“There ain't no sin and there ain't no virtue. There's just stuff people do.”
― John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath
We awoke at five-thirty the next morning when the alarm rang. Trent sleepily rolled over and muttered, “Damn. It can’t be time for work.” He then turned back and kissed me gently. “This has been the best weekend of my life,” he said cheerfully.
“Mine, too,” I responded as I returned his kiss. I crawled out of bed and ran to the bathroom before he did. I had been holding it in for several hours. I had been afraid to get up because I didn’t want to awaken Trent.
“Move it,” he pounded on the door. “I gotta go!” I finished pissing and opened the door.
“We gotta work out a plan,” he said. “We can’t be trying to go at the same time each morning.”
I hurried out and went into the kitchen. I was confused by his statement. What did he mean we had to work out a plan each morning? The way he said it, he was expecting me to be here with him. I had assumed that I would be staying in my room at the center, and we would just get together on the weekends.
I started the coffee, and then I took bacon and eggs out of the refrigerator. I didn’t have time to make omelets like I did yesterday. It would be bacon and two eggs. I wasn’t sure how Trent liked his, so I decided to wait for him to come into the kitchen.
He appeared completely dressed about fifteen minutes later. I was sitting at the table drinking coffee when he walked in. “How do you like your eggs?” I asked as I rose and headed to the stove.
“No eggs,” he replied. “I just drink coffee in the morning?”
“Yeah,” he replied. “Breakfast makes my stomach queasy.”
I poured him a cup of coffee. “Cream and sugar?”
“Naw,” he replied as he took a sip of coffee. “Just black.” I returned the eggs and bacon to the refrigerator, and then I sat down and drank some coffee.
“You’re not eating?”
“I’ll eat when I get to the center.” We drank our coffee and smiled at each other.
“This had been an incredible weekend,” he said as he reached across the table and held my hand.
“I love you,” I responded as I gripped his hand tightly.
My heart skipped a beat when he said, “I want you to move in with me, Matt.”
“I mean it,” he said. “I want every day to be like it was yesterday.”
“Are you serious?”
His face saddened. “You don’t want too?”
I leaned over and kissed him passionately. I finally pulled away and said, “I would love to.” Trent spent the next few minutes talking excitedly how much fun our life was going to be. I’m not sure I comprehended half of what he said. All I could do was think that the most beautiful person in the world wanted to spend his life with me.
When he said his home was my home, I broke down and cried.
The center is a ten-minute drive from Trent’s home, or should I now say our home? I still can’t believe that after spending the past few years living on the streets and sleeping in a dirty bed, I now had a place to call home. On the way to the center, I pinched myself a few times just to make sure I wasn’t dreaming.
It happened so quickly and easily that I wasn’t sure it could be true. However, I wasn’t going to doubt it. If Trent wanted a relationship with me, then I was more than willing. I would do whatever I had to do to make him happy. I have been a skeptic for most of my life, but now I did believe in fate. Good things do happen; and I wasn’t going to doubt that maybe, just maybe, I had found my rainbow at the end of a terrible storm.
Trent dropped me off at the center and told me he was going back home. He said he didn’t have to be at work until nine. It would give him a chance to catch up on some paperwork. He gave me a quick kiss as I got out of the car. I quickly looked around to see if anyone had noticed.
I hurried to the kitchen to help Mrs. Thatcher with breakfast. I was whistling while I prepared scrambled eggs. “Someone’s in a good mood,” remarked Mrs. Thatcher as she looked over and smiled. “Did you have a nice weekend?”
“The best,” I responded as I continued whisking the eggs.
As I took the plates to the boys and girls in the cafeteria, Hayden entered. I could immediately tell that he had been crying. His eyes were red and teary. “What’s wrong?” I asked as I put a plate in front of him and sat beside him.
He broke into tears. “Evan’s leaving Wednesday,” he cried. I grabbed his hand and pulled him from the cafeteria. I didn’t want the others to see him break down. I kept my hand on his back I we walked back to his room. He sat on his bed and sobbed.
After a few minutes, his tears began to subside. “I don’t want him to leave,” he said tearfully. I walked over and sat down beside him. Since Mr. London had informed me about Evan’s leaving, it didn’t come as a surprise.
He looked over and said sadly, “We were just becoming friends. Now, I’m going to lose him.”
“I know how you feel, Hayden,” I said as I held his hand. “I was in love with a boy when I was your age.”
“Yes,” I replied. “Remember me telling the class about a boy named Ricky?” He nodded his head. “I thought I was in love with him.”
“But didn’t you say you haven’t seen him since you were sixteen?”
“I haven’t,” I said. “Someone told me he went to college in California, and he’s making a new life for himself.” I squeezed Hayden’s hand tighter. “Evan has a chance for a new life. You don’t want to deny him that, do you?”
Hayden thought a minute and shook his head. “But I’ll be lonely again,” replied Hayden as he wiped tears from his eyes.
“No, you won’t,” I assured him. “I’ll be here with you.”
“It won’t be the same,” he replied.
“Do you care about Evan?” He smiled and nodded his head. “Do you want to see him happy?” He nodded again.
“Evan has had a tough life,” I continued. “He now has a chance to turn his life around. I don’t know much, but the family he is going to stay with seems to really like him, and they want to help him.”
“No, Hayden,” I interrupted. “I’m going to miss him just as much as you. But I would never try to stop him from finding happiness.” I squeezed his hand again. “Besides, once he gets settled in, maybe you can visit him. I heard he may play baseball. Maybe you can go see him play.”
Hayden smiled and said, “Evan told me about that. He says he wants to be a catcher.”
I reached out and hugged him. “Then be happy for him.” He giggled when I tousled his hair. “Your day will come too.” I made a pouty face. “I’m going cry when you leave.”
He squeezed me tightly and replied, “I’m never going to leave.”
I didn’t want to disappoint him by telling him that New Morning Center was only a temporary shelter. I didn’t know what was in store for Hayden. Mr. London had led me to believe that Hayden’s parent might regain custody of him. I wasn’t sure how he might react to that.
I kissed him on his forehead. “I love you, okay?” He smiled and nodded. “Do you feel like some breakfast now?”
“Sure,” he replied happily. When we entered the kitchen, he saw Evan sitting at a table by himself. He rushed over and sat beside him. When I returned with two breakfast plates, Evan was talking excitedly about playing baseball.
When I finished helping Mrs. Thatcher prepare lunch, I headed outside to see if I could help the maintenance staff. Trent was arriving and getting out of his car. He smiled and waved. I wanted to rush over and kiss him, but I knew I couldn’t. Instead, I grabbed my chest as if I was holding my heart. I then held it out to him. He smiled and pretended to grab it. I watched him enter the building. I still couldn’t believe the wonderful weekend we spent together.
I was trimming some bushes in the front when I noticed Stephanie pull into the parking lot. I walked over to her car since I knew she was here to see me. She smiled when I approached. “Good morning,” I said cheerfully.
She smiled and responded, “You’re in a cheerful mood.”
I nodded my head and replied, “It was a good weekend.” She patted my arm and told me she was happy for me. We were heading down the hall when Trent approached. He smiled widely at me and winked as we walked by. I turned and watched him as he walked away.
Stephanie giggled and said, “Now, I get it.”
I gave he a puzzled look and asked, “Get what?”
She smiled and said, “Why you are in such a good mood.” She gripped my arm and said, “I’m happy for you, Matt. Trent is a wonderful man. You’re very lucky.”
“Is it that obvious,” I replied as my face turned red.
She giggled again and said, “Remember, I’m an investigative reporter. I don’t miss much.”
“You’re good,” I laughed as I wrapped my arm around hers as we headed to the cafeteria. It was one place I knew where we could be alone.
Before we began, she took out a recorder from her bag and placed it on the table. “Don’t be afraid,” she said when she noticed me staring at it. “I do take notes,” she added, “but most of the time I just ask questions and listen. It slows down the conversation if I have to write down everything you say. I’ll go back later and replay our conversation and fill in what I don’t remember. Is that okay with you?”
“I guess,” I replied.
We spent the next hour and half talking like old friends. She made the conversation very comfortable and stress-free. After ten minutes, I even forgot that she was recording what I was saying. Stephanie had heard some of my story a few days earlier when I was talking to the boys in class. However, she wanted to know more about my parents and why they had decided to send me to Pastor Simpson for gay conversation therapy. I told her I hadn’t experienced much since I ran away before he could really victimize me. She had done a lot of research on the subject, and she told me how horrible it could be. After listening to her explain what other boys were subjected to, I was glad that Charles and I had escaped.
She was also aware that he had molested a boy, but she didn’t ask me if I knew who he might be. She did ask if I thought he could be capable of doing such a thing, I told her about the incident in the bar. It was embarrassing to admit that I had been nude on a bar counter when it occurred, but if she was offended, she didn’t seem to show it.
“Do you think he was gay?” she asked. I then remembered the video that he had taken of me and Charles, and I wondered if he had done it to watch later to fulfill his sexual fantasies.
“Yes, he was gay,” I stated adamantly. “That’s why I went to the church the next day to confront him.” She then questioned me about the shooting, and how I felt about it. “In a way, I wish he had lived,” I confessed. “If he had, then he could answer for his behavior. He hurt me and a lot of boys. We still have to live with the pain of what he did. He never had to pay a price for it.”
When we finished this portion of the interview, Stephanie warned me that anything she printed would be attributed to me. “You realize that Pastor Simpson’s family may try to take you to court for defamation?”
“Let them,” I responded angrily. “I would swear under oath that everything I just told you is true.” She smiled and nodded. I did notice that she wrote that comment in her notebook.
“Now, let’s talk about you,” she said.
“What do you want to know?”
“Tell me everything that happened to you after running away and getting caught.”
The next half hour was the most emotional of the interview. I told her how my life had fallen apart. Several times we had to stop so I could gain my composure. I told her about the old man, and how he had taken me in and gave me shelter until his death. I then told her about living on the streets and begging for money on street corners to survive. She seemed completely entranced by my story. I don’t think she had ever considered what life is on the street. I’m sure she occasionally rolled down her window and handed a beggar a dollar. I don’t think she realized where they were coming from. A few times she silently cried and wiped her eyes with a tissue.
“After doing an article on me,” I requested, “Please, do one on the homeless. That is a story that also needs to be told.”
“I will, Matt,” she said tearfully, “I had no idea.”
The last part of the interview was the most difficult. Stephanie wanted me to talk about what I wanted to do next. She wanted to know how I was going to take all the experiences I had gone through and build a better future.
“I don’t know,” I replied. “I really like it here at New Morning. I want to help other boys who are going through what I’ve experienced. I don’t want them to make the same mistakes I made.”
She gripped my hand and squeezed it. “I watched you talking to the boys the other day in that classroom. You really got through to them. They heard what you were saying, and I’m sure you made a positive influence on all of them.”
“In fact,” she smiled and squeezed my hand. “I’m not the same person I was an hour ago. You’re making me reevaluate everything I’ve ever thought about my life.”
“You have a gift, Matt,” she said with a smile. “
Tears welled up in my eyes. “Mr. London told me that last week.”
“You do,” she insisted. “When I write this article, you’ll see just how much you have to say.”
I shrugged my shoulders. “I’m just me,” I said. “Nothing is special about me.”
She smiled, turned off the recorder and sat back. “Now, this is off the record.” She leaned forward, looked around and asked, “What is going on with you and Trent?”
Just the mention of his name brought a huge smile to my face. “He wants me to move in with him.”
“Yes, can you believe it?”
“Yes, I can,” she replied. “You’re two wonderful, caring people and you deserve each other.”
We stood and she pulled me into a tight hug. She then kissed me on my cheek. “I’m so happy for you, Matt. You weathered a terrible storm, and now it’s over.”
“I hope so,” I replied. We left the cafeteria, and I walked her to her car. She kissed me on the cheek again before getting inside.
“It should take me about a week to write the article,” she informed me. “Once Mr. London approves the final copy, it will go to print. I’ll call and give you a head’s up so you’ll be prepared.”
I gave her a puzzled look, “Prepared for what?”
“The next stage of your life.” She waved and pulled away.
After watching Stephanie’s car disappear from the parking lot, I headed to the back of the building where the maintenance staff was clearing a large area of weeds. I worked until it was eleven, and then I went inside to help Mrs. Thatcher with lunch. Today’s serving was sloppy joes, French fries and an apple. She had me work the deep fryer for the store-bought fries. It was easy. All I had to do was take them out of a bag, place them into the fryer and wait several minutes until they were done.
The students were excited by the meal. I remembered eating sloppy joes as a kid. It was always a treat when my mother made them. Just the thought saddened me. I think I could live to be a hundred, and I would never understand how she was able to turn her back on me.
Trent and Mr. London entered the cafeteria together and took a seat against the wall. “Matt,” ordered Mr. London as he pointed to a chair, “Why don’t you join us?”
“Give me a minute, Sir,” I insisted, “I’ll get your lunch.” I hurried to the kitchen, fixed three plates and went back to the table. Trent and Mr. London were in a deep conversation. They stopped when I placed the plates on the table and sat down.
I ate nervously because I was worried that they might have been talking about me. Mr. London confirmed my suspicion when he stopped eating and looked over at me. “Trent and I have been talking,” he began. I glanced quickly at Trent, but he simply smiled and didn’t say anything. Mr. London pushed a piece of paper toward me. “Listening to you talk to the boys the other day, I realized one thing.”
I gave him a puzzled look and asked, “What?”
He smiled and replied, “You stopped going to school at sixteen. Did you ever try to finish you high school education?”
My face reddened as I replied, “No, Sir.” He then tapped his finger on the paper.
“I would like to see you do this,” he remarked. “There is a local community college just blocks from here that offers GED classes.”
“What’s that, Sir?”
“It’s a program for people like you who did not graduate from high school. You can attend classes, and at the end of the program, you receive what is equivalent to a high school diploma.”
I became excited. “I can do that?” One of my greatest regrets had been that I never got a chance to finish high school and graduate with Ricky and Charles. I had been robbed of one of the most exciting times of my life.
“Yes,” he replied. “A new program begins in two weeks.” He shoved the paper closer to me. “We’ll enroll you in a class that starts at 4. Trent can take you, return to work, and then pick you up at 6 when he leaves the center. It will take about three months to complete.”
I asked worriedly, “What about my duties here? Won’t I be missing a lot of work?”
“Don’t worry, Matt,” he replied with a smile. “I think we can work around that for three months. Since you will still be getting paid, just think of it as a part of your job description.”
I looked over at Trent, and he had a huge grin on his face. “What do you think, Matt? Will you do it?”
Before I realized what I was saying, I replied, “I would do anything for you, Trent.” My face immediately began to redden.
“Yes, well,” laughed Mr. London. “I guess it has been decided.” Mr. London laughed again, and then he looked around to make sure no one was listening.
“Trent came to me this morning and asked me if there would be a problem if you two lived together.” I shot Trent a quick glance. He gave me an embarrassed smile. “I told him I didn’t have a problem with that.”
He looked quickly around again. “But you two be careful when in the building.” He gave us a mischievous grin. “You know what the rules state about amorous displays of affection.” He laughed loudly as he rose from his seat, leaving Trent and me with very red faces.
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