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Comforting Touch

by Wendell Locke

Finding Warmth

Edited by Talo Segura


I love the holiday season, after Cyber Monday sale thru New Year's Day specifically. I know most people would include Thanksgiving into the mix of the holiday season, but personally, I am not a huge fan. Thanksgiving for me has lost its meaning as a day of endless gluttony amid the modern fad diets, political discourses during these meals, and consumer interests from the notorious "Black Friday" and "Cyber Monday" sales that start on the same day. The timing sort of defeats the purpose of special discount days. Consumer sales used to be a charming event that went along with Thanksgiving like a cornucopia's offering, but it's grown into an unhappy muddle of things that no longer excite or inspire. So, thanksgiving had gone by this year with the usual amount of food, family bonding time at Target, Costco, and Best Buy.

The only thing of importance for me during this time, was finishing several online Continuing Professional Education courses. As a specialized accountant, I have to meet minimum "professional enrichment" hours each year, which I procrastinated about getting completed until Thanksgiving having held my license for more than a decade. It's a lot of reading, online exams, and redundant questions to stomach, without an equal helping of turkey. I hate having to do this every year, but as a manager, I had to maintain my credentials to keep the job, which I needed. This credentialling lasts at least for a year, then this cycle would have to be repeated again until I turned sixty-five and could retire. If doing the same thing over and over again simply to survive sounds like hell: the thought crossed my mind a few times as to whether I died and am now being tortured by Tom Ellis' Lucifer. Then again, that version of the Devil probably would have at least dropped by for a hookup from time to time before continuing the torture.

I shouldn't complain, because I don't really live one of those stereotypical boring accountants' lives of bean counting and penny pinching that people associate with my profession. I go out for dinner at local restaurants a few times each month, do heavy cardio workouts in practice for charity runs, and I am a board member at a local LGBT non-profit organization, on top of my regular day job. As for fun stuff, I've managed to date a few guys in between all of that, have experimented with several forms of kink, and just been me. Still, I've been feeling sort of empty for the last few months, maybe years. Lately, nothing seemed to satisfy me. The worst part of my malaise was created by my last relationship, with Zack, which I thought was a connection of love at first. Then, I quickly realized, after a few dates that it was morphing into something far too dark for me. Suffice it to say, that relationship left me even more unfulfilled than ever. Besides my love life though, things are fine, and I really shouldn't complain, so I tell myself. What I should do, is just find joy in what I am doing.

So now, I am just enjoying the moment, like heading to my favorite Chinese restaurant, Dumpling Garden, where I am about to get my dinner of Chinese takeout. It's ironic that I developed a taste for this kind of food as an ethnic southern Chinese guy, but what I cook is very different than what they offer. I am not even talking about the Crab Rangoon, chicken fingers, pork spareribs, or chicken wings, which are delicious by themselves, but I consider those to be American "faux" Chinese. No, I am talking about duck tongue, beef tripe, pan friend buns, and fried stinky tofu, which they serve for a northern Chinese clientele of college students. Those, who by all outward appearances, are basically just the Chinese equivalent of privileged WASP kids who can't give two-shits about the world around them. I like the cuisine though; even if I don't like the company. So I compromise by getting takeout rather than sitting down for dinner, whether I am eating with someone or in this case alone.

As I neared the familiar front of the restaurant, something caught my ear. My eyesight at night is horrendous due to my glaucoma, despite the new corneal transplant, but my ears have always been a very well serving sense at night, and I have my five-foot long white cane. I can clearly make out the noise, someone is sobbing. I know from the daytime, when I've walked along this street there is a small alleyway right next to the restaurant. Usually during the day, unsuspecting passersby have their senses regaled with fragrant aromas whafting on the hot steam escaping from the vents. Now though with the darkness of a long December night and the chill of winter, the alleyway should not be drawing any attention. The sound of sobbing continued unabated and I could make out the sound of a man, perhaps a younger man, based on the pitch and slight variance in tones that people lose as they age. I could have ignored the sobs and wailing, I could have just walked into my favorite restaurant grab my usual order, then walked away thinking nothing more, like most pedestrians appeared to be doing. However, I am not that kind of person and I don't like the thought of someone in pain, suffering alone.

So I entered the alleyway, calling out, "Hello, are you okay?"

The sobs continued unabated, I followed the sound towards what appeared to be a hot air vent from Dumpling Garden's kitchen. As the sobbing grew in volume with my approach, something else caught my senses. I walked nearer to my quarry, there was a unique odor. If you take a men's locker room at a gym at around 7 PM when everyone is finishing up after their nightly sessions, week old socks that you should have tossed into the hamper rather than continuously wearing them daily, and a memory of a porta potty from an amusement park in the heat of summer, then you might get close to the smell. Thoughts entered my mind as to what I might discover based on the sound and smell. I had heard dead bodies have putrid smells. I wondered if I might stumbling onto a serial killer's latest victim? Is the sobbing the killer's regretful lamentations? Would I be the next victim? Fuck, I hated having such a creative imagination.

I spoke again, with more force and louder, so anyone on the sidewalk could hear my final words before a psychopath guts me. They would at least acknowledge I was trying to be a good Samaritan.

"Can I help you with something? I heard you from the street."

In between sobs, a bitter voice called out, "Let me die…just…let me die!"

At this point, I probably should have backed away, grabbed my dinner, and left this guy to his misery. My eyes could not make out any details of his features, or his clothing, in the dim alleyway. At least I could see shapes. There was a shadowy human form curled up near the hot air vent. It did not take too much reasoning to identify this guy was probably homeless and squatting in a spot that would keep him warm.

Despite living in one of the wealthiest countries in the world with a GDP that should eliminate things like want, hunger, and homelessness, the United States is a picture-perfect example of a Dickensian nightmare. Most people are too busy with their own lives most of the time to care and those of us who do care can't do enough to stop the suffering. The holidays have progressively gotten worse over time. While local food banks get lots of donations, they don't have enough logistic support to get food to the needy. There are charities that get plenty of volunteers to help make impoverish kids' Christmas slightly better, with presents and visits from Santa Claus. Volunteers for homeless shelters, public kitchens, and adult assistance programs see far less support, as they are not tear-jerking concerns for local news outlets. Churches open their doors too, but their volunteer pools are just as strained, if not more so than the shelters, with their reduced attendance. The idea of Christian charity has become a double-edged sword with all the abuse allegations, money laundering for the mob, and trust issues that exists now. I knew all of that and I knew I couldn't do anything for him.

I walked away.

As I waited in line to grab my dinner order, guilt pricked my soul, cold, like the icy chill in the air. I couldn't have done anything for him, I couldn't change reality and make whatever had left him homeless go away. I was in a decent financial position, but what kind of support could I give at that moment that might change things for him? The sobs from earlier still echoed in my head as I made my decision and placed an additional order for mini-soup dumplings, a bottle of water, and a rice combination plate of ginger beef.

I knew from experience that those dumplings are soothing for unhappy people; I probably ate three or four orders worth after my breakup with Zack. The ginger beef with rice would give him a decent meal; ginger from my memory of Chinese medicine is supposedly a good food to eat in cold weather to warm the body. At least that's what my grandma used to tell me. To be fair, I hate biting into ginger as I find the warm fuzzy aftertaste off-putting, but I like the liquid from ginger, so I eat around the chunks when I order this particular combination.

I know it's stupid, the guy could be an alcoholic or drug addict, unhappy because he hasn't had his fix, of whatever, yet if I didn't want to have nightmares with chilling sobs haunting my dreams, I needed to alleviate my conscience by doing something practical, even if it was likely a wasted effort. It took the kitchen another twenty minutes to make my additional order, so my own dinner would likely need to be reheated in the microwave when I get home.

Walking down the same alleyway again with my white cane tapping along familiar tar, I heard the same sobbing. At least I knew he was still there as I spoke, "Hey, like I know you want me to leave you alone and stuff, but I got extra food. If you are interested, I can leave it near you."

His sob subsided slowly, then he went silent. I could tell his head was lifting up towards me as he spoke softer with a guarded reaction to my offer, "Don't want you to be near me."

Hearing a break in his anguish even though it was still the same words of loneliness and isolation, I took my cue to get closer, probably double the length of my cane or around ten feet, "Why I don't just leave the paper bag of food here. There's utensils and a bottle of water inside along with napkins."

Leaving the food, I walked backwards until I reached the entrance to the alleyway before I spoke again.

"I hope you like mini-soup dumplings and ginger beef. Careful with the soup dumplings. They're fresh and hot. You should try to sip the soup out first or swallow the dumpling down whole. I think you will find it makes you feel slightly less sad."

As I heard the rustling of the paper bag, I began to turn my head towards the main street, when I heard a very soft, "Thank you."

The rest of that night was boring, after that. I got home, reheated my cold Chinese takeout, and ate. Then I worked out for an hour on my treadmill listening to a gay romance audiobook. The events from earlier though were still in my mind. I imagined the homeless guy in the alley enjoying his dinner, maybe one of the few good meals he has had in a while. I imagined him burning his tongue on the soup dumplings in his first attempt at biting and tasting, just like I did years ago. I imagined him finding his way to enjoy them, then filling himself up on the ginger beef and rice. I could imagine so many wonderful things, but ultimately, I won't ever know what he actually felt or did, as I wasn't there with him.

The next day was a normal workday in December, I had to review the investment and compliance records of several tax advantaged accounts. Argue with a customer over their use of electronic transactions that clearly identify individual social security numbers, and settle disputes between New York State and New Jersey contractors over who had priority over accounts. That ironically turned out to be a Connecticut contractor as the end-user was registered in New Haven, CT and commutes into the area. That's normal for my workday, solving other people's problems and making sure the world doesn't collapse on itself out of share ego and ignorance.

When the workday was over, I considered my options for dinner. Usually, I don't like to have more than one trip to Dumpling Garden per week. Only to eat out maybe two times each week, but it was not my usual routine. My father, who lives with me to save on costs and for my tax benefits, was off traveling with my uncle in China, revisiting their childhood haunts in Yunnan province. My younger sister had finally moved out of my home to make her fortune in the wonderful world of Cannabis agrobusiness. According to her it would make her a millionaire before she turned forty. My mother was enjoying herself with her chicken coop and expensive shopping sprees from my late stepfather's trust fund. It gave her an allowance of $10,000 a month along with two homes, several cars, and a few million dollars of artwork. Only my mother might have had plans including me, because she visited randomly and tried to get me to enjoy life with her. Luckily for me, my text to her returned with:

{Busy trying out the new Versace watches}

{Will be hitting up LV later}

So, it was either chicken drumsticks and broccoli with white rice, or a pizza from Domino, which ironically was only two blocks away from Dumpling Garden. I knew it was a longshot, but I went further up the street first to see if my mysterious hungry homeless guy was still there in the alleyway. To be clear, I know homeless people don't stay in one place, not that they don't want to, but because they can't. Local business owners may catch on and call the police to shoo them away, which is the business owner's right and I completely understand the problem of having a vagrant as a neighbor. Still I wish it wasn't like that.

As I walked down the alleyway again, I called out, "Hey, it's me the guy from yesterday with the soup dumplings and ginger beef. Are you still here?"

It was night time and I didn't see anyone, but I heard motion by the large dumpster. A human head popped up and answered me in the same familiar voice, "You got more food?"

The odor of his body was still very repellant, but I was happy he was still there, so I offered to buy him food again, "I am going to grab a pizza from Dominos, want me to get you something? The five ninety-nine carryout pizza with two-toppings are pretty good."

He laughed at me, revealing a boyish tone to his voice. "I haven't been asked something like that since I got kicked out of the dorms."

I stored away that little bit of detail he had revealed. "Well pizza is the universal food for college students and people looking for quick eats. I usually get pineapple and ham with a regular sauce, how about you?"

It takes him a little while to consider. "Sausage and green peppers with the alfredo sauce."

Nodding at his interesting choice, I asked, "What do you like to drink?"

He did not hesitate this time, "Fanta Orange Soda."

I called up Dominos and put in our orders right there in the alley, along with a Fanta orange soda for him and diet coke for me. It took me a about thirty minutes to get our two pizzas and soda back to the alley. In between everything, I realized, this was basically a date with a guy, who I had no interest in sleeping with or anything else sexual. Why was I so invested in his welfare? I am not a bad looking guy in my mid-thirties. From what everyone has told me, I definitely can get a hookup or even just a blowjob. However, the simple act of feeding this guy is keeping me interested. It must be those gay romances that I read, too many exaggerated plot twists of fake boyfriends and enemies turned lovers has finally ruined me.

Lifting the pizza box up with his order, I called over at the trash container with a smile, "Pizza delivery for…I don't know your name."

The guy heaves himself out of the trash and approaches me cautiously, "Call me Jason…" he points to my hand which is holding the pizza boxes, "can you put the pizza box on the ground?"

I placed the box containing his sausage and peppers with alfredo sauce on the ground along with his Fanta orange soda, then stepped back a few paces to give Jason space before replying, "Do you mind if I eat my pizza here with you? I promise I won't bite or try to bug you with obnoxious questions". He didn't answer me, just sat cross legged on the dirty ground and opened his box of pizza. I opened my pizza and ate it standing with my diet coke on the ground.

I wanted to see if there was anything else I could do beyond the meals, "You know Jason, there's a few shelters around this area, a warm cot might be better than a hot air vent?"

Jason shook his head and answered with a bite of pizza, "No…shelter…the guys there stole my stuff…and…" he paused for a second with a soft gasp barely audible, from fear I presumed, "….no I can't go there."

Nodding, I sipped my diet coke and consider my words. "Can I help contact someone to help you? Family, maybe."

Jason laughed, this time with a snort of derision as he greedily filled his mouth with an entire slice of pizza before he spoke. "My family is back in Indiana and they won't have anything to do with a faggot."

Okay, now that hit a nerve and sort of explains part of why I was drawn to this guy. I do believe in some variant of gaydar, but it's more experiential rather than a Spidey-sense to predict sexual orientation. I grew up reading stories about abandoned gay kids, looking up to literary heroes in secret who took them in, and tried to make the world slightly better. It's why I volunteered with the LGBT non-profit organization and why I accepted the position of being a board member, despite all the responsibilities and challenges that adds along with my day job. No one should be abandoned or forgotten simply because they are attracted to a member of their own gender or do not conform to social norms on what sex and identity should be. Jason might not have known it, but with what he just said, he had made sure he had an advocate with equal measures of righteous fury and honest conviction.

I cleared my throat trying to find the words, "I…uh…" and lamely outed myself, "am gay. I am gay too and…that's wrong…what your family did is wrong…"

There was no sound of chewing or soda drinking, I guess Jason was looking at me before he replied. "You don't I thought you were blind with that cane. How can you even tell a guy from a girl?"

Now it's my turn to laugh. I've been asked this throughout my life by family and boyfriends, "Being gay is a label that defines my interest in guys, who I've always felt more drawn to than girls. If you want to be more scientific in your definition of my sexuality, I am technically a demisexual with an attraction towards men romantically. It doesn't mean I can't get off on gay porn, because I do, but in real life, I need to be romantically involved with a guy for a while before I can be attracted to them due to my limited eyesight."

Jason closed the lid of his pizza box and sipped more soda, then asked, "What kind of eye disease do you have?"

I blurted out, "Glaucoma."

Jason sipped a little more soda, then continued his questioning, "Narrow Angle or Open Angle?"

I only ate half my pizza, so I offered the rest to Jason and placed the box on top of the other before answering him, "Narrow Angle and it was congenital from birth, not something I developed later on. Sounds like you have experience with this stuff."

Jason's head shook and he grabbed a piece of my half-finished pizza, "I was in a Pre-med program before my dad cut me off in June, heading into my final year too."

This guy has a lot of untapped potential, there must be more options out there for him, "Did you try getting financial aid or maybe a student loan? To hold you over for your final year and maybe into your grad program."

After an audible mix of chewing, sipping, and a burp, Jason responded, "I called up my college financial aid department after my dad cut me off, they had no money to offer. Then, I went to the banks for help, but they needed a cosigner for loans. I applied for scholarships, internships, and jobs left and right, but nothing came up. I didn't make many friends in school, because I was afraid of getting outed to my dad and what would happen, which I did to myself in the end. The few friends I made weren't local and couldn't offer me help or a couch to crash on. At the end of June, they kicked everyone out of the dorms and I was left on my own."

I wanted to do more for him now, but what was there to do with that sad story of his life now unfolding in my head. Invite him to live with me, wash him up, and offer him a bed, maybe my own? Fuck, this is not a romance novel, where the main characters find each other and lift the other one up from the gutter, literally in this case. Okay, I am a logical person, I could deal with this if I broke down the issues.

First, Jason couldn't be living on the streets. I don't have to be the one to offer the shelter, which I couldn't allow to turn into a masturbatory savior romance fantasy for me, when he was so sensitive and hurt by the people around him. I knew people who could help with that, in both my professional and charitable work. I also knew that most of those places were filled to the brim and Jason wasn't wrong, there were chronic problems with theft in those places along with other things. I am guessing a lot from the hesitation in his voice earlier. My imagination leads me into episodic plots from Law and Order: SVU. Alright, how about other options; maybe I could bring it up with the volunteers and see if anyone had a spare bedroom or something. If they do not, then I'll offer him lodgings as a final resort.

Secondly, he needs a steady source of food. Even if he is taken in by a volunteer or by me in the worst-case scenario, he isn't eating enough. I know the food programs provide a little support, but at this time of year, they're stretched thin. I had not been able to see him clearly as he hadn't gone into the light far enough for me to see the details of his features, but I knew the problems with his food supply. He could be spending an entire day in line for a paper cup of chicken noodle soup, without either chicken or noodle, and a stale piece of white bread. Sure, three to four hundred calories a day may not kill everyone, I know, because I tried that out for three months on the One Meal a Day diet, but it does deplete your body of vital nutrients. I also realized what the science behind it was based on after my successful weight loss. I started reading books about people, mostly holocaust survivors, who lived on that kind of diet for five years. I saw the pictures of their skeletal bodies, after the Allies liberated several concentration camps. I chose to lose weight that way, but after three months, I was lethargic and weak. I could only imagine where Jason was after six months under similar conditions. If I could have, I would have done nothing except sit him down in my kitchen and force feed him. But again, I could not be his answer. Maybe I could throw in extra cash for groceries for whoever volunteered to let him stay or if he did come to live with me, I would prepare high calories meal.

Lastly, he needs to get back in school or at the very least finish off his degree, if he's so close. Getting a degree isn't a requirement for jobs, but it's kind of a given nowadays. A bachelor's degree in medical sciences might help him open simple technician jobs and if he completed a few more courses, even nurse practitioner positions. These jobs could provide him the financial coverage to eventually become a doctor in his own right. Again, I was not his sugar daddy and honestly, I couldn't realistically fund a medical school education even if I wanted to. Not without drawing up money from either my home's equity, retirement investment funds, or, I shuddered, asking my mother for assistance. No, I couldn't be the financial support for him, I could help him find a job though.

Those thoughts swirled around in my head. Jason closed the lid of the final box of pizza.

"Thank you…what is your name?"

I had never offered my name, so I reached out with my hand. "Ben Go, like Bingo, you know" I laughed at the old preschool joke that became my nickname for life.

Jason laughed and took my hand. His hand felt warm and oily, probably from pizza.

"Nice to meet you Bingo. Thanks for all the food and the soda."

I nodded still holding his hand, "Will you be here tomorrow? I want to try and help you out, if you will let me."

He pulled his hand away with a pant of fear in his voice.

"The food and stuff were nice, I uh…"

Feeling a little hurt, but knowing his meaning before he completed the sentence, I looked at him.

"I am not propositioning you for sex or anything. You need help and I think I can offer it. Do you trust me enough to let me help you?"

It felt like an eternity, but he answered me.

"Yes, I trust you."

I went home that night alone, emailed several people, and made inquiries about temporary placement. I knew it was a long shot and I hated the idea of leaving Jason cold and alone in a dumpster, but this was a major commitment and took time. I emailed Marcus, who got me involved in the LGBT non-profit organisation, and was a fellow board member who could help me sort out assistance programs and check on volunteers. Theo, who was an ex-boyfriend from about six years ago, was the program director of a LGBT outreach initiative, we had talked in the past about providing support and counselling for homeless LGBT teens. I needed to touch base with him. Marie, a high school friend and openly bi doctor could help me out with sorting Jason's options for his education and career. We recently reconnected at a healthcare fair, where she was providing some inspirational speech about being a queer woman of color. When it came down to it, I was lucky in this way, I had lots of connections and old friends. I'm a natural introvert, but I knew sometimes you had to be outgoing in order to get things done.

After all my emails were sent, I paused to consider if all of this was overkill over one homeless guy. I wanted to help him, but I needed to be ready to deal with all the associated issues that came with it. Romance novels create elaborate plots, but there was so much I didn't know about in this area. He needed more support than I had ever offered in my life to another human being. Another thought came to my mind, when I considered his medical education. He needed to get a checkup, not only for all the diseases he could pick up on the street, but also if my interpretation was correct, he had been sexually assaulted at least once if not more at a homeless shelter based on how he reacted. This wasn't just my own growing emotional attachment to Jason; it was his own personal and mental health that had to be attended to as well.

The next morning as I heard Alexa deliver my daily briefing and weather forecast, I froze. It was currently raining outside with temperatures around forty-two degrees, but the rain would stop around midday, then the temperature would be declining down to eleven degrees fahrenheit overnight. I had important meetings today with several clients and my senior management to discuss financial targets and key compliance issues, so I couldn't skip work to look in on Jason. Hopefully, when I got out of work later in the day, he would be there in the alley. This also meant there was no time to waste making a decision, I had to do something tonight. I made up my mind when I heard the weather forecast to invite him home that night. Before I left for work, I prepared everything I needed to. I set aside a large space in my living room(;) and laid down a sleeping bag, several comforters, a nice pillow, towels, and even some old clothes and underwear. I hoped I didn't screw this up and he would still be there waiting for me.


People can't be trusted; they say one thing and do something else. So why did I trust Ben? He's nothing to me except a little extra food and someone to talk to. My mom and dad are pastors of a large evangelical organization, who loved me and said they'd supported me to do anything I wanted. That was until I went home during spring break and learned that mom had found a certain SD card that I had stashed away in a locked drawer. I knew I was gay when I was like twelve, everyone else noticed girls and I noticed the other boys. I never acted on it though and passed for a straight god-fearing boy with an abstinence band and all that. I had to be in our little slice of Indiana. That doesn't change who I am or what I wanted though, God didn't take away my interest or my desire. I got into biology and medicine primarily because it was the only thing that you could study openly, where wanting to see a naked guy is normal at least from anatomy books. Even in college, when other kids were experimenting with one another, I just kept quiet and tried to hide myself in studying and coursework. My dad had set up my college fund in his name, he kept close tabs on me and my activities as he did not want "anything dangerous" to affect the family or their organization's standing in the greater evangelical community. With headlines of extra-marital affairs and swingers couples of husband and wife inviting a third man into their relationship, it didn't take a brain surgeon to understand the heightened state of alert.

For my part, I kept my sexuality a secret. Most of the gay guys in high school were over-compensating the homophobia by trying to be way too flashy for my taste; the guys in college were more chill and relaxed, but since I was studying in liberal New England, my parents had me under even closer surveillance. A classmate of mine tagged me on Facebook with a girl, then I got interrogated the next day by my parents. When I turned in an essay on evolutionary biology, I got an angry call from my dad about writing filth and had to have a long drawn out discussion on the paper's "theoretical" thesis being just a working concept; though I do ascribe to biological evolution rather than creationism. I went to someone in our IT department at school to see if my computer had been tampered with. They quickly found a virus that was sending duplicate emails to both my professors and some unknown email address outside the university. After that, I gave up having a regular college experience, so I stuck to books. However, one good thing about living in college was that I finally got access to gay porn and websites that offered stories too. When I got my computer checked out and had all the viruses and other stuff removed, I was pissed off at my parents for everything, and decided to do something I had never done in my life. I searched for some gay porn and began downloading videos on the college's high-speed internet network. Over the last three years, I learned about things like Twink, Bear, cub, ebony, bondage, and so much more from those videos. Yeah, I know to other gay guys with loads of sexual experience, secret rendezvous with older cousins, locker room jerk offs after practice, and bromances that turn into orgies, my sexual awakening is vanilla and lame. I also gravitated more to gay fiction stories as I began to learn about the gay world, it opened my eyes to possibilities like love and fulfilling relationships that my parents would never in a million years believe possible for rotten sinners like me. My SD card contained the bulk of my internet downloads, the gay porn and several long stories from various websites about coming out, being in relationships, and starting loving families. Every Christmas break, every spring break, and every summer break, I went home with my SD card and laptop. The gay porn was my sexual outlet and the stories were my emotional outlet, where I could escape into imaginary worlds, where I could be loved for who I am.

It was stupid and risky to keep something like that, so close to my parents. I was just out for a few hours over spring break, going for a jog, then came home to my mom and dad screaming and hollering at my perverse interest. I was told that I was an adult now and they were done with me. Lucky thing for me was that mom discovered the SD card only one day before I had to head back to school, but I only had seventy dollars in my wallet, of which twenty-five dollars was spent on a taxi to the airport and my credit card was frozen. I did everything I could reasonably manage to do in the next two months to get my life in order post-coming out, but nothing worked out. Financial aid couldn't offer me any support, banks couldn't offer me a loan, businesses wouldn't offer me a job, including a low minimum wage McDonalds as other college kids had already taken all the available hours and positions. I had no money, no car, and no future. I pleaded my case with my college's dean, who suggested I go ask the local chapter of some college LGBT group, who offered me sympathy, but few answers and little more than a few free pizzas and coffee. Usually at this point in the stories I read online, something magical happened to reverses the tide and things got better. Things didn't get better and I didn't know if I could ever think about gay sex again in the same light as I did when watching porn or reading those stories.

So here I was again, waiting for a miracle. I was cold and wet, the hot air vent from the Chinese restaurant nearby unavailable as the owner had called the cops to kick me out of their alley after Ben left last night. I knew it was too good to be true, the two nights of food and warmth wouldn't continue. All I could hope for now, staring at the alley from the corner of an adjacent street as the rain soaked through me, was to wait for Ben to come by and maybe offer me some help. Maybe, he would get me another order of that dumpling with hot soup inside, or another pizza, even half of his would be fine.

The rain stopped at some point during the day, I walked around the block countless times. I should probably have gone to the church to get a stale muffin, or to a shelter's food line to get a cup of soup and bread. I knew I couldn't rely on Ben's kindness every day, I was nothing to him, just another homeless guy among thousands in a city of millions. When I had a warm bed, food, and amenities, I never really looked around at the homeless or thought about their problems. My parents being the good Christians that they wanted to portray, had us all serve thanksgiving turkey to homeless folks in shelters and give out wrapped gifts to poor kids. For the other three hundred and sixty-three days of the year, they were too busy raising money and promoting programs, sermons, and books. If Jesus really wanted to evangelize people into believing in God and him, then I doubt he'd just settle for being charitable for two days throughout the year for the cameras. It took me a while to learn how wrong I was about how the world really worked from the bottom up. Homeless people are still human beings, they're both kind and dangerous.

The day got colder and my body felt numb everywhere as I tried my best to move and stay warm. As night settled in without any sight of Ben, my mind began to wonder ever louder, what if he isn't coming? What if he couldn't find me any help? What if he forgot about me? I was easily forgettable, I thought. My parents could forget me and wash their hands of me after finding out I'm gay. My classmates in college who passed me by on the street now couldn't recognize me anymore from the other homeless people. Even the homeless people in the shelter, they didn't care about me either. My first time in a shelter, my roller bag of clothes and stuff was stolen. Then when it started getting cold, I stayed at another shelter, a couple guys held me down and…I don't want to go back to those memories. Fuck, I do not want to explore those memories about what those guys did or how everyone around me ignored what they did to me. Still, I can't deny it; I am easily forgotten by everyone and now I bet Ben has forgotten me too.

Hours must have passed, the Chinese restaurant's front light shut off. I think they closed around 11 PM or something. My heart sank and I couldn't help sobbing like I did the night Ben and I first met.


Fuck, I underestimated how much shit I had to get done and what deadlines I had to work with. It was thirty minutes to midnight. I needed to get to the alley, take Jason back home, and wrap him up in the warmest blankets I could find. The temperature was brutally cold and the streets were icing up fast, based on my cane's slick and slide, so I couldn't walk too fast. Fuck, he'll be hungry tonight, but I could steam some dumplings and make some ramen for a quick dinner, when we got back home.

I reached the alleyway entrance and called out, "Jason I'm here. Sorry it took so long."

Silence was my only answer, so I tried again and approached where the now "cold" hot air vent was. "Jason are you there? It's me Ben. You know Bingo. You don't have to hide from me."

I banged on the trash container and waited for his head to pop out, but nothing happened. A nagging fear came to my mind. What if he's unconscious inside the trash container, doesn't that happen with hypothermia at a certain stage. Fuck my dark thoughts. I opened the lid and used my cane to scour the container for something that resembled a human body. There was nothing, no one was in there. Maybe he went looking for me after Dumpling Garden turned off its hot air vent. I left the alley as quick as I could and began using my ears and nose to find Jason, like a bloodhound searching for a scent. I heard something like a soft sob that resembled Jason, but it was weaker than I recognised from before. I moved in that direction and once my nose caught his putrid body odor, I knew I was on the right trail. There was another small narrow alleyway across from Dumpling Garden, it was very out of the way and would probably not even be noticed by anyone unless they were looking for it specifically.

As the smell grew, I called out, "Jason, I'm here."


My eyelids were heavy and my breathing was irregular. From basic first aid and my limited medical knowledge, I knew these were bad signs. I couldn't really focus on the alley across the street anymore, nor sob as violently as I had started. The tear streaks froze on my face and my body convulsed from the combination of cold and freezing water on my skin. I thought I heard Ben call my name. I thought I could see him standing in front of the alley obstructing my view into the other one. Was I hallucinating? That was one of the last stages of hypothermia, right before death. Then comes the warmth from my heart pumping blood, as a line of defense, toward my skin. I looked forward to feeling warm one last time before I died, hearing Ben's concerned voice breaking through such a cold lonely world.

Something warm touched my face. I thought this must be the last stage. Ben's voice was calling "Jason, are you okay? I am so sorry I should have come earlier. Things got in the way and I had a deadline. Fuck, your body is freezing cold and icy. I'll call an uber to pick us up."

Time seemed to be moving faster now. Ben heaved me up and we slowly made our way to the sidewalk, where a waiting white sedan sat. The driver frowned at the site of me. Ben pleaded with an offer of an extra ten dollar tip and five-star rating. The warmth of the Uber ride was thawing my mind out from the icy hell it was trapped in. I started remembering events like my parents kicking me out, the last time I left my dorm with my roller luggage bag, and those men in the shelter who did things to me. While voices in my head kept repeating, "you are forgettable". My next vivid memory was of Ben hauling me up a set of stairs. For an skinny guy, he had decent stamina; although, I could tell he lacked the strength to support me fully. When we reached the top of the stairs, he laid me out on a soft warm sleeping bag.

Ben put his hand on my forehead and my carotid artery.

"You're still with me, good. I am not a doctor Jason; don't even have a small bit of medical training like you do, but I've read online that people suffering from hypothermic shock need to have all their wet clothing removed and get wrapped in warm blankets. I don't want you to think because I am into guys that I am using this as an excuse to touch you in sensitive areas or to sexually assault you in any way. I need to do this get you warm and I am wearing latex gloves as you can see just to keep skin on skin contact to a minimum."

I nodded and spoke my first words by instinct, "I trust you."

Ben started stripping me, first he took off my rancid sneakers, which had several holes like my socks beneath them. The socks came off next, revealing my naked feet, which I hadn't seen in several months, toenails were overgrown and blisters were very apparent. Ben next went to my tattered jogging sweat pants, revealing my boxer briefs and scarred lower legs beneath. Those guys in the shelter did a lot to my body with switchblades and teeth, things that might not kill me, but would leave marks nonetheless. Ben's eyesight being poor he probably interpreted them merely as bruises and standard markings on a worn body. He did not stop to question me as he started pulling off my tattered sweatshirt over my head revealing my naked torso with even more scares and a big slash across the chest. His wincing at the revelation of my chest meant despite his poor vision he could discern this was not a normal mark. Apologetically he sighed at me and he grabbed my rancid clothes and put them in a trash bag on the side without uttering a word, before he looked at my boxer briefs with questioning look at me.

I know he said he identified as gay and a demisexual, which was a concept I only began to understand in the last year as a sub-spectrum of sexuality. I didn't know if I fit into that category or not, but what he had done for me and was doing right then was something special, something that can't be put into a box of sexualities or identities. I mattered to him; I was not forgotten or alone when I was with him. That kind of existential feeling is deeper than any kind of attraction, any kind of love really; to be left alone for so long and then be acknowledged as someone, it's beyond words. Even if this man wanted to hurt me, I'd let him, because he validated my existence. So, seeing me naked wasn't a problem and I nodded, but Ben did not move.

He stammered softly, "Your underwear…I have spare underwear I can give you. I think yours is probably wet through…"

I coughed, "You can take off my underwear Bingo, you know."

He laughed at the use of that nickname then proceeded to remove my underwear, "Alright, I wish I could get you showered as well, but we should wait a little while before attempting hot water."

I nodded, feeling the warm dry air touching my groin as the last piece of my old clothes were removed. I pointed to the blankets on the side, "I was out in the cold throughout the day with rain water soaking my clothing freezing over time, my body core temperature probably can't take hot water for a few hours, but warm blankets would be good, like those."

Without paying any attention to the twitch of my hardening cock, he gingerly swaddled me in blankets, touching a few of my scars. He began to apologize profusely. "Jason, I am so sorry for letting you wait for so long. I knew the temperature would be dropping today and made up my mind this morning to let you stay, but I had a lot of work that got piled on my desk at the last moment. Fuck, you must think I ignored your needs for my own or something."

He didn't have to apologize; I was nothing to him really. He had his own life and his own issues to deal with, I knew that. He had done more for me in the last few days, in the last few minutes, than all the well-wishers and loose change throwing folk had done in the last six months. Why was he so hard on himself for having to work and having a life? Was he trying to audition for sainthood or something? He made me feel warm and comforted; really, what else could he do for me other than that. There was nothing lewd or overtly sexual about any of his actions, something I had learned to identify first hand during my early days out on the streets. Six months was a long time for a twenty-two-year-old to have no home, no money, and no life. I remember reading stories about gay and bi teens prostituting themselves in front of clubs and bars at night and getting paid by "johns," so I thought that might help at least for a while. Yeah, I am not above exchanging my body for food and money, when my skin was relatively clear of marks and only had a little grime. It had kind of worked out a little even though the gay sex was just guys wanting blowjobs or my ass for quick sessions, there was no love or care involved in any of it. It was an empty exchange like buying gas for your car. I was able to save some cash, got on Medicaid, and almost qualified for housing, until I got sick. I woke up one morning in a cheap youth hostel with my roller bag on my side. I was heading into the joint restroom to clean up a little and relieve myself, but when I tried to pee, an awful pain consumed my body. I stared down at my penis and noticed odd thick yellow discharges coming out rather than my usual liquid pee and my balls were inflamed and enlarged. I went to a free clinic and got the necessary drugs to help with the STD, which thank god was something like Chlamydia. After that, I stopped selling my body for money for what I hoped would be a month until the drugs effectively wiped out the bacteria. My savings dwindled again, which ended in me going to a shelter for the first time and losing my roller bag of clothes and my hard-earned savings. I learned after that how hard life was without a valid ID and money. I couldn't even get a cheap shared bedroom anymore, if I wanted to restart my unhappy career of prostitution. I had no way of getting medical assistance, and wearing the same clothing day after day had given me a distinct foul odor that most people avoided. The spiral of my life just kept piling up on me.

So yeah, Ben shouldn't apologize for not doing enough.

"You have done more than anyone else ever did for me."

Ben shook his head in disbelief. "I could have done so much more, you know if I cared more about you…"

Again, I didn't get what he meant, he cared a lot more than other people.

"You cared enough to come back and to check on me. You cared enough to look for me after I got kicked out of the alley that you told me to wait for you at. And you cared enough to bring me into your house, wrap me in blankets, and offer me new clothes."

Ben shook his head and I could see a sour expression on his face, which I knew was not directed at me but at himself.

"I could have done so much more. I prepared the blankets, towels, sleeping bag, and clothes earlier this morning after hearing the weather forecast. I knew you might be exposed to the elements for maybe a few hours and had enough time to google hypothermia stages. I could have called in sick, let the world spin out of control at work, and you would not have had to suffer any of that shit today waiting for me. I prioritized my work and justified the delay with my logical preparations ahead of your life Jason, don't you see that."

I stared at Ben and really looked at him for the first time, trying to understand this guy who took me in from the cold. He was not what you would call good looking in the traditional sense, not bad looking either with his facial features and simple short black hair. He squinted a lot, his eyes were obscured by a very thick pair of glasses held by a band across the back of his head like an old fashion librarian. His body was medium build, very little muscle or fat, except for what I could observe from the curves of his legs, so probably a runner of some sort. My eyes glanced at the treadmill in the corner of the living room, confirming that assessment. Overall, he was not the image of a heartless monster, nor an immaculate saint. He was being too hard on himself, which I get the feeling he had a habit of doing a lot in his life. Why was he so caught up in the fear of what could have been and could not accept the good of what he actually achieved. I wanted to tell him that none of what he said mattered, none of it changed the fact that he was there for me when I needed him. The fact he was had made me whole, by simply doing what he did. He was a good man, but I didn't know how to explain what my heart told me without leading him on.

After our conversation last night, I tried to remember everything I learned about being demisexual and the emotional bonding attraction. Demisexual attraction isn't a simple matter of the physical, which I can understand how Ben's visual impairment probably guided him towards that route. In a way, it resembles the romantic notion of straight couples falling in love with one another and only being in love with that one person. I knew Ben cared about me and I thought he might actually be into me, in his own way.

If this were one of those online gay fiction stories, he probably would be gushing over me or I would be gushing over him, but that's not how things work in real life. I didn't know if I could ever be with someone in that way after what I went through. I needed a lot of stuff, physical and emotional, which I couldn't expect anyone realistically to give me. Ben obviously had baggage of his own to deal with and I had already troubled him enough. He was a good person, if we had met under different circumstances; things might have been different. Life wasn't a fairy tale, at least not for me.

We stared at each other awkwardly for a while, until Ben asked, "Are you hungry? I can't make anything fancy, but I can do some ramen and dumplings pretty easily."

I nodded, "That sounds good."

He walked down the hallway and I could hear the banging of pots and pans, plastic bags being opened, and a burner being turned on.


Damn it, I should have done better by Jason. I didn't even remember he hadn't eaten today as he waited for me out in the rain and cold, a freezing hell of my own creation. I know logically, I couldn't have done anything else differently; I had the clock before I left for work and didn't have enough time to get stuff ready and go out to grab Jason in the rain, while still making my morning meetings. I have to maintain a multi-billion-dollar accounting and financial department with an organization that has more heads than the hydra popping up on the whims of an executive board that doesn't understand the meaning of "consolidation" or "centralized management". The bigger you get, the more stuff has to get done and if you don't hire more people or change how you do things, a few unhappy professionals like myself are stuck carrying the heavy loads. I want to do so much more and help everyone, but I am already stretched to my limit with deadlines. Still, I chose this line of work, because it makes me feel happy to be in the thick of everything and fighting the battles that need to be fought. I like the thrill of making actual subtle changes in everyday life; things no one will know I had a hand in doing, but something I can smile about in the background. Politicians and celebrities want praise and adoration for their good deeds, I just want to know I have achieved some meaningful use of my life through my work.

Yet, now I was faced with someone who I was interested in helping, but I wanted to see results. I was not doing enough for Jason, not being as good as I could be. At first, I thought I might be just falling in love with the idea of Jason, like one of my gay romance novels. I crossed that out of my mind, when I took off his clothes and saw the scars on his chest. Then, I realized what the rest of the marks on his body really were. No, it changed from a romantic idea of infatuation and is now a protective instinct. I can't fathom the thought of someone hurting Jason, slicing into his skin as it appeared had happened, because he should not be harmed like that by anyone. My mind began to race with revenge fantasies of hurting his abusers: I imagined dark rooms filled with sharp objects and letting Jason choose his implement of revenge against some unseen and unknown villain that I had restrained. I knew the idea was sort of dark, but that's part of who I am as well.

This is one of the things I've learned about myself from years of dating and bonding with other guys. Emotional attachment is my prerequisite for attraction, but beyond that, the concept of trust is fundamental to another aspect in my life. Sexual identity and orientation are just one piece in a larger tapestry of what makes human beings complete. It took me years of experimentation with emotionally invested partners to understand my other aspects, including my innate paternalistic tendencies. The emotional attraction from my demisexual being is heightened with the aspects of creating structure and providing emotional support. People imagine BDSM to be all about dungeons, leather, whips, and guys in weird costumes role playing things. Beneath all the window dressing, there's a deeper psychological component to why people get involved in that kind of interest. I am not technically a Dominant, submissive, or any category that is commonly associated with in popular discussions or groups on the subject, but I do enjoy setting rules, structure, and maintaining control over an environment. However, it's not a sexual concept for me, it's a matter of supporting those I care about and the world I cherish. Essentially, I have the odd distinction of being a "big brother," a term more closely aligned to authoritarian dictators and a reality TV show, but it's BDSM definition fits my mindset just as well. That's how I almost thought that Zack and I had a chance at starting a real relationship.

Zack needed me to be his support and set boundaries for him, while loving and cherishing him. He wanted me to show him off, be my overly sexualized lover, and show the world how much I love him. It went well until Zack began asking me to do things like slap his hands in public when he does something naughty, asking me to tug on a leash connected to a collar on his neck while we walked, and the last straw was when he demanded I slap him on the street and shouting profanities at him. At that point, I learned that Zack was not into a supportive relationship with structure and respect, but he wanted the humiliation and extreme play that I simply am not interested in, nor does it give me any pleasure delivering. Pain might be an emotion with a lot of power in context to other emotions and experiences, but alone as an emotion to me, it's a knife used to cut.

Jason probably didn't want that kind of relationship, nor should I project my own desires on him. I wanted to help him, not just because I have overly romanticized notions. I wanted to help him, because it was the right thing to do. It was no different than me finding sponsors and donors for Theo's LGBT outreach initiative, I had no interest in dating Theo again or the kids that the money raised to provide counselling for. I do that sort of thing because it's what I like to do, it's part of who I am as a human being, defining my desire to have a meaningful impact.

The water was boiling over as my thoughts started to settle back down. Cooking with low vision was more scientific than an artistic approach which most chefs or foodies assume. Even with low vision I enjoyed watching plenty of cooking shows from Master Chef to British Bake-Off, but I didn't make artistic creations of their caliber. The dumplings were frozen from a Chinese a supermarket, which take about twenty minutes to cook, so I set a timer using my Amazon Echo. While that was cooking in a pot of boiling water, another pot filled with boiling Swanson Beef and Chicken broth at a 2:1 ratio, along with some pork spareribs, got boiled for about twenty minutes. The boiling broth was the one I cooked my ramen in, which was just regular 0.20 a package ramen, which takes about three minutes to cook in the boiling broth. When the ramen was cooked, I threw some spinach and kale into the broth, basically to balance the meal with some vegetables and add much needed nutrients. Hopefully, Jason would enjoy my concoction of frozen dumpling, dried-fried noodles, store bought broth, and organic vegetables. I eat as I live in constant contradiction.

I brought out two bowls and spoons, a canister of fried French onion strings, Vietnamese hot sauce, and Chinese chiu zhao hot oil to the living room, placing everything on a small coffee table. I don't use cozies or any dainty things like that, but I do recycle old supermarket papers as placemats, another habit I adopted from my grandmother, waste not, want not. Her philosophy still works, I think having a nice plump cooked sirloin steak or whole roasted chicken facing you as you eat improves your appetite. Jason was still swaddled in the comforters and waited patiently for me to set up our unofficial dinner.

I smirked at him considering the comical nature of this scene as I offered in my most stiff interpretation of a British accent, "Dinner is served, clothing is optional of course, if you prefer to eat as you are."


Ben was a good cook, even if the food was mostly pre-made and store bought; he knew his flavor combinations. I've eaten ramen a lot and usually the soup was overly salty, but this stuff tasted like he put real effort into it. He told me the secret was combining the store-bought chicken and beef broths in the proper ratio and adding some pork spareribs to give the soup some much needed fat and body. The vegetables added their vitamins and flavoring as well. The dumplings were puffy balls of dough filled with meat and vegetables, which oddly melded with the ramen pretty well. The bowls were big and filled with everything, but Ben also brought out stuff that I never thought of using in ramen. The fried French onion string things I've seen in the supermarkets before, but I never paid much attention to them or what they were used for. Ben told me that his grandmother considered them a good textural contrast for noodle dishes. The Vietnamese hot sauce and the Chinese hot oil were very different; Ben told me that it's a matter of personal taste whether someone prefers to eat sauce created from ground spicy pepper paste mixed with water or if they prefer oil poached pepper, where the spice is in an oily extract derived from the spicy peppers. Ben liked a bit of both and I tried to do the same in more modest portions as I am not a spice guy. By the time we finished the meal, any remaining cold I felt from being out in the freezing weather had disappeared, along with hunger and want. At some point, the heat from the peppers and the hot food was getting too much for me and I let the comforters slide down my body revealing more or less everything. Ben made no fuss to about this sudden nudity, which I knew for a fact he noticed with a small smile on his face when I pulled the comforter down. I was sweating a lot and my body which was already grimy and dirty from months of rough living probably got even worse. I don't know how Ben could stand my body odor, even I could tell that I stunk badly, especially in the confines of his living room. He didn't judge me, or stuff about me, but I couldn't accept his kind deference like that.

I blushed as I tried to talk about my body odor, "I can smell myself; how can you stand it?"

Ben laughed, "Well, your smell helped me earlier to find you and I was prepared for such an eventuality of having you here tonight." He pulled out a little vial of some clear liquid, "It's called white lotus flower oil, it has similar properties to menthol strips that cops and CSI techs use at crime scenes with dead bodies."

I couldn't help laughing at the comparison, "I guess I must be a zombie with the way I smell."

Ben grined at the comment, "You could be a white walker from Game of Thrones. I should get my torch fire and Valyrian steel sword."

It was then I noticed he actually did have two swords and a crossbow on his wall, "What's up with those? Are you a secret vigilante or something?"

Ben followed my hands toward the wall with the weapons, his expression didn't change. "I grew up being an anime fan and the swords are purely props for conventions and stuff."

Ben was full of surprises, but it still left one object, "And the crossbow?"

Ben's face grew a little sterner, "I bought that just in case, when things got a little tense with the race-baiting and stuff against Asians. Technically, I can never own a gun due to the limitations of my eyesight, but state law permits people with disability to own crossbows. I have a hunter scope on it with a laser pointer and a simple five round auto-reloader, it takes me three seconds per crank and shot. I call my crossbow Chekhov."

There was a weird juxtaposition there with Ben, a certain cold furious certainty. I don't know what drove this kind hearted man into thinking he needs an actual weapon in his home for defense, but I am certain that if anyone dared to test his resolve, Ben would not hesitate and with the limitations of his weapon, he will shoot to kill. I grew up around people with guns and it was pretty common in Indiana for folks, including religious god-fearing folk like my parents, to have guns. I sometimes wondered over the years as I heard the vitriol and ugly language, if those same guns would be turned on me. That's another thing I never read about online, do closeted gay kids ever wonder if their homophobic family would ever point their favorite handguns or rifles at their own unwanted family? I don't like to think like that, because then the opposite thought is that I would have to arm myself to protect me and people I care about. Then it's just armed camps staring at each other waiting for one side to slip up and take the first shot.

Changing the subject to something less dark, "The name of the crossbow is Chekov, are you a Star Trek geek as well as an Anime one?"

Ben wistfully nodded acknowledging my desire to change the subject, "I am a fan of all the series, mostly Next Generation and Deep Space Nine, since they were part of my generation. I've seen the original series from the sixties and their movies; while Chekhov is a fun character in the show and movies, no the crossbow is not named after him. It's actually named after Anton Chekhov, a famous Russian playwright and short story writer. It's a play on the saying, "Chekhov's gun", which is a concept in literature that any object or set piece mentioned in fiction must be used at some point to further the plot or else it's wasted."

That's pretty interesting, I like reading and never considered that, "So, if this were a story, and that crossbow was mentioned, what would have to happen for it not to be wasted?"

Ben walked over to the crossbow picked it up and cranked it until it clicked, then gathered two arrows and what looked like a dart board from another room. He hung up the board against the white wall and loaded an arrow into the crossbow. Without uttering a word, he aimed and fired the arrow dead center at the board indicating what I am guessing was a kill shot; though to be fair, the target was only six or seven feet away from where Ben stood.

Ben nodded at the shot, "That's what Anton Chekhov would have done, the gun would need to be used and fired at least once for effect. You want to try?"

I stood up and moved towards Ben, not even considering I was completely naked at this point, smelling like crap, and probably sticky with sweat. I asked, "how does this work?"

Ben pointed to the board and the crossbow. "It's like a gun basically, you aim, point, and shoot at the target. The catch is that like a shotgun, crossbows like these have a strong recoil, so you have to adjust your stance and aim accordingly or you will miss the target wide. I can adjust your stance and your shoulder position to help with the recoil if you will let me."

I let Ben adjust my body into the proper stance and position, then I took aim and released, but I fucked up and hit his wall, "Oh fuck, I am so sorry. I didn't mean to."

Ben patted my oily smelly shoulder, calmly telling me, "Relax, I've marked up that wall myself, so it's not a big deal. I just wanted to show you that crossbows are not merely toys and can be deadly weapons, if used correctly. See that hole in the wall and some of the other holes that I made in the past, the deepest is about eight inches, good enough to pierce a human skull and these arrows are just for play, the special metal head ones I have stashed away are the ones I'd use on actual human intruders if I had no other option. However, unlike guns, it's much harder to shoot yourself or have your kids accidentally shoot themselves with it."

He took away the crossbow and the post-shooting emotion felt very odd, not a bad oddness, but sort of empowering even as I noticed an ache in my shoulder due to the sudden shock of the strong recoil, "That thing has some kick to it. I think it got both your wall and my shoulder."

Ben nodded and pointed to the bathroom, "A hot shower will help you sort out the shoulder and I will lay out clothes for you. Feel free to use the three-in-one body wash, shampoo, and conditioner, the one on the side, I've got tones of it. You can sleep in my mini-library room with the spare twin bed in it."

I hadn't had a hot shower in a long time, having the sprays of a hot water faucet and soap washing away months of grime, dead skin, and filth was unbelievably relaxing. Ben didn't realize what a treat even this little thing was for me after weeks of lukewarm water splashes from public restrooms being my only source of washing, an actual hot shower is better than any present I could get. He could have just kicked me out right then and called everything else off about letting me spend the night, because I was happy with just having this little warm offering. When the water began to turn cooler, I turned off the faucet and looked at myself in the mirror. My brown hair had become wildly long and my facial hair had blossomed into an irregular scraggly beard. I wished I could shave, but that would be too much to ask Ben, to borrow his razor. I was already imposing on him far too much and I didn't want to be a bother to him more than I already was. I dried off and left the bathroom as I was.

Ben must have heard me come out, he was standing to my right, "Are you done Jason? You can use my razor to trim some of that beard and those whiskers if you want. I actually have a full kit if you are interested in removing it or manscaping a little in private, just make sure the hairs are tossed in the trash as the drains can't handle hair without clogging."

He was being too kind, but I couldn't refuse, "I would love to, if you are okay with it."

Ben handed me a kit filled gels, a scissors, and different trimming heads for his razor, which was very handy for taking care of my dirty homeless guy look. The beard and unruly mustache were wiped out very quickly, then I shortened my sideburns and the back of my head slightly. Next, I tried to cut my down to a manageable length just a little above my ears in length. After about forty minutes of shaving, trimming, and cutting, I took in my image in front of the mirror. I looked like the twenty-two-year-old college kid I should be again, a little scruffy and malnourished perhaps, but I was me. At some point during my homelessness, I stopped looking in the mirror at myself; I stopped recognizing that the long-haired grubby creature in front of the mirror was me. I never thought I'd see this version of me again, the human being behind all the bad luck and sadness that was piled on. I opened the door of the bathroom and saw Ben was sitting across from the bathroom in the living room reading from a tablet. He was dressed in running shorts and a t-shirt. At that moment, I don't know what got into me, but I went over to him and kissed him on the lips. It was a brief kiss, no tongues or anything, but it was the first time in a long time I wanted to open myself to another human being.

Ben stared at me in shock, patted a seat on the couch next to him and said, "You look different Jason, better."

I did not understand his reaction, was I wrong about what I thought he felt. "I am sorry about the kiss…I uh…"

Ben interrupted me realizing what he said and what happened, he shook his head. "No, Jason, it's not you, I was just shocked by your kiss and your new look, I want to talk to you, because I think we need to set expectations and boundaries."

Realizing that this was not a rejection, but Ben's quirk, I relaxed and sat next to him. "Okay, I can handle that. Sorry about popping the kiss on you. I am not in a good emotional place right now. The hot food, the blankets, the crossbow, the hot shower, and now the makeover, it all just bubbled up. I don't know if I can ever thank you enough or care for you enough to express what I am feeling right now. I am not a good guy to build a relationship with Ben, I don't want to lead you on or think that this can be anything more than what it is."

Ben patiently listened to my confession.

"I am also in the same boat, Jason. I am not a great person to build a relationship with either. I do care about you, more than anything sexual or romantic, because I want to help you and I want to make your life better. I see the world very differently than most people, because of my limitations and my emotional responses, I care a lot about everything and everyone, but express it with a dispassionate coldness. I want to care for you and support you through everything Jason, I want to be your friend, and on some level, more than that. I can't force you into anything you don't want and I would never try. I want you to be happy first and foremost."

Tears welled in my eyes, when I softly tugged at Ben's forearm, "I can't have sex with you Ben, at least for a while. There's a lot of stuff that happened in the last few months, a lot of crappy things that I want to tell you someday, but I don't know how long it will take."

Ben used his other arm and touched my short brown hair, "I can wait Jason, it's not a problem with me and never would be. My attraction to guys usually takes a while to establish and cultivate into something. I've experimented with my interests for a decade and I have had more than my fill. If you want a strictly sexless relationship between us, I'm fine with it and will accept your choice. However, I know there's other forms of pleasure that do not involve either penetration or oral fellatios that can be just as rewarding, which gay guys share and enjoy. You don't have to be worried by what happened to you Jason, when you are with me."

For the second time that night, I was sobbing, "I…want to be happy…want to be remembered…want to not feel so alone."

Ben took me in a hug and cuddled me into his T-shirt to absorb my tears as he whispered in my ear as if it was secret, "I will never let you be forgotten again."

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