What happens when two lonely boys meet in a shopping mall food court?
Note: Explicit language and graphic descriptions in this chapter.
“I’m sorry to kill your mood, Josh. You’re so happy. I love seeing you that way. But I need to tell you more. I’m sorry.”
“Don’t worry about me. Just talk, if that’s what you need to do. Go ahead. Bryan.”
“Okay. I stopped last time where I’d just got back into the baby clothes store. I felt really excited. It had worked. I’d figured out a way to do that, and it had worked.
“I slipped inside and shut the door as quickly as I could. The emotional change in a few seconds was amazing. I was getting terrified when I was outside, terrified I was going to break the string, that I would be stuck outside, and then suddenly everything’s fine. I was really relieved, and really pumped. I quickly made sure the store and office were empty. They were. Then I checked where I’d marked the boxes on the top shelf. None of them had been moved. That made me wonder a bit, and I took a couple of them down and opened them, curious what was inside.
“When I opened them, one had baby bibs, the other more blankets. It was labeled “Receiving Blankets”, whatever that meant. They just looked like more little blankets to me. I was hoping, by looking at what was in them, I’d have some idea about when the boxes might be moved. Seeing bibs and receiving blankets didn’t exactly clear up that question.
“But I did know they hadn’t been moved. That made me think maybe my stuff would be safe there. Even if someone did reach up and take down a box, that didn’t mean my duffle bag would be seen. The shelf was way higher than normal eye level, and I’d only seen women clerks. None of them would be able to see the back of that shelf unless they stood on something.
“I was feeling confident. So far, things had been working out pretty well. I’d tried things that I’d never done before and, by thinking them through in advance, somehow they’d worked out. That gives you confidence. Well, it gave me confidence. It made me feel pretty good.”
Bryan stopped and smile, and Josh reached over and touched his arm but didn’t interrupt.
“I’d never been on my own before, never tried to survive mostly by my wits. This was entirely new. It was both scary and exciting. The scary part was fading a little as I kept being successful. I wasn’t sure it would last, but right then, I felt pretty good.”
Bryan paused, then turned and looked at Josh. “Look, I’ve been telling you what happened sort of minute by minute, giving you a lot of detail. I think I’ve wanted to relive this a little. Up to now, things had been new, and exciting, and I’d been getting by and it seemed like some sort of adventure. It was as though I had a lot going on, and most of it was working out. But in the background, in my head, you have to realize there was this anxiety—worry, really—and it never entirely went away. My father was part of it, and the fact I was 14 and knew this wasn’t right, the way I was living, that was there in my head too.”
Bryan stopped to breathe for a moment before continuing.
“I never was able to settle down completely and not worry. I was eating a lot of hamburgers and junk like chips and fries and drinking mostly just colas and I’d never eaten like that before and my stomach felt funny a lot of the time. I didn’t know if that was just nerves; it could have been, but it could have been the food, and I just didn’t know. Anyway, what I’m trying to say is, this might all sound really exciting and kind of fun, but underneath, it wasn’t. Underneath, I was a scared little boy who wanted to go home to Mommy. And Mommy was dead. And Dad had wanted to rape me. And nothing made any sense, and I kept going between feeling I was on top of things to being scared shitless, and I had no idea what was going to happen next. I wasn’t really living day by day, it was more like by the minute, and the only time I felt I had it all together and safe was when I was at school.
“I guess what I’m saying is, when I got in that room that night, and I checked those boxes, what I did next, I’m not ashamed about. What I did was, I sat in one of those chairs at the worktables and suddenly everything caught up to me. It hit me and I cried. I was sort of wiped out. I sat down, and suddenly I was just overcome. I’d been thinking I wouldn’t get into the room, that the string would break, and then I did get in, and then I realized, sitting alone in this room was what I was calling a big success, and looking around, realizing that this, this sort of messy shop storeroom, this was success for me. Suddenly it all hit home. I was illegally in the back room of some store, all by myself, sleeping on some blankets, having almost nothing at all going for me, and I was getting away with it, and that was a success. I thought about other kids home in bed, with two parents who loved them, and I just lost it. I cried, and the more I cried, the harder I cried, and I couldn’t stop. It wasn’t a good time for me, Josh. It was about as bad as I can ever remember anything being.”
Bryan’s voice was husky, and Josh, hearing the despair when Bryan was talking, and the emotion, had tears in his eyes as well. He rolled over and put his arms around Bryan and hugged him, hard.
Bryan hugged him back. They held each other. Somehow, they ended up flat on the bed, no longer up against the headboard. They weren’t side by side. Josh was almost on top of Bryan, but not entirely. He was partially on his side, and they were squeezing each other.
Eventually, Bryan relaxed. When Josh felt that, felt his grip loosen, he eased up, too. Bryan wiggled a little, and Josh rolled off enough so Bryan could wriggle his way up against the headboard again.
“I’m sorry, Josh. I got a little carried away there.”
“You’re entitled. And I’m glad you’re not too embarrassed to show me. Go on.”
“Okay. Well, I calmed down eventually. I felt lousy, but at least I wasn’t sobbing any more. But it made me realize again this wasn’t just a game. I faced what was going on a little more squarely. I realized I had to have some sort of plan. I couldn’t just live like this indefinitely. This had to be leading toward something. I thought about it, thought about where I was going, and realized then that the only thing that made sense was to get back together with Dad. I didn’t know if that was possible. Or even if I wanted to. I had real mixed feelings about that. But I knew it was the best thing I could think of. I wanted him to be the way he was before, and if he could be like that, and I could somehow forget what had happened and trust him again, and if all that could happen, then maybe we could go on living together. But right then, all I wanted to do was go to sleep.
“So, I fixed up a bed just like I’d done the night before. Then I went to sleep.”
Bryan stopped, not saying anything else for a full minute. Then he resumed by saying, “Josh, I can keep going with this, with how I felt every minute, with what I did, but I don’t want to do that. I spent almost three weeks that way, sleeping in the store, going to school, doing homework in the mall, going through mood swings. I guess I grew up a little. After a couple weeks of this, I didn’t feel like I was 14 any longer. I felt a lot older. Anyway. There were only three more important things about all this I need to talk about. One, my father never called the school, and I never made an effort to call him. There were lots of reasons for that. I was scared, I didn’t know what to say, I didn’t know what he’d say, and, well, I felt lots of uncertainty—there were lots of reasons. One of them was that I was an insecure kid. Two, on the Friday night before I met you, my duffle bag was missing. I haven’t seen it since then. Three, well, I need to tell you about Eric. First though, the duffle bag.
“Friday nights the mall stayed open till 11. Some of the stores still closed at 9:30 and the baby clothes store was one of those. The mall itself was still open, along with several larger stores, and the movie theater, of course. I was tired and didn’t want to wait till 11 to get settled and sleep. I think I was burning a lot of nervous energy, or maybe it was what I was eating, but anyway, I always seemed very tired at night. Anyway, I checked the alley and it was empty. I’d got pretty fast with the door by now. I opened it and went into the back room about 10, like usual.
“I always checked the office first, just in case, then went to check the duffle bag, which by now was routine.
“And it wasn’t there. I just stared for a moment. I couldn’t believe it. The boxes had all been moved, and the duffle bag was gone. I didn’t know what to do. It had all my stuff in it, all my clothes, my blanket, the breakfast food I’d been eating, some private stuff from home like a picture of my mother and some favorite books, my shampoo and toothbrush and towel and stuff like that. And it was all gone.
“I started to panic. I needed that stuff. I couldn’t get by without some of those things, and didn’t have the money to buy new ones. And then another thought occurred to me, what the duffle bag being gone meant. It meant they knew I’d been there. Some people, and I had no idea who they were, knew someone had been in that room, and they probably guessed he’d be coming back there again. Maybe right then.
“I almost ran out of the back door when I realized that. But then, I knew I was alone there right at that moment. If anyone thought someone was sleeping here, wouldn’t they have someone watching, waiting to catch them? And no one was there but me. So maybe they only knew they’d found a duffle bag. They had no idea where it came from. They didn’t know how long it had been there. Maybe when they found it, they searched the store to see if someone was hiding there. I didn’t know, but it didn’t seem to have occurred to them that someone was sleeping there at night. I didn’t know what they thought about the stuff in the bag.
“I thought that probably I should find a new place to sleep, just to be safe, but that didn’t seem so important right then. Right then, I was having to swallow the loss of that bag, and as that truly sank in, it sort of overwhelmed me. That stuff was all I had to get by with, and to remind me of home, and I really felt empty without it. It was all my stuff. And it was gone.”
He wanted to stop at that point, but he forced himself to go on. He wanted to be done with this more than anything.
“I’d broken down a couple weeks earlier. I didn’t now, but I may have felt just as bad. This really, really hurt. I thought about just giving up. Going to talk to someone. I thought about Dr. Collins. I didn’t really know him, but he seemed nice and other kids said he was. But there was something else inside me, too, something that made me want to stick it out. I’d had other problems and solved them. I had a little bit of pride in me that made me want to work through this, to keep going until I absolutely couldn’t any longer. Even though I felt terrible about losing the bag, I hadn’t reached that final point yet, and I knew it. I also knew now, I had to get some money. I had to buy new stuff, new clothes, toiletries, whatever I needed, and food also. I had to get some money.
“Instinctively, I knew I couldn’t steal it. I’d tell someone about my problems before I’d do that. That’s not who I am.
“But another way to make money occurred to me. I didn’t like it either, but I was desperate and I knew I had to do something. This was all happening at once. I had run out of money the day before so the only food I’d had today was at lunch, and I couldn’t afford a lunch ticket for next week, and I still had the weekend in front of me. I’d lost everything else I had, and I could only think of one way to make some money pretty quickly.
“There were always lots of kids at the mall. Lots of teenagers. Teenage boys are horny. All the time. You ask any teen boy if he’d like a blowjob, what are they going to think? ‘Bet your ass I do.’ That’s what they’re going to think. And some of them would be willing to say it out loud. And, more importantly, pay for it, if the offer was there. I was sure of that. I’m a teenager. I understand about horny, about thinking about blowjobs, about wondering what one would be like. And I know a lot of those guys have money and can get it from their parents whenever they want it. So I decided if I had to have money, I knew what to do to get it. And I had to have money.”
Bryan stopped. He refused to look at Josh. His eyes, as Josh looked at them, were empty, like he’d seen them at the mall when they’d first met.
Josh had no idea what to say, and so he did the best thing he could do. He remained silent. He did put a hand on Bryan’s arm, though, and this kept it there. He wanted Bryan to be certain that he wasn’t being rejected.
Eventually, Bryan resumed speaking. “OK, I have to go back again now. I’ve just been talking about that Friday night. I told you a moment ago I needed to tell you about Eric. He was part of this from the beginning. I told you already about meeting him that first day, and that we weren’t really friends. He was a guy I knew. Then he gave me money. He knew I was having a major problem, but didn’t push me to tell him what it was. He would come up to me every day at school, after that first lunch, and ask if I was all right. His eyes told me a lot, more than anything else. He cared. He’s special, Josh. He’s a special guy. And he kept giving me more money. If he hadn’t, I wouldn’t have been able to eat. He gave me more. And I didn’t even ask for it. I didn’t ask, he somehow knew, and he gave it to me. He kept me going. He was so kind. I didn’t really know him, and he was doing this for me.”
Bryan’s voice broke as he said this, and then he was crying.
“Bryan! Stop. This is too hard. Stop.”
“No. I’m okay,” Bryan said between sobs. “Give me a sec. I need to do this. I have to.”
Bryan shuddered, then gasped a couple times, and then began calming down. He was silent for a another few moments, then started again.
“It was like, I’d use his money to eat, then run out, and somehow he could sense that I hadn’t eaten that day, and he’d give me more. I don’t know how he knew, but he knew. And he didn’t say anything. He just gave me the money and walked away.
“I can’t tell you how that made me feel. I was so grateful, and I hated myself for taking it, and I was humiliated, and I felt so thankful, and, well, I was mixed up. But each time he gave it to me, I hated it more, but took it. And every time, I grew stronger in thinking I had to stop taking his money. I was reaching a point where I couldn’t let him do it any more. I couldn’t. It was charity, and why should he do it, and what did it say about me? It said I was willing to take charity rather than somehow solve my own problems. The more I allowed him to bail me out, the worse I felt. And more grateful. It was awful. I can’t explain it, Josh. But I knew it couldn’t continue. I couldn’t let it. It was eating me up. But what could I do?”
Bryan sat up straighter. “I needed money to eat. Most everything else, I’d figured out a way to do it. But I had to eat, and that took money. I couldn’t get a job. I’m not old enough and didn’t have the time and don’t have any skills and didn’t even have access to my birth certificate and, well, I couldn’t. I thought about it, even turned in an application where they hire kids, but I couldn’t.
“But I finally decided, I couldn’t take any more money from Eric. I felt awful about the money he’d already given me. I tried to tell him that and almost broke down, and I hate that. I hate crying. Somehow, you’re the only one I can cry in front of that I don’t feel like a complete and total loser. I don’t understand that, but it’s true. Not that I like it, I don’t, but it doesn’t destroy me like it does with other people. I don’t get it, but there it is. It just is.
“Anyway. I had got to a point where I had all this bubbling up in me. I had run out of money on Friday. It was part of why I felt so shaken that the duffle bag was missing. I was out of money and then suddenly out of everything else. I slept that night, and then it was Saturday. And I decided, finally. I knew how I was going to get money to replace the stuff I’d lost, and how to get money to eat. First, I was going to tell Eric I wasn’t going to take any more of his money.
“I met Eric at the mall, and he knew I was hungry. I don’t know how. He knew. Eric had come and found me. We were at the food court. He wanted to buy me lunch. I wouldn’t let him, though that was really hard. I hadn’t eaten since lunch the day before. He tried to give me money. I refused. We were arguing about it. He asked me how I was going to eat. I told him I’d figured it out. I was going to get money the only way I could. I’d sell myself. I was going to do sex things with other kids, and get money for it. I hadn’t planned to tell him. We were both angry. I didn’t tell him about the duffle bag. Somehow I couldn’t. I thought if I started talking about that, I’d break down. But we argued, I got angry and told him I was going to sell sex to kids, hand jobs, blowjobs, whatever they wanted. To kids.”
Josh felt he had to say something, had to comment on this, and sat up to do so, but stopped himself. He didn’t know why, but something stopped him. He sank back down, and was quiet.
Bryan stopped. Then he turned and looked at Josh, a look on his face that combined pain and embarrassment and innocence.
Josh looked up at Bryan, and awareness suddenly made his eyes go wide. “That’s why you approached my table! You came over to proposition me!”
Bryan looked down at the bed. He couldn’t have met Josh’s eyes if his life depended on it. He felt very, very small.
Josh wasn’t thinking about that at all. The situation seemed anything but embarrassing to him. The remnants of the feelings he had had all day remained with him. He’d been euphoric only minutes ago, and though he realized Bryan was going through a traumatic emotional moment and he empathized with him, he himself couldn’t completely forget his wonderful day. He was still felt some of the high he’d been on, and then this. This was thrilling and intimate and sexy and like nothing he’d ever thought about. Bryan was feeling the despair of the decision he’d made. Josh was thinking of all the other aspects. He was immediately thinking of the various permutations of the situation, thinking of the possibilities, and a smile formed on his lips. Then he realized Bryan wasn’t saying anything, and noticed his discomfort, if not the extent of his emotions.
Josh was too keyed up over the entire situation to look at this from Bryan’s perspective, to be the least bit comforting. Instead, he was unable to prevent his exuberance from having free rein.
“So what were you going to do? How had you decided to play it? Let’s see, you sat down and started talking to me. But you didn’t say anything like what you were thinking. Why not? Why didn’t you just say, ‘Hey, kid, you want a blowjob? $20 bucks!’ ”
Now Bryan was really feeling uncomfortable. He’d just shared with Josh a terribly emotional ordeal he’d experienced, but Josh was in his own world, oblivious. He’d never even thought about something like this. Bryan was remembering the reality of the situation. To Josh, it was all a fantasy. A wonderful, sexy fantasy.
“I wonder what I’d have said,” Josh continued. “I’d have been shocked and probably just blushed. But no, maybe not. Maybe I’d have looked at you and said, ‘$20, huh? Is it worth that? Are you sure you can give me my money’s worth? I’m a pretty discriminating shopper, you know.’ I’d have looked at you and told you I’d have to have references. I’d have asked, ‘How am I to know whether it’s worth $20? Maybe it should be worth only $15. Or even $10.’” He giggled, then blushed. “I probably would have asked for a free sample, just to see whether it was going to be worth the money!”
Josh gushed on, mentioning a possible two-for-the-price-of-one sale and other options. Bryan was going through a strange feeling of catharsis. He’d been close to the edge. He’d felt overwhelming guilt earlier, wrestling with Josh on the lawn and then hearing Josh praise him, as though he were this super kid who could only be good, could only do wonderful things for Josh. He’d heard that and, out of respect for Josh, for their friendship, knew he couldn’t keep what he really was secret any longer.
He’d preached honesty as the basis of a strong friendship to Josh; now it had become his turn to come clean, to be honest. So, he’d told him. But Josh was not acting as he expected. Bryan didn’t know what he’d expected, but it certainly wasn’t this. Humor? Parody? Teasing? This was ridiculous! Bryan couldn’t help it; he was losing his feeling of embarrassment, of humiliation, as Josh rambled on.
Bryan had been thinking of how horrible he was, someone who had no moral fiber at all, one who would be willing to perform blowjobs for money. What could be worse than that? How could he hold his head up, when anyone knew? That’s what he’d been feeling. And Josh wasn’t seeing that at all. Josh was totally ignoring that. Bryan didn’t understand it, but the more Josh enjoyed the situation he was playing up, the more Josh kidded and teased about it, Bryan actually found himself being swept up into Josh’s fantasy. Seeing Josh so excited, seeing how much he was enjoying this imaginative scenario, how he seemed to have no feeling at all about how Bryan was such a terrible person, such a morally unworthy, low scum of a person who would attempt to proposition him, the sting of his embarrassment, his emotional angst, simply began to evaporate.
He’d thought Josh would be seeing him for what he was, should be wanting nothing more to do with him. The fact he didn’t, the fact he could totally ignore how debased he’d been and show it by laughing and joking about what he’d been trying to do, showed more than anything else he could have done that he didn’t find Bryan contemptible at all. He just thought the situation was funny!
Bryan’s mood lightened. Hesitantly, he decided he could play along. If Josh could treat this so lightly why couldn’t he, as well?
“$10? You think I’d blow anyone for $10? Hell, I wouldn’t even rub their crotch for that, let alone give them a blowjob. Now of course, for you, you’re kind of small you know, so maybe I could have worked on some sort of discount. Guys with big schlongs, that would probably take more effort on my part. More work. Little guys like you, I’d guess it isn’t as much work.”
Bryan had a big grin on his face, much of it due to the relaxation of feelings he’d experienced, and he reached over and poked Josh in the ribs, trying to tickle him. He knew he was taking a chance, saying what he said. He’d seen how Josh reacted in the dressing room to personal teasing. But Josh was in a happy, teasing mood himself, and Bryan wanted to play along with him about this. It was a lot easier than being too serious. It actually was a huge relief. A welcome one.
“Hey, how do you know I don’t have a big one? I think I’m probably a 25-, maybe even a 30-dollar customer!”
“Yeah, fat chance! We’re the same age and about the same size, Josh, and I sure don’t have a big one. About ordinary, from what I’ve seen after gym.” Bryan wiggled his eyebrows to show he was still playing the game.
Josh normally would have been too embarrassed to talk about anything like this, but he was feeling very comfortable right then, and a little daring. He’d never had anything like an intimate conversation with another boy, certainly never discussed sex at all, but he felt a special closeness to Bryan, and he was enjoying this immensely.
“Well, I guess you’ll never know. You chickened out on making your sales pitch!”
Bryan could easily have had his mood darken, thinking that he didn’t really chicken out, his talk with Josh had simply not gone as he’d expected it to, he’d been too nervous and his resolve had failed him and he’d begun telling his story as a way of avoiding what he’d come to the table to do, and then he’d found himself warming to Josh and Josh had been so kind to him that the whole propositioning thing just hadn’t happened.
When he’d started telling his story, he’d discovered he couldn’t stop, that he desperately needed to tell it to someone. And, he thought, he’d been unbelievably lucky and things had worked out better for him than he ever could have dreamed. He didn’t let himself start thinking about the depressing side of this, what hadn’t happened. What in fact had happened was all positive.
He was enjoying the current line of conversation, however, and wanted it to continue. “Yeah, you’re right, I’ll never know, but think how lucky I am: I don’t have to look at that thing!”
“You don’t know what you’re missing!” said Josh, his cocky talk surprising himself more than it did Bryan.
Both boys started laughing, and then Bryan reached over and began tickling Josh, who responded by attacking Bryan, rolling over on top of him and trying to pin his arms. Bryan was laughing too hard to effectively fight back but was able to wiggle onto his side. The boys wrestled around on the bed until finally Bryan ended up on top. He pinned Josh’s arms up above his head, in the process lowering his face so it was only about a short distance over Josh’s. The two boys were suddenly looking into each other’s eyes. Both stopped laughing, and Josh stopped squirming. They stared at each other for a good 30 seconds. They each saw emotions, complicated emotions, coming from the other.
Bryan suddenly rolled off and leaned up against the headboard. Josh paused, then hunched himself up so he was against the headboard too, his upper arm against Bryan’s. Neither boy spoke.
Eventually, Josh did speak. But he didn’t look at Bryan when he did. His eyes were straight ahead, his voice soft and hesitant.
“Bryan, can you tell me? Why me? Why did you choose me to ask? You said you decided you were going to pick someone. You said you were arguing with Eric, he didn’t want you to do this, but you had decided you had to do it anyway, and you were going to choose someone. That’s the argument I was watching, wasn’t it?”
Bryan didn’t like where this was going, but didn’t see how he could just not answer, and he certainly didn’t feel he could lie to Josh now. “Yeah, he was really unhappy with me.”
“So that means, after he left, you chose me. That means you’d never done this before. I was going to be the first. Why me?”
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