“There ain't no sin and there ain't no virtue. There's just stuff people do.”
― John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath
Trent’s office was small and cramped. There was a small desk with a large bookcase behind it filled with books, papers, folders and brochures. It was a wonder how he could find anything. There were also three folding chairs in the room.
Sergeant Lattimore was sitting in one. Another man in a business suit I had never met was sitting beside him. Trent told me to sit in the empty chair, and he sat at his desk.
Lattimore extended his hand for me to shake. He then introduced the other man. “This is Clyde Jefferson,” he said. “He’s an attorney from the prosecutor’s office.” I shook his hand, and then I gave Trent a puzzled look.
Trent explained, “A problem has arisen which Sergeant Lattimore thinks you should be aware of.”
“What’s happened?” I asked.
Lattimore said, “Someone leaked to the media about Pastor Simpson’s death. The newspaper called me this morning asking me if he committed suicide.” He gave me a worried look. “They also mentioned your name.”
“My name?” I replied excitedly. “How did someone know about what happened?”
He shook his head. “We’re not sure. It didn’t come from our office. It could have been the Morris’ attorney. They want to sue Simpson’s estate for what happened to their son. I think they believe the best way is to expose his past.”
I asked worriedly, “What does that have to do with me?”
Lattimore looked at Jefferson and nodded his head. Jefferson said, “The media wants the details of what happened. This could be an explosive story. A popular pastor of a big church, gay therapy conversion, child molestation. It has all the makings for a big story. Somehow, they also found out about him patronizing a gay bar where you were stripping.”
I looked over when I heard Trent clear his throat. My face reddened when I noticed the surprised look on his face. I had explained about my past, but I failed to mention the incident in the bar. I thought that detail would never be known. Now, I was afraid the incident was going to be exposed.
Mr. Jefferson continued, “We were hoping details of the case could remain private to protect Simpson’s family. However, things have changed. I need to warn you that the media wants to interview you for an article they are going to write.”
“I don’t want to do it,” I stated adamantly. Just then, Mr. London came into the room carrying a folding chair and sat beside me.
“Does he know?” he asked. Jefferson told him that he had just explained the situation.
“My primary concern,” said London, “is protecting the boys and girls here at New Morning. I’ve dealt many times with the media when they want information about the background of an abuse.” He patted my arm and said, “They can be relentless. However, since Hayden is only sixteen, they can’t talk to him or give out any personal information.”
I asked, “Then how do I fit into any of this?”
“We don’t know yet,” replied Jefferson. “We just thought you should be prepared in case someone from the newspaper tries to talk to you.” He looked down at his notepad and said, “The reporter who wanted information about the case is Stephanie Hardaway. She’s a top-notch reporter, and she usually gets what she wants. Just be prepared if she contacts you.”
London looked and surprised me when he said, “Matt is an employee of New Morning Center for Youth. If they want to interview him, they have to get my permission first.” I looked at Trent, and he seemed as surprised as me. I wasn’t sure if London had mentioned that he wanted me to fill out a job application.
Lattimore and Jefferson rose from their chairs. “I guess our work is done here,” said Jefferson. He looked at me. “Just be careful, Matt. If you speak to the media, you’ll be on your own. My office won’t officially be able to confirm or deny anything you say since it involves an underage youth.”
“I understand,” I replied as I shook their hands and watched them leave.
“Sit back down, Matt,” ordered Mr. London. I sat and he continued, “As of now, you’ll be working here.” I smiled and nodded my head. “I’m going to assign you to help Mrs. Thatcher in the kitchen. She’s been complaining for months that she needs help. When you’re not helping her, I’ll give you light maintenance work. Can you handle that?”
“Yes, Sir,” I responded appreciatively as I shook his hand. “Thank you, Mr. London. I’ll do my best.”
“Fine,” he smiled. He looked over at Trent. “Trent will be your supervisor. He’ll give you your daily assignments.” Trent was grinning broadly. I think he was as excited as I was that I would be working in the center.
London looked at his watch. “I have a meeting in five minutes. I’ll let you two work out the details.” He rose and exited the room. Trent walked over and closed the door.
I grinned, saluted and said, “What do you want me to do, Boss.”
He smiled and replied, “Come over here, Soldier, and give me a hug.”
I saluted again and said, “Yes, Sir.” I wrapped my arms around him and whispered in his ear, “Thank you, Trent.”
He pulled away and gave me a lecherous look. “So, you were a stripper?”
My face turned a bright red. “You weren’t supposed to find out about that,” I said.
“Why?” he grinned. “If I had known, I might have come to watch.”
“If you’re good,” I laughed, “Maybe I’ll give you a private show someday.”
“Really?” he asked. I winked and left the room.
I spent the rest of the morning getting used to the center. Trent took me to meet Mrs. Thatcher. She is a rather large woman of German descent. She is, I would assume, in her 50’s. She is friendly, but not talkative, which is okay with me. For a few hours, I helped her peel potatoes for a dinner meal and washed the breakfast dishes. Lunch was to be a prepackaged sandwich, potato chips and an apple. Dinner appeared to be the most important meal of the day, and Mrs. Thatcher devoted a large amount of time preparing the pork roast that was to be served.
At noon, Trent came into the kitchen and asked me to go someplace with him. I gladly obliged. As we walked down the hallway, I peeked into the rooms. Several were classrooms with students sitting quietly at desks. I saw Hayden sitting with two other boys around a table. They appeared to be working on some kind of science project.
“It looks interesting,” I remarked to Trent.
“Teachers have a difficult time,” he explained. “Students come and go almost on a weekly basis. They have to be very flexible.”
A wave of sadness swept over me. “Does that mean Hayden will be leaving soon?”
Trent shook his head. “It is hard to say. That depends on what his parents and the court decide to do.”
“Yes,” he replied. “The court wants to place Hayden in a foster home, but right now his parents are objecting. They want him to come home. We’re trying to convince the court that it isn’t the best place for him.”
“His father has been abusive in the past,” he explained.
“He’s hit him?”
“No,” Trent said. “He’s been mentally abusive.”
I could understand that. My father had mentally tortured me for years. When he began to suspect that I might be gay, it became intolerable. It is a shame that courts won’t usually get involved unless there is evidence of physical violence. Someone should invent a machine that can take a picture of a child’s heart that is bruised and battered and could be used as evidence in court.
We walked outside and headed to Trent’s car. He still hadn’t told me where we were going. As we approached the car, a young woman exited the car parked beside his. She walked up to me and asked, “Are you Matt Stevens?”
I stopped and rudely replied, “I don’t think that is any of your fucking business.” I remembered what the lawyer had told me earlier in Trent’s office about a young female reporter who might try to contact me. I sensed that the woman might be her.
“I’m sorry, Matt,” she replied. “I don’t mean to be intrusive. However, I’m working on a story for the newspaper, and…”
Trent grabbed my arm and pulled me toward his car. “Look, Lady,” he said rudely. “Unless you have official business to conduct at New Morning, then you are trespassing. If you don’t leave, I’ll be forced to call the police.”
“Here.” She pressed a business card into my hand. “Call me if you change your mind.” She got in her car and drove away.
“Where are we going?” I asked as we pulled out of the parking lot.
He replied, “The police picked up another runaway last night. He’s being held in juvenile detention. They think he might do better with us.”
I was silent the entire way to the city building. I kept wondering if I had known about places like New Morning if my life had turned out better. Perhaps, I could have stayed in school while I lived in a foster home. Back then, I didn’t think to try to find alternatives. I simply ran away and lived on the streets for five years.
“You’re awful quiet, Matt,” said Trent as he reached over and put his hand on my thigh. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah, sure,” I replied. “I’m just thinking about things.”
He smiled and said, “Just don’t get stressed out on me, Man. I know you are going through a lot of changes now, but you’re strong. You can handle them.”
“Me, strong?” I laughed. I don’t think so.”
“Sure you’re strong,” he responded. “Look at all the shit you’ve been through, and you’re still surviving. Not many people could have made it as long as you have.”
I shook my head. I knew Trent was trying to give me confidence, but that had left the building years ago. I’m a survivor. I survive day to day, and if I wake up in the morning, then I feel I’ve accomplished something. I’m no different than a lot of other people who do stuff they have to do to make it to another day.
Trent pulled into the parking garage. I followed him into the building. He seemed to be well-known. Most people smiled and called him by his first name. “Everyone seems to know you,” I remarked.
“They should,” he replied sadly. “I’ve rescued so many boys who have come through these doors.” He pulled me by my arm and said, “Come on.”
We entered a section of the building marked, Juvenile Detention for Boys. ‘Staff only beyond this point. All others must register with the front desk.’ Trent turned and handed me a pass. “Clip this to your shirt.” I examined it, and it was a pass with my name on it.
“What is this?” I asked.
“If anyone asks,” he replied, “You’re on the staff of New Morning Center.”
We entered through the doors and was immediately met by a security guard. He smiled and said, “Hey, Trent. Another one?”
Yeah,” Trent replied. “Got a call this morning.”
He pointed down the hall and said, “You know where he is.”
I followed Matt down a hallway, and we entered another waiting area. A woman in a guard outfit came out a side door. “Good morning, Trent.” She eyed me suspiciously. “Is he with you?”
“Yes, Carolyn,” he replied. “This is Matt Stevens. He’s a new recruit.”
She laughed and said, “Good luck.” She turned to Trent and told us to follow her. We were led down another hallway. She came to a door and unlocked it. She handed Trent a folder and said, “He’s in here.”
“Thanks, Carolyn.” When we entered, a boy was lying on a cot with his back to us with a blanket covering his body and head.
He muttered, “I told you fuckers to leave me alone. I’m trying to get some sleep.”
Trent looked down at the folder. “Evan? It’s Trent Remington from the New Morning Center.”
“Wonderful,” he muttered sarcastically without looking at us.
“Sit up, Evan, and look at us. We want to help you,” pleaded Trent. Evan sat up and glared at us.
“I don’t need your fucking help!” he shouted. “Just get the hell out of here!”
Evan appeared older than 14 or 15. I didn’t know anything about him, but I could tell by his face that he had a hard past. He was larger than most boys his age. Even though he was lying in bed, he looked to be at least six-feet tall. His brown hair was cut short, and he had a slight mustache and beard. Normally, I would say he was cute, but his harsh appearance was threatening and cold.
“I need to talk to you,” insisted Trent as he glanced over at me. “We’re going to try and get you out of this place.”
Chills ran down my spine when he muttered, “Don’t worry about that. I’ll be leaving soon.” The way he said it made it sound like he might be considering suicide. I know. I had been there myself on a few occasions.
Evan’s face reddened as he shouted, “Get the fuck out of here!”
I looked over at Trent. “Why don’t you leave and let me talk to him.”
“You have no training in this sort of thing,” he insisted.
He gave me a puzzled look when I began to laugh. “Oh yes I do,” I replied. “I know a lot more than you’ll ever know.” Evan glared suspiciously at me.
Trent looked over at Evan. I could tell he was considering what to do. I’m sure he had dealt with boys like Evan before, but I don’t think he was in the mood for a confrontation. So much had already happened this morning. He shrugged his shoulders, handed me the folder and walked over to the door. “I’ll be right outside if you need me,” he said as he closed the door.
Evan continued to glare at me. “So, what the fuck you going to do? Are you deaf? Didn’t you hear me tell you to get the fuck out? I don’t need anyone’s help.”
I glanced quickly at the top piece of paper. It said that Evan was fifteen. He had been arrested for trespassing in a vacant structure. I knew immediately he was a rookie at living on the streets. If he hadn’t been, he would never have let the cops catch him.
I looked sympathetically at him. I saw myself at sixteen in his cold, dead eyes. I knew the look. He had given up, and his only escape was death. Soon, he would either die of a drug overdose or commit suicide. Since he didn’t have the appearance of a drug abuser, I figured he was trying to think of some way of ending his life by his earlier statement.
I walked over and sat beside him on the cot. He moved away and turned his back away from me. I asked softly, “How you going to do it?”
He turned and gave me a harsh look. “Do what?”
“End it,” I replied. His eyes widened, and he pulled the blanket over his head.
“Get out,” he mumbled. I could tell that he was trying hard not to cry. He was trying to be brave, but he didn’t have much experience. Under his tough exterior was still a young boy.
“How are you going to do it?” I asked again.
“Fuck you,” he mumbled. “I ain’t decided yet.” I knew I was starting to get through to him, or he wouldn’t have confessed that he as considering suicide.
I looked again at his folder and read a little of his past. “How long you been on the streets?” I asked.
He turned and gave me an angry look. “You don’t hear very well, do you? I told you go get the fuck out!”
I ignored him. “It gets cold at night, doesn’t it?” I pointed to an address on the paper. “This where you staying?”
He turned away and mumbled, “Ain’t none of your business.”
“You ever hit up Jack’s Diner at night? They throw away some good shit when the place closes.” Evan turned and stared at me.
“Where’s that at?”
“4th and Lexington,” I replied. “You can also score some stuff at the market on Elm Street. The owner there helps out people like us.” He continued to stare at me.
“How much you get for sucking dick?” His eyes widened and his face turned red. “A young, good-looking guy like you must do okay. What do you get? 20 bucks for a blowjob?”
Evan stared at me. I know he couldn’t figure out why I was asking him such a question. However, I knew I had hit my mark because he didn’t deny it. I took a chance and asked him, “You ever let some old guy fuck your sweet ass because you were hungry?”
Tears welled up in Evan’s eyes, and he turned and fell on the cot, covered his face with the blanket as he started to sob loudly. I reached over and gently rubbed his back. “I don’t know what to do,” he cried. “I don’t want to die.”
I reached over and grabbed his shoulders and moved his body toward mine. He fell against me and nestled his neck into my chest and wept. I soothingly rubbed his back as he cried. “You’re safe now,” I assured him. “Let us help you.” He nodded his head against my body.
Just then, Trent entered the room. I looked over at him and winked. “Come on, Evan,” I said as I pulled him to his feet. I led him over to Trent. “This is Trent,” I told him. “I want you to go with him. You can trust him. He’ll help you.”
He looked at me with tearful eyes, “What about you? Where are you going?”
I said, “I’ll catch up with you later, okay?” He nodded his head as Trent gave me a puzzled look. “I got some stuff to do right now.”
Trent asked, “Where are you going?”
I told him, “I got some loose ends to tie up. I’ll see you later at the center.” Trent put his arm around Evan and led him from the room. I followed them out as they entered another room. I assumed that Trent would be busy for the next hour filling out paperwork. I left the building and headed south.
I stopped before the old, dilapidated house. I couldn’t believe I had spent the last six months in such a squalid place. I still didn’t know what my future held, but I knew that I could never return to my former life. My chances for a new beginning at the center offered me a new path to take. I was determined not to make the same mistakes I did at sixteen.
I opened the door and Dexter was lying in bed. With him was one of the guys who lives upstairs. It surprised me because the guy, Ted, had a girlfriend who was pregnant. I suppose she could no longer give him sexual satisfaction, so he snuck downstairs for Dexter to do stuff with him.
Dexter opened his eyes when I closed the door. He sat up and asked, “Where you been, Matt? I’ve been worried about you.” He climbed naked out of bed and embraced me.
“Things have been good,” I replied.
He asked worriedly, “Still got that cough?”
I had to think for a minute. I hadn’t coughed since I left. I took a deep breath and held it. Nothing. Maybe it was this dark basement that had caused me to be sick. It was damp and filled with mold. Spending much of the day outside also didn’t help any. Now that I was sleeping in a warm bed at night and working in a safe environment, hopefully, my health was beginning to improve. I was also eating better. “No,” I answered. “I’m fine.”
“Good.” He bent down and grabbed a pair of underwear lying on the floor and put them on. “Did that cop find you?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I said, “but how do you know about that?”
“He was here looking for you,” he responded. “There’s also been some reporter chick looking for you.”
“Yeah, I know,” I replied. I walked over to the closet that contained what little clothes I had. I found a grocery bag tossed into a corner and started stuffing the clothes that appeared to be clean. I didn’t have much, but at least it would get me by until I received my first paycheck.
Dexter gave me a puzzled look and asked, “Are you going somewhere?” I explained to him about the job at the center. “Where are you going to be staying? I’d like to keep in touch with you.” He reached out and gripped my cock. “We’ve had some good times together.”
I stepped back and laughed, “I’m not sure right now.” I didn’t know where I would live. Staying at the center would only be temporary. I was hoping to make at least enough to get a small studio apartment. It didn’t have to be anywhere nice. I’ve lived on the street for several years, so I couldn’t be too picky.
“Don’t forget about me, Matt,” said Dexter as he grabbed me and pulled me into a bear hug. “You’re my friend, and I don’t have too many of them.”
“Me, neither,” I replied as I kissed him. “I’ll stay in touch.” I pulled away and saw tears in Dexter’s eyes. I had to turn and leave before I began to cry.
I hurried down the steps and stopped at the bottom of the stairs. I looked into the sky and took a deep breath. There is a saying that goes something like today is the first day of the rest of your life. That is how I was feeling.
I was heading down the sidewalk toward the center when a white car pulled up beside me. I looked over and saw the young reporter who had tried to talk to me earlier roll down the window.
“Matt?” she pleaded. “I really need to talk to you.”
I replied angrily, “I ain’t got nothing to say to you.”
“But it involves Hayden,” she said.
My heart started to pound. “Is he hurt?”
“No,” she replied. “But I’m doing a story on Pastor Simpson and gay conversion therapy, and you’re the only person who knows the truth. I’m trying to save boys like you and Hayden from experiencing the things you did. I can’t talk to him, and you’re the only person who can tell me what really happened.”
I asked, “How did you find out about Hayden, anyway?”
She frowned and replied, “His parents tried to get the newspaper to do an article about what Pastor Simpson did to their son. My editors turned them down because we realized they were only out for money.”
“That figures,” I said angrily. “They tried to use me for the same thing.”
I stood and stared at Stephanie. I’m street savvy, and I can instantly read someone. Over time, a person builds up instincts of who they can or can’t trust. People you can trust are rare. As I stared into her face, I felt I could trust her. And, if she could do as she says and write an article exposing Pastor Simpson and what he had done to countless boys over the years, then I was willing to take a chance.
“Please?” she pleaded as she reached over and opened the passenger’s door. “Give me an hour of your time.”
I sighed and opened the rear door. After tossing the grocery bag into the back seat, I got into the front seat. “Thanks, Matt,” she said appreciatively as we pulled away.