“There ain't no sin and there ain't no virtue. There's just stuff people do.”
― John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath
Matt Stevens- A Life of Experience
by Stephanie Harding
We sat on the sofa, and Trent read the article to me. Stephanie told what had happened to me after running away the second time. She wrote about my parents, and how their strict religious beliefs had made it impossible for me to remain in their home.
It was difficult to listen to Trent read about my life on the streets. The drugs, alcohol and sex were a part of my past, but there were still deep and lasting scars. She described my life with the old man, but she didn’t mention his name or indicate where he lived. For one thing, I hadn’t shared that information with her. He was now dead, and I didn’t want to embarrass his family. He had treated me well and provided me a safe place to stay for over a year. I may have been only sixteen, but he gave me shelter when I needed it the most.
She wrote about my homelessness. I was glad that she emphasized how much help that homeless shelters needed. She even interviewed the manager of the largest shelters in the city. Shelters had provided me food and a warm bed on many cold nights. She also suggested how people could donate to shelters if they didn’t want to give money directly to people on the street.
It was also difficult to listen to Trent read about my addiction to drugs and alcohol. It was embarrassing for me to be sitting beside the man I love and to have him know about my sordid past. As he read, I wondered if he would think anything less of me because of it. He had heard me talking about my past, but now everyone in the city would know. I was afraid he would feel shame for being with someone like me.
Stephanie ended the article with a preview of what would be in the Sunday edition. She said she would talk about how I was trying to turn my world around. She mentioned that I was now working and dedicating my life to help troubled youth. I didn’t want her to make me sound like I was some kind of hero. I wasn’t. I was someone who had survived a tragic past. I was a survivor, not a hero.
Trent placed the newspaper on the coffee table, and then he leaned over and kissed me. I asked, “You’re not bothered by what you just read?”
He smiled and replied, “You mean the old Matt?” He kissed me again. “I’m in love with the new Matt.” When I started to cry, he pulled me into a hug and held me.
We spent a fun day together. Trent wanted to walk around downtown and do some shopping. He said it had been ages since he bought new clothes. However, most of his shopping involved buying clothes and a pair of shoes for me. I felt bad because I didn’t have money to buy anything for myself. However, Trent seemed genuinely happy to shop for me. One clerk even remarked that we were a cute couple. She even asked if we were married. It surprised me when Trent responded by telling her, “Not yet.” He then looked at me and winked.
I also gave him a tour of my former world. I showed him a few street corners where I used to spend my day. I ran into a few former friends, but they didn’t seem to recognize me. My clothes were no longer dirty and torn. Earlier in the day, Trent had taken me to a hair salon, and she had cut off most of my long hair. When I looked at myself in the mirror, I didn’t even recognize the guy looking back.
We passed the Ramrod, but it was closed until six. My face turned a bright red when I told Trent that it was the bar where I had stripped, and Pastor Simpson had groped me.
“Really?” he asked excitedly. “Let’s come back tonight. I haven’t been clubbing in over two years. It will be fun.”
I replied skeptically, “I don’t think that’s a good idea. The owner might not like me coming back in. He kicked me out after I attacked Pastor Simpson.”
“Naw,” insisted Trent. “He won’t care.” He grabbed my hand and pulled me away. “We’ll come back later tonight. It will be fun.” I didn’t share his excitement. The bar brought back bad memories. Besides, I was a little jealous of Trent watching other men strip.
We returned home, and Trent was in a romantic mood. We spent several hours making love and cuddling. At seven, I went into the kitchen to make us dinner. Trent said he was in the mood for hamburgers, so we enjoyed burgers, fries and homemade coleslaw. I kept glancing at the clock. It was getting late, and I was hoping we could enjoy a movie before going to bed.
Around nine, however, Trent reminded me that we were supposed to go to the Ramrod. I tried to talk him out of going. I insisted that I was too tired from shopping and having sex to go out. He went into the bedroom and returned fifteen minutes later dressed and ready to go. He was hot! He wore an outfit that we had chosen earlier in the day. It was tight jeans and a tight green shirt. One look at him, and every guy in the bar would want him.
“Go get dressed,” he insisted as he stood and looked down at me. I knew there was no use in trying to resist. He had made up his mind. “Wear that black striped shirt we bought this morning.”
Twenty minutes later, I was dressed. I looked in the mirror, and I was amazed how handsome I was. The shirt went great with my new hair style, and the tight black jeans looked good on me. When I entered the living room, Trent whistled.
“I don’t know if I want to go now,” he remarked worriedly. “The way you look, some guy might try to steal you away from me.”
I laughed and replied, “I was thinking the same thing about you.” He rose and we embraced.
“There’s no one who could replace you,” he assured me as he kissed me passionately.
“You don’t have anything to worry about either,” I said as I returned his kiss.
It was after ten when we arrived at the Ramrod. There was also a nice size crowd growing. Most gay bars don’t become crowded until late at night, so we were early enough to make our way inside without any problem. Will immediately saw me from across the bar, and he hurriedly made his way over.
“Jerry,” he said as he vigorously shook my hand. “How have you been.” Trent gave me a puzzled look. I had forgotten that Dexter and I used the names Tom and Jerry. Will didn’t know my real name.
“Trent,” I said as I introduced him to Will, “This is Will. He owns the bar.” Will shook Trent’s hand and said he was glad we had stopped in.
Will looked at me and wiggled his eyebrows. “You two wouldn’t be interested in making a few bucks tonight, would you?” I started laughing and told him we wouldn’t be interested. We were just out for a night of fun. “It would be fun,” he smiled as he shook our hands and walked away when Jason hollered out for him. Jason suddenly noticed it was me and waved.
“You seem to be popular,” remarked Trent. I could tell he sounded jealous. “What did Will mean when he asked us if we wanted to make a few bucks?”
I giggled and replied, “He wants us to strip on the bar.” When he started to grin, I said sternly, “Don’t even think about it.” He laughed, grabbed my hand and kissed me.
We headed over to the bar and took a seat. Jason walked over and said it was good to see me again. He then took our orders. When he returned, Trent handed him a twenty, but he refused to take it. “Will said drinks for you two are on the house tonight.”
Trent looked around at all the activity going on. Club music was blasting, and a few couples were on the dance floor. Trent tried to get me to dance, but I refused. I had never danced, and I didn’t want to look like a monkey trying.
Suddenly, someone came up from behind and pulled my back to their body. “Matt!” he said excitedly. I instantly knew the voice. I turned and Dexter pulled me into a tight hug.
How have you been, Dex?”
“Things are good,” he replied. “Actually, better than good. Two weeks ago, Will made me the assistant manager of this place.” He laughed and added, “Can you believe that.” Just then, Justin appeared and handed us another drink. Dexter reached past me and grabbed Justin’s hand. “Me and this jerk are now a couple.” They kissed, and Justin walked away to attend a customer.
I smiled and said, “I’m happy for you, Dex.” I turned to Trent and introduced him to Dexter. “This is Trent. We’re a couple too.”
Dexter hugged me tightly. “Can you imagine that. Just a few weeks ago, we were up on this counter stripping for money. Now, we’re two old queens with boyfriends.”
I asked, “You don’t strip anymore?”
“Not too much,” he replied. “If one of the guys doesn’t show, Will sometimes will have me replace him.” He grinned and added, “As you know, the money is good.”
“Yeah,” I laughed, “I remember.”
“Hey!” remarked Dexter excitedly. “I read that article about you in the newspaper.” He laughed and said, “Hero, huh?”
“Not likely,” I laughed.
He pulled me into a tight embrace. “I’m happy for you, Matt. You’re a great guy and a good friend. You were there for me when no one else was. I’m glad to see you’re still doing that.”
Tears welled up in my eyes. “Thanks, Dexter. You know I love you?”
“Yeah,” he replied. He looked down the aisle when he noticed two guys start to argue. “Listen, I gotta get back to work. You guys drink up. Drinks are on the house.” He hurried away and stopped the drunken men from fighting.
Trent grabbed my hand and squeezed it. “This is kinda cool. You’re like a celebrity around here.” He held up his drink and smiled. “And the drinks are on the house.”
Around eleven, Will came out and announced that the first dancer was going to appear. He said his name was Rick. I thought Trent was going to have a heart attack when he saw him jump up on the bar. He appeared to be about twenty-five. He had dark hair, brown eyes and a slight black beard. He was very furry, like Dexter. He was wearing a white g-string that was bulging with what looked like a seven-inch soft cock. He strolled over and stood before us and started playing with it. It instantly began to harden. I laughed when Trent reached into his pocket and pulled out a five-dollar bill and stuck it into the string. He let his hand gently rub against his erection. The dancer winked and walked away to another guy holding out a bill.
“Having fun?” I giggled.
“Umm…I…,” stammered Trent.
“It’s okay,” I laughed. “If you didn’t get excited, then I would be worried.” I should have felt jealous, but I wasn’t. I knew the reactions I got when I approached men. It was a game we played. As long as Trent was having fun, then it was okay.
We remained for about another hour. Trent spent at least fifty dollars on the strippers. Two others came out, but they weren’t as hot as the first guy. Trent had to ask Jason twice to exchange twenties into ones. I reached over a few times and felt the front of his pants. Each time, he had an erection. One time, I leaned over and whispered in his ear, “I’ll take care of that later.”
He pushed on it and replied, “You better.”
Before leaving, I looked around for Will and Dexter. Will was in a hurry, and I quickly thanked him for the free drinks. Dexter was behind the bar, and I motioned for him to come see me. We embraced and wished each other well. He warned Trent that he better take good care of me, or he would come looking for him. Trent told him he had nothing to worry about. As we were leaving, I noticed Trent hand Jason a couple of twenties. I guess he felt obligated to leave a large tip since we had gotten free drinks all night.
“Are you able to drive?” I asked worriedly when we got in the car.
“I think so,” he replied. “I just gotta drive slowly.”
I was relieved when he pulled the car into the driveway. I kept worrying that a cop would pull us over, and neither of us would have been able to pass a breathalyzer test. When we entered the house, Trent began stripping his clothes off on the way to the bedroom. I thought he wanted to have sex after being turned on all night by the strippers. When I crawled into bed with a raging erection. He was lying on his side snoring loudly.
It was after ten when we woke. Trent complained of a headache, so I went into the kitchen to make him coffee. I also made toast and sliced a couple of oranges. He smiled when I entered the bedroom carrying it on a tray with two cups of coffee and the light breakfast.
“Mmmm,” he purred. “Breakfast in bed. No one has ever served me breakfast in bed.” I kissed him gently and placed the tray on the bed. I then sat, and we enjoyed eating together.
When we finished, Trent jumped from bed and headed to the living room. I heard him open the door, and a few seconds later, he returned carrying the morning newspaper. “Mom left it on the porch,” he said. “I guess she knew we were still asleep.” He opened it, and another picture of me was on the front page. This time it showed me outside the doors of New Morning Center. I remembered Stephanie asking to take my picture, but I didn’t realize she would use it for the article.
It's A New Morning for Matt
by Stephanie Harding
Today’s article discussed my involvement with the center. She had interviewed Mr. London, and he said some really nice things about me. He told how I was a dedicated worker, and how I had influenced several boys since arriving. I was surprised when she wrote about the incident in Mr. Bell’s classroom. Without naming any of the boys, she told how they had responded to my story.
She next wrote about some of the things we had discussed about my future plans. I told her I hoped that I could continue working for the center. I felt it was now my mission to help others who were going through similar problems I had faced. She used some of my motivational quotes. She ended the article praising me for facing a hard life, surviving it and then coming out a winner. My eyes were filled with tears when Trent finished reading.
He put down the paper and pulled me into a hug. “I’m so proud of you, Matt. Stephanie wrote a wonderful article telling everyone about the person I’m in love with.” I fell against his chest and cried.
The rest of the day was football and phone calls. We curled up on the living room sofa and enjoyed a couple of games. Trent was always informing me of what was going on since I had never attended high school games. We also spent a lot of time on the phone. His mother called about the article. We kept handing the phone back and forth answering questions. She seemed as proud of me as Trent was.
Mr. London called in the afternoon. He told me how proud he was of the article. He said he had already received a couple of calls from people wanting to donate to the center. It surprised me when Trent’s Aunt Marie called. She kept embarrassing us about what a cute couple we made. I guess she had talked to Trent’s mother, so she knew I had moved in with him. She invited us for dinner, but we both refused. We knew that as soon as we walked into the restaurant, she would have announced to everyone that we were a happy couple.
When Trent dropped me off at the center on Monday, there was a news truck in the parking lot. When the reporter noticed me, he exited the truck with a microphone in hand, and he asked if he could interview me. I politely declined. I was afraid that if I answered any questions, Mr. London might get upset. I didn’t want to talk to the media, but if he thought I should, then I wanted him to prepare me first.
When I entered the center, Hayden came running up and hugged me. “I saw the article,” he said cheerfully. “I thought it was really cool.”
“Thanks,” I replied as I hugged him tightly. “I don’t think I like all the attention.”
“Why not?” he asked. “After what you’ve been through, you deserve it.” I told him I had to hurry to the kitchen to help Mrs. Thatcher.” He hugged me again and then trotted down the hall to his room.
“Well, look who’s here,” smiled Mrs. Thatcher when I entered the kitchen. “It’s Mister Celebrity.” It surprised me when she walked over and hugged me. “It was a good article,” she said. “All day yesterday my family kept calling and asking if I know you.” She patted me lightly on my butt and told me to go butter the toast.
I didn’t see Mr. London at breakfast. However, when I was leaving the kitchen later, he met me in the hall and asked me to come to his office. He pointed to a chair and asked me to sit down.
He smiled and looked at me. “I’ve been getting calls all morning about the newspaper article. We’ve got companies and individuals from the community wanting to help the center.”
He then looked worriedly at me. “I’ve also had a number of requests from organizations who would like you to personally give a presentation to their members.”
I asked excitedly, “You mean I have to speak before a bunch of people?”
“Not unless you want to,” he assured me. However, I could tell by his expression that he would be disappointed if I didn’t. “You’ve got a story to tell, Matt. You have a gift. I’ve seen you talk to our students. You can be quite motiving.”
“Can I think about it, Sir?” I asked.
“Yes,” he smiled. “Talk to Trent. Maybe he can help.” When the phone rang, I quietly rose and left the room.
Trent was all smiles when I saw him later. I think he had talked to Mr. London because he told me we had a lot to talk about when we got home. I had a feeling he thought it was a good idea for me to give motivational speeches to students since he had watched me in Mr. Bell’s classroom. He had mentioned it several times, and he even suggested that I should consider talking to other classes.
I didn’t want to. I was starting a new path in life and talking about my past brought up old wounds. When I did, it felt like I was ripping off old scabs. Instead of blood, tears ran down my cheeks. However, everyone was telling me I had a mission in life, and that I had a story that had to be told. I realized that the article in the newspaper would make people aware of me. Finding a life of anonymity was no longer an option.
Around three, I was working outside trimming shrubs when a student ran up to me and said that Mr. London would like to see me in his office. I washed up and headed to his office. I assumed that there was probably someone from the media he wanted me to talk to. When I entered, there were two men wearing dark blue business suits. They didn’t look like reporters.
Mr. London stood and gave me a skeptical look. “Matt, I’m going to leave the office and shut the door. These gentlemen want to talk to you.”
I looked at the men and asked Mr. London, “You can’t stay?” He shook his head and said it was a personal matter, and we could discuss if later if I wanted.
They stood and shook my hand. The taller man said, “I’m Phil Rogers, and this is Simon Abernathy. We represent the law office of Rogers, Abernathy, Phillips and Connors.” I simply stared at them. I had no idea what I had done. The first thing I thought was that I was being sued by the Simpson family for what I had said in the article.
“Am I in trouble?” I asked nervously.
“No,” remarked Rogers. “There is nothing to worry about.” He then asked me to have a seat as he pulled a folder from his briefcase.
My eyes widened when he showed me a picture. It was a nude picture of me when I was sixteen. The old man I lived with often took naked pictures of me. He put them in a box, and I would see him occasionally looking at them. He never jerked off. He would just go through the box and smile at the pictures.
“How did you get this?” I asked worriedly.
Rogers said, “We’ve been trying to locate you for over four years.” He chuckled and said, “You were impossible to find. If it hadn’t been for the newspaper article, we might never have. We were beginning to assume you were dead.”
“I don’t understand,” I responded.
Mr. Rogers again showed me the picture. “I have to know if this is you?”
My face reddened as I looked at the picture. I was lying on my back in the old man’s bed stroking myself. “Yes,” I answered. I looked away. I was too embarrassed to look them in the face.
He then asked, “Did you reside with a Theodore Stapleton at 773 West Third Street approximately five years ago?”
“Uncle Teddy?” I asked. I never knew his real name. He always insisted that I call him Uncle Teddy.
“Yes,” he replied. “Uncle Teddy. Did you?”
I was becoming uncomfortable. It was obvious that I had engaged in child pornography since I was only sixteen at the time. I was afraid anything I said might get me in trouble.
“Well, did you?”
“Am I in trouble?”
“No,” he smiled. “You’re not in trouble. However, I must know for certain that this is you. From what we read in the newspaper, we are one-hundred percent confident that you are the boy in the picture.”
I hung my head and confessed, “I am.”
“Very good,” said Abernathy as he reached into his briefcase and pulled out another file. “We represent the estate of Theodore Stapleton. When he died, his family discovered a will in a drawer. They asked us to investigate, and we found it had been filed with the probate court.”
“I’m not following you.”
Abernathy smiled and continued, “He left you as his sole heir?”
“What!” I shouted loudly.
“The family has been contesting it in court for the past four years,” he informed me. “The judge gave us one more year to try to find you or he was going to turn the money over to his children.” He sat back and added, “It appears he didn’t care much for them, and he wanted you to have his money.” I remembered Uncle Teddy complaining all the time that his family never visited him. It wasn’t until his death, that they seemed to have any interest in him.
“By a stroke of luck, we saw the article in the newspaper this weekend,” said Rogers. Your story related living with an elderly gentleman until his death. It has only been five years, so there is a remarkable resemblance to this picture and the picture that appeared in the newspaper. “The only thing left is to get a fingerprint sample from you. Since we couldn’t find you immediately, we had an investigator go back to the house and sweep Mr. Stapleton’s home before it was sold. If one of the fingerprints match yours, then you are going to be a very rich man.”
I shouted, “What! Are you serious?”
Rogers smiled and replied, “We’re being very serious.” He took out a piece of paper and pushed it toward me. It looked like a bank account. “If confirmed, you will inherit $487,000.”
If I hadn’t been sitting, I think I would have collapsed to the floor. It all seemed like a dream. It couldn’t be real. I never imagined having that much money. I sat and stared at them. Words couldn’t escape my mouth. When they asked if I had any questions, I just shook my head.
“I know you’re overwhelmed by all of this,” said Rogers, “but you can trust us. We’ll have an investigator stop by tomorrow for fingerprints. We’ll then go to the probate judge and inform him we have found you. I would say in about two weeks, you’ll be receiving a check from Mr. Stapleton’s estate.” They shook my hand and left.
I was numb. I kept looking at the papers before me. Trent rushed into the room and sat beside me. He grabbed me and asked, “Is everything alright, Matt?” I buried my head into his chest and wept.
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I want to share with you a video a reader shared with me in response to this story. It is titled 'Six Queer Kids.' Mike sings of homeless LGBTQ kids who have been kicked out of their homes because of their sexuality. Listen to the song, read Mike's inspirational introductory words and the lyrics to the song. Here is the link: Mike Rickard Thank you, Mike, for sharing this with my readers.