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"Taryn's Song 8"


Still feeling uneasy, I allowed Trevor to walk us around his little junkyard paradise with a grin. The night air was getting a bit cooler now, and it brought a slight chill to my arms and shoulders. Sean and Milo were talking with some other boy as we walked over to them, and generally appeared to be welcome by everyone else around them. The boy they were talking to was rather tall with dark hair and light brown eyes, and was maybe 16 or 17 years old from the looks of it. Then, as Sean and Milo stepped out of the way, a fourth boy came into view. A bit younger, wearing a pair of thin rimmed glasses. The older boy was carefully trying to help him out of wheelchair by putting his arm over his shoulder and trying to assist him in standing on his own.

I couldn't understand why they were doing that, exactly, but the boy with the glasses seemed determined to give it a try.

"Alright, just...concentrate. Ok?" The older boy told him. "Are you balanced?" The boy nodded. "Are you sure?" The boy nodded again. "Alright...one...two...three..." He carefully let go so the boy could try to stand, but the moment he lost his support, he fell face first into the dirt...his glasses falling off as he winced in pain and embarrassment.

The other boy was quick to pick him up and dust him off, putting him back into the wheelchair and handing him glasses. The boy seemed so sad. So hurt that it didn't work. Almost as if he was about to cry from the humiliation of it all.

Trevor grinned as he brought me over and said, "Awww, nice try. Getting better every night, aren't ya, Doc! Hehehe! Maybe next week, you can try a cartwheel. Won't that be fun?"

I almost wanted to hide my face in shame for what Trevor just said to him. Was he really making fun of the poor guy after what just happened?

The boy looked extremely wounded by the comment, and with a deep sigh he simply said, "To hell with you, Trevor..." And he rolled himself away in a hurry before anyone could take another unnecessary shot at him for his recent failure. I felt bad for him. Really bad.

The older boy gave Trevor a bit of a scowl. "Really, Trevor? Are you kidding me?"

"What? Hehehe, come on, Dennis, the kid's not going to get his legs back. Every night he wakes up expecting them to be all healed and better. And every night he falls flat on his face again. If anything, you're the one being mean by encouraging him the way you do."

"You know that Doc is sensitive about this. Lay off, will ya? He's been nothing but nice to you since he got here. He's been nice to all of us. The least you could do is leave him alone." He said. Trevor rolled his eyes. "Seriously, Trev. Alright?"

"Ok! Geez. If he's gonna be a big sissy about it."

"If he ever does heal and gets the use of his legs back, I'm going to be the first one to grab a front row seat and watch him beat the living shit out of you. I hope you know that." The boy smiled. That's when he heard Alec cough up something that I'm sure was even more disgusting than it sounded as it gurgled in the back of his throat. "Whoah! That doesn't sound good at all. You alright there, little fella?" Alec pouted a bit as he held onto my waist, rubbing his throat with his hand. I was a little shy about being in the middle of an old abandoned lot in the presence of so many strangers, but the guy offered me an inviting smile and his hand to shake. "Dennis." He said, his cheeks displaying a pair of 'showoff' dimples.

"I'm Taryn. This is my brother, Alec." I said softly, giving him a timid shake as the faint rumble of thunder echoed overhead.

"Alec, huh?" I saw Dennis squat down to talk to Alec on his level, and he felt his forehead. "He looks a little pale. Feels kinda warm. How long has he been like this?"

"Umm...I don't know. Just a day or two, I think." I said. Alec held onto me, shying away from the boy more and more. "I think it's just the weather. He was splashing around in some puddles, even after I told him not to!"

Alec whimpered, "...Was not..."

"Don't worry..." Dennis said. "My mom used to be a pediatrician. Ran a small practice practically right next door to the house. If I had a brick for every time we had a kid rushed in sick for splashing around in puddles, I could have built the Great Wall of China by now." He turned his attention to Alec again, and said in a friendly voice, "I don't know what kind of stuff we've got lying around for fighting a cold, but I'm gonna go check with my friend Amanda and see if she's got something to make you feel a little less yucky, ok?"

Starting to release his frightened grip on me, Alec's tiny voice said, "Is it gonna taste like 'ewwwy' medicine?"

It made Dennis smile, "I'll try to get you the least 'ewwwy' medicine I can find. Promise. Deal?" He put out a pinky, and Alec locked his smaller digit with his as a bond to show that he was willing to trust him. Dennis stood up and told me, "I'll be right back. I'm sure I can shuffle through the truck and find something to help. But you might want to get him some place warm to sleep tonight if you don't want it getting any worse." Then he patted me on the shoulder and headed off to go find my little brother some relief. That was nice of him. Really nice.

When I looked back over at Trevor, he was whispering again with Sean. And they stopped the moment they saw I was no longer distracted. "What? What are you guys talking about?"

Trevor's smile could be so convincing sometimes. But I was quickly learning not to take it at face value. He said, "I'm making arrangements for you and Alec tonight. I think we might have a nice place for you to hang out. Something to keep Alec out of the elements for a few hours."

"Really?" I said. "Could we maybe stay the whole night? I'm soooo tired..." I told him. I actually felt kind of sad about asking. Really sad in fact. And....and it seemed to be getting worse. Like...by the second. "I....I uhhh...." I got a little bit choked up all of a sudden and tried to shake it off. But it was no use. The pressure continued to build, almost making me weak in the knees from its potent attack on my emotions. I thought about the hard times we were having on the streets, and how Alec felt SO bad right at that moment and how he was looking to his big brother for answers. Answers that I couldn't provide for him. Then, out of nowhere, I thought about us running away from home in the first place. I thought about the death of my father, and how much it hurt that first morning when he didn't come home. I thought about his funeral, and the way my grandparents seemed to just 'give up' on life once he was gone. I thought about my mother slapping me across the face in the kitchen when I tried to tell her about Chuck and how he tried to touch me and Alec when she wasn't around. I thought about Jason and how he NEVER loved me! Not EVER! And how much that heartbreak just fucking GUTTED me from the inside out!!! Ifelt the hurt getting stronger. Nearly CHOKING off of the miserable, bitter, taste of it all! A myriad of hurt feelings and harsh tragedies just seemed to flood my mind with no reason as to why, and tears began to pour out of my eyes before I had a chance to stop them.

What the hell...?

Alec buried his face into my stomach, and after a few short whimpers, he began to sob out loud. His fingers wrinkling my shirt as tears soaked into the fabric. "I wanna go home!!!" He cried. Now getting louder.

Suddenly, I looked up to see Trevor looking hurt as well...even though he was trying to get rid of the feeling as quickly as possible. Even Sean and Milo got misty eyed. And that's when Trevor called out in a trembling voice, "DION! Dude...can't you DO something about her???"

I was hugging Alec close when I turned my head to see a young blond girl standing not too far from us. Beautiful, like a magazine model. But sad. Very very sad.

Another boy that I hadn't seen yet seemed to jog his way over to the girl and put his hands on her shoulders to give them a friendly rub. "It's ok, Jenna. You remember what I taught you, right? About control? You want to contain it. You want to make it your own, remember?"

"I'm sorry, Dion..." She sniffled. "I'm trying..."

"I know, hon. And you're doing great. It's just a flare up. That's all. We prepared for these. I just need you to breathe." The boy said. "Go see Bryson and Amanda. They'll know what to do. Ok?" She gave Dion a hug and lowered her head as she went to walk to the other end of the lot.

It's strange, but...I think I actually started to feel better the further she got away from me. Even Alec wiped his eyes and his nose on the back of his sleeve and let go of the excess emotion.

Sean tried to fix his hair and regain his composure, whispering to Milo, "God...what a woman."

As Dion turned to walk back to whatever he was doing before, Trevor asked, "When is she finally going to get a handle on this thing, huh? Enough is enough already."

"For fuck's sake, Trevor, these things take time. It's a delicate ability to work with." He said.

"She's been 'working with it' for a couple of years now. How long is this going to take?"

"LONGER!" The boy said. "You're the one bringing unfamiliar energies into the lot tonight. You KNOW how that throws her off balance. What do you want me to do?" I could see him getting frustrated, and Trevor didn't push him any further. Dion didn't seem like much of a bully, but I wouldn't be surprised if he could easily dust this whole lot with Trevor if he got angry enough to do so.

"Whatever..." Trevor said, still working on hiding his emotions again after having them run haywire just as it did for the rest of us.

Dion's eyes met mine for a brief moment, and out of a lack of having anything else to say, I just mumbled, "Hello..."

"Same to you." He said, and turned to walk away. I take it he wasn't the friendly type.

"Trevor!" Came a female voice, booming over my left shoulder and causing me to jump. What I saw was one of those goth type party girls like you see on those Phil Donahue or Morton Downey Jr TV shows. Different color hair, purple bangs, shaved on the sides, lots of make up...like something straight out of Elvira: Mistress of the Dark on Saturday nights. She said, "I don't know what you think you're pulling, but I'm NOT taking your laundry night again! You can kiss my ass! I'm going out drinking with Bryson and Dennis, and that's that. Deal with it." Then she looked over at me and frowned her face up with a bit of a snarl. "What the hell is this nonsense? What's going on?"

Trevor grunted. "Rain...this is Taryn, and his baby brother Alec. They're friends of mine."

"They don't belong here." She said, staring me right in the eye.

"They were invited." Trevor said in our defense as I gave her dirty look right back at her.

"Not by me, they weren't."

"They're friendly..."

"They're dirty, is what they are." She said. "What the hell kind of name is 'Taryn' for a boy anyway?"

I said, "What the hell kind of name is 'Rain' for anybody, boy *OR* girl?"

Trevor's eyes widened immediately and he cut us off right then and there. "Ha! Whoah....ok! Rain, why don't you tell Amanda that I'll do double duty tomorrow night, and I'll just...I'll take Taryn over here with me. Ok? Alright. G'night!" Trevor put his arm over my shoulder to physically walk me away from that particular confrontation, but Rain and I held a hostile gaze for a moment or two longer. It wasn't until we were a few steps away that Trevor said, "Um, yeah...that's not really a situation that you want to involve yourself in right now. Ok?"

"What's her deal?" I asked, still insulted.

"Believe me, kid...you don't have enough of a lifespan for me to detail the long list of issues that girl has bubbling under the surface. Let's just say that she has trouble warming up to people on the first encounter."

"I take it you mean she's a total 'bitch', right?" I said.

Alec coughed and said, "You said a bad word..."

Trevor grinned, "Yeah, pretty much. But don't let HER hear you say that. Don't even think it around her. Trust me, she'll know."

"Hey, wait up!" I saw Dennis trotting over to us, and he had a small bag in his hand. He said, "Hey, we did have a few aspirins left in the truck, but I think they might be a little hard on Alec's stomach. Try to find a way to cut it in half or something. Maybe mash it up in a napkin and give it to him a little bit at the time with some juice. If nothing else, it should help with the fever." He looked down at Alec and asked, "What about your throat, little guy? Does it feel all sore and icky?"

Alec nodded, "Uh huh..."

"Ok. Well, I've got some candy suckers for you. They should make your throat feel a little better."

Alec looked at the little bag Dennis was holding and he squinted his eyes. "You're tryna fool me. I know what that is. That's medicine." He pouted. "My mom has those in the bathroom. Those are throat 'lockockzingers'..."

Dennis giggled to himself at Alec's adorably suspicious expression. "Hehhee, you caught me. But just taste 'em. These are special. K?"

He shook his head at first, but Dennis had a smile that could win over just about anybody. So eventually, Alec unwrapped one and put it in his mouth. He instantly made a face.

"Ewwww..."

"It's ok, Alec. That's just the nasty outside. You have to get all the way to the center without biting it, ok? There's strawberry jam in the middle. It's really good. Keep going." Dennis looked at me and gave me a quick wink. I knew he was lying, but my brother didn't. And by the time Alec had sucked his way to the center of that thing, his throat will have gotten a healthy dose of the soothing medication it needed and it'll be too late for him to get mad and spit it out.

"Thanks." I grinned.

"It's nothing. Really. It's not like any of us were going to use this stuff anyway." Dennis looked at Trevor and asked, "We're going back out on the town again tonight. You guys coming or what? We're just waiting for Bryson to get his second wind and we're off."

"Nah. Sean and Milo agreed to put a roof over their heads. And I think my friends here have had all the excitement they can handle for one night. I figured I'd hang with them for a little while." Trevor said.

Dennis looked at me, and then smiled at Trevor. "What's going on here? Is this what I think it is? What are you doing?"

Trevor blushed. I don't think I had ever really seen that before. Not like I had at that particular moment. "Go away. Go party or something. Leave us alone."

"Should I tell Gyro it's safe for him to come home now, or what?" Dennis asked, and Trevor's smile dimmed a little bit. It was subtle, but I noticed. Dennis gave him a light shove. "I'm fuckin' with ya, man. Lighten up. You give Doc a hard time and then turn soft on me? Get outta here."

"Yeah..." Trevor said. And that's when Sean and Milo beckoned to us from not far away.

A few raindrops were beginning to fall from the sky. I just knew that the cold air was going to bring more bad weather eventually. Chicago had been so screwed up as far as the forecast was concerned lately, I'm surprised Alec and I hadn't been washed out into the middle of Lake Michigan by now.

Alec was really exhausted at this point. Between coughing and yawning, he hardly had much of a voice to say anything at all. He kept rubbing both of his eyes with his fists, and I lifted him up in my arms so he could rest his head on my shoulder and maybe catch a quick nap while we traveled to...wherever Trevor had planned to take us next.

I didn't feel the need to say goodbye to anybody there in that place. I didn't feel the need to. And I don't think they really cared. The liveliest of the bunch were Dennis and Bryson, and that's only because they were high fiving one another and ready to go out and finish off their alcoholic buzz for the evening. I don't know why anybody would pick that abandoned lot to be a place to meet up and go out to have fun, but...there weren't any parents or adult supervision around. So why not, you know?

The rain began to drop down on us almost as soon as we stepped foot outside of the lot, and it swiftly turned into a downpour over the next few minutes. Cold, and wet, and uncomfortable. I couldn't really tell if Alec was asleep or not, as he would occasionally whine softly in my ear, his arms hugging my neck with a desperate embrace, hoping to find some kind of warmth from my rapidly fading body heat.

I held onto him, his feet dangling at my sides. My fingers were almost numb from the cold. I was dizzy from breathing so hard, but I wanted to keep moving. The rain was getting worse, and the thunder and lightning above was getting more severe. "Are we almost there?" I asked breathlessly.

Trevor told Sean and Milo to wait up for a moment, and Trevor allowed me a few seconds to breathe as he pulled me under a nearby awning in front of a closed bakery. The rain was so loud. The sky so dark. I just wanted to rest. Somewhere. Anywhere. I don't know how much longer I can hold out like this.

Trevor saw the look on my face as Alec squirmed softly in my arms, and I gave him a comforting kiss on his cheek. Alec's skin was like ice...and it was heartbreaking to me. I never felt so helpless.

It was then that he said, "It's alright, Taryn. It's going to be ok."

"I'm sorry...what?" I was barely paying attention. I was just trying to give Alec a little shake to make sure that he wasn't sleeping too deeply, for fear that his body temperature would drop even lower than it already had.

Giving me an intense look, Trevor brushed some of the strands of my soaking wet hair out of my eyes...and even though I'm not sure how he saw it...he caressed my cheek and used his thumb to wipe away a single tear from under my left eye. "It'll be ok." He said again. "We've only got another block or two to go. Can you make it that far?"

Nearly crying, I said, "I don't know, Trevor. I really don't..."

"You can make it." He said. "You might look all gloomy on the outside, but your eyes don't lie, Taryn. You've still got that fire in you, babe. That light that refuses to go out. Hold on to it. It's that light that's going to take you places that you never thought you'd go." Trevor made it sound so inviting. So possible. But the weakness that I felt was much more persuasive at that moment. It was so hard to even think about going back out in the freezing rain and trying to carry Alec another few blocks to another place that might be just as shabby and unwelcome as the lot was.

Still...it was either that, or stay right where I was. Underneath some temporary umbrella on the street, with the wind and rain soaking me through to the very bone from all sides.

Trevor was gentle as he tookmy hand and pulled me a step or two forward. My feet hurt. My ankles, my knees, my back, my shoulders, my neck, my arms. Even my SKIN hurt! But the moment I stepped out from under that awning and felt the cascading shower of frigid rainwater splashing down over my shoulders again, my only thought was how quickly I could get the strength to push myself and make it these last few blocks so I could find a nice, humble, spot on somebody's floor and pass out until sunrise.

Thankfully, that didn't take long at all.

We came to an apartment building on the corner, about 10 to 15 stories tall from the looks of it, and Sean and Milo were swift in letting us charge in out of the rain. Trevor escorted me towards the elevator, and it was only a quick ride up to the 9th floor before the doors opened. I was so cold that my teeth were chattering, my stomach sore from being clenched up for such an extended period of time. But I held on. Just for a little bit longer, before feeling the need to totally collapse.

I was amazed at how much heavier Alec had gotten after carrying him for so long. The muscles in my arms began to shake and tremble from the strain. But, even though Trevor offered to help me, I refused. Alec was my brother. I didn't trust him with anyone else. Not after Chuck. It was my responsibility to keep him safe, even from the people that I 'claimed' to know well enough to not betray me and cause him some level of damage.

Sean grabbed his keys and opened the door to the apartment at the far end of the hall. I was careful to mind Alec's head as I carried him inside, anxious to give my exhausted embrace a much needed rest. "There's a bedroom on the left for you to put your brother in if you want." Sean said.

Milo was quick to say, "Here, lemme show you!" While scampering off in the right direction. The apartment was a lot bigger than I thought it would be. Not huge, necessarily, but more than I would expect from two street kids who were supposedly living here on their own.

The bedroom was nice, with large windows that reached up to the 12 foot high ceiling, and a bed that was already made, sheets, comforter, pillow cases, and all. Untouched. Milo pulled the covers back for me, and I asked him, "Do you...want to put some towels down or something? He's still pretty wet."

"Nah, don't worry about it. Nobody uses that bed for anything anyway. The sheets are probably dusty, to be honest." Milo replied. "You may want to get him out of those wet clothes though."

I was sooooo eager to put Alec down on that clean mattress. I had to literally shake some of the soreness out of my arms once they had released their burden. Alec barely stirred at all. He was fatigued to the point where it was a struggle for him to even remain conscious. And I was far from being in the same position myself.

Trevor walked into the room with some dry towels and he tossed them to me. "Milo's right. Get those soaked rags off of him and get him warm. He's already sick as a dog. We'll turn the heat up a bit to make sure he's comfortable." He told me. "We'll give you some privacy. Just hand me Alec's clothes when you're finished, and we'll hang them up by the radiator to dry. K?"

"Ok. Yeah. Sure." I said. And...as I looked at Alec's sleeping face, his head on an actual pillow, his involuntary shivering dying down from the warmth of being indoors again...I found myself being overwhelmed with gratitude. A lump in the back of my throat. Teary eyed from the knowledge that my baby brother would be ok for at least one more night. Just as Milo left the room and Trevor was about to shut the door..."Trevor?"

"Yeah?"

With a sad sniffle, I said, "Thank you. For everything." And he just smiled and closed the door.

I wiped my eyes free of the tears beginning to well up within them, and I rolled Alec over on his back to take off his socks and shoes. He barely wiggled at all as I undressed him, drying him off as I went. The pants, the shirt, the socks, the underwear too. His bare skin was so cold, and he whimpered softly as I used the towel to gently dry his hair as best as I could. I'd had a lot of practice, giving him baths when he was little. But his main concern seemed to be curling his naked body up into a tiny ball, and clutching to the warmth of the comforter at his side. Even unconscious, he seemed to be stubborn about almost everything. I really hope he outgrows that part of his personality someday.

When I finally covered him up, it was like Alec's whole body melted into the bed. I heard a quiet sigh of relief as his little fingers clutched the blanket and pulled them up further on his shoulders...all the way up to his neck. His legs curling him up into the fetal position as his body adjusted to the warmth surrounding him. Safe. That's what he felt. That's what he was. He was safe.

I leaned down to give him a kiss on the cheek, and he squirmed with a tiny whimper. Hehehe, almost as if to tell me to leave him the heck alone. I gave his damp hair a few loving strokes with a smile. Whispering, "Alright, alright. I'm done. Promise."

I went back into the living room of the apartment, and quietly closed the door behind me. I saw Trevor, Sean, and Milo, all sort of standing in a circle. Whispering. Smiling. And they hushed up again as soon as they saw me enter the room. Trevor stepped forward and said, "I trust little Alec is all bundled up for the night?"

"Yeah. Thanks to you guys." I said. "I'll hang these wet clothes up. I just...I wanna say thanks. Sean, Milo...I can't even begin to tell you how much all of this means to me."

"Don't sweat it." Sean said. "Any friend of Trevor's is a friend of mine." Then he turned to Trevor with a grin and said, "It would be nice if he talked his friend, Jeremy, into giving us a few 'party favors' more often...but I guess we're not that important."

"Hehehe, Jeremy's just not in the party favor business. If you know what I mean. But I said I'd talk to him, and I will. K?" Trevor replied. Then he turned to me and said, "Taryn, listen...I hope you're ok hanging with Sean and Milo on your own for a while. I've got to go out and make a quick run."

"Wait...you're going back out into the storm?" I asked.

"I won't be too long. I promise, you'll hardly even know that I'm gone. I'll bring back something for you Alec to munch on when I return."

"You...you really don't have to do that, Trevor. I mean, you've already done so much for us already..."

"It's ok..." He said. "Besides...I was already planning to step out for 'bite', myself." And with a wicked smirk, he gave me a hug and told me that everything would be fine. I believed him. I always did. Why wouldn't I?

Luckily, Sean had some sweatpants and an oversized t-shirt that fit me just fine, helping me to shed my own sopping wet clothes and hang them up with Alec's. I got more towels and dried off, the friction of the bath towel against my skin helpoing to warm me up and make me feel better. I was surprised at how comfortable it was to be dry again. My body had been numb with cold for so long that I had almost forgotten what it felt like to be so relaxed. I kept one of the towels around my neck, drying my hair every time I felt more rainwater drip down the side of my neck. And I tried to be somewhat social as I joined them in the living room. It was the least I could do to show my appreciation, even if I was tired beyond belief. Sean and Milo sat, side by side on a plush white sofa. Comfortable.

Happy.

"Feels good, doesn't it?" Milo smiled.

"You have no idea." I said. I could feel the tension in my muscles unwinding, little by little. The pain on the bottoms of my feet...finally subsiding.

There was a brief silence in the room, and when I looked at the couch, I saw Sean and Milo both sort of grinning to themselves. Sean asked, "So...a runaway, huh?"

"What?"

"From home. You ran away?"

"Oh...yeah. Just...just for a little while though." I said, but Sean and Milo looked at each other as though they had heard that line a million times before.

Sean leaned forward. "Hmmm...so we know that you ran away from home. But you hardly seem like the troublemaking rebel type to me. And you weren't 'kicked' out, because you made sure to take the time to carry your little brother with you."

Milo winked, "You know what that means."

"Yep. Abuse. Am I right?" He asked. I didn't answer. But it was like I didn't have to. "What was it? Physical abuse? Or was it 'sexual'? I don't see too many scars or bruises." Feeling the discomfort of their questioning, I was about to ask them to change the subject. But Sean already knew the answer and jumped to the right conclusion. "Sex, huh? It's sex, isn't it? Just looking at you, I know it was sexual. That's hot." He grinned. "Don't get me WRONG, I mean...that sucks, man. It's sick. Sure. But I still think it's hot."

"Can we...just not..." I started, but Milo interrupted me.

"It's alright, Taryn. We're all out here together. Everybody's got their story to tell. We've all got reasons to be where we are right now."

Sean asked, "Was it bad?"

I don't know why I was even encouraging this, but in a moment of weakness...I heard my voice say, "He didn't touch me. I didn't give him the chance to. I took Alec and I got the hell out of that house as soon as I could."

Sean raised his eyebrows. "Preemptive strike. I like it. Smart move dude." I saw Milo lean back into Sean's arms and he held the younger boy against his chest in the most comforting way. "You're lucky that you got out when you did, Taryn. Those perverts are just like any other predator in the wild. Once they get a taste of young booty...they'll never leave you alone again. Not ever. You become their own personal catnip. Trust me, I speak from experience." He told me. "So how long have you been on the run again? You and Alec? A couple of days?"

I was finding it hard to really remember how many days had actually passed since we left home. I saw the sun come up. I saw the sun go back down. I slept wherever and whenever I could...but the passage of time was so hard to track when you're living on the street. "I can't really be sure. I think...a week, maybe. I lost count somewhere along the way."

"Really, that's it?" Sean asked. "No wonder you're still so pretty. Hehehe, you haven't been fully broken in yet." Milo rolled onto his side to give Sean a squeeze, and got an equally affectionate squeeze in return. "So, have you run out of money yet?"

"Money? Yeah. Most of it was gone about...a day or two ago, I think."

"Ouch. That's harsh. Especially, with a sick youngster to feed. I'm guessing he hasn't been a bundle of childish wonder since the cheeseburgers stopped coming in regular. Hehehe!"

I grinned. "No. No, he has not. I swear, the temper on that boy could frighten the devil himself once you get him going." I felt a bit of a shiver go through me, and I crossed my arms across my chest to warm up a bit more.

"Milo? Why don't you get up and give Taryn the extra blankets off of our bed for the night..."

"No no...that's ok. It was just a chill. It'll go away." I said.

"It's fine. Really." Sean said, and Milo hopped up to get me the blankets, lightly draping them over my shoulders when he re-entered the room. "Better?"

"Yes. Thank you." I told him.

"You can keep 'em." Milo smiled.

"But...won't you guys be cold when you go to sleep tonight?"

Sean smiled, "Believe me, Taryn...we're gonna be cold when we sleep tonight no matter how many blankets we've got. Help yourself. We want you to be comfortable." Then he asked, "So...do you have any idea where you're going to stay? What you're going to do out here?"

"Oh...um...I don't know. I'm still sort of working things out." I said. "Does...does Trevor have a place? Do you think he'd put me and Alec up for a little while?"

I could tell that Sean was holding back with his answer. "Trevor...uhhh, he's got a place. It's not nearly as nice as this one though. Believe me. I don't know why he hangs around there. Honestly, I think he just does it for the company. Maybe you'll be the one to convince him to step up to a more conventional place to lay his head."

Thinking about it, I said, "How do you guys afford this place? Does somebody just let you stay here, or...?"

"Do you really want to know?" Sean asked. With that glimmer in his eye, I wasn't exactly sure if I wanted to hear it or not. Something told me what he was going to say before he said it. It was just a feeling I got. "You know...if, for some odd reason, you have trouble 'going home' again, and you need to extend your stay on the streets...I know a guy. I could hook you up if you're interested."

"Hook me up? I...I don't think..."

I saw Milo smile, but he stayed quiet. Sean told me, "Listen...Taryn...you're really cute. I'm sure you know that already. And other people...they know that too. Just take a few seconds to ponder what some people think about you when you enter a room. Imagine how they look at you. Fantasize about you. Maybe even take enough initiative to brush up against you. 'Accidentally', of course." Sean lowered his voice slightly, and said, "Now...imagine what those people would pay...to make that fantasy come true."

I didn't want to be insulting, but I found it hard to look Sean in the eye after he said that. And so blatantly. I turned my gaze down to my shoes, and found myself squirming in my own skin. "So...you mean...you and Milo...? You guys...?"

"We hustle. Yeah. That's our business. And business is always booming. Bryson and Amanda back at the lot don't necessarily agree with out lifestyle, but we've got tastes that go beyond a junkyard and a church bathroom." He said. I got increasingly uncomfortable with Sean's stare as he leaned forward to engage me further. "You know...I'm not just kidding around about this. If you need a hook up, nobody knows the biz in this area better than we do. We'll set you up, lovely. Teach you the ropes. It's a really simple game, dude. And all you have to do is look the way you look. The pervs will come running to get their hands on a fine piece of ass like you."

I couldn't believe what I was hearing. How could he actually approach me with something like this? How can he talk so...so openly about it? I said, "No. I don't need...I mean..." Trying to correct my stammer, I sat up straight and told him, "I'm just going to be out here for another few days. My mom will come back home, and I'll tell her what happened, and she'll have to believe me. I can go to the police, or one of the teachers at school..."

"Whoah, whoah...slow down. Hehehe!" Sean giggled. "You know it's not going to be that simple. Don't you, Taryn?" Then...Sean said, "Even if you got rid of good ol' Chuck...what about your friends? Jason and the others? Do you think they're just going to let you off with a warning? With a single beating?"

"But..." I couldn't tell if I was more shocked or hurt by his comments. "But, I never...I never told you about..."

"Let's just say that your life at home, the life that you used to have...is gone. Done. Over. And you find yourself stuck out here like the rest of us. What are you going to do? Seriously. What do you have to offer that people are willing to pay top dollar for? I mean...you're already out of cash. And that may not seem like a really big deal to you, but it will be. You see...being a homeless teen...running out of money isn't the problem. Running out of food? Now, that's a problem. And something tells me that your baby brother is going to be one hell of a handful when you try to explain to him why he can't have breakfast tomorrow morning." Why was he doing this? What was he talking about? I don't like this. Where's Trevor? Isn't he back yet?

"It's really not that bad, Taryn." Milo said cheerfully. "It's actually really easy. Sometimes, it can even be kinda fun. Depending on the guy."

"Exactly." Sean said. "It's all about finding the right guy to watch over you. To get you the kind of business you want, and keep you away from the business you don't. Somebody who's looking out for your best interests. Me and Milo? We've got this guy, Johnny, who's really nice to us. He takes care of the clients, sets up the dates, and we get to keep most of what we make. That's a major part of peddling, you know? Hooking up with the right guy to oversee things for you."

"You mean...a pimp?" I said, still unable to really look at them directly.

Sean grinned, and said, "They prefer the term, 'promoter'. You know...like an agent in Hollywood." As Sean was talking, I felt a growing sense of nausea in the pit of my stomach. It got worse with every word he spoke. All I could think about was Chuck...and the sickening feelings I experienced every time he touched me. The way his hand felt on my leg. The way his breath felt on the back of my neck. The way his eyes would basically strip me down to nothing and mentally violate me with their menacing stare. He made me sick. He made me sooooo sick....

"Our guy, Johnny, is a businessman. He makes sure none of his boys get hurt, and he scans all of our clients ahead of time. He does every one of them personally. No sadists. No psychos. No cops." Milo said. "He makes sure that we get what we're worth. Sometimes even more."

"Taryn, are you straight?" Sean asked.

"What?"

"Are you straight? Like...hetero? You like girls?"

"Umm..." Thinking about the usual reaction from most people when I tell the truth about this...I lied. "Yes. I'm straight. I mean...yeah, I like girls."

"Oooh, that sucks." Sean grinned. "Aww, I'm sorry, dude. You're just going to have to learn to suck it up then. Pun intended." Was he teasing me? Was this all a joke to him? "You can toss out any fantasies of servicing super hot, lonely, housewives on the weekends. That's not gonna happen. All you're gonna get is dirty old men, dude. One right after the other. And, with you being as cute as you are...those men are just going to get dirtier, and older, and hornier than you can even imagine. They are going to go gaga over you. Repeat clients galore." He said. "But if you can stomach a few hours of letting them have their way with you in bed...you can negotiate a BIG payout when it's over. They're totally gonna love you, Taryn."

"What about Alec?" Milo asked.

My knee-jerk reaction was instant hostility. "What ABOUT Alec?"

"How old is he?"

"He's only four years old!"

Milo and Sean snickered a bit. Milo rolled his eyes, "ONLY four years old, he says. Hehehe!"

Sean held back his giggles when he saw how offended I was, and he said, "Look, I know it seems like the most disgusting thing in the world to you right now. I mean, I get it. I really do. But after the first few guys...it's just 'sex', you know? A mouth is a mouth. A hole is a hole. You get to make some serious bank and you get to help a lonely old guy feel wanted for a few hours on the weekends. Nobody loses. Johnny makes money, we make money, and we get paid to have multiple orgasms in the course of a single night. It's better than working at McDonald's for one third the money. Don't ya think?"

"You know...I'm really...really tired..." I mumbled.

Sean stood up and said, "Here...take a look at this, huh? Big screen TV. And we got HBO too! Ooh, and look down here in the cabinet. Eh?"

I looked inside. "Is that...is that a Super Nintendo? But those aren't even out yet."

"That's because it's a Super Famicom. Japanese import. We can't read the language or nothin' , but who needs it when you're jammin' with Mario all day? Right?" He moved to another corner of the room. "And over here, Milo's got this client, 'Albert', who brings us all the alcohol we could ever want."

"His name is Alan." Milo corrected him.

"Albert, Alan, whatever. The friggin' liquor trick. Hehehe!" Sean grinned. "Look at this. I don't even know what this is, but it tastes like peppermint. It's so rad."

"Alan's nice to me. He takes me Van Damme movies after we hook up. Buys me popcorn and everything." Milo smiled.

"Hehehe, Milo almost screwed that up by reading his trick wrong."

"I did NOT! Don't listen to him, Taryn."

"Milo goes in trying to be the innocent little angel with this guy, and that's totally not what he ordered at all. He wanted a bratty little street scamp instead. A little boy with a tough guy attitude. He almost bailed on us. Milo had to switch up his whole performance to make sure the loser was getting the fantasy he was looking for. Hehehe!" Sean poured himself a little glass of whatever it was in that dark bottle and took a sip. "hat's the fun part, Taryn. Figuring the client's out. Some want a brat, some want a pure and sweet little angel, some want timid and hesitant little virgin. It's like role playing. You find what emotional strings to pull, and you can play these tricks like Hendrix. Milo's specialty, though...is the poor helpless little boy with nowhere to go. Some clients LOVE that shit! They eat it up."

Milo jumped into character right away. Convincingly, I might add. "Thanks so much for letting me share your bed with you, Mister. I've been so alone. I don't have anybody in the world to love me. But you seem nice enough. Can you just hold me for a while? It reminds me of my dad..." His face was frowned up, and Milo almost looked like he'd be able to work up some genuine tears if he wanted to. Then..."HAHAHAHA!!! Oh man! I almost had a guy leave his wife and kids for me after I hit him with the 'daddy' comment. I doubt he would have felt a moment's guilt about it either. Hahaha!"

"See, Taryn? I told ya. This guy's a pro. I know there's a stigma attached to the biz, but it'll be fun once you're broken in. You're definitely going to have to give up the ass at some point. I mean, that's a given. But the blowjobs aren't half bad. Like I said, you're really pretty. You're going to be receiving blowjobs more than giving them out. Which is always cool. They're going to want to kiss you a lot though. And that can be nasty. But you can close your eyes and imagine that it's any girl you want. You learn to block certain things out. Have a little sex, and the faster you get him off, the faster he rolls over and goes to sleep or smokes a cigarette or whatever. And that's when you can start making a shopping list of all the neat stuff he's gonna buy you for making him feel good." I had been silent the whole time. I was afraid that I'd gag from the idea alone if I bothered to open my mouth at all. All I could think about was...being 'touched'. Touched, and rubbed, and licked. Kissed by some dirty stranger...just to have enough money for me and Alec to eat. Visions of Chuck sneaking into my room...that evil look in his eyes...caressing my body and using it for his own sexual needs as though my body belonged to him. And not to me. Not anymore. "You want a drink, Taryn? I'm telling you...this stuff is pretty good."

"I want some!" Milo said, and he sprung up from the couch to get a glass.

Why was I listening to this? Why was I a part of this conversation at all? I didn't want to hear anymore. Enough. I wanted out. I wanted OUT!

"Actually...I think...I think I'd just like to take a warm shower. And then...maybe go to bed, if that's alright." I felt so dirty. I felt so sick.

Sean could see it in my eyes, and he said, "Well...you know where everything is. Have at it. Our place is your place." But just as was getting up to leave, Sean said, "This is something you need to think about early on when you're living out here on the streets, Taryn. Don't wait until you get desperate. These animals that prey on cuties like you? They can smell 'desperate' a mile away. They'll wait until you hit rock bottom. And you're going to end up doing a whole lot 'more'...for a whole lot 'less'. I'd keep that in mind if I were you....'China doll'."

I left the room. I didn't want to think about things anymore. I wanted to hide. To vanish. I never should have come out here. I would have done better taking a baseball bat to Chuck's head than rush out here to try to survive the streets of Chicago by myself. I just...I never knew that it would be this hard.

It was comforting to be able to take a shower in a room with a closed door. By myself. But as I began to take off my clothes, I caught sight of my reflection in the mirror....and I was ashamed. Something about being naked just felt wicked to me these days. Wicked and obscene.

I turned away from the mirror so I wouldn't have to look at myself. The water felt good. The soap and soft cloth washing the city grime off of me. But as I touched my own body, I felt Chuck touching me instead. Or worse...just some random guy with enough money to buy my soul for a few hours a day. What if that's something that I become reduced to? What if I end up reducing poor little Alec to the same thing? What did he ever do to anybody?

I just let the water run through my hair as tears fell from my eyes. I felt as though I had been raped. And no amount of scrubbing could wash the filth of it off of me. My skin was sore by the time the hot water began to turn cold on me.

I dried off and put the same clothes on that Sean and Milo had given me. I doubt the others would be dry until morning. When I left the bathroom, they were playing some kind of racing game or something on their TV...and I didn't bother to say anything to them. I didn't want to be rude, I just...felt strange even being there. Maybe in the morning I can just avoid the whole topic of 'hustling' altogether. I didn't like thinking about that idea at all. Thank God, Alec wasn't awake to hear all of that. I'm surprised that the sound of video games didn't wake him up and bring him into the living room to ask if he could play too. He must have really been tired tonight.

I heard Sean and Milo having a good time, but I just couldn't understand how they could...do what they do and just not be traumatized by it. Don't they feel used? Don't they feel guilty? What happened to love? What happened to the idea of sex being the beautiful result of two people truly being in sync with one another? What happened to the idea of someone making you shiver just from hearing the sound of your voice whispered in their ear? What happened to craving a boy's touch, enjoying those nervous jitters in your stomach, and finally satisfying your most mind-blowing dreams by spending time with a boy of your choosing...knowing that he chose you as well?

If having sex and love in your life is as easy and as random as purchasing a VHS player from K-Mart...then what good is it? What's so special about that?

I don't know. Maybe my whole concept of love and sex is all backwards. Maybe I'm just being childish and na´ve, and I'm the one who's got it all wrong.

Every experience I've had with any kind of sexual affection has been frightening at best. Dirty. Manipulative. Evil. From the VOMIT inducing idea of being sexually taken advantage of by my creepy old stepfather, to being beaten to a pulp by Jason and his asshole friends just for trying to show him how I truly feel, to Sean and Milo...exploiting their sexuality for money and cheap, materialistic, trinkets as if sex had no worth or value at all.

It hurt. It hurt so MUCH! Because deep down, I wanted to believe that there was somebody out there who could truly love me for me. Someone who could set my heart on fire and understand me for everything that I am. Someone to talk to. To share with. Someone who saw something truly special in me...and refused to let it go.

I used to think that sex would just be a major bonus in that situation. But...apparently, I was wrong. If Sean and Milo can fake it enough times to maintain a place like this all on their own, they must have a pretty big clientele lined up. One lonely opportunity after another. The rest of the world must know something that I don't, because I'm obviously in the minority.

Maybe I should learn better. Maybe I should give in. I'll never be happy chasing some stupid fairy tale, no matter how amazing it may seem. Not while people are constantly looking at me like I'm the idiot in all this.

Love...maybe it's just a big lie, after all...

I left Sean and Milo to their cheers and good times, and I went into the bedroom, closing the door behind me. There was a short moment where I actually thought about seeing if I could lock it for the night. But I decided against it. This wasn't my apartment. And how awful would I seem to not trust them after giving me and my brother a place to stay on a stormy night like this?

I pulled back the covers, and I climbed into bed with Alec. His skin was still cool to the touch, but much much warmer than it was before. I wrapped my arm around his shoulder and tried to give him all the body heat that I could. I felt Alec wiggle and whine a little bit...and then he kicked me! I know he just did it in his sleep, but....OWWW!!! Then he settled in again, and I felt him roll over into my arms and hug me close as a few stray coughs forced their way out of him. It was then that I heard him softly whimper with a single word. "Home..."

"I know, baby brother. I know." I whispered, and squeezed him tight as I dozed off to join him in the land of Nod. Our first night in a real bed all week. Thank you, Trevor...

You're the only thing in this world that makes any real sense anymore.


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