The Dance

of the Wicked Boys

by FreeThinker


Chapter Six 

Rafael flew across the dance floor in the most energetic moves he could. There was no music, only a metronome ticking evenly as he leapt, kicked, glided, and spun about the floor. He had been in the basement for more than two hours, but he was not finished. He danced. He needed to dance.

He was not feeling shame today. He felt no self-loathing. He was just normal, dancing because he loved dancing, not as an anesthetic, but because this was what he did. He was a dancer. He danced. And, he was happy.

Wearing only his dance shoes and dance belt, his body was covered with a thin sheen of sweat as he flew through the air, repeating move after move until it was right and he could move on to the next. This was what Rafael had been born to do. This was why he was put on earth. He was happy.

In the middle of a Grand Jeté, there was a knock on the door. He landed rougher than he intended and cursed. No one was supposed to interrupt his dancing. His mother knew, she knew not to interrupt him.

“What?” he demanded loudly.

Claretta replied from the other side of the door, “I’m sorry, Rafael, but your Momma says to come upstairs. Mr. Harrison’s here and they want to talk to you.”

Mr. Harrison? It had to be about Jeremy. Now, that was different. Rafael replied, “Okay. I’ll be right up.”

He walked over to the table and stopped the metronome, grabbed a towel and wiped off before pulling his robe on, picking up a bottle of water, and grabbing a clean towel before leaving the room.

As he entered the formal front room, the attorney rose from the couch to shake his hand while his mother remained seated and glared at him.

“I’m sorry to interrupt your practice,” Mr. Harrison said with an embarrassed smile as they shook hands. “It’s good to see you, Rafael.”

“That’s fine, Mr. Harrison,” Rafael replied. “I’ve been down there for a couple of hours. I could use a break.”

He sat down and guzzled some water as his mother said, “You could at least wear some clothes, Rafael.”

The teenager frowned and replied, “Don’t be silly, Mom. I’ve got my robe on.”

“Rafael dances naked when he’s home,” the woman said to the attorney with disgust. Harrison seemed to turn pale as he looked back at Rafael, clearly imaging what The Gazelle must look like dancing au natural.

Rafael rolled his eyes and said, “I do not. I wear a dance belt.”

This news seemed not to deter the images dancing in Harrison’s head as he simply looked at the fifteen-year-old and smiled vaguely.

“Grayson, dear,” Rafael’s mother said disdainfully, “perhaps we should return to the subject of our meeting.”

“Hmm? Oh, yes. Right. Well. Um, Rafael, I have raised with your mother the subject of our discussion last evening and she seems quite enthusiastic about helping young Jeremy. I think we have reached a fair and equitable arrangement. Your mother agrees to take custody of Jeremy, assuming Pastor McCoy agrees to relinquish custody. In return, the Fenwick estate would pay her a monthly fee of...”

“I don’t think we need to discuss money with the boy,” Rafael’s mother interrupted as the boy raised an eyebrow.

“Hmm? Oh. Yes. Well. Rafael, I think we can wrap all this up fairly quickly. I think it might be best, considering that you know Jeremy only distantly that you meet him first and discuss the situation with him before we approach the uncle. That way, we can know more about the uncle’s thinking and also whether Jeremy would want to do this or not.”

Rafael nodded and asked, “You want me to go see him this morning?”

“That would be helpful. Then, perhaps we can visit the uncle this afternoon or this evening.”

Rafael felt a surge of enthusiasm. Things were going to work out! He was actually going to save Jeremy! It was really going to happen.

“Cool. Where does he live?”

“Just across the river, actually, on Vicksburg Avenue. 1814 Vicksburg. Next door to his uncle’s church, the Westside Tabernacle.”

Rafael smiled and turned to his mother, declaring, “That’s close enough I could ride my bike over there.”

“Good. I have plans for lunch so that won’t interfere. Grayson, I should be back by two. I would expect Rafael to have returned, as well, and we can call you then.”

“That would be perfect,” the attorney replied as he stood. Rafael also rose to his feet. His robe fell open, revealing his nearly naked body to the attorney, who once again turned pale, before Rafael grabbed the folds of his robe and closed it, with a mumbled, “Sorry.”

His mother barely hid her disgust and escorted Harrison out as Rafael went to his room.

Half an hour later, freshly showered and wearing his usual Madras shorts, a yellow Lacoste with the collar popped, and his Topsiders, he walked past the informal dining area, where his mother was smoking a cigarette, drinking coffee, and discussing household business with Claretta. She looked at him and asked sardonically, “Are you going to save him or seduce him?”

“Both,” Rafael replied as Claretta snorted.

His mother glared at the housekeeper and snapped, “Don’t encourage him. He’s bad enough as it is.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Claretta replied with a deferential tone that only Rafael knew was mocking. The boy winked at her and then approached. He gave his mother a hug and the woman recoiled in shock.

“What in the hell’s gotten into you, Rafael?” she demanded.

He smiled and said, “I know you’re doing this for purely mercenary reasons, but you are doing a good thing, Mom.”

“Nonsense,” the woman replied. “I couldn’t care less about the brat. But, I do remember that his grandparents were decent people. I liked Henry and Dorothy.”

Rafael examined her for a moment and the woman blushed.

“No, Mom, there’s something else at work here,” he said. “Something’s happened. What is it?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she replied huffily.

Rafael grinned, which only infuriated his mother.

“Get out! Go ride your bike and save your little dancing urchin.”

Rafael nodded and, as he walked out the sliding glass doors, left with a final, “I love you, Mom.”

He couldn’t hear her disgusted response and as he walked across the patio toward the garage, he grinned. Yes, something had happened. Perhaps she had talked with Teddy. Perhaps Grayson had convinced her to dig deep inside her cobwebs of callous indifference toward humanity and find that one shred of decency that surely hid underneath the debris of whatever had made Gloria Hampton Gloria Hampton.

Or not. Maybe it really was just the money.

He entered the side door of the garage and found his old bicycle leaning against the wall. The tires were flat from not having been used in a couple of years, but he soon had them pumped up and was rolling down the driveway. Pedaling into the street, he felt a strange exhilaration, not unlike the nostalgic feeling he’d experienced the previous day when he’d entered his old ballet school. He had a feeling of being transported back several years to before he was a teenager, before he went to New York, when he was simply a boy riding his bike through the neighborhood and dreaming of the day when he would train with the best dancers and teachers in the nation.

It was not as warm a morning as the previous day had been. There were a few clouds in the sky and a nice breeze cooled him as he rode past the great houses and their wide lawns. It was a pleasant experience to ride his bike again and he began to wonder if perhaps he should get a bike when he returned to New York. He could ride easily ride from Uncle Teddy’s apartment down Broadway to school and to Ballet Academy. Yes, drivers in New York were insane, but it was a predictable insanity. And, of course, he was only a few blocks from Central Park. It would perfect. Yes, he would bring up the subject of a bike with Uncle Teddy when he returned to civilization. Jeremy would probably like one, too. It might help him to adjust to New York. Rafael remembered what a shock living in New York had been to him. Of course, he had been to the City a dozen times before moving in with Teddy, but visiting never really prepared one for actually living there.

It was rather like the feeling he was getting at that moment as he rode across the Jeff Davis Bridge from East to West Greensburg. You could see it from a distance and get an idea of what it was like, but as you approached it, as you drew closer and when the details came into focus, it was nothing like you thought it was and the reality was completely different.




Jeremy was alone. He sat up in his cot as the morning sun warmed the bedroom. Benji’s bed was empty. He could smell bacon frying, so he assumed his cousin was getting ready for breakfast. He sighed. Should he get up? What would he face if he did? Benji had been pretty upset the previous night. Would he break his promise and tell his parents what they had talked about, what they had done? Uncle Jimmy and Aunt Jane might be just as upset with Benji as they would be with Jeremy. No, Benji wouldn’t say anything, but he might still be upset and it was possible his parents might want to know why. Jeremy’s stomach became sour with anxiety.

Slowly, he rose from the cot and stretched as he stood. His morning erection poked out the fly of his pajama shorts. He turned and gazed out the window, hoping his stiffness would deflate enough for him to safely chance an encounter on the way to the bathroom.

He heard the screen on the front door slam and, as he watched, Uncle Jimmy made his way past the window toward the church next door. Jeremy felt a wave of relief that he would at least not have to face his uncle that morning. Aunt Jane would certainly be less suspicious.

He ventured into the hallway and to the bathroom, took care of his morning business, and returned to the bedroom, where he dressed in the same denim shorts, though with fresh underwear and a fresh pullover. With clean socks and his blue canvas sneakers on, he crept back out into the hallway and toward the kitchen, where he found Benji sitting at the table, eating bacon, scrambled eggs, and biscuits. His cousin didn’t look up and said nothing. Aunt Jane, however, smiled sweetly and said, “Good morning, Jeremy. Would you like some bacon and eggs?”

“Yes, ma’am,” the boy replied as he poured a glass of milk at the refrigerator. As he walked to his chair, his Aunt prepared his plate and said, “Jimmy Dale would like the two of you to mow the lawn this morning, the house and the church. And, he wants you to trim, too.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Jeremy replied as he glanced over at Benji, who ate without reaction to his mother’s remarks.

Jeremy frowned and took a bite before asking, “Benji, did you get a good night’s sleep?”

“Yeah,” the boy muttered.

Jeremy sighed and ate the rest of his breakfast in silence as Jane left the kitchen. The two continued to eat in silence, even when Aunt Jane returned, walking through the kitchen with dirty laundry for the washing machine. Jeremy watched her pass and then his eyes met his cousin’s. Benji quickly glanced away and then, popping the last bite of biscuit into his mouth, rose and carried his dishes to the sink. Jeremy finished his breakfast as Benji washed the dishes. He then brought his to the sink, as well.

“You want some help?”


“You want me to get the mower ready?”


Jeremy placed his hand on Benji’s shoulder, but his cousin jerked away, just as he had the night before. Jeremy lowered his head in shame and walked out of the kitchen, through the backroom, where Aunt Jane was just finishing loading the washing machine. She looked at him as he opened the back door and softly asked, “Jeremy, is everything okay?”

He silently nodded and then walked out the door.

He could see gnats and chiggers jumping from weeds, the crab grass, and the scraggly Bermuda grass of the back lawn as he walked to the garage. He opened the side door and walked over to the old, dirty lawn mower. The red, metal gas can beside it already had the spout screwed on and sticking upward, reminding Jeremy of an erect penis. He sighed with disgust at the way his mind worked and unscrewed the cap on the mower’s gas tank before picking up the gas can. It was empty. It would be. He put the spout back inside the can and carried it to the back porch, setting it on the step before going in and finding Aunt Jane just walking back into the kitchen.

“Aunt Jane, I need to go to the gas station. The gas can’s empty,” he said.

“Okay, sweetie,” she said as she reached into a large jar beside the wall telephone. “Here’s a quarter. If there’s anything left over, you can keep the change.”

He smiled and said, “Thanks.”

Turning, he went back outside, picked up the can, and walked around the house, across the front lawn, and headed down the street toward the gas station a couple of blocks away on Jeff Davis Boulevard.

It was not as warm that morning as it had been over the last few days. There were even a few clouds in the sky. Fall would be coming soon, his favorite season, when it started getting cool. The trees would change, Halloween would come, then Thanksgiving. September to December was his favorite time of the year, with his favorite holidays and the beginning of the main season for Greensburg Ballet. This year, they would be performing Sleeping Beauty, Giselle, and a tribute to Balanchine in addition to their usual Nutcracker through December. Of course, he would see none of them, and for the first time since 1968 he wasn’t performing in Nutcracker. Of course, he wouldn’t have anyway. If his parents had lived, he would be going back to New York in a few weeks, after his six weeks in the Summer Intensive at BAA, to train full-time at Ballet Academy of America. His father would have hated it, but he would have gone along with it because he loved Jeremy, despite how much of a disappointment the boy was to his father.

Jeremy wanted to cry, and yet, he didn’t. He was almost cried out. It was too late for crying, really. He had been through too much. Last night had been the last straw. He had thought that maybe, just maybe, he would find an ally in Benji. Perhaps, Benji would have understood, or if not understand, maybe he would at least have been sympathetic. He had been so thrilled, so excited to find that Benji thought about some of the same things he did. He had been so thrilled, so excited that Benji wanted to play around, too. And, then...

It was typical. It was typical of everything that had happened to him since his parents had died. Why did he even try? Benji wasn’t going to be his “blood brother.” They weren’t going to be “beat off buddies.” They weren’t going to establish a bond. Benji wasn’t going to be the one person who might at least try to understand what was going on in his head. Now, he knew there was no one. No one.

He was tired. He was even too tired to kill himself. He just didn’t give a hoot. He just didn’t give a damn. Why bother? Why try? Why anything?

He came to the grimy, old Texaco station on Jeff Davis Boulevard. The white, metal exterior with the green trim was rusty and the sign in front was still the outdated Texaco banjo-shaped sign, rather than the newer, more modern one. As he walked past the garage and toward the office, the attendant came out wearing his greasy uniform. He smiled at Jeremy.

“I need twenty-five cents of regular,” Jeremy said.

“Son, that’ll just about do that can,” the man said as he took it. “It’s empty.”

As he filled it, Jeremy looked up at the sign. Twenty-one cents a gallon. It had gone up. He had hoped he might have a couple of cents left over for some gum from the gumball machine. Oh, well.

The attendant smiled at him and stopped the pump at twenty-three cents, took the quarter, and handed him two pennies back with a grin.

“Go on,” he said as he nodded toward the gumball machine in the office.

Jeremy grinned back and said, “Thanks.”

It was amazing, he thought to himself, how a simple act of kindness could cut through the pain and loneliness and bring a smile to one’s face. When he returned to the pump, the attendant handed him the gas can and as Jeremy took it, the man said, “It’s going to be okay, kid. Don’t worry. It’s going to be okay.”

Jeremy paused a moment, looked down, and softly replied, “Yeah. Thank you,” before turning and walking on.

Benji was already outside, trimming the curb with a pair of hand clippers as Jeremy approached. Standing over his cousin, Jeremy softly said, “Hey.”

Benji made no response. Jeremy reached into his pocket and said, “I brought you a gumball from the gas station.”

“Don’t want it,” Benji replied equally softly.

Jeremy set the can down on the ground and sat down on the curb in Benji’s way. His cousin looked up at him and said, “Go away, Jeremy. Please.”

“Benji, I don’t want you to hate yourself,” Jeremy said. “You’re a good guy. You’re my blood brother, my cousin. I don’t want you to hate yourself. Hate me, instead.”

“I don’t hate myself,” Benji whispered. “I don’t hate you, either. I hate the devil and I hate that you’re my temptation.”

Jeremy looked at the cute face and the red hair of his cousin. He felt an overwhelming desire to kiss the boy again, but he knew he couldn’t. He wanted to run his hand across the top of Benji’s head. He wanted to...

Benji suddenly dropped the hand clippers and stood up. Jeremy could see a long bulge from behind the zipper of his shorts and pointing downward toward his left thigh, but before he could look up Benji’s face, the boy turned and ran into the house. Jeremy lowered his head in shame, imagining the shame Benji felt and knowing why he ran away. Slowly, he rose to his feet, picked up the gas can, and trudged sadly toward the garage.

He rolled the lawn mower out onto the driveway and in front of Uncle Jimmy’s old Ford, filled the gas tank and then took the can back into the garage. He could hear gospel music on the radio inside the house as he walked back to the mower. It took several tries, pulling the old, frayed cord, before the mower would chug to a start. It died two more times before Jeremy was able to properly adjust the choke and the throttle. Finally, he was able to push it to the side of the driveway and begin mowing the lawn in front of the church.

The temperature rose as the morning wore on, and though it was not as hot as the previous day, it was still hot enough to make Jeremy take off his shirt and stuff it into his back pocket, where it hung out like a tail. He could feel the sun on his bare back and shoulders. Luckily,  it wasn’t yet burning. He had gone shirtless enough over the summer to already have a good tan.

He had mowed half of the church’s lawn when Benji emerged from the house. His cousin didn’t look at Jeremy as he walked to the street and knelt by the curb to resume trimming with the hand clippers. Jeremy sighed and watched him for a moment. He came to the edge of the driveway and turned around, mowing another strip going away from the house and across the lawn with his back to Benji. When he reached the other side, he turned and headed back again.

A couple of blocks away, at the corner where the Texaco station stood, Jeremy could see someone riding a bicycle. It was a guy with dark hair, kind of long. He was wearing shorts and a yellow shirt. Jeremy pushed the mower farther as he watched the bicycle come closer. He began to slow down as he reached the edge of the lawn, but then turned, his back to the bike and pushed on in the other direction. When he reached the other side, he turned back. He’d taken only a couple of steps when he stopped. Benji had stopped clipping, as well. Jeremy stopped breathing.

The bicycle was now less than a block away. The boy was a teenager, maybe fourteen or... fifteen, and that longish, dark hair was curly and his legs... those were dancers’ legs. Even from that distance, he could recognize dancers’ legs when he saw them. Dark curls, dancers’ legs... it wasn’t possible. It wasn’t!

Their eyes met. Rafael slowed down as he came up to Benji, who slowly rose to his feet. He stopped his bike and continued to look at Jeremy. Benji said something to him and Rafael turned his face to the other boy and said something in reply before Benji turned and pointed toward Jeremy. Rafael smiled at Benji, obviously thanking him, before he pushed off and rode up into the driveway. Jeremy simply stared in shock before he realized he was just standing there in West Greensburg, staring at Rafael Colon. He quickly turned off the mower and then walked in awe toward the teenager on the bike.

Rafael climbed off the bike and set the kick stand. Watching Jeremy approach as if the boy were in a daze, Rafael stepped forward and smiled as he said, “I guess you know who I am, then.”

“Rafael Colon,” Jeremy mumbled as he stared open-mouthed at the teenager. Benji was staring from the curb, as well.

Rafael looked Jeremy over and said, “Man, you really look different now. You’ve been working out good, Jeremy. You’re not that scrawny little twerp you were back in ’65.”

Jeremy had the presence of mind to defend himself by saying, “I wasn’t scrawny.”

Rafael grinned and replied, “Okay. Maybe you weren’t scrawny, but you were a twerp.”

Jeremy smiled and Rafael laughed as he said, “Man, you’ve got great definition. Those legs, man. You’ve got better legs than I had at twelve. And, man, those arms and that chest are hot. You’re looking good.”

Jeremy turned to Benji, who had just walked up in even more awe than Jeremy.

“He’s talking in dancer’s terms, not like, well, you know,” he explained to his cousin in embarrassment.

Rafael nodded at Benji and said, “I hear your cousin is the best dancer in Greensburg Ballet School.” He looked back at Jeremy and added, “Madame Pulchova says you’re fantastic.”

Jeremy blushed and looked down as Rafael added, “She said you’re better than me.”

Jeremy looked up in disbelief. His eyes were becoming moist as he shook his head and said, “No way. No one’s as good as you, Rafael. Everyone at GBS says so. You’re the best.”

Rafael looked away. It was too painful for him to hear this from that little boy who had stood before him almost five years before. Jeremy sniffed and, embarrassed, asked, “You want to come in? We’ve got some Hawaiian Punch.”

Rafael smiled and nodded as he replied, “Yeah, that would be nice.”

Benji remained where he was and as Jeremy looked back over his shoulder, his cousin said, “I’ll finish mowing for you, Jeremy.”

Jeremy stopped and smiled before replying, “Thank you, Benji.”

He paused a moment and then repeated, “Thank you.”

Benji nodded and smiled as he blushed and turned. However, when he and Rafael entered the front door, Jeremy looked back and saw Benji watching them. He wondered if it was for the reason he suspected. He saw a rise in the front of his cousin’s shorts again, confirming his suspicion.

Aunt Jane was just emerging from the kitchen as Jeremy entered. Rafael stood politely to the side as Jane looked at the teenager in surprise. Jeremy stepped forward and said, “Aunt Jane, this is Rafael Colon. Rafael, this is my Aunt, Jane McCoy.”

Rafael smiled and said, “Hello, Mrs. McCoy. It’s nice to meet you.”

“Hello, Rafael. Can I ask how you know Jeremy?”

Rafael took a deep breath and said, “I trained at Greensburg Ballet School before I went to New York to train at Ballet Academy of America. I just came by to visit with Jeremy because I haven’t seen him in a few years.”

“Oh,” the woman replied weakly. She looked at Jeremy and said softly, “You know that Jimmy Dale probably won’t like this and he’ll be back over at twelve for lunch...”

“I know, Aunt Jane,” Jeremy replied with embarrassment.

“I can’t offer you lunch, Rafael,” Jane added with her own embarrassment. “I hope you understand. I don’t want to be rude, but...”

“It’s all right,” Rafael replied with a smile. “I understand.”

“Would you like a glass of Hawaiian Punch?”

“Yes, please.”


“Yes, ma’am.”

Jeremy followed his aunt into the kitchen and Rafael followed him, remarking, “You have a very nice home, Mrs. McCoy.”

“Thank you, Rafael,” Jane replied, busying herself pouring the drinks for the boys. “That’s sweet of you to say.”

As Jeremy took his glass, he shyly asked, “So, you want to see my room?”

“Sure,” Rafael replied, knowing why Jeremy asked.

He followed the younger boy, gazing at his bare, strong, broad back and feeling a stirring in his shorts. He tried to think of something else as the entered the room. He looked about in surprise at how small it was and, especially at the cot in the middle of the floor. Jeremy closed the door and Rafael could see that he was embarrassed.

Jeremy pointed to the bed and said, “You can sit there, if you want.”

As Rafael sat on the corner of the bed, Jeremy sat on the cot.

“Nice room,” Rafael said.

“No, it’s not,” Jeremy replied quietly, “but they don’t have any other place to put me, except in the basement and Uncle Jimmy Dale keeps threatening to do that.”

“Yeah. Um, listen, I’m real sorry about your parents, Jeremy.”

The younger boy nodded and looked down, responding with a simple, quiet, “Thank you.”

Rafael took a breath and said, “So, I guess you’re wondering why I’m here.”

“Well, yeah,” Jeremy replied, looking up at the teenager. He could faintly smell Rafael’s perspiration from three feet away and it was almost intoxicating to the boy. He stared in awe at the teenager, still having difficulty believing that Rafael Colon, the most beautiful guy in the world, the best dancer ever from Greensburg Ballet School, the boy who had inspired him to enter ballet, and the object of so many of his masturbatory fantasies, was sitting before him. It was only his astonishment at the situation and his feeling of unreality that Rafael was in his bedroom that kept him from becoming hard.

Rafael took another breath and said, “Well, I heard about your situation the other night when I got home. Holly Hollister’s parents had dinner with my mom and me at The Club and told me.”

Jeremy nodded and looked down in shame.

“So, I guess, it’s true,” Rafael said. “Your uncle won’t let you dance.”

“No,” Jeremy almost whispered.

“How are you holding up?”

Jeremy looked up with red, moist, bitter eyes and replied, “How do you think I’m doing?”

Rafael flinched and nodded, responding, “Yeah, that was a stupid question. I know if it was me, I’d be suicidal. Literally. Or murderous. I couldn’t take it.”

“I can’t. I almost killed myself last night,” Jeremy said softly as he fought the sobs that threatened to burst forth.

“Oh, God,” Rafael replied. He rose from the bed and sat down beside the startled boy. He wrapped his arms around him and tried to pull him into an embrace. At first, Jeremy resisted and then surrendered. As the sound of the lawn mower sputtering to life entered through the open window, Jeremy lost control and began to cry.

“I’m sorry,” he cried. “I don’t mean to be a crybaby, but I can’t help it. I want to die.”

“I understand, Jeremy,” Rafael said as he held the younger boy tightly, his arms wrapped around Jeremy’s naked arms and shoulders. His face was buried in Jeremy’s hair and he sniffed it, breathing in the sweaty scent of the younger boy, and feeling his own heart break and his erection come to life. After a long moment of holding him, Rafael actually kissed the top of Jeremy’s head, which surprised him as much as it surprised Jeremy, who looked up with tear-filled eyes.

Rafael swallowed and said, “Jeremy, I want to help. I want to get you out of here, if I can. Do you think your aunt and uncle would let someone else take you?”

Jeremy’s eyes opened wide .

“I...I don’t know,” he replied with a hint of hope and surprise coming through the pain and tears. “I mean, they didn’t want me at first, but Uncle Jimmy said it was his duty and responsibility. But, I know he didn’t really want me.”

Rafael nodded and said, “I’ve been talking with your parents’ attorney and that’s what he said. And, Brian, too. So, anyway, my Mom would like to take custody of you, if she can and then you can come to New York and live with me and my Uncle Teddy and go to Ballet Academy the way you planned.”

“What?” Jeremy asked in disbelief through the tears. “You’re kidding me, right?”

“I’m serious,” Rafael replied as smiled down into the younger boy’s face, fighting the urge to kiss him.

Jeremy’s jaw started to quiver as he attempted to speak several times. Finally, Rafael grinned and nodded.

“Yes, Jeremy, I want to get you out of here and take you to New York, where you belong. Do you think your aunt and uncle with let us?”

“I don’t know,” Jeremy replied, trembling, “but I think they might. I think so. You want to go talk to Uncle Jimmy now?”

“No!” Rafael replied quite firmly. “I’m only here to see you and find out from you the real situation here, and if you want to leave, before I go back and tell Mom and Mr. Harrison. But, they want to meet him today, if they can. I want to take you back to New York this weekend, if we can, and then get you in shape for the fall audition on September 8. You think you’d like to do that?”

“Oh, God, yes!” Jeremy cried. “Yes! Thank you! Thank you! I don’t believe this! Thank you, Rafael! Thank you!”

Jeremy threw his arms around Rafael and the two hugged again as Jeremy began to cry anew, though from joy now instead of pain. After a moment, he pulled away with embarrassment as Rafael grinned and rose. He stepped over to the nightstand and tossed the Kleenex box to Jeremy, who chuckled as Rafael grinned and said, “You’re blubbering like a girl.”

Jeremy grinned back as he blew his nose and wiped his face.

“Rafael, why are you doing this for me?”

The teenager stood before him and shrugged as he said, “Someone had to. The Hollisters told us how awful the situation is and I knew that if it was me, I’d kill myself and... well, I just couldn’t sit back and do nothing, especially if you’re so good and, man, everyone, I mean everyone says you’re good. I wasn’t kidding out there when I told you what Madame said. She did say that you’re better than me.”

“I’m not,” Jeremy breathed as he wiped his nose again.

“Whatever. I want you at Ballet Academy,” Rafael said. “And, we’ll do whatever we have to do to get you there.”

Jeremy stood up and said, “I don’t know what to say. How do you thank someone for saving your life?”

Rafael smiled and stepped up to Jeremy. He took both of Jeremy’s hands and said, “You thank me by being the best damned dancer in New York. You thank me by kicking ass on the dance floor and blowing away Alistair Mountjoy.”

Jeremy sniffed again and leaned forward, wrapped his arms around Rafael again, and hugged. After a moment, Rafael stepped back and looked at his watch.

“It’s eleven-thirty, so I should probably get going before Uncle Scrooge sees me. My Mom and Mr. Harrison will come back sometime today or this evening to see your aunt and uncle.”

“They’ve got church, tonight,” Jeremy said, “so it would have to be this afternoon.”

Rafael nodded and the two stepped out of the room. Rafael said his good-byes to Jane and as he was walking out the front door, he looked back at Jeremy, gave him a quick upward nod and said, “Chin up. Stay positive, no matter what. Okay?”

“I will.”

As he left, Jane said, softly, “He’s a very nice young man.”

Jeremy nodded as he watched Rafael walk to his bike. As the teenager waved to Benji, who was almost finished mowing in front of the church, Jeremy said, “He’s the best. He’s just the best.”

“Jeremy,” Aunt Jane said with a suddenly serious tone, “I overheard some of what y’all were talking about in there.”

Jeremy turned in alarm and Jane put up her hand.

“Don’t worry. I’m not saying nothing to Jimmy. Jeremy, I know how much ballet means to you.”

“No, you don’t,” Jeremy replied. “I’ll kill myself if I can’t dance.”

“Don’t say that, Jeremy,” his aunt warned. “Just saying that’s a sin.”

“I will kill myself,” Jeremy repeated firmly.

Jane sighed deeply and said, “I don’t know what Jimmy Dale’s gonna say, sweetie, but I want you to know that I if it means that much to you, I think you should go to New York with Rafael. I don’t know if ballet is the devil’s work or not, but I know you’re a good boy, Jeremy. I know you’re good and I know you have a gift. I’ll... I’ll try to convince Jimmy Dale. When are they coming?”

Sometime this afternoon,” Jeremy replied. “I told him we have church tonight.”

She nodded and said, “I won’t say nothing until they can talk to him, but if you want it that much, I’ll try.”

Jeremy smiled and hugged his aunt.

“Thank you,” he whispered. “Thank you.”

“I’ll pray for you, Jeremy,” she said. “I’ll pray.”

“Thank you.”

Benji was pushing the mower over to start on the lawn in front of the house. Jeremy walked over and said with a smile, “I’ll take over here.”

Benji nodded and stood still for a moment before looking down and softly saying, “I can see why you have a crush on him.”

Jeremy nodded and watched as Benji turned and reentered the house. Jeremy took a deep breath and walked toward the garage for the gas can. He felt a new burst of energy and for the first time since his parents had died, he felt hope.

He felt hope.

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