"I need to apologize to your friend at the front desk when we leave. I can't believe I freaked out. Hell, that wasn't the first time I've been hit on at the gym. It happened at home and I got a BJ out of it." CJ smirked, remembering how pissed off his dads had been and how cool César had been about it anyway. "It may take me a little bit to calm down after last night. But there's no way I'm going to let those two fucktards screw me up. I'm going to learn how to keep myself safe. I can do it physically but I'm going to stop being naïve. I can't trust people just because they seem friendly. I'm not going to hide and I'm not going to slow down. I wasn't born to sit around. I was born to run."
By the time they left WOOF, CJ was entirely embarrassed and pissed off all over again. Embarrassed at how he had reacted to a simple touch of his thigh and an invitation to have sex from a hot guy. Pissed off at José-María and Bernardo for what they'd tried to do to him, and at himself for never even considering the possibility someone would try to take advantage of him by getting him high. He knew he'd never accept something to drink from a stranger again, unless there were people he knew and trusted around him.
"Where are we going now?" CJ adjusted his sunglasses and pulled up the long sleeves of the black t-shirt―with a caricature of a blue Evil Flying Monkey on it―he'd changed into after their shower. They'd stepped outside to a bright, warming day with no clouds visible in the sky, walked to the corner, and waited to cross 10th Avenue.
"Hope you don't mind. I need to pick up something at a store a few blocks away," replied Sean, typing away on his phone, occasionally looking up. "I'm texting Doc, letting him know we're out and about. And asking him to call us when he and your buddy get into the City."
"'Kay. That works. What are we picking up and when and where are we having lunch?"
"Nosey and always hungry. Yup, I remember being a teenager. I need to buy a half dozen jock straps. We're going to Nasty Pig."
"Nasty Pig? Really? That's the name of the place?" CJ broke into a broad smile, giving Sean a wide-eyed stare.
"Yes, really. That's the name of the store. It's a tiny place, owned by a couple of guys I know. They specialize in clothing for gay men."
"No wonder you look so gay if that's where you shop for clothes." CJ chuckled and moved a step closer to the curb.
"I'll give you gay," replied Sean, reaching over and pulling the boy into a head lock.
"Hey, why are you buying jockstraps anyway? You weren't wearing one today."
"I didn't think I'd be going to the gym this morning so I didn't pack one. But I'm doing a porn shoot later this week and I need a couple of them for it. I'll wear them while filming and then sell them on the internet."
"What? You sell your used straps? People actually buy them?"
"Hell, yeah. The ones I wear to the gym sell for twice the price I pay. Those I wear for a movie go for five times. I write the name of the video and the date of filming on them, sign them, and I have whichever guy I fuck do the same."
"I can't believe this shit. Why would someone want one of your used jockstraps?"
"Porn memorabilia collectors, piss pigs, cum junkies..." Sean paused momentarily, nodded his head in the direction of the store they were in front of, and pulled the door open. "We're here. Whatever people are into, I try to add a little of me to each item they buy. It's easy money."
"Sean!" The shout was almost a squeal. A blur of blue and white whooshed by CJ and wrapped itself around Sean. "Where the hell have you been?"
When the man finally let go, CJ stared at him, the smirk on the boy's face a reaction to the effusive greeting. Most likely around Sean's age, and muscular without the bulkiness of a bodybuilder, the man had brown hair sticking over the neckline of a navy and ivory striped tank top. Long, thick legs, covered in more of the same fur, extended below his jean shorts.
"Hey, Dakota," replied Sean, hugging the man who'd accosted him tightly. "I've been around."
"Bullshit! A bunch of us were at PRIME last Sunday and we talked about you. Nobody has seen you. Are you coming out tonight for the drag show?"
"I don't think so. I have friends in town for a couple of days. This is one of them. CJ, Dakota. Dakota, CJ."
The two guys shook hands and looked each other up and down, checking each other out. "Hi, CJ. Nice to meetcha. Where are you visiting from?"
"Hey, man. Same here. I live in Washington."
"No, DC." CJ felt as if the guy was undressing him in his mind. He barely shook his head in disbelief. What was it with this city and the guys in it? Was he wearing a sign that said, "Let's fool around?" He was trying very hard not to get angry. This was a friend of Sean's and he'd already fucked up once today in front of the redhead.
Dakota crossed his arms, tilted his head slightly, and brazenly appraised the boy. "Turn around for me one second. Please?"
CJ looked at Sean for guidance. The redhead nodded, smiling, and CJ complied with Dakota's request.
"Head back to the dressing room, guys. I'm gonna bring a couple of things over for CJ to try on. I want to see you naked," he said, looking at CJ. "Then we'll start adding pieces. You have a fresh face and your body looks good with clothes on. I think the bosses would consider you to model for our line."
"Do I have to get naked?" He once again sought Sean's counsel with a look; this time his friend had a serious expression.
"Remember some of what we talked about last night, CJ. You don't have to do it if you don't feel comfortable being naked in front of a stranger. This is an entirely different situation. Dakota's asking because of his job, although I'm pretty sure he'd jump your bones if he could."
"Pig!" said Dakota. "You're not my friend any longer."
"You're surrounded by gay men back home but they're not average," Sean snickered but ignored his friend otherwise and kept his focus on CJ. "The gay community has all sorts, as I'm sure you're quickly figuring out. You may as well get used to the idea a lot of men are gonna try to get in your pants. It's your decision, but this guy's harmless."
"Ummm, okay," replied the boy, after mulling it over for a few seconds. "Fuck it! I'm not ashamed of my body and this guy might be big, but I can take him if he tries something. Wow, that'd be sick if I got to do some modeling. And to think I came in here because you wanted to buy something. Pretty cool it could maybe lead to being a model."
"Get over yourself, CJ." Sean's chuckling and the comment made CJ stare at his friend's reflection on the mirror. "They only use real clients as models in their photo shoots. Mostly beef. And although you can probably pull off the look based on what I've seen, you're still chicken, buddy. You're not even old enough to sign the contract. One of your dads would have to do it for you."
"Dads? Chicken?" Dakota hadn't moved from where he stood; the stack of clothes he'd been pulling off the shelves draped over his arm. He kept looking back and forth between Sean and CJ, confusion evident on his face. "How the hell old are you, kid?"
• • •
"Dude, what are we gonna do about him when we see him in school on Monday?" Chipper had extracted the particulars of the previous day from CJ within the first few minutes of their conversation. When he and Doc met CJ and Sean at the foot of the stairs on 18th Street, he'd complained about knowing something had happened the previous evening, based on the flurry of phone calls between Doc, Sean, and CJ's dads. But he hadn't been told the reason. Doc explained it was up to CJ to share the details.
"If you'd asked me last night, I would have said I was going to beat him senseless. And leave him bloody, with a few broken bones thrown in." CJ closed his eyes momentarily and inhaled deeply. Somehow the whine of engines and tang of exhaust assaulting his senses was comforting. Being so high off the street, the sounds and smells of New York City traffic were not quite as sharp; instead of being disgusting or disruptive, they served to create a special atmosphere on the High Line.
"Don't think that'll work, bud. Hell, we may have to make sure he doesn't run into Uncle Brett. Your dad would probably rip him a new one on the spot."
"He, he, he... yeah, Papa can be a bit over protective." CJ stopped, leaned against the metal railing on the side of the old freight rail line, and stared at the cityscape before him. Chipper joined him while Sean and Doc hovered close behind, lost in their own conversation. "So do you know the history of this place?"
"Yeah. I remember it being converted when I was a kid. I know it ran further south when it was being used for trains, but a big chunk of it was demolished. It was built to get rid of railroad crossings on the streets. Sometime after that section was torn down, a bunch of people started the idea for turning the rest of it into a park."
"I like it. Like my cousins would say: great adaptive re-use. I like they left some of the rail and put in those recliners on them. Pretty cool you can slide them around. And all the plants look like they would be growing around railroad tracks."
"What are we gonna do about José-María? Enough of the design and architecture stuff. Answer my question."
"What's this we shit anyway? You ain't involved in this. I'll deal with him."
"Bullshit, I'm not. Of course I'm involved. You're my best friend now and no fucking way am I letting you deal with that shithead alone."
• • •
"What are we gonna do about José-María?" Brett slid in next to César and folded his pillow in half before laying his head on it.
"What's this we shit? You heard CJ. He's okay. Based on what Sean said happened at the gym, the kid may be a bit rattled, but he's holding it together. He may have to work through some anger, but the fact he apologized to the owner for overreacting, tells me he'll be fine. Not sure we can do anything anyway. Nothing ended up happening."
"So we're just going to sit back? These guys were planning on raping CJ and we're not going to do anything?"
"There's nothing we can do, Jarhead. They didn't get to drug our boy and they definitely didn't rape him. He's going to run into José-María again. Our job is to remain calm and make sure CJ doesn't go after revenge. You acting all pissed off around him won't help. I need you to remain calm and we'll talk to CJ when he returns. But you need to dial it back so you don't put ideas in his head."
"I don't like it."
"And you think I do? I'm trying very hard to think, before letting my emotions make decisions for me. Look, we're lucky we have a smart kid. He's definitely not your typical teenager. He's made mistakes before and each time he's learned from them. Many parents don't realize their sons and daughters can get straight As in school, yet their education is lacking. So let's chill, talk to him, and then we can figure out if there's anything to be done. I have a feeling this will be one more instance when good comes out of bad. As horrendous as this shit could have been, it's going to end up as a learning opportunity."
Chipper had wanted to meet up with his sister on Sunday, but Cristina had begged off. She had a test on Monday and needed time to study. They made plans to meet after lunch on Monday instead. That morning, the three Washingtonians and Sean took their time eating breakfast and getting ready to spend the day in the city. Walking outside the apartment, Sean headed towards Lexington Avenue to catch the subway down to his place, while the other guys strolled towards Central Park and the Upper West Side.
After checking in at the front office, and spending a little time talking to the administrative staff, Chipper obtained passes for himself and his guests, and gave them a tour of his old school. The UWS Trinity School was an independent, college preparatory, co-educational day school for grades K-12, boasting a long list of notable attendees including tennis great Patrick McEnroe, cellist Yo Yo Ma, and film director Oliver Stone.
In between classes, the former Trinity student stopped to say hello to a couple of his old teachers and each time was accosted by friends wanting to hear about life in Washington. Doc treated a half-dozen teens to lunch, before the visitors hailed a cab headed south towards New York University in Greenwich Village.
NYU hugged Washington Square Park, which Chipper explained was considered the heart of the Village and the school. Located at the foot of 5th Avenue, the Washington Square Arch―erected to commemorate the centennial of George Washington's inauguration as president of the United States―was the park's most distinguishing feature, and the spot where Cristina had agreed to meet them.
"Cristina!" Chipper waved his arm through the window as he tried to open the door and exit the taxi at the same time. He ran towards his sister who stood below the famous marble arch. Arms thrown around the young woman, he lifted and twirled her until she started screaming to be put back down. "It's so good to see you."
"It's good to see you too, little brother. I miss you." The girl ran a hand through her long chestnut hair, moving loose strands away from her face, before looking up and smiling. "Hi, Matt. It's fantastic to see you guys again."
"Hi, Cristina. It's great to see you too." Doc hugged the girl, kissed her on the cheek, and stepped back to allow her to greet CJ.
"Hello, Cristina. It's―" before the boy could finish his sentence, he found himself embraced by his friend's sister.
"CJ, it's so nice to have you back in New York," said Cristina, keeping her hands on the boy's shoulders, staring into his eyes. "Thank you so much for everything you've done for Chipper."
"What? I haven't done anything that―" He was once again interrupted as Cristina laced her arm through his and started walking towards the fountain on the other side of the arch. After a step or two she motioned over her shoulder for the other two men to follow.
"Yes you have. Stop being modest. You accepted my brother as your own and made a difficult situation very easy for him. He's told me all about it."
"Bah. It's nothing. Really. Chipper fit right into my group of school friends and we all look out for each other." A fleeting thought crossed CJ's mind; he wondered how much Cristina really knew about his relationship with her brother.
The group spent the afternoon walking around the NYU urban campus, wandering into buildings now and then, and stopping for a coffee break at the Kimmel Center. They even ventured up to the building's sixth floor so CJ could check out the school's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Student Center.
Back in Washington, CJ had mentioned he wanted to eat at Tom Colicchio's place. He was a fan of the Top Chef star and had read up on his various restaurants. Craft had opened in New York City over a decade ago and was considered one of the best in the United States, if not the world. Doc had agreed and asked the boy to make early reservations for four on Monday night; Cristina had an early class on Tuesday and had told them she couldn't stay out late.
"I understand the four musketeers won't be together next week as originally planned," said Cristina, accepting a menu from their server once they'd been seated.
"What do you mean?" asked Chipper. "We're going back to DC on Thursday afternoon. We'll probably see Harley and Thiago on Friday. And next week the four of us will be back in school."
"I think I've seen those two names pop up on your Facebook page," replied the girl. "But I was talking about Bradley and Patrick. I heard Patrick's grounded for getting suspended at school again."
CJ snapped his head up, tearing his eyes away from what he realized was going to be a hard choice. Everything on the menu looked good. "How did you hear about that?"
"Brad told me right after it happened. He also said his dad was going up to Boston to visit them this weekend."
"You talk to him?" asked a surprised sounding Chipper. "Since when?"
"Well, since we all met last fall, silly. He and I traded numbers and we keep in touch. I texted him earlier today to let him know I thought I'd done well on my test. And promised to call him tonight and tell him about my afternoon with you."
Doc covered the lower portion of his face with the menu, apparently trying to muffle his chuckles. "Boys, it seems your buddy may not have been sharing everything going on in his life with you."
"I'm gonna beat the fucker up when I see him next," mumbled Chipper, leaning in towards his companions. "I can't believe he's trying to make time with my sister. Doesn't he know it's supposed to be bros before hos?"
"Excuse me?" Cristina's reply dripped with indignation as she gave her brother an icy stare.
"Ooops, sorry, sis. That came out wrong."
"Forget it, bud," said a smirking CJ. "Quit while you're behind. Anybody else ready to order? All this looks great. I think I want half a dozen oysters, the Long Island duck, and roasted baby shiitake mushrooms."
"Very diplomatic of you, CJ." Doc grinned at the boy, nodding his approval. "And your choices sound good. Can't wait to steal a taste."
CJ woke up early the following morning, hit the bathroom, then slipped on a pair of shorts, a tank top, and his flip flops. He grabbed his wallet, wrote a short note he placed by the coffeemaker, and quietly left the apartment. Downstairs, he said hello to Ajax who'd worked the overnight shift and was still hanging around the building, before walking to the deli bakery a block and a half away. He wanted bagels, cream cheese, and Nova for breakfast and remembered watching the burly guy at the shop slicing the smoked salmon to order during his last trip. He thought it was so much better than the stuff he bought in Washington, vacuum packed in plastic.
The previous night, Doc had mentioned he wanted to do some shopping; after breakfast, the three men hopped on a bus and rode to Rockefeller Center. During his previous visit to New York, CJ had walked by St. Patrick's Cathedral on Fifth Avenue, but they had not gone inside. This time around, he told his traveling companions he wanted to tour the church. During the trip to Australia, he'd attended services at Christ Church Cathedral in Newcastle and been fascinated by the gothic architecture―something he wasn't familiar with, Miami being such a young city. He wanted to see the New York landmark which had been built in the mid-1800s, and specifically the famous stained glass Rose Window he'd read about, located high above and behind the main altar.
"Can you imagine the amount of work that went into creating all that stained glass?" CJ walked down the steps in front of the cathedral, flanked by Doc and Chipper, and stopped on the sidewalk. He turned around to glance at the structure once more and shook his head. "That's beautiful, but I'm still having issues with the whole thing."
"What do you mean?" asked Chipper.
"All the money spent on these religious buildings could have been used to help people instead. But then we wouldn't have these fantastic structures."
"In a way, construction of large places of worship help people, CJ." Doc started walking north, followed by the two teens. "For believers, it can provide a sense of peace and strengthen their faith."
"Yeah, well, maybe their faith's misplaced." CJ took one final look before crossing the street. "I still think religion is the root of all evil."
"CJ! You can't believe that." Chipper sounded surprised. "And anyway, you got it wrong. It's money that's the root of all evil."
"Maybe. But the two seem to go hand in hand. At least based on all the history I've read. Money, power, and religion tend to fuck things up real quick," replied CJ. "Hey, where are we going now?"
"Let's walk up Fifth," replied Doc. "We can pop into any shop we feel like along the way."
Guided by Chipper, the three stopped at the Tommy Hilfiger store, at Polo Ralph Lauren, and Abercrombie and Fitch. Whereas CJ wore mostly t-shirts, Chipper gravitated towards polo shirts and he stocked up on them. This was turning out to be a shopping spree which eventually got the best of CJ. He was carrying almost as many shopping bags as his friend, when they walked out of A&F.
"Check it out, guys," said Doc, pointing across the street towards the entrance of the high rise in front of them. "That's Donald Trump walking into Trump Plaza."
"That's where he lives," said Chipper. "He and his wife have the top three floors. Have you seen pictures of it?"
"Yeah," replied CJ. "Overdone, tacky, and ostentatious. Just like the man himself."
"Watch it, buster!" Chipper, his hands full, nudged CJ with his shoulder. "There've been rumors floating around since the last election that he'll run for President in the next one. He could be our next Commander in Chief."
"Bite your tongue. The guy's nothing but an overblown buffoon. He'll start shouting, `You're fired!' whenever he gets angry at someone in the Cabinet."
"Guess you won't be voting for him if he runs, eh?" Doc chuckled and ruffled CJ's hair before placing an arm around the boy. "Let's cross over and look in the lobby of the building. Then we can window shop next door at Tiffany's."
"Nope. It'll be the first time I'm old enough to vote and hell if I'm going to waste it on a clown. Anyway, he'd never win the nomination. Republicans can't be that stupid." They had stopped in front of the window of what Doc called the venerable flagship store of Tiffany and Company and something caught CJ's attention. "Can we walk in here for a minute, Uncle Matt?"
"You gonna buy yourself a Rolex? Wanna fit in with all the rich people in New York?" teased Chipper, looking at the display of men's jewelry his friend was staring at.
"Nah, I've got a watch already and rarely wear it," replied CJ, grasping the door handle and pulling it open. The bags in his hand swung against the plate glass. "And the dads have a few of them anyway. I've borrowed one of theirs whenever we've gone someplace nice and we dress up."
"So what are we looking at?" Chipper took his phone out of his pants and looked at it. "Yeah, I guess we all use our phones to check the time anyway. Speaking of which, we should think about lunch sometime soon."
"I'll be quick. I'm starting to hate carrying a big wallet full of stuff. I think I wanna try a money clip. Dad has one of them and it seems easier. All he ever carries is some bills, his license and a credit card."
"It does make sense," Doc stuck his hand in his pants' front pocket and revealed his own leather clip. "Almost anything else you carry in your wallet you can store in your phone these days."
CJ's credit card was getting a workout this trip. When they walked out of the store, his wallet had been dumped at the bottom of his backpack and the essentials he'd mentioned were now securely held in a sterling silver clip with gold accents on the Art Deco sunburst design on it.
• • •
"I hope we get to see Collins play." CJ was referring to Jason Collins, the out gay player the Brooklyn Nets had signed to a contract earlier in the year.
Doc, Chipper, and CJ had ridden the subway to the Broadway-Lafayette Street Station, where they met Sean before boarding a different train headed to Brooklyn. The Nets were home, playing against the New York Knicks, and Doc had scored tickets for them. Chipper was a lifelong Knickerbockers fan, while CJ, a die-hard Miami HEAT follower, announced he was rooting for the Nets because of Collins.
"I hope you guys realize you get to watch history if he does get in the game," Doc led the way as they crossed the street on their way to the Barclays Center, the team's home arena. "When Collins played in the game right after the Nets signed him, he became the first out gay athlete to ever play in any of the four big sports."
"Now you did it, Uncle Matt," whined Chipper. "CJ's read anything and everything he could find on this guy. He's been sharing what he read with all of us at school since Collins made the news. Get ready for a huge info dump!"
"Asshole!" CJ hip-bumped his friend while Doc and Sean laughed. "Did you know he wears number 98 `cause that was the year the Shepard kid was murdered in Wyoming? Or that his jersey was the top selling NBA shirt? The NBA's donating all proceeds to GLBT organizations."
"Let me guess," said Sean. "You might be going home with one of them. Right?"
"Maybe..." replied CJ. "But first I want a coke and a funnel cake. I'm hungry."
"What the hell else is new?" Doc threw his arms up in the air, looking amused and exasperated at the same time. "Lead the way. I guess there'll be life at the end of the funnel."
They ended up getting two of them so they could share. CJ disappeared with Chipper during half time and returned carrying a plastic bag emblazoned with the team's logo, a smug look on his face. The game's final score was New York Knicks 109, Brooklyn Nets 90.
On Wednesday, Sean left in the morning after breakfast; he made CJ promise to call him over the weekend to let him know how he was doing. After saying goodbye, the guys spent most of their time sightseeing. They were joined by Cristina in the afternoon, after her classes were over for the day. In the evening, the four of them attended the performance of Wicked at the Gershwin Theatre on Broadway.
Thursday, they cleaned up the apartment, strolled around Times Square, and after lunch, boarded the train to Washington.
"Sorry your vacation got screwed up, CJ." Doc had not brought up the incident with José-María and Bernardo after their initial conversation while walking the High Line. "I guess it sucked you didn't get to meet the Secretary General of the United Nations after all."
"It's okay, Uncle Matt. I still had a good time. Sean shouldn't have stopped me, though. I wanted to kill the guy."
"Right, y'all would have started a great international diplomatic crisis then," drawled Doc.
"Think about it," interjected Chipper, a smirk on his face. "CJ kills a Venezuelan big shot. CJ gets arrested and goes to jail. CJ meets Bubba, his cellmate. If he's black, CJ will never come back..."
"Asshole!" replied CJ, elbowing his friend sitting next to him. "You know something? At first I had all these emotions running through me. But then I sort of thought my way through them and all I feel now is anger. A black eye and a bunch of bruises weren't enough. José-María better remember what I told him and stay away from me the rest of his time at WALLS. I'm like a stick of dynamite. All he has to do is try to talk to me and he'll light the fuse."
Copyright © CJ Abello 2016
Edited by Mann Ramblings
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