I'm a super lucky mom--I have two wonderful, smart and kind daughters, ages 12 and nearly 9. And I'll freely admit that up until I had children of my own, I was a bit out of touch with the younger set and the challenges they face. Now, of course, I'm all too touched by some of the all-too-frequent heartbreaking tales you see, in the news, yes, but especially on social media.
I'm a positive person, so one of my ways of dealing with situations that touch me deeply--but are out of my control--are to write through the emotions. So when I was trying to think of what to say for this post, I decided to let my writing speak for me.
In one of my co-authored books with TA Chase, I introduced a secondary character (much to her surprise and mine) who has become one of our most asked after characters--Xavier. Xav is a young man who was stunned to be rejected from his family in his mid-teens, and the reader meets him a couple of weeks after he'd been thrown to the streets. I know that far too few kids in that situation are fortunate enough to be helped by someone out of the kindness of their hearts. But I'd like to think that perhaps my characters could make someone think twice the next time they're in a position to do some good.
“Hi there.” This was accompanied by a not-so-subtle nudge to his side and Lukas glanced over…and down. “Buy you a drink?” A dark-haired beauty was working the angle, looking up at him through his glammed-out lashes. Rather than the sexy vibe Lukas would have expected, though, he seemed brittle—uncertain and maybe even a bit scared.
Lukas barely kept himself from shaking his head—not at the offer, but at just how young the young men were looking these days. He was barely in his mid-twenties and he felt ancient next to this cute little thing. “I appreciate it, but I’m all set.” As his admirer’s face dropped dramatically and the seemingly genuine look of disappointment tugged at his heart, he felt the need to add, “I’m just not drinking tonight.”
That intent gaze flicked from his face to the bottle of water and back. “I can buy you another water.” His eyes begged for acceptance in a way that went way beyond a normal pick-up.
Lukas frowned, wondering what was going on with his new friend. His curiosity was going to kill him one of these days. He hoped he wasn’t making a huge mistake in opening a dialogue with this one. “Why don’t I buy you something? I’m Lukas,” he introduced himself.
Sheer relief crossed the young man’s face and his whole frame seemed to relax at once. It made him look tired. “Xav. Well, Xavier, but I go by Xav. And, um… A drink…”
Lukas took the decision out of his hands by catching the bartender’s attention, waggling the water bottle and holding up two fingers. When the drinks had been delivered, he handed a bottle to Xav and scanned the room for a seat. He wanted to talk to the young man and see if he could get him to open up. But the club was filling and about every available space was occupied. So instead he bent down close to Xav’s ear.
“Xav, how old are you?”
“Twenty,” came the immediate and obviously false answer as Xav drew himself up, as though standing straighter would add years to his appearance.
“Try again. I just want to know the truth, okay?” Lukas persisted and Xav’s false bravado wilted a bit.
“Truth,” Lukas reminded him.
“Sorry to have bothered you.” Xav sounded so down that Lukas made a snap decision. Any desire he’d had to find someone to take the edge off with tonight had been extinguished by their encounter.
“Tell you what,” he began, choosing his words carefully to make sure the young man had no illusions about what was on offer. “Let me take you out for a bite to eat and you can tell me about yourself. And you can stop with the cute, enticing looks,” he added as Xav brightened up at the invitation. “I’m not interested in more than a dinner companion.”
“Oh.” Xav’s gaze flicked around the room before he sighed. He looked back at Lukas soberly. “I’d like to, but… I really need to go home with someone tonight.”
Something in the way he’d worded that started things ticking over in Lukas’ head. “You actually want sex? Or you need a place to stay?” he asked as gently as he could.
He knew he’d hit the nail on the head when Xav’s lower lip trembled before he pressed his lips together tightly. “A place to stay,” he admitted quietly, his eyes huge in his face. “But most of the time you have to do the first to get the second.”
Lukas’ insides twisted in a gut-roiling combination of sympathy and anger. He thanked whatever deity existed that Xav had come up to him tonight instead of some other, less moral guy. He tried not to think of previous nights and what Xav might have gone through.
“Not with me,” he said firmly. “Come on. Let’s get out of here.” Xav didn’t move right away, and Lukas tried to reassure him. “No pressure. Just dinner and a place to crash tonight if you need it. Okay? Seriously—no offence, but I have zero interest in a kid your age.”
Conflicting expressions of curiosity, wariness and hope flickered across Xav’s face in rapid succession. “Why are you being so nice? You don’t even know me.”
Lukas wasn’t even sure himself. He began walking, cupping Xav’s elbow to usher him along and to his relief, he gave no resistance. “You seem like a good kid who’s had to grow up too fast.” He shrugged. “I had it easy. Maybe I just want to help.”
There was no response and he looked down at Xav walking willingly by his side. He dropped his grip from his elbow as they approached the exit then was startled when Xav moved closer and slid his hand into the crook of his arm, as though Lukas was escorting him. He pressed even closer as they neared the bouncer, and Lukas got the impression that he was nervous about the man. He deftly moved Xav across in front of him until he was walking on the opposite side as they passed.
Another question to add to the list of what he needed to know from Xav.
But first, dinner.
Just as they were almost out of the door, Lukas spotted Sergio coming in, dressed in clubbing clothes very different from what he wore to work. ‘Dressed’ might be stretching the description a bit. His pants—either leather or some facsimile—looked painted on, and Lukas had a feeling that his unbuttoned shirt would be coming off in about five seconds. He spotted Lukas and made a beeline for him.
“Lukas! You did come. I’m sooo glad.” He swooped in for a brief kiss and grope of his ass. Then he did an almost comical double-take as he finally realised Lukas had company. Sergio frowned at Xav before shooting Lukas a questioning ‘What the hell?’ look.
He beckoned Serge to follow them back out of the door, keeping an eye on Xav’s reaction. He was eyeing Sergio warily but didn’t budge from Lukas’ side.
“Um… He’s a bit…young for you, isn’t—?”
“Yes, which is why we’re just going to grab a bite to eat,” Lukas interrupted Sergio’s incredulous statement of fact. At Serge’s sceptical expression, he added, “You’re welcome to join us if you like.”
Sergio narrowed his eyes shrewdly, studying Xav. Lukas felt him grip his arm even tighter. He pointedly raised his eyebrow at his friend, who finally nodded. “Sure. I was planning on drinking my dinner, but I know calories from food would probably make you happier with me.”
Xav looked like he had no idea what to do now, and Lukas could sense that he was about a second away from calling the whole thing quits and disappearing on him.
“Come on, let’s go then. I have a feeling this one’s really hungry. Still growing. You remember those days, don’t you?”
Sergio’s expression softened a tad. “Like they were yesterday. Which they were. I’m not that much older than you. Okay. Just across and down a block is a good café that’s open late. We can probably still get a table if we hustle.”
He turned word to deed by leading the way at his customary fast clip along the sidewalk to the corner, then crossed the street. Lukas and Xav trailed along in his wake as he wove easily in and out of late night revellers in the nightclub-laden part of town.
Sergio breezed into the café’s entrance and was already being led to a table by the time they’d caught up with him.
“Thank you, beautiful,” he said to the hostess who’d seated them, adding a wink for good measure. Her gaze dropped to his nearly bare chest as she turned away and he grinned wider before buttoning up. To Lukas’ knowledge, Sergio had zero interest in females—he was just a consummate flirt and no one was safe from being on the receiving end of his wiles. Except, hopefully, Padraig.
“Do you know what you want to eat, Xav?” Lukas asked. The young man hadn’t said a word since before they’d left the club and he was beginning to become concerned.
Xav parted his lips as though to answer, then shrugged, toying with his menu but not really looking at it.
Lukas began to regret inviting Sergio to join them. Xav seemed incredibly uncomfortable in his presence and the barriers had gone way up. Sergio continued to watch Xav closely, and Xav squirmed under his regard. He glared at Serge, wishing he’d cut out the examination.
Xav finally tossed his menu aside. “I don’t want to get in the middle of you two. I mean, I don’t want to cause trouble. I’d better go.” He pushed back in his chair and made to rise, but Lukas stopped him with a gentle but firm grip on his arm.
“Stay. I promised you a meal at least. Serge, be nice.”
“I am,” Sergio protested. “Just wondering what the story is here. Seriously, you do not need the kind of publicity getting photographed alone with this boy would give you. Which is why I came with you as a chaperone. You’re welcome.”
“Photographed?” Xav asked with a confused expression. “Are you someone famous or something?”
“Or something,” Lukas muttered before answering Sergio. “I doubt anyone recognised me anyway.”
“You’d better hope not, especially not with club-baby on the make here.” Serge cocked his head and looked at Xav. “You’re not a pro, are you?”
Xav furrowed his brow, then his eyes widened dramatically and he shook his head.
The server arrived, so they decided on their meals, with Lukas ordering more than he needed in case Xav’s appetite really exceeded his modest request. Once they were alone again, Lukas turned to Xav.
“What exactly did you mean about getting between us?”
Xav shifted in his seat. “Well… Aren’t you like a couple or something? I mean, you fight like one and he kissed you, so I thought…” He trailed off as Sergio and Lukas both laughed.
Sergio leaned in and patted Xav’s hand. “First of all, no. We’re just friends. Well…for the most part. And since I don’t think that Lukas will be doing anything with you that would affect a relationship anyway, it wouldn’t have really mattered.”
Xav’s relief was evident in his expression and he relaxed again.
Lukas felt a pang of empathy at how close to the surface all of Xav’s emotions seemed to be. He hadn’t yet developed a hard skin, which might be a good thing. Maybe things hadn’t been as bad as Lukas had feared. “Thank you for being concerned, but there’s nothing to worry about. We’re all friends here. So why don’t you tell us a little bit about you?” Lukas encouraged.
The young man paled a bit and avoided eye contact. Lukas could almost see him trying and discarding different answers.
“Truth,” Lukas repeated his warning from earlier in the evening, and to his gratification, it seemed to have the same effect as it had then.
“I’m just…on my own now. My parents… They didn’t want a gay son, so when they found out a couple weeks ago…” He paused and let that thought go unfinished. “I thought I’d be able to get a job, find a place to live, but it’s hard when you don’t already have a place. So, well, I go to the club each night and, you know…” He shrugged, looking down at his hands on the table miserably. “I picked you tonight because you seemed nice.”
Lukas met Sergio’s horrified gaze. He swallowed past the lump in his throat, wishing that Xav had had parents like his own, who, while they hadn’t been thrilled to learn of their athletic son’s ‘unusual’ bent, had at least continued to claim him as their own and supported him in their own slightly bewildered way. That involved a great deal of avoidance of the topic, which was just fine with Lukas.
Their food arrived, and Xav didn’t waste any time in tearing into his. Lukas’ meal was bitter on his tongue, considering everything, and he ended up giving half of his plate to Xav. He noticed that Serge, who had ordered the same thing as Xav, had surreptitiously given him part of his meal as well.
It wasn’t until Xav had started to slow down that Lukas returned to their conversation. “Where have you been sleeping?” he asked, and got an arched eyebrow in response. He winced as he realised that was evident from his story, at least the club pick-up part of it. “Every night?” he tried to clarify.
“Well, no. If I strike out or get asked to leave before morning”—his voice was nearly a mumble at this point—“I bench-surf in the park.”
“Jesus, kid. You could get killed!” Sergio burst out, looking extremely upset. “Can’t you go to a shelter, or—”
Xav was shaking his head. “It’s sometimes worse in there, from what I hear. Especially since I don’t have anyone to watch my back. Plus, they give priority to families.” He sighed. “And I’m a minor…” He took a sip of water.
Lukas had heard enough. “Xav, I want you to come stay at my place.” Sergio turned his way, but Lukas didn’t look at him, instead watching Xav intently. “I want to help you get on your feet and give you a safe place to live.”
Xav, completely still, stared at him for a long time then switched his gaze to Sergio. He dropped his eyes then raised them to meet Lukas’. “Do you want—?”
“I think I’ve clarified that I don’t want a damn thing from you, and I especially don’t want you offering ever again,” Lukas growled then eased up when he noticed Xav’s unease. “I just want to help you out. Pure and simple.”
“I don’t know. I mean, he thinks you might get in trouble…” Xav nodded towards Sergio.
Sergio interjected, “Oh hell, kid, take his offer. If it comes right down to it, I’ll vouch for the fact that there was nothing but altruistic intentions.” He waved the server down for the bill. “So where do you stash your stuff?” He impatiently threw down some bills and rose.
Lukas hadn’t even thought of that, but Sergio was right. Xav must have more than the clothes on his back. He stood to join Sergio and Xav followed suit.
The beginnings of a smile hovered at the corners of Xav’s lips. “Inside a tree,” he confessed.
Lukas laughed, relieved to see the stress on the young man’s countenance easing the longer he spent in their company. “Well, let’s go retrieve it. This I’ve got to see. Then we’ll head to my house. All right?”
Xav looked at him with something like gratitude before he averted his gaze, his eyes suspiciously shiny.
Sergio didn’t look unaffected either. He roughly cleared his throat. “Yes, well, I think I’ll call it a night after all. Too full to dance. Lukas, I’ll see you tomorrow at the stadium, okay? Let me know if you need anything,” he finished with a meaningful emphasis on the last word and a quick cut of his eyes to Xav.
Lukas nodded. “Thanks, man. I think we’ll be just fine.” He gave Xav a quick side-arm hug then released him to give Sergio an embrace.
“Thank you,” Lukas whispered quickly.
“Just be careful,” Serge returned just as quietly then stepped away and left with one last wave of his hand.
Lukas smiled at Xav and got an actual smile in return. “Okay, let’s go grab your things and then head home.”
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