Mucho thanks to Terri for editing and Ena for beta reading. Of course, any remaining errors are my own.
Love to all of you who have written and let me know I am not forgotten. Your letters, support and encouragement mean the world to me.
By Sol Corazon
Lonnie cautiously left the warmth of his room and entered the chilly white leather and glass perfection of the rest of his mother’s apartment. When he reached the kitchen, he took a deep breath and held it before opening the refrigerator door. He’d accidentally inhaled and choked on the fumes of the bleach his mother used to clean the refrigerator enough times to be cautious when looking inside. It was easy to find what he wanted because all of the items were precisely arranged according to size. He quickly grabbed the orange juice and mused to himself that he was probably a little crazy because of inhaling so many bleach fumes over the years.
The wry smile curving his full lips faded abruptly when he heard the key turning in the front door. His heart rate accelerated slightly and with irritation, he noticed that the hand holding the orange juice carton was trembling slightly. He kept his face hidden in the refrigerator, gagging on the strong smell and cursing himself for not making something to eat when he got home from work.
If he had timed things a little better, he could’ve been holed up in his bedroom when his mother arrived. Fuck this. He’d get something from 7-11. He started to put the orange juice back when his mother’s shrill voice invaded the quiet room.
“I thought you had to work tonight.”
Lonnie started and the carton of juice jumped out of his hand onto the floor. He watched stupidly as the juice pooled at his feet, staining the gleaming white tiles.
“God, Lonnie you’re so clumsy sometimes,” she said with an exasperated sigh.
He turned around, not wanting to keep his back to her. He never could tell what kind of mood she’d be in when she got home. As she neared him, he thought for the thousandth time about what a fucked up family she must’ve come from. He had never met his grandparents; he knew her brother and her; God knows, he thought, that was enough.
“Don’t just stand there. Clean it up.” She stood there, arms folded in front of her, watching over him like a drill sergeant with a new recruit, as he clumsily moved over to the kitchen counter and grabbed several paper towels. He stopped in his tracks as he noticed her waiting for him to return to the spreading puddle of juice.
“You need more paper towels. Wet ‘em and put bleach on them.”
He quickly moved to follow her instructions.
“Goddamn, you are so slow.”
He turned around again, ginger brown eyes wide and his heart pounding in his chest with an ancient fear. He wasn’t sure how to quiet her but was willing to do whatever she wanted before she got wound up. Her mouth was moving with a litany of pejoratives that he had heard so often that it was as if she were not saying anything at all.
He watched her lips moving and thought it was weird how he couldn’t hear a sound. It struck him funny for a few quick seconds before the fear over rid his crazy, unpredictable sense of humor and he hid a smile. Her black eyes held his, dark and threatening, bewitching as a snake charmer; he couldn’t look away, couldn’t move. Her hand rose towards him and the spell was complete.
No longer a twenty-three year old man, at least forty pounds heavier and six inches taller than she; he was now seven years old and she was after him again. Just before her fist made contact against the side of his face, he surfaced. He looked at her at with a mixture of contempt and pity before quickly ducking out of the way.
I will never be like you, lady, he vowed for the millionth time, or your sick ass brother. He took a deep, shaky breath and kept repeating it to himself, drowning out what she was saying and dodging her repeated attempts to strike him as he cleaned up the mess.
He managed to escape and once he was out of her view, as usual, she slowly wound down. Now that he was older, it didn’t happen half as often as it used to. She must have had a really bad day at work. Most of the time, she was too tired to bother with him. It was as if her life had worn her down. They lived two separate existences in the same house.
He entered his bedroom, closed the door, and locked it. His heart was pounding and his hands shaking. All appetite had disappeared as his stomach roiled with anxiety. On trembling legs, He walked over to his closet and removed his back.
Frantically, he rummaged through the backpack until he found what he was looking for. He held onto the piece of paper as though it was a lifeline. Slowly, his heart rate decreased, his body ceased its trembling, and his stomach quieted. Six more months, he promised himself as he pressed his bank statement to his lips. Six more months and he’d be free.
Now that he had calmed, Lonnie suddenly realized that in addition to locking his door, he had moved the bureau in front of it as well. As he pushed the bureau back in place, he inhaled deeply and looked around his room, scanning the sanctuary he’d created for himself. His room was the warmest room in the house and smelled like incense. It was the only room in the house with any color. She said it looked like a garage sale waiting to happen. That was all she said; he had been paying room and board since he was sixteen.
Except for days like today, she pretty much left him alone. Right after he had given her his first week’s rent, he had gone out and purchased a lock for his bedroom door and a handful of incense for five dollars from the hustler on the corner.
His heart twisted in his chest as he tried to ignore the little voice that reminded him that he could move if he really wanted to. He knew that he could rent a room or even an apartment for what she’d been charging him to live there. If he left, he wouldn’t have to deal with her.
A part of him that he didn’t understand didn’t want to leave; wouldn’t let him leave. He was afraid that once he walked out that door, he would never return. She was his mother. It scared him how sometimes he didn’t care if he never saw her again in life.
As he dressed for work, he stared at himself in the mirror. He grimaced, and then blew himself a kiss. “You’re all I got, kid,” he murmured to his reflection. He studied his features closely, seeking and not finding a resemblance to her.
When he was a little kid, he’d fantasized that she really wasn’t his mother. He’d invented all kinds of scenarios, like maybe one day his real mother would figure out that she had the wrong kid and start searching for him. Or that she wasn’t able to have kids of her own and had kidnapped him.
His long, oblong face, and molten copper skin, bore no resemblance to her round, doughy face, and walnut brown skin. Nor did his wide, slanted ginger brown eyes resemble hers in color or shape.
She never told him anything about his father. Lonnie figured that he must look like his father because as he’d grown older he’d begun to realize that she hated him and he couldn’t understand why. She’d called him “pretty boy” enough times for him to think that maybe it wasn’t him she was seeing. Although he’d gotten his share of compliments, pretty boy was the last thing he saw when he looked at his reflection.
When he looked in the mirror, he saw the seven year old being chased through the house, followed by a screaming woman with an extension cord in her hand. When he looked in the mirror, he saw the eight year old, who had vowed never again, after accepting one of her many tearful apologies for the welts marking his back and buttocks. He knew he couldn’t stop the beatings; he could stop believing in the apologies. He could stop believing that she really cared. He could stop thinking of her as mother.
He saw the nine year old who had been through hell and come out through the other side. I’m still me, he reminded himself, and I’ll never be like her. Six more months, he promised himself. Had to buy the damn car, he told himself. His job was too far away and there was no way he could get the bus there at that time of night.
“I’m the shit,” he said aloud to the face in the mirror. “Remember that.” He looked at the face in the mirror and saw the twenty three year old who was still standing and smiled.
Lonnie stood over by the pool table, simultaneously lining up his next shot and keeping his eye on the door. Nell was expecting a delivery today and she’d give him a couple of dollars for helping unload and shelving the items. He supplemented the money he made doing side jobs for Nell with money he made from his regular job. Every little bit helped. Plus, she’d give him free cookies and a cup of her extra special, extra chocolaty, hot chocolate too.
He almost missed seeing Nell walk out of the kitchen accompanied by an unfamiliar face. He was surprised that Nell didn’t come over and introduce them to one another. She must not like the guy. Nell was always trying to set him up with a ‘nice guy.’ He’d asked her once, ‘How do you even know these guys are gay?’
“I don’t,” she had replied bluntly. “Don’t matter, do it? Think about it. The right person is the right person.” It had made a crazy kind of sense, in a very Nell sort of way, so he had kept his mouth shut.
Nothing ever took. Nothing ever clicked. Especially not with the ‘nice guys.’ They took one look at him, summed him up and dismissed him. Lonnie had even developed a list in his head that he ticked off in the five seconds it took for them to look him over and reject him:
1. pretty boy
2. probably dumb
3. no money
4. probably a ho
He’d entertain himself by seeing how long it would take. Most of them were polite. They’d smile, shake his hand, and make up some excuse to tell Nell: forgot I have an appointment, late for class, oops, lost track of time.
Lonnie would amuse himself by trying to guess what the excuse was gonna be. He was right fifty percent of the time and was trying to narrow the odds. He was trying to create a mathematical equation out of the probability of predicting the excuse versus the time it took for them to decide he wasn’t worth their trouble.
It was always the guys close to his age he had trouble with. He had decided long ago to leave them the hell alone. The older guys were easy. He loved older guys. He could see the light bulb flashing over their heads and practically hear them thinking: fresh meat. When he needed some Vitamin D, he used it to his advantage. He’d stay over by the pool table, shoot a few, nod at the one he wanted and wait for them to saunter over.
He looked at the guy standing next to Nell. Nell didn’t let too many people inside of her personal space. From the way Nell and the guy stood close together and the way she smiled at him, they seemed to know one another really well. So, maybe she did like the guy after all. Maybe she didn’t want to introduce Lonnie to him, Lonnie speculated with a painful twinge.
Sabian obediently followed Nell around, listening to her explanation of how things were run around Nell’s Place. As they walked out of the kitchen, he glanced over at the pool table, looked away, then back again. Nell kept a nice, mellow, dim glow in the place, so the glare of the light over by the pool table highlighted the guy standing there as if he were beneath a spotlight.
Ding, Ding, Ding. Sabian eyed Lonnie like a dog waiting for the dinner bowl to be set down. Sabian surveyed the ginger colored eyes surrounded by lashes so dark and long that they could be seen across the room, the straight nose and pointed chin and stared searchingly at the body hidden by baggy clothes. Not stylishly baggy, just loose, because Lonnie was slender almost to the point of being skinny.
Their eyes met and Lonnie started counting off the points in his head as he stared at the guy standing next to Nell. He was distracted because he couldn’t keep from returning the guy’s searching appraisal. For some reason, features that probably would have been plain on another guy, and were instead blazing with life and intensity, held him riveted and unable to look away. A pale face with just a hint of healthy color, wavy, dark brown shoulder length hair that fell across his high forehead, and a feeling that he must have seen him somewhere before kept Lonnie staring at Sabian.
Mmmmm….my next victim, Sabian mused. He kept his face expressionless, aware that the guy was eyeing him curiously. Sabian jumped and grabbed his side, grimacing from the sharp elbow jab he had just received from Nell.
“Keep off the grass, doggie boy,” Nell muttered.
Sabian turned innocent hazel eyes towards her. “What?”
“You know what, boy.” Nell said and then continued grimly. “You a meat cleaver, Sebastian and you know it. You go through men like a knife through butter. Leave Lonnie alone.”
“Aunt Nell,” Sabian protested, knowing that she was serious since she’d called him Sebastian. “Just a little fun.”
“Don’t Aunt Nell, me, Sebastian. I’m serious. A little fun is okay. Just not with Lonnie. There’s plenty of others out there. And for real? That boy needs a friend, not a fuck buddy.”
“Let’s keep it on the real, baby,” Nell said.
Okay, okay,” Sebastian said. “Can’t you at least introduce us?”
“No,” Nell replied, attempting to delay the inevitable. “You can do that later. I have some more things to show you.”
The streets were deserted and the sky a dusky gray when Lonnie arrived at Nell’s. He yawned sleepily and shivered against the bitter chill of the early spring morning. He entered through the back door and started with surprise when he felt the presence of someone behind him. Sabian felt foolish and little bit guilty when Lonnie turned around. Still, he managed to manufacture a look of surprise upon his face.
Lonnie gave him a wary look. “Nell asked me to clean up the stock room. I have to do it before I get to school.”
“Yeah, I know. I’m your helper.”
Lonnie silently hoped that Sabian’s presence was not gonna cut into the fee he and Nell had negotiated. He thought about it for a minute and realized that Nell would have mentioned it if that was the case.
“I really don’t need any help,” he said.
“Have you seen the storeroom lately?” Sabian asked.
Lonnie laughed a little. “Yeah, I don’t know why Nell lets it get like that. I organized it for her. All she has to do is put everything where it belongs.”
“You don’t know Aunt Nell very well do you?” Sabian threw the family title in deliberately, staking his claim.
“You and Nell are related by blood?” Lonnie asked, more curious about Nell than Sabian.
“Yeah,” Sabian claimed tersely, recalling a blood smearing ceremony he’d begged Nell for when he was around ten years old so that they could be aunt and nephew ‘for real.’ Nell had laughingly agreed to his relief.
“Cool,” Lonnie said. “I don’t know her that as well as you do, then, since you’re family. I’ve been coming here since I was a little kid, though. I live right around the corner.”
When they reached the storeroom, Lonnie looked around in astonishment. “Dayum, I had no idea it had gotten this bad. I’m gonna start checking it to make sure it doesn’t get this bad again. Maybe it is a good idea that Nell asked you to help me.”
Sabian hoped that his smile didn’t reveal the small twinge of shame he was experiencing. He had a feeling Nell wasn’t going to be as appreciative as Lonnie was. She seemed to be a little protective of Lonnie. It’s not like he was going to hurt the dude, Sabian thought to himself indignantly. He really just wanted to get to know him better, even though nobody who knew him would believe that.
After Lonnie showed Sabian how he had organized the storeroom, they worked in a silence that was anything but companionable. To Sabian’s frustration, Lonnie was all about the business of straightening the storeroom and he couldn’t get more than one or two word answers out of him.
Lonnie worked quickly and efficiently. When they finished stocking the shelves and organizing the room, before Sabian think of an excuse to keep him there, Lonnie was gone. Damn. Well, Sabian consoled himself; Lonnie did have to go to school. It’s not like he really would’ve been able to stay.
Anyway, he wasn’t sure why he was so interested in Lonnie. He’d seen better looking guys, not many because Lonnie was fine. Ok, Lonnie was fucking gorgeous. Sabian had never had to work to get a guy to notice him or to like him. In his little piece of the world, people knew who he was. Lonnie obviously didn’t and could apparently care less. Sabian wasn’t sure if he should take that personally or not.
Lonnie resolved to ignore Sabian as much as possible. Usually Nell worked the counter by herself. He wasn’t sure if Sabian was there just for the summer or if he would be working there full-time.
He snorted to himself. He much preferred older guys looking at him like a piece of meat to someone like Sabian who’d pretend a false interest just to get something out of him. He had learned early that people made all kinds of assumptions about who he was because of his physical appearance.
He must be a ho because he could get some whenever he wanted it. He must like to get high and party because…of course someone who looked like him wanted to party. He must be into himself and his looks because…well of course anyone who looked like him spent a lot of time looking in the mirror because he wouldn’t be able to resist his own good looks. If they only knew, he thought to himself. Because most of the time, he thought he was ugly.
Sabian’s eyes followed Lonnie’s effortless moves around the pool table, as he made shot after shot. Lonnie’s eyes were on the table. He played silently, like he did everything else, rarely interacting with the guy he was playing with.
A hand covered Sabian’s, stopping his mindless motions of polishing the countertop.
“Sebastian, why are you here?” Nell asked quietly.
Sabian looked at her for a long moment, trying to figure out how she wanted him to respond.
“No, Sebastian, DON’T tell me what you think I want to hear. Tell me, straight up, why are you here?”
Belatedly, Sabian recalled his frantic phone call to Nell, a few months before his last semester of college ended. ‘I’m tired of the treadmill, Aunt Nell. Everybody here looks the same way, thinks the same way….’
He looked at her sheepishly. His last words to her had been, ‘No one will let me change….’
“It’s harder than I thought it would be, Aunt Nell.”
“That’s because, you have to start here,” Nell gently tapped him on his forehead, “and here,” she gently tapped him on the chest.
“It’s easy to change WHERE you are, much harder to change WHO you are,” she said. I shouldn’t have encouraged you to come. Running away is never a good idea.”
“I’m not running away….” He couldn’t lie to himself or Nell, not with her standing there looking at him out of compassionate, non-judgmental eyes.
“Been there, done that baby, got about a hundred tee shirts,” Nell said, with a wide smile, white teeth gleaming in her dark face.
They both laughed. “I really did want to come see you, Aunt Nell.”
“I know, baby,” Nell said. “I miss you when I don’t see you too. I just want you to be happy. And I don’t want to see you or Lonnie hurt. He’s not like the boys you’re used to. He wouldn’t take it like you think he would.”
Sabian thought that Nell was biased. She seemed to think Lonnie was a vulnerable little boy. Sabian thought Lonnie was very much like the boys he was used to. He was good looking, obviously very conscious of his good looks, and kind of stuck up and unfriendly.
He was a challenge too. Sabian wasn’t used to a guy not being interested in him. Not responding to his charm. He knew he wasn’t gorgeous but he was damn near irresistible. He laughed to himself for a few seconds. How very arrogant of him. But true, he thought with an inner smirk.
Nell walked to the end of the counter to chat with the old guys that sat there. Sabian’s eyes returned to Lonnie. He watched as Lonnie’s partner leaned towards him and said something. Lonnie shrugged then responded to whatever the guy said. The guy said something else and Lonnie nodded his head.
Sabian’s eyes followed them as they walked out of the back door. He stood there indecisively for a moment, then walked over to Nell and told her he was taking a quick break. He rapidly followed the departing pair.
When Sabian reached the back exit, he looked across the small parking lot and saw Lonnie sitting in the driver’s seat of a car Sabian knew did not belong to Lonnie. To passersby, it would look like Lonnie was just sitting there. Sabian knew better.
“Stupid, Lonnie; stupid and risky,” Sabian whispered. “That should be me with you, not somebody else”, he muttered.
Lonnie leaned his head back against the soft leather of the car seat. He didn’t know why he’d agreed to come out to the car with this guy. Strike that. He knew. He was tired of his hand. He was tired of his whole life consisting of work and school and coming to Nell’s to play pool until Nell’s closed so he could avoid going home. He was fucking tired period.
At least the guy didn’t have a ring. That was his hard and fast rule. No wedding bands. Not that it was a guarantee that he wasn’t being blown by some married guy who was gonna go home and fuck his unsuspecting wife but it was the best he could do. He always asked. Most of them would go ahead and tell the truth if he asked, as if by his asking, he would be able to tell if they lied or not.
This one had laughed and said, “Naw, baby, I’m strictly for dick and I think you got a nice one.”
He had shrugged and asked the guy where he wanted to go. When the guy said out to his car, Lonnie had started to say never mind. By then, he was a little horny, so he changed his mind and decided fuck it, to just go.
He came fast; he usually did. He thanked the guy, grateful for the release and hopped out of the car. He was good at quick getaways. He never promised to reciprocate; he made a point of letting them know he wasn’t interested. Most of them didn’t care.
He was back inside of Nell’s within about five minutes. He smiled to himself and looked around the room. Everything was the same as it had been when he had left. Nobody had even noticed he was gone.