"When we woke again it was about six o'clock and we made the decision to head back to Ocean Beach. I don't know why, but were drawn to that spot. Perhaps it was because that's where we first met, perhaps not. I don't really know. We set off to catch a cable car and then took the bus back across the bridge all the way to the grocery store. A quick visit inside and we emerged with more provisions to see us through the rest of the day.
"We expected to find a few people in the arches when we got back, but there was just one person there - an older bloke early twenties, dark, greasy hair, unshaven, rough looking. It was only when we sat down that Dave and I looked at each other - a sort of "I don't trust him" look.
"The guy looked over to us and acknowledged us with a nod of his head and we nodded back before opening our grocery bag to munch on the candy bars that we had bought. It was then that I noticed him looking at us:
"Don't suppose you have any of those going spare?" he asked. "I haven't had anything to eat for two-days and I'm starving."
I knew how he felt, so I reached into the bag and pulled out another candy bar and threw it to him. He caught it deftly and thanked me; tearing off the wrapper he devoured it in seconds.
"Thanks for that," he said as he finished eating.
"You guys on the streets, too?"
He moved closer to us.
"Six-months," it was Dave.
"Yeah? What about you?"
"Me - I'm new to all this, only been homeless for a week or so."
"Newby, eh? I've been seven-years. Man, it's a rough life. Traveled all over the place - started out in Miami. I'm Charlie - what're your names?"
Dave and I introduced ourselves.
" Where you two from?"
He settled himself in front of us.
"I'm from Oakland," I said.
"You?" he asked Dave.
"Originally, Ohio, but lived in San Francisco since I was six."
"Never been to Ohio," said the stranger. "Oakland, that's Bay Area, isn't it?"
"So what's the story - you two friends at school, or something?"
"No, we just met a few days back."
"Nice to have someone to hang out with. Any more of those candy bars goin' begging?"
I reached into the bag, handed him another candy bar and he accepted it with a nod of his head.
"I think I spotted you a couple of days back - on the beach, looked kinda chummy, thought you must be friends from school," he said, between mouthfuls.
We said nothing.
"So what's the story, then?" he asked again.
"Nothing too exciting - trouble with the folks," I said.
"You, too?" he asked of Dave.
"Me, I ain't got no folks - kids home - ran away when I was 14 - been on the streets ever since."
"No family at all?" I asked.
"None. Just me - way I like it. Free and easy lifestyle, do odd jobs for cash or food, I get by. Bit like yourselves, I guess."
We must have looked puzzled.
"Well, you've got food here and unless you stole it from the grocery store back there, I guess that means you've got cash, right?"
"A few dollars - like you, did an odd job," I said.
"A few dollars can go a long way if you know how to spend it," he said.
He stood. "Thanks for the candy - see you around."
He walked away, heading for the beach and Dave and I heaved a sigh of relief."
"Jesus, Tony - I thought he'd never go. I'm not so sure I'd have told him I had some money, though."
"Couldn't very well do anything else, could I?"
"Guess not. Still, he's gone - hopefully that'll be the last we see of him."
"I think, on reflection, we should have made an exit ourselves, but we didn't - we stayed put. The candy bars soon disappeared and a quick check when Dave went for a pee told me I had seven dollars and twenty-five cents left from the forty dollars Joe had given me. It wasn't going to last too long, I knew that. As it turned out, it didn't last the day.
"By mid-afternoon, we had fallen asleep, tired from having woken in the early hours and the activity which followed. When we woke again, it was to find that Charlie had returned and had prepared a fire. I nudged Dave when I spotted him:
"I am now, what is it with you and this need to wake me all the time? You wanna kiss me, again, or something?"
"Our friend's back!"
"Oh, Christ, that's all we need. Come on, let's go down to the beach."
We stood and gathered up what few things we had and began to make a move, but were stopped by Charlie's voice near to the fire.
"Wanna share the fire?" he asked.
"Actually, we're just making a move."
"It's no problem - least I can do after those candy bars, besides, it's cold down there tonight."
"That's okay, honest - but thanks."
We started to head off, but were stopped again.
"You two gay?"
"What makes you ask that?" it was Dave's voice.
"Not denying it, then? Still, be hard to, the way you were huddled together back there."
" Like you said, it's cold tonight," I ventured.
"All more reason to share the fire."
"We gotta go," Dave again.
"Hey, I've nothing against your type - just being friendly, that's all."
"Appreciate it," I said, "but like we say, we gotta be going."
"Where to? Ain't nowhere to go this hour of the day."
He was right - where the hell were we going? The beach would be cold and at least the arches were sheltered and there was a fire. Still, neither of us trusted him, so a move it would have to be.
"We do appreciate it, but we really do have to go," I said.
"Suit yourselves," he said. "Only before you go, how about handing over those dollars you've got stashed?"
My heartbeat got faster in that instant.
"What dollars?" I asked.
"Don't play games, I know you've got money and two pretty boys like you should have no trouble getting more, if you know what I mean."
Actually, I didn't, but Dave did.
"Now wait a minute, I may be gay, but I'm no prostitute."
"When you're desperate, you'll do anything - I've been there - sucked dick, been sucked, fucked and been fucked and all for a few dollars. For a straight guy like me, it ain't pleasant, but it helps me survive and for two pretty queer-boys like you, well, should be a breeze."
Dave began walking from the arches and I started to follow, but Charlie stood and walked after us, calling out.
"How about I let you suck my dick? Would that be worth a few dollars?"
"I'd rather fuck my Grandmother," was Dave's reply.
"Yeah, well, let's see, shall we?"
Before we knew what was happening, Charlie had caught us up and grabbed hold of Dave by his jacket. Dave lashed out, but Charlie was taller, stronger and he held him in a firm grip - Dave kicked out, but wasn't even close to hitting him and I froze as Charlie twisted Dave round so they were both facing me - he held Dave by his arms, which he had maneuvered behind Dave's back.
"Let me go," screamed Dave. "I ain't got no money."
"I know you have."
"He hasn't," it was my voice. "I have, but he hasn't - let him go and you can have it."
Charlie looked at me and smiled. It wasn't a pleasant smile, more of a sneer.
"That's all I wanted in the first place," he said.
"Let him go, then?"
I hesitated and looked at Dave, his face contorting with pain as Charlie held him in a firm grip.
"I'm not going to ask again," said Charlie, his words bringing me back to reality.
I reached into my jeans pockets and pulled out the loose change I had - it totaled two dollars and twenty-five cents and I held it out to him.
"Put it on the ground."
"Now let him go."
"You must think I'm stupid - how much is there, a couple of dollars? Where's the rest?"
"There is no more."
"Why don't I believe you?"
"If that's all he's got how can he give you more?" It was Dave.
"You stay quiet or I'll break your arms."
I heard Dave yell out in pain as Charlie raised Dave's arms in order to show that he could do what he said.
I tried to bluff my way out of it.
"That's all I got - honest it is. You know how quick money goes, just take it and let Dave go."
"Listen, pretty boy, I want every cent you got and I know you got more than that and if I don't get it then this pretty boy ain't gonna be so pretty anymore."
"What do you mean?" I asked.
Charlie moved closer to his fire and pushed Dave to the ground, his face inches from the flames.
I heard Dave yell out and I called out to Charlie to stop.
"Okay - fine - you win," I called.
I bent down and unfastened my shoe, retrieving the remaining five dollars from it and I placed it with the coins from my pocket.
"There - that's it - that's everything. Nearly eight dollars is all I got, now let Dave go."
"Eight dollars, eh? That's more like it - now you wouldn't be lying to me, would you."
"No! That's all I got, honest it is."
He studied me for a few minutes and then said: "Know what, kid, I believe you."
"Then let Dave go."
"Not yet. I wanna see what you both got in your pockets, first - come over here."
I had no choice but to walk to where Charlie stood, Dave on his knees, his arms still being held up his back in a firm grip, his face perilously close to the flames of the fire. As I got closer, I could see that Dave's cheek was red from the heat and I wanted to hold him, to tell him it would be okay - we would be okay, but there was no way that I could do that.
Charlie spoke again as I approached.
"Okay pretty boy, turn out your pockets."
I did - they were empty.
"Okay, now turn out his."
I knelt down and reached into the pockets of Dave's jacket, pulling from them the remaining packets of condoms and boxes of lube - it was all he had. Dave looked at me and smiled and I smiled back.
"Well, now, looks like you two were gonna be pretty busy," said Charlie, as he looked at the collection.
I said nothing. I noticed his grip on Dave relax a little and that's when I took the opportunity to make a move. From my kneeling position, I dived at Charlie, grabbing his legs and pushing with my weight - he let go of Dave and I heard a scream as Charlie fell backwards to the ground, caught by surprise, only the scream wasn't his, it was Dave's, as he fell forward into the fire. I turned to see Dave pull himself from the flames as Charlie quickly regained his composure and kicked out, catching me in my chest. I fell backwards and saw Charlie get to his feet and run past me.
I picked myself up and ran to Dave, who was holding his face.
"Dave, I'm sorry - it was impulse to strike out at him - I am so sorry, here let me see."
He removed his hand and I could see that the left side of his face had been burnt, but I couldn't make out how bad.
"It hurts, Tony - my face hurts and I can't see out of my eye. How does it look?"
"I dunno, I can't tell, but I think we ought to get you out of here, get you to a hospital, or something to be looked at."
"No - no hospitals, I'll be fine - let's just get out of here."
"I really think..."
"No, Tony - no hospitals. I hate hospitals. Please, I'll be okay - let's just get out of here."
Dave stood and I look around - Charlie had gone. I picked up the condoms and lube and slipped them back into Dave's pockets and we headed from the arches. The money wasn't where I had placed it - it had gone - all of it.
"Can you walk, okay?"
"I don't know where he's gone - he may be on the beach."
"I can't stay here - he may come back - the beach is a big place. Let's just go."
We walked from the arches, the cool air made me shiver and I helped Dave to the beach and we sat by the rocks.
"Wait here," I said and ran off towards the ocean, returning a moment later with two wet t-shirts.
"Here, let me see that face of yours."
Dave turned his head and smiled.
"You gonna kiss me again?"
"Soon," I grinned, "but first let's get this cleaned up. This may hurt a bit."
"It already does."
I carefully wiped a wet shirt across Dave's face as gently as I could and I felt him wince with pain.
"That's okay - it feels good. How's it looking?"
"Not too bad - the redness is going down, but that was from being close to the flames - now I've wiped away the smoke, there's just a small burn below your eye and some of your hair's been singed, but that's not too bad."
I stopped wiping and asked Dave to open his eye. He did.
"It's a bit blurred, but I can see."
A feeling of relief came over me and I could feel the tears falling from my eyes. Dave looked at me.
"Hey, what're you crying for?"
"I dunno - relief, I guess. I mean if it wasn't for me you wouldn't be hurt."
He reached out to wipe at a tear falling down my cheek.
"How do you make that out?"
"It was me who told him I had money, wasn't it?"
"Hey - don't beat yourself up over it - he would have done what he did if he hadn't known, just to find out."
"No guesses - trust me, I've seen his sort before."
I looked into Dave's face - his beautiful face - it was smiling at me. I smiled back.
"Here, let me finish cleaning that up."
He turned his face so I could get to his cheek and I when I was through he looked back at me and smiled again.
"Here, put this jacket on, you must be freezing, " he said, noticing my involuntary movement. Dave started to remove his jacket and I stopped him.
"I'll be okay if you hold me."
He leant towards me and embraced me and I felt a warmth flow through my body as his lips met mine.
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