more because of where we lived and who we were than because of our religion. Personally, I was a Catholic in name only, attending services only when my parents told me I had to go. Had it not been for Dad, I woulda never thought of taking the exam for admission to the city’s elite specialty high schools. My brothers and sisters all went to Catholic schools through high school, and Joseph even went to a catholic university, having won a football scholarship to Notre Dame in Indiana. Although I was big for my age, I wasn’t nearly as big or strong as my brothers, nor my dad, which was why he was still able to beat me and why I couldn’t fight back. The one thing I had going for me was my smarts. In spite of everything, I’d always been a straight-A student, and so Dad thought that maybe I could amount to something more than being someone else’s punching bag. My ticket would be an Ivy League education, but I sure as fuck wasn’t gonna get an athletic scholarship like my brothers, and my parents couldn’t afford to pay for a full ride, so the only way I’d be able to go was if I got an academic scholarship. Attending one of the top high schools in the nation was the best way to do that, and I could do it for free if I could just get into one of the elite public high schools. Dad was pretty sure the mayor could pull some strings if my score on the entrance examination was at least in the upper half. I even got a letter of support from the Mayor’s office, but I didn’t need it. The exam was difficult, and I was certain I’d failed it, but when the results came out, I’d not only done well, but my score was high enough for me to get into Stuyvesant High School, the most prestigious of them all. Situated at the north end of Battery Park City, right on the Hudson and a short walk away from the World Trade Center, Wall Street, and the most important financial institutions in the world, Stuyvesant High School was akin to an Ivy League university, but it was a public school. Rich folks spent tens of thousands of dollars a year to send their kids to elite private schools like the Phillips Academy, Regis, or Trinity, but you couldn’t buy the kind of education I was getting at Stuyvesant. Entering the locker room, I was reminded of just how much I was an outsider though. Kids were undressing and getting into their gym clothes, and everything was on display. More than half of them were Asian, and many of them were young, and I don’t mean young the way Asians look young for their age… no, they really were young. Some of them were only twelve or thirteen and still hairless where no teen wanted to be… and they were all freshmen, just like me. And then there was Freak. Well, his real name was Francis, but he liked to go by Freck, ’cause he has lots of freckles, but Freak suited him much better. The kid was only eleven, but he looked more like he was ten, and he was a sophomore. How the fuck did a ten-year-old get into Stuyvesant anyway? Admission here was based entirely on an entrance exam, which was why I guess there were so few black kids that I could count them all on my fingers with fingers to spare… and there was one of them right in front of me, standing next to Freak. His name was Asher White, and he was half-black and half-Asian, and one hundred percent faggot. His boyfriend, Seth, was right by his side, no less. Asher was one of the few kids who was as big as me, but the coward was an absolute sissy. We were paired up yesterday in gym for wrestling, but he couldn’t keep me from pinning him to save his life. I might as well have been wrestling with a girl. Asher’s so pathetic… the sight of him literally made me sick. I was in a bad enough mood even before I saw him. With a frown on my face, I headed to my own locker and spun the combination. Assailed by the smell of my own body odor, I realized I hadn’t washed my gym clothes in quite some time… maybe even since the start of the semester. I guess I was gonna hafta take them home and wash them over the winter break. Stripping out of my jeans, T-shirt, and boxers, I quickly slipped on my jock and gym shirt and shorts. Slamming the locker shut, I headed back out to the gym, where the teacher’s assistant had laid out a bunch of mats for wrestling. As we slowly filed out of the locker room, the teacher told us to form up into the same groups we’d used yesterday and to spend the first half of the class practicing our takedowns from each of the three starting positions. Oh joy! That meant I’d be spending the day with the three fags, Asher, Seth. and Freak. Well, I knew for sure about Asher and Seth, and since Freak was their friend… I’m just saying, you know? So I was gonna be sparring with Asher again, if it could be called that. Frankly I’da gotten more of a challenge from my eight-year-old sister. “Wanna go first, Freck?” Seth suggested. “It don’t matter to me,” I answered as I shrugged my shoulders. Seth and Freak took that as a yes and squared off with each other as Asher and I sat down and watched. I had to admit that even though they were two of the smallest boys in the class, and in spite of their two-year age difference, they were surprisingly well-matched. For an eleven-year-old… or maybe he was twelve by now, Freak had decent muscles. As they circled each other, neither one could seem to knock the other one down until finally Freak managed to swipe Seth’s left foot out from under him and down they both went. They tried it from the standing position again and this time it was Seth that managed to catch Freak off-guard. They practiced from all three starting positions and both boys were pretty good – not as good as me, but decent. Then the teacher blew his whistle and it was time for me and Asher to have our shot, for what it was worth. We faced off against each other and then we were flying at each other. Predictably, Asher moved right, just like he did yesterday, and so I took advantage of his momentum to catch him off-guard. Sweeping with my left leg, I went to trip him over his own two feet… except his legs weren’t there. At the last second, he switched directions and moved left and so my left leg hit only air, and I went down hard on my butt. Fuck, where’d he learn to do that? The Asher I’d played yesterday couldn’t do that, so I knew it couldn’ta been planned that way. “Lucky move, asshole,” I chided the boy. “You won’t get any more of those. Let’s see what you can do when you’re on top,” I added. I got down on all fours and Asher got down over me with his right arm around my waist. The objective was for me to get out from under him and then take him down, and he was supposed to keep me from braking out, but it didn’t go that way at all when we sparred yesterday. Asher hadn’t offered any resistance at all, and I managed not only to break away, but to flip him onto his back straight away. I had him pinned in less than a second… it was a piece of cake. But this time when I shoved to the left, attempting to flip the boy onto his back, instead I found nothing but air. Next thing I knew, I was on my back with Asher on top. He damn near pinned me too, the fucker. “Nice try, faggot,” I said as we got up, making sure the gym teacher was nowhere near enough to hear me. But then Asher said something I’d never forget so long as I lived. He said, “Just like your daddy,” and something inside me just snapped. Maybe it was ’cause there was more truth to what Asher said than even I was willing to admit, or maybe it was because I had my own secrets hidden so deep within me that not even I knew they were there. Whatever the reason, the rage built within me so fast that I couldn’ta stopped myself if I’d tried. Before I knew what was happening, my right fist was connecting with Asher’s left eye, and then my left fist rocketed upward, connecting with Asher’s chin and knocking him out cold. Freak and one of the other kids held me while Seth checked on his boyfriend, but the fight had already gone out of me. The teacher rushed over from the other side of the gym in a flash. “Clarke, what the hell was that about?” he shouted. Before I could answer, the teacher went over to Asher, who was beginning to come around. and he asked him how he was doing. Asher was still pretty dazed but was able to answer, “Other than feeling like my head’s gonna explode, I’m okay.” “What happened?” the teacher asked, and Seth answered, “Yesterday, Freck and I showed Asher some moves to help him do better in wrestling. It worked too. He bested Clarke, twice, and Clarke didn’t like it. He called Asher a faggot.” “And then he punched him?” the teacher asked. “After I told him, ‘Just like your daddy,’” Asher answered. The teacher actually chuckled and said, “Good one.” Were teachers actually allowed to say things like that to their students? “Do you think you’re up to walking, or should I call an ambulance?” the teacher asked Asher. “I think I’m okay,” Asher answered again. “I can walk.” “I’ll make sure he gets to the nurse,” Seth suggested. “And I’ll help,” Freak agreed. As the three boys made their way outta the gym, the teacher got back in my face and practically shouted at me, “What the hell were you thinking, Clarke? I warned you yesterday what would happen if you screwed up this time, and yet you still got into a fight. You know there are words you cannot use, and yet you used them and then hit a kid when he threw them back at you. Soon you’ll be old enough to be tried as an adult, and you know what they call it when you hit someone like you did? It’s called battery, and because it was a hate crime, you’d do double the time. You can’t solve problems with your fists!” I should’a just kept my mouth shut, but I couldn’t help it. I answered, “Works for my dad.” “And someday he won’t get away with it,” the teacher countered. “Someday he’ll bully the wrong person and not even his connections will get him out of it. You can’t go through life expecting other people to get you out of trouble Clarke, and you won’t always have your dad to clear the path ahead of you. Frankly, I think you should be expelled. You don’t belong at Stuyvesant. Being here is a privilege everyone else had to work for, but a call from your daddy to the mayor and from the mayor to the head of the school board, and you’ll probably get another chance.” There it was again – the suggestion that I didn’t deserve to be here – that the only reason I got into Stuyvesant was because of my dad’s connections and with the help of the mayor. It made me so angry to hear people say that. But like always, my temper got me in trouble. Then turning to his assistant, the teacher said, “Simon, would you keep everyone busy while I take Clarke to see the vice-principal?” And so we marched down to the administration offices. At least the teacher didn’t grab ahold of my arm and forcefully drag me there the way the nuns did in my last school. Still, he could have at least let me change back into my clothes. Instead, it was like I was being paraded through the halls in my smelly gym clothes. And since it was almost winter, I really felt self-conscious as the few other kids in the hallways were wearing warmer clothes… like the hoodie I’da been wearing if I’d been allowed to change. Instead, I was in nothing but gym shorts, a flimsy T-shirt and sneakers. Of course I was still wearing a jock strap. The teacher marched me right into the office and sat me down into one of the seats, forcibly, and told me to stay put while he spoke with the vice-principal. The steely stare of the secretary, Mrs. Fong, made me think twice about leaving. Her stare was just plain scary. Finally, the door opened and the teacher walked out, and he motioned for me to go inside. He had to get back to his class, so I was left alone with the vice-principal, Dr. Epstein. I’d always thought of her as the Jew bitch, ’cause that’s the label my old man woulda given her, but grudgingly I had to admit that she’d always been fair. Actually, she’d had more than enough problems with me in my first half-year of high school to have booted me out long ago. Fearfully, I realized that she probably had reason to do just that today. I couldn’t tell her why I acted out the way I did, ’cause I really didn’t know it myself. My only defense was to continue my act of being belligerent, yet I knew I needed to tone it down. I was skating on thin ice, and I’d never hear the end of it from my old man if I wound up getting expelled. Besides which, I really liked Stuyvesant High School. For the first time in my life, I felt I was getting an education that challenged me to do my best. Stuyvesant was my last best hope for breaking out of the thuggish life I was born into. Stuyvesant High was gonna be my stepping stone to an Ivy League school and a better life. Yeah, even more than the educational opportunity Stuyvesant was offering me was the opportunity it represented – the opportunity to get free of my parents and to live my own life. But that would never happen unless I managed to find enough contrition within me to stay at Stuyvesant. I had to suck it up, ’cause like it or not, I was stuck with my parents for the next three-and-a-half years. Dr. Epstein was on the phone when I entered, and I knew the drill. She was trying to contact my dad to have him meet with her and me per some protocol, and then Dad would take me home and beat the living shit outta me. But it was evident from hearing her end of the conversation that Dad wasn’t gonna be able to come meet with her, let alone take me home. With a sigh, she hung up the phone and said, “Well, it seems the mayor can’t be without his chief labor relations advisor today. Never mind that the previous three mayors didn’t even have such a person that I know of and before that, I was in high school myself. So it looks like I’m going to have to call your mom and ask her to schlep her way in from Staten Island.” Mom worked in the Parks Department and oversaw labor relations with the Parks Department employees. Frankly, I wasn’t sure what credentials my mom had that qualified her for such a role, other than the fact she was my father’s wife. She needed a job and the mayor provided one that had never existed before. She was able to work out of an office not far from our home, but I remembered her saying something about needing to spend the day in Queens, so I told Dr. Epstein, “I think my mother’s in Queens for the day.” “Do you know how to reach her?” she asked. “I’ve no idea, but her secretary will know,” I replied. “Or I could send her a text. She always responds if I text her it’s urgent.” Then reaching down to grab my phone, I realized it was still in my jeans pocket, in my gym locker. “Crap, my phone’s in my gym locker with my clothes. Can I go get it?” Softening her appearance somewhat, Dr. Epstein replied, “And I bet sitting in your gym clothes makes you feel pretty uncomfortable too.” “More than you know,” I responded. “I can’t let you wander the halls on your own between classes, but perhaps I can have Carl take you to your gym locker to change out of your gym clothes, and then to your hall locker to get your things, but first let me try to reach your mother.” Picking up the phone, Dr. Epstein called the number she had on file for my mother and was informed that Mom was in a vital committee meeting for the rest of the afternoon and that the best her secretary could do for us was to send her a text, just as I would’ve. As vital as that meeting may have been, Mom called back scarcely five minutes after Dr. Epstein had made the call. I couldn’t tell much from hearing just the vice-principal’s side of the conversation, but the scowl on her face told more than I needed to know. After hanging up the phone, Dr. Epstein turned to me and said, “Your mother’s tied up in a committee meeting in Ozone Park for the rest of the afternoon, but has agreed to leave at three, and then it’ll take her about an hour-and-a-half to get here in traffic, so she won’t be here until around 4:30 or possibly even 5:00. It’s too early to put you in detention while we wait for her to get here, so I guess you’ll just have to be my guest until then.” Well that was fuckin’ great. “You know, Clarke,” she began, “I could have expelled you a long time ago for all the trouble you’ve gotten into. We may not have a zero-tolerance rule for fighting in school, but you certainly qualify for the three strikes rule in any case. The only reason I’ve let you stay is because of your family’s connections… the principal would have my hide if the mayor himself came down here… but even more than that, I believe in you, Clarke. I see a lot of potential inside that thick skull of yours, and I’d really like to see you succeed. But today you’ve left me with no choice.” My heart ached on hearing those words. It sounded like this was gonna be the end for sure. Then lookin’ me right in the eyes, she asked, “Clarke, just give me one good reason to give you another chance. Show me one ounce of compassion and a willingness to get help, and to change. You can’t keep blowing off the counseling sessions we arrange for you at school. I can arrange counseling sessions off site if that would help, but you have to go to them. But the main thing is that you have to give me reason to believe this time will be different.” I was desperate. I had to say something to change her mind, but what came outta my mouth was a surprise, even to me. Before I could even think to stop myself, I blurted out, “I think maybe I’m gay.” Where the fuck did that come from, and why the fuck did I tell her? Did I really think I was gay? There was no way I could be gay – Dad would kill me. But now that I’d said it, I pretty much had to stick to my story. Shocked by the excuse I’d come up with, I looked down at the floor, but then thinking about how it could get back to my dad, I looked up and said, “You can’t tell my parents. You just can’t. If my father knew, he’d kill me, and I don’t mean that figuratively. My mom wouldn’t be much better. You mustn’t tell my parents.” “Well, that was unexpected,” Dr. Epstein responded, “but it might explain a lot about your behavior. Clarke, I know how difficult that admission must have been. Some of the worst homophobic bullies are boys who are having issues with their own sexuality, and sometimes it takes something like today’s incident to force the issue. But in telling me I can’t tell your parents, you put me in a very difficult position. By all rights I should expel you. I can’t justify not expelling you without explaining why I didn’t in your file. And if your parents request access to your file….” “You might as well expel me,” I interrupted, “’cause if you don’t my dad’ll figure it out, and then I’ll be dead.” “There may be an alternative, Clarke,” Dr. Epstein suggested, “but it will be very hard on you. There is precedent for excluding personal information given in confidence from a student’s permanent record, but only when it is believed that revealing the information could put the student in danger. That may well be the case here, but I’ll have to document that you’re being referred for counseling and the psychologist who sees you will have to be informed of the true nature of the situation. You’ll have to attend the sessions without fail, or you’ll be expelled.” Nodding my head, I replied, “My father won’t like it, and I’ll probably get a severe beating, but I’ll get to stay at Stuyvesant. I can live with that.” “Does your dad often beat you, Clarke?” Dr. Epstein asked, and I realized I’d said too much. “As my father would say, I will neither confirm nor deny my statement, but if someone should ask if this conversation took place, I’ll categorically deny it.” Laughing, Dr. Epstein responded, “You’re definitely the son of a politician. Okay, Clarke. Fair enough. Now since we can’t tell your parents that you’re gay, we need a viable alternative to expulsion, and your gym teacher actually had some suggestions about that. The bottom line is that your parents have to think the intent was to expel you, and that in letting you stay, I’m bending over backwards because they intervened. I think they’ll have no problem accepting your counseling sessions if they become one of the conditions for not expelling you. However, you’ll still be suspended until the start of the new year, and you’ll still have to get a failing grade in gym, and that’ll be a permanent stain on your record. You’ll also be put on probation, and that’ll remain in effect until the end of the school year. Those conditions should be sufficient to make your parents think they were instrumental in preventing your expulsion, don’t you think?” Swallowing hard, ’cause the conditions were gonna hurt, I agreed, “Yes, I think that’ll work.” “I think I’ll also take up your gym teacher’s suggestion to have you write an essay on the effects of bullying on society,” she added, “but twenty-thousand words would be a bit much. That’d be like maybe a hundred pages, double spaced. I think you still need to recognize the effects your bullying has had on the other students here at Stuyvesant, but four thousand words should be sufficient. “Now let’s see if we can get Carl to take you back to the gym to change your clothes, and then to your locker to get your things.” She pressed a button on her phone and said, “Carl, can you come here?” An adolescent boy’s voice came out of the speakerphone and replied, “Sure thing, Dr. Epstein.” The kid who entered was a really tall Asian boy. No, he wasn’t Asian, even though he kinda had the eyes. His features were more rugged than with most Asian kids, and his skin was darker. He wasn’t black or even close to bein’ that dark, but he wasn’t exactly white either. He looked like he might be Hispanic… maybe Puerto Rican or Mexican or something. He had jet-black hair that was pulled back into a pony tail, and brown eyes so dark, I could barely make out the pupils. He had a pencil-thin mustache and an incredible smile that made him look utterly cute. What? Did I just refer to a boy as cute? Yes, he was cute. I wasn’t really gay or anything… I don’t think… but there was something about his smile that really made me want to get to know him. “Would you take Clarke to get his street clothes from his gym locker, and then to his locker to get the rest of his things?” she asked the boy. “C’mon, let’s go get your stuff,” he replied as he nodded toward me. I followed him out of the office and down the hallway. He had a staff ID hung from a lanyard around his neck, which I guess let him be in the halls between classes. Again, I couldn’t get over how tall he was, particularly compared to me. “So I gather you and Dr. Epstein are no strangers,” the boy asked with a disarming smile as we walked. Laughing, I replied, “I guess you could say that. It’s not like I set out to get in trouble, but I have my father’s temper and sometimes I act before I think.” “That could certainly be a problem,” he laughed along with me. “You a freshman?” he asked. “Yeah, and you?” I asked the boy. “I’m a sophomore,” he answered, “but I’m a year ahead, so I’m still only fourteen.” “Shit, you’re fourteen?” I stated more than asked. “But you have a mustache, and you’re so tall! How tall are you anyway?” “I’m six-foot, three-inches and still growing.” “Damn!” I responded. “I bet you’re good at basketball.” “I’m a forward on varsity,” he answered. “You should come to the home games sometime. Not to brag, but I’m one of the leading scorers on the team.” “And you’re a sophomore and on varsity!” I responded as I shook my head in wonder. He just smiled back at me. “Your name’s Carl?” I asked. “Carlos actually, but I grew up being called Carl. I guess my mom thought it would make me sound less Puerto Rican, but I look Hispanic, so it really doesn’t matter. But Carl’s what I’m used to.” “You live very far, Carl?” I asked. “Actually, I live quite near here,” he replied. “The Two Bridges neighborhood, right between the Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges on the Lower East Side. It’s less than a mile from here, so I usually just walk to school.” “You live in Manhattan?” I exclaimed. “You must be rich!” Carl responded with a full-bodied belly laugh and answered, “You’ve gotta be kidding. I live in the cheap seats. The Two Bridges neighborhood consists of housing projects, moderate income apartments, and a slice of Chinatown. Rich, we’re not. My mom’s a single mother, and she had me when she was about our age. Fortunately, she had the good sense not to get pregnant after that, or we’d really be poor. We lived with my nana while my mom finished high school, and then we got a place of our own.” “What’s your mom do?” I asked. “Since she never went to college, her opportunities are limited,” he answered. “When I went into pre-K, she started cleaning apartments, and then when she thought I was old enough to be left alone, in the second grade, believe it or not, she got a second job as a private duty aide taking care of old people. I was a latch-key kid. And now I have a job too.” “Man, I can’t imagine what that’s like, but at least you don’t have an SOB father beating on you,” I responded. Stopping and putting his hand on my shoulder, Carl replied, “I never had much, but I never lacked for love. I always wished I could have met my dad, but he was in a gang and got shot dead when I was just a baby. No kid should have to go through being beat up by your own father. No kid should have to go through being in a gang either. Of course, I’d be dead meat if I ever got involved like that. Kids in gangs aren’t very accepting of alternative lifestyles.” “What do you mean by that?” I naïvely asked. “If you’re gay and you’re in a gang, you either kill or be killed, and I could never live like that. It’s one of the reasons we moved away from where my mom grew up. We still live a housing project, but there’s not much gang activity around Two Bridges. Maybe it has something to do with being right by One Police Plaza,” he added with a laugh. “Anyway, with a lot of hard work, I got good grades and I got into Stuyvesant. Now it looks like I could get a full-ride scholarship to a top school. If not an academic scholarship, then a basketball scholarship. The future’s bright, man.” “Wait a minute… you’re gay?” I asked incredulously. “But you’re a jock!” “So what?” Carl responded. “There are plenty of gay jocks… maybe even more than in the general population. Perhaps it’s because so many of us think we have to prove something, you know? “You got a problem with me being gay?” he asked. “Is that why you punched out Asher White? Because he’s gay?” I guess he must’ve overheard. Hangin’ my head, I replied, “Yeah, I guess. I called him a faggot. And he answered with, ‘like your daddy’ and something inside me just snapped, you know? But it wasn’t like I hit him for being gay or anything like that. I didn’t even call him a faggot because of that. It’s just that my father calls anyone who’s weak a faggot, and I kinda picked it up from him.” Then lifting my head and looking Carl in the eye, I added, “I’d never call you a faggot, Carl. You’re nothing like Asher. You’re a jock.” “Oh, so being gay is okay, as long as you don’t look gay,” Carl countered. “No, that’s not what I meant!” I responded. “It’s just the way my father talks, you know? It’s not like I look up to him… not the way he’s always pounding on me. If he thought I was gay, he’d prolly kill me.” “Clarke, are you telling me you’re gay?” Carl asked. “Of course not,” I replied, then added, “I can’t be gay. My father really would kill me.” Taking a deep breath, I replied, “Let’s just say I have a pretty shitty home life and leave it at that.” “But if he’s abusing you, you gotta report him,” Carl admonished me, “and of course you must know you can’t choose not to be gay. It’s not a choice you can make.” “I know it’s not a choice, and I don’t think I am but, regardless, I can’t report my father. With his connections, I’d only end up worse off,” I replied. “You don’t know that, Clarke.” Just then, the bell rang, and kids poured out into the hallway. “We’ll talk later,” Carl said over the din. “We’d better go to the gym and get your things.” The second bell rang as we entered the gym, and inside the locker room, boys were in all states of undress as they changed into their gym clothes and headed out into the gym. This class was a different year from mine but even so, I recognized some of the kids, and even more of them seemed to recognize me. I guess I’d developed a reputation in the short time I’d been here. “Maybe you’d like to shower before changing?” Carl suggested. Shaking my head, I said, “Nah, I didn’t wrestle long enough to get sweaty.” “But you stink, man!” Carl responded with a bemused expression on his face. “Yeah, I know,” I responded. “It’s the clothes. I guess it’s been a while since I took them home to wash them.” “Oh, that is so gross,” Carl replied, and then reiterated, “Maybe you better shower anyway.” “You just want to see me naked in the shower, you perv,” I answered. “I’ll wait out here if it’d make you feel better,” Carl replied. “It don’t matter to me if you wanna look,” I suggested as I undressed. “You’re welcome to join me.” Where the fuck did that come from? Did I really invite a fag to join me in the shower? A cute fag? But there it was again… my admitting I thought he was cute. Laughing, Carl responded, “As tempting as the offer might be, I’d really rather not get punched out today.” Ouch! “I’ll wait right here while you shower” Realizing it probably would be a good idea to shower, I threw my gym clothes into my gym bag, threw it and my bookbag into my locker, grabbed my soap and shampoo and a towel, and headed to the shower room. Because it was the beginning of the period, the shower room was empty and so I had time to think. Was I just flirting with a gay guy? I mean, I’d been showering with Asher and Seth all semester, and they were gay and out, but did that really bother me? But the thought of showering with Carl made me hard. Why was that? Yeah, he was tall, lean and muscled, and dammit, he really was cute. Had I ever felt that way about a girl? Had I ever felt that way about anyone? One thing was for sure – I couldn’t go back out into the locker room looking like I did right then, so as I finished shampooing my hair, I thought of what my dad would do to me at home. That certainly did the trick. No more embarrassing hard-on. I quickly finished washing, shut off the water, and dried myself. Wrapping the towel around my waist and tucking it in, I headed back out to the locker room, where Carl was waiting for me. Ordinarily, I would keep the towel around my waist and remove it only after I had my boxers on, but for some reason, I dropped the towel and gave Carl a sheepish smile as I did the combination on my locker, got out deodorant and applied it under my arms. I splashed on a little cologne and only then did I get out my boxers and pull them on. What had gotten into me? At least Carl had the good sense not to say anything. I quickly finished dressing, grabbed my gym bag, and slammed the locker shut. We headed out of the gym and I led Carl to my locker, where I quickly stuffed all of my books into my bookbag, grabbed my winter coat, and slammed the door shut. When we got back to the office, I dumped my bookbag and winter coat on one of the seats in the waiting area and plopped down in the seat next to it, stowing my smelly gym bag underneath. Looking up, I saw Carl look at me from the other side of the reception desk, and he smiled that killer smile of his. I couldn’t help but smile back. Man could that boy smile. “You wanna talk about it?” he asked. “You’ll probably be waiting a while, and I’ve got a few minutes before I have to leave for my next class.” Shaking my head, I said, “Not right now, Carl. Maybe later, when we get back from winter break, but maybe I’ve got a lot of thinking to do first.” “Tell you what,” he replied, “could I have your phone for a minute?” I couldn’t understand why, but I did something I would have never done with anyone else – I unlocked it and handed it to him. For some reason I knew I could trust him, and when he handed it back to me, the address book was open to a listing for Carl Rivera, with his phone number and his e-mail address. “Call me when you have a moment,” he said. “I think we really do need to talk. Call me if you have any questions or anything you’d like to discuss, and don’t wait until after the break. Perhaps we could meet somewhere for coffee or whatever… someplace closer to where you live if you can’t get back to Manhattan. “And I meant it about reporting your father. You can’t go on like this, okay?” “I will call you,” I promised, “if my father doesn’t take away my phone.” Then swallowing, I added, “Maybe we can get together sometime too. If I’m not totally grounded, that is. The Staten Island Ferry doesn’t cost anything so, either way, we can get together.” “That’d be great,” Carl replied, and shortly after that, the bell rang and Carl said, “Gotta go. Give me a call when you have a chance, okay?” “I’ll try,” I replied sincerely, but as I watched Carl leave, I realized that the thought of getting together with him had made me hard. Getting together with a friend from school was one thing, but Dad’d freak if he thought I was going on a date with a boy. So would I. I just couldn’t let myself go there. For my survival, I needed to put Carl out of my mind. Sitting back down, I still had time to kill and so I opened up my bookbag and got out my laptop, a shiny new MacBook Pro that my father requisitioned from his job, and I started working on my homework. When Dad gave it to me at the start of the school year, I looked up the model on Apple’s website. Even with the educational discount, it woulda cost me close to $6,500 to buy it. But he didn’t pay one red cent for it – not that I ever understood what the difference was between a red cent and any other kind of cent. No, my father simply requisitioned it from his budget. So in effect, it was the taxpayers of the city of New York that ended up paying the cost of my totally-decked-out laptop. Not that I didn’t appreciate having the latest and greatest phone and laptop and from Apple, but I had mixed feelings, particularly with how I got them. I was reading Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, the classic Jules Verne sci-fi novel, for a comparative book report for English. When I finished, I would read Michael Crichton’s book, Sphere, and then I’d compare the two and write a book report on how Verne’s book might have influenced Crichton’s. The report would be due when I returned from winter break… as would my paper on bullying. What fun! I opened the New York Public Library site on my laptop and picked up reading Twenty Thousand Leagues, picking up where I’d left off. I soon became so engrossed in the story that I lost track of the time and even forgot about going to detention while I waited for Mom to arrive. Mom’s entry into the office brought me outta Captain Nemo’s submarine, real fast. Mrs. Fung announced her arrival, and Dr. Epstein ushered both of us into her office. Dr. Epstein did such a good job making my mom believe I was really gonna be expelled that I almost thought she’d changed her mind. Mom just about hit the roof when she heard it too, and predictably, she even threatened to get the mayor involved. In the end, Dr. Epstein was very convincing in making it look like Mom had talked her into giving me yet another chance – another chance with conditions. The price was gonna be suspension, a failing grade in gym class, probation through the rest of my freshman year, and weekly counseling sessions for as long as the psychologist thought I needed them. On top of all of that, I was gonna hafta write a humongous essay on bullying. I didn’t like any of it, nor did Mom, but we thought it was fair. I really was gonna hafta change. The one wild card was my father. I knew I’d wind up getting a beating, but I had no idea just how bad the beating would be. And in spite of it all, I couldn’t seem to get Carl Rivera outta my mind. The trip home was tedious and quiet. I guess Mom was gonna leave it to Dad to deal with me. It would’ve been faster to take the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel and the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, but both of them had hefty tolls, and so we took the Holland Tunnel into Jersey City, and then NJ Route 440 through Bayonne to Staten Island, even though it took twice as long and probably used more than twice as much gas. Mom’s silence only gave me more time to think – something I didn’t have riding to and from school every day. What I didn’t realize when I accepted admission to Stuyvesant was that, with my father working in the mayor’s office, he and I shared the same commute. I’d figured I’d just take the Staten Island Ferry. It meant takin’ a couple of buses and it woulda taken me over an hour each way, but it was an hour I could use for catching up on homework and just chilling out and listening to music on my iPhone. I’da had to get up at an ungodly hour in the morning, but my commute woulda been my own personal time to myself. My father didn’t see it that way. Why should I spend an hour or more getting to and from school when he was driving practically to the same place? Sure, with traffic and all, it often took just as long by car, and I had to wait hours for Dad to finish work at the end of the day, but there was no standing out in the rain and snow waiting for the bus, which never was on time, and no wasting time on the ferry. Sure, there were lotsa times when I couldn’t ride with my father ’cause he had an important meeting somewhere else, but most of the time we’d ride together and that meant spending ‘quality’ time, one-on-one with each other. Instead of my commute being productive, personal time for myself, it was an ordeal of listening to endless, racist rants by my dear old dad. To listen to him, there was nothing worse in the world than a Jew, a black, a Latino, an Asian, or a gay person, although he didn’t use such polite terms. Hardly a day went by that he didn’t rail against all the faggots that were ruining the world, so I knew I could never be gay. So what’s a boy to do when he’s taught from early on to hate just about everyone? Obviously, the most appropriate response is to lash out at everyone else who’s different, especially those remotely perceived to be gay. I did so in the vain hope that by bullying other gay kids, I would somehow prove to everyone else, and especially to myself, that I wasn’t gay. Of course, all I managed to do was to end up hating myself, which only made things worse. I was angry all the time, which made me do really stupid things and get in trouble. That only made my father’s anger at me much worse, and the beatings became that much more severe. But once I started high school at Stuyvesant, the beatings stopped. Dad couldn’t control the people who might report me to CPS, and then I learned firsthand what he could do to me without even laying a finger on me. With one or even two hours every day in which I was his captive, he showed me just how effective a verbal onslaught could be. What had been physical abuse became mental abuse, which only caused me to hate myself even more. Of course, I dared not talk back to my father, and so the only outlet I had for all my anger was to take it out on kids who couldn’t or wouldn’t defend themselves. And then there was Asher White. Asher was not only Asian, but he was black and he was gay, so that was three strikes against him. He was as big as I was, but he wasn’t at all athletic, so from the start I considered him to be a pansy, and I responded accordingly. From day one, I subjected him to my bullying. I pushed him, shoved him, and tripped him whenever I had the opportunity and thought I could get away with it. But I couldn’t get away with it in gym, and so being paired with him for wrestling was just about the worst thing that could happen. And when he actually surprised me, I snapped. My temper flared, and before I could stop myself, I threw a right hook to Asher’s left eye followed by an undercut to his jaw, and Asher went down like a sack of potatoes. He was out cold. I immediately realized I’d gone too far. Hell, Asher couldn’t help being gay. Sure, he was black and Asian, but then so was Tiger Woods, arguably one of the greatest athletes of all time. What’s more, Asher was nice. Shit, since when did I ever give a flying fuck about someone being nice? Since I’d realized just how much of an asshole I was… how much of an asshole my father was. And now my dear old dad was gonna let me know just how much of a failure I was. With the winter break ahead of us, he’d beat me to a pulp – just enough that I’d heal before going back to school in January. One thing was for sure… I was fucked. When we got home, my mother made me go straight to my room. I couldn’t get a snack, nor could I eat dinner with the family. I’d long ago learned to keep some food in my room, and so I polished off a bag of Doritos and a jar of salsa. My father didn’t come home ’til late, but when he arrived, he came straight to my room and locked the door. He made me strip completely, and then he made me turn around and put my hands on the edge of my desk and spread my legs. For a moment I thought he was going to rape me, but then the first lashing came, and I cried out in pain and in shock. In the past he’d taken his fists to me, and he’d hit me with a belt, but this was something new – something way worse. Only later would I discover that he’d used a wooden yardstick. In effect, he caned me. It was a form of corporal punishment that was banned in most countries, and it definitely was illegal in New York. The second strike was even worse, and he kept right on going. I lost track of the number times he hit me after the first ten blows – it was just too painful to count. He was screaming at me the whole time, but I barely heard him at all. I was a bawling, howling, screaming mess by the time he was through his torturous attack. When he finished, he just walked out my door and slammed it behind him. As he left, I saw the yardstick in his hand. It was quite a while before I could get hold of myself. He had struck me on the back, on the shoulders, on my butt, and on my bare thighs. I was convinced I must be standing in a pool of my own blood, but when I finally got the courage to look, the hardwood floor under my feet was bare. Getting hold of myself, I gingerly made my way to my bathroom and looked in the mirror as best I could. I was shocked by what I saw as it came into view. Although there were no open wounds, there were dozens of red slashes across my body, some of them rather angry-looking, and everywhere my skin was red and swollen. My father might have been counting on the prolonged suspension to give them time to heal, but there was no way these would be fully healed by then. Maybe he thought the yardstick would only leave red marks that’d heal, and maybe he figured there’d be no telltale bruising, but already there were welts, and the welts would form scars. But what if my father decided to pull me outta Stuyvesant? He could do that and stick me back in a Catholic prep school where he had enough clout to buy silence. No way, no how was I gonna let him do that to me. But if CPS got involved, my father would probably go to jail, and maybe my mother too, and my sisters and I would end up in foster care. No, I hadta find a way to get my revenge on him without tearing the family apart. I needed to make sure he didn’t pull me outta Stuyvesant, and that he’d never hit me again. I needed a plan. First, though, I needed to clean myself up so the welts wouldn’t get infected when they opened. My bathroom had a nice shower with body jets all around and a rain shower overhead. First thing I did was turn the rain shower off, ’cause that woulda killed me for sure. The body jets produced a fine mist, and I set the temperature to what I figured was body temperature, and I got into the shower. Even with the fine gentle mist, the feel of the water on my raw skin just about made me pass out from the pain. Rather than using soap, I used baby shampoo to cleanse myself, gently washing the welts clean. I let the gentle warm water numb my skin, and even as I washed myself, I plotted my revenge. When I was done washing, I turned off the water and grabbed a clean white bath towel. I slowly and gently dried myself, and when I was through, I rinsed the towel out in the shower with cold water to keep any stains from setting. What I really shoulda done was to apply an antibiotic ointment to the welts to keep them from getting infected, but I only had a tiny tube of Polysporin, which wasn’t nearly enough. I was gonna hafta have Mom get me some more. In the meantime, I had a jar of Eucerin cream, and so that’s what I smeared all over my shoulders, back, butt, and thighs, at least as much as I could reach with my hands. Perhaps by moisturizing them, some of the welts would heal without opening up, and maybe the cream would ease the pain. There were some rolls of gauze and some Ace wraps in the linen closet, but not enough to wrap myself up like a mummy. I’d need some help with that and was too embarrassed to ask my mother or my sisters. It was still too early for bedtime, but I was way too sore to sit down. The snack I’d eaten earlier wasn’t nearly enough, but I wasn’t all that hungry anyway, thanks to the pain. With nothing better to do, I took a couple of extra strength Tylenol and lay prone on top of the bed covers. Finally sleep came, and I got some badly needed rest. I awoke well before dawn. Unfortunately, my body’s internal clock still thought it was a school day, and with my going to bed so early, my brain just wasn’t gonna let me go back to sleep. The pain from my beating was now more of an intense ache all over my back and thighs, and any kind of movement only made it much, much worse. Gingerly, I made my way to my bathroom and took a look at my backside in the mirror. Sure enough, the red marks had coalesced into a single angry, striated fiery redness from my neck to knees, with many welts that had opened and were oozing a thin yellowish fluid. I was still working on a plan to get back at my father, but before I did anything else, I needed to document what he’d done to me. I needed proof. Using my phone with the aid of the bathroom mirror, I took a series of photos of my backside from head to toe, making sure to include the profile of my face where I could, so there’d be no doubt that the pictures were of me. When I was satisfied that I had enough evidence, I grabbed my laptop and placed it on top of my desk, but I was still way too sore to sit down. I tried moving it to the top of my bedroom chest, but that was way too high to reach, so I stacked several of my textbooks on top of the desk and put the laptop on top of them. That put it at just the right height for me to use it while standing. Opening the Photos app on my laptop, the pictures I’d just taken on my iPhone were already loaded from the cloud. Seeing them on my computer made them look even more horrible than just looking in the mirror. I quickly selected the ones that showed the damage most clearly, and then I exported them to the desktop and packaged them in an encrypted Zip file. For the password, I used the combination to my locker at school. Even if my father somehow learned that I’d used the combination, the only way he could get it would be to call the school. Grabbing one of my thumb drives, I copied the encrypted Zip file to the drive as a backup, just in case my father took my phone and the laptop from me. I hid the thumb drive behind one of my dresser drawers, and then in a fit of paranoia, I grabbed a second thumb drive, copied the Zip file to it, and hid it in an old pair of sneakers that was too small for me. But what if my father sent me away before I had a chance to get my things? I needed a strategy to ensure those photos would still be seen, but who could I trust? I had no real friends at school, or in the neighborhood. I’d managed to alienate just about everyone at one time or another. Then I thought about Carl. He knew about my reputation, but in spite of that, he wanted to get together. That wasn’t something that was gonna happen – at least not over the winter break for obvious reasons – but he seemed to be willing to trust me, and I trusted him. He wasn’t someone my father would know about either. I knew that if I sent the file to Carl, he’d be sure it got to the right people if anything happened to me, but could my father trace my e-mail to him? With Dad’s connections in the Mob, I might inadvertently be putting Carl in danger, and I couldn’t have that. I wondered if there was a way to send an e-mail in such a way that it was untraceable. A quick Google search gave me a list of dozens of anonymous remailers – sites to which I could upload a message and that would send the message to my recipient without any record of where it was sent. Most of them charged a fee, and not all of them were all that secure. I read all the on-line reviews and finally settled on a free remailer that had a good reputation. In order to prevent its use for sending spam, it only allowed one recipient per message, but that was fine with me. Logging onto the site, I composed a simple message addressed to Carl, explaining the attached file and that he should forward it to Dr. Epstein if I failed to return from the winter break. I also asked him to forward copies of it to anyone he knew he could trust, just in case he couldn’t follow through with my request for whatever reason. My first attempt to upload the file; however, failed because the site had a limit on file size. I therefore went back into the Photos app and exported the images with a lower-quality JPEG setting, which dramatically reduced the file size compared to using the highest quality setting. I then re-encrypted them in a Zip file, and uploaded it with my e-mail message, and sent it on its way to Carl. Next, I attached the same set of pictures, unencrypted, to a blank e-mail with the subject, “What Frank O’Malley did to his son.” This one I was gonna send anonymously to the mayor’s wife’s chief of staff. The mayor might have shit for brains, but his wife was smart. She was the real brains behind the office, and she’d know what to do with the pictures I sent her. She’d surely realize just how damaging the pictures could be if they got out, and she was savvy enough to know that a half-baked cover-up would be far worse. But then I thought, what if the mayor fires my father? Sending the pictures anonymously wouldn’t make a difference – he’d still blame me. No, I had to give this a lot more thought, and so I deleted the e-mail from the remailer and closed my browser window. Finally, I sent a brief message to Dr. Epstein using the same remailer and telling her that if she received an encrypted file from me via a friend, that the password was my locker combination. The reason I didn’t just send the Zip file directly to Dr. Epstein was that if I did, she’d have been obligated to pass the images on to CPS, and I didn’t want that. My hope was that I could come up with a way to make my father pay without breaking up the family and without putting my future life at risk. Sending the pics directly to Dr. Epstein would have forced her hand – and more than likely, my father would have gone to prison. It might have been what he deserved, but my mother was no better. In the end it would have only torn the family apart, and me and the girls might well have ended up in foster care or in group homes. There had to be a better way! Turning the shower on, I set it to a warm, fine mist from the body jets, and when I was ready, I carefully stepped inside. I nearly screamed from the pain and again used baby shampoo to cleanse the welts, and then I shampooed and washed my hair, and then my entire body. Once again, I dried myself with a white towel that could always be bleached if it stained, but I rinsed it out with cold water to prevent it from happening, just in case. Finally, I applied Eucerin cream to my entire backside, and I grabbed a very oversize, loose-fitting plain white T-shirt and slowly pushed my arms through the sleeves and my head through the neck, and let it fall down my body. Even the light touch of the shirt sliding down hurt like fuck, but once it had stuck to the cream, it hardly hurt anymore. The shirt was just long enough to cover what needed to be covered, at least while I was standing. It would hafta do, ’cause there was no way I was gonna have boxer briefs rubbing over my sore bottom. Figuring this was probably as good a time as any to get some breakfast, I made my way downstairs to the kitchen. As I expected, I was up before anyone else, but that would probably change once the smell of my cooking wafted upstairs. I knew I needed protein, both to heal my injuries and to make up for what I was losing through my open welts. The fact that I’d skipped dinner last night didn’t help things either. Getting out a large skillet, I placed it on the stove and melted some butter in it until it was sizzling. I threw in a package of ground sausage and browned it, and poured off the excess fat. I chopped up a green pepper, a red pepper, and a small onion and added them to the skillet, along with a minced clove of garlic. I turned down the gas ’til the meat and seasonings were at a slow simmer, and then I added a package of frozen hash-browns and stirred it into the mix. Finally, I broke open a half-dozen extra-large eggs and whipped them before adding them to the skillet, along with a dash of paprika and some fresh ground pepper. I covered the skillet and left it to simmer a while longer. It was enough only for me and the girls, but then our parents usually skipped breakfast anyway. So’d I, for that matter, grabbing a bite in the cafeteria once I got to school. No sooner did I get the coffee maker going than my father came down. He was the last person I wanted to see, but I needed to confront him. I was working on a plan, and I needed him on edge, so he’d panic when the time came. “You caned me,” I said in an even voice. “I only hit you with a ruler, and not all that hard either,” he countered as if it were the most natural thing in the world. Turning so my back was to him, I grabbed the hem of my shirt and lifted it over my head before dropping it back down. When I turned back around, I could see that my father’s face had drained of color. The one thing I didn’t see was concern. Regaining his composure, he said, “Maybe someday you’ll learn to control your anger.” It took all my willpower to keep from laughing at that. Where did he think I got my temper from? He wasn’t exactly a role model when it came to anger management. And even worse than that, he took all his anger out on his kid! He then turned around, grabbed his heavy coat from the closet, and exited through the door to the garage. Soon, the sound of his Mercedes SUV starting up could be heard, followed by the sound of it backing out of the garage, and the sound of the garage door closing. With that, my father was gone, and I breathed a sigh of relief. I knew I had to get even with him for what he’d done, but I needed time to think. Jasmine was the first of the girls to make an appearance. She was one of my two younger sisters and at nearly thirteen, was beginning to look like a young woman. “Would you like some of the frittata I made?” I asked her. “Since when do you take the time to eat breakfast, let alone make it?” she asked as she took a seat at the table, where I placed a plate with a serving of the frittata, as well as a small glass of orange juice. “Since I got suspended for fighting,” I answered, and she rolled her eyes. “Is that why dad gave you a whipping?” she asked. “If only it was just a whipping,” I answered. “He caned me,” I corrected her. “He actually took a yard stick to my entire back side and hit me until there was nothing left to hit.” Noticing what I was wearing for the first time, she asked, “You got anything on under that shirt?” Shaking my head, I answered, “You don’t want to know. Let’s just say it’ll be a while before I can sit down.” Jasmine winced in response, just as my youngest sister, Ellen, entered the kitchen. Ellen was eleven and just beginning to show signs of entering puberty. With three older sisters still at home and two more in college, she was well aware of what to expect and had acted like a teenager for the past few years. “So who’d you beat up this time?” she asked as she sat down, and I placed a plate of frittata in front of her. “Not that it’s any of your business,” I answered, “but it was a boy named Asher White.” “Why the fuck did you beat him up?” Connie asked as she entered the kitchen, drawing giggles from Jas and Ellen. Connie was fifteen and just a year ahead of me in school. None of us would’ve used that kind of language when our parents were in earshot, but there wasn’t anything that wasn’t fair game otherwise, even for Ellen. Sighing, I replied, “Asher’s a real sissy if you know what I mean. Not that he’s effeminate or anything, but he’s not at all athletic,” I added as I handed a plate to Connie and she sat down. “But yesterday he actually beat me at wrestling, so I called him a faggot. It was really stupid, especially with his boyfriend standing right there.” “So he really is gay,” Ellen said, and I nodded in return. “He’s a really nice kid,” I added. “He’s half-black and half-Asian, and incredibly good looking in a Tiger Woods sort of way. But he’s out and proud, and so I called him a faggot. And you know what he said? He responded, ‘Just like your daddy,’ and that’s when I hit him.” “Who’d you hit?” Francine asked as she entered the kitchen. Francine was seventeen and a senior. Like me, she usually ate at school, and I was kinda counting on that, but I figured I’d better offer her some of the frittata, even if it meant I had to make more for myself. “Would you like some of the frittata I made?” I asked. “I’d love to take you up on it,” she replied, “but my figure wouldn’t. I’ll grab my usual yogurt at school.” “Gees, starvation can’t be good for you,” I responded. “I won’t starve,” she answered. “You’re just blessed with a teenage boy’s metabolism.” “There are plenty of overweight boys at school,” I replied. “I’m just a lot more active than you… and I’m still growing.” After a pause, Francine asked, “It sounded like you had a rough time last night. Are you alright?” “It’ll be a long time before I can sit down,” I responded, drawing a flinch from all of my sisters, “and there are some physical wounds that need to heal, but otherwise I’m fine,” I added with a smile. “It’s so unfair that you have to get the brunt of Dad’s anger,” she commented. “Better me than any of you,” I agreed. With all of my sisters accounted for, I poured myself a mug of coffee and began eating what was left of the frittata, right out of the skillet. “He beat up a boy and called him a faggot,” Ellen threw in, apparently in answer to Fran’s first question. “The kid really is gay,” Jasmine added, “and his boyfriend was right there.” Shrugging my shoulders, I responded, “He beat me at wrestling… and he responded to my calling him a faggot by saying, ‘Just like your daddy.’” “You and Dad are such ’phobes,” Connie challenged, “but then you know what they say about the worst homophobes.” “What do they say?” I asked, kinda knowing the answer, but wanting to hear her say it anyway. “That the worst homophobes are secretly gay themselves.” She didn’t disappoint me with her answer. “I’m not saying that I am, but what if I were gay,” I asked. “You’re our brother,” Connie answered, “and we’re all about as religious as you. I don’t give a fuck if you like girls… or boys… or both.” I noticed that all three of her sisters were nodding their heads – even Ellen. “So are you?” Ellen asked. Just a couple of days ago, there’d have been no question about my answer. Fuck no, I wasn’t gay! But since hitting Asher and especially since I told Dr. Epstein that I thought I might be gay, I wasn’t so sure anymore. And then there was Carl. The mere thought of him made me insanely hard. But did I want to kiss him? My dick twitched just thinking about it. He’d already seen me in the nude, and my heart beat faster thinking of him in the altogether. The sound of Ellen’s giggle brought me back to reality, and the fact that my insanely hard dick wasn’t constrained by anything – it was literally poking out from under my shirt. Shit! I was mortified, but there wasn’t anything I could do. They’d all seen it and even though it quickly wilted in my embarrassment, the dick was outta the bag, so to speak. As a few tears rolled down my reddened cheeks, Jas said, “It’s okay, Clarke. Your being gay has nothing to do with our love for you. You’re our brother, no matter what.” It was nice to know my sisters could accept me, but could I accept being gay. Wait – had I just come out to myself? “The old man really is gay, you know,” Jasmine added. “You probably noticed that he reads several men’s fitness journals, even though he doesn’t work out.” Actually, I had noticed, and I’d sometimes wondered about it, but it was quite a stretch to say that that made him gay. “You think that makes him gay?” I asked. “Not just that, but he looks at on-line gay porn,” Jasmine answered. “How the fuck do you know that?” I asked, but just then Mom entered the kitchen. “Clarke, you already got one whipping. How’d you like another,” she challenged. “Sorry, Mom,” I responded. Obviously, that put an end to discussion of my father’s sexuality, but I had no doubt that Jasmine had good reason to know. When we lived in the old place, we all shared a computer. Obviously, Jas had used the computer after our father did and followed his internet history. At that age, any gay porn wouldn’t have been mine. If my father was gay, maybe that explained a bit of why I was too. The one thing I knew for sure was that I was not going to wind up like him. If I was gay, I was gonna get married – to a man – and adopt a couple of kids – not father a bunch of them, just to prove I was straight. I actually smiled thinking of raising a family with Carl. I could picture the four of us – Carl and me and our two sons, or maybe a son and a daughter, playing three-on-one basketball. Carl would tower over the rest of us, and it would take all three of us to keep him in check. God, I was acting more like a schoolgirl, thinking of Carl that way. I had a goddamn crush on the boy, and if I wasn’t careful and let it slip in front of our parents, they’d never let me see him again. “You girls ready?” Jas announced more than asked. All four of the girls went to the Notre Dame Academy, a well-regarded Catholic kindergarten through twelve girls’ school. The four of them usually walked the mile there together every morning. After the three younger sisters quickly finished off their breakfasts and placed their dishes in the sink, the four of them donned their winter coats and were on their way. “Are you in a lot of pain, Clarkie?” my mother asked, showing a bit of sympathy for the first time. Rather than answer her, I turned my back to her and lifted my shirt over my head, then let it slide back down. Turning around, I could see how much my mother was affected by what she saw. “He went too far this time, Mom… not that it’s ever okay to hit your kid. He should go to prison for what he did to me, but we’d all pay a price for that. We’d hafta move, and it might even break up the family.” “You can’t tell anyone about it, Clarke….” she admonished me. “I don’t intend to,” I interrupted. “Not as long as he leaves me alone from now on.” “I wish I could tell you he won’t,” she replied, “but if you breathe a word of this to anyone, it would destroy everything we’ve worked for. Our jobs, this house, maybe even the relationships he built up with the union… they’d all be gone.” “Place the blame for that where it belongs, with Dad,” I countered. “Don’t force me to choose between you and your father,” Mom challenged, “or between you and the rest of the family.” “Then you’d damn well better make sure he never touches me again,” I replied. “You know I can’t do that, Clarke,” Mom responded. “You won’t have a choice,” I countered, “not if you want to keep his abuse under wraps.” Then for good measure, I added, “And from now on, I’m taking the ferry to school.” Remembering what we’d been talking about before Mom entered the kitchen, I didn’t see how Mom couldn’t have helped but overhear. My curiosity getting the better of me, before she could respond, I asked her, “Did you know about Dad being gay?” Sighing, she replied, “I’ve known since before we got married,” which shocked me to no end. “I told him that so long as he remained faithful, it didn’t matter, and as far as I know he’s kept his promise.” “But what about his looking at gay porn?” I asked. “That’s no different than straight men looking at straight porn,” Mom answered. “Women have long put up with their husbands reading Playboy, and this is no different.” Swallowing hard, I asked, “What if I turn out gay?” Looking me right in the eyes, she replied, “You’ve always reminded me so much of your father, both good and bad. If you’re like him in that way too, I’ll just have to accept it. But there’s a reason I’ve always spoken negatively about homosexuality. Thinking about boys is one thing, but acting on it is quite another. The church is very clear about how it views homosexuality. It’s wrong, and for you to do anything with a boy is unacceptable.” “But it’s okay if a priest does it with a boy,” came my uninvited retort, which was met immediately with a very painful slap to my face. “There are a few bad apples in every profession, but that doesn’t give you the right to denigrate the Catholic Church!” Mom shouted at me. “Committing a crime is bad enough,” I responded, “but conspiring to cover it up magnifies it a thousand-fold. For decades, the Catholic Church fostered a system which allowed a handful of priests to rape young boys repeatedly… kids like me. Lives were forever ruined. Finally, we have a pope who’s willing to at least talk about it, and yet his predecessor is still trying to hush everything up. How can you justify such evil in Christ’s name?” “You don’t even believe in God,” Mom countered. “No, I don’t,” I responded, “but I’m a much better Christian than a lot of people. At least I live by Christian ideals, which is more than I can say for either you or Dad.” “How can you say such a thing?” Mom countered. Again, I just snapped. Not enough to actually hit my mom, but what I did was just as shocking. I lifted my shirt over my head and tossed it on the floor. I didn’t care if she saw my junk. I just didn’t care anymore. “I can say it when my dad does something like this to me,” I replied as I turned to show her my back once again. Then turning back around, I added, “And I can say it when my mom cares more about saving face than about the fact that her husband injured and tortured her son… and that she expects her husband and her son to spend their lives living in a closet, denying who they really are because a man in fancy garb says it’s wrong.” Shit, did I just admit that I’m gay? “Never mind that Christ never once said anything against homosexuality.” “He may not have said it directly,” Mom countered, “but his intent was clear. We must respect the teachings of the church. For more than two millennia they have spoken God’s word.” “Since when have you given a flying fuck about God’s word?” I asked. Maybe I’d gone too far, and the look of shock on Mom’s face said that maybe I had, but I was livid. “Did God tell you guys to get in bed with organized crime and to use their influence to get jobs in the mayor’s office?” “I didn’t hear you complain when we moved into this house,” Mom responded. “I was only nine years old at the time, for Christ sake,” I replied. Then remembering that I was still standing naked in front of her, and that there was a reason I wasn’t dressed, I changed course and said, “Look, Dad beat the living shit outta me. I have welts all over my back. I need medical attention. The sooner, the better. Now if I go to Emergency at Saint Vincent’s, as well I should, it would blow the whole thing wide open. If I go back to gym class after the winter break, for that matter, there’s no way CPS won’t get involved and neither of us wants that.” Mom turned pale as she quietly said, “No you can’t go back there. I guess we could send you to Saint Peters instead.” Saint Peters Boys High School was decent, but it was not in the same league as Stuyvesant. It was where I would’ve gone if I hadn’t gotten into one of New York’s elite specialty high schools, bit there was no way I was gonna go there now. In a cold, steely voice, I said, “Stuyvesant High School is my future, Mom. It’s my ticket to getting into an Ivy League school, maybe on a full scholarship. You can’t take that away from me. I’m willing to keep quiet for the sake of the family… not for you or him, but for my sake and the sake of my sisters… but it’ll be on my terms.” “You think you can dictate your terms to me?” Mom asked defiantly. “You really think you have a choice?” I asked. “I’ve already made arrangements to have pictures of my back sent to the right people if I don’t return to school after the break. Give me ten seconds, and I’ll see to it that those pictures are sent right now.” “Your father should’ve taken your phone from you,” Mom replied. “Even now, you’re more concerned with what might happen to you than with what has happened to me,” I responded sadly. “How pathetic. “So here’s what’s gonna happen,” I continued. “I can’t very well go to the emergency room at Saint Vincent’s, so you’re gonna have to take me to see Dr. McHenry. You’ll make arrangements for me to see him today. I know he’ll keep quiet about this as he has in the past, and I’m sure he’ll write a letter to get me outta gym class until I’ve healed.” “But I can’t, Clarke,” Mom replied. “I’m already late for work, and I have an important meeting this afternoon.” “Reschedule it,” I said. “My health is more important. If you don’t, I’ll have no choice but to call 911. This can’t wait.” “You’ll do no such thing,” Mom challenged. “You’ll have to wait until I get home this afternoon. That’s all there is to it. I’ll finish my meeting as soon as I can and come right home.” “You’re going into work and leaving me here?” I asked incredulously. “You brought this upon yourself when you attacked that boy,” she replied. “Just remember that. And we’ll deal with things when I get home, so there’s no need to call 911. Like you said, you’d only be hurting your sisters if you do.” What could I say? I stood by in stunned silence as I watched Mom put on her winter coat, grab her car keys, and leave the house. Even though I was naked and injured with welts all over my back, she just left me there, all alone to fend for myself. And she was right – if I called 911, it would be the end of my family. I’d end up in foster care or worse yet, a group home, and who knows what’d happen to my sisters. Mom had called my bluff, and I was truly fucked. I’d barely touched my frittata, but I ate the rest of it, even though it was cold and I wasn’t at all hungry. I knew I needed the protein if I was gonna heal. I then rinsed all the breakfast dishes off and loaded them into the dishwasher. I had some assignments to work on, and there was that humongous paper on bullying I had to write, so I headed upstairs to my bedroom to get to work on them. Miraculously I still had my phone. I thought for sure that my mother was gonna take it from me after my father didn’t, but keeping her job I guess took priority. Flipping it on and unlocking it with my ugly mug of a face, I saw that I had several messages and several voicemails from Carl Rivera. Reading the first text just about gave me heart failure, as it read, “photo mem. tried ur combo. saw ur pcs. call me asap.” Holy shit, Carl had a photographic memory and remembered my locker combination. He actually saw what my father did to me. I read the rest of the texts and listened to his voicemails, and he was becoming more and more frantic with worry about me. In the last message, he said that if he didn’t hear from me by lunch, he was gonna give the pictures to Dr. Epstein, regardless of what I felt. Fuck, it was already almost time for the first lunch period, and I had no idea when his lunch period was. I didn’t wanna take a chance on calling him while he was in class, so I sent him a text telling him to call me as soon as he was between classes. Scarcely a minute passed after I hit send before my phone was ringing. “Clarke! Man, I saw your pictures. You need to get to the hospital.” All that was before I’d even said ‘hello’. “I’d tell you it’s not as bad as it looks, but that’d be a lie,” I replied. “I’d tell you it doesn’t hurt much, but that’d also be a lie. Actually, it’s not too bad right now, ’cause I’m standing here naked, ’cause it hurts too much to put any clothes on. And I can’t sit down.” “You need to get to the hospital, man,” Carl reiterated. “You should call 911.” “I can’t, Carl,” I answered. “Not without wrecking my whole family. My father’d go to jail for sure, and he’d deserve to, but so would my mother. They both went to work, if you can believe it, leaving me here alone. Yeah, I need to see a doctor. I told Mom I’d hafta call 911 if she didn’t take me, but she had an ‘important’ meeting she couldn’t miss, so she said she’d take me when she gets home. She’s just as fucking guilty in her own way as my father. If they both go to prison, what would happen to me? What would happen to my sisters? They’d probably have to split us up. Who would be willing to take four girls and a boy?” “How many of there are you?” Carl asked. “Nine of us altogether… six girls and three boys,” I replied, “but only five of us are still at home, and Fran’ll be graduating this spring,” I added. “Are you at home now?” Carl asked. “Where else would I be?” I asked. “It’s not like I can go anywhere in the nude, you know.” “I dunno, Clarke,” Carl responded. “Your body’s a work of art.” “You might think so,” I replied, “but right now I look more like a Soutine than a Renoir.” “Renoir was a painter, right?” Carl asked. “He was one of the greatest impressionist artists of all time,” I answered. “His paintings were beautiful. Chaim Soutine, on the other hand, was an outstanding expressionist artist. His portraits of people were distorted, as if to show the ugliness inside.” “You really know your shit,” Carl responded, but then interrupted himself, saying, “but that’s irrelevant right now. We need to get you to a doctor. If you’re not willing to call 911, are you at least willing to go to the hospital?” Shaking my head, even though Carl couldn’t see it, I replied, “No way, man. The result’d be the same. It would wreck my family.” “Do you have a family doctor who’d be willing to see you in confidence?” Carl asked. “Dr. McHenry,” I answered. “I asked my mother to take me to see him, but she had to go to work.” “What the fuck,” Carl responded. “A mother’s supposed to put her children first. But that doesn’t matter now. Go ahead and make an appointment to see him, and I’ll find a way to get you there.” “And how are you gonna do that?” I asked. “Call me when you know your appointment time, and I’ll figure something out,” he replied. “Hopefully, I’ll be there in time to help.” “Whadaya mean?” I asked. “I mean that I’m on the ferry right now, and we’ll be docking soon,” Carl answered. “But how… even if you left school the moment I messaged you, you still wouldn’t have reached the ferry terminal yet,” I pointed out. “I coulda taken an Uber or a taxi,” Carl pointed out, “but I was already on the ferry when you called me.” “You were coming to see me, even before I texted you?” “I was,” he answered. “I was worried. I was getting frantic, man….” “I could tell from your texts and voicemails,” I interrupted. “I get the impression you care about me.” “More than you know, Clarke. I just hope having a gay boy who likes you doesn’t freak you out.” “I can’t believe you like a boy who beat up another kid because he’s gay,” I replied. “Yeah, but that was in response to other things going on in your life, wasn’t it?” “Yeah, but how’d you know?” I asked. “Working in the office, I meet a lot of kids, and I get to see a lot of kids sent to the principal’s office for their fuck-ups,” he answered. “Right away with you, I could tell just how much you regretted what you’d done. You honestly felt bad for what you did to Asher and wanted to make amends. That doesn’t happen very often. Yeah, you’re a bully, but you’re a bully because you’re being bullied at home. Bullying starts in the home, and it can end in the home.” He was right, and we both knew it. I’d actually been thinking about using that very theme in writing my paper on the effects of bullying on society. “The ferry’s just pulling into the Staten Island terminal now, and the bus’ll be leaving in less than ten minutes. I’ll call you back as soon as I’m settled on the bus.” “Don’t bother,” I replied. “It’s a short ride, and you might miss your stop…” Then I realized he might not even know which bus to take, let alone where to get off. “Wait, do you know where I live and how to get here?” “You forget I work in the office and have access to everyone’s addresses. I did ask Dr. Epstein for permission to come visit you, though, so I’m not AWOL. I put your address into Google Maps, and let Google show me the way. Gotta go now.” “See you soon,” I responded before he hung up. Then looking down, I realized that once again I was hard. Even with all my pain, the mere thought of seeing Carl again had made me aroused. Insanely so. While waiting for Carl to arrive, I decided I’d better try calling Dr. McHenry’s office to schedule an appointment. How we’d be able to get there, I hadn’t a clue. Maybe by lying prone across the back seat of an Uber, but would a driver even be willing to take me that way? Dialing the phone, I was put on hold right away and was still on hold when Carl arrived. With my phone in one hand and on speaker, I used the other hand to open the door for Carl, blissfully forgetting my state of undress. At least I was no longer sporting a boner. The perpetual chatter of the on-hold messages, telling me about all the wonderful services my doctor offered, was more than enough distraction. It used to be you could put the phone down and listen for the music to be replaced by a voice, but no more. Carl couldn’t help but stare at me when I opened the door, but then he regained his composure and said, “Nice house, Clarke.” Motioning for him to come in, I replied, “You can thank the taxpayers of New York for it. God knows my parents didn’t do anything to earn it.” “I’m sure there’s a story there,” Carl acknowledged, and then he walked around and looked at my back. “Oh my fucking God!” he exclaimed. “It looks even worse in person. Clarke, you have to call 911!” “Not gonna happen,” I responded. “It would mean the end of my family, and it’d be particularly hard on my sisters. And what would happen to me? Besides which, if my doctor’s office ever answers the phone, I’m sure Dr. McHenry will figure something out.” “How long have you been on hold?” Carl asked. Looking at the call clock on my phone, I replied, “Sixteen minutes, thirty-eight seconds.” “What’s the number there?” he asked. “Won’t do you any good,” I replied. “You’ll only get a menu of options, and a message to call 911 if it’s an emergency.” “Do you have your doctor’s cell number?” Carl asked. “Of course not,” I replied. “I bet your father does,” Carl suggested. “Let me see your iPhone.” “How will that help you?” I asked as I handed it over. “Apple makes it difficult, but there’s a work-around for people on the same family iCloud account,” Carl answered, speaking in terms that might as well have been in Urdu for what I could understand of them. “All I need is your dad’s Apple ID and password, and he made that way too easy to guess. Your street address is the password!” After tapping on my phone a bit, he continued, “All right, here it is,” he said. “I found Dr. McHenry’s cell number. I’m gonna hang up your current call and dial the good doctor directly.” “Hello, Dr. McHenry,” Carl began. “I’m calling on behalf of Frank O’Malley’s son, Clarke. His dad beat him pretty bad, and he needs medical attention right away, but he refuses to call 911 or go to the hospital… Yes, I understand that Frank would want to avoid that too, but you have to see what he did to his son….” After a pause, Carl continued, “She made an appointment for first thing tomorrow morning? This can’t wait that long. Clarke needs to be seen today… Let me show you. Are you using an iPhone? Good, I’ll initiate a Facetime call. You just have to accept it.” After a few seconds, Carl said, “There, I can see you now. Can you see me?” “Yes, but who are you?” came Dr. McHenry’s voice from the tiny iPhone speaker. “My name’s Carl Rivera. I’m a friend of Clarke’s from school, but you need to see what his dad did to him.” Carl held up the phone and pointed it at me and tapped on the phone, then sheepishly said, “Turn around, Clarke.” When I turned to show my back to the camera, immediately I heard Dr. McHenry shout through the phone, “Oh dear God! I’ve given Frank a lot of leeway on this sort of thing in the past, and he’s been helpful in referrals from the Union. But I can’t overlook this and, besides, I don’t need any more business. I’m too busy as it is. If Clarke won’t call 911, I will. He needs to go to the hospital!” “Wait!” I shouted as I grabbed my phone back from Carl. “You can’t call 911. Both my parents would go to jail and then what would happen to the girls? What would happen to me? I’m sure my boyfriend can help take care of me. He can apply whatever salves and creams you prescribe and wash me and change my dressings.” “Your boyfriend, huh?” Dr. McHenry replied, and I suddenly realized what I’d said. Carl, for his part, had what could only be called a bemused expression on his face. “Is that why Frank did this to you?” the doctor asked. Shaking my head, I said, “No, quite the opposite in fact. I called a kid a faggot and punched him out. It was stupid, I know, and probably had more to do with my sexual confusion than with Asher, who happened to be an out-and-proud gay kid. And when he said, ‘So’s your daddy,’ I just snapped.” The doctors laugh told me he thought Asher’s retort was funny too. When I got down to it, though it really was funny. “I didn’t know it at the time, but my father really is gay.” “Yeah, I know,” Dr. McHenry responded, “and poor Cynthia doesn’t know about his encounters either.” “Dad’s cheating on Mom… with men?” I exclaimed in surprise. “I’ve already told you more than I should’ve,” Dr. McHenry lamented. “I’d never met a more homophobic man, and then he showed up in my office with gonorrhea, and that’s when I learned he was having sex with men. He made me tell Cynthia I was treating her for a urinary infection. I gave him a stern lecture about using condoms. What if he’d given her HIV? “Speaking of which, are the two of you being careful?” My face was on fire, and I felt like I was gonna pass out. Carl was blushing too, but had the sense to answer, “My boyfriend and I haven’t done anything yet.” “And there’s no hurry in that regard either,” the doctor interjected. “It’s best to let your love grow first. If you rush to the finish line, the flame may burn out before it has a chance to get started. But if you do experiment as boys sometimes do… often do… be sure to use condoms whenever there’s a transfer of fluids. And contrary to popular belief, that includes oral sex, by the way.” Just then, I heard the sound of a key turning in the lock of the front door. Carl and I were still standing in the foyer when the door swung open and in walked my brother, Joseph. “I thought you weren’t supposed to be driving in until the weekend,” I exclaimed. “I finished up earlier than I expected, so I packed up my things and drove all night from Indiana. I wasn’t expecting a welcoming party, though, and not one that’s clothing-optional.” Shit, I was still in the nude. “Joseph, is that you?” Dr. McHenry asked through my phone. “Yeah, it’s me,” he shouted back. Then, taking my phone, he continued, “I just got here. What gives?” “Did you see your brother’s back?” the doctor asked. I turned around so Joseph could see it, and he exclaimed, “Mary, mother of God! I thought I had it bad, but Dad never did anything like that to me.” “I’m sorry, Joseph,” Dr. McHenry said, “I should have never let it go so far. I should have reported your abuse the first time I saw it.” “And if you had, then where would we all be?” Joseph asked. “But surely you can see this is too much. Your brother needs medical attention right away, before those wounds get infected. I was going to call 911, but maybe you could take him to Saint Vincent’s.” “No!” I shouted. “That would destroy the family.” “I’ll make sure he gets there, Doc,” Joseph said into the phone. “I’m counting on that,” answered the doctor. “I’ve got patients waiting on me, and Nancy’s getting frantic for me to see them.” Nancy was his nurse. “I’ll stop by the hospital after my office hours to check on Clarke. Take care, Joseph.” “You too, Doc,” Joseph replied and then terminated the call. Getting down on my level, he said, “Did you ever stop to think, little brother, that this is a family that needs destroying? Dad’s a monster, and Mom reinforces him. Neither of them is fit to take care of you and the girls. You’d be better off with no parents.” “But if they go to jail, we’ll lose the house, and we’ll all go into foster care, or group homes. We’ll all be split up.” “That’s not gonna happen,” Joseph replied. “I’m twenty-four years old and perfectly capable of taking care of you guys and managing the family’s finances. I’m sure there’s more than enough money in Mom and Dad’s 401k retirement plans and in their investments to pay off the mortgage and to pay the bills until well after Ellen’s out of the house….” “But you’re in Indiana,” I protested. Shaking his head, he replied, “Not anymore. I brought everything I own with me in my car. I finished my degree a semester early, and I arranged a paid internship with one of the most prestigious environmental law firms in the world, right in the city. “The degree in phys-ed might not be a typical pre-law degree, but the experience on the Notre Dame football team didn’t hurt, and the Masters in Public and Environmental Affairs made me a perfect candidate. You’re looking at a member of the freshman class of the Columbia law program this fall. I just got word on Friday and decided to pack everything up and head home and surprise you. I’m going to be living here for the next three-and-a-half years.” This was fantastic! I ran to my brother and hugged him tightly, but then released him when I realized I was still naked. At least he had the decency to blush… and he didn’t wrap his arms around me or put pressure on my back. Then looking at Carl, Joseph asked, “Could your friend help me empty my car, so we can get you to the hospital?” “Joseph, this is Carl, from school. Carl, this is my oldest brother, Joseph.” They shook hands and as they headed out the front door, I could hear Joseph ask, “So, how do you boys know each other?” Well that was a story that could take all day. As they came back inside, carrying heavy boxes, Joseph asked, “So let me get this straight… no pun intended… but you met when Clarke was sent to the principal’s office for punching out a gay kid and calling him a faggot, and now the two of you are boyfriends?” “Well, we haven’t made it official or anything,” Carl explained. “Actually, we haven’t even asked each other, but….” And then they were out the door again. “There’s been a cloud hanging over Clarke for some time,” Joseph was saying as they entered with another load of stuff from his car. “I used to get the brunt of Dad’s anger, but I was a lot bigger than Clarke. I was a football player, and when I got big enough to defend myself, Dad pretty much left us alone. But I left for college five-and-a-half years ago….” And then they were gone again. “I know Clarke blames Scott for a lot of the abuse he had to take, but Scott was in a tough position,” Joseph was telling Carl when they next entered. “He had neither Clarke’s brains nor my brawn, so he deflected Dad’s attacks the only way he thought he could, by blaming Clarke. Now that he’s away from here, he’s changed, but the biggest change was when his best friend came out.” “What?” I exclaimed. “Jake’s gay? But they’re roommates!” “And as tight as ever,” Joseph confirmed. “I think you’ll find Scott’s a lot better person now than when you two shared a room. You’re being gay won’t change things at all.” “How do you feel about it?” I asked. “Not even remotely an issue. I volunteered for the campaign to reelect South Bend’s mayor. You may have heard of him since he’s been in the news a lot lately, but he’s gay and he’s out, and he has a husband.” Then looking around, Joseph said, “I think we’ve cleared enough of the junk outta the car for you to lie down on the back seat. I’ll spread a blanket on the back seat and maybe we can use a terry robe to get you in and out of the car.” The trip to the hospital was a short one, but it seemed to take forever. Fortunately, my information was already in the computer, as the last thing on my mind had been bringing my insurance card with me. At least Carl had the good sense to bring my phone, so I wasn’t totally without anything to prove my identity, and at least I’d have it to keep me occupied later on. I’d have to ask Joseph to bring me my charger in the evening, though, as a charge seldom lasted more than a day, if that long. After checking in, I was taken to a small room for what they called triage, which is where they figure out who needs attention the soonest. The nurse seeing me there tried to hide her reaction, but she gasped when I removed my robe and lay prone on the gurney. She stayed only long enough to take my vital signs, and then returned a moment later with a doctor, who asked me a lot of questions about who hit me, how often they hit me and what they used to hit me, as well as some more general stuff about my home life. When I told her I was gay, she made no attempt to hide the way she wrote down those three letters and then circled the word. They took me straight upstairs to a hospital room, and a private room at that. I’d figured it could be a long wait for a hospital room, if they decided I needed one, but apparently there was a protocol for handling child abuse cases, and since there were no private exam rooms free in emergency, they took me straight to a private room on the pediatrics ward. At least Carl was allowed to join me there. He’d been forced to stay behind in the waiting room while I was in emergency, ’cause he wasn’t a family member. At least Joseph was there with me the whole time. They kept me on a gurney until they brought in a specialized bed – some sort of flotation bed with percolating air – but before they moved me onto it, a nurse came in and photographed me from head to toe, and then another nurse came in and smeared some kind of salve on my open welts, and then a cream over the rest of my back. Finally, they transferred me to the bed and, man, floating on air felt really weird. Finally, they covered me with a sheet. Lulled by the warm air and lack of sleep, I guess I musta dozed off, ’cause the next thing I knew, Carl was shaking my shoulder and there was a lunch tray in front of me. I pulled off the lid and the food actually smelled delicious. There was a hamburger with real beef and a Kaiser roll for a bun. There was lettuce, tomato, pickle slices, and onion for the burger, as well as ketchup, spicy brown mustard, which I loved, and mayo – I put it all on my burger. There was a generous order of sweet potato fries that I shared with Carl and Joseph, and a Coke. I felt bad eating in front of them, but not bad enough to stop. They assured me they’d go down for a bite in the cafeteria later. As I finished my lunch, a couple of police officers, a man and a woman, entered the room. With them was a man who identified himself as my case worker, who’d be handling my placement after I was discharged. Joseph spoke up at that point and assured them that he was moving back to New York and would be taking care of us. The case worker seemed to breathe a sigh of relief with that. I guess there’s no need for foster care if an adult relative is willing to step in. They asked Joseph about what had happened when he was a boy, and the abuse he’d suffered too. Apparently, they were looking for a pattern of abuse. The photos of my back were enough to convict our father of child abuse, but the evidence of a pattern of abuse would ensure a felony conviction, and he’d go away for a very long time. The big question that still needed to be resolved was our mother’s involvement in the abuse. Clearly, she was an enabler, but did what she did constitute abuse? In the end, they felt they had a strong case to arrest both parents. The clincher was when my mother went in to work and left me at home alone to tend to my own injuries. That constituted child abandonment, and together as part of a pattern of repeated neglect, she wouldn’t fare much better than our father did. The thought of my parents going to jail really saddened me, as it would accomplish nothing more than to keep them away from us kids… away from me. In prison they’d only languish and grow even angrier. I asked the officers if it might be possible for my parents to do community service instead, and they explained that not even a lifetime of community service would make up for what they’d done to me. However, if I felt strongly about it, I could go before the judge and argue for a lighter sentence with early parole and community service. I liked the sound of that. The officers asked Joseph and Carl to leave during the rest of the questioning, I guess so they could have some privacy to ask questions about possible abuse from my siblings. I did mention the one time Scott made me blow him, but made it sound more like I wanted to do it, ‘cause I was gay. The last thing I wanted was for Scott to be arrested. Like me with my bullying, he was only acting out on what was happening at home. After the officers and the case worker left, I guess I musta dozed off again, as the room was dark and Carl was sitting in a recliner, next to my bed. There was a tray table in front of me with what I guess was my dinner on it. Had I really slept all afternoon? Dinner was even better than lunch had been. The entrée was some sort of a baked chicken breast over rice with a creamy sauce, fresh green beans, a dinner roll, iced tea, and a chocolate fudge brownie for dessert. There was also a paper menu on the tray, so I could make my selections for tomorrow’s meals, and there were instructions on how to make my selections via Wi-Fi using my phone. Cool! As I ate, I chatted with Carl and found out that Joseph had gone home to start dealing with all the stuff he’d brought home. I asked if there’d been any word about my parents. Our mother should have been home by now, and our father would soon be on his way. Carl hadn’t heard anything about either of them and suggested I call Joseph, but I decided to wait until later. I had enough going on in my life without the added drama. Then it was time to broach a delicate subject. I hadn’t exactly given Carl a choice when I announced he was my boyfriend, and he’d gone along with it, but was that because I’d sandbagged him or because he really liked me. “Carl, about my calling you my boyfriend….” I began. Looking me in the eyes, Carl answered, “I’ll understand if you didn’t really mean it. People sometimes say things in the heat of the moment without really meaning them.” “But do you like me?” I asked. “Of course I like you, Clarke,” Carl replied. “Even though you were brought to the office for a homophobic incident, I could see that you were sorry. Like you said, you snapped, and you let your temper get the best of you. But seeing what your father did to you, it’s no wonder why.” “Bullying starts in the home, and now it’s gonna stop in the home,” I interjected. “Exactly,” Carl continued. “There’s really no such thing as gaydar, but for the first time in my life, I got the feeling you actually might be gay. I certainly hoped so. When you said I was your boyfriend, it was incredible. I’ve never had a boyfriend before. Hell, I’ve never even kissed a boy, let alone done anything more. But if you didn’t really mean it, I’ll understand.” Rather than answer him directly, I smiled at him and asked, “Would you like to kiss me?” “God yes,” Carl replied with a deep blush. “Then what are you waiting for?” I asked. I couldn’t exactly lean forward, so Carl had to do all the work, but once our lips met and our tongues got involved, it was like the whole room disappeared. I didn’t even feel the pain from my back. All that mattered was the feeling of lips on lips and tongues on tongues… and I was unbelievably hard. I so wanted Carl to touch me there, but that would have to wait for another time. The last thing I needed was to have to explain to my nurse why I had cum stains on my sheets. Sure enough, someone entered the room just then, and Carl sprung back quickly. My dick deflated in something like a half-a-second. It was just a kid from the nutrition service, retrieving my dinner tray, but he smiled at us and winked before leaving. “That was a bit embarrassing,” Carl said as soon as the young man had left the room. “Carl, I know I’ve fucked a lot of things up,” I began, “but I’d like to think there was a reason for my behavior and that that reason is gone now. And I can’t thank you enough for helping me to realize what I’ve been doing in response to the abuse from my father.” Then looking right at him, I continued, “I’m sure there will be times when I relapse and royally fuck things up, but if you’re willing to put up with me and to let me know when I start to go back down the rabbit hole, I’d really, really like to be your boyfriend… Carl, would you be my boyfriend?” “There’s nothing I’d like more, Clarke,” Carl responded, and then we kissed again. Boy, did we kiss! When we came up for air, I suddenly realized that I had to piss, as in I’d wet the bed if I didn’t get to a toilet, but how would I get to a toilet? I couldn’t even really sit up more than about thirty degrees in my flotation bed. “Man, I need to pee!” I exclaimed. “Could you get the nurse for me?” “Actually, there’s a urinal here,” Carl said as he lifted a plastic bottle-like contraption from where it was hooked onto the side of the bed. The shape made it obvious how it was to be used, but I could also see how easy it would be to spill its contents once it was full. I wasn’t sure what would happen to my flotation bed if it got wet, and I certainly didn’t want to experiment with my own urine to find out. “Would you like me to help?” “You just want to touch my dick,” I replied, but then, realizing how difficult it would be for me to handle the urinal by myself, responded, “Actually, yeah. I could really use your help.” With a sheepish smile on his face, Carl lifted the sheet off me, exposing me completely, and then he placed the urinal between my legs and used his hand to guide my penis into the opening. He held onto my penis to make sure it didn’t move and end up wetting the bed. As full as my bladder felt, I stayed soft, even though he was holding onto me. “Okay, boyfriend. You’re good to go.” And go I did – like a racehorse. Afterward, Carl lifted the urinal to show me just how full it was. “Looks like nearly a liter,” he said. “You shouldn’t wait so long, Clarke.” “It’s not like I realized it,” I replied. “I was preoccupied with the pain from my back.” “I’m sure they have something ordered for your pain,” Carl suggested. “Would you like me to ring for the nurse?” “Yeah, but not for that,” I replied. “I can live with the pain. It’s intense, but dull, and I’d rather not get started with something like OxyContin. The thing is I think I need to shit.” “Oh shit, pun intended,” Carl answered as he pressed the button to call the nurse. “Can I help you?” a voice came through the speaker. “I think I need to defecate,” I responded. “Be right there, sweetie,” the voice replied. “I think he may be one of us,” Carl commented. “He?” I asked in surprise. “I thought it was a woman’s voice.” Shaking his head, Carl replied, “It’s definitely a guy. Besides which, I met him while you were asleep.” “Cheater!” “And what’s with ‘Defecate’?” Carl asked. “What can I say?” I replied. “I read a lot.” “Obviously,” he responded. A young man breezed into the room, carrying a bunch of supplies in his hands. “How are we gonna do this?” I asked. “I don’t see how I could tolerate laying on a bed pan, and there’s no way I could sit on a toilet.” “It wouldn’t be practical to get you up on a toilet, and it’d defeat the purpose of a flotation bed, honey,” the nurse answered. “This isn’t going to be much fun, but I’m going to put a paper sheet under you. It’s water-tight and absorbent, like a diaper. You’ll do your business, and then I’ll clean you up.” “Oh God,” I responded, then I turned to my boyfriend and said, “You might want to step out, Carl.” Shaking his head, he replied, “My mom deals with this kinda shit all the time. It’s what she does to support us. I’ve even helped her sometimes. Unless you’d rather I leave, I’d just as soon stay.” “Don’t tell me you’re into that sort of thing,” I asked. “Scat? No fuckin’ way!” he replied, which caused all of us to laugh. The nurse lifted up my legs and ass by my ankles with surprising ease, and then stuck a blue paper under me and set me back down, bending my knees and placing my feet flat on the bed, so that my knees were up in the air. “I think you’ll find this position easiest, sugar. I’ll leave you boys alone, so you’ll have your privacy. Just press the call button when you’re ready for me to clean you up.” After the nurse left, I turned toward Carl and said, “This is so embarrassing.” “It’s nothing I can’t deal with, but if you want me to leave, I will.” Shaking my head, I replied, “No, I feel safer having you here. Just hold your nose,” I added with a smirk. Turning my head straight forward, I strained and let loose with a shitload of shit. It felt so weird as it spread out all over my ass. How gross – and it stank! “Oh, that is really bad,” Carl had to respond, naturally. I turned and stuck out my tongue at him, then pressed the nurse call button. It actually didn’t take all that long to clean me up. I guess nurses are used to that sort of thing. He just pulled the paper out from under me and put a fresh paper down, then wrapped up my shit in the first paper, I guess to dispose of afterwards. He then took a wet wash cloth and cleaned me up before removing the second sheet of paper. He applied baby powder to my ass and set my legs back down before leaving. “Does your mom know you’re here?” I asked. “Oh yeah,” Carl replied. “I told her the whole story, including that you’re my boyfriend. She’s thrilled. I told her I’ll stay overnight, until I’m sure you’re okay.” “You should go home and come back in the morning,” I suggested. “The ferry runs all night, but I don’t want to think of you walking home from the ferry terminal in the dark.” “Are you trying to get rid of me?” Carl asked. “Of course not,” I replied. “I like having you here, but that chair can’t exactly be comfortable to sleep in.” “The chair is actually a sleeper chair,” Carl responded. “It pulls out to make a twin bed. I already asked about staying over, and it’s okay with the hospital if it’s ok with you.” “It’s more than okay,” I answered. “It’s fantastic… I just feel bad for you.” “Don’t,” Carl admonished me. “I’d be agonizing over you if I wasn’t here. This way I can be near the guy I love.” “You love me?” I said as my heart did a flip-flop in my chest. Taking my hand in his, Carl responded, “Clarke, I know it’s probably too early for either of us to speak of love. At least that’s what the rational part of my brain is telling me, but my heart tells me different. I fell for you the moment I saw you, and it’s only gotten better the more I’ve gotten to know you. And just so you know, you’re gonna be my date for the prom in a few years.” “You mean I don’t get any say in who’s my prom date?” “Absolutely not,” Carl replied. “In that case, I’d like to wear matching light blue tuxes with dark red shirts and white cummerbunds.” Nodding his head, Carl replied, “That’d be nice. And we could wear white carnations to match the cummerbunds.” “Exactly,” I agreed. “And by the way, I love you too. My brain tells me it’s too soon to be in love, but my heart agrees with your heart.” Carl leaned over and pressed his lips to mine, and soon our tongues were dancing with each other. It was at that moment that the door opened and in walked both of my brothers and all but my oldest sister, carrying several boxes of pizza from Vincent’s Deli. Their pizza is the best, but what timing! “Hey bro, sorry to see you like this, and I’m really sorry for making it worse all those years,” Scott said as he approached my bed. Then looking up at Carl, he reached out to shake his hand and said, “My best friend and roommate is gonna be soo jealous. He’s been looking for a boyfriend for years, and my brother’s already got one, and such a tall and handsome one too.” “And cute,” I added. “Carl is amazingly cute.” “Nice to meet you, Carl. I’m Scott, Clarke’s better-looking brother.” “Nice to meet you, Scott,” Carl replied, “and you’re not a bad-looking guy, but no one can hold a candle to Clarke.” There were groans from all my siblings, and from me. “Sarah’s flying in tonight,” Joseph explained. “She moved up her plans when I told her what had happened. Her fiancé couldn’t change his plans, so he’ll arrive over the weekend.” “Fiancé?” I asked. “Yeah, by spring, you’ll be an uncle.” “She’s pregnant?” I asked in astonishment. “That’s usually how it works, bro,” Scott commented sarcastically. Scott might be sorry, and he might be accepting of gays, but Scott was still Scott. “I bet Mom and Dad are thrilled about that,” I replied. “They don’t know, and they’re not gonna know until after the baby’s born,” Joseph filled me in. “Speaking of Mom and Dad, what happened with them?” I asked. “They were arrested,” Joseph told me. “They picked Mom up shortly after she got home, and they grabbed Dad from his office in City Hall. Of course, they’ve retained Flannagan to represent them, and they’ll likely try to post bail at arraignment in the morning. The judge on the case will likely issue an injunction to keep them from getting anywhere near you… probably they won’t be allowed to enter the hospital at all, and the nurses have already been notified that they’re not to be given your room number nor allowed on the floor… I saw to that. “The bigger issue is that I don’t think any of us are safe if Mom and Dad are out on bail. I’ve retained a lawyer to represent us… all of us… and we’re gonna petition the court at arraignment to deny bail until a hearing can be held. Failing that, we’ll petition the court to issue an injunction to keep them from going anywhere near the house.” “Can you do that?” I asked. “It’s their house.” “It’s our house too,” Joseph replied, “and if I get legal guardianship over all of you, I’ll have a legal right to live there as well as a familial one. There’s ample precedent for this, particularly when there’s an adult child in the house to take responsibility for the minor children, and that’s me.” As I opened my mouth to ask my next question, Joseph continued, “I know what you’re about to ask, and I’ve taken care of everything. There are advantages to working for some of the best legal minds in America. Their field might be environmental law, but they know some of the top lawyers in family law. I’ve signed a retainer for a dollar, plus a contingency to secure representation. When Mom and Dad go to prison, we’ll sue for access to their retirement savings, their investments, and their bank accounts, and our attorneys will get a third of the assets. “It’s likely the state will go after Mom and Dad for racketeering, though,” Joseph went on. “They’ve socked away several million dollars over the last six years….” “Fuck!” I exclaimed. “I’d no idea.” “There’s no way they could’ve done that on their salaries alone. They almost certainly received kickbacks, if not outright bribes, but that sort of thing’s nearly impossible to prove. Even without a racketeering charge, the IRS can get them for tax evasion, and the state and the feds could seize all of our parents’ assets, including the house. They can do that without regard to what happens to us, so we’re gonna petition to set up a trust to protect the house and enough of their assets to provide for all of us until each of us reaches the age of 26.” “Fuck, I shoulda never come here,” I responded. “Just like I feared, it’s gonna affect all of us… all of you!” Of all my brothers and sisters, it was twelve-year-old Jasmine who approached my bedside and said, “It’s not your fault, Clarke. Mom and Dad did this to you… to all of us. If the feds seize their savings, it’s because they stole that money. You didn’t take bribes and kickbacks. They did. If there’s anyone who should feel guilty, it’s the rest of us. We knew what Dad was doin’ to you, but we did nothing. Even if we all end up in homeless shelters, we’re still better off than we were, living under that roof. You did the right thing, Clarke. You did the only thing you could do.” “I like your family,” Carl said. “I don’t know her name, but this sister is particularly smart.” Realizing that Carl hadn’t been introduced to the members of my family, I went through the formalities of introducing everyone to Carl and vice versa, one at a time. We all chatted until visiting hours were over as we devoured the pizza. I even had a couple of slices myself, in spite of having already eaten, and Carl practically devoured an entire pizza. After everyone else went home but Carl, we spent what remained of the evening just talking and learning more about each other… and making out. The more I got to know Carl, the more I absolutely, totally, and hopelessly fell in love with him. He said the same thing about me. As I began to fade, the nurse helped Carl get his bed ready. Carl then undressed for bed – all the way – and I finally got to see what he looks like without clothes. I was not disappointed. As I faded into sleep, and in spite of my worries about the future, I couldn’t help but think about how much my family had surprised me, and about the wonderful boyfriend getting ready to sleep in the bed right next to me. — • — “Buenas tardes Mami,” I said as Carl and I arrived home. I was trying to use Spanish with Carl and his mom, but even she preferred English, which made it all too easy to revert to our common language. “¿Cómo estuvo tu día, muchachos?” she asked as she worked in the kitchen, getting dinner ready for all of us. The food smelled wonderful and only made us more starved than we already were. Fortunately, Momá had a snack waiting for us at the table, as usual. Carl and I devoured the Cuban sandwiches as we talked about our day and all that was going on in our lives. The sandwiches were delicious. Hiring Carl’s mother to be our housekeeper was the best idea Joseph had ever had. Not only did it bring my boyfriend and his mom to live with us our in our house, but it saved us from living in the pigsty our house would’ve become without her. Let’s face it – we all had more important things going on than cleaning house. Joseph had a full-time job and was getting ready to attend law school at Columbia in the fall. The rest of us were heavily involved in school and extracurricular activities, so chores always got short shrift. And then there was the fact that Momá was an incredible cook. The best thing of all though, was that Carl’s mamá was a wonderful person. She was still young – not even thirty yet – but she’d seen so much in her life, and in spite of it all, persevered. She’d fallen in love when she was even younger than Carl and me, but then she got pregnant with Carl, and then her boyfriend was killed in a gang-related shooting. She could have thrown in the towel, but she had a young infant to take care of, so she hunkered down and finished high school while they lived with her mother, and then worked two and three jobs at a time until she could afford an apartment of their own in a much safer neighborhood in Lower Manhattan. I truly loved Momá. She was a far better person than my own mother. My parents were an entirely different story. To think I was gonna testify on their behalf at sentencing, in spite of what my father did to me. It turned out that the feds were already planning to charge them with bribery and embezzlement and had had them on their radar for years. The attorneys Joseph hired moved quickly to exclude the house, their life insurance policies, and their 401k retirement plans from any federal action, as those were all purchased using legitimate income. We also sued for two million of the assets, plus legal fees, from their investments to cover our living expenses for the next several years, until we each reached the age of 26. It sounded like a lot of money to me, but Joseph assured me that it was barely enough. The feds moved quickly to seize everything else, but thanks to Joseph, we had enough money to pay off the mortgage and cover our living expenses and tuition until we’d all finished college. There was even enough to hire Carl’s mom, but there’d be virtually nothing left for things like travel or designer clothes, which was fine with me. In the meantime, Carl and I shared a bedroom. We had twin beds, but that didn’t stop us from being intimate. We’d taken things slowly, but over the last several months, since I got out of the hospital, we’d become as close as any two people could be. I knew that high school relationships rarely last, but I couldn’t imagine my life without Carl in it. We were only fifteen, but we were already talking about finding a college we could go to together, and then maybe starting our own business together. Carl and I were most definitely out at school and active in the GSA. We’d become very close friends with Asher and Seth and often double dated. We were also close with Freck – I no longer thought of him as Freak – and with his boyfriend, Kyle. I used to think Freck was young, but he was twelve, and at least his voice had already changed. Kyle was only ten, and they were both juniors, no less. I was smart, but my head spun thinking of that kind of intelligence. Unfortunately, they lived with Kyle’s dad up in Riverdale and with us living on Staten Island and Asher and Seth living in Manhattan, opportunities for all three couples to get together outside of school were few and far between. “Oh, there’s a letter that arrived for you today, Clarke,” Momma announced as she slid an envelope across the table toward me. I picked up the letter and saw that it was from the Stonewall Foundation. The Stonewall Foundation was an organization that supports LGBTQ causes throughout America and the world, and they award a number of scholarships to LGBTQ students based on need and merit. They also sponsor an annual essay writing contest, with the top prize being a college scholarship as well as free enrollment in an advocacy training program. The contest was open to high school sophomores and juniors, so I wasn’t even eligible this year, but Dr. Epstein thought my essay on bullying was so good that she encouraged me to apply anyway, as most organizations occasionally make exceptions to their rules. Tearing open the envelope, I pulled out the letter, fully expecting to read something like, ‘We regret to inform you,’ but that wasn’t what the letter said at all. Tears came to my eyes as I read the letter aloud to my boyfriend and our momá. “Dear Mr. O’Malley, we are pleased to inform you that you are the grand prize winner of this year’s essay contest. As you are aware, the contest is only open to high school sophomores and juniors. The intent of this is to provide scholarships and resources to young men and women as they prepare to begin their higher education. However, the rule was never intended to discriminate against people with exceptional talent because of their age. Your essay, Bullying Begins in the Home, was quite simply the best essay that has ever been submitted, and the committee felt it would be a travesty to reject it and award the prize to someone else, just because you are a freshman. “As you are aware, the award includes a scholarship and free enrollment in our advocacy training program. You are cordially invited to attend an awards ceremony at our annual gala later this month, the week before Memorial Day. Ordinarily we would fly you to New York and put you up in a hotel. Because you live in New York, instead we would like to provide an opportunity for your family to attend the gala, which is a $500 per plate affair. We are thus offering to provide up to eight tickets to the event at no charge, for family and guests, provided they are at least twelve years of age.” Fortunately, Ellen had just turned twelve. I continued, “A limo will be provided for transportation for you and your guests to and from the event, which will be held at the American Museum of Natural History on Central Park West. We request that you wear formal attire and will reimburse your costs as well as those of a guest if you wish to bring one. Guests and family may wear either formal or semi-formal attire. “We look forward to meeting you at our upcoming event. Your essay touched me personally, as I was a victim of bullying in my youth. The worst of my bullies is now my husband. Please RSVP at your earliest convenience. Sincerely, Stuart Manning, President of the Stonewall Foundation.” “Congratulations!” Carl exclaimed, and then he gave me a kiss. “The only thing is that the advocacy training program is a residential program that lasts all summer,” I lamented. “I won’t see you until the fall.” “Talk to your brother, Clarke,” Momá suggested. “If the cost isn’t too much, maybe Carlos can enroll too….” — • — I’d never been to a gala before, and I wasn’t all that sure I wanted to attend one again either. I didn’t realize that although my family was invited, they couldn’t sit with me. I had to sit at the head table with members of the board, all of them adults who expected me to talk to them like an adult. It would have been nice if I could have sat with the other awardees in the essay contest, but the grand prize winner was expected to sit with the board. My family wasn’t even nearby – they were in the back of the room. As tall as he was, I could still see Carl though. Dressed in a black tux and white shirt as I was, he was stunning. Definitely the most handsome guy at the gala. Thank God he’d be attending the advocacy training program with me over the summer. Getting him into the program wasn’t easy, even with our paying full tuition and expenses, but I’d made it clear that I wouldn’t attend unless he attended, and they’d agreed. We’d even be sharing a room! The food was good, but the conversation was deadly dull and even after four cups of coffee, I was ready to go to sleep. Then the awards ceremony began and that was even more deadly, with speech after speech by people I didn’t know. The keynote was given by a well-known, openly gay politician, and his speech was outstanding. Then awards were given out for just about every kind of service to the organization and to the LGBTQ community as a whole. Unfortunately, I was to be one of the last speakers of the evening, which only gave me more time to get nervous. I couldn’t wait until it was over and the dancing began. I’d never done ballroom dancing before, so Joseph gave me and Carl a crash course. I couldn’t wait to try out what we’d learned on the dance floor. There were a series of presentations for the various scholarships that were being given out, and then it was time for presentation of the essay finalists. First up was the third-place entry, followed by the second and first-place winners. And then it was my turn as the grand prize winner. Dr. Manning made an introduction as I stood at his side at the podium, and then I was up. “Thank you, Dr. Manning, ladies and gentlemen and honored guests,” I began. “My essay deals with a subject that more than likely affected many in this room personally, as homophobic bullying remains rampant in the United States and around the world. I grew up in a household with a father who was violent, racist, and very homophobic. Only recently did I learn that he was also gay. I don’t need to tell you that some of the worst homophobes are secretly gay and either in self-denial or experiencing self-hatred, or both. My father was abusive and took his intimidation and anger out on me in particular, both physically and mentally. No doubt, I will have the resulting physical and emotional scars for the rest of my life. From a young age I learned to try to ease my suffering by making others suffer, taking my aggression out on those who were different from me… those I saw as weaker… all, as I followed my father’s example. “Then one day, one of my victims fought back and I snapped. I punched him out, but the experience forced me to look at who I was and what I’d become, and I didn’t like at all what I saw. That night, my father’s physical abuse put me in the hospital. He and my mother are now in prison for child abuse as well as racketeering. I have no intention of emulating them as I live my life. “Another thing that happened as a result of that encounter was that a young man reached out to me. He was gay and yet non-judgmental, and his kindness forced me to confront my own sexuality. That boy is now my boyfriend and the love of my life, and his mother is my mother, and far more of a mom than my biological mother ever was. Both of them are here tonight, along with my oldest brother and four of my sisters. And the boy I knocked out is now one of my best friends. So is his boyfriend. In telling all of you in this room, it’s my hope that we can all work together to report any bulling to someone in authority…. A friend, a parent, a relative, a pastor or someone else we trust. “In such a short time, I’ve learned the power of forgiveness and that we need to have honesty, trust, and respect to find love, and it takes a lot of love to conquer the hate and heal the scars. “Let us all learn as I have…. bullying begins in the home, and it can end in the home… before someone snaps.”
  8. Asher White was everything Clarke hated. He was half-black and half-Asian, and out and proud. But when Asher actually managed to beat Clarke in wrestling, he just snapped and punched Asher out. Clarke knew this was it. He'd worked so hard to get into New York's elite Stuyvesant High School and now it would be for naught. Grasping at straws, he tells the vice-principle the one secret not even he knows he has. With the help of a new friend, he is forced to confront years of abuse he has suffered at home. After all, bullying starts in the home, and it must end in the home.
  9. BryanC

    Three

    That second paragraph you wrote is a great premise for a fever dream version of things without Tad. People that are selflessly kind wind up being the center without even knowing it. That's part of their magic... Their nature. As morbid as it might sound, after his passing, the other characters considering the possibilities of where they might be if they hadn't met Tad? I'd read it. Thought Markus might be headed to town! Looking forward to what you've got in store for him. Thanks! I'm actually sitting with a sick relative -- well, waiting while a battery of tests are being performed. I'd like to pass the luck along to them if it's OK? Cya next chapter!
  10. ‘Pass me that Fodor’s, Ed.’ They were relaxing in their hotel room after leaving items of evening dress scattered around. Henry was in his boxer briefs, bare feet up on the room’s desk. Ed – naked, dishevelled and gorgeous – had just come out of the shower towelling his hair. Henry’s briefs were tented out accordingly. Part of his anatomy was expecting an imminent treat. Ed came up behind Henry, knelt next to his chair and began lightly kissing his shoulders. His fingers strayed inside Henry’s briefs, which he began slowly pushing down over his thighs. Henry wiggled his bum to assist the removal. Ed’s warm fingers closed round his erection and began skilfully stroking and stimulating it. Regardless of the potent distraction, Henry scanned the index for ‘Glottenberh’. As Ed’s mouth closed over his glans, tongue teasing his slit, Henry began reading: ‘Glottenberh (Ger. Glottenburg). Former independent Rothenian duchy, annexed to the Kingdom of Ruritania, 1788. Pop. 90,600. The cathedral of St Boniface fdd 1004. The Benedictine abbey of St Vitalis (Vitalenkloster) features the national shrine of the Black Virgin (q.v.) …’ That was as far as he could go before he groaned and threw the book aside, burying his fingers in the thick blond hair of the head between his legs, pumping up and down on his penis. ‘Can I make love to you, Ed?’ Henry gasped. His lover lifted off him and nodded. They stood. Henry put Ed over the edge of the bed and prepared his hole patiently. Although normally a top, Ed by no means disliked being taken by Henry, who held him high him round the ribs, belly against his lower back, pushing down into his hole. Henry knew Ed liked to feel his penis running over and exciting his prostate. Ed was biting and gripping the coverlet by the time Henry spurted inside him. Kissing and hugging, they moved up on the bed, where Henry brought Ed off with his helping hand. Finally, Ed got round to asking, ‘Why does Rudi want just you to go to Glottenberh with him?’ ‘He seems to think religion is my thing, because my dad is a vicar, and none of his other friends are that way inclined, I guess. Also, I speak Rothenian, which an equerry has to do.’ ‘What’s so special about January 3rd?’ ‘It’s the feast of St Vitalis, the patron saint of Rothenia, the German monk who converted the pagan inhabitants of the Starel basin in the eighth century. There’s a national pilgrimage, which for the first time since 1919 will be led by a king of Rothenia. This is a very Catholic nation, Ed, and their faith means a lot to them. The king is the advocate of the shrine of the Black Virgin, so the image will be carried in procession through the streets of the city because he is present.’ ‘Black Virgin? I don’t suppose it has anything to do with Africa, does it?’ Henry smiled. ‘It’s an ancient Byzantine icon, presented to Duke Tassilo by Emperor Otto the Great. It apparently cures infertility. It’s okay, I won’t say a prayer for you. I don’t want you getting pregnant on me, now we’re going our separate ways.’ Ed gave a tight sort of smile. ‘You’re on about that a lot, Henry.’ ‘It’s on my mind a lot, Ed. Especially after sex like that. Ed, I … oh, never mind.’ ‘Never mind what …?’ ‘Now’s not the time or place.’ Although troubled, Ed hugged Henry hard, enclosing his smaller body protectively. Henry sighed and snuggled. This he liked as much as sex, the way Ed could just surround him with warmth and make him feel loved and safe. Who else would ever do this for him? And how could he survive without it? *** Oskar came by for Henry on the Tuesday morning, coming up to the room to kiss and embrace him. Oskar was very fond of Henry. He said there was something of the young Will about him, and he still loved Will, so much was obvious, despite his undeniable devotion to Peter Peacher. Henry enjoyed being hugged by Oskar. The man had an amazing fragrance, which Henry could still smell on himself hours later. He thought it must be fantastic to share a bed with the man – and what a man, too, gorgeous and beautifully proportioned. Letting his mind run down those channels simply added to Henry’s unease, of course. His mind was always running down them, and it just seemed to be getting worse. He was adrift emotionally, and he knew it. Oskar was in a dark suit, and Henry had dressed the same way. Oskar’s car ran under the palace arch to join the motorcade – which included six police motorcycle outriders and three vans full of security men – already awaiting Rudi’s departure. The royal BMW was warming its engine, the Elphberg flag fixed to its bonnet. After the king emerged, a palace footman in green tailcoat and white tie called Henry out of Oskar’s car to join him. ‘Morning, your majesty.’ ‘Hi, Henry. Do you ever do the rosary, you Anglicans?’ ‘Er, no … well, not my sort of Anglican anyway. I hadn’t noticed you doing it much at Medwardine either, Rudi.’ ‘It’s a devotion my grandmother’s fond of. I’ll give it a go later. You okay, Henry?’ ‘Sure, sure.’ ‘You look abstracted.’ ‘Just like you to start getting sensitive at the oddest of times, Rudi.’ ‘You’re not bothered by a day of Catholic devotion, are you?’ ‘Heavens no! It’s … well, it’s personal. Thanks and all, but I want to keep it personal.’ ‘Okay. No probs.’ They chatted about the day ahead of them, current Rothenian politics and the unexpected side of kingship, and were still at it when the motorcade pulled off the autoroute into the outskirts of Glottenberh. Glancing out the window, Henry was astonished to see crowds lining the road even at the edge of the city, ignoring the cold and the heavy grey clouds lowering over the roofs. Red-lion flags were everywhere. Rudi laughed as he got Henry waving out the window in that odd way royals do. When the convoy pulled up outside the basilica of the Vitalenkloster, built on the lines of the imperial church at Speyer, the bells began ringing and the concussions of the guns of the royal salute banged back from the west front. Rudi, with Henry a pace behind him, stood hand on heart as the band of the re-formed Royal Foot Guards played the national anthem. The bishop, in rochet, purple mozetta and cassock, came up to shake hands and usher the king into the vast spaces of the great church. The abbot and community were within the west door, the abbot wearing a gold pectoral cross and purple skull cap as a sign of the full privileges of his ancient house. Rudi caused a stir by going on one knee to kiss the abbot’s ring of office, an act of royal humility followed by subdued applause. The abbot and monks, behind a cross and candles borne by acolytes, led the way down the packed church, beautifully chanting the Te Deum in Latin as they went. Rudi was placed on a throne-like chair at the head of the nave. Henry, as equerry for the day, had a seat behind him. It was cold in the church, and Henry was chilly without a coat, his breath steaming. Since he was at the focus of a major religious festival, however, he was forced to ignore it. He looked at Rudi, motionless in front of him and also coatless, and marvelled at the self-control kingship demanded. The man was superhuman. The monks brought down the icon from above the high altar and there was a period of devotion and readings as it was censed and venerated. It was finally presented to the king to kiss. He was the only person allowed this devotion, the icon being technically his own property as the heir of Duke Tassilo. It was then placed by the king himself on a flower-filled litter carried on the shoulders of ten members of the fraternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, dressed in tail coats and breeches with papal medals round their necks. Down through the church passed the procession, headed by the bishop, abbot and monks, together with a multitude of boys in albs carrying censers and candles in tiny lamps. Henry was a little awed as well as astonished to see the boys all barefoot, despite the winter cold. After the icon came the king, the provincial governor, the chief of police and the commanding general of the army district. Henry and Oskar brought up the tail. They wound through the streets, accompanied by applause in the continental way. Rothenian hymns were sung at every station. Eventually the procession disgorged into the packed marketplace, where it was greeted by the awesome sight of thousands of people, young and old, going to their knees to welcome the icon. As they did so, the first flecks of snow began to drift down from the heavy brownish clouds. It was almost scary in its timing: ‘Celestial ticker tape,’ Oskar whispered in Henry’s ear with a little smile. The procession finally made its way up into the cathedral, where the icon was placed on the altar for public veneration before mass was celebrated. Henry was rather glad to see the boys reassuming their shoes and socks. He had been a little worried about them. He went up to the altar with Rudi to receive a blessing from the bishop, but did not take communion. He reflected that in the circumstances it might have caused a minor diplomatic incident: Anglican equerry to the king of Rothenia elbows his way to the altar to take the sacrament at a Catholic State ceremony. He thought back to what the Head had said to him about a career in the Foreign Office. Maybe it was an idea after all. There was a late lunch and reception at the former ducal palace, which was now the University of Radelngrad-Glottenberh. Henry circulated with the king for a while, until he got into a conversation with a party of Glottenberh youths who had been invited along to represent the student body. They were pleasant Rothenian kids, a little older than he, of course, but they didn’t make him feel patronised. They were disappointed at his determination to speak Rothenian, as they wanted to try out their English on him. They were very intrigued about their king, the girls especially. Henry was hard put to be discrete without being evasive, but he thought he managed it. The king left the room for a series of meetings with local officials, which Henry was not required to attend. One of the female students volunteered to show him the old palace chapel, since he said he was interested in churches. Her name was Lise, and she was clearly very attracted to Henry. This was a first for him, but from the way she smiled and hung about him, there seemed little doubt that he was indeed the object of her sexual attention. Wow, he thought, this is what life might have been like if I had been different from what I am. He was very friendly back, which was as far as he could go. However, the novel idea that he might be attractive to women further disturbed his already confused mind. Lise took him up to the organ gallery overlooking the former ducal palace chapel. The place was a mass of baroque sculpture, and the reredos climbed all the way to the roof in an involved confection of cherubs, saints and patriarchs. It clearly belonged to the school of church decoration that seemed to owe more to the stage than to scripture. Glancing over the railing, Henry noticed a series of ducal tombs down in the nave. Anxious to see more of them, he descended a twisting spiral staircase to the floor below, where he examined each tomb in turn. He quickly discovered that Lise’s interest in him did not extend to counterfeiting enthusiasm for the architecture of death. She said she’d be back to pick him up in half an hour. He began with the medieval tombs, an unusual line in front of the high altar at the east end, obviously moved from somewhere else. Four crowned effigies lay flat, their feet to the east, ducal swords unsheathed and resting on their shoulders. The execution was very fine, and although Henry was no expert, he guessed they had been made elsewhere than Rothenia – Flanders maybe. Down the centre of the nave lay the early modern dukes of Glottenberh, in the armour and ruffs of the age of Gustavus Adolphus, and the wigs and lace of the age of Louis XIV. He finished with a very intriguing monument, the last duke, Willem Stanislas VI, who had died aged eighteen in 1788. It was composed in a Classical style, the boy – very handsome apparently – depicted lying rather erotically in just a few convenient drapes. It was deliberately sensuous, and Henry remembered reading somewhere how the erotic was a part of the art of death: smooth flesh and swelling muscle used to counterpoint the transience of human beauty and the tragedy of mortality. The boy’s mouth was slightly parted and his eyes were open, as though he was still drinking in light and breath. Henry could not resist running his hands down the torso and long limbs, marvelling at the delicacy of the sculptor’s art brought out in the faint lines of veins and the play of muscle under the skin, made beautifully real in stone. As Henry reflected on the shortness of this boy’s years, and all the disappointed hopes that had lain on him, his own situation came home to him with greater force than ever before. In two weeks he himself would be eighteen. He could see his way forward in life and his path did not lead him in the same direction as Edward’s. They would separate, and time would take them apart. Although what they had was so very fulfilling, there was no future for them as a couple because it was not sustainable. Bitter though it was, there was only one conclusion. As Henry looked at the last duke of Glottenberh, he knew that at least in his case there would be other opportunities. Maybe he would never recapture the poignant delicacy of his life’s first love, but it was only that: the first love. There would one day be another, or so he could hope. He shook off his confusion. He had made up his mind. *** Ed was smiling when Henry came through the door of their hotel room. The bags were already packed and waiting on the bed for the taxi to the airport. He hugged Henry and kissed him, before noticing the tears standing in his lover’s eyes. ‘Henry, what’s up?’ he asked nervously. ‘Edward,’ Henry replied slowly but firmly, ‘I have a thing to say.’
  11. Talo Segura

    Chapter 3

    I have to second that, the dialogue is realistic, the background and setting, interactions, are spot on. I love it. I would just add for @Geron Kees and others, that the Grammar School, Secondary Modern, difference was not merely academic, but represented a class divide. In fact in England society was (perhaps to certain extent, still is) divided between upper, middle, and working class. The upper class going to "public" schools (which are actually private fee paying schools), the middle class going to Grammar schools, with a few working class who were bright enough. Thus English society was set up with its government and ministers with public school education, its bank managers and industrial managers with their grammar school background, and the factory workers. Of course, that's an over simplification, but the class distinction very much existed during the era this story begins in. Which is one aspect that makes it fascinating.
  12. Today
  13. Yeoldebard

    The Moon's Curse

    Yeah, the best I can say is that Paelius is well trained in combat, but that's a bit weak of an explanation.
  14. That's for Riardin to know and you to find out 😜
  15. mfa607

    Chapter 2

    What a great chapter! Thank you!
  16. nothric

    Chapter 11

    At their current length there should be 22 chapters or so.
  17. dughlas

    Chapter 11

    An informative chapter. Anthony was Mr Bowden's best friend. Did something happen between them? Spencer seems to good to be true. Not necessarily in a bad way it's just that at 17 he's far beyond most adults. He did a great job helping Kessler begin to deal with his breakup. I don't believe he did it just because he thought the tears would make for a good picture. Just what was Smits doing? Is he really posing naked so he can send the picture to his girlfriend? That whole thing was weird. Now what does the next chapter hold ... For curiosity's sake how many chapters are there?
  18. TBT i forget how good this was

    hope your day is a good one!

  19. drpaladin

    Birth of a Wolf

    This explaifns how the curse came about.
  20. Wayne Gray

    Three

    Man, I hope you're all right! Best of luck to you, Bryan. I never knew the symbolism of "V", but it makes great sense. Tad is definitely the apex, the force which draws Nate and Christopher together. Actually, he's the center of it all. Almost everything that follows in the story does so because of him. I thought about what would happen if Tad was never there. Kent and Stanley probably would have still met (though later you'll see what Tad's influence has over their lives too). Markus would still have his troubles in Texas. Though, Nate would still be his shallow self, and Christopher maybe would have paired up with Stanley, excluding him from ever truly connecting with Kent. There's just so much with Tad at the center. And don't worry... an update for Markus is coming next chapter. I'm glad you're interested and invested in him. 🙂 Thanks for the comments and for reading.
  21. drpaladin

    The Moon's Curse

    It would be nice to know how someone so newly turned defeated an experienced hunter.
  22. brandon87

    Elliot’s Big Day

    Boy you sure know how to spoil us with great chapters of the castaway hotel series Bill. I get so excited about a new chapter and with each chapter I have not been let down once each and everyone has been great.
  23. Marty

    Chapter 1

    Thanks for letting me know you find the story intriguing, @Daddydavek. It's even more pleasing that you actually came back to leave a comment. I suppose the only clue to the time frame that this chapter was set in was the reference in it to drought of 1959, which suggests it is at least set later than that date. However, I do state the following in the story summary: "This story spans a period from the nineteen-sixties to the present day," so that should give a closer idea as to the date for this particular chapter.
  24. drpaladin

    The Roosting Wolf

    How was he changed without leaving a wound?
  25. nothric

    Chapter 11

    Thanks, I'm glad you enjoyed it! ☺️
  26. Bill W

    Elliot’s Big Day

    Thanks, James, and I'm glad you are enjoying this series. Danny and Brandon are a long way from retiring, but who know what Elliot might do, especially if he and Ian marry. Thanks for the feedback.
  27. BryanC

    Three

    The irony of reading about a hospital visit from a hospital room -- Wow! This is like a Magritte painting. Romantic couples of three people have been referred to as a "V" since arcane times, because certain sectors have always judged and hated, and the letter was easy to hide in plain sight, and incorporate if the relationship was being discussed in a missive. The term has been revived in more recent times. Its kind of cool, the meaning behind "V" in this context: the apex of the "V" is always described as the core/center of the relationship (In this case, Tad), and the arms as literally the loving arms (Chris and Nate). Also, since the Renaissance, and the need for ... secrecy ... , the merging of mathematics and art, "V", as an unwritten rule, symbolized "Truth". That aspect was incorporated into the romantic nature of of discussing "V". True love. Not going to lie. Miss an update on Marcus. Great chapter Wayne!
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