Questions! Questions! Questions!
Why don’t they leave me alone? The questions make me see things- things I don’t want to see. When the questions stop, the nightmares begin.
Did you see them? See them! Their dark and violent features are etched forever in my mind. They are the last things I saw, and the first things I see.
Troy laid his head back on his pillow. The two faces again emerge. Dark and dangerous. They crawl from the crevices of the hard concrete and run at him. He wants the dream to go away, but when he tries to open his eyes, there is darkness- and the two ominous creatures. They tear at his face and dig their claws into his sides. He fights back, but it only makes them stronger. It’s only a dream he screams inwardly. But if it’s only a dream, why can’t I emerge from it? Why is there continuous blackness?
“Give me your wallet!” One of the creatures shrieks madly. He approaches and devours his head.
Wake up, Troy! But I can’t wake up.
Then a face emerges. This time it’s a young black man. But again, his face is dark and dangerous. He yells, “I said give me your wallet!”
I fall. Heavy shoes pound my body. Excruciating pain. “Wake up, Troy!” My inner voice screams out. I open my eyes- but darkness.
Get up and run. Run from the beastly creatures. But my body won’t move. It is trampled down by their heavy feet pounding wildly on my body. I hear a voice laughing, but I can’t move.
Then suddenly it is quiet. Deadly silence. I can hear my pain. I can feel the blood gushing from my face. Deadly silence. Am I dead?
I lift my body, but it falls from the weight of my pain. I open my eyes, but darkness. My senses are intensified. I can taste the blood oozing from my lips. I can hear my heart pounding- perhaps taking its last beats. I can smell the rancid urine on the sidewalk. I touch the ground and try to raise myself up. But one sense has deserted me. Only darkness.
I scream out, but like a tree falling in a forest, no one hears me. I am dead and no one knows.
“Troy!” A voice shouts my name. I look, but darkness.
“Troy!” They shout again. I strike out into the unknown darkness, afraid of the demons. They grab me and hold me tightly.
“It’s all right.” Again my senses react. I can smell shampoo from someone’s hair. I can feel his skin against my body and I can hear his gentle voice telling me everything is all right. But still the darkness surrounds me.
The darkness scares me and I shout once again. I reach for a hand and I squeeze it twice. Then twice again, and yet again.
“It’s going to be all right,” the voice says softly. “We’re going to give you something to calm you down.” Then darkness overcomes me once again and I sleep. The demons are gone- at least for a while.
Jayden rested his head on the window of Mr. Neal’s large Suburban as they drove away from the hospital. Penny was sitting beside him, and she kept looking worriedly at him. She tried to engage him in small talk, but he didn’t feel like talking.
He wasn’t sure he was making the right decision by agreeing to go home and staying with the Neal’s. His life had changed so much the past two years, and he didn’t think he could go through more emotional turmoil. He had barely survived when his mother died. Living with his aunt and cousins had been a banishment to Hell. As he looked around the truck, he didn’t know how his life would once again change. One thing he was sure of, though; he really didn’t have many options available. It was staying with Troy’s family or living on the streets.
He lifted his head and looked out the window when Mr. Neal’s SUV slowed down and pulled into a long driveway. His eyes widened as he looked out onto the large house before him. It was enormous. The two story home was meticulously landscaped. It was well-lit with trees and shrubbery adorning the large front yard.
“Big, isn’t it?” Penny giggled beside him. “Daddy designed it himself.” He pulled into the circular driveway and stopped beside the steps leading up to the arched, double doors at the front of the house.
Jayden got out of the truck and scanned the front of the home. He had never seen anything so beautiful. He felt as if he had walked out of his life and into a fairy tale.
“Don’t be too impressed,” laughed Mr. Neal as he put his hand on Jayden’s shoulder. “I have to work my ass off to pay for this.”
“Wow!” Nothing else could come to Jayden’s mouth as he looked around him. He jumped when Penny grabbed his hand and pulled him toward the steps.
“Come on,” she said. “I’ll give you a tour. You’re going to love the pool.”
“Pool?” Jayden replied in amazement.
“Of course,” she laughed. “I hope you like to swim. We spend a lot of time at the pool.”
“I don’t have a swimming suit,” replied Jayden.
Penny looked over and grinned. “We don’t swim in suits.” An astonished look appeared on his face. “Gotcha!” Penny laughed. Jayden felt embarrassed when everyone started laughing loudly.
“You don’t know how many times she’s used that,” laughed Mr. Neal. “It’s always the same reaction.” He put his arm around Jayden and led him up the steps. “I’m sure one of Troy’s swim suits will fit you fine.”
Jayden again stopped when they entered the door leading into the immense foyer. It was larger than the bedroom he had at his aunt’s house. Off to the right was the grand room. The furniture was large and ornate. There was a large leather sofa and several wing back chairs. Colorful pictures adorned the walls.
“Wow!” Jayden stood looking into the room. Penny grabbed his arm and pulled him down a large hallway with smaller pictures on the wall. Jayden quickly glanced at them and realized they were family pictures. Several he recognized as Troy and Penny taken several years ago.
“I’m starving,” she said as she continued to lead Jayden down the hall.
“Fix your mother and me a sandwich!” yelled her father. “Do you mind, Dear?” Jayden looked back and saw them walking up a large staircase. He assumed they were probably heading to their bedroom.
Like the rest of the house, the kitchen was immense. There was a marbled center island. Penny motioned for Jayden to have a seat. He looked around at the cherry cabinets and stainless steel appliances. The kitchen rivaled any he had seen in magazines.
“What do you want?” Penny looked at him and grinned. She was accustomed to people staring at their home the first time they entered. It used to embarrass her when she was younger because she always felt that her surroundings might discourage her friends from visiting. Many times she had to beg her friends to let her go home with them. They often felt embarrassed because their homes couldn’t compete with her lavish lifestyle. However, Penny never felt superior to them just because her family was wealthy.
Her parents had never let her or Troy feel that they were better than other children. In fact, they went out of their way to make them realize that money wasn’t something that one could take for granted. Since an early age, they had been paid a meager allowance for doing chores around the house. As they grew older, they were given more; but it often came with a price. They were expected to do well in school, volunteer for charitable causes in their church and community and to participate in extracurricular activities at school. That was the main reason Troy had participated in the play.
Jayden sat with his mouth agape as he looked around the kitchen. “Jayden?” Penny giggled. “What do you want to eat?”
“Um...” he stammered. “I’ll have whatever you’re having.”
“Good,” she replied. “I’m fixing us a breakfast.” Jayden looked up at the clock. It was after nine in the evening. Penny started giggling. “Nighttime is the best time for a good breakfast. How do you want your eggs?”
“Fried, I guess,” Jayden replied. It had been several years since he’d eaten breakfast. His aunt always slept late in the mornings, so he usually grabbed a bowl of cereal before going to school.
“How about a western omelet?”
He shrugged his shoulders. “Yeah, sure.” He didn’t have a clue what he had just volunteered to eat. He watched as Penny moved quickly around the room. He could tell it was something she had done often.
“Can I help?” He got up and stood beside her.
She motioned for him to open a cabinet door. “Get out four plates and coffee mugs.” She the pointed to a drawer. “The silverware is there.” She pointed outside to a table on a large, redwood deck. “You can set that table. It will be nice to eat outside by the pool.”
Jayden got the plates and mugs and opened the sliding glass door. He then stepped out onto the deck. As the rest of the house, it was large. There was a patio table with a large umbrella. Several lounging chairs were strewn about in no particular order. Once he placed the plates and mugs on the table, he walked over and peered over the railing. Below was an Olympic sized pool. There were numerous plants and trees surrounding it. Jayden felt that he was looking down at a tropical island.
He jumped when Mr. Neal walked up and placed his hand on his shoulder. “This is Sheila’s favorite place. When she designed it, I thought she had overdone it. But sitting out here late at night is the most relaxing feeling. It almost makes you forget your problems.” He looked sadly at Jayden. “Almost.”
“Everything is so.. so..” He looked admiringly around. “Beautiful,” he finally said. He gave Mr. Neal a puzzled look when he started laughing.
“I thought you were going to say ostentatious. It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve heard that.”
“I don’t even know what that means,” Jayden responded. “It’s just really nice.”
Mr. Neal put his hand on Jayden’s back and led him down the steps to the pool. “I’ve got a successful business,” he said. “I’ve made a lot of money in my lifetime.” He turned to Jayden as tears appeared in his eyes. “But you know what?” Jayden shook his head. “I’d give this all up tomorrow if...” his voice began to crack. “If it would bring Troy back to us the way he used to be.” He turned and Jayden could hear him softly crying. He felt helpless as he watched Troy’s father was overcome with emotion.
“Are you all right, Mr. Neal?”
He turned and wiped his eyes dry. “Yes, Jayden. I’m fine. Sometimes the reality of the situation hits me and it’s a little difficult.”
“I know how you feel,” Jayden replied. “I felt like that when my mother died.” When he noticed the surprised look on Mr. Neal’s face, he realized he had revealed too much.
“When did she die?” Mr. Neal walked over and put his hand on Jayden’s arm.
“Two years ago,” he replied sadly. He stepped away and looked over the pool. The moon was shining brightly down on the shimmering water. “But I really don’t like to talk about it.”
“Very well,” Troy’s father replied as he stepped up beside Jayden. He looked over and saw the tears shining in his eyes. He touched Jayden’s arm softly. “But if you ever need anyone to talk to, I’m always available.” He looked over and smiled. “I helped two teens get through some rough times.” Again, his face became taut. “I just wish this was something I could solve with some fatherly advice.”
“It’s going to be okay, Mr. Neal.” Jayden placed his hand over Mr. Neal’s. “I haven’t known Troy very long, but he seems to be a survivor. He’ll get through this.”
Mr. Neal smiled warmly at the young man beside him. “I’m glad you’re here, Jayden.” He reached out and pulled him into a tight embrace. “I think you’re going to be able to help my son.” He pulled back as his eyes shimmered with wet tears. “More than you probably realize right now.” Jayden tensed when he hugged him again, but soon he relaxed and returned the embrace. It felt good to have someone hold him once again.
Mr. Neal stepped back and looked up at the house. “I guess we should go back. I see Penny putting food on the plates.” They walked up the stairs and sat at the table on the deck. Jayden didn’t say anything as he looked down at the pool. The full moon was glimmering on the water. He couldn’t remember feeling so relaxed in two years. It was nothing like the noisy neighborhood he had just left.
He was stirred from his thoughts when Mrs. Neal cleared her throat. “I’ll drop you off at school in the morning, Jayden, when I go to the hospital.” He looked down at the table.
“I’m not in school anymore,” he replied softly.
“Why?” Mr. Neal leaned over and looked at him. “I thought Claire said you were graduating this year.”
He looked up and attempted a smile. “I kind of quit.”
“What?” Penny said excitedly. “How can you quit when you’re so close to graduating? I know it’s not your grades because I heard Claire telling Allison how good a student you are.”
“It’s kind of personal,” Jayden replied. He looked down at the pool. He then excused himself from the table and walked down the steps and stood before the clear blue water.
He heard footsteps approach and then felt a hand take his and squeeze it. He looked over at Penny as she looked at the water.
“I love it here,” she said. “When I was younger and needed to get away from everyone, I’d come out here and sit. Troy would do the same thing. I used to look out my window and watch him just sitting on the side of the pool, kicking his feet in the water.”
She squeezed Jayden’s hand tighter. “We were here one night, like you and I are, when he told me he was gay.” She looked at him tearfully. “He asked me if I hated him.” She broke down and cried. Jayden moved nearer to her and put his hand around her back.
“I had a similar talk with my mother when I was fourteen,” he confessed. Penny looked at him with a surprised look. His sad expression turned to a smile. “I even had a bag packed and hidden in my closet just in case she said she did hate me.”
Penny looked at him and smiled. “But she didn’t?”
“No,” he said as he looked back over the water. “She told me she still loved me.” His wet eyes shimmered in the moonlight.
“She sounds like she was a wonderful mother.” Jayden looked over and smiled.
“She was,” he replied softly. Penny reached down and took his hand again and held it.
“Tell me what happened.” Jayden sighed and sat down by the side of the pool. Penny removed her shoes and kicked her feet in the water. Jayden pulled his shoes and socks off and did the same. They sat for several minutes without saying anything.
Jayden looked at Penny and decided if he should explain things to her. Since she had a younger brother, he was sure she would understand. It also helped that her younger brother was gay and she accepted him. He sighed and then spent the next fifteen minutes telling her about his mother’s death and the life he had lived since that time. It surprised him when he finished that he hadn’t broken down and cried. Instead, it felt like a weight had been lifted from his shoulders.
She looked at Jayden and smiled. Her eyes were moist with tears as she gripped his hand and merely said, “Thank you.” She sensed that Jayden really had no more to say. He had said it all. To give him advice, or try to tell him things would be all right, would be useless. She could tell that he had come to terms with his situation long ago.
She stood and reached her hand to his, lifting him to his feet. “I’m going swimming,” she grinned. She then proceeded to pull her sweater off. Jayden tried to stop her, but she began laughing. He was relieved when she had a tee shirt on underneath. “Gotcha!” She laughed. She disappeared into a small room off to the side of the pool. When she emerged, she walked over and handed Jayden a pair of swimming trunks. She had already changed into hers.
“You can change over there.” She pointed to the room she had just left. “This is one of Troy’s suits.” She quickly scanned his body. “They should fit you.” Jayden walked into the room, removed his clothes and put on the pair of red Speedos Penny had given him. He tried to arrange the bulge that was protruding through them. He walked out of the room with his hands in front of him.
Penny was in the middle of the pool and swam over to him. She looked up and smiled. Jayden became embarrassed when her eyes roamed over his body. “Wow,” she said admiringly. “You have a nice body.”
“Thanks,” he said embarrassedly. He continued to cover himself with his hands.
Penny started laughing. “I have a boyfriend,” she giggled. “You don’t have anything I haven’t seen before. Besides, I used to swim all the time with Troy. A teenage boy sometimes can’t control himself.” She turned and started swimming away.
Jayden sat down at the side of the pool and dangled his feet into the water. A minute later, Penny came swimming back. “Aren’t you getting in?”
“I can’t swim,” Jayden confessed. “I never learned.”
Penny offered him her hand. “This is only three feet deep,” she said as she slowly pulled him into the water. “You can stand up in it. Maybe later I’ll give you some lessons.”
Jayden walked around in the water, feeling the sensation of warmness on his body. Even though the weather outside was still cool, the pool was heated and felt soothing on his body. Penny waded over to the side and threw her arms over the sides and let her body float in the water. Jayden waded over and sat beside her, mimicking her movements. He felt like he was sitting in a large hot tub. He closed his eyes and relaxed. They sat and quietly enjoyed the water’s warmth.
After several minutes of relaxing, Jayden looked over at Penny. Her eyes were closed and her body was floating on top of the water. “Can I ask you something?”
She opened her eyes and turned her head towards him. “Sure. What do you want to know?”
Jayden looked around the pool and towards the house above them. “Just what am I doing here?”
She turned her body and gave him a puzzled look. “What do you mean?”
He stood up in the water. “I mean, what am I doing here? Troy’s in the hospital because my cousins beat the shit out of him; yet your family invites me to stay here. Why?”
She stood, sat on the edge of the pool and kicked her feet in the water. Jayden jumped up and sat beside her as he waited for an answer.
Penny looked him in the eyes. “One, you are not your cousins; and two, it’s because of your cousins you don’t have a place to stay.”
“I still don’t know why I’m here.”
“We had a long talk in the cafeteria when Claire called us down and said you didn’t have a place to stay.” She took his hand and held it. “You’re a good person, Jayden. My mother and father think the world of you. I guess they think they owe you for helping Troy.”
“But...” Jayden started to protest, but Penny put her finger to his lips.
“But it’s more than that,” she said. “I can’t explain it, but the moment we met you, it was like you were a part of our family. Mom adores you, and Dad thinks you’re one of the nicest young men he’s ever met. And I think if Claire were straight, she’d want you for a boyfriend.”
“But I can’t live up to their expectations,” he said sadly.
She smiled warmly at him. “You don’t have to live up to anyone’s expectations, Jayden. We’re just providing you with a place to stay until you graduate. That’s only a few months away. After that, what you do is up to you.”
He shook his head. “I still don’t understand why your family is being so generous to me.” She squeezed his hand tightly.
“Don’t try to understand it, Jayden.” She smiled. “I know it’s hard to believe from where you are, but good things happen in this world. Just accept my family’s help.”
Jayden looked anxiously at Penny. “But what about Troy?”
“What about Troy?”
“What’s he going to say when he finds out I’m staying here and it was my cousins who are the ones responsible for his blindness?” She looked at him and shook her head.
“We’ll have to deal with that when the time arises,” she said worriedly. “He seems to like you, so it may not be a problem.”
“I don’t know,” he responded. “I’ll stay here a few days. I’m sure I can find somewhere else to go.”
“Where?” Penny turned and stared into his face. “You don’t have anywhere else to go.” She gripped his hand tightly. “Just stay here until you graduate. Then you can find a job and get an apartment. Daddy might even hire you to work for him.”
Jayden looked down at their hands and then back at Penny. “We’ll see,” he muttered. “I still don’t think this is a good idea.”
Penny began to yawn. “I’m sleepy. It must be late. Let’s go inside and I’ll show you where you’ll be sleeping.” Jayden grabbed his clothing, and they walked up the stairs to the house.
He followed her through the kitchen and down a stairway off the main foyer. He suddenly stopped when he reached the bottom. He looked around the dimly lit room. There was a pool table in the center of the room. A bar was located on the right. To his left was a den with a large screen television, a leather sofa and several comfortable looking chairs.
“Wow!” Jayden said surprisingly.
“We really don’t use this much,” Penny responded. “We each have our own rooms. Once in a while we’ll rent a movie and watch it together. Troy used to entertain his friends down here.” He followed her when she started walking across the room, but he stopped and walked into another room off the den. The room was relatively bare, except for a baby grand piano in the middle. Jayden thought it was a strange place to have a piano.
Penny walked over and rubbed her hand gently along the piano. “This is Troy’s favorite part of the house. He’d come down here for hours and practice. Daddy wanted the piano in the parlor upstairs, but Troy insisted that he put it down here so he could play without anyone around.”
Jayden walked over and admired it. “It’s beautiful,” he said as he walked around it.
“Do you play?”
“No,” he replied. “I always wanted to learn, but my mother couldn’t afford to have someone give me lessons.”
“Maybe Troy can teach you,” she suggested. “He gave lessons to a neighbor girl down the street. She had a crush on him, and she stopped when he wouldn’t ask her out on a date.” Jayden sat down at the piano bench and ran his hands gently over the keys. He would hit one occasionally, listening to it echo around the room.
“Daddy had a designer come in and install acoustical walls. I would come down and sit in the other room to listen to him play. He is quite good.” He hit a few more keys and then stood.
“I guess you should show me where I’m going to be sleeping.” He grabbed his mouth just as he began yawning. He followed her as she headed across the room and opened a door.
“You’ll be in this room.” Jayden peered inside. There was a king-sized bed in the middle of the room. A large bureau was on one side of the room, and two wing back chairs were on the other. Several large pictures adorned the walls.
“We really don’t use this room,” she said. “Mom didn’t know what to do with it so she turned it into a spare bedroom.” She walked over, opened a door and turned on a light. “You have your own bathroom.” He looked inside at the ornate fixtures and marble top counter. There was also a large shower with sliding glass doors. It appeared no one had ever used it.
She walked over and kissed him on the cheek. “I’m going to bed,” she said. “I can hardly keep my eyes opened. We eat breakfast at seven. Mom will drop you off at school on her way to the hospital.” Jayden started to protest, but she turned and left before he had a chance.
He turned and looked around the room. He couldn’t believe that his life had changed so much. Just a day earlier he was living in a shabby house and sleeping on a thin mattress. He lay down on the bed. His body sunk comfortably into the pillow top mattress. He thought of climbing out of bed and taking a shower, but sleep overtook him before he could get up.