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  • Shadowgod - Almost Home
  • Shadowgod - Almost Home
  • Shadowgod - Almost Home
    Jason MH
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Between the Shadow and the Soul - 18. The Fix

Chapter contains the first-person account of a child predator's brutal assault of a minor as told by the victim more than fifteen years later. While I have shied away from explicit descriptions of the sexual aspects of the assault, implications are made alongside the more savage details of the attack.

October 28, 2016

"That Hippocratic hypocrite! I didn't think that vile inhuman bastard could sink lower than he already had, but again I find myself appalled by the depths of his calculating malevolence."

Uncle Farid had shed his professional façade and settled into his uncle-protecting-his-family persona. Anger colored his caramel skin until it darkened like a burn as he pursed his thin lips and squinted his eyes, smashing his spent cigarette in the ashtray with violent abandon.

Leaning forward, elbows on my knees, I rested my face in my hands. "Yeah. He made me think my feelings for Nate would end our friendship, so I let him teach me how to hide from my own feelings, how to deceive myself."

"And he did it to get Nate out of the equation," he spat in disgust even as he subdued his anger and settled back into his therapist role with a wrathful shake of his head.

"Clearly. He probably figured my love for Nate would stop me from giving him what he desperately wanted, that I wouldn't be able to betray what I felt for my best friend just to let Richard have his way."

"Which is precisely what happened."

"And look at the hell it wrought! He took it anyway, forcefully and brutally. In return I've spent too many years completely unaware of my best friend's pain and suffering, selfishly thinking it was all about me. I've set myself up repeatedly for aborted relationships with scrapings from the boot of humanity. I let a predator convince me my feelings were bad, that they'd cause me more pain than the pain of letting them go, that whatever heartache I felt by building the blind spot was nothing compared to the heartache I'd feel if I ever admitted my feelings."

"You didn't know what he was back then."

"You're right. I didn't. But I should've been smart enough to know he was lying, smart enough to know he was wrong about his son. And I should've trusted Nate more, trusted our bond, trusted our love for each other, trusted the strength of our relationship. Most of all I should've trusted him and should've known he'd never leave me because of something so silly as being in love with him."

I vehemently ejected a disgusted breath, sneering at my own failures, my own self-indulgent pity party.

Possibly the world's longest pity party.

Shut your pie hole!

"You should tell him. Not only about what Richard did but about your feelings."

"That was a long time ago."

"Are the feelings still there?"

I huffed out a frustrated sigh. I considered telling a lie or two, maybe a dozen. I thought about pretending what I felt wasn't real. But the truth is always the easiest thing to remember, thus it's usually the best response.

"Stronger than ever," I admitted. "Just because I hid them from myself doesn't mean they died. Just the opposite really... They continued to feed on Nate's unending presence in my life, on his unflinching love for me and his beauty and... Well, the feelings are still there, yeah, and they're so big and powerful I don't know if they'll ever go away."

"Why should they?"

"Because I have to let him go."

Uncle Farid couldn't hide the shock on his face or in his voice. "Why would you say that?"

"All I've given Nate is suffering and anguish, years and years of guilt and remorse that he weathered alone while I whimpered and complained and repeated 'oh woe is me' ad nauseam."

"Without referencing disclosures from Nate's therapy, I've known him for twenty years, he's part of our family, and you can't convince me that he's ever resented you, that he's ever felt you took advantage of him in any way. What you suffered is a massive load to bear, especially because it happened when you were an adolescent. Nate understands that. He loves you too much to even ponder blaming you for whatever shortfalls might or might not exist in his life." Sitting forward and piercing me with a stern gaze he added, "I don't believe you're giving him enough credit and I don't believe you're looking at this in the right way, Greg, and you're certainly not giving yourself enough credit. Nate didn't weather anything alone, I assure you, because he's relied on you just as much as you've relied on him."

"You don't understand!"

"Then help me to understand."

Expelling a rather large amount of frustrated air, I sank back into the couch, fidgeting, casting my gaze about, wondering if this conversation was worth anything.

But you know it is. Uncle Farid's helped tremendously over the past months. If you hope to dump all the baggage you've been carrying for so long, you need to trust him.

Turning back to him I explained, "My love for Nate is destructive. If it hadn't been there, Richard wouldn't have done what he did on my fifteenth birthday."

"You can't know that."

"Maybe he would've pushed, maybe he would've gone through with the assault, but what set off the violence was me telling him I couldn't betray my love of Nate by jumping in bed with the first man to come along."

"Hadn't you already built your blind spot and pushed your love for Nate into it, essentially hidden it from yourself?"

"I'd learned how to do it, yes, and I'd started the process Richard taught me, but you don't know how much I loved Nate back then. I had a hard time letting go enough to hide it from myself. It wasn't in my face all the time by then, so I'd made some progress. But when Richard showed up that day and put the moves on me, when he really got serious about taking what he wanted while pretending like it was a caring, loving, mutual thing, this massive burst of emotions came out of me and I yelled at him that I'd never betray my love for his son, especially not with his son's father. As you can imagine that didn't go over well with the evil doctor. In the end my declaration of love for Nate caused Richard to snap."

"I doubt that's true, Greg. I suspect Richard had every intention of sexually assaulting you that day."

"But it wouldn't have been violent."

"I repeat: you can't know that."

"That's how it looks from my point of view. He was going to rape me if I didn't give it to him. I accept that. But the brutality of what happened only happened because I didn't get rid of the love that Richard hated. Refusing him on the basis of that love pushed him over the edge.

"And now... Well, now that love is back in full force, stronger than ever, and I'll never be able to get beyond it so long as I'm around Nate. Our friendship strengthens it, his presence feeds it. As long as I'm around him I'll never be able to move on."

"The first thing you need to do once you've calmed and looked at this with more objective eyes is to tell Nate how you feel. You've hidden it from him for too long."

"It wouldn't make any difference."

"It would help you."

"I mean it wouldn't make any difference with Nate."

"It might and it might not. That would be up to Nate."

"He's straight."

"Your relationship with Nate is rare. I'm not sure sexual norms apply."

I gave a derisive snort. "It doesn't matter if they do or don't."

"Why is that?"

"My love for Nate hurt before my fifteenth birthday because it consumed me and had no outlet. Then it hurt me on my fifteenth birthday because it was the antithesis of Richard's want. So I hid it and it hurt me over the intervening years by blinding me to so many critical truths, including Nate's own anguish. And it's hurting me now because, like before, it's unrequited, it never rests, it grows because it's constantly fed, and I can never be truly happy so long as it's alive because the only thing that can satisfy it is something I can never have. The only way forward for both of us is for this love to go away." Almost under my breath I added, "And there's only one way to achieve that..."

"If a man believes he'll die tomorrow, he'll usually find a way to make it happen."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"A self-fulfilling prophecy. You're convinced your love for Nate will damage your friendship and hurt the two of you, so you're concocting a way to cause the harm yourself as a means to escape the love. That's an unhealthy way to cope with this situation. I believe you'd see that if you'd give yourself time to move beyond this heightened emotional state you're currently experiencing. At the moment you're not seeing things clearly."

"Yes I am!" I shouted, slamming my fist on the coffee table for emphasis. "I've been a burden to Nate for most of his life. And what have I given him in return for his unflinching friendship and love? More worry, more pain, more suffering, more loneliness. He's sacrificed a lot for me. He shouldn't have to keep doing that.

"And what did I get in return? Feelings for my best friend that have grown to overwhelming proportions. I'll never get him out of my system so long as I'm around him. Fuck, that just makes it worse, being around him. As things are now I'll forever be the lonely fool with a heart overflowing with unrequited love who keeps his best friend tethered to a life he doesn't want."

"I want you to take time to think about this, Greg. Don't rush to judgment or act rashly. Right now you're agitated and emotional, having relived the birth of your blind spot as well as the recent revelation of Nate's suffering as well as months of therapy wherein we've dredged up a great many uncomfortable memories and experiences. Add to all that the dismantling of your blind spot which brought to light some very potent feelings for the man who's most important in your life, not to mention the presence of Kyle who has acted as both catalyst and nidus. To put it bluntly, your emotional plate is overflowing. You need time to relax and quiet the turmoil inside, then a clearer mind can prevail and you'll be better able to evaluate appropriate actions."

I nodded, an accepting grimace on my face.

But I already had a plan to fix what I saw as broken. And I was convinced it was the only option available that would help me get over Nate while giving my best friend the freedom he needed to find his happiness.

Uncle Farid doesn't need to know that, though. At least not yet.

* * * * *

November 2, 2016

I left work early. Going to the office had proved an error in thinking, for thinking was what I couldn't do. Well, about work anyway. My mind had laser focus on Nate, on Kyle, on Keigan. But mostly on Nate and my plan for helping him move forward with his life whilst helping me get over my love for him.

By lunchtime my boss mentioned that I seemed under the weather and might perhaps need to go home for some rest. I gave him my patented if-you-think-it's-best shrug, mumbled something about hoping to feel better the next day, packed my things and shuffled out to my car.

I didn't remember the drive home. Clearly I made it safely without killing anyone along the way. Or so I hoped.

As I pulled into the driveway watching the garage door rise, Teresa, Kyle's mom, walked out to their mailbox with MJ in tow.

She spotted me immediately and, mail in hand, headed my way. MJ, twirling about in that lighter-than-air way she did when she danced, burst into a run when she saw me. Beating her mother to me with seconds to spare, the darling girl threw herself into my arms and gave me a giant hug as she said, nay, cooed, "Greg! I'm so glad to see you!"

I hugged her affectionately before setting her dainty feet back on the ground. For a twelve year old, dancing kept her lean and lithe and far more graceful than any kid her age ought to be.

"Did I tell you we're going to Oklahoma for a dance competition?" She practically glowed with pride. "I placed second in state and now I get to go to regionals. Isn't that awesome?"

"Sure is, MJ. When are you going?"

"Two weeks. Can you go? Can you go see me dance?" She was a ball of twitching nervous energy. And gushing girl hormones, what with the batting eyelashes and coquettish looks and sly smiles.

"We'll have to see," I told her. "I've been really busy with work. I tell you what," I added as I dropped to one knee and placed a hand on her shoulder, "why don't I get your mom to send me the info and I'll check with my boss to see if we can work it into the schedule."

You make your own schedule, you bonehead.

True, but I'm all out of energy right now and I don't want to commit given... Well, other plans.

Even as her grin bloomed into a full, eye-popping smile, I tempered her enthusiasm by explaining, "I can't make any promises, you realize, but I'll try my best."

She threw her arms around me and squeezed tight enough to pop my head off my neck.

"Thank you!" she whispered into my ear. "I hope you can go!"

Teresa patted her on the shoulder and said, "Quit molesting the neighbors. You have homework to do."

When MJ released me and turned to go inside, the blush coloring her face was of biblical proportions. I bit my bottom lip to keep from smiling as she rolled her eyes at her mother and gave a typical teenager "parents are so embarrassing" look.

Teresa handed her the mail and added, "Take that with you, please."

Bouncing as she skipped across the intervening lawns, MJ did as she was told, pausing long enough on their sidewalk to turn back and give me a shy little wave. I waved back, of course, as did her mother.

Teresa turned to me and I immediately shook her hand. But before I could say anything she told me, "She has a crush on you."

My cheeks flamed beneath the punishment of a massive blush. I ducked my head and grinned. "Uh, well, I kind of figured it out."

"I guess you have that effect on both my kids."

Fuck, Greg, cut it out with the guppy impersonation!

With my eyes wide as saucers, my eyebrows climbing toward the back of my head and all the blood draining from my face, having my mouth opening and closing aimlessly didn't seem like the only problem requiring attention.

She giggled, sweet and tinkling like her daughter's giggle, and she patted my arm. "If I wasn't madly in love with my husband, I'd give my kids a run for their money."

Despite the slow rate at which I sucked in air, it made a hell of a lot of noise, more like a dying gasp than anything else.

Teresa's grin widened and her eyes twinkled. With a small shake of her head she told me, "Breathe, Greg. In and out, in and out."

"What... I... Just... Huh?"

Her laugh was melodious and tender. Resting her hand on my shoulder and squeezing gently, she leaned close and said, "It's okay, Greg." Then she stepped back, keeping her eyes on me as I tried to outwit a pending panic attack.

I don't have panic attacks.

There's always a first time.

With a not inconsiderable amount of mischief in her eyes Teresa casually tossed out, "It's okay if you don't want to go to Oklahoma. I know it's not exactly the entertainment capital of the world, but there's no need to freak about it."

Being mercurial must be in her genes.

"But... What?"

"We're talking about a dance recital in Oklahoma."

Scrambling to bypass the crush comments whilst catching up with this latest in a long line of conversational detours, I mumbled something like "No, it's fine." With a bit more strength I said in a surer voice, "If I can work it out I'd love to go. I enjoyed the last one. Plus I want MJ to know she has support. Even if we're not dating," I added with a wink and a grin.

Teresa smiled, her eyes capturing and magnifying the expression. She had the same blue eyes Kyle had. Gerald, her husband, had the beautiful emerald eyes MJ sported.

"You were a hit when you joined us last time," she declared through an impish grin. "I'd never actually seen a school of piranha-like teenage girls before."

"Don't laugh! It wasn't funny on the inside of that mob. I thought they'd tear my limbs off."

"Don't be so melodramatic, Greg," she said with devilry in her tone. "It was your clothes they wanted to tear off, not your limbs, silly."

After we laughed at the memory, for me only funny in hindsight, she asked in a friendly way, "So how have you been?"

I do so love her voice and accent, the gentile southern belle washed free of any hint of twang, leaving behind friendly warmth. I could sit and listen to her all day.

"Busy with work, as I said, but otherwise good. How about you?"

Did I imagine that bit about her kids and crushes?

Just go with the flow.

"Dance has been keeping us running a lot lately. That and Gerald's job has him traveling quite a bit. He's spending a good deal of time in Orlando working a huge project there. It's a long-term thing, so he'll be at it a while."

"Sounds hectic."

"Yes, but that keeps me out of trouble."

We both snickered.

"I hear you. I can't imagine the trouble I'd be in if work didn't keep piling it on me."

"How's Nate?"

Wait. Are we just going to pretend she didn't say that stuff earlier?

Be thankful. Move on, please.

"He's staying out of trouble. Surprising, I know. Right now he's looking at the possibility of opening a second gym."

"Really? Impressive."

"I know, right? It's preliminary at the moment, of course. He has a potential location but he has to look at costs for renovations, repairs, equipment, so on and so forth. If it looks promising, he'll get serious and he'll get busy."

"Is he still seeing that lovely young lady? What was her name? Rita, wasn't it?"

Can we skip this part of the conversation please? Pretty please?

I know, right? The crushes discussion would be less uncomfortable than this.

"Good memory. And yes, they're still dating." Which breaks my heart. "I don't know that it's serious yet but he deserves to find someone special so he can settle down." True but painful. "Only time will tell."

And all the while it's killing me.

Jealousy is unbecoming, Greg.

Heartache is not jealousy. Disappointment is not jealousy. I'm not jealous!

Somebody's cranky.

"They look good together, don't you think?" she asked.

"They make a very handsome couple."

I'd rather not think about it, thank you very much. I'm not sure she's good enough for him.

But that's the problem, isn't it? You're selfish. You can't have him and you don't want anyone else to have him.

I want him to be happy. I want him to find the right girl.

You need to let go.

Go. That's the word right there. Yeah... Go.

Teresa kept her gaze locked on mine. I noticed her expression slowly changed from amiable interest to something maternal, a look I'd seen on my own mother's face from time to time. Then she glanced over her shoulder toward their house before turning that more serious expression on me in full force.

"A mother learns her child's moods. She learns his tones of voice, his expressions, his body language. She also recognizes things, like looks and sighs and words left unspoken."

Oh shit...

It felt like the Mojave blew through my mouth, so dry did it become, my tongue having difficulty not sticking to everything it touched, my lips nearly tearing skin from each other as they parted.

"MJ has a crush on you but knows it can't go anywhere. You're just the hot neighbor guy she can brag about to her friends, especially if she can hug you and talk to you while they stare in jealous awe. But Kyle..."

I felt like I needed to say something. What, I didn't know, so my mouth hung open uselessly, making me look like a guppy on dry land. Again. So I snapped it shut until I could find a better use for it.

"The thing about Kyle is he's always been a private boy, emotive when appropriate, but pretty much private. So I didn't catch on at first. Once I recognized it, though, it was so obvious. I realized it'd been there for a few months."

Even as my mind whirred and buzzed and clicked in a cacophony of useless activity—if you can't show results, show effort—my stomach roiled and churned, my breathing suddenly felt labored, and sweat began painting my palms.

Oh, I see. Take the water from my mouth and send it to my hands. That's helpful!

"I told him without revealing what I suspected that sometimes we have feelings for people even though it can't work. Too many differences, different sexuality, impermanence, age issues, the list goes on, you know what I mean."

More and more I was feeling in control again, able to manage my body. My eyebrows migrated south. My eyes narrowed to a normal size. My mouth stayed shut. But I didn't dare speak. I didn't feel comfortable trying. As usual with Teresa, she had me off balance. Way off balance.

"Since Kyle started spending time with you—I mean you specifically, Greg—his grades have improved, his attendance has improved, his attitude has improved, he's getting into a lot less trouble—"

"I'm sure the inappropriate activity tapered off a great deal simply because he spends so much time hanging around our place," I interrupted with a nod toward the house. "You know where he is and we don't provide that many opportunities for nefarious shenanigans"

Her smile deepened and her eyes crinkled at the corners. "Good point," she admitted, "and for the same reason he's not spending anywhere near as much time with that lot of friends that did nothing but drag him down.

"More importantly," she continued, finding her stride, "he seems to have discovered himself. No, I can see it in your face. You know something. I don't want you to tell me. Hopefully he'll come to me in time. I'm just glad he has someone to confide in, someone to talk to, someone who can help him find himself and his way in life.

"But in the last few days I noticed something. A mother knows the look of heartbreak, Greg. It's the look she fears seeing on her child's face, so she knows it when she sees it. And when it appears abruptly on a face that's been full of delight and happiness and—well, let's say deeper feelings—it makes a mother pause and seriously consider what she can do to fix the problem.

"I'll tell you honestly," Teresa continued with a slight tease in her voice, "my first reaction is to hunt down and kill whoever hurt my boy."

"But..."

"But I'm no fool—" No, you certainly are not a fool. "—and I understand the circumstances are probably a lot more complex than I assume. At least until I think about it, and then I realize the circumstances are... not unique, no, but uncommon and delicate. Am I reading the situation correctly?"

"Yeah." I nodded.

"The way I see it, I have a heartbroken son who misses his friend for whom he feels deeply. Sure, you still go to the gym together, but that's it and he's back home and in his room and not talking. I think you know my son needs more. You should know I understand my son is probably asking—maybe not directly, but asking nonetheless—for more than you can give, and you're right to feel that way, but he still needs more than he's getting right now. By his own choice, I know, but it's all the same.

"When you pick up Kyle at school this afternoon, I don't want you to take him to the gym. Instead I'd prefer you bring him back here and take him into your house and sit down with him and have a heart to heart. You're the only one who can fix what's broken. I know you want to and I know Kyle hasn't given you the chance. So I'm asking you to make the chance and don't let him squirm away until you've said your piece and made him see the light."

"Wow..." I mumbled. Really it was less a mumble and more an exhale flavored with a few letters.

Everything in my head had jumbled together. Though I heard and understood her words and felt a great deal of gratitude for how she felt and how she handled it, a laundry list of thoughts and emotions careened about inside my mind—terror, confusion, fear, panic, concern, appreciation, hope.

She gently squeezed my arm and gave me a congenial smile before she said, "I'm a mother, Greg. I pay attention to my kids. Kyle's been happier since he met you than he's been in a long time. I think some of that was loneliness, not because he didn't have friends but because he didn't have any he could relate to as well as he relates to you. I also think some of that was longing. Maybe some of it was something else altogether, something he didn't even know was there. What I'm saying is the relationship he has with you has done so much to help him mature and rediscover his better self, and he needs that relationship put back together as much as possible."

I gave her an understanding smile. "Kyle's a good friend. Maybe I was like him when I moved here, looking for something but not knowing what. It seems we've each brought the other some healing and some good influence. So thank you for sharing that."

"I see how Kyle's responded to his relationship with you. And I've been remiss in not thanking you before now for being there for him and helping him in whatever way you have. As long as my son is happy and healthy and safe and taking care of himself, I'm grateful. So... Thank you, Greg, for everything you've done for Kyle, even if you didn't know you were doing it.

"Oh, and ask him about his birthday."

I gave my head a brief shake to demonstrate my lack of understanding. "I'm sorry? I don't think I follow. What about his birthday?"

A heartwarming smile spread across her face. "You know it's coming up, right?"

"November eleventh."

"Right!" she gushed happily. "MJ's regional dance recital is the same day. Oh, don't frown. I'll explain to her that you can't make it because of existing obligations. Assuming you'll help me, that is.

"Gerald and I won't be around for Kyle's birthday since we're taking MJ to Oklahoma City. Kyle has some standardized test he has to take at school and shouldn't miss, meaning he can't go. That means he'll be by himself on his birthday. If you're not busy and feel up to it, I was wondering if you'd take him to dinner, to a movie, whatever. Just do something with him if you can. Anything would be better than him spending it alone."

"Oh. Well... Sure, I don't think that would be a problem."

Again she smiled as she said, "Thank you. Again. I'll let MJ down as easy as I can and neither of us has to lie when we say you have things going on that day and can't make it. She'll be disappointed but she'll get over it."

"The elasticity of teenage emotions..." I muttered with a bit of longing.

Oh to be that young again, able to bounce back so quickly. It's something we lose with age.

Glancing at her watch, she shifted mental gears before adding, "I have to go. Gerald will need some lunch soon before he heads to some big work meeting."

She gave my arm another gentle squeeze before bidding me goodbye. I stared after her absolutely dumbfounded by the totality of the conversation. But with Teresa that was normal.

Before she'd taken more than a few steps, she paused and looked over her shoulder. "One more thing, Greg. While I hope your talk with Kyle this afternoon can smooth out whatever speed bump you hit, and I have faith in you in that regard, I also hope you can overcome whatever it is that's on your mind right now. I might not know you well enough to be able to see what it is, but I'm not blind and I can certainly see something's bothering you."

With a final, sympathetic smile, she left me standing there utterly confounded. And surprisingly hopeful.

* * * * *

"Why aren't we at the gym?" Kyle asked in a dejected tone. He'd looked dispirited since our conversation about his flirting. Today was no different.

Shutting off the car and opening my door I told him, "I need to do something here first." I need to try to fix what I broke. "It might take a few minutes." Longer, I'm sure, but let's not split hairs. "You might as well come inside rather than sit here in the garage." Don't make me drag your ass into the house.

"I'll just go home," he pouted.

Well, it appears there's a fifteen-year-old kid in there after all. I guess it took an emotional blow to bring it out of him.

"Don't be silly," I said in a bantering tone. "Just come inside while I take care of this."

Basketball Boy huffed, making an energetic exhale sound like frustration personified, but then he got out of the car and headed into the house. Of course he left me scrambling to catch up, but beggars can't be choosers.

Pushing the kitchen door shut I noticed he was leaning against the bar, eyes vacant, face slack and disinterested. He had his arms crossed, a defensive posture, and he acted like he didn't see me, as though he were looking right through me.

In four quick strides I was in front of him. Before he could react I pulled him to me and wrapped my arms around him, hugging him with all the affection I had in me, holding him as he struggled and pushed, holding him as he tried to slip out of my grip.

"I'm not trying to hurt you," I murmured into his ear as he flailed and fought, "and I wasn't trying to break your heart. I didn't mean to hurt you, Kyle. I never want to hurt you. I love you, you know, just not in the way you want me to, and I brought you here so I could help you understand that what you're feeling is real and legitimate and powerful, but what you hope for can't be. Please give me a chance, Kyle. Please let me explain. I love you and I want you to understand. Please..."

I continued holding him as he finally stopped battling the embrace, as he breathed heavily and breathed heavily and finally sighed as though the world had ended. Then his hands slowly made their way around me, his arms encircling me, his face falling against my chest. And that's when he began to cry.

"I'm sorry," he mumbled against me, his body shuddering from quiet sobs. "I'm so sorry. I'm such an asshole. I don't know why I've been such a dick. I'm sorry. I don't want you out of my life. I just don't know what to do... I just feel... It's too much..."

At that point his emotions won and he began to cry in earnest, his body wracked by sobs and his tears soaking my shirt and his breathing ragged and chaotic.

I held him. Stroked his hair. Rubbed his back. Kept him tight against me as his teenage angst and heartache boiled over.

I broke his heart before I realized what I was doing. Now it's time to fix that as best I can. It's time to tell him.

And what if it doesn't make a difference? What if he's still demoralized by all this and resents you for not returning his affection? Telling him is the biggest gun in your arsenal.

If it doesn't fix it... Well, I guess I'll cross that bridge if I come to it.

Perhaps a few minutes or perhaps a few days passed. It was hard to tell. No matter how long it took, Kyle's outburst slowly faded, his weeping subsided. I rocked him gently until I was sure he'd regained his composure. Finally I grasped his face and pushed him back far enough so we could look each other in the eye.

"Will you stay long enough to hear me out?"

He sniffled, nodded, uttered a weak "Yeah."

I kissed his forehead. "Let's go sit down."

Without waiting for a response, I took his hand and pulled him in my wake toward the couch. Once there I turned him around and settled him on the sofa.

His puffy red eyes stayed locked on my face. At least until I wrapped my arms around my torso, grabbed the hems of my sweatshirt and tee, and lifted both over my head in one fluid motion, tossing them on the coffee table behind me without taking my eyes off Basketball Boy.

He's not sure where to look. Poor kid, I know what a crush like this feels like. And he looks damn near panicked, like he's not sure what this means.

Leaning down and taking his right hand, I turned his palm toward me before placing it on the phoenix tattoo. Gently so I didn't scare him yet firmly so he didn't get the idea that he was free to let his hand roam about, I moved his fingers a little until they came to rest on the scar the tattoo hid. Slowly I guided his fingers in small lazy circles so he could feel the scar and the smooth skin around it, then back to the scar.

The sudden blush in his cheeks told me he was struggling with the intimacy of this action. His hand rested on bare skin just in front of my left hip, his fingers perhaps two inches below my navel and midway between it and my hip. His palm had flatted against my lower abs and Apollo's belt. Despite the obvious erotic reaction this elicited, Kyle's eyes strayed only from my face to his hand and back again, and he never tried to move his hand from where I held it.

I slowly settled beside him, still keeping his hand in place, his fingers on the scar. Once I was comfortable, I moved his fingers back and forth over the scar to reiterate what I wanted him to feel. Then I let go of his hand and waited, watching him closely.

Basketball Boy's eyes dropped to his hand as his fingers made tiny movements over the tattoo and scar. Then his eyes met mine as he pulled his hand away.

"It's a scar," I said. "To be more precise, it's a colostomy scar. From a sigmoid colostomy."

"What's a colostomy?"

"It's where they have to cut a hole into your large intestine and attach a bag to collect waste."

A slightly confused look accompanied a muttered "Waste...?"

"Shit, Kyle. Literally shit. The colostomy redirects it from your rectum—from your ass—to the colostomy bag. It means you're shitting through this hole in your abdomen into an attached bag."

"What... Why?"

"I don't know all the reasons people get them; I only know why I had one. But to understand that, I need to tell you a story."

"Okay."

"Before now I wouldn't have told you what I'm going to tell you. For that matter, before now I couldn't have told you. I couldn't have told anyone, couldn't have talked about it with anyone."

His face showed concern but he said nothing.

"This story's about a man, a doctor, who was a little older than I am now. Back then I was your age. This man was attracted to me. To be honest, I was attracted to him as well, only it wasn't anything more than just thinking he was good looking and maybe could be something more if circumstances were different."

"Different than what?"

"I was in love with someone else. Only this man didn't care. He was a child predator. We didn't know it at the time..." I shook my head slightly with thoughts of what if, the two most painful words in the English language. Then I continued, "Apparently he'd been sexually assaulting boys for many years. He was methodical and smart, so he got away with it for a while. And he wasn't greedy. Over many years he assaulted eighteen boys. That might sound like a lot but it's really not for a dedicated predator.

"I was clever and smart and observant. I thought I could use him to distract me from what I really wanted. More importantly, I thought I could use him to make someone else jealous, use him to get the boy I loved so much to finally notice me and realize he had to act if he had any hope of having me.

"I thought I was clever enough to stay one step ahead of the doctor, to keep him at arm's length. I just didn't know who I was dealing with... what I was dealing with. The doctor spent years trying to get me to offer him what he wanted, or at least to a place where he could take it without me making it too difficult."

"What did he want?" As soon as the question popped out of his mouth, Kyle's eyes widened and his mouth dropped open, only to snap closed before he said in disgust, "Oh... Fuck."

"Right. That's pretty much what he wanted."

"No... No! I didn't—"

"I know you didn't mean it that way. But it's still true. He spent years grooming me to be his next toy. Obviously he had some secret formula that he used to determine when a boy was ready. His victims ranged in age from twelve to sixteen."

I could feel tears welling in my eyes and I could tell Kyle could see them. He became apprehensive, pained through empathy.

After a shaky inhale: "Anyway, he spent years trying to make me malleable, trying to bend me to his will so I'd happily offer him whatever he wanted. From the time I was ten until my fifteenth birthday he worked on me, flirted with me, exposed his body to me and eventually started exposing everything else to me, including his masturbation and porn habits.

"On my fifteenth birthday he decided I was ready. I'd claimed sick so I could skip school—"

"Did Nate skip with you?"

"No." Wistfully I added, "I wanted him to spend the day with me. Nothing would've made me happier. It would've been the best birthday gift I could've had." Realizing what I was close to admitting I explained in a more thoughtful tone, "But if we both claimed sick on the same day, Mom and Nate's 'father'—" His head cocked briefly, only slightly, but I figured he must have heard the quotes around that word. "—would've known we were up to something. Unless we wanted to get into major trouble, there was no way we could skip on the same day. Eventually we did—often I might add, repercussions be damned—but not that day."

Mindful but uncaring of the hoarseness overtaking my voice and the wetness on my cheeks and the increasingly ragged breathing shuddering my chest, I pressed on. "Apparently the doctor learned I was playing hooky under the auspices of illness. He scheduled a hospital day, closed his office, and came looking for me."

I cried, though I didn't wail or sob. And I had no interest in touching the phoenix tattoo and the scar it hid. For me it was lamentation and anger, clean of guilt and potent enough to push my mind down paths I'd abandoned long ago.

I'm pushing through this, damn it. For the first time in a long time I'm pushing through this, except this time I'm in control, not him.

Kyle looked concerned, perhaps even wondering if he should offer a hug, a touch, support of some kind.

"Please don't," I said in response to his silent question. "Just let me do this."

He nodded, still worried, still nervous, but also understanding.

After a deep inhale I continued, "He arrived right after Mom left, caught me alone at home and tried to seduce me. It didn't go well for either of us. When he first tried to put the moves on me, he was sweet and attentive. I declined. I said I wanted my first time to be special. He said it would be, he'd make sure."

Realizing my hands were shaking, I clutched them together in my lap, though they fidgeted and writhed of their own accord. Kyle noticed but said and did nothing.

"I declined again. He tried to convince me he'd shower me with physical pleasures I never knew existed. He told me as a doctor he could pleasure a body to the point of madness. He 'shyly' bragged that he was an accomplished lover who treated intimacy as an 'opportunity to bring his partner to hitherto unimagined heights of ecstasy.' His words, not mine.

"I was getting pissed and frustrated that he wouldn't give up, wouldn't leave me alone, so I admitted I was too in love with N—with someone else and I couldn't betray that love with a bit of empty sex. I told him I'd tried to get over that love but it just hadn't worked, not yet anyway, and I couldn't give him what he wanted, just couldn't."

Even though my breathing was ragged and hitching, I told him, "He was so angry... so angry about who I was in love with that he became violent, enraged. He told me he'd warned me that my love for this person would hurt me, would leave me broken and damaged and forever scarred, would break my heart and my body." A sniffle, a stifled sob. "He screamed and yelled, told me he'd warned me I'd come to regret that love, told me I was a foolish little boy with foolish little emotions that meant nothing in the real world, told me I was just a child playing childish games and that he'd show me what being a man really meant. It's about control, he said, about taking what we want."

My shoulders shook with a chill from the cold I felt in these memories, cold from the frigid monster that dwelled in them.

"This man... this man, though, he had a temper." More to myself I mumbled, "Wish I'd known about it before he showed up." Then louder: "When he didn't get his way he... he had a really bad temper. I think he was used to winning, used to getting what he wanted, used to never being denied. The more he pushed and the more I said no, the madder he became."

I wiped my cheeks, my eyes, swift, angry movements, furious that someone could do such a thing, could leave in their wake so much damage, so much hurt. It could be overcome, I knew that, but why should I have to spend years trying to surmount such a treacherous tragedy? What did I ever do to deserve the seemingly unending turmoil and suffering?

"With unrepentant fury he skipped the seduction and... and went right to... to raping me. But I wasn't a little kid, so first... first he had to subdue me. He did that with his fists and feet—there was a good dose of choking thrown in as well. By that age I was almost as tall as he was but I was twenty pounds lighter than him." I stifled a sob, sniffed, then added, "I was just a kid... just a kid who didn't know a lot about fighting and he was... a doctor who knew everything about the human body... including how to conquer it."

I will not break beneath this thing. I will not break beneath this thing. I will not break...

Sniffling, shaking my head in defiance, angrily wiping tears from my face, I told Basketball Boy, "I didn't see the first punch coming. He hit... punched me in... in the celiac plexus."

"The what?"

Placing a shaking fist against my own torso to show him where it was I replied, "The celiac plexus. People call it... call it the solar plexus. It's a nerve bundle right here. If you hit it... if someone hits it hard enough... you can't breathe... and the pain... the pain is unbelievable. He hit me there first... hit me hard... and I buckled. While I was... on the ground... he kicked and punched. But not randomly. He knew... he knew exactly where to hit me.

"By the time he was done... he'd broken two of my ribs, put a... a hairline fracture in my left eye socket, crushed my... my windpipe—it took a month before... I could talk normally. He... he beat me so badly that both eyes... both eyes were swollen shut, a few teeth were loose, my face... was bruised and battered and cut and swollen into... a grotesque caricature of myself. My lips were split and bleeding and grossly enlarged. My body had a... a scattered collection of bruises and abrasions and lacerations. Both kidneys were bruised—I pissed... pissed blood for a while. I had a major concussion. And I lost a lot of blood... an unhealthy amount of blood... because he'd... he'd..."

It was obvious Kyle felt conflicted. He could see my struggle, could see my pain, but he could also see and feel the rage I'd rekindled, the rage that gave me strength and helped me direct all the negative emotions and memories toward the correct target.

Despite the tremble in my shoulders and the hitch in my voice and the tears that flowed and flowed and flowed, I refused to stop.

"He took it from me, Kyle." I shook my head and exhaled loudly. "Your first time... it's supposed to be special... magical... discovery shared with someone who's... who's just as eager to make the dream real. It's carnal exploration with someone you trust. It's supposed... supposed to be beautiful, making a special memory that you'll always look back on... with fondness. That's not what happened."

I sat back against the armrest and breathed deeply. After several breaths I said, "He'd taken... He'd taken what he was after. In fact he... he took it... three times."

Basketball Boy reached out and claimed my hand. It was so automatic and so necessary that I gripped him like a lifeline, my tear-clouded vision settling on that small gesture and finding strength in it.

After a deep steadying breath I looked at him and explained, "The first time I was unconscious from the choking. That was a blessing for all the damage he did. The second time I was in and out, mostly out, because he kept beating me, choking me. And the pain... the pain was overwhelming. Not just... not just from the beating... Then the third time... the third time I was awake. He wanted me to be awake that time. He wanted to see me struggle and suffer. He waited for me to be awake, then he started to pummel me while he was... was... was busy."

Despite the sorrow and loss, despite the tears and gentle sobs, I knew I was practically snarling, baring my teeth, growling the words out of my throat. But I couldn't stop. I wouldn't.

"Given my size by then... despite the damage he'd already done to me... I took him by surprise. I used my legs to... to flip him over me... over me and off the bed. I guess he hit the nightstand... maybe with his head... because he was stunned. Just for a moment or two... but it was time enough.

"After that... after that I struggled toward the door. Everything hurt. I couldn't see. I had no balance. Every breath felt like getting shot. But he was up... too fast... he was right there... right there trying to stop me.

"Unfortunately for him I had one... one trick up my sleeve. Or at least one trick on the dresser. It was a large flat-screen television—I don't remember the size. As he scrambled off the floor... he tried to intercept me... I grabbed the television with both hands... I swung it full circle around me. I couldn't see him but I could hear him. All I could do... all I could do was hope he was... was close enough for me to hit him." After an angry huff I said, "Oh yeah, he was close enough. He stepped right into the swing."

"Jesus..." Kyle whispered as he wiped a stray tear from his cheek.

"Yeah... So... Batter up as they say. I knocked his motherfucking ass out. Knocked him out cold," I said defiantly. "The impact sent him flying over the bed and into the far wall where he fell in a heap. Apparently I'd hit him so hard... he didn't wake up until he was in cuffs... shackled to a gurney... on his way to the hospital.

"And you want to know what pissed me off the most? I'd ruined a perfectly good television while I was at it." I gave a little chuckle, more perfunctory than real.

Kyle shook his head, not in disagreement but in comprehension. Gallows humor can offend but it can also ease pain when wielded by the wounded.

"Then I crumpled. My legs gave out, my head gave out, my body gave out. I fell right there in my bedroom doorway. I must've passed out for an hour or so. When I woke I couldn't stand, I was almost too weak to move—I was still bleeding, though I didn't know it. So I crawled. More like slithered on my belly, pulling myself along with my hands and pushing with my feet. It felt like it took forever to get down the hall to the living room where I'd left my cellphone. Once I got there, I dialed the only person I could think of, the only person I knew would save me. Maybe the only person I wanted to see before I died... if it came to that. And I felt like it might be coming to that.

"Which brings us to the colostomy. You see, he'd done so much damage—maybe he didn't use lube and he definitely didn't prepare me at all, probably to teach me a lesson, and he was rather gifted in the genital department—he'd done so much damage I needed emergency surgery to stop the bleeding and to stitch up a number of large rips and tears both inside and out. In order for that to heal I had to have a colostomy. For two months. Because they had to do multiple surgeries to repair the damage he'd done. Then after two months the colostomy was reversed and removed, leaving this rather unpleasant scar."

I looked down at the phoenix tattoo. Releasing Kyle's hand I absently touched the scar, just for a moment, just as a reminder.

Back to Kyle I said, "I was horrified by the scar and wanted some way to cover it. Mom and Dad suggested a tattoo. We spent months considering options until I finally settled on the phoenix. We found a really good artist who took my story and created this one-of-a-kind artwork. He also suggested we add the Italian script that flows away from the tattoo along the iliac furrow—well, what's called the Apollo's belt."

"What does the script say?" Kyle was hushed, respectful, even dazed to some extent. Tears stood in his concerned eyes.

"It's from Dante's Inferno. I don't speak Italian but I memorized it anyway. But what you want is the translation." Following the writing with my hand I spoke the English words as Kyle's eyes traced the Italian: "'Even thus by the great sages 'tis confessed / The phoenix dies, and then is born again, / When it approaches its five-hundredth year; / On herb or grain it feeds not in its life, / But only on tears of incense and amomum, / And nard and myrrh are its last winding-sheet.'"

"You thought your experience was like the phoenix?"

"Metaphorically, yes. The experience was horrific, traumatizing, and it changed my life in ways I never imagined. It wounded my mind and my heart and my body. But I knew eventually I'd be reborn in a sense, I'd heal and I'd move on from all of it."

"And you were fifteen..." He shook his head, flabbergasted by the terror but also by the realization. "So when you met me..."

"It all came crashing down. No, don't take that wrong. It came crashing down in a necessary way. Since I'd already admitted to myself that you're attractive, when I learned your age this whole deluge of memories and fears came tumbling out of the rubble in my head. Soon enough I was seeing you as me and me as the man who did this to me. So it basically drove me nuts and broke my heart and sent me begging for help from people who could offer it."

"You're seeing someone then, right?"

"Yes. My uncle is a renowned psychiatrist and therapist. He tried to help me back when it happened but I wanted nothing to do with it. I wanted to forget it happened, pretend like the world was perfect. Which just fucked me up even more."

"You were scared of me?"

"Still am to a small extent. Not because I fear you physically or even emotionally, but because our situation reminds me of what happened back then and makes me fear I'm the bad guy and you're going to be hurt. I'd never let that happen and I'm working through it, but there you have it."

He leaned back, looking shell shocked yet contemplative, a strange mix on any face.

"I wasn't trying to hurt you when we talked the other day, Kyle." I turned a bit so I could wrap an arm around him and pull him against me. "You just have to understand that even if I didn't have the moral compunction to say we can't be more than friends because of your age, what happened to me practically demands that I say it. Any other response would probably tear me apart mentally and emotionally. I'd never survive it as me."

"I'm sorry," he whispered as he settled his head against my shoulder.

"You've no reason to apologize."

"I just wish I could make it better."

"I know you do. And I appreciate it." Turning more toward him I said, "And I know you have strong feelings for me. Maybe it's just a strong crush, maybe it's something more, but I know it's pretty overpowering." He opened his mouth to say something, his face alight with chagrined defiance, but I continued, "What you're feeling is real and it's powerful. Because it's your first, you don't have any experience with how to handle it or manage your responses to it. And then I come along and hurt you—unintentionally, sure, but still—I hurt you when I thought I was helping, but that's because I didn't know what you were feeling."

"How did you figure it out?" he said almost inaudibly.

"It was obvious by the way you reacted. But it was also obvious by how you've been acting. I was just a little late seeing it."

A soft sigh escaped his lips before he asked, "What happens now?"

"Aren't we friends?"

"Yes," he answered as though nothing could be more obvious.

"I'd like us to continue being friends. I know that might not be easy for you given what you feel. I'd understand if you needed to walk away. But I'd rather you didn't. I'd rather you stay in my life."

Bit of a double standard there, don't you think?

This is different.

How so?

It just is.

"I don't want us to stop being friends," he told me.

"Good. Then we're agreed. Our friendship keeps growing. And life goes on. I know that doesn't help you with what you're feeling, but I think in time it'll fade. You'll meet someone who grabs your attention and your emotions and I'll be just a fond memory."

You're such a hypocrite!

"You'll never be just a memory."

"Considering I'm fifteen years your senior, I suspect I'll be a memory for you at some point, even if we're both old and decrepit by then."

With another burgeoning blush and a duck of his head he stammered, "I... Well... Yeah, you know..."

I bit my cheek to keep from laughing. Being tongue-tied wasn't something Basketball Boy experienced too often. It was entertaining to see.

"What I mean is I hope I'm still around when you're decrepit. I hope..." Then he shook his head slightly and added in a more lighthearted tone, "I mean I hope I'm still around when you're more decrepit than you already are, old man." And he smiled, that beautiful, sincere, heartwarming smile, crooked teeth and all.

I punched his arm lightly with my free hand and replied, "Better watch it, kiddo. This old man can kick your ass all over the neighborhood. Won't that be an embarrassing story to tell your friends..."

We both laughed. It was wonderful. The pain and confusion from the past few days rolled away and left behind the relationship I was only just beginning to realize meant so much to me.

Once we'd settled into a comfortable silence I told him, "Your mom told me they'll be gone to MJ's dance recital on your birthday."

"Yeah..." He shrugged. He tried for dismissive but I could see it bothered him.

"How about if you hang out with me? Maybe I'll take you to dinner, maybe we can have a little herbal refreshment, maybe I'll let you have a birthday beer or two... It'll be just the two of us, you know, and we can have fun, keep your mind off having your family away on your birthday."

And maybe keep my mind off the next big thing I have to fix, the harder thing to fix, the one that'll hurt to fix.

It's the fix that'll be painful.

Like setting a bone. Necessary, acute, hopefully brief.

His face had brightened throughout my offer, his smile growing, his eyes twinkling. "I'd like that," he responded with a nod. "Yeah, that sounds nice."

"Be sure to tell your mom you have a babysitter for the evening. And I charge a hundred an hour for high-maintenance delinquents."

He bumped me with his shoulder as he muttered, "Asshole."

Thanks for all the comments and feedback! I'm glad so many have a vested interest in this tale and its characters.

Copyright © 2018 Jason MH; All Rights Reserved.
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Chapter Comments

Marty

Posted (edited)

Sometimes I wonder if every bit of advice that Uncle Farid gives is the best advice. But I was happy that Kyle's mum is so understanding.

 

Great that Greg opened up to Kyle. I think that actually verbalising the reason for the phoenix tattoo may have been an important step in his recovery.

 

 I'm just hoping that Greg's plan to fix what he knows to be broken is a properly thought out one...

----------------------------------------------------------------

Another great chapter, Jason! :thumbup:

 

Edited by Marty
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That was a chilling chapter.  Now, hopefully, the healing can continue for Greg.  He can continue his relationship with Kyle, although it won't be everything that both of them want.  I'm making an assumption, but I believe that Greg would like a real relationship with Kyle.  It just is not possible with the age difference at this time.  Nick probably knows what happened to Greg with The Fiend.  Greg can tell him the rest of the story.

I make a second to another great chapter.  I am looking forward to more.

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A very compelling and well written chapter. One of the best chapters I've seen on GA. I look forward to the next chapter.

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I enjoyed the conversation between Greg and Teresa; I really like the conversation between Kyle and Greg! You did a tremendous job writing both conversations! You also did a great job describing Greg's rape without going into too much detail. What you wrote was horrific enough, but I thought you had a good balance betweens what you told and what you left out. It is good to see Greg begin to heal. Thanks. 

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Gosh, but it's dusty in here (wiping eyes).  Great chapter, Jason. This story keeps surprising me and making me want more, and the characters continue to deepen and broaden. You have a real gift.

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