W.A.R. Part Seven - Dustin's World
Chapter Eight - The Old Man in Apartment 201
by Jeff Wilson
Dustin awoke in a room that seemed very familiar, yet very different. It was just like his room, but the bed wasn’t his own, and he’d never seen any of the decorations or pictures on the wall before. His head was throbbing, but his wounds had been bandaged up and there was an ointment on the bruising around his eye. He sat up in the bed and groaned. He was dressed in a pair of pajama pants that weren’t his own. The bathroom was in exactly the same place as his own in relation to the bedroom. He used the toilet and then slowly walked into the living room and kitchen area of the apartment, and there he found Mr. Johnston sitting at a small table with a cup of tea.
“Have a seat, Red,” Mr. Johnston suggested.
“This is your apartment?” Dustin asked.
Mr. Johnston nodded and again invited Dustin to sit at the table across from him.
“This is so much nicer than mine,” Dustin said.
“Rough night last night, eh?”
“Yeah, I guess…”
“Same guy as last time or do you have other enemies?”
“Yeah,” Dustin admitted.
“Feel like telling me who it was?”
Dustin shook his head and tried not to start bawling. Mr. Johnston furrowed his brow, and his complexion became more red. “I see.”
Dustin admired the handiwork on his damaged ribs. “This is a pretty good clean up job. You must have done this sort of thing before.”
“U.S. Army medic, World War II and Korea,” Mr. Johnston replied. It was then that Dustin noticed the display of military medals on the wall opposite of Dustin’s bedroom. Dustin recognized the Purple Heart.
“You were injured?” he asked.
“Wasn’t everybody?” Mr. Johnston replied. “Nobody got out of that damned war unscathed. All so we could find bigger and better ways to blow each other up.”
Dustin looked closer. “Is that the Silver Star?” he asked.
Mr. Johnston nodded.
“My grandfather had one of those too. So, you’re like some kind of badass, aren’t you?”
“I just did what I had to do,” Mr. Johnston chuckled.
“So should I have been calling you Sergeant Johnston or something?”
“Sergeant? How dare you!” Mr. Johnston laughed. “Lieutenant colonel, I’ll have you know.”
“Wow… So what’s a retired colonel badass army medic doing in a shithole like this?”
Mr. Johnston smiled. “Home is what you make of it, Red. I did what I had to do for my country. Shop teacher is what I did for my living. Thirty-five years I put into those kids. In the end, they gave me a nice lunch and a kick out the door.”
“Not even a watch?” Dustin asked.
Mr. Johnston just laughed. “They don’t give watches to retired teachers. They barely give you a pension. You must watch too much television. But I guess that’s better than what Craig watches over there.”
Now it was Dustin’s turn to laugh, but it hurt to do so. “Yeah. He’s going to wear out that tape before too long. Seriously though, couldn’t you retire to some kind of retired army palace or something?”
“It’s called service for a reason, Red. You don’t go to war to get paid. You do it because you love your country. More than that, you do it because you love the people who make your country what it is. I’d do it again if I had to. All I wanted in return was to be able to come home and teach kids how to make something with their hands and with their lives to make all that blood and tears worth it.”
“Why not a retirement home then?”
“I can live on my own pretty well. When my wife died ten years ago my kids wanted to help me stay there, but I couldn’t live in that house anymore. It was the boredom more than anything. And in every room I saw my Maria. So I gave the house to my grandson and I moved to Golden Oaks for a year or so.”
“What happened? They kick you out or something?”
“How would you like to spend all day with a bunch of tired old farts talking about the good old days? I left. This place was affordable on my pension and social security pays the rest.”
“So now you get to listen to your stupid neighbor having sex with guys.”
“We had queers in the army, even back then, Red. No one cared. I like a little excitement, and you sure provide enough of that around here.”
Dustin blushed. “I’m sorry if I…”
“Red, you’ve got to live your life the way you want it. You only get one. You’re still just a boy to an old man like me. Barely out of diapers in the grand scheme of things. If it makes you happy to have all that fun, then have it. The time will come when that won’t cut it anymore, and you’ll know when that time comes. Once that someone special comes along, you won’t be able to remember what life was like before they came into your life. I had fifty-two years with my Maria. I’d trade the last ten years to have one more day with her again.” Mr. Johnston’s eyes glistened with tears.
“I don’t know. Sometimes I think I let the one I was supposed to be with slip away.”
“You’ve lived a lot of years for someone so young. What would drive a clever boy like you to want to throw his life away?”
“What makes you say that?” Dustin asked.
“You don’t think I can tell the difference between a tattoo and a scar?”
Dustin paused. “I… I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Aw, come now! I may be an old fossil, but I know a thing or two. You cut your wrists. The tattoos are just a cheap way to try to hide what lies beneath.”
“Hey, these weren’t cheap!” Dustin protested.
“Cheaper than therapy? Something awful happened to you. Remember, I served in two wars, son. I’ve seen trauma like you wouldn’t believe. I’ve seen grown men crying like babies over the things they’ve seen. Now, you hold yourself together pretty well most of the time, but I’ve been around long enough to know the signs of post-traumatic stress disorder, and you’re a textbook case.”
“You’re crazy!” Dustin snapped. “You know nothing about my life!”
“Don’t let the hearing aids fool you. I can still hear pretty well. You think the sounds you make disturb me? They do, but not because you’re gay. It sounds to me like you couldn’t kill yourself with a knife so you’ve decided to kill yourself with your pecker.”
“I… I’m not trying to kill myself! I’m just having fun.”
“I can also read a newspaper,” Mr. Johnston said, laying down the police report in front of Dustin. “I know Smith is a common name, but I’m pretty sure this is about you.”
Dustin read the report of his arrest and the charges. “Fuck…” he said.
“So, what’s causing all this? What makes a smart boy like you turn into someone who is throwing his life away? What happened to you, Red?”
“My… My dad… He… He used to hit me…” Dustin admitted. He had to wipe the tears from his eyes as he continued. “When he found out I was gay he... He hurt me pretty bad. He never loved me. He used to beat the shit out of me. One time, he pushed me down the stairs and broke my arm. He found me last night and beat the shit out of me.”
Mr. Johnston sighed. “I was a teacher for thirty-five years, Red. I could always spot the abused kids. I could tell from the first time I met you that you were abused. It makes me sick that you had that happen to you. It’s part of why I’ve taken to looking after you. But this…” He pointed to the news article. “This is something else. And now you’ve had two black eyes in the last few months. Something’s going on. Something’s pushed you over the edge that wasn’t your run of the mill parental abuse.”
“I’d hardly call what happened to me run of the mill.”
“No, but you’ve adapted to that. I could slap you in the face right now and it wouldn’t phase you. You might even try to justify why I did it. Something else is wrong. I’ve known you for a couple of years now. You’re not a violent boy. What happened that was so unusual that it made you lose your cool?”
“Okay… You remember that girl I told you I was going out with? I got her pregnant,” Dustin admitted.
Mr. Johnston raised his eyebrows. “I see. Now I’m really worried for you.”
“Why? At least fucking a pussy is normal!”
“What is normal, Red? Normal for you is what makes you who you are. Your normal is not necessarily my normal. So when I see a nice kid like you trying to deny yourself and try to live someone else’s normal, I get suspicious. When I see a kid who wouldn’t hurt a fly suddenly being charged with assaulting a police officer, I get nervous. I think you’re on the edge of something very dangerous, Red.”
“Oh please! You barely know me.”
“You can take or leave my advice, but I know a breakdown when I see it. I think you should get some help, Red, before you hurt yourself... or someone else.”
“That’s just brilliant analysis from a guy who spends his days watching Matlock reruns.” Dustin stood up very gingerly and made his way to the door. “Thanks for the patch job. I need to get back to my life.”
“Dustin,” Mr. Johnston said.
Dustin paused. It was the first time he’d ever heard Mr. Johnston call him by his name.
“You’re not alone. I may be an old man, but I am here for you. Anything you need.”
Dustin smiled at the old man. “I appreciate your concern, Mr. Johnston. I really do. But I’m fine. I’ll be okay. I’ve dealt with worse stuff than this.”
Dustin limped back to his apartment and sat at his computer. He closed his eyes, but all he kept seeing was the image of his father. He wondered what he was going to do about his cellphone, now smashed into a million pieces in some guy’s front yard. How was it that his dad had managed to find him? Everything had happened so rapidly that night he hadn’t had time to process all that had taken place. There in his apartment was the first time he had a chance to think about what he’d done with Luke and Dr. Thompson. He was used to seeing people after he’d fucked them. He’d seen that Logan kid around after he’d fucked him and they were perfectly cool with each other. But this was different. Dustin usually didn’t feel any kind of guilt or shame about his sex life, even when he’d fucked married guys. But he couldn’t help but feel ashamed that he’d fucked Luke. After Nate had opened up to him and they’d been having such good conversations, Dustin had gone and fucked Nate’s boyfriend. He wondered how Nate would take it when he found out not only that Luke had cheated on him, but that Dustin had been the one who he did it with.
“It’s not my place to tell him. Luke should be the one who tells him,” Dustin reasoned. “But then Nate will hate me!”
Dustin brushed his eyes with the back of his hand. “I don’t know why I care so much. I only fucked Nate once. I mean, yeah, it was great. But I’ve fucked lots of guys. What business is it of mine what happens between those two? Luke was already banging Dr. Thompson before I even walked in that room.”
Still, even with all that reasoning, Dustin wanted to call Nate. But Nate’s phone number had been lost when Dustin’s cell phone got smashed. Dustin felt dizzy when he stood up, and thought it best that he take a nap before heading to his night shift at WalMart. It would be okay. After all, Nate didn’t know Dustin slept with Luke, and Luke didn’t know he’d slept with Nate.
“This is their problem, not mine,” he reasoned.
But while Dustin slept, his life was about to become much more complicated. In a little apartment in a little town called Coal Center, Lucas Cunningham sat at his computer with angry tears streaming down his cheeks.
“BigRed05. I knew I’d seen that name before...” Luke sighed. He laughed at Nate for thinking he could save his chatroom logs and then hide them from a computer major. He knew it was a matter of time until Nate fucked up. He knew there was something weird about the way Nate and Dustin interacted with each other. Now it all made sense. Dustin was the one Nate had cheated on him with! They’d been seeing each other and chatting for months. Luke was more angry with Dustin than he was with Nate. The whole time he’d been developing a friendship with Dustin, Dustin was fucking his boyfriend! All that time that fucking redheaded bastard had sat next to him in that computer lab, probably laughing at him.
“He fucked both of us!” Luke growled. He felt the anger boiling within him. “We’ll see who gets fucked in the end though.”
Hey, we reached the half-way point! Business is about to pick up and someone is going to die! Anybody still with me out there? Let me know what you've thought of the story so far. I'd love to hear from you. You can reach me at email@example.com
Next time - The Lie in the Hallway