He will never explain how it's all mixed up, the first girls he kissed and the tattoo and Tobias fuckin' Beecher, because he's never planned it, never looked ahead, and as much as Rhonda accuses Chris of always trying to get into her panties, Chris really does try to respect her virginity.
Take now, for example, his hands full of her breasts as they lie together on his couch, kissing; Chuck Spivey, in this position (if you buy even half of his locker-room talk) would be sliding his fingers down Rhonda's waistband, instead of up her blouse like Chris is doing.
Chris wonders what it would be like, to be handsome like Spivey, to unbutton Rhonda's jeans and push his cock into a hot wet beaver and pump until she screams, but Pops says you don't treat a good girl like that, and while Rhonda ain't entirely a good girl, she does want a white wedding like his Momma never got. Besides, most anything that gets as big a build-up from everybody as sex does, usually turns to shit. Momma says half of love is, in the long run, all about faking it.
"Chris, no," Rhonda says when he unclasps her bra.
"Please, I just wanna feel you, baby," he says, smiling in that direct way that makes girls nervous. When he smiles, they fidget, breathe faster, and blush. It's interesting. Lust itches their skirts, even the best girls. They gotta all be horny as whores-- or boys-- if a smile from plain ol' Chris can do that.
The magic works on Rhonda, too. She relaxes, pulling her hands back and closing her eyes, while he tugs her blouse aside. He takes her bra strap between his teeth to ease it down one creamy shoulder, and she giggles, but says, "Please. I don't want to fuck."
"We won't, I promise."
And there they are, two white mounds-- live! in person! soft bouncy boobs!
He touches them with his fingertips. She doesn't moan and arch her back like in Ricky's pornos, but her hand curls near her face and she's looking at him in a way that's almost as fucking exciting as her naked breasts. He licks a nipple, then sucks on it.
"Oh," she says. Chris rolls on top of her, putting his crotch against her thigh. "No, Chris--"
"I won't, I just wanna, wanna touch you. We'll keep our pants on, okay?"
He smiles. After a moment, she smiles back. "Baby, you know you're beautiful. And you're so smart." He runs his fingers through her hair, humping against her. "I love your hair. I love your rack. I..." He swallows.
"Christopher Keller," she grins, "don't you fucking dare tell me you love me."
He shuts his mouth. Then he says, "Fine. You rather get treated like a whore?"
"Fuck you, Chris, just don't lie to me."
Chris shuts her up with his tongue, pressing into her mouth, pressing into her body. Her hands wrap around his head and now they're both humping, and he lifts his face and grins and she giggles again and, fuck, she's so hot and he doesn't know what he wants to do next, but he sucks on her tit and now she moans and what is he supposed to do and she's moaning, "Slow down, wait, Chris, no, no, no," and "GET OFF HER!" a fist slams into his ear.
Fuck-- Chris scrambles up, but a hand on his collar jerks him off the couch and he stumbles, collapses on the floor. A shoe strikes him in the ribs. Rhonda screams. Another kick. "Sleazy bastard, what do you think you're doing?" Chris rolls, evading the next kick. "Get up, you little pervert."
He hunches up, one arm still protecting his head.
"Apologize to her."
Pops' fist takes him in the same ribs where the kicks landed. Chris sags against the wall. While his sight clears, Rhonda, her blouse mostly back on, says, "It's all right, Mr. Keller, it's okay. He wasn't hurting me."
"It is not all right, missy. Christopher!"
"I'm sorry," Chris says quickly. "I'm sorry, Rhonda, it was wrong."
Pops glares at Chris. "Miss, please leave now."
Rhonda shoves her bra in her pocket and stomps to the front door, where, shit, there are Momma and all three of Chris' siblings, which means now he's gonna get the lecture about-- "What kinda example d'ya think you're settin' for your brothers," says Pops, "for your sister? Look at her!"
Becca is seven and still sucks her thumb. When she was three, old enough to be moved out of the crib in the living room, Momma put Becca in Chris' room, and Chris has been sleeping on the fold-out couch ever since.
Pops grabs Chris' collar, putting his face to Chris'. Pops stays real quiet, and Chris hears Momma ushering Becca and the boys to their rooms to change out of their Sunday clothes. Pops says, "I don't know why I keep expecting better from you. We coulda given you up for adoption... We always gave you too much credit."
He lets go, and heads for the back door.
Anybody else's dad would sit on a lawn chair and belch his way through a few beers, but Pops doesn't drink beer. The only acceptable spirits, Pops says, is the blood of Christ. When Pops is mad, he works on his three-by-six patch of garden.
Chris tries to fold up his bed, but it hurts to move, so he sits at the foot of the mattress and waits for the pain to go away. If this happened two years ago, he would think it was a serious thrashing. Hell, this *did* happen, come to think of it, *three* years ago. He grins, remembering Amy, remembering Father Matthew's stuttering lectures. After a while, Stevie and Jason run out the front door in their play clothes, and Momma comes over with a wet cloth for Chris' ribs. "You shouldn't of done that," Momma says.
"I wasn't gonna have sex with her, Momma, I swear. Just took a few clothes off."
"You shouldn't take any clothes off. Just leads to temptation. You were made in wickedness. Your father and I have confessed and made contrition, but you have to be careful. We try to be good parents, Chrissy. We don't want to go to hell. Why won't you keep right?"
Chris peels the washcloth away from his chest. "Is Pops really my father?"
Momma gasps. Then she slaps him.
He touches his cheek. Then he follows her rapid retreat to the kitchen, watches her reach for the narrow cupboard where she keeps her pills. Rubbing her forehead, she shakes the last one out onto her hand. She drops the bottle on the counter and swallows the pill dry. He walks back to the living room.
Becca has curled up on his bed with a picture book. She reads good, even though she hardly talks. Chris sits down and pulls her onto his lap, wincing as she snuggles against his bruises.
He remembers the exact day he realized he was going to be a big brother. Momma and Pops kept saying he was going to get a little brother or sister, and then saying, no, it wasn't going to happen yet. Chris started waking in the middle of the night, finding Momma standing over his bed and crying. She stopped doing that when the doctor gave her the pills. The fourth time they said Momma was pregnant, he knew it wasn't going to be. He just knew it. Until her water broke and he had to stay at Grampa's for a few days and then when he came home, there was Stevie, and suddenly Momma popped less pills, but the baby always needed diapers or a bottle, and then there was another baby, and then Becca.
Pops comes in from the yard, covered in dirt, and doesn't glance Chris' way as he goes into the kitchen. Chris overhears his parents in quiet conversation. He sends Becca to her room. A few minutes later, Pops emerges. He slaps Chris several times-- for good measure, Chris supposes. "You never insult your mother that way again, do you hear me? I am your father."
"Then why d'ya keep calling me a BASTARD?" Chris jumps backwards as Pops reaches for him again, and runs out the front door.
He drives around in his puke-ugly '72 Impala for hours, drinking from the glove compartment flask. Around dinner time, he stops at a pay phone and calls Rhonda's house. Her sister says she's not there, but he can hear Rhonda talking to a man in the background. Laughing.
Eventually, he parks outside the apartment complex where Ricky and Brad live. He goes over to their door after he's finished his flask.
"Well, you look like the ass end of a long shore-leave, sailor," says Ricky. He winds an arm around Chris' shoulders and sniffs. "Vodka?"
"Yeah. Brad home?"
"Asleep in his room. Your pops beating on you again?"
Chris shrugs. Ricky grabs a bottle of Smirnoff on their way past the minibar, and steers Chris into the room with no door, which has been Ricky's place since shortly after they met at Juvie Hall last year.
They sit on Ricky's bed, and Ricky pours some of the Smirnoff down Chris' throat. "Not too much, I got school tomorrow."
"Oh, fuck, why d'ya still bother with that bullshit?"
Chris shrugs again. "I don't know." But he does know-- if he holds onto his C-minus average (tooth and nail, ya dumbfuck), he can stay on varsity wrestling, and Coach Henning is the only vaguely cool adult he knows. Henning talks about anything-- he's like the only grownup who ever has sex. And Henning looks at him with narrow eyes and says, "You walk into another door?"
And Chris says, "Yeah. Twice."
Spivey, who's dating a cheerleader now, sneers, "White trash," when Henning's back is turned.
So Chris goes to class, sometimes, and wrestling practice, most times, and he sleeps in Ricky's bed for most of the week. Ricky sleeps with Brad, of course.
And if Chris wants to get a welcome back to the Keller house, he has to see Father Matthews so's the priest can tell Pops he's confessed. The whole thought of that, of Father Matthews and his clammy hand on Chris' knee that one time three years ago-- it makes Chris smirk like a motherfucker, so after school he takes himself to church.
"Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It's been, uh, two weeks since my last confession."
Father Matthews looks up. "Confessions are in the booth out there." He points. He's already blushing, tapping a pencil on the desk.
"You know I don't like the booth." Chris sits. Matthews always lets him have his way. He's never threatened to tell anyone that the priest made a pass at him-- Matthews may not even know that he understands what the fag-of-God wanted, that one time. And Matthews is trying so hard to put it behind him.
"All right, then, go on," says Matthews, sitting on his desk in front of Chris. His snub nose is red from too much wine.
"I was disrespectful to my parents. And I, uh, Pops caught me with this girl." He shifts a little, bumping his knee against the priest's.
Chris struts out of the church less than an hour later, hands in his pockets. He says to Ricky, "Let's celebrate." Shouts it, actually, from the minibar, leaning to look down the hall to the room with no door, where Ricky is currently face-down under Brad. "Hey, guys! You fags full of shit, or you serious about getting tattooed?"
Brad replies, "Shut up, you fuckin' kid, we're busy here."
Chris props his elbows between the Wild Turkey and the Goldschlager, and watches with interest. He's always turned away from glimpses of Ricky and his johns, but it's all getting less theoretical to him.
Not that Chris will ever in his right mind let some jerkwad put his fuckin' dick *there*. Jesus, that has to hurt.
"What are we celebrating?" says Ricky when Brad lets him up.
Chris winks. "I'll tell ya sometime."
Just shy of midnight, the three of them fetch up in the back-alley entrance to Joe's shop. While Brad and Ricky argue over the picture album of Joe's work, Chris slides up to the table, yanks up his sleeve, and says, "I seen pictures in your window. You do that thing, Christ on the cross?"
He gets home the following Tuesday, and immediately realizes that he's been away too long: Stevie and Jason look and smell like they've been rolling in a pigsty, Becca's crouching in the corner behind her bed again, and Momma's asleep on the couch. He puts the boys in the yard and washes them down with the hose. Stevie gives attitude, but settles down after Chris smacks him a couple times. He throws a bunch of the kids' clothes in the laundry machine, sets the boys to cleaning their room, and then tries to wake Momma.
Momma blinks. Her smile is like the Madonna paintings at church. She touches his face. "Chrissy, you're back."
"I'm sorry for what I said, Momma."
"Hm?" Momma stretches, closes her eyes.
"How many pills did you take?"
He checks the cupboard, but even if he counts the pills, he can't be sure. He carries Becca out of her room, and she sits under the kitchen table while he boils spaghetti. He doesn't have time for the mess around the house-- clothes, newspapers, toys, overflowing garbage-- but by the time Pops gets home, at least the family starts to get into some order. Even Momma is sitting up. Pops looks pleased. For about five seconds.
"What is this garbage?" Pops says, grabbing Chris by his inked arm. "You want to look like a bum, a convict? Going to Juvie wasn't enough for you, you bastard, now you gotta have this-- this blasphemy--"
Chris laughs. "Jesus was a bastard, too."
When it's over, Momma emerges from the back of the house, where she corralled the kids; she applies iodine to Chris' bloodied cheek, saying, "You didn't have to do that, Chrissy. You know he worries about you. Stealing. Drinking. Girls. Matthias Keller is a good man. You're breaking his heart."
Chris pushes his face against her shoulder.
Momma sighs. "You'd better go, like he said, before he comes back."
He skips class oftener over the next few weeks. Even Henning doesn't give more than half a shit. On days when he doesn't go to class, he parks the Impala down the street until Pops' truck pulls away, then he goes into the yard through the side gate and into Momma's kitchen. He starts teaching Becca to cook.
The more nights he spends at Ricky's, the more he can't help but notice what the meat rack is doing to his friend. A few days before Ricky's birthday, the kid returns from a trick covered in bruises, face stony, and evades Chris' questions. Chris helps him get drunk that weekend. Ricky gets all talkative and weepy, about the parents he's never mentioned before, a stepfather who turned him out because he's gay.
"If being a fag is so much trouble for your family, why d'you do it?" Chris doesn't go for introspective shit, but better Ricky than him.
Ricky frowns. Then he giggles. "It feels so goo-ood." He passes the bottle to Chris.
"It looks like it hurts."
Ricky then tells him what it feels like to butt-fuck, in such detail that Chris has to go worship the porcelain.
He expects that something will happen at home-- one of these days, he'll be drinking beer and teaching his brothers to play poker, and he'll forget to leave before Pops returns from work, and Pops will break both his arms this time, and then Chris will swear he'll never come back and Pops will consign him to the fires of hell. But it isn't his father's fists that separates him from his family.
That day, there's a wrestling competition: Spivey does good. Chris does fuck-all. In the cul-de-sac behind the locker room, Spivey slugs him. "Worthless piece of shit!"
Chris lets him walk away-- a bloody nose ain't nothing. He gets into his locker for another snort from his stash, and next thing he remembers, it's midnight and he's walking down the meat rack trying to find Ricky among the drifts of rent boys and working girls. There's two people in an alley on his right, fucking-- no, fighting-- Ricky! And as he rushes in to save his friend, he sees that the other guy is Spivey.
And then there's no stopping Chris until Spivey's face is pulp, and Ricky's trying to pull him away but the cops are already here. Days later, Chris says, "Please, Pops, don't you have a little money put by?" Everybody knows public defenders are shit.
"No," says Pops. "But I wouldn't give it to ya if I did, boy. I tried everything I could with you. Maybe this time you'll learn."
Chris grins, 'cause there's inch-thick glass between him and Pops, and he leans back, cradling the phone, and drawls, "Already know what I need to. You're just mad at me 'cause a guilt-- 'cause you fucked Momma when she was half your age."
It's interesting. Pops turns pale, then red, then pale again. "You-- you fucking shit." And that's interesting, too, because Pops never uses any swear words besides "bastard". Pops looks Chris up and down. "We shoulda aborted you. We'd a burned in the fires of hell for all eternity, but it woulda been better than this." *Crack* goes the phone as Pops slams it down, and then Chris is sitting alone. And he's already shown the others in Juvie what a tough guy he is, so even though it'll be four fucking years before he has a hope of blue skies again, he isn't afraid.
But Lardner's a tough joint and, to the guards, he's just another number. To the inmates, he's "Keller". As in, "Yo, Keller, bring that sweet little white-boy booty over here" --so says Colbert when Keller's been inside a week.
"Fuck you, nigger," Keller sneers... under his breath, 'cause Colbert's big and dumb and vicious. Keller goes to hang out near his bunkie, a stocky, muscled guy named Vern Schillinger who has the admiration of all his fellow Aryans. They ignore Keller, while Schillinger rambles about racial purity. Some of it is bigoted crap-- not all blacks smell, just the ones that don't shower, and the same is true of Schillinger's pals-- but some of it kinda makes sense. And anyway, Schillinger has some morals; he seems like the one guy on the cellblock who'll intervene if somebody tries to make Keller into a fucktoy.
Sure enough, next week Schillinger proves Keller's guess, with three sharp jabs to Colbert's stomach and a, "Stupid fuckin' shit."
"Thanks, man," Keller says, but Schillinger shoves him.
"Shut up, mutt. You think I don't see you hanging around me?" After a quick glance to either side-- still no hacks looking this way-- Schillinger pushes Keller into the broom closet. "You got a bad case of hot shorts, bitch, and you think you can use me for protection? I hate to see a nigger have a white boy's ass, but you don't play me, you understand?"
Schillinger grabs his chin. "I just did you a huge fuckin' favor-- I saved your life. Don't try to lie to me, or I'll slit your throat, you fuckin' slut."
Keller tries to jerk away from Schillinger's grip, but the man's fingers dig into his cheeks. "I'm not-- I don't fuck."
Schillinger's eyes narrow. Then he dimples. "Cherry. Guess you can pay me for protection, after all. Take off your clothes."
Rapidly: "I don't want to fuck."
Schillinger lets go his face long enough to pop him one. "You don't get a choice. Drop your pants." It isn't as if Keller's never sucked cock before, but Schillinger doesn't even regard that as an option, so Keller gets it bent over the rim of a trash barrel full of brooms and mops. Schillinger's muttering obscenities, and Keller wants to take it like a man, but, Christ, it hurts. And when it's over, Schillinger pats his damp face and says, "Come on, mutt," and they go to the showers real quick before chow call. Keller's thinking, I can't believe I finally had sex. I can't believe I got fucked in the ass.
Schillinger makes him carry his tray through the cafeteria line. The Aryans stop ignoring him. The "mutt" sorta sticks; they call him Keller, but they treat him like Schillinger's retarded puppy.
And kicking around at Schillinger's heels, he does feel like a retarded puppy. He imitates Schillinger, pumping iron, practicing takedowns, talking shit. He looks less and less like a half-grown teen. He gets to where he thinks he might be able to handle himself in a real fight-- all that high school wrestling comes in handy, now that he knows how to apply it in a situation without rules, with deadly intent, with a shank plunging hot and wet into a man's chest-- "Good jab on that nigger," Schillinger says, before Keller even realizes what he's done. "Now you're a man."
Whatever makes Colbert be... Colbert... is gone now. Like fuckin' satanic magic. Keller accepts the Aryans' compliments with a shaky grin.
He knows another magic, now, too, wriggling and moaning the way Schillinger likes, sucking on his fingers and using all the whore's tricks he's ever heard of, to get Schillinger off quicker and harder, so his man will let him get some sleep. It stopped hurting long ago, but he still doesn't like it, it doesn't feel good the way Ricky said, and Keller's relieved to know he isn't made to be a fag, but if he has to spend so much time taking it up the ass, he kinda wishes he could get off, too.
Then one night Schillinger takes his mouth, accepts Keller's worship, and it's good, finally, as good as the sweetest memory.
Because in here, memory of the outside's like blood, like ink, like come, a stain that marks him deeper than the visible, and even though the mark's right on his skin for everyone to see, no one can read it. Not even Schillinger, who's gone the next day, paroled, the bastard, without a word of warning to anyone, and what do they give Keller for a bunkie but a useless prag, fuckin' stupid name of Jock Wheeler, a kid too young and dumb to see the target pinned to his own ass.
Wheeler's as straight as they get, and now that Keller doesn't hang with the Aryans anymore, he needs a pet project, so he comes up to Wheeler at lunch and says, "Look, I seen you got no one to watch your back. I'm up the same fuckin' creek, y'know? We got a better chance of surviving if we don't try to do our time alone." It takes weeks of effort-- quiet conversation, a hand on Wheeler's shoulder-- and he tests Wheeler with a smile over and over, until Wheeler's itching in the same way as Amy, as Rhonda, and Keller knows he's got this punk in the same place, got himself a bitch of his own.
And, oh shit, oh Jesus sweet motherfucking Christ, no wonder Schillinger always wanted ass and not head, because this is tight, this is hot, this, this is the first time Keller gets to fuck, and shit ohshitohshit--
The sex, that it can be this good to come inside somebody, is such a novelty, it takes quite a while for him to get bored. In the future, Keller will more easily recognize the omens of restlessness-- the cold and lonely nights when he'll wonder that wickedness can be a calling, and whether he can make another choice.
For now, he's caught up in it, in the push and withdraw of it all, until he draws a breath and realizes it's almost time for his first parole hearing, and fuck, he's got a visitor, a pubertal brunette, big-eyed, arms crossed under tennis-ball boobs, smiling kinda nervous. "Chris."
He blinks and says, "Becca," and takes her in his arms. "Look at you. I can't believe you're-- eleven? twelve? You're going to be tall."
"You got all muscle-y."
"Where's Momma?" Chris glances around, but the only other person in the visiting room is a vaguely familiar gray-haired man.
"Pops won't let us visit you, and you know Momma's too fogged up to go behind his back."
"Then how'd you get here?"
"Coach Henning brought me."
Chris glances over his sister's shoulder at the man, who raises a hand in acknowlegement. Becca talks a lot, now, but she doesn't convey much more than she did in her thumbsucking days. Chris can't figure why she's here. Henning, though-- his motives are pretty clear. It's in his possessive glances at Becca's little body, and Chris bristles more and more. "...Father Truman," Becca concludes.
Chris says, "Who?"
"Oh, that's right, you wouldn't know," Becca says. "The old priest, whatsisname, left the parish for a permanent retreat years ago. Just after your arrest, I guess. Momma was all upset about it, she remembers him in her prayers on Christmas and Easter."
Chris grins. "Father Matthews."
"Yeah, that was his name."
When Becca has run out of chatter, Chris asks her to let him have a private word with Henning. "Hey, asshole," he says to Henning. "Keep your fucking hands off my sister or I'll send fucking nazis to rape your ass."
That night, Keller barely restrains himself shutting up Wheeler's stupid blabber by knocking him into insensibility. He's tired of Wheeler, tired of his wanton eyes and wicked hands.
Keller sucks the bitch's cock and pretends, trying to throw himself back into the memory, because this is the closest feeling he can get to the first time, the best time-- and two decades in the future, he will finally relive the old triumph, he'll sink his cock into Tobias Beecher's heat and suck air through his teeth for the sweetness of it. Toby will bite his hands-- either Schillinger will have trained Toby to please a radically changed appetite, or this will be pure crazy Beecher, snarling and scratching, and Chris will caress Toby's cock and mutter approval and struggle to fuck Toby's ass. He'll get swallowed up completely one of those nights, lost, savoring it all, the best challenge, the one that will never be won, the lover who'll yield and break and come out Chris' owner as much as the reverse.
Chris will want Toby to read the story tattoo'd on his shoulder as easily as Chris will read Schillinger's mark on Toby's flesh. But he'll never tell, he'll never speak of that afternoon, how months and years of teasing confessions led to Chris on his knees before Father Matthews. How Chris slid his hands up the priest's legs, caressed the insides of black-clad thighs with his thumbs. Chris mouthed the cock trapped in the black slacks, and Matthews found voice enough to whisper, "No."
Over and over again, "No," while Chris eased the zipper down, "No," when Chris licked the tip, "No," as Chris' fingers wrapped around Father Matthews' balls.
Chris glanced up-- dull gold hair haloed Matthews' thrown-back head. Then Chris took the cock into his mouth and sucked. Matthews' hands gripped Chris' shoulders, digging in like claws. Chris took the cock as deep as it would go, backed off, swallowed it again. He nearly gagged a couple of times, but he kept at it, looking up at the priest.
Matthews kept his eyes closed, saying, "No," and now sometimes, "Yes," and frequently, "Oh Lord," until he came. Hm, didn't taste too bad. Chris stood, and pressed his lips against Matthews', pried the virgin mouth open with his tongue. Chris swabbed deep, making sure Father Matthews got a good taste of his own spunk.
Then Chris backed off and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. "What did you do to me?"
"Huh?" said Matthews, sagging against his desk. Steamed glasses concealed his eyes.
"I thought priests didn't--" Chris took a sharp breath. "You're ordained by God. How could you-- the Church don't allow... Oh my God. I'm going to hell. Because you did this ...disgusting thing to me."
"I-I'm sorry," Matthews said. "That is-- you won't go to hell, I--"
"You don't believe it, do you?" Chris widened his eyes... smiled. "None of it's true. The entire Bible, the Church, you-- and God. All a sham."
Matthews said, "Oh sweet Jesus forgive me."
"Thanks for sharing the truth."
Chris walked out and got himself forty feet away from the church before the laughter burst out. He shoved his hands in his pockets, and decided he wanted a crucifixion on his left arm.
~ ~ the end ~ ~