of the Wicked Boys
“Where the hell have you been?”
Rafael stood in the dark at the entrance to the hallway leading from the front of the house to the bedrooms. All the lights in the house were off except for those in the study on the opposite side of the house. That room had been taken by his mother as her bedroom and she now stood before him wearing her nightgown and robe and holding a bottle of vodka. Rafael assumed she had gone to the stash in the pantry to replenish the supply in her bedroom. He could hear the late news coming from the television in her room across the house. She glared at him and he could tell from her breath that she had already been drinking.
“I’ve been out with friends,” he replied stiffly.
“Liar. You don’t have any friends,” his mother replied, “at least, none here in Greensburg. Tell me the truth.”
“All right,” he replied confidently. “A friend. Grayson Harrison.”
“What?” she exclaimed.
“I had dinner with Grayson Harrison and we discussed Jeremy Fenwick and what we can do for him.”
“I specifically told you that we are not getting involved in that mess! I told you!”
Rafael stood his ground and replied, “Actually, Mother Dear, I think you might change your tune.”
“I doubt that. And, what in the hell were you doing having dinner with Grayson Harrison, for God’s sake? Did you...”
Rafael sighed and replied, “No, Mom, I didn’t do anything with him. He was a perfect gentleman, believe it or not. All we did was have dinner and talk.”
“Where?” she demanded.
Rafael paused before he replied, “In his room at the Greensburg Plaza.”
“I knew it!” the woman exclaimed. “I knew it! You’re nothing but a slut, Rafael! You’ve never been anything but a slutty little queer! I swear to God, if you humiliate me in any way, I will cut you off without a penny! Do you hear me? Not one red cent! And, you know that I’ll do it! You know that!”
She was drunk. It was obvious. She was drunk, but Rafael felt as if he had just been slapped. He turned his head in shame as images of his stepfather paraded before him, his stepfather declaring, “There’s only one thing you’re good for, Rafael.”
In a weak voice, he said, “I didn’t have sex with Grayson Harrison. We only ate dinner and talked about what we can do for Jeremy. Mom, I think there is something you can do that would help Jeremy and you, at the same time.”
“And, what would that be?” she demanded sneeringly.
Rafael swallowed and softly replied, “Grayson thinks you’re the only person who can get custody of Jeremy.”
“In his dreams. What in the hell are the two of you thinking? Why in God’s name would I want to get custody of someone else’s ballet dancing fairy?”
Rafael would like to have slapped her, but he closed his eyes and forced himself to remain calm. After a moment, he softly replied, “Because the Fenwick estate would likely pay you an allowance to do so.”
“An allowance?” his mother replied, this time without the hostility.
“I thought that would get your attention,” he muttered in almost a whisper.
“How much of an allowance?” she challenged.
Rafael shrugged and said in the same hurt voice, “I don’t know. You would have to talk to Grayson about that, but he said there would certainly be something to make it worth your while. Plus, just think of what all your friends would say. They would all praise you for your sacrifice and your caring.”
“I could care less about that,” she replied dismissively. “An allowance, you say? I might be persuaded, in that case, but I won’t have another teenage boy hanging around the house. I’m not going to be a mother to him. Is that understood? Absolutely not! I will not...”
Rafael put up his hand and she stopped speaking as he quietly said, “He’d come to New York with me to live at Teddy’s and train at Ballet Academy. You’d never see him. When he comes home for the holidays, he’d stay with his brother or he would just stay in New York with Teddy, unless you could open up your heart enough to let him stay with us—just for the few days I would be here. You won’t have to do hardly a thing and you’d still get the allowance.”
“Well, it’s something to consider,” his mother responded, “though I’m not promising anything. We’ll discuss this tomorrow... and you having dinner with strange men without my permission!”
She turned around and floated through the dark like a ghostly apparition back to her room. Rafael sighed with relief and he, too, turned and proceeded down the hall to his bedroom.
Once inside, he closed the door behind him and then turned on the lamp on the nightstand beside his bed, bathing the room in a soft, warm glow centered around the head of his bed. He turned on the clock radio and switched it to the FM university station which played jazz after ten. A little Miles Davis would nice, he thought to himself as he dropped onto the edge of his bed. He was exhausted, physically and emotionally, and the icing on his shit cake, he thought to himself, was his mother’s statement that he was nothing more than a slutty queer. She would say the one the thing that would get to him; but, then, she always knew how to hurt him. She knew how to hurt everyone.
He kicked off his shoes and then pulled his shirt over his head. He glanced at the St. Christopher medal his father had given him when he was quite young. It was the only thing he had to remind him of his father. He didn’t even have a picture, but then, his father had felt nothing but contempt for him before he died. Neither of his parents had ever shown love to him, at least not in private. Of course, in front of their friends, they were the perfect, doting parents. Alone, they hated Rafael and they made no effort to hide it.
Stephen. Only Stephen had ever shown him love, but Stephen was almost two different people. When he was drunk, he always loved Rafael, showered him with love, encouraged him, told him how beautiful he was, how sweet he was, what a gifted dancer he was. When he was sober, however, which wasn’t as often, he could be vicious. As a young boy, seven, eight, nine years of age, Rafael had grown to love those nights when Stephen had been drinking, because those were the nights when Stephen was most loving. When Stephen was sober, he might still have sex with Rafael, but it was done only with cruelty and spite. Rafael could never understand why Stephen hated him one moment and loved him the next.
On the wall of his bedroom was a framed photograph of Vaslav Nijinsky, the greatest male ballet dance of all time. It showed him as Vayou in The Talisman and was a gift to him from Stephen when he married Rafael’s mother. It was a priceless possession for a dedicated danseur, but Rafael had never taken it to New York. He had left it in Greensburg, as if he couldn’t stand looking at it. Teddy didn’t even know it existed.
Rafael gazed at it, wondering what cruelty and discipline the young Nijinsky endured when he entered the Imperial Ballet School in St. Petersburg as a child. Madame Pulchova had known him, though she had rarely spoken of those days, when ballet school was far more rigorous and disciplined than anything Rafael had known. How had the young Vaslav been used? To what indignities had he been subjected?
Rafael stared at the photograph for a long time until he heard the station break on the radio and the eleven o’clock news come on. He rose and took off his shorts and underwear before taking his robe from the closet and pulling it on. He turned off the radio, not caring about the news of President Nixon, Vietnam, or the Manson trial. He walked out of the room, down the hall, past the front of the house to the family room. In the dark, he sat down on the couch and picked up the telephone from the side table. Holding the receiver, he dialed a 212 telephone number and waited for the clicks and beeps to end before he heard the ringing at the other end.
“Dante’s Second Circle of Hell,” declared an obviously queer voice well lubricated with drink. “Caligula speaking. How may I be of assistance to you, this evening?”
“Teddy,” Rafael demanded, “are you throwing a party?”
“Rafi! Dear! How wonderful to hear your sweet voice! It’s like the song of the nightingale on a warm spring night, the caress of a...”
“Teddy, you’re drunk,” Rafael said with a grin.
“Well, of course, dear. What did you expect? The Things are here and we’re all mourning your absence.”
“With The Supremes?”
“You don’t consider them sufficiently mournful? I mean, this was supposed to have been your Welcome Home from London party if that jackal of a mother of yours hadn’t insisted on you immediately flying down to that hellish backwater upon your return.”
“Well, I’m touched.”
“Yes, I can hear the emotion in your voice. Speaking of the emotion in your voice, you sound as if you’re in mourning yourself. Is that horrid sister of mine treating you absolutely revoltingly?”
“Absolutely,” Rafael replied.
“Shall I call Guido and send a hit squad or would you prefer a CIA extraction team? Either one is no trouble. I have connections all over the place. In fact, I have blackmail pictures of J. Edgar in drag at a party with Bette Davis so, if you prefer the FBI, that won’t be a problem. Now, the CIA may take a while and though they’re all delightfully Ivy League, they’re also painfully hetero. Now the British will probably be more to your liking. MI5 is just riddled with queens from Cambridge...”
“Teddy,” Rafael interrupted with irritation, “I need to talk.”
“Oh, dear,” the voice at the other end replied. “We’re not having a good time with the mosquitoes, the magnolias, and the Klan?”
“Teddy, there’s a boy...”
“Oh, there always is, dear. Did I ever tell you about...”
There was a pause and then the man said in a lower and more serious voice, “Just a moment, Rafi,” before yelling, “Tommy Darling, bring Mommy another Pink Pussy and then tell The Things to hold it down. Rafi’s on the line and Cruella’s being ghastly again! And, tell, Robbie to be careful! That chandelier costs more than the nursing home he’s locked his mother in! And, close the door, sweetie.”
Rafael rolled his eyes and, despite his irritation, smiled as he imagined the menagerie and the bacchanal unfolding there.
“All right, Rafi, lay your head on Auntie Teddy’s shoulder and tell me all about it.”
Rafael sighed and said, “There’s this boy...”
“Ah, there always is...”
“... a guy named Jeremy—and yes, it’s a precious name and, yes, he’s a precious boy...”
“Well!” Teddy huffed, “you didn’t even give me a chance to not respond in my usual fashion. I’m hurt.”
“Yeah. Well, the deal is, he’s been training at Greensburg Ballet School for the last four years and he’s really good. Madame Pulchova says he’s as good as me.”
“As good as I.”
“And, may I add that we certainly seem to have a high opinion of our abilities this evening, don’t we?”
Rafael wanted to throw the receiver through the window. He took several deep breaths and said, “Teddy, this is serious. Now, I need you to focus. Okay?”
In a more serious and straightforward voice, Teddy replied, “I understand, Rafi. I’m just trying to get you to loosen up. I know how you get when you’ve been down there for more than a few hours.”
“Thanks. Well, anyway. So, Jeremy’s good and was going to come to New York this summer and train at Ballet Academy, but his parents died in an accident last spring and the only relative who could take him was a crazy uncle who’s some bizarre kind of preacher over on the west side of town. The guy thinks dancing is sinful and made Jeremy give up his ballet. Now, the boy is absolutely suicidal.”
Rafael regretted that he suddenly sounded like either Holly Hollister’s mother or Uncle Teddy, but he let it go and added, “Teddy, no one wants to save him. He’s basically been abandoned and no one wants him, not even the crazy uncle preacher.”
“So, let me guess,” his uncle declared. “You want Auntie Teddy to save young Oliver Twist from Elmer Gantry. Is that the situation?”
“Wait. Aren’t you the one always telling me not to mix my metaphors?” Rafael asked with a smile.
“That’s normally when you do it.”
“I shall spank you when you return. Now, back to the point. You want me to rescue Tiny Tim or Christopher Robin or... what was his name?”
“Jeremy Fenwick,” Rafael replied dryly.
“Ah, yes. Fenwick. Fenwick. Is he related to the New Jersey Fenwicks? I think...”
“Teddy, I had dinner with an attorney tonight who’s handling the family estate and he thinks he can persuade Mom to take custody of Jeremy.”
“How much are you paying her?”
Rafael started to laugh and replied, “I’m not sure. She hasn’t talked with the lawyer yet, but I’m sure it’ll be enough. So, no, I’m not asking you to take custody of him.”
“Good, because you know what it’s like here. My apartment is absolutely...”
“Teddy, I do need to know something. If Mom gets custody of Jeremy, can he come up to New York and live with us while he’s training at Ballet Academy?”
“Oh, my. Well. I don’t know. I mean, I suppose he could have the guest room, but it would be so tight here...”
“He has strawberry-blond hair and blue eyes.”
“When do you want the tickets? Oh, and, is he hung?”
“I have no idea. I’ve never seen him naked.”
“Never? But, I thought you were in love and we were bringing the two of you together in blissful union!”
“No. I just feel sorry for him and I want to help.”
“Is he a nice boy?”
“I don’t know, actually. I just now realized that I’ve only met him once, and that was almost five years ago.”
There was silence on the other end before Teddy replied, “Well, you certainly move fast. I usually ask for at least one fuck before we start selecting china patterns...”
“Teddy, he’s twelve. I have no interest in him. He came to Nutcracker when I was eleven and then went to the reception afterward and declared his undying love for ballet and that was the last I saw of him.”
“You haven’t even spoken to him about this?” Teddy exclaimed with shock.
“Well, not exactly. No. But, I’ve been talking to Madame and his brother and to the lawyer and I really think we need to do this. So, please, can he stay with us if Mom gets custody?”
“Well, I suppose,” Teddy replied with exaggerated disappointment, “though I’d be a lot happier if he were some hot, hung seventeen or eighteen year-old with muscles and a horse-cock to give Mommy what she...”
“Teddy, I love you.”
“I know, dear.”
“I’ll call you and keep you abreast.”
“God, I love it when you talk dirty to me. I’ll tell The Things that you’re absolutely bereft without their company. They’re mourning your absence right now with a little Aretha.”
“Yes, I can hear. Well, don’t let the breast-beating, or whatever it is they’re beating, last too late.”
“Hugs and kisses dear.”
Rafael sat back on the couch and smiled. Teddy could always bring him out of his bad moods, always make him feel better about life and himself. However, would Jeremy be able to handle Teddy?
Which led him to realize... he knew very little about Jeremy other than he was obsessed with dancing and ashamed of his father’s perceived disappointment in him. Was he a funny guy? Was he smart? Was he friendly? What did he do for fun? What did he like to eat?
He closed his eyes and thought back to that December night in 1965.
He had been standing at the side of the Crystal Ballroom in the Greensburg Plaza Hotel, sipping his punch, which had been spiked with a little vodka by an obliging bartender who appreciated the batting eyelashes of cute, curly-haired, eleven year-old ballet boys. A couple of the other boys had just stepped away to see if they, too, could bat their eyelashes as fetchingly, when Rafael saw his stepfather approaching with a couple and their young, red-haired son. He recognized the kid from Breckenridge Academy Grammar School, where Rafael was enrolled, though he didn’t know the boy’s name. He immediately felt a stirring in his slacks; the boy was cute as all get out, as people in Greensburg liked to say. He had freckles across his nose and cheeks, his strawberry hair was neatly combed, and he looked completely uncomfortable in a coat and tie. Rafael wanted to run off with him and do naughty, nasty things with him in the closet!
“Rafael!” Stephen exclaimed as he approached, “This is Mr. and Mrs. Fenwick. Grant, Charlotte, my son, Rafael.”
Grant Fenwick was a handsome, dark haired man with a pleasant smile and a firm handshake. “Rafael,” he said warmly, “this was a magnificent night and you were great. Congratulations.”
“Thank you, Mr. Fenwick,” Rafael replied.
“Yes, you were wonderful, Rafael,” Charlotte Fenwick agreed, adding, “And, Jeremy can’t stop talking about how wonderful everything was.”
Rafael looked at the boy, who suddenly blushed and looked down in embarrassment, but not before Rafael saw the look of awe in his face.
“So, you liked it, Jeremy?” he asked the boy.
Jeremy looked up and, in a soft voice, replied, “It was the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen.”
Rafael smiled at the earnest tone in the boy’s voice, but he was surprised when Jeremy added, almost reverentially, “I want to be a ballet dancer just like you!”
“Really?” Rafael replied.
He glanced up at Jeremy’s father and saw the surprise in his face as well as the consternation he was trying to hide. Their eyes met and Rafael understood the man was not thrilled with his son’s declaration, though he was trying to be polite.
“Well, Jeremy,” Rafael began, “you know it’s going to take a lot of hard work. You’ve got to train every day and practice every day. It’s going to take dedication. Dancing has to be the most important thing in your life. Plus, you have to watch what you eat. You can eat only healthy foods—no sweets or pop. And, you’ve got to wear tights and a leotard if you train at Greensburg Ballet School. And, you know that if the kids at school find out, you’re going to get teased and taunted a lot. Of course, for me, it’s worth it. I love ballet. I love dancing. It makes me feel free. The only time when I really feel like me is when I’m dancing. So, you think you can do all that? You think you can make that commitment?”
“Oh, yes,” Jeremy replied solemnly. “I want to do it more than anything.”
Rafael looked up at Grant and smiled as if saying, “I tried.” Jeremy’s father smiled sadly back and shrugged. Rafael looked back at Jeremy and said, “Well, Greensburg Ballet School won’t have another beginner’s class starting until next September, but there are a couple of other dance schools in town where you can start before then and then you can enter GBS in the fall. Who knows? In a few years, maybe you’ll be Fritz in The Nutcracker!”
“I will,” Jeremy replied. “I’ll be the best Fritz ever. Um, well, except for you.”
Everyone laughed and Rafael winked at Jeremy, who grinned before they shook hands. Rafael watched the boy as the Fenwicks walked on. Jeremy turned and looked back over his shoulder at Rafael and smiled. Rafael nodded and smiled back. That was the last time he saw Jeremy.
At the time, Rafael had assumed that Jeremy was simply a typical seven year-old boy, speaking in hyperbole, and the boy hadn’t returned to Rafael consciousness... until now.
As he sat in the dark on the couch in the family room, Rafael remembered the boy’s face, the fervent expression as he declared that he would, indeed, do whatever he had to do to become a dancer “like Rafael.” Looking back now, he realized he had missed the sincerity in his blue eyes, the intensity in his voice. Yes, Jeremy Fenwick was just like another seven year-old boy who, four years before then, had also seen The Nutcracker, though this time in New York, and who fell in love with the splendors he saw before him.
Yes, he had to help Jeremy. But... was he starting to feel something else for him, something else for the boy whom he had spoken to only one in his life? Was he feeling... love?
No. Not he. Not Rafael Colon. He did not love people. Oh, he loved Uncle Teddy, but not that way, not... No. He wasn’t in love with Jeremy. He hadn’t seen him in, he hadn’t even thought of him in four years.
No. Not love. No.