By Eliot Moore
This is a work of fiction. The story does not intended to represent actual events or people. I welcome reader responses at email@example.com. I hope you enjoy my ghost story.
Will and Jake (2006) 2
Dangerous Liaisons 12
All Hallows' Eve 19
All Saints Day 27
Remembrance Day 33
Excavating John 41
Spirits Intersecting 47
The Last Temptation 52
On a Darkling Plain 57
Allah 'Akbar (2017) 62
He was just a young university student heading home on the last train of the day. There was an urgency as he paced back and forth on the platform waiting for the train to leave. His studies no longer mattered, the only thing that mattered was getting home now. The young man was so ashamed. He had hated himself through the long agony of the war. His father could go to hell. Nothing mattered but seeing his friend again.
The station master came out to warn the gathering passengers that there would be a delay. He panicked and rushed back into the station to find a telephone. The exchange seemed to take forever to pass him through. There was a short exchange and then the young man dropped the earpiece. He clung to the telephone box as the receiver swung slowly back and forth. He sank to the floor sobbing with his back to the wall. It didn't matter if the curious travellers saw him. Nothing mattered anymore.
Jake woke one late summer night thinking he heard teenage boys whispering and giggling in the bedroom across the hall. The neighbourhood was old, so he worried about trespassers. There was nobody in the house. Unsettled, he stood at the kitchen window looking out at the full moonlight bathing half the backyard. An old elm loomed over the north corner of the untended space. Jake realized someone was huddled at its base. He watched the figure intruding on his property for some time. There was no movement, so Jake decided to go out and check.
Jake walked barefoot across the wet lawn. He stopped two metres away. A young man, probably still a teenager, sat holding his knees in the shadows. Jake could hear his rattled coughing. “Hey, are you alright?” At his words, the other’s face lifted in surprise. The young man looked back at Jake, passed a hand over his eyes, and then collapsed back against the rough bark of the tree.
“I didn't think you would come.” The words were a faint whisper, as if the man was at his last breath. “Oh God, I'm so tired of this.” This last came out on an exhale and he closed his eyes.
Jake moved forward. The young man was exposed to the chill night air, except for cotton boxers and loose singlet. When Jake squatted close, he discovered the stranger was drenched in cold sweat. Jake brushed back a wet tangle of bangs from his forehead and felt the fever. “Jesus Christ, you're burning up kid. What did you take?”
People warned him about the neighbourhood. The old woman next door complained about the addicts. Jake looked at the young man. The technical college was near by. The neighbourhood was full of students. It was likely his visitor had wandered away stoned from some party. Jake cast around the yard as if help might be close. He turned back to the young man, despite the fever, he had begun shivering in the cold September air.
“Can you stand up son?” There was no response, so Jake took a deep breath and slipped his arms under the man’s, and with a heave, pulled him up onto unsteady feet. His head fell against Jake’s shoulder. The older man stood, feeling the life of the teenager against his body. The closeness, and exertion from rising quickly, left his own heart pounding. He was close to blacking out with the scent of the teenager flooding his senses. Jake closed his eyes while he fought for balance. A hand brushing his back brought him back. “Right, now let's get you into the house where it's warm.”
Phone the friends or family, phone 911, Jake decided to take things one step at a time. As they struggled back to the kitchen door across the lawn, Jake did not notice the ragged boy, face shrouded in a heavy hoody concealed by the broad trunk of the elm. His mind was on the teenager, who seemed to be getting his second wind as they stumbled along. Jake was relieved to see it. The familiar oppression of sleeping alone in the old house had given way to a light headed exhilaration. Jake figured he probably needed to take his medications soon.
It was enough to get the young man as far as the living room couch. He had stopped shivering and his temperature seemed to be getting better. Jake threw a light blanket over him while he thought. It was 2:27. He had to be out of the house at 7:30. Maybe a cup of coffee would help, but Jake felt euphoric.
“How old are you now?”
“What? Forty-five.” The young man seemed more alert.
“You look good for an old man.” His smile was weary and sardonic. After another beat, the young man shifted his attention to the sparse furnishings, lingering on the flat screen and it's accessories. Jake realized he had gone outside without his shirt. He was self conscious of the difference between the young man’s trim figure and his own time worn appearance. He decided not to leave him and get one yet.
“I'm glad to hear it. Are you stoned?”
“What do you mean?” The question brought the young man’s bloodshot eyes back on him.
“Are you on drugs?”
“I took some atropine. I've been popping Bayer for the fever. I'm feeling better now.” The young man shrugged. He pushed the blanket now to his waist.
“What’s your name?”
The question seemed to sadden the young man. They stared at each other again until the young man closed his eyes and dropped his head. When he lifted his head again he replied quietly, “I'm Will.” His voice cracked on his own name.
Jake gave Will his name and the the young man nodded very slowly. Jake asked him if he would be okay for a minute, and then he went upstairs for a shirt. Will seemed like a harmless kid. The young man wasn't in the living room when Jake came down. Jake found him in the kitchen looking out the window toward the elm tree. Somewhere in the deep shadows, a teenage boy still lay against the tree. Jake asked him if he needed anything. Will asked for some water and watched with interest as Jake drew it from the fridge. Will leaned against the stove, running one hand along its black ceramic top. He hesitantly touched the glowing clock.
Jake knew he should get this half naked young man out of his house, but he was not enthusiastic about pitching him out the door wrapped in a thin fleece blanket. Will intruded on his thoughts, “I'm tired.” It was a good distraction. Jake led him back to the couch and showed him how to recline. He sat in a chair across the room watching Will stare at the blank flat screen until Jake nodded off.
Jake woke with a start around 6:30. Will was standing in a collarless linen shirt and trim dark slacks. Jake did not recall seeing them outside in the back yard. Will’s fists were deep in his pockets. The young man was taking in the neighbourhood. He seemed to know Jake was awake. “How long have you lived here?”
“Just since this month.”
“Who lives in the house next door now?” Will pointed north with his chin.
“Mrs. Pisio I think. I don't really know her. She's very old.” Jake expected to see her carted off in an ambulance any time. Then again, it might be her peering out the window as he was carted off. Mrs. Piso, she was too old fashioned to call Ms., invited Jake over the first week. Jake found her house immensely depressing. Sitting with her over coffee served in a stained mug, waiting for her to return with store bought cake, Jake felt like he was an adolescent about to be dressed down by his father in a quiet voice laced with loathing. Forty-five years old, and the whole house inexplicably left him impotent and vastly ashamed of his feelings. He tried his best to be polite to the old woman, and left as quickly as he could. Despite her antique friendliness, he had avoided her house ever since.
“Do you want some coffee?” Jake started off to the kitchen wondering how his strange night was going to end. The young man still intrigued him. He knew so little about him. He noticed his medications beside the coffee maker and paused to take them. When the coffee was running he called out to Will, asking him if he wanted some breakfast.
There was no answer. Jake went back into the living room, then checked upstairs. His wallet and watch on the bedroom dresser had not been touched. He looked out the upstairs window onto the street. There was nobody. Something vital drained out of Jake as he stood there, something he had been missing all his life. It had arrived with Will, and walked back out of his life in a moment. Jake was so tired of it.
Chris woke when his body toppled over. Wet grass brushed against his cheek and tickled his nose. He curled into a ball, arms hugging. He was awake to the familiar oppression of his life. Chris felt like shit. Cold fingers fumbled for his pocket before wrapping around the rest of the pills. It had been so good this time. He fought the temptation to use it all right there.
The new dream had brought him so close. The connection was strong and hopeful because along with the sense of peace it brought, there was now joy. The shrink his parents made him go to thought he understood when Chris opened up to him and said he felt broken in half. He could never explain to the man how using was more than an adolescent thrill, it was the only way he could bring the shattered pieces of himself back together. Chris reluctantly let go of the small plastic pill bottle. He sighed before using the tree trunk to stand up. The teenager peered around the trunk and looked at his house.
Chris had been thinking of the old story and a half as his house since he found it empty in June with its for sale sign on the boulevard. There was a trick to opening an old sash window on the porch from the outside. He crashed in the house through the summer, dodging the real estate agent’s infrequent visits. Chris had begun to think the dilapidated house might be his for the winter. When he saw the sold sign in September, Chris knew he would have to move on.
The lights were on in the kitchen. Chris shifted closer to the trunk when he caught the man who had just moved in looking out the window toward him. The boy had not seen much of him since the day he moved in. Just a tired middle aged man like his father. After that, Chris avoided his house. The trick window still worked. The old lady next door had noticed him on the porch and challenged him when he checked it. Chris had not tried to go inside since he had been evicted.
Chris turned away as soon as the man left the window. He was coming down now. The sense of well being was just a wistful whisper haunting him now. Before long, the painful craving would begin to build. He was not hungry, but he forced himself to think about food. The well fed john from the night before had offered him nothing. After that, his current dealer had taken all his money and then demanded something more. Chris was past caring about that sort of exchange. A burger at Macdonald's would have carried him through the whole day. He did not have the price left in his pocket.
The slender fifteen year old started studying the back yards as he walked down the alley. He paused occasionally to flip the lid on a green bin hoping to find a discarded pizza box. It was the wrong block for that. He would have more luck closer to the college. The old people on this block were too thrifty. When he reached the street, Chris turned toward the corner store. It had a Submarine Sandwich and full dumpsters.
Moose Jaw was a very small city. The runaway would have found it easier if he had headed east along the Trans Canada Highway to Winnipeg. He might have stopped in Regina where his parents still searched for him, or moved on to Alberta. Moose Jaw had trapped him in its dusty webs and Chris could explain that no better than he could his feeling of worthlessness. He found some sub scraps in the dumpster next to the store. Passing drivers noticed, but drove on by. His stomach ached after he had eaten a little, so he wrapped the last bites up and moved back toward the narrow streets and alleys that led to his refuge.
Chris stood in the alley behind the burned out house he had discovered and compared it to his house a few blocks away. The basement rooms were all that survived. He used the toilets upstairs, but there was no water. It would have been nice to have a hot shower. It had been a bad idea to get high in his house. It had been risky with the real estate agent popping in. Better to get do it in the wreck before him. He pushed through the heavy screen of caragana bushes and sought the privacy of the basement.
Chris woke mid afternoon and ate the last bites he had scavenged from the dumpster. His book bag was packed ready for a quick exit. He thought about changing his clothes for something fresh, but there was nothing fresh. The soup kitchen downtown would give him supper, but it was too early. He hid his bag and climbed out the basement window into the shady back yard.
The teen walked downtown through the alleys eyes open for opportunity. A garage door was open. Chris snagged a box opener from the workbench and three garbage bags full of cans. He hurried down the alley as quietly as he could putting distance between the garage and him. There had been power tools, but he had learned a long time ago in Brandon that the reward was not worth the danger.
He had $24.75 in his pocket as he headed away from SARCAN up Main Street towards the library. A harried woman had gifted him two full bags as he waited his turn in line. It was a down payment for his next fix. He half heartedly tried panhandling as he moved along. His age and looks helped a lot, but there was competition. Moose Jaw was not a great place for begging either. The older guys would try to roll him if he got too successful.
Chris was walking past the bank, thinking of the people pulling money out of their accounts. There was a growing pile in his savings account. His parents were still giving him his allowance. Chris had learned that in Regina. The police almost caught him. He had not tried since. He stopped when he saw the man living in his house walking into an office. The man sat down at the chair with his back to the window. The runaway felt a mixture of resentment and fascination. The man’s dark hair was greying, still, he looked better than the old men who sought him out at night. The man sat back in his chair, staring at something above his desk. He rubbed his eyes before combing stiff fingers through his hair. Chris was caught off guard when the man swung his chair around and began bending forward for something.
The teen on the street stepped back from the window just as the man froze looking at him. As Chris shifted his balance, the man’s face was obscured by a random shimmer on the glass between them. Chris caught the impression of an attractive boy. Chris glanced around looking for the boy, saw no one, and turned back to find the man still focused on him. Their eyes locked. Chris broke away first. He moved down the street and turned the corner. His thoughts were on the man as he continued on to the library, pausing to ask likely passerby for change.
It was turning out to be a lucky day. It had begun with the satisfying high and now he had an extra $5.00 in his pocket thanks to a prosperous middle age man trying to relieve his guilt. Chris settled into a soft chair with the history book on his lap. It was a frequent choice for him. He worked his way slowly through it, reading occasional sections and mining the pictures for and any response they might prompt. He could imagine walking into some of the long gone stores on Main Street, or riding up a gleaming elevator in an office building. One picture showed a sandy beach by the river. If Chris closed his eyes, he could feel the heat on his back, smell the muddy water, bury his toes in the sand, as heart bursting, he listened to another boy’s bright voice. Visualizing it made him hard. Chris flipped the page.
He actually missed school. Friendships in elementary school had held so much promise. One by one, the boys he was drawn to let him down. Trust was easily lost. By grade seven, they were all avoiding him. That was hard because his attraction to the boys was growing. By grade nine, dealing with his classmates and the storm of emotions he could not control was just too painful. There was a picture of Central High School in 1914, soon after it was built. He had found more pictures on line using the library computers. Chris had dreams.
An old man was watching him. Chris looked him over as he sat, legs crossed, in the chair. The boy felt a flash of anger. The part of him still lost in Moose Jaw before the Great War resented being leered at by a man. The banker in his office had not leered. Chris shoved the anger away and smiled an invitation. This flustered the man. Chris watched his eyes shift back to his sports magazine. Too afraid to do anything, Chris judged. Not dark enough, not drunk enough to convince himself he doesn't really want to fondle a boy. He pulled his hoodie off anyway, letting the man catch a glimpse of his underfed torso as his tee shirt lifted. It would not hurt to advertise a bit. He went back to his book. From time to time, Chris caught the old man forgetting not to stare.
Chris’ favourite page in the book was the one of two houses in the Avenues. One was his house and the other was the house beside it where the nosey old lady lived. The trees along the avenue were saplings, but still bigger than he judged they should. The porch along the front of the neighbouring house had been glassed in. You could not stand on it and talk easily with a friend on the matching porch. The caption said the picture was taken in 1927. His was the home of long time Moose Jaw family practitioner, Dr. Anthony Childe.
The day ended late in the alley behind a bar. Chris was jumpy. The pills in his pocket were there calling to him but he was not so far gone that he would get his fix in a downtown alley. It was not a good way to pull tricks. A collection of patrons stood beside the back door catching a smoke. A few had beers that should have stayed inside. Muted music filtered out to him. The alley smelt of rancid grease and charred beef. Chris had some regulars now. It was hit or miss whether they would be there, he had to be patient. Someone pointed at him and there was laughter. You had to be ready to run. Chris’ stomach flipped when a cowboy peeled away from the group and started sauntering over to where he leaned against the dumpster. The boxcutter was in his hand, though he was not sure he could use it.
The man had a beer dangling from his fingers. He was tall and very drunk. Chris did not think he was gay. He was just looking to get off with a fag in front of his buddy. Chris was used to contempt. He forced himself to stay still as the guy looked him over. “You want a beer kid?” A hand came out dangling the bottle in front of Chris’ face.
“It’s twenty dollars.” He replied flatly. “Before.”
The cowboy snorted and a sneer twisted his lips at Chris’ willingness to debase himself. Chris understood, but he had shut down already. It was just a way to get back to where he needed to be. The john dug into a tight pocket and pulled out a twenty. Chris plucked it from his fingers as the drunken man swung back against the wall of the building. Light spilled across his body and the boy realized he wanted his friend, smoking by the door, to see everything.
Chris dropped before man, face level with his crotch and smoothly opened his jeans. He pulled the pants and briefs down, freeing a heavy cock, then the man suddenly jerked everything down mid thigh spreading his legs. The cock was an arrogant curve demanding the boy’s attention. A glance showed him the friend was watching. Chris looked up. The man was taking a swig from his beer. He glanced down at Chris with a lazy look before sliding a hand up his belly so his shirt would not get into the way. Chris’ fingers wrapped around the shaft and then his lips and tongue went to work.
The friend took a turn, only he was shy. He pushed Chris back to the shadows and threaded his penis through his fly like he was taking a leak. When he came, the boy found it hard to keep from getting pounded into the filthy side of the dumpster. It was another twenty dollars. Chris had to wait an hour before the next one, circling the block to avoid a police driveby. His night ended after closing with a nervous regular who wanted a fuck. He might have used a condom, the boy was not sure. It was worth thirty dollars and two thin joints.
Chris smoked one of the joints in the shadows in front of his house. It was after 1:00am and the lights were still on. The banker could not sleep. The pills in his pocket could keep. The boy’s dreams were still strong and the good dope kept the emptiness at bay. The banker walked out onto the porch and looked out into the night. Chris froze behind a boulevard elm watching him until he finally turned back into the house. He stood there long after the second joint was gone, staring at the light.
Jake attacked renovations to the old house to distract himself from his depression. Meeting Will had been strange. Like an earworm, fragments of their late night exchange surfaced throughout the day. After a sandwich supper, Jake tried to talk with his kids in Saskatoon. His son was sixteen now and not much interested in visiting Moose Jaw. Something about Theo’s eyes reminded Jake of the teenager looking at him from the street. While he teased information about their lives out of his son and daughter, Jake tried to put his feelings into words. Theo was defensive, resentful of Jake for leaving him. It was understandable. There was also hunger there, as if he still needed his father’s love. That made Jake feel guilty. The divorce was his fault. Jake had no excuse to offer to his son or daughter. He did not understand why the scruffy teenager on the other side of his window had the same mix of anger and longing. Maybe everybody between childhood and maturity was like that.
After talking to Theo and Tasha, Jake went back to tackling the small bedroom. A worn carpet covered distressed pine boards. Successive layers of paint and wallpaper clung tenaciously to walls. The original plan was to strip the house down to a whitewashed Scandinavian simplicity. Jake veered off track in the small bedroom when he uncovered a fragment of the original wallpaper behind a rotten window frame. To his mind, the broad royal blue stripes and delicate pastel vines seemed as vibrant as the day they had been pasted to the newly plastered walls. He took a picture of the pattern and settled for preparing the rough old walls for new wallpaper.
At 1:00 am he told himself it was time to sleep. A hot shower washed off the renovation debris and turned his thoughts back to Will. Sleep eluded him. He paused in the small bedroom to look out the old sash window at the curtained window of the house next door. On a sleepless night like this, two boys could sit at their bedroom windows and whisper, argue, or simply share a silence. The gap was too far to reach across, Jake would have hated that. He squinted at the dark window across the way, imagining a wide-eyed boy, or perhaps a vulnerable adolescent like Theo watching him. Somehow, it was easier imagining himself in the old woman’s unwelcoming house looking back into this room. Jake smiled sadly to himself, the image of a child’s face welcomed him in the long darkness.
He had left the lights on downstairs. Jake was sparing about drinks. Tonight he poured three fingers without a thought. There was no Will in the backyard, huddled against the elm. It was another cold night. Jake wondered to the front door and stepped onto the porch. He had an urge to call out to Will. Instead he talked himself down. Jake knew nothing of the man young enough to be his son. Will was somewhere out there in the night resting. He might be lying beside his girlfriend. He was certainly not thinking of the middle age man who brought him in from the cold.
Jake took a long pull at his glass of 12 year old Rye. The silken flavor mingled in his mouth with the aromatic fall leaves. The dusty smell brought the memory of marijuana shared long ago with Tony when they were stationed in Germany. Jake breathed the scent in deeply and held his breath. In the still, cold air the memories of Germany and young lovers haunted him even more. Jake turned away, back to the light. Thoughts of Tony and Will getting muddled in his head.
The next few days were a struggle to get back to routine. Walking back and forth to work, any group of young adults would draw his attention and he would survey them for Will. The young men seemed callow to him. There had been a maturity to Will Jake could not place. He managed to think less of the man as the days past.
Jake’s colleagues at the bank convinced him to join them for lunch, and then finally for an evening of drinks. He tried to engage with them. He knew the collapse of his marriage had left him withdrawn and self absorbed. It was not healthy. Just before the weekend, Jake caught a glimpse of a green and grey striped hoodie as he walked the last few blocks to his house. The teenager was out of sight by the time he reached the corner. He had almost forgotten the angry boy.
Will was sitting in the living room when Jake came down from his shower. He looked much the same as the night he disappeared. Jake paused on the stairs to collect himself. He rubbed his hair with the towel. He must have left the door unlocked again. “You look better.”
“Thanks,” Will replied. “I am feeling A-1 now.”
Jake thought he did look stronger. He envied Will his ability to bounce back from a bad night. Three more steps down and he was in the livingroom. “You walked out on coffee and an offer of eggs last time. Can I get you something?”
“No thanks, but don’t let me stop you.” Will picked up the cable remote and turned it around curiously.
It was after eleven, so Jake was not interested in food. He tossed his towel on a chair. “If I go make some coffee, are you going to disappear again?”
Will smiled sadly, “I don’t think that’s likely.”
Jake started the coffee and then headed back to the living room. He sat down in the same chair he had taken the first night. “So Will, tell me about yourself. Are you at the technical college?”
“Not a college man, Jake. I was in the army, demobbed a few months ago. I was just mucking about when I got the Spanish Flu. I thought I was going to conk out, felt just like trench fever. Two years dodging that and everything else and I get the flu in Moose Jaw. God is a mean bastard.” Will’s voice was subdued. Jake thought him young to have been in Afghanistan. “Enough about me Jake. Tell me your story.”
Jake looked at the young man leaning forward on the edge of the couch. Will’s late night appearance was unreal. Jake ought to have challenged Will’s trespassing a second time, instead he leaned back in his chair and stretched his legs out. Stiff fingers ran through his hair, then locked together behind his head. He had come down the stairs in nothing but his loose flannel pajama bottoms. Jake did not want to talk about himself. He was not proud of his life.
“I was in the army too. About the same age as you probably. Growing up, I wanted to be a soldier.” Jake chuckled weakly, “I was devastated when the Vietnam War ended. It seemed like my last chance at the time.”
“Why did it matter?” Will asked quietly. Jake dropped his eyes from their contemplation of the ceiling and his eyes traced a line from the young man’s throat, along his clean jaw, and to the deep brown eyes. Their eyes locked for a beat, and then Jake dropped his eyes to the floor.
“It wasn’t patriotism. I suppose I was trying to convince myself I was brave.” Sitting in Rammstein for a tour, drowning his attraction for Tony in German beer had not made him feel brave. “Why did you join the army Will, was it 9/11?”
“It might have been patriotism. It was the right thing to do.” His bitter tone made Jake look up, back into Will’s eyes. “Honestly, I was hurt and running away. The other side of the pond seemed far enough. It really wasn’t.” Will laughed weakly in his turn.
The confession brought Jake and Will closer. “You were braver than me. You would have to be.” Something went dead in Will’s eyes. The young man stared right through him at something incomprehensible to Jake.
“My first time? When the balloon went up, we started up the hill towards the Kraut nests. I shit my pants at the first sound of the whizz-bangs. Sixteen you know? Couldn’t shake the funk thinking about you all the time.” Jake missed the unexpected pronoun as he tried to untangle the slang Will was using. His sense of the unreal was growing. “I was the baby in the outfit. My mates got me gassed before we left so I wouldn't freeze right there in the trench. I was their kid, try not to think about how many of them took a bullet shielding me.” Will’s voice was hollow. “That was Vimy, and then of course there was Passchendaele.” There was a pause as Will pulled himself back from somewhere.
Jake latched on to what he could. “You were sixteen?”
“I took the train to Calgary to sign up. The gits could care less if I wasn’t of age.”
Jake shook his head and sat up. Will’s reply was a lot to process. Jake got up and poured himself a Rye. He paused to place a hand on Will’s shoulder just to remind himself he had practically carried the young man’s solid body into his house. Jake took a cautious sip and ran through the possibilities; the impossibilities. “Just a kid.” He finally murmured, thinking of his son Theo.
“You don’t believe that at sixteen Jake. Arrogant shits we were. At least till you come up against something like that.” Will shivered and stood up in his turn. He walked over to the fireplace and leaned on the mantle, eyes on the artificial logs. “Tell me something more Jake.”
Will’s story reminded Jake of how young the man was. He did not seem as old as he had been. The age was in Will’s face. Standing with his back to Jake, he radiated youth. Jake took another sip of Rye and began telling Will about his birth in Poland, immigrating to the United States with his parents, and then his impulse to come to Western Canada. It was not that he accepted Will’s story. He just needed to be with the young man more than anything else. They shifted to the dining room table and Jake brought them both a coffee. Will let his sit in front of him, untouched as the night went on. Will vanished without a word of warning in a moment when Jake looked down at his mug.
The visits continued almost every night, but there was no predictable rhythm to them. Jake welcomed the haunting. He was cleaning up in the small bedroom, thinking practically of the night his daughter might sleep in it, when Will appeared in the door. Jake smiled a welcome. He surprised himself by hugging the young man. Jake stepped back and bashfully stammered, “I thought I would do that now. You have a way of vanishing.” Will smiled at that and the casual embrace shifted the distance between them.
Jake put everything into the house renovation, work, and his nights wilh Will. The few hours of sleep he enjoyed seemed to carry him through the days. He might step out for a bit with colleagues in the early evening, but by 11:30 he was home.
He was stretched out on his bed sleeping when Will gently shook him awake. Jake smiled up at him. “I wasn’t expecting you tonight.” There was never any explanation for Will’s comings and goings. The young man sat close to him with one leg tucked beneath the other. Jake lifted a hand and brushed it against Will’s back with his knuckles. The eighteen-year old was a ghost, and Jake still felt self conscious about his attraction.
“You were engaged, you married.” Will shifted a little on the bed beside him. He was picking up from where their last conversation had ended abruptly. Jake pulled his hand away from the young man’s back.
“For about ten years.” He admitted. “I tried, but I wasn’t what she needed. There’s Kate and Theo in Saskatoon now.” Will nodded thoughtfully. “I had a friend, a lover I guess you would say, in Germany.” It seemed important to confess that to Will.
Will shrugged his shoulders slightly. “I met a Frenchman on leave. He was in his twenties and seemed very sophisticated to me. We were together until they sent me back to the front.” He shrugged again, “En amour comme à la guerre.”
“Factum non est Deus ut noceret mihi.” Jake murmured abstractly in rusty high school Latin, and he had no idea what he had just said. Will nodded and agreed, they had not done it to hurt each other. The eighteen-year old leaned in toward Jake. Jake stopped him. “Am I going insane?” Will shook his head slightly. He leaned in further so Jake put a hand on his chest. “Why are you here?” Jake whispered desperately.
“Parce que vous êtes ici, mon amour.” Will replied softly, and his lips closed on Jake’s. Jake shrugged off all reason and met the kiss. He pulled Will across his body and rolled over his chest. Will’s stiff fingers raked through Jake’s greying hair.
Chris opened his eyes in the grey twilight. He could have wept. Once again, he rolled over looking for his bottle. It was empty. He was not going to escape back to his dream so easily. The boy flopped back on the half burnt mattress he had found upstairs. He pulled the ragged blankets up to his chin. He could feel the cold now. The nights were gradually worse and the boy did not know what he should do. He was close to something, he could not go back to Brandon now. Chris would go nuts if he went back now.
The cocktail he had taken lingered. He had not been eating well lately and the runs were bad. He probably should eat something, but what he wanted was another fix. The shakes started. Chris reached a hand out from under his blankets and grabbed a water bottle. His hand was shaking so violently he could not get it to his mouth without spilling it on his face. After a painful swallow, Chris started crying.
It took him a long time to pull himself together. He needed to solve the food problem first. Out of curiosity, Chris passed by the bank on his way to the bar. It was mid afternoon on a Tuesday, he knew he was making a mistake, but he needed something to eat if he was going to make it to 4:00 pm. He did not have the money for a fix either. That did not matter, Chris would find a way to work that out.
The banker was at his desk talking to an older couple. Chris watched him fussing with papers and his computer. After a few minutes he rose from his seat and headed for his door. Chris took that as his cue to leave. The older man would see him staring in the window when he came back. The boy walked on to the alley behind the bar.
Chris left the alley an hour later with twenty dollars and a slight bruising on his right cheek. Tears of anger blurred his eyes as he cut across the street. He went directly to the Pita Pit wanting to order a meal, and rushed to the bathroom to vomit. The tears were gone. The anger and fear remained. Chris tore into the pita, pausing of wash it down with a Pepsi. It was done too soon. While he nursed the last of his drink, he considered his situation. The second john stiffed him. He got backhanded when he told the man what he thought of that. That put Chris off going back to work after dark.
There were teenagers Chris had met through the summer. He had met his dealer at a house party the week before school started. He gave everyone a convincing story about himself. Chris had skills. There were a couple of people Chris could go to. He had been grooming them over the last two months. He left the Pita Pit and headed north to Peacock. When he got there, he took his post at the bus stop. Before long, he saw a gawky seventeen year old approaching with a full book bag and an obo under his arm. The teen’s blemished face broke into a shy grin when he saw Chris.
“Hey Brogan, how’s it going?” The older teen conceded it was going well enough. Chris brushed against Brogan suggestively as they started to talk. Once it was clear that Brogan’s mother was at work at the hospital, Chris joined the crowd flowing onto the bus. He pressed a knee into Brogan’s leg as the bus headed up town.
Brogan lived across town and with the inevitable stopping and starting it was a long journey. Chris cultivated Brogan with half a mind, distracted by thoughts of how far he had drifted away from the world of school. He would have started grade ten in Brandon. Chris left home without friends. Brogan chatted on happily, content with Chris beside him. Chris stared enviously at two boys his age sitting nearby. He did not have the knack for holding on to friends. It was as if nobody was good enough for him. The boy ran from the obvious alternative.
Brogan’s brother, Caleb was two years younger than Chris and seemed far more at ease with himself than the seventeen-year old. Chris perved on the fresh faced boy as the two brothers negotiated supper details and the responsible Brogan reviewed familiar ground rules. Caleb drifted off to settle in and Chris turned his attention back to Brogan.
“Would it be okay if I did a load of laundry?” Brogan’s face was a mixture of embarrassment and pity. Brogan had been led to believe Chris’ came from a precarious background and his mother was always one step ahead of a rent collector. Chris was an opportunity for Christian charity. The high school senior covered his first reaction badly and told Chris to be his guest.
Chris asked if Brogan could lend him some sweats while he washed. After a pause, Brogan suggested Caleb might have something that fit better. He showed Chris his room before ducking into his brother’s room to rummage through his clothes. Chris stripped. Brogan hit an invisible wall coming back into his bedroom. Chris knew he had flustered him.
The younger boy pulled the bashful teen farther into the bedroom and closed the door. Chris plucked the tee shirt and sweats out of Brogan’s hands. He calculated silence would be best. Brogan was not good with words. Chris sat on Brogan’s bed and fell back onto his elbows. He let his slightly parted legs and the curve of his torso lure Brogan over.
“I have not seen you lately.” Brogan offered horsley as he sat. His eyes were frozen somewhere near Chris’ chin, afraid to meet his eyes, or drift down the inviting body beside him.
“I’ve been trying to work weekends.” Chris was pushing Brogan far beyond the hesitant kisses and incidental groping of the summer. Brogan was at a loss with the situation. Chris went on the offensive. “Lie down.” When the older boy froze beside him, Chris rolled on his side and firmly pushed him onto his back. He gave Brogan a chaste kiss and a smile to ease his anxiety.
Chris opened Brogan’s pants slowly. How many times had he done this in Brandon, Manitoba? When had he started? Caleb’s age probably. Brogan was beginning to pant in frightened anticipation. Most of the boys had liked this part. It all went badly after that. None of them were ever... but why should it have mattered so much to him? Who am I looking for anyway? Chris spread Brogan’s Dockers. “Lift your ass.” He pulled the pants and briefs down far enough.
Chris wrapped his fingers around the teen’s shaft expertly, beginning his message. He watched Brogan grow between his fingers clinically. His heart was dead, or wandered off somewhere. Chris glanced at Brogan’s face. The boy was staring at the ceiling, lips parted. Chris watched the growing movement of the teen’s chest and clenching of his abdomen. He wasn’t much interested in the faces of the men he did. Their thoughts no longer worried him after he had estimated their capacity to hurt him.
The house seemed silent, except for Brogan’s short pants. Chris judged the teen ready and swallowed the swollen shaft in an economical movement. It seemed to be Brogan’s nature to be quiet, or perhaps he was frightened his younger brother would discover them together. He lay tense below Chris, as the boy played the obo on his hard shaft. Chris drifted in his dream as his mouth slowly rode back and forth. He became unaware of Brogan’s staggered breaths and high pitched wheezing. Chris was with the other one, lips remembering someone else, when the jets started. Brogan was no old pervert in an alley. His vitality filled the boy’s mouth, capturing his senses. The yeastiness of it mingled with the sharp musk of his crotch. Chris took a deep breath in and let go of his dream.
He pulled off the spent cock slowly, letting it drop into the tangled nest of hair. After a swallow, Chris pulled the cock back into his mouth to clean it off. Brogan was murmuring something Chris did not pay attention to. With a final play of his tongue along the fading shaft, he released Brogan. Chris needed something for the rough edges, anything. Brogan was lifting himself off the bed, so Chris fell back to his earlier position and smiled at him. Brogan gave his smile a shy reflection.
Brogan gathered Chris’ clothes, including the hoodie and with a last flustered smile left with the laundry. Chris sighed to himself from the bed before grabbing Caleb’s borrowed clothes and searching out the bathroom. There was a bottle of codeine cough syrup in the cabinet. Chris popped three Advil in his mouth and chased them down with the whole bottle. The pharmaceuticals were a disappointment. Brogan’s mother might have an on suit. He would have to check that out. Chris had not had the luxury of a shower in some time. He took his time.
Chris forced himself to eat the meal Brogan and his brother made. They seemed to like each other. Chris’ brother had not liked him much at the end. There had been too much blow back from school friends and their history together made Chris’ brother uncomfortable around him. Chris ate in silence as he would at home and let the brothers chatter. Brogan’s glances his way signalled that there would be a second inning later in the evening. Caleb’s eyes told him he was an unusual event in the house. Chris would not have been surprised if he was Brogan’s first visitor. Caleb would have friends over. The thirteen-year old’s every action seemed like a flirtation to Chris.
The brothers actually cleaned up the kitchen together. Chris excused himself and hunted for their mother’s bathroom. It was a find. Caleb and Brogan’s mother was a nurse and she evidently liked her prescriptions. Chris had an impulse to scoop up all the bottles in the cabinet. He restrained himself. If he played it right, he could come back for more. After a moment Chris was honest with himself. He never played it right. There was a small plastic bag in the waste basket beside the toilet. Chris dumped about three quarters of each bottle into the bag. He stashed the bag in his freshly cleaned hoodie before rejoining the brothers.
Brogan was cautious around his brother for the rest of the evening. If Caleb was curious about Chris’ continued presence, he did not show it. The three of them whiled away the evening with TV and video games. At 10:00 pm Brogan cleaned up the snacks and bullied his brother into going to bed. Caleb’s surprise suggested this was unusual.
Brogan waited a decent interval before suggesting they go back to his room. Will could have walked out of the house right then, but he was hoping to take a few more things that might not be noticed before he did. While the brothers enjoyed their evening, the homeless kid was marking the location of Brogan’s book bag and plotting his exit. Chris put a good face on it when Brogan grabbed a bottle of rye and two expensive glasses. The seventeen-year old was more of a man on a school night than Chris gave him credit. When they reached the bedroom, Brogan poured a generous amount into each glass and then might have panicked a little, because he excused himself. While he was away, Chris upended the bottle of rye, and let the numbing fluid pour down his throat.
Brogan let Chris take the lead again. The older teen seemed willing to go where he led for the next hour. With the help of the rye, Brogan became more aggressive. He pressed Chris down with his superior weight. Brogan’s shirt was off and on his own initiative, he had stripped Chris naked. His belt buckle kept digging into Chris as dry humped his leg. Chris tired of necking and the buzz was off, so he pushed Brogan away gently. Once he was free of Brogan, Chris swung his legs over the side of the bed and tipped the bottle of rye once more.
“Take it easy Chris.” He put the bottle down and smiled reassuringly.
“No worries guy, I’ll be right back. Why don't you take your pants off?” That earned him a smile. Chris slipped into the bathroom as quietly as he could. After he washed up, Chris cast about for some lubricant. He went back to Brogan with a bottle of hand lotion. He let Brogan take him from behind. The teen did not seem to care that Chris simply lay there, arms wrapped around a pillow, staring stonily at the digital clock change slowly beside the bed.
Afterward, Chris lay on his side waiting impatiently for Brogan to fall asleep. The bed was warm. The house was warm. It had been some time since he felt this comfortable. The boy reflected that if he had a phone, he might be able to arrange more nights inside. Winter was not far off. The burnt out house was going to be cold. He did not know enough people to couch surf. What choice did he have? Go home to Brandon, or hustle his way indoors. That really was not a choice at all.
Chris was jolted awake by Brogan’s probing cock. He tried to roll away but the teenager whispered in his ear and pushed him down onto the mattress firmly. Hands pressed him down. Chris’ legs were forced open as Brogan’s erection slid along him. He pulled himself up on his elbows. A strong arm snaked around his chest pressing him against Brogan’s chest. The other hand was spreading his cheeks and guiding the teen’s shaft back into Chris. He was not ready for it, but it did not matter. Chris collapsed back onto the mattress and let it happen. Brogan’s whispered words of praise and encouragement meant nothing to him.
He rolled on his back staring at the ceiling until he was sure Brogan had fallen back to sleep. The teen had turned toward the wall indifferent to Chris. He lay there on a slow burn. Chris knew he had seduced the seventeen-year old into this. It had been a cold calculation he now regretted. Being forced by Brogan left him angry.
Chris slid silently out of the bed and pulled his pants on. The digital clock cast a red glow on Brogan’s wallet. Chris watched the sleeping teen as he picked it up. There was cash. It went into a pocket. The card was useless to him, so he left it. He watched Brogan’s back as he gently closed the door. When he turned to go, he discovered Caleb in the bathroom doorway watching him.
The thirteen-year old was standing in his briefs, there was a spot where he had leaked a little. It came to Chris that he looked achingly innocent as he stared back in his surprise. Brogan had just used him like a dirty sock and Chris suddenly wanted to hurt Caleb’s older brother. He lifted a finger to his lips and Caleb’s lips curled into a small smile of understanding. When Caleb reached his bedroom door, Chris reached out a hand to stop him. He dropped his clothes by the door and pushed Caleb gently inside his room.
Chris put his hands on the boy’s shoulders and smiled a reassurance. Caleb stood uncertainly before him as Chris’ fingers began traveling down his arms and then across his flat chest. Chris’ eyes stayed locked on Brogan’s brother’s innocent face. Caleb’s wide eyes flicked down occasionally to follow the progress of the older boy’s hands as he gentled the skittish boy. The boy swayed slightly as Chris hooked his thumbs into the waistband of his briefs. As the cotton briefs slid down, Chris dropped to his knees before the thirteen-year old. His mouth fell on the young cock while a hand slid between Caleb’s smooth thighs and up to cup the boy’s left cheek.
Chris lost himself in the young boy’s fresh scent. He pumped the hard little rod by pressing his hand into the soft flesh of his ass. He pulled off, wanting to kiss the globes nestled below the throbbing rod. Caleb’s wet shaft slid along his nose as he tasted each egg. Chris paused with his head pressed against Caleb’s abdomen remembering his own first time. Caleb’s virgin flesh recalled his only love, still somewhere in his mind. A lazy day, summer sounds drifting through a sash window on an imperceptible breeze. Chris devoured Caleb’s cock again, savaging the boy’s sex, punishing himself with his impossible dreams of love. Caleb came in a tremble with three soft cries, “ah, ah, ah.”
“Jesus Christ” Caleb exclaimed in a whisper as Chris released his organ. The boy’s voice brought Chris back to the present. This was not his dream, the thirteen-year old was nobody to him. Chris thought bitterly of the steady trickle of men in the alley, rides in cars, and horny teenagers like Brogan. Everyone wanted to masterbate into his mouth or anus. His thumb slipped into Caleb’s warm crack and rubbed his bud. Chris needed more. There was no going back. There never was. He did not care.
Chris stood up, letting a hand trail up over Caleb’s wet crotch. He spun the boy around and pushed him down onto his bed. Caleb looked back over his shoulder as Chris opened his pants, daring the boy to cry out. Caleb only gazed back like an animal at bay. Chris dragged Caleb farther onto the bed pulling the boy’s legs up until his knees were splayed awkwardly on either side of his chest, his sex open for Chris’ penetration.
As his cock tapped at Caleb, Chris reached back to his own anus and used two fingers to scoop out the last of the lotion mixed with Brogan’s cum. Caleb cried out as he began to finger the thirteen-year old’s hole. Caleb clamped his other hand over the boy’s mouth, stifling him. Chris pushed his angry organ in slowly to give the boy a chance to adjust. One finger slipped between Caleb’s soft lips and Chris’ pain mingled with the boy’s as Caleb bit down. He was slower, and probably gentler than Brogan had been with him. Chris was more experienced. Soft cries and short grunts escaped between Chris’ fingers. The noise stopped as Caleb finally stretched around the sliding shaft, so Chris shifted his hands to Caleb’s narrow hips, pulling him on his shaft and massaging his back as he pulled away. With one last push, Chris came deep in the boy.
When Chris’ cock was finally still, Caleb shifted his head from where it had been buried in a pillow. After the Chris pulled out, Caleb crawled forward, twisting around to look at the length of the the older boy’s proud organ. Chris stooped down and used Caleb’s discarded briefs to clean himself. He closed his jeans without any rush, then he stopped to look at the naked curves of the boy. Glittering eyes locked on his, condemning him, expecting something? Caleb was a sweet boy, Chris thought, but Caleb could not fill the empty space within. Chris noticed a prescription bottle next to Caleb’s bed. The boy watched him silently as he picked it up. Chris reached again for an iPod attached to its charger. His eyes left Caleb’s long enough to check its security, seeing none, he added it to his pocket. Chris left him without another glance.
There was no angry hue and cry as Chris walked through the park along the rail yards. He had silently moved around the kitchen gathering food and a couple of bottles of hard liquor. He dumped Brogan’s school books on the floor and used his bookbag. As an afterthought, Chris took Caleb’s winter coat. He kept taking huge swigs from a bottle of vodka as he walked. Halfway along the path he started sobbing.
He had raped Caleb to punish Brogan for only doing what he had taught him to do. He violated a sweet boy to vent his rage at everyone who had let him down. It just proved what a worthless train wreck he was. He was just a good fuck. He had been damaged goods all his life and he spoiled every relationship he touched. “What’s wrong with me?” Chris hurled the vodka toward the tracks, regretting the waste as soon as the cold bottle slipped from his fingers. “Sorry Caleb.” He whispered to the cold night air.
Jake blinked the sleep from his eyes and relaxed in the warm cocoon of the blankets. The snow last night had started around midnight. He and Will had walked about the back yard amidst the slowly falling flakes. They talked of Will’s time growing up in Moose Jaw before The Great War. Their random exploration took them to the front and to Jake’s surprise, Will started leading him down the street. Jake stopped and watched his spectral lover walking along the path, making footprints in the snow. He called out to him, so Will turned to reply, “I’m stronger now.” He waited for Jake to catch up and then led him on down the tree lined street. After a couple of blocks Jake stopped before a fire ravaged building. Jake looked at the charred scars on the cedar siding and gaping windows. It was the picture of a haunted house lost in overgrown caragana bushes and leaf stripped trees. Jake thought it a bleak, spiritless place. “I wouldn’t have known two out of ten houses we past.” Will said sadly.
“I suppose not.” Jake replied surveying the burnt wreck and the other old houses up and down the street. “I’m forty-five and if I was to go back to New Jersey where I grew up, I’m sure I would find it changed.” Jake realized that Will’s comment about the neighbourhood was the first evidence he was aware the world had changed since his time.
Will slapped his shoulder and ducked into the narrow space of the front walk between two looming bushes. The pair walked around the house to the back yard. Jake wrinkled his nose at the pungent odour of faeces and started checking his steps carefully. The house fire had been some time ago apparently. “I can’t believe the city let this stand for so long.”
“It’s hidden on a quiet street.” Will suggested. He pointed at the back door. “It looks like kids have been inside. The nights are getting cold. Shelter is shelter to the desperate.” The thought spoiled their magical walk. “Take me home Jake. You must be getting cold.” Whatever darkness had filled his heart at seeing the burn shell vanished when Will turned his smile on. They left the desolation behind them, walking back the way they had come holding hands.
Jake rolled onto his back in the bed, contented in the memory and sensations of making love to Will. He realized with a start that Will still lay beside him. He was turned toward Jake. “Not yet gone?” Jake whispered.
“Not yet.” A smile played over Will’s lips and Jake had to kiss it away. Will’s hand started exploring and Jake tingled. The eighteen-year old made him feel young. When they were joined, he forgot the chasm of age, disjointed timelines, or even the thorny issue of being alive or dead. Their love together erased all mistakes. Will bewitched the sensible banker. His whole muddled life of missteps and confusion led to this rightness with a young man, dead for almost a century.
From the first, the pair fit together like dance partners, familiar with the space, sensitive to the other's strength or weakness. Will knew Jake’s needs and Jake discovered he had a knack for satisfying his young partner. It was so unlike Tony in Germany. Their couplings could be aggressive, but in the late October morning it was a gentle union. Jake opened himself to Will, wrapping his legs around the young man’s hard body, loving his gentle touch. Jake covered Will’s mouth with soft kisses when his young partner climaxed. Will stayed strong, keeping Jake filled for an exquisite time before finally fading.
When Jake returned from the bathroom, Will was still there. Jake admired the curve his torso displayed so well. His slightly parted thighs drew Jake’s attention to Will’s spent manhood. Their eyes met. Will slid off the side of the bed and onto his knees. He reached a hand between Jake’s thighs, brushing against his scrotum before settling on Jake’s tense right cheek. The young man drew Jake’s aching cock into his mouth, letting the hand guide him in and out slowly. Jake shivered as he swayed against Will’s mobile mouth. Time was erased as the familiar dance continued. Jake and Will could have continued into eternity that way.
After Jake came, Will rested his head against the man’s abdomen. His hand still cupped Jake’s ass firmly. Will’s thumb strayed into the soft crease and massaged Jake’s sensitive anus, still lubricated from their love making. Jake realized, for the first time, he could sense Will leaving him. It was as if the young man fluttered in and out of his presence, trying to cling to their connection. Then his lover was finally gone, all that was left were tears on Jake’s body, spilled by some unexpected grief of Will’s.
Jake headed to the store after work, still feeling fulfilled from his nocturnal wanderings and the morning of love making. It was hard not to smile at the turn his life had taken. His enchanted affair distracted Jake from the world around. A store display reminded him Zaduszki was at hand, and that meant Halloween. Jake’s parents would have taken All Souls Day seriously, regretting not being in Poland for at least this one day each year. It would be Jake’s first Halloween in his new home.
He eyed the paraphernalia of the evening. There were jack o'lantern, plastic headstones and costumes of all sorts. A ghoulish wraith in rotting shrouds hung beside the headstones. Some of Will’s enchantment faded as he leaned on his cart. Jake had been haunted for a month or so. Jakub Czarny crossed himself superstitiously, but then his humour returned. Will would probably laugh at the ghoulish wraith when he saw it. They had not talked about Will’s death in 1919 since the beginning. His appearance in the house and connection to Jake remained a mystery. Zaduszki was still on his mind as he paused for a box of candies. The wraith glared at him in the checkout line.
The boy in the green and gray striped hoodie was leaning against a tree in the boulevard. Jake noted the addition of a black coat and a book bag. The face was hidden in the hood, but Jake had no trouble remembering it. Jake looked again when he got out of the car, trailing his foolish ornament. The boy turned his head as Jake approached and seemed to follow him with his eyes as passed. It seemed they were at a social impasse though. He expected the teenager to move on down the sidewalk. Jake watched him with increasing interest as he wandered the porch looking for a place to hang the wraith.
“Try the hook beside the far left pillar.” Jake turned to look at the boy. He had pushed his hood off a mop of tangled hair that tickled his eyelashes. Jake paced across the porch and scouted out the hook. “To the left I think.” There was a rusty old hook strong enough to hold a plant.
“Thanks,” Jake said as he hung his decoration.
Chris watched the old man as he unlocked his front door. He changed his mind. The banker was not exactly old. It was not like the man was retired and using a walker. There was no ponch flopping over a sagging belt. Chris’ dad had pretty much let himself go. The banker seemed fit enough. There was a youthful bounce to his step. The man walked back to his car, popping the trunk as he went with his key. He did not look directly at Chris, but the boy thought he could read the man’s mind. There was interest there. Chris followed him over to the back of the car. “Let me give you a hand.” He did not wait for an answer. Chris grabbed one of the grocery bins and waited for the banker’s reaction. His quarry did pause while Chris grabbed the bin. He was being measured. Chris tried not to look like trouble as the man gave him a frank assessment. The boy was not sure if he would pass the test.
Jake wondered what was going on. He could not read the boy at all, then again, his relationship with his son Theo was just as challenged. Maybe the cute kid just wanted to rake his leaves. He raised an eyebrow and shrugged, he was game to learn a little more about the boy from his office window. “Sure,” he added as the young teenager stood holding the bin. There was a flicker of relief in the boy’s face. The boy took off in front, leaving Jake to close his trunk. Jake reflected that after decades of emotional solitude, beautiful young men were stumbling right over him now.
Chris took the offensive as soon as he entered the front door. He paused to kick off his battered shoes and drop his possessions before continuing on to the kitchen. After he dropped the bin on the counter, he took his coat and hoodie off. He was pulling items out of the bin before the banker even made it into the kitchen. He knew the man had stopped with his own load and was now watching him from the door into the dining room. Chris tossed his name as casually as he could over his shoulder at the man.
“Call me Jake.”
Chris kept carefully taking items out of the bin. The banker had a name. They were officially not exactly strangers. When his bin was empty, Chris carried it into the dining room and left it on the floor. When he came back into the kitchen, Jake ripped the box of candy open and held it out to Chris. “Take these to the front door.” Chris snagged a few tiny chocolate bars before heading back. As soon as there was room, he hopped up onto the counter amidst the scattered groceries. I’m just another item to put away Jake, the boy added to himself.
Jake worked around the young teenager slowly nibbling at a block of milk chocolate. Chris was watching his simplest motions. It was admittedly a seductive pose on the boy’s part, though Jake thought it unlikely he realized it. The boy’s chocolate was finally done and so was putting the food away. What’s going on between us? Jake wondered. Jake counter attacked. He hopped up on the counter near Chris and met the boy’s beautiful dark brown eyes. “Shouldn’t you be getting home Chris?” He waited out the long silence that followed.
Chris broke contact and studied a toe poking through his worn sock. He surprised them both by letting the thrust through his guard , “I don’t have a home to go to.” The boy looked at the man to see how he took this. Jake looked sad. Chris turned his face to the bare kitchen wall. His face burned as he sold his ass one more time.
The worn clothing, same as he had seen almost a month earlier outside his office. The boy’s face, stretched and anxious. Jake could see it. He saw the blush as well. Jake’s heart went out to the boy. “I’m hungry, are you hungry Chris?” The boy nodded silently, but he would not turn his face away from the wall.
Jake considered what to cook and settled on the easiest thing. He rooted out a package of frozen burger patties. After a moment’s consideration, he put three in the pan. The doorbell rang while Jake was organizing the rest of the simple meal. “Halloween treaters.” He glanced at Chris who had not moved off the counter.
Chris could hear the voices outside. He took the hint and dropped of the counter. The smell of cooking meat made him nauseous so he was glad for an excuse to leave the kitchen. He was not in control anymore. Jake had him off balance now. After he took care of the kids at the door, he wandered around the main floor keeping his distance from the man while he recovered. It was reassuring to see Jake had not really changed his house. The doorbell rang as he was taking a couple of Caleb’s Ritalin. He fed the princess and her Star Wars companion, then stood looking out the window waiting for some sort of relief.
“Not many kids at the door tonight.” Jake broke the silence between them. Chris had already eaten both of his burgers, but he had shown little enthusiasm. That worried Jake a little as he worked through his meal more slowly. The teen commented that he had not seen many children in the neighborhood. “Have you been living here long?” It was the wrong thing to say. Chris gave him a terse no, and tensed up. Jake tried to smooth things over by changing the subject back to himself. “I’ve only been in the neighborhood for a couple of months.”
“Why did you buy this house?” Chris asked suddenly. Jake thought a moment before answering. The boy listened as he explained he did not really know why. He had seen it while he was walking, and the house just felt like it was where he needed to be. That seemed inadequate, so he mentioned a few features he liked about the house. It was a character home. He liked the sense of history. Chris interrupted him, “It was the home of a doctor. His name was Anthony Childe. I think he built it.” That interested Jake.
Jake went on to tell the boy something about his life. Whenever Jake paused, sure he was boring the boy, Chris prodded him to continue with another question. Children came to the door to interrupt them. Chris took it as his duty to give them candy. At one point, while Chris was at the door, Jake thoughtlessly poured himself a rye. It was something he might have done chatting with Will before they went to the bedroom. After the kid watched him take a sip, he thought better of it. The glass lay between them as they hunted for safe words to ease the tension.
“I think that must be the last of them.” Jake decided after the door had been silent for half an hour. He had turned on the news to fill the growing distance between them, but returned to the table when he saw that the teenager had no intention of moving. Chris stared at his hands, folded on the table. One hand seemed to hold the other down. “I guess we should get you settled.” Jake concluded.
Chris snatched the glass Jake had abandoned between them and before Jake could react, tossed it off in one swallow. His hand fluttered as he put the glass down and clamped the other over it again. Chris cleared his voice, “I should clean up then.”
“Sure,” Jake replied, puzzled by the teenager’s anxiety. “Grab your bag when you go upstairs.” Chris moved away silently. Jake took the time to clean up the kitchen, and then sat down in the living room with the news channel. He wondered what Will would think about Chris the next time his young lover showed up. In consternation, Jake realized the two men would have to be very discrete about their relationship while he had the boy staying with him. Why was he letting the kid stay anyway? Random underage teenagers were trouble for single men. Like buying a house he did not really need, Jake could not give himself a good answer beyond feeling it was necessary.
The hamburger he choked down sat heavily in his stomach. There was no way to enjoy the hot food when he knew he would have to pay for it before he could escape again. Chris dropped his bag in the man’s room. A poorly made double bed, long chest of drawers, and a chair. Nothing on the white walls, no pharmaceuticals in the top drawer beside the bed, but of course, the boy found lubricant. There was spray bottle of nitroglycerin at hand. Chris stripped down before looking in the other two small rooms. They were equally bare. A twin bed centred on the old cedar floors that had been hidden by well worn carpets the last time Chris had been upstairs.
His breath caught when he opened the door to the other room and saw the deep royal blue of the new wallpaper. The bed was in the right place too. He traced a hand along the fresh paper as he approached the window. He fell to his knees looking at the dark window across the way. The sash glided up after a small struggle. Cold October air washed over his face, raising goosebumps on his bare flesh. “Hey John, are you awake?” Chris’ voice was lost in the night. Nobody who knew him would have recognized the utter desperation and unbearable longing in the fifteen-year old’s passionate call. He imagined a movement in the curtain opposite. It stopped his heart, and then the desolation returned. The naked boy closed the window reluctantly, shutting out the silence. His heart hardened a little more against the world, which was sad, because John was indeed finally awake and listening to him.
Chris turned and sat with his back against wall below the window. He rested his forearms limply on raised knees and contemplated his situation wearily one more time. It would be nice if Jake let him sleep in his room, Chris thought wistfully. His stomach tightened. There was over the counter pain relief in the medicine cabinet. Chris could always count on that anyway. He chewed a handful like candy. He stayed in the shower a long time.
Afterward, Chris sat on Jake’s bed with his bag between his legs. His drug supply was actually pretty good. The stuff he had lifted from Brogan’s mother, and Caleb’s Ritalin would tide him over for a while. He would not have to bargain with his abusive dealer right away. Dealing with the man downstairs was all he thought he could handle at the moment. It did not do Chris any good thinking beyond the next day. Since he had made it to Moose Jaw, he simply worked toward the next fix that would kickstart the dreaming.
With a heavy sigh, Chris pulled the meagre choice of clothing out of his book bag. He had Caleb’s clothes still. They would do. Caleb might even be ready to see the humour in it. Everything else got stuffed back into his bag. The shirt did not smell like Caleb as he pulled it over his head. It was not the stuff of his dreams either. Chris felt a bit safer after he was dressed again.
Jake had not followed him upstairs. This surprised Chris a little. He could hear the TV noises from below. The man had switched to a hockey game, maybe gone back to replace the drink Chris had stolen. Chris fretted about it all for a while, planning to wait the man out, and then let the anger build inside of him. The anger was always his shield. When he thought he was ready, he tossed his bag toward the chair and stood up. Almost as an afterthought, Chris squeezed some lubricant for himself. He could not read Jake like he could the old farts in the alley or through the open passenger doors as they lured him in. He was a man though.
Jake shifted his attention to the lean teenager stomping down the steep stairs with a dark cloud in his face. The cloud evaporated into adolescent uncertainty as soon as their eyes met. He watch Chris slow and halt three steps from the bottom. The boy stood one foot on each tread for a bit, then sat down. Jake shifted back to the game, his mind mostly on the attractive boy wearing grey sweats and a tight tee shirt. Chris was jumpy, but Jake could understand that. His heart sort of went out to the boy.
“Come on down Chris. Don't look so glum. Are you into hockey?”
The teen bumped down a step and then moved over to the couch where Jake was slouched with his feet on the coffee table. He dropped onto the far cushion, fidgeting with his hands before clasping them in his lap. “Can I have a drink?”
“I don’t have anything. Except Club Soda and juice. Which would you like?”
“Some of that rye, or vodka would be better.” Chris kept his resentment burning. He did not need to be groomed like he had seduced Brogan and so many other boys. This was a simple exchange: sex for shelter. Chris bit his lip for a moment, then blurted out, “Why are we watching hockey?” He turned his gaze on Jake, forcing his features into the mask he wore in the bar alley.
“How old are you Chris?”
“Seriously?” Chris was scornful. That broke his mask and exposed him to Jake’s possible anger. The teen could not help himself though. If it was not going to be a middle aged masterbation like in the alley, then Chris desperately needed Jake to be a worshipful closet queen in the back set of a car. He wanted to see Jake’s desire. He did not need the look of adult concern Jake was giving him. It was so much frustrating hypocrisy. “Why are we still watching hockey?” He accused.
“I like hockey, sorry.” Jake replied in a soothing voice. He picked up the remote and turned off the TV. “Grab a juice if you like kid. I’m going to change too.” Jake reached across the couch and actually patted Chris’ leg. After Jake padded up the stairs, Chris went to the kitchen for tall glass. There was vodka near the rye in the dining room. Jake had not actually told him he could not have a drink. Chris poured his glass half full, then for good measure downed a bit of the excellent rye right from the bottle. Just in case the man did object, Chris topped up the glass with some juice.
He tried to sip the drink rather than pour it all down his throat and go back for more. Chris leaned against the counter, one foot bouncing anxiously on the other. He had let himself be taken to cheap hotel rooms twice. It turned out most johns did not think he was worth the price or time. He went to a house in town once. Once was enough for Chris. He had just arrived in Moose Jaw and he was desperate. The first dealer he found pimped him out to a suit with a cocaine habit who had the house to himself for the weekend. The asshole worked out a few fantasies over Chris’ bound body. Chris found the bar down town and a new dealer. He also swore off house visits.
There had been nothing frightening to find upstairs. Chris took his glass down to the basement. When he first broke into his house, he had found the crumbling foundation had been reinforced by some renovations in the basement. It was same as he remembered it; stud frames with pink insulation, covered with a plastic sheet and bright red tape. The floor was bare plywood sheets. There was a washer and drier in the corner near a roughed out bathroom. All Chris discovered was a small pile of unopened boxes at the bottom of the stairs. He sat on the stack and realized his heart had been pounding.
Jake was staring out the dining room window when Chris came back up. He turned quickly toward the boy. “I thought you vanished.” There was a hint of panic there.
“Like this?” Chris gestured at his clothing and bare feet. “Are you crazy? It’s cold out there.”
Jake waved a hand dismissing his reply, then sighed heavily. “Forget I said that. My life is very complicated. You wouldn’t understand.” He recovered quickly. Jake smiled at Chris. “I’m glad you’re here.” Chris noticed he had changed into plaid flannel pajama bottoms and a loose white tee shirt. He managed to look good in it. Chris put his glass down on the table and pulled off his own shirt.
Jake took in the boy’s bare, lightly sculpted torso from the low slung sweatpants to the prominent collar bone. Chris looked frail. His face was flushed and his eyes seemed unfocused by the alcohol he had obviously been drinking. That right hand was trembling again. Jake caught its fluttered drift toward the boy’s crotch, touch a growing erection, and then up to the waistband, before falling back to his side.
“I’m such a fool. I’m so sorry Chris. I wasn’t thinking.” Jake stepped forward and drew Chris against his chest. He brushed a hand through the tangle of light brown hair, combing it back from Chris’ forehead, then he pressed the boy’s head against his chest gently. Jake cursed his body. It was doing exactly what Chris expected. Jake kissed the top of the boy’s head and gently pushed him away. “We’ll sort things out between us. Put your shirt back on and grab your drink. Let’s see if there’s something you want to watch.”
Chris did not put his shirt on. He sat on the couch where he had been before and went back to his drink. It took a while for his erection to fade. It had surprised him with its sudden demand. He was not sure what he felt in Jake’s arms, pressed against his chest, feeling the beginnings of the man’s own arousal. He did not know what to think about Jake’s rejection either. Chris lived in dread of rejection. Everything about the moment blunted his necessary rage.
Jake turned on the TV and surfed until he found something a teenage boy might like. He was wrong, but Chris let it go. Chris started drifting away in a haze. He almost dropped his glass, but Jake caught it from his hand, and caught him as he swayed forward. “Time for bed kid. You have to walk because I can’t carry you.” Jake followed him up the stairs steadying him when he stumbled. When Chris was on the bed he stripped off his sweatpants and fell onto his back. He was out after that.
“Oh you cruel little bastard,” Jake murmured to himself staring down at the naked teenager. “You would just do that to me wouldn’t you?” He thought Will hard and slender, but the eighteen-year old was a man beside this boy. Jake had never thought to do more with a teenager than envy his graceful youth and erotic energy. He could imagine doing quite a bit more with Chris. “Get thee behind me Satan. Under the sheets you go before I lose it all over you.”
Jake had to lift the boy’s legs onto the bed. Then he rolled him onto his side. One leg slid over the other, parting the boy’s crack. Jake caught the shine of lubricant. He passed a finger over the smear. “Jesus Christ.” Jake tugged at the bedding he had prepared for his own son, after a tussle that gave him far too intimate a knowledge of Chris’ young body, he settled Chris safely on his side. Chris clutched at the pillow like a little boy and sighed In his sleep.
The bedroom door closed with a soft click. He leaned against it for a while content with his life. Chris’ comment from earlier, the one about Anthony Childe building the house in 1908, was on his mind. Jake still hoped Will would return. After having his hands all over Chris, Jake needed his lover. He decided to do a little research about Moose Jaw cemeteries while he waited for Will to show up.
It was his own room, in his own house. Chris rolled onto his back. He did not remember coming to this room, nor did he recall what happened before. The evening faded after Jake hugged him in the dining room. The boy ran his hands over his body under the covers. He could not decide if Jake had used his body after he blacked out. Chris saw his book bag and the clothes he had been wearing on a wooden chair. A note was taped to the chair’s back.
Jake had gone to work, asked Chris to stick around till the end of the day, and take whatever he wanted to eat. That suited Chris. He showered because he could, and put everything he owned in the washing machine. He spent the morning wandering Jake's house in Jake’s cotton house coat.
Chris spent the afternoon dressed in some of Jake’s old clothes robbing houses in the college neighbourhood. He found five easy places, quickly searching out drugs, cash, and anything useful. The sixth house went badly. An elderly man discovered him rifling through the bedroom drawers. While his wife lay sleeping in the bed. He hit the man in the face and pushed him down before escaping out the back door with a precious bottle of morphine. He hurried down the alley discarding Jake’s coat and knit cap as he went. He saw a police cruiser up the street so he walked casually up the front doors to Central High School.
It seemed to be the end of the day, as Chris filtered into the crowd jostling in the hallway. His adrenalin was up and he was feeling lucky. He slowed his pace and started looking for opportunities. He circled the school seeing nothing handy. The place was clearing out. Chris needed to move on before some adult questioned him. He noticed the gym was full of boys his age practicing volleyball. He ducked into the change room for a look. He left with two wallets that should have been locked up and a pocket full of small bills and change. Chris trailed after a group of students, trying to seem like he was part of the group. The ruse seemed to work when the police cruiser drifted by. It was time to head back to his house. There was a shed in Jake’s back yard. Chris sorted through everything and tucked a ziplock bag in a corner where Jake would not stumble over it.
Jake was relieved to find Chris sitting in the living room reading a book he was sure he had not unpacked. It looked like the teen had washed his clothes. Jake’s greeting earned him a pensive glance before the boy’s eyes dropped back to the book. He was such a good kid and Jake felt bad for him. Chris had one of Jake’s best glasses next to him with ice cubes floating in rye. That was troubling to Jake. He left his bag and coat on the chair. Then picked up the tumbler of rye while stepping past Chris, and finally dropped on the cushion right beside him. Their shoulders were brushing as he took a sip of rye and asked, “So are you wasted already, or are you up for going on a quest with me?” Chris put a finger in the book to mark his place and wondered again how much had happened after he blacked out.
“I’m fine. Where do you want to go?”
Jake squeezed his knee and told Chris he wanted to get out of his office clothes. He left with the rye. Chris decided to follow him up the stairs. He sat back on the double bed and watched the man undress. Chris speculated on how far the middle age man would go. Apparently only down to a pair of black briefs. Jake did not hurry though. Chris reclaimed the glass of rye and sipped at it letting Jake know his interest in men could be equally frank.
“You're gay aren't you?” Jake paused with a pair of jeans in his hands. “I mean, I saw the picture of your kids. The two extra bedrooms. No ladies clothing in here, no ring, big bottle of lube in your drawer.” The man sat heavily on the bed next to Chris. The boy approved of the old guy’s tight stomach and narrow hips. Jake took the glass for a sip and gave it back.
“Yeah, I guess I am.” Jake gave him a twisted smile. “I was married.” He left it at that.
“Have you got a boyfriend?” Chris offered the glass to Jake after another sip.
“Yes.” Jake pulled on his pants.
Chris rolled over and put the glass down on the table. “I'm queer.” He twisted back toward Jake who stood looking at him. “No really, I think I've known forever.” He turned back, fingering Jake’s pillow. Chris lay his face on the fabric breathing in the scent of male flesh. “Did we fuck last night Jake? I mean, I don't think we did, but did we?” He felt Jake’s weight settle next to him on the bed.
“No kid, we did not have sex. I just tucked you into bed.” Jake wanted to run his hand along Chris’ back.
Chris did not get it. He knew the man was interested. Jake would not have let him in the door if he was not interested in him. Chris was smart enough to know he could put Jake in jail for everything he had done already. That might be worth something later. It would send Chris back to Brandon though, and that was never going to happen. “But you wanted to.”
“You're fifteen kid.”
“But you want to.”
Chris bunched up the pillow and buried his face in it. Jake looked up and down the teenager’s length. He was not a child, but he was not a young man like Will yet either. “But you didn't want to.” Jake replied, sidestepping the challenge.
Chris turned around on the bed and sat cross legged up against Jake, crowding into his personal space. He reached back to the table for the rest of the rye. Jake made an effort to take it out of the boy’s hand. Chris pulled it away, holding up a finger. “A sip for me and one for you and it's gone.” He took his sip, rich brown eyes staring into Jake’s, finger still held up to stop a protest. He waved the glass in front of Jake’s face and dropped his hand onto his knee. “You knew I wanted to. You felt my rod rubbing up against you and I felt your cock too. You're afraid of who you are old man, you always were.”
Jake took the offered glass and drained the last of the rye. He looked at the glass a moment before standing up. Chris watched him pick a sports shirt and walk back to the bed. As soon as he was within reach, Chris snatched it from him. Jake sat down. “Look kid, I'm just an...”
“Stop calling me kid Jake. I'm not your little boy.” Chris could have used a toke as he looked at this necessary man. Even a little dope might lure his elusive prey close enough to capture as he had Jake’s shirt. “I've been on my own for over three months. Howdo you think I've been able to do that? People fuck me, I suck dick, I...”
“You drink to make yourself do it.”
“I steal so I can be what I am, and you hide Jake, you hide.”
“Who are you Chris?” Jake asked quietly. “Why hang around with a middle age man like me?”
“You're not bad Jake. I've had a few...”
“Shut up Chris, just shut up. I can’t stand hearing about that. You deserve better.” Jake took his shirt back. He started to put it on over his head but stopped when Chris replied.
“Did Tony deserve better? How about your wife and kids? Will you be there for your boyfriend if it gets too hard?” Jake did not answer as he continued putting on his shirt. Chris could read his mind. “I don't care old man. I'm no better than you. My list of mistakes is longer than yours.” Chris leaned in to kiss Jake, but he pulled back. It was not In Chris’ dream. Chris had hoped the man would work for him like the drugs. That moment with Caleb, pressed against the thirteen-year old boy’s hot groin, Chris had almost felt whole. Caleb’s innocent passion just about brought him home. It could be done with Jake. Chris was certain. Yet, it always slipped away like Jake just did. “Jake, you're a coward.” Chris let it go. “What is this quest we are on?”
Jake stood up, disturbed by the teenage arrogance, missing the tone of defeat in his young voice. It was just as Will said about going over to the trenches, young men thought they knew it all. He told Chris to put his coat on, and turned to finish dressing.
Chris dreaded being in the old cemetery. Suicidal despair whispered to him often enough without visiting dead people. Jake did not know a fraction of the ways Chris screwed up. The mistakes piled up and he was out of control. Fifteen years old and Chris could not imagine making it past eighteen. The gravestones creeped the boy out. He avoided focusing on them and kept his eyes on the man searching for a particular marker. Jake had pulled out some notes and paused from time to time to consult them.
Jake stooped to read a marker, stood and sought out Chris. “Hey, I found your doctor and his wife. It should be nearby.” The dread grew as Chris reluctantly joined Jake. He avoided the headstones of the parents, backing away until he bumped into an old stone. Jake smiled at him from nearby, checked his notes, and then came uncertainly over to Chris. “It’s All Saints Day Chris, he explained again. I can’t find it.”
“They are only graves Jake.” He stepped up to Jake, willing him to wrap his arms around his trembling body. Take me back please, before it’s too late. Take me back so I know everything will be okay. Stop running away from me please, please. Tears started down Chris’ cheeks and he reached out his arms to the man. Jake looked over his shoulder at the headstone Chris had been leaning against.
“You found him Chris. There you are.” Jake added in a whisper. Chris looked up into the twilight and squeezed his eyes shut. Jake continued behind him. “William Childe, December 3rd, 1901 to August 27th, 1919” Jake read the rest of the inscription in a murmur to himself.
“He’s dead Jake, what does it matter?” Chris asked bitterly.
“He lived, he loved, he died.” Jake replied.
“He hoped, he got fucked, he...” Chris could not go on. The pressure from the dead was overwhelming him. He could imagine William Childe’s parents over there in their grave still mourning their son’s young death. That would be his parents in Brandon. Chris did not want to look at the grave. If he turned to look, he was sure he would see William Childe watching the man and boy suffer. The cemetery stank of regret and loss. The feeling overwhelmed the boy’s ability to let anything else in. He stalked away, letting his anger build and wrap around him.
“Oh Will, I miss you all the time. It's Zaduszki Will, so I needed to see you. Thank you for bringing me out of myself. It is a different world now love. I told someone I was gay today. I even told her about you, well just a little.” He pulled a rock out of his coat pocket and gently placed it on top of Will’s headstone. Will was such a joy. There was only the shadow of the eighteen-year old’s memory of rejection to mar their love, and Jake seemed to be able to drive that away. “I wish you were alive.” Jake admitted.
Jake stood up and brushed the damp soil off his pants. Chris had disappeared on him. He had to admit, he was probably creeping the kid out. It was getting dark. He said a last goodbye to Will, adding that he hoped they would see each soon. He began looking for his problem child. Jake decided it must have been the black cloud hovering over Chris’ cowled head that led him to the boy.
Chris watched Jake approach and stop short of approaching the gravestone he was leaning against. Chris was still angry at Jake, but there was also relief. The man kept coming back, no matter how much Chris pushed him. Chris pointed a thumb over his shoulder at the inscription on the black granite stone. “My guy died in 1960. He was fifty-nine Jake. You better not waste anymore time.”
Jake smiled to himself. Chris was such a brat. “Race you back to the car kid.” Chris scrambled up and began running. Jake forgot himself completely and chased after him. They dodged headstones as they wove back and forth. Chris slowed slightly just before they reached the car. He let Jake scoop him up by the waist. Jake heaved the teenager up onto his shoulder and twirled him around. Chris was laughing like a little boy, all the harsh words of the day forgiven.
The pain started in his chest and his left arm began to tingle. “Oh God,” Jake groaned. “That was a bad idea.” He sank to his knees while a giggling Chris snaked down to the ground in front of him and lay there laughing up at him. Jake did not panic. It would not help. He reached into his coat pocket for his nitro spray. Chris seemed to realize there was something wrong when he sent two shots into his mouth. He slipped the spray into his pocket and smiled weakly at the boy, “ It's okay Chris.”
Chris scrambled to his knees. He put a hand on Jake’s shoulder,”You're sweating Jake. What's wrong? What can I do?”
“Let me rest for a minute. I should be okay.”
“I should get you to the hospital.” Jake waved him off. That was what his doctor would demand he do, but it would not change anything. It had just been a warning. Ironically, Will and Chris were making him feel alive for the first time in a long dreary life.
Chris watched Jake sitting so still on the ground, eyes opening and closing slowly, he was clenching and unclenching his left fist. Chris turned away and looked into the growing night. He had not expected this, even though he had considered Jake’s unfamiliar medications during his morning wander. He felt Jake’s hand start massaging his shoulders. Coming to a graveyard had turned out to be such a bad idea. Jake used his shoulder to to stand. Chris stayed close as they walked slowly to the car.
Jake pulled into a family restaurant along the strip. He explained that he did not feel like cooking. They sat in a booth facing each other after they had ordered. Chris was feeling better after snorting a crushed tablet in the restroom. Jake was subdued, but he had a peaceful smile. “What did you take?” Jake asked him quietly. Chris told him what he thought he had taken. It was something left over from Brogan’s mother, he had forgotten what it was. “Are you on Meth, Crack, do you shoot up?” Chris stirred his Pepsi, glad for the sugar. He stopped stirring and took a pull at his straw.
“You would think so, I’ve tried smoking Meth. If that was all I was looking for, I would do it all the time. You cannot believe what it does for you. It’s not enough, or maybe too much. Heroin scares me. I tried hallucinogens like mushrooms. I dropped acid once. I won’t do that again. What did old guys like you call it? A bad trip? The acid dropped me into a nightmare you could not imagine.” Chris paused, his eyes looking right through Jake into the unspeakable horror he had experienced. “Imagine a place that smells like rotten meat, full of mud, people doing things...” He could not go on. Chris focused his eyes on Jake’s concerned face. “Once was enough for me. My psychologist started me on Zoloft. He thought I was suffering from anxiety. I mostly take stuff like oxycontin and ritalin. It’s easy to find.” He went back to sipping his Pepsi.
“I’ve got to say I’m scared for you.” Jake said. “What about your family? Do you worry...” Chris cut him off sharply.
“They are better off this way. I will walk right now if you mention them again.” His voice was loud and it drew some glances. Chris gave the finger to a mother frowning at him. He glared at Jake. “Maybe I don’t talk about your son and daughter, and you don’t talk about my mom and dad.” The meal came and they ate in silence.
Jake went to bed early after taking his medications. Chris sat in the livingroom reading the book he had found in a box. He looked at the last of Jake’s liquor supply and left it alone. It was hard to concentrate, even with the last of Caleb’s Ritiline. He marked his place and put the book down. The boy relived the run through the cemetery. The two of them running from those graves, caught up in a brief moment of joy and freedom. He felt Jake’s strong embrace, the sensation of being lifted up. For just a second, it seemed his life was falling into place. Then it was Jake letting him slip away. Jake’s heart labouring in the cemetery. Chris faced the truth. Jake was going to die. His joke by the grave was the cruel truth. Time was running out for them. Caleb, like the string of men and boys before him was not the answer. Jake, who might be, would not give him enough time.
He stood beside Jake’s bed silently, his bag slung over his shoulder. The banker had cash, so Chris took it. He left everything else. Jake lay on his back, covers tossed off. He slept in briefs. Chris was stone, within arm’s reach. You didn’t give us a chance old man. I have to leave you this time before you leave me. Au Revoir mon amour éternel, jusqu'à ce que nos chemins se croisent à nouveau dans la prochaine vie. The thoughts vanished as they came. Chris turned away and left.
Chris’ departure left him feeling so guilty. He had tried to help the angry, self-destructive boy, and he had failed. Chris was an adolescent train wreck. Shifting without warning from a sweet man-child to an addicted sociopath. Will kissed his cock and brought him back to the moment. Will lay naked across Jake’s thighs on the carpet in front of the fireplace. He began tracing a finger around Jake’s belly. Jake left off fondling the young man and put his hands behind his head. “He's a drunk Jake. He probably just went off on a bash.”
“You know, get intoxicated. What would you call it?”
“I don't know, bender maybe. The poor kid is an addict and he will do anything to get his fix.” He looked at Will. He could not read Will’s look. “I was hoping you would drop in and meet him.”
“What did you tell him about me?”
“Nothing really, he asked if I was gay, and then if I had a boyfriend. I said I did, that's all.”
Jake had a thought. Chris might have been discouraged learning about Will. Along with everything else, the lost boy probably believed he could not compete with the young man. He reached out to fondle Will again, marveling at how quickly his young lover found his strength again. Jake felt a flicker of confusion. Had it been a mistake to seek out Will’s grave? It was harder to put aside his nature in these moments together. Will haunted him. Chris, on the other hand, was so painfully alive.
Will was hard and the hunger in his eyes was enchanting. Jake opened himself once more to his lover’s need. They whispered encouragement to each other as they coupled. Will’s young face covered his in light kisses and small bites. Jake could feel the tension in the eighteen-year old’s arms as he braced himself for the crescendo of thrusts filling Jake’s body. Jake curled his back even more, letting Will drive even deeper. The young man’s adolescent second organsm overwhelmed him. He lifted Jake higher, strong hands clutching Jake’s hips, pushing his seed as deep into Jake as he could. Jake watched his ecstasy, knowing these moments would always be his. Will’s coming had transformed Jake, banishing the twilight he had been resigned to endure till the end of his days. It seemed Will would be his eighteen-year old lover to the end.
Jake lay on his stomach watching the gas flames dance on the eternal logs. Will sat beside him gently scratching his back and letting his fingers playfully run along Jake’s tender anus. “I should run up to Saskatoon and see my kids this weekend. I’ve been neglecting them.” Will bent over and kissed his back, two fingers probing the ring of muscle between Jake’s cheeks. He replied lightly that he understood. The kisses continued and with the decision made, Jake drifted into sleep, warmed by the sensations of fire and Will’s soft caress.
Jake had never liked visiting in Saskatoon. His ex wife knew this, and Jake suspected she had returned to the city simply to keep Jake at a distance. As if to twist the knife in deeper, she insisted they go as a family to the one place in Saskatoon Jake loathed the most, the Train Station Restaurant. It was as if she knew the repurposed station beside the tracks would make his guilt for betraying her and the kids unbearable. Jake drank too much and tried to kill the earworm of Chris’ angry voice challenging him about his infidelity.
They tried these meals once or twice a year, just to prove to their children that the divorce had been civilized. His daughter Tasha was hard to draw out. She ate quietly and mostly answered prompts from her mother. Theo seemed more relaxed. He asked a little about Jake’s new house and offered a limp promise to visit some time soon. His ex wife jumped in to describe how busy Theo was with school, part time job at Walmart, and a new romance. Jake tried to to show some pride in his seventeen-year old son. Instead, he found himself thinking of his Chris. He almost tipped his wine glass over, Theo caught it, and his ex wife suggested coldly he had drank enough.
His family left without finalizing plans for him to meet the children Sunday. He watched them walk away together into the night. He would make some excuse in the morning and that would be the end to the shambles. Jake shivered in the November cold. He glanced back at the old building hating the sight of it. “Just burn down already.” He growled. His children had disappeared. What had Chris said? They are better off this way. How utterly true. The fifteen-year old street kid and he were not so very different. Jake was well on his way to drunk. He cast about the neighbourhood looking for a bar. He saw one just across the tracks running past the station. Jake put the station behind him and strode off to lose himself. It was probably what Chris would expect him to do.
Sunday afternoon he drove home to Moose Jaw. He did not get home until it was early Monday morning. Jake drove the quiet avenues and ranged around the city searching for Chris. He would pause at vacant houses like the burnt out house Will and he had explored, wondering if Chris was huddled there against the cold. The downtown was silent when he finally turned the car back home. Will was waiting for him. Jake lost himself through the rest of the night twined with his young lover on the bed.
The trip to Saskatoon left Jake determined to recover some of his old routines. He put bookshelves in the bedrooms and unpacked his library. The book Chris had been reading before he left was still in the living room. Jake put it on the bed in the small bedroom where he had brought Chris that night. Feeling foolish, he made a small adjustment in its position.
With the house in order, Jake cultivated people more. In the two weeks after returning from Saskatoon he made a point of talking with his children twice a week, following up on their lives. He joined colleagues for lunch and occasional drinks after work. He talked with the neighbour as they shovelled the year’s first heavy snowfall and when Mrs. Piso in the other house came out with a shovel, Jake tackled her walk too. They stood talking when they finished. Jake learned Mrs. Piso had bought her house from her mother and uncle in 1953 when she married. Her grandparents had raised their family in the house, she had raised her’s there as well. Jake fended off another invitation for tea.
Mid November, Jake was helping a bright young couple with the mortgage to their first home. He heard a rapping on his window and when he turned around, there was Chris giving him a small wave. Jake lunged for the window. Chris smiled hesitantly and jabbed tentatively towards the door of the bank. Jake nodded agreement and excused himself before bolting to the door.
Chris leaned against the wall near the door, hunched into his coat against the cold wind. When Jake stepped out he turned and then he was crushed against man. The hug reassured him all could be forgiven. Jake was slow to let him go. “I thought I'd stop and say hello. Maybe have lunch.” Chris looked up at Jake.
“Yes, I'd like that.” Jake was devouring him with his eyes. The man looked at his watch in consternation. “I can't get away for another thirty minutes.” He pulled twenty dollars out of his wallet and put it in Chris’ palm, folding the boy’s fingers over it. Chris would grab a table at the pizza place down the street and wait for him. Chris saw him pause. He blushed slightly and assured Jake he would be there waiting. Jake began to reach for his shoulder, but pulled the hand back, instead he nodded mutely before turning away.
Chris turned toward the restaurant, confused about his own feelings about seeing Jake. It had been a miserable few weeks for him. The prairie fall had ended in Moose Jaw and there had been some bitter nights in his basement den. To escape the cold, Chris moved his trade to the basement of the building adjacent to the bar’s back door. It was out of the wind, but he felt trapped in the dark down there. On the plus side, it was such a miserable existence that the few other teenage hookers in the small city did not challenge him. Chris kept the box knife in his pocket just in case.
He left the twenty on the table where the waiter could see it and ordered a coffee. Chris asked for two menus. He set thoughts of Jake aside and worried his newest opportunity. Chris had burned his bridges at the technical high school where Brogan went after he robbed Brogan’s house. He avoided the school entirely now. His reputation had not filtered over to Central, where he had rifled through the boy’s locker room. His dealer went to Central. The high school senior was holding out on him over a weekend hockey party. The star player was out to his teammates, apparently this made him local LBGT poster boy. The queer boy’s best friend wanted to get him laid at the party. Agreeing would get Chris his next fix and maybe a night out of the cold. Chris was long past starry eyed romantic. A hockey hero was not his destiny. He knew he would probably do it. Getting fucked over at a high school party was nothing new.
Jake showed up late, which did not bother Chris because it was warm in the restaurant and he was not paying for the meal. Chris slipped the twenty dollars into his pocket as Jake slid into the booth. “Chris, are you okay?” The man’s hand lay near the boy’s on the table. It twitched forward and then back.
Jake looked at him skeptically. “I don't believe you. You look like you're sleeping in the street.” Chris bridged the distance on the table and covered Jake's hand with his.
“Can't we just have lunch together old man?”
“I thought you said I wasn't old.”
Chris smiled down at the table. “It's just a nickname Jake, I don't mean anything by it.” How could he explain to the middle age man that in his drug induced dreams, Jake was always the boy next door he had been searching for since he was thirteen. Chris would sleep with the whole hockey team if it brought him closer to his next night with young Jake.
“Okay kid, I understand.” Chris smiled at the table again when Jake called him kid.
“You are still with your boyfriend aren't you?”
“Yes, I am.”
Chris nodded. He looked at Jake's face, worn by time. Jake was somebody else in his dreams. Somebody with the innocence and wonder of Caleb. The forty-five year old looked like the fifteen-year old felt. They ordered food and ate in near silence. Chris needed Jake’s affection, so he hid his bitterness. For his part, Jake was reluctant to talk about Chris’ life for fear of what he would learn. When they were done, Jake wrapped his fleece scarf around the boy’s neck. He did not want to let him go. They parted on the street. Jake heading back to work, and Chris to the alley until he could connect with his dealer. He checked the iPod as he walked for new messages. A regular wanted to pick him up at 2:00, it was a bumbling old retiree who would let him sit in a warm car for a while. Chris sent him a reply and walked on.
Four days later, Chris was tapping at the bank window and Jake was smiling his pleasure. Chris came into the bank long enough to stick his head into Jake’s office while they picked a restaurant. He waited for Jake over a double double and checked his afternoon schedule again.
The hockey hero, Patrick, turned out to be a shy bottom. Chris turned out to be part of a stable of presumably promiscuous freshmen and sophomores lured in by free alcohol and weed. He was the only boy in the group. Chris blended into the crowd, pretending to everyone and himself that he was part of the social scene. The senior worked his way around to sitting near Chris and then stalled. At a frown from Patrick’s best friend, Chris started seducing him. They exchanged kisses on the couch before Chris led him upstairs to a vacant bedroom.
Patrick let Chris lead the foreplay. When Chris offered himself to the older teen, Patrick confessed what he wanted. Chris was agreeable. He readily exchanged roles, doing whatever was called for by the john’s. Patrick was a bottom, but Chris leaned toward being a top. They did not rush, but the noise of people in the hallway unsettled Patrick and the sex was not perfect. Chris finished Patrick with his hand. Before they left the room, Chris gave Patrick his contact information and invited him to message a time he was free. The teenager seemed eager. Chris promised himself not to wreck this opportunity the way he had with Brogan.
Chris stayed at the party on the off chance he was expected to have sex with Patrick again. When Patrick left at 1:00 to make a family curfew, Chris started drinking hard and taking everything that was offered. Patrick’s best friend fucked him. Chris remembered thinking at the time that the aggressive teenager should have been satisfying Patrick instead. Unfortunately for Patrick, his buddy was so blinded by his own sexuality that he could not imagine Patrick as anything but a Alpha top like himself. Getting knocked about and hurt by the clumsy seventeen-year old was good for Chris. It chased away the soft thoughts of friendship and romance. He welcomed the adolescent aggression and the pain it caused. It put Chris back in his place.
He drank on, reminding himself he was just a whore at the party. Chris lost the thread of the evening after that. He might have been down on his knees between the dueling cocks of two wasted seniors settling a bet about which one would come last on his face. That might have been a memory from some other party. The host must have kicked him out at some point. He came to himself standing on Jake’s doorstep trying to get in. He sat on the deck against the locked door needing Jake to hug him and help him into his bed. He gave up finally and stumbled away to the burnt out house to pass out.
Chris thumbed the iPad absently, Patrick was already interested in hooking up. He tried to shake off the self pity. It did not fade until Jake walked up to his table. Their time together was always short. They ordered food and picked safe subjects. Chris could comment on the proud teens on the hockey team at his weekend party without telling Jake how they used him. Jake could tell Chris how he had replaced the old sash bedroom windows with new vinyl ones without adding that he sat on Chris’ bed reliving the night he had put the his young friend to bed.
Over the next few weeks they learned important things about each other. Chris unconsciously revealed he was growing desperate, as if his strength and time were running out. Jake’s silences told Chris that Will was not enough for Jake, something vital was missing. Their fears and hopes were tangled in the memory of their run through the cemetery. Chris clung to the reassurance of Jake pursuing him, Jake to the relief of Chris safe in his arms, death all around them, their own mortality oppressing them.
Chris missed many days and Jake was not aware how often the boy loitered beyond the trees outside his house. There was a pattern though. Jake noticed Chris was almost always outside the bank window the day after Will appeared. One morning, Jake grabbed a bag of clothing for the boy on his way out the door. His night had been full of Will. As he lay contented in his lover’s arms after, he felt the joyful anticipation of seeing Chris the next day. He was disappointed though. Chris was nowhere to be found.
Jake shook the disappointment off and spent his lunch hour walking up and down Main Street. He was perfectly aware he was looking for Chris. It was discouraging, but hardly unusual, so Jake went back to work. One of the tellers stopped by to ask him to join a group going out to celebrate a colleague’s birthday downtown. Jake accepted the distraction happily. An evening alone in his house hoping to see Will was not very appealing at that moment.
It was not Jake’s first choice of bar. His colleagues were younger and natives to the city. As he settled into his seat, the woman who had invited him confided the bar had been the birthday boy’s favourite haunt since he turned nineteen. Jake took in the crowd and rough surroundings and then ordered a beer. People were stepping out the back door for a smoke. Jake shivered each time the open door sent a cold blast of prairie winter his way. It was close to 6:00 and some of the patrons looked like they had been there for hours.
Jake was sitting with a group of four women at his end of the table. He thought of two of them as his fag hags. They seemed delighted to have him in the bank. The ladies asked him about his children in Saskatoon and they all compared notes. One was divorced and sympathized with his long distance relationship. Someone asked about his boyfriend. Jake humoured them with some fabricated details about dinner out in Regina and working on the house together. He kept his stories simple. He had not shared pictures with them, in part because he was frightened about what that would produce, and also because of the awkward age difference. The ladies around the table were given the impression that Will was a middle aged man living close by in Regina. The conversation shifted to the other end of the table, allowing Jake to nurse his beer and let the companionship flow around him effortlessly.
Jake lost track of time. Dinner came and went, colleagues with family obligations left the group. The remainder came together at a single table and started watching the hockey game. Jake nursed his third schooner of draft, knowing he had to walk back to the parking lot and drive home. He did not feel like puttering on the house and it was unlikely that Will would appear early. Inevitably, he had to make a trip to the washroom.
The bar had filled up by this point and he had to wait his turn at the urinal. Jake did not have much patience for lewd chatter among men. Two drunk guys at the urinals were complaining about their companions. They were not young, so their adolescent whining about sex made Jake impatient. He was frowning at the abusive words they were using when the taller shoved his friend playfully. “Take it to the alley Ryan, I hear there’s a little fag out back doing anyone who asks for free.” That earned him a shake of the head and an offer to let the taller one go first.
Jake stepped up to the urinal after they left. He relieved himself mechanically, eyes focussed somewhere past the cracked tiles above the fixture. He felt cold as he cleaned himself up at the sink. He did not recognize the face staring back at him. It just looked tired and worn. Jake walked to the back door that had been opening and closing all evening. The blast of cold air hit him without effect. Almost in a trance, Jake stood amongst the hardy group of smokers, searching the alley for Chris. Finally, he turned to an older man beside him. “I hear there’s a kid out here. Where is he?”
The man sized Jake up and down as he took a drag on his cigarette. He pulled the butt out of his mouth and waved the glowing ember at its tip toward the opposite side of the alley. There was a short flight of stairs and an open door in the shadows. Jake started forward. Someone might have chuckled behind him.
Light filtered into the black basement through the door and a small window. “What you see is what you get.” Chris was propped on a ledge wrapped in a sleeping bag. His face was toward the wall at his feet, hidden by his hood and the scarf Jake had given him. Jake stood mutely in the doorway, completely overwhelmed. “Don’t be shy, what can I do for you?”
“Chris.” Jake’s voice was a soft caress in the darkness. It left a silence large enough to fill man and boy’s pain twice over.
“What do you want Jake? What should I do for you?” Jake’s voice was almost as soft as Jake’s, but the second question was edged with the boy’s harsh bitterness. “You don’t have to say it old man. I know your answer already. There’s nothing I can do for you right? Will, he’s enough for you isn’t he?”
“Chris.” Jake began to plead, but the boy interrupted him.
“No, stop torturing me like this.” Chris fell off the ledge and moved a few steps closer to Jake as he continued. “How many times do I have to throw myself at you? Why do you pretend to care what I am doing? I keep trying this over and over. Jesus I'm so tired of trying.” The boy threw a fist as soon as he was close enough. Jake stepped aside, blocking it easily. “You coward. I try, and all you want is him. What about me Jake? What about me?”
Jake could see he was crying. Chris stopped talking and like a small child buried his wet face in the palms of his hands so nobody could see the tears. “I don’t understand you Chris.” Jake started.
“Oh God, just leave me alone you bastard, just leave me alone!” Jake tried to stop him, but Chris ran through his arms and out into the night. It was not the cemetery. Jake could not catch him. He went back to the bar scared for his young friend, bewildered by what Chris had screamed at him. He shivered without his coat.
The confrontation with Chris sobered Jake. He drove around for a while, but experience suggested Chris had gone to ground somewhere Jake could not discover. He turned into his driveway very discouraged. Jake started a pot of coffee and sat with his head in hands. For the first time, he hoped Will would stay away. Jake tried to understand Chris’ rage. How could a fifteen-year old boy be so fixated on an older man like him? He wanted to understand. When the coffee was ready Jake started pacing about the house. Jake and Chris had fought before and reconciled. He hoped that when he went to work tomorrow, Chris would be at his window, ready to start again.
He took his second coffee to the living room window and stared at the shadows on the snow. It looked even colder outside. Jake felt miserable. Was it that thought or something else that drew Jake out onto the porch? Jake stood on the frozen boards. He saw the slender figure standing at the corner. He was moving down the sidewalk before he was certain it was Chris. Chris stopped short, but Jake could not resist lifting the boy up and swinging him around. “Put me down.” And when he was back on on his feet. “I'm sorry.”
“Shut up Chris. I'm glad to see you.”
Chris was shivering as he pulled his coat off in the living room. He had been on the street too long tonight. The old house was warm enough, but he could not stop shaking. “I didn't mean what I said Jake.” His teeth chattered harder.
Jake came back from the dining room with two fingers of rye. “I got a new bottle, here drink this.” The rye was warm, but he just started shaking more. “Okay, let's get you warmed up.” Chris nodded agreement. They went upstairs to the bathroom.
Jake helped Chris strip and into the shower. Chris stood under the hot stream conscious that Jake had settled on the toilet watching him. He was still too upset to appreciate that. When he rotated in the shower, it was just to get the water on his back. They did not talk. Jake watched him soak, no doubt he traced the lines of the the boy’s body as he turned one way and then the other. Chris met his eyes each time he turned. Jake helped him dry and wrapped him in a towel. Chris thought he was fine until he saw the book Jake had left on his bed. He started shaking and the tears streamed down his cheeks.
Jake took him gently by the shoulders and led him out of the room and into his bedroom. He pulled bedding back and Chris dropped the towel at his feet. He curled up under the warm blankets trying to stop the tears. Jake left him for a few minutes, turning lights off as he came back. The stream of tears seemed under control till Jake stood again beside the bed and looking at Chris’ face. “What a pair of fools we are.”
Chris start to sob again. There was nothing sensible in this at all, thought Jake. Chris watched him as he pulled his clothes off and tossed them on the chair. The briefs came last and he was a middle aged man standing in a bedroom looking at a naked teenager crying in his bed. What would Will think of this? Jake asked himself in confusion.
Jake turned off the light and crawled in beside the boy. He did not try to touch Chris. He lay on his side sensing the teenager’s heat. Chris turned toward him in the dark. They looked at each other until first one, and then the other drifted off to sleep.
Jake woke first noticing Chris’ back against his side. He adjusted himself so he could see Chris more clearly. Jake’s waking must have disturbed Chris because he mumbled “John,” followed by something unintelligible, then rolled onto his back, face turned away from Jake. There was too much to think about. “What should I do with you?” He whispered. He glanced at the clock and realized it was still early. Life went on and he had to go to work. He swung out of bed as quietly as he could and went to the bathroom.
Chris lay looking at the ceiling when he came back. Jake joined him back in bed. “Are you okay?” Jake tried to ask the question in the neutral tone he had adopted since the boy’s emotional return the night before.
“Yeah,” Chris turned his head. “I know what you are thinking.” He accused without any anger.
“Call your parents, call Social Services. Get the naked minor out of my bed before I ruin my life.” Jake replied. Chris nodded slightly in agreement. He turned on his side facing Jake in the bed.
“I’m a fucked up whore Jake, admit it for me.”
The man ran through his choices, scream at the boy, shake him like a rag doll, tell him that he was better than this, or hug him close whispering denials. Instead, Jake reached over and yanked the covers off Chris so his young beauty was exposed. “You’re a cheap prostitute Chris, I know that. I don’t like it, but I know that. You sell yourself for change downtown to drunk men. You're a drug addict too. You probably already need your next fix so you can escape to wherever it is you think you need to go.”
“I'm doing what I need to do, being where I need to be.” Chris rolled on his stomach closer to Jake, bunching up a pillow beneath his head. He looked at Jake from his new position. The man could not resist reaching over to brush the tangle of bangs out of the boy’s face.
”You're killing yourself doing this Chris.”
“I’m half dead anyway.” The boy replied simply. Jake closed his eyes. How could he say that about himself? Chris was so alive. “There’s still hope. I found you again old man, that's a start isn't it?
“You just need a warm place to stay between selling yourself around the town.” Jake swallowed his frustration. He kept wanting to block the images of Chris servicing all those men, but they kept returning. “How much would you charge to let me suck your underage cock?”
“If I asked you to blow me?”
“That's just twenty. I can't keep coming all day Jake.” Chris smiled at him without much humour. Jake smiled back with even less.
“Say I fucked your skanky little ass right now?”
“Hmm, that would cost you thirty dollars.”
“How much do you charge for a kiss rent boy?” Jake ended with a whisper.
“Foreplay is free Jake.”
Jake sat up and crossed his legs facing the boy. He pulled the sheet modestly over his lap. “Why me, why an old man like me? Why don't you find someone closer to your own age?”
Chris sat up as well, knees almost touching Jake’s. He leaned closer. “I don't see you like that old man!” The nickname seemed to contradict what the teen was saying. “It's easy finding good looking boys if you want one. I know you're old enough to be my father. Grey hair, hair everywhere!” Chris waved at Jake’s deficiencies as he spoke. “You got flabby Jake and you're sagging here and there.”
“Don't hold back kid.” Jake gave him a twisted smile. The trim fifteen-year old had no idea how steep the grade was after you reached the top.
Chris was passionate now. Anxious to share something important. “Sure it sucks that there are decades between us, but Jake,” and he reached forward to put his hands on the man’s shoulders, “You're the boy next door.”
“That makes no sense Chris.” The boy’s eyes were sparkling. He ambushed Jake, grabbing his head and pulling him close for a kiss on the lips. As the kiss lingered between them, the boy combed his fingers through the man’s hair. The gesture rocked Jake to his core. He looked at Chris afterward cautiously.
Some of Chris’ elation had drained away after the kiss. “Welcome to my world Jake.” He started up again quietly. “I dream good dreams and bad dreams. I told you that before. I’ve learned to avoid the bad dreams. Trust me, I think I know what hell is like Jake.” He shuddered violently, and then catching Jake’s eye, seemed to find the strength to continue. The conversation was so like his sessions with the child psychologist in Brandon, Manitoba. It all led to Freudian nonsense about older men and the sexual confusions of adolescence. Chris could write a book. Jake was no detached psychologist. The man was in the trenches with him, even if he did not yet understand why. Jake was listening to him.
“I’ve been dreaming about you Jake, for years.” Chris cut off a question. “I did not realize it was you. Not in Brandon, not until I made it to this old house. Now, I just know it. I’m with you in my dreams. Getting high opens a door or flips a switch. I don’t know how to explain it to you, it just does. Only, I have to be careful Jake, because if I go through the wrong door, I know I am going to die.” The emotions were building up in Chris again. “I’m not crazy Jake. Please believe me. I’m not crazy!” Jake touched his knee to steady him.
“If it is the right door, or I flipped the right switch, I’m with you whole. I do not know how the drugs I pick work with other people, but when I’m there with you, I’m healed. Sometimes I just want to take a little more, push myself over the edge, so I can stay there forever.” Chris was crying now.
Jake wondered what to think about the boy’s story. He was no psychologist. He was probably dealing with a very troubled youth. “Chris, you dream you are with me?”
Chris stared at him a moment, feeling frustrated with Jake’s bewilderment. He tried again with more than a hint of exasperation. “Not the forty-something dude sitting here Jake. I don’t dream about this.” Chris waved dismissively at the middle aged man before him. “I dream about being with a guy my age. It’s the boy next door.” Chris pulled his legs up and bent his head onto his knees as he hugged his legs. There was a shyness about him now, as if this confession had brought him to something immensely personal and central in his being.
“So you have sex with a younger version of me? Is that what you have decided?” Jake had a new thought. “Is it an eighteen-year old man?”
“No younger still. You have grown older with me.” Chris’ face was still concealed on his knees. There was some asperity in his next reply. “It isn’t always sex, at least not to begin with.” His face lifted and he rested a cheek on his knee, sliding one leg down again. “When we were young, you were just my friend. I never screwed things up with you like I did with real kids. Now we really fuck a lot.” There was a wry note to this final admission.
Jake was being drawn into Chris’ twilight zone existence. The man might have rejected it out of hand, except he was deep into the twilight himself with Will. He knew there must be a connection between the three of them. The link was not clear to the man yet. If Will would only make an appearance, between the three of them, they might get some answers. The boy next door, perhaps Jake could seek his answers elsewhere.
“So do I start running Jake? Are you going to make those phone calls while I’m having a shower?” Jake pulled the troubled boy toward him and Chris tipped over, his head in Jake’s lap. He lay curled up next to Jake as the man ran his fingers through Chris’ long hair. There was a small sigh from the boy when Jake suggested he might run to the mall for a haircut while Jake was at work.
At the end of the day, Jake pulled into his driveway with some Thai takeout he had found downtown. He glanced at the lights in Mrs. Pisio’s house next door before heading in to see how Chris had managed through the day. The boy was not there and that started a knot in Jake’s stomach. It grew with each slow step he took upstairs until he found a familiar book bag sitting on the floor in the small blue bedroom. Jake sat on the twin bed with the takeout bags between his legs until his heart slowed down. It would be alright, Jake told himself.
Jake was not completely sure of himself as he stood waiting at Mrs. Pisio’s front door. There was something to Chris’ story that resonated with Will’s appearance in his life. He hoped the old woman could tell something he could use to save the boy before it was too late. There was no answer, so Jake stepped back from the door, shamed by relief. The unremarkable house still left him with a taste of bile. There was that sickening sense of defeat and shame every time he crossed the threshold. He reassured himself he would chat with the woman as soon as he could. She called to him as he reached his driveway. Jake braced himself, and turned back.
She completely surprised Jake with a passable glass of wine and when he allowed he could eat something, she offered him bruschetta with some antipasto. After an inconsequential exchange, Jake cleared his throat, “I know this is an intrusion into your family, and I completely understand if you prefer not to talk to me. You told me that your family built this house at the beginning of the last century. Then you bought it from your mother and uncle.”
The elderly woman nodded. “My grandparents did not build the house. They bought it before the Great War. My uncle, and then my mother were born while they lived here.”
“I see. I wonder if you could tell me what you know about your uncle.” Jake took a sip of his wine and she encouraged him to have some more bread. It turned out that she welcomed a chance to share her family history with anyone. There was a preamble about why the family moved to Saskatchewan from Nova Scotia and then she started.
“Uncle John was a very unhappy man. I had next to nothing to do with him you understand. Everything I knew about him comes from my mother. He was apparently a vast disappointment to his parents. Uncle John was estranged from the family long before I was born in 1927.”
“Were you given any reason for that?” Jake prompted.
“My mother did not tell me. Perhaps it had something to do with his leaving university in Saskatoon.” She paused to take a drink herself. “You know, I don't believe I ever heard my grandfather mention his name. We would be here in this house for Christmas year after year and you might never have known he was alive.” Mrs. Pisio shook her head regretfully.
“Mother certainly stayed in touch with uncle John. She loved him I suppose. Perhaps grandmother did too. She kept some memories of him. I think I saw him first when I was ten or so. That was the summer of 1938, just before the war. It was my grandmother’s funeral. He came to her grave after everyone had moved away.”
“Do you know what he did all those years?” Jake saw no end to the sad story.
“Uncle John ran a confectionary on the east side of town, rather close to the cemetery. The building is gone now. He left it to me when he passed away in 1959.”
“I see. Is there anything more you can tell me about him. You have been very helpful and I appreciate your confiding in me.”
“I'm not sure what else I can tell you.” She hesitated. “Would you care to see a picture of him?” Jake’s heart skipped a beat. He said he would. Mrs. Pisio apologized in advance, telling Jake it might be a few minutes. He refreshed his wine and looked out the window hoping to see evidence of Chris. She returned with a tattered photo album.
Unsure of where to look, Mrs Piso entertained him with a collection of pictures of the family beginning with her grandparent’s wedding. Jake thought her grandfather a right proper bastard. He had an intuition about the cause of the estrangement and he sympathized with the young John. It was not a period when people snapped candid photos. The first picture of John was at his christening. The next was when he might have been eight in a family sitting. “Here he is again at his confirmation.”
Jake looked at an average youth. If he was at all attractive, it was probably just his youth and confident air. Jake imagined he was happy in the group of overdressed teenage boys and girls. He had found at last what he was looking for. John stood with his arm draped casually on the shoulder of another teenager sitting beside him. It was Will. Knowing the answer, he asked anyway, “Do you know who this one is?” He tapped his finger on Will.
“I think I do actually. Mother pointed this picture out to me when I was first married and moving into this house. That’s the boy next door.” Jake felt a shiver down his spine. Mrs. Pisio continued, “Mother said she had a bad crush on him. She said he was an awful scamp. Thick as thieves he was with John. Very sad about him, he died in the Great War with all the other boys. Not uncle John of course, grandfather pulled him off a troop train when he was just a boy. Funny I should remember that.”
“I believe William died in the flu epidemic after the war.” Jake told her quietly. She nodded, turning to the next page, not much interested in the details.
“I remember now, this would be the last picture of uncle John. How sad he looks. This would be his high school graduation I should think.” Jake saw the anxiety etched in the eighteen-year old’s face. As he posed for the picture, Will would be fighting in the trenches of France. There was more in that face. John seemed to mirror Chris’ anger and defiance.
Jake lingered for another half hour paying the old woman back for her time and memories. She thought Chris was his son Theo it seemed. He shared details of his own life with her. As Jake was leaving, he asked her when she had last seen John.
“It was just before my wedding in 1949. Grandfather had passed away some months before. Mother brought me to the confectionary to ask uncle John if they could sell this house to us. He was very bitter. At first he said he would rather see it burn to the ground. He must have changed his mind. He told my mother maybe it was best to let the past be buried by someone else’s happy memories. He wished my husband and me well.”
At the door, while he was thanking her again, she put a hand on his arm to stop him. “Here’s something odd my mother said to me when my Randolph was born. She warned me I should let my son love who he wants. It meant nothing to me at the time, but her words did come back to me when that impossible boy of mine decided he was a free loving hippy.” The memory brought a smile to her lips.
“So what does Randy do now?” Jake asked.
“Play golf! But he was an accountant if you can believe it.” Jake laughed with her. He decided they should share another bottle of wine some time, but not at her house. Nothing short of Chris would induce him to cross that threshold ever again. He hoped John’s shade would forgive him his trespass.
Chris was poking at Thai food at a kitchen counter when he got home. He looked strung out and weary. He left Jake after a few irritable phrases to go upstairs. As he cleaned up the kitchen, Jake could hear Chris washing. When Jake went upstairs to check on the boy, he was sleeping in Jake’s bed. The man collected his scattered clothing and left it on the chair in the blue room.
Jake kept vigil for Will again that night. His disappointment and yearning for his lover was tempered by the sense of well being it gave him sitting in the dark watching Chris.
Chris woke at 4:00 feeling restless and agitated. Jake was lying on the other side of the bed snoring gently on his back. He still had on the clothes he wore to work. It was not the Thai food from the night before. Chris knew he needed a fix. It would be worse by the end of the day and by Sunday morning Chris would be vomiting. Right now, it was simply thirst. Chris left the bed and headed for the bathroom. He drained two glasses of water and parked himself on the toilet with the book he was reading. He was too keyed up to focus on the pages.
Just being with Jake, in his house, did not solve his addiction. Chris faced that reality the day before head on. He slipped into a few houses looking in bedrooms and medicine cabinets before meeting the hockey hero, Patrick, at the teen’s house for lunch. The morning had been unsuccessful. The queer boy’s best friend had not told Patrick that Chris was a hooker. When Chris asked for his money Patrick got upset. Chris baled on the older teenager before things got too dramatic. The honesty of the bar alley was easier to deal with.
Chris finished on the toilet and enjoyed the luxury of a long shower. Unfortunately, the back alley trade was poor. Chris was desperate. He checked his book bag and could not find anything. Chris went downstairs for a drink. Standing at the dining room window, Chris remembered the stash he had put Jake’s shed. He followed the trail across the snow covered back lawn wrapped in Jake’s winter coat and boots. The shed was dark, but he found the ziplock bag exactly where he had left it. He found the bottle of Morphine he had stolen so many weeks ago and tempted himself with it. One would tide him over until he scored with his dealer. He reluctantly let the bottle drop back into the bag. Chris scooped up the miscellaneous capsules from Brogan’s mother and returned the morphine to its hiding place. It was good to know it was there.
Jake worked half of Saturday and came home hoping Chris would be there. The boy was slouched on the couch staring at daytime television. His surliness spoiled the man’s good mood. He puttered in his office and made himself lunch as a way of avoiding Chris. He was munching a sandwich at the dining table when the boy sat up. Chris glanced at Jake, “I’m going out. I probably won't be back till tomorrow morning sometime. Don't worry about me.” Jake watched him head for his hoody and the black coat.
Jake choked on his bite of sandwich and swallowed hard. He put his sandwich carefully on the plate. “Chris, don't go.” Chris paused with the fleece scarf In his hands. He turned to look at Jake with a look of stubborn pride.
“I can't do that Jake. We've talked this out. I'm not going to argue with you.” The teenager kept wrapping the scarf around his face.”
“How much do you need Chris? I’ll give you the money you need if you don't go out tonight. I'm sorry Chris, it hurts too much to see you go out there.” He couldn't keep looking at the boy. “And when you get the God damned stuff, I want you here where I can do what I can to keep you safe. Please do this for me kid.” Jake covered his eyes to scrub away the tears, and then he felt Chris beside him and the boy's arms wrapped around him. Chris rested his head on Jake’s shoulder.
Chris let Jake drive him over to his dealer’s house. He did not have to ask the man to stay in his car. They were close enough to a Tim Hortons so they agreed Jake would wait for him there. Chris was glad he had, because he faced a lot of grief from the angry eighteen-year old over disappointing Patrick. Chris listened stoically to the tirade knowing most of it was true. He had enough money, the dick would come around. Chris was his bitch and they both knew it. It took the usual blow job, and then his adolescent entourage got to watch a teenage boy jack himself off for a fix. Chris did it mechanically without hesitation, his eyes fixed on the ziplock bag of OxyContin dangling from his dealer’s fingers.
Chris put the humiliation out of his mind. He knew how it worked. The three teenagers laughing at him in the kitchen would take their turn. Before long, his dealer would have each of them truly hooked. One of them would be screwing Patrick in his place. They would blow each other, or in a month Chris would be raping one of them for his next fix. They would be doing it gladly to shave a twenty off the bill. Still, as Chris trudged along to the coffee shop, he was grateful Jake had not seen him do that. Chris found a smile somewhere and shared it with the man draped across two chairs near the fireplace. A coffee later, Chris was feeling better. It was probably just the pill he took as soon as he was free of the dealer’s house.
Jake knew Chris’ was already high. The teen sat alertly in the black vinyl chair, nibbling a bear claw. His eyes scanning the other patrons in the popular donut shop. There was an angry red mark gradually fading below his eye. It looked like someone might have slapped him. He asked Chris if he wanted to go anywhere else, since they had the afternoon together. The deep brown eyes captured him. “Let’s just go back home.”
Three chattering girls with a boy in tow burst through the door and joined the line. They were all younger than Chris, but the teen noticed them. Chris stared at the group, the last of the bear claw and Jake forgotten. The man followed Chris’ eyes over to the young people. The three girls were a whirlwind of energy swirling about the counter, bursts of comments to each other and the boy. The boy was staring at Chris. Jake’s attention shifted back and forth between the pair. Chris was lost in the boy’s hungry eyes.
Chris pitched the half eaten bear claw on the coffee table between them and headed for the door. He was pushing through it before Jake could collect himself. The other boy was headed after him, but Jake reached the door first. The boy stopped short when he found Jake blocking him. They stood measuring each other and then the boy turned back to his friends flustered. The young teen looked over his shoulder at Jake once more as if Jake might have cleared the door for him. When he saw Jake still watching him, he gave up.
Jake found Chris leaning over the back fender of his car, head down, kicking at the tire. The black winter coat lay on the pavement beside him. Jake picked up the coat and brushed it off. “Just open the door.” Chris demanded. He sat brooding in the passenger seat beside Jake. “Let’s go, let’s go.”
“Do you want to talk about it?”
“No!” But then Chris added bitterly, “He hates me.”
“I don't know kid, it didn't look like he hates you. I think he really wanted to talk to you there.” Jake looked back at the Tim Hortons behind them. “You could still go back in there and talk to him.” Jake smiled sympathetically at the teenager.
“No I can't Jake.” Chris’ voice was harsh. When he spoke again, his voice was bleak. “I raped Caleb, okay?” Chris started rocking in the seat, his hands thrust between his thighs. “I hurt him.” Jake watched him in silence until he stopped abruptly. “What does it matter?”
“It matters because you like him.”
“He hates me.”
“I don't think so Chris.” Chris looked his way, hope and despair flickered across his face. Then there was resignation. “Chris, you're young. You have plenty of time to fix your mistakes. Give yourself a chance. I’m not sure that boy thinks you hurt him.”
“But I will, I always do.” It was more adolescent misery. Another fifteen-year old might have been resilient but Chris was putting the dregs of his soul into coping with his daily struggle. “Take me home Jake please.” He asked again, completely exhausted.
Forty-five minutes later, Chris sat on his bed in the blue bedroom looking at the bottle of narcotics. Jake sat on the chair, elbows on his legs, chin resting in the palm of his hand. The teen rattled the pills in the bottle and glanced toward the man. He smiled shyly at Jake. “I’ve never had an audience before.” Jake did not respond. Chris tapped out two tablets and then a third. He was never completely sure of the best dosage. There was always a risk the pills had been laced with a killing dose of Fentanyl these days. He capped the bottle and put it beside his glass of water. Jake watched as he washed all three down.
“Now what?” Jake asked quietly.
“We wait for a bit.” Jake checked his watch. Chris looked around the room and then back to Jake. “I’m hoping it will be different this time. I’m hoping that being in this room, in the house, will help me push through to him. You’re here with me this time. I just need him to stay Jake. I’m going to hit a wall soon if he won’t stay with me.” Chris was close to tears.
“What was that boy’s name in Tim Hortons?” Jake asked with a catch in his throat.
“Caleb.” Chris replied.
“Tell me about Caleb. Tell me what happened between you two.” They talked quietly together for the next half an hour. Jake listened to the brief encounter between the two boys and Chris’ anguish about it. Jake watched Chris begin to slow. The boy began to nod off, so Jake shifted to the bed, pulling Chris against him till the teenager was resting in his arms. Jake held him close, frightened to death by what he was doing. He needed to believe that Chris was in control of all this and that this was not all some delusion.
“Pick the right door,” Chris murmured, and then Jake felt the change and Chris was at peace. As Chris fell away from him, Will returned. Jake held the boy tightly as his lover joined him. He stroked Chris’ hair softly.
“I think I knew you were the connection Will. He’s been trying to get back to you all his young life. You told me you were running away from someone when you enlisted. I talked to John’s niece next door. Did you know he tried to join you, that his father yanked him off the train? I don’t know what happened between you two exactly Will. Those were different times though. It was scary to be queer. You told me you were waiting for him to come back to you when you caught the flu in 1919. The kid’s been trying. He needs you now. I can’t help him.” Jake cried as he looked into Chris’ sleeping face. He looked up at Will.
Will was leaning against the bedroom doorway with his arms folded. The eighteen-year old just stared impassively back at Jake. Jake’s lover never looked at the sleeping boy in Jake’s arms. Jake wanted Chris to have a chance to grow into a man like Will, to find his own love with a person like Caleb. Chris just deserved to have someone looking at him the way Will always looked at Jake. Will seemed to be the key to that. Will finally looked down at Chris, but his look did not soften at all.
“You have it wrong old man. That last time you telephoned me from Saskatoon, when I told you I thought I might have the influenza, you promised you were coming back to me. You promised nobody would stop you again. I waited for you.” Chris moved across the room and touched Jake’s upturned face. “Oh Jake old man, listen to your heart for once, stop being afraid of it all and just ride along with it. He’s not John, you are. You’re the boy next door aren’t you?” Jake looked into Will’s brown eyes and he recognized Chris peeking through. Spirits drift in different ways. Jake felt his well up from somewhere deep and buried. Chris had been reaching for him, wanting to get back to him. He thought understood Chris a little better. He felt released. “As for my forgiveness, oh Jake, you had that long ago.”
Jake shifted Chris to the the bed, putting him on his side with a pillow behind his back. As usual, he could not resist reaching out to brush the hair off Chris’ forehead. “Find me in your dreams. Let’s see if we can make this work you beautiful, beautiful, broken boy,” Jake turned to Will and held out his hand. The eighteen-year old who took that hand and smiled seductively at him with Chris’ eyes would never be the same.
They moved to the bedroom together. It had never been hard to fall under Will’s spell. This time Jake also felt the boy’s spell woven into the other, drawing him toward his lover. The wan winter light of a grey afternoon fell across both their bodies as they disrobed and began twisted around each other. For Jake, it was Will one moment and Chris the next. Their first exchange was tender coming together.
Afterward, Jake stroked Will’s back, admiring his athletic frame once again. He liked to run his fingers over every curve. Jake sat up beside the young man and moved his wandering hand down to Will’s waist and legs. “Will?”
“Hmm?” Will bunched up the pillow beneath his head and looked at Jake. The man’s wandering fingers paused, startled by the familiar pose.
“John hated himself all his life and died a sad and lonely man. Until you and Chris came to me, I was headed in the same direction. If you forgave John, why didn’t you go back to him all those years ago and be with him.”
“It is a big world. I suppose nobody came to Moose Jaw.” Will almost purred as Jake slid his fingers between the young man’s thighs. “It took the boy, there in the other room, to bring us together.” Jake bent forward and kissed Will on the ass. His hand kept up its exploration between Will’s thighs.
“John died the year I was born in Poland. How many lives have you lived since?” Will rolled on his side and explained he had no idea. Returning to Moose Jaw was his first awareness since falling into unconsciousness in 1919. Will had an erection from Jake’s sport, so Jake took advantage of it. Once he was impaled, he kissed Will on the lips.
“Why don’t you stay with Chris?” He asked as he rode the young man. Sex distracted them for a time.
“Passchendaele changed me Jake. I was a boy at Vimy, shielded by good men from the worst I could be. I found out just what I was capable of at Passchendaele. It was a hellish bog of rotting bodies, water-filled shell craters, and mud. Nothing I tell you can help you understand.” Will had paused thrusting up into Jake through this, he resumed as he added, “Currie knew what he was doing. We trusted him after Vimy. He couldn’t save us though. So many mates died beside me in the mud of that wasted effort.” Chris pulled out and with a strong arm pushed Jake down beside him. He thrust back into Jake angrily. “I lost the best part of me in that muddy bog Jake. Why would I share the stain on my soul with that boy?”
Jake was overwhelmed by Will’s punishing attentions, welcoming each thrust and the the final ecstasy of his release. The second love making left them drained of energy. Will still moved inside him gently as he lay across his back. “Besides,” Will whispered, nibbling at Jake’s earlobe, “After France it was all pointless. Your father’s priggish loathing of us. My father’s embarrassment at my unnatural urges. What did anything matter after Passchendaele? After that whole bloody war to save humanity.” Will dropped his head onto the sheets beside Jake, his hips still thrusting his rampant cock mindlessly into Jake’s body. “So the boy gets high and fucks every chance he gets, so what?”
“He’s going to die young Will. He does not deserve that.” Jake replied sadly. He realized Will was truly one of the Lost Generation. If death had not found him in Moose Jaw, he might have lived aimlessly for decades haunted by his wartime experiences.
Will pulled out of Jake finally and slid off his back onto the bed beside him. Jake gave him a kiss because truculent ghost though he was, he was Jake’s lover. Will rolled onto his back and looked at the ceiling. “There is no point to it Jake. There is no justice either. I left young German boys his age face down in the mud beside the rotting corpses of the British boys they killed. Nobody wins Jake, death wins I guess.” He looked at Jake with a grin. “Life's a banquet old man, savour it while you can.” With boundless energy, he pinned his older partner to the bed, devouring him with his mouth.
Jake got Will into the shower finally. As he lathered soap all over the young man’s torso, he asked, “Was it all pointless death Will? No heros in the trenches?”
Will took a turn on Jake’s back and tortured him with soapy anal probes. “I admire those men who died saving me at Vimy. Now they deserved to come home to Canada. They earned the right to live. It might have been different if I'd had the chance to die helping some kid get out of that show alive.” Will stopped so Jake rinsed them both off.
They ended the afternoon quietly in each other’s arms on the bed. Jake got Will talking about his childhood with John, and the quiet moments in France, what he had seen and done. John remained a stranger to him. Only the youth’s passion for Will connected with him. He liked the descriptions of the villages of France, so different from the Saskatchewan towns. Will helped him imagine crusty bread, simple stews, and rich French wines. But then, that France was two lifetimes away.
Two hours later, Jake was dozing on the twin bed in Chris’ room waiting for the boy to wake up. The sleeping boy’s head lay in his lap and Jake’s arm was draped over his chest. They slept that way until 8:00 when Chris’ surfacing roused Jake. Chris groped for the glass of water lifting himself enough to drain the glass. He sank back against Jake, touching his arm before letting his hand fall to Jake’s leg. The afternoon of lovemaking held them enthralled for a while.
Chris finally sat up. He reached for the OxyContin and took one capsule to ease his way through the night. Jake watched him pop the pill and asked, “can I get you anything else?” Chris was looking sad, but he surprised Jake with a hug.
“I'm going to take a shower.” Chris stood slowly and started pulling his clothes off. He paused and asked, “Come sit with me?” Jake sat on the toilet while the boy started washing. Jake watched as Chris shampooed his hair, then stripped and joined him in the shower. Chris made no comment when Jake turned off the water and started soaping him. When His erection grew, Jake massaged Chris slowly. Their bodies slid together as they jostled in the crowded space. Chris came, his back pressed hard against Jake, one of the man’s hands gripping his sack, the other coaxing the teen to jet his semen onto the glass door of the shower. Chris twisted around and buried his face in Jake's chest. “It didn't work.”
“We need to talk Chris. I have some things to tell you. I think there is a way to get through to Will.” Chris looked up at Jake, wanting to believe the conviction in his voice was justified. “Don't give up kid, the old man has a plan.”
They sat together at the dining room table. Jake sorted his medications into his pill boxes as he talked. Chris spooned soup in his mouth and took gulps from a glass of red wine. He listened to Jake talk of the two boys who lived before them. Chris put his spoon down and sat back.
“You're John and I'm Will.”
“I was John Blake and you were William Childe. You are Chris Kind and I am Jakub Czarny. I am forty-six kid, do you think I'm really the same person as that fifteen-year old punk knocking around New Jersey?”
“What did you look like back then? I want to see a picture.” Chris studied Jake’s worn face speculatively.
“Trust me, you don't. I'm sure I burned them all. You would never have given me a second look.” Jake looked at the fragile beauty of the teen across the table. Stress, sexual abuse and his awful addictions were relentlessly breaking Chris down.
“You are always too hard on yourself old man.” Chris took another spoonful of soup.
“Yet I am that teenager in New Jersey, just like you are essentially the same as the five-year old in Brandon. Parents see it in hindsight. I can see that Theo’s much the same as he was at five. You look back and ask yourself why you didn't see it then.” Jake shrugged. “Maybe our souls grow as we pass through the years too.”
“So we were boyhood friends and then secret lovers.”
“Until John’s sister discovered us in John’s bedroom.” Mrs. Piso had not shared that detail with Jake. “I only have Will”s memory to draw on.” Jake also had the consuming welter of shame, anger, and defiance he felt when he heard the story. Emotions endured past memory it seemed. “Will’s father took it better than John’s. Neither wanted the boys to continue the affair of course. John was shamed or threatened into shunning Will publicly. That lasted till Will came back from France.”
“Then William needed to see see John. I know how he felt. I've felt that need since I was twelve or thirteen. But even before that I was an angry little kid. Other kids wanted to like me, I screwed it up every time..” Chris finished his wine and looked at Jake hopefully. The conversation was not done, so Jake poured him another glass.
“So we've finally come together Jake. John and Will are in this house. They have fucked through you. Do we need to do more together? Fuck me now Jake. Is that what Will needs before he comes back to me?” Chris stared wildly at Jake.
“I think we both know how that usually goes kid.” They exchanged shy looks across the table. They had their preferences. “I have as many ethical hang ups as John did. It was probably simple for that pompous bastard to turn John away from the boy he loved. It's a damn shame you're only fifteen Chris. I keep seeing myself as one of those groping old men in the alley.” Jake bit his lip, because it would be so easy to sleep with Chris. The damn boy took a drink and eyed him over the glass. Chris knew it would not take much to break Jake’s inhibitions down.
“Finish that glass Chris.” When he did, Jake poured him another. “As tempting as it is to see if you are as good as Will is in bed, I don't think that will solve our problem”
“It is John’s ghost right? You need to find him, bring John and Will together so they are both satisfied. How are we going to do that Jake?”
“No that spirit of regret has been with me for two lifetimes. It sickened John Blake for forty years until he died a husk of a man. It ate away at me till I came here to Moose Jaw. Will came to me, actually, you came to me Chris, drawing Will’s spirit with you. John is at peace now Chris. I feel it, because I'm at peace.” Jake’s eyes teared over as he looked at the boy he had come to love. “Thank you Chris. Thank you for finding me.”
“Will is still lost Chris. You have to find him and bring him back.” Tears started slipping down Jake’s cheeks. He brushed at his face and it only served to make the flow of tears increase. “He needs you to bring him back.”
“No, I can't Jake. You don't know what you are asking.” Chris was terrified. The fear was stamped on his face.
“Oh kid, I know I don't know what I'm asking you to do. He as much as said it to me Chris. He cannot get free of that place. You have to go through that other door Chris. You have to flip the switch the other way and go back to Passchendaele.”
“I'll die there Jake. You don't know. I do! It will kill me.” Chris buried his face in his arms on the table. Jake reached across the table and ran his fingers through the boy’s tangles.
“I won't let you die my love. If I'm right, Will won't let you die.” Jake desperately hoped he was right about that. “I've lived two lifetimes of regret before I reached this moment. How many lives have you lived waiting for us to come together?” He sat back and sighed. “I’ll stop now. It's your decision Chris. I will be here for you either way.”
They stopped talking about it. It was evening, but Jake made Chris walk with him around the old neighbourhood. Jake made random comments about people's yards and the state of the houses. The Avenues had been in decline, but now they were gentrifying. Chris was content to walk in silence beside him. Chris was trying to think through what Jake suggested. It was hard to reason past the blind gibbering terror. It was easier to rationalize. Jake was wrong, all they had to do was sleep together and everything would be fine. The teen moved closer to Jake for comfort.
When they returned to the house, they curled together on the couch. Chris knew Jake was waiting for him to make a decision. It was late when they went climbed the stairs to bed. Chris paused halfway up. “Did you remember to take your pills?” Jake nodded and turned back down the stairs for his evening medications. Chris continued up to Jake's room. He stripped and pulled the sheets back. He was sitting on the bed when Jake came back up.
Jake paused to look at him, then undressed without comment. He joined Chris on the bed. Chris twisted around. “I have to try this Jake.” The man nodded silently and stroked Chris’ flank as he pulled Jake’s briefs down. Chris was hard almost immediately. All it seemed to take was Jake’s touch to rouse him. He fondled Jake without success. Even his mouth failed to rouse him off the nest of pubic hair.
“We were making love all afternoon kid. Give me a break, I'm a middle aged man.”
“I was there, I remember, but I was with a sixteen-year old.” Chris bent down to try again. Jake tapped his head to get his attention. He looked up.
“Okay, you never saw me do this.” Jake rolled over and opened his dresser drawer. He rolled back with a blue pill and tossed it in his mouth.” He lay back on his pillow and put his hands behind his head. “It will take a few minutes.”
“Oh Jake old man, I never thought I'd live to see the day.” Chris shook his head mournfully. He was impatient so coaxed Jake over and attacked his back. Their first time went quickly. When Jake turned back over to kiss Chris, the man was hard.
Chris was frantic to make it work. They tried everything he could think of. He knew he was pushing the middle aged man too hard, but the other option was impossible. In the end, Jake lay beside him in a deep sleep. Chris stroked him lightly, sobbing silently to himself. He had come to love the man. Chris loved him for who Jake had been in another life, and for Jake’s acceptance in this life of the unlovable person Chris was. “You were right after all old man.” But Jake was dead wrong about one thing. There was nothing Jake could do to help. Chris would go to hell by himself.
Chris lay down beside Jake after taking something to help him sleep. They slept till almost lunch, and shared a shower again. Jake made brunch. It nauseated Chris to eat, but he did not want to disappoint Jake. After lunch he took another pill and lied to Jake. Chris told him he was going out for a walk by himself to clear his head. “I'll be back by supper and then we will try it, okay?” Jake gave him a hug, which felt really good to Chris. He left the house feeling numb.
Jake walked to the shed in the back yard. A Chinook had roared through Moose Jaw and melted most of the snow. The air was almost springlike. Jake found the morphine bottle where he hid it. It would do. Chris put the bottle into his pocket and began to walk. Chris walked the old neighbourhood of the Avenues for kilometres gathering the courage he needed. Finally he angrily turned east toward the cemetery. Jake was right. He had exhausted all his other options.
He cut through the mall feeling the impulse to be surrounded by people. There was nobody there. Malls were as dead as graveyards in the twenty first century. Chris wandered the corridors anyway watching the life around him. The bitterness and loneliness was growing.
Caleb and Chris saw each other at almost the same moment. He might have been with his family, but when Chris ducked into a store, Caleb followed him. Chris left the store and walked down the mall. Caleb was too much to deal with. Six minutes later, the boy still trailed after him silently. Loose threads, Chris said to himself. Caleb did not try to close the distance. When Chris stopped to look at cell phones at a kiosk, Caleb stopped. Chris glared at him, but the boy just stood helplessly gazing, his fists thrust in the pockets of his jacket.
When Chris moved on, Caleb followed. Chris walked slowly on past the empty storefronts till he reached the hallway leading to the restrooms. He paced past the urinals and leaned against the far wall. Caleb stepped in after a minute. He stood silently watching Chris. It was not anger, Jake was right. The boy did not look like he wanted to hit him. Chris decide Caleb did not know what he was doing. The thirteen-year old tensed when Chris came over to him. Chris grabbed the front of his coat and pulled him gently toward the farthest stall. He pushed him in and up against the restroom wall, then stepped back to lean against the partition.
“What do you want Caleb?” Chris could see what the boy wanted. It was all over his face.
“I just...” Shyness overwhelmed him. “I...”
Chris shook his head in frustration. Talk to him, Jake had said. “Don't you hate me? You should hate me.” Caleb just shook his head and blushed. Chris wanted to cry. “Are you looking for sex? Is that what you want?” Impossibly, the boy’s fresh face turned even pinker.
Chris stepped closer. “I'm a prostitute Caleb. A hooker, do you understand?”
Caleb found his voice, “I have money.” He bit his lip, which only made Chris more miserable. He could imagine kissing those lips. He stepped up to Caleb, holding him with his eyes as he had in the boy’s bedroom. The boy’s breath was on his lips as reached first one hand and then the other into Caleb’s back pockets. There was nothing there but he groped the boy’s buttocks. Caleb’s crotch brushed up against Chris. The eyes blinked when his hands pulled out slowly. They closed when Chris slid his hand in Caleb’s front pocket. Chris felt a bill, but ignored it when his fingers found Caleb’s erection. He traced the hard shaft through the fabric. When the boy finally opened his eyes, Chris pulled the bill out of his pocket.
It was a ten. Chris held it it up to Caleb’s face so he could see it. Blue eyes shifted once before settling back on Chris. The teen put the bill in his coat pocket, and eyes still locked on Caleb’s eyes, he opened the boy's jeans. The erection bobbed free, and Chris sank to his knees.
There was only laboured breathing when Caleb finished in his mouth. Chris considered the boy’s spent cock, teasing the last drops free from the slick head. He wanted to tell Caleb he was beautiful. He just wanted to be a horny fifteen-year old queer plotting the seduction of an innocent straight thirteen-year old. Chris wanted to believe Caleb was a fresh start to a lasting friendship. He knew this moment was just a last gift from the world before he went to hell.
Caleb touched his hair hesitantly. Chris flinched and he pulled back. The older boy abandoned his play and stood up. He did not look at the boy as Caleb pulled up his pants and tucked himself away. “Do you think...”
Chris did not let him finish. He bruised the boy’s lips with his own. When he pulled away, Caleb was flustered. Chris might have laughed if the whole situation had not hurt so much. Before Caleb could continue, Chris started in on him. “Go find a nice girl Caleb, find a boy your own age if that’s what you want. Make it work with them. It can’t work with me. Don't you see that?” Chris was in agony now. He had to stop for a minute. His head dropped to the boy’s shoulder. Caleb was frozen against the wall. “I better go now.” Chris turned to go. As the stall door opened, Chris looked back once more, “Oh God, just look at you!” Then he was gone.
Jake was contemplating what to cook for supper and worrying whether Chris would even eat what he offered. What do you feed a fifteen-year old about to head into battle? A double tot of rum? Jake had read the British high command got their troops liquored up before battle. Will had mentioned his mates getting him drunk to calm his nerves. Jake settled on chicken, but he was not sure when to start it. He stopped fussing when he felt Will’s presence growing in the room. He dropped the chicken on the counter and turned around.
“Making supper?” Will smiled his most seductive smile. On another occasion, it would have drawn the man across the the room and into Will’s arms. That afternoon, Will’s appearance filled him with cold dread.
“What are you doing here?” Of course, Jake understood exactly why his lover was there. The better question was, “Where is Chris?”
“I don't know, why does it matter old man?” Will came over and gave Jake a kiss. Jake accepted the kiss, then pushed Will away. The young man stepped back in surprise.
“Because he is looking for you!”
“I'm here Jake. He’ll be part of the fun, I know you liked that last time.” Will tried to lure Jake into a second kiss.
“Will, Chris is in Passchendaele. He’s going through the other door, flipping the switch the other way, doing whatever it is he does when he gets overdosed and looks for you. We have to find him.” Will sobered immediately.
“That was a bad idea.” Will turned away. “He didn't need to live that.”
Jake left the kitchen, chicken and everything else forgotten. He pulled his coat and shoes on, determined to find Chris. “Where would you go Chris?” He turned looking for Will. “Tell me you have some idea Will, please.”
“Check the house we found, the one that burnt. He was there that night.”
“Why don’t you pop over and check it for me.” Jake suggested hopefully.
“I’m here with you old man, I can’t wander far from John’s spirit. We will go together.” Will joined Jake at the door.
They drove to the abandoned house. “He isn’t here.” Will observed. Jake ignored him and went to see for himself. He pulled his phone out and used it as a flashlight. The Chinook winds had blown a warm dry air across Moose Jaw, but the night still felt winter-cold to Jake as he pushed through the clinging branches of the Overgrown caragana bushes. Jake remembered the back door. It opened easily onto a small landing. Stairs went up into a burnt out ruin, and down into the surviving rooms of the basement.
Jake went down. “He’s not here.” Will repeated beside him. Jake searched the small rooms until he discovered a nest of blankets on a foul mattress. The light from his phone played around the room. Jake was heartbroken. Over the year that Chris had been living on the streets of Moose Jaw, small touches had been added here and there. There was a makeshift table with scorch marks and a bookshelf serving as a kitchen.
The burnt out refuge was his only lead to the boy. Jake felt his chest tighten. He flexed his left hand trying to shake the numbness away. He did not have time to worry about himself. Where else would you go in Moose Jaw, Chris? What else besides the bedroom Will shared with John would matter? “Where else?” Jake said aloud to Will’s ghost beside him.
Just at the wrong time, Will began to fade beside him. “Go to me, he’s there.” Will replied calmly. Jake turned toward the empty space. Despite himself, he flashed the phone light frantically around Chris’ pathetic space searching for Will.
“Go to me? God damn you Will, you couldn’t have said something more useful than that?” Jake cast a last look around the room before heading back to the warmth of his car. The pain in his chest was sharper. Jake fumbled for his Nitro and gave himself a dose. As the pain eased, he tried to order his thoughts. His house, Chris loved, but he wasn’t there. Mrs. Pisio’s house, the malevolent spirit of John’s father seemed to linger there. Chris would avoid the place where Will and John were discovered together making love.
“Oh Chris, where else?” Jake tried to gather what he remembered of Chris these last months. Where else could the boy be alone in a place of power? Then the answer came to him. He remembered John and Will’s powerful presence as he ran after Chris through the gravestones. He put the car in drive. It was the next place to look.
Chris pulled himself up and started stumbling forward. He was shaking violently from the growing cold and gut-wrenching fear. He could feel safety ahead, strength of some sort drew him on through the fog obscuring his eyes. Chris was half in the hell of mud, noise and demons, and half in the cold dry silence of the cemetery. He had been wrong. He did need Jake. Chris shuffled in delirium towards the aura of Jake’s love, bumbling into headstones, soft whispers all around him. Some voices were simply confused by his passing, others urged him on toward Jake, and an angry few told him to leave. Chris stumbled on determined to reach Jake, even though part of his soul whispered Will was not worth saving. “Be with Caleb instead,” Chris argued with himself. He reached his goal and collapsed on the ground. Jakes arms seemed to wrap around him, warming him, giving the shivering teenager the strength to go on. Chris pulled the bottle of Morphine out and shook it into his mouth with the last of his free will.
It was dark now. Jake parked as close as he could to William Childe’s grave. He ran to the headstone and sunk to his knees in despair. He had been so certain he would find Chris with Will. The nausea overwhelmed him and Jake vomited. Jake moaned softly as he tried to think.
“He’s over there Jake.” Jake turned his head toward William Childe’s spirit. Will was pointing off toward where Jake had found him that first time. Jake gathered his strength and pulled himself up using Will’s headstone. Will guided him over to the the body of the boy. Chris was curled into himself at the foot of John Blake’s headstone.
Jake fell beside him and gathered Chris into his lap, cradling him in his arms. “Oh God Chris, how much have you taken?” Jake pried the plastic prescription bottle free from the boy’s cold hand. He felt for a pulse along Chris’ neck and started rocking the boy’s limp body gently with relief. “You’re alive. He’s alive.” Jake looked up at Will through his tears. Will stood looking at him uncertainly.
“He’s going to die Will. It has to end here, don’t you see? He is looking for you there.” Will looked off somewhere, as if he was listening to something else. Jake kissed Chris’ cold forehead, brushing the bangs back with tingling fingers. “Will!” Jake shouted at his lover. Jake’s voice brought Will back to him, the seductive smile on his lips. “You forgave me for rejecting you, for listening to my father and believing it was unnatural and shameful to love you like I did.” Jake sobbed, “John and I never forgave ourselves. Will, my love, you have to forgive yourself for doing what you had to do to survive that hell in France. It’s over and done with for a hundred years. You’re just killing Chris and he deserves to live.” He was crying now. The tears blurring his eyes as he switched his gaze between the man and boy he would always love. “Go be with Chris, he needs your strength, he will heal you too. Stop punishing him, he never deserved it, and neither did you my love.”
“Jake!” He looked up a Will. “If I do this if you promise you will take care of Chris, love him as John loved me, and never leave him again?” Will’s eyes were intent on Jake, waiting for his answer.
Jake’s answer trembled back. “I will never leave him Will, on my soul.”
Will knelt beside Jake and slipped a hand behind the man’s head. Jake lifted his lips to his lover’s face and they shared a kiss. “It will be alright now Jake. I promise everything will be right.” Will’s face was joyful. “Don’t worry my love, God is great.” With those final words, Will pressed his lips to Jake’s and for the first time touched Chris.
Jake was alone in the cemetery with Chris heavy in his hands. Will was gone, hopefully off to Passchendaele to bring Chris back. The boy mumbled in his sleep. “Okay John, you and I have to get the kid to the hospital as quickly as we can. He probably needs his stomach pumped.”
Jake struggled to stand with the boy in his arms. The effort left him weak. Determined to go on, he started off in the direction of his car. After a few steps, the pain in his chest was intense. Jake paused, panting to get his breath. He got a stronger grip on the fifteen-year old, kissed his face, and continued to shamble. Nothing mattered now, but getting Chris to safety. After a few more steps, the agony in his chest was unbearable. With each step forward, Jake roared his defiance. He was still screaming hoarsely at the end when his heart gave out, Chris still clutched tightly in his arms.
Chris cowered in the shell hole, listening to the sounds of machine guns hammering out death nearby. The world around was grey with rain and smoke. There was no colour left, not even in the stains of blood pooling on the lifeless bodies or the ragged limbs. Chris crawled over a rotting corpse of some Tommy from the last failed push. A rate chittered near his face, and bared its yellow teeth. Chris was beyond caring now. He had emptied his stomach long ago and his loosened bowels mingled with the muck he had been hiding in.
His first encounter with people was horrifying. They came at him out of the mist with long bayonets. There was a murderous clash between two groups, loud reports, the sickening sound of steel punching into meat. All around him, the demons screamed in psychopathic anger or mortal fear. Chris ran from that through the deadly sleet of machine gun fire.
He wandered the battlefield in shock, stumbling over objects he was afraid to recognize. He watched a boy little older than himself slip into the water pooling at the bottom of a crater. He tried to use a heavy Enfield as a stick to help him out, but the boy’s terrified eyes were dragged down beneath the oily surface before his grasping hand could reach it. Chris sat shivering beside the pool for a while, wondering if the boy had spoke English or German as he struggled.
Chris had no idea how to find Will in the horror. He sat to rest against a shattered tree stump and began to scream Will’s name. The name caught in his throat as three grey clad figures came out of the smoke toward him. Chris stared transfixed at the long blades waving back and forth. He tried to melt into the splintered bark at his back. There was nowhere to go.
The figures advanced cautiously forward. Chris froze. A fourth shape materialized behind them and Chris watched as it brought the first figure down with a shovel. The soldier stooped to retrieve the man’s rifle and raise it to his shoulder. The gun must have jammed in the mud, or perhaps it was simply empty. Chris watched the soldier with the wicked length of steel. The other man sensed his coming, turned and fired his gun into the soldier’s chest. It was too late for him. Chris screamed in terror as the long knife punched through the man’s back.
Chris recognized Will. Will touched his chest where he had been shot, swaying on his feet. When the third soldier turned to see what had become of his companions, the eighteen-year old pulled a knife from his putties and began running. There was another shot before Will slammed into the man and sent them both sprawling at Chris’ feet.
Chris shrank away from the men grappling at his feet. Will forced his way on top of the other man. Only it was not a man. It was just a frightened boy sputtering German phrases as he desperately held the Will’s glittering knife away from his chest. Chris watched the slow death struggle.
“Will, stop, don’t kill him. Let him go Will.” Chris wanted the carnage to stop with all his soul. “Hast du dich ergeben?” Chris asked the German boy. The boy glanced at Chris and then back at Will. He babbled in broken English that he would surrender. “See Will, let him go.”
Will looked at the frightened German boy, then rolled off the boy, who lay uncertainly beside him, still wary of the knife. Will gave an exhausted wave of his hand and the German boy scampered away into the gloom. “Welcome to my world Chris.”
“Thanks for coming Will.” Chris helped Will to sit against the tree with him. The teen noticed Will’s wounds. “You’re hit.”
Will patted the two growing stains on his torso and shrugged it off. “I’ve been hurt worse. It doesn’t matter now.” Will grinned at the teenager. “We need to get you out of here.”
Chris answered stubbornly, “I'm not leaving without you Will. We go together or we stay here.”
“I’m with you Chris, wherever you go.” Will gazed around the field. The sounds of battle continued. “I’m done with this, thank God.”
“Take me back to Jake, Will.”
“Jake is gone Chris. The arrogance of him, always wants to be the old man, calling us kid.” Will said this with affection though. “Born one day before me and always so smug about it.”
“So what happens to us now Will? I’m scared.”
“Don’t be Chris. We go on together. You have things to teach me and I have so much to share with you. Is it coming back to you at all? The Savannah at night beside the cattle? Mount Fuji in the summer? I didn’t make it easy for you, I’m sorry. It will be right this time.”
“I remember the rape of Nanking too Will.” Chris shook the bad memories free. “I wonder about Caleb though.”
“You know he was just a sweet horny straight boy, don’t you?” Chris smiled at that.
“And Jake, I’ll miss the old man Will.” It was so unfair. Their time together was too short and the middle aged man had already lived his life. Would Chris ever connect with him again?
“John and Jake, don’t be sad Chris. God is great.” Will hugged Chris and Chris understood, it would be alright.
Nancy Tae bounced her granddaughter on her knee and watched all the excitement on the narrow street in front of her house. Nancy’s mother in law sat beside her on the porch rocking back and forth. The movers had stopped to ask her if she would mind moving her car up onto the driveway. It was not the Tae’s car, so the burly woman moved on to the next house.
“So much fuss!” Kyung remarked quietly. The old woman asked her if she wanted anything before stepping into the old house for some cold water. Nancy cooed at her two year old granddaughter as she watched the large truck inch its way up to the curb in front of the brand new house beside them.
There had been a celebration when the derelict house beside them came down. Nancy’s husband, Kee gloated that property values on the street were rising. Their youngest son was probably the happiest one though. A new house meant the possibilities of new friends in the neighbourhood. They all watched the old house come down in cloud of dust. The new house was modest and conformed to the new heritage restrictions. It looked much like the Tae’s house give or take a hundred years.
Nancy watched the movers organize the unloading. A white Sienna pulled up behind the moving van. She watched the family climb out. Mother, father, and a boy of about ten. “Ah! Keun will be so excited Nancy.” She nodded at her mother in law. The parents waded into the middle of the moving process, while the young boy hung back on the boulevard with his hands in his pockets. His mother finally called him over and he ran on lanky legs towards his new house.
Kyung stayed on the porch cataloging the new neighbour’s possessions when Nancy took the little girl upstairs for a nap. She paused at her son’s bedroom. “The new family is here Keun. It looks like there’s a boy your age.” Her son looked up from where he had been playing a game on his iPad. Keun smiled at his mom. “Get out of this room for a while. It's a beautiful day.”
Karen stopped in the kitchen later and noticed Keun sitting in the backyard with his back against the old tree. He was still absorbed in his game on the iPad. She went back to the front porch to wait for her daughter Soo and her huinsaeg sonyeon husband. The boy and his mother were outside by the car. It looked like a good moment to say hello.
The women liked each other instantly. The Nyeusi’s were from Kenya, both were doctors. It was not much of a surprise to Nancy, her husband was at the hospital too. Canada lured doctors from everywhere these days. The mother introduced her son. “How old are you Jamal?” He was a tall nine. Nancy smiled warmly at the tall boy. “I have a boy your age. He’s in the backyard. Would you like to meet him?”
The three walked away from the pandemonium in the front. “Keun, I want you to meet someone.” She turned to Jamal, “Keun has been predicting you would move in next door. I suppose we will all have to stop teasing him about it.” Keun had stopped playing his game. He sat looking toward the patio where his new neighbour stood beside the mothers. Jamal walked across the lawn without further prompting from the women.
“I'm glad Jamal has a distraction! After he picked his room upstairs, he was just getting in the way of the movers.” Jamal’s mother laughed. “Jamal was sure there was going to be a boy next door too.”
Nancy smiled at that. She offered to keep an eye on the two boys while the movers did their work. Passing through the kitchen on her way to the front, Nancy paused to watch the boys. Keun sat cross legged beneath the tree, Jamal stood looking down at him. Another friend for her gregarious boy.
They stared at each other shyly. Jamal saw a wiry Korean Canadian boy with a wide smile, deep brown eyes and a mop of black hair. “My name is Jamal.” His English was touched by a strong Kenyan accent.
“Sit down.” Keen replied in the voice of the Canadian born. Jamal folded his long legs near Keun. Keun cocked his head curiously at Jamal. “Do you play Mouse Maze?” The boy shook his head. “Let me show you.” They sat, heads close together as Keun played the game on his iPad.
“I’m nine, how old are you?” Jamal asked. Keun looked at him and lost track of his game. They both blushed.
“I'm nine too, when's your birthday Jamal?” They began measuring each other in different ways. “My birthday is August 6th.” Jamal laughed with delight and pushed Keun’s shoulder.
“My birthday is August 5th. You are just a kid compared to me.”
Keun could see the black boy was quite pleased with himself. “Oh sure, less than one day I bet. You're such an old man aren't you?” He pushed Jamal in his turn. “Here old man, you play for a while.” Keun handed him the iPad. Keun pulled his legs up and wrapped his arms around them. He lay his cheek on a knee and looked at Jamal’s face as the other boy studied the game. Keun’s heart pounded a little stronger.
Jamal didn't want to think about the game. The other boy was distracting him. Jamal felt Keun watching him. He stopped trying to play the game and turned to Keun. “Do you want to see my new room?”
The two boys ran across the lawn, threading their way through the boxes and furniture, then pounded up the stairs. They stood looking at each other, temporarily lost for words. Jamal reached out as if to brush the dark fall of bangs off Keun’s forehead, bit his lip, and pulled the hand back. Keun did it for him, glancing at the other boy’s tight nap. Keun turned away first. He pointed out the window. “Look, that's my bedroom window over there.” Jamal came to him and their shoulders brushed innocently.
Keun lay in his room that night staring at the blue stripes on his wall. Who could sleep on a night like this? It was late and the sun still lit the rim of the western sky. A cool breeze rattled his window blinds softly. “Keun!” He blinked, listening to the random sounds of the old house and the Moose Jaw night. “Keun, are you awake?”
The young boy rolled out of bed and tiptoed to the window. He pulled the blinds up as quietly as he could. Keun sank to his knees and rested his arms on the window sill. He grinned at the boy next door. A full moon drifted over the rustling leaves. Young voices began whispering excitedly back and forth. The years of their lives past between them so rapidly that before long it seemed they knew everything important there was to know. The new friends finally ran out of words. Keun looked up at the moon. He looked back at the boy next door. “Hey Jamal, what are you thinking?”
“Allah 'Akbar, Keun, that's what I'm thinking.” Keun had to agree.