W.A.R. Part Seven - Dustin's World

(2nd edition)

Chapter Fourteen - The Men Behind the Masks

by Jeff Wilson


"You're negative," Zack said with a smile.

"Oh wow... What a relief!" Dustin replied. He was relieved to finally have his answer. It hadn't been a very long wait, but it had seemed like an eternity. He thanked Zack and walked with him to the lobby where Brett was waiting for them.

"Well?" Brett asked.

Dustin just smiled, and that was all Brett needed to know. Brett rose from his seat and went to hug Dustin. But before he was able to reach Dustin, the door opened behind Brett and Dustin's father entered the room.

"What the fuck are you doing here?" both Dustin and Frank shouted.

Brett stepped between Dustin and his father. "Guys..."

"You!!!" Frank raged. You're the little faggot who ruined my life!"

"You did that yourself!" Brett replied.

"I'll kill you! I'll kill all of you!" Frank roared. He made a move toward Brett, but stopped short as a bullet pierced his chest. He turned to see the cold, steel blue eyes of his son behind the barrel of a gun. Frank lunged forward at Dustin, but Dustin aimed lower and obliterated his father's sex organs. As Frank collapsed, clutching his shattered groin, Dustin stepped toward his father, with a cold and emotionless smile on his face. He pointed the gun between his father's eyes and fired. Blood, bone, and brain exploded all over the walls. Frank Smith's headless body fell to the floor.

Dustin exhaled. "That felt good," he said.

Then he held the gun up to his own temple.

"Dustin!!!!! Noooooo!!!!!!"

Brett lunged for the gun but it was too late. With a twitch of his finger Dustin fired the gun.

"Nooooo!!!!!" Dustin screamed. He felt his soul descending deep into the bowels of hell.

He slammed the floor with a hard thud, and awoke to find himself laying on the floor of his apartment next to his bed, covered in sweat. The side of his head was throbbing from the unprotected landing.

Dustin rubbed the side of his head with his hand. "Ow... Shit..." he complained. He pulled himself up from the floor and sat on the bed. What a nightmare that had been! He'd been killing his father so often in his dreams, but this one had felt so raw. He looked at the alarm clock and sighed. It was only three o'clock in the morning. Brett wouldn't be there for five hours. He rubbed his cheek, sore from the fall and rough from not shaving in so many days. He'd never gone so long without shaving, and the auburn stubble on his face was beginning to itch. He was used to feeling awkward in his own skin, but he wasn't used to his skin itself feeling awkward. He wondered if Janet would tell him to shave when he went to work later that day. He'd skipped class, using Joey's funeral as an excuse to take the week off from school. With Thanksgiving coming the next week, that would give Dustin two weeks away from Luke before going back to finish up the term. He didn't even want to think about what he might say to Luke the next time he saw him. Or what he might do. Could he just avoid him until the end of the semester?

Dustin went out to his living room/kitchen and opened the drawer of his computer desk. He pulled the gun out and held it in his hands.

"What am I even doing with this thing?" he asked, feeling the weapon's heaviness. He looked at the scar on his left wrist, buried beneath the tattoo of the Grim Reaper. For as important of an event that night was in his life, Dustin had zero memory of it. It had been erased by alcohol and trauma. That night was the only time in his life he'd ever drank alcohol. He'd seen what evil could come from the loss of one's inhibitions. There were deeper scars than the ones on his wrists which bore testimony to that.

Dustin stood up and walked into his bathroom with the gun in his hand. He was blinded by the harsh light, but his eyes quickly adjusted to the brightness. He stood in front to the mirror clothed only in a pair of gym shorts and looked at himself. He pointed the gun at the man in the mirror, who pointed the gun back at him.

"Do I really want to do it?" he asked himself. "Do I really want to die?"

The words Brett had spoken to him still echoed in his ears. What if tomorrow was the day everything changed?

"Who would even miss me?" he asked. His mind flashed to scenes of his mother bringing him groceries, his sister telling him he could stay with her whenever he wanted, to Billy's mom telling him to come by more often, and to his high school teacher Miss Winston offering him summer work. Then he thought about the way Billy and Brett had comforted each other when Joey died. He thought about the way Nate had held his hands at the diner and how he hadn't cared about the scars...

"I'm not selfish," Dustin said aloud. "I'm not!" He took the gun back to the living room. But this time, he didn't put it in the desk drawer, but in the pocket of his winter coat, the very coat he'd been wearing in his dream.

He picked up the cell phone Brett had given him and scrolled through the contacts, stopping at "N-8." Even though it was very early in the morning, he sent a text:

"Can you meet me at the diner at 8:00 tonight? I'd like to talk."

About a minute later his phone buzzed. He picked it up and read the message from N-8:

"Okay."

The hours went by more quickly than Dustin imagined. Before too long it was time to get ready for Brett to pick him up. He showered and let the water flow over him for a while. It felt good. He felt better than he had in a very long time. Just knowing that Nate was willing to meet with him had lifted his spirits. He'd never really taken the time to just enjoy a shower before. When he finished he dressed and was waiting at the apartment building's door when Brett arrived. As he sat next to Brett on the way to his appointment with Zack, the two of them chatted like old friends.

As they approached the city, the conversation turned toward Dustin's impending meeting with Nate.

"How'd you get his number, by the way?"

"I told you, I know everybody," Brett replied.

"No really. I don't see how the two of you could be connected."

"So you want to know my secret? Okay, you know how Billy's stepfather, David, was a big member of Nate's dad's church, right?"

"Yeah, that's where he met Billy's mom."

"Well, before that, David knew Nate from church. When Nate's dad kicked him out, David was one of the people who took him in for a while. Well guess who showed up at Billy's old house the night of the wake looking for a place to stay..."

"No way!"

"Yep, imagine his surprise to find me and Billy there," Brett laughed.

"So then what happened?"

"Well, I was going to tell you yesterday, but then I got distracted by Craig and you talking about blowing your head off. Nate's staying in Billy's old room until he figures out what he wants to do next. But in a way, it's good that you didn't know. You should meet him at the diner and see what happens from there, in a place where there's not a convenient bed."

"We're just going to talk," Dustin insisted.

"That's cute that you think that. Still, I insist that you not have sex in Billy's old bed."

"Why not?"

"Because I've had sex in that bed. But for real though, I think you guys need to talk before you go jumping into sex."

"I don't want to do that. I don't want to ruin this opportunity. I mean... This feels different. I've never cared before like I do now. I don't know what to say."

"I know what that's like. I was never so scared as the day I finally told Billy how I felt about him. I thought for sure I had just blown it and that he was going to hate me. And then the old rascal kissed me first. I mean, if you want things to just stay the way they are forever you can do that. But I get the feeling you're tired of the status quo. I think now that you've finally put Billy to rest you want something different. I think you're ready to change."

"I do want to change. But I'm afraid. I'm so used to living in my past, I've never even thought about a future. I want things to be different. I want to know what it's like to have what you and Billy have, but I'm so scared of screwing it all up."

"You can't keep on doing what you've been doing. It's eventually going to get you killed, and I don't mean from AIDS. If you want what we have then you're going to have to fight for it, because that's how you get it. You have to scratch and claw for it. You can't let anyone or anything stand in your way, not even yourself. And you have to be willing to lay aside your own pride and fear and open your heart completely. That's how we do it. And believe me, it's hard work but it's so worth it."

"I don't know if I can," Dustin said.

"I do," Brett replied. "You're one of the strongest people I've ever known."

"You really mean that?" Dustin asked.

"Hey, you beat the shit out of me, and I'm a tough Irish bastard!" Brett replied.

"Wow, I can't believe you just used that word!"

"It's just a word. But seriously, you have been through hell. You've been treated like garbage by people who were supposed to love you and you came through it and you're still standing. You have your moments of doubt and fear and you make some bone-headed decisions, but you're a survivor. You take whatever gets thrown at you and you turn it around and use it for motivation. So yeah, I think you're the toughest son of a bitch I've ever known. And I think you are strong enough to face your biggest fear and finally allow yourself to love and be loved."

When Brett pulled the car into the parking space, Dustin hesitated.

"You know the problem with this whole situation? I'm no better than Luke."

"You're a hell of a lot better than Luke."

"What would Nate even see in someone like me?"

"Maybe he has a thing for redheads," Brett replied. "All I know is he's been hurt too, almost as bad as you. Everyone in his life has either used him or kicked him to the curb like trash. Grown men have used him like a piece of meat. He needs someone who understands what that's like. He needs someone who won't take advantage of him. If you can do that, then you've got Luke beat by a mile And you'll have a partner for life."

"I don't want to hurt him. What if I fuck up? I really can't help myself sometimes, you know? I might fuck up and end up with my dick in the wrong place again. What if I can't stop myself?"

"Maybe you've never had a reason to try before? Nobody's ever given you a reason to change. Look, I know sex is great, but love is a million times better. There's so much more to making love than just using your dick. And just your luck, you might just have found someone who might like you even more than he liked getting fucked by you. I think you can change if you really want to."

Dustin stared out the window at the building in front of him. People were making their way in and out. A thousand thoughts went through his mind, scenes of random, anonymous sex, images of his dick plunging into nameless bodies. And then there was Nate. He'd only ever felt the way he felt about Nate with one other person, and they'd never even had sex.

"What does Billy think of him?" Dustin asked.

"Billy hates him," Brett replied.

"Seriously?" Dustin asked.

Brett laughed. "Well... It's Billy. You know how he is. He thinks Nate's... Well... Let's just say Billy will be happy for you once he gets used to Nate. That's about as strong an endorsement as you can get from Billy under the circumstances."

"Yeah," Dustin said. He breathed in and out deeply. "Okay. I think I'm ready to get this over with," he said. "Will you come with me?"

"Let's do it," Brett said.

"You know what? I'm not even afraid anymore," Dustin said.

...

Nate sat anxiously in his car looking at Janet's Diner. He didn't know what was going to happen when he walked inside those doors. So much had happened in the last few days in his life. He sometimes felt like he'd lived enough for two lifetimes in his twenty years. He looked in the rearview mirror at himself. His eye had healed up pretty well since Luke had slugged him. He knew he didn't deserve it, but he still felt responsible. He'd always had a quicker mouth than was good for him, and a knack for saying just the right thing to get someone angry with him. His father was just as quick with a switch, and the two of them had clashed so many times that a beating held no meaning to Nate. There was no pain that Nate hadn't experienced, and he knew he could handle anything anyone threw at him.

So what made it so difficult to face the redheaded young man who was waiting for him in the diner?

Nate watched from his car through the window as Dustin sat at their booth in the diner. He had so many emotions swirling in his mind. Many of those emotions were contradicting each other!

"I just want him to know how I feel," Nate said to himself. "He can do with that whatever he wants." He turned off the engine and opened the door to his car. Every step toward the diner's door felt heavier than the last. The door felt like it weighed a ton. He slipped inside, and his feet felt like they were glued to the floor as he made his way to the booth where Dustin sat waiting for him.

"Hey," Dustin said, offering Nate the seat across from him. Nate slipped into the booth. For a while, the two just sat there anxiously, neither one willing to speak first. Finally, they both started to speak at the same time.

"Sorry, you go ahead."

"No, you go first..."

Dustin smiled. "Okay... I just want to say sorry for sleeping with Luke."

"I just want to know why you did it," Nate said.

"Okay, at first, I didn't even know it was him, I couldn't see his face. When I realized it was him, I'd already fucked him. So that wasn't my fault. But then I fucked him again with Dr. Thompson at the same time, and that was my fault. I was caught up in the moment. I should have just left. I'm sorry."

"I just wondered how out of all the people in the world you would just go and screw my boyfriend. It really hurt me because I didn't know why you would do that to me. What kind of person would do that to anyone?"

"Not a very good person," Dustin admitted. "Look, I fucked up. I felt terrible about it while it was happening. I still feel terrible. I wanted to tell you, but then Luke told me you had AIDS and everything went crazy after that."

"So here's what I want to know... I want to know why you feel bad about sleeping with Luke."

"Why do I feel bad about fucking your boyfriend?"

"Yeah. Why do you feel bad about it? I mean, is it because you got caught? Is it because he scared you? I know you feel `bad.' I want to know why."

"I feel bad because I hurt you," Dustin explained.

"How so?" Nate asked.

"Because I never wanted to hurt you. I've fucked lots of guys, and lots of them have had boyfriends. I've never felt bad about them. A fuck is just a fuck to me. But you were different. I've never felt the way I feel about you with anyone else. I can't explain it. All I could think about when I was fucking him was how I was hurting you. It wasn't right."

"So you felt ashamed?"

"Yeah."

"That's good," Nate replied. "If you can feel shame then that means you can think about others outside of yourself. Luke felt no shame. All he cared about when I found out about him and Dr. Thompson was that I'd caught him. It was all about him. He wanted to make me feel bad because I was jeopardizing his chance at success by being angry with him for sleeping with his professor. I don't know if he ever really cared about me at all. But you... There was something different about you. We both got deeper than we planned, didn't we? I thought I was just going to use some random stranger to get back at Luke for cheating on me. I thought nothing about using you to get back at Luke. I thought nothing about what that night would do to you. I just wanted to screw Luke. But then I met you and... I guess I felt something I'd never felt before. I wanted more of that feeling, and I couldn't let you go. I kept coming back for more. It wasn't even about sex anymore. I just wanted that feeling you gave me again. You've been nothing but honest about everything. Sex is just sex to you. I made it personal."

"No, I'm glad you made it personal," Dustin said. "I wanted it to be personal for once. I just never realized how much I needed sex to be something more than a business transaction."

"Yeah..." Nate sighed. "I wish we'd have known each other when we were younger. Before we became victims of sex instead of enjoying what sex should be."

"Yeah," Dustin said.

"I just would like to have one relationship in my life that I don't destroy with my crap," Nate sighed.

"Me too," Dustin replied. "I don't understand why you keep coming back. You could have told me to fuck off instead of coming here tonight. I don't know what you could see in me that makes you want to hang around me. I've done nothing but push people away from me for years. You're one of the few that won't let me do it. You keep coming back to me."

"I don't know what it is about you," Nate admitted. "I mean, logically it doesn't make any sense. We were supposed to be a one-night stand. It was supposed to just be about getting laid. But it's become something more than that. I guess I see in you the same pain I see in myself. I've never known anyone I could share everything with. But I feel like I can with you."

"Yeah. I feel the same way about you. Like, okay... Remember when you said you thought someone broke me? You were right. Someone hurt me more than you could possibly imagine. I've never told anybody except Billy what really happened. I don't know why, but I want to tell you what happened to me."

"Are you sure?" Nate asked.

"Yeah. I feel like I need to tell you. It was my father... He... He never loved me. In fact he hated me. We were poor as fuck. I was never good enough for him, and if I was good at something he would get mad at me and say I was being a show off. And all the while that was going on, I was in love with my best friend."

"Billy," Nate said.

"Yeah. So when he chose Brett instead of me, I guess I kind of lost it, more like I lost myself. I started having sex with the neighbor guy, and it just turned into me getting into prostitution and becoming a rent boy."

"Palmer Park?" Nate asked.

"Yeah!" Dustin replied. "How did you know?"

"I dabbled a bit myself. When you're addicted to meth, you stop caring about how you get your money. You'd sell you soul if you could, but your body will do."

"Yeah, that's what it was like for me, except I was never into drugs. I just wanted to feel appreciated, you know? I wanted to feel like... It was so stupid. Like, `hey, this guy is willing to pay me to have sex with him.' I felt like I had value. And I was popular with this crowd of guys who really just wanted a blowjob or a ride on my cock. I found meaning in the meaninglessness of it all. It felt like I'd sold my soul one fuck at a time until there was nothing left of me. And then my dad found out about it. He caught me at the park and beat the fuck out of me. I'd never seen him so angry. He pulverized me. But then he took me home and it got even worse. He ripped off my pants and kept saying I was worthless and not his son and then..." Dustin's eyes began to burn with his tears. "Then he raped me. My own father... Can you believe that? And then afterward he shoved a broomstick up my ass until he tore me open inside. And then..." Dustin sighed. "And this is the thing I've never told anyone, not even Billy... He..." Dustin's eyes brimmed with tears. "He took his dick and jammed it down my throat."

Nate reached across the table and grabbed Dustin's hands. "I'm so sorry," he said.

"Yeah... I don't know why he did that. I guess it wasn't enough that he'd fucked me, he needed to humiliate me? Anyway I choked on that until he pulled out and came right in my face. He told me, `You want to be a whore? That's what a whore deserves.' God... I puked my guts out all night and I almost died from bleeding out my ass. Needless to say, I've never let anyone even get close to my ass since then. Just getting close brings back too much pain. But you know what hurts the most? More than the rape... More than anything... It was what he said. He kept saying, `you're no son of mine, you dirty whore.' Like, it wasn't enough to just hurt me. He had to totally dehumanize and humiliate me. `You're no son of mine...'"

Only after telling Nate his story did Dustin's eyes begin to burn as tears began to slip down his face. He pulled one of his hands away from Nate's grasp so he could wipe them away.

Nate sighed. "I knew there was something traumatic in your past, but that's... Jesus, no wonder you're so afraid of love."

"I wouldn't say I'm afraid of love. I've just got no use for it. At least I never did before I met you. Something about you, right from the moment you walked into my life, told me that you were someone I could talk to about what happened to me. I don't know why. I guess maybe I could tell you were kind of like me. Like, we both have this mix of bravado and shame in the way we carry ourselves. It's like we got behind each other's mask. I don't know. Does any of this make sense?"

"No. None of it makes any sense. I think that's what I like best about it. To be honest, I was way too low class to call myself a rent boy. I didn't dabble. I dove in head first. I was a total slut and I've done things that would make the devil blush. I have no idea how many guys have fucked me at least a hundred. I'm surprised I didn't get AIDS actually. I've had syphilis and chlamydia a few times, but I avoided HIV. I was always shocked when my tests came back negative. I guess I wanted to so thoroughly reject my father that I wanted to commit sins so heinous that I could never be forgiven. If he wanted to throw me out because I was gay, then I was going to be even more queer. I guess I've always been a rebel. And of course, meth made it all easier. It masked the pain. No one will ever know the emptiness I felt."

"Yeah," Dustin said. "I've felt that emptiness. Like there's nothing in the world that can ever fill it. Like you'll never be happy again."

"Exactly. I don't know how mom found me, but she did. It took three trips to rehab, and I'm not sure the third trip worked either. It felt too much like the camps my father used to send me to so I could pray the gay away. I'm always right on the edge of falling back into the pit, and I'm scared because I don't care whether I fall back into the pit or not. Like, I'm almost jealous of Joey. I've never had a reason to care about myself. I don't think I've ever had a good relationship with anyone except my mom. You know, a couple of weeks ago, she brought me this `care package.' It's like, she wants to still care for me but she knows that taking me in again would be the worst thing she could do."

Dustin smiled and thought of his own mother's visit to his apartment a few weeks ago. "So... Do you like Frosted Flakes?" he asked.

"They're grrrrrreat," Nate replied.

"How long are you going to stay at Billy's place?"

"I don't know. I don't want to be a mooch."

"Would you... I mean... You don't have to go back to Billy's place. You could stay with me if you wanted."

"No," Nate replied. "That's your place. I would just feel like a guest, and I don't want that."

"What about if we pooled our resources and got a place together? Some place we could call ours instead of mine?"

"That sounds an awful lot like a relationship," Nate said.

"Yeah it does," Dustin replied.

"Is that what you want? I mean, you've heard how broken I am."

"And you've heard how broken I am," Dustin replied. "I'm not afraid of your baggage. In fact, I think I'd like to carry it with you, maybe go back to therapy together like I should have been doing myself. I've never wanted to share my life with someone before. I think with you, I could finally share everything, the good and the bad. We're already broken. Maybe we could make something together instead of trying to fix ourselves? What do you think?"

Nate smiled. "That depends on one very important question. Would we be doing this out of convenience or something more?"

"Something more like what?"

"Well, you told me the last time we sat here and talked that you don't believe in love. I mean, I've stayed with guys before out of convenience. That's not what I want. I can't do that anymore. I'd rather live alone than with someone who doesn't love me."

Dustin smiled. "Wow..."

"What?"

"I finally get it!" Dustin reached across the table and took hold of Nate's hands. He looked Nate in the eyes and smiled. "I love you, Nathaniel." Tears again formed in Dustin's eyes, and this time he allowed them to escape and run down his face. "I really, honestly, truly love you."

Nate jumped up from the table and pulled Dustin to his feet as well, and the two of them kissed each other as they'd never kissed anyone else before, not even caring that they were in a room full of people.

"I love you too, Dustin Dwayne Smith," Nate said once they broke their embrace.

"How'd you know my middle name?" Dustin asked, laughing.

"I'll give you one guess, it's the guys who've been over there in the corner booth watching us."

Dustin turned around to see Billy and Brett sitting at the corner booth together, both smiling and cheering the two new lovers on. And the four of them joined together at one table to celebrate together.

"This is awesome," Billy said. "Now you can get your shit out of my room."


Two chapters to go! Thoughts? Comments? You can reach me at jkwsquirrel@yahoo.com

Next time - The Shots at the Lucky Strike - You won't want to miss it!