What happens when two lonely boys meet in a shopping mall food court?
Note: Explicit language and graphic descriptions in this chapter.
Josh had had to think before answering Bryan. But it all made such good sense, and it was so much what he wanted, had wanted for a long time. So, he’d screwed up his resolve and told Bryan he’d try. And he’d decided this was the time to begin.
“Bryan, it’ll be hard for me. I never really share my thoughts with anyone, or open myself up to them. But I’m going to try. I want this so badly. I’ve never had a best friend.”
“I haven’t either. So it’s new for me, too. I hold a lot of stuff inside me that I want to talk about, too. With someone who won’t laugh at me or think badly of me for what I say. We can learn how to do this together. Let me ask you a question. Why did you get so upset when I said I wanted to pick out my own shoes?”
Josh never would have answered this question truthfully before. He didn’t want to now, but knew he had to if they were going to try to make this work. This was a test, and he had to pass it.
“When you said that, it made me think you didn’t want me around. I’ve heard that a lot before, guys thinking I was a nuisance and telling me to get lost. That’s just the way it felt, when you said that.”
Bryan smiled, and his whole face lit up. “Josh, that’s neat! Look what you just said. You told me how you felt! How you really felt. What did that feel like, to do that?”
“A little scary. But good, too. It makes me feel freer.”
“Good. It also lets us talk about what’s real. Now I can react to what you were really feeling. I can tell you I didn’t mean it that way. I was only thinking about how I was feeling. I was embarrassed about you spending so much money on me. Even with what you’ve said about that, it’s still embarrassing. Now I’m going to say something, and I don’t want you feeling hurt. Just listen to it, then say something. All right?”
“OK, it’s this. You keep telling me it’s all right for you to buy me stuff, not to be embarrassed, and I keep telling you that I am. But you seem to ignore that. I am embarrassed, and just telling me why I shouldn’t be doesn’t really stop it. I finally got a little upset in the shoe store because you seemed to just be ignoring my feelings.”
Bryan stopped and looked at Josh. He was a little worried. This was direct criticism, not harsh or mean, but it was criticism. Bryan hoped Josh would be able to deal with it. He knew if they were going to be friends, they had to be able to say what they were really thinking and feeling to each other. And to do that, they had to be confident not only of themselves, but of their friend being able to handle and to respond honestly to what he was hearing.
Josh thought about what Bryan was saying. His first reaction was to get defensive, but he forced himself to look at what was said instead of just reacting to it. And in doing this, he saw that Bryan had a valid point. Josh had been ignoring his feelings.
“Bryan,” Josh said, looking him in the eyes, “you’re right. I was doing that. I was so happy being able to help you and I was so sure what I was doing was right that I just ignored how this all seemed to you. I apologize. I thought I was doing the right thing, but I didn’t think it through.”
Bryan got a big smile on his face. Seeing that, Josh did the same thing. They simply smiled at each other for a moment, then Bryan grabbed a slice of pizza and for the next few minutes they ate in silence. A very companionable silence.
When they were about done, Bryan realized Josh had been taking numerous glances at him, then looking away. He was about to say something sarcastic, but then quickly remembered Josh’s reaction in the dressing room to personal teasing and tempered his remark accordingly. He looked at Josh and simply said, “What?”
Josh reddened a little, then said, “Uh, Bryan, can I suggest something?”
“Well, don’t feel insulted or anything, but I think you could use a haircut. There’s a shop in the mall I go to. They’ve got stylists and everything. Can I take you there?”
It was Bryan’s turn to blush a little. “I guess now that we’ve talked about this, it’s my turn to stop protesting so much, isn’t it? Okay. I won’t argue. I hope you know how much I appreciate what you’re doing for me. You probably don’t want to be hearing me say ‘thanks’ all the time. But for right now, I’m going to say it. Imagine me kicking and screaming and digging in my feet as you drag me there, but yes, you can get me to get a haircut, and, thank you.”
Josh smiled again, and they stood up. Josh was going to take their trash but Bryan pointed to one of the cleanup people who was at the next table and would do theirs next. They left the food court and Josh led them to the hair salon.
They walked in and found the place pretty busy. Josh went up to the counter and asked the receptionist if Jerry was busy. Hearing he’d be free in another half hour, Josh had her reserve that time slot for Bryan. Then he told Bryan they had time to get the shoes if they went right now.
This time, Josh made recommendations about what shoes he thought looked good, but was less demanding and allowed Bryan to make the final choice without protesting. As they worked through this, Bryan was able to do some good-natured kidding, and Josh was able to laugh at it and begin to give some back. Both boys were in a very good mood by the time they re-entered the hair salon.
Jerry was Josh’s regular stylist and he was waiting. Josh introduced him to Bryan.
Bryan sat in the chair, and Jerry, a short, convivial and cheerful man in his mid-30’s, a little plump and very animated, walked around him, looking from all angles and pursing his lips in concentration. Eventually, having given the matter some thought, he asked Bryan, “Do you want me to recommend something, or do you know what you want?”
Bryan had never given his hair a lot of thought. His usual look was a sort of sloppy, untended scatter. Lately, he hadn’t had the money or inclination to pay much attention to it, and as he now looked at himself critically in the mirror, he saw his hair had grown into more of a mess than he had intended. He was pushing the unkempt style a lot of boys favored to the extreme.
“What do you think would look good, Jerry? I’ve always just sort of had it cut before, not really styled. I don’t know what to say.”
Jerry’s eyes lit up, and a broad smile brightened his face. “You’re just the kind of customer I like!” he enthused. “Can I just go to work and surprise you? I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.”
Bryan looked to Josh, who smiled and nodded at him.
“OK, Jerry, I guess I’ll trust you. If Josh says it’s all right, then it’s okay with me, too. Do the best you can with the little I’m giving you to work with.” He grinned, and Jerry grinned back at him.
Jerry threw a sheet over Bryan and tucked it in around his neck.
“How long will this take?” asked Josh. “I was going to check the bookstore and hit the restroom.”
“Probably between a half hour and 45 minutes. You’ve got plenty of time.” Jerry was already preparing for a shampoo.
“Okay. Bryan, I’ll be back soon.”
Bryan waved from under the sheet. He watched as Josh left the salon and took off for the bookstore.
Josh loved Roennert’s. It was a large bookstore with shelves on the walls and racks of books along the aisle with a space in the middle of the store with comfortable chairs where people read books and magazines. It had CD and DVD sections, and even a coffee, juice and soft drink bar. There was always a mix of shoppers from little kids through teens to adults of all ages. It did a good business, and Josh always felt comfortable there. Today he looked through the fantasy and science fiction sections, then at recent novels and biographies. He read anything and everything, enjoying much more than just teen fiction.
He didn’t see anything that especially appealed to him, anything that he wanted to buy, and after spending several minutes just looking through many of the sections of the store, drifted back out into the mall. He walked past the salon, looking in to see Jerry now wielding his scissors and talking nonstop as he clipped away, then made his way to the restrooms.
He was in no hurry but eventually reached a men’s room that was off the main hallway and was one of the less crowded ones in the mall, and so one Josh preferred. Today it was empty when he walked in. He glanced at himself in the mirror, then stepped to the last urinal in a row of four to relieve himself.
He’d been there for maybe half a minute when the door of the restroom opened. Josh turned his head to glance at who was coming in and was a little startled to see the three boys Bryan had previously pointed out to him in the food court. When the largest one had looked around briefly, he said something quietly to the youngest looking, and that boy left the restroom.
Josh was peeing, and the two remaining boys walked towards him. They walked all the way to him, and the younger of the two stepped right up to him and looked down, watching him pee. Josh felt very unsettled by this. This was not normal restroom courtesy, and he was all alone. Being alone with older teens was always scary until he knew they weren’t hostile. The arrogant and aggressive behavior of these two, invading his personal space so abruptly, immediately scared him.
Josh felt intimidated, which he expected he was supposed to feel. As quickly as possible, he stopped peeing and reached to tuck himself in. As quickly as he reached however, the boy next to him grabbed his arms, pulled them back uncomfortably and forcibly turned him around. Josh was now standing with his back to the urinal, his arms being held and his penis hanging out of his pants.
The larger of the pair stepped forward and looked down at Josh, studying him and his dick. Then he reached down and took hold of it. He squeezed it gently, then moved it up and down a couple times. Josh was too scared to get aroused, but he realized arousal was the other boy’s intention.
The boy let his penis go and looked at him some more. Then he said, “Hey kid, how’d you like to suck on me for a while? You’re kind of cute. I’d like that.”
He was looking at Josh with no real emotions showing on his face. Josh knew that his fear was showing on his face. His heart was racing, his breath was coming in small, shallow and rapid gasps, and his mind was racing. He didn’t answer, just shook his head no.
The larger boy just looked at him for a second, then said, “This can go easy for you, kid, or hard. I don’t care either way. But if you don’t cooperate, we’re going to mess you up real bad. That’s what we do. And you look awfully easy to me. Won’t take me any time at all, and you’re going to be hurting real bad. It’s up to you.”
The larger boy reached and again took Josh’s penis in his hand and repeated what he’d done earlier. This time he pulled a little more and his squeezing was a little rhythmic. Against his will, through his fear, Josh felt himself responding just a little.
“I know you’ll like sucking me, kid. Everyone does. Kids suck me all the time. Let’s go in one of those stalls. I’ll keep playing with you, and you can suck me. Let’s go.”
With that, he let go and walked to a stall behind him. The kid holding his arms pushed Josh towards him. Josh tried to resist but was outweighed by probably 40 pounds by the larger and older boy holding him. As Josh tried to set his feet, the boy holding him jerked him to show he didn’t like Josh resisting, then simply lifted him slightly and moved him forward.
The older boy loosened his belt, pulled down his jeans and underwear and then sat on the toilet. His dick wasn’t hard but was growing. The boy behind Josh pushed him in front of the seated boy so he was standing between his legs.
The seated boy reached out and started fondling Josh again. “Stroke me awhile,” the boy said. “Get me nice and hard.”
The boy holding his arms let him go, but stayed directly behind him. There was nowhere Josh could go.
He was feeling terror. He was as scared as he’d ever been, and he was experiencing another feeling as well, the same one he had had just before being beaten up by boys at school. It was a feeling of utter defeat, of having no ability to help himself, of powerlessness. He couldn’t think of a single thing to do other than what he was being told to do.
Reluctantly, he leaned over and reached forward and took hold of the seated boy’s penis. He started to rub it, and it began to stiffen.
“Yeah, that’s good,” said the boy, who had resumed his fondling of Josh. “Rub it good awhile. Then you can suck on it. Rub the head a little more. Make it hard.”
Josh was starting to feel queasy. The boy’s hand rubbing him was disturbing, and unfortunately, against anything he wanted, beginning to stimulate him. The idea of taking this boy in his mouth was awful. The feeling he had no ability to stop any of this was tearing at him. He felt like the world’s biggest coward, like he had no will of his own. He knew he should resist. He also had an active imagination and could envision what would happen if he did.
“Yeah, yeah, that’s good. Just a little more now. Just a little more, then you get on your knees. Oh, that’s good.”
Josh heard a zipping noise, and glanced behind him to see the boy there reach into his pants and pull out his own hard-on, which he began to stroke.
“Hey, pay attention here. Don’t worry about him yet. You’re doing me first. This is what’s going to happen. You’re going suck me off, then you’re going to suck him off, then we’re going to take your money. You cooperate, we won’t hurt you. We’ll just leave you here and you’ll be okay. You don’t cooperate, too bad for you. You’ll sure wish you had. Okay, time to get this in your mouth. Get down.”
Without waiting to see if Josh would do so on his own, the boy behind him grabbed his shoulders and pushed him hard down onto his knees. This brought his face to about the level of the erect penis in front of him.
“Okay, lean forward and start licking it. Lick it all over, then take it in your mouth.”
Josh hesitated. He really didn’t want to do this. The thought of the over $400 he had in his pocket flickered through his mind but was instantly forgotten. The boy behind him started to push him forward when the door to the restroom burst open.
“Jim, someone’s coming. A man. Looks like security. Got to get out of here NOW!”
It was the third boy, who Josh realized must have been posted as a lookout. The boy on the toilet stood up abruptly, his erection brushing Josh’s face as he did so. The boy behind him was trying to force his own hard-on back in his pants and the older boy was pulling up his pants with Josh between them unintentionally interfering with both their efforts.
“Get out of the way,” yelled the older boy, but Josh had nowhere to go. The older boy was just finishing buckling his belt when the restroom door slammed open.
An older man wearing a security uniform was standing in the doorway, one hand holding the upper arm of the youngest of the three boys. In the other hand he was holding a two-way radio. He saw one boy working on his pants, the feet of another boy in the stall, and a boy on his knees on the floor in the stall between them, although only the lower part of him could be seen.
The security guard spoke into his radio. “Code 4, Restroom A-8. Code 4, Restroom A-8. Three male teens.”
The boy in the stall door turned and looked at him, fear on his face, and the guard looked back. Then the older boy shoved past Josh, still on his knees, and came out of the stall. The two boys started walking toward the guard. The oldest reached into his pocket and pulled out a knife. With a nasty sounding click, the blade sprung open.
“Old man, you’d better let him go and get out of the way or you’re going to be cut, and maybe dead,” said the older boy. The scariest thing was it was said in a voice with little emotion, a voice with no fear at all. The older boy didn’t show any nervousness as he walked toward the guard, the knife held casually in his hand hanging by his side. There was a silent menace about him.
The two boys were halfway across the room and nearing. The guard stood watching them approach, then opened his hand and let go of the third boy. He then stepped out of the doorway into the restroom, clearing a path for the two boys approaching him. “Okay, he’s free. But I’m not leaving. You can just walk past me. I’m not stopping you. But I’m not leaving that boy in there alone, either. You want to kill me, I guess that’s your choice. But backup will be here in about 35 seconds now. I’d suggest you be real quick about it. They try guys your age as adults nowadays.”
Seeing the doorway open, the three boys didn’t hesitate. They all ran out of the restroom fast, giving neither the guard nor Josh another thought.
Josh slumped forward onto his hands and knees, feeling sick. He was still in that position when the guard sank down into a crouch and put his arm around him.
“You all right? Did they do anything to you? What can I do to help you?”
Josh shook his head and remained on his hands and knees, calming down. Then he pushed off his hands back onto his knees and shakily stood up, the guard helping him. The guard looked at him, then pointed. Josh blushed, then tucked himself back in and zipped up.
“What did they do to you?” the guard asked, compassion in his voice.
Before he could answer, the door flew open and two security officers ran in. They both started asking questions, but the guard who still had his arm around Josh put up his other hand, quieting them.
“Three boys were here, one as a lookout, two molesting this boy. I can give you a description.”
One of the two who’d just rushed in answered. “No need. We caught them. All three. One tried to pull a knife, but we stopped him. His arm might be a little sore tonight. He’s going to be in juvy quite a long while, I think. You’ll have to ID them and write a report. Is this one okay?”
The older guard looked down at Josh. “I think so. We need to get him to the office so we can find out exactly what happened. You okay, son?”
Josh looked down at the floor. He was shaky. He hadn’t been hurt, but now was facing the prospect of talking about what had happened, something he didn’t want to do. Then he remembered he’d been asked a question. He raised his head. “Yeah, I’m okay. They didn’t hurt me. They would have if I had resisted them, they told me so, but they didn’t. You came just in time.”
Then Josh thought of something. “Hey, how did you do that? How did you happen to come here just then?”
The older guard smiled. “It wasn’t luck. Another boy told me something was happening back here. I came to look.”
Just then the door to the restroom opened again, and a very disturbed looking Bryan stepped in.
He saw Josh, and rushed over to him. “What happened? You all right?”
Josh was still feeling the effects of the last few minutes, but was settling down. “Yeah, I guess I am, thanks to you. I guess it was you who called security. How did you know I needed help?”
“Hey guys,” said the older guard. “We have to finish up here. You guys can talk later. We have to get you,” he said, looking at Josh, “to the office so we can get your story down on paper. Your friend can come too. In fact, we need to know why he called us, what he saw. He can give us a statement, too.”
Josh passively started to walk with the men to the security office, Bryan accompanying them. When they left the corridor and were back in the mall itself, Bryan suddenly stopped. “Oh shit,” he said.
One of the guards looked at him. “What?” he asked.
“My hair. I ran out right in the middle of my haircut. I have to go back and get it finished. I’ll come to the security station when I’m done. It’ll only be a few minutes.”
The guard agreed but got Bryan’s name and address before letting him go. Then Bryan headed for the salon and Josh was accompanied to the security office.
That turned out to be a brightly lighted room off a corridor near one end of the mall. There was a counter across the room and a man standing behind it speaking to someone. Josh and his group walked behind the counter and entered an office. A middle-aged man with short hair and an impressive build was sitting at a desk.
The older guard said, “Mike, this is the boy those three kids were bothering. You want me to get his statement, or do you want to do it?”
The man stood up, looked at Josh a moment, then spoke to him. “Sorry about what happened. We need a statement so we can get those guys locked up. I think they’re the ones that have been doing this sort of thing for some time here. We really need to stop them, and you can help. We need a statement. You can give it to me, or to Paul here. I know this is probably very embarrassing, and I’m sorry about that, but you’ll be doing a lot of other kids a very big favor. Can you help us out?”
Josh liked the fact he was being treated respectfully. He looked at the man for a moment, then said softly, “I think I’d be more comfortable talking to Paul.”
“Sure thing. Paul, why don’t you do it in the other office?”
They went to a small room, which a desk and three chairs and several file cabinets completely filled. Paul had Josh sit down next to the desk, then sat himself and took out a blank form.
“Just a sec while I get some stuff on here, you know, date, time, that sort of stuff.” He wrote for a minute, then looked up at Josh.
He had Josh give him his name and address and age, then asked him to tell him exactly what happened. “I know this can be embarrassing, but the more information I have, the better we can do in convicting those guys. If you lie about something, or don’t tell me something, they can use that in court to get things all twisted up. Don’t worry about me. I’ve heard much worse stories than you could ever tell me. It goes with the job. I’ve been doing this a long time. And I’m on your side. I know what happened wasn’t voluntary on your part.”
Josh swallowed. He hated this, but knew he should cooperate. So, summoning all the courage he could, he told Paul exactly what had happened, starting with the boys walking in.
When he was finished, he felt drained. He’d had to relive the entire experience, and had to remember how helpless he’d felt.
Paul stood up and clasped his shoulder. “You know, Josh, I do this all the time. I get reports of incidents several times daily. And this might be the best report I’ve ever taken. Take it from someone who knows something about it, that was really good of you. You showed me an awful lot of courage. You should be proud of yourself.”
Josh looked at him, shocked. Although speaking openly to anyone was not his normal personality, he nevertheless blurted out, “Courage? That’s my big problem. I’m afraid of everything. I didn’t resist those guys at all. I’m not brave. I’m a coward.” He felt tears coming to his eyes.
“Josh! Son, that just isn’t true! It isn’t being brave to fight when you can’t win. It’s being stupid. You had two much bigger guys confronting you. You couldn’t fight them. All that would have resulted in would have been you getting hurt. They’d have still done what they wanted. You weren’t a coward at all. You were brave. And you were smart. A coward never would have told me what really happened in there. He’d have been embarrassed, and so he wouldn’t have given me any details. You were very brave here, giving your statement. Most people just don’t want to do that; they hardly say anything at all. Then in court, there’s very little the prosecution has to work with. You said everything that happened, gave details, and those guys are going to suffer because of it. That took a great deal of courage on your part, courage most people don’t have. You did the right thing at the right time. I mean it, Josh. You should be proud of yourself.”
Josh looked into his eyes and could see warmth and strength there. This made him feel really good. He couldn’t remember an adult telling him he was brave before. Never. Then he remembered something.
“You were even braver. That guy was coming at you with a knife, and you told him you weren’t going to leave me. When I heard that, I couldn’t believe it, and I suddenly didn’t feel so alone and helpless. That was real courage. Thank you.”
There was a knock on the door. Paul stepped over and opened it, then ushered Bryan in.
The two boys looked at each other and smiled. Then Paul had Bryan sit down and asked him what had led up to him calling security.
Bryan thought for a second, arranging what he wanted to say. “I was sitting in the chair, Jerry was talking to me, and I saw Josh walk by and glance in. I watched him walk on by, and then I saw those three walking not far behind him. They were looking in his direction. That worried me, but there wasn’t anything I could do, sitting in that chair. But the more I thought, the more worried I got, and about 30 seconds after they walked out of my sight, I just told Jerry I’d be right back, then threw off the sheet and ran out of the salon. I caught a glance of Josh entering the corridor to the restroom, and then I saw those boys stop and look around, then follow him. I ran after them to the corridor, even took a step down it. I didn’t know what to do. I knew those guys were bad news, I knew Josh was in danger, but what help could I be? So I looked around for a security guard and luckily, you were standing in front of Becker’s, just across the aisle a little bit away. So I ran up and told you there was trouble in the restroom. That’s what I did.”
Paul was writing, and it took him a minute to get it all down. Then he looked up at Bryan. “All right, that’s great. You just didn’t mention one thing. Why, when you saw Josh walk past, then several seconds later saw three guys walk past, did you get so worried? Why did you say you knew it would be bad? You said, ‘I knew those guys were bad news.’ How did you know that?”
Now it was Bryan’s turn to feel uneasy. How was he going to explain this without talking about himself more than he wanted to?
He was trying to figure out what to say when Josh spoke up. “Bryan told me a couple days ago to watch out for those guys, he’s seen them hassling kids before. I guess he just thought they were going to do the same with me.”
Bryan felt some relief. “Yeah, I’d seen them before here. I just thought they might give Josh some trouble.”
Paul looked at Bryan for a second. His experience had taught him when kids were being less than fully honest with him, and he could hear some reservation in both boys’ voices now.
He looked at Bryan a little longer, then said, “You know, you look very familiar. I’ve seen you around here a lot.”
Bryan looked back at him steadily. “Yeah, I’m here all the time. I’ve seen you, too. You always seem friendly. Some of the security guys give kids my age a hard time. You don’t. I appreciate that. So do my friends.”
Paul got a wry grin on his face. He knew when he was being blown off. He looked back at his report. “Anyway, we’ve got everything, I think.” His eyes rose, and then he stood. “I want to thank both you guys. Because of you, we’re going to get three bad dudes out of here for good. You ever need anything here, or are having trouble of any kind, come see me. You’ve got a friend here.” He handed both boys one of his cards.
He shook hands with both boys, then escorted them out of the security office and left them standing in the mall.
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