The words were said so softly, and Cory's face was looking everywhere, but at him. His eyes were downcast as well, and he could see how his shoulders sagged, as if he really didn't expect Garth to believe him. And why should he?
The kid had stolen from him, and okay he had his watch back, even the cash he had given him, but what else had he ripped him off of? Was there other stuff he had stuffed under his jacket, or put in his backpack when he hadn't been looking? Stuff he'd already sold, which was why he was back, looking for more?
Yet even as he thought it, there was something about Cory, that made him regret his thoughts. The kid had a rough break, a father that obviously was a pig, in the literal sense, and a life that was riddled with hurt, and danger too. No way could living on the streets, without any built in defences, could a kid survive. He had read the papers, he knew how many left home yearly, and how many turned to drugs, to alcohol, or worse.
Somehow, he didn't want Cory to become one of those statistics, yet he was well on his way. To steal, took nerve, and okay, so he came back with the money. It didn't erase the fact that he had stolen from him. As good looking as he might be, as desirable as he might be, it wasn't enough. Least not in his books, but then he did have things easier.
He had a trade, had an ability to fight for himself, to protect himself. Cory, well he doubted if he knew much about any of that, and his chances for being self sufficient was reduced dramatically by his circumstance. No college for him, unless he found a sugar daddy, and then what? Having to pay for his education with his body? Like how was that any better than living on the streets?
'I am supposed to believe that?'
'It's the truth.'
'Sorry, but why? You have to do better than that, for me to buy that.'
Cory looked up at him then, and he felt his heart skip a few beats. There was no doubt that he was falling for this eighteen year old, not something he was needing right now. Still, he couldn't help but notice the small tears in the corner's of his yes, the way his face was all screwed up, as if trying to not cry. He really felt for his circumstances, but the kid had stolen from him.
'You didn't take advantage.'
'Huh? Advantage? I don't uh..'
'I am not dumb, I can see how you looked at me, just like other's have, but you didn't try anything, that meant something to me, still does.'
He actually thought he had hidden his desire rather well, but obviously there was a lot more to Cory. Maybe he did have what it takes to survive, if he could recognize his look. Still, it didn't seem to make much sense. Ken sure as fuck wouldn't think twice about getting what he wanted, and come to think of it, he did use his body just for that purpose.
Was Cory doing the same, but with more finesse?
Garth peered hard at Cory, trying to determine if he was being played for an old fool or not. There was something about Cory that made him want to believe him, to trust him, yet he couldn't seem to get past the fact, that he had stolen from him.
'Wish I could believe that'
'Would be nice.'
Cory looked at him oddly. His eyes were half closed, yet Garth could tell he was staring at him intently. In a way, it made him feel like he was under some microscope, being inspected for flaws. It just felt so odd, that this street kid, a runaway really, would look at him that way, or want to. Yet somehow, he hoped he was passing muster. It made no sense, as he waited for the answer, thinking about Ken, and about how meaningless some relationships could be.
He could be Cory's father, given the age difference between them, and yet he didn't think his feelings for Cory were just paternal. Hell, he knew he wanted to bed the kid, from the first time he saw him leaning against the tree in the front yard. Still, he hadn't made a move on him, even when he knew his circumstances.
In all honesty, it had nagged at him the second Cory had left earlier in the day. It was why he had been so restless, because he knew he was no Saint. He had wanted the kid, to be with him sexually, yet hadn't tried. Was he that turned off of sex, or did his rejection by Ken keep him from trotting out his rude suggestion line?
Even now, he had thoughts about him, hell, while he had been walking around on edge, he had thought about being on the road, with Cory in tow. That sure as hell would have been something, and as dangerous as hell. After all, what did he know about the kid, other than what he had told him?
Maybe his father was a Cop, maybe not. Maybe he had been tossed out but maybe from being a thief, not being Gay. There was no way for him to find out either, and why did it matter? He couldn't take him with him, and in the morning he'd be long gone. Why did it matter why he had stolen his watch, shit, it wasn't like he was going to be with him beyond tonight.
Yet as much as his mind tried to throw up reasons to simply send Cory on his way, something deep inside kept him from doing it. He could have called the police, but hadn't. He could have tossed the kid out instead of inviting him for coffee. So what the fuck was he doing, trying to convince him of doing what was impossible, unrealistic?
'Come on, what's the reason? Why does it make a difference whether I believe you or not?'
'You want the truth?'
'Yes, of course I do.'
'You won't believe it.'
'I'll decide what I believe or not, come on, quit stalling.'
'I am not stalling, oh hell, it doesn't matter anyhow, I am just tired of being thought of as a thing, instead of me, and you, well, you didn't treat me like thing, some little toy to buy or play with. I just wanted to remember that, to keep hoping.'
'Hoping for what?'
'That someone out there would like me, for me, not as some thing, some possession. That is all I was to my parents, something to show off, to parade around. Since then, oh hell, I am just some sex trophy for the pervs, you didn't make me feel like that, I just wanted to remember that, that is all.'
He had heard a few good one's in his time, but this one took the cake. No way was it the truth, yet as he stared at Cory, he didn't look like it was BS. It rang true, inside, despite his natural scepticism.
'You make me sound like a Saint'
'No, just a nice guy. Guy's like me don't run into many of them.'
'I guess not. Still..'
'Yeah, I know, you were nice to me, and I stole from you. Nothing gonna change that, is it?'
The tears were actually run down his face, and he could hear his disappointment, in his voice. For whatever reason, Cory seemed to actually care what he thought of him. He could be a good actor, but he didn't think anyone his age could be THAT good. Sure, there were a lot of doubts in his mind, but inside, he just wanted to reach out and hug him, to hold him.
'I don't know, Life never goes the way we expect it to.'
'That's for sure.'
It was how he said it, that troubled him. Instead of pushing him out the door, now that his coffee was finished, he offered him another cup, along with some cookies he still had laying around. Wasn't much, but he was reluctant to just end it, to let it go.
Garth didn't want to see him leave, and it appeared like Cory was as reluctant to go, but it came time. He had finished his cookies, the coffee, despite sipping it slowly until it was ice cold. Still, it was inevitable, and Garth felt disappointed. As much as he was smitten by Cory's looks, he felt unable to move.
Putting his hand in his pocket, as Cory more or less began to make the signs of standing up, he felt the old watch among the crumbled bills. His fingers touched the metal case, giving him a strange quiver. The tips seemed to vibrate as they caressed the old case, as old memories flooded back to him.
He could hear the old man now, the way he would always pull that watch out, to stare at the time, while he tried to gather his thoughts. It was one of those times, when he had finally been true to who he was, when his parents wer forced to discuss it with him. Not an easy chore, for them or him, but he could still his father now, pulling the watch out of his pocket, the gold chain attached.
When he finally spoke it wasn't with anger in his voice, or even hurt either. He remembered the tears in his mother's face, the way she had looked at her husband, when he spoke and at how the words had sounded so amazing to him. Not the kind of words Cory's father would have said, that was for sure.
It was about how he was still his pride, his son. The way he had looked, the watch in his hand, as he made the fear Garth had been feeling, suddenly vanish. There was no shame in his heart, as his father wiped that away too. It was that image, that meant so much to him, and the watch was his link to it, or so he thought, as he looked up at Cory.
The young man was standing now, not sure what to say and without even thinking, he had the watch out of his pants pocket, and on the table. He saw how Cory looked at it, then at him, then at his feet. In that second, he knew he was taking a leap of faith, that he hadn't done in decades. For once he was going to go with his heart, not his mind.
He pushed the watch forward a bit, and looked up at Cory.
'Here, maybe this will help.'
'I uh, I can't, not after taking it.'
'Sit down for a second, Cory.'
He did as Garth asked, and they looked at each other, their eyes locked in what seemed an endless struggle. Garth could see his fear, see his shame too. It was just how he had looked, when his own father had taken the watch out, to stare at its face, before he had spoken.
'What are your plans Cory? Beyond making it to the next day?'
His eyes seemed to waver, they grew darker as if there was some inner turmoil happening. Garth waited, his finger tips touching the metal case, noticing how Cory would look at him, then quickly down at the watch. His face kept changing too, as he tried to think, or maybe just try to figure out the answer to Garth's question.
'I don't know, sometimes, sometimes it is just all a guy can do, to make it through. Other times, I don't know, not like I have a lot of options.'
Garth could hear the desperation, the hopelessness in Cory's voice. It was in his expression too, and again he noticed how the eyes seemed to be engaged in some strange inner battle. As if he had a solution, but wasn't yet ready to take it.
'You could get a job. Beats living on the streets.'
'Not easy to get, jobs. I don't mind working, but then they ask for your address, or phone number.'
'I didn't think of that. Guess it does make it harder.'
'Near impossible, there are some places that help, or try to. But they have lots of kids they try to place, it just seems, I don't know, like it isn't meant to be.'
'So you just give up?'
Cory looked up at him then, and there was a hint of defiance in his look, but not in his voice. He seemed like he had been beaten, and Garth felt his pain. He couldn't help himself, as he pressed him.
'No, I move on, hoping things are better somewhere else.'
Garth felt his own inner struggle as he stared at Cory. There was no doubt that he was putting himself in jeopardy, but he seemed to not care, as he glanced down at the watch. His father hadn't abandoned him, how could he leave Cory, knowing what he knew? His mind told him that naturally his father stood by him, he was his blood, but Cory wasn't.
Every argument that could be made as to why not to do what his heart was telling him too, was made, over and over again. Still, the touch of that case seemed to hold him true to his decision. Without pausing, he had to make the offer, to make the effort. He knew what Cory was thinking, and no kid, no matter what, should have to face those issues, not yet, not in this day and age. He couldn't leave him, it was that simple.
Maybe Cory wasn't his kid, and maybe his reasons were mixed up between wanting to simply be the man Cory thought he was, but then, that is what his father thought of him too. He had told him then, so many years ago, and now he finally understood what he had meant. His destiny could easily have been like Cory's, given how there was a lot less knowledge or toleration for gays back then.
'Take the watch, if you still want it.'
He could see he did, the way the eyes looked down at it. It was if he had just given the kid a million bucks, the way his face looked, how his chest seemed to heave. The tears were still rolling down, but not from shame or hurt. As Cory reached out, Garth could see how his hand shook, trembled as his fingers touched the other side of the metal case.
'There is one catch.'
Cory stared up at him, suddenly fear was in his face. His lower trembled as he looked down at the watch, at Garth's fingers still touching the other side of the case.
'Please, don't, don't ruin what I think...'
'No, no Cory, it is nothing like that, not that kind of a string, though I'll be honest, I do find you attractive, desirable even, but no, I am not asking to get into your pants.'
'That watch, it means a lot to me, sort of in the same way it means something to you.'
'Then why, why are you giving it to me?'
'It is all I have left of my father. No, don't worry, I have lots of memories of him, the watch was, well, it helped me remember him, but I don't need that to do that.'
'I don't understand.'
'He was a good man, he could have thrown me out just like your father did, but he didn't. He hadn't a clue what being gay was, but he knew what being a father was. Those are the memories I have with that watch. Memories I wish you could have.'
Garth stood up, and walked over to stand beside Cory. He saw his body shaking, knew he was struggling to not cry either, as he knelt down next to him. He put one hand on the back of the chair, and saw the boy tense up again. God how it must feel, to know some can only think of you that way, he thought, as he looked down at his own feet, then lifted his face up to once more look at Cory.
'I am going to the Northwest tomorrow, got a new job, new place to live, and well, I want you to come with me.'
'Please, I uh, I mean I know I.. Shit, I asked you not to..'
'No Cory, as hard as this is for you to believe, I am not asking you to come along as my son, or sex toy either.'
'Then, why? You don't know me, shit I stole this from you, and now you are willing to just take me with you? I am not stupid.'
He pushed the chair back, angry and hurt, but still a part of him seemed to want to believe Garth. He was having trouble doing that, and Garth knew it was up to him, to convince him.
The body language said it all, and he knew he was running a huge risk, but deep inside, he just knew it was right. It had to be, nothing else seemed to make any sense to him, as he stood up, feeling the bit of arthritis in his joints. At this moment he was feeling his age, but there was a reason for everything.
Perhaps being dumped by Ken was why he was doing this, a rebound type thing, but he didn't think so. Cory came into his life, at the right time, at the right moment, and he had proven he was worth the effort. Who else would come back, return cash but try to keep a worthless watch?
'I won't lie to you, the first time I saw you, I thought about wanting you, doing you, as you say, but I can't explain it any better, than you can about why you upped and stole the watch, but came back with the money. Yes, I do want to have sex with you, but not from guilt, or because you think you owe me something.'
'Let me finish, then you can rant, walk out, or hopefully realize I am the same person you thought enough of, to be honest with. To want something to remember me by.'
'Okay, I guess I can do that.'
'Good, now first off, put the watch in your pocket, it is yours, whether you leave, or not. No strings.'
He watched as Cory stared at him, then the watch that was on the table. His eyes softened as his hand reached out, and touched the case. Garth could see his emotions twirling inside, knew that the watch still meant something to Cory. The hand trembled, as Cory picked it up and held it. Looking at Garth he gave him a sort of small smile, one that made Garth quiver a bit.
'You mean it?'
'Yep, it is yours'
'Thanks' he said, as he sat down on the chair he had leapt from minutes earlier. He looked so young at that moment, so vulnerable that Garth couldn't help but smile. Inside, his heart was beating as he pulled the other chair out, and sat near Cory.
He couldn't help but notice how Cory held the watch. The kid didn't put in his pocket, but instead held it tightly in his hand, constantly glancing down to stare at it, like it was some sort of talisman.
'Thing is Cory, I am tired of being alone, of the type of guys I wind up with. You are so different, so unlike them, even in the brief time I have known you, that it just makes me want to be near you. Yes, I want to have sex with you, but if not, hey, being a friend is just as good. Sex between us, well that's for you to decide, because after this, if you come with me, I won't mention it again. It will have to be your choice.'
'I still don't see why? I mean it sounds good, but..'
'Yeah, thing is, my Dad believed in certain values, and I guess without knowing it, they sort of became mine too,, without me even knowing it. I am no Saint, told you that, and I have paid for guys your age, to get off with, had some even live with me, till they had enough or I got tired of footing the bill. Didn't matter how young they were, well, I mean they had to be eighteen or older, but you know what I mean.
Thing is, it never worked out, because there was always conditions. Either on their part or mine, and I am too old for that shit now. I have a chance at a new life, one that can be satisfying, if I let it.
You look like you need a chance too, like the one I got from my Dad, and I think I can give you that chance, that break. If you take it, well, great. It has to be without terms, without conditions, otherwise it isn't a chance, so yeah, I'd like to be more than a friend, but I'd rather have that friendship, that chance to help, than have a roll in bed with you now, and let it go at that.
Does that make sense to you?'
Garth leaned back in the chair. He wiped his forehead with the back of his hand, realizing just how nervous he was. He had been serious, honest about his reasons, though he wasn't sure if Cory believed him or not. He had given it his best shot, the rest was up to fate.
Looking at Cory, he realized that it was exactly as he had said. He did want him, Christ the kid was a looker, even in his dirty clothes. Still, it wasn't what he saw in his face or in his eyes. There was a brain there, a good one, and despite the way he had been treated, he still clung to hope, to faith. Then there was his values.
He stole, yes, but he came clean about it. He didn't have to tell him about the watch, hell he didn't have to come back to give him back the money. But he had. That said a lot about his character, despite his father, and the rest. It was worth the gamble, and as he waited, he felt that maybe Cory would think he was worth the gamble too.
'Nothing is for free these days.'
'True, and what I am offering isn't free either. Thing is, you'll have an address and phone number to put on your job application, and once you get a job, there will be rent and all. Until then, you can do chores, like laundry, cleaning, that kind of stuff.'
'When do I have to tell you? Now?'
'No, take the night, I am leaving as soon as the moving truck finishes loading up, they are supposed to be hear around 8, and it shouldn't take more than a couple of hours for them to load, then I am off. You have until then.'
Cory stood up, and put the watch into his pocket, looking at Garth. His eyes were softer, but there was still doubt in them. He could see it, feel it even, and with a sinking heart he watched as the young man moved out to the hallway. He picked up his backpack, and slung it over his shoulder. He turned and looked at Garth, his eyes searching, yet closed to him.
Garth watched as he left, walked down the sidewalk and disappeared down the street. He didn't know how long he just stood there, but as he felt the night air chill him, he turned and closed the door. He felt like he had done his best, but that maybe he could have said it differently, done something, so that he would have believed him, and not left.
Closing the door was more than just shutting out the night's cold air. It felt like he had lost something, and while inside he believed he had done the right thing, said the right words, he felt that maybe he should have tried harder, specially when he was leaving.
It was irrational, crazy even, to feel so disappointed when truth was, he wouldn't know until the moving van had left. If there was no sign of Cory, he'd know then that he had failed, or that he had been suckered. God, he could feel his thoughts now, telling him what a sucker he had been. Worse, he didn't have the watch now, making it feel even worse.
Still, somewhere deep inside, he kept feeling that flicker of hope. If Cory could have hope, could hold onto something simply because some stranger had given him a few bucks without trying to get into his pants, he could at least wait till the morning.
Sitting in his only remaining chair in the living room, he couldn't help but feel like he would have a long day ahead of him. He just was too restless to go to bed, though he found himself napping in the chair. Yet every noise he heard, he'd spring up, awake. It was like he expected a knock on the door, or something, and when the noise didn't happen again, he leaned back in the chair, dozing until the next noise woke him up.
The sun had been up for a bit, and the sound of a big truck out front broke through his fitful sleep. He felt like a hundred, as he raised himself up, knowing that his moment of truth was upon him. With no sign of Cory during the night, he was already telling himself that it was hopeless. Even the deep inner voice was being silent, as his mind trumpeted its victory. He stretched, feeling out of sorts, and dirty. He needed a shave and a shower, but he'd only have time for the shave.
Stretching a bit, to get the kinks out of his body, he walked towards the front door, to greet the movers. His legs were heavy, not from sleep but from his failure. He heard the truck door slam and he turned the latch on his front door, and opened it, to wait for the movers.
As he opened the door, he spotted a shadow at the base of the tree. It didn't seem to fit, and then he noticed it move as if it were alive. His heart gave a bit of a start, as suddenly a pair of arms shot out from underneath, and a figure emerged.
The head shook a bit, then turned to see him in the doorway. Garth felt his whole body tremble, as he saw the face break into a smile, as it stood up, dusting off the grass and early morning dew. The men coming up the walk stared at him, wondering if he was some nut job or something, the way his face glowed.
Cory flung the backpack over his shoulder, as he trotted over to Garth. He threw the pack into the doorway, grinned at Garth, then turned to watch the two men coming closer.
'Should I make coffee for four?'