"Iím not gonna hurt you!" David Sciuoto shouted, trying to at least sound sincere even if the look on his face gave it the lie. "Now stop beiní such a wuss aní címere!"
Martin kept the tree trunk between the two of them and held a wary eye on David. ĎKeep-Awayí wasnít exactly his favorite game, but he was practiced at it with his chief adversary - Chunk - only a few lots away from his own.
"Like Iím gonna believe that!" Martin shouted back. "Right after you tried to run me down with your car!"
David knitted his eyebrows and frowned. "I didnít try to run you down, Martin! I came around the corner a little quick and - well, there you were. I hit the brakes," he added defensively.
Uh-huh - after I jumped behind concrete blocks and you didnít have any choice. "A little quick? You left enough rubber to make a spare tire! Jesus Dave, whatíd I do?" wailed Martin, peeking around the base of the tree again.
David Sciuoto wasnít much in the mood for explanations. His upper lip was still curled as he lunged for Martin again, dodging to the left then swinging his body right. But Martin learned enough survivor skills at school and scampered quickly out of his way - over the hammock suspended from two metal posts, then kicked a lawn chair over behind him before scrambling up the two low, wood steps of the mobile home. He slammed the screen door shut and shot the lock.
An angry David Sciuoto charged after him and rattled the aluminum door in its frame. On one level, Martin knew he should slam the inner door and shoot the dead bolt, but he hesitated. The flimsy lock had held before when he escaped, and he didnít see any reason it shouldnít hold now. Except this time Martin wasnít sticking out his tongue and yelling names at a fat thirteen year old like Chunk who thought he was a bruiser simply because of his waist size.
Martin was shaking in his knock-off Wal-Mart running shoes trying to figure out why David Sciuoto - who was nice to everybody - suddenly wanted to throttle him after a failed attempt to run him down when he walked out to check the mail. Davidís face was still an artistís study of rage when he grabbed the handle of the screen door and wrenched it. Years of abuse and metal fatigue finally kicked in. The aluminum clip holding the door shut snapped in two, and the door jerked open so quickly David stumbled back before regaining enough of his balance to lunge at Martin again. And almost got him.
A terrified Martin Seduko, arms wrapped protectively around his bowed head, with one knee drawn up in an attempt to shield other parts, saw David looming at him fast then suddenly jerk back and through the door again, his feet off the ground. Martin peeked up long enough to see the empty doorway then peered out to see a short, thick armed boy hold David down on the ground with one knee planted on his chest, holding up a clenched fist and pretty much giving the impression he was ready to smash it into Davidís face.
"Leo! Leave Ďem alone! Heís a friend of mine!"
Leo DiStefano twisted his thick neck and looked up at Martin and paused, his single black eyebrow furrowed on his forehead. The left edge of his wide lips twitched as he looked down again at a startled David, who recovered enough of his senses to say something stupid.
"Get your hands off me, ya dumb Guinea bastid!"
Leoís nostrils flared, and he still hadnít lowered his arm or un-balled his fist.
"You know, you got a lotta mouth for someone in your situation," he growled. "And Iíd watch it with the Ďdumb ginnyí crap. I know a paisan when I see one." He leaned into Dave a little more menacingly, his voice filled with malice. "And if Iím so dumb, why am I the one standing over you, waiting to pound that pretty nose of yours until it looks like mush?"
"Dumb football jock," David muttered defiantly, proving that bravery and brilliance seldom accompany one another.
Martin was out the door now and pulling at Leoís raised arm. "Címon, man! He really is a friend of mine. We were just screwiní around! Honest!"
Leo pursed his lips and looked back and forth between the young man under his knee and the teen-age boy pulling at his arm. Finally he shook his head and let go of David and stood up. "Itís your call, Mart. Sandy said I should make sure you donít get kicked around too bad, but if you say this dickís okay, guess I got to buy it." He held out a hand to David that wasnít to shake, grabbed him by the arm and without hesitating jerked David to his feet. "And just for the record, I used to wrestle, not play football. And before you come up with some snide remark - no. I really donít get all excited when I feel another guy squirminí all over me at a match. And it also donít bother me that some guys do, either," he said nodding to Martin.
Leo took a long look at David, the quality of his clothes, and the car he drove. It wasnít a friendly look. Another one with a daddy whoís got bucks, thinkiní he can mess with the peons.
He turned away from David, who eyed him malevolently. His black eyes relaxed when they focused on Martin. "Sandy sent me here to get her black purse - itís got her wallet in it aní weíre goiní out tonight. Wanna get it for me?"
Martin scampered off. The two young men eyed each other carefully, coal black eyes drilling into coal black eyes, studying signs and drawing conclusions based on assumptions. David noted the swarthy skin and thick neck, as well as the deep acne scarring. He took in the hulky torso with the long arms and the short legs. Tell-tale signs of generations of country peasants, working the soil of the lower Italian boot or in the hills of the Mediterranean islands.
Leo eyed the patrician elegance of Davidís longer, slender body and handsome face. He remembered stories his grandfather told about the high-born aristocrats who came down from Rome or Naples to lord it over the pesonavantes working the estates their families farmed for an upper class of one breed or another since the days of the Roman Empire - ridiculing them because of their looks, their manners, and their way of life.
Both David and Leo came to an instant, simultaneous conclusion about the other.
This guyís an asshole.
Leo broke the silence. "So, why were you after Martin?"
David shrugged. "I wasnít... well, not really after him. I was tryiní to get him to stop so I could talk to him." He frowned. "Whatís it to you, anyway?"
Leo eyed the shiny black Jetta parked up and over the curbing of the trailer lot a few feet short of a pile of cinder blocks. "Didnít much look like you wanted conversation to me," Leo commented dryly. "Usually when someone about rips a door off a house, it seems to me they want to do more than just talk. Especially when I seen Martin runniní like hell to get away from you - Martin gets a lot of shit for the way he is, so I get suspicious."
Davidís eyes narrowed. "The way he is? Like, him beiní gay?"
Leoís eyes slitted right back, and the left end of his monobrow arched. "I donít know if he is or not - it ainít my business to ask. I just meant he acts kinda different from the other kids, and he gets slammed around for it, and I donít like seeiní anyone treated like that. Plus him beiní my girlfriendís little brother makes it more personal, you know? What floats his boat ainít my business or yours. Heís a pretty nice kid, aní I donít like seeiní some wise ass pick on him ícuz he thinks Martinís somethiní just because he acts the way he does. Plus I donít like seeiní anyone gettiní hurt because they canít defend themselves." He looked David over again. "Iíd also be kind of suspicious of any guy my age messiní with a fourteen year old, too. Same as Iíd wonder why he was hanginí out with my fourteen year old sister."
David glared, his lips curling again. "You trying to say something?"
Leoís mouth twitched. "Letís just say I better not hear anything from my girl friend about how her little brother - whoís probíly just as dumb about some stuff like I remember being at fourteen - got jerked around by some rich pretty boy. Some people might get the idea that makes him kind of an easy mark." He leaned towards a frowning David again, and the mono-brow arched even higher on the left. "Get the message, gumba?"
The screen door clattered open before David could get himself in any deeper and Martin trotted up holding out a black purse with a long strap. He held it out to Leo, who brought his hands up awkwardly, blushed, and dropped them again.
"Hey, uh, Mart?" he began sheepishly. "Would you mind just, uh, tossiní it in the front seat of my car?" Something occurred to him. Heíd have to walk it to Sandy at Demilleís Grocery Cart. "Better yet, thereís a shoppiní bag in there. How about droppiní it into that?"
Martin rolled his eyes, disgusted. "Jesus, Leo. It really isnít catchiní, you know? And even if it were, I think itíd take more than handling a purse!"
Leo DiStefano blushed and gave Martin a look not entirely devoid of venom for the remark and his voice stumbled. "Yeah, well... you know."
Martin shook his head, walked over to the six-year-old blue Honda Accord and opened the door. He found the white plastic shopping bag and dropped the purse into it before tossing it back onto the passenger seat. Then the three stood in an awkward silence before David spoke again.
"Are you aní me done now?" he asked in an edgy voice.
Leo looked him over again, eyed Martin, who nodded that it was okay before he spoke. "I guess, if Martin says its okay. Youíre not from around here, but I know your face." He peered at David. "Got it. You work at Barrier Books over at the Loop, right?"
David nodded, and fought down the impulse to ask how Leo could know about something like a bookstore, tempting as it was.
"Cool. Well, just keep something in mind, okay? Iíll be seeiní Sandy tomorrow night and most other nights too. And if she should mention something about how her brother got roughed up or anything, I can meet you after work some night. I really wouldnít see that as a problem - for me, anyway."
Leo turned for the car. David grunted and crossed his arms over his chest, and his eyes bored into the back of Leoís head as his short legs carried him back to his Accord. David watched Leo drive off after they exchanged a last look of mutual loathing.
"What the hell does your sister see in a dick like that?"
Martin shrugged. "Probably that heís really a nice guy and he treats her like a princess instead of trailer trash. Plus Iím not supposed to know it, but he put the word out at school with the upper classmen not to mess with me when she asked. I havenít been stuffed into a trash can since first quarter." Martin grimaced. "Now that he graduated, guess I got that to look forward to again this fall."
He sighed, resigned to his coming fate. "Isnít too bad, really. Unless itís one of the cans in the lunch room and they jam you in head first." He scowled. The last time he got canned was on a bad Sloppy Joe day, and Martin had to leave school to wash the sauce out of his hair. It would never be one of his fonder memories of Salem High, but it would be the one heíd always remember. Just like heíd remember the vice-principal who sent him home but never did anything to the culprits responsible, because in a crowded lunchroom filled with hundreds of pairs of eyes, no one saw the three hockey players who grabbed him - including faculty members who were supposed to keep an eye on things. It was a selective blindness that often occurred depending on the popularity of the students involved.
"Huh. Out of school now? Whatís he do, flip burgers?"
Martin shook his head. "Landscaping, at least for the summer. Heís goiní to college in the fall."
"Right," David commented, pegging Leo for a community college somewhere with an open enrollment program. "Guess I donít have to worry about him showing up at Merrimack College."
"Not hardly," Martin added. "Heíll be at MIT. So, whatís with you, anyway? How come all of a sudden youíre after my blood?"
"Iím not pissed off at you, Mart," David stammered, filing the interesting information about Leo away. "Well, not enough to hurt you anyway... much." He hesitated, looking Martin over. "That picture you emailed me sort of took me by surprise and - well. It just got to me. You said you saw a bunch of íem on some web site," he said sharply. "Where?"
Martinís mouth fell open. "Is that whatís got you all pissed? I mean, yeah, youíre in your underwear and all, but itís no worse than a bathing suit, Dave! And itís not like Iím passiní it around or nothiní - I figured itíd be a joke. And thereís no web site, I just said that kiddiní around."
Davidís mouth twitched. "Okay, fine." He looked around the trailer park furtively and then spoke in a lower voice to Martin. "Look, youíre safe, okay? Can we go inside? I donít really want to talk about this in the front yard."
Front yard? More like the only yard, Martin thought, but didnít correct David and signaled him to follow.
David stepped into Martinís home and blinked, taking in a living, dining and kitchen area all crowded into one space and didnít make any comments as he stood in the dim light after being in the bright July sun. Martin pointed to the uncomfortable looking, narrow couch and went to get them both a soda. David felt almost claustrophobic as he looked around at the cheap, scaled-down furnishings and glanced down the short hall. The air conditioner whirred in the small window.
Jesus, our garage is bigger than this. How the hell do four people live here? He thanked Martin for the glass of store-brand orange soda, and the boy plopped himself down on the far end of the narrow sofa, still with a wary eye on David.
"Okay, so tell me what I did," he began, his voice cracking.
David set the soda down on the coffee table. "Tell me about the picture, Mart. Who sent it? And did he send you any more?"
Martin shrugged. "Yeah, but just of him. He joked about how Iíd get a good skin shot of his butt in that one... well, half of it anyway. He - heís just a guy I talk to on-line a lot. We swapped some pics the other day."
David looked up sharply. "What kind did you send him?"
Martin blushed. "Nothiní trashy. Jesus, give me some credit, will you? Just a head shot of me Sandy took, and one of me without a shirt, aní thatís it."
David nodded. "Good, I hope so. I seen some of the stuff kids send out over the net they at least claim is them."
Martin snorted. "No shit. But the other oneís he sent looked legit - just him, dressed different in most, one of him with no shirt. I mean, they were all different, taken at different times, so I figured they were real."
Martin hesitated, nervous.
"Look," said David, leaning forward, and Martin realized for the first time that he could actually see fear in the young manís eyes. David gripped Martinís knee firmly. "Itís important, Martin. I used to know Danny aní-well, itís important okay? His name is Danny, right?"
Martin nodded, and they got up and David followed Martin as he zagged around the furniture. Martin stepped through the second door of the short hall and David followed him. He paused, standing in the doorway of the small, crowded room.
Martin pretended not to notice the expression on Davidís face. Heíd never seen Davidís house, but from what heíd heard Alan say it sounded like David lived in a mansion. Martin flushed, embarrassed, but didnít look up as he flicked on the computer heíd mainly built for himself out of other peopleís cast-offs. He answered an unasked question to fill the uncomfortable quiet.
"Itís a home-brew, but not real quick... I just upgraded to the big new processor from last year." He snickered. "Have to wait for someone else to upgrade an pay me off for the install with their old processor before I get betterín that." Windows came up and Martin eyed David as he furtively typed in his password. David shook his head and sighed looking away while the boy typed. When the system stabilized he brought up the folder where heíd stashed Dannyís pictures and a few of their choicer conversation records so he could relive a few special moments, and clicked the photos open. Martin sidled out of the chair and David leaned in and scrolled through the shots.
David shook his head, and the pained expression on his face made Martin nervous. Finally David pushed the mouse aside as he rolled himself back from the computer, staring at the floor. He looked back up at a still-scared Martin, who didnít know what to make of a pensive David Sciuoto any more than he knew what to make of an angry David earlier.
"How much does this guy know about you?" David asked, nervous but firm. "Where you live? Where you go to school?"
"He knows I live in southern New Hampshire, aní thatís it," Martin replied, a little irritated. "Dammit, Dave, Iím not stupid. I donít give much for details, okay? I mean, I never even told him my name until yesterday."
"Right. And followed that up by sending him pictures of yourself, Mart. Thatís not real bright."
Martin flushed. "Hey, fuck you, David! You told me yourself you met Alan over the net, okay? So donít get all high and mighty on me! I sent him some pics but only Ďcuz he sent some of his to me, and they looked legit. If they looked like somethiní from a porn site or some air-brushed ad, Iíd have just blown him off. But you saw those shots - theyíre real. The clothes are different, his hairís cut different in some... heís even older in some than others, at least a little. And itís not like I drew him a map on how to get here! Plus I been talkiní to him for a few months now - itís not like some total stranger."
David scowled. "Okay, okay... so. But Alan and I were also a lot older, too Mart. I take it you guys cyber, right?"
Martin twisted his mouth and blushed, looking down before eyeing David again. "Iím fourteen," he said holding up his left hand. "This Ďn my keyboard are about the only sex life I got right now, okay?"
David had to chuckle. "Yeah, I guess I remember beiní in the same boat." He cleared his throat. "Alright, now listen to me and answer without gettiní defensive, okay Martin? Has he hinted you guys should get together?"
Martin shook his head. "No. I mean, I donít know where he is, either, except from the chat-name he uses; BlonBoi_n_NoMa - northern Massachusetts. For all I know he could be over the line in Methuen or somewhere out by the Vermont border."
"Thatís usually considered western or central Mass, but never mind. How old does he say he is?"
"Fifteen, almost sixteen. He knows Iím fourteen. Almost fifteen.
Five-and-a-half months ainít almost, twerp. "Okay. Now, what strikes you as kinda weird about that?"
Martin looked confused. "Whaddya mean?"
David looked up at him sideways and shifted his mouth around. He clicked open the directory again and brought up the photos, scrolling to the one of himself and Danny. "Think about it, Martin. Iím a little shy of nineteen now, okay? And that means Danny is almost four years younger than me - even if you want to argue, make it three. Now, I was thirteen in that picture. Assuminí that Danny looks a little younger ní me, that means he wouldíve been nine or maybe ten. Yeah, heís smaller Ďn me - but not that much smaller! Did you think of that?"
Martin shifted around, uncomfortable. "No," he answered reluctantly, then eyed David. "I didnít think it all the way like that... I mean, I was kinda happy you know?"
Martin looked down at the floor, feeling the stinging in his eyes, and not wanting David to see it. "He - he asked me to be his boyfriend yesterday, and he didnít care I was kinda fem and all, and - and... Shit. Shit! How did I just know this was gonna all turn to crap. No one wants me. The kids at school just assume Iím a fag, and even other gay kids avoid me Ďcuz theyíre afraid of beiní around someone real easy to spot. Some of them even look down on me, too." His hands came up as he felt the tears brimming in his eyes.
David rose and reached over to Martin and pulled the boy closer to him, hugging his head to his chest. "Take it easy, Martin," he said gently. "I know what itís like, beiní alone. Or feeling like you are."
"Yeah," Martin said, snuffling. "Maybe you know what itís like thinking youíre alone, but do you know what itís like having people take one look at you when you walk by and laugh?"
Davidís mouth formed the first word of a lie, but caught himself. "No, I donít," David sighed, swaying the boy slightly as he held him. "And youíre right - I had it lots easier. I didnít come out at school, so I never had to deal with all the crap like you do. Or like Alan did when he got outed," he continued. "And all I can do is guess how you feel right now... I had net boyfriends too, you know. And it really sucked when they dumped you - or werenít who they claimed to be. I had my share of chat-room pedos, too."
Martin wiped his face with the back of his hand, but didnít push away from David. He liked the feeling... being held close, being cared about. And he knew he was still luckier than he was last winter. It began with Drew McKinnon from their gay youth group started giving Martin rides, and he and his boyfriend Marc were nice to him. Then heíd gotten closer to Alan, and through Alan heíd met David and their friend Chris. They were all good to him, but they were older and had jobs and cars, and that added up to having real lives of their own... while Martin was stuck at home, too young to tag along.
He realized the chats meant a lot more than he thought. And Blon - Danny - made Martin feel better about himself in one day than heíd felt for months. He knew a net-friend could evaporate as quickly as it took to click out of a room and change your name, but still... Danny said he cared, he liked Martin. And it didnít matter to Danny how Martin acted or sounded. Danny made him feel good about himself for a change. Wanted. And Martin desperately needed to feel wanted by someone other than his sister. He lived for the moment a boy would hold him like David held him now, and whisper in his ear that he was loved. Even if it was only from the pressure of the moment.
David eased Martin away from him, but didnít shove him away. He smiled at the boy and ran his fingers through his sandy hair. "I really didnít mean to make you feel bad Mart, honest. But... well, thereís things you donít know about this guy. I know youíre hurtiní right now, but if I donít step in, itíll only hurt more later. Now - sit down and tell me everything you know about this guy."
* * * * *
David Sciuoto slammed the door of his room and went straight to his computer, sliding in the floppy disk Martin made up for him. He dragged the images into a new directory then opened them up, scrolling through, studying the face again - particularly the one that appeared to be the most recent.
Itís him, he told himself. No doubt about it, thatís Danny. David frowned. This wasnít good news to him. Whatís he want with Martin? Whyís he still with Griff
And finally the worst fear. Whatís Griff up to?
A shudder ran through his body. Are you still the bait, Danny? Has Griff got you trolliní for kids on-line for him?
David thought about it, felt a cold anger spreading through him. He could see Griff being soulless enough to do exactly that. But Danny? Hadnít Danny saved him? Still, after all this timeÖ why was Danny still with him?
He lay down on the bed and closed his eyes, recalling the rest of the scene with Martin when David told him to break off all contact with Danny. The boy had been scared at first, then angry when he turned on David.
"Look at you, telling me I got to give up the little bit Iíve got - the good lookiní rich kid with the easy life, the one people fall all over themselves tryiní to get to know," he spat as all the buried resentments built up and finally overflowed. His upper lip curled and his voice cracked as he tried to blast David out. "I gotta work hard just to get people to talk to me, never mind beiní my friend! And I got one thing to look forward to a couple times a week - one lousy thing! And the rich kid whoís got it all wants me to give up even that!"
David stared up at the ceiling, remembering the hurt, the anger in Martinís eyes-and finally followed by the lost, lonely look of someone whoís life was the brunt of everyone elseís jokes. He tried to understand what that must feel like, and couldnít.
David rolled onto his stomach, chin resting on his hands, staring straight ahead. His feet dangled off the edge of the bed and he unconsciously jiggled his right foot.
Yeah, I got a charmed life, David told himself, sighing. Unless you happen to know what goes on in my headÖ what I dream at night, and sometimes what I think.
He lay there, wishing his mind could just drift someplace else besides the memories of the days with Griff and Danny. David felt the shadow of the manís hand drifting down his back again and shuddered, opening his eyes and finding himself sweating again even in the air conditioned room.
Griffís always there nowÖ every time I close my eyes, heís always right there.
Davidís head jerked up when he heard a solid double-rap at the door, followed by a second set. The door handle jiggled.
"David?" came his motherís voice. "I heard you come in, and I really need to talk to you."
Jesus. Now sheís gonna bitch ícuz I slammed the door when I came in. Oh yeah-and for not takiní off my shoes, then for runniní up the stairs again and lockiní my door. Am I always gonna be five?
"Just a minute!" David jumped up and closed the photo program, leaving only the wallpaper on his screen. He walked slowly across the room and opened the door, trying to hide the scowl he felt and force an easy smile he didnít feel.
"Donít talk that street talk, David," she complained stepping in, and turned around rolling his eyes knowing already it was going to be that kind of conversation again. Jennifer Sciuotoís dark eyes flicked over the room and then over her son before she stepped in, gently closing the door. That caught Davidís attention and he snapped his head back. The only time she ever bothered to close the door when they spoke was when she had something important to say, and felt that even in an empty house closing the door for privacy was important.
Jennifer Sciuoto studied the face of her son, her jaw twitching. This is gonna be another bad one, he thought. Twitching was never a good sign.
"Last weekend - did you have anyone over the house?" she said in a careful voice, smoothing her silk blouse.
David shrugged and kept poker faced. "Yeah. Chris St. Jacques hung out for awhile after work on Friday, and Alan was over, too."
She nodded and Jenniferís jaw twitched again, and David felt another twinge of anxiety. "Those two againÖ" she grumbled. "Honestly David - donít you have any decent friends? I knew letting you go to the public high school was a mistake."
David snorted. This was old territory being worked over again. "Mum, letís not get into my friends, okay? Weíve been down that road too many times. And as for schools-when I got done with the nuns I told you then; no more church aní no more church schools and I meant it, so Lawrence Catholic and Austin were out."
Jennifer Sciuotoís lips tightened as David pressed a serious button. "I donít know why youíve gotten so down about the Catholic Church. When you were little-"
David cut in hard and fast. "When I was little I didnít know they were training me to look down on everyone else-and when I was little, I didnít realize the Archbishop of Boston was hidiní priests who liked screwiní little boys."
Jenniferís face paled and she froze. "Donít talk about Cardinal Law and the Church like that!" she snapped.
"Why?" David asked simply, facing his mother again and speaking calmly, sliding his hands into his pockets and shrugging. He did everything he could to hide the anger boiling up in him. "Heís a disgrace, Mum. He shoulda been sharing that cell block when they offed Father Geoghan in prison for diddliní kids. But Lawís just like any CEO-whether heís the guy who ran Enron or the Catholic Church of Boston, Incorporated," he snarled. "Just another well-connected rat who walked instead of serving time for conspiracy and obstruction - by hidiní child molesters aní moviní them from one parish to another when the crap began to fly. Except the Cardinalís worse than the thieves at Enron and in Washington-they just stole money. That bastard helped steal lives."
Jennifer began wringing her hands, then sensed thatís exactly what her son wanted to do-distract her from the real purpose of their conversation. No you donít. Youíre not going to work my buttons that easy. She calmed herself.
"Never mind about the church, David," she began, studying his face and trying to keep cool. "You just donít seem to understand how important it is in life to make the right contacts-with friends and school."
Like the kids of those social climbing snots you hang out with on the Haverhill Womenís Republican Action Caucus - rich-bitch wives of political wannabes in a state thatís about 90% run by Democrats? "I wasnít smart enough and Dad isnít rich enough for Phillips-Andover, and I wasnít about to go away to any of those other snob academies."
"Thatís not why Iím here, David-the school issueís done, but thereís still the matter of the people you run with," she began.
David understood one diversion was dead and pursued another, stroking his chin and nodding. "You know mum, youíre right," he said in a reasonable voice. "I really should be more conscious of the people I hang with. Maybe get to know a few of your friendsí kids."
He suddenly grinned, snapped his fingers. "I got it! I can call up Timothy Morrison and hang with him! His fatherís a big wheel in that electronics company that shut down last year so they could use third-world slave labor, right? Yeah, theyíre cool people to know. Timboís my age and heís got the right connections-hell, he even knows three Kennedy cousins Mum - he meets a new one every time he goes back to rehab! And if I really play my cards right, I can maybe get in with Brenda Carlson. The Carlsonís that own the newspapers? I mean if sheís recovered enough from her third abortion in two years. Hey, thereís a class crowd."
His motherís eyes narrowed, following David as he walked across the room and placed his hands on the back of his swivel chair. She put her hands on her hips and glared while her son ignored her.
"You never used to talk to me like that! And I know what it is, too. Itís those people you're hanging out with."
"I never used to talk back because I knew it wasnít worth the effort when you were on your high horse, Mum," David said in a tired voice. "Just like Dad turned your volume off years ago when you started in. But Iím not twelve anymore, and if youíre gonna try treating me like I am youíre in for a surprise, okay? And thatís got nothing to do with my friends-thatís just me having enough. As for friends-well Iíve got good ones, Mum," David said with frost in his voice. "Alan and Chris are two of the nicest guys you could want to meet - even if their families arenít quite up to your social stature."
Jenniferís lips pressed thin at the sound of the sarcasm. "Just because your father let you go to that school doesnít mean you canít find a decent group of kids to hang out with. I mean honestly, David! Your father and I have a social position in this town to think about, and-"
David gritted his teeth. "Social position? Ma, Dad grew up in the streets of the North End, and his father ran a junk yard in Everett. And your family? How about Papu? I know you like lettiní your friends think youíre from Italian aristocrats, but I knew the guy, remember? Papu was a plumber in New Jersey when you were growing up - in Newark! Yeah, now thereís a piss-elegant place to be from!"
David studied the flushing face and something came to him, and a slow smile crept over his face as he decided to use the wild-card dealt to him by his father when heíd had enough of Jennifer Sciuoto.
"Hell, you always tell your friends about how you had to give up studying Ďat the Conservatoryí when you met dad," he said in with a deadly precision. He crossed his arms and cocked his head, leaning forward. "I donít suppose you ever told any of íem it was the Fisichelli Conservatory of Hair Design, did you? And whatís that song dad likes to hum behind your back when all those jerks are around?" He snapped his fingers and cocked his head with a fake grin. His motherís face blanched and David leaned in for the kill. "Damn-I think itís from that old musical, Grease! Was it ĎBeauty School Drop-Outí or something like that?" He hummed a few notes for emphasis.
"Yeah, thatís it," David finished bitterly. "And before you start in on any of the other crap, Dad doesnít care about those phony contacts and neither do I. Heís got a good reputation as a lawyer because he earned it, and heís the first one to tell people he caught some good breaks early on. The closest he ever got to the Ivy league was bumpiní into a Harvard student ridiní the T to the old Boston State College before they closed it, and he got his law degree part time at night from one of the grind schools - so, letís not lay it on about our Ďsocial positioní, okay? Youíre not the local contessa, and this ainít the manor house." He kicked the chair hard enough to slam into his computer desk.
David turned back to her again. "On top of that, thereís nothing wrong with my friends; itís not like theyíre into drugs like the kids of some of your committee friends, or stealiní crap they donít need at Macyís just for kicks. And Alan goes to Lawrence Catholic, so itís not like-"
Jennifer Sciuoto held her hand up. "The St. Jacques kid isnít bad I guessÖ at least his parents come from a decent background. I mean theyíre just blue collar, but - "
"Roland St. Jacquesís the Distribution Manager at-"
"This isnít about Chris!" she snapped. "Itís - itís that other one Iím worried about," she said narrowing her eyes. "At first I thought-well, his father works under the Attorney General, so at least he has some decent background. But youíre always with him, David. And Iíve talked with some friends who have their kids at Lawrence Catholic."
David stopped cold, aware heíd suddenly lost his advantage and not comfortable with the sudden new direction the conversation might be going in. It wasnít the usual argument about Davidís choice of friends versus what his mother perceived as their social inferiority. He took in the grim look on his motherís face.
"He has a certainÖ reputation, David," she said uncomfortably, licking her lips. "Rather a loathsome one, too."
Jennifer Sciuoto saw her sonís face flush and turn away. Her hands fidgeted and she balled them together in front of her and her eyes flickered furtively away from her son. She walked over to his dresser, moved some small items around.
I really donít want to have this discussion, she told herself. But Iíve got to.
"Okay. Now, about Alan," she began in a level voice. Donít lose your temper and he wonít lose his. The two of you can come to an understanding as long as you stay in control. "He stayed overnight again, didnít he?" She paused, picking a few stray hairs out of Davidís comb. "It seems to me Alan stays here an awful lot when your father and I go away." She turned and fixed her eyes on her son, noting with satisfaction that his face was frozen, all his early confidence suddenly drained.
"In fact, you and Alan seem to spend a lot of time together - including staying at his house."
David felt the sudden grip on his throat, and he swallowed hard.
He felt a coldness in the pit of his stomach, but David mentally fought it off. He and Alan were always together now, and whenever one house or the other was empty and their schedules allowed it, they both spent the night together. Eileen Curran knew about her brother Alan and understood their relationship but never commented. In Davidís own home, no one had ever seen fit to mention it before. Still, he was feeling less and less comfortable by the second.
You always knew it would come out sooner or later. It had to. Especially once it was just me aní Alan.
"Iím not going to ask forÖ specifics," she said hesitantly, trying to hide the tone in her voice but wrinkling her nose. The subject was distasteful to her - disgusting even. "And you donít have to comment or try to think up some lie, David. Iím not blind and I know whatís going on," she said dryly. "But I think itís best that he doesnít come into this house again."
She fixed her eyes steady on her son. "Certainly not when your father and I are gone, and Iíd rather he wasnít here at all. In fact, I donít want him here at all."
David dropped onto the edge of his bed, frozen.
"Mum, I donít know what youíre-"
"David, please!" she snapped. "Please donít try to talk to me like Iím stupid, alright? I know whatís going on, Iím not blind. Your father may not have put two and two together, but I have. I mean seriously - what did you think? That Iíd never figure out why I had this extremely attractive, smart kid everyone likes who never goes out on dates with girls? And spends all his time with a kid like - like Alan, who has a reputation for - for being-" She searched for words helplessly.
David watched her close her eyes and press her lips together.
"Donít-donít say that word," she said in a hoarse voice. "My God, how can something that ugly use such a nice word to describe it."
Davidís jaw twitched and his eyes narrowed. "Then use the one you want to use, Ďcuz thereís plenty. Homosexual sounds kinda clinical, but queer is good. Cocksucker and fag have always been the hands-down favorite in the school yard, Mum. Howís fudge-packer or cock-hound? One of them do?"
She snapped her head up. "Donít talk to me like that. Iím your mother."
"Yeah, you are, which is about the only reason weíre still talkiní right now," he said defiantly. "Iím eighteen Mum. You canít tell me who I can or canít see. And Alan isnít the only one whoís-"
"Stop that!" she shouted. "This isnít a discussion, David! No, I canít control who you see or donít see. And I - I canít make you into something else; but if I thought for a second there was something that would actually work, Iíd do it." She shook her head. "But those things just donít work. Believe me, Iíve checked."
"Yeah - and besides, what if someone found out?" David snapped back. "All your friends would find out and where would you be?" David shook his head, picked up a pen and tapped it on his night stand.
"What were you gonna do Mum? Have me kidnapped and sent to a re-programmer, like in one of those Christian propaganda pamphlets?" he jeered. "You just got to love those guys. ĎSave Christian America! Let Ďem all die of Godís just plague!í" He looked up at her. " ĎDrive Ďem back into the shadows like they used to be, and pretend everyoneís the same. Call the 800 number flashiní on your screen now with your Visa card and buy your place in Heaven!í"
David shook his head, disgusted. "Shit, I bet they even run Ďtwo ferí sales," he taunted. "Just like the discount stores. Those are the same guys who used to burn crosses outside of town after dark, dressed in white sheets," he added, disgusted. "They just donít say Ďniggerí anymore, because people get all upset. But fagís okay!"
Jennifer held back her anger. "Donít ever use that Ďní word again. Itís-itís vulgar and disrespectful."
Davidís eyebrow shot up. "And fag isnít?"
Mrs. Sciuoto swallowed hard. "I already told you Iím not going to try any of that reprogramming nonsenseÖ it doesnít work, I know that." She lowered her voice, searched for control. She pressed her lips together.
"Youíre my only son, and I love you, and nothing is going to change that," she said in a calculatedly softer and gentler voice. "But that doesnít mean I have to like what you are, and it doesnít mean Iíll let you rub my nose in it. Iím not going to stand here and make you say youíll never-never do the disgusting things those people do-"
David looked up. "People like me, Ma! Not people like some unknown them, people like me! I do those things."
She ignored the outburst, doing what she always did when she was opposed - she chose not to hear it. "-but I wonít have it happening in my house, and I wonít have him in my house. At least you werenít-you werenít doing those things before you met him, and Iíve talked to enough people who deal with Lawrence Catholic to know that oneís notorious!"
David laughed. "I wasnít Ďdoing those thingsí before I met Alan, Mum? Heís Ďnotorious?í" David laughed, shaking his head ruefully. "Heís the one that must have corrupted me, right? Jesus, if you only knew."
His voice trailed and his head snapped up again. "Wanna know something, Mum? Alan was with one other kid before he met me - and that guy outed him to save his own sorry ass when people started to wonder what was going on between Ďem. Thatís how he became Ďnotoriousí - one guy shot his mouth off, and Alan didnít think fast enough to cover his ass. I had more experience than he did! Careful, or Iíll tell you how!"
Her eyes blazed. "Thatís beside the point and I donít care!" she shouted back. "I just know Iím not going to let you two act like-like animals in my house! Alan doesnít come here any more, period! Not to spend the night, not to visit, not even to sit in the car while you come in for something! I canít stop you from being what you are, but I wonít have it under my nose!"
"Have you talked to Dad about all this?"
"No!" she growled back. "I donít know what heíll do when he figures out whatís going on."
David grunted. He had no idea what would happen either. He was sure the man wouldnít put him out of the house, but he wouldnít be thrilled, either. David thought of some of the people whoíd gone through coming out to their parentsÖ Alanís father hated his son already, and finding out was just one more reason for the man to abuse the boy. Chrisí father and mother just dealt with it; they didnít talk about it a lot, but they didnít pretend it wasnít real, either. Even Chrisí father knew he and Alan were a couple, and fixed it so Alan had a good paying job for the summer at the warehouse he ran. But this-he never imagined his mother would react like this. She wanted to bury her head in the sand and pretend it wasnít real, to have everyone just go on with their lives acting like everything was all right. And that somehow forbidding Alan to even come into the house could change everything.
"This discussion is over, David."
He snorted. "This was a discussion?"
She ignored him. "You live your life outside the way you have to, but I donít want it happening here," she said grimly. "For Godís sake, you can be discreet at least."
"Sure," he said with sarcasm. "We can be real discreet, and give each other head in an alley some place, just like in the good olí days when people were so discreet. I can be the familyís dirty little secret-the happy bachelor with the Ďspecial friendí no one ever talks about."
Jennifer clenched her jaw one last time and slammed the door behind her, almost on the verge of frustrated tears.
David kicked the swivel chair savagely again, knocking it over. Today doesnít suck enough, she has to pull this shit on me. What the fuck!
David threw himself on the bed again. He snarled and clenched his fists.
And why the hellíd she have to bring up the church again on top of everything else?
He rolled himself into a ball on the bed, eyes clenched shut and arms wrapped around himself, motionless, but his mind going places heís rather not visit.
Near the end of eighth grade, David had gone to his father, informing him he wanted to go to public school. "No more nuns and no priests, Dad. I had enough of that stuff."
It was a long, bitter argument. His mother threatened to drag him to either Austin Prep or Lawrence Catholic, but David was adamant about going to a public school. Finally Albert Sciuoto over-ruled his wife and gave in. David let them think what they wanted with that battle won, but the rest of the war to be fought. That happened the following Sunday when David refused to go to Church with his mother, Albert Sciuoto - standing in his robe, unshaven and holding the paper, finally realizing he no longer had to perpetuate the lie he was going to a special Mass later in the day - shrugged and told his son to do what he thought best.
"You canít force him, Jen," he said resigned, and not much saddened. "Mama tried that with me and Lou - we just hung out at Dunkiní Donuts for an hour. You canít force him to believe so forget it." Then he looked at his son. "Itís your decision, Davey. And if she leans on you, tell me about it," heíd said simply, and walked back to the kitchen for more coffee.
Church was a closed subject. Just Ďpart of his growing upí, as Albert Sciuoto said. At school David heard a few remarks from nuns and teachers about how he wasnít seen at Church, and had stunned a few people when heíd looked at Mother Superior and told her boldly if she had any questions she could call his father.
To David, it was a lot more than just Ďgrowing upí. It was a Saturday afternoon spent walking to another part of town, to an old red-brick church done up in high Gothic - nothing like his own modern, bright colored church with its open floor and big windows allowing the light to flood in. But David was afraid to go to his own church. He knew the priests, and theyíd recognize his voice when he confessed. He still wasnít convinced there wasnít a loophole in the Seal of the Confessional rule; and even if there wasnít, he didnít want the priests that knew him and his family know about his awful sin.
David snuck into the back of the dark church, hoping no one saw him. Heíd expected the lines of people like he saw on the Thursdays before a Good Friday when the sisterís insisted everyone from school take confession before Mass the next day. That church was filled with people, but this one was different.
David peered into the shadows of this strange church, a few old people sitting in the pews, a few more at the old fashioned marble rail that once Ďguardedí the altar. Two dark-oak boxes with a carved oak door in the center between two purple-velvet curtains on either side stood mid-way down the church, to the right and left. One booth had a green light over the center door, showing the priest was available. David held his ball cap in his hands and stared at the chipped tile floor and crept cautiously down the side aisle, eyeing the older people and grateful not to see a familiar face. He read the sign on the oak door - Monsignor Bourque - and sighed with relief that the name was unfamiliar.
He fell to his knees and the slide on the screen was pulled back and they went through the correct formula for absolution. Then the hard part came.
The tired, disinterested voice of an old man mumbled. "Tell me your sins, child."
David began to cry when he babbled about the things he did with Danny. But David didnít care about that part. He had a worse sin to confess, if he could get to it. But the priest stopped him.
"You have committed the darkest sin," the voice rasped, dripping with disgust. "Stop. I donít need any more details."
"Monsignor," the man snapped. His voice was cold. "Boy, you have committed the worst of sins. I want you to say five rosaries today - and every night for a week at home. And I insist you promise here and now - in Godís house and at the cost of your immortal soul - that you will never sin like that again before I grant you absolution."
"But Fath-Monsignor," David corrected himself, shaking his head and the words racing. He had to tell, he had to get it out. "Thatís not the sin! The sin was-"
"Not a sin?" the voice rose to the harshest, throatiest whisper, rasping. "Not a sin? Get out, boy-or donít argue with me about sin! Your cursed and damned forever unless you swear and confess!"
"Iím trying to confess!" David cried. "The real sin was-"
The priest cut him off, droned on with his angry lecture about the sins of flesh. A scared David forced back frightened tears, but then rocked back on the kneeler, staring up at faint outline of a fat old man with thinning hair who owned a nasty voice. Something snapped inside David and he frowned. Suddenly Davidís eyes dried, and their look hardened.
He doesnít care what I have to say. He wonít listen and he doesnít care. A cold indifference suddenly filled him.
"Fuck you, Monsignor," David said softly, leaning back on his heels. He heard the tirade come to a halt, followed by a shocked silence. David got up, pushed back the purple velvet curtain and walked calmly from the booth, down the shadowy aisle. He heard a door slam open but never bothered to turn, simply pushed open the dark, heavy oak door at the rear of the church and stepped into the daylight.
On the street he stood back on the sidewalk, and looked up at the three high towers, his hard, dark eyes studying the building and frowning. Ugly, common red brick pretending to be a Gothic cathedral, capped with copper spires - an ugly green against the pale blue sky. Narrow dark windows concealed behind heavy grates, protecting stained glass but blocking the light. In his mind he could still see and smell the dark and musty air, feel the dampness.
Itís all just fake. The look, the promises - everythingís fake.
"Fuck you," he mouthed at the building, then turned and walked away. "And fuck all the phony priests," he muttered staring ahead, oblivious to the curious faces of passers-by who heard an angry boy muttering under his breath. "And fuck that whole bullshit church," he fumed. "None of Ďem ever listen - they always say only they know everything, that only they know best, and only they know whatís right. Well they donít know shit! They donít even know what the problem is because they wonít listen. And I donít need their crap in my life."
When he got home late in the afternoon David ran up to his room and locked the door. He fished in his dresser for the hand-carved marble rosary his grandmother had given for his Confirmation only a year before. The rosary was made by her own father for a long dead brother, from marble chips used to build the altar in their village in Italy. David gripped the cool, shiny marble, fell to his knees and began ticking off the prayers. He mouthed each word of the ten Hail Marys that made the decade of the rosary the way he was taught, showing respect. In between was the Our Father, until the five decades were complete, and then began the next full rosary until heíd said five in full. God wasnít the villain, so David paid what was owed. It was part of the deal heíd made when he walked into the confessional.
He knew it was his last obligation to the Catholic Church, and David said the prayers each night for a week, just as the priest ordered. It didnít matter that the priest held back formal absolution; David made his confession with the right intent, and fulfilled his penance. That was how Confession worked - prayer for payment of sin. That took care of the sex - but after that, David would never see sex as sin again, so it couldnít be one. He no longer considered it wrong. That was basic catechism from the first grade: it wasnít a sin unless you knew it was sin, and believed it was sin. Heíd loved Danny and had been forced to submit to Griff. But David did care that he hadnít been able to confess what he believed to be his real sin, the one that truly condemned him.
Danny trusted David, and David abandoned him to save himself. That was Davidís big sin, and that was Davisís dark secret. That was the one thing he couldnít get absolution for, because he couldnít confess it - and he couldnít forgive himself. Worse, he never got to tell about Griff.
He heard the chirp of his cell and David jerked his head up from the mattress.
Has to be Alan, he told himself as he rubbed his eyes, and snatched it up from the desk. He glanced at the clock - almost three in the afternoon. Alan would be out of work in a half hour, and expected to drive to Davidís. His thumb hit receive.
"Hey, sexy," Alan started. "We all set for tonight? I can be there in less than a half hour after work."
Now what? Do I tell him he canít come here again, ever? Or do I buy some time until I can get this worked out with Wonder Bitch?
Dannyís face flittered in front of his eyes. Damn, like I donít have enough crap in my life today.
"Alan, look," he began. "Uh, thingís have changed, okay? It might not be a good idea for you to come over todayÖ listen, let me call you a little later? Six oíclock, I can call you at home. Thereís, uh, some stuff goiní on here I donít wanna get into."
He heard a brief silence, and David was worried Alan might know something was up.
"Yeah, no prob, dude," Alan snickered. "Besides, youíre probíly lucky. Old Roland worked me like this place was a plantation today and I stink. Gimme a call later."
David clicked off the line and threw himself back on the bed feeling guilty about having to lie. He sighed.
How can everything go to shit all at once?