W.A.R. Part Seven - Dustin's World
Chapter Eleven - The Answer in the Blood
by Jeff Wilson
"Hand me that fucking wrench, you lazy piece of shit," Dustin's dad ordered.
Dustin quickly grabbed the tool and handed it to his father as he worked under the car.
"No, you fucking idiot! Not this wrench! You worthless, useless piece of garbage! How did you get so goddamn stupid?" Frank bellowed angrily.
"Sorry," Dustin replied, taking the wrench back from his father. Then he calmly kicked the jack out from under the car, crushing his father beneath the vehicle with a heavy crash!
"Ahhhhhh!!!!" Dustin's father screamed from beneath the wreckage. Red liquid oozed from beneath the car and covered the floor.
"Gee, I guess that was pretty stupid of me wasn't it?" Dustin shouted at the bloody mess beneath the car. "How do you like those apples?"
Dustin awoke with a start. He blinked a few times and rubbed his eyes. More and more he'd been murdering his father in his dreams in various ways. He'd poisoned him, dropped an anvil on his head, shot him a few times, and now he'd crushed him under a car. He enjoyed the dreams.
He found himself tangled up in the bedsheets and struggled to free himself. He tossed the blankets to the side and forced himself to get out of bed. He hadn't slept very well, as usual. He still had a headache from hitting himself in the head with that rock, and his shoulder was even more sore and bruised than it had been the night before. He stripped off the shorts he'd worn to bed and took a shower. The lack of sleep he'd been experiencing was beginning to take its toll on his body as well as his mind. He was about to start shaving when there was a knock at the door. Not even thinking he went to the door and opened it to find Brett waiting for him.
"Oh! Wow," Brett said. His eyes dropped downward and then back to Dustin's face. He grinned. "I'd heard the rumors, but they didn't do justice."
"Oh..." Dustin blushed, realizing he was still naked. "Yeah... I didn't even realize... Sorry..."
"You shouldn't be," Brett replied.
Dustin blushed even more. "This is like one of those weird dreams where you end p naked in school. Come in and make yourself at home."
"Did you forget I was coming?"
"No, I just need a minute to get ready," Dustin replied as he walked toward his bedroom. "I'll just need a minute!"
Brett admired the view of Dustin's bare ass as he walked away and was impressed. It was nice to see what all the fuss was about. Dustin had a nice ass. He looked around the bare bones apartment and felt a little embarrassed for Dustin that he had to live in such a dump. He walked to the window and looked outside. There wasn't much of a view, just some kids playing around in the street enjoying their Saturday. He sniffed the air. He'd know that fragrance anywhere. One of Dustin's neighbors had to be a stoner. Brett smiled. It had been a long time since he'd had a joint.
Dustin emerged from his room wearing a pair of jeans and a Cal U hoodie. Dustin hadn't bothered to shave as he'd planned. Brett had never seen Dustin look so scruffy. The dark auburn stubble gave him a bit of a rugged look which Brett found attractive.
"Darn," he said.
"What?" Dustin asked.
"You got dressed," Brett replied. "You ready to go?"
"Did you just flirt with me?" Dustin asked.
"I flirt with everybody," Brett replied. "Sorry if you felt left out before now."
"And Billy doesn't care?"
"He thinks it's cute. So, you ready to do this?"
"Will the place even be open on Saturday?"
"I have a few connections. We're going to Pittsburgh."
The boys left the apartment and found Mr. Johnston walking up the stairs.
"Hey Brett," the old man said.
"What's up Mr. Johnston?" Brett replied.
"You two know each other?" Dustin asked.
"I know everybody," Brett replied.
"I heard about Joey. You doing okay?" Mr. Johnston asked.
"Yeah. Thanks. Just taking Dustin here on a little errand. I'm glad to see you're taking care of him."
"You should come back to play at the church. The organist they got to replace you is terrible."
The boys got into Brett's car and began the trip into the city.
"Small world, huh?" Dustin said, trying to make some small talk.
"Yeah. The Johnstons were nice folks. They went to my church."
"Yeah, I'd figured that out on my own," Dustin replied. Then he spent the next ten minutes feeling like a jerk for replying to Brett in such a condescending way. Dustin felt more and more awkward as he rode in the passenger seat next to the guy who had been nothing but kind to him since he'd come back into Dustin's life. He hated that he still felt resentment toward Brett that he couldn't quite get rid of.
"I appreciate you doing this for me," Dustin said, breaking the awkward silence.
"No problem," Brett replied. "You need to know the truth."
"This seems almost like it's more of a big deal to you than it is to me. I figure, if I have it I have it."
"It is a big deal," Brett replied. "Look, I'm not someone who will tell you how to live your life. I know you sleep around a lot. I get it. You've been through hell, you deserve to have a little fun. Having sex is fun. I won't judge you. But I will insist that you take care of the people around you. That's why I'm so pissed off at that Nate kid. If he knows he's poz he should have told you straight up and let you make the decision of whether you wanted to sleep with him or not. It wasn't fair that he didn't give you that choice. I would expect you to be a better person than that."
"Why would I expect you to have morals?"
"No, why would you expect me to be better? What evidence have I ever given you that I'm anything other than a scumbag?"
"Billy seems to think you're worth it."
"But Billy's not the one taking time out of his life the day after his brother died to take me for an AIDS test. It's you. I don't get it. All we did was fight all through high school. What have I ever done to deserve anything you've done for me?"
"Nothing," Brett replied.
"Then why are you doing it?"
"Because it's the right thing to do," Brett replied. "Maybe I think you're worth it. Maybe I think you deserved better in life than you got and I got more good out of life than I deserved? Maybe I'm trying to atone for things I did to you? Maybe I've always regretted the day I told you I was glad your parents abused you and I've always felt like shit for saying something that horrible to you? I don't know. I just know that this is something I have to do. I can't sit by and watch you destroy yourself like Joey did."
"Ah... Now it makes sense," Dustin said.
"You've adopted me."
"You have this thing about trying to save helpless causes. You never gave up on Billy's mom until she changed her mind and accepted you guys. You adopted Joey and now you've adopted me. And as much as you say Billy blames himself for things that are out of his control, you're even worse about it. You feel like you failed with Joey so now you're trying to save me. You're like this relentless little pit bull. I was just always on the wrong side of it. I was never going to win against you because you would never stop fighting."
Brett laughed. "Dude, I knew Joey was a lost cause. You don't give up on family, even if they give up on themselves. I don't know why I've `adopted' you. I just know I can't let you destroy yourself like Joey did. I know more about your pain than you realize. I know what it's like to be neglected. I know what it's like to feel like you're an inconvenience, to feel like people would be better off if you were never born. My mom didn't hit me, but she made it clear I wasn't wanted. We all have pain in our lives and we have to do something with it or it will destroy us. You put on your happy little mask and pretend you're okay while you numb your pain with sex. I guess I try to save helpless causes. It's not a sin to have pain. But what do you do with it?"
Dustin didn't know how to reply to that, so he didn't. The two of them sat quietly in the car until they arrived at the Pitt campus. Brett led Dustin to the office of the LGBT alliance, where they were greeted by a young man who was waiting for them. Brett and the young man hugged each other.
"So this must be Dustin?" the man asked.
"Yeah. Thanks for doing this on short notice on a Saturday, Zack."
"Anything for you, Reilly," Zack replied. "I'm sorry to hear about your brother."
"Thanks. Dustin, this is Zack. He's a nurse practitioner who specializes in HIV care. He was one of the founders of our LGBT Alliance when he went to school here. He's going to do the testing for you today. He's doing this on his day off as a favor to me, so don't fuck this up!"
Dustin and Zack shook hands. Zack led Dustin to a side room and closed the door.
"Sounds like you and Reilly are good friends," Zack said when they were alone.
"We went to high school together," Dustin replied.
"So you must know Billy then?"
"Oh yeah," Dustin laughed. "He was my best friend growing up."
"Everybody loves those guys around here. They just do their thing and don't give a damn what anybody thinks about them. You have some really good friends. Not everyone would do what Brett is doing for you. So is this your first HIV test?"
"No, I get it done every once in a while."
"Very good! Now let's talk about your sexual history..."
Zack and Dustin had a very open and honest conversation about Dustin's history and about the choices he'd made. Dustin was impressed that Zack wasn't judgmental or preachy, just frank about the risks involved with Dustin's behavior. The test itself was simple enough. Zack took a sample of Dustin's blood.
"There we go. Three days from now we'll have your answer. You ever have a hepatitis vaccine?"
"I had one after I was raped," Dustin replied.
"I'm sorry to hear you had to experience that," Zack replied. "It happens more than you'd like to think in our community. Have you received any help dealing with it? That's a traumatic experience."
"I did a bunch of therapy. I almost died."
"Almost is close enough for most people. I'm glad you survived, Dustin. And you'll survive this too, whatever the result may be," Zack said, holding up the little vial filled with Dustin's blood. Dustin looked at the capsule and wondered just what his life would look like after the blood inside revealed his future. His life depended on that little bit of blood.
Zack led Dustin back to the lobby area where Brett was drinking coffee waiting for them.
"All done," Zack said. "He did well."
"Thanks Zack. I owe you one."
"No you don't," Zack replied. "I'll call you in a couple of days, Dustin."
"Usually that's what I say when I don't want to see a guy again," Dustin joked.
"Don't dwell on it. If you're poz, it's not the end of the world. Look at me. I've been undetectable for five years now."
"You have HIV?" Dustin asked.
"I do, but you know what? With all the advancements they're making, some day I'll be able to say that it's something I used to have. Until then, I take my meds and protect the people around me," Zack said.
As they rode home, the silence was even more awkward than it had been on the way to Pittsburgh. Dustin felt like he had to say something but he wasn't sure how to say it.
"Hey," he finally blurted out.
"Yeah?" Brett replied.
"I... I never realized how... I mean... I always thought you had such a perfect life... I never really thought about the things you went through... I mean with your mom and all... All I saw was the stuff on the outside. The money and the things I never had... I never realized how lonely you must have been."
Brett sighed. "It's okay, man. We were just stupid kids. We were more interested in stupid shit than the things that really mattered. I wasn't exactly the world's nicest person to you. I was a jealous little bitch about you and Billy."
"Yeah, but until today, I never understood why. It wasn't because you were a jerk, it was because you were afraid. Billy was all you had. I never got that before. All I saw was the money and the stuff your mom bought you. I never saw you as a person with feelings and thoughts. You were just the kid who stole my best friend. I feel like I finally understand you."
"That's great! Now if you could just write it down and give it to Billy so that he can understand me, that'd be swell!"
"Okay, so this has been bothering me since he told me. Is Billy really autistic?" Dustin asked.
"Yeah," Brett replied. "You're not really surprised are you?"
"Nah. I always kind of knew there was something different about him. Didn't you?"
"Yeah. I mean, I couldn't have told you what it was, but I always knew there was something. There was no way someone that smart could be that inept socially. Dude, I almost ran him over with a lawn mower once because he was lost in his own little world. But it's not like you can look at him and see anything. He looks just like anybody else from the outside. Now that I've had some training I can see all the signs that were always there, the way he gets lost within himself or doesn't know how to express himself... Like he's trapped in his own head sometimes. It just pisses me off because that means my mom had to know about it back then. I'm pissed even more because she knew but instead of helping him she used it to manipulate him for years to save her own ass. God, I can't stand that bitch."
"I just feel bad for all the times I thought he was being a dick when it really wasn't his fault."
"I get it. But don't let him use it as an excuse. Sometimes he really can be a dick. You can't let him get away with it or he'll never learn. You have to spell it out for him or he doesn't get it. Most of the time I don't mind. It's part of what makes him who he is. But then sometimes... Let's just say it can be frustrating."
"Like talking to a rock sometimes, isn't it?"
"Yeah. He hears. He understands the words you're saying. But it just doesn't click. Then he wonders why you're frustrated with him."
"Has anybody asked you how you feel about that?" Dustin asked.
"Well I'm asking. As your friend," Dustin said.
"Okay... Well... It's frustrating sometimes. I feel like there are days when it seems like he doesn't care about things that are really important to me. And it's not that he doesn't care, it's just that he doesn't know how to show it. I get it, because it's kind of like being dyslexic with people instead of with words. I've known him most of my life. I know who he is from the inside out. I mean, I hate to even bring it up because it would just hurt his feelings. It's just frustrating that there are times when I really need him to understand me and there's this wall I have to punch through to get through to him. Dude, he kept me in limbo for over a year in high school about my father. But worse than that, he kept my brother from me, and I know it's because my mother manipulated him but it still hurts. I just want him to realize how much that hurt me, but to him it was perfectly logical. Now with Joey. I know Joey was an idiot. But it was worth the time to spend with him. He died knowing his brother loved him. That's more than some people get. But Billy... He never says it, but I know he thinks I wasted my time on a helpless case. I just want him to understand why it was important to me."
"Okay, this one I can help you with!" Dustin said. "You're right. Billy thinks you wasted your time."
"I don't see how that's helping me," Brett replied.
"No, he doesn't understand why you did it, but he wants to. He wants to understand you."
"Again... I don't get it."
"Billy's never going to understand why you do what you do, but he knows you are someone who cares about others in ways he can't understand because it isn't logical. You complete the guy. He needs you. And you need him. You realize what you have? You have someone who will never ever give up on you, who will always be there for you when everybody else gives up on you. Who else would take the time to read entire books with you on subjects that don't even interest him? You think he does that to understand people? He already understands as much about people as he wants. He does it to understand you! He wants to know how you tick. It frustrates him that he doesn't understand you, and it makes him all the more curious about you."
"Holy shit, that really did help me!" Brett smiled. "So he's only helping me study so he can know me better?"
"You know how he gets obsessed with things? When we were kids, he knew everything there was to know about robots. They were all he ever talked about. He wouldn't shut up about them. You know what happened after you moved to town? All he talked about was New York City. New York City this, New York City that... And he couldn't have given a crap about anything to do with baseball until you showed up with that Yankees baseball cap on your head. All of a sudden, he was calculating slugging percentages and earned run averages in his head. Ask him when you get home about Babe Ruth or Mickey Mantle. He'll tell you stuff you wouldn't even believe. He could tell you the stats of any player on that stupid team. You think he learned all that stuff because he's obsessed with baseball, or because he's obsessed with learning about you? Just ask him about dyslexia and I'll bet he knows more about that than you do. And why do you think that is?"
"Because I'm dyslexic," Brett said.
"Exactly," Dustin replied. "Hell, he only got into video games because you liked them. He only started swearing when you did. I can go on and on. You are his ultimate obsession. And let me tell you, he's a better person because of you."
"You really think that?" Brett asked.
"Yes I do," Dustin replied. "As much as I love him, I know you're the one he's supposed to be with. It's taken me ten years to finally realize that I can never have him. I can finally accept that and move on with my life."
Brett wiped his eyes with the back of his hand. "Well, this conversation did not go the way I thought it would."
"Me neither," Dustin smiled. He too needed to discretely rub his eyes to make sure Brett didn't think he might cry. "I think I needed this."
"Me too," Brett replied. "I just... Maybe... I mean... Do you think maybe the two of us could talk sometimes?"
"Don't expect me to be a replacement for Joey," Dustin said.
"No, I could never have a conversation like this with Joey. It's just nice to have someone who understands what I'm going through. I want us to be friends, and not just forced into some awkward relationship because of Billy."
"So you're saying you like me, huh?" Dustin said.
"Yeah," Brett smiled. "I think you're a swell guy."
"I always knew you secretly liked me deep down inside," Dustin replied.
"And hey! If it doesn't work out, we'll just blame Billy," Brett joked.
"Sounds good to me!" Dustin replied.
Brett and Dustin... Friends?!?!? Looks like anything is possible! Thoughts? You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Next time - The Fight at the Funeral