Danny is young, gay, and homeless. He lives in the park, preferring to avoid attention, but when thugs confront a stranger, Danny rushes to his rescue. He and the would-be victim, Harry, form a cautious friendship that deepens months later, when Harry persuades Danny to visit his home. Daring to believe he has found happiness, Danny finds his world turned upside down yet again when tragedy strikes.
Until he runs out of options, Danny won’t trust anyone. Finally he has to accept the offer of a home, and Danny becomes David, but adjusting to a new life isn’t easy. When he meets the mysterious Jack, it stirs up feelings he thought were long gone. Can David dare to allow himself to love? Or will the truth bring his new world tumbling down around him?
“WHY do you never mention your parents?”
“Hmmm?” I hadn’t been listening, too lost in the feel of Jack’s strong hands massaging my feet.
“Your parents. You never talk about them.”
I shrug indifferently, not really interested in talking about my family. “They threw me out.”
There’s a long pause before Jack says, “When?”
“When what?” He digs his clever fingers hard into the ball of my foot, and I hold back a yelp.
“When did they throw you out?”
“Five minutes past twelve on New Year’s Day, 2000.”
“How old were you?”
“Your parents threw you out when you were still at school?”
He’s silent for a minute and then more questions. I know there will be more questions. There are always questions if you are honest.
“Why did they throw you out?”
Reluctantly I open my eyes, because he has stopped digging into my feet and I’m not happy. “Why do you think?”
“Because you are gay.”
“Bingo. On the nose. Ding ding ding for the brainbox.”
“But you were a kid.” He sounds outraged for me.
“What’s that got to do with it? You know it happens all the time.”
“I thought that sort of thing didn’t happen over here. I thought we were all”—he makes air quotes with his fingers—“enlightened.”
I shrug again. “Obviously my parents missed that memo.” I wriggle my toes hopefully, but Jack doesn’t take the hint.
“What made them throw you out?”
“I just told you that.” I try not to snap, but we’ve been having a chilled evening on the sofa. Him, me, a bottle of wine, and a long, leisurely massage that was hopefully going to end in a happy ending. I was still hopeful that might happen.
No such luck. He tickles my foot enough to make me really yelp. “Tell me why they chucked you out, then.”
“Do I have to? It was a long time ago.”
“David.” I hear the warning in Jack’s voice. He isn’t going to be deflected, no matter how hard I try. Thirteen years ago I was a different boy, Danny, loved by his parents. Then it all changed.
I sigh and sit up, running my hands through my hair. “I kissed my boyfriend. Dad saw us and threw me out. End of story.”
“Your father threw you out of the house for kissing your boyfriend?”
“That’s what I just said. Can we stop with the interrogation now? Do you want a drink? I could make coffee, or we could get another bottle of wine. Do you want more wine? I won’t because I’ve got to get up tomorrow, but I could get you one.” I stop babbling long enough to stand up, but he pulls me back down, manhandling me so I’m straddling his lap.
“Please tell me what happened.” Jack holds me down with one hand and cups my chin with the other. I get lost in his expression, his eyes dark, the deepest forest green.
“I don’t want you to know.”
Jack kisses me softly. “I know you don’t, but I need to know. Tell me where you lived.”
My mouth is dry, and I lick my lips, trying to moisten them enough to speak. It’s so hard to talk about this part of my life. All I’ve ever wanted to do is forget about it. And there’s so much at risk telling him the truth. “South London still. About ten miles away from here. It was New Year. We had a party like we always did, and it was the millennium, so everyone was there.” The family had been there, as always, even old Auntie Peg and her farting Pekinese. But this time Dad had invited the whole street to see in the new century. “We had the telly on and heard Big Ben.” My dad insisted on seeing in the New Year with the chimes of Big Ben, just as he forced us to endure the Queen’s speech every Christmas Day.
“We were hugging and kissing. Everyone was at it.” I’d already been kissed by my parents and all the aunties and uncles, even old Tom down the road had pulled me into a hug so hard I’d had the breath knocked out of me. “Then Steve kissed me.”
“Steve was your boyfriend?”
“Yeah. My mum and dad thought he was my best mate. He was my best mate, but he was more than that.”
“Did you love him?” I hear the jealousy in his voice. I see it in his eyes. This is the first time he’s tripped over my past, my ex-lovers. My past is just that—in the past and forgotten. I wish to God I’d remembered that before I’d told him the truth.
“I thought I did at the time. Now, I dunno. We were kids.” Of course I’d loved him, with all the innocence and naiveté that a sixteen-year-old possesses.
“So you kissed him in the excitement and your dad saw?”
It hadn’t been quite like that. We’d wished each other a happy new century along with everyone else, and then he’d caught my eye, and we sneaked out into the back where it was dark and quiet. He’d pushed me against the wall and kissed me, saying everyone deserved a special kiss. Even at sixteen, Steve had known what to do with his mouth to make me horny.
“Something like that,” I agree.
“Then what happened?”
“It was just my luck Dad came out for more beer and caught us kissing. He went ballistic, yelling he didn’t want a homo for a son, and then he threw me and Steve out of the house.” I can see the pity in his eyes and I hate it, hate it. “Don’t look at me like that. I’m not a charity case.”
He strokes my face with his long fingers, and if I hadn’t been so pissed off, I would have purred. “I never said you were.”
“You were thinking it, though.”
“Maybe a little. What did you do then?”
“We went back to Steve’s.” I remember the shock I felt as we walked down the street, the numbness in my mind as I tried to get my head around what had just happened.
“At least you had somewhere to go.”
I nod. I had—for a while. We’d let ourselves into his empty house—his parents had gone away, which was why he’d been staying with me—and he’d bathed my eye, trying to staunch the blood. In addition to chucking me out, Dad had given me a parting present of a black eye and a split lip.
Unwittingly, he’s tracing a tiny scar on my cheek where Dad hit me. “Did you stay there after that or did you have family you could go to?”
I shake my head. “None of them wanted anything to do with me once my dad spread the news. They all told me they didn’t want a queer in their house. I stayed with Steve for a bit, but his parents didn’t want any trouble. They were having a hard enough time finding out their son was gay.”
“So what did you do?”
I look away, not wanting to tell him the truth. Not wanting to admit the shame in my past.
He grips my chin firmly and forces me to look at him. “David, what happened next?”
“I got taken to a halfway home and then I lived rough for a while.”
“How long? How long’s ‘a while’?”
“Over three years.”
“Jeez.” He lets out a shaky breath, and I can see his eyes glistening in the dim light of the lamp.
That’s it. I’ve had enough. I clamber off his lap and head for the bathroom, giving the pretense of needing a piss. Thankfully he doesn’t follow me, and I spend the time staring in the mirror, seeing the frightened little boy I’d been then rather than the man I’ve become. When I get back he’s staring at his hands. He looks up as I come back into the room, and gives me a wan smile.
“Why have you never told me this before? I’ve known you for over eight years. Why have you never told me about your past?”
“You never asked.”
“Don’t give me that. You know I did. I’ve asked you over and over what happened to you, but you never said, and Mary wouldn’t tell me.”
I smile at that. Mary wouldn’t. She’s very protective of her kids, even years after they leave her. Really, no one leaves Mary. I’ve got to know most of her charges, past and present.
He sees my smile and snaps, “It’s not funny, David.”
My smile fades. “I know it’s not funny, but what do you expect me to say?” I hang back by the door, unwilling to face his anger. This was my life, dammit, not his. What the hell right did he have to be angry?
He stares at me. “I met you when you were twenty. Why did you never tell me about your life? All those times I asked and you’d only just got off the streets?”
“Babe, I wanted to forget that boy ever existed. I still do.” That’s not me—even if I did just catch a little glimpse of Danny in the mirror.
I can see from his frown he doesn’t really understand. Taking a deep breath, I sit down beside him and hold his hand. Maybe now is the time to tell my story. Not all of it, of course. There are things I can never tell him. The things I had to do to eat, to survive. It’s a miracle I’m alive and not dead in some alleyway with a needle stuck in my arm. I didn’t contract HIV or the clap. I survived, and I can show him that. I’m not a victim and the sky isn’t dead.