Read Out of the Blackness Online
Authors: Carter Quinn
Tags: #Romance, #Contemporary, #Gay
I insert my key into the lock of my ancient Honda—it’s a rust bucket that looks like it’s held together with electrical tape, but it runs relatively well, certainly good enough for what little I use it. I paid $400 for it four years ago. I’ve got my money’s worth—when I hear my name on the wind. My head pops up at the sound and I see Noah Yates loping down the sidewalk toward me, a cautious expression on his handsome face.
Immediately, the adrenalin screams “
” I jump into the car, lock my door and promptly drop the dang keys. By the time I gather them in my hot, trembling little hand, Noah Yates is standing by my car door. He’s bent over, peering in through the window, but my gaze is caught and captivated by the bulge in his jeans. They’re so tight, I don’t have to wonder if he’s cut. I will never admit it, but the feeling that surges through my brain is very definitely not fear. I’m unaccustomed to feeling lust. For someone my age, my sexual history is, well, nonexistent.
Noah Yates breaks into a radiant smile that makes me want to forget all my troubles and fears. He sits down on the cold cement outside my window so my head is above his—something no one but Sam has ever done—and quietly signals he would like me to roll down the window.
All I can see of him is his handsome face and those broad shoulders, so I force my eyes to the knob and roll down the window about two inches—enough to facilitate conversation, not that I’m going to talk, but still closed enough that I’m safe. I turn my head back in his general direction but keep my gaze focused on the interior of the door, which could really use a good dusting. With so much of his body below my sight line, I have to keep my eyes on something inside the car or I’ll inadvertently make eye contact.
“Avery,” I hear his gentle voice coax, and I nod in response. He heaves a heavy breath and I fiddle nervously with my keys. What could he want with me? If he were going to attack me, he could easily have done that before I got in the car. So, why is he here? And why am I just sitting here instead of making a mad dash home?
“Avery,” he tries again, “can you look at me?”
I shake my head very slightly, the fear bubbling up again. This is such a mistake. I start to rock slowly in my seat to keep from vibrating. My arms seem paralyzed. As much as I want to lift the keys to the ignition and drive away, I can’t.
“C’mon, buddy, it’s okay. I’m not going to hurt you.” Instead of the impatience or hatred I expect to hear in his voice, all I hear is a coaxing sincerity. I’m so shocked that my gaze cuts to his for a brief second before refocusing on my lap.
Hazel. His eyes are hazel.
A light green with shots of pale brown, enough to mix the two colors
, I think wildly.
I hear his surprisingly sweet laugh and one of the hundred knots of tension in my stomach releases. “Hey, you looked at me! Even if it was just for a second, I’m going to count it as a win!”
My eyes close to ward off the pleasure in his voice and I thumb the keys in my hand, searching for the one that will take me away from this confusing moment. I look over when I hear his fingernail tap on the glass beside me, focusing on the thick, long digit. An involuntary shudder runs through me at the reminder of how much pain he could inflict on me. He says he won’t, but I’ve heard that too many times before. The only person who hasn’t hurt me is Sam and I wonder frantically why I’m still here, why I’ve let myself be put in such a dangerous situation again.
“I’m going to come over for lunch tomorrow, okay?” he asks, but it’s more a reminder than a question, as if I could possibly forget. “Don’t be afraid, buddy. I promise you can trust me.”
Those words galvanize me into action. I have the car started and backed out of my slot before he can even get his feet under him. I hear his startled, “Okay, bye,” as I slam the car into drive and roll the window up. My little Honda doesn’t make the fastest getaway known to mankind, but it gets me out of there. I had been fairly warm with the early-evening sun shining through the windshield, but now I’m chilled to the core. I wrap my coat more firmly around me and race home.
Trust. What a lie that word is.
Over dinner, I tell Sam about Noah Yates. By the end of my story, Sam’s face is creased with concern, but his words catch me off guard.
“You haven’t been taking your anxiety meds, have you?”
My mouth opens and closes twice before I mumble a “no” in the general direction of my lap.
Sam rises from the table, crosses to the cabinet beside the refrigerator and comes back with a brown prescription bottle. He pops the lid off, shakes a pill into the palm of his hand, and places it on the table next to my water glass.
“They make the nightmares worse,” I protest quietly.
His big, comforting hand covers mine where it rests on the table. “Is that why you quit taking them?”
I nod slowly, swallowing the lump of regret in my throat.
“Aves,” he soothes, “you need to tell me these things. We’ll get you something different. In the meantime, you can’t just stop taking meds. You know that.”
I nod and mumble, “I don’t know why I have to take them at all. They never do any good.”
“You have to take them until you’re strong enough not to need them anymore. You were almost there before—”
He hesitates and I recoil, wrapping my arms tightly around my stomach. I don’t need him to remind me. Every time I glance in the mirror, I’m reminded. It’s one reason the mirror on my bedroom door is covered by a huge poster of Rogue.
“—August,” he finishes clumsily. He sighs. “I’m sorry. I know you don’t like to be reminded of it, but I have a dangerous job. I’d like to know you’re healthy and happy in case something ever happens to me.”
My wide eyes flick to his and an all-consuming terror rises inside me at the thought of being alone in a world without Sam. I know I couldn’t make it. History has proven that. And I have no wish to find out if anything has changed. If the time comes, I won’t even try.
Sam reaches out to squeeze my shoulder. “Don’t worry, kiddo. I’m careful. I don’t plan on leaving you for a long, long time.”
I nod, only partially reassured.
“You want me to swing by around lunch time tomorrow and meet this guy?” he asks with another squeeze of my shoulder.
“No,” I say, hoping he will anyway. Or maybe I’ll take my lunch out of the store. There’s a small coffeehouse down the street that makes an okay Panini. Even though it’s only mediocre, at this point I’ll do anything to avoid Noah Yates.
I spend the rest of the evening in my room, relaxing with the only thing that truly makes me happy, working jigsaw puzzles. Finding and placing the precise pieces in the only spot they’ll fit appeals to my need for order. I can get lost for hours just placing piece after piece together. It doesn’t matter the picture, although I favor nature scenes, it only matters that I’m making sense out of chaos. Several of the most complicated puzzles I’ve completed hang on my walls. When Sam did whatever magic he did to make the first one stick together, I nearly cried from the pure joy of it.
I’m not avoiding or punishing Sam because he brought up August, and I think he knows that. Sometimes—most times—after being surrounded by people all day at work, I just need to be safe and alone. Solitude is as much a security blanket as it is a torment. I have to have it, need it immensely, but too much of it is debilitating. When Sam comes in around 10:30 with a mug of hot chocolate for each of us, I give him a grateful smile and we talk a little as I drink it. It doesn’t take long for the Ambien to work its magic and I know Sam is as pleased as I am that my sleep is dreamless.
I am able to spend most of Wednesday morning in the stock room organizing the day’s deliveries. Walter always has high hopes for Christmas holiday sales, so we get in veritable mountains of new books. Thanksgiving is still two weeks away, so the real shopping craziness hasn’t started yet, but it’s only a matter of time.
Walter was one of us once, but now he has his own family. Like Sam and me, he grew up without parents, so he sort of understands me, even though he doesn’t know my full history. No one but Sam knows that much about me, and he only knows because he was there for most of it.
As I unload a box of nonfiction political bunk—incongruously huge sellers, so somehow required stock—an unusually colorless cover catches my eye. I place the latest repugnant propaganda carefully on the cart next to me and reach in for the odd book. The cover is a mellow cream color with a black-and-white photograph on the lower two-thirds below thick black text announcing the title,
The Orphan Trains
My hands tremble slightly as I turn back the hard cover and read the description on the dust jacket. For seventy-five years, ending in 1929, orphaned, abandoned, and homeless children, ranging in age from newborns to older teenagers, were packed into what amounted to cattle cars and sent by train from coastal cities in the East to the Midwest to start new lives. For some of those 200,000 children, the move worked out. For others, it meant separation from siblings and other loved ones, or worse, indentured servitude to the child’s new “family.” The book details the history of some of those children.
Before I can think twice about it, I find a corner between stacks, sit down on the cold, dusty concrete floor and start reading. Somewhere around the twentieth page, the story in my mind morphs from that of a nine-year-old boy in 1910 being crowded onto a train car to my own memories.
My earliest childhood recollections are few and those that remain are vague at best, but they seem to revolve around a small me giggling down at my smiling, happy mother from a great height. Over the years, I’ve been able to piece together that my parents were once happy together. I remember my father as a presence and a force more than a face. He liked to hoist my little body on his great shoulders and chase my mother around the house while one or both of us shouted “Toro!” as she waved a tea towel at us. He would bend over and I would make finger-horns atop my head, giggling like mad as we crashed through the towel.
And then, suddenly, I would be peaking over a cold, steel-colored edge to see my father dressed in his only suit, asleep inside a pillow-lined box. No matter how much I cried or pleaded with him, he wouldn’t wake up.
The next memories are the first that truly seem to belong to me. There’s my first beating at age five and then the one that always sticks out in my mind. I’m barely six when I inadvertently walk between the television and Carl, my mother’s boyfriend. As soon as I do it, I realize what I’ve done and start crying, begging for his forgiveness, promising it’ll never happen again. But Carl’s face is contorted in rage and hatred and he silently beckons me to him with one crooking finger. I hear my mother yell awful things at me, wondering how she would have such a worthless, stupid kid. I look over at her through my tears, silently begging for help. I see her standing at the edge of the kitchen, screaming and gesturing with a wooden spoon in one hand, my diaper-and-stained-shirt clad almost-toddler little brother on her opposite hip, his little face scrunched up as he prepares to wail his own fear. I’m almost hysterical by the time I get close enough to Carl’s chair for him to reach me.
He grabs a handful of my brown hair and yanks me close, yelling in my face about what a useless piece of shit I am, even as I bawl my apologies and promise it won’t ever happen again. He doesn’t even acknowledge my words, just holds my hair in one fist while he draws back the other. He waits. I know the drill. I look up into his hate-filled brown eyes and then his fist crashes into my face so hard my entire body spins around, yanking out giant clumps of hair. He releases me and I slump to the floor, already tasting the blood pooling in my mouth.
I hear Carl bellow, “Boys!” and his own sons, two and three years older than me, run into the room. “Get this filthy dog out of my house!” he orders them. I curl into a ball, knowing what’s next. It doesn’t matter to them, though, because I feel their boy kicks rain down on my already bruised body for a long time before one glorious blow to the head knocks me out.
I wake up to darkness hours later. My entire body protests against any movement, but I slowly, painfully crawl out of the sweltering heat of the doghouse I’ve been thrown into. Outside, the grass is cool against my sweaty, broken skin. I lay on it for a while, and then drink from the bowl of warm water they’ve left for me. I try not to cry about the beating, because I know I deserved it, but I do allow myself low whimpers from the pain.
I don’t realize I’ve curled into a fetal position in my small corner of the stockroom and am crying my heart out until I feel a light touch on my shoulder. I jerk away and slam my eyes open to see Molly crouched down beside me, one hand over her mouth, the other still stretched out toward me. Her eyes are wide and her face reflects absolute horror. I recoil until I hear Sam’s voice, then I launch myself at him. He catches me and holds me tight as I sob into his neck. “Why won’t it ever go away?” I cry desperately.
Sam gathers me tighter and stands up, carrying me. I hear him tell Molly he’s taking me home and I cling to him, my last lifeline to sanity, hoping he still has patience and strength enough for both of us.
When Sam gets me home, I fall into a fitful sleep, awakening only at the sound of him returning from his shift at work. We talk most of the evening and late into the night. As we work a puzzle together, I tell him things I haven’t been able to before, mostly about my life before he came into it. I had already been in the group home for a year before Sam arrived. It just so happened he showed up on a day that Tommy Blevins had decided to make mincemeat of my face for the second time in a week.
Tommy was eleven to my nine, and he and his gang of teen terrors had singled out Joey Wirth and me to beat on whenever possible. On good days, Tommy and his minions stole our lunches and tore pages out of our school books. On bad days, Joey and I would be surrounded and pummeled until we were bloody. None of the adults cared enough to stop it. If bruises were visible, Tommy forced us to tell them they were from clumsiness or games or fights at school. Otherwise, we would face even worse next time. Three days before Sam arrived, Joey hanged himself with Tommy’s belt. It was his only way out and I knew it would be mine, too, as soon as I found the courage.