The Houses in Rossford conclusion of the twelfth and final chapter
“Brian can I talk to you?”
Brian’s eyes were daggers.
“Todd, I don’t plan to be dressed down by you again,” he said.
“No,” Todd said, quietly. “It’s not that. Not that at all.”
Brian’s face changed.
“All right?” He scooted over in the pew, and Todd sat beside him.
“I… when I was younger something happened to me that I thought was my fault. I’m sure I had something to do with it because… well, I’m human and I wasn’t completely a child. See, I was a teenager, and I was having an affair with an older man.”
Brian looked at him.
“He was part of our family.”
Brian looked at him again.
“Not incest. Not really. He had married in. I…”
“I heard once,” Brian said, “that Nell divorced her husband because she found him in bed with you.”
“That’s it,” Todd said, turning red.
“It’s not common knowledge,” Brian said. “Don’t worry.”
“Well, since you know that… You should also know that I felt… ashamed. I felt like I deserved to be punished.”
“You were a kid. He was a grown man.”
“I know that,” Todd said.
“But it felt good. Even when it felt scary. I went to him because I wanted to. That’s the thing about abuse is you’re not quite sure when it’s abuse. Not all the time. I felt like I was a truly awful person, like I deserved the worst.
“And so over and over, pretty much until Fenn, that’s what I gave myself. Now, I’m not saying a sex life isn’t good. I think it’s great. I think being… amorous… is the shit. But there’s a difference between enjoying the spice of life, and intentionally screwing your way through the worst people you can, just turning yourself into some sort of… slut, who gets used and broken, and disrespected.”
“Todd, what are you saying?”
“I’m saying, this, Brian. I hated you. When Tom and Fenn broke up. I blamed you. And I think you blame yourself. I think… and maybe I’m out of place, that you think God is punishing you. But you… us… we don’t need God to do it, we do it ourselves.”
Brian didn’t say anything, so Todd continued.
“I think that the reason you’re in this thing with Paul, and with Tom. And with whoever else, is because you think that’s what you deserve.”
“Yes, Brian, I do.
“I think you think you’re a bad man. But you’re not. I used to think you didn’t care about the things you’d done. But they eat you up. I see it. And you can’t even see the good parts of yourself. The theatre couldn’t do a show without you. You set up that program between it and the college. You keep this church running, and the choir too. That’s all you. So… you should quit doing all this shit to yourself.”
“What…?” Brian began, “if I told you I don’t know how to stop?”
Todd took a breath. He opened his mouth, not sure of what to say. But before any sound could come out, Brian said, placing a hand on Todd’s shoulder:
“What if you don’t have any idea how bad a man I really am?”
“What the… Well, I’ll be goddamned! Noah?”
Guy McClintock let him in, saying, “We’re going to start shooting in a few days. Do I have you on for another pic?”
“Naw,” Noah said looking around.
“Not yet at least.”
“I heard you were doing some work down in Florida?” said Guy.
“And there was this little amateur of you and Johnny. Or so I heard. Is it true?”
“Yeah,” Noah said, nodding. “I got bored. I thought we should make one.”
“Noah, the director. You still have plans in that direction?”
“Maybe,” Noah sounded stupid and slightly vacant to himself, but then he imagined to Guy he’d more or less always sounded stupid and a little vacant.
He said, “You heard from Johnny?”
“I heard that he was out aways in Rossford, doing what they call serious acting.” Guy affected a British accent. “I sent a message his way asking if we wanted to get back in the business, but it looks like that’s not going to happen. It’s a shame,” Guy shrugged. “He was good.
“I think that kid’ll be alright at whatever he puts his head too.”
“And so will you. Is that what you wanted to hear?”
“I don’t know,” said Noah. “I thought I was on my way here, to your place. To do something. But my family’s around here, and Pau—Johnny’s around here. We sort of became friends. I think I should look him up.”
“Yeah,” Guy said. “Well you know, feel free to take a room in su casa for the night before you start back out. I got Jorge back. If you all feel like fucking later on that’d be an interesting little vid, and a little money in your pocket.”
Noah was about to say he didn’t need money in his pocket. Only by now he almost did again, and he didn’t want to give anything away.
“That was excellent,” Guy said, turning off the camera. “Now, I’m gonna fix this up a little bit, and you’ll have yourself a little paycheck in the morning, Noah my friend. Whaddit I tell you, Jorge? Tightest little ass this side of the Rio Grande!”
Jorge was a little man with a barrel chest and an enormous penis who only nodded as Guy exited the room.
Turning on his side, Jorge turned off the light and said, “And the next time will be hotter, Pretty. Cause it will be just for us.
“Ah,” Jorge ran a warm hand over Noah’s side. Up his body. “All this milky body. You are perfect.”
Noah found himself giggling, because that was the only thing it made sense to do. It sounded pompous to say, “Why thank you.”
“You leaving the next day?”
“Yeah?” Noah said lying on his back in the dark.
“To they say east? Rossford?”
“What is in Rossford? So many people going to Rossford… Never heard of it before until a few days ago.”
“Well… whaddo you mean?” Noah said, turning on his side. “Who else is going to Rossford?”
“I was fucking this skinny Italian the other night,” said Jorge. “Little thug. He said he was headed there, would show up in a few days.”
“Really?” said Noah. “What’s his name.”
“Eh… Willy. William. No…”
A low groan rumbled in Jorge’s chest as he tried to remember.
“It is Joe. Joseph Callan.”
“I’m here because I don’t know where else to be,” Kirk said when he entered his sister’s apartment.”
“I’m not sure…” Sheila began, “that that’s the kind of greeting I want from my brother.”
“Shit!” Sheila looked at him. “What’s wrong with you?”
“I… Look at this.”
Kirk sat down on the sofa and put his brief case down on the steamer trunk Sheila used for a coffee table. He pulled out a movie case and handed it to her.
“Godshit,” Sheila murmured. “What the fuck is this? Well I mean, I know what it is. And hey, if it gets you off. But…”
“Sheila,” Kirk, took the movie from her and pointed to the man on the cover.
“This guy. This… Johnny Mellow… fellow…”
Sheila took it back, shrugging. “He’s kind of cute, you know? I never understood why someone would go into that, though?”
“He’s Paul!” Kirk said. “He’s Paul. The guy I’m seeing.”
“Shut up!” Sheila said. “You’re out of your head. How’d you get it anyway?”
“I don’t know,” Kirk said. “I… This morning, after talking to you guys, after my eleven o’clock, I came back and I was rummaging through my desk.”
“That messy surface?”
“Yes. And under that messy surface there was a little envelope that read: ‘For you’.”
“Are you serious?”
“Yes,” said Kirk. “And in it was the movie. So… that’s how I know it’s got to be Paul. Why else would someone do that?”
“But who would do that?” Sheila demanded.
“I don’t know.”
“Sheila, I broke off a date with him tonight. I… I told him I needed space. He looked so hurt. But… All I could think of was this.”
Sheila was quiet. Then, after awhile, she said, “Well… should we watch it?”
“Look,” Sheila said, opening up the movie. “It could be total bullshit. It could be a joke. I’m putting it in. You don’t have to watch, but I will.”
When Claire came back in the house she sorted through the mail and frowned because the acceptance letter hadn’t reached her yet. If it was coming. She trusted it was. But then she smiled at her present. There were two gifts, though. One for her mother, both in thick U.S. Postal Service envelopes, addressed to their house in the same hand.
Claire shook it and shouted, “I’m home.”
“Dinner’s in the microwave,” Marilee said. “There’s mail for you.”
“I see it. Thanks Mom.”
Claire reheated her foot, slapped Matty on the back of the head, and then went up with her package, opening it.
“I’m coming to get you!” her brother shouted up, playfully. She heard him coming up the steps.
Claire stood still in her bedroom a long time, her food steaming on the bed. She didn’t care if the cat ate it.
“Claire, what’s up?” Matt said, seeing her as he came down the hall.
“Is it your acceptance letter?”
“It’s… a video. From a school.”
“Uh… in a minute. Let me get undressed. All right?”
Then Claire said, “Actually, I’m really tired. Uh… we can watch it later. All right?”
“All right. Later, Sis.”
“Could you close the door?”
“Sure,” said Matt.
The movie had already been opened. One DVD said Pizza Slut. The other was homemade and written in permanent marker across the silver disk was the phrase: “For you.”
Mom had one of those. Claire put the movie down, and then she put it under the bed, and she trotted downstairs and dug through the mail. There it was. She took it up. Whatever the hell was on the second disk, the first disk alone, her son half naked on the cover of a porno, would kill her.
“So you like it when I fuck you?
“I like it when you fuck me hard.”
“Like I just did.”
‘Like you just did.”
“You think your Kirk can fuck you like this?”
“Don’t bring him up!”
“Um… why not?”
“I’ll turn this shit off,” Sheila said, standing up.
“No,” Kirk’s voice was flat. “Not yet.”
“Because Kirk’s who I date. You’re who I fuck.”
“No, no.” It was that man who had come into the car lot today. It was Brian Babcock, in the semi darkness he had filmed, his teeth flashed white. “It’s me who fucks you.”
“Now,” Kirk said in a dead voice. “Now, turn it off.”
The phone rang, and Julian Lawden picked it up.
“I think we should talk.”
Julian thought of saying: “That’s what I said months ago.” But instead he said, “You’re right. Apparently we’re closer than we already knew.”
“I thought I was all alone,” Layla said. “I always looked at Fenn and my mom and wondered what it would be like to not be an only child. And now…”
“And now you’re not.”
“I just got finished telling my friends how I didn’t want to be angry anymore, and how we needed to forgive. With us, I need to be forgiven.”
“Now, Layla, I think that may be a mutual thing,” Julian said. “And you know what? I think it doesn’t matter. I think we can just… start fresh.”
“I’d like that, Julian. Julian, do you think our mothers will start fresh?”
“Maybe in their next incarnations. Hold on, I gotta another phone call.”
“I’ll just go,” said Layla. “We’ll… we can meet later?”
“I’d like that. Good night, Layla.”
He clicked onto the next line and said, “Hello?”
And then he said, “Claire? What’s wrong? What’s going on?”
“I don’t know,” she said, her voice trembling. “I can’t… I can’t even explain it. I can’t really believe it. Or talk about it. But I had to. And you’re the only one I knew to talk to. So…”
“I’m here,” Julian said, lying back on the bed. “I’m here.”
“Didn’t you have a date last night?” Todd said that morning.
In the kitchen, Paul was tossing an orange hand to hand. Fenn caught it and while Paul stared at him, began peeling.
“He… Kirk cancelled. He was really strange. He said he wasn’t sure if he wanted to keep seeing me.”
Todd poured his cup of coffee.
“I don’t know what I did wrong,” Paul said.
When Todd raised an eyebrow, Paul amended. “I don’t know what I did wrong that he would know about.”
“Paul,” Fenn said, looking for Lee’s old cigarette roller and papers. “I don’t know how to break this to you, but if someone wants to find something about you they can. Or if they found something by mistake.”
“This is the Midwest,” Todd added. “Kirk’s a car dealer with his head on his shoulders. There’re lots of dumbass queens out there who would think your past was cool.”
“Kirk’s not one of them,” Fenn said.
“No,” Paul said. “He isn’t.”
Fenn licked the cigarette paper and put it in the roller.
“Paul, you might want to go have a little talk with him.”
“When you’re finished, I need a ride to the Theatre,” Fenn told Todd.
Putting the coffee down, Todd said, “I’m finished now, baby.”
“You still want to shoot the auditions for your new movie?” Fenn asked him.
“I’ll go get my camera,” Todd rose.
“You coming along?” Fenn said to Paul.
“I’ll take the Jeep.”
IN THE THEATRE Fenn noted, “Brian looks terrible.”
“Huh?” Tom said.
“Well, I don’t mean terrible. I should say terrible for him. The whole backward baseball cap unshaven thing.”
“I think it’s sort of sexy,” Tara pointed out. Then she added, “And that bothers me.”
“He’s been a little odd,” Tom admitted.
“Do you think—?” Lemonade began.
“What the hell are you doing here?” Tara demanded.
Lemonade ignored her.
“Do you think he could be the white man for me.”
At the same time Fenn said, flatly, “No.” Lee said, “Go on ahead.”
And then Fenn just stared at him.
“You know what?” said Todd. “Mind the camera. I’m going to go check on him.”
“Nurse Todd to the rescue,” Tara murmured.
“Fuck-you-bitch,” Todd said and went down the hall in the direction of Brian’s office.
Brian turned around and crashed into him, the contents of the box he was carrying spilling out.
“Are you following me, lately?”
“Lately,” Todd admitted.
“And what,” Brian said, “can be so interesting about me?”
“You look bad. Where are you going?”
“I’m not… going anywhere.”
“What is it with you?” Brian snapped. “Why are you so… Who made you Todd the Conscience?”
“I’m just worried about you.”
On the floor, picking up things, Brian gave an exasperated shout.
“I am going,” he said. “And I don’t really know where. Or how long. But I’ve got to go.”
“Why? Because of Paul?”
“Because,” Brian stood up, “I am poison.”
Todd stared at him.
“I don’t know how not to be. I don’t know how not to be a monster. That’s what I am, Todd. I do evil, and I can’t help myself. I can’t… stop myself. And then the moment it’s done I say, ‘Jesus, what did I just do?’ Only it’s too late. And it’s too much, and I feel like it’s going to drown me.”
“Brian,” Todd reached out to him. “What have you done?”
“Todd, let me go,” Brian moved away from him.
“You always try to save everyone. After what I did with Tom you wanted to kill me, then you… wanted to save me. And I thought since you got with Fenn you’d forgotten all about me.”
“I never forgot you, Bry. I thought… I hoped you were all right now.”
“You can’t run around saving people,” Brian said. “I’m going to go. And out the back way.”
Brian turned his back to Todd, and headed down the hall.
Kirk had been finishing up a deal, and Paul had waited until he was waving off the couple. Paul approached him.
“Don’t,” Kirk said.
“I said don’t.” Kirk hissed. “I’m at work. How…?” Kirk began again. “You have the nerve to come here when I’m at work.”
“I don’t understand. I came to—”
“Follow me,” Kirk said.
Paul took a deep breath and followed Kirk to his office.
“All right,” Kirk said, digging through his desk.
“Take this,” he slammed down Pizza Slut. “And take… really, it’s this you can take because… hell, we’ve all done something in the past, right? Take this!” he said slamming a silver disk down that read: “For You”.
“You take this, you get watch it, and you tell me I shouldn’t hate you,” Kirk said. “You take ‘em both. And…” he shook his head, enraged, blinking. His hands trembled. Paul reached for one, but Kirk hit him in the chest.
“And you get the fuck out. You get out now, Paul. Or… Johnny, or… whatever the fuck your name is.
“Just get out.”
Paul opened his mouth. His throat was constricted. He could hardly breath. Air was scarcely coming. He thought he might faint. He nodded, and without turning around, padded out of the office leaving Kirk mad and trembling.
There was a rare knock at the front door that evening.
“I’ll get it,” Fenn motioned for Paul and Todd to remain sitting.
“It’ll be all right,” Fenn heard Todd tell Paul as he went to the door.
Under the porch light were standing his niece and yes, his new nephew. They entered the house somberly, followed by:
Paul sat up at Fenn’s exclamation, and then he stood up when he saw his sister. He approached her and she showed him the movie, pushed it into his chest.
“Paul,” Claire said. “We have to talk. I’m your sister.”
“You’re my baby sister.”
“I’m your sister. You have to tell me what’s going on.”
Paul said nothing for a moment, and then he turned around and said, “Come on in the house, Claire. I need to get my keys.”
She nodded and entered the living room.
“Fenn, this is the first time I’ve been inside of your house,” she noted.
Paul had trotted upstairs.
“Did you know?” she said to him.
“But… how? I mean, why? He’s my brother.”
Fenn shrugged. “He probably doesn’t even know why. Not totally. But the part that he understands you better let him tell you.”
Julian looked at her.
“I’ll be fine,” she said.
“You can’t drive home tonight.”
“Yes I can,” Claire argued.
“No,” Layla and Julian said together, and then looked at each other.
“No,” Layla said again. “You can’t.”
“Well, she’ll stay here,” said Fenn with a shrug.
“I’ll stay here,” said Claire, copying the shrug.
“I’m ready,” Paul came down with his keys.
She looked at him.
“Don’t look at me like that, Claire.”
“Let’s go,” she said, holding out a hand to him.
“Some guys… It’s what they always want to do. They love it.”
“Some guys are dumbasses,” Claire said. “You’re not. Or, I thought you weren’t. I don’t really know you at all.”
“Of course you do,” Paul said.
The taillights of a car sailed by as they sat on the bench at Darewood Park, across the street from the grassy campus of Loretto College.
“No, Paul. I mean… Who is Johnny Mellow? And… who is the guy in that last movie? The one who said, Kirk is who I date, you’re who I fuck. Who was that? Is that the person I’m sitting next to?”
“Then I don’t know you.”
“Yes and no.”
“What’s that mean?”
“It means…” Paul said in frustration, “the person you’re talking to, or who you thought you knew… he’s the person I want to be so bad, and who I think I’m becoming. I really think I am. He’s the guy who’s gonna go back to school and who wants a life with Kirk. Or someone. Who gets afraid to be with Kirk because… what you saw in that movie is the only thing he ever knew. So… he… so I… find myself going back to what I know. Which is what you saw on that tape. DVD.”
“Mom got a copy too.”
“Don’t worry. I intercepted it.”
“Good. Thank you, Claire.”
Then he said, “But you should have never got that.” He shook his head and blinked. “That was not what my baby sister should ever have seen.”
“But what happened?”
“Brian must have… I must have hurt him. I knew he was hurt already. I knew he was vulnerable…”
“That son of a bitch.”
“Don’t,” Paul said gently. “I’m sick about it all. I… I must have really hurt him. I’m such an asshole. I’ve turned into such an asshole. I…
“I think Brian might have run off. I feel like I should too. I hurt so many people. It’s funny. When I was in the business I don’t know that I hurt anyone. But coming out of it, trying to be normal…” he shook his head and turned away.
“Claire, if you could have seen Kirk’s face! If you could have seen… He watched that. He must think… He thought I loved him. He thought he loved me. And… I mean, it was early. We’d just met, but he wanted to make a start and I did too and…”
“But you didn’t love him?”
“I do love him,” Paul said. “If I wasn’t sure before I know now. I do. But I fucked it all up because I was so… scared.”
Claire didn’t even touch him. Paul put his face in his hands. She knew that if she turned and looked, she would see he was crying. So she didn’t look. She listened to him suck up snot and didn’t say anything. She wanted to say so much.
“God,” he cried, heaving up sobs.
When he had stopped, after a while, Claire said: “How did you… Get into that?”
“Little by little,” he said. “Till it was all I knew.”
“But… the other… boyfriends… before Kirk?”
Paul turned to her, his face sticky, his eyes bright.
“Claire!” he wept. “Don’t you get it! I was on the streets. I was turning tricks. I sucked guys’ cocks. I jacked off on camera. Fat men, old men, stupid men, paid me to go out with them and do whatever with them. By the time I was doing Pizza Slut and Kentucky Fucked Chicken or… whatever the fuck else… I was changed. All right? I was something I didn’t know anymore. The shit I was doing when Fenn and Todd met me… that was the highest I ever got. Pizza Slut was my… zenith!” Paul choked out a laugh.
“There were no other boyfriends. There was no other… love. That was it. Kirk was it!”
A truck heading to the highways screamed by, lights yellow white, making a wind that blew back their hair.
In the aftermath of its wail, Claire said:
“Kirk was it? Kirk was your first love?”
Paul put his face in his hands and sighed.
And then he nodded.
“Oh, God,” Claire said, bending over him and hugging his back. She kissed his head.
“No, wonder you did what you did! No wonder you were afraid.”
That night Todd found Fenn sitting quietly in the kitchen.
“Did you know?” he said, “what someone did?”
“Someone found a porno Paul did, and made a sex tape… or DVD of himself and Paul, and mailed it to Kirk.”
“And…” Fenn continued, “mailed it to his mother and his sister.”
“Claire got it. She saw it, unfortunately. But she kept it from Marilee. Which I think would have been a lot more unfortunate.”
“What kind of person…?” Todd began. “Who… would do that?”
“Brian Babcock would do it.”
“No,” Todd said. “No, Fenn. He wouldn’t.”
“He would,” Fenn continued. “Number One: because he did; and Number Two, I know he did because he filmed himself and Paul fucking, and got Paul to talk about Kirk. I think… Because this is the way I would do it, if Kirk heard his name then he would know this wasn’t like the movie, something in the past, something in the way back when. He’d know that Paul is the same old Paul. That’s what Brian was getting at.”
“Oh, Brian!” Todd murmured. “Oh, how could you? And… to his family? Why’d he send the second CD to the family?”
“To be an asshole,” said Fenn. He shook his head. “I’ve given up trying to understand him.”
“He’s gone,” Todd said.
“No, I mean gone for good. He left. He said he… always went overboard and he didn’t ever think about the things he’d done until after he’d done them. And… he was so torn apart.”
“Well, he should try being a little more torn apart a little quicker,” Fenn said.
Then, “You felt sorry for him?”
Todd turned away.
“You felt sorry for him.”
The next day was a pretty gloomy one. Fenn knew that Todd’s mind was on the absent Brian.
The truth was that no one else seemed to be terribly upset about his absence and Fenn didn’t know how to feel because while there was no reason he should miss the man that destroyed his relationship with Tom, he could not be completely happy about anything that distressed Todd.
But he didn’t destroy my relationship. My marriage, Fenn said to himself. No, it’s giving him too much credit. We could have come back together. If I’d wanted it. If I’d trusted Tom.
If Tom was who he was now. The Tom who was his best friend, who was with Lee now. He was almost but not the same Tom he’d found being fucked against a wall by Brian Babcock so many years ago. This Tom had been made by that experience. Fenn had, in fact, loved another Tom, and in many ways he had been another Fenn. Probably, the Fenn who lived now could never have been with the Tom who existed then. That was the reason things had ended. The day Tom had been caught in the act, that awful moment, two different people, maybe three, had been born.
Closer to forty than thirty, Fenn could not begrudge Brian Todd’s pity. It was all that he had right now. Wherever he was. It seemed resentful and tiresome to be eternally vengeful for what had happened so long ago and had, in the end, resulted in the life he had now. Far on the other side of betrayal, when the man he had fallen in love with, who had once been his best friend became his best friend and close confidante again, Fenn could look with pity on what had happened.
Tom had sincerely believed that because what he and Brian had had was just sex, just some strange curious itch that had needed to be scratched, it could not possibly touch what he and Fenn had. The affair would go on, like a flu, until it had run its course and Fenn would never have to know. Perhaps, even, Fenn being wild and worldly, would laugh about it, shrug about it like Europeans are supposed to do. Never mind that Fenn was Black, under thirty, easily angered and American.
Whatever illusions Tom had must have ended when time stopped and his legs were wrapped around Brian, his back against the wall, naked, sweating, Brian inside of him, Fenn looking on him as he came out of the frenzy of mindless sex. Tom had never been ashamed before, not really. In some way it must have been as shattering for him as it was for Fenn. Not that it wasn’t his fault. No, Fenn knew better. Only, after a while fault mattered less and less and there was only pain and shame. Tom had lived with both a long time. Add to this regret.
But Brian got none of that pity. Fenn never thought about what the event had done to him. He didn’t want to know. Brian was a broken man. Brian had also been the only one to be physically injured that night. Fenn had injured him. There had been no tears. There had been a supernatural strength and a show of rage. He had made Brian dress “Just so I can pull you by your collar.” And midway through his dressing, Fenn dragged him through the old apartment. He had given him two black eyes while Tom held back, not wanting to see Brian hurt, but knowing he had no right to interfere. Brian left the house limping and injured, and Fenn threw the rest of his clothes out of the window. That was something they never talked about. The door had been shut on Brian, and Fenn had turned to Tom with so much rage in his face Tom had flinched. He’d wanted to run away. He wanted to go away. Instead, Fenn had left him.
In the early time, and almost for a year, Fenn couldn’t get out of thinking about his pain, his tears that no one saw, his intense, intense hurt. The loss of everything. Only later was he able to think about Tom, alone and shaken, humiliated, full of regret in the aftermath of it all.
“You’re my only friend. You’re the only person I share things with,” he’d told Fenn once, and this never really stopped being true. Bereft of his only friend, as cold and frightened and alone as Fenn had been that night, only without the comfort of being right, or the comfort of family for that matter. No wonder in the end Tom had spent that couple of years somewhere between bouts of overwork followed by promiscuous, risky affairs with strangers in strange places and, at last, come back to Brian, who was as miserable as him.
When Fenn had slammed the door on him that was it.
Go back to that night.
Brian was as physically hurt as he had been embarrassed. For a long time, almost until a month ago when Brian had come to the house in tears, Fenn had imagined that he was too tall and too beautiful to care about what he had done. He had imagined him smug that night when he had walked into the room. But if he remembered rightly, they had both looked so frightened and so exhausted and so if-only-we-could-hide. And Brian was physically stronger than Fenn, no doubt. Even with Fenn’s rage there was no reason he couldn’t have fought. Brian had hidden his face behind his hands and crawled away. But he hadn’t fought back. It was like he knew he deserved it. The whole thing sickened Fenn now. It had sickened him a few times remembering it, how Brian had been more like a child being beaten by a parent than anything else.
So when Todd came down the steps that morning, face woebegone, Fenn was prepared.
“I don’t want you to be angry at me,” Todd said. “I love you.”
“Of course you do.”
“You’re my husband. You’re my spouse. You’re my partner. You’re my best friend. You’re my—”
“You’re my heart,” Todd said.
“But…” Fenn continued, “you’re going to find Brian?”
Todd blinked, gathered himself and then said: “Not if you don’t want me to.”
Fenn got up from the table and circled it.
He stood looking at Todd, and then reached up and took his hands in his face.
He pulled Todd’s face down and kissed him.
“Go,” he told him.
Todd bent down and pulled Fenn to him.
“Go find him,” Fenn whispered in his ear.
And then he kissed it.
“How are ya, kid?” she said.
Claire smiled and shrugged, coming into his room.
“I need a long shower and a good cry,” Paul told her, turning over in bed and yawning.
“I’m glad you were here last night,” he said.
“Yesterday was the worst day of my life. I mean, hands down. And I’ve had some bad ones.”
“Yeah,” Claire said, sitting on the edge of the bed. “I’ll bet.
“Paul,” she said touching his shoulder, “You need to go to Kirk.”
“How can I?”
“Or I will.”
“Don’t you dare.”
“Someone has to. He doesn’t understand, but maybe he could.”
She shook her head. “You left home when you were my age, Paul. When I think of you out there on the streets, scared... Doing the stuff you did… The things that must have happened…”
She shook her head.
“I’m just saying, Paul, you can’t go through stuff like that and not be affected. And ten years of it. And far from home. You didn’t have us.”
“Dad was gone and you were a little girl, Claire.”
“And you were a little boy. Almost. God, it hurts just thinking about it.”
“Well, then stop,” Paul climbed out of bed and sat beside his sister.
“Stop thinking about it. Stop thinking about that kid. About the things he did. The last thing I want is for you to be hurt over anything I did.”
“But don’t you see? You can’t feel sorry for yourself. Or who you were. You can’t have compassion for that kid. But someone should. I do.”
“I wasn’t the only one. Or the youngest. There were boys out there.”
“There were kids. Boys and girls who died.”
“You could have been one of them,” said Claire.
“But I wasn’t.”
And then Paul said.
“But… something did die. Something went numb. And for a while now it’s been coming back. That’s why I was so terrified. That’s why… Can I talk to you? I wanted to shield you from everything, but it’s too late now, and you and Fenn are the ones who know me.”
“I’m your sister,” Claire said.
“You’re my baby—”
“Don’t go there again.”
“It’s just someone downstairs knocking at the door,” Paul told her.
She nodded, and continued listening to her brother.
“I think… I knew I wanted to get out when I left. I mean the guy I was working for, whose name was Guy by the way,” Paul chuckled. “He got shut down and that was the night Fenn and Paul found me and… it’s a long story. But we ended up here and I realized I liked being here, and I kind of wanted to start over. But… it’s been bumpy. The old me keeps coming back. And the me me… Gets so afraid. I remember one night just breaking into sweats for no reason. Coming down the street afraid that… someone would come out and grab me. Rape me. Whatever. And then the only way to fight that fear was to do what I had done before. Make an amateur porn, have sex with someone. It… I’ve been in a bad way. And the more I feel things, and I want to feel things, Claire, I do… The more I feel afraid, too. And then I go and do something stupid.”
“Paul,” Claire turned to him. “You remember after Grandad died, and I couldn’t sleep because I was so afraid? So afraid of everyone dying and… what death was? Being alone and… everything.”
Paul nodded his head and smiled, painfully, at her.
“And I didn’t want to sleep alone, and Mom said I needed to be a big girl?
“Everynight. Every single night, you came to me and you crawled into that itty bitty bed, and you stayed with me till I was asleep and said you would never leave me.”
He nodded, and she chuckled.
“I’m the same height you were then, and I tried that bed out last year. To remember. I got cramped up like an accordion just getting in there by myself.
“Paul. I love you. I love you.”
Paul lowered his face and turned from her, but just then Fenn stuck his head in the doorway.
“Can I join the lovefest?”
“It’s not a lovefest without you,” Claire said, archly, though she was wiping her face with the back of her hand.
“Well, actually,” Fenn began, “I’m just the escort. It’s an old friend here for you.”
Paul wrinkled his brow and said, “Who?”
But just then, Noah Riley stuck his head in the door.
“Look, your sister’s got good sense,” Noah said, sucking down the last of his shake noisily. “And I think that since I know best about what you were into, then I should go and talk to Kirk.”
Claire laughed and folded up the burger wrapper.
“So, what?” said Paul. “You’re going to say, ‘ Hey Kirk, your boyfriend was an asshole because he’s a recovering pornstar and no one knows that better than me because I’m one too. Take him back. Adopt two Korean kids and start a family?”
“Korean kids?” Claire began.
“Personally I prefer Black kids,” Noah shrugged. “But if you want Korean.”
“No,” Paul waved it off. “It’s just something… Kirk used to say.”
“Well, I’m gonna go talk to him.”
“No you’re not.”
“It’s really not such a bad idea,” Claire told him. “You could do worse than have a go between.”
“Well,” Noah said, standing up and wiping his fingers on his jeans. “Maybe I will talk to him and maybe I won’t, but for now it’s good to be back in the Big R, and I wanna get me a shower and a nap.”
“I gotta go to the bathroom,” Claire said, getting up. “You still wanna go to the park?” she said to Paul.
“A little bit, and then you need to get back home. I don’t want you driving in the dark.”
Claire shrugged on her way to the restroom. “It’s only twelve-thirty now.”
When Claire was gone, Noah leaned in and said, “I stayed at Guy’s house last night.”
“There was this hot Mexican or something there. Jorge. I hadn’t been with anyone in a while. Guy said he’d pay me nicely if he could film us.”
“You made a porn last night?”
“Apparently you made one last week.”
Paul turned red.
“Well, anyway,” Noah said, turning his ball cap around, “I was just telling you that because this morning when Guy gave me the money it was the first time I’d ever felt like a slut. I wasn’t ready for that.”
Then Noah frowned, reached into his back pocket, and pulled out some cash.
“Get something nice for Claire. I sort of don’t want this anymore. Not saying I’ll feel that way tomorrow. But… right now I do.”
“I get it,” said Paul.
“I wish life was easy,” Noah said. “I wish right and wrong were Sunday school easy. Most guys could never do what we’ve done. A lot can. I’ve seen guys. I’ve shot guys who keep on doing it and think it’s the coolest thing in the world. Or there’re the ones who are bitter and shut up… Like I was. I know that now. And then the ones who…. are drugged out of their fucking minds and hate themselves. And the truth is I think I’ve been all three. And nothing’s easy, is it? Right and wrong aren’t…”
Claire was coming out of the bathroom.
“Well,” he shrugged. “Maybe for someone like her they are.”
“They are what?” said Claire.
“Right and wrong. Easy to tell apart. You know. Good and evil, clear cut.”
Claire shrugged. “I suppose they are somewhere.”
Noah stood up and stretched, jingling his car keys and, on impulse, told Claire: “Give me a hug.”
She embraced him tightly and then Noah grinned and told her, “I’ll see you soon, I bet.”
He kissed her on the head and tweaked her cheek, heading out of the restaurant.
Claire grinned at her brother watching Noah trot across the lot and climb into his car. As Noah’s rental car turned onto Demming Street, she laughed.
“Nothing…” Claire said still grinning. “I was just thinking the two of you probably made some hot movies together.”
For a reason he couldn’t quite understand, Noah Riley was laughing as he pulled into the driveway of 4848 Versaille Street. He had been so bored here. But, really he’d been bored with himself. And he’d never really had roots. Unless you counted Rummelsville, Indiana—which he didn’t want to be rooted to. Rossford felt right, and he didn’t know what would come next, but for now a shower and the return to friends was what mattered. He stopped at the kitchen door. He had no key. He moved around to the front, and opened it, closing the door behind him.
Just then a hand went over his face.
“Open your mouth,” he heard.
Noah did so, and felt the barrel of a gun slide in.
The hand moved away.
“Do you know who I am?” the man asked.
Noah made something like a scream and he heard the gun click.
“Knock that off,” the man warned.
“Now,” he continued, turning to face Noah who stood trembling, feeling his bladder weaken, “my name is Joe Callan, and I really need you to tell me what the fuck happened to my half a million dollars.”
“Bren-dan, give me that last box.”
“All right, Fenn.”
“You just call him Fenn?” Kenny noted as he followed Brendan with a crate. “No, Mr. Houghton or anything.
“You could call me Fenn too,” said Fenn taking the box from Brendan and stacking it in the back of the church garage
Milo came out of the rectory with his grandmother and Dan Malloy.
“That’s about it, guys,” The priest told them. “We’re all ready for the rummage sale.”
“How much do you think we’ll take in?” Barb asked.
“Enough to cover the price of the Thanks For Helping party after the rummage sale.”
“Well, let’s go,” Barb said to Fenn. Then, “Milo?”
“I’m heading back with Bren and Kenny.” He murmured, “The Lovebirds.”
“Shut up,” Brendan and Kenny both said, and then looked at each other.
“Dena’s mom is throwing some dinner,” Milo said. “She didn’t really explain. Just said it was—”
“Just because,” Brendan concluded with a shrug.
“Well, just because is good enough,” Fenn said, and Barb nodded as they headed toward her car.
“Fenn, I am so glad you all came and helped today. You know what I need now?” she said, putting her shades up.
“A stiff drink?” Fenn buckled himself in, and Barb started up the car, heading out the parking lot.
“Well, I will fix you one when we get to the house. For once nothing should be happening there.”
“Good,” said Barb, as they turned onto Birmingham Street, “because right now I’m at a place where the littlest shock would just kill me.”
THIS STORY WILL CONTINUE IN THE PEOPLE IN ROSSFORD
Last edited by Chris Gibson; 12-15-2016 at 08:28 PM..