J e r o m e
"I've got this friend," Seth said suddenly, "He's a little older than us, but he's a pretty good guy mostly. Likes to lecture, and always trying to teach a lesson of some kind. I was planning on heading for my shack, but since you're here we'll go see him. I think he'll help you, and he might let me crash for a few hours," he winced a bit, "my head hurts."
"Seth, I got a question man," I stated.
"Sure, shoot," he replied.
"What did you mean you had a good night last night? You were passed out on the floor with puke fanned in front of you. Plus, why did you call that chick Monica and then she introduced herself as Christa?" I asked.
"Okay, one thing at a time. Monica has like six names, she just has a thing for them. She likes them, so we call her whatever she wants to be right then," he replied.
"Okay, so what about having a good night?" I asked.
"I'm what you might call a procurer of items in demand," he said with a flourish. "People want stuff and I get it for them, for a price," he said with a youthful grin that seemed at the same time to be very old and jaded.
"You're a pusher," I said.
"Procurer," he grunted. I fell silent, feeling somewhat uncomfortable with the nature of his business. I had never been friends with the pot farmers, just bought, and never anything more than pot. Seth was obviously into more than pot, and that worried me. He was the only ally I had at the moment, and the nature of his 'work' could be problematic for me, not to mention him. Not that he appeared concerned.
"Look, it gets things paid and I don't have to sell my ass 'cause it's all I have that's worth a shit, okay? So don't fucking judge me, Jesus Christ!" he exclaimed, standing up from the table and throwing his half eaten muffin in the trash, "If it bugs you so goddamn much don't hang near me, alright asshole?"
"Seth, calm down, why are you so fucking defensive?" I asked worriedly, not wanting to be alone.
"Nothing," he sighed, shoulders slumping, "C'mon, let's see if Nick's awake."
I stood and threw away my garbage before joining him, while I continued to sip my coffee. "Who's Nick?" I asked.
"Nick Archer, he lives on the other side of town, nice area. He's a bachelor and he teaches over at the high school. He's just about the only adult I ever trusted I think, even if he is a pain in the ass half the time."
"What makes you say that?" I asked, anxious to keep him talking in a reasonably happy tone of voice.
"When my parents blew town one night he took care of me a little, I didn't have any place to go. My 'rents were assholes, Dad couldn't keep a job and Ma was on the rag twenty four by seven." He paused, " I think they sold my little brother. You know, to people that couldn't have kids? I think they sold him. I was too old, otherwise they probably would'a sold me too." He stopped in mid step and I turned to look at him, "you know, you're only the second person I ever said that to? And I don't even know why I told you."
There was a genuine hurt in his voice that was painful to hear. Looking at him he would seem to be very young, younger than myself, surely no more than fourteen. I shivered at the thought of what his life had been like so far, and resolved to be a good friend to him. I was getting very tired, and my head was beginning to hurt.
"How far is this guy's house?" I asked, changing the subject and keeping to safer topics.
"Not much farther, Holden is a small town, maybe eight more blocks. He ought to be having his coffee about now. He doesn't eat breakfast though, but he might have some cereal," Seth remarked. My stomach grumbled slightly, but my aching head and tired body were winning the battle on what I wanted most right then. We walked in silence for a few more blocks, all the while my mind was churning on so many things at once it was difficult to keep track of them all. Naturally, I was thinking about my own situation. Where I would go and what would I do to get by? I didn't want to 'sell my ass' like Seth mentioned, but I didn't want to push drugs either. So what choices did that leave me? Well, that was the question, and maybe this Nick guy would have some answers.
I was also wondering about my new friend, Seth. I knew he sold drugs, I also knew that could mean real trouble for us both if I stuck with him. I'd try, he had been good to me so far, really, and I was going to need that. I glanced at him as we walked, his face indicating he wasn't with me anymore, either deep in thought or trying to stop his own mental wheels from turning..
I couldn't go home ever again. My dad was a mean cuss when he was pissed, and now that he disowned me I knew I could never go back, not go back and live anyway. I don't know if he'd kill me, but I know he'd never let me in the house, and my mother would be too scared of him to do much of anything about it, even if she was so inclined.
We turned into the walkway to a small, neat house with trimmed hedges in front of a bay window. The attached garage had a Saturn parked in front of it, and it looked freshly washed. The one story structure huddled in the quiet suburban weekend morning while the morning sun slowly warmed the air. Seth strode to the door after a brief hesitation and knocked on the outer door. We were rewarded a few minutes later when a man about five foot ten yanked the door open. He had a shock of dark hair on his head, and heavy eyes that indicated he hadn't been awake long. His eyes opened a bit at the site of Seth and he grumbled something.
"Hi Nick, can we come in?" Seth asked sort of shyly. I know I don't really know him, but why was he shy with this Nick guy? I studied Nick carefully and wasn't entirely surprised to see that I was being weighed and measured as well. He was a sturdy looking fellow, thick dark moustache neatly trimmed. His robe was a neutral color and he wore slippers. A piece of cellophane from a cigarette pack stood out of his robe pocket. His soft brown eyes seemed sharp, definitely schoolteacher's eyes, and the kind that seemed to have eyes in the back of his head. I realized that conversation had started, and Seth was being very ingratiating, almost wheedling in his tone of voice. Nick didn't look like he was especially glad to see us.
"So we thought we'd just stop in and say hello, it's been too long ya know," Seth stated, and it sounded like bullshit. Nick wasted no time calling him on it either.
"Don't hand me that crap, you disappear off my doorstep right now!" Nick stated firmly, but Seth was ready for him.
"Come on, Nick, don't be that way. I didn't do anything to you, why are you so mad?" Seth's voice sounded as if it were pleading a bit. Things turned heated quickly.
"This isn't a flophouse! It's not a Bordello, I don't rent rooms by the hour, Seth," Nick stated angrily as he gestured at us with his coffee cup.
"It was just the one time, and I had to, Nick! I swear I had to!" Seth countered. I was growing more uncomfortable with the rising voices on this quiet suburban street.
"No! You're wrong, you didn't have to. You knew you could have come here for help!" Nick stated angrily and began to close the door.
"Nick, please, I had to. He was going to cut me if I didn't!" I could hear his voice choke with emotion, and I think I saw underneath his tough facade for the first time. "I came here because," he sniffled a bit, but still struggled to keep himself together," If he cut me anyway, I could get help here. If it was bad I wouldn't hafta die alone!"
Nick stood stock still, eyes on us while this sunk in, and then he sighed deeply as he ran a hand through his thick dark hair and asked if we were hungry.
I was introduced as we entered the house. Nick looked at me with curiosity, but held questions and comments for the moment. He said he would cook, but we were to both clean up first since we stunk, and I was inclined to agree with him.
"Seth, you know where everything is, why don't you get cleaned up and lay out some clothes for your friend, okay?" Nick said, an order more than a question, "And put your stuff in the laundry too, okay?" Nick headed into what was presumably the kitchen. Seth grasped my hand and squeezed for a moment, again something that seemed uncharacteristic of him, smiled and headed off to find some clothes and take a shower. He needed it more than I did.
I wandered after Nick into a small but well laid out kitchen. There were a chair and table set in one corner, and a bench built into the wall with windows over the back. He waved me to a chair and offered coffee with one eyebrow raised, and I accepted. I sat and he placed the hot cup in front of me and took a seat in the other chair.
Again I felt as if I was being weighed and measured while Nick studied me, at last breaking the silence and asking questions, which I expected. It was the silence that had unnerved me.
"Someone is usually not in the best of circumstances if they are in Seth's company, so what brings you to my home?" he asked, not unkindly I might add.
"Well, there isn't much to tell," I replied slowly, looking to gauge how much I should say, "I live up in Victoria, or rather I did. We came down here with my best friend's older brother. Some stuff happened at the, um, party and they left me here. I can't go home." I looked at him steadily, and saw in his face that he knew there were gaps in the story, maybe big ones, and he was going to leave it alone for the moment. I briefly thought of telling him about the whole experience, but all I really had to go on was that Seth said he was good people, and that he acted somewhat differently with Nick, almost...almost like he was a kid, free from serious responsibility.
We sipped our coffee in silence until Seth came padding up in a tee shirt and sweat pants that were too big for him. He smiled and beckoned me to follow him, and I did. He led me through the neatly arranged house and into a back room, obviously a spare bedroom since it had next to no personal effects. There was a large cat curled up on the bedspread.
"Clothes are in the dresser, and I'll show you where the bathroom is ... towels and stuff," Seth said while placing a hand on my shoulder, then quickly walking away from the room. I followed him into a bathroom that resembled the rest of the house in that it was small and tidy, but seemed much larger and sunnier. The bathtub set into the wall had a plate glass window looking out in to a small enclosure with plants and a small, three-tiered stone waterfall that flowed peacefully, making the bathroom seem to double in size. It was also strangely erotic, almost as if you would be showering outdoors.
"He keeps new toothbrushes under here, buys em when they're on sale," Seth commented while he opened up the drawer under the bathroom sink He placed a green brush on the sink, then opened the medicine cabinet that doubled as a mirror and retrieved the tooth paste for me.
"Seth? You seem to know Nick pretty well..." I faltered in trying to gracefully move to the question I wanted to ask, and I guess my tone of voice gave over that there was something left unsaid, so I continued, "I was wondering what he meant about the other guy you brought here?"
"It was just a bad deal," Seth muttered while averting his eyes and heading for the door. "Don't worry about it, Jerome."
He left me in there with just those words, and I have to admit it was curious. He was leaving things out, and I knew something happened, something he thought threatened his life even, but I wasn't privy to that. Well, I couldn't blame him, could I? He barely knew me, no matter how well we were getting on with each other. I ran water for a shower and was done quickly. My father never wanted the shower on for more than five minutes due to the energy expended to heat the water. It was one of the few rules he made and followed himself, and seemed to be ingrained in me. After toweling off, I combed my hair and brushed my teeth, my mouth feeling a hundred times better. I wrapped a towel around my waist and headed into the spare room to get some clothes, and then I returned to find Nick cooking and Seth chatting away from the table.
"Wow, I guess you clean up good, huh Jerome?" Seth said with a smile on his face.
"The proper grammatical term is he cleans up well, Seth," Nick intoned.
"Put your red pen away, Teach," Seth replied. Nick turned a sour look towards Seth.
"Hey, you clean up well too!" I replied to Seth, and reached over to his still damp hair, messing it up completely.
Breakfast was served, and it was more filling than the stuff from McDonald's, even though the eggs were a little burnt and the bacon somewhere between raw and waiting for the evening slop. My headache continued to worsen and I asked Nick for some aspirin, and he obliged me.
Seth yawned, and it was definitely contagious as I also yawned deeply.
"Why don't you two go get some rest, I'll get you up in a few hours," Nick said, and we both stood thanking him. We headed back to the spare bedroom. Seth seemed nervous about being there, but I was frankly tired, and with a full belly was more than willing to sleep with a camel if necessary. Two cats scattered from under the bed, and the big tom on the bedspread trotted out while shooting us a dirty look. Much like a New York City pigeon does when walking out of your path.
I lay down on the bed and stretched out, listening to my joints pop as they settled into the soft bed, the comforter draped over me. I felt Seth settle on the other side of the bed, springs creaking slightly. I was comfortable, but then Seth shifted. Again. And again. He was obviously not able to get comfortable.
"Am I taking up too much of the bed?" I asked.
"No, you're fine," he stated.
"Do you need more covers?" I asked, trying to be accommodating.
"No, I'm fine," he said again.
Suddenly he got out of the bed and started pacing as if he was going to go out the door, and then headed back, and then repeated the process.
"Seth, what's wrong?" I asked a bit guiltily. He was probably nervous because I told him what happened at the rave, I reasoned, and didn't want to be in the position of being taken advantage of. He stood near the door, looking at me and shaking visibly, worry etched in his face. He began breathing heavily as he looked at me square in the eyes, all the playfulness he had shown earlier gone as he stared me down.
"Last time I was in this room I was raped," he said defiantly, obviously trying to hold himself together.
"How?" I asked softly, sensing this needed to be let out and he hadn't done so yet.
"I was at a rave on the other side of town about four months ago. This guy, he's big in the drug scene, he threatened to cut me if I didn't blow him. He was high, I mean greased like a diesel train.
"The cops showed up and he was right on my heels as we ran into the night. He was majorly pissed, like homicidal cause he lost a bunch of blow in the joint. It was totally whacked, and I was the only one there for him to take it out on," he shivered as he seemed to relive the moment.
"He wanted to do me right there in the woods, but I pleaded with him, I told him I knew a place we could at least have a bed, be comfortable. I thought he was going to kill me. That knife he carries; it's like an Army Ranger knife or something. It's got ridges on the top, tears your guts up on the way in and out." He paused to catch his breath, "So I brought him here, and he straightened up and acted cool in front of Nick, but I was scared so bad I was going to go in that room and never come out. Once we got in here, he was back to what he was in the woods, at the rave, he..." tears welled and fell as he wrapped his arms around his thin chest, "It hurt real bad," was all he could finish with, voice trembling with emotion.
"Nick heard it, and he was pretty pissed, but he didn't know the whole deal. He thought I was just here to fuck and flop," he inhaled raggedly. "He chased us both out, had a poker from the fireplace. I stayed at my shack from then on, this is the first time I've been back."
A small creak was heard from the hallway and Seth grabbed the door handle, jerking the door open to expose a startled Nick in the hallway.
"I heard you pacing, I was coming to check on you..." Nick trailed off.
"I know this sounds stupid," Seth again inhaled raggedly while trying to hold back his tears, "but can I?" He lifted his arms weakly towards Nick before letting them fall back to his sides.
"You have to learn to ask for what you want," Nick said opening his arms, "and a hug is easy to ask for."
Seth fell into the embrace and released a torrent of tears while Nick gently rocked him, murmuring soft words. At last Seth could cry no more, and Nick led him back to the guest bed where he tucked him in and told him to sleep. The door would stay open so Nick could hear if he needed something.
We both slept.
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