Saturday, June 4, 2011

Excerpt - Little Boy Lost: Vanished

Copyright 2011 (c) - J. P. Barnaby

This excerpt is from the third Little Boy Lost book - Vanished. Because the book is still in the preparation process, this passage is unedited.        

Tony and Emilio turned away from the bar, and they were each carrying a tray. It wasn’t until they got closer that I could see tiny little glasses of clear liquid. Each tray also had a bowl of lime wedges and a saltshaker. I looked at Mike curiously.
“Of course they’d pick tequila,” he sighed. “I’m more of a vodka guy myself. But just watch what we do, kid. It ain’t rocket science.” His face broke into a wicked grin, and he shifted me closer to his lap. “Hey, Kenny, think we should teach the boy how to do body shots?”
The rest of the guys laughed at Mike’s question, but I didn’t understand what he meant. I couldn’t imagine he was talking about hitting me, but I wrapped my arms protectively around myself anyway. Kenny looked at Enrique sitting next to him, who just rolled his eyes and nodded. His expression was kind, which made me think they were talking about something more flirtatious than violent. Still, I looked around nervously at the seven other guys now grinning at me.
“At the bar, or…?” Tony asked, but Mike shook his head.
“No, no one plays with our boy but us,” Mike told him in a low voice.
“Agreed,” Kenny said and nodded toward a low table that sat in front of one of the couches farther down the wall. “Why don’t you guys go grab that table, it should work fine.”
“Baby, it’s okay. All it means is that we’re going to lick salt off you after a shot. We just want to help you loosen up a little. You’re so fucking serious all the time,” Mike whispered as each guy picked up a glass and a lime.
Within minutes, I found myself feeling stupid and more than a little nervous as I lay flat on my back on the low wooden table.
Apparently to Mike, having a group of strange guys licking you wasn’t an issue. The more I thought about it, though, I realized they weren’t strange guys. They were my friends.
That thought made me smile, and I relaxed.
“That’s it, kid,” Tony said with a laugh. “Hey, Mike, why don’t you go first and show him how it’s done?” Mike nodded and knelt next to the low table. He squirted a little of the lime juice on my neck and sprinkled salt onto it. As I watched, he drank the entire contents of the small glass and then very slowly ran his tongue along my neck, licking up the salt. He finished by stuffing the lime into his mouth. There was a warm tingling sensation on my neck where he’d licked.
“Your turn,” he told me and handed me one of the small glasses and a lime as I sat up. I mimicked his actions, applied the lime juice and salt to his neck and then downed the glass. The hacking cough that seemed to start at my feet took every bit of the sexiness out of my licking his neck, but the lime helped to calm it down.
“It’s burning my throat,” I told Mike as he handed me the water Tony had also brought from the bar.
“It’s okay; it just takes some getting used to. You don’t have to drink it at all to hang out with us and have a good time. You can be our designated driver,” Mike said, laughing.
“I don’t have a license,” I told him, taking another drink of the water. The burning in my throat had subsided, and a warm, pleasant feeling had settled over me.
“How can you not have a driver’s license?” Mike asked, sounding completely shocked. “Didn’t they teach you to drive tractors and shit down on the farm?” I smacked him on the arm.
“I just never got around to it,” I replied as someone laid me back down on the table. The truth was that I never wanted to bother Richard and Carolyn with it. Teaching me, taking me for the test, paying for my insurance, it just felt like to much to ask for a foster kid. I always figured I’d get it after I could do it on my own. A hand on my chest pulled me back into the game we were playing.  Tony was next to take a shot off me, but he decided to do his off my stomach. It took all of my will power not to moan as he licked my stomach. They sat me up again, and I did the same to Tony, licking the salt off his perfectly sculpted stomach while looking up into his eyes.
Emilio and Carter were next, and they decided to do their shots at the same time, lifting up my shirt and licking salt off my nipples. I felt a little uncomfortable exposing my chest in a bar, but since I took off my shirt almost every day at work, I didn’t worry too much about it. I took a shot off Emilio’s chest, but Kenny pushed me down onto the table before I could take the one off Carter. By then I was on my third shot of tequila, feeling warm all over and a little adventurous.
Pulling down the right side of my loose jeans, Kenny placed the salt along my exposed right hipbone. I heard Mike hiss from somewhere to my left, and then he watched as Kenny took the shot. The feeling of his tongue on my hip, licking the salt slowly and making sure to find every single grain, made me squirm on the table. Kenny laughed as he stood up until I grabbed the belt loop of his jeans, pulling down the right side. He watched in amazement as I applied the lime and salt and then took the shot. His skin was warm and soft as I licked all over his hip, not even bothering with the pretense of the salt. As I ran the point of my tongue across his hipbone, I looked up into his eyes. Resting my forehead against his stomach, I pulled the side of his jeans back into place, accidentally grazing his crotch with my cheek.
The room was starting to spin a little.
“Holy fucking Christ,” Kenny whispered, but before I could apologize, he’d grabbed Enrique’s hand and dragged him off. I looked nervously at Mike and saw that he was staring at me.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to…,” I started to apologize, but then Mike’s face broke out into a smile. “I didn’t mean to make them leave.” I finished a little sheepishly, and he laughed.
“Baby, he just dragged his boy to the john so he could fuck him. Believe me; they’ll both thank you for it later.” I looked in the direction that Kenny and Enrique had disappeared. Sure enough, there was a sign for the men’s room. It made me feel powerful and sexy that I could have that kind of effect on another man, especially one as beautiful as Kenny.
“I want one more shot,” Mike said as the rest of the guys started to disappear toward the dance floor. I started to lie back on the table, but Mike pulled me up and toward him so that I was straddling his lap on the couch. He grinned and put the salt on the opposite side of my neck from where he had before. Only he put the lime between my teeth, with the cut side toward him. Taking the shot, he took his time licking and kissing my neck and then my cheek. Using his mouth, he pulled the lime out of mine and sucked the juice out of it, but before I could move away, he was kissing me.
The kiss started slow and teasing but got deeper as he wrapped his arms around my waist. In the back of my mind, I could hear a kind of voice warning me that I should stop, but the alcohol and the heady arousal muffled the sound. The kiss ended before I could figure out what bothered me about it. I liked the feeling of Mike’s arms around me, the comfort of his kiss. We were just friends; there wasn’t anything wrong with showing affection. The guys in the house were affectionate all the time.
As I leaned forward in an attempt to get off his lap, my jeans slid down just a little in the back under his fingers, and I heard him groan softly.
“Fuck, tell me you’re not freeballin’,” he murmured against my ear over the sound of the music, letting his fingers slide under the waistband on the back of my jeans. At first, I was startled to have him touch me like that. Then I remembered how much Mike loved to fuck around with me, and with my newfound liquid courage, I wanted to let him know that I gave as good as I got. Leaning forward so that my head rested on his shoulder, I moaned softly in his ear.
“Mmmmmhmmmm… nothing but the jeans,” I revealed quietly, momentarily distracted by Mike’s heavy breaths on my neck and how he was almost, but not quite, kissing my skin.
“Christ, you make me horny,” Mike admitted and sat back against the couch, turning me around and spreading his legs apart so that I could sit between them. I felt his hard cock through his jeans as it grazed my back. I really liked that I could turn him on. It excited me that I could make his body respond by simply whispering in his ear.
It felt so fucking nice to be wanted.
We sat on the couch for a while, watching the guys dance. I felt comfortable and warm leaning against Mike.
“Come on, kid, let’s go dance,” Mike said, pushing me as Kenny and Enrique emerged from the bathroom looking tousled but happy and relaxed. Kenny winked at me as they passed, and Enrique slapped him on the ass as they both laughed. They were heading in the direction of the dance floor where the rest of our friends were, so Mike and I followed.
There were a lot of people, but it wasn’t packed. It was the first time in a long time I’d been able to be around a crowd of people and not feel panicky. I guessed that the alcohol in my system was responsible for that, and I had to admit I kind of liked the feeling. The song changed as we walked over to where Tony, Carter, and Kenny were dancing in a circle with the rest of our friends. Without losing a step, they moved and invited us in.
A new song started, and Emilio, who was shirtless for some reason, squealed like a girl. He moved over to dance in front of me, facing me while Mike pressed against my back. Mike’s hands were on my hips, guiding me to the beat, while Emilio put my hands on his ass and was waving his arms over his head. I giggled. I couldn’t help it. I was sure we looked ridiculous, but it was fun and free, and I finally let loose after holding everything in for so fucking long.
The song changed again, one with a slightly slower, more sensual beat. Emilio turned around but didn’t move away, reaching back to wrap my arms around his waist. He tried to put my hand near his crotch, but when I resisted, he laughed and put it on his abdomen instead. We were all moving in perfect time with the song, and Mike was singing in my ear. He had a nice voice, low and sweet. As Emilio moved in front of me, his ass was grinding lightly against my crotch just as mine was against Mike. The alcohol was making me feel bold, so I slid my fingers along Emilio’s waistband and caressed his hard stomach as we moved. He moaned and laid his head back on my shoulder.
“You know, mijo, we could play like this whenever you want. The three of us in bed,” he murmured loudly against my skin, kissing my neck. Behind me, Mike was not to be outdone. He pulled my earlobe between his lips, humming softly and whispering how sexy I was. My cock was hard, rubbing freely against my jeans without the barrier that briefs would have provided. I reached up and tangled my fingers in the back of Mike’s hair. He responded by moving one of his hands from my belt loop higher to slide under my shirt, stroking my side.
“God, you have no idea how much I want you to fuck me,” Mike moaned quietly against my ear. That warning voice finally got my attention.
“I think I need another drink,” I panted, from how hard I was. Dancing, grinding between those two incredibly hot guys, was intense. Just as I said it, the song ended and Mike took my hand and led me back to the couch while Emilio stayed out on the floor.
“What would you like, sunshine?” he asked casually as if grinding against one of his friends on the dance floor was no big deal, something he did all the time. For all I knew, it probably was.
“I don’t know, how about a daiquiri?” I asked, naming the only drink I could think of. Carolyn had made them for a couple of friends one night when they had come over for some kind of party for makeup or bowls or something. My brain just wasn’t working right, so I couldn’t remember.
“No, baby. Rule number one of alcohol is never mix. It will make you sick as a fucking dog. Daiquiris are rum, not tequila. How about a margarita or a tequila sunrise?” Mike asked.
“Sure,” I said, not caring which one he brought since I didn’t know what they were anyway. He looked at me like he was going to try to get a decision and then just shook his head and went up to the bar. Feeling mellow, I sat back on the couch, watching the dance floor. It was nice to spend one night not thinking.
“Here you go,” Mike said, handing me a colorful orange and red drink with a long straw buried in its depths. The drink he was carrying for himself was clear and fizzing like a lemon-lime soda. I took several long pulls through the straw, and my mostly empty stomach filled with a pleasant warmth.
“If you start to feel sick, you let me know,” he warned and climbed back on the couch behind me even though we were the only ones on it. My cock, which had softened nicely after Mike went to get the drinks, started twitching at the feeling of his breath on my neck. It was like being wrapped in a fuzzy blanket early in the morning: warm, happy, and aroused. I decided to enjoy it.
After several more dances and another few rounds of the pretty orange and red drinks, I looked at my phone to see what time it was and couldn’t read it. Hitting the button on the side to turn on the backlight, I still couldn’t read it. I was so tired.
“Fuck, theresomething wrong wiff my phone,” I told Mike as I lay on the couch with my head in his lap, fighting the urge to sleep. “I can’tsee time itis.” He laughed and took the phone from me. I closed my eyes, letting him have it.
“It’s a little past eleven, and I think it’s time for us to go home, baby boy. You’re fucking loaded,” he said with a chuckle, and I heard him talking to someone else but I couldn’t make out what he was saying.
When I opened my eyes again, we were in the Jeep.
“Werenyou drunken too?” I asked, trying to put on my seat belt and failing. Mike reached over and pulled the strap across my body, and I heard the elusive click as it snapped into place.
“I’m older, bigger, and more experienced with booze than you,” he informed me, and then I felt his lips against mine as he kissed me slowly. I couldn’t think of anything but how it made my body feel. Moaning into the kiss, it seemed like my heart beat harder, causing me to feel a little dizzy. It had been so fucking long since I’d felt like that.
Mike pulled back and kissed me on the forehead before putting the Jeep in reverse.
The next thing I knew, Mike was helping me out of the Jeep and into the house. It took a long time for us to get up the stairs to the second floor. I just wanted to sleep.
“Baby, where are your keys?” Mike asked when we finally got to the door to my room. I looked at him, feeling confused because I didn’t know why he needed my keys if we were already home. Looking up and down the hall, Mike swore under his breath and muttered that I must have left them in the Jeep. He sighed and pulled me toward his room.
We were gonna have a sleepover like Jamie and I used to have.
I missed being held.
My heart hurt.
Mike held me up with one arm as he unlocked the door to his room with the other.
My throat burned.
I didn’t want to think anymore.
As Mike closed the door behind us, I pushed him back up against it, feeling my whole body pressed against his. I wrapped my arms around him and buried my face in his neck.
“Smell good,” I told him as I began to kiss and nuzzle his skin.
“Uhm, hi there,” Mike said with a chuckle as he put a hand on my shoulder to stop me from kissing his neck. “I’m buzzin too, kid, so you don’t want to be doing that.”
“You don’ want meeether,” I said, finally letting a little of the heartache out. Then my voice dropped to a whisper, and I choked out, “’M so fuckin’ sick of nobody wantin’ me.”
“Baby, I do want you,” Mike soothed, pulling me closer and stroking my hair. “I just don’t want to take advantage of you.”
“So alone, all the time,” I sighed, wrapping my arms tighter around him. “Don’ wanna be alone anymore.”
“Shhhhhh… you’re not alone, we’re all here, angel,” Mike said after a moment, and his voice sounded clogged, stuffy.
“He leff. Never looked to find me. Hurtsso much, Mike,” I told him, and I could feel that I was shaking but couldn’t stop it.
“Micah,” Mike whispered. “My name is Micah.”
“Please, Micah. Just tonight. Want to feel…. I can’t…. It hurts,” I begged, and I could hear the desperation even over the haze of the booze fogging my brain. I didn’t even know if what I was saying made any sense, and I knew I should just go to sleep.
His lips were soft and gentle as he kissed me.
“I know what it’s like to feel alone,” Micah whispered against my lips with long, tender kisses as he pulled me into his bed.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

All the Wrong Reasons

Copyright (c) 2011 - J. P. Barnaby & Liz Sentry
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All the Wrong Reasons
J. P. Barnaby
Liz Sentry


"What the hell do you mean, 'God made me this way'?" My father asked me, his face nearly purple with rage. I knew he wasn't going to take my coming out well, but I hadn't expected him to get so angry. "God doesn't make freaks, this is all on you boy." He snorted, and then walked away. Looking to my mother, hoping that she would at least have an open mind; my heart broke to see tears on her face. She shook her head slowly.
"Cameron, have you even tried dating a girl, I mean," she started, her eyes darting around the room. I noticed with a sinking realization that they were trying to focus anywhere but on me. My own mother wouldn't even look at me. Why had I done this now? I could have gone off to college next year and never said a word. What have I accomplished besides making my own parents hate me? Her voice dropped to a whisper "have you tried not being gay?" I almost laughed out loud at her. Had I tried not being gay? Like I fucking wanted to be someone that people despised on principle. Turning on my heel, I left the room and took the stairs two at a time, almost running to get away from them both.
They were still trying to decide whose fault it was that I turned out to be a fag. My father hurled at my mother that she coddled me too much, that she turned me into a sissy. I had caught that little tidbit just as I passed my last school picture hanging at the top of the stairs. My mother had sneered back that he never made the time to play sports with me as my hand had turned the knob on my bedroom door. I flung myself on the bed, and turned on the iHome sitting on my bedside table. A flurry of loud angry notes exploding from speakers, almost as loud as the screaming voices in my head, drowned out my parents downstairs. The loudest voice sounded conspicuously like my older sister, even though she was probably sitting in her dorm room. She was telling me that I was an idiot for thinking they would accept me. Now, I wished to God that I had listened.
Why couldn't they understand that I was still a normal teenage boy? I still had the same homework, the same posters on the wall, even the same desire to be a computer engineer just like my dad. Looking over to my desk, I saw the on laptop in pieces across the work surface. I had been putting in a new motherboard when I got the brilliant idea that now would be a good time to come out to my parents. Rolling off the bed, I sat down at the desk and picked up the soldering iron. My dad had been the one to teach me how to do this. He always loved showing me the ins and outs of computers in the hope that one day I would be a whiz at them, just as he was. He had been right. I could take them apart, program them, network them, and pretty much do anything else I wanted with them. College was just a formality at this point. I hoped I would still get to go.
Now, they had every reason to donate my college fund to charity.
I started to hyperventilate as the impact of what I'd done settled over me. The fear rooted itself deep as I wondered if he would kick me out. Would this ostracize me from my family? How could I have been so stupid? Tossing the dismantled laptop to the floor, I turned on my own quad core PC. It had been finely tuned, and over clocked for peak performance. When everything had loaded, I logged into my chat software and immediately went invisible. There was only one person I wanted to talk to right now, and I really hoped she was on. She wasn't. I sighed and picked up my cell phone.
It rang only once before she answered.
"Ali, are you busy? I could really use my big sister," I said, and even I could hear the tears threatening. At that moment, I just needed someone who would listen, someone who would love me no matter what I said. Foolishly, I had thought that would be my mother. The tears started to fall as I realized how wrong I had been.
"You told them, didn't you?" she asked with a sigh. I sniffled, wiping my tears on my sleeve and nodded. Realizing she couldn't hear me fucking nod, I mumbled my acknowledgement. She was silent for a few minutes. The murmur of voices in the background stopped abruptly with the slamming of a door.
"Are you okay?" she asked quietly.
"I don't think so," I responded, the tears falling in earnest now. We talked for nearly an hour, her words of encouragement beaded on the surface of my heart, like water on the hood of a car. They could not sink in with my heart so full of despair.
I went back to school, I went back to my part time job at the library, I went back to doing everything I had done before – but there was no joy in it. My friends, the ones who were still in the dark about my sexuality, tried to console me but it was useless. They didn't understand. No one understood. Now my parents were steadfastly ignoring me. I wasn't sure if it was because they didn't know what to say, or because they were disgusted with me. There was little recourse for me either way. I just continued to exist, for the sake of existing.
Then, one night nearly a month later, the storm broke.
I came home to find both of my parents sitting in the living room waiting for me. A man I had never seen before waited with them. Instantly wary, I set my bag down by the door and walked into the room. He perched on the edge of a winged back chair by the fire, while my parents occupied the couch. They all looked somewhat nervous, and I started to get a bad feeling. The man dressed in plain, almost deliberately ordinary clothes—a sweater turtleneck and jeans. I got the feeling that he wanted me to feel comfortable with him. Well, he was failing miserably, because all I felt was anxious.
"Cameron, darling, would you come and sit with us. We'd like to talk to you," my mother said, her voice shaking slightly. Oh God, that didn't bode well. I considered grabbing my bag and making a run for it, but where would I go? I didn't have anyone, any home that I could go to besides this one. I sat down in the only other chair in the room. It was a straight-backed wooden thing that always made me feel like the subject of an inquisition. That feeling intensified exponentially as they all watched me.
My mother picked stiffly at the sleeves of her grey silk blouse, avoiding my eyes. I looked to my father next, but he was watching the man who had sat forward towards me. The fear bubbled in my stomach like acid, churning what little I'd eaten, making me a bit nauseated Taking a deep breath, I closed my eyes for a fraction of a second, willing the fear to dissipate. It only swelled as he started to speak.
"Cameron, my name is Dr. Albert Snow," he said, pushing the graying hair back from his wrinkled, once pointed face. "Your parents asked me here because they want me to help you," he said, in a painfully pleasant voice.
I sat there stoically while the man, this "doctor", spelled out the philosophies and strategies of The Center. I listened as he threw around terms such as "gender- affirmative therapy" and "cognitive-behavioral intervention". My mind began to go numb as I realized that my parents had brought this man here to tell me that they were locking me away until I was no longer gay. They might as well have been locking me away until my eyes were no longer blue or until I grew a fucking uterus. Why was this happening? Why didn't they understand? It wasn't until every noise in the room stopped that I realized that my dad had asked me a question.
"I'm sorry?" I responded.
"Are you willing to undergo treatment at The Center?" My father said again with an air of finality. He had solved the problem of his gay son; all that remained was to document his time like a good worker bee, and move on to the next problem.
"Do I have a choice?" I mumbled.
"Of course you do," my dad answered, and I felt my body relax in relief until he started talking again. "You can go to The Center and straighten yourself out, or you can go upstairs and pack."
A week later, I kicked off my summer before college by walking into The Center with my parents flanking me like guards, and my head held in shame for what I was about to do. I listened to the director explain to my parents about rules about what I could bring with me, and about visiting hours I held little hope they would attend. I sat blankly staring at my hands wondering what lie they would be telling the people at the country club. Cameron is at camp. Cameron is participating in a computer science program at his new school, and we are just so proud. It would never be the truth. The truth was that I was selling myself to The Center for a hope at redemption with the only people in my life that mattered.
My father shook my hand, and my mother left an absent kiss on my cheek before I watched them walk out of the front door of The Center. Hand-in-hand, they abandoned me to my fate. All I could think about was the time that they took me to the Texas State Fair when I was eight. Back then, I still worshiped my parents. They were my whole world. My dad had enthusiastically talked to me about the exciting new technology they were starting to incorporate into horticulture and farming practices. I listened to every word from my hero's mouth, not understanding a word but excited that he wanted to share it with me. Then they had indulged me with cotton candy and corn dogs. My strongest memory of that day, though, was them each taking one of my hands and swinging me every forth step between them. I could still see the love and the laughter on their faces. The image consumed me as I watched the backs of these same two people walking away from me, clutching to each other's hands, the space for me eradicated by my own naiveté.
"Cameron, this way," a voice behind me said. I mechanically picked up my suitcase, and followed the man down the hallway. I think he said his name was Steven. He pointed out the rec room, the cafeteria, the laundry, the various session rooms, and the hallway in which Dr. Snow's office was located.
My mandatory sessions with him started in an hour.
Finally, we entered the dormitory wing. As we walked down the hallway, I looked into the open doors of the rooms we passed. Some boys were intently writing in journals. Others turned to give me blank looks before empty eyes returned to looking out the barred windows. No matter how hard they tried here at The Center, they could not get these particular caged birds to sing.
Some boys stepped into the hallway to gawk at the 'new boy', and quietly whispered amongst themselves. Their stares nearly bored a hole in me as I passed. They were stares of judgment, stares of lust, and some were even stares of empathy. None of these stares contained any measure of hope.
"This is your room, Cameron," Steven announced pointing into the small, dank and barren room. Infested by some warped version of Noah's Ark, there was two of everything in the bleak institutionalized room. Two desks bolted to the floor, two dressers built right into the wall, and two sets of uncomfortable looking bunks.
"How many boys to a room?" I asked him.
"It used to be four to a room when The Center opened," he explained, gesturing to the two sets of bunks, "but now most rooms are one or two boys." Briefly, I wondered if business was bad because they failed to meet their objectives, or if people were realizing that homosexuality wasn't something you could cure. I never once thought that the beds were empty because of their success. "You are on your own for now. So, get yourself settled, and head to Dr. Snow's office in an hour. Don't forget your journal!"
Minutes melded into hours.
Hours melded into days.
Days melded into months.
I remained incarcerated in The Center, forced to endure the rigors of a hollow routine. My only solace was that classes would be starting in a few weeks and I would have to leave soon to move into the dorm. I would live permanently ensconced in the closet.
For now, I merely existed, stumbling like a decapitated corpse through the beige concrete block hallways. The familiar faces were reflections of my own confusion and despondency. Sad boys imprisoned for simply wanting to love how our hearts and minds dictated. So much for living in the land of the free and the home of the brave, apparently those ideals didn't apply to us. Reflecting on the concessions I'd made to end up here, I wondered what promises these other boys were clinging to in order to survive the psychological battering of being told daily that you are fundamentally flawed.
Tuesday afternoon sessions are the worst, so I was already irritated as I sat in the common area waiting for it to start. That's when I first saw him. He was lead in the front doors by a man in full Marine dress uniform and a woman in a crisp peach suit. He was wearing a pair of khaki pants and a starched stiff button down white shirt topped with a navy blazer. He shared his father's chiseled jaw and tall, lean build. Despite his recently shaved cut, I could tell it was the same color as his mother's tightly coiffed hair. I heard some whispers around me, but the buzz of the others and the shine of his shoes could not detract me from the purple and blue that decorated his right cheek. Involuntarily, my hand raised to my own cheek tracing on my own face where his was bruised, shocked at the thought of someone being beaten into submitting to this treatment. I was making a desperate grasp at my college fund in coming here, and here was that boy who was risking so much more. I suddenly felt very weak and a coward, as I watched the boy, head held high, march into the director's office.
"That's Josh Pennington," the boy next to me whispered, noticing the direction of my stare.
"Do you know him from school?" I asked.
"No," he laughed without humor. "He's been here before."
I always thought that this was a one-time deal, pass or fail. It never occurred to me that my parents or anyone else's for that matter could continually torture us with this place until we were miraculously straight. The despair that had been building throughout my stay here, intensified until it smothered me. I couldn't face group today, I didn't have the strength to pretend. Nearly turning over my chair as I stood, I forced myself not to sprint as I made my way to my room.
The footsteps in the hallway alerted me that they were coming, but I had only just sat up in my bed when Stephen showed Josh Pennington into my room. After having no roommate for months, it felt a little odd to have him here. He nodded once at me, not bothering to introduce himself, and crawled into his bunk curling in on himself and staring blankly at the wall. I had the strangest urge to hold him in that moment, this boy that I had never even seen. Josh Pennington reminded me forcibly of a dog that someone had beaten for most of his life. The dog always went back to his master to lick his hand, trying to gain his favor, only to be kicked again for his trouble. This beautiful boy, whatever his failings, was broken and my despair was suddenly replaced by compassion.
In gender affirmation group therapy, affectionately referred to by most of the clientele as GAG therapy, I finally heard the new boy speak. Reserved, but articulate, he answered the questions that the group leader posed to him, but otherwise remained quiet. It was clear that he was here to appease his parents, most likely to avoid another beating. I participated as much as required, but my quiet, new roommate distracted me. He stared at his fingers while the others talked, and seemed to be subtly, yet rhythmically, tapping on his thighs. The only time he ever looked up was when I spoke, and I almost thought I saw a ghost of a smile dancing on his lips.
I didn't see Josh again until that evening at dinner. Other boys who had served their time with him before surrounded him at the table. Apparently, he wasn't the only repeat performer. I watched him laugh and converse with the boys. They seemed to hang on his every word, and I couldn't blame them. He was a beautiful boy, and very charismatic. Despite his home life, he had a natural confidence. I wondered if it killed his spirit to be here and tell the lies required for escape from this prison, as it did for me. From my lonely table across the room, I saw what no one else was seeing. Though he was laughing and sharing stories, Josh was not touching one bite of his food. I have never known a teenage boy who didn't eat, and the only time I never ate was when I was sick or upset. That is the first moment I saw through his facade.
Later that night, we both sat quietly in our room; we were both in our beds scribbling away in our journals for the next day. I was struggling with my wording, trying to say what I thought they wanted to hear while trying to stay true to myself. I was working on dancing a dance of ambiguity. Josh, on the other hand, was whipping through his with amazing speed. The speed of a person seasoned in the art of lying. Soon he was tossing his journal onto his desk and leaning back in his bed closing his eyes and humming softly to himself. Only the rumble of his stomach disrupted the dreamy melody falling from his lips. He rubbed his abdomen quickly giving me an apologetic look and I returned it with an understanding smile. I shut my book, and reached behind me into the bottom drawer of my desk for an apple, granola bar, and a pudding cup that I snuck into my jacket pockets at dinner. I tossed them across the room and onto his bed. He looked up at me in happy surprise.
"Where did you get this?" He asked looking down at the food in front of him.
"I thought I might get hungry later," I shrugged, doing my best to pretend it was no big deal.
"You could have gotten in big trouble if you were caught," his brow furrowed in concern as he looked from the apple in his hand before he raised his eyes to meet mine.
"Well, at least now I won't lose a night's worth of sleep listening to your stomach eat itself," I said before returning to my journal.
Just as he was about to say something, there was a sharp knock at our door, Josh had the food under his pillow before the door was thrown open and Steven was standing before us. We both looked over at him, and he seemed shocked to see the serene scene in front of him.
"Everything OK here?" He asked looking at me.
"Yeeesss..." I said confused. "Why wouldn't it be?"
Steven tossed Josh a pointed look, before speaking again, "Make sure you do your journal for tomorrow, Josh."
"It's done," he said gesturing to the book on his desk.
"Well, don't bother Cameron while he works on his," he said pointedly.
"The only thing I might have been bothering Cameron with is my humming, which wouldn't be a necessary torture, if you guys would allow us to have music in our room," he said. "Unless you want to let me into the music room now?"
"You can wait for your assigned time, Josh. Nice try though," Josh sighed and shrugged. "Good night, boys."
"What the hell was that about?" I whispered after Steven closed the door.
"I might have been caught in a compromising position with a former roommate," he said with a slight blush, but an unapologetic smile on his face.
"Oh," I said and blushed a little myself.
The next few weeks were full of the same routine I had been living with the exception that I was starting to get to know my new roommate. Everything was so easy when it came to him. Our conversations flowed easily over topics such as movies and music. Beyond that, we could spend hours of comfortable silence as we read or wrote. I had never met anyone in which everything was so effortless.
Josh was also showing me the balance of beating The Center at their own game. We became a team. Both of us occasionally dropping hints about girls that the other seemed to be interested in. Mine was a girl I insisted was "just a friend" back home. Josh's was the admissions administrator from Harvard's School of Music. It was hard to stifle a smile every time I saw the pleased look on the staff members’ faces as they looked proud at the work they were doing when we spouted our lies. We would laugh together once we were back in our room at night at how Stephen frantically scribbled with a triumphant look when Josh said he mentioned that I received another letter from my friend "Jenny". My sister Candy had really sent the letters. Josh really was communicating with a woman from Harvard, but it was strictly about getting the final pieces of his portfolio in before school started in the fall.
We also talked about the freedom of eighteen that was just within our grasps. Harvard had accepted Josh into their pre-law program. He wanted to advocate for those of us who were voiceless under the banner of the law, though he admitted that his parents were living under the guise that he was going into corporate law like his grandfather. He told me that he had also conversed with the head of the music school, and hoped to minor in concert piano. I couldn't help myself as I felt the smile grow on my face as he talked of his passion for music. When I told him of my acceptance to M.I.T., and my love of computers and electronics, I saw an excited gleam in his eyes.
"You realize we will both be in Boston," Josh said with a smile.
"I had realized that," I said looking down at my hands before raising my eyes to meet his. "It will be nice to be starting out in a strange city with a friend."
"I am happy that friend will be you, Cameron," Josh said softly.
A loud knock at our door startled us, and both of our eyes went wide as Dr. Snow entered the room.
"Good evening, boys," he said in his falsely saccharine way. "Cameron, I hear you are quite good with computers."
"Yes, sir," I choked out and coughed to clear my voice. "I am."
"I was wondering if I might enlist your assistance," he answered. "The monitor's machine in the multi-purpose room is giving us fits. Might you be able to take a look?"
"Yes, sir," I said getting up and following him from the room.
I sat down at the machine and did my diagnostics while Dr. Snow perched in a nearby chair until I had my answer.
"I can fix this, sir, but it will take at least an hour depending on how deep the problem is. You'll also want to order a few parts for this machine, because this drive won't hold up for long," I said looking at him.
"Thanks, Cameron," he said. "I don't know how we can repay you for your kindness."
At that moment, looking across the room to the corner, inspiration struck along with a sudden surge of bravery.
"Well, sir, music makes the tediousness of this task go faster. Might Josh be allowed to come down and play while I will work? I know he has been trying to finish a piece for his portfolio for Harvard," I said innocently, then just to secure it in the way Josh was teaching me, I added. "You know...I think he is just trying to impress that admissions girl that keeps reminding him of his pending deadline. I think he is stalling so he can keep talking to her."
"Is that so?" Dr. Snow said looking pensive, but the slight smile on his lips betrayed him.
"I think she is really impressed by him, too," I added. "I've never heard him play, myself."
"Well, I think it would be alright for him to come down, while you work, if in fact you think it will only take an hour or so," he said standing.
"Yes, sir," I nodded. "Shouldn't be any longer than that, and I can install the new parts when you get them."
"Very good," he said walking towards the door. "Just bring the list of what is need to our session on Wednesday. I will send Josh down, so you can both get some work done."
I turned back towards the computer and started clicking around as he walked out the door of the room. A few minutes later, a confused Josh came back in through the door, clutching his composition book.
"How the fuck did you swing this, Cameron?" He said walking towards me his face shifting from confusion to glee as he saw the stupidly wide grin on my own face.
"Southern charm, friend. Southern charm," I said leaning back and putting my hands behind my head. He barked out a laugh, before his face got serious.
"Thanks, Cameron," he said softly toying with the edge of his book.
"It was purely selfish. It is too damn quiet in here, and plus, I have never heard you play," I said smiling.
"Any requests?" He asked as he walked toward the piano.
"Whatever you want to play, Liberace," I laughed. He glared at me. "I'm teasing. I thought you were writing original stuff for your admissions."
"I am, but I usually warm up with more familiar pieces," he said setting up his book and settling on the bench.
"You play. I'll listen," I said starting back to work on my own project.
I ran tests and checked settings as Josh started with running through some scales to warm up. Part way through his warm up, Steven poked his head into the room, no doubt to spy to make sure this wasn't all a ruse. I barely gave him a glance before going back to my work. Josh, whether feigned or not, didn’t appear to hear him. Steven, seeming satisfied with what he found, left the room. A moment later, the scales gave way to the music.
I had never heard anything more beautiful.

He had been tossing and turning for nearly an hour, and I found myself unable to sleep because of his distress. I wanted so much to just roll from my uncomfortable, institutional bunk and crawl into his. I wanted to hold him. I wanted to take away his demons. The moonlight filtered in from the high windows and illuminated his form, momentarily stilled as he rested on his back. One of his hands gripped the sheet, as if it was tethering him, as if he would truly be lost without it. The other hand rested on the smooth, soft skin of his stomach, just above where the sheet lay across the top of his sleep pants. He slept like this every night, in only a crisp, perfect pair of sleep pants that appeared to be brand new. Even in prison, he reflected on his parents and they wanted him presentable at all times. They wanted him to be a good little soldier.
The bruise on his side, the one that overlaid his barely visible ribcage, was fading now, but not completely gone. My insides burned just thinking about someone hurting him, but seeing it made me angry. It made me sad. It made me protective. No one had the right to hurt this boy, least of all for something he could not control. The injustice of it made me want to run to my parents to get them to help. Unfortunately on that score, I was in little better position. They had made it perfectly clear that this was a test, and God help me should I fail.
Josh shifted again, and a low moan escaped his lips. Whether it was from sorrow, or from pain I wasn't able to tell, but it caused my heart to throb painfully in my chest. The temptation to hold him overpowered any other judgment, and silently, I rolled off my bunk. The linoleum floor was freezing beneath my bare feet, as I padded across to where he lay. It was only then that I saw my dilemma. He was lying in the center of the small bed prohibiting me from climbing into it without waking him. I knelt lightly next to the bed, contemplating when he started to stir again. Now that I was closer, I could him his soft whimpering, and it tore at me. The soft, nearly inaudible phrase "mom, please', caused my throat to burn. I reached over and laid my hand on his.
He came awake with a start, and cringed from me before he got a good look at who was kneeling at his bedside. Then, our eyes locked, and that last wall fell away. He scooted to the very back edge of the bed and came up on his side to face me. I didn't even wait for him to pull back the blankets before I tore them back and climbed in with him. Pulling him into my arms, I felt the soft scruff on his cheek against my bare chest. I didn't have a lot of experience sexually, with guys or girls, being relatively shy and unsure about myself, but as his cheek grazed my nipple I felt a jolt of sheer need. My body flushed with heat, and I was afraid he could feel it. I didn't want this to be about sex. I wanted it to be about comfort.
Josh had other ideas.
When our lips met, the raw emotion and devastating arousal coursed through my body with such intensity that it honestly frightened me a bit. Never in my life had I dreamed that I could feel like this about another person. Sure, I'd rubbed a few out in the shower in my time, but that was nothing compared to this. The moan escaped me before I could stop it, and before I realized what was happening, I was underneath him. The entire length of his body pressed against mine, and my breathing was now shallow and rapid around our frenzied kisses. Unable to stop myself, and shocked by my own audacity, I wrapped one of my legs around his waist. He responded by rubbing his hips against mine, as I groaned softly into his mouth.
I wanted him.
Where we were, even who we were, those things were irrelevant in this moment. My heart sang as his hand sought out mine. Our fingers intertwined without any conscious effort, without even breaking our kiss, as if they were meant to be that way. The emotion of the moment astounded me. It was like love at first sight, love at first kiss, only stronger.
It was so much stronger.
We lay, half-naked, kissing and talking and the heat of the moment never waned. I was hard as he licked the spot on my neck just below my ear, and I was hard when he told me about how he wanted to lay me across his piano, and I was hard when he rubbed my erection through my pajama pants. Yes, I was certainly hard then. He had just slid his hand beneath my waistband and was stroking me skin on skin when we heard a noise in the hall. We both froze.
The door banged open and Stephen stood there with two hard-faced guards.
"You guys need to get up and get dressed," he sighed, "Dr. Snow wants to talk to you both. Your parents have been called." I felt Josh shaking on top of me, jerking his hand out of my pajama pants. Slowly, we started to get off the bunk as the guards closed the door, presumably to give us time to dress. Josh ran to his dresser and started pulling out clothes, stuffing them into a duffle. The few things he had here fit easily into it.
"Josh, what are you doing?" I asked him, still terrified by the prospect of my parents finding out about what just happened. They would imprison me here through my first year of college. Rather than working with computers, I would be learning how to tow the line. The dread was so overwhelming that I had to sit down at my desk while I watched him feverishly finish packing.
"I can't stay here, Cameron," he panted, now starting to dress. "He will kill me." The look on his face showed me that he wasn't kidding, and that he wasn't exaggerating. Whatever kind of relationship Josh had with his family, he truly believed that his father would end his life over being found in bed with me. Opening my drawers, he started to throw my stuff into his duffel as well.
Utterly dazed by the surreal actions of this desperate boy, I pulled down jeans and a t-shirt and started to dress. I didn't bother trying to stop him from packing my stuff. He would just have to put it back when we returned to the room anyway. Okay, I'm sure they'd split us up, but the point was, we could not escape. We were trapped. If packing helped him to feel better though, I wouldn't deny him.
I was just putting on my shoes when the door opened again.
"Josh, why do you have your stuff packed?" Stephen asked with a note of surprise. "There is no reason to think that Dr. Snow would make you leave?" Defiantly, and with more bravado than I'm sure he felt, Josh wrapped the strap for the duffel around his shoulder pushing it behind his back.
"I'm not letting you bastards get your hands on my stuff like last time. Half of it was missing by the time I got to my new room. I'm taking it with me!"
"Okay, Josh, okay," Stephen replied, putting his hands up in front of him in a futile effort to calm Josh. "Bring your stuff if you want, just come with us. Everything will be okay, you'll see." Josh snorted, but allowed them to lead him from the room. I followed close behind.
When we got about half way down the hall, Josh doubled over, overcome with the grief of having to face his parents, no doubt. The guards sighed, and Stephen bent down to console him. What happened next was so fast that I almost missed it. With a quick move that could only have been learned from his military father, Josh nailed Stephen in the balls. Stephen doubled over, and Josh collapsed to the ground. The guards stood over him, and Josh rolled quickly to use the heel of each sneaker to do nail each of them as well.
"Run!" he yelled into my stunned face.
Unable to believe what I had just witnessed, I scrambled after Josh as he raced down the hall. Our sneakers squeaked as we raced around the corner, and ran full tilt down the dormitory hallway. At the sound of the first guard's voice yelling for us to stop, Josh grasped my hand and barreled through the door of the game room. He expertly navigated us in and out of the interconnected rooms of the Center. I stumbled along beside him and often behind him, but we held tight to each other's hands as if our lives depended on it. Finally, Josh pulled us into the laundry and locked the door. We slid some large boxes in front of the doors and hid amongst the numerous machines, trying to catch our breath. Josh was soon kneeling in front of me, taking both of my hands in his.
"Come with me," he pled looking deeply into my eyes.
"Where?" I asked my own eyes desperately searching his for the answers I was hoping he held.
"I have an aunt and uncle in Washington who will take me in. They told me to call them the next time my dad hit me. I just didn't have time before they dragged me here. I just know they would let you stay too, Cameron, please!" Josh asked frantically checking the door as much as he begged with his eyes.
"Washington, Josh? How will we get there? We have no money," I was desperate to believe that we could do this, but I was afraid of what would happen if we failed.
"We'll get there," Josh assured me cupping my face in his hands and kissing me solidly. "We have to go now."
The voices were getting closer, and I still sat there wavering. Could I do this? Could we do this? We could hear people approaching the laundry, and both of our heads flew up to the door.
"Cameron, baby, please," Josh begged, his eyes filling with tears. "I don't want to leave you, but I cannot let them send me back. Please, Cameron, let's go!"
The last part came out frantic and he got to his feet holding out his hand out to me. Just then, someone started fumbling with the door.
"It's locked," the loud male voice yelled out down the hall. Next, we could hear the clink of keys approaching, and I jumped to my feet staring at the door. Josh started backing towards the back wall with wide, scared eyes.
"Cameron," he hoarsely whispered beckoning me with his hand as he continued to back towards the large window at the back of the room.
I watched as he picked up a laundry cart and hurled it through the plate glass window, kicking out the rest of the glass. I froze once again as the key scraped into the lock. Josh saw the doubt in my eyes, and his eyes saw the green expanse that spelled freedom ahead of him. He grabbed me forcefully by the back of my neck and crashed his lips to mine in one last desperate kiss that spelled out his good-byes and his apologies for the fact he was about to leave me behind. He broke the kiss and touched his forehead to mine, his eyes boring into my own, and then he was gone.
As I watched him run across the dark expanse of the grounds in front of the center, my heart nearly broke. That last kiss, the one full of quiet desperation, still burned on my lips. I had never met anyone that understood me like Josh did. Nor, anyone that loved me as he did.
There was no fucking way I was letting go of that.
"Josh!" I screamed as I climbed quickly through the destruction that used to be a window. He turned, and the smile that lit up his face made me realize that no matter where we ended up, he would always be my home.