They lay on the grass under the trees, and everyone else had gone home from school. It was the end of the school week – things were always quiet then. Mae hadn’t been very talkative, and Reven closed the comic eventually. “You wanna get home?” She’d told her Father that she would be walked home by a friend, so that Adam could go off with his own friends. Reven would make sure she got home safely, even if he couldn’t take her to the door.
“No,” she said, and there was something in her tone that startled him.
“Is there trouble there? Your Dad?” He knew what a dragon their father could be, both Mae and Adam had told him. “Your Mom ill again -?”
She sighed, not answering directly. “I know you’re seeing Adam, Reven. He creeps out at night – thinks I’m asleep. He’s done it for years.”
Reven was silent for a moment, then he spoke softly to her. “It’s OK. He’s OK with me.” His skin had grown cold. He was suddenly afraid of things he couldn’t name. He felt that the ground shifted slightly beneath him, and he lost his footing.
“I know that!” she almost snapped back. “But you must keep him out of trouble, Reven! Things have been getting worse and worse between him and Father. They argue so much – Adam fights so much, to say what he wants, to <i>do</i> what he wants…”
“Since recently?” Reven whispered. Is it because of me? Is it my fault?
“No. It’s been like that for years now. I see Adam when Father thinks he’s sent him
to his room – thinks he’s beaten his rudeness out of him. I’ve seen Adam cry – and I’ve seen Adam punch
Reven’s eyes widened. “Mae, are you OK -?”
She laughed then, but it was a little strained. “Oh, of course I am! Adam would never hurt me. And I’m a good girl, Reven. I say what they want to hear. I smile and I’m quiet, and I say my prayers. That way we all get on. And I try to keep Mother and Father away from him.”
Reven stared at her; at this astonishing vision of a family life that he’d thought was so perfect. That he’d envied, in the dreams of so many miserable nights. “You cover for him? When he goes out? What kind of - trouble does he get into?”
She shrugged; she looked a little abashed. Maybe she was worried at sharing this with Reven. He wasn’t family, after all, however much she loved him like a brother. “He meets strange people – not from school. I’ve not seen them much, of course – I can’t go after him. But sometimes they hang around the town when we’re down there, and I know that they recognise Adam. And last week Kitty said – “, she blushed a little. “Kitty said she finished with him because he was acting weird. His grades are getting worse, though not so bad that Father will go into school. He smokes…”
Reven scoffed quietly, and she frowned, shaking her head to quiet him. “He – moves things at home. Borrows them, I think. Money. Other things.”
Moves. Borrows. Reven understood what she was telling him.
“I try to hide his tracks. I try to distract them – to put things back where I can. But they’ll find out in the end. God sees it all. Adam can’t hide it from everyone, for ever.”
Reven smiled, shakily. “Is that all? He’s a teenager, Mae…”
And then her eyes met his, the deep, soft grey pools, and he saw the misery there. “No,” she said, softly. “That’s not all. But it’s all I can tell you.”
“You’re so good, Mae,” he said, gently. Too good. He put his hand over hers, trying to breathe comfort into her worried little soul. “You’re the best sister he could have. He’ll be OK…”
“But of course he will,” she replied, her good mood restored a little. “You see, he’s the best our family has ever had – the brightest student, the captain of the team, the popular guy all round! Father is so proud of him! There’s all these expectations, that they go on about.” She struggled with the word; then she smiled up at Reven again. “It keeps Mother going, the thought that he’ll be something very special one day. Lovely wife, lots of kids… He’ll be a doctor – or a lawyer – something like that. He’s clever enough! And handsome, and funny, and kind…”
She laughed at herself, embarrassed at praising her brother so fulsomely.
“And you, Mae?”
Her eyes were still wide, but the light was a little clouded now. Reven didn’t know if it was the grey sky above them, as the afternoon bled out into evening, or whether it was something inside the girl herself. “Oh, I’ll be fine. It’s important that Adam does well - everything’s for Adam. And then it’ll be my time, and no-one will really mind what I do, so I can do something that I want. Right?”
“Right,” he smiled in return, his mind a little confused by it all. “You can be a singer –“
“A dancer, maybe!” she grinned. It was a familiar game that they played.
“Whatever you want,” he said, wonderingly. “You’ll be a star if you want to be. You deserve it, Mae. Didn’t I say you’re a Princess?”
She laughed, self-consciously, but obviously pleased. She looked up at his face and his smiling eyes – she reached out and brushed a stray lock of black hair behind his ear. “You’re beautiful you know, Reven. That’s why they don’t understand you. That’s why they’re nervous of you.” She sighed. “You are my Prince, Reven.”
He leant into her soft touch. He tilted his body forward and they hugged each other. They found so much comfort that way. He didn’t want to think about Adam – he didn’t want to think about what the guy was getting into. He knew enough – and guessed the rest. He couldn’t countenance the idea of the boy he touched at night being in trouble – being anything less than perfect – being soiled in some way.
That was Reven’s role – he was steeped in the shit of life, so that the
Mae’s voice became steadier. “But before I’m any sort of star, it’s Adam’s time, isn’t it? That’s how it must be, and you understand that, like I do. He’s like a brother to you too, right? Yes, yes,” she was nodding furiously, as if her mind had slipped into a groove and couldn’t yet find its way back out. “That’s how it must be. Everything’s for Adam.” She hugged Reven again, holding his thin body close to hers, breathing in his familiar smell.
“I knew you’d understand, Reven.”
The sports hall was dark and cold, only slightly warmed where they lay on the mats, the air around them momentarily clouded with muskiness and muted voices. Their mutual pleasuring had been a little rushed – a little tense. Reven knew it was his fault – he’d not been so welcoming tonight. Adam had been the same as ever, eager to see him, eager to touch him. And full of gifts that night.
Reven was just full of anger.
Adam lurched back, startled, as Reven threw the pile of notes on to the wooden flooring; as he bundled up the designer shirt and jeans, and threw them back at Adam. “Shit, what’s up? It’s just money, Reven! Money and stuff… People leave it lying around, they don’t care, right? And you need it. Don’t you? Don’t tell me you don’t!”
Reven knew Adam was right. He did need the money – desperately! Dad was very bad; he had been for many days now. The money that Adam was offering him was enough to keep Dad in his comfortable, comatose world, and Keone off his back for a couple of days at least. Two less nights that he’d have to listen to that slime ball’s whispered instructions – two less nights that he’d have to suffer his slippery knife, and the sad, scary panting of anonymous watchers. Hands on his body with touches so soft that they felt like dripping marshmallow, but by no means so sweet; shaky fat limbs rubbing against him, pretending it was accidental. Keone pushing his reluctant palm over strangers’ crotches; Keone pushing him too often to his knees…
What Reven needed was Adam – and he needed him so badly! He wanted to be with him so much it was like a physical pain. And he was so scared of Adam finding out just how disgusting he really was. It never occurred to him to ask for help outright – to explain to the older boy how his life was crumbling around him.
“You’re stealing it,” said Reven, gritting his teeth. “Thieving. What else are you doing? Drugs? Hard stuff?”
“Shut up,” said Adam, tightly. His eyes had widened, suddenly scared – Reven knew the truth at once. “Shut the fuck up! You can’t tell me what to do!”
“I won’t,” Reven replied. “But I’ll tell you I think you’re stupid. That you have everything, Adam – every damned thing you could want! A home, food, attention – you have Mae, who loves you and worries herself sick about you. You’re going to college, and you‘re going to be rich and successful –“
“You know nothing about it!” shouted Adam. His hair was still dishevelled – his pants flapped open at the fly, and he wrenched them shut, angrily buttoning himself away. “Fucking nothing! Do you know what it’s like to live in that house? It’s like living in a cathedral! With a Father who thinks he’s God Almighty, and should be obeyed as such, without question! I’m not allowed any money of my own, do you know that? No allowance – no treats – no freedom. Any place I go I have to check in, and beg for the fare, and only be with people whose parents they know –“
His face was red; his eyes suspiciously tearful. A few minutes ago his voice had been crying out with the excitement of climax, with the thrill of lying half-naked in Reven’s arms and letting the dark-haired boy’s fingers caress him to completion. A few minutes ago he’d been laughing at the mess they’d made, eating chocolate he’d brought, scrabbling in his bag for things to please Reven…
“I’m entitled to have some life of my own, Reven! Some freedom! I want to see things they hide from me – do things they forbid me. Try it all out – live life as it is, whether they approve or not! I need to escape them – I need my own way out!”
Reven was almost frightened by the other boy’s intensity. “But this isn’t the way out for you, Adam! Shit, you’re spoiling it all before you even get started! You’ll ruin your life – rot your brain. And what happens if you get caught?”
“I won’t be.”
“How fucking stupid can you be?” yelled Reven. He was furious now – furious at Adam’s naivety, at his carelessness with all the advantages and privileges that he had. Did he think Reven chose to be poor and ignored – that it was fun to steal and fight? Add that to being out of your head on drugs and crap like Dad, and what the fuck would the boy think of his freedom then?
“You don’t understand –“
And then Reven lost it. He lurched up on to his knees and he moved swiftly over the mat to lean over Adam. His hand reached for the boy’s collar, the shirt only just pulled back on, and he tugged his face towards him. “I understand a fuck of a lot more than you ever will, you stupid, stupid prick! I’ve been in sewers you never even knew existed – seen the shit in people’s eyes that you better pray you never will! So if you wanna do your own thing, well go ahead! Hurt yourself just as much as you like, you cretin – but don’t drag Mae down with you! You hurt her and I’ll kill you! You hear?”
Adam’s eyes seemed to have zoned out – he looked terrified. “Shit, I wouldn’t hurt Mae, you know that –“
“Everything you do affects her – every stupid thing you do will hurt her, one way or another!” Reven was panting with the effort, with the anger. He saw the flick of a light go on in a house opposite the school – he wondered how long this would remain a sanctuary for them, if they argued like this, at the tops of their voices! “Adam, I thought the only real thing we had together was that we cared for her – that we wanted to protect her, above all people. If there’s not even that, you should just fuck off and leave me alone! I’ve got enough crap in my own life without taking on yours as well!”
“I…” Adam looked completely adrift; he was so pale that his skin looked like it might tear apart. “Reven, you’ve never talked to me like this before…”
“You wouldn’t have wanted to listen,” said Reven, sharply. His chest ached – his eyes burned at the edges, as if he wanted to cry. “Just get your act together, OK? Now – before it’s too late.”
Adam was still staring at him, rather stupidly. Reven thought he’d probably gone too far. Fuck, he thought. So where else is there to go?
“The only real thing we had, you said.”
“Huh?” Reven just wanted to get out of there, before he said even more that was wrong, that was unwelcome. He bent to pick up his bag – he didn’t meet Adam’s eyes.
“You said. About us being together for Mae. Is that all it’s about? Is that all it is for you, Reven?”
Reven looked at the bewildered boy staring at him. Tall, handsome, deliciously sensual – frighteningly young, in both body and experience. The boy who’d given him so much pleasure, and a companionship that he’d never expected to have. The boy he worshipped, if he were honest. But then, where had honesty ever got him before?
“Sure. What the fuck else do you think we could have? Grow up, Adam. There’s no way I’d have had anything to do with you, if it hadn’t been for Mae; and I’m just a bit of rough for you, right? Live dangerously for a while – mix with the kid who does all those things that look so fucking glamorous to you.”
“No – I – “
“Fuck off home, Adam,” said Reven, wearily. “I got other places to go. I can get my kicks someplace else, y’know.”
Half an hour later he was still standing in the deserted sports hall, his bag in his hand. He was on his own. Tears were on his cheeks.
An hour later, he turned and left the building, to go home.
When Keone turned up at the apartment he knew at once there was something wrong. He moved quietly to the lounge, like he often did. The air was still – there was some kind of damp, underlying smell that made his skin crawl. He saw the furniture, shrouded in the darkness; the lump of Reven’s father, sat in his habitual armchair.
He saw Reven, crouched on the floor by the window.
“So sweet ass,” he said, softly. “Coming to play tonight?”
“He doesn’t need you anymore,” came the boy’s voice. It was strangely robotic – flat to the point of monotone. “He owes you nothing anymore.”
Keone tensed. He was wise in many things, and one of them was death. He didn’t even need to touch the body in the chair to understand the situation.
“He’s dead, then.”
“Sure,” replied the boy, and gave a soft, low laugh. “Out of your clutches, Keone. We both are, now.”
“You let him take too much, sweet ass…”
“I did? You’re the filthy dealer here. I just come home from school and find my Dad a heap of cold, rigid flesh. Who’s the victim here?”
Keone sighed. He propped himself gently on to the table. The hostility and misery flooding from the boy was palpable. “So what do you think will happen now, Reven?”
“You’ll get the fuck out of my life.”
“Maybe,” Keone nodded. “And what – or who - do you think will take my place?”
Reven’s head had sunk to his knees. It shifted now, slightly, as if he listened to the other man more carefully. “No-one. I’m on my own now.”
Keone chuckled, softly. “That’s just not going to happen, boy. What are you – fifteen? Sixteen?”
“Fourteen,” said Reven. When did I miss my birthday…?
Keone’s eyes narrowed sharply. Fuck. He’d had no idea… “All the more reason then, for them to want to take you in.”
Reven stiffened. “What the fuck are you talking about?”
Keone shrugged. “The authorities – the social services. Whatever. You’re a minor – you can’t be allowed to look after yourself, not at your age. There’ll be some kinda institution somewhere – a home for boys like you.”
“Like me -!”
“Sure. Boys with a history of parental abuse – with scars where most kids don’t have ‘em. Boys with behavioural issues. You’re the kid with the difficult reputation. The truancy – the thieving. Maybe learning difficulties – maybe dangerous sexual habits…”
“You’re a real shit, Keone, you know that?”
“Yeah, I know that,” said the man, calmly. “Tell me something new. Now’s your chance, Reven – now’s your time to come with me. I can get you a place – somewhere to stay.”
“I won’t go to no fucking home!” Reven’s head darted up now, the eyes wide and full of fear. “Fucked if they can make me –“
“They can,” said Keone, persuasively. “You’re just a kid. Where else will you go, sweet ass? Your friends put you up? I think not. So there’s the streets – down by the river. Behind the shopping mall. A bed of cardboard – begging for food. Men pawing you at night when you wanna sleep – cops moving you on, asking all the time for your name, your age…”
“It’s not going to be like that…” There were tears in Reven’s eyes.
“Who else you got, Reven?” whispered Keone. He slipped off the table and crouched down opposite the huddled boy. “At least with me you can be warm and dry. Be your own boss. Live your own life.”
“Live yours, you mean.” Reven was sobbing now, and he didn’t care who saw it – even Keone.
The man put out a hand and touched at the boy’s head. He tangled a couple of his fingers into the black locks; he liked the way that Reven no longer pulled away from him when he did it. “They like you, Reven. You get good money for me – for yourself. Make it work for you. You don’t owe anyone else a thing. Why should you have to explain it to anyone – justify yourself? You deserve the attention; you deserve to get out from this place. He held you back, sweet ass. He didn’t deserve you…”
When he tugged gently at Reven’s arm, he was pleased to find the boy quite submissive. He sobbed quietly; he rubbed at sore eyes - but he didn’t resist when Keone put his coat back round his shoulders and lifted him back up on to his feet.
Reven listened to the older man’s words – all about protection and comfort and money.
What he heard was something very different.
What other fucking choice you got, kid? What other choice?