Chapter Seventeen - Inside the Turtle's Shell
by Jeff Wilson
Dustin sat quietly in the main room of his apartment staring at the paper he'd received. He still couldn't believe what it had done to his life. Everything was going to be different from that day forward. "What the fuck am I supposed to do now?" He said to himself. He'd managed not to cry over the situation. It wasn't like it was the end of the world. He knew that this moment may come eventually. "What am I supposed to do with all this shit?" He asked no one. He looked around the apartment, and searched to see if he'd forgotten anything. Everything seemed to be packed up in boxes. "This isn't fair. Nothing in my whole life has ever been fair. After all the shit I've been through, now this... It's a fucking slap in the face, God." "Dude, are you praying or something?" Craig asked. He hadn't bothered to knock. Dustin had left the door hanging open all day long. "Huh? Praying?" Dustin asked. "Oh... No. Not really. I'm just pissed off." "You think you're pissed off? What do you think this is going to do to me?" "I'm sorry." Dustin said. "You should be." Craig sighed. "You really fucked me over." "I know." Dustin said. "Did you even think about what would happen before you..." "No. I didn't think. I just did it and didn't think about anything." Dustin replied. "Shit. You're a real douche bag." "I know." Dustin replied, not looking at Craig. "Anyway, I just came to get my gun back." Craig said. "I see you managed to not shoot yourself with it." "Yeah." Dustin sighed. He reached into a box near his couch and retrieved Craig's weapon. Craig held the gun in his hands and checked the chamber. "You didn't replace the bullets. You said you would." Craig said snippily. "Wow, you're really a jerk when you're not stoned." Dustin replied. "No, I'm really a jerk because of what you did to me." Craig replied. "Dude, my mom is going to find out." "You don't have to tell her the reason..." "Fuck you, Smith!" Craig snapped. "I'll be glad I won't have to put up with you and your sex life anymore. No wait, your fucking sex life ruined my life!" "Here's some money for the bullets." Dustin said. "Fuck your money!" Craig replied. "I don't think that'd be physically possible." Dustin replied. Craig scowled. "Is everything a goddamn joke to you?" "No, but there's nothing we can do about what happened. I made a mistake and you got hurt. I'm sorry. I really am sorry. I shouldn't have gotten you involved." "Well you did get me involved, and now I'm fucked." Craig snapped. "So shove your apology up your ass." Craig pointed the gun at Dustin briefly, but quickly turned it away. "What, were you going to shoot me or something?" Dustin asked. "I would certainly like to." Craig said coldly. "You deserve it." "You didn't have to let me fuck you." Dustin replied. "You could have told me about what was going on!" Craig exclaimed. "Who fucks somebody after an AIDS test without knowing what their goddamn results are?" "Sorry." Dustin said. "I hate you." Craig replied. "Have a nice life, asshole." Craig turned and walked out, taking his gun with him. "He took that better than I expected." Dustin said to himself. Everything since that day with Brett had been like it was in slow motion. The walk into the center, going into the room... Every moment of it was crystal clear in his head. The look on her face told him all he needed to know... "I'm sorry," was not the first thing he wanted to hear. A knock at his open door shook him from his thoughts. "Hey Mr. Johnston." Dustin said. "Sounds like Craig was pretty angry with you, Red." Mr. Johnston said, walking slowly into the room. "Yeah. Well, I guess he has a right to be." Dustin replied. "I see you have your things packed." Mr. Johnston observed. "I guess this will be it for us, huh?" "Yeah..." Dustin sighed. Mr. Johnston sat down on the couch next to Dustin and put his arm around his shoulder. "It's okay, you know. It's not the end of the world." "I know." Dustin replied. "It sucks though." "Dustin." Mr. Johnston said firmly. "Listen to me, son. I know how you feel." "Not another story, Mr. Johnston." Dustin sighed. "Let's just... Remember the good times." "Okay... I really will miss you, Red." "You'll miss torturing me, you mean." Dustin laughed. "Listening to the wall maybe." "Well, the show you put on in the hallway took any mystery out of it." Mr. Johnston said. Dustin chuckled. "Leapfrog, huh?" "That was a rotten thing you did to Craig though, Red. You shouldn't have done it if you..." "I know." Dustin said quickly. "I said I was sorry." "All the same, I guess it takes two to tango. Or play leapfrog..." "You were a good neighbor, Mr. Johnston. Even if you are a senile old fucktard." "That's the nicest thing you've ever said to me, Red." Mr. Johnston laughed. "Yeah. Now get the fuck out of my apartment." "Well Red. If I don't see you again, I'm sorry you have to go." "Don't be." Dustin replied. "I don't deserve to have people feel sorry for me. I did it to myself." After Mr. Johnston left, Dustin continued to sit there on his couch, staring at the paper in front of him. It quickly became blurry. He wiped his tears away and stared at the paper. He looked at the scars on his wrists. He'd seen those scars every day of his life since he was sixteen. How often since that day had he thought about those scars? How often had he thought about adding to them? "You're sure?" He'd asked. "We are." The nurse had said. For a moment, the world ground to a halt. The time that the news took to fully travel from his ears and into his brain seemed infinite. "What happens now?" Dustin had asked. "Talking to yourself again?" A voice interrupted his thoughts. "Oh, hey Nate." Dustin said, quickly sitting up. "I was just thinking." "What about?" Nate asked, sitting down on the couch next to Dustin. "About my results... About what I did... About a lot of things..." "It was pretty dirty what you did to that guy." Nate said. "I know." Dustin said. "I really feel rotten about it. I do." "What if you'd have been positive? You could have killed that guy." Nate said. "But I wasn't positive. I don't know how, but by some miracle I'm negative." "But you had sex with him so you could get his gun. You used the poor guy." "I've used a lot of people Nate. I used you." "Well, I let a lot of people use me." Nate replied. "You weren't the first, you were just the biggest." "I'm sorry." Dustin said. "You've been saying that a lot." "Because I am. I've done a lot of bad things. I've hurt people that I really care about." "I thought you only cared about yourself." "I wish that were true. It'd make life a lot easier." "I see. So Big Red is human after all." "Why do you care what happens to me?" Dustin asked. "What do you mean?" Nate asked. "I mean, I used you for sex and fucked your boyfriend. It's not like I'm a good person." "I don't know. Does there have to always be a reason why we care about somebody? I mean, I know you've done a lot of stuff, but so have I. I mean, I used to get paid to have sex. You know how disgusting that is?" "You had to do something to live." "Getting fucked for cash isn't living." Nate replied. "I know." Dustin said. For a while the two sat there on the couch. Not saying anything, just sitting there next to each other. Nate put his arm around Dustin's shoulders. "Nate?" "Yeah?" "Can I ask you something?" "Yeah." Dustin sighed and looked at his shoes. "Well... More like tell you... I mean... You know..." "Yeah." Nate said softly. "Well... You know how you asked me... The other night on the computer... If I was moles... I mean... If I was molll..." "If you were molested?" Nate finished. "Yeah..." Dustin gulped. "It's why you shot your father's car, isn't it?" "Sort of..." Dustin replied. In his mind, he once again made a mental note to remember to never tell Billy anything secret again. "It's okay, Dustin. You don't have to tell me anything you don't want to..." "Yes I do. I have to tell you, Nate." Dustin said, managing to look at Nate's chest. It was then that he noticed he was wearing Brett's "I'm out of my mind, leave a message" tee shirt. He laughed. "What?" "Nothing." Dustin said. "Anyway... I was." "Was what?" Nate said. "My dad raped me when I was a kid." Dustin said, his eyes dropping back to the ground. "He hurt me pretty bad. I almost died." "When you cut your wrists?" "No. I mean he raped me so bad that he almost killed me." Dustin explained. "He put me in the hospital. I had to have surgery on my asshole. It really hurt me and ever since then I've been scared about doing stuff there... It's why I snapped on you when you touched me." "Oh..." Nate said. Suddenly a lot about Dustin Smith made sense. "Yeah..." Dustin said. "Brett's the one who saved me from him. He told my mom what was happening." "I see." Nate said. "Then I beat the shit out of him." Dustin continued. "I guess I've always hurt the people who care about me." "I'm sorry." Nate said. "I know it sounds stupid..." "No. It makes a lot of sense. I mean, I think in a way, I already knew. I knew you had something really bad happen to you." "Is it that obvious?" Dustin asked. "Well, it's like the scars on your wrists... You've got worse scars than those. But they're not visible. I think if somebody really cares about you they can see it." "Nate..." Dustin said. "Yeah?" "Why do you care about me?" "Because I do." Nate said. "Why?" Dustin asked. "Because you didn't look down on me when you found out about what I used to do." "Is that it?" Dustin asked. "That was a big part of it. But we have a lot in common too." Nate said. "We were both abused." Dustin said. "But we didn't let it destroy us." Nate replied. "We both tried to kill ourselves." Dustin said. "But we're both survivors." Nate replied. "We both got kicked out of our apartments." Dustin said. "Well, I walked out. You got evicted for having sex in the hallway." Dustin picked up the note he'd placed on the floor. "Yeah... It was pretty stupid. It got poor Craig kicked out too." "Too bad I couldn't have been in the hallway watching." Nate laughed. "Nate?" "Yeah?" "What's your middle name?" "Thomas." Nate replied. "Nathaniel Thomas Stevens." Dustin said. "Dustin Dwayne Smith." Nate replied. "My mom wanted to name me Vince." Dustin said. "My mom wanted me to be straight." Nate replied. "But then I met this big red head who screwed the hell out of me. And how could I go straight after that?" "Nate?" "Yeah?" "Do you love me?" Dustin asked. "Are you still afraid of love?" Nate asked back. "No... I'm fucking petrified." Dustin chuckled. "You told me in the diner that time that you were never going to be a victim again. I thought about that for a long time. I could see how hurt you were. There you were, this big six foot grown man... But you're still a scared little kid too. I knew I loved you when I saw that. You're like a turtle." "A turtle?" "Exactly. You've built this hard shell around yourself, the whole "Big Red" persona you've created. But underneath, you're so..." "So what?" "So... Dusty." Nate replied. "There's this little boy inside there who had to start hiding when he was thirteen and is so afraid of coming out of his shell because he doesn't want to get hurt. That's what I really love about you. Big Red is okay and all, but I love the real you. So the answer is yes, I love you." Dustin smiled. He couldn't help it. It was like the smile would have burst out of him if he didn't allow it to spread across his face. It wasn't often that someone would see that smile unless he had his dick in them. But there it was, the most pleasant and happy smile that had ever been on the face of Dustin Smith. Dustin slowly moved toward Nate. Nate's arm was already around Dustin's shoulders, so that by the time Dustin's lips connected with Nate's, they were locked in a soft embrace. For only the second time in his life, Dustin allowed himself to enjoy a kiss without any thought of getting naked. For a while, they simply enjoyed the warm feelings that come from resting in the arms of someone who loves you. When they finally allowed their lips to part, Dustin asked softly. "So, what would you do if Big Red walked through the door right now?" "I'd tell him to go away, I've got somebody even better." "Nate?" "Yeah?" "I love you." Dustin said so quickly it was almost one word, his face almost as red as his hair. "I love you too, Dusty." Nate smiled.
Three months later..."That was wonderful." Dustin sighed. "You're telling me." Nate said. He rested his head on Dustin's chest and squeezed him gently. "I never thought I would ever enjoy doing that again." "I'm glad you liked it." Nate said. He made circles around Dustin's nipple with his finger. "So... I guess that's the last time we'll ever do it in this state, huh?" Dustin asked. "We might come back some day." "What for?" "Well... I guess..." "Billy and Brett are moving to New York City in the fall. Mom's leaving for Arizona. My sister lives in Indiana now. Who would we come back here to see?" "I don't care. The only thing that matters is that we're together." "We're together and we're actually going to get out of this black hole they call the Mon Valley. You know, before I met you I thought I'd never leave this place. I thought I'd be stuck here forever." Nate rolled off of Dustin and rested on his side, propping his head up. Dustin soaked up the view of his lover's nude frame. "So, you never did tell me." Dustin laughed. "Tell you what? Chicago or Seattle?" "I thought we decided on Chicago. But that's not what I meant. You know what question I mean." "Ah... That question..." Dustin laughed. He rolled out of bed and found his underwear on the floor where Nate had tossed it. "Yeah. We're already heading that way to see Billy and Brett." "And you want to take a little side trip up to Vermont." Dustin laughed. "Do you want to?" Nate asked. "Or are you afraid?" Dustin sighed. He looked at the naked young man laying on the bed where he'd shared his body in a way he'd been too scared to share with anyone else. The man who'd made him feel safe and unafraid for the first time in his life. He knew the answer. "I used to be afraid." Dustin replied. "But I'm not anymore. As long as I have you." Nate smiled. He rose from the bed and found Dustin's arms. "So, do you think two guys like us can make it?" Dustin thought for a few seconds. "I don't know. We'll just have to find out."
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