"I walk alone,
My shadow's the only one that walks beside me.
My shallow heart's the only thing that's beating
Sometimes I wish someone out there will find me."
- Boulevard of Broken Dreams, GREEN DAY
"So where you headed?"
The boy sat against the passenger door, nearly hugging it as if Adam were some sex depraved lunatic about to pounce. Though the kid's fear was no doubt genuine, Adam couldn't help but smile.
The kid shrugged at the question and Adam thought an actual verbal answer was unlikely. To his surprise, the kid glanced at him and mumbled, "Don't know. Just going."
"Hmm." Adam tried to size up the kid through the darkness of the pickup cab without appearing to be too attentive and scaring the kid even more. He wore a hoodie sweater with the hood pulled low over his head, hiding most of his face. His voice betrayed his age, as did his lean build and mannerisms. Adam guessed him to be no more than twenty or twenty-one. But there was the possibility he was a bit younger.
The boy hugged his pack to his chest and stared out the side window at the night beyond. Whenever the rare car passed, the oncoming headlights would splash across the boy's face, illuminating his eyes. They seemed distant, even sad.
"What's your name?" Adam asked, breaking the silence. When he'd stopped to give the kid a ride, Adam had introduced himself, but the kid hadn't offered his own name in return. And Adam was beginning to think he wasn't going to get it now.
"Sam." The name fell from the boy's lips in a bare whisper.
"Sam." Adam nodded and smiled. "It's nice to meet you, Sam."
A raindrop hit the windshield. Then another. Adam glanced out the side window up towards the dark sky and murmured, "More rain." He turned the windshield wipers on low and watched them swish across the window. A dead leaf was caught beneath the driver side wiper and caused a bleary streak in the center of Adam's view. He glanced at Sam. The kid was leaning against the door, head ducked, chin on his chest, eyes closed. He looked exhausted.
Adam turned his attention back to the two lane rural road as the light shower quickly built into a downpour. He turned the wipers on high and looked at Sam again. The kid was still slumped against the door, eyes closed. Asleep.
Who are you, kid? Adam wondered as an unexpected rush of emotion swept through him. For that one brief moment, when the kid had opened the passenger door to climb into the truck, the cab light had illuminated the boy's face, his eyes. They had stared at each other for a split second before the cab was cast back into darkness. Adam had seen something in Sam's eyes just then, something that had gripped his heart so suddenly and fiercely that it felt like someone punching him in the gut, stealing his breath. His pulse had quickened in that moment...and had yet to calm.
His dreams were always the same, the viewpoint like that of a video game. He never saw himself, just those around him. It made him feel conspicuous, as if all eyes were on him, studying him, scrutinizing him...trying to figure him out. But though he was in plain sight, he hid himself well. At least in the real world. But not in his dreams. In his dreams...they could still see him for who he was. What he was.
In this dream, Sam was in the hallway of his old high school. Walking the center of the hall, passed the lockers, the other students. His eyes were on the floor, counting the hard tiles. Ugly green tiles speckled with black as if someone had dumped pepper all over the floor.
The students' eyes were like needles stabbing into him from every direction. He had almost made it through. For nearly twelve years of school, first grade to his senior year, he had been incognito. And successfully so. No one saw. No one knew. Even Jase had been oblivious, as intimate as they were. Sam wondered now how Jase couldn't have suspected that something wasn't right about him. When Jase held Sam in his arms, gazed into his eyes...so many times Sam had longed to just tell him the truth, to be totally open and honest. Jase had been the one. Sam had been sure of it. The one who would understand and love him against all odds.
Sam had been wrong. Something he'd figured out just a little too late.
Students crossed the hall back and forth in front of Sam. He didn't look up, his eyes seeing only their shoes. He hadn't realized there were so many different shoes, various styles of sneakers alone. He didn't have to look ahead to know where he was going. This dream took him to the same place every time. He knew what day this was. What was going to happen. But he couldn't stop it. How do you stop something that has already happened? This was a memory, and he was helpless to follow it through.
He hated this dream the most. The others were bad, but this was the one that reminded him over and again why he would be alone for the rest of his life, never being able to let another man touch him, love him...know him on any intimate level. And there was nothing more tormenting than the anguish of longing for love, for that touch, that kiss, that safe feeling of being held by someone who you knew would walk through hell with you just to get you to heaven...to long for it all and know it was forever beyond your reach.
Sam shoved open the restroom door as the shrill bell rang through the halls, announcing the start of the next class. He didn't want to go in here. He just wanted to go to class. Maybe the kids in class would whisper and talk about him, but they were just words. He'd learned to shut out the hurtful words. But in here...more than just hurtful words awaited him.
He went through the dream routine. Walked to the sink at the far end of the bathroom, dropped his book bag on the floor and stared at his reflection. Except he still couldn't see himself, not within the dream. He felt the tears sliding down his face but he couldn't see them. He gripped the edge of the sink and hung his head, and watched his tears splatter in the porcelain basin. And he waited.
It wouldn't be long. They would come. They would taunt him. Do things to him that he would never recover from.
They would steal his life.
The bathroom door shoved open. Sneakers squeaked on the hard tiles. Sam stood where he was, watching his tears fall into the sink and burst like tiny explosions slowly ripping through his heart.
"Hey, kid." Adam reached across the seat and shook the boy's arm. "Sam."
The kid came awake with a suddenness that startled Adam, a small cry erupting out of him as he jerked violently away from Adam's touch. Tears drained down his face and he wiped them away quickly with trembling hands. He looked at Adam unsteadily, and for a quick moment, Adam swore he saw something akin to gratitude in the boy's eyes...swimming well below a sea of fear and distrust.
Adam withdrew, giving the boy space. The truck sat motionless, idling low. Rain beat at the windshield and hammered the roof of the pickup. The wipers whipped back and forth across the window with soft woosh sound, the dead leaf still wedged beneath the driver side wiper. Sam glanced around uncertainly, even fearfully.
"Where...where are we?" Sam trembled quietly. "Why are we stopped?"
"This is my turn off." Adam said. "The next town is still a good fifty miles ahead."
Sam's eyes narrowed a bit as he stared out the windshield. He nodded and popped the latch of the door.
"Wait." Adam chuckled. "I wasn't telling you to get out."
Sam hesitated but didn't pull the door closed tight just yet. He sat unmoving, ready to lunge out the door it seemed.
"Look." Adam said. "I have a spare room. Why don't you just crash at my place for tonight, wait out this weather. Then I'll give you a ride to the next town, if that's where you want to go."
Sam continued to clutch the door latch. He stared through the front windshield silently, contemplating Adam's offer. Sam shook his head slowly and pushed open the door. "Thanks." He mumbled. "But I can walk. Rain don't bother me."
"Well, it bothers me." Adam said and leaned across Sam in a quick move and pulled the door closed. He drew back and sat straight behind the wheel, shifting the truck into gear.
"What're you doing?" A sliver of fear laced Sam's words.
"If you're determined to go on tonight." Adam said. "Then I will drive you."
Sam shifted uneasily. "I can't ask you to do that. It's too far and...it's already almost midnight."
"Well, first of all, you didn't ask. I offered." Adam pointed out. "And second, I'll be damned if I'm gonna dump you out in this weather to walk another fifty miles. So here's the deal." Adam looked at him. "Either you stay at my place tonight, or I drive you. Only two options available. You choose."
Indecision tightened the young man's face. What little Adam could see of his face. And what he had seen of the boy's face was beautiful. The face of an angel. Adam couldn't deny that he longed to get to know the kid, to spend time with him, just talk to him and be near him. The depth of the longing startled him. Never in his twenty-five years had he felt such an all consuming need to be in the presence of another boy as he did right now.
Let him drive you. Do not go to his house.
The words ricocheted through Sam's head, crashing against the inside of his skull. He stared out the front windshield, his eyes looking past the swishing wipers and following the bright headlights as they stabbed out into the downpour and darkness.
He needed to keep going. He shouldn't have accepted the ride at all. The moment he'd looked into Adam's dark eyes, he knew the man was a threat. Not dangerous in the conventional sense...but deadly for Sam. Jase had been the last guy Sam had allowed himself to get close to. He'd been seventeen then and hadn't allowed himself to really look at, much less become attracted to, another guy in three years. When he sensed someone drawing his interest, or becoming interested in him...he ran. He never allowed it to develop into something of substance. He could never allow it again.
"So what's it gonna be, Sam?" Adam's voice was low, even somewhat soft. It sounded good saying his name. Which made everything that much worse. It gave him all kinds of disturbing sensations each time Adam said his name, and they were sensations he craved. He wanted to hear Adam speak his name...but even more troubling was that in his head he kept hearing Adam not just speak his name, but cry it out again and again in the height of passion and ecstasy.
Sam shuddered and hugged his pack tight. Either choice would leave him in Adam's presence for an extended period of time. He considered just climbing out of the truck and insisting on walking. But he knew Adam wouldn't stand for that. He suspected the guy might physically pick him up and put him back in the truck if he did try to walk off in the downpour. The thought of which send another disturbing shudder rippling through him. What would Adam's hands feel like on his body?
A fierce shudder ran through Sam. So forceful it made him shake.
"Sam?" There was concern in Adam's torturous voice. "Are you okay?"
Sam's eyes burned with tears of frustration and anguish. He needed to get away from Adam. And he needed to get away now. If he'd been certain Adam was straight, his fear may not have been so great. But even though Adam hadn't confessed to liking other guys, Sam knew the look. The look that was in Adam's eyes each time he looked at him. A look that was never present in the eyes of a heterosexual man when he looked at another man.
A look that Sam both longed for...and feared.
"I'm fine." Sam rasped quietly. He chanced a look at Adam. The man gazed at him long, unwavering. If there had been even the slightest doubt in Sam's mind that Adam wasn't straight...it vanished in this moment.
Don't look at me like that! Sam wanted to scream at him. Whatever you think you see when you look at me...you're wrong.
"Sam?" Adam murmured, and Sam's insides began to crumble. The solid ground beneath his feet was disintegrating and he felt himself beginning to fall. And there was nothing to grab a hold of, nothing to stop him.
Sam hung his head and closed his eyes to keep the tears from slipping free. "Your place."