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Never go home

Content Warning: The following work of fiction contains mature subject
matter and graphic sexual descriptions of minors engaged in sexual
explorations.. If this bothers you or if it is illegal to possess
such material in your locality, please hit the delete button now. This
is a work of fiction and any similarity to any person(s) living or
dead is pure coincidence. Under no circumstances should this material
be deemed suitable for minors.

Subject: A young runaway learns to survive on the streets, but can he
learn how to live?

A NOTE TO MINORS WHO IGNORE MESSAGE HEADERS: Running away is just
that, running away, not running to. It is probably the most dangerous
thing you can think of. It can get you killed, it can ruin your life.
There *ARE* options out there. If you need options the best site on
the web that Iíve found is http://www.tdprs.state.tx.us/hotline.html.
The toll free number you can get to from any pay phone in the nation
is 1-800-392-3352. This is a Texas organization but itís run by
people who actually give a damn and theyíll work with you on finding a
better solution wherever you live. You may still end up running away,
but at least youíll have the chance to run TO something in the
process. Real life is NOT like this story, it rarely has neat and
tidy endings.

Authorís Second Note: This story is disturbing. It is right that it
is disturbing, and it is right that you should look upon it with some
fear and trepidation. There but for the grace of God go us. This is a
story about coming of age in the worst possible way imaginable, but it
is also a story about hope. To me, the story is very powerful, and it
is my sincerest wish that my writing skills will allow me to do this
story the justice it deserves.

Credits: Many thanks to Sven the Elder for offering me an unofficial
celestial prior to publication and for the kind words which makes
hitting the publish button so dang easy.

Subject Matter: (mm) (m/f) (Romance)
Rating: (X) Not suitable for minors. May be illegal in some areas.

Author: SandMan
Copyright ( c ) 1998 sandman@bitsmart.com
Archive: ftp://asstr.ml.org/pub/Authors/sandman/index.html

Distribution Rights: May be distributed freely WITHOUT MODIFICATION on
USENET, USENET II, not-for profit web sites, not-for profit ftp sites,
and news archival services which offer free public access to archived
articles. All other rights are specifically reserved by the author.

Creation Date: 1/18/98
Distribution Date: 1/22/98

You Can Never Go Home Again (By Sandman)

"To be shelterless and alone in the open country, hearing the wind
moan and watching for day through the whole long weary night; to
listen to the falling rain, and crouch for warmth beneath the lee of
some old barn or rick, or in the hollow of a tree; are dismal
thingsóbut not so dismal as the wandering up and down where shelter
is, and beds and sleepers are by thousands; a houseless rejected
creature." -- Charles Dickens

***

Joey stepped off the greyhound bus in a light drizzling rain and
pulled his coat close around him. Behind him the aluminum doors
hissed shut and the great hulking vehicle pulled away, leaving him
alone in this strange place in the dead of night. He skirted under
the cover and entered the bus terminal, his eyes straining at the
sharp contrast between the gloomy night outside and the harsh
florescents inside.

A few men were stretched out on the benches, all of them looked dirty
and unkempt. Joey gave an involuntary shudder for what they
represented; hopelessness, despair, poverty, all the things he was
just one bus ride and a hundred dollars away from experiencing
himself. Unbidden, the word "homeless" sprang to his mind and he
weighed the word carefully.

Until the moment he had stepped off the bus he had been a normal, all
American fifteen year old kid. He had grown up believing in Santa
Claus, the tooth fairy, and that if he did well in school heíd grow up
and get a nice middle class job, middle class house with a middle
class mortgage, and end up with a middle class wife, and middle class
kids. But now, the full ramifications of what he had done set in and
he slumped down onto a nearby bench under the weight of those
consequences.

The dark spiral of events that had led him to this place swirled
around him beginning seven months ago, a blink of an eye, when his
parents had died in a car wreck. His dad, a jovial outgoing man, had
a passion for sports cars and along with that a passion for speed. He
was a good driver, who drove good machines but for one fault; corners.
The sharper the corners, the faster his father liked to take them.
The bridge where the accident had happened was a sharp ninety degree
bend, elevated and slanted. Just the way his father liked them.

He had taken that curve before, many times. But that day there was a
spot of oil on the road where some vehicle or truck with a cracked oil
reserve had leaked. The big fat tires couldnít hold onto the road and
the car flew through the guard rail, dropping them two stories onto
another roadway below, right in front of a tractor trailer. His
parents had died instantly. The car disintegrating under the
tremendous impacts. The policemen and social workers who had broken
the news to Joey had tried to avoid telling him that all that was left
of his parents was a twisted mass of blood, bone, and flesh, but Joey
understood anyway. He was a bright kid, and where explanations
failed, tortured imagination supplied the rest.

He only had one living relative, Uncle Bob, his Motherís brother.
Until the funeral he had never met his Uncle, though he knew that his
Mother did not get along with her brother. She never mentioned why
this was so, but Joey learned for himself soon enough. Uncle Bob for
all practical purposes ignored his new charge. He lived alone in the
suburbs and when he was not working as a salesman he was propped up in
front of the tv drinking beer.

He drank until he was drunk that first night, then he drank until he
passed out. The next night he repeated the ritual. On the third
night after eight beers Uncle Bob switched channels to find one of the
pay services had unscrambled their channel and was showing a racey
film. Joey left the room when his Uncle unzipped his pants and began
masturbating.

After a couple of weeks Joey stayed in his room when Uncle Bob was
home, but even that didnít help him much when his Uncle decided to
come visiting. And lately he had been visiting often. Uncle Bob,
when he was drunk, was a very violent man. The first beating had
happened on the pretext that Joey had not taken out the garbage. By
the fifth beating Uncle Bob didnít even need a pretext.

Nothing in life had ever prepared Joey for this. In the span of two
months to be in a loving home with a normal life and then a home with
no love, in a strange city with no friends and the beatings, oh the
beatings. He hadnít planned to run away, it just happened. The last
beating had been the worst and his ribs still hurt. After his Uncle
had passed out he rifled through the wallet and pulled out a hundred
and fifty dollars in cash. Other than his coat and wallet he didnít
take anything from the house as he set out.

It had taken all day to walk to the bus station. He had picked a city
at random when he bought the ticket and he had spent all that night
and the next day riding. Sleeping mostly, trying to forget
everything. But now, sitting on the bench in the bus station the
terrible feeling of not having anywhere to go overwhelmed him and
thoughts spun around in his head so fast he was paralyzed as to what
to do now.

"Need some help kid?" a voice asked.

Joey looked up to see a large black security guard looking down at
him, his hand lightly resting on the butt of a large pistol. "No."
Joey said quickly. "I just got in, waiting for my Uncle to pick me
up." The lie rolled easily off his tongue.

"Ticket?", the guard asked. Joey fished around his pockets before
flashing the used ticket. The guard studied it a moment then handed
it back. "Sorry. Just doing my job. Get a lot of runaways now and
again, never hurts to check."

Joey cocked his head. "Runaways? What do you do with them?" He
asked.

The guard shrugged. "Refer them to a shelter I know about. Then I
guess the social workers take over. Either get them back home again
or placed with a foster home."

"Oh." Joey said glumly. The thought of either a shelter home or a
foster family repulsed him. It was something you picked up without
really being taught. Such things were for losers, for people who
couldnít cope with life. They were not meant for respectable people.

"You sure youíre all right kid?", the guard asked, eyeing him keenly.

"Fine." Joey answered. "Really. Just tired. It was a long trip.
My Uncle should be here in a little bit."

"Uh-huh." The guard said. "Whatever you say."

"I think Iíll go stretch my legs a bit." Joey said, getting up.
"Iíve been sitting way to long." Barely breathing he strode away from
the guard and to the doors. He paused at the street outside, but
briefly before turning right and followed the dark sidewalk in the
drizzling cold rain.

The bus station was out of place in this seedy run down district.
The houses and shops were in various states of disrepair and jumbled
together as if no one really cared that it was some how out of place
to put a house next to an all night book store or a tiny dilapidated
church next to a liquor store. The surreal atmosphere was enhanced by
the light fog and the occasional flickering streetlight. old cars,
none of which looked overly usable lined the streets. Dark alleyways,
clothed in darkness loomed reminding him of when he was younger and
there had been a monster in the closet.

He walked quickly, always aware of eyes staring at him, always aware
of the dangerous looking men who prowled these streets in the dead of
night, always aware that they looked on him as he would have looked on
them if they had suddenly appeared at the mall he used to hang out at
with his friends.

***

He was sitting at a table in front of "The patio", the local mall
mish-mash of various fast food stores. They were sitting at the table
nearest to the walkways, the table where the people watching was best,
the table where it was the easiest to be seen. He was thirteen, and
his best friend David and his other best friend Chris where sitting on
either side of them as they nursed their slurpies.

"Look over there!", Chris had said pointing at a couple in front of a
record shop window.

The man was tall and lean, maybe nineteen years old. He wore a pair
of sneakers with torn canvas exposing his toes since he wore no socks.
He wore a pair of long, aged and ripped jeans. That was actually
stylish, but the worn dirty yellow T-shirt which proclaimed "Gangstaís
do it with a bang" was not. The T-shirt had no sleeves exposing on
his left shoulder a tattoo of a skull and crossbones. He wore a gold
necklace and an earring dangled from his right ear. But most
startling of all, his short cut hair with a longer tuft which served
as a mohawk effect was dyed pink and green.

The woman was attired in sandals and short cut blue jeans, very short
cut revealing her long slender legs and enough of them to make looking
at her extraordinarily exciting. She wore a plain white T-shirt which
had been rolled up and tied just below her ample breasts, exposing a
flat belly and fascinating curves. She had long blond hair that ended
at her shoulders, and a few locks had been braided and tucked behind
her ear to end on the front of her chest. The man had his hand tucked
inside her pants feeling the right side of her ass.

The boys stared in awe and fascination and not a little fear at the
odd couple. A few feet behind them a portly security guard also
considered them. The man had made some joke and the woman laughed and
they moved on, the security guard moved to follow them.

"Wow.", David said. "Did you see how he had his hand tucked in to
her ass?"

***

Joey shook his head, pulling himself out of the memory. He paused a
moment, for he found himself on the border of dark and light. Here
the streetlights ended, and pitch dark loomed ahead of him. His hair
was dripping wet from the cold drizzle and had fed the water between
his coat and skin to soak his shirt. He shivered as much from the
cold as from fear. He stepped forward and darkness engulfed him.

***

Joey was six, and in bed. He stared at the closet door with more than
a little trepidation. He knew the monster was in there waiting for
him. He knew with all the certainty that if he dropped and object it
would fall to the ground. If the house groaned at night, it was
because the monster was moving about. If he heard a bump in the night
it was the monster pacing, waiting for the time it could finally claim
him.

When he had been younger, the monster had been under the bed. Only
light and the magic of the bed could keep the monster at bay. If a
foot should happen to dangle over the side while one slept, then the
spell would be broken and the monster would grab the foot and pull him
off. What happened after that would be to horrible to even think of.
But his Dad had cast the spell when he was five. For a whole week the
monster had been banished from the house.

The spell kept the monster away from the bed, but it returned soon
enough and took up residence in the closet. His father had cast the
spell again on the closet but it didnít work. Joey was disappointed
when his father explained there was no monster. Disappointed not
because he believed what his father said, but because he couldnít make
his father realize just what evil lurked in that small dark room.

But he was six now. His birthday had been yesterday. Why he was
almost a man now. Joey took a deep breath and climbed down off the
bed. His knees wobbled a little, and his heart raced. He almost
bounded back into bed, but a stubborn streak held him. Fear mixed
with anger. This was HIS house, HIS bedroom and it wasnít right that
the monster made him afraid like that all the time. He took a step
towards the closet. Then another, and another. Slowly, agonizingly
slow he walked breathing hard, feeling his heart pound in his head,
noticing every single detail no matter how small, hearing every sound
no matter how distant - even his parents shallow breathing in their
bedroom down the hall, smelling everything as if for the first time.

His hand rested on the doorknob and he turned and pulled the door
open. Complete, utter blackness greeted him. The monster was in
there, but it wasnít moving. No sound greeted him, nothing sprang up
to surprise him. Almost he closed the door to return running to his
bed. Almost, but the stubborn streak held him fast. He held up his
hands, clenching them into small fists and stepped into the blackness.

***

"Heya kid!" a voice exclaimed. Joey jumped at the sound coming from
the alley. The voice belonged a drunken dirty man holding a wine
bottle with just enough liquid left at the bottom of the bottle to
slosh around as he waved it. "Got some cash for an old bum?" He was
drunk and his words slurred, but there was a note of excitement in his
voice the excitement of a bit of cash for a new bottle when this one
ran out.

"No." Joey mumbled and started walking again, quickening his pace.

"Five bucks kid." The old wino pleaded. Then his voice hushed
conspiratorially, "For five bucks Iíll suck you off."

Joey stopped and looked back in shock at the old man. The wino smiled
broadly revealing even in the darkness a set of rotted and missing
teeth. Joey broke into a sprint and didnít stop until he was well
away.

***

"Wanna see something?" David asked.

The tree-house swayed gently in the warm summer breezes. An eleven
year old Joey nodded.

"Itís a secret all right? Just between us. Double swear it.", David
demanded.

"All right! I double swear." Joey agreed exasperated. Single
swearing was bad enough, double swearing was tantamount to selling
your soul.

David leaned over and in a conspiratorial voice said. "You know my
cousin visited over the weekend. Well he showed me something. It
kinda looks gross at first but itís really neat if you do it."

Joeyís eyes went wide as he watched David slide off his shorts
revealing a throbbing erect penis. For the last few months Joeyís own
penis had been behaving strangely, always getting all stiff and
usually at the worst possible and most uncomfortable times. The
thought of telling anybody about it had never even crossed his mind,
but then neither did the thought that other peopleís penises might get
hard as well. Joey was unable to tear his eyes away as he watched his
friend massaging that erection.

"Hmmm." David groaned. "It feels really, really good if you do this.
Try it, youíll see."

Joey snapped out of his trance and frowned, suddenly aware that his
own penis had grown in a most uncomfortable position as he had sat
watching. If he hadnít been so uncomfortable he might have declined.
But removing his shorts and setting the penis to a more comfortable
angle certainly wouldnít be worse than what David was already doing.

Blushing furiously Joey slid down his shorts to the sounds of his
friendís long slow deep breaths and squishing sounds that was coming
from his hand upon his penis. At Davidís prodding Joey wrapped his
hand around his swollen penis and began to move it as David was doing.
His breath hitched as the first electrifying wave of pleasure rolled
over him. David smiled as he watched Joeyís face stiffen, his lips
puckering into a surprised O.

For a minute they watched each other jerking off and then David said,
"Thereís something even better." Joey sincerely doubted the accuracy
of that statement at the moment as he rode the waves of pleasure
springing forth from his crotch. "My cousin showed me this too."
David said as he leaned over. Joey stopped his movements,
uncomfortably aware of how close David was. Though they werenít
touching he could feel his nearness. David pulled Joeyís hand away
from his cock and let his head fall lower. Joey started to say
something, confusion welling up inside him but he could only throw his
head back and moan as he felt Davidís warm, wet mouth engulf him.

***
"The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the
Son of man hath not where to lay his head." -- Matthew 8:20

***

Joey walked. He had walked that night, and the next day and now it
was dark again. His feet hurt. His legs hurt. He was cold. He was
hungry. He was afraid. But most of all he was tired, and even tired
wasnít the right word, exhausted was better description. As long as
he was walking he was OK, but when he stopped he felt the world close
in around him and exhaustion made itís presence known. That afternoon
he had paused in a park to rest on a bench until he felt to keenly the
eyes of strangers on him. But now in the early evening he was getting
desperate to find some safe place to curl up and sleep.

The neighborhood he was walking in was run down. Small, tiny houses
with peeling paint, overgrown lawns some spotted with ugly bare
patches lined the street. Joey paused in front of one of them. The
lawn had grown wild here, with grasses almost knee high and various
other plants sprouting up. The windows were boarded up as was the
front door. It looked as if a good strong wind would topple the
rickety old house.

The drizzle began to turn into hard rain as he stood staring at the
house. It looked abandoned, it felt abandoned, and he was desperate
for a place to sleep. Cautiously with frequent looks down the
deserted street he slipped around back. The back door at one point
had been boarded up as well, but someone had long since removed the
barricade. The door itself was strewn on the floor, leaving the house
open to the elements.

He stepped inside the dark house, his eyes straining to catch the
feeble light. The place was a wreck, literally. What walls there
were had great gaping holes in them, most of the plaster had fallen
away Garbage, beer cans, old nudie magazines lay strewn about.
Roaches fled as he walked through the house, and every now and then he
thought he saw something a little larger scurrying around, but in the
dim light it was hard to make out.

In one of the bedrooms someone had thrown an impossibly old, stained
mattress on the floor. The thing stank to high heaven of old sex,
moldy fabric, old alcohol and urine. Had he not been so desperate,
his options so limited he would have fled. Even his Uncleís house had
not been this bad. This place offended his sensibilities. He ran his
fingers through his stringy wet hair despairing at how far he had
fallen.

After surveying the house he found the only halfway livable spot was
the large walk-in bedroom closet. The walls were relatively intact
with only a small hole between the bedroom and the closet. The floor
was wood which had not rotted to badly, and the small place felt good,
safe and at this point he very, very much needed that.

He closed the closet door and laid down. The wood was hard against
his head, if it had been warmer he could have used his coat as a
pillow but his shirt would give little comfort from the night chill
and figured his arm would have to suffice. It took several long
minutes to find a bearable position, it took longer minutes still to
let his exhaustion overcome the fear and anxiety of sleeping in a
strange, dirty, scary place. A single tear rolled down his cheek as he
finally surrendered to sleep.

***

"There you go Honey." Joeyís mom said cheerfully as she made sure his
covers were tight. "Snug as a bug in a rug." She beamed as she
kissed him on the nose.

"Read me a story?", Joey asked. He was tired, but never to tired for
a story.

"Weelll." His mother said pretending to think it over. "I guess so.
But only because youíre so special." She leaned over and said with a
wink and a smile, "I donít even read to your father!" Joey smiled
broadly at that. It felt so wonderful to feel special. His mom went
over to the book case and pulled out a small reader. "Well, well!
Looks like weíre going to find out all about Hansel and Gretel
tonight!" She sat on the edge of his bed and began to read.

***

Joey woke suddenly, his blood pounding as he stared at the darkened
ceiling. He had been asleep only a couple of hours yet it was a light
and troubled sleep, and a part of him had been alert to the strange
sounds of this place enough to realize when something unusual was
happening. Then he heard giggling at the back door. It was a girlís
giggle, a sound which said "Iím doing something I shouldnít. Itís
naughty but I donít care." Then heavy footsteps rang on the floor.
Closer and closer to where he lay. Despite the cool air, sweat began
to form on Joeyís brow.

"Ewww! Could this place get any grosser?" a girlís voice asked.

"All that matterís babe is that youíre here and Iím here, and we got
da rocks!", A boyís voice said cheerfully.

Carefully Joey turned over onto his stomach and peered through the
small hole into the bedroom. A boy and girl, maybe sixteen for the
girl and seventeen for the boy, sat Indian style on the mattress.
They both had what looked like home rolled cigarettes in their mouth
and the boy flicked a lighter and lit them both.

After a few seconds the girl exclaimed, "Damn this is good fuckiní
shit!"

"Yea, good source. He treats me right.", the boy answered.

For five minutes they smoked the drug and the bitter acrid smell
filtered through the house even into the closet where Joey watched.
Then they stuffed the thin sliver of the roaches into a bottle of beer
they were carrying.

"God thatís a trip." The girl said. "To bad it doesnít last. Got
any more?"

"Naw." The boy answered. "Wonít be any more until my Pa getís paid
and I can lift some cash from his wallet. He donít notice a twenty
missing, but if I try it with my Ma Iíll get the crap beat outta me."
She frowned. "I know something almost as good though." He said
slyly.

She laughed. "Me too." And then she hiked up her skirt to reveal
that she wasnít wearing any panties. Joeyís breath hitched and though
he never would have thought it possible under these circumstances he
began to get an erection. The view wasnít perfect, the angle was
wrong, but he could see enough. The boy dropped his hand down to the
girlís pussy and began to work it as she threw back her head and
smiled.

"You like that huh?" The boy asked.

She moaned and answered, "Oh yea." And arched her hips as if to
prove it.

"Turn over." He said.

"Aw Mack you know I donít like it like that, I almost never get off.",
she complained.

"Hey, who got you the rocks? You owe me babe. Thereís plenty of
girls put up with lots worse shit for rocks."

She sighed and rolled over. "Just keep that thing away from my ass.
Boyís who like girlís asses are just this shy of being queer."

He slapped her, hard enough for the smack to echo through the house
and she gave a yelp. "Iíll take your ass if I want to bitch. Itís
only queer if youíre a guy and from where Iím standing you ainít no
guy."

She was silent as he dropped his pants and scooted up behind her. He
grasped the base of his shaft and dipped it down to run it through her
pussy lips. "Here?" he asked. Then he brought it up higher and
leaned forward a little, "Or here?" Joey couldnít see the girlís
face and he held his breath. Finally the boy lowered his cock again
and pushed in. The girl sighed.

Mac dropped his hands to the girls hips and grasped her tightly,
pushing and pulling her as his needs dictated. It did not last long
at all. A minute of thrusting and then his face contorted and he
gasped.

"Not bad." He said as he pulled up his pants.

The girl rolled back over and stood up. "Friday? Youíll have more on
Friday?"

"Yea. Iíll have more on Friday. I think Friday Iíll choose your
ass."

The girl grimaced and then forced a smile. "For a good rock, Iíll
even let you."

The sounds of their footsteps faded away and Joey rolled back over and
tried to recapture sleep.

***

It was spring and Joey was fourteen. David had the chance to visit
his Aunt and Uncle on their farm for a week, and had invited Joey
along as well. Joey had agreed instantly, and his parents had agreed
as well after they had worked out the details with Davidís parents.
Joey had never seen a farm before and thought it would be completely
radical. David, who had visited the place often, thought it was
rather boring and was glad Joey was coming along to break up the
monotony.

This was the same aunt and uncle who had visited David when he was
eleven, the parents of the cousin who had taught David and thus Joey
how to have a little fun now and again. Joey would never see the
mysterious cousin since he had headed off to college and had a full
time job to pay his way. But the cousin was not on Joeyís mind as
they drove out to the farm. The prospect of seeing real life horses
and cows and other exotic animals excited him to no end.

They were met at the door by a man and woman about the same age as
Joeyís parents. The adults smiled, shook hands, and generally just
greeted each other. Joey stood off uncomfortably to the side as they
renewed family ties. Davidís parents soon introduced him though, and
Joey was gratified at the warm greeting they extended to him.

When the door opened again and a bright sandy-haired girl a year
older, maybe two years older than Joey himself, burst in he found
himself unable to take his eyes off her. She was wearing sandals and
short cutoffs like the girl he had seen at the mall that one day. Her
legs were kind of spindly, but golden bronze. She wore a plain white
T-shirt that did little to hide the orange sized mounds that served
as her breasts. Her face was gorgeous with sparkling blue eyes and
rich full lips. Though Joey looked on her with something close to
awe, her own gaze was not so kind. But she smiled and went through
the motions of a warm family greeting, even shaking Joeyís hand when
Davidís Uncle introduced him to Cindy.

Joey was absolutely fascinated by the girl though he she kept a firm
distance between them. For the first few days the farm was an endless
treasure-trove of new discoveries, the barn especially. It was more
than possible to jump from the rafters into the thickly piled hay
below. And the barn held cows and the horses. Joey was sore from his
first horseback riding lesson, but he enjoyed it despite the pain.
There was something about riding on the back of a horse which spoke to
what it meant to be a man.

David and Joey were behind the barn, "relieving the pressure" as they
called it. They really didnít get each other off all that often, but
every now and again both of them were just randy enough to be in the
mood. Usually it started by fingering each other for a few moments
before taking turns sucking each other off. As they had grown older they had realized that what they were doing was a "Gay Thing", but
since they both liked girls it didnít seem to be such a big deal and
they were definitely smart enough to be discrete.

Then the worst and best possible thing happened. Cindy stepped out
into view and was regarding them, her eyebrows arched, as Davidís
mouth was wrapped with excruciatingly pleasure around Joeyís cock.
Joey could only stare at her in complete embarrassment and terror
forgetting even the pleasure of Davidís mouth as his friend
unwittingly continued to suck.

"Well isnít that just the catís meow." She said. "You two having
fun?"

David jerked away, his face now mirroring Joeyís. "Well, the damage
is done." Joey thought and answered. "As a matter of fact, yes." as
casually as he possibly could.

"You two queer?", she asked.

"Naw. Just having some fun." Joey answered, his mind racing, awed
that he was managing to sound so calm when he felt like he wanted to
run screaming the three hundred miles back home and go hide under his
bed.

"Oh." She said, considering him with those hard blue eyes of hers.
Then her eyes dropped to study his penis which in his terror had
shriveled up into near non-existence. It seemed like they sat and
stood there like that for an eternity, with Joey feeling her hot gaze
on his penis. And as the terror gave way he began to get excited
again.

She giggled as it started to grow. "Thatís so funny."

"It has a mind of itís own sometimes." Joey agreed. He looked over
at David who was staring at both of them white as a sheet.

"Tell you what." Cindy said. "I wonít tell anybody if youíll let me
try a few things out."

Joey and David could only smile like complete idiots and nod their
heads in rapid agreement.

***

Joey woke up feeling like his Uncle had just worked him over but good.
He had slept, but the sleep had been light and often broken. Several
times he had woken up to brush a scurrying roach off him. He
staggered to the door in time to watch the sun rise. On occasion he
used to watch the sun come up with a sense of anticipation, enjoying
the similarities to a sunset, but with the promise of a new day ahead
of him. Today though the sun broke through the scattered clouds as a
curse, itís rays shimmering in the cold mist a hollow, broken promise.

He sat on the back porch of the house, watching the sun rise and
considered for the first time his options. There really werenít all
that many. He could try to find a shelter, even that couldnít be
worse than days of walking or sleeping in that house again. But
looming in the back of his mind was the possibility that they would
send him back to his Uncle. The beatings had been violent but he
didnít have any broken bones or scars, though that might change if
Uncle Bob took his running away personally. Social workers probably
saw a lot worse, theyíd just think he was a silly kid.

Heíd heard of runaways who ended up selling drugs or their bodies, but
he ruled that out as quickly as he thought of it. Chris had started
doing drugs at thirteen and he drifted father and farther away from
David and him when after the first joint they had begged off. Before
his parents died Joey had noted just how sickly Chris looked and when
he had tried to talk with him, it was like talking with a stranger.
And fooling around with David, well that was something that was just
between friends. The thought of doing it with somebody else repulsed
him to no end.

His stomach rumbled, reminding him he had not eaten in two days. Not
since the sandwich he had wolfed down that night he had run away. He
considered asking around for a soup kitchen but dismissed it almost as
quickly as he had dismissed the shelter. He still looked more like a
kid than a young adult, people would ask questions and those same
people might send him back home.

For a second he considered spending his last precious dollars on food
but stopped as he recalled a lesson from Sunday school. "Give a man a
fish and he eats for a day, teach a man to fish and he shall eat for
the rest of his life" or something like that. He need a job, an
honest job where heíd have the chance to earn more money. And he
smiled as he realized just what kind of job he needed. Someplace
where food was abundant, and no-one would miss anything. Then he took
stock of himself. His shoes and pants were decent if mired in mud.
His underwear though felt like they had become a part of him and he
shifted uncomfortably as he realized they probably smelled worse than
his shirt which was pretty rank. Not many people would hire him in
his current condition.

And though there was shelter here, this wasnít his element. He was a
middle class boy and the only environment he really knew how to
survive in were the suburbs. It didnít take to long to find the
corner store, a dingy, gloomy place that stocked more liquor than
food. Still he managed to find a halfway decent loaf of bread that
didnít feel like a rock when he lifted it, though he winced at the
price. He also picked up a small carton of Orange Juice. All the
while the Indian clerk who was Indian Indian not American Indian
stared at him as one would stare at a large rat that had just walked
into the center of a restaurant. Joey felt very uncomfortable under
that gaze.

"Whereís the nearest highway?", Joey asked as the clerk rang up the
goods.

"Follow the street outside, turn left when you leave." He said in a
thick accent. "Four Ninety Five."

Joey winced and pushed over a twenty. The clerk lifted it up to the
light and studied it suspiciously before dropping it in the register
and counting out the change. When Joey asked for a bag, the clerk
grunted and pushed over a small plastic bag. He ate a few slices of
bread as he walked, feeling better now that his stomach wasnít so
empty. The orange juice tasted better than anything he could remember
and he drank the pint quickly, careful not to let the juice dribble
down his chin.

When he reached the highway, rush hour was in full swing. Everyone
was heading in to work. Joey started following the highway away from
where the cars were heading. He knew that was where the suburbs
where. If not where home was, at least where he understood the rules
of the game. He was still walking as the cars began returning that
evening. He had passed through many areas, but he had not gone far
enough. He was looking for the fringe where the suburbs ended and
wilderness began.

That night he slept behind an abandoned gas station under the clear,
cool starry sky. On the soft grass behind the station he was more
comfortable than on the hard floor, and no roaches disturbed his
sleep, though it remained light and troubled. He walked again the
next day until he came to "Woodview", a sprawling community nestled in
the woods. There were many shops and restaurants but most important
to Joey, a large tract of undeveloped woods. That afternoon he
scouted the woods until he found a small pond. The water was a bit
murky but it would serve his needs.

He removed his coat and dove in, rising to the surface with a
"Whoop!". He knew the water would be cold, but was quite a different
thing to know something and to experience it. He disrobed in the
water, with each article of clothing squeezing and kneading it until
he figured it was as clean as it was going to get. He hung the cloths
on the tree limbs to dry. Finally done he stood naked on the shore
but for his coat, his teeth chattering as the cool fall wind whipped
across his flesh.

He laughed as he remembered an old book he had read, "The Hitchhikerís
Guide to the Galaxy." The book had quite a bit of good advice, "Donít
Panic" was a good one, another more relevant piece of advice was to
always carry a towel. Joey could definitely see the wisdom of that
now.

***

Joey laughed with glee as he swung on the old rope out over the lake,
folding into a cannonball as he let go and dropped into the water. He
was twelve and Chris, David and he were spending a warm summers day at
the lake. Someone had found this old tree many years ago and climbed
to the high stout branches to attach a rope. That one act of
generosity had brought smiles to the faces of hundreds of children
over the years, not the least of which being these three boys.

Joey spat water as he broke the surface and heaving his arm sent a
wall of water over to his two, previously dry, protesting friends.
"Ohhh! Iím gonna get you for that Joey!" David swore as he took the
rope. Joey paddled furiously as David swung out, looking for all the
world like he was trying to land exactly where Joey happened to be at
the moment.

***
"Let not him who is houseless pull down the house of another, but let
him work diligently and build one for himself, thus by example
assuring that his own shall be safe from violence when built." --
Abraham Lincoln

***

Joey woke with the dawn, feeling more rested than he had in the last
few miserable days. He couldnít see the sunrise for the trees around
him, but he thought today that sunrise would hold the promise that had
been lacking before. A dim plan was forming in his mind now. He
wasnít sure how he was going to pull it off, or even if it would work.
But at least it was a plan, a purpose. And at this point in his life,
he very much needed to feel like he wasnít adrift.

His clothes were now passably clean, though his hair was still stringy
and unkempt. Still, there was not much he could do about that at
least right now. At least he didnít smell like yesterdayís garbage
any longer. It took most of the morning to get back to civilization
and make it to the Wal-Mart. He had gone over his list carefully,
very carefully. He dropped five dollars at the store deli for a good
breakfast. He mentioned to the nice lady that he was rather hungry
and she obliged him by heaping so much food on the plate even as
hungry as he was he couldnít finish it. Another fifty dollars later
and he walked out with a new pair of pants, shirt, soap, shampoo,
socks, underwear, a comb, deodorant, a small mirror, a lighter (which
had earned him a scolding glance from the clerk), and a large beach
towel. The clerk had stared at him strangely for a moment, and again
when he counted out fifty dollars, but she handed back the ninety-five
cents in change and he walked out the door without any problems.

He made his way back to the lake and took a proper bath, and when he
dried himself with the towel he finally felt almost normal again. He
put on his new clothes and set out to civilization once more. He
strolled through the row of restaurants noting the "Help Wanted" signs
in each of them. Finally he picked McDonalds because the employees
all wore uniforms. He only had one pair of clothing, and until he
could afford to buy more his limited clothing selection would be more
likely to go unnoticed under a uniform..

It was late afternoon and there was nobody in line when he asked the
clerk to speak to the manager. Soon a portly man of about forty, with
thick black glasses and a receding hairline stepped out.

"What can I do for you?" He asked in his best "The customer is
always right." tone.

"Iíd like to apply for a job.", Joey answered.

The man considered him a moment. "You look a bit young."

"Iím sixteen." Joey lied quickly. "Iíll be seventeen in a few
months, I just look young for my age. Itís a curse really."

The man laughed. "Now itís a curse. Youíll be grateful in twenty
years if it holds out. Iím Bill Green."

"Joey. Joey Vincent." Joey answered with a smile.

"Well Joey Joey Vincent, let me get you an application.", Bill said.

For the next fifteen minutes Joey filled in the application, creating
fictional addresses and telephone numbers. He was surprised he
remembered his social security number, he had learned it three years
ago when his parents bought some infomercial memory tape. It didnít
help any, but he had used his social security number when he practiced
and it stuck.

Bill looked over the application briefly then said, "Iíll need a
drivers license and birth certificate for proof of citizenship. Other
than that, when can you start."

Joeyís heart fell. "I donít have a drivers license. No car." He
said. "And I donít have my birth certificate with me. But I can
start today."

"Well, I suggest you get your parents to swing you by the DMV and get
an ID made. Youíve got thirty days to get me the paperwork though.
Youíll start out at minimum wage, doing janitorial work at first. You
can deal with that?" Bill asked.

Hope returned and Joey reeled under the sudden reversal of fortune. A
month was an eternity, in a month he may have figured out what to do.
Joey nodded.

"Hours of five to eleven sound OK by you? If you have a lot of
homework it gets pretty quiet around nine thirty, I wonít mind if you
hit the books"

"Thatís fine. Really." Joey said.

"I really need help on weekends, I know you kids like to have at least
one full day off but youíll have to work at least on Saturday."

"Iíll take the full weekend. Iíll take as many hours as you can give
me.", Joey said.

"Oh ho!" Bill laughed. "Saving up for a car?"

It sounded reasonable. "Yea." Joey said. "Parents said if I want
one I gotta pay for it myself."

"Good for them!" Bill shot back. "And good for you weather you know
it or not. Sooner you learn the value of money the happier youíll be.
Ok, Iíll schedule you for a full forty hours a week. Youíll have
Wednesday off. Make sure youíre here by four each day. If youíre
more than five minutes late Iíll dock you a half hour so youíll learn
not to do it again. If youíre more than an hour late and you donít
call, you might as well not even come in because youíll have to be
laid up in a hospital for me to agree not to fire you. Kapish?"

"Got it." Joey said.

For the rest of the night he mopped floors and cleaned tables, feeling
better about himself and his future than he had since his parents had
died.

***

"Honestly!" His mother exclaimed. "I donít know why you canít learn
to keep up your room. This place is a disaster area."

"Sorry Mom." Joey replied sheepishly. "Iíll clean it tomorrow."

"Youíll clean it today.", She said in her "Iím your mother and
grunted for four hours on the deliver table to put you in this world
and youíd better remember that" tone.

"But." Joey began.

"No Buts!" She said cutting him off. "Youíve got to learn priorities
Joey. You put your own house in order first, THEN you have time for
the other stuff. "

***

The week had passed quickly and Joey actually did quite well. The
rain had passed and it had actually gotten a little warmer. It took
two hours to walk from his camp site to work and another two hours in
the dark to get back each day, and if Bill noticed a rather limited
clothing selection he didnít say anything. The work was actually
pretty easy, if a bit mind numbing. And each night he managed to work
in a full meal of left over food that had to be pitched. There was
even a nearby library and Joey spent the better part of each morning
sitting in a comfortable chair reading until it was time to head off
to work.

At the end of the first week he hit the first major snag in his plan
when Bill handed him his first check. "Whatís the matter Joey?" Bill
asked when he saw Joeyís face. "Not what you expected? The
deductions are real killers all right."

"No. Itís not that." Joey said. "The payís fine. I just donít have
a way to cash it."

"Well give it to your parents.", Bill said. "Iím sure theyíll cash it
for you."

Joey thought fast and furious, in the week he had known him he had
come to like and respect Bill but that did not mean he was ready to
tell him his lifeís story. "I canít." Joey said. "Look I hate to
admit it, but my Dad drinks and heís always broke. If I give him this
check I wonít see a dime."

Bill frowned. "Sign the back of the check and Iíll pay you out of
tonightís drawer." He said finally. "I wouldnít do this for just
anyone, but youíre a solid worker. You keep showing up on time, doing
your job right and Iíll make sure you get paid in cash. Deal?"

"Deal!" Joey said with a lopsided grin.

"And speaking of which, I still need your ID and Birth Certificate.",
Bill reminded.

"Iíll try to get my mom to drive me out to get the ID", Joey said
smoothly. "Sheís rummaged around for the Birth Certificate and canít
find it."

"Well I guess youíll just have to order a new one." Bill said.

"Guess so." Joey replied.

That night he walked out with one hundred and eighty dollars in cash.
He swung around to the Wal-Mart and purchased a small dome tent, a
package of razors since his "peach fuzz was turning into a little more
than peach fuzz" as Bill had mentioned, a raincoat, sleeping bag and a
hat. Using almost all the funds from his first paycheck in the
process. That night, back at his camp, he slept deeper and sounder
than he had since he had first gotten off the bus.

***

He was poised in front of Cindy who was flat on her back in the tall
green grass behind the barn. "Itís supposed to go here." She said as
she peeled back her pussy lips to reveal an exquisitely formed
opening. "Go in real slow though, the girls at school said the first
time can be painful."

Joey frowned. "Are you sure you want to do this? I mean isnít the
first time for a girl supposed to be special or something?"

She sighed and sat up. "Look, Iíve been going out with Todd for six
weeks and heís starting to get really intense. I like him a lot. I
donít want to spoil our first time together by being some sniveling,
crying virgin. At least with you I can get it over with and Iíll know
what to expect when I finally let Todd go all the way."

"What about babies?" David asked from the side.

"Really! I thought women were supposed to be the ones who found
excuses. Momís had me on the pill every since I turned sixteen. Part
of the little birds and bees speech she gave me. Now are you going to
do it or not?", Cindy said.

"Uh, sure." Joey said staring down as she leaned back and showed him
the way again. He set the angle and eased in slowly.

"Ohhh!" Cindy exclaimed. And Joey, with all his being echoed that
sentiment. Fully embedded he paused, relishing where he was and what
he was feeling. For the first time in his life he felt complete, at
peace, and right with the universe. Slowly he began to move.

Cindy giggled. "It doesnít hurt at all! I guess I musta busted my
own cherry over the years."

Joey wasnít paying attention. This might have been a new thing to
him, but thousands of years of biology guided him as he thrust and
thrust again. Cindy raised her legs and moved underneath him as she
sought better contact, the best position. "Oh yes, thatís the spot."
She moaned, finding the position of maximum contact between them. But
she had not found it soon enough. Joey erupted inside her as he
experienced one of the most intense orgasms of his life.

Cindy was disappointed when Joey rolled off her, but they still had
three days left on the farm. There would be time enough to learn how
to do it right, and in the mean time David sat off to the side and
from all the visual cues, he was more than able to pick up where Joey
had left off.

***

Joey woke up from the dream, wrapped in his sleeping bag, his towel as
his pillow. The erection in his pants was the first he could remember
since his parents death. He had masturbated a few times in his life,
but usually he had "relived himself" as he called it with David or for
those four magical days with Cindy. When he still had the erection
after walking outside he began to stroke himself calling up old memories of friends now far away. Bitter sweet memories, fondly
remembered, and sadly missed.

***

"What we have found in this country, and maybe weíre more aware of it
now, is one problem that weíve had, even in the best of times, and
that is the people who are sleeping on the grates, the homeless, you
might say, by choice." -- Ronald Reagan

***

The month passed and Bill forgot all about the paperwork, much to
Joeyís relief. He had thought he had been called in to produce the
papers but had instead been promoted to teller where heíd take and
deliver orders. It didnít take very long to get the swing of things
and after a few days his cash drawer always balanced save for a few
pennies in either direction.

Each paycheck had gone to improve his life, first with the tent, then
a bike. Not a sporty, trendy bike, but a practical one that could
handle both roads and the woods, and one with two ugly, yet very
practical metal carryalls at the back. The first thing he did was
cart his growing collection of clothes to the laundromat and give them
a proper washing. When the weather turned chilly he purchased a good
coat and warmer clothes. When his shoes gave sign of wear he
purchased new ones.

Each day as he set out he stowed his gear in the bushes near the small
pond, each day giving a silent prayer that no one would find them
while he was gone. And each night he returned to find everything as
he had left it. He was happiest in the library or at work, home was
just a tent to sleep in, a place to store his possessions. For a
while he was actually happy. If one tried, it almost seemed like one
big camping trip. Compared to those first few nights in the heart of
the city, or even the first week in the woods he was enormously
comfortable.

He even found himself accumulating cash on his meager income. Once
the bare necessities were taken care of he found he had more than a
little money left over for a few luxuries such as a restaurant meal
now and again to break up the monotony of McFried Food. When he
realized he was carrying almost seven hundred dollars in cash around
with him, he lifted a coffee can out of the garbage and buried the
cash carefully back at the camp.

Material possessions tended to clutter his modest life, and the more
things he had the more things he had to hide at the start of each day.
So he never purchased anything without careful thought of how it would
fit into his routine. And he had indeed wrapped himself in that
routine, it was his security blanket It offered him sanctuary. As
long as he stuck with the routine he was safe.

At least one elderly librarian had asked him why he was not in school.
Joey had invented a story about how his father had died and his mother was sickly so he had to leave school and work to support her, and that
he was older than he looked. The librarian had been very sympathetic,
mentioning what a shame it was that a bright, inquisitive, well read
boy such as himself could not finish his schooling and go on to
college. Indeed as the weeks passed, Joey had begun to go through
books at a furious pace finishing most within two days although the
longer ones usually took three or sometimes four. At first he had
stuck with fiction, but recently he had started reading some
non-fiction as well.

Finally Christmas season was in full bloom. Joeyís relative happiness
faded into gloomy silence as he went through his routine. All around
him people scurried about with brightly wrapped presents in hand.
Familiar Christmas carols wafted through the air hitting Joey like a
favorite song of two lovers now long separated. The closer the day
got, the lower his spirits fell. This Christmas there would be no
friends and family, no Christmas dinner, no presents under the tree.
When "Blue Christmas" started playing at the restaurant he had to
excuse himself and spent the next five minutes wiping tears from his
eyes on the toilet in the menís room.

He did buy two presents though. A nice pen set for Bill and a fancy
bookmark for Alice the elderly librarian who had taken such an
interest in him. He had thought long and hard on the gifts and spent
over a week scouring the stores for the perfect items. They might not
be family, or even close friends but just knowing he had at least two
people to buy presents for helped him feel like he wasnít completely
alone.

And that was indeed his problem, for he was terribly lonely. His
routine offered safety, Bill and Alice offered some companionship, but
he had no real friend he could call his own. He didnít exactly
realize it as Christmas approached but he was indeed alone, more than
he had ever been in his life. Christmas just tended to highlight that
fact.

Bill returned his present with a Christmas bonus of two hundred
dollars. A tidy sum, a full weeks pay actually, but he already had a
sizable stash in the coffee can so while appreciated, it was hardly
needed. Alice made a huge fuss over the book mark, saying over and
over again how nice it was and how it was exactly what she needed.
Though he had not expected a gift in return Alice surprised him with a
wrapped package containing the latest Tom Clancey thriller. Alice had
obviously remembered Joey asking about the latest Tom Clancey novel
and when the Library would get a copy. He was so happy he kissed her
on the cheek.

All in all, under the conditions, it was the best Christmas eve he
could have hoped for. And on Christmas day he sat cozy in his tent as
he read his new book.

The new year came and went, and routine once again became the
watchword. It was broken in the middle of January when Bill informed
him that his tax statement had come back. Joey was puzzled until Bill
explained the intricacies of the tax laws. "Oh." Joey said. "We
moved to a new apartment, weíve got a post office box now. Iíll get
you the new address, I can never remember it."

The next morning he had gone down to the post office and found much to
his surprise that there really wasnít all that much to getting a box
as long as he paid for it and kept his account current. He gave his
new address to Bill. The next few days he managed to figure out his
taxes, right down to a sizable refund of a hundred and some odd
dollars. He also found out how to find and request his birth
certificate. Heíd be turning sixteen in April and figured he really
ought to get that ID and maybe a PO box would be all he needed.

The postal box never collected anything but junk mail and one refund
check eventually, but it grounded Joey further. He was here, he
existed. His address was PO Box 315 and that was good enough for now
at least.

***
"Mine ear is much enamoured of thy note;
So is mine eye enthrallŤd to thy shape;
And thy fair virtueís force perforce doth move me
On the first view to say, to swear, I love thee." -- William
Shakespeare

***
Joey looked up from the register ready for his next customer when he
saw her for the first time. Standing at the counter was a girl his
own age with long sandy brown hair. She wore no makeup, but she
didnít need to either, her face was utterly angelic. She wore a
fashionable sweater that revealed little of her frame, but Joey cared
little for that as he found his eyes drawn into her deep blue gaze.

"Uh, can I order now?" She asked.

Joey shook himself out of his haze and stammered. "Y-Yes. Please
do." Then scolded himself for sounding like a fool as she ordered.
Twice he had to pull himself alert during her order.

She had stopped to stare at him curiously at the last. "Are you all
right?" She asked.

Joey shook his head slightly again. "I think so. I just, well I just
canít seem to stop thinking how beautiful you are. Iím sorry."

She blushed furiously and Joey found himself in the same condition as
well. "Thank you, I think. But if you donít take my order, my
parents may get suspicious. Iíd hate to get in trouble for flirting
with the hired help." She giggled.

Joey laughed and finished her order. As she took the tray she smiled
and said, "Iím Mary Jenson."

"Joey Vincent.", Joey answered somewhat dreamily.

"It was nice to meet you Joey. Maybe Iíll see you again sometime."
And then she walked over to a nearby table and sat down.

Joey sneaked glances over at her table but she sat with her back to
him. Her parents reminded him of his own after a fashion, more in the
way they laughed and talked than the way they looked. An older boy,
maybe eighteen sat with them and noticed his glances. He leaned over
and whispered something to Mary. She turned her head and glanced at
him and turned back with her hand muffling a giggle.

She wasnít the most beautiful girl he had ever seen in his life. She
was pretty yes, but not glamorous. After she had left Joey was
distracted the rest of the day trying to figure out just what about
her had captured his attention, and just what about her had prompted
him to be so bold.

It was several weeks later before he saw her again. It was a Saturday
and he was in the library reading Steven Hawkings "A Brief History of
Time" when he heard her voice. "Very Intellectual." She said.

Joey dropped the book and his heart leapt as he gazed on her. "Itís
nothing." He said quickly. "Just a way to pass the time before I
have to get to work."

"Oh. For a minute it looked like you were enjoying it. I mean your
face was all scrunched up like you were really trying to puzzle
something out."

Joey scratched his head and broke into a lopsided grin that had the
unwitting effect of making him appear completely adorable to anyone
who happened to be looking at him "Well itís his theory on how time
is like an arrow, itís kinda hard to follow. It SEEMS to make sense
while Iím reading it, but the moment I put the book down it gets all
fuzzy."

"You really like this science stuff?" She asked.

Joey shrugged. "It passes the time. Looks like youíre doing some
science reading yourself." He said taking note of the books in her
arms.

She rolled her eyes. "Iíve got a science paper due on Monday about
the solar system. Of course I decide to wait until the very last
minute to write it."

"And Emiliaís Passion is for describing the exotic life forms on one
of the planets I suppose." Joey laughed.

Mary blushed. "Well, I like a good romance novel now and again."

"Itís not bad really." Joey admitted. "The plotís a bit shallow, but
with all the heroics among other things, it doesnít really need one."

"Youíve read it?" Mary said astonished as she lowered herself into
one of the chairs.

Joey laughed. "I must read about three books a week, I went through
Emilliaís Passion in a day. So that week I went through four."

"Wow." Mary said. "Do you know a lot about the solar system?" she
asked.

"A bit. I read a few magazine articles and books, and I suppose I
know how to find what I donít know. You wouldnít be needing any help
with your paper would you?"

Maryís eyes lit up, "Would you?" She asked hopefully.

"Iíd love to." Joey replied. Mary didnít have a pen or pad since she
had planned to take the books home and do the report at home, but
Alice with a sly wink to Joey when Mary wasnít looking managed to
produce the required tools. They spent the afternoon doing the paper.
In addition to basking in Maryís presence Joey also relished the
research. At one time he had thought school work was a bore, even
though he was an A and B student, but working on the paper he realized
that it was another part of his life he was missing.

When three thirty rolled around and the written draft lay on the table
they stared at it in awe. "Itís wonderful." Mary said. "An A+ at
the very least. I donít see how Mr. Jones could possibly find a
single fault with it."

"It was really fun." Joey admitted. "Iíve got to head on to work
now. Maybe next weekend when you return the Emeliaís Passion you
could let me know how it did."

"Itís a date!" She said with a little laugh that seemed to imply
maybe it really was.

Joey woke up later than normal that Sunday and it did not take long to
realize he was terribly sick. He felt unsteady on his feet, and the
stinging around his eyes made him think he had a very high fever. He
also felt nauseous and the feeling turned into reality as he threw up
the remains of last nights meal. The hardest thing he had ever done
in his life was to go into work that day. Bill took one look at him
and said, "Go Home. Stay there. Get well. Iíll work the schedule
around you for a few days to cover. Call me Tuesday and let me know
how youíre doing."

"No. Really." Joey protested. "I just took some medicine Iíll be
fine in a little bit."

"Youíll be fine after youíve had some good bed rest and chicken
soup." Bill chided. "Besides youíll only scare the customers away or
make them sick. Or worse, make my employees sick and not one of them
is nearly as dedicated as you are. Get outta here." Joey finally
relented and after stopping by the supermarket to pick up some
packaged rations made his way back to the camp.

***

"Hey Tiger", His dad said as he ruffled Joeyís hair. "Hear the olí
flu bugís got you in itís evil clutches." Joey smiled weakly in
reply. "Well champ, it may not seem like it now but youíre going to
live. And with a batch of your motherís grade A super premium chicken
soup youíll be out and about in no time."

Joey drifted back off to seep and his father touched his forehead
briefly, frowning at the high temperature before straightening his
covers and kissing him lightly on the forehead.

***
He spent the next few days wishing he would just die and end it all.
The drugs helped a little, but being alone in the cold with the flu
was not conducive to a quick recovery. He almost didnít make it out
of the woods on Tuesday to call Bill, he was that weak. The delirious
conversation that followed ended with Bill telling him to stay in bed
and call when he felt up to working again.

Worse than the virus which was ravaging his body was the solitude.
Alone with his thoughts he found them drifting often to Mary, the way
she looked, the way she smelled of flowers and spring, the way she
walked, the way dimples formed in her cheeks when she smiled. And
then he would stare at the canvas roof of his small tent and despair.
Here he was, just barely surviving in the world and fooling himself
into thinking he could interest a girl like Mary, a girl with a real
home, with real parents who loved her, a girl with a future beyond
working at McDonalds.

***

"First love is only a little foolishness and a lot of curiosity." --
George Bernard Shaw

***

Joey, having just turned fifteen was walking down the sidewalk with
Stacey McGuire, who would go down in history as the first girl he had
ever dated. On quiet reflection later in life he would chuckle at how
he had sex with a girl long before he ever dated one, but he had
decided he very much liked Stacey who sat next to him in history
class. He had spent a solid week working up the nerve to ask her to
go see a movie with him. He spent another day in a panicked frenzy
because she had said yes.

He had walked to her house that Saturday afternoon and they had walked
the short distance to the local theater. The movie had been enjoyable
in a sappy sort of way, though Joey was far to distracted to really
enjoy it. As they walked back in the dim twilight he reached out his
hand to take hers and she smiled at him as she accepted the advance.

When they stood in front of her house Joey leaned forward and kissed
her lightly, thanking the Gods above that Cindy had been a kind and
patient teacher. For that brief moment, their arms awkwardly entwined
about each other, their lips pressing against each other, Joey
thought he knew love.

***

On Friday the fever finally broke and Joey managed to make it into
work. Though he was still pale and a bit weak he managed to convince
Bill he really was OK. Mary met him at the library the next day and
was all smiles as she announced she had made a perfect A+ on the paper
and she waved the report in front of him so excitedly Joey could only
just make out the circled grade despite it being rather large.

"Thank you!" She said after she had calmed down. "I waited a whole
week to tell you. I just about burst waiting for today. I even came
down here during the week, but you werenít here. Alice was very
worried for you. Said it wasnít like you to be away for so long."

"Just a bit under the weather." Joey said. "All better now."

"Well next time you really should call her. She really was worried."
She paused and then added. "So was I."

The pause that followed was pregnant with anticipation. Joey had
decided earlier that he should end this here, today. But being so
close to her, feeling the charged tension between them like this,
seeing her mouth tighten as she waited for him to say something, he
found that he couldnít. "Iíve got Wednesday off, and well, I was
kinda wondering if maybe youíd like to go see a movie?"

"Iíd like that." Mary replied smiling broadly.

"So would I." Joey said, unable to understand why her crystal blue
eyes fascinated him so at the moment.

She giggled. "Meet you here then? Five oíclock sound OK?"

"Thatís perfect." Joey answered as his head began to pound with the
realization of what he was doing.

The library was closed on Sundays and Joey usually spent the morning
and early afternoon in his tent reading. But he found himself unable
to concentrate this morning and had decided to ride around the
subdivision in the hopes that the physical exercise would take his
mind off his worries. All in all, it didnít help much, he just made
himself tired and worried as opposed to well rested and worried.

Around noon the churches began to let out and Joey paused in front of
a quaint little church complete with a steeple. When he was younger
his parents had always told him if he was in trouble and they werenít
around he should go to a policeman or a priest, although his father had added a little joke that had made him laugh furiously but could no
longer remember. Not for the first time Joey felt he was getting in
over his head and maybe he did need some help. The stubborn
independence which had allowed him to survive resisted, but
confessions were supposed to be private. And in a way this would be a
confession. A priest couldnít really do anything he didnít want him
to, he hoped.

He loitered outside the building until the last of the crowds had
dwindled away. Several times while he was waiting he almost changed
his mind. But finally he entered the building and after walking a bit
found the office. He knocked on the door.

"Come in." A hoarse voice sounded. Joey pushed open the door and saw
a portly elderly man in priests garb. In many ways he reminded Joey
of a monk the way he was bald on top with short gray hair like a crown
around his head. If he had been wearing a robe and he very well could
be the classical image of a monk. "Well young man, what can I do for
you?"

"I wonder if you have time for a talk." Joey said cautiously.

The man laughed jovially. "I always have time for a talk."

"A confidential talk?" Joey asked. "As in just between you and me?"

The man grew serious and he motioned Joey to take a chair. "If thatís
what you want. Iíll listen, if you want Iíll offer advice. What you
say will be between us and God."

Joey took a deep breath. "Iím a runaway." He began. And for the
next hour he told his tail while the priest listened keenly.

When he was done the priest sat back in his chair and considered him
in silence for a full minute. "How old are you and when is your
birthday?" he asked.

"Iím fifteen. Iíll turn sixteen on the second of April." Joey
answered.

"Ordinarily, I would council you to go to social services and be
placed with a foster family. They really wouldnít return you to an
abusive household like that. Compared to what can happen in some
homes it may have seemed tame to you, but any abuse especially when
the relationship is distant is a call to action. That course is open
to you still if you want it. But thereís another option when you turn
sixteen. You can appear before the court and petition to be
considered an adult with no guardian. Given your industriousness I
think the court would very well grant that request."

"Once that is done," he continued, "you can get settled in a modest
apartment even return to school though youíll probably have to make up
for the year youíve missed. Youíll have to work to support yourself
of course. Itís not really my favorite course of action because I
believe you should hold on to being young as long as you possibly can,
a foster family can give you the time you need to be young."

Joey shook his head. "No. Iíve lived in a home without love once,
Iíll never do it again." he said adamantly. "I didnít know you could
be considered an adult at sixteen though and I like the thought of
going back to school. My dad always said I was cut out for college and Iíd probably go far if I stuck with it."

"Youíre welcome to stay at my home until you can get before the
court." The priest said. "My wife wouldnít mind Iím sure."

Joey smiled. "Thank you, but no. Iíve gone this long, I think I can
hang out a few more weeks. But if you could, I mean, would you mind
terribly helping me get ready for court?"

The priest smiled warmly. "Of course Iíll help you. Iíve got a few
friends and a few parishioners I can goad into doing all the real
dirty work. I must say though that I will not sleep easy thinking of
you alone in the woods like that."

"Really." Joey said. "I slept in a house that would put any
Halloween haunted house to shame. Believe me the woods are a million
times safer than the city. Itís really hard for me to put into words
why I need to be on my own."

"I think I understand." The priest said. "Youíve survived by
refusing to give in and youíre afraid that if you do give in, to trust
someone to look after you again that youíll loose your edge maybe and
youíre probably also afraid of trusting someone in that position again
after what you went through with your Uncle."

Joey chewed on that a moment. "Yea. I think thatís exactly it.
Funny I couldnít put it into words like that."

The priest smiled broadly. "Well sometimes it takes another person to
see the obvious, but Iíve a little background in psychology itís part
of the job description. I do however have an offer that wonít
compromise your principals and itís an offer you canít refuse." He
leaned over, smiling as if he was placing a sure bet and said, "The
missís probably has a nice hot lunch ready for me at home, she always
cooks a big lunch after my sermon and she cooks far more than one man could eat alone. If I were a betting man Iíd have to say youíd not
pass up a good home cooked meal."

Joey returned the smile and replied, "if you were a betting man Iíd
say youíd win your bet."

Over a good hot, incredibly delicious meal Joey learned the priestís
name was Kyle Carter and his wifeís name was Lisa. They had only just
recently been transferred to this parish and were getting settled in.
Before the transfer Kyle had a parish in the inner city of Detroit
and spent most of his time there counseling troubled youth. As Kyle
related some of his stories Joey shuddered at how cruel life could
really be to a kid alone on the streets.

At the door as Joey left for work Kyle pulled him to the side and
said, "Youíre a good man Joey. Your parents raised you right. When
you were thrown into the abyss you lifted yourself out on your own.
No matter what happens in this life you look back on this and feel
proud."

Joey blushed. "I got lucky." He said.

"Iíd say you made your own luck." Kyle said pointedly. "Now youíd
better be off. Drop by the parish later this week and Iíll have some
information for you."

"Thanks." Joey said. "And I mean it. Thank you."

***

When he was ten Joey and his parents visited Florida to watch the
space shuttle take off. Even far away in the viewing gallery Joey was
impressed at the power of the engines, the smoke and the noise and the
giant ship lifted itself off the ground and into space.

"I hope I can be an astronaut one day." Joey said.

His father looked down and smiled. "Hope is knowing what you want.
After that itís all up to you to see that you go get it."

Joey thought on that as the great ship began to roll in an awesome
dance of fire and beauty.

***

"The natural flights of the human mind are not from pleasure to
pleasure, but from hope to hope." -- Samuel Johnson

***

Joey forgot all about the movie after he put his arm around Mary and
she leaned over to him and rested her head on his shoulder. For the
next hour the only thing that existed was him with Mary leaning next
to him. After the movie they lingered outside the theater waiting for
her parents to come and pick her up.

"Thank you for the movie." She said.

"Thank you for sharing it with me." Joey answered as he held her
hand.

She leaned forward, hesitantly, a bit unsure of herself but Joey
understood the meaning and answered as he leaned forward and kissed
her, lingering a bit perhaps as she started to pull back just enough
to let him know the kiss was over. She smiled bashfully, a light
rose colored blush on her cheeks visible despite the dim light. When
a car pulled up in front of the theater Joey knew without looking it
would be her ride.

"Saturday." Joey said as she turned to leave. "Maybe Saturday we
could do something?"

"Eleven?", She asked.

"Eleven is perfect." Joey answered.

She gave him one last smile and jumped into the car.

The next day Joey stopped by the church and Kyle ushered him in.
"Good news! One of my parishioners, a lawyer, has agreed to take up
your case. Heíd like to meet with you on Friday if you can arrange
it. Weíll meet here."

"I work you know." Joey reminded him. "Can we have the meeting
before three?"

"I remembered." Kyle answered with a wink. "The meeting is at one if
you can make it."

"Iíll be there!", Joey promised. The day only got better when Bill
pulled him aside and announced that he was being promoted to assistant
manager now that Harry was resigning to concentrate on his college boards. "You close up all the time anyway now and thatís one of the
major duties of assistant managers openings and closings, this just
makes it official." He said with a wink.

Joey was so excited that night he could barely get to sleep, but sleep
did come, as did the dawn. Joey arrived at the church promptly at one
and stepped into the office to meet his new benefactor. He stopped
dead in mid-stride as the man turned to him.

"You!" Joey said, aghast

"Iím rather surprised myself." Maryís father answered.

"You know each other?", Kyle asked confused..

"It seems my daughter is a bit infatuated with this young man." he
said. "We havenít been formally introduced yet though."

"Uh, Joey Vincent." Joey said as he felt his knees grow weak.

"Here sit down lad, you look like youíve just walked in to the lionís
den. And Iím Greg Jenson, you can call me Greg."

Joey fell into the chair. Maryís father was the last person in the
world he expected to see here, and of all the people in the world the
person he least wished to know about his situation other than Mary
herself.

"Well, Joey seems to have left out a tale or two in his recalling of
events." Kyle said. "But we only chatted a few hours and it probably
slipped his mind."

Greg laughed then noting Joeyís condition said "Common Joey, button
up. When you appear in court you have to look like a man ready to
tackle the world, and not a boy meeting his girlfriendís father for
the first time." Joey clenched his jaw and sat up straight. "Thatís
better."

"Now, Reverend Carter here has told me the most remarkable tale of a
boy whoís parents died and the boy was placed in the home of his Uncle
who was both abusive and an alcoholic. The boy ran away, as far as a
fifty dollar bus ticket could carry him in fact and then had the good
sense to flee the inner city back to the great suburban jungle..
There he managed by hook or crook to land a job and to live for almost
half a year and doing it so well that no one even suspected that
anything was out of the ordinary. Is this about the gist of things?"
Joey nodded.

Greg pulled out a legal pad and a pen and asked, "Did you file your
taxes this year?"

"Yes."

"How did you get the refund.", Greg shot back quickly.

"I have a Post Office Box."

"Do you have a checking account?"

"No."

"How did you cash your refund."

"I havenít yet."

"Why did you get a Post Office Box?"

"So my boss could send me my 1099. So I could file my taxes. It also
gave me an address."

"Have you been punctual at your job?"

"Yes."

"Do you think you do a good job?"

"Yes."

"Do others think you do a good job?"

"I think so. I was just promoted to Assistant Night Manager."

"Do you consider this job a career?"

"Maybe. Franchise managers make a good living. But I think Iíd like
to finish school and try college before I decide anything permanent."

"Have you been attending school?"

"No. I couldnít see a way to do it without getting caught."

"So you knew what you were doing was wrong?"

Joey frowned. "Not wrong. I was scared I would be sent back to my
Uncle."

"Did you plan to live out in the woods forever?"

"No. Only until I was old enough to get a place of my own. I really
have enough saved up to get settled in now."

"How much have you managed to save?"

"Close to two thousand dollars."

"Two thousand dollars?" Greg asked astonished..

"Wasnít much to spend it on." Joey answered.

"What was the address of your parents house and the address of your
Uncleís house." Greg asked. Joey recited the addresses.

"If the court grants you your request how do you see yourself living
on your own?"

"Well Iíd have to keep my job to pay the rent and all.", Joey said.
"Iíd definitely re-enroll in school again even though Iíll be a year
behind everybody. I was an A & B student at my last school and my Dad
always said I was college material I really want to try that."

"And where does Mary fit in to this plan?", Greg asked.

Joey blushed furiously. "Iíd like to see her. Iíve never met anyone
like her in my life. I thought I did once, but it wasnít like this."
He sighed. "I donít suppose thereís much chance of that now though."

"Well thatís up to her of course, and you." Greg said. "Maryís last
boyfriend had the motivational drive of a slug. I put up with that, I
think I can put up with someone whoís got a level head and a good job
for a change." He smiled on the verge of a chuckle.

Hope roared though Joey like a hot fire "You mean..?", he started but
was unable to continue.

"I mean that so long as sheís happy and youíre happy, and you donít do
anything we parental types strongly disprove of youíre more than
welcome to see Mary." Greg answered. "Now as to your case. Iím
taking it pro-bono which means Iíll get paid by writing it off my
taxes and not drawing down on your hard earned savings. I think also
that the court awarded the assets of your late parents to you and are
held in trust by your Uncle. If there are any assets and if you win
your case Iíll see that you get them. If your uncle has spent any of
that money Iíll see it comes out of his pocket even if I have to sell
his house from under him. And I see no reason why any judge with half
a brain would not grant your request."

"I feel like Iíve just won the lottery." Joey said falling back in
his chair.

"I donít blame you." Greg said. "Iíll get the wheels of justice
moving now, if weíre lucky the decision should come down on the same
day as your birthday. It will take longer to get your inheritance
money but two thousand dollars will be more than enough to get you
started in your new life."

"Thank you." Joey said wiping the corner of his eye, feeling a relief
so strong he didnít know how to deal with it. "Thank you." he said
again.

***

Joey met Mary at the library Saturday morning and they walked a short
ways to a nice restaurant. As they sat waiting for the food to arrive
Joey cleared his throat and said, "Mary, I think itís time you knew a
little more about me." and Mary leaned forward, entranced as Joey
began to tell his story.

***

Time passes as time does, and April second saw Joey declared a man for
all legal purposes. That summer, Greg won a judgment against Joeyís
uncle and by the Fall when Joey had re-entered school the courts
managed to secure the inheritance and transfer the fifty thousand
dollars and change to Joeyís account. He used some of the money to
purchase a modest car, and the rest of the money was saved for the day
he would attend college. He need not have bothered, for he pursued
school with the same dogged determination he pursued his job and when
the day came to choose a college he found scholarships by the dozen
waiting for him.

He dated Mary for a full year, and to Maryís frustration Joey
respected her fatherís wish that he not do anything parental types
strongly disapproved of. When the frustration grew beyond both of
their capacity to endure, Joey In his seventeenth year asked Greg for
permission to marry his daughter, and Greg after some long
consideration agreed. Formally engaged, and no longer bound by his
obligations to Greg, Joey and Mary discovered much to their immense
pleasure that they were indeed as compatible as they thought they
were.

After a fashion they even managed to live happily ever after within
the gentle ups and downs of marriage of life in general. But that
dear reader is another story for another time.

***
"Life is essentially a cheat and its conditions are those of defeat Ö
the redeeming things are not "happiness and pleasure" but the deeper
satisfactions that come out of struggle." -- F. Scott Fitzgerald

***

--Sandman

Afterward: Sven noted, and rightly so that the story works out a
little to easily. This was intentional. The story followed a best
case outcome of running away, a bright suburban fifteen year old kid
could probably reason these things out. The worst case would have
drug the story down into the shadowy world of drugs, prostitution,
pedophillia and various states of mental and physical torture. The
best case is probably fictional. The worst case is unfortunately what
you would call docudrama. As I told Sven the story is not as
disturbing as it could have been and that is what is most disturbing.
I much prefer the story as it stands.

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