of the Wicked Boys
“He’s a queer and there’s nothing I can do about it.”
He was standing in the hallway outside his father’s study. He was going to ask his father a question, but when he heard the man’s voice on the other side of the door, he stopped, the shock of the words feeling like a slap to the face.
“No, he’s never done anything that I know of and he’s never said anything to me about it, but he’s a ballet dancer, for God’s sake.”
He swallowed and as the tears of humiliation formed in his eyes, he turned to walk away only to find his brother looming over him, a smirk on his face.
“Eavesdropping on Dad?” Brian asked, his arms crossed before him.
“I didn’t mean to,” Jeremy responded. “I was going to ask him something and then... I heard him say something on the phone and... you all hate me, don’t you?”
“Why?” Brian asked. “Cause you’re a fag?”
“I’m not a fag!” the eleven year-old declared, his fists clenched. “Take it back!”
“What the hell?” Brian cackled. “You aren’t going to try to kick my ass, are you?”
“I’m not a fag!” Jeremy yelled furiously before he kicked his seventeen year-old brother in the crotch. As the shocked Brian bent over in pain, Jeremy began to pummel his face with his fists.
“Son of a bitch!” Brian cried furiously.
Before the high school senior could slug the sixth grader, however, their father appeared in the door from the study and exclaimed, “What in the hell?”
He quickly grabbed the wildly punching Jeremy from behind and lifted him up as Jeremy screamed at Brian, “I’m not a fag! Take it back! Take it back!”
“You God-damned pussy faggot queer!” his brother yelled as he rubbed his eyes and nose.
“Brian! Shut up!” their father yelled as he held the still struggling Jeremy. “Jeremy! Get control of yourself! Stop it! Now!”
Tears of fury flowing down his face, Jeremy turned to his father and declared, “I’m not a queer!”
“I’m not a queer!”
He suddenly jerked up in his bed and looked around. Lights were on and Rafael Colon was standing beside the bed looking down at him with shock. Jeremy was panting and covered with sweat. He was wearing a pair of tight, blue athletic shorts and a tight, sleeveless tee-shirt. He looked as if he had just been caught doing something vile and disgusting.
“Jeremy? Are you all right?” he asked nervously.
Jeremy blushed with embarrassment and turned his head before responding, “I... was having a... bad dream.”
“Yeah, I guess,” Rafael replied.
“I’m sorry,” Jeremy muttered, unable to look Rafael in the face.
The teenager nodded and said, “I didn’t mean to scare you. I knocked, but I guess you didn’t hear. It’s seven o’clock and I thought you might want to get up now, have a little to eat, and start working out.”
Jeremy breathed deeply for several seconds and then replied, “Um, yeah. Cool. Okay.”
Rafael turned and said, “Great. I’ll be up on the patio when you’re ready. Come on up anytime.”
He quickly left the room and hurried up the stairs, his stomach sick with self-reproach. This was obviously a difficult subject for the boy and Rafael had clearly made it more difficult for him by losing control the previous evening and kissing him when they had fallen to the floor. Jeremy clearly wasn’t gay and he had some serious issues about the subject tied in with being a dancer. What Madame Pulchova had said was obviously true. Jeremy was quite ashamed of himself, even though he loved dancing and ballet. He was going to have to help the boy overcome this, though how to do it without compounding the problem and making it permanent was beyond him. Perhaps, he could start by bringing Brian Fenwick over and having him tell Jeremy what he had told Rafael, that their father had been proud of Jeremy, proud of his determination and his motivation. If Jeremy only knew, only realized how much his father had actually respected him, perhaps he would be able to overcome these shame issues and free himself.
His mother was not yet up when he sat down at the table on the patio. A cool breeze blew across the lawn and birds were chirping all around him as he drank from his glass of orange juice. He took a bite of his English muffin and remembered mornings just like this one when he was a young boy, when his mother and stepfather would sit out there, just as he was now. Sometimes they were welcoming, sometimes not. He felt a sudden rush of emotion and an intense desire to return to New York, to ride the bus down Broadway from Uncle Teddy’s apartment to Ballet Academy, to become lost in the crowds, to feel the freedom. There was too much “past” here. What little “past” he had in New York wasn’t suffocating.
“Rafael,” Claretta asked as she emerged from inside, “you okay, sugar?”
He realized he must have had a look on his face. He smiled up at the housekeeper and simply replied, “Just thinking. Just remembering.”
She came out to the table and put a gentle hand on Rafael’s shoulder as she softly said, “Your Momma got a lot to make up for. I think she wants to, now, but she got a lot to do.”
Rafael sighed and said, “Mom’s Mom. She’ll do what she can.”
There was a sound from inside the house. Both turned and found Gloria Hampton approaching in her robe. She was not her usual proud and arrogant self. She seemed almost broken.
“I’d like some black coffee, Claretta,” she said with a tired smile as she sat down at the table. Claretta nodded and hurried off as Rafael asked, “Are you feeling well, Mom? You’re not hung-over, are you?”
His mother took a deep breath and shook her head.
“Rafael, I owe you some explanations and some apologies,” she said wearily.
Rafael sat back, but said nothing. He knew this was going to be difficult for the prideful woman, but he wasn’t going to make it easier for her. He looked patiently at her and waited. She took a deep breath and then spoke.
“I spoke with Teddy and I’ve spoken with Grayson, as well, about your life with Stephen. I knew Stephen was a homosexual when we married. It was a marriage of convenience for the two of us. His father was insisting that Stephen marry or risk losing his inheritance. I simply wanted financial security. Yes, your father left us well-off, but I wanted more. I wanted to make certain that neither of us would ever fear being without...security.”
She sighed heavily and continued, “I knew that Stephen was having sex with you, but I didn’t think it was a serious problem. I knew you were going to grow up to be homosexual. I knew when you were five you were that way. I don’t say that to insult you or to put your down in any way, Rafael, but it was obvious. So, I didn’t think he was going to leave you with any lasting harm. You were never close to me and I must admit that I was never close to you, so I didn’t feel any need to intervene. I was wrong. I know that now. I should have protected you.”
She stopped as Claretta returned carrying a tray with a silver coffee pot and a cup, which she set on the table.
“I’ll pour, Claretta,” his mother said. “Thank you.”
The housekeeper nodded. Her eyes met Rafael’s as she turned and the teenager smiled at her. When she had returned inside, his mother resumed.
“I knew that Stephen had problems. He was ambivalent about his homosexuality. I don’t know why he was, what do they call it now... gay? We just called it ‘queer.’ I don’t know if someone did something to him when he was young, if that is why he felt compelled to use you or if he was just born that way. I could understand if he was loving with you and treated you with compassion and care. But, I turned a blind eye to the times when I heard him insult you and hurt you. I suppose I didn’t want to know. I have to tell you, I didn’t know about the rapes. I didn’t know how violent he was with you when the two of you were alone. You have to believe me, Rafael, when I say that had I known about his violence with you, I would have stepped in and put a halt to it. I would have stopped him. I may be a selfish and cynical bitch, and I know I am, but I’m not that callous and unfeeling. Yes, I know I have taunted you about the so-called soap opera of your life, but I just didn’t want to admit that I stood by and let you be hurt. I didn’t want to know. I didn’t want to dig and find the truth. I just wanted to believe that you were already gay and that it was all part of the homosexuality and the ballet and everything else.”
She had tears in her eyes as she said, “I didn’t know about the violence. I didn’t know about the rapes. I just thought it was loving and kind. I knew of the insults, but...”
Rafael couldn’t look at her. She took a deep breath and said, “I didn’t know. I didn’t want to know. And, then, yesterday, when you made that comment with Grayson about what Stephen had said to you, I knew it was true. Teddy had told me, but I didn’t want to believe him. Ted gets so melodramatic about everything that I just thought he was exaggerating about you and Stephen, but when you said that, I knew he was telling the truth. I knew.”
Rafael was biting his lip. She reached over and placed a hand on his arm.
“I’m sorry, Rafael. I’m sorry.”
He looked at her, his eyes moist, but said nothing.
“I can’t change completely,” she added. “I know I’m a bitch, but sometimes, being a bitch is all a woman has. But, I am going to try, Rafael. I will try with you... and with Jeremy. And, if the two of you... well, you have my blessing. He’s a good boy. Just don’t be a Stephen with him.”
Rafael was smiling at her through the tears in his eyes as she spoke until she made that last statement, ‘Just don’t be a Stephen with him.’ When she said that, he quickly turned his head, bit his lips again, felt like openly crying.
His mother didn’t notice, however. She was looking up at the sliding glass doors.
“Good morning, Jeremy,” she said with a friendly voice.
Rafael turned his head and saw the boy, wearing his shorts and tee-shirt, standing hesitantly in the doorway.
“Is this a bad time?” the boy asked nervously.
“No, not at all,” Gloria replied with a warm smile. “Get some orange juice and come join us.”
Claretta already had a glass prepared for him. She came up behind Jeremy and handed it to him. He thanked her shyly and then stepped out onto the patio.
“Have a seat next to Rafael, ,” Gloria said encouragingly and she pointed across the table.
Jeremy walked carefully around to the chair on Rafael’s left and slowly sat down. Rafael seemed particularly reserved to the boy and Jeremy assumed that it was because of him overhearing his outburst when he was dreaming. Perhaps, it was also the kiss, the previous evening, when Jeremy had to have encouraged Rafael somehow. He swallowed and asked, “How did you sleep, Rafael?”
“Not bad,” Rafael replied as Claretta appeared with some orange slices, a bowl of cereal, and an English muffin for Jeremy. The boy smiled at the woman and said, “Thank you, Claretta. It’s so wonderful to finally be able to eat healthy food!”
Claretta smiled back at him and placed a gentle hand on his shoulder before walking away.
As the younger boy ate, Gloria inhaled and then said, “I think, Jeremy, that I will visit with your aunt today. I know the poor woman is under a great deal of pressure right now and I’m sure she could use a little help and encouragement.”
Jeremy swallowed his bite and said, “That would be nice of you. Maybe, I could go with you?”
Gloria nodded and said, “I don’t think that would be a problem. We’ll go after lunch. How does that sound?”
“It’s sounds great,” Jeremy replied with a polite smile.
“And, we can spend the morning working and coming up with some ideas for your audition,” Rafael offered softly.
Jeremy gave him a reserved smile and replied, “Great.”
For the next several minutes none of the three spoke. Gloria looked out across pool and garden, obviously deep in private thoughts, Jeremy ate his breakfast, and Rafael stared at his orange juice. When Jeremy finally finished, Rafael said in a low tone, “Well, let’s get to work.”
Jeremy nodded and replied with a simple, “Okay.”
He started to pick up his dishes, but was stopped when Claretta appeared and declared, “Don’t you even think about it, Jeremy!”
She grinned at the boy and Jeremy blushed and smiled as he stepped aside and let the housekeeper take his dishes in. He followed her into the house and then waited for Rafael to lead the way back down to the basement.
As they entered the studio, Rafael walked over to the stereo and pulled out a large reel-to-reel tape, which he put on the player. As he threaded the tape through it to the take-up reel, he asked with artificial nonchalance, “So, you must have been having quite a nightmare this morning.”
Jeremy blushed and said, “Um, I suppose. I don’t really remember it.”
Rafael nodded as he turned on the tape player. As they walked over to the barre and began their stretches, he asked, “So, I’m curious. Did you run into a lot of teasing and bullying at school for being a dancer?”
Jeremy shook his head as he sat on the floor and began stretching. “Not really. If anyone said anything, I just pounded them into the dirt. That pretty much took care of it.”
Rafael chuckled and grinned as he looked at Jeremy, who smiled. “Well, all right. Man, I wish I’d had you around when I was at Breckenridge.”
“You know, if you act embarrassed,” Jeremy said, “they know it bugs you, so they do it more. But, I told everyone how hard it is to be a good dancer. Sometimes, I showed them what I had to do, what I could do. They were always surprised. So, nobody really made fun of me, except...”
He stopped and seemed to focus on his stretches. Rafael looked at him and asked, “Except?”
Jeremy shook his head and continued to stretch. Rafael let it go, but after a minute, he asked, “How do you feel about gay dancers?”
Jeremy looked up with surprise and shrugged. “I don’t... I don’t really think about it. I mean, I haven’t really been around a lot of other danseurs, except when I was in Nutcracker. They’re okay. Nobody ever did anything at Nutcracker and all the dancers were super good, so... I guess I don’t care.”
“It wouldn’t bother you if, say you were in the dorm at Ballet Academy and your roommate was gay?”
“No,” Jeremy replied. Rafael could tell he was uncomfortable with the questioning, but he couldn’t stop.
“So, Jeremy,” Rafael asked as he stopped and looked at the boy. “Have you ever... you know...”
Jeremy angrily sat up and replied, “Look, Rafael. I’m not gay! Okay? You don’t have to worry about me putting the moves on you! I know you’re straight and so am I. So, don’t worry!”
Rafael wanted to correct Jeremy misimpression, but he simply nodded and let it go. It was clear to him that this was a sensitive subject with Jeremy, so he looked down and focused on his stretches. For the rest of the morning, the two were serious and professional, practicing all the things that Jeremy had missed out on over the summer, and focusing on getting him back into shape.
Rafael was impressed with the younger boy’s determination. When he made a mistake or if a move wasn’t quite right, he repeated it over and over until he was certain it was flawless, even past the point Rafael was satisfied with it. Jeremy was a perfectionist. He was single-minded and unwavering in demanding the best of himself. Even when Rafael was tired and wanting to take a break, Jeremy pushed on.
“Jeremy,” he finally said. “We can’t push you too far. You’re not used to all this.”
“I’m fine,” the younger boy replied breathlessly, wiping the sweat from his face with a towel. “I kept working out over the summer when I could. It’s not like I completely went without any exercise. I know what I can do. I know how far I can push myself. If you’re tired, you can rest. I’m gonna keep on.”
Rafael almost felt insulted. He was Rafael Colon and he sure as hell wasn’t going to let some snot-nosed twelve year-old show him up! Rafael went back to work and didn’t let up until Claretta knocked on the door and announced it was time for lunch. Only then did Jeremy nod, winded and tired.
“Okay. I’m ready to quit for a while.”
“We can pick it up again tonight,” Rafael replied, feeling distinctly inferior to the younger boy.
“You know,” Jeremy said as he pulled his tee-shirt off, “you’re not bad for an older guy.”
“Hey, brat!” Rafael declared with mock offense. “There’s a reason they call me The Gazelle!”
“Because you smell like something from the jungle?” Jeremy replied with a grin.
Rafael stood before him in an attack stance, his fingers wiggling as he declared, “I’ll take care of that smart mouth on you, young’un!”
“No, you won’t!” Jeremy replied with a wary grin. “No one’s tickled me since I was five!”
“Well, I think it’s damn-well time someone did!”
Rafael looked at Jeremy’s torso, the wide, nickel-sized copper circles of his nipples, the outline of muscles in his abdomen, his strong arms, and felt a rush in his shorts, even as tired and hot as he was. Suddenly, he stopped and dropped his stance.
“Well, save it for later,” he said as he felt himself blushing. Rafael Colon did not blush from embarrassment and he was getting rather irritated at the number of times he had over the last week. He turned and said, “I’m going to go shower up stairs. You can have this one down here.”
Jeremy nodded, feeling disappointed. He would have enjoyed tussling with Rafael, of course, but he wondered if his new friend had called it off as he recognized that Jeremy was, perhaps, too excited about it. He sighed and thought to himself that he had to be more careful. He couldn’t continue to reveal his feelings. He was going to have to be cold, professional, withdrawn. Anything less risked exposing himself as queer to his hero.
As Rafael left the room, Jeremy stood for a moment, breathing deeply before walking to the refrigerator and pouring himself a glass of water. His dick was hard, though, and Jeremy, with a heavy heart, thought about Benji and how he wished he and his cousin could mess around. He would just have to settle for jacking off in the shower to relieve the pressure before he could be around Rafael safely.
Rafael was suffering from similar feelings as he walked through the kitchen. Claretta grinned and held her nose as she exclaimed, “Whoo, Rafi! You been workin’ hard!”
He grinned back at her and replied, “Sexy, aren’t I?”
“Don’t you tempt this old woman, now, or I’ll put you over my knee! You ain’t too big for me to give you a good whoopin’!”
“Don’t tease me, Claretta,” Rafael yelled back as he walked on. “I may force you to live up to your threats!”
Rafael went to his room as he felt his penis grow into a full erection inside his dance belt. He grabbed his robe and then walked to the bathroom. He stripped off and gazed at himself in the mirror, feeling the usual narcissistic arousal at the sight of his naked body and full erection. He decided that he would masturbate in the shower before bathing, but when he stood under the hot water and soaped up his rigid seven inches, it wasn’t he whom he thought of, but Jeremy, which was not a surprise to him. What was a surprise, however, was how he was thinking of Jeremy.
Every other time he had thought of the boy over the last few days, he had been the dominant partner. Of course, he would be. He was older and bigger than Jeremy. He was fifteen and Jeremy was twelve. He weighed more, he was taller, he was stronger. Of course, he would be the dominant partner. But, Rafael was never dominant when he had sex with other dancers his age or older. He loved to he held, to feel a man love him, enter him, control him, and that was how he thought of Jeremy at that moment. He wasn’t in charge; Jeremy was. He was on his knees, in his fantasy, before Jeremy and making love to the boy’s erection. Jeremy was holding his head and fucking his mouth, vigorously, dominantly. And, it was Rafael falling onto his back and lifting his legs into the air and Jeremy mounting him, entering him, fucking him. Jeremy, strong, powerful, serious, determined, masculine Jeremy. Hard, thrusting, controlling.
When Rafael came, his spasms were powerful and he almost lost his balance as he fell back against the wall of the shower and moaned loudly.
Oh, man, he thought to himself. That was weird. Did he really want Jeremy that way? If the kid really were straight, perhaps he might like doing that. Perhaps, the boy really would do something with Rafael if that was how he felt. Maybe...
No. He would not do anything, say anything to give the boy the feeling that any quid pro quo was at work here. In no way did he want Jeremy to think that Rafael expected Jeremy to perform in return for his rescue. He would not be Stephen, expecting Jeremy to pay his rent in trade.
But, if the boy wanted to...
No. He wasn’t even going to think about it. Besides, the boy had made his feelings on the subject clear.] Jeremy would not be made to feel uncomfortable. Rafael was not going to be Stephen. He was not.
After a lunch of salads Niçoise on the patio, Grayson Harrison drove Gloria and the boys across the river to the McCoy house. Jeremy was quiet and pensive throughout lunch and became even more so as they drove along Jeff Davis Boulevard and turned onto Vicksburg Avenue. He was sitting in the back seat with Rafael as he stared out the window at the small, cheap houses along the street on which he had lived for the previous two months. He clutched his hands together and bit his lip as he watched the houses pass. There were children in front of several of the houses and they stared at the Lincoln and the boy in the window, whom they, of course, recognized, as the car passed. Jeremy looked down, as if he were ashamed for them to see him.
“It’s not your fault, Jeremy,” Rafael said softly as he reached over and squeezed the boy’s shoulder.
“I know that,” Jeremy replied with irritation. “It’s just that... coming back brings back all those horrible feelings, like that I was never going to get out of here, that I was never going to dance again, that no one was ever going to....”
They pulled up to the McCoy house and parked on the street along the curb. Benji was nowhere to be seen as the four of them climbed from the car. Jeremy hesitated to move until Rafael came around the car to his side and walked with him behind Harrison and his mother. As they approached the house, a woman appeared in the door and smiled as she opened the screen.
“Hello,” she said with a welcoming voice. “You must be Mrs. Hampton and Mr. Harrison. I’m Betty Sue Taylor. Come on in. Jane’s just getting ready.”
Gloria and Harrison smiled graciously and thanked her as they entered.
“Jeremy, you look so handsome in your nice new clothes,” the woman said as the boy entered. “And, who’s your friend?”
Jeremy was embarrassed by the compliment. “Hey, Mrs. Taylor. Thank you, ma’am. This is Rafael Colon, Mrs. Hampton’s son.”
Rafael smiled and said, “Hello, Mrs. Taylor.”
The woman seemed speechless for a second as she looked at the handsome young man before her. Quickly, she looked away and offered coffee and apple pie. “Everyone’s been so kind and generous,” she explained. “They’ve all been bringing casseroles and pies over, just as if... someone had died.”
Jane McCoy appeared in the hallway and said softly, “Someone has died.”
Mrs. Taylor hurried forward and asked, “Are you okay, Jane, honey? Can I get you anything?”
“No, Betty Sue,” she replied quietly. “I’m just fine. But, we have to take care of our guests.”
Gloria stepped forward and took Jane’s hand, responding, “We’re fine, dear. We don’t need anything. We just had our lunch.”
Jane smiled sadly, her eyes still red, indicative that she had still been crying. As Harrison and the boys sat down on the couch, Gloria gently said, “I am so sorry for what you’re going through, dear.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Hampton,” Jane replied with a grateful smile.
“Jane, I want you to know that if you need anything, all you have to do is ask and I’ll see what I can do to help.”
“That’s so kind of you, Mrs. Hampton...”
“Call me Gloria.”
Jane blushed and said, “Gloria, but Benji and I will be just fine. We’re going to have to move and I need to go get a job. The church fired Jimmy Dale last night and he’s still in jail. We don’t have the money to bail him out, though even if we did, I don’t think I could. I won’t divorce him because I made a promise to God, but Jimmy Dale violated my trust and though I love him, he... he needs to repent and take responsibility and... and...”
She started to weep again. Gloria put her arm around her and guided her to a chair. She waited until Jane had recovered before sitting down in another chair.
Benji appeared in the hallway, but stood back. Jeremy’s eyes met those of his cousin and the other boy simply nodded once. Jeremy nodded back and gave Benji a sad, hopeful smile. Benji, however, looked down and made no other response.
“I suppose you want to talk about Jeremy and what we’re going to do about him, don’t you?” Jane asked when she had recovered.
“If you’re able to,” Gloria replied sympathetically.
Jeremy sat on the edge of the couch with his knees together and his hands on his thighs. It hadn’t occurred to him that he wouldn’t be going to New York, since he was staying with Rafael and his mother, but suddenly he became worried that perhaps things weren’t going to work out the way he wanted. Jane avoided his eyes as she stared at the floor and said, “I’ve thought a lot about this and I know it means a lot to Jeremy to dance and to continue his training and you people have been wonderful and generous to offer to take him, but he’s my nephew, my sister’s boy, and I have a responsibility to Charlotte to look after her son. I can’t just give up custody of Jeremy.”
The boy’s heart seemed to start beating twice as fast as he stared at his aunt in horror. His eyes grew wide with shock and he cried, “Aunt Jane! No! You can’t do this! Please! I have to dance! I have to go to New York!”
Rafael, his mother, and Grayson Harrison all looked at the woman with varying degrees of shock and consternation until she smiled sadly and shook her head.
“I know, sweetheart. I know how important it is to you, Jeremy, and I’m not going to stand in your way. You can go to New York with Rafael and go to the ballet school there. I just don’t want to give up my responsibility for you. I love you, Jeremy, and I have a responsibility to my sister to make certain that you’re raised right and that you become a good man.”
Jeremy closed his eyes as he sighed with relief and sat back. He opened his eyes and saw her smile of love and replied, “Thank you, Aunt Jane. Thank you.”
She turned her head to Gloria and said, “It’s not that I don’t trust you to do the right thing, Gloria. It’s just that Jeremy’s my responsibility and I love him.”
“I understand completely,” Gloria replied with a smile and a nod. “I don’t want to come between you two. I can assure you that my brother can be trusted and will take the best care of your nephew.”
“I’d like to meet him, if I could, before Jeremy leaves,” Jane responded.
Rafael felt a cold chill. There was no way Jane was going to go along with this if she met Uncle Teddy. Could he behave himself long enough to prove to Jane that he wasn’t Satan’s agent on earth?
Apparently Gloria was thinking the same thing, Rafael could see from the hesitance and the smile plastered on her face as she replied, “Of course, dear. Teddy has to come anyway to sign the temporary custody papers.”
Jane nodded and replied, “Good. So, when do you think they will be leaving?”
“I spoke with Teddy this morning and he’ll be flying down tomorrow. If we can meet Sunday, then Teddy and the boys can fly off Monday.”
Jane swallowed and looked at Jeremy, who was clearly surprised at how quickly he would be leaving. Jeremy looked wide-eyed first to Gloria and then to Rafael. The teenager smiled and shrugged. “What do you think?”
“I... think it’s a great idea. I can’t wait.”
Jeremy noticed Benji turn around in the hallway and disappear. He looked at Jane and said, “Do you think Benji would let me talk to him?”
Jane smiled sadly and said, “Benji loves you, but he’s very upset. I don’t know, sweetheart. You can try.”
Jeremy nodded and rose to his feet. He walked through the living room and the hallway to the bedroom and knocked on the door.
“Benji, can I talk to you?”
There was no response. Jeremy gently opened the door and asked, “Benji? Please, can I talk to you?”
His cousin was sitting on the side of the bed, his head bowed, his hands folded in his lap. He made no response. Jeremy stepped in and closed the door behind him. His cot had been folded up and was resting against the wall by the closet. He sat down on the bed beside Benji.
“Benji, I’m so sorry all this had happened, but I swear, I didn’t have anything to do with it. I love you and Aunt Jane. I know this has been awful for you.”
“Yeah. Whatever. You come in here and everyone feels sorry for poor Jeremy and you tear us apart and then when Dad goes to jail, you just fly off all happy and you get to do what you always wanted and you leave me here to face everyone looking at me and laughing at me and saying, “There’s Jimmy Dale McCoy’s boy.”
Jeremy bowed his head in shame and said, “Maybe you can come with us to New York.”
Benji shook his head and said, “You know I can’t leave Momma.”
Jeremy put his arm around Benji. At first, his cousin resisted, but Jeremy wouldn’t give up and Benji finally gave in and let his cousin hug him.
“I’m gonna miss you, Jeremy.”
“I’m going to miss you, too, Benji. But, Aunt Jane wants to keep custody and let me go to New York, so you’ll see me over the holidays and during summers.”
Benji looked up and smiled, responding, “Well, that’s something.”
“Unless, Uncle Jimmy doesn’t want to see me anymore.”
“I don’t want to see Dad anymore,” Benji replied.
“Benji, he’s your father. Mean as he is, he’s still your father.”
Benji shook his head in shame, saying, “I suppose, but I’ll never look at him the same. I heard what he was doing in the park.”
“Maybe this will change him.”
“Maybe. I don’t know,” Benji muttered. Afraid to look at Jeremy, he added, “I wish we could do it again.”
“Yeah,” Jeremy replied. “That would be nice, but Rafael and I are working a lot in his basement. He’s got this far out dance floor and we work and practice there a lot.”
Benji looked over and asked, “Um, well, have you... you know... done it with him yet?”
“Oh, no!” Jeremy replied. “Rafael’s not like that.”
Benji frowned and said, “You sure? He sure looks like it.”
Jeremy frowned and shook his head as he replied, “Maybe, but he’s not. Besides, he’s too professional. He’s too dedicated to his dancing. I have to be as dedicated and as hard-working as he is.”
Benji nodded and Jeremy said, “I’ll be back before we leave. Maybe I can spend one more night here before I go.”
Benji smiled at the boy and said, “That would be nice. I hope so.”
Jeremy nodded and said, “Well, I suppose I should go. I’ll see you, Benji.”
“See ya,” Benji replied as Jeremy leaned over and kissed his cousin on the forehead. Benji leaned up and the two kissed on the lips before Jeremy rose and stepped to the door.
When he returned to the living room, Rafael watched him and Jeremy struggled to appear completely “normal.” The adults were saying their good-byes and as they rose, Jeremy hung back with Rafael and after hugging his Aunt good-bye, he walked back to the car with Rafael.
On the drive back to the house, neither boy spoke. Jeremy stared down at his feet as he sat in the back of the car. Rafael pretended to look around at the city, though he frequently glanced over at the other boy. He knew that Jeremy wasn’t comfortable at that moment and, to be honest, neither was he. They knew now they were going to New York, but would they be able to work together, to live together?Rafael wasn’t sure... and neither was Jeremy.