“There ain't no sin and there ain't no virtue. There's just stuff people do.”
― John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath
“Where are we?” I asked when we pulled into a parking garage under a large building. I had seen it many times as I wandered the streets. Dexter and I used to panhandle in the area, but we didn’t have much success. Most of the men and women entering and exiting the building were dressed nicely. The men wore suits, and the women wore professional clothes. Anyone on the street can tell you that these are the type of people you don’t waste your time on trying to get money. Their attitude is that they made it, then you should too. How many of us, though, are born with silver spoons in our mouth with parents who drive BMW’s and can afford to send their child to Yale or Harvard?
“This is the office of the lawyer representing Hayden,” Sergeant Lattimore responded.
“Hayden? Who is Hayden?”
“He’s the young boy who alleges that Pastor Simpson sexually assaulted him.”
“Oh,” I simply replied as he drove around trying to find a place to park. When he did, I followed him through the garage to the elevator. When we arrived at the sixth floor, the door opened to a carpeted hallway. There were chandeliers hanging from the ceiling about every twenty feet. I looked down at the shabby clothes I was wearing. Since the nice clothes I had worn to the church had been bloodied because of the bullet wounds, the staff was able to find me something to wear in a lost and found bin. As I followed behind Lattimore, I had never felt so inferior in my life, and that was an accomplishment since I had lived on the streets.
We arrived at a very elegant door. Lattimore knocked before entering. We stepped into a huge foyer. A very attractive secretary smiled warmly at us when we approached her desk. “Hello, Sergeant Lattimore,” she smiled. “Mr. Laird is expecting you.”
A short, fat man exited from a side wooden door. He extended his hand for Lattimore to shake. I immediately noticed the huge, diamond ring on his finger. It seemed too big for his hand. Lattimore turned to me and said, “This is Matt Stevens.” He held out his stubby hand. It was wet and spongy. I wiped my hand dry when he wasn’t looking.
We followed him to his office. Like everything else I had seen, it was large and ornate. Laird sat down in a chair that dwarfed his small size. I wanted to laugh because he looked like a cartoon character. He thumbed through a folder on his desk before looking over at me. He then spent the next few minutes asking me questions about Pastor Simpson. At first, he seemed disappointed when I informed him that I had never been sexually assaulted. However, he listened attentively and took notes when I told him about my experience in the bar.
“Can anyone corroborate him grabbing you?” he asked.
I shrugged my shoulders. “I dunno. I’m not sure Dexter saw him do it or not.”
He asked, “Who is Dexter?” I briefly told him about Dexter getting us the job at the strip club. When he asked if I could get him to testify, I hesitated. I didn’t want to involve him in what I was doing if I could avoid it.
Laird asked, “You were sixteen when you were sent to Pastor Simpson for gay conversion therapy?” I nodded my head.
“Were you the only boy there?”
I hesitated again. I didn’t want to involve Charles either. “There was another boy,” I answered.
“I would rather not say,” I responded. “He never said anything about Pastor Simpson doing anything to him, so I don’t think he would be much help.”
Lattimore broke in and stated, “His name is Charles Ward.” My eyes widened as I looked over at him. “I questioned him this morning at the hospital.” He looked over at me before continuing. “Matt is right. Charles says the Pastor never touched him.” I let out a sigh of relief.
Laird looked at his watch and announced, “The Morris family should be here shortly.” He rose from his chair and left the room. Lattimore and I sat uncomfortably in our seats looking at the paintings on the wall. A few minutes later, Laird entered with four people following him. He told them to have a seat on a sofa and wingback chairs located in the center of the office. Lattimore and I turned our chairs so that we were facing them.
For the first time I saw the young boy who I assumed had accused Pastor Simpson of molesting him. He reminded me of Charles five years ago. He was small and petite. He was wearing a blue shirt and denim shorts. His legs were thin and hairless. He hung his head down and didn’t look up at us. His blond hair was long and flowed down over his forehead. His hands were small and thin, and he gripped them tightly to keep them from shaking. My heart felt like it had been ripped from my chest. I knew he was feeling the same emotions that I felt years ago. However, he had something I didn’t have- parental support. His mother was sitting to his right, and his father was on his left side. They appeared to be about forty, and they were nicely dressed. She was petite, like the boy. His father was taller and dressed in a blue three-piece suit.
I didn’t know who the fourth person was. He appeared to be about my age. He was extremely attractive with short brown hair and blue eyes. He was wearing a white shirt and beige khaki pants. He had a slight beard. I wasn’t sure if he wore it that way, or if he hadn’t shaved for a week or two. When our eyes met, he smiled and nodded.
Laird cleared his throat and said, “Let me introduce everyone. He pointed to Lattimore and me. “This is Sergeant Lattimore and Matt Stevens.” I looked up and nodded slightly.
He then turned to the three people sitting on the leather sofa. “This is Sharon and David Morris.” Lattimore rose and shook Morris’s hand. “Between them is their son, Hayden.” Lattimore reached over, and Hayden hesitantly shook his hand.
Laird then pointed to the guy sitting in a brown wingback chair against the wall. “We also have Trent Remington joining us.” Trent threw up his hand and waved. When our eyes met, he smiled. “Trent is a counselor at the New Morning Center. He deals with troubled and runaway youth.” Hayden looked briefly at him before looking back down at the floor.
Laird looked over at me. “I don’t know how much Sergeant Lattimore has filled you in on.”
Lattimore said quickly, “He’s aware of everything, Mr. Laird.”
“Good,” replied Laird. “Then let’s discuss why we are here today.”
He spent the next fifteen minutes discussing what had happened with Hayden. Hayden looked down at the floor and not once lifted his head. It appeared he would rather be anywhere other than in a room with his parents and other adults talking about what happened. Laird informed us that Hayden had a hard time at school. From an early age, students bullied him because he was small. In the fifth grade, they began to assume that he was gay. A couple of times I watched as he reached up and wiped a few tears from his eyes. It surprised me that not once either of his parents attempted to comfort him. Then it dawned on me that his parents had sent him to Pastor Simpson for gay conversion therapy. I instantly began to hate them because they probably felt the same digust for Hayden that my parent felt for me.
It was extremely difficult to hear Laird talk about the sexual molestation that Hayden experienced. On several occasions, he had Hayden strip naked in front of him. He told him that he had to stand naked before God and confess his sins. From there, it turned to several incidences of oral sex, and ultimately to anal sex. Like Charles and I, Hayden was finally able to escape late one night. He was wandering the streets alone and afraid when Trent discovered him. When Laird was finished, Hayden was crying uncontrollably. Trent rose from his seat, walked over to Hayden and helped him to his feet.
“We’ll be back,” he said as he wrapped the small boy in his arms. “Hayden needs a break.” By this time, my eyes were filled with tears. I rose and followed them from the room. When I closed the door behind me, Trent looked back and gave me a slight smile.
“I hate them!” cried Hayden as he buried his head into Trent’s chest. “Why do they treat me like they do? I never did anything to them.” I was confused for a minute because I thought he was talking about Pastor Simpson. I soon realized he was talking about his parents. They were the same questions I had asked myself hundreds of times when I was his age. Trent held him tightly and rubbed his back as I stood motionless and watched.
After a few minutes, Hayden gained his composure and looked over at me. “I’m sorry, Mr. Stevens.” Mr. Stevens! No one had ever called me Mr. Stevens. Mr. Stevens is my father who I hate as much as Hayden hates his.
“Please,” I pleaded. “Call me Matt.”
Hayden smiled and replied, “Sure, Matt.” Hayden is extremely cute. It was the first time I looked into his face. He reminds me of Charles. When Charles was his age, he looked much younger. He had an impish look which I thought was very attractive for a boy his age.
I looked over at Trent. “Is he going to be okay?” It was also the first time I was able to see Trent up close. He didn’t have the looks of a model, but he was still rather nice looking. He looked like many of the professional men I see downtown, but there is something about him that I don’t associate with them. He doesn’t appear to be arrogant. His simple dress and appearance make him appear comfortable to be around. I guess he has to look that way because of his job. I can easily see how a troubled teen could communicate with him. He seems more like a big brother to Hayden than a counselor.
Trent replied, “He’s been through a lot,” as he ran his hand through Hayden’s hair.
I simply replied, “I know.”
Hayden suddenly announced, “I have to go to the bathroom.” He looked down the hall and noticed a restroom sign pointing toward another hallway. “I’ll be back,” he said as he rushed off.
Trent and I stood and stared at each other. I didn’t know what to say to him, and I wasn’t sure just how much he knew about me. “Yes, well,” asked Trent nervously. “How are you doing?”
“I’ve been better,” I replied.
Trent suggested, “We better go check on Hayden.” I followed him down the hall to the restroom. When we got there, we could hear Hayden sobbing inside. Trent started to open the door, but I stopped him.
“Let me,” I said as I opened the door and walked in. Hayden was standing in front of a mirror looking at himself. Tears were rapidly running down his cheeks. Without hesitating, I walked over and pulled him into a hug. He fell against my chest and started sobbing. He felt so small and vulnerable as I wrapped my arms around him. My shoulder and arm were throbbing with pain, but I didn’t care. He needed to be held, and it didn’t matter how much I hurt.
“I want to die,” he cried. “I don’t deserve to live.” His words shook me to the bone. Just hours earlier, I had considered taking my own life after this ordeal was over.
“No, you don’t,” I started crying. “Things will get better.”
He pulled away and looked expectantly into my eyes. “How?”
I pulled him back into my chest and replied, “I don’t know,” as we clung to each other and wept. I heard the door open, and Trent walked in and put his arms around both of us. It took several minutes before we finally gained control of our emotions. Trent laughed and said, “You two go wipe off your faces. You’re a mess.” He headed for the door. “I’ll be outside.”
Hayden and I smiled at each other as we threw water on our faces and dried them with a paper towel. In twenty-one years, I had never felt closer to anyone. He was the little brother I never had. Looking into his tear-stained face, I determined it would be my mission to make sure that no one ever hurt him again. I think he instinctively knew what I was thinking. He approached and hugged me tightly. I kissed him on his forehead and promised him, “You’ll be alright now. No one will ever hurt you again.” We walked out of the restroom with our arms around each other. Trent gave us a huge smile when he saw us.
I wasn’t sure how I was going to keep my promise to him. I had no means to do so. I live on the street during the day, and I sleep in an old musty basement at night. Except for a little money I still had from stripping, I was penniless. But I knew I had to make changes if I was going to keep my promise to Hayden. I just didn’t know how.
Trent put his hand around my waist as we walked back to Lairds’ office. When we entered, his secretary said very tersely, “They have been waiting on you.”
Hayden giggled when I muttered softly, “Bite me.”
Laird rose from his desk and approached us, “Sit down, Boys,” he pointed at the chairs. “We have business to discuss.”
I stared at him challengingly and replied, “We’re not boys.”
He appeared angry as he ordered, “Of course not. Now have a seat.”
He sat down at his desk and began to speak. “The first thing we need to do is talk about the criminal case, then we’ll discuss the civil matter.”
I looked over at Lattimore and asked, “What civil matter? You didn’t mention a civil case.” Lattimore looked quickly at Laird.
“Well, the lawsuit, of course,” Laird responded. He glanced over at Hayden’s parents. “They are suing for damages done to their son.”
I stood and screamed, “Are you shitting me?” I looked angrily at Hayden’s parents. “They set him up with a dirty, perverted bastard, and now they want to sue him?”
Lattimore rose and tried to calm me. “Please sit down, Matt.”
“I won’t,” I insisted as I began pacing the room. Hayden was sitting beside Trent who had his arm protectively around him. I stood before Hayden’s parents. “You pieces of shit!” I hissed. “I know exactly what you are.” I pointed to Hayden. “You can’t accept a gay son, so you sent him to a madman who tried to convert him. Now, that you found out he’s been sexually abused, you want to get rich because of it.”
Laird shouted, “That’s enough, Young Man.”
“Fuck you!” I replied angrily. I looked over at Hayden’s parents. “And fuck you, too!” I turned to Lattimore who appeared to be shocked at what was going on. I don’t think he was even aware of the civil action that Laird and Hayden’s parent planned to take. “Sorry, Sergeant Lattimore,” I said angrily, “but you’ll have to find another victim because I don’t want to have anything to do with this shit.”
I walked over to Hayden and grabbed his hand. “Come on.” I pulled him to his feet. He looked quickly at Trent because he didn’t know what to do. Trent rose and the three of us exited the room.
As we headed for the elevator, Hayden asked worriedly, “Am I going to get in any trouble for leaving?”
“No,” assured Trent. “New Morning Center is your legal guardian, and since I am representing them, you’re in no trouble.” I was relieved to hear that. When I grabbed Hayden’s hand and pulled him from the room, I was afraid we would both be in a lot of trouble. I didn’t care about myself, but I didn’t want to put Hayden through any more anxiety.
We walked into the parking garage and got in Trent’s car. As he pulled out, he stopped and asked me, “Where do you want me to take you?”
“I don’t know,” I replied. “I thought I could hang out with you guys for a while.” I didn’t want to tell him the truth. I didn’t want him to see the dilapidated house I lived in. I was trying to make a good impression on Hayden. If he saw how I really lived, it could discourage him.
He turned and asked Hayden if he was hungry, Hayden looked at me. I nodded my head, and he smiled and replied, “I’m starving.” Our eyes met, and we smiled at each other. I still couldn’t believe how quickly we were bonding. I’m an only child, but my brotherly instincts were growing stronger.
Trent drove several blocks and turned into the parking lot of an Asian restaurant.
“They have good food here,” he said. We entered and sat in a table toward the back. Since it was early afternoon, we had avoided the lunch crowd, and the place was nearly empty.
I looked at the menu, but I was afraid to order too much. What little money I had would have to last me for a while. I wasn’t sure if Dexter had spent all his yet, but I was hoping that he might be able to lend me some if I needed it. We pooled our money together to pay for our room in the basement. What was left over usually went to drugs and alcohol. For the past year, I have been just a recreational user and drinker. I smoke a little weed now and then, and I will get drunk with Dexter sometimes just to pass the time, but I think I could give them up if I had to.
After getting shot by Pastor Simpson and then meeting Hayden, I didn’t want to return to my former way of life. I was ashamed that I had panhandled for money to meet my needs. If I was to keep my promise to Hayden, then I had to make some changes. Doing it, however, was going to be a difficult task.
“I would recommend the cashew chicken,” suggested Trent as he watched Hayden and me reading the menu. Over the years, I had waited outside a Japanese restaurant late at night for them to throw out what they hadn’t served that day. I never knew the name of what I was eating, but it was always delicious. Hayden and I put down our menu and nodded. Trent looked at us and shook his head.
Trent also ordered us sodas and egg rolls. As we nibbled on our egg rolls, Trent looked over at me and asked, “Matt, I’m still confused what you had to do with the meeting today. I thought we were going to talk about Hayden’s future.” He laughed slightly, “But you sure made a scene in Laird’s office. What was that all about?”
I looked over at Hayden, and he had an expectant look on his face. I’m sure he was also wondering why a complete stranger had erupted during the meeting. I knew I should try to explain, but I wasn’t sure how much of my personal life I wanted to reveal. I knew Trent would be okay with it since he is a counselor and deals with my kind of problems daily. I just wasn’t sure how much I should reveal with Hayden present.
“When I was in the hospital,” I explained, “Sergeant Lattimore paid me a visit about what had happened.”
“What happened?” asked Hayden. He was leaning forward listening attentively to what I was saying.
I answered, “I got shot.”
“Shot!” he squealed loudly. I looked around the room to make sure no one had heard him. “Who shot you?”
I responded, “I don’t think you need to know.”
Trent reached across the table and gripped my hand. “I think you should tell him. I read it in the newspaper yesterday. I wasn’t sure it was you until now.” He looked again at Hayden. “He’s going to find out anyway.”
Hayden seemed confused. “Find out what?”
I took a deep sigh and said, “Pastor Simpson shot me.”
“Pastor Simpson!” he squealed. “I thought he shot himself.”
“He did,” I replied. “But he shot me first.”
Hayden sat back and muttered, “Wow!” I spent the next few minutes explaining how I had gone to the church to confront Pastor Simpson. I left out the part about the gay bar and what happened the night before. I was embarrassed to admit that I had been stripping and that Simpson had groped my dick.
“I’m glad he’s dead,” admitted Hayden softly. “He deserved it.” Tears started to form in his eyes. Trent put his arm around his back and comforted him. Hayden looked over and asked, “So he did stuff with you too?”
“No,” I replied. “He did try to change me, but I was able to escape.”
Hayden asked, “How?”
“I busted out a window and ran like hell,” I said.
Hayden started grinning widely, “I did the same thing too,” he giggled. He looked over at Trent and smiled. “That’s when Trent found me. He took me to New Morning, and I’ve been there for several weeks.”
Trent playfully tousled Hayden’s hair. “You looked like a drowned puppy the night I found you.”
Hayden giggled again and said, “I didn’t know a storm was coming or I would have waited.”
“Well, you’re safe now,” he said as he put his arm around Hayden and pulled him into a hug. I smiled as I watched Hayden’s face redden.
The server brought our meal. It was delicious. Hayden ate like it was his last meal. He gobbled his food down quickly, and then he let out a loud burp when he finished. I sat back and roared with laughter. He looked so happy and comfortable being with me and Trent. If only all our lives could stay as happy as we were feeling at that moment. But I know that happiness is fleeting, so you have to enjoy it when it happens.
The server brought the check, and I dug into my pockets to pay for my portion. “I got it,” said Trent as he handed her a credit card.
“I can pay for my own,” I insisted as I tried to hand him a ten-dollar bill.
“It’s not my money,” he grinned. “I’m charging it to New Morning. I’ll just call it a business meeting.” He looked over and winked.
As we exited the restaurant, depression began to consume me. I had enjoyed the past hour, and I didn’t want it to end. I didn’t want to go back to the dingy basement. I knew that in a few hours, I would be hitting the streets trying to panhandle for more money.
As if he read my mind, Trent put his arm around my shoulder and pulled me into his body. “Why don’t you go back with us.” He looked over at Hayden. “Maybe we can play some video games for a while.”
“Yeah, cool!” exclaimed Hayden cheerfully.
I leaned into Trent’s body as Hayden’s reached down and gripped my hand. I can’t explain why, but tears filled my eyes as we headed to the car.