Tough guys didn’t scream. Even when something knocked on the window in the middle of the night. But gasping a little and taking some deep breaths were perfectly acceptable—especially since I was only eight. Getting out of bed and going over to the window in my small room made me all kinds of badass, though.
“Shit, man, are you trying to kill me?” Opening the window, my chest finally stopped pounding when I realized it was Hayden. I didn’t have to fake being badass for him. He knew me too well.
Hayden had been my best friend and neighbor for as long as I could remember. He’d just always been there. But that wasn’t surprising. My mother always complained that once people moved into the trailer park where we lived, it was where they stayed until they died.
Since Mr. Murphy’s trailer had gotten hauled away last week after his heart attack a few months ago, she must have actually been right about that. I thought she’d just been being dramatic like my grandma had claimed.
“I’m sorry, Trent.” Hayden’s voice was so quiet I almost couldn’t hear it.
“Climb in. You don’t have to whisper. Grandma don’t have her hearing aids in at night and Mom’s over at her boyfriend’s.” Grandma didn’t have many rules, but one of them was no sleepovers. The only exception was for Hayden and that was just because Grandma thought his parents were worse than white trash. But she wouldn’t tell me what that was.
All I could figure out was that it was someone who drank a lot and never had enough food in the house.
He smiled as he wiggled through the window that never closed right. Before I could try to shut it so the AC didn’t get out, Hayden reached out the window and nearly fell trying to drag in an old black trash bag.
“What’s that?” Hayden liked…stuff. All kinds of things.
My grandma called him a pack rat in training, but I didn’t think he looked like a rat. She’d just laughed when I told her that. He was kind of scrawny but not creepy looking and didn’t have to be chased out with the broom, so I didn’t get it.
“You’ve got to keep my treasures safe.” He groaned as he dragged the bag over the windowsill and started breathing funny.
“What’s wrong?” Hayden walked into doors a lot, or at least that’s what he told Grandma. She just snorted like she did when I tried to explain that the dog down the street had eaten my homework. The damn thing had, but no one would believe me.
Hayden sighed and sat down, leaning against the wall. “Nothing.”
“You shouldn’t lie to your best friend.” Even I knew that—and Hayden was the only one who thought I was smart. He thought I was so smart I could even go to college, but when Mr. Akens, our teacher last year, heard Hayden he’d just snorted. So maybe not.
“But I’m not supposed to tell the truth.” Hayden looked up at me and I could see he was going to cry.
Grandma hated when I cussed, but I had a feeling this was a “shit” kind of moment.
“Telling me doesn’t count.” That seemed right to me, anyway.
Hayden didn’t seem to want to argue about it. “You can’t tell anyone. He’ll hit me again if you do.”
“Who hit you?” As soon as I asked, I knew it was a stupid question. Yeah, maybe I didn’t need to go to college. “Your dad?”
Even my mom hated his dad and she was what Grandma called a party girl. Evidently that meant you had sleepovers and drank beer, but she never hit anyone.
Hayden nodded and started crying. Hell and damnation. That was what Grandma said when she dropped the can of green beans on her toe. What was I supposed to do?
Sitting down beside him, I shoved one arm between him and the trash bag and wrapped my other around his back. I gave him a hug but maybe it was too hard because he kind of squeaked like a dog toy that I’d stepped on. “Sorry.”
Had I broken him?
I sighed when Hayden shook his head and leaned into me. “Hug me again. Just not that big.”
Hayden wasn’t usually that bossy, so I knew he was upset. “What happened?”
Were we going to have to leave? I’d seen a movie last week about these kids that had left home and lived on the street. I wasn’t sure that was such a good idea, but Hayden was still crying, so it seemed like it might be our only choice.
“He found my treasures and got angry.” Hayden took a few deep breaths that sounded rough, like Grandma right before she started coughing.
“Why’d he get angry?” I wasn’t sure what was in Hayden’s treasures, but unless he’d stolen something and the cops were coming for it, I wasn’t sure why his dad had hit him. The only time Grandma had hit me was when I’d stolen a candy bar from the gas station on the corner.
“’Cause my treasures are bad.” Hayden’s lip started quivering and then he started crying quietly again. “I tried not to be bad, but I can’t help it. He got angry and threw my treasures out and then got drunk. Once he was asleep I got them out of the trash, but you’ve got to keep them safe for me.”
“It’s not alive, is it? Grandma said no more pets because she hates Rufus and can’t wait until he dies.” Rufus was Mom’s dog and one of the only things Mom was good about taking care of, or at least that’s what Grandma said when I asked her why she let Mom keep Rufus when I couldn’t have a frog.
Hayden shook his head. “No, it’s just treasures.”
“What kind?” Even I knew I was missing something.
What kind of junk got the stuffing beat out of you?
Hayden’s eyes got sad and he looked at the ground. “You’re going to hate me too.”
“Why would I hate you?” That sounded crazy. Maybe it was something alive. “I didn’t hate you when you told on us that I was the one who talked you into skipping school.”
Grandma had threatened to get her wooden spoon out when she’d figured out what we’d done, but when I told her it was to take Hayden to go see Santa at the mall since his dad wouldn’t, she hadn’t been that mad anymore. She’d just said I had more compassion than common sense.
Hayden smiled. “But you were right. I got the book I asked Santa for.”
I’d asked for a whole list of stuff just in case Santa had been feeling generous, but all Hayden had wanted was a book about Disney stories. Grandma said I’d been stupid and greedy, but she’d just smiled and said that Hayden was so sweet he’d get what he wanted. Especially since it’d been my idea and Grandma said dumb ideas couldn’t be rewarded.
Santa had a lot of unwritten rules.
“’Cause Santa knew you were better than me.” Hayden was always doing the right thing. It was kind of annoying sometimes.
Hayden smiled and seemed less like he was going to break apart from all the worries. I looked over at the bag. It wasn’t wiggling. Was it dead? “Is it dead? Grandma won’t let me keep anything dead in the house. It’ll attract bugs.”
Grandma hated bugs.
Hayden snorted and shook his head. “No, it’s just clothes and stuff.”
“Why are clothes bad?” Mom always said I wasn’t the brightest bulb in the box, but that didn’t make sense. “Were you trying to run around naked or something?”
That didn’t sound right either.
“No.” Hayden shook his head again. As he sat up and pulled his bag closer, he winced again.
“Are you hurt? That doctor over at the little clinic near the titty bar isn’t expensive, and Grandma said he’s just as good as a real doctor when I broke my arm falling off the roof.” I didn’t have much money, but I’d managed to save twenty dollars under my bed from doing chores around the trailer park for people. That might be enough.
“It’s okay.” Hayden leaned into me and rested his head on my shoulder, so I braced myself and tried to keep a good hold on him. It was hard to do without squishing him, but Hayden liked hugs. Just when no one could see us. That was another thing his dad had problems with. Evidently hugs were for sissies, but when Grandma heard him say that, she’d threatened him over the fence with her broom.
Mom had said to be careful poking the bear, but Grandma had just said the man was too scared of her shotgun. We’d all decided not to tell him it hadn’t been fired in years and probably didn’t work.
When Hayden pulled the bag closer, still wincing, I knew I had to look inside even if it was dead, or worse, bugs. Grandma was going to kill us if he brought a roach into the house. She about took a flame thrower to one last summer when she found it in the kitchen.
“So what is it?” It was time for my brave face. Hayden might not believe it, but he seemed nervous enough that I’d try anyway.
Hayden sighed and it sounded kind of worn out, like he was done with everything. “You promise not to hate me?”
“That’s stupid. I’ll only hate you if you brought bugs in or something dead. I don’t want Grandma coming after me with that spoon again, and you’ll tattle on us.” She might not spank Hayden since his dad had already whooped him, but I wouldn’t be so lucky.
He giggled. “It’s not gross. They’re treasures. That means important and special. Don’t you remember the pirates we saw in the video in class?”
“Gold or jewels?” Maybe running away hadn’t been such a stupid plan.
He giggled again. “No, but some of it sparkles.”
This game was getting frustrating.
But at least bugs didn’t sparkle. Well, unless they were lightning bugs. Grandma might not mind those. “What kind of treasure sparkles if it’s not gold?”
Had his dad knocked him on the head?
Hayden smiled as he sat up and started to open the bag. “The best kind. Look.”
He didn’t seem worried anymore as he pulled at the knot. “They’re beautiful.”
I’d be excited—whatever it was about—because it was his and special, but I wasn’t so sure whatever in his bag was really a treasure. I was right.
It was clothes.
Trent and Hayden have been together for as long as they can remember.
Best friends. Boyfriends. Now lovers looking to discover a new side of their relationship, all they want is to be together and to get out of the poverty that surrounds them at every turn. Unfortunately, Trent knows that with family stacked against them and the secrets Hayden must hide, it won’t be easy. But he’ll protect Hayden with everything he has.
No matter what he has to hide from everyone else, all Hayden has ever needed was Trent’s love and acceptance—and he’s always had it. No matter how different he felt or what he confessed to Trent, Hayden has always known Trent would be right there beside him. But with wolves closing in at the door and desperation rising, he knows finishing high school and getting away might be harder than they’d ever expected.
Surrounded by anger and people who would never understand their relationship, they know college will be their safe haven, but only if they can fight the deck that seems to be stacked against them.
Story Contains: MM sexual content, BDSM elements, spankings, age play, and gender-fluid dressing.