of the Wicked Boys
Rafael was elated—and he was as hard and rigid as a bar of platinum. He was humming the beginning of Swan Lake as he happily rode his bike along Jeff Davis Blvd, toward the bridge. He couldn’t remember being this happy since... well, he actually couldn’t remember being this happy. It was going to happen. He was sure of it. Jeremy was coming to New York and he was going to live with Rafael and train at Ballet Academy of America and he and Rafael were going to...
Wait. How did that enter into the equation? This had been only the first time he had seen Jeremy since December 1965. He had never even thought of Jeremy since that night at Nutcracker until Monday evening. But, there was something...
When he saw that strong boy moving with such grace and ease as he seemed to dance with that lawn mower... Oh, for God’s sake, don’t be ridiculous. Yet...
He looked like a pugnacious boy who, even three years younger than he, could kick his ass all the way to Dallas. And, yet, the way he sat on that cot and cried. His face, that red hair, those freckles, those blue-grey eyes, so sensitive and full of life and pain...
This boy had listened to a speech Rafael had given at the age of eleven, a speech that was meant mostly to discourage him from becoming a dancer. Yet, Jeremy had taken it to heart, and he had done it. He had given it everything he had and he had done it. And, now, he was the best student—or at least had been the best student Madame Pulchova had. This boy, according to Madame, idolized Rafael. This boy, if his brother was to be believed, was in love with Rafael.
Was Rafael in love with him?
Ridiculous. Rafael Colon did not fall in love. Rafael had sex. Rafael had fun. Rafael did not do love. He did not do romance. And, yet...
Alistair Mountjoy had told him that he was one of the most expressive dancers he had ever seen. Alistair had seen him dance the final, climactic scene from Ice Prince in class. He had seen Rafael cry. He knew Rafael felt emotions, that he felt them deeply. So, was it really ridiculous that he, Rafael Colon, had fallen for this boy, this twelve year-old boy?
Yes. Rafael wasn’t into boys younger than he. He wanted men. I wanted a man to hold him and love him and be in charge. He wanted a man inside him. And, he’d had them. He’d had Alistair. He’d had Jacob Linley and Mario de Stefano, the great dancers of the Ballet of America. He’d had... he’d had his stepfather, though he was something else altogether. Rafael couldn’t be in love with Jeremy. Not after a twenty minute visit. Yet...
He was approaching the bridge across the Magnolia River. There were parks lining both banks of the river for several miles. He had heard years before that sometimes men met at the river at night, in the parks, in the trees and bushes, for illicit encounters. Rafael had never done anything like that, but suddenly the thought seemed interesting, oddly appealing. Of course, he wouldn’t do it. He didn’t need to. He was Rafael Colon. He was beautiful. He didn’t need to. He could walk into the locker room at The Club and have half the men in there, even those who were the most tragically straight. Yet...
No. He wouldn’t do that in the park. What if he were caught? What if he were arrested? It would be the end of his career. No. Yet...
He was crossing the bridge. On the other side was a parking lot where a number of cars sat. He could see couples—males and females of various ages—strolling among the crepe myrtle that lined the walking path along the river. He could also see several men strolling by themselves. Would they be there for that reason, in the middle of the day? There were also a couple of cars in which the drivers were sitting behind the wheels, just sitting, just looking around, older men. Just looking. One of the cars was an old Chrysler New Yorker, the other an old, green ’49 Ford. That was a distinctive car. He knew because his father, when Rafael was three or four, had been restoring one in the garage. Of course, it wasn’t a collectors’ item in 1958 or ’59, but his father said that someday it would be. And now, there was one, right there.
He started to turn off the bridge and ride through the park. Instead, he decided to go back home and spend some time in the pool. Yes. That was the real reason he had come back to Greensburg, to rest at the pool, before all this had started.
Rafael was floating on a raft in the pool, his sunglasses on, with a glass of iced tea in his hand when his mother returned from her luncheon.
“And, how is your dancing orphan?” she asked without preliminaries as she approached the pool.
Rafael smiled up at his mother and said, “He’s thrilled. He actually cried, Mom. He leaned against me and cried he was so grateful.”
“Hmm,” was his mother’s only reply.
“They have a church service this evening, so it would probably be better to go talk to Reverend Billy Bob this afternoon.”
His mother sighed and nodded. “I’ll call Grayson now. You’d better get out of the pool and get ready.”
Rafael rolled off the mat and, holding his tea in the air, walked to the side of the pool and climbed out.
“You’re doing a wonderful thing, Mom,” he said, repeating himself from earlier. “If you could have seen him crying, it would have broken even your heart.”
“Ridiculous,” she snapped as she turned and marched toward the glass doors. “I just want to make certain Grayson understands the financial obligations.”
Rafael grinned and said, “You can pretend all you want, Mom, but Teddy’s going to have to come up with another nickname for you. I don’t think ‘Cruella’ quite fits anymore.”
She stopped in the open door, turned, gave him as evil a look as he had ever seen from her, and repeated her warning from Monday afternoon, “Rafael, I have ways of punishing you that you cannot even imagine.”
He picked up the towel and smiled as he dried himself off.
An hour and a half later, Grayson Harrison’s Lincoln, carrying Rafael and his mother, turned off Jeff Davis Boulevard at the Texaco station and headed down Vicksburg Avenue. Gloria looked around her in horror at the small houses and the ill-kept lawns.
“Dear God, how do these people stand it over here?” she asked in wonder.
Rafael met Grayson Harrison’s twinkling eyes in the mirror and replied, “They drink a lot.”
“Hell, I drink a lot and I still hate where I live,” his mother replied.
Rafael had two or three smart rejoinders but decided that as long as his mother was making an effort at humanity, even if for a mercenary reason, he should refrain from pushing the limits. As they approached the McCoy house and the Westside Tabernacle, Rafael could see Benji and another boy playing catch in the front yard. He didn’t see Jeremy, however. And, then he froze.
The car passed the house and turned into the gravel parking lot of the church next door. Even so, Rafael’s eyes were locked on an old, green ’49 Ford parked in the driveway of the house next door to the church.
Benji and his friend had stopped playing catch and were both watching as the three climbed from the air-conditioned comfort of the Lincoln and into the dusty, hot, bright sunshine outside the cinder-block church. Rafael’s mother was not happy having to cross the gravel in high heels and Rafael took her arm to assist. He waved at Benji and smiled. Jeremy’s cousin waved and started to yell something when the aluminum screen on the front door of the house burst open. The three stopped as a redheaded boy in denim shorts and a white tee-shirt came running toward them.
“Hey, Rafael!” he called breathlessly as he approached.
Rafael’s mother stiffened and Grayson Harrison grinned.
“Hey, Jeremy,” Rafael replied. “You know Mr. Harrison, don’t you?”
The boy nodded and said a quick, “Hey, Mr. Harrison,” turning before the man could reply toward Rafael’s mother.
He looked up at her with tears in his eyes as Rafael smiled and said, “Mom, this is Jeremy Fenwick. Jeremy, my mother, Gloria Hampton.”
“Mrs. Hampton,” Jeremy began, his voice quivering, “thank you. I don’t know what to say. Thank you. Thank you!”
He made as if he were going to hug her, but out of sight of his mother, Rafael gave him a quick, nervous, negative shake of the head. Jeremy stopped, confused, as he saw Gloria Hampton seeming to shrink from him. The boy swallowed and said, “You don’t know how grateful I am for what you are doing, Mrs. Hampton, and I promise I will do everything I can to make this up to you. I’ll do anything you want. Thank you.”
“Well, you needn’t overreact Jeremy,” she replied with an uncomfortable smile. “I knew your parents and your grandparents, of course, and... I saw you perform in The Nutcracker last year and... well, it would be a shame to see such talent go to waste.”
Tears were streaming down his face as Jeremy sniffed and said, “Thank you. Thank you.”
“Well,” said Harrison, “I think we’d better go inside and meet Pastor McCoy.”
Rafael turned to Jeremy as his mother and the attorney entered the front door of the church. “Come on. I think you ought to be part of this.”
Jeremy was obviously afraid. Rafael smiled down at him, resisted the urge to take the boy in his arms, and simply said, “It’s okay, Jeremy. Come on.”
He noticed Jeremy’s aunt crossing the lawn from the house. She nodded as she approached them. With a hand on Jeremy’s shoulder, she led the two boys into the building.
Rafael’s mother looked around with wide-eyed disapproval at the Spartan interior of the church. The cinder-block walls inside were painted the same yellow as the exterior. The ten rows of pews were scratched and scuffed, and held old, battered hymnals. In the front was a giant wooden cross, a piano, a lectern facing the pews, and a couple of rows of pews behind for the choir. No paintings or pictures. The windows were white-fogged glass.
“How in the world do they worship here?” she whispered as they walked through.
“Mom, a church isn’t the building,” Rafael replied. “You can pray to God anywhere. You don’t need a fancy cathedral.”
Jeremy looked at Rafael with surprise and smiled. Gloria sighed and straightened her shoulders even tighter as Harrison led them through a side door.
Jimmy Dale McCoy emerged from his office beside the sanctuary. He started to smile until he saw Jeremy. He frowned when he saw Rafael, who had changed into a conservative pair of shorts and a plain, short-sleeved sport-shirt. Nonetheless, he looked at the teenager’s longish curls, his pretty face, his dancers’ legs, and narrowed his eyes. He turned his attention to Grayson Harrison, the attorney.
“Jeremy’s not gonna dance, Harrison,” the pastor declared.
Grayson Harrison smiled and said, “Pastor, may we come into your office. I’d like you to meet someone.”
“Does it involve Jeremy dancing?” Jimmy Dale asked.
Jeremy had a frightened look on his face. Rafael put his hand on the boy’s shoulder as Jane placed her own hand on his other.
“Pastor McCoy,” Rafael’s mother declared as she stepped forward, “I’m Gloria Hampton. I’d like custody of Jeremy. I’m not here to debate whether dancing is sinful or not. The boy is miserable. He’s suicidal. His parents, including his mother, your sister-in-law, intended Jeremy to train. They intended to send him to New York to train at the best school in the country. I would like custody of the boy. I know it’s been a burden for you taking him. I’d like to take him off your hands. This is my son, Rafael. He trains at Ballet Academy of America, where Jeremy would train.”
Jimmy Dale looked Rafael in the eye. Rafael held the look. Jimmy Dale’s eyes dropped down Rafael’s body. Suddenly, the teenager wished he had worn something more... provocative.
Jimmy Dale looked at Gloria and said, simply, “No.”
Rafael felt Jeremy slump as the boy cried, “Uncle Jimmy, please!”
“Jimmy Dale,” Aunt Jane said, “you need to listen to what they have to say. I think you...”
“You’re my wife, Jane,” Jimmy Dale declared. “Your job is not to think. Your job is to obey me. Be quiet.”
Gloria’s eyes grew wide for only a fraction of a second. Jane shrank back. Jeremy clenched his hands and pressed his lips tightly together. Grayson Harrison stepped forward and said, softly, “Pastor, I’m sure no one wants to see Jeremy’s life destroyed and you know the boy’s in deep emotional pain. Your family is experiencing turmoil and it would make things much easier for everyone involved if Jeremy left and...”
Rafael noticed that Jimmy Dale had glanced at him again and suddenly, he began to get an erection, which he made no attempt to hide. He watched the man’s reaction as his mother said, “Pastor, I think perhaps there are some other issues we might discuss if we could go into your office.”
“We have nothing to discuss,” Jimmy Dale responded coldly, even as his eyes glanced back at Rafael’s shorts, where his erection had reached full bloom. His eyes rose back to Rafael’s eyes as the boy looked deeply into the man’s.
“Pastor,” Gloria said, controlling her impatience, “I believe there a number of things with your church that we could possible assist you with. I’m prepared to write a check for several thousand dollars to your church. I’m sure your ministry could use some help. I’m prepared to create a trust fund to assist your church with whatever issues you believe...”
“Are you offering to buy Jeremy’s soul?” Jimmy Dale asked.
Gloria watched him as his eyes darted over to Rafael again. She cocked her head slightly and said, “Yes, if you want to phrase it that way, though I don’t think I’m buying his soul as much as his freedom.”
Jimmy Dale inhaled deeply and said, “Just how much do you think his soul, or his freedom as you put it, is worth?”
“Five thousand dollars?”
Jeremy gasped. Rafael looked at his mother with shock. Even Grayson Harrison had trouble maintaining his attorney’s composure. A smile formed on the edge of Jimmy Dale’s lips for just a second before he turned up his nose and declared, “I think you should leave now. I am saving Jeremy’s soul and I won’t be bought. Good-bye.”
“Pastor,” Gloria declared firmly, “there are many people in this city, wealthy, powerful people who are concerned for Jeremy.”
Jimmy Dale smiled and replied, “And, I have the Lord on my side.”
He turned as Jeremy cried, “Uncle Jimmy, please! Please! I’m begging you! I have to dance! Please! I’m going crazy!”
“I’ll deal with you later,” the man declared with a threatening voice as he looked back over his shoulder and closed the door to his office behind him.
Gloria stood there with a cynical smile on her face. Jane fought back her tears as Jeremy looked up at Rafael. The teenager wrapped his arms around the boy and softly said, “This isn’t over, yet. Don’t worry, Jeremy.”
Gloria nodded as she turned her gaze toward the boys and said, “We’re negotiating. Didn’t you see the look in his eyes with my first offer? We’re negotiating. We just haven’t come to an acceptable figure yet.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” Jane replied. “I don’t think Jimmy Dale can be bought.”
“Yes, he can,” Rafael said as he took Jeremy by the arm and headed back toward the sanctuary, “and I know what he wants.”
As they stepped outside, back into the afternoon sun and heat, Rafael led Jeremy to the corner of the building. Benji and his friend were still playing catch beyond, so Rafael leaned over and asked in a soft voice, “Does your uncle disappear sometimes at night?”
“Yeah,” Jeremy replied with surprise. “How’d you know?”
Rafael smiled and said, “Does he ever say where he’s going?”
Jeremy shrugged and replied, “Usually, it’s to visit some sick member of the congregation. I don’t believe him, though.”
Rafael smiled even more broadly and said, “Don’t worry, Jeremy. Between Mom and me, we’re gonna get you out of here. In another week or two, you and I are going to be in New York and we’re going to be getting you ready for your audition. You’re going to dance, Jeremy. Trust me. Trust me.”
Jeremy looked into Rafael’s eyes and whispered, merely, “Thank you.”
Rafael looked back. Jeremy was a few inches shorter, not having hit his first serious growth spurt, so he was looking down into the boy’s face. He had the most powerful urge to kiss the boy. Instead, he swallowed and said, “Just be patient, Jeremy. We’ll get this done.”
He squeezed Jeremy’s shoulder as they both turned to see the three adults emerging from the church. Rafael’s mother was saying to Jeremy’s aunt, “Jane, we don’t want to put you in a difficult position with your husband. You protect yourself.”
“Mrs. Hampton, I want to help Jeremy. I want him to be happy. I don’t think the Lord would have given him this gift if he didn’t want him to use it. I want you to save him, if you can. I just don’t know how much I can do. Jimmy Dale’s my husband.”
“I know, dear,” Gloria replied. “I know. Don’t you worry. We’ll be in touch.”
Grayson Harrison took Gloria by the arm and they walked back to the car. Rafael squeezed Jeremy’s shoulder and whispered, “If you have to escape, if something happens, we live at 2121 Somerset Drive and out phone number is Magnolia 3-1212. Can you remember that.”
Jeremy nodded as Jane placed her hand on her nephew’s shoulder. He smiled and said, “Thank you, Rafael.”
He smiled and said to both, “Don’t worry.”
He hurried back to the car, where his mother and the attorney were now waiting. He climbed into the back seat and closed the door as he smiled and waved to Jeremy. The redheaded boy looked so worried and forlorn standing by the corner of the church that Rafael was almost inclined to run back out of the car and hug him. However, Harrison pulled away as Gloria said, “I think we will have a settlement with the good pastor tomorrow.”
“Perhaps,” Grayson said, “but it’s going to cost you even more. You stoked his ego when you said that there were wealthy and powerful people on Jeremy’s side.”
“Possibly,” Gloria replied as they drove past the church and on down the street. Rafael gave Jeremy a final wave from the opposite window as she continued, “but, I want him to know who he’s dealing with and understand the implied threat.”
Rafael was sitting behind Harrison and his mother looked over the back of the seat at him.
“Rafael,” she said in a warning voice, “what are you thinking?”
“Nothing, Mother Dear,” he replied with a smile.
“Yes, you are. I know you.”
He simply smiled innocently and replied, “Well, I am Gloria Hampton’s son.”
“That’s what scares me,” his mother replied. “I don’t want you to get involved in this. You let Grayson and me handle this.”
“Oh, I am,” he replied in the same innocent tone. “Although, you took me by surprise by offering to pay him five thousand dollars. I thought you were doing this to make money.”
“I was,” his mother replied. “But, the ignoramus has gotten under my skin and the goal now is to win. I want to get Jeremy out of there and I want to bury that Neanderthal.”
Rafael smiled and said, “Well, maybe we can.”
Harrison looked into the rearview mirror as Gloria looked over her shoulder. Both said, “Rafael,” in warning tones.
“What?” Rafael asked with his hands up. “I’m just expressing my faith in you two.”
Gloria watched her son for several seconds before she mouthed the words, “Be careful,” and he nodded imperceptibly, neither of which went unnoticed by Grayson Harrison.
Jane and Jeremy were walking back to the front door of the house as they watched the dark Lincoln Town Car drive away. Benji approached and asked softly, “I guess Dad said ‘No?’”
Jeremy nodded silently and Jane said, “Benji, why don’t you and your cousin go play some catch.”
“Sure,” Benji said and surprised Jeremy with a smile.
Jeremy paused and then asked, “You really want to play catch with me?”
Benji nodded and softly replied, “Yeah.”
Realizing that Benji had somewhat resolved the conflict in his heart and mind from the night before, Jeremy smiled and stepped toward the front lawn. However, before Benji’s friend could relinquish his glove, Jimmy Dale appeared by the garage, having come out the side door.
“Jeremy!” he yelled angrily. “Come here, boy!”
Jeremy stood still for a moment, looking at the man with fear. Jane stood at the front door, watching with a similar look. The man gave her a warning look and she shrank back. He looked back at Jeremy and said, slowly and emphatically, “Come here! We need to talk.”
Nervously, Jeremy stepped forward as he walked toward his uncle, he saw Benji swallow fearfully. Jeremy took a deep breath and stood tall. He refused to show the man any fear. He walked as bravely as he could up to the man and Jimmy Dale grabbed his shirt collar. Jeremy ripped himself free and said, “I’ll come, but you’re not gonna drag me. I’m coming.”
With his son watching him, Jimmy Dale glared at Jeremy with his hand raised, ready to strike the boy. He took a deep breath and slowly dropped the hand. He marched toward the side door of the church and demanded, “Follow me.”
Jeremy did so and when they were inside the hallway, and the door was closed, the man grabbed the boy and viciously backhanded him, knocking Jeremy to the floor. With tears of pain, rage, and humiliation, Jeremy looked up at the man as he reached down, pulled him partially up and cruelly slapped him again.
“Now, get up,” the man ordered contemptuously.
Jeremy stood holding his face, his red, moist eyes blazing with hatred as the man towered over him.
“Come on,” Jimmy Dale ordered as he turned and marched to his office. Jeremy slowly followed and entered the office behind him.
“Close the door.”
Jimmy Dale looked at him with surprise and then rage. Jeremy quickly closed the door and the man stood behind the desk and said, “I should rip my belt off now and beat you ‘til you pass out, you damned, spoiled little brat, but I’m not gonna give you the satisfaction of showing that rich bitch your welts.”
Jeremy felt another flush of anger at the man’s words, but he kept silent as he stared at him with contempt.
“Why did you call them?” Jimmy Dale demanded.
“I didn’t! Rafael came by on his own this morning to see me. He said his mom wanted to get custody of me so I could start training again. Then, they called Aunt Jane and said they wanted to talk to you this afternoon. I didn’t call them.”
“Tell me about this Hampton woman. Is she one of the Hamptons?”
“I guess. She was married to Stephen Hampton. They named Hampton Park after them.”
Jimmy Dale raised an eyebrow and asked, “Is she as rich as your father was?”
“I don’t know,” Jeremy replied. “What does that matter?”
“I want to know who I’m dealing with,” Jimmy Dale replied. He examined Jeremy carefully before he asked, “Tell me about that fruit son of hers. You and him friends?”
“I don’t know,” Jeremy replied.
“What do you mean, you don’t know? Are you friends or not?”
Jeremy shrugged and replied, “I don’t know. Today was the first time I’d seen Rafael since I was seven. He was in The Nutcracker in 1965 and we went to see it and that’s when I decided I wanted to dance.”
“Liar. Then why do they want to take custody of you? Did you ever have sex with him? And, don’t lie. I’ll know if you’re lying.”
Jeremy turned his head in disgust and replied, “No, I haven’t had sex with Rafael. I’m not queer.”
“I don’t know,” Jeremy replied with exasperation. “Why are you asking?”
“Shut up!” the man yelled. He narrowed his eyes and demanded, “Why do they want you so bad? Are they gonna get some of your money?”
“No!” Jeremy replied, looking at the man as if he were insane, which the boy considered was a real possibility. “How can they get my money? I can’t get to it until I’m eighteen, and even then, I only get a little bit. They’re just doing it because they feel sorry for me and they want to help.”
“I don’t believe it,” Jimmy Dale replied. “That kind never does anything unless there’s something in it for them. Well, if they want you, they’re gonna have to pay.”
Jeremy shook his head with disgust before he said, “You don’t give a hoot about my soul, do you?”
“Why should I?” Jimmy Dale replied. “You’re gonna burn in Hell no matter what I do. I can’t save you, but I can help Jane get what she deserves. You’re momma didn’t leave her anything but a pittance. It wasn’t fair. Just you and Brian, a drunk and a dancing queer.”
“I’m not queer!” Jeremy yelled.
Jimmy Dale raised his hand again and Jeremy stepped back. The man nodded and said, “I’m gonna use you to get all I can from that high-cotton trash. They think they’re so much better than us. Well, they ain’t and if they want you, they’re gonna pay. “
He then walked around the desk to Jeremy and grabbed his collar. Holding the boy up, he said, “You don’t talk to them, boy. You don’t call them. You don’t see them. You got me? ‘Cause, if you do, I will beat you and you know I will. I’ll beat you so hard you’ll wish you’d never been born. You understand?”
“Yes,” Jeremy replied with disdain.
The man shoved him against the wall and then opened the door.
Jeremy hurried from the office and out of the building. Angrily, tears in his eyes again, he marched around the house, past the nervous and fearful Benji, and into the house.
Jane was in the kitchen when she heard the screen door close. He looked out and saw Jeremy storm past her and into the hallway. She shrank back into the kitchen and began to pray.
Benji soon entered the house, crept through the living room, saw his mother praying in the kitchen, and pressed his lips tightly and fearfully together as he crept to the bedroom. The door was closed and when he opened it, he found Jeremy sitting on his cot, breathing hard and looking down at the floor with fury and loathing.
“Are you okay, Jeremy?”
“No!” he replied angrily. With quiet fury, he added, “I’m not queer. I’m not.”
Benji paused and replied slowly and with confusion, “Okay.”
Jeremy looked up and into his cousins eyes as he softly said, “He’s evil, Benji. He’s evil.”
Benji started to object, but he saw the intensity in Jeremy’s eyes. Instead, he asked, “What happened?”
Jeremy shook his head. “I can’t tell you, Benji. He’s your daddy, but... he’s evil.”
“Don’t say that, Jeremy,” Benji said in an almost whisper.
Jeremy looked him in the eyes for several seconds and then looked down.
“Leave me alone, Benji.”
His cousin sniffed and nodded. He turned, but as he was about to close the door behind him, he whispered, “I love you, Jeremy.”
Jeremy took a breath. He swallowed and whispered, “I love you, too, Benji.”
Slowly, his cousin closed the door and left Jeremy alone in the stifling room., the sound of a distant mower in the background and the smell of pork chops frying in the kitchen.He was going to get even with Jimmy Dale McCoy. Somehow, some way, he was going to get even with that man, if it was the last thing he ever did.