(C)Tooluser February 2011

This story is fiction, and any resemblance to real people or places is entirely coincidental.

As always, comments and encouragement welcome, please email me at


Hope you like it, anyway.


Heaven Next Door, part 12

Bill woke to a headache. He blinked away the last of a confused dream in which seabirds shifted to angels and back again; dream-thunder metamorphosing to the rumble of small wheels on cement as he winced and opened his sticky eyes.

Beyond the windscreen, in front of his pick-up’s hood, lean, angular shapes leaped, clothes flapping. Each seemed to hang in the air for an eternity, the morning sun gilding smooth faces, necks and arms; high voices like gulls echoing around the lot.

“Hey Shaz, you loser!”

“Watch this!”

Maaaaah – your mother could do better!”

Now he remembered. Freddie MacBurger’s was built on a slight rise, and where the parking lot had been leveled, one side was dug back into the ground and finished with sloping concrete that was obviously the local skateboard boys’ delight. He’d parked here last night after visiting three drugstores and a gas station for medical supplies.

On that thought Bill gingerly lifted up his plaid shirt. His dress shirt, folded into a pad, peeled away from the glistening antiseptic gel, and he grimaced at the sight of the swollen, purple-lipped gashes just beneath his short ribs. Still, the “stitches” seemed to have held: he’d been generous with the instant glue, even though it had burned like fire. Now he knew why in the training films the medics offered a local anasthetic. The glass splinters – two of them over an inch long – were somewhere down by his feet, along with the tweezers.

The sound of knuckles on glass made him look up. The tapping seemed oddly muffled: as though he were deaf in his left ear. Bill rolled his head on the headrest and saw the boy peering in at the window just as he rapped his knuckles on the glass again.

Bill let the window whirr down half way. “Yeah?”

“You okay mister?” The boy’s teeth were white, his eyes a lovely green, his skin flawless sun-warmed honey ice-cream. His breath smelled of mint toothpaste. “Only this is kind of the staff parking area – they can get weird about it.”

Bill blinked, still trying to get his mind to work. “Weird about what?”

“Us skating. They don’t care about the staff automobiles I guess, but if we mess up someone else’s -” he broke off, and shrugged.

“Oh.” Bill eyed the half-empty packets of painkillers on his dashboard. No way could he drive without taking some more; no way could he swallow anything dry. “Look, uh -”


“Dwight.” Bill nodded thanks and immediately regretted moving his head. “Could you, uh, go buy me a coffee, and a bottle of water?” He hitched up his shirt to reach in his pants’ pocket, and saw the boy’s eyes widen.

“Gee mister – what happened to you?”

“Family wedding,” Bill said, feeling hot shame flood his body at the lie. “Drank a bit too much. Got into an argument: you know how it can be.” It wasn’t any easier to lie to this boy than it had been to the drugstore clerks. In fact it felt worse: he felt dirty at exploiting a boy’s trust. But how to say that he’d been beaten up by a woman, and hadn’t raised a hand to defend himself? What kind of a man did that make him? Any kind at all?

“Awesome! Did he have a knife?” The boy was staring at his wounds, and Bill made haste to pull the last couple of crumpled notes out of his pocket and tug his shirt back into place.

“I didn’t see one,” he said with absolute truth, which didn’t make him feel any less of a liar. “Here. Get yourself something too.”

“Thanks! Water, and a coffee – you want cream and stuff in that?”

“Just plain black joe would be great.” Bill managed a smile and let his eyes drop closed again. The caffeine would help the painkillers, and then – there was no help for it – he’d have to return to that house. He shivered.

Bill felt his shoulder muscles tense the closer he got to the house. By the time he’d reached the end of Cherrytree Drive his headache had returned and breathing was hard, painful work. His hands on the steering wheel felt stiff, contorted into iron claws.

He parked carelessly and got out, feeling the bile rising at the back of his throat. The garage door was up, and he could see the gleam of Mary’s black SUV parked inside.

She was here. He was not going to turn. He was not going to run. This was his house as much as hers: he’d struggled to meet his half of those damn’ repayments. Paid with his own money and sweat, too: none of Marcus’s damn’ handouts. He felt his face stretching into a humorless grin as he crunched up the driveway. There was no release or pleasure in it – he just didn’t seem to be able to straighten his face, and he had to resist the childish urge to kick Mary’s auto as he squeezed past its hard, slick bulk in the garage.

His workbench was still there, unharmed, untouched. His tools still hung in their places, and Bill drew in an easier, shuddering breath as he recalled little Shayne, his buddy, scampering around being his helper and putting his tools away just like Jay had delighted to do when he was small. Bill stared at the desk drawer where he still kept the letter, reminding himself of what his son had scrawled on it: FOAD. Shayne was not his son, and that was a good thing.

Thoughts of Shayne had Bill opening the door to the yard instead of the one into the house. He stepped outside and felt his breathing ease, as though a tight band had been loosened from around his chest. Once again he felt himself unmanned by the rush of gratitude that the boy was safe, weak tears pricking back of his eyelids. He glanced at the blue of the pool, recalling when they’d first met: the orgasmic shock of realizing the unknown boy was skinny-dipping; of watching slender, graceful arms and shoulders cutting the water; the way he didn’t seem to fight the water but slipped through it, played with it. The sunlight gleaming on his wet skin; the flash of strong boy-muscular legs and his taut little buns as he turned.

Bill faced about, groping in his pocket for his house keys as he approached the sliding patio door into the kitchen, and stopped. Mary was sitting at the table.

She had her back to him, facing the door to the hallway, watching it. She sat perfectly still, upright. A knitted gray jersey hung on her thing shoulders, and Bill noticed her hair was almost the same gray, threads of white gleaming in the sunlight. When had she gotten so old?

Bill slid open the door, feeling his heart beating in his chest. His hand was shaking, he noticed, but Mary couldn’t see that.

At the first quiet rumble of the heavy door on its track, Mary visibly jumped, and then jerked to her feet. She turned to face Bill all at once, like a puppet: as though her body and head were a single unit. Even her face seemed gray, with deep, bruised shadows beneath her eyes.

She licked her thin lips, and swallowed. It occurred to Bill that he couldn’t recall the last time he’d seen Mary nervous. “How are you, Bill?”

The kitchen reeked of bleach and harsh disinfectant, all the hard surfaces shining. He grimaced, and forced himself to step over the threshold, waiting for her to snap at him to mind the clean floor. “I’ve been better.”

Her face tightened, and he wondered if it was meant to be a smile. She took a step back, away from the table, maintaining the distance between them. “Would you like a coffee, Bill?” Her voice was calm, and seemingly matter of fact, but he could hear the strain beneath. Light glittered on her rings, and he realized her hand must be shaking.

“Sure,” he said. He moved to the table, past where she’d been sitting, and pulled out a chair; sat down. The silence stretched. He folded his hands on the table and stared at them, tracking Mary’s whereabouts by the slush of water from the faucet; the tick of a cupboard latch closing; the clink of a teaspoon in a mug. His left ear still felt stuffed with cotton wool, and his jaw hurt, but not as much as the aching stone in his chest.


He looked up from his hands. Mary had her back to him, standing like a statue. She spoke to the wall: “It is over, isn’t it?”

Bill looked down at his hands again. It was unexpectedly hard to lie to Mary. “You mean Mae?” he said, to gain time.

He heard Mary draw in a sharp breath, but she didn’t say anything more. He’d half expected her to snap back that of course that what whom she meant.

“I’m sorry,” Bill said; knowing she’d misinterpret his apology; hating lying to her, but he wasn’t about to confess about Shayne. That was a mess he’d have to sort out on his own. “It was nothing much – just a couple of encounters. Good company.” He murmured, remembering Shayne’s happy chatter, and then tensed, waiting for the explosion, but nothing came. In the silence, the coffee maker hissed and clicked.

“Bill,” she said, and he heard her swallow. “Bill, last night -”

He looked up, surprised at the pain in her voice. Mary’d turned to face him. She was leaning back against the counter, and he saw her knuckles whiten as she gripped the top.

“I’m sorry too. What I said -” she broke off, and Bill saw her silver cross at her breast flash as she dragged in a hoarse breath. “I was unjust. In all the years I’ve known you, I’ve never seen you harm a child.” She swallowed, and closed her eyes tightly. “If you still wish to teach him, then I won’t make any objections.”


Mary turned back to the coffee maker. “William Freund, don’t try to fool an old woman. I’ve never known you talk to a child for three minutes together without showing them how door closer works, or a water tank regulator, or a wrench.”

What old woman? There was a time when he would have said it unthinkingly – just part of their banter. There was a time – much longer ago – when it would have been a genuine protest. Mary had used to be so vibrant; so alive. So interested before she’d found all her answers in God.

The coffee mug clacked down on the table in front of him, and he looked up into her careworn, anxious face. He moved to take her hand, but she took a step back and turned away.

“He’s a bright child,” Mary said over her shoulder as she walked back to the counter, the tremor in her voice hardly noticeable. “I’ve no idea why he hasn’t his letters yet.”

Bill watched as Mary poured hot water into her treasured English teapot. She swirled the water around and then poured it out again before adding spoonfuls of leaf tea and refilling it. She always did that – it was supposed to make the tea taste better, although all tea tasted the same to him: weak garbage. She turned, teapot in one hand, dish of sliced lemon in the other.

“He’s been coming over here for weeks, did you know?” Mary smiled, that slight, intelligent crinkling of her eyes and brow that he’d found so attractive when he first met her. “Probably to swim in the pool,” she continued. “Last night when I gathered his clothes together to wash, I found he’d hidden his shorts behind the tub, and I remembered finding a pair just that size beneath my sun lounger.”

“How is he?” Bill said, unable to contain his eagerness. “He’s really all right?”

“Oh yes. A very clean, considerate boy. He told me all about you and, and her.”


“How you flirted with her, and lusted after her. In front of a child, Bill!”

Bill listened in amazement as Mary described the encounter. With her lovely son beside her he’d been able to see the beauty Mae had once been, but the glorious siren voluptuary Mary was describing was nothing like his recollection. He remembered Mae as comfortable: friendly despite being tired, her smile warming and her eyes kind; wearing old clothes discarded because they were now too small. They’d hardly exchanged a dozen words before Shayne had dragged him away, eager for another burger. Remembering the feeling of the boy’s warm hand in his own, Bill smiled.

“Bill!” Bang! The crockery on the table jumped as Mary slammed her hand down. “It’s over. You can teach the child to read, but that woman will not set foot in my house or garden, is that clear?”


“Yes of course Shayne! Who did you think I meant, you idiot?” She reached out a trembling hand, and took a sip of tea. “There’s no reason you should be idle while you’re not working.”

He drew breath to speak, but she waved him irritably to silence, massaging her temples with her thumbs, the way she did when one of her migraines was coming on.

“I’m not blind, Bill. I saw how you moved just now. You’re not fit to work.” She sighed. “I’ll cover the bills meantime – I’ll sort something out at work.”

Borrow money from Daddy, was what she meant. There was a time when he would have protested, but – fuck it, she was right. No site would take him on in this condition, and working the way he did, as a casual hire-on, meant no medical insurance.

“Okay,” he said.

* * *

After I got back from Bill’s I felt real low. Raylene was sittin’ at the table in the kitchen lookin’ at them books of Mom’s with all old furniture and spoons and all that stuff in.

I said about Bill dumpin’ me, and she got real mad. Yelled as how I’m a stupid little fuck for messin’ everything up and knocked me clear across the kitchen with this big old picture book. I was real glad she’s gotten so heavy what with bein’ about to have her kid, or she’d-a messed me up real bad from the look on her face.

Duke come in the kitchen so fast he was limpin’, sayin’ to shut up or we was gonna wake Pop. Raylene said she weren’t scared of him no more, which was a plumb lie, and I got scairt maybe Pop was gonna beat the kid outta her and I wouldn’t get to be a big brother - I been lookin’ forward to that a whole lot. ’Cept if he’s a boy I don’t think I’m gonna do fuckin’; I’ll let Duke do that, unless he’s like Red and don’t wanna. If I get a baby sister then we can do nice stuff like dressin’ up and I’ll tell her all about boys so she don’t have to be scairt or nothin’ when she starts workin’. It’s gonna be real cool.

I kinda tuned back in again to them arguin’ in whispers – Raylene had been pricin’ up stuff – some job of Pop’s, I guess, but she was mighty pissed, and Duke was sayin’ as how we got work to do, and maybe she should spend some time thinkin’ instead of yellin’ while we was out.

While we was walkin’ out to his truck I ask Duke if I was still his little fag, and he hit me upside the head and said not out here, shit-fer-brains. And I missed Bill real cruel.

All that mornin’ I had the stupids so bad Duke had to tell me everything like twice and three times and even hittin’ didn’t help me none: I still got stuff all wrong. Then I seen that cherry Jeep of Lee’s parked up outside a condo and I went over and pushed one of the buttons afore I even thought. Got two wrong apartments afore I got his, and then when I heard his voice I got to rememberin’ about him hugging me and I didn’t manage to say more’n my name afore I bust out cryin’.

He ask me a couple more questions through the squawk box but I guess I weren’t making a whole lotta sense because he come down, looked through the glass in the door and then he let me in.

It’s a real small hallway – nothing but a white box with a couple of them shiny green potted plants and a mirror and cement stairs with a iron handrail goin’ up. I felt better the minute I felt Lee standing close and smelled that classy cologne of his. He was wearing this black stretch outfit only kind of made all in one piece? He had on flat black slippers and his smooth shiny hair tied back in a pony tail like always.

He said “What’s the matter, honey?” and I could only snuffle out Bill’s name, and then when he gasped I shook my head no, that Bill weren’t hurt or nothing.

So Lee points at the stairs and says to go on up – he’s on the second floor. So I went up while he fixed the door and there was two doors on the second floor but only one of ‘em open, so I went in.

Lee’s apartment’s weird, but somehow just like Lee – small, but all class. It’s one of them one room efficiency apartments, but done real nice, all in candy browns like chocolate and toffee and like that.

Just inside the door was all Lee’s shoes lined up neat, and then you stepped up one little step onto this classy, soft-shiny floor made of kind of little bits of wood all stuck together in pretty patterns.

It was kinda shady, on account of Lee had the blinds down – they was the tilting wooden kind like you get in those fancy coffee places.

Around the walls was wooden cupboards and shelves with their corners made all round and smooth. They was made to look like everything was all built-in, only it weren’t. Kind of like to a puzzle, only you could put ‘em together all different ways, not just the one.

I guess that’s why I liked it so much: it felt homey – kind of like a trailer. Even had a faint smell o’ doobies – good stuff – and one of them folding zig-zag doors like we used to have, shuttin’ off a space at the side where his bed was. ’Cept of course just Lee’s door was prob’ly worth more’n our whole trailer had been – it was like the floor, made of all bits of smooth wood and I could see how when it was shut would make like a picture of looking through tree branches to a mountain with a white top.

In the middle of the floor was a dark shaggy rug so brown it weren’t quite black, next to a big red-purple cushion where a skinny silver laptop was sittin’ on the floor with a raspberry colored line drawin’ numberyness on the screen in swoopy curves.

Lee come up behind me while I was looking, and he stepped outta those cute little leather slippers what he was wearin’ and as he stepped up onto the wood I seen how even his feet were slender and nice – all golden brown – and he smiled down at me and then up at this statue of little gold fat guy high up on a shelf. I toed off my sneakers to be just like Lee and I swear I got all fizzy tingles as I stepped up, feelin’ that warm, silky floor under my bare feet.

Lee reached down and took my hand and led me across to that wide, low kind of folded cushion. He drifted down onto it in a real pretty way so I tried too, only I more kind of thumped down next to him. He folded the laptop screen down and it went dark with kind of a squawk.

Sitting down like that, Lee was maybe a hand-length taller’n me. Stood up, I can put my ear just about on Bill’s belly-button, but I reckon Lee would have his ear right over Bill’s heart, and thinking on it that way the hurt come on like a auto wreck and all the sobbin’ just kind of exploded up my throat and all of a sudden I’m rubbin’ tears and snot all over my face and sayin’ how I’m sorry and I fucked up and who knows what all.

I cried so hard I just had to fold up with my hands over my belly, cryin’ into my knees and sobbin’: raking up up big jagged glass lumps of that hurt; and gaspin’ who knows what shit. My throat hurt bad: felt like I been screamin’ for fuckin’ years.

Anyhow, when I come down into just ordinary sobbin’, I could feel Lee’s warm hand, just resting on my back, between my shoulder blades and over my heart. It was funny: I was leaning against his side and I could feel how all his clothes was wet and slimy-cold from my crying, but the other side of that wet he was all warm and firm like a heating-stove on low.

He didn’t have to say nothin’, and he didn’t.

I just hauled in another gasping breath and said I done a aw-aw-awful thing and Bill don’t love me no more, and he stroked my hair.

I told him about all in that fancy limo, and in the restaurant – all of that - I didn’t leave out nothin’.

Lee didn’t say nothin’ while I was talkin’. Couple time he moved his hand – just his thumb, in kind of a - I don’t know: kind of like Raylene, but not. She kind of trades, but Lee: I dunno. Kind of like that huggyness? Only just with his thumb: one of them kinda Kung-Fu things, maybe.

I gone slower and slower as I got closer to the hurtin’. Partly on account of not sayin’ about my family’s business and the po-lice and givin’ them Bill’s address, but I told him about Dragon Lady Mary and the bath, and me sleeping and waking up to the yelling and being too scared to go and help Bill; just shivering on the floor the wrong side of that door and crawlin’ back to bed when it all gone quiet.

Took me a while to choke on the next bit: like to pushin’ a bowling ball up out my goddamn’ throat. How next morning I come downstairs in that stupid fluffy-plaid suit and -

I didn’t tell him about in the shower, not all the rubbin’ stuff, and it took a whole long time of circlin’ around and around, but I finally managed to snuffle it out into Lee’s lap, how Bill had just gone out and not even asked about me or thought about me or nothin’.

I couldn’t say no more, not about Bill laughin’ at me and not likin’ me really, it hurt too much just sayin’ that to myself. I was near, almost total sure Lee weren’t gonna laugh at me but look how wrong I been about, about – Fuck! ‘Cain’t even say it in my head.

I was quiet when I come to thinking again, and this time all of Lee’s lap was wet and cold too, and I was breathin’ like I seen this rabbit one time after it been chased by dogs: shivering and sweating and gasping faster-faster like a heart-beat and suffocatin’ hisself.

“When I meet Bill,” Lee said, somewhere above me, “I am going to slap him so hard.”

I jumped, and I looked up real quick into Lee’s dark eyes, and it was like all of me – and I’m talkin’ every single bit – joined in shooting him that Look what said nobody weren’t hittin’ my Bill and anybody what tried better be wearin’ a tank or gettin’ ready for serious pain.

Lee lifted up his hand. It were all wet where I been cryin’ and the sun was shinin’ in through the tilted wooden slats so it was kinda glowing gold. He lowered it to his lap – it felt like it kinda pulled my Looking down with it.

“Or perhaps not,” he murmured, as I sat there starin’ at the little puddle shining in his palm, “Not if you’re guarding him.” He slid his wet hand softly under mine, and I grabbed onto it, shiverin’ like I been swimmin’ too long in a pool with the heatin’ broke.

All I could taste was salt. I swear my tongue was all swole up. I looked up, feeling a real deep sad inside and I seen half of Lee’s mouth curve up into a smile.

“Poor baby,” he said. “All cried out. Come on.”

I swear he just unfolded up off of that cushion thing like he got Star Trek antigravity and we went somehow over to his kitchen nook, me still hangin’ onto his hand. I’m sure all of his kitchen stuff was real class, but I was only lookin’ at Lee and feelin’ his hand.

Lee give me this yellow lemon-stuff outta his ice-box. “Isotonic,” he said. Could have been fuckin’ catatonic for all I cared; I slurped it so fast I near puked, and before he gimme another Lee made me count to ten, slow, only not like he was bein’ mean or nothin’.

I let go his hand so I could squeeze that second bottle with both of mine – that lemony stuff was neat, like cool squared.

“So,” Lee said, leanin’ against the side of that icebox all elegant like he was in a fashion commercial. “Bill’s a very special uncle to you, isn’t he?”

“Uh-huh,” I said, excited Lee was so smart, but scared too, on the same account. I was pretty sure I hadn’t said nothing about dirty fag-stuff, on account of Lee weren’t yellin’, but I weren’t sure, and with my track record for stupid? Oh, shit!

I watched as Lee hooked a little stray bit of shiny dark hair behind his ear, and stroke it with his fingers until it was all neat. “It sounds like you had a pretty unpleasant evening,” he said, “and I think Bill may have guessed that -”

Ya think?” It was out afore I could stop it. I ducked on auto-pilot, but Lee didn’t move at all, ’cept his eyes followin’ me and a gentle smile curvin’ his mouth.

“So perhaps he was scared you were going to say something nasty.”

“I weren’t!” I said it real quick, but I could hear my lame little whine for what it was. If Bill had caught me up outside Castle Iceberg I’d have yelled plenty and all of it as nasty as I could of made it. I gulped, thinkin’ about me saying bad things to Bill and hurtin’ him, and feelin’ real small and mean and no-account.

I’d been thinking of Lee like he was some soft little sissy-boy and he weren’t: he’d gut-punched me without even raising his voice.

“Everybody makes mistakes,” Lee said, his voice quiet. “Your uncle’s just a man, though -” and his voice went kinda dreamy, “- a pretty fabulous one, by all you’ve said.” I felt his thumb brushing my cheek, teasing me into looking up at him. He sighed, smiling softly.

“And he really noticed me?” Lee said, his eyes shining.


“Uhuh,” I said, like always when I’m bein’ dumb. “Only he ain’t said so much, not to me. After I hid that napkin with your number writ on I just figured – an’ I felt bad -” I gulped. It weren’t nothin’ to the bad what I was feeling right now. I mean, sure Bill had spoken nice to Lee in Freddie MacBee’s, but I ain’t seen Bill speak nasty to nobody – not Shit Face in the restaurant Castle fuckin’ Iceberg; not even to Mary the Dragon Lady. Of course ain’t no way I’d dare speak nasty to her, not if you gimme free weed for life, I wouldn’t. I knew I got to talk about somethin’ else fast!

“Lee,” I said, tryin’ real hard not to do that whiny thing what makes Raylene and Duke both crazy, “but what am I gonna do?”

“Well,” he said, still leanin’ casual and looking like a million dollars, “why don’t you take him out on a treat?”

I could feel my mouth droppin’ open. “But I only got eighteen dollars and forty cents!” I said.

He smiled. “Well, Bill spent considerably more than eighteen dollars on you, and that didn’t really help, did it? What do you think Bill would like to do, that would cost eighteen dollars or less?”

Afore the restaurant, I would-a said “fuck my tight little heiney,” and yeah, kind of part of me don’t care if he really likes me or not if I get to feel him all warm an’ heavy on me. Like I said I’d been practicin’ and been thinkin’ a whole lot on how I could kinda hug him back – well his nice dick, anyhow – with my uhu? Duke don’t hang around long enough after he’s cum I could even try it out.

And then I got to thinkin’ on how Bill and Lee’s kind of the same? Kinda comfortable and it was when I got to tryin’ to figure out how they’s different, and all of a sudden I seen it and I could-a belted myself for bein’ so stupid!

Of course Bill’s been gettin’ mean and contrary: ain’t I been hangin’ around, wavin’ my little tushie, and well: with what I get to thinkin’ about around Bill, I just know my eyes an’ well everythin’ just been makin’ promises real loud. There’s a word for ladies what do all that ass wigglin’ and promisin’ and then don’t come across – and it ain’t a nice one.

So of course Bill’s gonna pay me back – he ain’t gonna just sit there and just take it like some pussy, is he? But then o’ course little dumbass here gotta up the ante, and -

All of a sudden I figured how that restaurant must of looked, and how pissed off all those guys must’ve been, and, well – you couldn’t charge a whole lot for a orange bug, but when I fell on that table I heard stuff get broke, and -

I took in kind of a big wobbly breath. “Lee,” I said, “you reckon maybe when I run out they kept him there, in the restaurant, and that’s why Bill didn’t c-come lookin’ for me?”

“What?” Lee squatted down, and for the first time he looked kinda shocked. “Of course he looked for you! Why do you think he was home so late?”

I hunched a shoulder. “Boozin’?” I gulped, feelin’ all shaky-scared. Usually it’s boozin’ before yellin’. Maybe Bill had gone an’ picked a fight too, like how my brothers do. ’Course, Harley’s a mean fuck, and even if he weren’t in the Pen, wouldn’t nobody mix it with him, and with Duke’s face it can be kinda hard to tell if anybody hit it recently or not.

If Bill had come back all marked up like Pop with his knuckles all bloody; knocked me across the kitchen and yelled all the don’t-you-fuckin’-ever’s, I’d-a figured how I’d fucked up – although, big clue: stuff smashed and people yellin’ - but I’d a talked him around: I seen mom do it a hundred times with Pop. Maybe got a split lip or somethin’ but he’d a fucked me real rough and then I just gotta watch out for random bashin’, but basic’ly he’d still’ve been my guy, right?

So Lee’s brushing my tears off of my cheek with his thumb, and sayin’: “Oh, honey, of course he looked for you – he must have been out of his mind with worry, and thinking of you upset and scared, or worse.”

But I wouldn’t have it. I dunno how to ’zackly explain it: it’s kind of like I get the feeling Bill’s family, you know? Okay, I know that’s dumb. I dunno: ain’t like he’s a teacher, or gettin’ paid or nothin’ so why should he care? Only with the birthday swappin’ thing, it was like he did care, I thought. Kinda maybe. I dunno how to put it, only when I thought he did I was so happy, all skippin’ about and happy-stupid, and when he was mean it broke inside me and hurt real bad, worser’n that time I fell out the car. Wantin’ makes you stupid, Mom says, and I got stupids enough already.

So, anyhow Lee talks to me some, and I’m too hurtin’ and mixed up to do the yes-pretendin’ game and anybody else I’d-a got bashed, only Lee goes quiet. He sits thinkin’ for a while, and I’m just fine with that, leanin’ against him, and he's got his arm around me as we’re sittin’ on the floor in his kitchen nook, and trying not to think about the big hole in my middle where all my guts are hurtin’ so.

Then Lee says to come along, honey and he takes my hand and leads me around and over to his bed, but turns out he’s just sittin’ on it like, and he don’t start takin’ his clothes off or nothin’, just picks up his iPhone and punches up directory and then a few places only I ain’t really listenin’. See, Lee’s sat just a little ways away, and we’re not touchin’ and doin’ that huggy-nice no more. Doin’ that was so nice and I ain’t done that afore. So I’m too busy workin’ up a bit of spunk, and I’m real scared maybe Lee’ll get it wrong, what with us on the bed an’ all.

See, one time I seen mom back a guy off, and it was real nasty. This was back when she was a dancer in the Pink Pussy - I was real small and so dumb I thought it was a real pussycat they had an’ I boosted some M&M’s to feed him. She sung some too, real pretty: about diamonds bein’ a girl’s best friend and this guy ‘Mac the Knife’. Anyhow, seems as how touchin’ was okay when she was workin’, but not in line at the liquor store. She turned to this guy what touched her and looked at him just like he was a insect: like he was nothin’.

But I was hurtin’ real bad, so I just move, and, and – kinda lean, you know? Just so my shoulder kinda touches Lee’s arm, just a little bit. Now if it had gone wrong and Lee had wanted to sex me, no problem - ‘cept I’m pretty sure we’re both of us piller-biters so that ain’t gonna work – and if he’d-a bopped me one, okay. But I was real scared: I didn’t want Lee thinkin’ I was a letch like that guy in the liquor store, and lookin’ at me like that.

And you know? He just put his arm right around me and hugged me close just like I done it just fine and carried right on dialing, just like everything was totally cool. I breathed out like I been holdin’ on a hundred years and he said not to worry honey, and I’d feel better soon.

It was like he weren’t thinkin’ about fuckin’ or sex stuff at all, so I just enjoyed the huggy-nice, and sat against him and only a bit scared it were wrong on account of nobody gettin’ paid or sexin’ nobody or nothin’.

After a while Lee squeezes me, and I hear him say, “Yes, of course, I do understand. I really am extremely grateful mister Sullivan. We’ll both be right here.” And he hangs up and puts that cute phone down on his lap. “It won’t be long,” he says to me. “They’re just not allowed to give out private phone numbers.”

“Who ain’t?”

“The Diamond Chauffeur Company. My, Bill really did choose the best for you, didn’t he?”

“He did?” I thought on it some. “Yeah, that limo was wicked.” I wanted to study on it some more, but I didn’t want to waste the huggy-nice time neither. I got to thinkin’ on how maybe me ‘n’ Lee could be nice to each other and I could maybe try some of that strokin’ and cuddlin’ like Bill done in the pod if I maybe give him a Shaynie Special.

Anyhow, Lee’s phone played a little karaoke tune, and he jumped and picked it up, real quick, and tapped on the screen and it stopped. It was funny, he didn’t feel so good all of a sudden: kinda tense, and when I looked up he was swallowing and blinking.

“I’ll call him back later,” Lee says and his voice don’t sound right: kinda tight.

“I thought you wanted ‘em to phone us,” I said, and he moved his face like he was smilin’, only I knew he weren’t, inside.

“That wasn’t the car hire firm,” he said. “That was, someone else.” And he lifted his finger and brushed it quick along his eyelashes, and swallowed. I know that look.

“Guy trouble?” I said, and he give me this kinda wide-eyed look. “Guy trouble hurts a whole lot,” I said. “I seen mom like that.” In the little room back of the bar after seein’ Mickey mostly, when she was puttin’ on her stage makeup, and tellin’ me not to let on to Pop or she wouldn’t get me no pussycat.

Lee just kinda smiled like he was bitin’ on the inside of his lip.

I wanted to ask Lee did he want anybody’s arm broke, but I dunno. Somethin’ about Lee; like how he moved, it was kinda like them kung-fu movies, you know? Only more quiet. If Bruce Lee was brass knuckles, then I figured Lee was more like one of them sticks what’s a sword really, inside. Anyhow, I figured if he’d-a wanted some guy’s arm broke, he’d-a broke it hisself.

Left me with nothin’ much to say, only I thought about Lee kinda holdin’ me before. Didn’t know what was okay and what was gonna get me called a louse and stuff, so I just tried to do it exactly like he done. I kinda put my hand on his back, about by his short-ribs and rubbed real gentle, and he rested his head atop of mine and I heard him take a deep breath, kinda ragged.

Then his phone done a different ringle, and he picked up and said: “Hello? Yes, that’s right – Lee Charoen. Thank-you; I’ll put it on speaker so that we can both talk to him. I’m very grateful. Thank you.”

Lee held the phone down where I could see, and tapped the screen. “Hello?” he said.

“Yo.” The voice comin’ outta Lee’s phone was like dark brown chocolate. “You the guy with the lost chile?” it said.

“He’s right here,” Lee said. “Say hello, Shayne.”

“Uh – hi,” I managed.

“I’m the driver, Brown Williams. Glad to hear you found, child. Me and mister Freund, we drove all over, lookin’.”

“You – you did?” I could feel it like the sun comin’ up inside of me.

“Why sure we did. And after the time ended, your daddy, he just filled my tank right up and we looked some more. Powerful upset he was, o’ course, and carryin’ on about your brother Jay, too.”

I wanted to say I ain’t got no brother of that name, only I kind of felt like I got a bone stuck sideways in my throat. I know Bill ain’t my daddy, but it kind of hit me outta the park havin’ my secret dreamin’ said right out loud like that, and it was kind of a shock to realize I’d-a stopped noticin’ blond guys what ain’t Bill. Ain’t even played boner-bingo: not for real, anyhow.

Lee nudged me, and I managed a “Fank-you,” but the rest kind of all got swallered.

“He’s a little upset, mister Williams,” Lee said. “There was a little shouting, you know how it is.”

“Lord, yes,” the driver said. “Child, don’t you worry none. Your daddy, he may-a sounded harsh, but he was just wanting you safe so you don’t go runnin’ off no mo’. Well, I gotta go. Glad to hear the child home safe.”

“Thank you for speaking to us, mister Williams,” Lee said.

“No trouble at-tall, mister Charry-yen, and thank you kindly for settin’ my mind at rest.”

“You’re welcome, and thank you for speaking to Shayne.” Lee said. “We’re in your debt.”

“Not at-tall mister Charry-yen; any time you need a ride you just remember old Brown, y’hear? Gotta go now, sir – bye y’all.”

“Goodbye,” Lee said, and his fancy phone chimed as the driver hung up.

Well, I just bowled Lee over on the bed, huggin’ him like to bust, and not even worryin’ he might think I was gettin’ fresh or nothin’, ‘til I kissed him, on his neck. But he didn’t neither bop me or connect to like, you know, business, just ruffled my hair and rolled us both over so we sat up.

“So,” he said, fishing his fancy phone up off of the carpet, “are you okay now? Hungry?”

I just nodded a big yes to both, or maybe to the happy bubblin’ inside of me, and followed Lee over to his kitchen part where he put me to cuttin’ bits off of this block of white stuff. Looked kinda like cheese, but didn’t taste of nothin’ much. I was so happy I didn’t even care about all the vegetables he was cuttin’ up too.

Lee fried everything in one of them round-bottomed fry-pans like in the Beni-Hana commercials, and, you know? It weren’t too bad: kinda like Taco Bell: crunchy and real pretty with all them bell peppers and stuff, only kinda warmin’ after, if you get what I mean.

Anyhow, while I was eating, I was thinkin’, figuring on Bill’s eighteen-dollar treat and thinkin’ on how I wanted to do something real nice for Lee, too, when all of a sudden it like, fitted together and I seen it!

Of course, I had a big mouthful of crunchy stuff and felt like I had to chew it for, like, ages; just bustin’ to talk with Lee watching me over the side of his bowl, them dark eyes of his all laughin’ and kind and his teeth white as them peeled almonds. He sure is pretty.

Well, I finally swallered, and I said to Lee about it all, and he said sure, he’d be honored, which I still ain’t figured, but he just lit up inside like one of them little candle lanterns so I know he really liked it and wasn’t just sayin’.

I went back to figurin’; trying to reckon on how my tips from goferin’ would maybe help out, and then all on a sudden the nickel dropped about how long I been at Lee’s, and with Duke waitin’ and Raylene mad and all.

As always, thoughts, wishes and encouragement warmly welcomed. Flames ignored.

Please mail me at tooluser@hushmail.com

Best wishes,