The Busboy

Chapter 7

Isn’t life funny? How it works, I mean. I was a mess, really not knowing what to do; surviving was about all. What I’m saying is, I’d given up hope, was just existing. I wasn’t living in the future like when I was a kid when my mom was there, thinking about next month, next year, all the good things that were just ahead. Excited, you know? Full of life. Like most kids. Well, that’s what I was, a kid. Whatever.

But then, all of a sudden—too suddenly, really—I wasn’t like that any longer. Now, I wasn’t even looking ahead to tomorrow. Just today, just now, just getting through that.

Then Jordy saved me, and his dad, Jim, whom I’d already seen at Antonio’s; he did, too. It was amazing and came at a point where I’d just about had it. Just about stopped trying. Stopped caring.

They really did save me.

At first, I wouldn't let them in. I was so closed off at that point, I wasn’t letting anyone in. But they just kept after me, talking and talking and just being there; they wore me down. Not that I was in any shape to resist. I was hungry and scared and in pain and had no hope left about anything when Jordy came to my rescue; I’d reached the point of giving up when those football players caught me after school. I’d no resistance left; if those assholes wanted to beat on me, go ahead, do it. And then there was Jordy. And Jim. Yeah, funny. I guess life can be like that.

I hadn’t really believed in guardian angels before. Go figure.

What happened, why those guys were able to catch me like they did, was because I wasn’t allowed in the house I grew up in any longer, I didn’t have access to most of the stuff that had been mine. I’d had a computer at home, and I’d used it all the time for schoolwork. The way my school gave out homework—and the way you turned your assignments in—it was all done online: you had to be able to both access the assignments and then submit them online. With a computer that I no longer had access to.

About the only thing I cared about any longer was getting good grades. Adults always talk about your education being your ticket to the good life. I could use that ticket. Really use it. It was the only way I could see that I’d survive, and I didn’t even know how that would work. I was just taking it on faith that good grades might somehow, some way, help me. Though I couldn’t see it. As I said, I was no longer looking ahead.

I’d told my father that I needed the computer. He didn’t give a damn. He said queers didn’t deserve computers. They deserved what I had: nothing. That’s what he felt for me, too: nothing.

Oh, except he did care about one thing: the money I had to pay him to live in his garage! That he cared about, and that made life almost too much for me. I had to spend almost all my free time making money to give to him so I could sleep on a cement floor in a garage that smelled of gasoline and something musty I never did figure out. Working whenever I wasn’t in school, which meant not enough time for studying or anything else. Yeah, life’s funny, but not always ha-ha funny.

I couldn’t use the computer at home—didn’t dare to. I took a chance just doing the few things I did when I sneaked in the house. I didn’t want to think what would have happened if he caught me. He almost did, once. I think I came close to having a heart attack. But I managed to sneak out again without being caught. After staying quiet in a closet for an hour before having the chance to escape.

I could have told someone about how I was living, I guess. But it wouldn’t have done any good. My father is a powerful man. He’s in city government. Should I have called the police? Hah, that was a real good one, calling the police. He was one of the ones who both worked on and approved the Police Department’s budget! Like they’d listen to his kid if the kid was stupid enough to complain!

Should I have gone to someone at school? They tell you you should do that if there are problems at home, that they’re there to help you. So what would have happened then, if I’d been dumb enough to do that? Hah! They’d either call my father, and that would accomplish nothing other than maybe he’d change his mind about not hitting me much, or they’d go to the police, which would be useless for me. Actually, there was one other possibility. The school might make enough waves that I’d be taken out of my father’s home—well, his garage. And would that have been better? I don’t think so.

See, there’s a home for boys in this town. Putnam House is its name, but everyone just calls it Putnam. It’s got a reputation, and it’s not a good one. Putnam isn’t run by the city or Social Services. It’s a private institution, a for-profit establishment, and the city contracts with it to take care of boys that need placements. There are rumors about what happens there. Really frightening rumors to a boy like me. I’m small. Not strong; not a fighter. Timid, I guess, though saying these things just makes me feel worse about myself. But I don’t know how to fight, and even if I did, I wouldn’t be strong enough to keep from being trashed. The boys in Putnam could do anything they wanted with me, and there’d be nothing I could do to stop them. I’m kind of a pretty boy, too. I hate how I look. That’s just one more thing I can’t do anything about, though, and the boys in Putnam have a reputation for doing bad things to boys like me. Sexual things. Sure, the rumors may be false. But they might not be, too.

If telling anyone at school would result in my going to Putnam…well, sleeping on a cement floor and working to pay for the privilege is less awful than that would be. At least in the garage I wouldn’t be a boy toy for a bunch of hard teenagers every night.

I’d told Jim I hadn’t told anyone because I didn’t want to go to a foster home. The thing is, they always send boys to Putnam while they’re figuring out if there’s a foster home available, and while doing all the paperwork that’s needed to get people into the system. What I said about not knowing the situation I’d be getting into if I got put in a foster home was true, but it was the Putnam part that had me scared. I didn’t tell them about that because they probably wouldn’t have believed it. But whether it was true or not, it scared the bejesus out of me. I’d heard stories at school about boys who’d been there. About their first night there.

So no, there was nothing I could do about my situation. Then Jim and Jordy came along. It was amazing. I didn’t know what to make of it, how to grasp it. I’d given up hope. I couldn’t accept they were real. And that they meant to help me. That they wanted nothing from me, they just didn’t want me to be sad!

Jim said I looked sad. I didn’t know that. Maybe I did. It kind of made sense.

Jordy said he wanted to help me, too. He also told me he was gay and wanted to know if I was. I sort of lied to him and said I was still figuring it out. I’d known for a while now that I was. Gay. But I had a gut-wrenching fear of anyone knowing for sure. So, even though I knew Jordy meant well, I didn’t tell him. Even if I did already have a crush on him.

Hey, how could I not? He’d saved me from getting whacked, and he was gorgeous, and he was gay. I wasn’t supposed to have a crush on him? Get real!

He really did save me. Three football players attacked me, and Jordy came out of nowhere and saved me. There I am, scared to death, Red has me by the shirt and is about to obliterate me, and here’s this blond god, he steps in and obliterates Red, instead. Red! I mean, he’s the toughest, meanest kid in school. No one messes with Red. And Jordy takes him out like he’s a pesky flea!

I lie on the ground, my hip hurting like hell and sort of look up at Jordy in awe. I can see his anger, but it isn’t scary at all. Not to me. He looks ferocious, the way he’s glaring at Red and then the way he speaks to the other two. No surprise, they walk away. I’m shocked, though, that Jordy won’t let them get away with that and makes them come back and apologize to me. To me! They even sound like they mean it. Of course, Jordy was watching them.

I didn’t want to hope, though. Even lying there on the ground, watching Jordy, I tried not to hope. Tried not to think he was doing this for me. Boys like him, strong and beautiful? Why would he be concerned with someone like me? I’d never seen him before, but he looked like another football player.

Of course, not having seen him before didn’t mean anything. I keep my eyes down in school out of habit. I don’t know who most of the kids in my classes are because I never look up, look around. Some boys feel it’s an invitation to challenge you if you look at them. So I don’t.

I guessed this blond boy probably had gotten into something with Red during practice and was just settling it here and now. Probably had nothing to do with me. Thinking that, I decided I needed to get out of there, because when he finished with Red, I didn’t want to still be in Red’s sights. But I found out walking was really hard. Every step I took hurt, a hot jolt of pain shooting down my leg and up my back. Hurt too much, really. I couldn’t walk.

Then there was Jordy again. Helping me. Jim, his dad, showed up, too, and they got me back to his car and then his house. I couldn’t protest. I just let them do what they did. Jim was nice, and so was Jordy.

Jordy. He was so nice that I had a hard time not staring at him. I never did that, just stared at a boy. But I couldn’t stop with him. He was big and strong and handsome and…damn.

But they were both nice to me. Solicitous. I remembered Jim from Antonio’s. With that crossword-puzzle thing. That was kind of fun. With him, I was trying to think that not everyone was like my dad or like some of the boys at school. It was hard, though. Hard to let my guard down.

My dad said that always being defensive was a sign of weakness. Nothing was worse in his eyes than being weak—unless it was being gay. But maybe he just saw being gay as being weak, and that’s why he hated me so much. He hated that a son of his was weak. Although that was moot now that I was no longer his son. No, what I was now was a renter. Of a concrete slab.

Dammit! I didn’t want to be weak! I hated being shy. I looked at the kids who weren’t shy with such envy. How did they do that? Why was I like I was? I wondered if my father had something to do with it. When I was younger, he was always criticizing me. He’d sneer at whatever I said; he’d tell me how stupid I was. My mother would always stick up for me.

I knew I wasn’t stupid. But someone telling you that you were, day after day, month after month, made you feel that way.

I wondered if my mother defending me from him was part of the problem. She defended me, and I ended up counting on that. I never had to stand up for myself because she was always there to do it for me. That was something to think about.

I looked at Jordy after he’d saved me and thought he was just about perfect. It was no wonder I had a crush on him almost immediately. I’d had crushes on lots of boys. Some of them had looked back at me, probably because of my looks; I knew what I looked like. I had a mirror. But for every boy who looked at me that way, ten others looked at me and saw ‘gay’.

My mother was never at school to protect me from them.

Our school had a strict no-bullying, no-teasing, no-touching policy, and the teachers all watched for anything like that. Even in gym, the gym teacher and his assistants were very observant, and after several kids had been caught and expelled in the past few years, the kids who were predisposed to pick on other kids had cut that out; I was pretty safe at school. But I knew who the problem kids were; if you were gay and out, you might be pretty safe, but not totally. So letting anyone find out I really was gay just wasn’t going to happen. My father finding out made it just not worth the risk. Even now, with him thinking I was gay, I’d never admitted it to him; I’d denied it. He couldn’t be sure. Maybe that was why I was still there in his garage. I didn’t know. I did know that if I didn’t have that garage to live in, it would be Putnam, and I’d decided I wasn’t going to go there no matter what.

My father wasn’t a good man. Mom had kept him in check. She knew what buttons to push. She had leverage. I didn’t. She knew things about him that would have cost him his job had they gotten out, and his job was the most important thing in the world to him. Much more important than me. He was the top assistant to one of the city councilmen; chief of staff, I think they called him. He made over a hundred grand a year, and mostly just delegated stuff to other, lesser assistants on the staff. It was a plum job. Mom knew of some things he’d done that would get him and maybe the councilman ousted; maybe he’d even have gone to jail. She knew enough that Dad had been very careful with her.

She’d never told me what it was she knew, and then she died. It was a car wreck, a really accidental thing that couldn’t have been set up, even if dad had wanted to do it. And I wouldn't have put it past him, but there was no doubt he’d had nothing to do with it. I don’t think he was unhappy about it, though. He didn’t grieve like I did. Just another reason for me to hate him.

But I’m straying from what I was talking about, being saved by Jordy and Jim. I was at the school late that day. I had to be; the school library was the only access I had to a computer. The librarian was an older woman who was very nice. She seemed to feel sorry for me. She often stayed open late for me to finish whatever I was working on. But that day she had to leave early, and she closed the library and apologetically shooed me out way earlier than I wanted. Not only did that mean my assignment would be late, but there was something else, too. Leaving early was dangerous.

My neighbor Ham, who’d caused the problem with my dad, had told some of his friends about the incident. Red, one of the nasty kids at school, probably the worst bully we had, had overheard some of it and missed the part about Ham having just said what he’d said only as a tease. What Red heard was that I was gay. Red thought it his duty to hate gays. Most kids in school were OK with gay kids. Not Red, and some of the other guys on the football team.

Having to leave the library early meant I was leaving the school at about the same time the football players were leaving. As Mr. Shakespeare wrote, therein lay the rub—or something like that.

Jim had talked to me that morning after I’d stayed with Jordy all night. Jim had asked me if I’d like to move in with them. Told me that it would be better than sleeping on the floor of a garage. I’d asked why, why he’d do that for me. He didn’t really have an answer that made sense. He just said he felt bad seeing how sad I was, and that he was in a position to help. He wanted to help, wanted me to let him. What kind of a reason is that?

But, shy as I am, closed off as I am, I couldn’t help think about living with nice people in a nice house, one of them being a boy who was gay like me and I had a crush on. So I told Jim I didn’t think my father would allow it, but it was OK with me.

Jim asked, pretending to be upset, making it obvious he was pretending, “Just OK?”

I had to smile. Smiling was something I so rarely did now that it felt odd doing it. But I smiled and said, “Sorry. This is all so sudden for me, and I feel funny. But it would be more than OK.”

Jim laid a gentle hand on mine. We were still sitting at the kitchen table. He looked at me and waited till I lifted my eyes to his, something else I rarely did. “We’d both like you to stay with us, Tristan, and we both want you to be happy. That’s all we want for you—to be happy.”

Can you believe it? I’m still trying to get my head around that.

scene break