His story began, simply enough, with a book. More specifically, a notebook. The kind that you could pick up for fifteen cents at a back-to-school sale, with the perforated edges and the college-rule lines. Cameron Jeffries (Cam to his friends, "that dude whose last name is also a first name" to his enemies) had pulled it out of his backpack on the last day of school only to realize that he hadn't used it once. He had been carrying it around for months, and had even labeled it for a specific subject ("6th Gr. Math"), but had never actually used it for anything.
This is what gave him the idea to start a journal.
He had always heard that writing down your thoughts is a good way to get them off of your chest, but he had always been afraid of someone else finding his journal and reading it. With the kind of thoughts he had been having, he was certain that the last thing he needed was someone else finding out about them. However, this was the perfect hiding place. No one would want to read a bunch of math notes, and so long as he carried it around with him in his backpack, no one would find it. Perfect.
He went straight home after school, which was nothing unusual for Cam. He almost always came straight home, threw his stuff into a corner, collapsed into a chair, and let the television rot his brain while he let himself unwind. On this day, however, he ran straight through to his bedroom, slammed the door shut, and pulled out his notebook, proceeding to spill his guts into the pages. It went on that way all through the summer and into seventh grade. Just as he had planned, he kept the notebook hidden in plain view with his other notebooks, where no one would suspect anything.
The older he got, the less often he wrote in his journal. After basically telling his life story he had run out of material. The day-to-day stuff just wasn't that interesting. Sure, he would scribble down anything important that happened, but it was no longer a daily ritual. That is, until one day in January.
He swaggered into his house, teeth wrapped tightly around his tongue. No tears, no sniffling. He knew better than that. Just keep clamping down on the tongue, concentrate on that. Don't ever let them see you cry. He stumbled through to his room and tried to slam the door, but it came out more like a whimper than a bang. No dramatic effect this time. Too bad.
Writing in his journal had become a part of his daily life once again. His parents knew that something was going on, but didn't understand what it was. It was as if he went to bed as the normal, happy Cameron that they had known for these last thirteen years, but had woken up in a pepetual bad mood. He stopped having friends over, stopped going outside to hang around with them, stopped talking all together unless it was absolutely necessary. He seemed to practically drag himself from one place to another, eyes always cast down at the floor. It went on this way for months.
It all came to a head one Saturday in May. It was sunny outside, the temperature perfect. Cam's parents had forced him outside, hoping that the nice weather would cheer him up a bit. With nothing else to do, he just started walking, sticking to the back roads and dirt paths, hoping that no one would see him. He was a few blocks from his house when he felt a hand close on his shoulder and spin him around.
'Just my luck.' He thought, looking up to see who had accosted him.
It was his best friend, Jimmy. Well, former best friend now, he supposed.
"Cam, what the hell?"
"You stop hanging around with me, you stop talking to me, you don't even say hi any more. I could be on fire and you wouldn't even spit in my direction. What the hell?"
"I'm not asking you to be sorry, man. I just want to know what's going on. Did your parents get a divorce or something? Did your favorite uncle die? Did I do something to you? What?"
"Can't tell you. Sorry."
Jimmy looked at Cam, the way his head was lowered, his eyes not meeting his own even once in this whole conversation. His voice was...different. It seemed lower than usual, but it sounded forced, like he was trying to sound tougher than he normally did. It was pitiful.
"Cam, seriously, I'm not going to leave you alone until you tell me. Did somebody threaten you or something? Said that they were going to kick your ass if you told anyone? Just say the word, man, and they're dead."
"Come on, who was it? Jason? Terry? Just nod and those faggots are dead, I swear."
Cam just shuddered and shook his head.
"I...I've got to go."
"I'm going to follow you, then. I'm not leaving until you tell me. Somebody did something to make you this miserable, and I'm going to find out who it was."
"Me, okay? It's my fault, and if you're going to beat anybody up, it should be me! It's not like I don't deserve it."
"Dude, what are you talking about?"
"Ha. Good one. Now seriously, what the hell?"
"I told you."
"Come on, I'm not fallin' for that. I know you're no pervert. I've known you for years, if you were, I would have seen you wearing a dress or something by now."
"I'm a fucking homo, okay!? I've known about it since last year, but I thought I could keep it a secret. Then I starting thinking about you and the guys and...and...I had to stop talking to you, so you wouldn't-"
"Hell no! Fuck! How could I have been friends with a fag? I should have known, the way you were always prancing around the place grinning like a fairy! You were tricking me the whole time! Trying to get me in bed, right?"
"What? No! I mean, I...no, no, never! I never tried to get you to do anything, did I?"
"No, but you thought about it, didn't you? It was just a matter of time until you tried something. I know what your kind is like. They can't help it. I would have bent over to pick up a pencil or something, then WHAM!"
"NO! I never would have-"
"I don't want to hear it. I'm sick of hearing your voice. You can drop the phoney deep voice now. You can just start lisping and prancing around like I know you want to. No need to hide it now."
"You...You're not going to tell anyone, are you?"
"Are you kidding? How could I not tell them? I've got to warn them, don't I? What kind of a friend would I be if I didn't give them the heads up?"
Cam couldn't say anything. He just turned and ran, shaking, almost in tears. He had known about his friend's views, what did he expect? "Oh, Cam, I'm so sorry, I love you, let's go off in the woods and screw around"? Not a chance. That's why he had cut himself off from everyone as soon as he started to feel the way he did. Not like it did any good now. The whole school would know, all his friends would turn on him the way Jimmy did, and he would be alone. Alone, like he had been for these past few months. At least he was somewhat prepared.
He pushed open his front door, which lead straight into the family room. He was crossing through to his room when he noticed that his mother was sitting there, reading something. A notebook. It was labeled "6th Gr. Math". Her mouth was agape, tears streaming down her cheeks. She hadn't even noticed him coming in.
Thoughts of her reaction screamed through Cam's head. Everything was in there. His feelings about the other guys, his deepest thoughts about what was happening to him...even a few of his fantasies. No, no, it was simply impossible that his mother could be reading those. Impossible. He would leave the house, come back in, and see that it hadn't really happened. That his mother hadn't had his journal in her hands, that he hadn't seen his backpack open on the floor next to her chair. That was when his mother happened to look up and notice her son standing there, shaking hard now, his face just as wet as hers.
That was all he heard. He was out the door and down the street before he even realized she had said anything.
The radio was blaring out some stupid pop song about the singer's ex girlfriend or something. Horrible, as usual, but it kept him awake. Jacob Hall was sitting in his guard shack, eyes open, watching for anything suspicious. It wasn't a terrible job, but the hours were killer. At least he got a free uniform. Better than buying his own clothes to sweat through in this hot shack. It was a little bigger than a phone booth, but not by much. No air conditioning, no windows, no room for a fan. Just enough space for a chair, a radio, and Officer Hall himself. "Officer". That still cracked him up. A whole two days of training, a uniform, and a clipboard, and all of a sudden he was "Officer". He wondered if the real police were ever annoyed by that.
Sighing, he picked himself up and started his quick rounds of the truck yard he had been assigned to guard. He knew he wouldn't find anything. He never found anything. Not that he was complaining, but it got boring after a while. He absentmindedly spun his flashlight in his hand as he patrolled the area. Nothing, just as he thought.
"Wait." He muttered to himself. Movement? Did he just catch some movement out of the corner of his eye? He flipped on his flashlight and swept the beam across the area, stopping on something. It was...what? A pile of rags? He moved closer, letting his eyes adjust to the awkward amount of light. A BODY? Ugh, looked like it was just a kid, too. Looks like the police would be crawling all over the place before long. He leaned over and nudged it with his flashlight.
"WHAT!?" Officer Hall screamed, jumping back. The "body" sat up.
"Well, I guess that makes sense. I mean, I saw movement, and dead guys don't move."
"What? Who're you?" The kid mumbled.
"I'm...well, I'm the guy who's supposed to be here. Who're you?"
"I guess I'm the guy who's not supposed to be here. I'll be going, then."
The kid got up and started walking away, toward the main gate.
"Geeze, kid, I can't let you just walk out of here. What the hell were you doing asleep in a truck yard? And how did you get past the fence? It's tipped with razor wire, you know."
The kid just shrugged and kept walking. Officer Hall groaned.
"Come on, at least just hide out here until morning. I can't let a kid go wandering around the city at this hour."
"Fine. What hour is it, anyway?"
"Three in the morning. What's going on, why are you out here this late? Er, early, I guess?" Hall pulled his chair out of the shack, setting it outside before pulling out a small folding chair and setting it up next to it. He motioned for the kid to sit. Once the kid sat down, Hall got a better look at him. He looked like an average kid, about twelve or thirteen. Thin, short but messy brown hair, clothes kind of torn up. It clicked with him then. "You a runaway?"
"What's your name?"
"Fake name, eh? Alright. I'm not supposed to give out my real name, either. We use code names instead. A bit paranoid, considering we're just minimum wage security guards, but it's not my call. So, you can call me by my radio code name. Saint Jake."
"So you're not a cop?"
"Naw. Just a college guy trying to pay off some student loans by guarding this parking lot at night. You know, making sure nobody runs off with any semi-trucks. Not like I could stop them if they did." Hall replied. "So, what's up? Why are you on the run, uh...Carl?"
"Aw, come on. It's not like it matters. Look, I've never seen you before. I'll probably never see you again. I don't even know your real name. Where's the harm in telling me? It'll get it off your chest, you know?"
"Well, I guess. My friends hate me, my parents hate me. They were going to throw me out of the house anyway, so I just ran for it."
"How long ago was that?" Hall wanted him to elaborate, but didn't want to push it. If he seemed too prying, the kid might just run off.
"I don't know what day it is. I left on a Saturday."
"Well, today's a Wednesday."
"That's it? Feels like longer."
"Yeah, I guess it would. So, you from around here?"
"I don't know. Maybe. I just kept walking for a long time. Then I got on a bus and rode it for a while. Then I started walking again. I don't know where here is."
"So, just tell me where you're from, then. Like I said, it doesn't matter."
"I'm from Northtowne."
The officer stared back blankly.
"Seriously? Kid, you crossed state lines! You're in Illinois!"
"Oh." He didn't seem impressed.
"How long's it been since you've eaten anything?"
"A few days, I guess."
"I'll tell you what, hang around here for a bit. I get off at five, and I'll take you to the all night diner around the corner."
"Of course. Can't let you starve. I'm just sorry that I don't have anything to give you now. Oh, except for this." He walked back into his shack and returned with a tall, thin can.
"What is it?"
"Energy drink. Worst tasting stuff in the world, but it keeps you awake better than coffee. It's yours if you want it."
"Yeah!" "Carl" tried not to sound so enthusiastic, but for the past few days he had been drinking nothing but room temperature tap water from public restrooms. He popped open the can and gulped it. His head snapped forward, a sour look on his face, as he started choking and coughing.
"Ach, that's horrible!"
"I told you. But like I said, it'll keep you awake. Plus it's full of vitamins and stuff, so you should probably drink it since you haven't eaten in a while."
They just sat and talked for a while, "Carl" sipping the terrible tasting energy drink and "Saint Jake" stopping to do his rounds and call in on the radio now and then. It was halfway through one of his rounds that he realized who the kid was.
"OH MY GOD!"
"Carl" could hear the shout from back at the guard shack. He jumped, spilling what was left of his drink onto the pavement. No big loss. He looked around, his eyes finally settling on Saint Jake running toward him at full speed.
"Oh my god, oh my god!" The officer was out of breath when he stopped, hands on his knees. He looked up, eyes wide.
"What? What is it?"
"You! You're that kid!"
"The Jeffries kid!"
"Carl" jumped, a scared look in his eyes.
"How...how did you-"
"Do you have any idea how many people are looking for you? They've got one of those Amber Alert things out for you! Your picture's been on the news for days! It took me a while to figure it out, but...Wisconsin, Saturday...it all fits!"
"You're...ah, jeez, what was it? Cameron Jeffries? Am I right?"
"Yeah...but, who's looking for me?"
"Your parents, of course! Kid, they were on the news just a few days ago! Your mom was bawling her eyes out, said something like 'I don't know if you can hear this, but I'm sorry, please come home.' Something like that. You're seriously a big news story in like...well, everywhere!" Officer Hall was excited now. This was the first interesting thing that had happened to him in this job.
"Kid, if you think they don't want you, you're nuts! Forget the diner, you've got to get home! Don't you want to go back?"
"Well get in the car! It's just on the other side of the fence. We've got an hour until daylight, and a long way to drive. If we hurry, I bet we can make it in time for you to have breakfast with your family."
"But you said you don't get off until five."
"Fuck my job, man! Oh, 'scuse the language. This is more important than this damn parking lot! I'll call in and tell them I'm leaving. They can send somebody else out if they think it's that important."
Mrs. Jeffries was sitting in her family room, watching the news. She wasn't the emotional wreck that she had been the first few days, but she still wasn't ready to go to work. Not when the police could call at any moment and tell her that they had found her son. Her husband had left for work, but only after she had sworn up and down that she would call his cell phone the second she heard anything. It was seven in the morning now, and still no word. Of course not. Nothing was going to happen this early. Still, she sat braced against her chair, not really listening to the TV, but still glad to have the noise. The silence only reminded her how alone she was.
She heard a car pull up outside, followed by two doors slamming. Probably just the neighbors. It was always just the neighbors. The first few days, she would have leapt to her feet and ran to the door, looking up and down the street for any sign of a police car, but not today. Today, she had insisted to herself, she was going to try to be normal. What happens will happen, and there was nothing she could do to make it happen sooner.
The weatherman on TV was talking about how great their new Doppler radar was when she heard a knock on her door. She got up to answer it, moving on auto-pilot. Her mind wasn't really in anything she had done since Saturday. She pulled open the door, her brain still not quite keeping up with her eyes. A man, looks like he's in his early twenties. Uniform. Police?
Her son. Wait, her son? But he was gone. And he wasn't a policeman. That didn't make sense.
Cam stepped forward, into her line of vision. All at once, her brain clicked on. Everything rushed forward at once. She felt dizzy, confused, happy, scared. Her breathing sped up, and she began to tip forward.
She woke up in her chair, the same chair she had been sitting in the last time she had seen her son. Just a dream. Too bad. Yet, she sensed something was off. Yes, there was someone else in the room. She looked over at the figure. Policeman? It was that policeman, the one from her dream. She had probably seen him before, that's why he turned up in her dream. Yeah, that must have been it. How did he get in here?
"Oh!" He seemed surprised. "You're awake, good! Cam! She's awake!"
Cam? No, couldn't be. That was a dream. It had to have been. She had woken up from it, right? His partner must have the same name or something. Rather cruel of the force, though, to send an officer with the same name as her missing son.
"Mom!" Cam ran into the room. He had been in the kitchen, eating cereal. He hadn't wanted to leave his mother's side, but Saint Jake had insisted that he eat something.
"Cameron?" She said, still not sure whether or not she could believe it. It wouldn't have been the first time she had this dream, and it never left her in good condition.
He ran to her, but stopped at her side rather than jumping into her lap the way he had wanted to. After all, she had fainted, and he didn't want to hurt her. She reached out cautiously, touching his face. It wasn't a dream this time. She jumped to her feet, moving to him and wrapping her arms around him so tightly that he was afraid of suffocating. She was crying and saying something, but he didn't understand what it was. He hugged her back just as tightly, crying as well.
Officer Jake Hall, still standing a few feet away, was getting rather uncomfortable. This wasn't really his place. He didn't feel like he should be a part of this moment, so he quietly excused himself and returned to his car. He'd have hell to pay for running out on his post, but it was worth it. He could find another job if he had to. After all, he was almost done with his degree, and was ready to skip town and strike out on his own. He began the three hour drive back home, not too worried about the future.
Mr. Jeffries had barely been able to pull himself together to get to work this morning. His coworkers could tell, and weren't bothering him. They knew what was going on. It was on the news almost every day. They let him sit at his desk, taking all his calls for him. No need to push him.
He sat there, eyes glossed over, gazing at the family portrait they had taken a few years ago at some cheap retail store. Not one of those fancy photography studios, but it had been good enough for him. He remembered how that day had gone. Cam was only ten at the time, and didn't want to get dressed up. They had gone through a huge production just to get him into his dress clothes and off to the store. He had moped the whole time, only smiling for the camera man after he had cracked a few stupid jokes to lighten the mood. As he looked at the picture, he regretted it. Why did they have to make him dress up? It didn't seem natural. That wasn't how his son looked. He wished they had a family picture taken with everyone in their normal, day-to-day clothes. He would give anything just to see his son in jeans and a t-shirt again.
He felt his cell vibrate in his pocket, and he sat up straight, alert for the first time that day. This was his emergency phone, and only his wife and son had the number. He pulled it from his pocket, flipped it open, and jumped to his feet all in one motion.
He wasn't able to talk at first. His throat was dry, and his lips just didn't seem to be working.
"Dad, are you there?"
"Where are you?" He finally had his voice working again.
"Home, with mom."
"I'm on my way. Don't go anywhere."
He slapped the phone shut and started running through the bank where he worked. He was nearly delirious as he sped between the rows of desks. All the customers that day would be able to tell the story of the crazy guy at the bank that day, running and shouting, jumping around in a business suit. Once he was in his car, he started driving wildly, speeding and passing everyone he could. After a few minutes of this, he came to his senses and realized that if he got in an accident or got pulled over it would take even longer for him to get home, and started driving at the speed limit again.
By that afternoon, the sense of insanity had dissipated from around the Jeffries home. The tearful reunions were over, and they were all able to speak again. Mrs. Jeffries apologized to her son over and over.
"You don't have to apologize, mom...I'm the one who ran away. It was my fault, not yours."
"No, it wasn't. I never should have read your journal. It's just...I was looking for a sheet of paper, and I saw your backpack...I didn't think you would mind if I ripped a blank page from last year's math notes. I was flipping through, looking for a blank page, when one of the pages caught my eye."
The page in question, of course, was the first page on which Cam had begun questioning his sexuality. The first line was something along the lines of "I think I might be gay.", followed by what was possibly the largest string of profanities ever written. He had used every word he could think of, and even a few he had never heard before ("Fuck-swearing horse monger? Where the hell did I get that one?"), most of them written in large, bold letters that spanned from one margin to the other. It was quite hard for that specific page to not catch someone's eye as they flipped past it.
"You need to understand, Cam...I wasn't crying because I was disappointed in you. Shocked, yes, but never disappointed. I was crying because I was seeing how hard things had been for you. I was sad that you were so afraid to tell us, so afraid of what we would think. We would never, never disown you or do anything to hurt you. That's what hurt us the most, the thought that you thought that way about us."
Cam nodded. He wasn't sure what to say. This was easily the most emotional day of his life. They just sat there in silence for a while, until he remembered something and spoke up.
"What am I going to tell everyone at school? I mean, I was on the news, right? What am I going to tell them happened to me?"
"Actually, we wanted to talk to you about that." Mr. Jeffries said. "You see, it's almost June, and your grades are good enough that you'll be able to pass even without this last week. We were thinking..."
"How would you feel about moving?" Mrs. Jeffries interjected.
"Ohio." His father responded. "You see, an old friend of mine has opened a business there, and offered me a job as his accountant. It would mean more money and a bigger house. We were talking about it before...well, before Saturday, but we didn't want to make any decisions until we spoke with you. You seemed so down all the time, the last thing we wanted to do was pull you from your friends."
Cam snorted. Friends. Sure.
"Anyway, what do you think? You could start school in September, and it'd be a clean start."
A clean start. That was just what he needed. Who says running from your problems doesn't make them go away? He could skip town with his family. Nobody in Ohio knew he was gay. He would never have to see Jimmy or his other ex-friends again. It was perfect.
"When can we leave?"