“There ain't no sin and there ain't no virtue. There's just stuff people do.”
― John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath
I kept looking in the backseat of Trent’s car at Hayden as we rode to the center. He would bashfully smile and then look down at his hands. I looked over at Trent as he drove, and occasionally he would look over and smile. I felt a warm feeling of happiness. It was soon replaced with a surge of sadness and doom.
Good things don’t happen to a person like me. At sixteen, I was dealt a bad hand; and ever since I’ve been trying to get at least a pair of deuces to have a chance at the game of life. Sadly though, every time I reveal the cards, I get nothing. It’s my life, and I guess I’ve gotten used to it.
But the last couple of days, I’ve felt a change in my life. Walking into the church and confronting Pastor Simpson brought closure to what had happened to me five years ago. I didn’t anticipate what occurred next. I never imagined him pulling a gun from under the altar and shooting me twice. I also never thought he would kill himself rather than being public humiliated for what he had done over the years.
However, a door closed shut. As I looked over at Trent and back at Hayden, I began to wonder if a new door had suddenly opened. I don’t know what I would do if I got a glimpse of what could be, and then only have it slammed shut again. I know one thing, though. I can’t go back to the life I was living. I can’t go back to the streets and the stuff I did. Somehow, I must find a winning hand. Maybe I won’t be dealt a royal flush, but maybe I can get a full house.
Trent looked over worriedly and asked, “Are you okay, Matt?”
“Yeah,” I replied as I lay my head on the headrest. “I’m just really sore.” I gently ran my hand over my shoulder wound. In rushing out of Laird’s office, I had left the medication the doctor had given me for pain. My shoulder was throbbing.
“I’ll see what I can find for you when we get to the center,” responded Trent as he looked over worriedly at me. I had to look away because tears were rapidly filling my eyes. No one had ever looked at me like they really cared.
We pulled into the parking lot of a large complex. It reminded me of the nursing homes I had seen around town. It was a single floor complex which appeared to contain several different buildings. It was new and modern, and it seemed to have been built recently.
Trent smiled and said, “This is it. Here’s home.”
I asked, “You live here?”
He laughed and replied, “No, not actually. But I spend so much time here, I might as well call it home.”
“Some of us have to,” muttered Hayden from the backseat. I turned and saw the sad look on his face. I knew living in a group home was hard for him, but it was better than what I had to endure at his age. Living with the old man was safe, but I knew it would never be permanent. When he got sick and died, I ended out on the streets. At least Hayden had a safe place to stay where people could look after him.
Trent got out and came around and gently helped me from the car. Hayden put his arm around my waist, and they led me inside. Trent unlocked the door, and we stepped into a nicely furnished lobby. Since it was after hours, no one was at the receptionist’s desk, and the lights were dimly lit.
Hayden gripped me tighter and said, “I’ll take you to my room.” We walked down a long hallway and into another section of the building. It reminded me of a motel hall with doors on each side. We passed about ten room when we stopped before Room 117A. “Here it is,” announced Hayden as he removed a key from his pocket and opened the door. The room was neat and tidy. There were two twin beds with several dressers and two comfortable looking chairs. Along one wall was a desk with a laptop computer. A few posters were on the wall. They appeared to be members of bands, but I didn’t recognize any of them. I was surprised to see a gay poster with a rainbow and beneath it were the words, Love is Love.
Hayden led me over to one of the beds and told me to sit down. Trent patted me on my back, and then he left the room. “Lay down,” insisted Hayden as he helped pull my feet on the bed. He untied my shoes and removed them. I quickly looked down to make sure I had no holes in them. He left and entered the bathroom. He then returned with a glass of water. “Drink this,” he ordered as he held the glass to my mouth as I sipped from it. I felt like a baby, but it was a good feeling.
Trent returned with a tray. It contained a few bottles, gauze, bandages and white tape. “Take off your shirt,” he said as I sat up and he helped me remove it. Hayden gasped when he saw the bloodied bandage on my shoulder. “This needs cleaned,” remarked Trent as he gently removed the covering. Hayden sat on the side of the bed and watched with a worried look. I winced when he wiped it clean with a medicated wipe. He seemed to know what he was doing. I guess he had tended to many wounds from children over the years. I closed my eyes as he cleaned me up. I gripped Hayden’s hand when he reached down and held mine.
After several minutes, Trent announced with a smile, “Good as new.” I opened my eyes, looked up and saw him grinning widely at me.
“Thanks,” I replied appreciatively. “Do you think it will be okay?”
“It’s pretty nasty,” he said, “but I’ve seen worse. I’ll keep an eye on it for a few days. If it doesn’t seem to be healing, I’ll take you back to the hospital.” I smiled and nodded.
He put his arm around my back and attempted to pull me up. “We need to find you a place to crash tonight. It’s late, and I don’t want to go back out.”
I looked around the room. “I can’t stay here?”
“Unfortunately, not,” he answered. “It is against house rules for an adult to sleep in the same room with a child unless under extreme circumstances.”
Hayden muttered, “I’m not a child.” Even though he disagreed, I could understand why the center would enforce such a rule. He had already been molested by Pastor Simpson. He should understand why there was such a policy to protect him from more abuse. Even though I had lived with a much older man for several years, and we did have sex occasionally, I would never entertain the thought of having sex with someone as young as Hayden.
We rose and Trent and Hayden helped me to the door. I could have walked by myself, but they seemed more than eager to help me. “The room next door is available tonight, so you can stay there.” Trent unlocked the door and we entered. It looked like Hayden’s room, only the walls and desk were bare. We walked over, and I dropped into bed. I was exhausted and ready to go to sleep. Trent said, “I’ve got to make my evening rounds.” He told me he would see me in the morning and left. Hayden hesitated as he looked down at me.
Tears welled up in his eyes. He cleared his throat and muttered, “Thanks for everything you’ve done for me today. I’m glad you were with me.”
I sat up, held out my arms and said, “Come here.” He sat down and we embraced. “I’ll always be here for you.” I kissed him on his forehead. “I promise.”
He smiled and kissed me on my cheek. “Thanks,” he said tearfully as he rose and headed for the door. He stopped and turned. “I’ll be next door if you need anything.” He waved, turned out the lights and closed the door. Within minutes, I was sound asleep.
I was awakened from the sun shining through the window. I looked for a clock, but I didn’t see one. I had no idea what the time was. I rose from bed and went to the bathroom. After emptying my bladder, I looked in the small closet and found a towel and a fresh bar of soap. I turned on the shower, stripped naked and stood under the warm water. It felt soothing on my body. My bandages were getting wet, but I would ask Trent for clean dressing when I finished.
I heard a knock on the door, and I hollered out, “Come in!”
Trent asked, “Where are you?”
“In the shower,” I responded. “I’ll be out in a minute.” I turned off the water and stepped out of the shower. I noticed the door was open, and Trent was sitting on my bed watching me.
‘Oh, well,’ I thought to myself. ‘I’m sure he’s seen a dick before.’ I toweled my body off. Occasionally, I would glance over to see if he was still watching. He was reading something on his phone, but I could tell he was taking quick glances at me.
I wrapped the towel around me and stepped into the room. Trent started blushing as he let his eyes wander over my body. I still hadn’t decided if Trent is gay. He gave me no indication that he is. However, I have experience dealing with men, and my gaydar was telling me that he may be either closeted or bisexual.
My suspicions were confirmed when I walked over and stood beside him. His face reddened brightly as he stared at the bulge hidden under the towel. I had gotten semi-erect thinking about the possibility of Trent being gay. He let out a slight gasp when I dropped the towel and reached down and put on my underwear. His hands shook as he pretended to read an email on his phone. I pulled on my pants and sat down beside him.
“Can you change my bandages?” I asked.
He looked over nervously and replied, “Yeah, sure. I’ll be right back.” I smiled when I noticed a nice erection protruding from the front of his pants.
I was waiting when there was a tap on my door. It opened and Hayden peeked in. “Are you up?” he asked. “I thought I heard the shower running.”
“Yeah, I’m up,” I smiled. Just seeing him instantly brightened my day. I patted the side of the bed. “Come sit down. Trent is going to change my bandages.”
Hayden watched intently as I gently removed the bandages. “Does it hurt?” he asked.
I smiled and replied, “Only when I laugh.”
A somber looked appeared on his face. “Are you glad he’s dead?”
“Pastor Simpson?” He nodded his head.
“In a way, I wish he had lived.”
“Because he took the easy way out,” I explained. “Now he’ll never have to answer for what he did to you, me and many other boys. He caused a lot of people a lot of pain.”
“Yeah,” replied Hayden, “But I’m still glad he’s dead.”
Just then, Trent returned to the room carrying a first aid kit. He stopped and smiled when he saw Hayden and I sitting closely together. “I see you’re up,” he said to Hayden.
“I wanted to see Matt before school starts,” he replied.
I looked over and asked, “Where do you go to school?” I wondered if he had attended school while staying with Pastor Simpson.
“Here,” he replied. I gave him a puzzled look.
Trent sat down and explained that the center has three teachers who taught the basic subjects. He said that since many of the young people come to the center on a short-term basis, it was nearly impossible to keep track of their school records. Therefore, they were taught by licensed teachers while they remained at the center, and most school accepted the work they did.
As he explained it, my main thought was how differently my life may have turned out if I had been offered something like this when I was Hayden’s age.
Trent told Hayden to go to breakfast and then get ready for school. He leaned down and kissed me on my cheek as he left. Trent smiled when he was gone and remarked, “He really trusts you. When he first came here, he had a lot of issues. I’ve seen a big change in him since meeting you yesterday.”
I sadly replied, “I guess we share a similar past.”
Trent puzzled me when he replied, “I think it’s more than that.”
I asked, “What do you mean?”
“I don’t know,” he replied. “It’s like you’re brothers.” I turned away so he couldn’t see the tears forming in my eyes. We spent the next few minutes in silence as he took care of my wounds. I kept wondering just how long this was going to last. For the first time in five years, I was happy. And for a reason I can’t explain, I felt loved.
Trent asked, “What are you thinking?”
“Why?” I replied as tears started to fall down my cheek. “Why did you and Hayden have to come into my life?”
He gave me a puzzled look. “What are you talking about?”
I rose and started pacing around the room. I ran my hands though my hair. “I don’t know,” I cried. “I’m just afraid I’m going to lose what I’m feeling right now.”
Trent rose and approached me. He hesitated before holding out his arms. “Come here,” he smiled. “Someone needs a hug.” I fell against him, cradled my head in his neck and cried.
He said soothingly, “It’s going to be okay, Matt.”
I pulled away. “No, it won’t,” I insisted. “You have no idea what my life has been like.”
He laughed and replied, “I deal with people every day with problems like you’ve been through. Besides, you don’t know anything about me.”
“What is to know,” I replied sarcastically. “Rich boy born with a silver spoon in his mouth. You lived in a big house, and your parent bought you a car when you turned sixteen. You probably took the prettiest girl in school to the prom.”
He gave me an angry look. “You really think that?”
“Look at you,” I replied as I scanned his body. “You’re good looking, well-dressed and intelligent. Of course, you had it all.”
He stood and stared at me. “You just described yourself.”
“Bullshit!” I replied as I ran my hands through my hair. “I’ve lived on the streets since I was sixteen. I’ve done stuff that you would never dream doing.”
He walked over and sat on the bed. He placed his head in his hands and muttered softly, “I was raped by a neighbor for over a year when I was ten. I was too afraid to say anything because he told me he would kill me and my parents if I said told anyone.”
I sat on the bed beside him. “God, Trent, I’m sorry.” I put my arm around him as he pressed his body to mine. “I’m sorry I said all those things about you.”
He looked at me and smiled. “Some of it was true. Well, except I didn’t take the prettiest girl to the prom.”
Instinctively, I knew he had just come out to me. I raised an eyebrow, smiled and responded, “Really?”
He laughed and replied, “My boyfriend wouldn’t have like it.”
“Really?” I asked. I was curious. “Is he still around?”
“God, no,” he laughed. “He was the biggest cheat in school. I found out he was sleeping with about three other guys while we were dating.”
“What about you?” he asked. “Did you have a high school boyfriend?”
“No,” I responded sadly. I then spent the next few minutes briefly explaining what had happened to me when I was sixteen. I told him about Ricky kissing me and about how all my troubles began when I tried to protect Charles. He became visibly angry when I told him about what happened with Pastor Simpson.”
“That son of a bitch ruined so many lives,” he stated angrily. “We’ve had to deal with a number of boys who he tried to convert. Hayden isn’t the only one who has come to the center because of him.”
Trent’s phone beeped with a text message. He read it and said, “I have to go to my office right away. Why don’t you walk with me to the cafeteria and get some breakfast.” He took my arm and led me to the door. Before exiting, he stopped me. “Matt, what I told you is just between us, okay?”
“Sure,” I smiled. “You can trust me.”
“Good,” he replied as he threw his arm around my shoulder as we walked down the hall.
I went into the small cafeteria while Trent headed to his office. There were six tables. Three girls were sitting at one table, and seven boys were sitting at two others. I noticed a middle-aged man sitting alone at another. I assumed he was either a counselor or teacher. Hayden asked me to sit beside him, but the man looked up and shook his head. I walked over and sat at the table with him.
He questioned me as soon as I sat down. “Who are you?” he asked. I explained that I had been invited by Trent to spend the night.
“Why?” he asked.
I started to tell him it wasn’t his business, but I remembered where I was. He was only trying to protect the young people who were eating. I held out my hand to him. “I’m Matt Stevens,” I said. He reluctantly shook my hand.
“I know who you are,” he informed me. “I’m Mr. London, the executive director of New Morning Center. Trent cleared it with me last night to get my permission for you to stay.” He looked around the room. “We can’t be too careful who we let into the building.”
“I mean no harm, Sir,” I responded. “I’ll be leaving as soon as I eat.”
He chuckled and replied, “I’m sorry to come off so abrupt, Matt. Trent and I had a conversation this morning, and you’re welcomed to stay as long as you like.” He looked over at Hayden and smiled. “He tells me that Hayden has adopted you as his big brother.”
Tears filled my eyes as I looked at Hayden as he was laughing at something someone said. “Yes, Sir, he has.” Just then, a large woman brought two plates to the table filled with eggs, bacon and toast.
“Here you are, Mr. London,” she said politely as she put the plates down and hurried off.
We ate silently for a minute before Mr. London spoke softly. “Trent informed me what happened in Mr. Laird’s office yesterday.” He smiled and added, “He said you put on quite a performance.”
“I didn’t like the bullshit they were trying to pull,” I replied.
He laughed and replied, “You have no idea how many meetings I’ve attended where I wanted to tell someone to go to hell.” He looked again at Hayden. “Thank you for protecting Hayden.” As if he heard us, Hayden raised his head, looked over and smiled.
He looked at me worriedly. “Trent tells me that you are presently…how can I say this…down on your luck.”
My face reddened as I replied, “Yes, Sir.” I wasn’t sure how much Trent had told him. Until a few minutes ago, Trent knew very little of my life.
He smiled and said, “Perhaps we can find something around here for you to do.”
I raised my head and asked, “Really? That would be great.” The prospect of getting a job and being able to stay with Trent and Hayden was more than I could ever expect.
He replied, “When you finish eating, go to the receptionist in the lobby and ask her for a job application. When you finish, I’ll personally go over it.”
I smiled and stuck out my hand. “Thank you, Mr. London. I can’t begin to thank you enough.”
“I’m a good judge of character, Matt,” he said. “I think you’ll do fine here at New Morning.” He rose from the table. “I hope to see you again soon.” I looked over at Hayden and smiled. He gave me a puzzled look. I’m sure he was wondering what I was so happy about.
Unfortunately, the happy feeling didn’t last long. As I was finishing my meal, Trent entered the cafeteria and sat down beside me. “You have to come with me, Matt,” he informed me.
“Sergeant Lattimore is waiting in my office,” he replied worriedly. “He wants to talk to you.”