Chapter 18

I can't say that I'm really all that experienced when it comes to drinking wine, so I really wasn't prepared when Jack's wine bottle ran out and he decided to continue our evening with a bottle of cheap whiskey and a 2 Liter Cola. Geez!

I guess that once we got over the awkward part of being able to talk about Dustin as 'Dustin', instead of just some random 14 year old victim of abuse, we found a way to loosen up around one another. The tension that had been putting up an invisible wall between us over the past few weeks was suddenly being relieved, and normality began to settle in to it's proper place again.

It was so surreal, being able to openly talk about Dustin in front of another person. Being able to smile and giggle about all the cute things that he says and does, being able to tell Jack how infinitely happy he makes me, and have him actually understand why I feel the way I do. It was something that was so special to me. I felt like I was coming out of the closet all over again. Of course, the alcohol we were consuming helped to loosen our tongues a little bit. Jack would tell me some funny stories about the good times he had sneaking around with Phillip, and I was able to match him with a few of the heart stopping close calls I had sneaking around with Dustin. I never thought I would get a chance to chit chat about it like this. Casually. Naturally. Something about not having to hide your feelings and bullshit your way through, yet, another day...lifts your spirits to heights that nearly make you dizzy with joy.

I guess everybody wants to feel like they belong somewhere.

At one point, shortly after Jack and I started giggling in the goofiest ways over little of nothing at all, it was becoming apparent that the alcohol was definitely taking an overwhelming effect on both of us. I saw him pick up the whiskey bottle and fill my empty glass almost HALF WAY with more liquor before adding any cola at all. "Whoooaaahhh...hehehe, dude! What are you doing?" I said.

"Quiet. We're having a good time. So shut up and drink." He answered with a sloppy grin.

"We're having a good time NOW, sure! But I've gotta open up the store tomorrow morning, and that seems like a rather 'healthy' pour, if I do say so myself. I think it's time I started slowing down on the refreshments around here."

Jack stopped pouring, but it's not like he took anything away from my nearly poisonous glass of 'naughty juice'. Instead, his solution was to fill it the rest of the way with soda and adding two tiny ice cubes to the mix. I...guess that's better? Hehehe, I was a little too intoxicated to be a good judge of anything by that point.

He says, "One for the road, eh? Then we can sleep. But we've gotta make this last one count."

I said, "I really need to get out of here. I need to get back home, I need a shower, and fresh clothes, and..."

"Unh unh! No way. You're crazy if you think I'm letting you drive home tonight. You're crashing on my couch tonight. So drink up and put that idea out of your mind. You hear me?" He mixed himself another drink, spilling some as he clinked glasses with me. Ugh! This one was particularly strong! I made a face, and he lightly smacked me on the chest, saying, "Suck it up, buttercup! It's not a celebration until you make a face like the one you just made. Hehehe!"

I slumped back on the couch. "Is that what this is? A celebration?"

"I'm feeling rather festive right now, aren't you?" He asked.

"I don't know...should I feel festive right now?"

"Hell yeah! Why not? We're, like...bonding and shit. Get your head in the game, Eric."

I took another sip or two of my drink, the ice already half melted from the alcohol content. But my emotions changed up on me...and I stared down at the floor as I put some more thought into my current situation. "I'm scared, Jack. I wish I wasn't...but I'm really scared."

He gave me a weird look, and he said, "Scared of what? I thought you were all gung ho about this thing? Like...you made it sound like you were totally comfortable with loving Dustin the way you do. Did I get that backwards, or...?"

"No! THAT part is fine. I love Dustin with my whole heart, and I wouldn't trade the time we've spent together for anything in the WORLD, Jack...it's just..." I stopped talking, my words becoming cluttered and jammed up in the back of my throat, partially from confusion, partially from frustration. And then the sadness poured over the feeling like a thick tar, condemning my enjoyment of such a thing. You'd be surprised how many times brainwashing trumps truth in these situations. "...I don't know if I can keep this up for much longer." I told him. "Every day, I walk around afraid that somebody will find out. Every time some stranger makes eye contact with me on the street, every time somebody passes us in the mall and sees Dustin and I sharing a smile with one another...I feel like someone is going to come along and rip us apart from one another. I worry that his mom will find an intimate message from me on his phone, or that he'll whisper 'I love you' in a public place and someone will overhear it. I want to just love him and have him love me back. Nothing more. But...I think I'm starting to realize that the world will tolerate starvation, racism, homelessness, and war...before they'll be able to stomach the fact that Dustin and I want to be together. You can't imagine how much that hurts, Jack. You can't imagine."

Ok, that's my cue to stop drinking. I was giggling just a few minutes ago, and now I want to curl up into a tiny little ball and cry myself to sleep.

Jack sighed to himself, and he said, "You know...I won't lie to you and say that I didn't think you were going batshit crazy for even entertaining the idea that you could be sexually involved with a teenage boy and think that it was ok. There's a HUGE part of me that thinks all kids deserve to be protected and nurtured and just...allowed to be 'kids' for a while, you know?" He said as I held back tears of guilt and shame. Then he looked at me, sincerely, and he said, "But...hearing you talk about him, and all the stuff you do together...I'd be lying if I said that it sounds half as sick and abusive as I thought it would. I mean...I'm feel like an asshole for making such a big deal out of it now."

"Yeah, well...don't. You were right, Jack." I said, slurring my words as I took a big gulp of my drink. "You told me that something bad would happen, and it did. You TOLD me! I was just too stupid to listen."

"Eric...dude, when I said that stuff, I was just looking out for you..."

"I know you were! And you were right. I was a complete fucking idiot." I sniffled. "You know...I'm actually SCARED to go home tonight? It's true. I'm afraid that I'm going to step off of that elevator in my apartment, and the police are going to be waiting there for me in the hallway to handcuff me and take me to jail. They're probably there right now...rummaging through my stuff, kidnapping my computer hard drives, waiting to confiscate my cell phone so they can read through every private email Dustin and I ever shared and mentally twist it into something despicable. A predator's journal, taking advantage of a helpless little boy. They're going to make an example of me. I just know it."

"Hehehe, you want me to finish the rest of that whiskey drink for ya, bud?" He joked. But I didn't want him to joke around just to make me feel better. If nothing else, I almost wanted him to justify my fears and help me to collapse in on myself before the outside world broke me down first.

"I'm a monster, Jack..."

"A DRUNK monster..."

"I'm serious, ok???" I said.

"This is a total 180 from what you just told me no less than an hour ago. Come on, Eric...you were almost reaching the point where I was in your cheerleader section. What's going on here?"

"I'm scared all the time. That's what. I practically abandoned the love of my life in the hospital with a serious injury, and all because I was so terrified of being caught."

"Caught doing what?" Jack asked. "It's not like you slammed the kid's head into the sink on PURPOSE! It was an accident. Hell, from what you told me, you were panicking more than HE was! And HE'S the one with the giant lump on his forehead!"

"It won't matter, Jack. They'll depict me as a monster anyway." I whimpered. "They'll say I 'groomed' him. That I took advantage. I don't know...maybe I did. Maybe I preyed upon his inexperience and created this whole, stupid, love affair out of selfish desires and lustful impulses. Maybe I NEED to be locked up. Maybe I'm an awful person who's too deluded and out of touch to realize how much HARM I've done to this poor innocent kid who was foolish enough to put his trust in me, when FUCKING him was all I wanted from the very start!"

At this point, Jack reached for my cup, and physically took my drink away from me, refusing to let me soak my problems in liquor and paranoia for one minute longer. "Ok...that's enough for you tonight." He said.

"DON'T! Ok? I'm starting to think that I need this to feel better...about everything..."

"Everything like what? dude, sleep it off." Jack said. "For ONCE...you're actually making sense. Don't fuck it up by getting all drunk and weird on me, now."

"I think I just...need to come to my senses and put an end to this whole thing while I still have a chance to make things right. Before I end up ruining the rest of my life...and his."

Jack rolled his eyes and grunted, "I can't believe you're going to make me defend you on this." Then with a sigh, he scooted over close to me and said, "Listen, you love who you love. You can't help that. And when they love you back, well...heh, well that's the highlight reel of ANY man's life. I know what it's like to want what you're not supposed to have, but...sometimes the rest of the world gets it wrong. Sometimes they're just not meant to understand. And...even when every else thinks you're a heartless monster and he's a helpless victim...sometimes you have to have the strength to be the example that proves them all wrong." He took one last tilt of his drink, and said, "Sometimes, love wins."

As I felt a few tears roll down my cheeks, I rushed to wipe them away and straighten up before I made an even bigger clown out of myself for the evening. "I'm sorry. I just get myself all mixed up thinking about this stuff. If you think I do this without having a conscience about it, you'd be wrong."

He looked at me with a smirk. "This is the real deal, isn't it? You're really in love with the kid. Aren't ya?"

"I am. I've never felt this way about anybody before. As much as it hurts, I can't stop. Not now."

Jack gave me a hug and said, "Well, thank God for closed doors and kept secrets then." He ruffled the hair on my head before standing up from the couch. "I'm going to bed. I suggest you do the same. I'll get you up at seven. Deal?" I agreed, feeling my head swim as he tossed me a few pillows and a blanket from the hall closet. "And drink the rest of what's in that cup. I ain't got liquor to waste, bitch!"

"Yes, sir." I grinned.

"G'night." He said.

"Hey, Jack? Thanks for listening. I know this is weird for you." I said.

"Whatever. Just know that the second the bounty on your head gets high enough to cover my rent for a month, I'm giving you up in a heartbeat."

"Hehehe, if I go to jail, will you set me up with a conjugal visit?"

Jack scoffed. "Now how do you expect me to sneak a live SHEEP passed the prison guards? You've gotta think, man."

"So I'm having sex with sheep now?"

"You're having sex with little boys, aren't you? Slippery slope, dude!" He giggled, and waved me off as he went into his bedroom and shut the door.

I turned off the lights in the apartment, but there was enough illumination coming in through the window from the city streetlights for me to still see what I was doing. My cup was still pretty full and the alcohol was pretty strong, so I didn't want to try to rush it down for fear that it would make me sick. So I just sat over by the window and sipped it slowly while looking outside. Thinking. Always thinking.

I found myself smiling, even snickering to myself, as I thought about how infatuated I was with Dustin the first time he came walking into our store. The bright blond hair, those deliciously pink lips, those mesmerizing neon blue eyes. Even now, I could feel my heartbeat speeding up as if he were crossing my vision for the first time. I thought about us pawing at Smitty's gate while waiting for him to open up for us, and our lunch dates together. I thought about seeing his smile when some movie slasher cut up a victim when I took him to the movies, or when he tricked me into cooking spaghetti at his house when his parents were out of town. I took another sip, and giggled to myself as I thought about the way Dustin climbed into my lap in the front seat of my car and kissed me so passionately...and the way we jumped when that sweet ass of his hit the horn! Hahaha! I'm lucky I'm not locked up already. I thought about the way he always fidgeted slightly before getting the courage to say 'I love you', and the way he responded to even the most random touch. I thought about the first time we made love...and how we took our time to do it right. It was a moment that he'll remember favorably for the rest of his life. And so will I.

I spent the better part of an hour just thinking about the love in my heart, and how the threat of serious trouble didn't make Dustin any less desirable. Any less irresistible. If anything, it proved to me, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that my love for him was real. Who would risk their freedom for a random notch on their bedpost? I just wanted him to be ok. I needed him to be safe. I might be setting myself up for something terrible...but I'm going back to the hospital tomorrow and visiting his room. As soon as I get off of work. I won't stay long, I just need him to know that I'm there for him. That I care. And that I can't wait for him to come home.

My eyes were half closed and my last trip to the bathroom to pee was so wobbly that it might as well have been a circus tightrope act. Hehehe, but I finished my drink, and practically fell back on the couch, kicking my shoes off and pulling the blanket up to my neck as I tried to get in a few solid hours of sleep before morning. I knew that I was going to pay for being up so late tomorrow, but it was worth it. For the first time, I felt like less of a creep and a pervert about this paranoid fiasco. And the alcohol might be a definite factor in me passing out, but I'd like to think that talking openly about Dustin is what helped me to get the best night's sleep that I've had in months.

Waking up again, however...was not an easy task at all.

If my throat had been dry enough to nearly choke me to death, I might have just laid there on that couch with my eyes closed for another 12 hours at least. I can't really say that I had much of a headache, because my whole body was too drained of energy to even bother to throb and ache like a normal hangover is supposed to. Note to self...wine and whiskey do NOT make a cute couple!

Once I was able to squirm into an upright position and rub my eyes, I noticed the amount of sunlight coming in through the living room window, and suddenly began to panic! What time was it! Holy shit! I thought Jack was going to wake me up in time for work! What the fuck? I've got to get out of here! Where are my shoes? Shit...I need to wash up! Where are my keys? Do I still have my keys???

That's when I looked at the coffee table in front of me, and I saw a note taped to the empty wine bottle from last night. It was from Jack.

"I can tell from the way you were snoring this morning that you weren't going to be able to work this morning. So I'm taking your morning hours today. I'd say you owed me one, but I could honestly use the extra cash. Consider it a fair trade. Drink plenty of water, an extra house key is on the rack next to the front door, and if you take a shower (Prolly a good idea)...clean out the tub! I can't stand a dirty tub! Catch ya later, ya big ol' drunk!"

Hehehe, bastard. Still...it was a huge sigh of relief, seeing I was way too groggy to get up and get moving with any sort of purpose. My arms and legs fell limp at my sides, and I just leaned my head back to stare at the ceiling for a few minutes...hoping that I'd have the strength to get up and wash this grimy sweat and liquor film off of me.

So...what's the plan now? Should I just hang around Jack's apartment all day and wait for him to come home? Should I call him at work and thank him for covering my shift? Should I do what my body is telling me to do, and thank the stars that I can roll over and go right back to sleep? I really could have taken advantage of my much needed, totally unexpected, day off from work. But...as I sat there on that couch, I realized that a different plan needed to be put in motion. One where I didn't just sneak out of a hospital, leaving someone I loved with all my heart to fend for himself because I was too scared to face the consequences of putting him there in the first place. That wasn't fair to Dustin. What if he's scared? What if he's mad at me? Hell, what if he's just bored and needs me to bring him a smile? Isn't that what I signed up for with that first kiss? Isn't that what I promised him when I said 'I love you' for the first time? I know that we have to keep things quiet, and I know that secrets get heavier the longer you carry them...but I just can't be the guy who turns tail the second my feelings for him conflict with the problems and judgement that may come from me making things right.

Still a bit woozy, I stood up on my feet, and I walked towards the bathroom. Jack had already put out a towel and washcloth on the edge of the sink for me, and I caught myself smiling as I looked at myself in the mirror.

A quick shower, maybe a cup of coffee from the cafe down the street...and then I'm going to go see him. My Dustin.

God, I hope I'm doing this right...